HC Deb 13 January 1987 vol 108 cc161-6 4.37 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it a capital offence to commit the murder of a child. It is the inescapable duty of the state to protect its children, in the most effective way that is available to it, from unlawful sexual abuse, violence and murder. The Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, which reported in 1953, described murder as the gravest of all crimes and capital punishment as the gravest of punishments for the gravest of all crimes. The murder of a child is, in terms of public concern, an outrage and the gravest and most detestable of all crimes.

I contend that, if it became part of our law once again, capital punishment would, by its deterrent effect, reduce the number of child murders. I also contend that the knock-on effect of the death penalty would deter violence and abuse towards children. Evil people who prey on children are usually cowards to pick on a defenceless child. Cowards understand the fear of death. That fear has a powerful influence over all human beings. Was is not Dr. Johnson who said that nothing concentrates the mind so much as the imminent fear of execution? I submit that nothing is more likely to make the child abuser and potential child murderer pause before interfering with a child than the knowledge that if he or she kills he or she may suffer death.

Those who oppose capital punishment always call for evidence of the deterrent effect of the death penalty knowing that they sit on safe ground. Let me explain. Someone who may have considered murdering a child but is frightened off by the thought of the death penalty will never appear as a statistic. How could he? However, in 1953 the Royal Commission concluded that the deterrent effect of capital punishment was stronger than that of any other punishment available for murder. Common sense tells us that the increase in child abuse, violence and murder has been staggering since the death penalty was abolished.

Despite all the strong measures taken by the Government, the state is simply not protecting its children to the satisfaction of public opinion. In 1985, 125 people were charged with the murder of a child. Most of the arguments that have been put forward over the years by those opposing capital punishment fall to the ground, like a pack of cards, when applied to the murder of a child. Some believe that convicted terrorists, if executed, would become martyrs. Others have made pleas for murders of passion, and so on. Another defence is that mistakes may be made. Which convicted child murderer has ever been released from prison because it was felt that a mistake had been made at the trial? Many have been released, only to kill again. Others have killed fellow prisoners. Few of the arguments against capital punishment apply when considering it for the murder of a child.

My next remarks are directed to my own Front Bench. In 1983, the then Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) said: If the House votes for the restoration of capital punishment for any category of offence, the Government will provide drafting assistance for a private Member's Bill designed to give effect to the expression of opinion of the House and will provide time for the Bill to be debated."—[Official Report, 13 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 892.] If I am granted the leave of the House, whether unopposed or opposed, to present my Bill. I am justly entitled to expect the Government to honour that commitment and help me with parliamentary drafting services and parliamentary time. If my Bill receives the approval of Parliament today, the Government may wish to consider inserting a new clause in the Criminal Justice Bill.

The recent return of the child murderess Myra Hindley to the Saddleworth moor in my constituency has reopened painful wounds for many families and also for my constituents who live close to those moors. We must always remember that throughout the country there are hundreds of parents who have had their children snatched from play and murdered or never seen again. The thoughts and prayers of this House should be for them all.

The death penalty would have been a most appropriate sentence for Myra Hindley, Ian Brady and others like them if it had been the law at the time of their sentence. A very strong case can be made out for it. We might have saved the lives of Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride if the Labour Government of the day had not diluted the deterrent at the time of their killing. They undermined that deterrent by giving notice of their plans to abolish the death penalty. I suspect that Hindley and Brady took a gamble. They were right. They did not have to face the death penalty at the time of their sentence because the Labour Government had removed it.

I have a vision that once again the United Kingdom will be safe for our women to walk freely, without fear of being molested and raped, that our elderly will feel safe after dark and inside their own homes, and that our children will be able to play safely, unafraid of being abused or murdered. My vision will become a reality only if we take a tough line with the criminals, as we do with the defence of the realm. This Bill provides the opportunity for Parliament to make a start today by protecting children. I hope that hon. Members will give me leave to present my Bill for the sake of children everywhere.

4.44 pm
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

We are in an election year. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) has a marginal seat which backs on to Saddleworth moor. That is why he has introduced this Bill. His remarks about the Labour Government of 1964 were pathetic. The murder of Leslie Ann Downey took place on Boxing Day 1964. The Labour Government had then been in office for fewer than eight weeks. To say that the incoming Labour Government took away the deterrent shows the nonsense of the hon. Gentleman's case. There was capital punishment at that time for certain forms of murder. But capital punishment has never been a deterrent. When they hanged pickpockets on Tyburn hill a crowd of 10,000 surrounded the cart, and when the noose pulled the man up into the air all the pickpockets in the crowd chose that moment to dip their hands into the pocket of the man in front. Capital punishment did not deter people from stealing sheep. The statistics prove it.

The hon. Gentleman is trying to bring back capital and non-capital murder. He wants capital punishment for certain types of offence. We had that in this country for nine years, and at the end of the experiment Lord Chief Justice Parker said that it was an absolute fiasco that there should he capital punishment for murder involving shooting, for the theft of money, or for killing a policeman or a prison warder, but that there should not be capital punishment for the crime of poisoning. The jury had to decide, but all too often the jury dodged it and refused to convict.

How does one define the age of a child? Is somebody 15 years and 364 days old classed as a child? What happens if a person aged 16 years and one day is murdered? Is he also classed as a child? If the child who is murdered is one day over the limit, does it mean that the murderer gets away with it'? What nonsense that would be.

Experience in the United States shows that when two states that are side by side—for example, Rhode Island and Massachusetts or Maine and New Hampshire whose people are in the same income groups—have capital punishment in one state but not in the other, the murder rate is exactly the same in both states. In the case of two thirds of the murders in this country, the murderer knows his victim, and one third of murders take place within the family.

Often they are crimes of passion. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the death penalty would deter crimes of passion? It did not deter crimes of passion when we had the death penalty. Albert Pierrepoint, who hanged 400 murderers, said that the death penalty was no deterrent but a desire for revenge. It is more than a desire for revenge in the case of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth. It is also a desire for votes, but his revenge would be carried out by somebody else; the hon. Gentleman would not carry out the sentence himself.

This is the first step towards the introduction of hanging for many more crimes, including terrorism and the IRA. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members cheer. There is nothing that the IRA would like more than the reintroduction of hanging. The IRA would vote for it, hostages would be kidnapped weeks before a trial took place. There would be demonstrations outside the prison and television cameras would be there all the time.

Timothy Evans was hanged—

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

For the murder of a child.

Mr. Ashton

He murdered a child, yes, but they hanged the wrong man. When the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was Home Secretary 16 years later he had to give Evans a pardon, but by then it was too late. There have been strong doubts in many other cases: for example, in the case of David Cooper and Michael McMahon; of Patrick Meehan; of John Preece, who was released in 1973 after having served eight and a half years; and of William Leighton. They would all have been dead and it would have been too late. They were found innocent but it would have been too late.

In history, all too often, the murderer who was hanged got the sympathy. Those people who demonstrated at the gates to save Ruth Ellis remember her and not her victim. It would be the same if Myra Hindley had gone down in history as the last woman to be hanged—she would not be regarded with the same revulsion as she is now. Indeed, the British people are determined to keep her in gaol for many long years because that punishment is far worse, than hanging.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth is seeking to play on people's emotions because a general election is coming up.

Over many years, the House has discussed this problem, people have sat down together in a sane and responsible way to discuss it and each time they have rejected capital punishment.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 175.

Division No. 51] [4.50 pm
Alexander, Richard Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Amess, David Lord, Michael
Ancram, Michael Macfarlane, Neil
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Maclean, David John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony McLoughlin, Patrick
Bellingham, Henry McQuarrie, Albert
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Malone, Gerald
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Marland, Paul
Bright, Graham Marlow, Antony
Browne, John Maude, Hon Francis
Bruinvels, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Carttiss, Michael Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Cash, William Monro, Sir Hector
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Mudd, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Neale, Gerrard
Colvin, Michael Neubert, Michael
Conway, Derek Nicholls, Patrick
Coombs, Simon Norris, Steven
Corrie, John Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Dickens, Geoffrey Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Dicks, Terry Pawsey, James
Durant, Tony Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Eyre, Sir Reginald Pollock, Alexander
Fallon, Michael Portillo, Michael
Favell, Anthony Proctor, K. Harvey
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Forth, Eric Roe, Mrs Marion
Fox, Sir Marcus Shersby, Michael
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Sims, Roger
Glyn, Dr Alan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Goodhart, Sir Philip Speller, Tony
Gow, Ian Spencer, Derek
Greenway, Harry Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Gregory, Conal Stanbrook, Ivor
Grylls, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Sumberg, David
Hargreaves, Kenneth Taylor, John (Solihull)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hawksley, Warren Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Hayward, Robert Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Hind, Kenneth Thornton, Malcolm
Hirst, Michael Tracey, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Waller, Gary
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Ward, John
Hunter, Andrew Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Jessel, Toby Wiggin, Jerry
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Winterton, Mrs Ann
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Winterton, Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Wolfson, Mark
Lang, Ian
Lawrence, Ivan Tellers for the Ayes:
Lee, John (Pendle) Mr. Michael Brown and
Lightbown, David Mr. John Powley.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Alton, David Dubs, Alfred
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dykes, Hugh
Ashby, David Eadie, Alex
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Eastham, Ken
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fatchett, Derek
Barron, Kevin Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Fisher, Mark
Bell, Stuart Flannery, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Forrester, John
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Foster, Derek
Bidwell, Sydney Foulkes, George
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Boyes, Roland Freud, Clement
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Garrett, W. E.
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bruce, Malcolm Golding, Mrs Llin
Buchan, Norman Gourlay, Harry
Buck, Sir Antony Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Budgen, Nick Hancock, Michael
Caborn, Richard Hardy, Peter
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hayes, J.
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Cartwright, John Heffer, Eric S.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clay, Robert Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)
Cohen, Harry Howells, Geraint
Coleman, Donald Hoyle, Douglas
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Critchley, Julian Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Crowther, Stan Janner, Hon Greville
Dalyell, Tam John, Brynmor
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Johnston, Sir Russell
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dewar, Donald Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dixon, Donald Kennedy, Charles
Dobson, Frank Kirkwood, Archy
Dormand, Jack Knox, David
Dorrell, Stephen Lamond, James
Leadbitter, Ted Redmond, Martin
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Richardson, Ms Jo
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lilley, Peter Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Litherland, Robert Robertson, George
Livsey, Richard Rogers, Allan
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Loyden, Edward Rowe, Andrew
McCartney, Hugh Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McDonald, Dr Oonagh St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Sheerman, Barry
Maclennan, Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McNamara, Kevin Shields, Mrs Elizabeth
Madden, Max Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Maples, John Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Maxton, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Meadowcroft, Michael Stott, Roger
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Straw, Jack
Michie, William Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Tinn, James
Miscampbell, Norman Wallace, James
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Waller, Gary
Nellist, David Wareing, Robert
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Weetch, Ken
O'Brien, William Welsh, Michael
O'Neill, Martin Wigley, Dafydd
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Rt Hon A.
Parry, Robert Winnick, David
Patchett, Terry Woodall, Alec
Pavitt, Laurie Wrigglesworth, Ian
Pike, Peter Young, David (Bolton SE)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Price, Sir David Tellers for the Noes:
Radice, Giles Mr. Joseph Ashton and
Raffan, Keith Mr. Frank Haynes.
Raynsford, Nick

Question accordingly negatived.

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