HC Deb 21 November 1974 vol 881 cc1514-6
16. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many letters he has received since 1st March 1974 urging the restoration of some measure of capital punishment.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Rather fewer than 1,000.

Mr. McCrindle

Leaving aside the right hon. Gentleman's own view, which I respect, does he not agree that the majority of British people would be in favour of the restoration of capital punishment, at least with respect to the murder of a policeman or a prison officer? In these circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the use of the referendum machinery, which is now developing in Government circles? Otherwise is there not at least a risk that there will be a considerable separation between the views expressed by this House and those expressed by the majority of the people whom we purport to represent?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. The idea of having different categories of murder according to the victim or to the form of the crime has been tried for nearly 10 years and found to be almost universally unsatisfactory, both by abolitionists and retentionists. Further, while I take note of all correspondence which I receive—and the number I have mentioned is substantial but not huge—in 1966 when I was previously Home Secretary I received more than twice as many letters in the course of three days. Subsequently the House, with a Conservative majority in the Parliament of 1970, voted by a majority of two to one in the other direction. These are matters on which all Members ought to apply their best judgment and then vote honestly.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no evidence whatever that the restoration of the death penalty in respect of these crimes, which we all deplore, would in any way reduce their number?

Mr. Jenkins

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend on that point.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

As an abolitionist who agrees with the right hon. Gentleman about the difficulty of categorising degrees of murder, may I ask whether it would not be better if, instead of making jokes about what Lord Hailsham said in another place or elsewhere, we had some clarification of the position with regard to the law of treason so that we knew whether that would attract the death penalty in cases of terrorism? These are important matters, deserving serious attention.

Mr. Jenkins

Of course they are, but the hon. Gentleman must not be too sensitive. It is not sensible to talk about a statement at a party political conference as being a judgment. What is clearly the case is that Lord Hailsham made it clear, wherever he did it, that the law of treason is far from clear. What would be agreed by the whole House is that if it were thought right—about which I would strongly protest—to introduce the death penalty for acts of terrorism, it should be done by a straightforward vote of this House and not by resurrecting an archaic and unfair law.

Forward to