HC Deb 21 February 1994 vol 238 cc24-70

'A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of the murder of a police officer acting in the execution of his duty shall on conviction be sentenced to death.'—[Mr. John Greenway.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I beg to move, That the clause be now read a Second time.

The Chairman

With this, it will be convenient also to consider new clause 4—Punishment for murder'(1) Subject to the following subsections the penalty for murder shall be death. (2) No person aged under 18 years shall suffer the death penalty. (3) As soon as practicable following a sentence of death, a special sitting of the Court of Appeal shall be convened to consider whether the circumstances of either

  1. (a) the commission of the offence or
  2. (b) the offender
whether or not such circumstances were adduced in evidence at the trial, are such as would justify the substitution of a sentence of life imprisonment in place of the sentence of death.'

Mr. Greenway

It is a little more than three years since I argued during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for the death penalty for the murder of a police officer. Since that debate, it is my understanding that, not forgetting the many atrocities committed against the police and security forces in Northern Ireland, eight police officers in England have been murdered. The most recent of those was only two weeks ago today, when Sergeant Derek Robertson was brutally stabbed to death by armed raiders at a south London post office in an ordinary residential district. Last October, PC Patrick Dunne was shot dead in Clapham as he responded to a routine burglary call. In March last year, Sergeant Bill Forth of Northumbria police was stabbed to death answering a call to a disturbance. Last week, two men were found guilty of his murder.

In June 1992, in my county of North Yorkshire and in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), Special Constable Glen Goodman was brutally murdered by an IRA terrorist. His colleague, PC Sandy Kelly, was left for dead and his life was saved only by the miraculous work of local doctors. Detective Constable Jim Morrison was stabbed to death in central London. Sergeant Alan King was stabbed to death in east London. PC Duncan Clift was murdered in Northumberland and PC Robert Gladwell was killed in a west London hotel brawl.

Whatever view we take of the merits of capital punishment, there are three points on which I hope that all hon. Members will agree. First, we must pay tribute to the courage of those eight officers. Their bravery and that of their families should never be forgotten. Secondly, their courage is typical of that displayed throughout the police service in the United Kingdom. Many other officers have survived brutal and savage assaults in circumstances where their assailants were totally indifferent to their fate. Thirdly, I hope that we can also agree that the chronicle of violence and murder against our police officers is not acceptable. Hon. Members divide over what should be done about it.

Those of us who support the new clause believe that capital punishment for the murder of a police officer would reduce the number of police murders. Life imprisonment as a penalty has clearly not been a sufficient deterrent in those cases that I have outlined. But does it necessarily follow that the death penalty might have prevented those murders? If the life of just one of those eight officers had been spared by fear of the death sentence, would not the sanction have been justified? In the 1979 debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner) said: I greatly envy the certainty of those hon. Members … who seem able to assert that the existence of capital punishment would not have saved even one life."—[Official Report, 19 July 1979; Vol. 970, c. 2118.] We cannot be absolutely certain either way, and I have concluded that the general question about deterrence is impossible to answer definitively one way or the other.

The arguments on both sides are formidable. The death penalty will certainly not encourage murder and, on balance, common sense tells us that it is more likely to discourage it. Sadly, however, police officers were murdered when we had the death sentence. Although the number of such murders has more than doubled since the death sentence was abolished, it must be acknowledged that there is more crime and society is more violent.

It is, nevertheless, an incontrovertible fact that, when this country still had the death penalty, it was extremely rare for criminals engaged in the most serious robberies to he armed with guns or knives, lest, in the heat of the moment, a member of the gang panicked and committed murder. They knew full well what to expect in such circumstances. The threat of the death penalty would have a similar effect on some criminals today.

3.45 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I also pay tribute to the memory of those dedicated officers who were murdered when carrying out their duty, including the police officer recently murdered in New Addington, Croydon.

If one police officer—or more—had been murdered as a result of the IRA atrocities in Birmingham and Guildford and the hon. Gentleman's proposal had been law, the people convicted would have been executed. However, since then they have been found innocent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh no they were not"] Conservative Members may disagree, but the fact remains that the people convicted were released from prison. Does it not trouble the hon. Gentleman that men, and perhaps women, would have been executed for murders for which, in the general opinion of the public, they were not responsible?

Mr. Greenway

I am not entirely sure that the final part of the hon. Gentleman's statement is right. I suspect that, given what happened in both trials involving the Guildford case, the public—

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

What is this: trial by the Conservative party or trial by jury?

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned the Guildford case. I will deal with his other comment in a moment. He said that the majority of the public seemed to think that the Guildford Four were innocent. However, I am not entirely convinced of that and the fact that the police officers charged with perjury were found not guilty also leads me to that conclusion. I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's point about the miscarriage of justice in a moment. He is absolutely right—it is the key point which we must deal with in this debate.

I believe, as I understand do many Conservative Members, that the threat of the death penalty would have an effect on criminals today, as it did in the 1940s and 1950s—and I suspect, until it was discontinued—when criminals did not take guns and knives with them when they took part in crimes.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)


Mr. Greenway

May I continue, as this is important? I want to establish why we should consider the murder of a police officer separately from other murders. My theory is supported by the recent murders of policemen which I outlined, when the criminals very casually and cold-bloodedly calculated that they could use guns and knives to avoid arrest.

It is as if murderers are asking, "What have I got to lose?" That is the question which hon. Members must answer. Would the death penalty persuade, force or urge some of those violent criminals to think twice? I believe that it would and that is why I shall continue to advocate its availability to the courts.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I think that I am the only Member of the House who has ever appeared in a capital case—I have appeared in 17—and I am grossly against the death penalty. I do not believe that it has the slightest effect on the offender and it has another very bad effect. As the defending counsel, I am put on trial because, if I make a mistake, ask the wrong question or appear in the wrong way, the man may go to the trap. I, therefore, believe that the death penalty is evil and wrong in every way, and I have experience.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. and learned Friend makes his own point, but I am not sure that it was an intervention on my speech.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

The sentence of the death penalty is passed in many states in America and, unfortunately, it is regularly carried out. America is, however, one of the most violent societies in the western world. How does the deterrence effect work there? Why should it be any different here?

Mr. Greenway

America has a gun culture, which, thankfully, we do not have. I have already said that when we had the death penalty, even among the criminal fraternity there was not the gun culture or the knife-carrying culture of today.

I have conceded that the argument of deterrence can be formidable either way. We all have to make our own judgment on the balance of the facts as we see them. It is the current habit among the criminal fraternity to be armed with guns and knives, and to use them in such a cold, calculating way, which has convinced me that the death penalty would have a deterrent effect in some cases.

I know that many hon. Members will oppose the new clause—the hon. Member for Walsall, North has already made that clear—for fear of the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. When we previously debated the issue, the recent acquittal of the Guildford Four pub bombers was very much in our minds. That case persuaded many hon. Members, some of whom had previously supported the death penalty, that we should not take the risk of executing the wrong man. I understand that view and it is a matter about which we must rightly be concerned.

The Runciman royal commission has made important recommendations to improve our criminal justice system specifically to deal with miscarriage of justice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has given his intention to implement change and he is consulting on what needs to be done. I am sure that he will want to say more about that today.

We must build on the significant improvements made to our criminal justice system in recent years. Nothing could be more important than the need to prevent miscarriages of justice occurring in the first place and to deal more speedily and effectively with appeals. The implementation of such arrangements is crucial to any reintroduction of capital punishment for murder generally.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the question of deterrence, would he care to cast his mind back to the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1947? His family is still contesting that sentence, which I regard as an obscenity. If the deterrence theory worked, why were there any more murders of that kind? As the hon. Gentleman has been so generous in giving way, will he also consider the case of PC Blakelock who was murdered on the Broadwater Farm—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. An intervention, by tradition, is a single question. We have only three hours for debate.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) mentioned the Blakelock case, which I intend to deal with in a moment, because we have different views on it.

The case of Derek Bentley happened a long time ago. I accept that the murder was committed at the time when we had the death penalty. As I understand it, the case was particularly difficult because the person who committed the murder was under 16 years of age. He, therefore, could not suffer the death penalty, as would be the case under my new clause. I am surprised that anyone could suggest that Derek Bentley was not engaged in a serious crime. I, therefore, do not believe that that case is a valid argument of a miscarriage of justice. It may be fair to suggest that, in those circumstances, someone in Bentley's position either should have not been found guilty of murder by the jury or should not have suffered the death penalty. But such a miscarriage of justice does not undermine the argument in favour of the death sentence.

The implementation of important improvements and reforms in our criminal justice system and how we deal with miscarriages of justice are crucial. The same improvements would help to prevent miscarriages of justice involving the murder of a police officer. Such miscarriages of justice, however, are rare and exceptional. The hon. Member for Erdington mentioned the only two exceptions in modern times. The acquittal of the Tottenham Three—Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite—for the murder of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot of 1985 was the second case that he mentioned. Silcott remains in prison convicted of another murder. Opinions vary on whether he was responsible for PC Blakelock's death.

The Committee must face up to this question: if Silcott and his accomplices did not kill PC Blakelock, who did? My impression is that the police remain satisfied that they got their man, but accept that the administration of the case was not all that it should have been.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to persuade the Committee that it would be right to execute people in a case where—I use his words —"opinions vary"? If so, it is a preposterous proposition.

Mr. Greenway

I am not putting that proposition to the Committee. I am saying that I understand that Winston Silcott was acquitted on appeal because there were serious shortcomings in how the police administered the case. Had that evidence been available to the jury during his trial, Silcott might have been acquitted and not found guilty. That issue is separate from whether any of us think that he was responsible for PC Blakelock's death. Having talked to the most senior Metropolitan police officers, my impression is that they are satisfied that they got their man, but recognise that a lot must be done to improve the administration of cases.

Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

Does my hon. Friend agree that he could apply the same argument the other way round, to the administration of the defence in a murder trial?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend puts his finger on a point which I thought about mentioning in my speech, but decided that it would be a red herring. I believe that the changes that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is introducing through the Bill will have both those effects. How the defence must conduct its case, as well as how we deal with prosecutions and, eventually, miscarriages of justice, are all important reforms recommended by the Runciman commission.

Some people will argue that, as with the detection and prosecution of all serious crime, the police face enormous pressures to secure a conviction. The police are the first to accept that there has been malpractice in the handling of some cases, and chief officers are determined to stamp that out. Considerable progress has already been made to that end.

However, when a police officer is murdered, it must be right to question what possible benefit there could be to the police service to convict the wrong man. The police have a vested interest in ensuring that the right man is caught and convicted, although that must be done within the proper rules of conduct and evidence. Otherwise, the true killer will remain at large and ready to strike and kill again at any time.

I remind the Committee that, only last week, James Hurley—who was gaoled in 1989 for his part in the murder of PC Frank Mason—attacked a prison officer while escaping from a prison bus. Hurley should never have been given that chance. I am not referring to the adequacy of the security arrangements for Hurley's transfer to Wandsworth or why he was transferred so early in his sentence.

Evil men who show utter contempt for the lives of serving police officers deserve to pay for their horrific crimes by forfeiting their own lives. If we do not reintroduce the death sentence for murders of policemen, what alternatives are there?

4 pm

An amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), which has not been called, has much to commend it. Although my own preference is the death sentence, the next best alternative would be to provide in law for those who murder police officers never to be released from prison. Perhaps the best for which we can realistically hope is that they serve a minimum of 30 years. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to consider that proposal.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

It would cost a fortune.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend points out that such an option would cost a fortune. I made it clear that I am in favour of the death sentence, but I am discussing alternatives.

Much more could be done to improve the protection given to police officers through the standard issue of protective clothing and side-handle batons. I raised both possibilities in an Adjournment debate more than two years ago—which, not surprisingly, was not as well attended as this afternoon's debate. I highlighted a number of recent savage assaults on police officers—at least two of whom owe their lives to the skill of doctors and surgeons.

Although protective clothing and side-handle batons would be welcomed by police officers, would that be enough? If the Committee rejects new clause 2, another consequence would become ever more likely—the routine arming of the police. I reluctantly reached that conclusion when we debated the issue three years ago, and subsequent events have made that prospect virtually inevitable. I understand that that view is being advanced by the Police Federation.

When police officers rush to the scene of the crime—as did Sergeant Robertson just two weeks ago—they have no way of knowing whether the criminals are armed or the immediate danger that confronts them. I have reminded the House of my own experiences as a police officer in London in the 1960s. In such a situation, police officers do their best to protect their colleagues and the public. In doing that, they give the criminal the benefit of the doubt. Tragically, some police officers pay a heavy price for doing so.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of younger members of the Police Federation feel that the time has come for police officers to be routinely armed? If that were to happen, and police officers used firearms in situations such as that confronted by Sergeant Robertson, could not innocent bystanders also lose their lives?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He gives another reason why, on balance, I favour the restoration of capital punishment.

I began by suggesting that the Committee might at least agree that the number of police murders is not acceptable. If it takes that view, doing nothing is not an option. Tonight, the Committee will vote on two important issues of conscience. In the debate on the age of consent for homosexuals, I shall vote in favour of its being reduced to 18 and against a reduction to 16. However, many members of the public question our priorities when—as seems likely —we give in to the homosexual lobby, but do not have the guts and courage to answer the demands of the police service, by giving police the protection that they need and deserve. In my judgment, that must mean the death penalty for the murder of a police officer. I urge the Committee to support new clause 2.

The Chairman

Before I call any other hon. Member, I make the plea that that is a short debate of only three hours. The Chair has a very long list of hon. Members wishing to contribute. Therefore, I ask, please, for short and concise speeches.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

The debate is not about the respect that we have for the police, and for their courage; nor do our views differ on police murders. The fact is that they are vile and we must do what we can to stop them. The debate is about capital punishment. We must decide our view on that. We will all be in support of the police. Having been the leader of an authority that was a police authority, I am naturally well aware of the many situations where the police put themselves in great danger. Our debate is about what is the proper punishment.

I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) that capital punishment is evil. For me, it is not only morally indefensible, but is irrelevant as a deterrent. It is inexcusable as a punishment in its irrevocability and is insidiously damaging to any society that practises it. As one who has followed from outside the consideration that the House has given to this issue over many years, from the pioneering days of Sydney Silverman, I applaud the sanity of hon. Members in rejecting clauses and amendments of similar effect to this, time after time, over more than 20 years. I count it a privilege to be able to speak and vote against these new clauses.

I take seriously the message that the Chairman has given and shall speak briefly on only two issues. I shall first deal with an issue that has already been discussed—miscarriages of justice. Since the issue was last debated in the House, a considerable number of miscarriages of justice have been revealed. Whether the increase is simply in line with the increase in crime or reflects on occasions the pressures that are on the police to find a solution, any miscarriage of justice—we have seen a spate of them—destroys the case for a final solution for the individual concerned.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about miscarriages of justice, but is not it also a great injustice that, in far too many cases, convicted murderers are released on to the streets and go on to commit another murder? Since 1965, there have been 71 such cases. Surely, if the death penalty had been introduced, those people would be alive.

Mr. Gunnell

The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that because some people have been released—from subsequent events, it is clear that it would have been far better had they not been—it is reasonable to allow some people who are innocent to be put to death. I cannot accept that argument. I shall give two names from my county area where there have been miscarriages of justice: Stefan Kiszco and Judith Ward. In each case, it is absolutely clear that their convictions were based on confessions. In each case, those confessions were not the truth.

As a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, I believe that, by ending the right to silence, we are increasing the probability of false confessions and their consequences. Kiszco was kept for a long time without access to a solicitor; we are not insisting on a solicitor having to be present for silence to be cited later.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I have never understood the right to silence, which which was compulsory in both countries until 1892—

Mr. John Greenway


Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

1898. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that every person on earth, whoever he was and wherever he lived, could be compelled to give evidence, except the person whose evidence was vital—the accused. I have always regarded the right to silence as both idiotic and wrong.

Mr. Gunnell

I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman—and in the Standing Committee we argued logically in favour of an alternative way of dealing with the issues.

There is no doubt that the ending of the right to silence will in many cases lead to confessions that may not be accurate. Judith Ward had mental problems. That would mitigate her silence in some circumstances but not in others.

It is ironic that a royal commission set up because of public concern at incorrect verdicts should recommend a procedure to reduce their effects which has been ignored in favour of procedures that diminish the suspect's rights—procedures that some wish today to cap with an irrevocable punishment.

I believe that restoring judicial murder—because that is what capital punishment is—would degrade our national life. If we legalise killing, we are agreeing that the taking of life is necessary in some circumstances. How can we stop people deciding those circumstances for themselves —deciding that what they have done to another person is appropriate given that the state is making similar decisions? How can we expect young people to grow up with an abhorrence of murder if they see murder carried out by the state?

In the years since the last execution took place, the nature of media reporting has changed so much that, although we do not envisage executions ever being shown live on television, every member of the family, every friend and every colleague of the person who is to be executed—and every person nearest to the case—is likely to be pestered and even paid for interviews. Through the media, and the interest that they now show in such events, the nation as a whole would experience the real horror of it all—and that, I believe, would be degrading to the nation.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman said that the new clause was all about punishment. Some of us believe that it is both about punishment and about deterrence, and that if one deters, one does not need to punish. However offensive capital punishment may be to the hon. Gentleman, will he not admit in his heart that criminals would be less likely to carry guns and knives if it existed?

Mr. Gunnell

In my heart, I believe that the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) is completely wrong. If the hon. Member considers the statistics from the United States, he will find that those states in which the death penalty has been reintroduced have higher murder rates that those in which it has not been reintroduced. There is no evidence that it is a deterrent. I said that it was irrelevant because I believe, not only in my head but in my heart, that it has no effect as a deterrent and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. There is no reason to think that those who may consider murdering a policeman would take account of a death penalty being in existence. There is no evidence of that from any country where the death penalty is used. What is more—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Gunnell

Many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude. If the precedent of other legislation is a guide, given the difficulties that we would have in returning to a system in which capital punishment is used, and given that I understand that there is only one gallows remaining—in Wandsworth prison—the process would be likely to go out to tender.

After all, we have already provided for private secure units, private prisons, private escorts and private prison ships. No doubt, with no facilities available nationwide, putting it out to tender would be the economic option. Judging by their faces, some hon. Members think that that is unthinkable and that it could not possibly happen. If they believe that, I suggest they consider what the Foreign Secretary said about private prisons in 1987 when he was Home Secretary. They will see how the climate has changed over the past six years.

Capital punishment is an obscenity, it is ineffective and it would be damaging to the well-being of the nation. I hope that many hon. Members will join me in opposing it.

4.15 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

In speaking to my new clause 4, I have no hesitation in beginning where I left off when we previously debated the matter in the House in 1990. At the end of that speech, I said: It is high time that we as Members of Parliament came down from our ivory towers, did what the people of Britain want us to do and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty"— [Official Report, 17 December 1990; Vol. 183, c. 103.] My postbag suggests that nothing has changed. In fact, there is more and more support throughout the country for that action. Certainly, my resolve is strengthened. The number of vicious murders has continued to increase. The number of horrific murders, especially of elderly people in their own homes, has continued to increase. The people of Britain want some action to deter murderers and they want to see the House take action. They clearly want the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Every test of public opinion in recent years has clearly demanded the return of the death penalty. According to polls that have been conducted over recent years for national newspapers and for radio stations, a steady 90 per cent. of the large samples interviewed supported the substance of the measure. The strength of feeling in constituencies, not only in Yorkshire, but throughout the country, has not altered and does not alter. There is a strong feeling that the death penalty would act as a deterrent. I firmly believe that it would.

However, I do not believe that Members of Parliament are delegates because we are not. The House and we as Members should reflect public opinion. Certainly, the mass of public opinion at the moment is that people want action, they want change, they want a deterrent to murder and they want the death penalty reintroduced and available to the courts to deal with all murders. The new clause asks for the death penalty not only the murderers of policemen, but for all who commit murder. It has never been clear to me why the House continues to ignore such public opinion. Of course, the measure is a matter of conscience and we shall be debating another one later today.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Would the hon. Lady agree that public opinion tends to vary from case to case and from time to time? At the grand old of 46, I am old enough, as she will be, to recall when there were regular hangings in this country and the majority of public opinion was against the death penalty. That occurred after it was discovered that we hanged Timothy Evans by mistake, after the Craig and Bentley case and after the hanging of Ruth Ellis. I am old enough to remember that. Public opinion can be swayed quite easily by a sufficiently ruthless and unscrupulous campaign. As the hon. Lady rightly said, we are not delegates: we are here to exercise our judgment.

Mrs. Peacock

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. No doubt if he catches your eye, Mr. Morris, he will be able to develop his argument further. However, I am not responding to a knee-jerk campaign. I have held my view for many years and it has never changed. My postbag is not part of a campaign. It comprises letters from people of all ages around the country, many of whom remember when we had capital punishment and who wish it to be reintroduced.

I believe that capital punishment should be available to the courts to deal with all categories of murder. Beating an old lady to death in her own home, as happened in my constituency three or four years ago, or killing a policeman on duty, are equally abhorrent and they are both murder.

In a proven case of murder, it would be the duty of the court to pass the death penalty. However, I know and appreciate that many murders are carried out in domestic circumstances. Many murderers know their victims and many victims know their murderers. New clause 4, with its referral to the Court of Appeal immediately after the passing of the death sentence, would take such details into account.

For that reason, all proven cases following the death sentence should pass immediately to the Court of Appeal; not in one year, two years or three years, but immediately. It would then rest with the guilty person and that person's lawyers to convince the Court of Appeal that the sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment. In that regard, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and I believe that life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment.

New clause 4 meets the demands of the majority of people in this country—certainly, the demands of the people who have taken the trouble to write to me over the past 10 years. They want the death penalty available for murder.

My new clause also provides a formal safety net to deal with murders in the domestic environment and it provides a further net for those who carry out horrific and sadistic murders. I am often accused of a knee-jerk reaction. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested in his intervention that this was some kind of short-lived campaign. I have always held the view and I would not be speaking in support of my new clause as part of a knee-jerk campaign. I have always believed that we should have the death penalty.

Some people argue that the absence of capital punishment in this country is a mark of a civilised society. I believe that we are rapidly becoming uncivilised. Some of the things that happen on our streets and in people's homes certainly do not constitute civilised behaviour. Action must be taken to arrest that dangerous trend.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

My hon. Friend said that the final decision would be taken by the Court of Appeal, but does not the final final decision rest with the Home Secretary? Would that not be the most horrendous decision for any person to have to take?

Mrs. Peacock

My hon. Friend is right. Traditionally, the final decision would be taken by the Home Secretary. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is on the Front Bench and is listening to the debate. The final decision would be his. That is the Home Secretary's responsibility and part of his duty in the job and office that he holds.

During the debate, we shall no doubt hear many figures about crime and punishment. Figures can be made to say many things. However, the figures reflect the general increase in the level of crime, particularly vicious crime such as attacks on elderly people in their own homes.

The deterrent effect of capital punishment cannot be proven by statistics. Over the weekend, I was asked how I could know that capital punishment would be a deterrent. I replied with a question: "How do you know that it wouldn't?" If we do not have capital punishment on the statute book, how can we collect statistics to show that it is or is not a deterrent? As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, if we have a deterrent, we probably do not need the punishment. My hon. Friend is right. Many young thugs would think twice about going armed for burglary. They would also think twice about carrying a knife to the pub on a Saturday night and using it in the heat of the moment in a punch-up outside.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that statistics can show only the number of people who have not been deterred? There is no way in which statistics can show the number who have been deterred. Therefore, it is impossible to know from statistics how many have been deterred, so it is useless to attempt to rely on statistics. Instead, we must rely on common sense.

Mrs. Peacock

My hon. Friend is right. Statistics cannot prove who would be deterred. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said when he talked about the killing of policemen, it is well known that in the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, criminals would not take a younger new member with them until they had made sure that that individual was not armed, in case he decided to use a weapon in the heat of the moment. They had a policing system of their own because they knew that if somebody was killed there was the death penalty for it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

My hon. Friend has picked up the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member of Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) about not being able to prove statistics. Will she reflect on why the murder rate in England and Wales is one third of that in Scotland and why it is virtually the lowest in the European Community? There must be many things that we do right in this country.

Mrs. Peacock

I am sure that there are. I cannot say that I have studied the figures for Scotland and compared them with those for England and Wales, but I am sure that if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Morris, he will develop that argument very well.

In such debates, we always hear a great deal about what should or should not happen to murderers, but very little about the victims, their families and the effect that such a traumatic happening can have on them, often for the rest of their lives, particularly when children are involved. The tragedy of murder and its influence on families is not sufficiently considered. We must consider it more. We have a responsibility and a duty to look carefully at that side of the debate.

The whole country is tired of horrific murders and expects Parliament to take the lead in dealing with the situation. The criminal law as it now stands no longer provides a credible sanction for the most heinous form of wrongdoing. The Committee will surely agree that action must be taken. We cannot resist the majority for ever. The majority in this country want the return of the death penalty, so we should help to provide it by voting for the new clauses.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Already, it is clear that this is an issue in which belief will be rather more significant than evidence or logic. I understand the case that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) makes on behalf of police officers, but I find it very difficult to justify that case compared with, for example, the position of sub-postmasters or sub-postmistresses in obscure post' offices in rural constituencies such as mine. Experience after 1957 suggests that if we try to create categories to which capital punishment applies there will always be cases that fall on the edge of a category and which test the whole notion of capital punishment for a certain group. For example, the words in the execution of his duty appear in new clause 2. Those words are capable of more than one judicial interpretation. I therefore believe that our experience of capital punishment should lead us to the firm conclusion that we are either in it completely or out of it completely.

Mr. Shersby

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I should like to make progress, if I may.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said with conviction that life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment. She must bear in mind that it is not the decision of the legal system whether a convicted murderer is released on licence, but the decision of the Home Secretary of the day in England and Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland. Those are administrative decisions and they are difficult decisions, but let us be clear that they are made by those who have to answer to the House of Commons. It is clear also that the issue we are discussing is most likely to be joined on the question of the principle. I start with the unshakeable conviction that human life is sacred, that to take human life is immoral and that it is as immoral for the state to take human life as it is for any individual to do so. Such a belief, however, cannot arise through chance or inspiration; it must be the product of influences.

I began my professional practice at the Bar in 1968, after abolition. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), I have no direct experience of capital murder cases. However, I have talked to people with such experience—as either counsel or judges—and I have found no enthusiasm for a return to capital punishment among those people. I myself have prosecuted successfully some who would undoubtedly have been hanged, and I have defended unsuccessfully others who would have suffered the same fate. Nothing in my experience, during those years of practice at the Bar, has persuaded me that restoration would be justified.

4.30 pm

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) made a number of references to public support. I believe that she is right to the extent that there is substantial public support in the abstract, but I doubt very much whether that support would survive the experience of any part of the administration of justice leading to capital punishment. Once people had understood the horrors of the means by which capital punishment was carried out, and had become aware of the strain on jurors and witnesses, I very much doubt whether public opinion would remain as implacably in favour of restoration as it apparently is now.

I can think of no other civilised society that has restored capital punishment. So far, the debate has been notable for the absence of evidence to suggest that any society that has felt it necessary to restore capital punishment has been able to reduce the number of murders by that means.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Following the reintroduction of capital punishment in the United States, there is evidence that the number of murders in Florida has been reduced.

Mr. Campbell

The United States does not reintroduce capital punishment; individual states do so. As much evidence can be produced on one side as on the other. That is the point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale—the deterrence argument is entirely inconclusive.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

No state in the United States has reintroduced capital punishment. What has happened is that, for years and years, people have suffered the degrading experience of not knowing whether they will be executed the next day, the day after that or the day after that; then the authorities started to execute a few of them. That is the inhuman thing that has happened, and is happening, in the United States.

Mr. Campbell

I remember the example of Mr. Caryl Chessman, who spent 14 years on death row. It could be argued that that was caused by a defect in the American system—or, rather, the state system—to which he was subject, in that he was provided with the opportunity for appeal after appeal. The hon. Gentleman is right, however —what could be more inhumane or degrading?

A fundamental issue has not yet been mentioned. Whatever the intrinsic merits of capital punishment, the passage of nearly 30 years since it was last carried out must be a compelling factor against restoration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] As has been pointed out, after 30 years we have no sets of gallows, and no magistrates whose duty is to stand and supervise. We do not have the administrative arrangements. All of that has been swept away. Is it to be restored?

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

What we have had during those 30 years is a vast increase in the incidence of violent crime. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that the reintroduction of capital punishment would deter violent criminals?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Member for Ryedale made it clear that the deterrence argument was inconclusive. The onus rests on those who advance that argument, and who want change, to demonstrate that capital punishment is the only way to deal with the upsurge in violent crime. I believe that the fear of apprehension and conviction is a more significant factor in deterring people from the commission of a crime than the particular penalty which may follow.

Running through this debate is always the implication of retribution. I understand the motive for retribution. If any member of my family were to be murdered, I would feel horror, anger and a sense of loss which no doubt would give rise in me to a sense of vengeance. However, our legal system has moved away from self-help and revenge. Prosecution—except in a few instances—is the responsibility of the state. That is because the collective response of the state is more likely to be dispassionate and more likely to be in the interest of us all. The supremacy of the institution is given effect, rather than individual redress.

I return to a point that has not been addressed in the debate, but which I believe to be fundamental. What right does the state have to take revenge on a citizen by taking his life?

Mr. Dicks

Every right.

Mr. Campbell

Well, that must be a question of belief.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that there is no evidence that capital punishment deters. Can he explain why, prior to abolition, the average number of murders in the United Kingdom was approximately 140 a year, and why the current average is 700?

Mr. Campbell

There has been a substantial rise in violent crime, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to relate all of that rise to capital punishment, he will find it hard to bring his evidence home conclusively.

An important consideration is the risk of mistake. The hon. Member for Ryedale developed a curious argument that if we improve our procedures, there will be less risk of miscarriages of justice and therefore we should be willing to accept capital punishment. But the hon. Gentleman forgets that genuine mistakes occur. Identification evidence is notoriously fallible, and genuine mistakes may occur as a result of that. He forgets that mistakes often occur through inefficiency, and because of inadequate forensic examination. He forgets that mistakes are sometimes made as a result of the inadequacy of defence counsel. He forgets that mistakes that occur because of a breach of the rules of evidence or because of the concealment of evidence can be extremely difficult to discover, no matter what provisions the Home Secretary may introduce.

When all that is put against the inconclusive possibility of the reintroduction of capital punishment providing deterrence, the argument falls strongly in favour of those who do not support reintroduction.

Mr. Stephen

Many hon. Members agree that capital punishment should not be restored, but is not the alternative of life imprisonment, which means on average about 12 years, a fraud on the public? Should not a person who otherwise would be executed he sent to prison for life meaning life, subject only to the Court of Appeal being able to let him out if it should transpire that he was wrongly convicted?

Mr. Campbell

If it is a fraud on the public, it is a fraud —dare I say—committed by Home Secretaries and by Secretaries of State for Scotland who make that decision, and not by the courts. The life sentence imposed by a court is for life—[Interruption.] As a matter of law, it is for life. A person is released on licence and is liable to be recalled at any time during his life because a life sentence has been imposed on him. He can be recalled for crimes which fall a long way short of further commission of the crime of murder.

Mistakes that lead to capital punishment cannot be put right. The names of Evans, Hanratty and Bentley in their own ways stand as monuments to injustice and to the inherent risk that capital punishment necessarily embraces. A posthumous pardon is no substitute for life and liberty.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we have not abolished the death penalty? We have taken it out of the courts of law. We have obliged our police officers and others, when going to arrest dangerous persons, to go armed. When they are shooting, mistakes occur and it is often not the person who has committed the murder but a perfectly innocent bystander who is killed.

Mr. Campbell

I have to challenge the proposition with which the hon. Lady opened. I understood the effect of the 1965 Act to be the abolition of capital punishment for crimes of murder. It still exists for certain crimes within the armed setvices, but capital punishment for murder has been abolished.

I return to the point that I made earlier: it is almost 30 years since capital punishment was abolished. One must have regard to that fact as much as to any other in determining whether reintroduction is possible.

I mentioned Evans, Hanratty and Bentley. I could have mentioned more contemporary illustrations such as Preece, Meehan, the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four, some or, indeed, all of whom might well have suffered the same fate as Timothy Evans. If they had, they would simply have underlined the dangerous finality of the cruel and inhuman punishment which capital punishment represents.

We have to ask ourselves this: are we so confident of ourselves and our judicial system that we are willing to wager the life of any citizen on capital punishment? I do not have that confidence and I do not believe that the Committee should have it either.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) on the way in which they spoke to the new clauses. This issue gives rise to deep-seated and passionately held convictions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends for giving the Committee the opportunity to express its view.

By tradition, the role of the Home Secretary in these debates has been to offer some analysis of the background to the factors that the Committee will wish to take into account, to comment on the effect of the new clauses and to say something about his personal views. I shall attempt to follow that tradition.

The first thing to do is to set the debate in the context of history. At the beginning of the 19th century, capital punishment was available for more than 200 offences, including cutting down trees and consorting with gipsies. During the first half of that century, there was a lengthy and eventually successful campaign to reduce the scope of the death penalty, and by 1861 it was available only for murder, high treason, piracy with violence and the destruction of public arsenals and dockyards. Since then, apart from for treason, there have been no executions other than for murder. In 1908, the death penalty was abolished for children under 16. The minimum age was raised again in 1933, to 18.

The abolition debate continued during the first half of this century. In 1930, a parliamentary Select Committee recommended suspension of the death penalty for a trial period of five years, but no action was taken. In 1948, the House carried a motion to the same effect, which was heavily defeated in another place. The same fate befell a later Bill to abolish the death penalty in 1956.

In 1957, as a response to growing concern about the appropriateness of the death penalty for every murder, the Homicide Act 1957 was passed. This restricted capital punishment to the most heinous categories of murder. That categorisation failed to command confidence. In 1965, Sydney Silverman's private Member's Bill to abolish the death penalty for a trial period of five years was passed; abolition was confirmed by Parliament in 1969.

Since 1965, the House of Commons has returned to this matter on at least 13 occasions. That shows both the strength of feelings held about capital punishment and the irreconcilable nature of the convictions held on both sides of the argument. It is now more than three years since we last debated the issue, and it is right that we should return to it now—particularly in the context of legislation to introduce a number of significant measures to combat crime.

The homicide statistics set the context for our debate and bear in particular on the question of the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent—a factor which will, no doubt, weigh heavily with right hon. and hon. Members this afternoon.

The number of offences initially recorded as homicide in England and Wales has risen steadily since the 1950s, although the rate of increase has slowed considerably in the past decade. In the decade from 1956 to 1965 the average number of homicides a year was 294; from 1966 to 1975, it was 450; from 1976 to 1985, it was 580; and from 1986 to 1992, it was 670. In 1992, the number was 687.

Those figures need some amplification. First, the figures include the offences of manslaughter and infanticide. Many homicides—well over 50 per cent. in 1992—do not result in a conviction for murder, but the number of convictions for murder has also risen steadily, averaging 187 over the 10 years ending in 1991. The recorded figures for crime in general and violent crime have risen much faster than have the number of homicides. Although the number of recorded homicides between 1966 and 1985 was 60 per cent. higher than in the preceding 20 years, the number of serious violent offences was 205 per cent. higher. The total of recorded crimes of all kinds was 220 per cent. higher. That said, I have made it clear on many occasions that I share the widespread scepticism about the value of total recorded crime figures. The level of reporting of particular offences can be influenced by many factors, including the availability of telephones and insurance, and the extent of public confidence in the ability of the police to take effective action in a particular set of circumstances.

The picture in the United States, which has much more recent experience of the death penalty, is not much clearer. In the 10 years between 1967 and 1977, when there were no executions, the homicide rate rose from 6.2 to 8.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. When executions were started again in 1977, it continued to rise, to over 10 per 100,000 in 1980. It fell back to 7.9 in 1984, but has now almost regained its peak at 9.8. In the period during which the homicide rate fell—between 1980 and 1985—there is no evidence that it fell at a greater rate in those states that had the death penalty than in those that did not.

The story is similar elsewhere. Other countries that have abolished the death penalty have, like the United Kingdom, seen lower increases in homicide than in other violent offences. In Canada, the homicide rate has fallen slowly since the abolition of capital punishment in 1976.

4.45 pm
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

Will my hon. Friend forgive me for a moment? I should like to finish this point and then I shall certainly give way to her.

I have given the figures. They are not conclusive either way. I have no doubt in my own mind that the death penalty may act as a deterrent in certain cases. That is why, until and including 1990, I voted consistently in favour of the death penalty for the murder of police or prison officers, or for murder committed with firearms or explosives. I thought that the deterrent effect would be greatest for those categories. Indeed, there is widespread anecdotal evidence, and support among the police, for the view that criminals are today far more willing to go to the scene of crime equipped with a firearm than in decades gone by. I changed my view about bringing back the death penalty in 1991 for reasons other than the argument about deterrence. I shall explain them at the end of my speech.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The point that I should like to make is in response to my right hon. and learned Friend's observation that the level of violent crime has risen faster than homicide. Does he think that much of that is attributable to the incredible improvement in medical science? Many cases which would have been murder in the old days are now saved by the skill of our surgeons.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend may well have a point which, in part, explains the difference. I doubt very much whether it accounts for the whole of that difference, but it may have had a part to play.

I shall proceed next to deal with incapacitation, which has caused great concern to many of my hon. Friends. It cannot be denied that the availability of the death penalty can ensure that convicted murderers, or particular types of murderers, do not kill again. The mandatory life sentence, of course, ensures that a rigorous assessment of risk must be made in every case before release of a murderer can be contemplated and allows, in appropriate cases, for a murderer to be detained for the rest of his life. The death penalty is, nevertheless, the one certain means of providing that assurance completely.

Again, however, the figures need careful attention. It is true— appalling true— that 76 homicides have been committed since the abolition of the death penalty by people previously convicted of homicide. But it does not necessarily follow that those further deaths would have been prevented had the death penalty still been in force. Of those 76 homicides, 51 were committed by people previously convicted of homicide other than murder; the death penalty would not have been available in those cases. Of the remaining 25 cases, seven involved homicide by murderers convicted before 1965, when the death penalty was still in force, but for whom, by definition, it was not regarded as appropriate. Of the 18 homicides committed by people convicted of murder since 1965, it appears that in 14 cases the original murder was not capital murder under the 1957 Act. So if the death penalty had not been abolished in 1965, the number of cases in which it is likely that a life would have been saved by the execution of a murderer would be, at most, four. Of course that is four deaths too many, and the argument of principle— that the death penalty would eliminate the possibility of some murderers killing again— is unanswerable. But the number of cases in which that would apply is far smaller than many suppose.

I should like now to deal with the new clauses. New clause 2, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and others of my hon. Friends, provides that the death penalty would apply to persons over the age of 18 convicted of the murder of a police officer. It is easy to understand the view that that category of murder, above all, deserves the most powerful denunciation that society can deliver. An attack on a police officer represents the most direct attack possible on the maintenance of law and order. Whatever our views in this debate, I know that the whole Committee will want to join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale in expressing its deepest and heartfelt sympathy to the family of Sergeant Derek Robertson, the latest police officer victim of murder, and its utter abhorrence at the evil attack that resulted in his death.

Mr. Stephen

Surely the person—whoever it was—who killed Sergeant Robertson should never be released. Surely he should not be able to hope that some future Home Secretary would release him. That is what our constituents expect and deserve. People like the killer of Sergeant Robertson must be dealt with extremely severely.

Mr. Howard

When my hon. Friend raised this point at Question Time recently, I told him that I was considering it. I shall come in a moment to the particular arrangements that we currently make for those who are convicted of the murder of police officers.

We ask our police officers to confront, on our behalf, those who have no compunction about using violence to further their ends or to escape capture. Their place in the front line of the fight against crime makes them particularly vulnerable to attack, and it is right that we should employ all measures available to us to protect them while they carry out their duties on our behalf. I have paid particular attention to this matter since I became Home Secretary.

I firmly believe that there should be a strong deterrent for the murder of police officers. Those responsible serve as a minimum 20 years in prison. Many will serve much longer than that. Some will remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Even if murderers are released—they can have no expectation that they will be—they are liable to recall for the rest of their lives.

Mr. Shersby

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be kind enough to tell the Committee whether weekend newspaper reports to the effect that Anthony Jeffs, who murdered Police Constable Peter Guthrie in 1972, has been recalled to custody are correct? If so, why has that person been recalled?

Mr. Howard

The person to whom my hon. Friend refers has indeed been recalled to custody. I should prefer not to go into the details at this stage, but I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend about the matter.

New clause 4, tabled by my hon. Friend for Batley and Spen, would reintroduce the death penalty for all murderers over the age of 18. In those cases, under the new clause, death would be the mandatory penalty, but as soon as practicable following a sentence of death a special sitting of the Court of Appeal would be convened to consider whether the circumstances of the offence or the offender justified the substitution of a sentence of life imprisonment.

The new clause would enact a proposal first discussed by the House of Commons in 1990. By imposing a mandatory sentence of death on all murderers, it avoids the difficulties that can arise from attempting to define degrees of murder in legislation. It then attempts to meet the concerns that led to the Homicide Act 1957 by providing for the decision to be immediately reviewed by the Court of Appeal. The idea of a procedure that avoids the difficult task of setting out in legislation the criteria for distinguishing between murders that are serious enough to merit death and those that are not has obvious advantages to many who favour capital punishment, but it has its drawbacks.

In particular, we need to consider the responsibility that the new clause would place on the Court of Appeal. In 1990, the then Home Secretary drew to the attention of the House of Commons the views of the then Lord Chief Justice on such an arrangement. I thought it appropriate, in reconsidering the idea enshrined in the new clause, to consult the current Lord Chief Justice on the matter, and he has given me permission to make his views known in this debate. He shares the view of his predecessor that the Court of Appeal would usually be in a worse position than the trial judge to make the decision that the clause would require, not having heard the evidence or seen the defendant or the witnesses. He also believes that it would, in any case, be wholly inappropriate for the Court of Appeal to decide which death sentences should be carried out. He is strongly of the view that it must be the responsibility of Parliament—and not of the judiciary—to determine which types of murder should be met with death and which should not.

On that last point, it is surely particularly difficult to disagree with the Lord Chief Justice. I do not think that it would be right for Parliament to hand this responsibility over to others. The decision must be ours to make.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if we were to get rid of the term "murder" and use, instead, the term "homicide", we should be able to classify the seriousness of conduct resulting in the death of another person? Does he agree that a person sentenced to life imprisonment—the penalty that would apply in the case of the most serious types of homicide—should remain in prison for life and not be the subject of a fictional term meaning nothing?

Mr. Howard

I have already dealt, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), with the point contained in the second part of my hon. and learned Friend's question. In response to the first part, I have to say that I do not agree that it would be sensible, in effect, to abolish murder and simply have the offence of homicide, within which there could be various characterisations. Murder is a subdivision of homicide. The deliberate taking of a life, which is what the offence of murder involves, is something which society will always want to mark as an offence of special significance, to be treated specially and separately.

Mrs. Peacock

I have been listening carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend. If my understanding is correct, he has said that it would not be right to ask the Court of Appeal to make such a judgment as I am proposing, as it would not have had the benefit of seeing all the evidence and hearing the witnesses. However, at present the Attorney-General can appeal against a lenient sentence and have it changed by the Court of Appeal in very similar circumstances.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to advance that argument, but the analogy that she draws is less than wholly convincing. Her new clause would give the Court of Appeal jurisdiction over not only sentence but categorisation of various types of murder. Those are different questions from those that the Court of Appeal has to address in connection with what has become since 1988 the more conventional matter of appeals against lenient sentences, which are considered on the reference of the Attorney-General.

5 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

To pursue the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), British judges are currently available to act, in their capacity as members of the Privy Council, as a final court of appeal for people charged with murder in a number of former colonies, including several West Indian countries. Do not the same problems arise in those cases? The judges have not seen the defendant and have not been present at the original trial, but they continue to make judgments that may lead to execution.

Mr. Howard

The judges do not make a judgment about which categories of murder merit the death penalty. They may consider appeals against conviction or, in certain circumstances, even appeals against sentence, but the new clause will give the Court of Appeal the task of deciding which categories of the offence of murder merit the death penalty. That is not something which the Privy Council has to decide at the moment. According to the statement of the Lord Chief Justice, it is not a matter on which the Court of Appeal wants to decide. If there were to be such categorisation, Parliament should accept responsibility for it and not the judges. It is not a responsibility which Parliament should seek to hand over to the judges.

Mr. Marlow

I have just read with some care the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock). Where does it say anything about categorisation? If the new clause were accepted, the House would be saying to judges that the sentence for murder should be execution. The judges in the Court of Appeal would then be able to decide whether there were special circumstances whereby clemency should be exercised and an alternative sentence imposed. The new clause contains nothing about categorisation.

Mr. Howard

With respect to my hon. Friend, the new clause does not say anything about special circumstances. I do not know whether it was the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen to include such provision in the new clause. She did not say anything along those lines when she introduced the new clause. It does not provide the new approach that the death penalty should, as a rule, be carried out in all cases of murder save where there are special circumstances. In its present form, the new clause would inevitably involve some degree of categorisation and I do not think that that is an appropriate responsibility for Parliament to hand over to the judges.

Mrs. Peacock

I accept what my hon. and learned Friend said, although I do not believe that that is what the new clause said. I should be more than willing, however, to accept his wording of such a clause and vote for that instead.

Mr. Howard

No, no—I was replying to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I suggested to him that the particular meaning that he was seeking to give to the new clause was not supported by the new clause as drafted. Other different difficulties would arise if a new clause were drafted in the way suggested by him. I would explain those difficulties were they to arise from the wording of the new clause.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I have listened with great interest to the speeches, especially that of my right hon. and learned Friend. It appears that we cannot prove that capital punishment is a deterrent against homicide, murder, manslaughter and infanticide. It must follow that life imprisonment, as it is now constituted, does not act as a deterrent, or cannot be proved to do so. What does act as a deterrent?

Mr. Howard

I said earlier that I thought that, although the statistics were not entirely conclusive, the death penalty would constitute a deterrent, but that is not the end of the matter, as I shall now explain.

In this debate, my views count only as the views of one Member of Parliament and I do not propose to expound them at length. I set out my position in an article published in March 1991, nearly three years ago, in the wake of the Birmingham Six case. Until, and including, 1990, I had voted consistently for the return of capital punishment for the murder of police or prison officers, or for murder committed with firearms or explosives. I thought that the deterrent effect would be greatest in those categories. I justified that position on the basis that a wide-ranging appeal process in capital cases would effectively eliminate the risk of a miscarriage of justice.

Such a procedure, however, was adopted in the Birmingham Six case and it failed to identify any irregularities. It failed to do the job that I thought it would do, a job which I thought was essential if capital punishment was to be restored. That led me to re-examine my position and inform my constituents about it nearly three years ago. The tragic case of Stefan Kiszko, who sadly died just before Christmas, has provided a more recent reinforcement of that view. In 1976, Mr. Kiszko was convicted of the murder of a school girl—a crime to which he had confessed. His conviction was quashed in 1992 after forensic tests proved that he could not have been the murderer. There are cases, particularly where the suspect has for whatever reason confessed, where avenues of appeal are not explored or pursued until new evidence comes to light.

Miscarriages of justice are a blot on a civilised society. For someone to spend years in prison for a crime he or she did not commit is both a terrible thing and one for which release from prison and financial recompense cannot make amends. But even that injustice cannot be compared with the icy comfort of a posthumous pardon. When we consider the plight of those who have been wrongly convicted, we cannot but be relieved that the death penalty was not available. We should not fail to consider the irreparable damage that would have been inflicted on the criminal justice system had innocent people been executed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale referred to the proposal of the Royal Commission on criminal justice that a criminal cases review authority should be established. The Government intend to set up such an organisation and I hope to consult soon on the detail of its constitution, but new machinery can never provide a complete answer. The fault lies not in the machinery but in the fallibility and frailty of human judgment.

I understand the concern felt by right hon. and hon. Members and the public about the rise in crime, and in violent crime in particular. Since I became Home Secretary nearly nine months ago, I have made no secret of my determination to turn that concern into action. That is why the Bill is before the Committee today. That action will be taken, but, for the reasons that I have given, I do not believe that the restoration of capital punishment should be part of it. That is why I shall vote against the two new clauses in the names of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

On moral, as well as on practical and utilitarian grounds, I oppose both new clauses. But whatever disagreements I have with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) about the new clause, I share his views on the three principles, on which he hoped all hon. Members would agree, involving the murder of police officers.

I understand why a majority of my constituents, and perhaps a majority of people in the country, will answer yes to the question, "Do you favour the death penalty?" They are angry and outraged at the murders and killings in our society. However, I should like the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) to reflect on the fact that, in every debate on the subject that I have witnessed, the value of the debate has become obvious as it has proceeded and as we have moved from general and instantaneous reactions to the particular and the considered. Suddenly, answers that appeared obvious become more complex and conclusions that seemed certain are open to doubt. Such a large majority of Members did not vote against the restoration of the death penalty on each occasion because they were unaware of their constituents' views, but because, on reflection and after considered debate, they could not support those views.

The most powerful argument against restoration—an argument that would be enough in itself—is the risk of killing the innocent and of a miscarriage of justice. I support what the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago and will briefly return to the subject—

Mr. Lord

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he had no doubt that most of his constituents would probably support the reintroduction of the death penalty. Is he saying that his understanding, and that of the Committee if it refuses to vote for the death penalty, is greater than that of his constituents? Is it not also possible that all such major issues are essentially simple? We make them complicated so that we do not have to face them.

Mr. Blair

With respect, we have to face them and we are doing so this afternoon. I certainly do not believe that my understanding is superior to that of my constituents, but, as the hon. Member for Batley and Spen was fair enough to acknowledge when she moved her new clause, we are representatives, not delegates, and we must act according to our conscience.

The utilitarian argument against the restoration of the death penalty—the argument about miscarriages of justice —is the most powerful, but it is by no means the only practical argument against. Another argument that is sometimes forgotten is illustrated by the nature of the two new clauses under discussion.

The clause tabled by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen is general and that of the hon. Member for Ryedale is particular, in that it applies only to the murder of police officers. The choice illustrates the practical problem that faces everyone, even those who support the death penalty in principle. How does one distinguish, on a rational rather than an arbitrary basis, those homicides that should attract the death penalty and those that should not?

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

To widen the hon. Gentleman's argument, which is correct, if one introduces the death penalty for shooting and killing someone, should not one also apply it for shooting at—but missing—a person? Perhaps one should receive an additional sentence for being a bad shot.

5.15 pm
Mr. Blair

I think that I am uniquely unqualified to comment on that intervention.

Since no one suggests that all murders should result in the death penalty, there must be a basis for distinction. If statute provides that all murders should attract the death penalty, someone—the Home Secretary or the Court of Appeal—has to make the final decision and discretion becomes too wide.

However, if statute defines the categories, there is a substantial risk of arbitrary decisions of a different sort and of murders that are equally heinous attracting different penalties. That is underlined by our history and that of the United States. When I researched the subject, I found it interesting to note that decisions on the constitution made by the US Supreme Court hinged to a considerable degree on the difficulty of establishing a blanket penalty of death for murder—a penalty which would be applied by juries in different cases in different ways.

Until 1965, the debate in Britain also hinged on that subject. For four decades of royal commissions, Select Committees and debates in the House, the debate revolved around attempts to distinguish between various types of homicide. The royal commission of 1953 concluded that the outstanding defect of the law of murder is it provides a single punishment for a crime widely varying in culpability". It went on to discuss various murders in England and Scotland. The Homicide Act 1957 was passed in recognition of that fact, because a general penalty for murder was thought to be unacceptable.

The 1957 Act betrays its era. For example, Ruth Ellis would have hanged even after that Act because she shot her lover. If she had knifed him, she would not have hanged. I think that I am also right in saying that, under the 1957 Act, neither Myra Hindley nor the Yorkshire Ripper would have hanged.

When Parliament debated the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, no one supported the continuance of the 1957 Act because of the distinctions that it drew and the difficulty of enforcing them, yet those distinctions had been the dominant subject for debate for almost four decades preceding the 1965 Act.

The problem is that the circumstances of murders are infinitely different, but the difference between the death penalty and any other penalty—even life imprisonment —is absolute. Death is death. There is no revoking that sentence once it is carried out—no recall, no commutation and no pardon, except posthumously.

Virtually all the attempts to legislate—even those made by people who accept the principle of the death penalty—have fallen foul of that problem. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen attempts to circumvent it by providing a general application of the death penalty for murder, but allowing the Court of Appeal to decide whether it should be carried out. Quite apart from the formidable logistical problems of reviewing all cases in which there is a conviction for murder, I agree entirely with the Home Secretary that it cannot be right to abdicate to that court the responsibility for deciding whether death is appropriate in each case. The hon. Lady cannot avoid the fact that categorisations would have to be made and that they would be made arbitrarily and would vary from court to court, from time to time, and probably from newspaper coverage to newspaper coverage.

The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Ryedale applies the death penalty to the murder of police officers. That is a heinous crime, but so are terrorist killings—blowing people up in a pub—and the rape of young girls, followed by their brutal murder. If the death penalty were appropriate to one such crime it would be appropriate to all.

However, the Home Secretary dwelt on the most practical argument against the restoration of the death penalty towards the end of his speech. That argument concerns the risk of a miscarriage of justice if the death penalty is carried out. Although the hon. Member for Batley and Spen involves the Court of Appeal in the process to guard against the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, in virtually all the cases that we have discussed that court had considered and dismissed the appeals of those convicted and their convictions were quashed only when evidence emerged at a much later date. That fact is important. When people are asked about the death penalty they consider it in the abstract. They assume that guilt can be proved absolutely—they assume, as a given, that the person is genuinely guilty. But experience has taught us the fallibility of the process of establishing guilt. The given in the answer is, in fact, not given at all.

The House of Commons Library note has a list of some 32 separate cases where, since 1965, miscarriages of justice have been shown. Besides the well-known Guildford and Birmingham convictions, the case of Stefan Kiszko stands out, because he would unquestionably have been hanged, but he was unquestionably innocent. The power to review would not have saved him.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Throughout the debate I have listened to hon. Members speak about the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Seven—[HON. MEMBERS: "Six."] I beg hon. Members' pardon. Not once have I heard anyone mention the Birmingham 21, those young men and women who died. How I wish from the depths of my heart that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) would speak for those who no longer have a voice. Had the death penalty been available then, that crime might not have been committed.

Mr. Blair

With respect, that is not a worthy intervention. The Opposition speak up for the victims of crime. When the hon. Member for Ryedale moved his new clause, the Home Secretary and I, and all hon. Members, commented on the appalling nature of such crimes. To convict the wrong people in the Birmingham case was not the answer to the problem. The power of review would not have saved them.

With hindsight, we may be able to see the flaws in that case, but I ask the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) to think back and remember the time when those cases were in the news. At that time, people seemed certain about those charged. At that time, the newspaper coverage of those trials was clear. Had the new clauses been in operation then, would the clamour have been one of doubt or of mercy? Would the newspapers have carried editorials pleading for clemency? The noise would have been one way, motivated by an entirely righteous detestation of those crimes. The death penalty would have been demanded and it would have been given. If any court had stood in the way of that, it would have been pilloried. If any Home Secretary had reprieved those people, he would have been pilloried. That is the truth. We cannot ignore that when we consider those cases.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one other offshoot of the faulty decision at the Birmingham trial was that those who carried out the murder of those 21 people have never been detected or convicted and never will be because of the delay?

Mr. Blair

That is true.

Mr. Gallie

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that Stefan Kiszko would have been hanged if the new clauses had been in operation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that that would not have happened if the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr.Greenway) had been in operation? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps, had the death penalty been an option, the Birmingham trial would have taken more careful account of the details and studied the evidence in more detail?

Mr. Blair

With respect, that is a classic judgment of hindsight. The feature that runs through all those cases is that, at the time, they were not open to doubt. In the Kiszko case, he confessed. The doubt that arose came to light long after the trial.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) did not mean it, but the implication behind his question is that somehow judges or juries are somewhat casual because the death penalty does not exist. He is wrong. They study cases with the greatest of scrutiny. What stands out so powerfully about the cases that I have cited is that people were certain and that "beyond reasonable doubt" meant just that. Doubts, of course, arose later.

Mr. Mullin

Has my hon. Friend noticed that many of those who are strongest in their demands for the death penalty are least concerned about the possibility of mistakes? Judging from the muttering from the Conservative Benches, it is clear that, even in this debate, some Conservative Members have not yet faced up to the fact that the wrong people were convicted in the Birmingham and Guildford cases, as well as in others.

Mr. Blair

I very much hope that all Conservative Members share the abhorrence felt by everyone who believes in justice at the possibility of wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice.

The proponents of the death penalty can rightly point to the innocent victims who were killed by those who might have been hanged for one murder, but who, after imprisonment, committed further murders. I do not intend to add to what the Home Secretary said about that, but he provided a pretty telling dissection of the notion that many murders fit into that category. What at first blush appeared to be 76 cases was then whittled down to four. I do not discount that number and I accept that four is too many, but they must weigh in the balance. The case that was put is not as clear as it was.

The ultimate argument in favour of the death penalty —it is important that those of us who are opposed to the death penalty should deal with it—is that it may deter some from killing where, otherwise, they might have killed. I should like to put it in a slightly different way from that put by Conservative Members. It could be argued that the death penalty is not about taking life but trying to save it from those who might otherwise have murdered.

The most that can be said when examining the evidence is that it is uncertain. It is true that, since 1965, the number of homicides has risen, but the level of crime and violent crime has also risen dramatically. There is no evidence, statistical or otherwise, that that rise has been attributable to the abolition of the death penalty.

The experience in the United States points in different directions, from different states. The death penalty is regularly used in certain states, yet the murder rate is still very high. The international comparisons yield little. Conservative Members who favour the death penalty should consider the evidence that, in the end, one has to weigh in the scales. There may be certain instances—we do not know and we cannot quantify them—in which people are deterred. I do not exclude that possibility, but we must weigh that against the fact that evidence of deterrence is uncertain, whereas evidence of miscarriages is certain and they have happened, beyond any doubt. When we place against the irrefutable evidence of the potential for miscarriages of justice those other matters, the argument is one way.

Mr. Lord


Mr. Blair

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once and that is enough. I must get on.

Mr. Lord

On that specific point.

Mr. Blair

Because of my natural generosity, I will give way.

Mr. Lord

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Nothing could prove more conclusively to the Committee and to anyone who happens to watching or listening the saying lies, damned lies and statistics. Everyone has his own statistics to prove what he wants to prove. In all sincerity, however, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is pure common sense that criminals going out to rob or to do mischief may think twice before taking a gun or a knife with them if they know that the sentence of capital punishment is available to the courts?

Mr. Blair

No, for the very reasons given by the royal commission more than 40 years ago, when it first considered the matter. It is not that statistics can tell all sorts of different stories; the most powerful feature about the statistics gathered here, in the United States and virtually everywhere is that they tell no story. I do not ignore what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it must be weighed in the scales of what we know has happened for a certainty in our country. The hon. Gentleman must face up to the fact that, according to his proposals, those miscarriages would have meant that innocent people would have been killed in circumstances where that should not have happened. In that case, even the utilitarian case for the death penalty is not made out.

The death penalty cannot be justified, even on the grounds claimed by some hon. Members. But it is also wrong in principle. It is a response to evil that is evil itself. It is to act, as a society, not in justice but in anger; not in reason but for revenge. No matter how clothed it is in the legal process and however much it is attended by all the trappings of the law, it cannot disguise its real nature, which is cruel and barbaric. We do not uphold the sanctity of human life by taking it, or underline its precious nature by snuffing it out.

The death penalty does not elevate, inspire or help us attain a better society. We were right to get rid of it almost 30 years ago and we should not, now of all times and after all that has happened within our judicial system, restore it. Let it lie in history where it belongs.

5.30 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

May I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about whether it is right for society to have a death penalty? Since Roman times, and even before, the issue of the death penalty has been debated time and again. Nobody can say that the Roman or Greek societies were uncivilised. Indeed, nor were the school men of medieval times. They all reached the conclusion that people have the right—the state consists of people—to take the lives of those who have taken the lives of others.

The matter can be studied in the Mosaic code, from which one of the greatest civilisations grew. It is to be found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and I remind hon. Members who are members of the Church of England of the content of the 39 articles. The 37th article gives the state the right to take the life of an individual with the agreement of the people within that state.

Human nature has not so improved in the past 150 years that we can say that we are now so civilised that we have passed that stage. Whether one is a creationist or a fundamentalist, one cannot say that human nature has changed since God breathed on man in the garden of Eden. Human nature remains static.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute. Once I have talked my full argument through, it may help him. We both have hair on our faces, so we obviously agree on major issues. I may lead him to the truth bit by bit.

It is arrogant of us to believe that we are now so civilised that we can turn our backs on all the wisdom of the past. I support capital punishment being available because human nature has remained static. I shall now give way to the hon. Gentleman who looks like me, but at the beginning of civilisation.

Mr. Enright

I must look in the mirror as I go out.

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to reflect on a quotation from Christ: It was said to you of old, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, love one another"?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

I have already shown my friendship with the hon. Gentleman and thus illustrated "love one another". But it also means that the whole of humankind should love one another. It does not mean that we should lay down and let people do what they want or threaten others. There is no loving in that. If bringing back capital punishment would result in greater safety for people in society, we have a right to bring it back. Throughout the ages, religious leaders of all types have ultimately come down on the side of capital punishment.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman also meditate on what Apostle Paul said: If I have committed a crime worthy of death, I refuse not to die"?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

It is a marvellous double negative. I bow to the hon. Gentleman on that. Before we have quotations going backwards and forwards across the Chamber like the Book of Proverbs, let me say that we can all dig up instances but must make our judgment on the general. Throughout history civilised societies, whether or not they have liked the death penalty, have kept it because they considered it a necessity. I follow them because I believe that it is a necessity.

May I deal with the narrow issue of the police? Unless we bring back capital punishment for anyone who kills a policeman, we risk having more arms on the streets. The police will demand more arms and, by the time we have finished, our society will be like an old Yankee film, with small guns and machine guns on the streets. Policemen's wives will ensure that their husbands demand arms because they will want them to come home for their sake and that of their children, and society will grant that. There will be an escalation of weapons in our society because criminals can always get them. I have always said that the only people who cannot obtain weapons are law-abiding citizens.

If hon. Members do not want to vote for capital punishment, they should vote for life imprisonment that does not come to an end after a time but means imprisonment for life. I do not agree with those who oppose capital punishment, but, logically, they must support life imprisonment for anyone who kills a policeman.

We have heard arguments about whether we should bow down to the views of the people. One hon. Member quoted Burke, who said that he was a representative and not a delegate. I remind hon. Members that he then lost the following election. People should not read just the first chapter of a book. Members of Parliament risk distancing themselves from the views of people outside. We are becoming less representative on this matter. If tonight we turn down the option for capital punishment and reduce the age of consent for homosexuality, tomorrow the gap between hon. Members and people in the country will be even greater. I do not say that we should do everything that they want, but we should listen to them.

May I end where I began? Given that every civilised society in history has reached the conclusion that capital punishment is necessary for the preservation of life, who are we, given the present crime rates and the state of the world, to say that we are better than our ancestors? Tonight, I shall vote for the return of capital punishment with a clear conscience, on religious and civil grounds.

Mr. Mallon

I remind hon. Members that we have a free vote on this matter. The reason for the tradition of a free vote on it is that it involves not just legal, political or practical issues, but, as the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, an element of morality. In the few minutes available to me, I shall approach the matter on that basis.

I do so not least because of the legal arguments that were eloquently made by previous speakers, which it would be pointless to repeat.

I have a special interest in this issue and have spoken in debates dealing with it since I first became a Member. My interest stems largely from the fact that I live in an area in which capital punishment is exercised almost every day of the week. In the society in which I live, more than 3,000 people have been killed by those who have abrogated to themselves the right to do that which some hon. Members believe the state should do to others. I find that repulsive. If one takes the number of people who have died in Northern Ireland, on a pro rata basis 18,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales would have been killed over the past few years.

I know the effect that that form of capital punishment has on the families of victims—not least, the family of the young policeman who was killed last weekend—and of those who carry out such acts. I know the effect that it has on that part of the community from which the person who pulled the trigger and his victim came. I know the effect on those charged with enforcing the law and with implementing the legal and judicial system. The effect can never be quantified. There are no statistics, but that effect has eaten into the heart and soul of the community in which I live—and it stems from the abrogation of the right to take the life of another human being.

I know also what it is like to be under sentence of death. Every hon. Member who represents a Northern Ireland constituency has been and is under sentence of death from one terrorist group or another in the north of Ireland. The chilling words of interviews given by loyalist prisoners at the weekend explain why this subject is close to the lives of my hon. Friends and those whom we represent.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The hon. Gentleman was not in the House in 1975, when it debated a motion calling for the restoration of capital punishment for terrorist offences causing death. I clearly remember the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) saying that if the state did not restore capital punishment so that some deterrence existed for those in the south who were murdering in the north, it would not be long before the loyalists of the north would use terrorism to wreak their revenge on people in the south. Is that not precisely what has happened because we did not restore capital punishment for such offences?

Mr. Mallon

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right: I was not present in the House in 1975, for the good reason that I had not been elected. I was present for a subsequent debate on the same issue, when the question was raised of the enormity of having the death penalty in a society in which there is no jury but only one person—the judge—hearing the case. Even someone committed to restoring the death penalty would have second thoughts about that. As a lawyer, the hon. and learned Gentleman should ponder deeply on that. In making his point, I am sure that he would not offer, as others do, an implied, spurious justification for the actions of loyalist terrorist groupings in the north of Ireland.

We are charged to produce legislation that protects the sanctity of human life and the lives of those charged with enforcing the law; all members of society, whoever they may be; and those who removed the sanctity of life from others.

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mallon

Not now.

Once we draw a distinction—and this distinction is implied—and say that one person's life has more sanctity than another's, we shall be in a quagmire.

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that very point?

Mr. Mallon

I will not.

If we incorporate the taking of life and the killing of people—because that is what capital punishment means —in our legislation, we shall be adopting the values and methods of the terrorist, gangster and gunman and make them the standard by which we live. That would devalue and diminish our system of justice and make the taking of human life part of our judicial system, which would devalue rather than enhance it. It would also devalue and diminish the society that adopts that standard.

5.45 pm

In the United States Supreme Court, Justice Shurgood Marshall said: Death is irrevocable. Life imprisonment is not. Death makes rehabilitation impossible. Life imprisonment does not. In recognising the humanity of our fellow human beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. He was surely talking about more than just the legislation that determines how criminals are treated. When he spoke of paying ourselves the highest tribute, he was referring also to the effect of capital punishment on society. If we diminish one element of society, we diminish it all. Justice Marshall was eloquently defending the integrity of the legal system, the value of human life, and the highest standards of society—which must derive from both.

I believe that Winston Churchill was drawing the same conclusion when he said many years ago that the grass grows green again on the battlefield, but never on the scaffold. He was referring to the corrosive effect of the taking of life being part of our legal system, seeping into every part of society and having a stultifying and negative effect. It is not just a legal or political issue; it goes deeper. It concerns the sort of society that we want to sustain ourselves.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mallon

No, because I am short of time.

It is argued that the death penalty is a deterrent. We know the figures for the north of Ireland, and the Home Secretary referred to the figures for the United States. We should also examine carefully the figures for Japan.

One salutary lesson to be learnt from my own country was best put into words by the poet William Butler Yeats: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. He wrote that after the 1916 occupation of Dublin's general post office by a small number of men. That did not change all; but the subsequent execution of those men led to the start of the Irish war of independence, and republican violence continues to this very day.

The whole genesis of violent republicanism, of the IRA, of the violence that we have seen through every decade, has stemmed not from the action of the people who took took over the GPO in 1916 but from their execution. From their execution came the motivation of martyrdom, and it created such an element in our lives. We are still paying for it to this very day. Rather than being a deterrent, those executions were the springboard and motivation for a system of violence that has continued to this very day. We have seen it as recently as last weekend. I make that point in global terms, in Irish terms, because it is worth making. Nowhere can I find any other example that best encapsulates the fact that the theory of deterrence simply does not stand up.

I shall finish with a point that was made by the former Member for Castle Point, Sir Bernard Braine, who was then Father of the House and is now in another place. It struck me deeply because of his sincerity. I had listened to him a number of times on this issue. On 24 October 1989, in The Guardian, he said: My immediate reaction to Guildford"— the Guildford Four— was that this puts the kibosh on capital punishment … I was in favour of its retention. It took this case to tell me, 'Look. Pause. Reflect. What if they hanged innocent people?' Is not that exactly what the Secretary of State was saying in his speech today? I hold that same view. I hold it on the basis from which I started, from a moral point of view, because I believe that a judicially sanctioned execution is an inherently immoral action. It is a barbaric, brutalising and degrading form of punishment which is contrary to the respect and value for human life and for the law.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Not having been in the House during the 1987–92 Parliament, I last had the opportunity to express my views on capital punishment as the Member for Nottingham, North in the early 1980s. Nottingham always took a robust attitude to capital punishment. The side outside the old Shire hall, where, until the mid 19th century, public hangings used to take place, is still marked today.

I was quite clear in my mind why I believed in capital punishment and why I voted for it on that occasion. My preference was for a return to the Homicide Act 1957, which created two categories of capital and non-capital murder. They distinguished between domestic or spontaneous murder and the cold, calculating acts of violence; of murder in the furtherance of theft; murder by shooting or explosion—although I recognise the point that was made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in the Ruth Ellis case; murder to prevent arrest; murder of a policeman; and the murder of a prison officer. I believe that if capital punishment were available in those circumstances, there is a possibility that such a crime may be deterred. Before setting out on a burglary or robbery, a villain might think twice before picking up a weapon if he knew that its use could invoke the death sentence.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ottaway

I will not give way, because of time.

It is impossible to prove, but my judgment in 1983 was that that was the case, and it still is. Capital punishment is an instant and awesome end, and any man sentenced to it would willingly commute it to a lesser sentence. For violent, premeditated murder, however, it is surely a just and proper punishment.

After the murder of Sergeant Robertson in Croydon last week, my instincts remain the same. He was a police officer in the performance of his duty going to protect the citizens of Croydon at the New Addington sub post office. He represented the thin blue line between anarchy and a civilised society. He paid the ultimate price for our civilised society. His murderers committed a crime so sudden and abominable that they should suffer a capital penalty. It is in my mind, and the minds of many, a justified sentence.

Yet, with all these instincts urging me on, I much regret that I cannot support the new clause today. Colleagues might ask me why, when I have done so before: what has changed? The answer is quite simply that my confidence in the criminal justice system is shaken. There have been isolated cases in which convictions for murder have been overturned or found unsafe. But in the late 1980s, the trickle turned to a flood: the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Tottenham Three, Stefan Kiszko, Jacqueline Fletcher, Judith Ward, the Darvells, the UDR Four, the Cardiff Three, the Taylor sisters, and the pardon limited to sentence of Derek Bentley from Croydon—an area which seems to attract controversy.

That is not a random list. It is an avalanche of doubt. Sitting on the top of the Old Bailey are the scales of justice, which generations have grown up to trust. The scales are tarnished. Stories of discredited witnesses, tampered evidence and incompetent experts have shaken the criminal justice system to its very roots. In the light of that, I could not send a convicted man to his death until the uncertainty is removed.

There are some out there who will say, "Yes, but we know that they did it." That is not good enough. Whatever the crime, whatever the nature of suspicion, British justice requires that those accused are found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Where doubt exists, it is right to free those whose convictions were unsafe.

Mrs. Peacock

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ottaway


It is now incumbent on the Government to ensure that every step is taken to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system to the point that, in future, I may be able to be free to exercise my judgment without questioning the system itself.

Finally, we hear all too often of those who have been convicted of murder, serve a life sentence, are released after 12 years or so and commit murder again. That must never be allowed to happen. Although you, Mr. Lofthouse, have not thought it appropriate to select the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), myself and others, I believe that life should mean life. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to review that policy.

Mr. Mullin

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), because I accept that it requires some courage in the Conservative party to announce one's conversion on such an issue. The hon. Gentleman is one of a number of Conservative Members who have changed their views. Some of them have expressed to me privately the view that since the big miscarriages of justice of the mid-1970s, they could not in all conscience continue to vote for the death penalty. The Home Secretary has said tonight that that is his position. I should like to think that that would influence some of his colleagues.

I do not mean to trivialise the debate in any way, but in a sense this subject has now become an internal dispute in the Conservative party. Outside the Conservative party, with the possible exception of one Scottish nationalist, no one else is willing any longer to vote for the death penalty.

Mrs. Peacock

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that many of the hundreds of letters that I have received have not come from Conservative party supporters.

Mr. Mullin

I readily acknowledge that and will address that point—indeed, I did during my intervention in the hon. Lady's speech.

The death penalty, and hanging people in particular, is a peculiarly British obsession. It is about time that we rid ourselves of it. It is not shared by other European countries. In my view, it is a sickness. We have debated the subject endlessly. Even in the few years that I have been a Member of Parliament, it has come up on four or five occasions. I think that the Home Secretary said that it has come up on 13 occasions since the death penalty was abolished. I hope that this will be the last time.

Some Conservative Members are persuaded of the logic of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Croydon, South and the Home Secretary, but lack the courage to stand up to their own party on the issue. I hope that they will have the courage to come out. [Interruption.] I know it to be the case because I have had it explained to me by Conservative Members, one of whom much resented the fact that some of his hon. Friends had been content to vote for the death penalty in the knowledge that it would never get through the House, relying on Conservative Members who, like him, had had the courage to stand up against their party and speak out against the death penalty.

6 pm

Mr. Hawkins

Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the members of his own party who would love to vote in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment but would suffer a witch hunt from other members of the Labour party if they did so?

Mr. Mullin

I have been in the House for nearly seven years and I honestly do not know one Labour Member who falls into that category. If the hon. Gentleman does, perhaps he will take the matter up with the individual concerned.

The bottom line, already referred to in many speeches, is mistakes. We made mistakes when we executed people: Evans, Hanratty and Bentley have been mentioned,and it is now acknowledged that we made a large number of serious mistakes more recently. People profess to care for the reputation of the British legal system. If the British legal system has had a rough time in the past two years, imagine what the effect would have been worldwide if, in the Birmingham Six case, we had taken delivery of six coffins instead of six people who were able to resume what remained of their lives.

There is no doubt that three of the four people involved in the Guildford case would have hanged. There is no doubt that Judith Ward would have hanged; no doubt, too, that most of those concerned with her conviction—and I believe that this was also true in the Guildford case—knew from the outset that she was innocent; and that many others realised shortly afterwards. The Stefan Kiszko case has been mentioned, and the hon. Member for Croydon, South mentioned the Broadwater Farm case—a tragic case involving the death of a police officer to which the new clause would certainly have applied. I predict that the next people to come out of the front door of the Old Bailey will be the three survivors of the four convicted of murdering the newspaper boy, Carl Bridgewater, in 1977. They are certainly innocent and I am confident that, in due course, that case will collapse.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) will forgive me, but he has not been attending to debate. I give way to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), who has.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

As probably the only Member of the House who has obtained two royal pardons for wrong convictions of murder, I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is correct. It is suggested that the death penalty is a deterrent. Seventy people a year are convicted of murder in England while 7,000 die on the roads. Does that fact deter people from driving?

Mr. Mullin

That is an interesting point, which I intend to address later. Having looked a large number of people in the eye during their final moment, Pierrepoint, the last hangman, concluded in his memoirs that the death penalty did not consitute a deterrent. Those who think that it is a deterrent ought to read his book.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin

Forgive me, but I will not.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to give way to him.

It is sometimes argued that the more heinous the crime, the more we need the death penalty to deal with it. The trouble is that the more heinous the crime—as with the various IRA atrocities in the mid-1970s—the greater the hysteria that accompanies it. And the greater the hysteria, the more likely it is that we will make mistakes.

I noted the Home Secretary's remarks with particular interest. He is not a man who is soft on the law and order issue. But he is the man whose signature would have to appear on the death warrant in the event of our reintroducing capital punishment. Chuter Ede, the Labour Home Secretary whose signature appeared on the death warrant of Timothy Evans, had to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he had sent an innocent man to the gallows. I might add that, when it became clear that that was what had happened, he turned into an abolitionist overnight. It is very easy to talk in general terms and to bay for blood, but when it comes to particular cases and particular individuals with particular responsibilities, it is altogether different.

I note with interest that today's newspapers quote a number of prison governors as saying that they would resign if called upon to supervise the reintroduction of the death penalty. Moreover, a number of chief constables—one of them the chief constable of the West Midlands police—have said that it is inevitable that innocent people would be hanged. No one knows that better than the West Midlands police.

It is easy to say that one is against the death penalty because mistakes are made. I want to make it clear that I am against it under all circumstances. Above all, I am against it because of the hideous barbarity involved. When one sentences someone to death judicially, one sets a clock ticking. One announces that, at eight o'clock in the morning on such and such a day, one or two months' hence —and sometimes the clock is turned back to nought and started again—one will send that person to his death. That person, all his relatives and friends and everyone associated with him have to live in the knowledge that that clock is ticking, day after day, week after week, month after month.

Mr. Nigel Evans

What about the victims?

Mr. Mullin

I shall deal with that point, too.

The American system has been mentioned. In America, those sentenced to death have to live an average of 10 to 15 years in those circumstances while the legal system plays with their lives. They have death camps in Florida and Texas containing hundreds of people who wait up to 15 years. A man in California was brought into the gas chamber and out again three times during the last hour of his life. As Amnesty International remarked at the time, that was torture to the Nth degree. The death penalty has not made the blindest bit of difference in the United States. The murder rate continues to increase and guns and drugs ' are involved. Killing people is not the answer; one must address the causes—the guns and drugs.

The fundamental reason for opposing the death penalty under all circumstances is the hideous barbarity associated with it. A media circus inevitably develops. It developed in the 1950s and early 1960s—I remember it well—and it would be worse today. Media interest affects the relatives of the person concerned and of the victims. I do not want to see that day return—and I know that prison governors, judges and many senior policemen whom I know share my view.

Public opinion is often mentioned, as though we are all in this for votes—as though what we are about is ensuring that we get a few cheap votes.

Mrs. Peacock


Mr. Mullin

I accept that that is not the hon. Lady's position. Public opinion is notoriously volatile. Everything depends on when a poll is taken. If it is taken the day after a particularly heinous murder, it will produce an answer saying that most people are in favour of the death penalty; if it is taken the day after the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four have been released, it will produce the opposite result.

An hon. Member asked, "What about the victims?" Among the hundreds of letters that I have received was a moving letter from a man whose daughter had been murdered—I wish that I had it with me so that I could read it to the Committee—and who gave the reasons why he would not support the death penalty despite the tragedy that he had suffered.

I note with satisfaction that the death penalty is attracting support from a diminishing number of Conservative Members. It will get a diminished number of votes tonight, and I hope that we shall lay it to rest once and for all.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Since the previous debate, 1,412 people have been murdered in England and Wales. Do we care? Does it matter if the murders go on? Ought we to be doing something more about it? For two and a half hours, we have moralised, we have agonised, we have quoted and we have given all sorts of reasons why it is dangerous, difficult and harsh to make the kind of judgment that is necessary before anybody is hanged. However, 1,412 people have died. The question must be this: are we deterring enough people from murder with the penalty of life imprisonment that we currently impose or is there something more that we ought to be doing to try to save innocent lives?

I have heard all the experience put forward by my hon. and learned Friends. I have been at the Bar for 32 years. In the early days of my practice, we still had capital punishment and I was agonised by the question whether it deterred anybody. I used to ask all the heavy villains: "Did it deter you? Did it stop you taking guns and weapons when you burgled anyone's house?" The heavy villains used to tell me that it did and that they were deterred.

When I moved the motion for the restoration of capital punishment in the House in December 1975, the leader of the IRA threatened that if we passed it he would take the life of three British soldiers for every member of the IRA who was hanged. Did he do that because capital punishment was not a deterrent? He did that because he knew perfectly well that if the House agreed to the restoration of capital punishment, it would deter IRA members. [Interruption.]

During all the years that I have been in the House, the view of the great public, the people whom we represent, has never changed. It has always been that the restoration of capital punishment would save the lives of innocent people. When we debate the subject, we receive more and more letters and we get more and more support from our constituents who ask us for goodness' sake to bring back capital punishment. They say that too many people are dying because too many killers are not deterred. Are they all wrong? I hear all the views of the experts, but who are the better experts on the motivation of ordinary people than the people whom we represent? They have as much right to give their opinions about what ordinary people would be deterred from. If the deterrence of a sentence does not work, if the threat of the consequences does not work, why on earth are we punishing people for any criminal offence at all? Common sense indicates that if one raises the penalty to death, some people—not everyone, but a few people—will hesitate and decide not to kill. And the person they will hesitate about and decide not to kill is an innocent person who will live.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn


Sir Ivan Lawrence

My hon. and learned Friend has made many interventions. Perhaps I may be allowed a moment to make my comments.

I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was right to say that only four of the 76 prisoners released from prison since the abolition of capital punishment have killed again and yet would have been hanged. I doubt it. There is something wrong with the analysis of the figures. I do not suppose for a moment that it was only four. Even if the number of those convicted again for murder and murder only was 16, it shows that capital punishment would have saved that number of innocent lives.

The issue for us tonight is deterrence. We may all feel horrified at the idea of capital punishment, but we must not be so fearful if it is going to save lives. That is the test. People say that there is no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent. I have said that, to me, it was sufficient evidence that heavy villians were deterred, that the terrorist leaders were deterred and that ordinary people would feel deterred. We have heard some nonsense spoken about the figures in the United States. Research conducted in Chicago university, at Yale university and at Harvard university has shown that the restoration of capital punishment has deterred. In Texas, in Florida, in Louisiana and in Georgia there has been a resultant fall in the murder rate. Since the Supreme Court in the United States said that it was perfectly proper for states to provide for capital punishment, some 23 states that have reactivated it have seen a decline in the murder rate while only 10 of those states that have reinstituted capital punishment have not seen a decline. At a rate of two to one, that seems to be strong statistical evidence of the trend that capital punishment deters some people.

6.15 pm

But the whole point about all the statistics is that they do not address the one issue that matters. The statistics will show whether there has been a decline in the murder rate or not, but they will not show the number of people who had a gun in their hand or were about to take a gun in their hand and decided not to because they would have suffered the penalty of death if they had killed.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am not able to give way because there are too many hon. Members who want to speak and I do not want to stop them.

In Japan, in the United States and in other civilised countries throughout the world, people have accepted that capital punishment is a deterrent. In 50 countries, there has even been an extension of capital punishment beyond the bounds of murder because the people in those countries believe that it has a deterrent effect.

Mr. Alex Carlile


Sir Ivan Lawrence

There is no doubt that life imprisonment, which we have been imposing as a substitute, has not worked. In the five years up to the abolition of capital punishment, there were 209 murders a year. There have been 670 a year since abolition—twice as many. I also take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) that, but for the brilliance of the medical profession, there would have been many more murders.

In 1972, 2,000 crimes were committed with guns and weapons. Today, 13,500 such crimes are committed—a sixfold increase because there is no deterrent of capital punishment to frighten people away from using guns when they go out. In 24 years before 1965, 14 police officers were killed. In the past 30 years, 54 police officers have been killed—a fourfold increase. If nothing else is clear, it is clear that life imprisonment does not deter.

One problem is that we agonise, we care, we hate the idea of signing any document that signs away a person's life. Nevertheless, if it means that we are able to save lives—

Mr. Alex Carlile

What about miscarriages of justice?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am coming to that. If it means that we shall save innocent lives, all that agonising must cease because our duty is to save lives.

Most of the debate has concerned the miscarriages of justice. Some cases were no doubt miscarriages of justice, some only may have been, and yet those convicted have been released. However, a number of things have happened since most of those miscarriages of justice took place. No police officer can falsify a confession any longer because interviews are tape recorded. [Interruption.] The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives the judge power to say that he is not satisfied with the way in which the evidence has been adduced and that he will not admit it. Judges now have to break down for the juries the various parts of a piece of evidence that they have heard which throws any doubt at all on an identification. We may now use DNA, which identifies whether somebody is or is not the person who wore the cap—the murderer. As a result of ESDA—the electro-static document analysis procedure —one can discover whether police officers may have falsified a confession, which was the basic reason why so many of those cases resulted in miscarriages of justice and acquittals.

Those very substantial changes make it much less likely than ever before that a jury will convict of murder if it has the slightest doubt. If there were a death penalty, plenty of juries that now convict of murder would not convict of murder if there were an element of doubt. With relation to the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six or any other number of people and miscarriages of justice, I must make the rather obvious point that if we had had capital punishment perhaps there would have been no bombings in Guildford or Birmingham or some of the other terrible offences that have been committed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) has tabled a proposal which bears close analysis. The proposal was not introduced in 1990, for I remember mentioning it in 1975. It should not be beyond the wit of man to have a tribunal which, after sentence of death has been passed, looks at all the circumstances of the offender and of the offence, including evidence that would not have been admissible in a court of law, to see whether there is any reason why the man or woman should not die. The question must be whether there is any reasonable reason why a person should not die.

Let us consider what such a tribunal would have discovered. Such a tribunal would have heard that Timothy Evans had the mental age of a 12-year-old child and that person would not have been hanged. Such a tribunal— [Interruption.] It is because Opposition Members do not listen when people explain things on this side of the argument that, year after year, they accept the old rubbish and innocent people continue to be killed as a result.

Hanratty could have run the defence of diminished responsibility. Of course, he could not have run both that and an alibi at the trial. However, a tribunal could have decided that he should not be hanged because, if he had run the defence of diminished responsibility, it would have succeeded. We could examine the list of miscarriages of justice and discover that no one for whom anything could have been said, even a reasonably short time after the trial, would have been hanged. The people who would hang would be those for whom nothing could be said in their favour. Those people are the undoubted and vilest of killers. It would be a deterrent, even though, as a result of the tribunal, some would not die, because people would not know in advance whether things would be said that would save their lives.

The House must think again. We shall go on thinking, year after year, because that is what the people outside who sent us to this place expect of us. They know that so long as the killing and murdering continue and precious little attempt is made to introduce a deterrent sentence, society is indeed sick. We must return to a situation in which society once again has respect for the rule of law. It had more respect for the rule of law when there was a perimeter beyond which people could not go because they knew that if they took someone's life, they would die.

I thank my colleagues who have tabled the new clauses. They will have my support because, for all our tears, at the end of the day I believe that capital punishment would save innocent lives.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

It is always good to follow the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). He was certainly on good form today. But if he is arguing that all the technological developments to which he referred could guarantee no miscarriages of justice, his argument is at best untenable and at worst ridiculous.

The suggestion that there would have been no Birmingham or Guildford pub bombings and no terrorism if the death penalty had been in existence is a defiance of history and a defiance of the situation in many countries where there is both terrorism and a death penalty. The hon. and learned Gentleman set out so many so-called safeguards and exceptions that we would end up without the deterrence which he suggested is required. For that reason, I entirely disagree with his argument.

I must declare an interest as I am an adviser to the Police Federation. The Police Federation would endorse the view of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but I do not. I speak on behalf of my constituents. It is my experience that, while the majority of police officers no doubt support the Police Federation's view, many take an alternative view. In many ways, the views of police officers reflect the differences of opinion on the issue among the general population.

As we have seen with the Home Secretary today, many people have in recent years taken a different view of the death penalty—and quite rightly so. People are beginning to understand that the person who may end up as the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice might be their son, daughter, husband, wife or relative. That innocent person might be hanged. That is why today a right-wing Conservative Home Secretary will join Opposition Members and many Conservative Members in saying that the risk of a mistake in respect of the death penalty is too great. The risk of a miscarriage of justice is too great.

Mr. Stephen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way as I am under a strict injunction from Mr. Morris to be brief.

Let me remind the Committee of those people who would be dead if the death penalty had not been abolished. Let us think about the number of people who would otherwise be dead. Those people include Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy Power, John Walker, Engin Raghip, Mark Braithwaite, Jacqueline Fletcher, Judith Ward, Paul Darvell, Wayne Darvell, Neil Latimer, Noel Bell, Winston Allen, James Hegan, Stephen Miller, Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi, Michelle and Lisa Taylor, Kiranjit Aluwhalia and, of course, Stefan Kiszko, who unfortunately died, but who at least had some time before his death during which he was able to enjoy the freedom that he should have had throughout his life.

Many people are worried about convictions achieved on the basis of admissions and false scientific evidence. We cannot accept a position where we must apologise to a corpse or to the family of a person who has been unjustly hanged. That is not an acceptable way to proceed.

Several hon. Members


Mr. O'Brien

I have already said that I will not give way.

Anyone who favours hanging must be prepared to see innocent people hanged. We cannot guarantee that our system is satisfactorily safe. The idea that there could be extra safeguards, either by way of a special tribunal or the Court of Appeal, is not acceptable.

Besides reducing the idea of deterrence by creating many exceptions, there would not be a proper safeguard. In respect of many cases, the Court of Appeal had heard those cases and rejected the appeals. It took 16 years to discover that Stefan Kiszko had not committed the murder for which he was convicted. Surely we are not proposing that we should wait 16 years to allow scientific evidence to present itself to ascertain innocence. That is not acceptable.

Conservative Members who favour capital punishment despite the risks of miscarriage of justice do so on the basis of a deterrent factor which outweighs the risks of a miscarriage of justice. I have had experience of representing people who have been accused of murder. I doubt whether there is deterrence in hanging. Even if there is, such miscarriages of justice that we have seen considerably outweigh the deterrence of hanging.

The vast majority of murder cases are domestic murders or murders that were committed in the heat of passion. In those circumstances, the rational thought that would go into an analysis of hanging would not deter crime. In a sense, the life sentence for murder is a deterrent. We know that murders have not increased at the rate at which other offences have increased. The argument that life imprisonment is not a deterrent is not acceptable or tenable; otherwise, when we abolished hanging, murder would have increased disproportionately to other crime. It has not. It has increased at a slower rate than that of other crime. On that basis, hanging was not the unique deterrent that others have suggested. Therefore, one has to fall back on the idea that the risk of a miscarriage of justice is much too great and that it far outweighs the deterrent argument, which itself is very questionable.

6.30 pm

Let no one suggest that Opposition Members who oppose hanging are less concerned about, the murder of police officers. The senior officer who was the wife of the officer who was murdered some years ago and whose killer returned to custody last week is based in my constituency, and she is obviously concerned, as I am, about the outcome of the case. I am also very concerned about, and send my condolences to, the family of Sergeant Derek Robertson.

The murder of an individual is always appalling, but the killing of a police officer is an assault on the state and on a person who puts his life on the line for the community. That should merit a greater punishment—a longer prison sentence—but not a distinct type of punishment—not a death penalty—to separate it from all others. Surely the killing of one police officer does not merit a different punishment from that for the killing of 21 people in the Birmingham pub bombings. That is not a legitimate or tenable distinction. Unless we have a way of distinguishing cases that would result in the death penalty and killings which would not, we cannot allow the death penalty to be resuscitated. Will some people be found more guilty beyond reasonable doubt than others? Again, that is not acceptable. We cannot argue that if Bentley should be hanged the terrorists who blew up the Birmingham pub should not.

Is not it ironic that legislation that came about following a royal commission that was set up in the wake of a series of mistakes in our criminal justice system should be used to attempt to restore a death penalty which would simply compound the very mistakes, the very miscarriages of justice and the very undermining of our criminal justice system that that royal commission made recommendations to stop?

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

On a point of order, Mr. Morris. You heard the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Bren) say that Mr. Anthony Paris would have been executed under the old system. I wanted to intervene to point out that I was Mr. Paris's solicitor— r—

The Chairman

Order. What has that to do with the Chair?

Mr. Evans

The appeal process had not been completed and he was found not guilty in the course of the Court of Appeal hearing; he never would have suffered that penalty.

The Chairman

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Shersby

I also happen to be an adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales, and I have a different list from that of the the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), who has made a most remarkable speech. My list is the roll of honour of police officers who have lost their lives doing their duty, protecting the men and women of this country and keeping the Queen's peace.

I speak on behalf of my constituents in Uxbridge, on behalf of the vast majority of members of the Police Federation whose views were expressed at their annual conference, and in support of new clause 2, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), because nothing will shake my belief that the existence of capital punishment is the only penalty that will deter criminals—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) has described them—from carrying guns and knives with which they shoot, stab, slash and kill men and women such as those on the Police Federation's roll of honour.

Since capital punishment was abolished in this country, 70 police officers have lost their lives. In the past five years that I have been a parliamentary adviser, five officers have died defending the men and women of this country and keeping the Queen's peace. It is time that we did what my hon. and learned Friend suggested, and that is to take courage to restore the penalty and make certain that the killing of innocent men and women comes to an end.

In the past three years, the Conservative Government have taken through the Lobby members of the Cabinet in support of capital punishment for treason and piracy. Those capital offences remain on the statute book. Therefore, why do my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Cabinet think that the death penalty is a deterrent for treason and for acts of piracy but not, apparently, for the murder of a police officer?

Why did the Home Secretary release Witney five years before the end of his sentence for killing three police officers in Notting Hill—Christopher Head, David Wombwell and Geoffrey Fox—in 1966? Why was Anthony Jeffs released after killing PC Guthrie in 1972?

Such matters concern my constituents in Uxbridge and every decent policeman and policewoman in this country. They should concern every member of the House of Commons as it reaches its decision—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first new clause relating to capital punishment, THE CHAIRMAN put the question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to order [11 February].

The Committee divided: Ayes 186, Noes 383.

Division No. 134] [6.37 pm
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Clappison, James
Amess, David Clark, Dr Michael (Rockford)
Ancram, Michael Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Colvin, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Conway, Derek
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Cran, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Batiste, Spencer Day, Stephen
Beggs, Roy Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bendall, Vivian Devlin, Tim
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dickens, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dicks, Terry
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brazier, Julian Dover, Den
Bright, Graham Duncan, Alan
Browning, Mrs. Angela Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Dunn, Bob
Burns, Simon Durant, Sir Anthony
Butler, Peter Eggar, Tim
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Carrington, Matthew Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Carttiss, Michael Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Cash, William Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Chapman, Sydney Evennett, David
Churchill, Mr Fabricant, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Moss, Malcolm
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Neubert, Sir Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Nicholls, Patrick
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Forth, Eric Norris, Steve
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Oppenheim, Phillip
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Page, Richard
French, Douglas Paice, James
Fry, Sir Peter Paisley, Rev Ian
Gale, Roger Patnick, Irvine
Gallie, Phil Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Gardiner, Sir George Pawsey, James
Gill, Christopher Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Gillen, Cheryl Porter, David (Waveney)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Riddick, Graham
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Robathan, Andrew
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hague, William Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Hampson, Dr Keith Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hanley, Jeremy Sims, Roger
Hannam, Sir John Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hargreaves, Andrew Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Hawkins, Nick Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hawksley, Warren Speed, Sir Keith
Hendry, Charles Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Horam, John Spink, Dr Robert
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Sproat, Iain
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Stewart, Allan
Hunter, Andrew Streeter, Gary
Jack, Michael Sumberg, David
Jessel, Toby Sykes, John
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Kilfedder, Sir James Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Kirkhope, Timothy Thomason, Roy
Knapman, Roger Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Thurnham, Peter
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Tracey, Richard
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Tredinnick, David
Leigh, Edward Trotter, Neville
Lightbown, David Twinn, Dr Ian
Lord, Michael Vaughan, Sir Gerard
McCrea, Rev William Viggers, Peter
MacKay, Andrew Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Maclean, David Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
McLoughlin, Patrick Ward, John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Marland, Paul Watts, John
Marlow, Tony Wells, Bowen
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Whitney, Ray
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Whittingdale, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Widdecombe, Ann
Merchant, Piers Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Mills, Iain Wilkinson, John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wolfson, Mark
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Wood, Timothy
Moate, Sir Roger
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tellers for the Ayes:
Monro, Sir Hector Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock and
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Mr. Michael Shersby.
Abbott, Ms Diane Armstrong, Hilary
Adams, Mrs Irene Ashby, David
Ainger, Nick Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Ashton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Austin-Walker, John
Aitken, Jonathan Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Baldry, Tony
Allen, Graham Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Alton, David Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Barron, Kevin
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Bates, Michael
Battle, John Dixon, Don
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Dobson, Frank
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Donohoe, Brian H.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dorrell, Stephen
Bennett, Andrew F. Dowd, Jim
Benton, Joe Dunnachie, Jimmy
Beresford, Sir Paul Dykes, Hugh
Bermingham, Gerald Eagle, Ms Angela
Berry, Dr. Roger Eastham, Ken
Betts, Clive Elletson, Harold
Biffen, Rt Hon John Enright, Derek
Blair, Tony Etherington, Bill
Blunkett, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Boateng, Paul Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Boswell, Tim Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bowis, John Fatchett, Derek
Boyes, Roland Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bradley, Keith Fishburn, Dudley
Brandreth, Gyles Fisher, Mark
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flynn, Paul
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Forman, Nigel
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Foster, Don (Bath)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foulkes, George
Budgen, Nicholas Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Burden, Richard Fraser, John
Burt, Alistair Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Butterfill, John Fyfe, Maria
Byers, Stephen Galbraith, Sam
Caborn, Richard Galloway, George
Callaghan, Jim Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Garnier, Edward
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Garrett, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. George, Bruce
Canavan, Dennis Gerrard, Neil
Cann, Jamie Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Godsiff, Roger
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Golding, Mrs Llin
Chisholm, Malcolm Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Clapham, Michael Gordon, Mildred
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Gorst, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clelland, David Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gunnell, John
Coe, Sebastian Hain, Peter
Coffey, Ann Hall, Mike
Cohen, Harry Hanson, David
Congdon, David Hardy, Peter
Connarty, Michael Harman, Ms Harriet
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Harris, David
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Harvey, Nick
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Haselhurst, Alan
Corbett, Robin Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Corbyn, Jeremy Hayes, Jerry
Corston, Ms Jean Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Couchman, James Henderson, Doug
Cousins, Jim Heppell, John
Cox, Tom Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cryer, Bob Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Cummings, John Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hinchliffe, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hoey, Kate
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Home Robertson, John
Dalyell, Tam Hood, Jimmy
Darling, Alistair Hoon, Geoffrey
Davidson, Ian Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Denham, John Hoyle, Doug
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Meale, Alan
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Michael, Alun
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Milburn, Alan
Hume, John Miller, Andrew
Hutton, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Illsley, Eric Morgan, Rhodri
Ingram, Adam Morley, Elliot
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jamieson, David Mowlam, Marjorie
Janner, Greville Mudie, George
Jenkin, Bernard Mullin, Chris
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Murphy, Paul
Johnston, Sir Russell Nelson, Anthony
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) O'Hara, Edward
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Olner, William
Jowell, Tessa O'Neill, Martin
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Keen, Alan Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Ottaway, Richard
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Patchett, Terry
Khabra, Piara S. Patten, Rt Hon John
Kilfoyle, Peter Pickles, Eric
King, Rt Hon Tom Pickthall, Colin
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Pike, Peter L.
Kirkwood, Archy Pope, Greg
Knox, Sir David Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Powell, William (Corby)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Legg, Barry Prescott, John
Leighton, Ron Primarolo, Dawn
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Purchase, Ken
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Quin, Ms Joyce
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Radice, Giles
Lewis, Terry Randall, Stuart
Lidington, David Rathbone, Tim
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Raynsford, Nick
Litherland, Robert Redmond, Martin
Livingstone, Ken Reid, Dr John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Rendel, David
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Richards, Rod
Llwyd, Elfyn Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Loyden, Eddie Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Luff, Peter Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Lynne, Ms Liz Rooker, Jeff
McAvoy, Thomas Rooney, Terry
McCartney, Ian Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McFall, John Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
McGrady, Eddie Rowlands, Ted
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Ruddock, Joan
McKelvey, William Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Mackinlay, Andrew Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
McLeish, Henry Salmond, Alex
Maclennan, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
McMaster, Gordon Sedgemore, Brian
McNamara, Kevin Sheerman, Barry
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maddock, Mrs Diana Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Madel, Sir David Short, Clare
Maginnis, Ken Simpson, Alan
Mahon, Alice Skinner, Dennis
Maitland, Lady Olga Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Major, Rt Hon John Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mallon, Seamus Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Malone, Gerald Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mandelson, Peter Snape, Peter
Marek, Dr John Soames, Nicholas
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Soley, Clive
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Spearing, Nigel
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Spellar, John
Martlew, Eric Spring, Richard
Maxton, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Meacher, Michael Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Walley, Joan
Steinberg, Gerry Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Stephen, Michael Wareing, Robert N
Stern, Michael Watson, Mike
Stevenson, George Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Stott, Roger Wicks, Malcolm
Strang, Dr. Gavin Willetts, David
Straw, Jack Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Tapsell, Sir Peter Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wilshire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Winnick, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Wise, Audrey
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Worthington, Tony
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wright, Dr Tony
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Yeo, Tim
Trend, Michael Young, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Mr. Harry Barnes and Mr. John McAllion.
Walden, George
Waller, Gary

Question accordingly negatived.

THE CHAIRMAN then put the Question necessary to dispose of another new clause relating to capital punish-ment which had been selected by him.

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