22 MARCH 1957, Page 8

A Spectator's Notebook

▪ LESS THAN A WEEK after Mr. Butler's • impressive speech on prisons, the Government's Homicide Bill com- pleted its journey through Parlia- ment. Not even the Lord Chancel- lor's extraordinary invocation of the spirit of Montrose and 'the fire of moderation' could conceal the contrast between Mr. Butler's hopes of humanising our prisons and bringing reason into our penal system, and a bill based on neither reason nor prin- ciple but on political expediency. Although it has got its bill, the Government's difficulties over hang- ing are by no means over. It is now nineteen months since the last man was hanged, and I cannot help thinking that Mr. Butler might decide that it would be more trouble than it is worth to start up executions again. In spite of Lord Goddard's thunder about the Bill of Rights, to continue granting reprieves in every case would, as Lord Templewood showed, be neither un- precedented nor unconstitutional. There was a reprieve in every case of infanticide from 1849 until 1922, when the death penalty was abolished by statute, and nobody under eighteen has been executed since 1887, though this was only made statutory in 1937.