This article examines the attitudes of Labour governments towards capital punishment. It attempts to show why Labour governments before Harold Wilson's did not abolish capital punishment. Apart from the fact that some ministers were in favour of the death penalty in principle, it will
highlight how a variety of factors ensured that all Labour governments (or at least some very important ministers in those governments) before Wilson's actively campaigned to keep the death penalty. These factors included the advice of the civil service, the fear of being seen as 'soft on
crime', a wariness of public opinion, and a respect for what were perceived to be the norms of constitutional practice in relation to the royal prerogative. This context makes the eventual ending of capital punishment under Wilson all the more remarkable, and the last section of this article
shows how Jim Callaghan, in particular, worked assiduously to achieve abolition.