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Lord Hunt of Tanworth moved Amendment No. 32:

Line 5, after ("authorities;") insert ("to provide for periodic reviews by local authorities of their decision-making arrangements;"). <End Amendment No. 32>

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.31 to 8.38 p.m.]

Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 175:

After Clause 27, insert the following new clause--
("Abolition of death penalty

Abolition of death penalty for treason and piracy, etc

.--(1) In section 1 of the Treason Act 1814 (form of sentence in case of high treason), for the words "such person shall be hanged by the neck until such person be dead", there shall be substituted the words "such person shall be liable to imprisonment for life".

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(2) The Treason Act 1790 is hereby repealed.
(3) In section 2 of the Piracy Act 1837 (punishment of piracy when murder is attempted), for the words "and being convicted thereof shall suffer death" there shall be substituted the words "and being convicted thereof shall be liable to imprisonment for life".
(4) The Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act 1931 is hereby repealed.").

The noble and learned Lord said: Like other noble Lords who have spoken today, I regret that I did not participate at Second Reading. Had I done so, I would have extended a welcome to the Bill. This is a simple amendment to improve the occasion. Its purpose may be stated in one sentence. It is to remove from the statute book once and for all the practice of breaking a human being's neck on behalf of the community in time of peace.

There remain only three categories of offence for which the sentence is death: high treason, violent piracy, and certain offences against military law in time of war. That third category is not included in the amendment for two reasons. First, this Bill deals with the civil law and there was some doubt whether amendments to military law could properly be included within it. Secondly, I accept that in relation to the Armed Forces in time of war different arguments apply, and I was anxious to keep the issue simple. Personally, I do not believe that our country is any safer because we have capital punishment for mutiny in time of war, but I recognise that the arguments are different.

This is not a proposal to discontinue a practice which is part of our way of life. The death sentence for piracy was last carried out in 1830. The last person to be executed for treason was William Joyce, known to the British public in World War Two as Lord Haw-Haw. That was in 1947. So we have survived for 50 years without needing to resort to the death penalty except for murder; and even for that the last execution was before 1965. I doubt whether anyone would now argue that our national safety depends upon retaining these provisions on the statute book.

I raise the matter for two reasons. First, I believe that future generations will see this as a test of our civilisation. Over the centuries we have advanced from the blood feud, from torture, from burning and from the hulks, and none of those reforms was followed by a dangerous increase in lawlessness. On the contrary, we found more effective forms of law enforcement. Indeed, the Treason Acts of 1814 and 1790, part of the subject matter of this amendment, themselves represented the civilising process at the time they were passed. The Act of 1790 provided that women who commit treason should be hanged instead of being burned, and the Act of 1814 substituted hanging for disembowelling. So what we are dealing with is the last remnant from darker ages.

At this point I should confess to a defect in the amendment. It does not seek to repeal the Treason Act of 1775. That is the more inexcusable because I made the same mistake in an earlier debate, to which I shall refer in a few moments. It was I who noticed it at the time. I hope your Lordships will forgive this deplorable oversight, but if the matter proceeds, I do not believe that it will be beyond rectification.

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The second reason why I raise this question now is that I venture to hope that it may enable this country to ratify the sixth protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which has now been ratified by 24 states, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 31 states, both of which documents, incidentally, permit the retention of the death penalty in time of war.

The Government have a good record internationally on this issue. At the summit of the Council of Europe last year the United Kingdom supported the Final Declaration which, among other things, called for universal abolition of the death penalty, and in a letter to Mr. David Bull, the director of Amnesty UK, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said:

    "Our new stance will make a real difference in allowing us to make demarches in the death penalty in other countries, either alone or with our EU partners".

I recollect that on 18th November, in responding to an amendment which I had tabled to the Human Rights Bill, my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn said that the Government would be reluctant to commit the United Kingdom to an international obligation, because--I paraphrase but I hope he believes that I am paraphrasing accurately--Parliament might change its mind while an international commitment would be for ever. I will not embark on that debate today. I should like the Government to maintain the position of moral authority which they have achieved by reason of their international stance on human rights. So, I believe, would my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary; and so, I believe, although I will not ask him to respond specifically, would my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. But even if they do not, that would not be an argument for permitting these provisions to continue in our law, when, it is to be hoped, no one will ever again propose that they should be used.

Perhaps I may spend a moment clarifying two other aspects of the proposal. First--and I know it will be a matter of some concern to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner--it may be wondered why, in place of the penalties to be abolished, I am proposing a mandatory life sentence. I am aware of the reasons why many reformers, and particularly the senior judiciary, are opposed to the mandatory life sentence. Indeed, they are set out by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his book Responses to Crime. I believe that those arguments are irresistible. I hope that the Government will seize an early opportunity to change the law in that respect. I promise such support that I can offer for that purpose. But I am anxious to keep this argument simple, and to deal with one anomaly at a time. That was the sentence with which Parliament replaced capital punishment for murder, and this would have the advantage of consistency.

Secondly, perhaps I may make clear that this amendment does not seek to amend the substantive law. It is a proposal about penalties. When I introduced a similar debate in another place on 17th December 1990, the debate to which I referred a few moments ago, we were met with the argument that the Law Commission was considering the whole law of treason with a view to recommending a complete revision. The next day,

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when I telephoned the chairman of the Law Commission, he said that no one had told him, and that the Law Commission was considering the law of treason only in the context of a codification of the whole of the criminal law.

For myself, I wish that the law of treason could be revised and made more rational. Much of it still rests on the Treason Act of 1351. In consequence it is treason to violate the eldest daughter of the Sovereign--even, apparently, if she were to consent--but only so long as she is unmarried. It is treason to slay the Lord Chancellor but only if he is in his place undertaking his office. So anyone who slays him while he is listening to a concert or walking his dog need have no concern about the Treason Act. Of course, we all know that my noble and learned friend's life and the virtue of the Royal Family do not depend on the Treason Act 1351, nor on the consequent death penalties. Anyone who offered violence to my noble and learned friend or to any future Princess Royal would be prosecuted under much more sensible provisions of the criminal law, without any consequent death penalty.

It is true that the Law Commission did in fact publish a paper on the subject in 1977, but through no fault of the Law Commission the law proceeded no further. However, this amendment makes no attempt to resolve those questions. I merely comment that if it is sought to argue that we ought not to rationalise the penalties for treason because the substantive law is in a mess, surely reason points in the opposite direction. To argue that because the law of treason is wholly unsatisfactory those who infringe it ought, for that reason, to be hanged, is to put it at its lowest, an unattractive argument.

Finally, I hasten to explain that the reason I propose to repeal the Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act 1931 is not that I am anxious to see expectant mothers dangling from a scaffold, but because it would be consequential on the repeal of those other provisions. If the Committee pass the amendment there will happily be no death penalty from which it is necessary to make an exception. I beg to move.

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