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Cruelty (Penalties)

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 27 March 1952

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the recent trials at the Old Bailey for cruelty to children; and whether, as a result, he will consider amending the Criminal Justice Act so as to restore to the courts the right to impose corporal punishment in such cases.

Yes, Sir. I have seen the reports. This class of offence was not one of the limited group of offences for which corporal punishment could be imposed before its abolition as a judicial penalty by the Criminal Justice Act. The second part of the Question does not, therefore, arise.

In view of the apparently alarming increase in these offences and the peculiarly bestial quality of some of them, would not my right hon. and learned Friend be guided by the Lord Chief Justice, who strove so hard during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act to retain the threat of corporal punishment for such offences as this?

With the greatest respect, the Lord Chief Justice has approved of the suggestion which I put to this House and of which I think this House has approved; that is, that those who are prosecuting should consider, in serious and deliberately cruel cases of ill-treatment, using the Offences Against the Person Act, which involves the heaviest penalty.

I am sorry to be a nuisance, but I have to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will set up a committee to investigate and report on the adequacy of penalties imposed in cases of cruelty to children and animals.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of further recent cases of cruelty to, and neglect of, children, he will now appoint an all-party committee to investigate the problem in all its aspects and to recommend such remedial or punitive action as may seem appropriate and necessary.

As regards cruelty to children, I would refer to the reply I gave my hon. and gallant Friend on 22nd November. On cruelty to animals, I would refer to the reply I gave on 13th March to the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman).

Is the Home Secretary aware that despite all these statements to which he has referred, the public conscience remains gravely disturbed, and will he say specifically what is the official Home Office view? Does it support what the Lord Chancellor said in another place only recently, that it is the duty of magistrates in serious cases not to pass sentence themselves, but to send the case for trial so that really adequate sentences can be imposed?

That is exactly what I said in the last debate in this House about three months ago—and I think it had the support of the House—that cases of secondary seriousness should be sent for trial under the Children's Act; and that, as I said a moment ago, the more serious cases should be sent for trial under the Offences Against the Person Act. That is the procedure which is being carried out.

Is it not a fact that despite all that has been done by the Home Office and by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his predecessor, we are, in fact, making no progress at all in this matter, that the public conscience is really shocked by this blot on our society, and that it is not by any means only a matter of punishment, but of remedial treatment as well? Would it not be a great advantage, in view of the great wealth of knowledge and vast experience possessed by this House and by our constituents, if this matter were examined on a broader basis?

On the first point, it is only three months since the suggestion of mine that a greater use of trial on indictment and under the Offences Against the Person Act should be made. I think we ought to give that a trial. On the second point, what I may call the preventive aspect of my hon. and gallant Friend's supplementary question, may I remind him that a Private Member's Bill was introduced to deal with that, and I can assure him that if any suggestions are made for improving the working of the present machinery, and especially the machinery set up by my predecessor with regard to children's officers and local authorities, I shall gladly look into them and try to improve them in any way I can.