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# The Swinging Sixties

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The Swinging Sixties was the period between 1964–70 in the UK. These were years of great social and cultural change that made the country what it is today. The term ‘swinging sixties’ comes from the free, permissive 1960s culture and the prevalence of popular culture and pop music. The 1960s in the UK saw the end of capital punishment, divorce reform, abortion, and the legalisation of homosexuality.

## What were the Swinging Sixties?

The Swinging Sixties began only in 1964 and not in 1960 for two main reasons: first, because in 1964, 13 years of conservative government came to an end. Secondly, the social and cultural climate of Britain changed very quickly in this period, setting it apart from the beginning of the 60s. People turned away from the Conservatives due to the mistakes they made when they were in office.

The Swinging Sixties took place during an economic golden age in Britain and during the prolonged period of post-war consensus. This was a time of balancing prosperity and consumerism with popular interests and enacting social change.

## Harold Wilson: Labour wins the 1964 general election

Harold Wilson was Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 during the Swinging Sixties, Wikimedia Commons.

Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 1964 to June 1970. In many ways, he was elected because of the changing cultural climate. Whereas in the 1951 general election Labour lost to the Conservatives as they had accomplished all they had originally set out to do, by 1964 it was the Conservative Party’s leader, Alec Douglas-Home, who was seen as having nothing new to bring to the table.

That being said, it should be noted that the loss was by a narrow margin. Labour secured 44.1% of the popular vote in comparison to 43.4% of the popular vote going to the Conservatives.

Harold Wilson was in tune with the changing times: he appealed to electors with the rhetoric of technological and scientific development, stating that developments in technology would bring about progress.

With his ‘white heat of technology’, Wilson promised to ignite the progressive Britain that elected him.

### The economy under the Wilson government

In many ways, we could argue that the 1960s were set ‘a-swinging’ by the economic Golden Age out of which they arose. The increased social mobility afforded to the British people allowed for this period of cultural and social change.

Social mobility

The freedom of working-class individuals to move higher within society through increased wealth.

The Age of affluence, born of the Age of austerity (1945–51) and uplifted by the Conservative government (1951–64) continued during Wilson’s premiership in a new fashion. The Labour government of 1964-70 wanted to focus less on wealth and affluence and more on meeting the communal needs of the public. Therefore, they shifted the focus away from the private sector to the public sector; from capitalist consumerism to socialist inclusivity and change.

The Labour Party was wary of the loose economic foundation upon which the Golden Age arose. Keynesian economic policies could only hold up the country’s economy for so long and Wilson was desperate for a long-term solution for Britain. Yet, though the Labour government was critical of the Golden Age and its pro-consumerist spirit, it endured until 1970.

Keynesian economics

The Keynesian economic approach is centred around government intervention to control aggregate demand (the demand for all goods and services produced in an economy).

With more widespread financial freedom and social mobility, it was time to tackle the other social ills of British society. Under the Labour government, the greater social mobility afforded by the Golden Age of affluence was a driving force for social change.

## Social and cultural change in the swinging sixties

The Swinging Sixties was a time of interconnected social and cultural change and social reform. First, let’s look at how social values and norms changed during the period and the ways these affected 1960s culture. Finally, we can see how Labour’s reforming legislation responded to the Swinging Sixties’ demands for progress.

### The rise of the teenager

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the social position of teenagers had changed, and by the Swinging Sixties, youth subcultures were in full swing.

Youth subcultures

The youth culture of the 1960s was one of rebellion. Within this broader culture of rebellion, there were subcultures, with different types of identity groups.

The youth of the 1960s did not live through the depression-ravaged Britain of the 30s and 40s. The Golden Age period, which began in 1951 and lasted through the 1960s, replaced economic depression and austerity with wealth and prosperity. Teens were, thus, allowed to be teens.

Young people in Carnaby street in London, The National Archives UK, Wikimedia Commons.

Teenagers had a lot more time to think about who they wanted to be and the country they wanted the United Kingdom to become. They now had the time and money to experiment with identity and to reject the traditional categories perpetuated by the older, out-of-touch generations. Especially when members of the establishment were caught up in scandals like the Profumo Affair, which shook the nation.

The establishment

Groups who have historically been the elite in society and who have occupied positions of power. The term was coined by Henry Fairlie in 1955 to refer to the elite of British society, such as the aristocracy.

In the broader youth culture of rebellion against traditional institutions and values, youth subcultures such as the Mods and Rockers were born. For example, the Mods dressed up in stylish, smart attire to ride scooters, and the Rockers were all about leather and motorbikes.

Youth subcultures, particularly the Mods and Rockers expressed their anger at the establishment through anti-social behaviour. They deliberately acted against the norms of society and were known for their hooliganism.

Above all else, the affluent and carefree teens of the 1960s wanted to engage in hedonistic pursuits, and what’s more fun than spending your parents’ cash?

Hedonism: the pursual of pleasure.

### 1960s culture

The mass media are media forms (tv, magazines, radio, etc.) geared toward mass audiences, which in turn create popular, pop, culture. Popular culture refers to the attitudes and customs which are popular at a certain time and place.

The popular band, The Beatles' in 1964 with Jimmie Nicols, The Dutch National Archives, Wikimedia Commons.

Mass media played an important role in shaping the swinging sixties, particularly the youth. Companies were eager to profit from the youth’s newfound obsession with identity when they realized the purchasing power they now held. They

took advantage of the widespread wealth in Britain by selling identity to the youth through commodities.

Ads were everywhere: in magazines, on television, on the big screen, on the radio, and on shop-fronts. Britain’s youths filled their leisure time with tunes from pop bands like the Beatles and stylish new clothes.

Swinging Sixties music

Music was an integral part of the Swinging Sixties. Many of the bands and artists that found fame in this period remain stalwarts of the British music scene. The Beatles were arguably the most famous band to emerge from this era, but it also saw the rise of bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and artists like Jimmy Hendrix and Cliff Richard.

### Permissiveness and reduced censorship

The Swinging Sixties was characterised by its culture of permissiveness because people were freer to act and speak as they wished. As government censorship eased in the Swinging Sixties, the people of the United Kingdom were more emboldened to speak out against injustice.

This was the obscenity trial against Penguin Books publishers for its publication of DH Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The novel was deemed obscene, due to its descriptions of sex and crude language.

Penguin won the case and the ‘unexpurgated’ version of the book was published for the first time in the country (Expurgation was a way of censoring books by cutting out their obscene elements). Historians see the trial as the beginning of the Permissive Age.

Permissive

Excessive freedom of behaviour. The Swinging Sixties were also called the Permissive Age because permissiveness was a key aspect of the spirit of the age.

This legislation ended the censorship of plays. It got rid of the system of having every play go through the Lord Chamberlain for approval before they could be brought to the stage.

### Social movements and protest

Though wealth made people freer with increased social mobility, it did not eliminate the deep-rooted systemic issues affecting minorities and women in the 1960s. So, the people took to the streets to protest against different injustices.

#### Feminism and the Women’s Liberation movement

The Swinging Sixties saw the beginning of the Women’s Liberation movement, a grass-roots movement for women’s rights. In 1961, for example, the contraceptive pill was made available to married women. By 1967, abortion had been legalised in the United Kingdom.

#### Anti-Vietnam War riots

On 17 March 1968, 10,000 people took to the streets of London to protest against the Vietnam War and Britain’s support for the United States. Violence broke out outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, turning the protests into riots. More than 200 protesters were arrested.

#### Immigration and increasing anti-immigrant sentiment

Not all protest was in the name of social progress. Racist, anti-immigration groups protested the entrance of Asian refugees into the country. The anti-immigrant sentiment was fueled by the divisive rhetoric of Conservative politician Enoch Powell which he espoused in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. While British citizens were afforded more social mobility due to the Golden Age, the freedom of movement of Commonwealth citizens was restricted.

There were two acts in this decade which aimed to restrict immigration into the country:

• The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrations Act aimed to restrict Commonwealth citizens from migrating to Britain. However, this led those migrants already working in the UK to permanently settle there, as they were afraid if they returned to their home countries, they would not be allowed back. Ironically, this legislation increased the number of immigrants in the country.

• The 1968 Commonwealth Immigrations Act restricted access to only those with a father or grandfather born in the UK.

Anti-immigrant hate groups such as the National Front, founded in 1967, wanted to ban all non-white immigration into the country, but they were unsuccessful.

## 1960s Britain timeline

The 1960s were a time of reform and change. Below are some of the key dates of social reforms during this period.

## Labour’s social reforms legislation

The social progress of the 1960s was matched by real action and change thanks to the reforming legislation passed by the Labour government. Home Secretary Roy Jenkins either introduced or supported the following reforms:

The Abortion Act of 1967 was originally introduced by David Steel as a Private Members’ Bill.

Private Members’ Bills

Private Members’ Bills give ordinary Members of Parliament who are not members of government an opportunity to affect change in the law.

The Bill gave women the freedom to choose to have an abortion for up to week 24 of pregnancy under the following conditions:

• It must be performed by a registered doctor.

• It must be authorised by two doctors.

• The pregnancy must be of serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother.

• The child would be seriously handicapped.

The legislation gave women more control over their own bodies. While abortion remains a highly divisive issue, the passage of the Bill illustrates the accomplishments of social progress during the 1960s.

This Act abolished capital punishment, which is the lawful killing of a criminal by the state.

In 1969, capital punishment was officially abolished in the UK. After a heated debate between PM Harold Wilson, Conservative leader Edward Heath, and Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, they all came out in support of abolishing capital punishment.

This serves as both evidence of the progress of the Swinging Sixties and of the continued period of post-war consensus between political parties.

The Act legalised homosexual relations between men in England and Wales:

A homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent can and have attained the age of 21 years.

Although groundbreaking for the time, the act was only progressive to an extent. It relegated homosexual acts to the private sphere, reinforcing their cultural status as taboo and immoral.

The acts made it a civil offence to discriminate based on race or ethnicity in public areas. For example, refusing to serve a black person in a café or overcharging them.

Civil offence

Rather than seeking to punish the offender, it seeks compensation for the offended person.

In 1968, the initial act was strengthened by prohibiting racial discrimination in employment and housing. However, it did not fully outlaw racial discrimination, for example, in the private sphere. Although this legislation was a step in the right direction, it did not end racial discrimination in the United Kingdom.

This act made the sole ground for divorce the ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’, eliminating past restrictions to serious offences.

If only one partner wanted a divorce, they had to prove they had been living apart from each other for at least five years. Or, if both parties wanted a divorce, the period of separation had to be at least two years.

This legislation made the process of divorce much easier. However, similarly to the Sexual Offences Act, this legislation did not give people total autonomy over their relationships.

## Tensions in the Swinging Sixties

By now it should be apparent that not all was perfect in the Swinging Sixties. This was certainly the case when it came to tensions with Britain’s industry and workers’ unions. PM Harold Wilson was not very progressive when it came to the unions.

An organization formed by workers for the purpose of securing better pay and work conditions.

Though this was a golden age of affluence in Britain, PM Harold Wilson was concerned about inflation and Britain’s balance of payments deficit (basically, too much money going out, and not enough coming in) would cause serious economic problems. He cracked down on worker unions’ ability to strike and believed their demands for higher pay needed to be kept in check as the government couldn’t afford wage increases.

Tensions between unions and the government escalated through the period. Concerned about Britain’s trade deficit, Wilson reduced the value of the pound with the aim of facilitating the export of British goods in a process known as devaluation.

By 1969, Wilson published the government paper ‘In place of strife’ with the purpose of restricting union strikes. This demonstrated the extent of the tension with the unions in the period.

## The end of the Swinging Sixties

As the Golden Age was defined by the feeling of wealthiness rather than true economic prosperity, so, too, were the Swinging Sixties defined by the feeling of a hopeful, fun, progressive time rather than it being a truly free, progressive time. As demonstrated above, it was far from a perfect period: racial and anti-immigrant tensions were rife, the oppression of women and people of colour continued, and the economy was unstable.

When we ask the question ‘when did the Swinging Sixties end?’ are we asking when did the spirit of the time period - the period of freedom, permissiveness, progress - fizzle out? The decade officially ended in 1970, arguably with the start of the Conservative Heath government. However, some historians argue the spirit of the Swinging Sixties only ended later in 1973 with the economic recession.

The spirit of hope and optimism of the 1960s certainly fizzled out throughout the 1970s, a decade marked by workers’ strikes and protests without all the fun of the Swinging Sixties. And with the end of the Swinging Sixties, the Golden Age also came to an end in 1970.

## Swinging Sixties - Key takeaways

• The Swinging Sixties refers to a time period of great social and cultural change that took place from 1964 to 1970 in the United Kingdom.

• The Swinging Sixties gave rise to the teenager and teenage subcultures. It was during this time that mass media and mass culture became what they are today.

• The Swinging Sixties were all about increasing freedoms: censorship was eased up and social movements such as Women’s Liberation were able to take form. On the other hand, anti-immigration sentiment gained prominence.

• Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister of the UK during the Swinging Sixties. He won the general election because of his progressivism. As PM, he continued the British Economic Golden Age of affluence while also overseeing a wealth of social reforms. However, the economy was unstable during Wilson’s government and tensions with Trade Unions mounted through the period.

• The Wilson Labour government passed important social reforms legislation: the introduction of Private Members' Bills, the Abortion Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Race Relations Acts, the Theaters Act, the Divorce Reform Act, and the Murder Act.

The period between 1964–70 was called the Swinging Sixties because of the rapid cultural and social changes that took place in it: the free permissive culture of the 1960s, and the prevalence of popular culture and pop music.

The Swinging Sixties was the period from 1964 to 1970 in the UK. This era saw the rise of the teenager and teenager culture and the beginning of mass media and mass culture. This was also a time of social change and social movements, such as the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Swinging Sixties formally ended in 1970. They ended with the start of the Heath government, the economic recession of 1973, and the rising tensions between trade unions and the government.

Major social reforms were introduced in 1960s UK, including the 1967 Abortion Act, the end of capital punishment, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 and the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968.

## Final The Swinging Sixties Quiz

Question

What are the two reasons that historians present to support the idea that the Swinging Sixties started in 1964 and not 1960?

1. This was the end of the Conservative government and the start of the Harold Wilson ministry.

2. Social and cultural change sped up from 1964 onwards.

Show question

Question

What was PM Harold Wilson’s attitude towards affluence?

The Labour government of 1964-70 wanted to focus less on affluence and more on meeting the communal needs of the public, shifting the focus away from the private sector to the public sector; from capitalist consumerism to socialist inclusivity and change.

Show question

Question

What is the ‘R v Penguin Books Ltd’ obscenity trial of 1960?

• This was the obscenity trial of Penguin Books publishers for its publication of D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
• Penguin won the case and the ‘unexpurgated’ version of the book was published for the first time in the country.
• Historians see the trial as the beginning of the ‘permissive age’.

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Question

What is the Theatres Act of 1968?

• Ended the censorship of plays.
• Got rid of the outdated system of having every play go through the Lord Chamberlain for approval before they could be brought to the stage.

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Question

What are the 1962 and 1968 Commonwealth Immigrations Act?

• 1962: aimed to restrict Commonwealth citizens from migrating to Britain.
• 1968: restricted access to only those with a father or grandfather born in the UK.

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Question

What are three examples of Swinging Sixties social movements and protests?

1. The Women’s Liberation movement
2. Anti-Vietnam war protests/riots
3. Anti-immigration protests

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Question

What are Private Members’ Bills?

The introduction of Private Member's Bills afforded ordinary Members of Parliament who are not appointed Ministers the opportunity to draft legislation to be considered for approval.

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Question

What are the conditions for getting an abortion under the Abortion Act of 1967?

• It must be performed by a registered doctor.
• It must be authorised by two doctors.
• The pregnancy must be of serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother.
• The child would be seriously handicapped.

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Question

What is the Sexual Offences Act of 1967?

The Act legalised homosexual relations between men in England and Wales.

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Question

What are the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968?

1965: the acts made it a civil offence to discriminate based on race or ethnicity in public areas.

1968: prohibiting racial discrimination in employment and housing.

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Question

What are the conditions for getting a divorce under the Divorce Reform Act of 1969?

• If only one partner wanted a divorce, they have to prove they had been living apart from each other for at least five years.
• If both parties wanted a divorce, the period of separation had to be at least two years.

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Question

When was capital punishment fully abolished?

The act was made permanent in 1969.

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Why was there tension between Wilson's government and the trade unions during the Swinging Sixties?

Wilson cracked down on workers unions' ability to strike and believed their demands for higher pay needed to be kept in check as the government couldn't afford wage increases.

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Question

What is the definition of devaluation?

Devaluation is when a government decides to deliberately adjust a country's currency downwards in relation to another currency, group of currencies, or currency standard.

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When was the first devaluation during Harold Wilson's time in Parliament?

1949

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Question

Who became Prime Minister in 1945?

Clement Richard Attlee

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Question

What were the five financial issues that Attlee had to deal with when he became PM?

1. Debts of £4198 million
3. Export of manufacturers had dropped by 60% in wartime
4. Invisible exports had shrunk from £248 million in 1938 to £120 million in 1946
5. Costs of maintaining overseas military commitment were quintupled (5 times greater) between 1938 and 1946

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What is the definition of invisible export?

Invisible exports are the part of international trade that does not involve the transfer of goods or tangible products. Examples are banking, advertising, and tourism.

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Question

Attlee left the decision-making about what to do against the pressure on UK reserves to three people. Who were they?

1. Harold Wilson
2. Hugh Gaitskell
3. Douglas Jay

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Question

What was the date of the devaluation of the pound in 1949 and what was the devaluation?

It was devalued on 18 September 1949 and it was devalued by a massive 30%, from $4.03 to £1 to just$2.80 to £1.

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Question

When did Harold Wilson become Prime Minister for the first time?

In 1964.

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Question

To battle the forecasted account deficit, Wilson chose two strategies to avoid devaluation. Which strategies were those?

1. Deflation
2. Austerity

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Question

What was Wilson's first grand idea to help battle the financial issues and what was it supposed to do?

He would set up a National Plan. It would be to get more export and less import. Wilson wanted to stimulate industrial production and exports by having the government, employers, and trade unions work together.

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Question

What was established to draw up the National Plan and was the National Plan successfuly?

The Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) was established. Only a few targets were met and the National Plan was abandoned in 1967

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Question

Despite securing a $3 billion rescue package, the freezing of wages, and having some successes with the National Plan, some events led to Wilson having to devaluate the pound. Which four events? Show answer Answer 1. Seamen's strike 2. Docker's strike 3. The Arab-Israeli Conflict 4. The closure of the Suez Canal Show question Question What does IMF stand for and what is it? Show answer Answer IMF stands for International Monetary Fund. This is a scheme intended to prevent countries going bankrupt. It started in 1947 and by 1990 over 150 countries had joined. Each of the member states deposited into a central fund from which it could then draw in time of need Show question Question When did Wilson announce the devaluation of the pound and what was the devaluation? Show answer Answer On 18 November 1967, he set in motion the devaluation of the pound. The pound dropped 14%, from$2.80 to £1 to \$2.40 to £1.

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Question

What was the purpose of devaluation and what was the expected effect?

To make exports cheaper. This should have the following effects:

• Making export cheaper, in other words, lowering the costs of British goods, would encourage other countries to buy from Britain. This would then increase export and should decrease the balance of trade deficit

• While making export products cheaper, imported products would increase in price. The idea behind this was that this should motivate British consumers to buy British goods

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Question

Why did people say that Wilson should have devalued the pound sooner?

Because it had created a surplus rather quickly after the devaluation.

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Question

The devaluation was seen as rather dramatic, but this view could have been avoided if Wilson made a better forecast of the deficit. What were the forecasted deficits and what was it eventually revised down to?

Wilson forecasted the deficit would have been £400 million during his campaign, he forecasted it to be £800 million when he became Prime Minister, but it was eventually revised down to £376 million

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Question

Describe how the lessons of 1967 apply today

From 1967 to 2017, the pound has more than halved in value against the US dollar. After the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, the pound devalued about 21%.

The Brexit faced 3 problems similar to what Wilson faced in 1967:

1. Too many imports
2. Not enough exports
3. Inflation

However, 2 difference between both deflation means that the Brexit deflation is seen as less severe:

1. The exchange rates today are a fraction of what they where back then

2. The lower exchange rates may help to counteract some of the negative effects of the Brexit by keeping British business competitive and attractive to international buyers.

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Question

What is the definition of capital punishment?

Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, is the execution of an offender (criminal) sentenced to death after being convicted of a crime by a court of law.

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Question

What was the Bloody Code?

In the 1700s, the number of capital crimes rose to 222. This legal system is called the Bloody Code. It led to reform on capital punishment in 1823–1837 when capital crimes were reduced to 100.

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Question

Who was Sir Samuel Romilly?

He was a British lawyer, politician and legal reformer. He was also the person who started the reform of capital punishment, eventually ending capital punishment altogether.

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Question

Which three acts were established in the 19th Century?

1. Judgement of Death Act 1823.
2. Substitution of Punishment of Death Act 1841.
3. Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868.

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Question

What did the acts that were established in the 19th century ensure?

It ensured that many crimes were no longer punishable by death. However, capital punishment remained mandatory for treason and murder unless there was a royal pardon.

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Question

Which acts and events of the 20th Century saw an even bigger reform of capital punishment?

1. Children Act 1908.
2. Infanticide Act 1922 and 1937.
3. Death sentence for pregnant women was abolished in 1931.
4. Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
5. Infanticide Act (Northern Ireland) 1939.

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Question

What was the Criminal Justice Act 1948?

It abolished penal servitude, prison divisions, and flogging.

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Question

Which three cases in the 1950s were pivotal in influencing views on the death penalty?

1. The case of Timothy Evans.
2. The case of Derek Bentley.
3. The case of Ruth Ellis.

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Question

When was the Homicide Act established?

1957.

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What distinction did the Homicide Act bring?

There was now a distinction between capital and non-capital murder. Only the former one carried an automatic death sentence.

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Question

Which six categories of murder were still punishable by death under the Homicide Act 1957?

1. In the course or furtherance of theft.
2. By shooting or causing an explosion.
3. For resisting arrest or during an escape.
4. Of a police officer.
5. Of a prison officer by a prisoner.
6. The second of two murders committed on different occasions.

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Question

Name two other notable events in post-war Britain regarding capital punishment.

1. Ten German agents were executed during World War I under the Defence of the Real Act of 1914.
2. Sixteen spies were executed during World War II under the Treachery Act of 1940.

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Question

Campaigns against capital punishment usually centred around certain cases that aroused public sympathy. Name three examples.

1. The case of Florence Maybrick in 1898.
2. The case of Mary Ann Ansell in 1899.
3. The case of Edith Thompson in 1923.

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Question

Who was one of the most prominent and well-known campaigners from the 20th century for the abolition of capital punishment?

Violet van der Elst, a wealthy businesswoman.

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Question

What does Violet van der Elst name as reasons for the abolition of capital punishment?

Violet van der Elst argued that capital punishment was uncivilised and harmful to society. She also argued that it was applied disproportionally to poor people.

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Question

Who started the beginning of the end of capital punishment?

Sydney Silverman, a British Labour politician.

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Question

What started the beginning of the end of capital punishment?

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, which suspended the death penalty for five years and was replaced with a mandatory life sentence. On 16 December 1969, it was made permanent and with it, capital punishment for murder was abolished.

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Question

Which two acts eventually led to the complete abolishment of capital punishment?

1. Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
2. Human Rights Act 1998.

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Question

Has capital punishment ended in Europe?

Capital punishment has been completely abolished in all European countries, with the exception of Belarus and Russia.

Show question

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