§ 'A person convicted of murder shall be liable to capital punishment'.—[Mr. Bendall.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.3.45 pm
I understand that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) is going to move the Second reading of the new clause standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner).
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There are new clauses tabled on the reintroduction of the death penalty. The new clauses are being introduced into a Bill which, unless it is specifically stated to the contrary, covers England and Wales only. Could you, Mr. Speaker, give the House a ruling—or, perhaps, request one of the Law Officers from either Scotland or England to do so—as to whether, if the new clauses are passed—I am certain that the House will have the sense not to pass them—they would not cover Scotland but only England and Wales?
If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) awaits a ministerial contribution to the debate, he may—I put it no higher—hear something to his advantage.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 19—Death penalty for terrorism involving loss of life—'As from 1st January 1983, the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for acts of terrorism involving the loss of human life.'.Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, after 'be', insert 'the maximum penalty'.
New clause 20—Death penalty for murder by firearms or explosives—'As from 1st January 1983, the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for murder by means of firearms or explosives.'.New clause 21—Death penalty for murder of police and prison officers—'As from 1st January 1983, the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for murder of a police or prison officer.'.Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, after 'be', insert 'the maximum penalty'.
Amendment (b) to the proposed new clause, after 'a', insert 'uniformed'.
New clause 27—Death penalty for murder in course of robbery and burglary with offensive weapons—'As from 1st January 1983 the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for murder in the course of robbery and burglary which involves the use of offensive weapons.'.
§ Mr. Bendall
The clauses deal with the return of the death penalty for certain categories of murder. May I, 609 first, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the Government for allowing a full debate on this important subject. I tabled the clauses in such a way as to give hon. Members the opportunity at the end of the debate to vote on one or more of the categories. In the past, the vote has always been on the general principle. It had come to my notice that many hon. Members would support, perhaps, one of the categories but not the general principle because, often, the general principle contains social and domestic murders together with crimes of passion. Therefore, my new clauses are specific to avoid that particular problem. I understand that there will be a separate vote on each of the clauses at the end of the debate. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, in that respect.
In recent years we have seen a serious rise in crimes of violence. The general public have, therefore, become worried and concerned about this trend. They are particularly concerned about murder, especially in certain categories. In the main those categories are outlined in the clauses that I have tabled.
The death penalty would act as a deterrent. A would-be murderer will think twice before taking a life if he knows that he may well forfeit his own life in so doing. If one examines the homicides that have been reported to the police since 1964—the year the death penalty was done away with on a trial basis—one sees that the figure for murders in 1964 was 296.
In 1980, the figure was 620. The number has more than doubled in that period.
New clause 19 deals with acts of terrorism involving the loss of life. The figures contained in the Home Office's 1980 statistics for England and Wales show that there are great variations. It appears that crimes involving terrorism and murder come in spates. In 1974, 43 persons lost their lives and in 1975 the total was 11.
I shall deal specifically with some of the problems that we have seen recently as a result of acts of terrorism. In October 1981 there was the disastrous bomb incident at the Chelsea barracks, which killed one widow and injured 40 other people, including 25 Irish Guardsmen and two children. At a later stage it resulted in the death of John Breslin, who died from his injuries. That was followed rapidly by another bomb explosion in a Wimpy bar in Oxford Street. At the same time another bomb was detected in Debenham's in the same area. These bombs could easily have maimed and killed innocent people. Many of the inhabitants of the Wimpy bar were young school children who were on a half-term holiday or some other sort of holiday. We tragically lost one of our explosive experts, Kenneth Howarth, when he tried to defuse the bomb.
That was followed rapidly in October 1981 by the Dulwich bomb, which severely injured Lieutenant-General Sir Steuart Pringle. The general lost a leg as a result of that terrorist activity.
These examples in England are far too easily forgotten, until the next incident occurs. As I have said, these activities come in spates. However, in Northern Ireland it is a regular occurrence. Over 2,000 have been killed in Ulster, including the civilians of Ulster, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and more than 400 members of our armed forces.
It is said that the death penalty would make martyrs of terrorists; I disagree. Last year we were presented with the 610 problem of the hunger strikers at the Maze. Those would-be martyrs saw the silliness of their ways in the end. They were persuaded by parents and relatives not to give up their lives in hunger strikes.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not restore the death penalty for murders involving terrorism unless to do so would materially assist the task of the security forces? Has my hon. Friend embarked on any discussions with the security forces to ascertain whether they support him in this policy? If he has, what was the result of those discussions?
§ Mr. Bendall
I have not involved myself in discussions with the security forces as I feel that it would not be my place to do so. I believe that the death penalty for murders involving terrorism would reduce the number of lives lost. I believe that parents would be persuasive——
§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
Does my hon. Friend accept that he is not in a position to ask any of those killed by terrorist violence for their views on this subject?
§ Mr. Bendall
No, I am not in that position. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to the attention of the House. As I was saying, I believe that relatives would be able to persuade potential murderers to adopt methods other than senseless and barbaric acts of terrorism if the death penalty were reintroduced.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I do not wish to discuss the technicality of the argument, because the new clauses do not apply to Northern Ireland, but it is clear that the hon. Member thinks that the death penalty should be restored there. Does he believe that that can be done in the absence of trial by jury?
§ Mr. Bendall
I do not think that it could be administered without trial by jury. However, I believe that the death penalty would help in resolving and stopping much of the terrorism that takes place. I have drawn attention to the losses that we have sustained throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in a paradoxical way the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland are a greater protection, in some instances, against miscarriages of justice where an act of terrorism has occurred than trial by jury in a heightened emotional situation? Given the number of miscarriages of justice that have taken place and the uncertainty about some convictions, is he happy about hanging a possibly innocent man?
§ Mr. Bendall
I have referred to the death penalty and not to hanging. The cases of innocent men being hanged are rare. Nobody would be happy with that, but I believe that we have a duty to preserve human life. The position is becoming serious as crimes of terrorism continue.
New clause 20 deals with murder by firearms or explosives. The figures of serious offences recorded by the police in which firearms have been involved are serious. In 1970, 1,358 cases were recorded. In 1980 that escalated to 6,587. The incidence of these offences has quadrupled. It is said that many of these cases involve the use of air pistols, but air pistols are often used for armed robbery. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has introduced a Private Member's Bill that is designed to deal with replica firearms. When a replica or 611 a genuine firearm is used, it is extremely bad for the person on the receiving end, whether or not they are shot. Air pistols can cause serious injuries, given the type of pellets that can now be acquired.
If the increase in the use of firearms continues, more people are likely to be murdered as more criminals carry firearms. If that happens, more and more police officers will have to be armed. In many respects we shall become like the United States of America. When more of the police are armed and when more criminals carry firearms, there is a greater likelihood of shooting on our streets. That will mean that more innocent people may be killed. Furthermore, when more people become armed there is always the danger that they will become trigger-happy. That is one of the serious problems that faces the United States.
The use of shotguns in bank raids and post office holdups has increased. In 1972 there were 350 such cases but by 1980 there were 552. The worst year was 1978 when there were 760 such cases. There were about 301 in 1969.
The use of pistols has vastly increased. In 1972 there were 254 cases involving the use of pistols and in 1980 there were 620. That compares with 233 in 1969. I do not think that it can be argued that the criminal use of firearms is not increasing alarmingly. Serious offences are being committed. The incidence of armed burglary has also increased. In 1975 there were about 77 cases of that sort but there were 102 in 1978. That compares with only 36 in 1970. There has, therefore, been an escalation in those figures as well.
There has also been a rise in the use of firearms in murder. The figures for the mid-1970s of 46, 43 and 43 compare with the rise to 48 of such offences in 1979. The figures for the late 1960s and early 1970s reveal 23, 30 and 34 cases.
§ Mr. Bendall
The worst year for the use of explosives was 1974, when there were 42 cases. The figures vary because of acts of terrorism. When the coming year's figures are published they will no doubt have risen as a result of what happened towards the end of last year. Crimes using explosives come in spates. It is, therefore, impossible to discern a definite trend in the figures. Nevertheless, the use of firearms and explosives must be stopped. If innocent people are otherwise to be maimed and killed, the only deterrent and the only answer is the return of the death penalty.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Will my hon. Friend go behind the important statistics that he is giving to the House and explain what motivates men and women to use firearms and therefore to commit the murders that he has described?
§ Mr. Bendall
Many people commit crimes. With regard to terrorism, the motive is obviously political. With regard to armed robbery, I firmly believe that those concerned arm themselves because they believe that by shooting their way out of trouble they may not be caught.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
About 70 per cent. of murders are committed within the family environment. That means that if all the murders that were committed 612 with the use of firearms, as given in the statistics, were committed only by strangers, about 90 per cent. of murders committed in any one year by strangers involved the use of firearms. It must follow from the statistics that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) is quoting that many of the murders involving the use of firearms occur within the family as crimes of passion.
§ Mr. Bendall
I refer the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) to page 52 of the Home Office "Criminal Statistics for England and Wales 1980". At paragraph 3.3 he will see a graph showing that the figure for robberies committed as a result of the use of pistols and shotguns is nearly 1,000. I have obtained all of my statistical figures from that paper.
I turn now to the murder of police and prison officers. They do a difficult job in difficult circumstances. They should have the protection of the death penalty. If such protection is not offered to them, I predict that within the next decade most policemen will be armed. That is a horrifying prospect. Even more criminals will arm themselves. Shooting in the streets will increase. Police and criminals alike will become victims if that is allowed to happen. I do not believe that the police want to be armed any more than they are now.
In the 17 years prior to the death penalty being abolished, 11 police officers were murdered. In the 17 years since the death penalty was abolished, 27 have been murdered. That is another doubling of the figure. The figures speak for themselves. Only this year, Detective Constable Porter of Durham was murdered while chasing armed robbers who had snatched a payroll. One of his colleagues was also injured. PC John Egerton of Greater Manchester was murdered near Bolton, having disturbed someone siphoning petrol from a van in a factory yard. Detective Constable John Sanford, also of Greater Manchester, was recently murdered at Manchester airport. He died as a result of head injuries sustained when carrying out investigations. Those are three examples of police officers who have been murdered already this year. Only last weekend, a policewoman, Beverley Townsend, was attacked in Fulham. Fortunately, she sustained far less serious injuries than might have occurred. That is to say nothing of the regular murder of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The total of their dead is now nearly 150.
Prison warders also deserve our protection. With the use of firearms increasing at its present rate, criminals may try to release their friends who are in prison, or prisoners might themselves organise their release.
I turn now to the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) to new clauses 19 and 21. The death penalty should not be regarded as the maximum in a scale of penalties. It should be the deterrent. It should fit the crime. The amendment to new clause 21 which deals with uniformed police, presents problems. If one of the new clauses is accepted today, there should be a further debate on the matter, as it would need to be clarified, and, presumably, new legislation would be required.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
May I ascertain exactly what the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) means in new clause 19? It says: 613'As from 1st January 1983, the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for acts of terrorism involving the loss of human life.'.Is he suggesting that capital punishment is mandatory and that the courts will have no other penalty available to them?
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
Before my hon. Friend moves on, will he tell the House whether he believes that any jury in the country will convict if new clause 19 becomes law?
§ Mr. Bendall
I entirely accept that the jury must make the decision. I was referring to uniformed officers. The matter should be further debated if the new clause were approved.
I fully support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) on new clause 22. I should like some clarification. Does it include social and domestic murders and crimes of passion? The House would welcome clarification on that.
I confirm that I shall support new clause 27 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). It is important, as it deals with mugging and other offences that are committed on the street and in the home. Moreover, it covers one of the principal concerns of the public about murder that is often committed as a result of mugging.
The public have become extremely anxious about law and order. They have witnessed the figures for crimes of violence rise to more than 100,000 in 1981. The Home Secretary has vastly strengthened the police and has put more constables back on the beat. I warmly congratulate him on his efforts in that direction.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
New clause 27 provides that:the penalty of capital punishment shall be available to the courts as the penalty for murder in the course of robbery and burglary which involves the use of offensive weapons.How does the hon. Gentleman justify the penalty of capital punishment in cases where the murderer has used a knife or a gun but not where the victim has been strangled, perhaps in hideous circumstances? Is that not an invidious anomaly?
§ Mr. Bendall
There are always anomalies in these matters. One would not deny that. Certainly, however, I believe that, statistically, robbery involving violence with an offensive weapon is more common than strangulation.
The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the increase in the police force, honouring the Conservative manifesto pledge to the public at the last general election, but the general public are still concerned at the number of murders taking place in our society. The police should have the added protection of the death penalty. This view has been clearly expressed in opinion polls. In the 1975 opinion poll, 64 per cent. favoured capital punishment. In the 1981 Gallup poll the figure was 69 per cent., and in the Gallup poll just a few weeks ago 78 per cent., 75 per cent. and 74 per cent. favoured the death penalty for certain categories of murder. The Police Federation has received more than 200,000 signatures in favour of capital punishment and I suspect that many hon. Members have received letters supporting it. In the correspondence that 614 I have received, the ratio is 30:1 in favour. Moreover, I have today received a petition from the Manchester and Merseyside areas, with 125,000 signatures, seeking a binding referendum on the question of capital punishment.
Those figures give a clear picture of the views of the vast majority of the British people. They want the death penalty restored for certain categories of murder. Parliament is well aware of that. I believe that the death penalty would act as a deterrent. The elderly and the young in my constituency, and I am sure in those of many other hon. Members, are worried about going out at night, using subways or opening their doors after dark. I shall not go into detail, as that is well known to all of us. I believe that this would also provide added incentive for parents to accept more responsibility for correcting their children during their formative years. It might also, in time, lead to more discipline in our schools. The young must be taught the difference between right and wrong and it is in youth that the problems first begin. If the problems can be resolved at a far earlier stage, so much the better.
I believe that the restoration of the death penalty would also stop the senseless killings that often take place around football grounds during and after matches, as in the recent instance at Highbury. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but to me it is not a laughing matter for a young man to be found dying in the gutter as a result of a serious attack after a football match.
The House has a very serious decision to make. It must examine its conscience and it cannot ignore the feelings of the vast majority of British people who call for the return of capital punishment for certain degrees of murder. That is needed if law and order are to be maintained, democracy upheld and lives preserved.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) has undoubtedly raised a very important issue of deep public concern at this time, although I did not find the way in which he presented his arguments persuasive.
I have two reasons for wishing to speak in the debate. First, I have the most recent direct contact with the electorate—fairly intensive contact in two by-elections in the past year—and I know that there is concern about this matter, although in neither case was the electorate in any doubt about my views. Secondly, for two separate periods, I held the office of Home Secretary and had to discharge the heavy responsibilities involved in these matters.
Those experiences certainly do not leave me in any mood for dogma on this and other issues. There are many questions relating to crime and punishment to which none of us knows the answer and we mislead ourselves and the public if we pretend too much that we do. There are great dangers, as perhaps the Government and the Prime Minister found after the last election, in trying to make this a party issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "She did not"] The right hon. Lady did. I was interested that eventually, in February or March, she agreed with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr Callaghan) that it did not make much difference who was Prime Minister when dealing with these difficult problems.
No one can fail to be impressed by and to take seriously the deep sense of concern about violent crime and the fear that it provokes which is now in the minds of many people, particularly, although not exclusively, the old. It would be quite wrong for any of us to pretend that the forces of enlightenment are entirely on one side in this matter or to 615 try to dismiss as a mere desire for atavistic vengeance the feelings of those who search for some protection that they believe would make them feel more secure.
Therefore, in considering this matter, I have tried to set aside what I regard as the traditional arguments against the death penalty—those which certainly persuaded me and were deployed with great force in the debates leading up to the 1965 decision. I have always regarded the in some ways corrupting and certainly macabre ritual of the death penalty as repugnant, but I believe that it is one's duty to set aside those feelings if one believes that the death penalty will help to give security and protection to people who feel great need for security and protection at this time.
Having said that, I am not so persuaded, for three reasons which I shall try to state briefly.
First, the worst form of mass murder and mutilation that we have experienced recently has without question resulted from terrorist acts on a mass scale. The hon. Member for Ilford, North referred to 1974. In that year, 21 young people were killed in a pub bombing incident in Birmingham. At that time, I was Home Secretary and I represented a Birmingham constituency. It was my duty to visit in hospital not those who had been killed, but the many who had been mutilated not just in that incident but in four or five others. What is involved is, therefore, deeply engraved on my mind. I have been as close to it as any hon. Member, with perhaps a few exceptions, such as the right hon. Members for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who have experienced direct attacks.
As the hon. Member for Ilford, North made clear, terrorism is a major threat. On the face of it, it would be curious to suggest that we should have the death penalty for some forms of murder, but to exclude it for terrorism. That is not what the hon. Gentleman suggested, but it is what I believe some hon. Members may have in mind. I do not believe that it can begin to be convincingly argued that capital punishment for terrorism would be either wise or protective.
First, is the death penalty to be used in Northern Ireland or only in Great Britain? I remember the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), now Secretary of State for Education and Science, announcing his conversion to using it in Great Britain, but saying that it must be excluded from Northern Ireland. It seemed to me a most extraordinary proposition. One comes forward with what is said to be a unique and effective deterrent, but where the threat is greatest the sword is left in its sheath and it is drawn only where the threat is less. I find that a difficult proposition to accept. Yet—and the intervention of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) was pertinent to this view—almost everyone—one must never be too extreme in a statement—who has been directly concerned with security and the administration of the law in the horribly difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland knows that the death penalty would make things worse, not better.
The most knowledgeable convert is the Home Secretary himself who, of course, abolished capital punishment in Northern Ireland in 1972. The right hon. Gentleman has certainly learned from his experience. Apart from anything else, it would make it impossible to continue with 616 the Diplock courts. Could anyone seriously argue that we could have the supreme penalty without trial by jury in one part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point. I do not know whether he considered it when he was Home Secretary. If the treason law is applied, where the death penalty exists anyway and it becomes recognised that acts of terrorism create the offence of treason felony because every one of the persons concerned commits treason against the State, that might make it unnecessary to amend the terrorism new clause. Why has that law not been brought into effect? Surely, if the law needs to be amended, it can be done in that way. That would take into account the large number of IRA murders that have been perpetrated.
§ Mr. Jenkins
To be honest, I do not understand the force of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. I am concerned with the substance, not the legal form. I am concerned with whether hanging, or any other form of judicial killing, for terrorist crimes would give greater or lesser security to the innocent.
My point was whether one could possibly use the supreme penalty—even if it were thought right for other reasons—without trial by jury. Whether one uses the Treason Act, or any other Act, one still has to have a trial with, in my view, a jury. If we were to abandon the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, I believe that we could say goodbye to the majority of convictions for terrorism. We would have less, not greater, protection.
Moving from Northern Ireland to the general terrorist position in the United Kingdom as a whole, I do not believe that it can be argued with conviction that capital punishment would be a deterrent against a determined and vicious terrorist. Surely the experience of the past year or so has made that argument even clearer than it was before. Nine or ten hunger strikers have starved themselves to death in an Ulster gaol. One could not argue that they would have been deterred by the fear of death. They sought death for the purposes of their own perverted cause. How much more glamorous—if one may use the word in that horrible context—and striking for their perverted purposes it would have been had they met death upon British gallows than in the squalor of starving to death in a hospital bed. How much more frightening might have been the consequences for other people. How much more dangerous the repercussive elements might have been. I believe that in the major category of terrorist crime the death penalty would not protect but would further endanger innocent lives.
We have many other applications before us. Leaving aside the illogicality in proclaiming the unique value of the deterrent and then not being able to use it in cases of the worst form of slaughter, it has long been attractive to some people to seek different categories, despite the general disillusionment with the attempt to do that in the Homicide Act 1967, which lasted for seven years and proved extremely difficult to administer. What categories are raised? There are police and prison officers. Although numbers are small by international standards, it is a grave matter when a police officer is killed in the course of duty. There are too many.
What are the most important aspects of the effectiveness of the police to combat crime? First, the 617 understanding and support of the public. Secondly, the likelihood of the courts convicting the guilty whom the police have apprehended. I doubt whether capital punishment would help in either case. It would perhaps hinder. If there were a different and more severe punishment for killing policemen than for killing a civilian—perhaps a young girl bank clerk who endeavoured to resist a criminal and to uphold the law—would that help relations between the police and the public and the degree of mutual support which I regard as absolutely crucial?
Next, there is the likelihood of conviction. Police opinion on that matter is not unanimous. I am well aware of the position of the Police Federation, which I respect having had dealings with it over many years. I do not agree with its view on this matter—a view which it has held for a long time.
In 1974 the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, without being asked by me, spontaneously stated that it was his view and that of four out of five of his most senior officers that capital punishment would be a hindrance, not a help. I have not inquired about the position since then. I do not believe that senior police officers should be canvassed in this respect. I tell the House that because the statement was volunteered to me. Why did they take that view? It was not, I think, out of softness, but for fear that capital punishment would make conviction more difficult to achieve and leave the police less well protected at the end of the day.
Another question, which is for the House, not the police, is that of majority verdicts in criminal trials. I introduced that provision into the Criminal Justice Act 1967 and it went through, but not without considerable opposition and difficulty in the House. It was something of a cross-party issue, although most of the opposition came fom the Conservative Benches. I make no great point about that.
It was a difficult change to introduce, but in my view it is now widely accepted. It has worked well and it is valuable and important in the fight against crime. More than 10 per cent. of convictions are now secured by majority verdicts. Those especially affected are the most hardened and professional criminals. Could we continue with majority verdicts in capital cases if the ultimate penalty were to result? It would be a difficult question to answer. If we say that majority verdicts are not acceptable in one category of cases, might not that undermine the position of others?
One would have difficulty in obtaining convictions, not out of sentiment but occasionally because of corruption, supineness or perhaps a scintilla of genuine doubt in the minds of the jury. Some possibilities of doubt are too great to be shrugged aside. I have been concerned with 10 capital cases in which there were varying degrees of doubt. Some turned out to be wrongful convictions. Some cases raised doubt—sometimes substantial doubt—which led to it being clearly shown that there had been a miscarriage of justice. In others there was just a scintilla of doubt which left a lingering feeling of uncertainty. There have been one or two further cases since then. That is not a negligible proportion. During the 20 years after the Second World War when capital punishment existed, 186 people were sentenced to death. Not all of them were hanged, but two were and others might well have been.
That leads me to the conclusion that the death penalty is too final for the frailty of human judgment, especially 618 as there is no convincing evidence that it would give greater security and a very strong argument that, in major cases of terrorism, it would increase the danger.
In present circumstances, some may say "Let us try anything, especially what the public wishes." While I in no way dismiss public views on this matter easily, that is not a responsible attitude for the House. We do not live in a plebiscitary democracy, except recently on rare major constitutional issues, nor should we. I hope that the House will exercise its current judgment tonight, as it has on previous occasions, and reject the new clauses.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
It is a pleasure to welcome the first speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) since he returned to the House. He spoke with all the distinction of a former Home Secretary and it is well known that I find myself in agreement with his views. My contribution this afternoon will be very brief and largely personal. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), who introduced the new clauses, emphasised the immense increase in crimes of violence in Britain. That is undeniable, but it has led to confusion in the minds of the public between crimes of violence and homicides. The increase in the former has led to the view that the increase in homicide is also vast and therefore requires the drastic remedy of the reintroduction of capital punishment.
I do not believe that to be the case. Of course the increase in crimes of violence is of the utmost importance to society and every credit goes to the Home Secretary and to the Government for the steps that they have taken in trying to deal with the problem in modern times. We, all know that circumstances are now very different from what they were in the past. The facilities for crimes of violence are far greater than they have ever been and the difficulties of coping with them are also measurably greater.
I hope that we may concentrate upon the essential matter that we are discussing today, which is the reintroduction of capital punishment for homicide. I read an article in The Times by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn), the former Solicitor-General for Scotland, who assumed that to have a proper deterrent one should place capital punishment at the disposal of the courts for any crime of violence. It is difficult to believe that that would be acceptable to public opinion, let alone the House, and it is not really the answer to the problem that we are facing.
I was intimately involved in the preparation of what became the Homicide Act 1957, with Lord Kilmuir as Lord Chancellor. Our purpose in preparing that Act was to try—I say it quite openly—to bridge the gap in the Conservative Party between those who believed in capital punishment and the abolitionists. At the same time we hoped that it might succeed in bridging the gap in the House of Commons. To begin with, Mr. Sydney Silverman, who was a most redoubtable fighter for the abolition of capital punishment, I think also believed that.
The Act was passed. It distinguished between different categories of homicide. The critics said that the Act meant that if a public man was shot while crossing Parliament Square the death penalty had to be used in that case. If, however, a man poisoned his wife, it was purely a matter between the two of them, and the case should not be affected by the death penalty. The basic point was that the 619 Act, although passed by the House of Commons, with many doubters, was not acceptable to public opinion for one moment.
The reason was quite simple. Our fellow citizens said that they recognised that the life of a policeman or a prison officer was very important, but in what respect was it more important than the life of a citizen who was killed by some chance bullet during a bank raid? That question was impossible to answer satisfactorily to the public. I must say with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, who is trying in the new clauses to categorise homicide in various ways, that even if he succeeds it will not be acceptable to public opinion for the reasons that I have given.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Is it not true that policemen and prison warders are exposed to dangers that the general public need not face and that they therefore require further protection?
§ Mr. Heath
That is not acceptable in the minds of the public, because today they believe that they are just as exposed to danger. That includes the risk of being shot by someone who is carrying out a bank raid because one happens to be in the way or, as the right hon. Member for Hillhead said so movingly, because of the whole question of terrorism today, which is a feature not just of Britain but of the modern world.
We must face the question—is there to be a restoration of the death penalty in all cases or should we remain as we are at the moment? I have heard no arguments in the years since capital punishment was abolished to persuade me that it should be restored. Indeed, the only arguments that I have heard have reinforced my view that it would be a mistake to do so.
However, there is still the question of terrorism, about which we have heard. I was Prime Minister when the death penalty was abolished in Northern Ireland. Of course, the Government did it knowing that those dealing with terrorism on the spot at tremendous risk to themselves did not believe that the death penalty helped them in any way. We took that decision in that full knowledge. I believe that remains the situation.
As for the police, they require the support of all sections of the community. I can understand the view of many of them but we must not overlook the views also of other members of the police, known to ourselves, who do not believe that capital punishment would be a help to them. This is why I regret the Police Federation's campaign in the press, not because it has caused an immense amount of work for Members of Parliament but because the Police Federation should endeavour to secure the support of all sections of the community, regardless of its view, particularly on questions such as this. Moreover, when chief constables decide to become again the silent service, it may be better for all of us and we shall form better judgments of the real problems of society and of the best way in which to help the police.
620 The right hon. Member for Hillhead mentioned my experience of terrorism. I do not believe that the death penalty would have prevented the attacks on my life; nor would it have prevented my house from being blown up, nor a further attempt being made to do so. Nor would it prevent further attacks in countries overseas. I do not believe that the existence of the death penalty would help, and I am not asking that it should.
The real point which is emphasised to me by many constituents is that, even if the death penalty is not a deterrent, murderers deserve to die. This is the question of revenge. Again, this will be a matter of moral judgment for each of us. I do not believe in revenge. If I were to become the victim of terrorists, I would not wish them to be hanged or killed in any other way for revenge. All that would do is deepen the bitterness which already tragically exists in the conflicts we experience in society, particularly in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
My right hon. Friend characterised the demand for the taking of a life upon the taking of a life as revenge. May it not be said that society shows its respect for human life by exacting the death penalty against those who have deliberately taken life?
§ Mr. Heath
My hon. and learned Friend is right in saying that that is a point of view which can be put forward. It is not one which I share. It leads me to the next point.
The one substantial change which I have noticed since the abolition of the death penalty is the revelation of the number of people who have been wrongly condemned. This was just touched upon by the right hon. Member for Hillhead. The number is seen to be considerable when compared with the figures of those who are charged with homicide. To me it is unforgivable that one should take a life judicially through the State in this way. Therefore, that alone has strenuously reinforced my opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty.
There are, of course, those of my constituents who have written to me and said, roughly in a similar way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, that there are bound to be mistakes sometimes and that if innocent people suffer by mistake and lose their lives that is a good reason why, if people are wrongly condemned, they should lose their lives also. This is not an argument I can share or a view with which I can agree. Because there has been one mistake, one should not therefore indulge in a process in which other, equally grievous mistakes are made. That is not an argument in which I agree with my constituents.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
May I draw to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the murder in 1969 for which Patrick Meehan was convicted? The lady who was murdered was my aunt. Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the whole family there was no desire for revenge. When I spoke to my uncle he showed no desire for revenge, either. It was evident at the time that there was an element of doubt. The family was happy and pleased that there was no capital punishment at that time, because otherwise an innocent man might have been hanged.
§ Mr. Heath
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. When I said that the argument was one of revenge I was not referring to any specific case and I had none in mind. I was referring purely to the letters 621 which I have received, largely as a result of the Police Federation advertisement, from all over the country in which people say that, even though the death penalty may not deter, somebody who has committed this crime deserves to die. That is not a view which I can accept.
We all know that for many years there has been a major difference of view between Parliament and public opinion, as expressed in the best way in which we can see it, through public opinion polls. It is well known that I do not support the constitutional doctrine of a referendum. However, I sometimes think that if a referendum were fought openly up and down the country the views of the public as expressed in public opinion polls might prove to be different. That is purely a matter of judgment. At the moment we know that there is a great gap between public opinion and the House of Commons. This situation is not only regrettable but always extremely difficult for society and Parliament.
We should carry out our basic responsibilities. I know that some of my hon. Friends, and perhaps some who have come to the House of Commons after recent elections, feel very much torn between the views of their constituents, often expressed forcefully, and their own views as to what should be done in these matters. If it is not presumptous of me, I would ask them to go back to Edmund Burke and remember that he said:Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.In these matters we should hold to our own judgment as we best can.
§ Mr. Greenway
Would my right hon. Friend not agree that this is the greatest moral issue which faces the country or which could face the country? Is it not reasonable and perhaps right that it should be put to the conscience of each adult and that a referendum would not be wrong in that sense?
§ Mr. Heath
No. I take the contrary view. I will not argue which is the greatest moral issue facing us individually or the country because that would lead me into other fields which are not appropriate today. Each of us should have the courage and responsibility to form his own judgment and his own views and then act upon them in the Division Lobby.
If I may reinforce what the right hon. Member for Hillhead said, my constituents, in what after all was originally a marginal seat, have known my views on this subject for more than 20 years. I can assure my hon. Friends that that is not the most difficult or unpleasant thing with which I have had to contend in politics. I have survived this public knowledge and we still remain on perfectly good terms. This is a great issue, but it is in our hands and we should accept our individual responsibility for deciding it.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
The House owes a sense of gratitude to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) for having given us yet again the opportunity to debate this serious and important issue. Like the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I hope that we shall tonight deal effectively once and for all for the remainder of this Parliament both with the general principle which 622 is enshrined in new clause 22 and with the several variants that the hon. Gentleman and his friends have put before us.
I hope that the House will decide not to reintroduce capital punishment, either as a general principle or in the four ways that have been itemised, for four main reasons.
First, capital punishment is clearly not the unique deterrent that its advocates claim it to be. Evidence adduced in Britain and abroad shows clearly, convincingly and overwhelmingly that capital punishment does not deter the commission of murders and homicides. The evidence of an exhaustive examination in America, where comparisons were made between abolitionist and retentionist States in relation to the number of homicides, the number of police officers killed and the number of prison officers who were assaulted or killed, was that there was no substantial difference between those American States which had abolished the death penalty and those which had retained it. On that basis, there does not seem to be the evidence which its advocates would like to claim that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to homicide or to murder.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North said that the number of capital murders had increased since the abolition of the death penalty. However, that increase happened before capital punishment was abolished. Many of the murders that have subsequently been described as capital would probably not have been so categorised if the death penalty had still been available. There has been a corresponding increase in crime generally, particularly in violent crime, for which the penalties have not changed and therefore cannot be said to have had a deterrent effect upon those offences.
Secondly, it is difficult to categorise those homicides which should be subject to the death penalty. We all know that the vast majority of murders in Britain are domestic murders; they occur in a family context. It is far more likely that if one is murdered it will be by someone one knows rather than by a cool, calculating, vicious, premeditative stranger in the streets. Most of those murders are committed in emotion such as rage and often by people who are severely mentally unbalanced. By their very nature, they are not susceptible to deterrence. The return of the death penalty will have no impact at all on such murderers.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
For the sake of completeness, the hon. Gentleman must point out that in those instances there was always a reprieve by the Home Secretary. There was never any question of the death penalty applying for domestic murders.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
I beg to take issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has far more experience in the courts than I, but if he had read the 50 cases cited in the report of the Royal Commission on capital punishment he would know that in many such cases both men and women have been hanged in the past. He is wrong to suggest that the kind of murders that I have just described were never liable to the death penalty, because clearly they were.
It is because most hon. Members accepted that domestc murderers were not susceptible to deterrence and therefore should not be liable to the death penalty that a series of distinctions were drawn. The Homicide Act 1957 detailed those distinctions, which everyone acknowledged to be invidious and anomalous. We have the same kind of distinctions now in some of the clauses before us.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most notorious domestic murders which made capital punishment repugnant to the public was that by Ruth Ellis? She was hanged when the Home Secretary found himself unable to grant a reprieve. It is certainly not the case that domestic murderers were immune from capital punishment. That case made a great impression on the public.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
The hon. Gentleman is right. That confirms what I said. That case was one of many other so-called domestic murders for which capital punishment was exacted.
We acknowledge that the death penalty should not be available in those circumstances and attempt, as we did in the Homicide Act, to distinguish the most heinous category of murder which should be subject to capital punishment. The hon. Member for Ilford, North has put several options before the House today. However, I do not believe that poisoning or strangling is a more honourable or noble way of killing than shooting. The hon. Gentleman obviously believes that they are more acceptable and more honourable. In new clause 20 he propounds that those who shoot shall be hanged but he does not suggest that such retribution should follow those who carry out the far more heinous, despicable, premeditated and calculated acts of poisoning or strangulation.
New clause 27 makes murder in the course of robbery and burglary susceptible to capital punishment, but not murder in the course of rape. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a murder carried out in the course of a robbery, perhaps a minor robbery, or a burglary, which may be insignificant, is far more serious than a murder carried out in the course of a rape? Is he suggesting that the House and the country should regard offences against property as more important than offences against the person? Of course they are not.
That is precisely the point that was made by the right hon. Member for Sidcup. Once we accept capital punishment for certain categories—as the hon. Member for Ilford, North has done tonight—once we try to draw distinctions and determine the appropriate categories, all kinds of invidious anomalies and injustices arise, some of which I have referred to and some of which were referred to by the right hon. Members for Sidcup and for Hillhead.
New clause 21 provides that capital punishment shall be available for the killing of a policeman or a prison officer, but not, as the right hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out, for the murder of a security guard, a post office worker, a counter clerk or a bank clerk, who may not have interfered in the robbery at all but just been an innocent bystander. Alternatively, such persons might have interfered, tackled the assailant, put up a courageous struggle and been killed. Yet the hon. Gentleman does not regard such deaths as important enough to warrant capital punishment. Any policeman or prison officer murdered in whatever circumstances is somehow regarded as a more superior citizen. Such anomalies have always been the bane of attempts to introduce capital punishment and are just as valid now as they were in the past.
Reference has been made to, and there is a clause tabled for debate on, capital punishment for acts of terrorism. The right hon. Members for Sidcup and Hillhead have effectively demolished the arguments in that respect. Clearly the availability of the death penalty will not deter terrorists. They are not the type that are likely to be 624 deterred. Indeed, they are likely to be attracted by the risk and adventure involved in embarking on a political cause that has the added attraction of being more dangerous because they may be hanged if they are caught, or subjected to some other form of final punishment. Many of them would welcome the martyrdom that hanging brings.
Presumably none of us would wish to countenance the possibility that, while a terrorist awaited the carrying out of the death penalty or the result of his appeal, his colleagues might take hostage schoolchildren, political leaders, or members of the Church or of the public in order to secure his release. Presumably we are aware of the consequences if we suggest that capital punishment should be available for terrorism per se. The comments made by the right hon. Member for Hillhead about the absence of jury trials forcibly makes the point that, although hon. Members and the public may want capital punishment for, above all, acts of terrorism, it is the most inappropriate method of reducing terrorism.
My final reason for believing that we should not vote in favour of capital punishment is the possibility of mistakes. Mistakes have been made. There is now serious doubt about at least 13 cases in which people were hanged. It is accepted that in three of those cases a mistake was made. In one case, that of Timothy Evans, the mistake has, in a sense, been recognised by the granting of a posthumous pardon. We cannot countenance the possibility that by taking such an irrevocable step an innocent life might be taken judicially, in cold blood, by the State.
Such a negative attitude would have a deleterious effect on prison staff and on those who have to try to cope with the overcrowding and the appalling conditions in our prisons. Many of them would be unable to cope with the fact that a civilised society intended to deal with offenders in that way. It would lead to many resignations from the prison service and would change the atmosphere for both prisoners and prison officers.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Sidcup, I do not necessarily believe that the overwhelming majority of the public are at variance with the House. However, I accept—given the evidence of opinion polls and the letters that I receive—that that would seem to be the case. In opinion polls and debates the public answer one simple question in the heat of the moment, when they may be in an emotional state. They simply have to respond to the question "Do you believe that capital punishment and hanging should be made available again?" In a simplistic way, their reply is "Yes".
If the public were asked to define the individual against whom, or circumstances in which, capital punishment should be used, the substantial majority in favour of a return to hanging would be substantially and quickly eroded. If they were asked whether the death penalty should be made available for those aged under 18, for women, for the murder of policemen in one set of circumstances but not for the murder of a bank clerk or a post office worker in another set of circumstances, for a female terrorist, for a 16-year-old terrorist or for a terrorist when conviction might lead to the taking of hostages, the apparent majority in favour of a return to hanging would quickly disappear.
Whether or not it disappears is irrelevant. As the right hon. Member for Sidcup rightly said, we must decide. We are representatives, not delegates. As in 1979, we must 625 decide on the basis not of prejudice or dogma, but of what we believe, on a full, dispassionate and reasoned examination of the facts, is in the interests of our constituents. The return of capital punishment in any of the categories mentioned in the new clauses would not be in the interests of my constituents or of the country. It would not reduce terrorism or the incidence of homicide. It would give no greater protection to the police or to prison officers. If I could be shown convincingly and clearly that my beliefs were false, I might vote differently. However, that evidence is not available and, therefore, I hope that a majority of hon. Members will vote against the introduction of any of the new clauses.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) is an engaging and eloquent speaker. Just because he says several times that certain things are true, he expects us to assume that he is right. The same is probably true of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins). He constantly assured us that capital punishment was not a deterrent and that there was no evidence to show that it was. He said that it would do nothing but damage.
I shall challenge some of the assumptions that have been made. The hon. Member for Ormskirk said that, although there had been an increase in the number of murders since the abolition of the death penalty, the trend had begun before then. How does he know that? Where is the evidence? If he is in any doubt, he should look at "Criminal Statistics England and Wales 1980" that he so often cites. Does page 61 prove the hon. Gentleman's point? That page shows that between 1957 and 1965, when capital punishment was abolished, the number of homicides reported to the police remained virtually constant. Immediately after that there was a substantial rise in the figures and the number of murders now reported to the police is more than double the figure in 1964, the year before abolition.
The same is true of Scotland. Until recently I was a Scottish Member of Parliament. In the 20 years before abolition in Scotland there were about three convictions for murder per year. After abolition, the figure rose to about 30 per year. The fact that the hon. Member for Ormskirk believes that the number of murders has not increased and that capital punishment is not a deterrent does not mean that that is true. There is a danger here, because a few people give the impression of having great wisdom. Their arguments should be carefully scrutinised.
Like all hon. Members, I was impressed, as always, by the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). He spoke with his usual eloquence and sincerity. It was reassuring to listen to a former Chief Whip saying that hon. Members must be motivated only by their consciences. Chief Whips would do well to put more emphasis on that point of view when they are in that position. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup and the hon. Member for Ormskirk may accept that the Burke doctrine is not relevant in the same way to every issue. We will make a grave mistake if we consider public opinion on this issue in the same way as we consider public opinion on issues that can be determined at general elections. Every five years people can decide about the running of the economy and so on. They have a choice. Therefore, it is fair and reasonable that hon. Members should exercise their judgment on such issues as they arise.
626> However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup might accept that the situation is different if people cannot decide on an issue every five years and if the politicians of the major parties tend to be drawn from a group with one consistent point of view while the majority of the public hold a different point of view.
This important debate has, of course, been overshadowed by the serious conflict in the South Atlantic. Innocent British citizens living in peace have been attacked and subjected to the rule of a totalitarian aggressor. Although the Falkland Isles are geographically distant from this debate, the principle at stake is similar. The facts of the international rule of law are similar to those involved in the battle against violence at home. Those facts show that when we possess strong and frightening deterrents against aggression—as NATO has established in Europe—peace is maintained. However, where a credible deterrent is not believed to exist, aggression can take place in a second, and lives can be lost.
Of course, there are those who, like the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), reject the whole deterrent theory, and believe that both at home and abroad we should abandon our defences and rely in the last resort on moral persuasion and passive resistance. It is perfectly logical to hold that point of view, although in my view it is foolish and irresponsible. What I find difficult to accept is the view of those who are perfectly willing to support the expenditure of vast sums of money on the most appalling and frightening weapons of mass destruction—not because they want to use them or because they want to lay waste cities, but because, as they say, "We preserve the peace and we deter aggression"—but are not willing to restore a law that would threaten killers and men of violence at home with the death penalty.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, short of war, when one can contemplate even the firing squad, it would be a mark of national decadence to reintroduce capital punishment? Could he personally dispose, in a rational moment, of a human life? If not, why does he impose that on other people and, in the last resort, through the reprieve powers of the Home Secretary, place in his hands the disposal of a human life?
§ Mr. Taylor
Those who support capital punishment do not want to kill more people, but we genuinely believe—and the evidence supports our view—that it would lead to the saving of innocent human life. I am sure that few of us on these Benches or on the Labour Benches who vote for the clauses tonight will do so because we believe in revenge or because we think that it is an appropriate penalty. We do so only because the evidence shows—in my view, overwhelmingly—that if we had such a deterrent we would save innocent human lives. We do not know who those individuals might be. They are people whom we cannot identify. Most people would accept, I believe, that there are people in Britain today who will be murdered next year, and whose lives could be saved if we had the deterrent of capital punishment.
I hope that some of my hon. Friends who are abolitionists will face the moral principle. If they believe that capital punishment, as the right hon. Member for Hillhead said, is something too macabre and horrible to contemplate, why do they go into the Lobby to support the 627 spending of billions of pounds on horrifying instruments such as Trident, neutron bombs and atom bombs? They say that they are deterrents which save lives. If capital punishment is so macabre, is not an atom bomb more inhuman and awful? Is not the moral principal exactly the same? I support both nuclear weapons and the death penalty, not because I want them to be used" but because I believe that they will save innocent human life.
There appears to be ample evidence that when deterrents are removed law-breaking increases. During the 20 or 30 years when official policy under Governments of both parties appeared to be designed to erode deterrence, there was an appalling increase in crime and a rising tide of violence. Of course, there are individuals and nations whose activities are so irrational that nothing can deter them, although the numbers involved are far fewer than is generally assumed.
Those who have spoken against the clauses have said "Where is the evidence? If there were evidence we would accept it". What kind of evidence do they want? Which facts should be established? Surely we must accept that what was a relatively stable rate of killing increased fairly dramatically after abolition, and is now more than double what it was. The argument that some hon. Members use is that surely violence has gone up, too. I suggest that we should remember that many of the crimes of violence would have been murder had it not been for the skills of our surgeons in hospitals. There are many of us who believe that the increase in the carrying of weapons since abolition has led to the increase in violence as well as to the increase in killing.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Gentleman talks about the relatively stable number of murders before 1965. On the table to which he referred us, it is clear that in the decade before the abolition of capital punishment there was an increase of about 30 per cent., and there has been an increase, since the abolition of capital punishment, of 50 per cent. I accept that that is an increase, but it is hardly a relatively stable position against a dramatically increasing one.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is quite wrong. If he looks at the page, he will see that in 1957 the number was 321. In 1964, the year before abolition, the number was 296. In other words, the figure had actually gone down since 1957. That is on page 61. It was a relatively stable figure of around 300. After abolition of course, it went up, and more so in Scotland.
§ Mr. Taylor
I shall not give way. We should accept that the rate of killing has increased substantially, as has violence.
There is a second factor on which I hope that some of my hon. Friends will comment. If they are looking for evidence, surely they will accept the simple fact that, since abolition, there has been a substantial increase in the carrying of firearms, guns, airguns and sawn-off shotguns. The evidence is overwhelming. If my hon. Friends think that that has nothing to do with capital punishment, can they give any logical reason why there has been an increase of more than 500 per cent. in the number of serious offences involving the use of firearms during the past 10 years?
§ Mr. Wheeler
Does my hon. Friend accept that, in the past 15 years, the success of the crime prevention industry in the manufacture of bank vaults and safes has meant that the professional criminal no longer attempts to break into a bank vault, but is obliged to go directly for the money? Is that not the reason why more sawn-off shotguns are being used? Crime has rolled over from one position to another. The question is: how do we stop it at the second position?
§ Mr. Taylor
My hon. Friend gives a counsel of despair. He is saying that if we want to stop our properties being damaged, we should leave our windows open and our doors unlocked. That is not an answer. My hon. Friend is saying that, because safes are more secure, criminals have to be more clever. That is not much compensation to the general public, who look to the Government to protect the law-abiding public.
If people like the right hon. Member for Hillhead and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup do not think that this is the reason, what other reason is there for the massive and sharp increase in the number of serious offences involving the use of firearms?
The hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) spoke of the tragic case in which his family was involved. He has made his views clear. If he believes that deterrents do not work, does he not recall the appalling outbreak of razor slashing in Glasgow, which was rather similar to the outbreak of mugging in the South? Gangs ran round the Glasgow streets carrying open razors and carving up people's faces. What stopped that? It was stopped because the late Lord Carment imposed substantial sentences of over 10 years on three of the persons involved in those crimes. He said that others would get the same. The outbreak stopped. It is another example of how deterrents work. We should appreciate that if we erode the deterrents we are inviting an increase in crime.
Apart from the general argument, there is the matter of definition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup was right about the possibility of creating anomalies once one tries to make a distinction. My right hon. Friend explained why the 1957 Act had been introduced. Apparently, the reasons involved keeping the Conservative Party happy—somewhat different from protecting the public. The 1957 Act tried to base the definition on the motives of murder. These four new clauses seek to make the basis of the definition the means of murder—whether guns, knives and explosives are carried and used. The best way to stop violence and murder is to try to stop individuals carrying weapons or other means which can be used in offensive conduct and in assault and robbery. That is why the four new clauses have been presented. That is why we have tried to identify and put forward a reasonable definition that can separate murders that can be deterred from those that the majority of people regard as not being able to be deterred.
The one real argument that makes any person supporting capital punishment stop and think seriously is the appalling possibility that a mistake might be made. Many supporters of capital punishment are concerned about that because it is the one great argument that can undermine the determination of anyone ever to look at such a policy. I accept that it is the greatest and most serious argument against the use of capital punishment, 629 because its finality makes the possibility of error a desperately serious moral as well as important issue in all other respects.
The new clauses stress that capital punishment should be available to the courts. There is an element of discretion for the judge and there is the sifting effect of the jury. There is also the protection of the Royal Prerogative. Taking into account the extent by which human conduct can be controlled in a realistic and reasonable fashion, the new clauses have been drawn up in such a way that the possibility of an error is probably remote in relation to the benefits and saving of life that I believe will stem from the introduction of capital punishment and from the reduction in violence that will result. If there is any other reasonable suggestion as to how the new clauses could be amended to make those safeguards more secure, I am sure that the sponsors will accept them.
At this time we must accept that the responsibility of the House of Commons and the Government is to protect the law-abiding public. I accept that the House must make its own judgment, but it would be a major error to ignore entirely public opinion. We must remember as politicians that the country belongs to the people, not to the politicians. I accept that within the framework of the policies that are advanced at the time of general elections there must be complete freedom for individuals to exercise their judgment. It would be wrong to disregard the fact that capital punishment is not the policy of any party.
It is a fact that crime has been increasing substantially, that mugging has been increasing and that a large number of people are living lives of hell because they are not able to follow a peaceful existence due to the activities of small groups of rowdy people, vandals and men of violence. We have a duty to protect those people. What worries me is that if we do not take this action and make it clear that we in the House are determined to do all in our power to control violence and killing we shall let down all our constituents, irrespective of their views.
The evidence is overwhelming. The abolition of capital punishment has led to more guns and knives being used, and to more killing. There is overwhelming evidence that deterrents deter. For that reason I hope that the House will change its opinion and will take the first step towards the restoration of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
I cannot go all the way with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), but only part of the way. Every hon. Member, whatever view he or she may take on capital punishment, should strongly condemn as loudly as possible the outbreak of violence. An example could be set if some of our television programmes could be adjusted to meet the needs of the people so that they do not see the present programmes of violence that are churned out on both channels.
My contribution will be short and personal. Like other right hon. and hon. Members I have had a number of letters and petitions from constituents arising from the decision of the Police Federation to raise the question of capital punishment again. I have had letters from individuals. A resolution was passed by the Methodist church of the Cumbria district. It asked me to uphold the decision of the Methodist Conference in 1979, which was not to support bringing back capital punishment.
I shall relate an experience that I had only a few months after I arrived in the House in 1964. Sydney Silverman had introduced his measure to abolish capital punishment. I 630 followed the dictates of my conscience and moral grounds. In the Division Lobby I supported Mr. Silverman on the abolition of hanging. Just after I had voted in the Lobby as a constituency Member there was an unfortunate incident in the county of Cumbria. A maniac had broken loose and he was tracked down to the waiting room of Oxenholme police station. Three officers of the Cumbria police went that dark February morning to that wailing room. One opened the door. As soon as he broke in the maniac fired his gun and unfortunately my constituent, police constable George Russell, was shot dead. The two others with him were injured.
Before Sydney Silverman had brought in his Bill I had never received one letter from my constituents asking me to support capital punishment. However, I received a large number of letters asking me to vote for its abolition, but after that unfortunate incident my postbag was full of letters from my constituents asking me to support capital punishment.
I had to follow the dictates of my conscience and take into account moral grounds. I stood upon moral grounds and followed the dictates of my conscience. Someone has said that when one has lost one's conscience, there is nothing else worth losing.
I went to the funeral at the cathedral and heard the chief constable praise his force. However, despite all that, I continued to support Mr. Silverman's Bill, which became law. I well remember during some of our debates healing Mr. Henry Brooke, now Lord Brooke, who was Home Secretary for a number of years. As Home Secretary, Henry Brooke reprieved more condemned prisoners than any other Home Secretary. I recall that his speech had a great impression on the House.
Like many other hon. Members, from time to time I have a word with policemen. Some of them have a word with me from time to time. I have been pulled up for a parking offence twice, but be that as it may. Last hack-end I spoke to a policeman in his house just after the Police Federation made its decision. The policeman did not express an opinion either for or against capital punishment. During my conversation with him he recalled that eight years previously his duties included attending a prisoner who had been convicted of murder. While on duty he played cards and dominoes with the prisoner and talked with him. After almost every shift with the prisoner he went home and said to his wife "I am convinced in my own mind that the chap is innocent". That was his conviction arising from the conversations that he had with the prisoner when carrying out his duties as a police officer. About eight years later the prisoner walked out of prison a free man, having been given a pardon by the Home Secretary.
Some hon. Members may ask about my constituents. At every election that I have fought in Carlisle the Christian churches have asked for a joint meeting with all the candidates. I remember one such meeting that took place after service one Sunday night. The Conservative Party candidate, David Bloomer, the Liberal candidate and myself were there. Naturally, all kinds of questions were fired at us. One of the main questions was "Where do you stand on the issue of capital punishment?"
During the election campaign the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, gave an undertaking, rightly so, that the whole question would at least debated in the House if the Conservative Party won the election. In fairness to the Prime Minister, that was duly carried out.
631 At the meeting I made it clear where I stood. The Conservative candidate said in no uncertain terms that if he was elected as Member for Carlisle he would not, and could not, support bringing back the death penalty. His wife, who was at that meeting, was even more vociferous. The only person who would hang everybody was the Liberal candidate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the Liberals?"]. This is not a party point.
Therefore, when people write to me I can reply that I gave an undertaking before the election that if the subject was debated in the House of Commons I could not, and would not, support the reintroduction of the death penalty. I would follow, on moral grounds, the dictates of my conscience.
I have received many letters from members of various religious denominations. Many have attempted to base their argument on the scriptures in asking me to support bringing back the death sentence. I stand by the Bible, although I admit that there is much I do not understand. I suppose that we could all use the scriptures to justify whatever argument we support, but I do not want to decry the Bible. I wish that there were more people who read the Bible than read The Sun. Our morals would be much better if there were.
I am not a virtuous person. I try to follow the dictates of my conscience and to abide by the law, but there is one thing more important to me than the scriptures. I therefore pose this question. If the Lord Jesus, whom I profess to follow—I hope I do—with all my failings and faults, was in the House tonight, on whatever side, into which Lobby would he go? I have no hesitation in saying that he would support the continued abolition of the death penalty.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
It would be tempting for me to follow the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), whose constituency is beside mine, in the history of Cumbrian politics over the period that we have both been Members in that area. It would be tempting for me to comment on my own experience of these matters in different spheres or to follow the speeches made so far. I must not, in my capacity as Home Secretary, do any such thing.
My principal task in this debate is to help in placing before the House the considerations which must be applied to the issue of the death penalty. In so doing, I shall follow the long-held convention that the Government take no side on the issue itself. That is a matter for individual Members voting freely according to their own personal judgment. I hope, therefore, that what I have to say will assist hon. Members, whatever their predisposition may be, to vote in the full appreciation of all the factors involved.
It is, as I have said, a matter for Parliament, not the Government. There are sincere and deeply held views on both sides of the argument on this subject in the House and in the country at large, but it is for Parliament, and Parliament alone, to come to its own conclusion.
In my efforts to assist the House, it is inevitable that I should hark back to the substance of the debate that the Government provided for in the House on 19 July 1979. I make no apologies for that, since much of what was said then bears directly on the substance of the new clauses now before us. The balance of the arguments may change—and 632 it is an important function of the new clauses to test the preponderance of view then expressed—but the arguments and the background to them remain basically the same.
For many, of course, the argument is already settled in their own minds, and they will hold fast to their views whatever may be said in this debate. On one side is the view that those who kill unlawfully and deliberately automatically forfeit their own right to life, and judicial execution is, therefore, a just retribution. On the other side are those whose belief in the sanctity of life leads to the unshakeable conclusion that to take life as a judicial act is wrong in itself and contrary to the moral standards on which the laws of society should be founded. Others, perhaps taking the view that the moral and ethical arguments either way cancel each other out, rely on their own objective assessment of all the factors surrounding the issue in which one, or a small number of factors, may tip the objective scale one way or another. I belong to this group. As Home Secretary that is no bad thing since it is my duty in that office to give the House a careful appraisal of the arguments which have to be weighed in reaching a decision.
This debate, like the one held in 1979, takes place against the background of widespread concern about the rate of crime, and in particular violent crime. Some of that concern is expressed in a belief that capital punishment not only acts as a deterrent to the would-be murderer, but has the function of re-establishing respect for the law in general. Those who base their call for the restoration of capital punishment on the argument of deterrence have to make the case. The evidence was reviewed in 1979 by three eminent criminologists, and their findings were published in New Society. They concluded:There has been much research, but the results are either inconclusive or suspect.As they said, there is no reliable evidence to show that capital punishment has a unique deterrent effect. Those who claim this have not established their case.
It is true that in England and Wales the figures for homicide since the abolition of capital punishment in 1965 are greater than for a comparable period before abolition, but the upward trend started before 1965 and has not changed substantially since.
§ Mr. Maxton
Perhaps I may inform the Home Secretary that over the past three years in Scotland there has been a substantial decline in the number of murders.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) may prefer to argue their cases between one another, and perhaps I should leave them to do so. It is better that I do. Later in my speech, I shall return to the point about Scotland, which is important.
Turning to the more general effect of the availability of the death penalty, it must, I think, be remembered that it has been applied in practice in this century to a small minority of offenders convicted of murder. It seems unlikely that the general rate of crime is influenced by the existence or otherwise of capital punishment. Recorded offences of violence against the person have increased on average by about 10 per cent. a year since the beginning 633 of the 1950s. Capital punishment was abolished in 1965 and there has been no significant change in the trend of offences of violence since then.
It is often said that while there is no positive evidence that the availability and exercise of the death penalty had any significant effect on homicide rates or the level of crimes generally, its abolition has encouraged professional criminals to carry and use firearms. There are no reliable figures against which to test this proposition. The official statistics date only from 1969. Although there has since been a considerable increase in the number of recorded offences in which the use of firearms was reported, the increase has been similar to the increase in all recorded offences. For example, there has been no significant change in the proportion of homicide or robberies in which the use of firearms was reported. That proportion remains small. In the last five years it has been about 8 per cent. for robbery and about 6 per cent. for homicide.
I turn now to a consideration of the practical implications which would attend the reintroduction of the death penalty. The first fundamental question that would arise is: which crimes should be made capital offences? Very few of those who might support the principle of the death penalty would, I suspect, support its application to all types of murder in all the circumstances in which the offence is committed. A substantial proportion of convictions for murder arise from domestic incidents, and there is, I think, a widely shared feeling that such killings ought not to attract the death penalty.
I take that as just one example of an attempt to draw a dividing line between more and less heinous types of murder to determine which offences ought, or ought not, to attract the death penalty. This would make liable for execution the burglar who, in a panic, strikes out at the householder who disturbs him and then finds that he has killed him, but would absolve from the death penalty the man who deliberately over a period slowly poisons his wife to death. Would this distinction be right and just?
An exhaustive study of the problems of definition of types of murder for the application of the death penalty was carried out by the Royal Commission on capital punishment which, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, reported in 1953. It concluded that there was no satisfactory means of drawing in law a distinction between one class of murder and another. Whatever approach was adopted with the objective of defining a class of murder in which alone the infliction of the death penalty was appropriate, anomalies arose in which the issue of life or death could not properly be resolved.
Despite the finding of the Gowers commission that any approach along those lines was impracticable, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) pointed out, the Homicide Act 1957 attempted one. It reserved for the death sentence the following categories: murder in the course of theft; murder by shooting or explosion; murder while resisting arrest or escaping from custody; murder of a police officer or a prison officer on duty; and a second murder committed on a different occasion.
The Act did not work as intended. It failed in practice to separate the more from the less atrocious murder. Killings of equal atrocity were capital or non-capital according to whether or not the weapon was a firearm. Anomalous and controversial decisions arose from the difficulties confronting the courts in the interpretation of the concept of murder in the course or furtherance of theft.
634 These problems gave rise to considerable disquiet about the administration of the death penalty and were, I believe, a contributory factor in its abolition just eight years later.
Against that background, the practicability of seeking to restrict the application of the death sentence on any rational and just basis must remain open to grave doubt, and that doubt cannot, to my mind, be resolved by further limitations on the categories of capital murder.
Murder of a police officer on duty is an example which is often put forward as an obvious and self-contained category, and a new clause to that effect has been tabled. This is an understandable reflection of the support which the community wishes to give the police in their often dangerous duties. They certainly merit all the practical support that may be given in their efforts to counter crime in all its forms. But it is questionable whether it would be right to select for the application of the death penalty murders where the victim is a police officer. Such murders fill us all with particular abhorrence. Could we in justice permit capital punishment in such cases but withhold it for the murder of, say, post office staff or bank clerks?
Another category covered by the new clause is the murder of a prison officer. Thankfully, no prison officer has been murdered since 1965. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that, with the increase of life sentence prisoners and in the proportion of violent people in custody generally, the task of the prison service has become more difficult and potentially more dangerous over the years.
The prison system is indeed beset with serious problems. I have every confidence in the ability of the prison service to tackle them, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in the service who daily cope with the stresses of prison overcrowding. But to make the murder of a prison officer a capital offence would raise precisely the difficulties inherent in applying the death penalty to the murder of a police officer. There are many other types of murder, depending on the subjective considerations which must inevitably be brought to bear on this question, where an equally strong case might be argued for the availability of the death penalty.
One of the new clauses suggests another approach by reference to whether the method of killing was by a firearm or by explosion. I dealt with the use of firearms earlier in my speech. I would add only that other forms of murder—for example, by knife or poison—may involve a degree of callousness and viciousness which is quite as dreadful as that which may be involved in the use of firearms or explosives.
The application of the death penalty for murder of the kinds that I have mentioned and reflected in some of the new clauses, therefore, raises very difficult issues of principles and practice. They would be quite as difficult to resolve as they were under the Homicide Act 1957. Separate but perhaps even more problematic considerations apply to the remaining major category—terrorist crime resulting in death.
None of these considerations featured, of course, in connection with either the 1957 Act or the 1965 Act. The resurgence of IRA activity started later, but not. I should say, later than the abolition of the death penalty in Northern Ireland, which was effected in July 1973 under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act of that year. I do not wish to make too much of that fact, since 635 no death sentence has been carried out in Northern Ireland since 1961. However, it does call into question whether the availability of the death penalty is a significant deterrent to terrorist activity. More significant, perhaps, is the experience of the appalling events in Northern Ireland in which it is palpably evident that many hard-core fanatics are prepared, even anxious, to put their lives at risk and even to take their own lives. It is difficult to believe, in the light of that experience, that many—if any—such people would be deterred by the prospect of judicial execution. Indeed, it is a tragic fact that some would welcome it in its offer of martyrdom and propaganda value for the cause they represent.
We should also consider the probability that the reintroduction of the death penalty would encourage the trend towards recruitment by terrorist organisations of young people. There would not, I think, be support for an age limit lower than 18 for the application of capital punishment. Some young people below that age are already on the fringe of terrorist activity and might be moved to its centre to thwart whatever objectives might be attached to the death penalty.
There is also the issue of reprisals. We have already seen how terrorist organisations justify their taking of life as a reprisal for action against their members. They do so even when their members have ended their own lives. The question that has to be answered is: would capital punishment, administered in the hope of deterring terrorist crimes, in practice lead to more deaths and injuries not only of hostages but of those closely associated with the trial and execution? Perhaps the question is unanswerable in any conclusive way, but those implications must surely be weighed in the balance.
Those considerations are central to the issue whether terrorist crimes should attract the death penalty. There are others concerned with the scope, extent and administration of the law which also raise special difficulties. We would need, in the first instance, a definition in law of terrorist crime for the purpose of determining in individual cases whether the death penalty was available. How certain and clear-cut such a definition could be is open to doubt.
Beyond that problem, there is the question of scope. Parliament remains responsible for enacting criminal law throughout the United Kingdom. On a matter as fundamental as capital punishment, it is clear that the law must be uniform in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I should like to mention to the hon. Member for Cathcart a technical point. As this is a Criminal Justice Bill for England and Wales, any new clause added to the Bill would not apply to Scotland. I should, however, advise the House that, in any event, if the House decides to pass any of the new clauses, we could not proceed on the basis of the new clauses alone in a Criminal Justice Bill. We would have to come back to the House with a new Bill that would carry through the will of the House expressed in the new clauses. Any such decision would have to be added for Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, as the House will know, the impracticability under present conditions of securing conventional and proper trial by jury means that nearly all serious offences, and all those involving terrorism, are 636 tried by special courts without a jury. As a result, the decision on which a man's life rested would be for the judge alone. Would that be acceptable to Parliament?
That brings me back to the arrangements that would need to be considered in relation to the availability and exercise of the death penalty in the United Kingdom as a whole. The new clauses suggest that the death penalty should be the maximum but not the mandatory sentence, as it was before it was abolished.
There are, of course, arguments to be deployed both in favour and against the mandatory death sentence. Briefly, those for consist of the burden imposed on judges if they have discretion in this special instance, and the need to ensure consistency of sentencing, which is best served by quiet consideration by those detached from the trial itself. The arguments against rely on the principle that the judges should have discretion, since they are as well placed as anyone to make the right decision.
This fundamental issue would need to be resolved. It would lead in turn to the question of arrangements for considering clemency. The House would need to decide whether this task should, as before abolition, fall wholly on the Home Secretary of the day or should be discharged in some other way.
There next has to be considered the change made to our jury system in 1967, to which the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) referred, under which majority verdicts of 11: 1 or 10: 2 are permissible under the judge's authorisation. Would such a majority be acceptable when a man's life hangs in the balance? Would it be justifiable to provide for unanimous verdicts only in capital cases? We should also bear in mind that if a juror was determined to avoid the awful responsibility for conviction for which death was the penalty, the acquittal of murderers from whom the public is now protected by life imprisonment might be the result; and, of course, as hon. Members have frequently mentioned, execution following mistaken conviction is irreversible.
No system can guarantee to avoid mistaken conviction. The case of Timothy Evans is well known. Apart from murder, there were, in recent years, the notorious cases of Dougherty and Virag, in each of which the accused was wrongly identified as the criminal. The House will be familiar with other cases. They are exceptional, but they occur.
I turn now to the means of execution. The Gowers commission concluded in 1953, after surveying practice both here and abroad, that hanging, as carried out in this country, was at that time the most humane method of judicial execution. "Most humane" in this context is, of course, a relative term. Whether it would be right to reinstitute the arrangements for hanging which, after nearly 20 years of disuse, would require the revival of the skills needed for that method, or whether some other means should be adopted, would be a matter for the House to consider. But, whatever the chosen method of execution, we should acknowledge that such an event would attract, as it did before, interest of a macabre kind as well as public demonstrations from those wholly resolved against the death penalty.
That concludes my survey of the issues that, as Home Secretary, I believe are significant in relation to the new clauses under discussion. They demonstrate that, underneath what may on the surface be a simple proposition, there are matters of great difficulty and complexity, which Parliament would have to face if, by 637 a vote in the House today, a new clause were included in the Criminal Justice Bill. In that event, the Government would need to consider the means of achieving the exact basis on which capital punishment was to be made available. As I said in the 1979 debate, the problems in bringing forward and seeking agreement on precise legislative proposals to take account of the issues of principle and practice that have been raised in my contribution and many others would be an immensely difficult task. As Home Secretary, it would be my duty to prepare legislation to give effect to the will of the House, and that I should do.
From our last debate on this subject the House is well aware of my personal views on capital punishment. I must make it clear that they have not changed. Indeed, everything that I have learned during the past three years as Home Secretary confirms me in the view that to bring back capital punishment would not produce the results intended by hon. Members who propose this, and might, indeed, produce the reverse effect. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, the House will wish to know that I shall be voting against the new clauses.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Most of the speeches that we have already heard have dealt with what I call, with no disrespect and in terms of a compliment, the practical effects of the restoration of the death penalty—the practical effects on the level of crime and on the nature of society. I wish to do much the same in the time that I intend to occupy. Before I do that, I must, in conscience, make it clear to the House that I oppose the return of capital punishment in principle and without reservation. I believe that it is morally wrong for the State to execute a man or woman, whatever crime that man or woman may have committed.
There are occasions when the State possesses the right, indeed the duty, to take life, but, in my view, there is a major difference between say, acting to prevent a terrorist from taking or jeopardising another life, and capturing a criminal and calmly and coldly executing him of her after commitment to custody. To equate those two situations lies at the heart of the confusion that has characterised much of the capital punishment debate over the years.
To equate those situations is to assume that the practice of specific protection is the same as the theory of general deterrence. Protection and deterrence are not the same thing. While I believe that most of us would find it possible, perhaps easy, to justify the protection that I have tried to describe, the theory of deterrence seems to me, even if it can be demonstrated—a point to which I hope to turn in a moment—to be based on much more difficult moral grounds.
To execute one man to deter another seems to me to be indefensible. So does the execution of a man for whom the theory of deterrence, by definition, has failed. I regard the evidence that purports to demonstrate the practical effects of capital punishment as a deterrent to be, at best, unconvincing. I shall try to demonstrate what I see as its inadequacy in a moment. However, I must say, and I must repeat in honesty to the House, that even if I believed the arguments concerning the deterrent to be valid, I should still regard it as my moral duty to vote against the return to capital punishment.
Some hon. Members, and more people outside, I suspect, support the principle that lies behind the new 638 clauses for reasons that they will not object to me describing as fundamentalist. Some assert that anyone who takes a life should forfeit his own life. That must be what the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) meant when he talked about the punishment fitting the crime.
Others say, regarding the dictum as self-evident, that those who have committed such an appalling crime have lost any right to continue to live themselves. That can be regarded either as self-evident or as meaningless. I hold the second opinion. A few hon. Members, and certainly many people outside, extol the virtues of vengeance and proclaim the necessity for retribution.
An article putting forward that point of view appeared in a popular newspaper yesterday, offering the rather alarming theological suggestion that the enthusiasm for vengeance had declined with the reduction in Christianity in this country. I take the view that vengeance has no place in a civilised community. I hold the opinion, with all the strength at my disposal, that retribution is not a principle that we should consider including in legislation.
I suspect that many right hon. and hon. Members who will go into the Lobby in favour of the new clauses tonight do not hold that opinion either. They support the amendments because they think that a return to capital punishment and a return to hanging—it is hanging about which we are talking—will reduce the crime rate. They believe that terrorism would be suppressed, burglars would no longer carry guns and muggers would attack no more. The best that can be said for those arguments is that there is no evidence to support any of them.
The argument that a return to hanging would be a solution to our rising crime rate seems to me to be possibly, and perhaps even probably, one of the factors that militate against the attack on crime, and crimes of violence in particular, that all hon. Members wish to see. For too long, the most vocal campaigns against rising violence have suggested, have asserted, have felt absolutely confident, that a return to draconian punishment would in itself reduce our crime rate. By asserting that, they have diverted public attention and perhaps even Government enthusiasm from the real deterrents to crime.
The real deterrents are the certainty of arrest and the likelihood of conviction. Those of us who talk, either in principle or in practice, of our opposition to a return to capital punishment are in no way arguing a course of action that makes crime less likely to be detected. It is possible to argue that deflecting the community, the Government and the police from the real methods by which society can be made more law-abiding is doing what is called law and order a disservice.
The return to capital punishment in one new clause on which we shall be asked to vote this evening might well increase both lawlessness and support for the lawless. I can think of nothing more likely to help terrorists and terrorism than the ritual execution of willing martyrs. The hon. Member for Ilford, North gave a list of past horrors as if describing what terrorists had done in the first place and then proposing a return to capital punishment for the men and women who had committed such wicked acts was, in itself, a demonstration that capital punishment would prevent those acts from occurring in the future. That is not simply wrong but diametrically wrong. The evidence of the recent past is that many terrorists are not simply willing to die, but, bizarre and macabre though we may find it, positively anxious to die.
639 I shall take an example from the distant past, for in a sense that is less painful. I think of Dublin in 1916, distasteful though it is to consider the real patriots of the Post Office on that Good Friday in the same paragraph with some of today's political hooligans. The facts of 1916 are clear. If the arrests had not been followed by the execution of the prisoners who were taken in the Post Office, 10 years of bitterness, hatred, murder and mayhem would not have followed. I have no doubt that the execution of terrorists would have disastrous consequences, not for them and for their organisations, about which we care little, but for the communities that they terrorise. That is the frightening illogicality in the letter that all hon. Members received from the Police Federation today.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Will my right hon. Friend not agree that, in that respect, the name of Kevin Barry still lives on in Irish circles nearly 70 years after he was executed?
§ Mr. Hattersley
It exists and has become a symbol, for right or for wrong, in a way that—I agree with my hon. Friend's implication—would not have been the case had he not been executed.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, after I have dealt with this point. It leads me to what I described as the frightening illogicality in the letter that all hon. Members received from the Police Federation today.
The letter states that the terrorists would not be the martyrs were they executed, and that the martyrs are the victims of terrorism. I do not disagree with that, but I want to make fewer martyrs in both categories—the bogus martyrs the terrorists claim to be, and the genuine martyrs who would be killed more often by terrorists seeking this awful and ultimate penalty.
There is a second real problem about the concept of executions for what are called terrorist offences. That is what the Home Secretary described as the real difficulty of finding a definition of terrorism. Clearly there is a great philosophical difficulty in doing that but there is also a major distinction that this House has always resisted. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said that all the amendments were intended to reintroduce the concept of capital crime, according to the method by which the murder had been carried out. That is wrong because new clause 19 clearly intends to reintroduce capital punishment according to the motives of the person who had murdered an innocent victim. It specifies terrorism. If we are to take action against terrorists, we are taking action against people by judging their motives.
We have always refused in the House absolutely to draw a distinction between political crimes and other crimes. We have always said that it is no worse, and no better, to kill a bank manager in order to give the funds to the IRA than to kill a bank manager in order to keep the money for one's own purpose. Introducing the definition of terrorism as a special offence which receives a special punishment is introducing into our law a concept of a political crime. Were there no other arguments against that clause, that seems to be a conclusive reason for rejecting it.
640 The problem of definition also lies at the heart of the difficulty, I would say the impossibility, of classifying murder as a capital or non-capital crime according to the profession or activity of the victim of the murder.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
My right hon. Friend has outlined the pragmatic and compelling arguments against the restoration of capital punishment for terrorism. If those arguments, which are compelling, are accepted, does he not agree that there is therefore no way of restoring capital punishment and no justification for its restoration for any similar but lesser offence?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am about to make a point which is, perhaps, directly related and certainly obliquely related to that by talking about the categories of crime which might be regarded as suitable for capital punishment according to the nature and profession of the victim. But, at the moment my hon. Friend came in, I made the point that characterises all that I have said—that I am against capital punishment in principle and without exception. Like my hon. Friend, therefore, I am easily led to the conclusion that one argument against a specific call for capital punishment is a conclusive argument against capital punishment in general.
I was talking about the difficulties of making the killing of one category of individual a capital offence and not making it a capital offence to kill another. We can all supply examples of the absurdity into which the law would fall—for instance, a man who is executed for the killing of a policeman on duty but not executed for killing a passer-by who came to the assistance of an injured policeman, or a person who is executed for killing a prison officer who tried to prevent an escape but not executed for killing the pedestrian who tried to intercede once the prisoner had got over the wall. Such distinctions seem to be wholly unacceptable as a way of determining the right to life or the risk of death. Talk as we will about public opinion, I believe that outside there will be a general revulsion about introducing capital punishment in a way which is plainly inconsistent between one group of potential murderers and another.
If we are to execute any murderers at all I share the Home Secretary's view that it is almost impossible to defend the concept that we exempt the slow poisoner who kills for financial gain, yet hang everyone who kills with a gun or a knife. I shall be interested, as the debate goes on, to hear any justification for making such a distinction. I suspect that following speakers, like those who have preceded me, will not attempt to do so. They will say that they are not interested in the search for philosophically acceptable definitions or discrete and consistent categories. They will say that those arguments are less important than deterring all the categories of violent crime which have increased year by year since capital punishment was abolished.
It is wholly wrong to decide such a fundamental matter in those terms. To say it is to be decided in those terms is to make up our minds according to expediency rather than principle. It is much more difficult to justify making up our minds in those terms when the evidence on which the call for expediency is based is, in fact, propped up by such flimsy facts and such unreliable figures.
I say again, so that the House will not be in any doubt, that even if I believed the deterrent effect to apply I would not vote for the new clauses tonight. But I cannot argue 641 against the contention that the evidence which is brought to bear in both directions is genuinely and absolutely meaningless for statistical judgment on the return of capital punishment.
When we last debated this matter, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who moved the restoration motion, wisely announced that he proposed to avoid statistics. On the same occasion, the Home Secretary avoided them as well. If I may say so, without offence to either Member, I think the Home Secretary avoided them for far better reasons. The Home Secretary said:While the statistics can be, and indeed are, called in aid … to support either side of the argument, the only sensible conclusion to reach is that their evidence is inconclusive."—[Official Report, 19 July 1979, Vol. 970, c. 2047.]I believe that that is half right. Those hon. Members who have looked at the tables of figures provided by the Library are tempted to take our own selective examples of high crime rates in capital punishment countries or low crime rates in non-capital punishment States, in the United States of America for example, and to draw what I agree to be generally phoney conclusions.
The only real conclusion that can come from international comparisons and the record of crime in this country since abolition is that there is no genuine and adequate way of relating crime in general, or murder in particular, to the presence or absence of the death penalty. The figures prove nothing whatsoever. The Home Secretary is right to say that today, and was right to say it two years ago.
But the fact that the figures do not prove one argument or the other does not mean that the figures have nothing to teach us. The fact that the figures prove nothing shows that there is no correlation between the prevention of crime and the presence of capital punishment. The absence of any relationship between them means that if we were to reintroduce capital punishment today, and if we were voting for hanging today, we would be doing it as a matter of hunch and guesswork.
We should be doing it because plain men say that it only stands to reason that if they knew they were going to be hanged they would not go out with the cosh, the revolver, the jemmy and the knife. Although that sounds as if it has a superficial plausibility, although, indeed, it does have a superficial plausibility, the evidence to suggest that that is how the criminal mind works, and that is how the criminal deterrent will apply, is at best flimsy and at worst nonexistent.
I do not believe that, on hunch and guesswork, and in the absence of any evidence which could be remotely regarded as conclusive, we should risk all the catastrophes that would follow from a reintroduction of capital punishment. The catastrophes would range from the hanging of the wrong man to the brutalisation of society.
If Members are sceptical about what I call the brutalisation of society, let them consider the way in which some newspapers have prepared us for today's debate. Three weeks ago the News of the World had Ruth Ellis's daughter supporting capital punishment with a photograph in which she was dressed and made up to look like her executed mother. In the same issue of the News of the World a superannuated hangman described, with the aid of drawings, how sentence was carried out. A return to such a system would inevitably have an effect on the 642 nature and the quality of society. The feeling would be spread abroad that in some circumstances the taking of life was justifiable no matter what form of judicial execution was introduced.
When the House last debated this subject there were re those who tried to blur the ghastly nature of execution by insisting that they were discussing alternatives to hanging. The Home Secretary urged them to read the two pages of the Gower report which dealt with alternative methods. I took the right hon. Gentleman's advice. Having done so, I share his conclusion that overwhelmingly the supposition must be that if we are to return to capital punishment we shall return to hanging. The alternatives are no less macabre than the drop and the rope. We cannot reintroduce the death penalty without having a desperate and damaging effect on the entire nature of society.
The society which the News of the World described is not the society that I want to see. It is not a society for which I am prepared to vote. No doubt I shall be told that many of my constituents have a different view and that a majority of the population wants the death penalty restored. That may be because capital punishment has been falsely presented to them as a cure for all the ills of an increasingly violent society. However, an increasingly violent society cannot be cured by a return to draconian punishment. It must be improved by other methods and techniques.
Many hon. Members today and during other debates in the past have urged the likes of me to play the proper parliamentary role and to make our own judgments according to our own consciences. I believe that there is at least a possibility that a majority of those who voted for me believe that capital punishment should be restored. I think that they have no doubt where my instincts, convictions and beliefs lie. They are aware of all the categories of parliamentary independence, such as Europe, NATO, incomes policy, discrimination in favour of ethnic minorities and opposition to capital punishment.
It is our parliamentary and democratic duty to leave our constituents in no doubt about our attitudes on these great issues. However, in the end, it is our duty to decide what seems right for the nation and right in terms of our individual consciences. In judging the debate and the proposal against those two criteria, I propose to vote against all the new clauses.
Order. Now that the Front Bench spokesmen have made their contributions, I appeal to hon. Members who are called to participate in the debate to bear in mind that many right hon. and hon. Members want to speak. I hope that that fact will be borne in mind.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I shall vote according to my conscience, which tells me that it would help generally to deter crimes of murder if the death penalty were again to be available to the courts.
When I moved the motion on which the House debated this issue some years ago, I gave two undertakings first, that I would not return to the issue unless circumstances changed in such a way as to justify a further debate; secondly, that in no circumstances could I support a referendum. I wish to comment on both those undertakings.
643 First, I do not believe that circumstances have changed sufficiently to justify the House again taking its time to debate the issue. The Police Federation, with which I have a connection, took the decision to advertise the matter in the press during my absence in El Salvador as a member of a Committee of the House. If I had been present at the time, I should have advised the federation not to take that action for two reasons: first, because it might have been thought, quite wrongly, to be a criticism of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—that was not intended by the federation, but I knew that it could have been so construed by some—and, secondly, because I believe that the Criminal Justice Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for a debate on capital punishment. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already said that if the new clause is accepted the death penalty cannot be reintroduced under this Bill in Scotland. This is one of the reasons why the debate has not been properly timed.
As to a referendum, on the evidence that is available suggests that it would support the view that I hold. But I would be appalled at the thought that any hon. Member should be subjected to the pressure, even the blackmail, of a public opinion poll, in order to force him to vote against his conscience and judgment. Therefore, I could not and would not support a motion to hold a referendum.
None of us can have any certainty on this difficult issue. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) spoke with great sincerity. But unlike him I do not take the opinions and judgments of the police only occasionally. I deal with the police all the time. I listen to them week by week as they bring to me precise examples of their operational problems. And I take their judgments seriously, as I hope the House will. I do not ask the House to accept the police views as gospel. But I ask it to take into consideration the views of the men and women whom we ask to risk their lives in dealing with armed criminal gunmen and terrorists. And it is the virtually unanimous view of the police service—I accept that there are some variations—that the capital sentence could assist them in the operation of their work and would have a material effect in protecting the public.
§ Mr. Griffiths
First, the death sentence could assist the police in dealing with armed criminal gunmen. During the period before abolition it was the practice of the older members of criminal gangs in London to frisk the younger members of those gangs to ensure that they were not carrying firearms. They did that because, in the criminal vernacular of the time, "You kill a cop and we are all topped". There is no doubt that the existence of the death sentence at that time led many professional criminals not to carry firearms when they committed crime. By contrast, since abolition—I claim not a causal connection but a factual one—there has been a substantial increase in the carrying of firearms by criminals.
I do not believe for one moment that the existence of the death penalty would lead all those who now carry guns to desist from doing so. Nevertheless, the man who cleans and loads a gun, puts it is his pocket and takes it with him when he is about to commit a robbery does so by calculation. It is not an emotional or a passionate decision. It is a calculated decision that if he takes a gun and is prepared to use it he has a greater chance of succeeding 644 in his crime. He may be able to eliminate the witness. He may be able to shoot the police officer who happens upon him while the crime is being committed. But, in any event, he has calculated the odds. He has made a cold, determinate decision that, if he carries a gun and is prepared to use it, there is a greater likelihood of his getting away with the offence. To the extent that such a man is a calculator, I ask only that he should also be required to take into account the possibility that he, too, might suffer the same penalty that he inflicts, without due process of law, on others. That is the first case in which I believe that there could be a deterrent effect on the calculating criminal gunman.
The second case is in relation to terrorism. I have a connection with the RUC. I talk to its members frequently. I agree wholeheartedly with what the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. There is no evidence to suggest that the existence of the death penalty would deter the ideological or political fanatic. It would not. On the contrary, it could lead to the very kind of martyrdom that some fanatics may seek. Nor do I believe that the existence of the death penalty would necessarily deter other groups of fanatics such as we see in Northern Ireland and other parts of the world. These are the younger men who are led by such motives as theatricality, braggadocio, exhibitionism, follow-my-leader-itis and other such half-baked notions. Such people would not be deterred. There is, however, one group of terrorists who could and, I believe, would be deterred. They are very few. They are the professional guns for hire—the so-called jackals. I am glad that there are not many of them. But there is evidence available to the security services that a small number of international professional assassins are available for hire to carry out brutal murders.
Such men are distinguished by one characteristic—they calculate the odds. Above all else they wish to live to collect their pay. When they accept an assignment they calculate the risks, the rewards and the chances of getting away with it. The advice that is available to me is that when a professional assassin knows that the death penalty exists and that he too, if caught, would be sentenced, one thing is certain—his price goes up. The cash nexus is an important aspect of terrorist activity. That is why there are so many armed robberies in connection with terrorism. The existence of the death sentence could have some deterrent effect on some—not all—of the armed professional criminal gunmen who work in connection with terrorism.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not know. But is the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) prepared to admit that he will allow any such man to commit brutal murder if there is a reasonable chance of his being prevented from doing so by Parliament passing the proposals?
§ Mr. Bidwell
That argument is contradictory, as the Police Federation also argues that, in normal circumstances, it does not want its members to carry guns.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The heart of the Police Federation's case is this. Unless steps are taken to provide the police with greater protection, a policeman who is confronted in a dark alley with an armed criminal who has already committed a murder will hesitate before going down that 645 alley to tackle the offender. Instead, he will send for weapons. That is a fact. Before abolition, many police officers, by remarkable acts of personal gallantry, tackled armed criminal gunmen. They do so now only rarely. They now send for guns and use them. The federation's fear, which I share, is that if better protection is not provided for the police service, there must be a risk that the police will shoot first and ask questions afterwards. That is now the practice in the United States. I do not wish to see it in the police service of this country.
It would be wholly wrong for the House to attempt to categorise murder, either by the victim or by the method. I none the less support the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend the Member of South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) who wishes the death sentence to be available to the courts. I understand the difficulties that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has explained. I hope that if the House were minded to pass any of the new clauses, it would be clearly understood that in no circumstances would the death penalty apply in cases of domestic or matrimonial murder. That is about 70, 80 or even 90 per cent. of all murders. Moreover, it could not and should not apply in cases of diminished responsibility. It would nearly always be wrong, too, if it were applied to first-time offences.
What I am asking the House to consider is simply whether the State should for ever abandon the same sentence that is so frequently carried out by armed criminal gunmen and increasingly by assassins, and so create a circumstance in which the death penalty is applied by criminals but is never to be applied by the State in protection of the innocent. It is a modest request. I put it no higher, because, unlike many hon. Members, I have no certitude in this matter. I am not certain that the death sentence would necessarily deter. I am not certain either, that it would not. I listen to the advice of those with more experience than, with respect, most hon. Members. I listen to the police. They are at the sharp end. Their view is virtually unanimous. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Arising out of the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), I should say that my only knowledge of a professional international assassin is Carlos. There is evidence that Carlos has committed offences in countries both where the death penalty is available and where it is not. Indeed, he has committed offences in countries, such as Israel, where it is possible to be killed on the street. In those circumstances, I do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent to that kind of international criminal any more than it is to any other kind of potential murderer.
The most significant aspect of the debate is that the Benches on both sides of the House are relatively empty. I have been involved in debates on this issue three or four times since I came to the House. I recollect there being more tension in the House about the issue then than on this occasion. Perhaps within the House—I stress that—the argument about the death penalty has been proved. We face an overwhelming weight of opinion against the reintroduction of the death penalty which is based upon our appreciation of the arguments.
That is not, however, the picture outside. It is not the view of the electorate as a whole. There is a divorce between those of us who have argued the case many times in the House and those outside who from time to time 646 approach the concept of dealing with increasing crime by saying that the only solution is the reintroduction of the death penalty. The House, therefore, has a duty to make plain to the electorate as a whole the arguments that: we have found convincing over the years. It is not enough simply to answer letters that we receive in response to the Police Federation's call or to answer questions from the hall during a general election. There must now be a concerted attempt to explain to the electorate why we take the view that we do.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Although I do not support a referendum, I am convinced that, if a referendum were held, if the issue were debated fully and all the arguments were presented to the electorate on television, after a reasonable public debate the great majority of our constituents would agree that there is nothing to be gained by reintroducing capital punishment. It is a measure of our failure to put that across that the divorce still persists. If the House rejects the call for the reintroduction of the death penalty today, the Government should make it plain to people why that has happened.
The basic reason is that one cannot persuade Members of Parliament, or indeed any reasonable person, that to take life is justified, save in the most exceptional circumstances—namely, that it would prevent the tatting of further lives. I do not question the morality of those who find themselves in a different position, but I cannot accept the view that one should be able to take life because somebody else has done so. That seems to me to be the denial of any kind of morality. I would be prepared to back the State's right to take life if it would save life in the future.
Therefore, for me, the question of deterrence has always been crucial and the figures, boring though some hon. Members may find them, have always been crucial. If I disagree at all with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), it is in the suggestion that the figures prove nothing. Indeed, he went on to show conclusively that they in fact prove that the death penalty does not make any difference to the incidence of murder. When I last spoke in a debate on this matter I went into the figures in some detail, causing tedium for hon. Members and getting myself into trouble for speaking at great length. I suggest that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds should read the report of my speech on the last occasion. If he analyses the figures, I think that he will reach the conclusion that I have reached.
If one compares the position before the abolition of capital punishment, during the 10 years in which it was available for some but not other types of murder and in the period since then, the evidence is fairly clear. There has been a rise in the crime of murder, but it is certainly not so great as the rise in violence generally, and it is consistent with the rise that took place before the abolition of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Lyon
I shall not give way. I must continue my speech.
The picture is clear. From 1958, when there were 261 homicides, to 1966, when there were 364, the increase was 30 per cent. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) quoted the figure for 1957, which was 321, so 647 there was only a slight increase between that time and 1966. In 1967, however, the figure was 414 and in 1977 it was 484. That was exactly a decade later. The figure had increased only marginally—about 10 per cent.—in both cases. Between 1967 and 1980, however, the increase was about 50 per cent.
Although the rate of increase in the past 15 years has been greater than in the previous 10 years, there had been a gradual increase in the crime of murder previously. Moreover, in the same period, crimes of violence increased by about 170 per cent. We have moved into a social climate in which crimes of violence are more acceptable than previously. Inevitably, therefore, one would expect an increase in the crime of murder. Most significant of all, however, 70 per cent. of homicides are still committed within the family circle. Only in a very few cases—about 160 last year—was the assailant a stranger to the person who was killed.
§ Mr. Lyon
I am trying not to give way, as I have only three minutes in which to make a number of points.
I believe that the most crucial issue in the whole debate is that a number of people have been hanged who manifestly were innocent and that, since the abolition of the death penalty, people have been convicted and subsequently released who could not have been released if the death penalty had been available.
I cite one case from my own experience as a Minister—the Confait case, in which three youths in Lewisham were convicted of murder. I was asked to intervene because the Court of Appeal had rejected their appeals. The Home Secretary intervenes only when there is new evidence that was not available to the court, because to overrule the court would seem an excessive use of the prerogative. I breached that principle on that occasion—the one and only such case known to me in English legal history—and sent the case back to the Court of Appeal. I was persuaded that the case had not been properly put to the jury, but I could find no new evidence that would allow me to exercise the power of the prerogative in the normal way.
The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction. As a result, Mr. Justice Fisher, although he was no longer a judge, was asked to conduct an enquiry. Judges being the kind of animal that they are, it is difficult for them to express the view that there has been a mistake. Nevertheless, he took the view that the men had been wrongly convicted of murder, but that they were present at the scene and were probably guilty of arson.
A year or so later, after the conviction had been quashed, two men—one of whom confessed—said that they had been present, had started the fire and had killed the man. They could not be prosecuted because the only evidence was that of each man saying that the other had done it. There was no corroboration, so they could not be prosecuted for the offence, but it was manifestly clear to the Home Secretary that they had done it.
Therefore, the three boys never committed the arson and never committed the offence, but one of them was over the age of 18. His mental attitude was such that he may not have been sentenced to death even in the old days, but he might, and that I take with great seriousness.
648 There is the point about categorisation. When we categorised offences in 1956, the first case involved a man who was charged with causing murder in the course of theft. He had broken into a warehouse and been disturbed by the watchman. As he tried to get away, in a panic he pushed the watchman out of the way. The watchman fell downstairs and was killed. The accused man was convicted of murder in the course of larceny and was hanged. It was manifestly clear that the House never intended that such a case should result in that sentence. It had to be because the Home Secretary thought his discretion had been removed by the decision of the House. The trouble with categorisation is that the Home Secretary will be faced with that severe difficulty. He would not be able to exercise discretion because the House had previously stated that he had no discretion. I give way to those who want to put forward a different point of view.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. John McQuade (Belfast, North)
When we talk of terrorist murders, we are not talking about killings that take place in the heat of passion, jealousy or lust. Nor are we talking about a killing that is carried out by a man suffering from such a degree of mental instability that no civilised society would ask him to forfeit his life. No, we are dealing with a gang of men who are fully aware of what they are doing. They coldly and calculatedly plan in every dastardly detail to rob another human being of existence. Unlike those acting in the throes of passion, they can foresee the possible consequences of their actions and be deterred by them.
Again, we hear it said: Are we not inviting a situation in which terrorists who hold hostages will threaten to kill them if an execution takes place? I am ashamed to say that that is an argument in common currency. Let the House think of its significance. It means two things. First, it means that we as a community are confessing our inability to enforce our own laws, but not because they are unacceptable to people, which would be understandable. Secondly, it means that we are prepared to be blackmailed by the possible threat of a bunch of murdering thugs. Are we prepared to confess our inability to govern to that extent?
We in Northern Ireland know that hon. Members in Westminster cannot govern because they cannot provide personal security for our citizens. I want them to understand that the necessary implication of the argument with which I am dealing is that they now admit it. Then there is the "martyr" theory. I do not propose to waste words upon it or on those so bereft of a sense of reality as to espouse it. The House can take it from me that I know my country. The hanged man would be a martyr to nobody except a few of his fellow thugs. I will exchange that any day for the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Let us hear no more of that rubbish.
If it is said that hanging is ghoulish, then shoot the murderers, or use whatever ingenuity people still possess to devise a more acceptable form of capital punishment. To us, killing is a daily occurrence. We do not know where it will strike next but we know that it will. We are fightened for our lives, both personal and commercial. Hon. Members can afford to see terrorism as something that, in a greatly diluted form, irritates them once in a while.
It is our duty to protect our people and the only way to do that is for capital crime to receive capital punishment.
649 My home has been attacked twice by the gunmen of the IRA. As a result, whenever I go from home I have to have a police escort. I cannot take a walk down the street without the detectives beside me. That is how we live in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
Someone spoke about 1 July 1916 on the Somme battlefield. On that day the 36th Ulster Division was practically wiped out. That is what we gave to the mother country. We ask nothing more than that the law be upheld in Northern Ireland. I say on behalf of the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, who are in the majority, let the security forces do whatever they want to do. Do not let us tie their hands behind their backs, as we always have. In 1939 when the BEF went to France the soldiers then asked:Why do they not bring the House of Commons out here, and then they would do something about it?I ask the House to look after the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, who are as British as anyone sitting in the House. That is all I ask.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
I unashamedly admit to being a life-long abolitionist. I have spoken each time such matters as we are discussing now have been raised in the House. However, I share with other speakers the grave anxiety and distress that one is bound to feel for those who suffer from violent offences in our community. Whatever one's wishes may be, or whatever one's personal views are, they cannot detract from the fact that it was an unfortunate timing of events that Metropolitan Police figures depicting violence as against homicide were released just before the campaign by the Police Federation. In my view, they left many people totally confused about what we are talking about in a debate on the restoration of capital punishment.
I find the way the series of new clauses have been produced particularly offensive. It is a pin-pricking effort to take out a few choice morsels for which capital punishment or the rope can be introduced. One might well say that it could in some ways be seen as a charter for dispensing with mothers-in-law. How can one discriminate? A murder is a murder and selectivity is as nauseating to me as the ritual of hanging. I find this Dutch auction offensive and I cannot subscribe to the proposals. One must remember that only a few weeks ago a lorry driver in Luton was released after serving eight years of a life sentence for a murder which he was found not to have committed.
I have received many letters about the subject from my constituents. I received one letter from a lady in the following terms:My dear Charles, I know you and you know me as a compassionate person and we both feel that hanging is barbaric, but I know that you are not in favour of the restoration of capital punishment. But could we not do something slightly less offensive, like gassing or shooting or electrocution"——
§ Mr. Irving
Or mincing, if one wishes that. I thought to myself, "This is a strange lady." She said:After all could we not introduce for attempted rape or rape immediate castration? I think that we should look at these sort of things in a kindly way.I could not think of an answer to the lady except to write to her in my usual generous way when I deal with those who are slightly demented. I could not simply say: "My dear, I was grateful for your letter. If it is one of compassion thank God that you do not write to me when you are getting tough."
650 If capital punishment were introduced generally for murder, there would be a wide use of the power of reprieve, but any process of reprieve under which execution became the exception rather than the rule would impose intolerable pressure upon the Home Secretary or any other authority, such as a panel of judges appointed for that task.
The Homicide Act 1957 took into account the selectivity about which we have heard so much in the new clauses. Poisoning and strangling were surely not notably morally better than shooting when one carried the death penalty and the other did not. The murder of a policeman or prison officer was capital, while the murder of other workers, such as security guards, bankers and Post Office workers—who are also at risk because of their employment—was not. Murder in the course of theft was capital but other murders for gain were not. The problem of distinguishing between capital and non-capital murder would inevitably prove just as intractable and indefensible if another attempt were made to reintroduce capital punishment on a selective basis.
I shall not refer to the figures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put forward so clearly, but l believe that the figures for murders of policemen and prison officers before and after the abolition of capital punishment do not necessarily suggest that capital punishment has a unique deterrent effect.
I wish to say a little about terrorism. I share with the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. McQuade)—who has now left the Chamber—a grave emotional anxiety about terrorism. Of course there is a strong feeling that the death penalty should apply at least to such murders. Terrorists are even less likely to be deterred than other murderers. They are fanatics who, however perverted in their thinking and feeling, see themselves as fighting for a cause higher than themselves and who are living in a state of dangerous exaltation in which they hold even their own lives at a relatively low price.
§ Mr. Irving
It is so nice to see my hon. and learned Friend but I make it a policy never to allow interventions during my speeches. I would love to have a chat with him another time.
There are two further important reasons for arguing against the introduction of capital punishment for terrorist murders. In the stages leading up to an execution, terrorists would have a strong motive for taking hostages and threatening to kill them and to intimidate all those taking part in the trial, especially jurors. One must predict the possibility that executions would be followed by serious reprisals. Informers would be less prepared to help the police. As capital punishment would not apply to those under 18, there would be real dangers that the death penalty would reinforce the trend for terrorist organisations to recruit increasingly younger members. It would create a new generation of martyrs and there is considerable evidence that martyrs stimulate recruitment to fanatical terrorist organisations.
It is understandable that public opinion, deeply disturbed by killing and violence, should naturally and instinctively seek a clear and decisive remedy and feel that execution or the threat of execution must be a unique deterrent. But there is no evidence in this or in any other 651 country that that is so. The more closely that one becomes involved with the responsibility for violent crime, the greater are seen to be not only the moral but the practical objections to the reintroduction of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am in a little difficulty because the Home Secretary said that if the new clauses are passed they will not apply to Scotland. I am a Scottish Member. Some Conservative Members who are waiting to speak may say that perhaps I should not speak at all. However, the Home Secretary made it clear that if the new clauses are passed there must be separate legislation and we in Scotland could not dodge the issue. I think that makes the perfect case for devolution for Scotland. This matter could be covered by a devolved Assembly in Scotland and Scottish Members would then have a right to vote.
However, even if the whole House votes for the return of capital punishment, I guarantee that the majority of Scottish Members will vote against it. As we have a separate legal system, that should have some bearing on what happens in Scotland.
The first time that I came to this building I sat in the Strangers' Gallery and heard the late Sydney Silverman introduce one of his many Bills to abolish capital punishment. On that occasion the man who had been Home Secretary in the Labour Government between 1945 and 1951, the late Chuter Ede, admitted that as Home Secretary he had made a mistake in not allowing the reprieve of, I think, Timothy Evans. He admitted that it lay heavily on his conscience because, as Home Secretary, he had allowed the execution of one man whom he later considered to be innocent. All who speak -and vote on this issue should remember that. If we allow one innocent person to be executed, morally we are committing exactly the same or, in some ways, a worse crime than the person who committed the murder. Certainly it is the same crime morally.
The second reason why I want to speak on this matter is that, during the 1979 general election, even though capital punishment was not one of the issues which I would have considered to be important, it was forced upon me by the public stance taken on it by my Conservative opponent who is now the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). We debated the issue publicly. It was the only issue that the hon. Gentleman would debate publicly with me. He felt that he had public opinion on his side. He felt that he was on a winner. Of course, as the electorate in Cathcart showed, he was not on a winner. At a time when his party was doing well throughout Britain, he was the only Conservative to lose his seat to a member of the Labour Party.
I shall not make a great claim that that showed that public opinion in my constituency is against the return of capital punishment, but the hon. Member for Southend, East cannot claim that it is an issue on which people never vote or about which they are not concerned. On that occasion the public knew where both of us stood in regard to capital punishment.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Southend, East is not in the Chamber. He said that the problem of the razor gangs in Glasgow in the 1930s and 1940s was solved by harsh measures taken by the police. It must be pointed out that when those razor gangs were operating and this great wave of violence was sweeping through parts of Glasgow, 652 both capital and corporal punishment were in existence. Capital punishment was much more widely used then than later. Yet neither capital punishment nor corporal punishment deterred the razor gangs from using violence on the streets. What deterred them eventually was the certainty of capture. There was a massive police operation to make sure that they were caught and given some form of punishment. The certainty of capture and conviction, not the nature of the punishment, is the major deterrent to any criminal. That has to be taken into account.
The Scottish figures were mentioned by the hon. Member for Southend, East. Those figures do not prove anything one way or another. We all accept that statistics cannot be used in this argument, although some Conservative Members have been trying to do so. In Scotland in 1948 there were eight murders; in 1969 there were 26; in 1977 there were 61. Some hon. Members refer to the enormous increase that has taken place. Of course, if they took 1946 instead of 1948 as the base line, they would find that there were 22 murders in that year. What do the figures prove? Capital punishment existed in both those years. There was a massive decline and then the number of murders went up.
There was a 140 per cent. increase from 26 murders in 1969 to 61 in 1977. If we take the 1977 figure of 61 and then the 1979 figure of 38, there is a completely different picture with a massive decline in the number of murders. Strathclyde regional police report this year that, despite a massive increase in other crime, particularly crime against property, the murder rate at 29 is the lowest since the region was formed in 1974. Again, there is a decline which proves nothing. Statistics cannot be used to show that capital punishment has a deterrent effect.
Why did the murder rate go down between 1977 and 1979? I cannot answer that question, particularly when other crime has increased. The point is that statistics cannot prove the case for hon. Members who wish to bring back capital punishment. It is those hon. Members who have to prove the case. Hon. Members who are defending the present position do not have to produce figures.
Probably the best figures to examine come from the United States. In the 1930s capital punishment existed in one State while in the next State it had been abolished, although those States had similar social backgrounds and make-up. There is no evidence that the murder rate was higher in one State than in the other. If anything, the murder rate in States which had abolished capital punishment was marginally lower than in those which had not. Again, it does not prove anything. It is up to hon. Members who argue for the return of capital punishment to give clear statistical proof, if they have it, that it acts as a deterrent. I know of no evidence that it does.
In regard to the drawing of lines, the case has been put well by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), by the Home Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It would be impossible to differentiate between different types of murder. A policeman chasing someone who is armed with a gun may be joined by a member of the public. If the criminal turns and shoots the policeman, it is proposed that he should be executed, but if he shoots the member of the public he should not. There are many variations and differences.
Prison officers have also been referred to. In Scotland we had immense problems with violence in prisons. No prison officers were killed, but they were being attacked.
653 I give credit to the Conservative Government of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) for solving the problem. The Home Office might take note of what they did. They set up a special unit in Barlinnie prison to deal with the violent prisoner in a manner different from the one in which he had been dealt with before. That has been a major success story. It has lowered violence in Scottish prisons and gone a long way to bringing many of those violent people back to a condition in which they could go out into society again. That should be our aim in dealing with criminals, not executing them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook rightly mentioned the 1916 uprising. Later examples could be used. When those people were taken out of the post office in Dublin by the British Army, the people of Dublin and of Ireland mocked them and laughed at them. They thought they were a bunch of extremists. One might say that their execution was almost the point when the problems of modern Ireland started, because they became martyrs.
That trend has continued. Now, of course, they still make their own martyrs when we do not execute them. What was Bobby Sands doing? He was making himself a martyr. He is now a dead hero to the people who support him. Whether we like it or not, he is. I do not like that fact. No hon. Member likes that fact, but it is a fact. He is a dead hero. That is what would happen with terrorists. Those who support them would consider them to be heroes.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned the Jackal. He has not read the book. The Jackal sought to execute President de Gaulle in a country that had the death penalty. As in so many other cases, the hon. Gentleman is marginally wrong.
At the end of the day, the question comes down to morality, not statistics. It comes down to the opinions of hon. Members. Under all the new clauses that have been put down for debate, Paddy Meehan would have been executed. He committed a murder in the execution of a crime. When the hon. Member for Southend, East was the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, he fought to have Paddy Meehan released from prison. If the new clauses to which he has appended his name had been in operation when Paddy Meehan was caught and convicted, he would have been fighting posthumously for Paddy Meehan. Yet Paddy Meehan was innocent. He has been released and is now seeking compensation from the State for the prison sentence that was imposed upon him.
That is the morality that all hon. Members must consider when they vote tonight on whether to restore capital punishment. We cannot allow the execution of one innocent person. If we have the death penalty, we cannot guarantee that it will not happen.
§ Mr. Grieve
With one observation of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) I am in entire agreement: that the issue which faces the House today is a moral issue. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) castigated those hon. Members who have tabled the new clauses. I respect the views that have been expressed by hon. Members and I respect the profound feelings that motivated most of those who have contributed to this debate.
It is fairly well known that I am in disagreement with those who have spoken against the restoration of capital 654 punishment. However, I was impressed by the cogent speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I would like to preface my short contribution to this debate by saying that I accept a great many of the points that he made.
First, I accept that it is almost impossible to prove scientifically that the death penalty is a deterrent. We all make subjective judgments in this matter, based on our own experience. My experience is that of a barrister of 45 years' standing, who, although with a civil practice, has had a good deal of experience in the criminal courts and who has sat as a recorder, an assistant recorder or the like, for 26 or 27 years. In my experience, alas, I have mot a number of cold, calculating criminals. Therefore, I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that there are those who calculate the risks. Before the abolition of the death penalty they did not normally go armed to their robberies. Now they do. They run the risk of killing in doing so. The death penalty is necessary to deter such men.
I agree that generally speaking we cannot regard deterrence as proven. Moreover, I accept that a high percentage of homicides are committed in the family circle, or in narrow, limited circles, under the stress of great emotion. No death penalty will deter those who act under the stress of such emotions on such occasions. However, such homicides have largely been taken out of the category of murder by the provision in the law since 1957 that where responsibility is diminished, as it frequently is under the stress of great emotion, the crime is reduced to mansaughter. The death penalty would not apply in a large number of cases.
With the death penalty there is the danger that an innocent man might be executed. That is a terrible and terrifying prospect. However, in a well-ordered, good system of criminal justice such a thing would be very exceptional. I must face the fact that it might on occasion be necessary to weigh that possibility against the need to defend society against the criminal and the wrongdoer.
I have not always been a retentionist. In 1951 I went to the Canal zone to defend Tom Houghton, a corporal who was charged with murdering his captain. He was a boy of 18. He obviously acted under the stress of great emotion and he was hanged. I think that 10 years later he would not have been. Ten years later he would have been able to take advantage of the provision that would have reduced his crime to manslaughter for diminished responsibility. That gave me a revulsion. I can understand the revulsion felt by many of my hon. Friends and Labour Members when they consider the individual cases where there has been a miscarriage of justice, where execution has occurred when it should not have done.
Having said that, I believe that the death penalty has a place in an ordered, reasonable, civilised society for the protection of that society. That was why I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sid cup (Mr. Heath). I do not hesitate to make the point again. Do we not show our respect for human life by having the death penalty? I do not believe that our society now respects human life as it should. In the days when we had the death penalty we did respect human life. The existence of the death penalty showed that we respected human life.
§ Mr. Grieve
Although not every member of the public would put this feeling in the words in which I am putting 655 it now, I believe that it is a truth that the public perceives and that I am echoing a feeling that exists in the hearts and minds of many of our fellow citizens.
Those who take the view in debates on capital punishment that I have just expressed have driven themselves into a corner by concentrating entirely on the question of deterrence or the question of reform. In a system of human justice deterrence is not the only element, nor is reform, although they are important elements. Retribution has its part. We would be blind and foolish to shut our minds to that fact. After all, we are brought up to believe that retribution has a part in divine justice. Our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers would not have hesitated to say that it has a part in human justice as well, and that to a large extent the punishment must fit the crime. Nowadays that is very much mitigated, and rightly and mercifully so, but it cannot be excluded as an element in human justice. Those who believe that know that the death penalty marks our respect for the lives of our fellow citizens. We should say to a person who commits wicked, premeditated murder—not an emotional murder or the type of homicide that is now regarded as manslaughter—that as he has wickedly taken the life of one of his fellow citizens he is at least in danger of forfeiting his own.
It would be wrong to expunge from our considerations that fundamental concept. It is not a concept of vengeance or revenge. Prior to this century no moral philosopher would have said that retribution as an element of justice was revenge. On the contrary, it plays its part in providing an ordered and civilised society in which people do not seek to revenge themselves.
Therefore, in principle, I support the new clauses. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, they will not carry the day. However, if the House believes that there is room for the restoration of the death penalty, the matter will have to be considered in great depth and detail and provisions will have to be laid before the House. I accept what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about the difficulty of formulating a code. Under the 1957 Act there were obviously appalling anomalies. It was shocking that Ruth Ellis should have been hanged because, under the stress of great emotion, she shot her lover. Then someone who used slow poisoning to kill would not have been hanged.
We must reconsider the matter. Does it defy the ability of this great Parliament of the United Kingdom to formulate a statutory means of protecting our society when we believe that the death penalty is a necessary reserve measure? I believe that that is not beyond our wit and capacity and, therefore, I shall support—with one exception—the new clauses. I shall not go into the question of the murder of police or prison officers. However, that is one of the matters for which the death penalty should be held in reserve.
I have been greatly influenced by the argument that there should not be a particular category for terrorist murders. The terrorist murderer is likely to be made a martyr and it may well be better not to have such a separate category. Therefore, I shall abstain in any Division on that new clause. However, a civilised society needs the death penalty for the reasons that I have given. Therefore, as a matter of principle, I shall support most of the new clauses.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
People are for or against the death penalty on many grounds. I am against the death penalty on many grounds. One of those grounds is that of conscience. Many hon. Members feel that the taking of human life is completely and utterly wrong. I am not one of those, but I have a conscience about the State taking life. There is all the grisly apparatus of the scaffold, of the man or woman being dragged—docilely or perhaps screaming—to his or her death after weeks, perhaps months, of waiting to be summarily executed by the State. That causes great offence to many people and it has caused me offence for a long time. That is why I shall not support any of the new clauses.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the practicalities of the matter. The speeches have clearly shown that there is no evidence that the restoration of the death penalty will act as a deterrent to murder. Those who wish to restore the death penalty must prove their case. They have not done so for a long time and they have not done so tonight. Often, the existence of the death penalty may well be an encouragement to murder. I am talking not about terrorist murderers, but about poor little people in our society who will never, in their lives, be noticed. They are mentally deranged and think that public attention can be gained only by committing a murder that will put them on the national, and perhaps international, stage in a trial at which the death penalty is the ultimate sanction, with all the drama that that involves. Those of us who are old enough to remember the death penalty know how true that is. Until the last moment petitions, signed by hundreds of thousands of people, are sent to the Home Secretary. People may well commit murders to gain public attention. Therefore, the very existence of the death penalty can encourage murder.
Anyone who commits a murder should be punished and kept away from society so that he cannot commit another murder. We all know that until the abolition of the death penalty juries were increasingly reluctant to convict, because the death penalty lay ahead. They knew that, once they had convicted the defendant and the death penalty had been carried out, there could be no redress. Since then, things have probably moved a stage further. Today, juries would be even more reluctant to convict than they were before 1957. That is another reason why we should be very careful about returning to the death penalty. A murderer who would otherwise be convicted and put away might well be released because of the reluctance of a jury to convict if there were any doubt about his guilt.
People such as me are accused of being on the side of the murderer because we do not believe that the death penalty should be restored. It is said that we have no sympathy for the victim. That is a calumny and is completely wrong. From the beginning to the end, my sympathy is with the victim and those affected by the crime. With the death penalty, there is the danger that, as the date of execution approaches, all the sympathy and attention will go to the person who is to be strung up at 8 o'clock one fine or nasty morning. People will stand outside the prison gate on an all-night vigil. At 8 o'clock in the morning the sonorous tones of the BBC announcer will be heard saying that one second or one minute ago so-and-so was hanged. Therefore, with the death penalty on the statute book, sympathy may well float to the murderer and leave the victim.
657 Another matter that has been mentioned several times is the possibility of the hanging of innocent people. We are told that we have no right to ignore public opinion. The general view is that public opinion at this time is for the return of the death penalty. I remember a time when it was different. I remember the horror and revulsion felt by the nation, myself included, when it was realised that Timothy Evans had been hanged for murders committed by Christie. If a public opinion poll had been taken at that time—I believe that it was—public opinion would have been found to be quite the reverse. Public opinion, correctly, was on the side of the abolition of the death penalty. The public realised that the death peanlty meant that they themselves had committed a crime—judicial murder. It is all of us who do it. The public could not turn back the clock. At that time, public opinion was as much against the death penalty as it now appears to be for the death penalty.
Many people do not remember the debates and what went on when we had the death penalty. I fear that there are some people who either have forgotten or never knew about the problem. They are even writing to Members of Parliament—certainly they are writing to me—and going so far as to say that it is worth hanging a few innocent people for the general good. That is a dreadful thought. It is a dreadful view for anyone to hold. This issue has been whipped up so by certain elements that people have forgotten their very morality. That is unfortunate.
The issue has become mixed up with other forms of crime. I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members have received letters similar to the letters that I have had. Not only do the writers advocate capital punishment for murder, but they want to string up the vandals. This campaign has unleashed an unthinking attitude. It is unfortunate that responsible organisations felt it right to whip up such a campaign. In my view, there are no additional reasons and no additional evidence, other than those that have always been available, for the return of the death penalty.
I want to say a few words about the new clauses. I am sorry that they have been put on the Order Paper. They do not reflect well on Parliament and on those in Parliament. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), I believe that the new clauses are absurd. They distinguish between one human life and another. There is no distinction. Murder is murder, whether the victim is a policeman, a warder, a bank clerk defending the bank's money or an employee defending his company's property. Let us not forget that. A policeman or a prison officer is no different from a bank clerk or a citizen who goes to help a policeman and is murdered instead of the policeman. In my view, therefore, that new clause is bad and should not have been tabled. I sincerely hope that it will be thrown out hook, line and sinker.
Another new clause deals with murder by firearms or explosives. That is an invitation to the strangler. If we accepted this new clause, the Yorkshire Ripper would still have got away with it, because he had the good sense not to use a gun. He used a knife instead. If it were a case of shooting a person, a crossbow could be used, but not a 22 rifle.
It is absurd to suggest that there should be a penalty for murder by firearm or explosive different from murder by strangling, stabbing, bow and arrow, drowning, poisoning, or anything else. In my view, the new clauses deserve to be thrown out, and thrown out decisively. I 658 make my position clear now as I have done throughout. My constituents are well aware, and have been since 1969 when I first stood for Swindon, of my total opposition to capital punishment. That remains my position on the grounds of conscience and intelligence, and I shall vote against all the new clauses tonight.
§ Mr. Wheeler
This has been a good-natured debate, and a debate in which right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their views with honesty and sincerity. In 1979, the House did the same. It debated capital punishment and, by a large majority of 119, rejected its restoration. The arguments and the balance between them have not changed since then.
This is the subject on which many people on both sides of the argument have particularly strong and absolute views, not to be swayed by continued argument. The debate includes arguments that certain types of killers deserve nothing better than death—a readily understandable sentiment, given the nature of some of their crimes. However, moral sentiments have to be distilled into workable laws.
The Homicide Act 1957 tried to apply the death penalty selectively to killers in the same way as is being proposed today. That Act could work only at the cost of being morally repellent. It would be a great tragedy if a majority in the House allowed sentiment, however genuinely held and honestly expressed, to snare the Government into promoting unsound, inequitable and ineffectual legislation.
One new clause simply calls for the availability of capital punishment for a person convicted of murder. It implies a growing problem,. with an increasing number of murders. That is not so. The actual number of murders is so small that annual variations prove very little. In 1979, for instance, 121 homicide cases were decided by the courts to be murder. In 1980, it had fallen to 101. The truth is that most murders are committed against victims who are closely associated with the killers, in circumstances of rage, quarrels or jealousy. In the period 1970–1980, the victim was acquainted with the suspect in over 70 per cent. of homicide cases, and in about half the cases the victim was a member of the suspect's family, such as a spouse or lover.
Most killings are impulsive and casual and ire undertaken in the heat of the moment or occasioned through panic. There was no thought before the killing, so no potential deterrent would be effective in stopping the crime. A deterrent penalty is effective only for those who think before killing and who calculate that they will be caught. The clear-up rate for homicide is 97 per cent. That is the best form of deterrence.
The alternative approach is the reintroduction of the death penalty for selected types of killing. The new clauses refer to terrorism, murder by firearms or explosives, the murder of police and prison officers or murder in the course of robbery and burglary in which offensive weapons are involved. Those proposals are as illogical as they are unworkable. Is it being argued that murder by stabbing, hitting, kicking, strangling, burning or drowning or by poison or drugs is morally better than shooting? Why should the murder of a police or prison officer be capital while the murder of people in similar occupations, whether they be security guards, bank or post office workers, as well as many others who face special risks, not be capital?
659 It is proposed that murder in the course of robbery or burglary should be capital, but presumably murder in the course of rape or to conceal fraud would not be. There is no logic to such proposals. The courts would be plunged into a legal nightmare of trying to distinguish between capital and non-capital murder.
Is there evidence that police or prison officers are at special risk? Although the prison population has more than doubled since 1945 and there are more high risk offenders in prison, only two members of the prison staff have been killed—one in 1948 and the other in 1965.
The figures for the murder of police officers before and after the abolition of capital punishment do not suggest that capital punishment has any unique deterrent effect. The number of killings of police officers resulting in murder convictions has varied between nil and two every year since 1957, except for 1966 when the number was four, of whom three were killed in a single incident at Shepherds Bush.
With regard to firearms, in 1980 the number of homicides by shooting, at 19, was the lowest number since records began to be kept in that form in 1967. No police officer was killed in England and Wales in 1976. The six officers killed since then were not involved in incidents involving firearms. Most so-called serious offences in which firearms are reported as being used relate to the use of an air weapon, which applies in over 5,000 cases out of 6,500. Most of those crimes are of vandalism.
I now come to the question of the death penalty for terrorism. Of course, I can understand the feelings——
§ Mr. Wheeler
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me for not giving way. Time is short.
Of course I understand the feelings in the country and in the House that the death penalty should be available for terrorist murders. However, the House will have to define a terrorist murder. Would it be a murder committed by a known member of the Provisional IRA, the PLO or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Lambeth? Would it apply to a known terrorist engaged in an ordinary crime, such as bank robbery, during which a killing occurs? Given that political status for inmates of the Maze prison has long been withdrawn, would not a working definition of "terrorism" produce irresistible demands for its restoration on the grounds that the criteria of political crimes had at last been set out?
Would the terrorist death penalty apply to Northern Ireland? No one has been hanged in the United Kingdom for hundreds of years other than upon the verdict of a jury. However, as the House knows, the degree of intimidation in Northern Ireland is such that it has not been possible to try such cases by jury. They are tried by the Diplock one-judge court. The defeat of terrorism cannot be achieved by the ordinary processes of the criminal law.
I wonder whether any hon. Members have asked Members of the Northern Ireland judiciary whether they are prepared to act as juries in capital cases. If they are not, what is to happen?
There are other important reasons for arguing against the introduction of capital punishment for terrorist murder. In the stages leading up to an execution terrorists would have a strong motive for taking hostages and would threaten to kill them and to intimidate all those taking part in the trial, particularly perhaps jurors.
660 There is the expectation that executions would be followed by reprisals. Informers would be less likely to be prepared to help the police. As capital punishment would not apply to those under 18, the death penalty would reinforce the trend for terrorist organisations to get those of 16 and 17, or even younger, to commit those crimes. Capital punishment would create martyrs.
For all those reasons, many senior Army and police officers, as well as many in the judiciary, the criminal Bar and all political parties, believe that the reintroduction of capital punishment would hinder rather than help the fight against terrorism.
I go further. From my experience as a former assistant prison governor who got to know the terrorist mind well, I would say that the fanatical terrorist, whom I encountered when I served in the prison service ten or more years ago, would regard the availability of capital punishment as a positive advance for the cause.
If the House were to be so unwise as to succumb to emotion it would confer upon terrorists the greatest propaganda gift imaginable. Worse still, the reintroduction of capital punishment, as a whole or specifically, would be more likely to increase than to reduce the level of violence in our society, thus putting our police or citizens at greater risk. That is why I shall vote against all the new clauses.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
Like you Mr. Speaker, I was in the House during the Sydney Silverman days. I know that I must not refer to your activities then, but I can refer to mine.
I supported Sydney Silverman during all the events that took place. Now I have changed my mind because of many reasons. One reason that has stuck in my mind, and which has been proved to me beyond question, is that there was a professional burglar in my constituency who consistently boasted of the fact that he had spent about one-third of his life in prison. He told me at the time of the Sydney Silverman Bill what would happen, and he was right. He said to me "I am a professional burglar. Before we go out on a job we plan it down to every detail. Before we go into the boozer to have a drink we say 'Don't forget, no shooters"—shooters being guns. He added "We did our job and didn't have shooters because at that time there was capital punishment. Our wives, girl friends and our mums said 'whatever you do, do not carry a shooter because if you are caught you might be topped.' If you do away with capital punishment they will all be carrying shooters."
I voted in favour of Sydney Silverman's Bill, but hardly a day goes by when the papers do not report that a post office, a bank or Securicor has been raided by a gang of men all carrying sawn-off shotguns. They carry them because, as my criminal friend told me—if I can call him a friend—"We can get rid of the witnesses. We may get away with it. If we are caught the penalty is the same, so we must carry sawn-off shotguns, and we do."
The position is worse than that. Hon. Members should read the papers. I read today that a poor Asian standing on the street doing no harm to anyone was murdered by a skinhead and that the judge has dealt severely with the man who was found guilty of the crime. I cannot mention his name, as there may be an appeal. That man received only a three-year prison sentence. With one year off for good conduct, he will serve only two years. The newspaper reports on the same page that a chap has been given 18 months for forgery.
661 There is a further point to be made. Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Brown might have a son or daughter who is deliberately murdered by a vicious, wicked crook, who has set out with the intention of robbing a post office, or an old lady on her own, and commit murder if need be. But the mother, wife or daughter has to pay towards the £185 a week cost, or whatever it is, of maintaining the murderer in prison. If she has lost her husband she will have to go out to work to earn the wherewithal to keep her family. The taxes she pays help to keep these vicious brutes in prison. Why should we keep them in relative luxury in prison? I know, I have seen the prisons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) referred to the difference between certain types of murder. If a member of the public went to the aid of a policeman and the criminal had to shoot, what would he decide? With the death penalty for shooting a policeman but no death penalty for shooting a civilian I am sure that he would not shoot the policeman. The death penalty would make him think twice.
Be that as it may, why should murderers be allowed to get away with it? There is no question but that there are certain streets in London where one cannot walk in daylight, let alone at night. People are running a thriving mugging business. But we are the mugs, because we allow them to get away with it. They have knives, which they intend to use. However, if they and their next of kin knew that if they were caught there was the prospect of the death penalty and being "topped" I am convinced that many of them would not carry knives. That, at least, gives the old ladies a bit of a chance. We are talking about the streets of London, not Timbuktu or parts of Africa. Old ladies of 70 and 80 are being mugged. They are not safe in the streets, nor in their own homes.
The death penalty does not have to be used. It was not always used in the past. The Home Secretary can exercise his right to advise about the Royal Prerogative, as can the judge. The judge can ask the Home Secretary to have sympathy or exercise clemency. Judges must have the chance to pass the sentence of death. We read of judges saying that they are sorry that the most they can give is a penalty of five years in prison, or whatever the maximum might be, although they would like to be more severe. We must give the judge the opportunity to decide.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
Is my hon. Friend arguing that in many countries where the death penalty still prevails mugging and all the other things of which he has been speaking have been eliminated, or is it a better situation overall there than it is here?
§ Mr. Lewis
I am not suggesting anything of the sort. My hon. Friend is entitled to his views and opinion, which I respect and to which I shall listen. I am merely giving my views and opinion, even though I may be the only Labour Member to hold them.
Criminals and some people who have been guilty of this offence have said that if there was a danger of them being "topped" they would not carry an offensive weapon. To that extent the old lady victim at least stands a better chance. I am sure that that old lady would rather not have her throat cut. I believe that the old lady in charge of a post office would feel happier if she knew that because of the possibility of the death penalty the robber would not carry a sawn-off shotgun. That is all I am saying, and I believe that to be a statement of fact.
662 We must now show some backbone and stand up to these people. If hon. Members are not in danger of being mugged themselves, they should ask people travelling on the tube whether they think that we are far too soft and lenient with such people and whether we ought to lake much more serious and definite action against them.
We are all animals. We are the human animals on whom money is spent like water to give us a good education, home and all the rest. Yet some people behave worse than the non—human animal, such as my dog. I can, and do, teach my dog to sit and to behave. It does not bite. If it did, it would be liable to be put down. That is what should happen to some of these bestial brutes. They ought to be liable to be put down, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. Tom Benyon
This is a matter of great importance to our constituents, most of whom passionately hold views on one side of the argument or the other.
I remind the House that my predecessor was assassinated in a cruel, cowardly and bloody crime within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Therefore, there is no other constituency in the land where feelings about the reintroduction of capital punishment run as high as they inevitably do in mine.
Many of my colleagues must have a sense of déjà vu at this action replay of the debate that was held in 1979. However, it is right to express our views to our constituents and to take every opportunity we can to make our position entirely clear so that we can avoid any further speculation on their part as to what this House feels on these serious and important matters.
This has been a healthy debate between people of entirely opposing views. It has been held without rancour and is in the best traditions of the House of Commons. This is the essence of the democracy and freedom which our country is fighting elsewhere to preserve.
I should like to meet the arguments of my opponents, who proposed the new clauses, at their most potent. I shall first deal with the issue of revenge or retribution. I happen to believe that such matters should be left to God Almighty. They are not matters that should play any part in the deliberations of the courts or the judgments made in this House over how hon. Members should vote. I should also like to deal with what method of execution we are talking about. To my mind, it makes little difference whether we are talking about shooting people, hanging them or injecting them. We are talking of a cold, deliberate act of judicial execution with the full solemnity of the State.
The root of the matter is, what acts as a deterrent? My response is that what acts as a deterrent at its most potent is the certainty of detection, followed by long periods of imprisonment. That is the most salutary and effective form of deterrent. Contrary to popular belief, the courts at present have plenty of scope to pass long and exemplary sentences. We need extremely good reasons for encompassing the new clauses within the Bill. We need extremely good reasons if we wish to run the risk, by adopting the new clauses, of facing the problems of implementation and of setting up yet again the means of execution, having scrapped it in 1965.
I shall not dwell on the legal problems of categorisation tabulated by many hon. Members. There are the believe them most serious—of error. One also has to take account of the enormous prurient publicity that would attend any form of judicial execution. I do not need to 663 remind the House of the way in which the press can conduct itself at its worst. If there were any form of execution, some parts of the press would act at their worst.
Those who may have forgotten need to be reminded of the dreary and pathetic groups waiting outside prisons and carrying placards and the agony of Home Secretaries of both parties who had to make the final and dreadful decision and who bore the terrible responsibility upon their shoulders. There would be enormous protests from the "antis". There would be the problems, totally unforeseen, of the first execution of a coloured youth from a deprived inner city area. Those who are tempted to gloss over this matter should consider the increased racial tensions in our society if such a step were actually taken.
Many people have pored over the statistics with slide rules attempting to search the entrails for some sign that the reintroduction of capital punishment would make any difference. At best, the evidence is confused and inconclusive. What is certain is that crime levels for all offences have risen in all countries. There is great public concern. People are worried about increasing levels of vandalism, rape, robbery and violent crime, none of which would be prevented by the implementation of the new clauses.
It may come as a great surprise to our constituents that Peter Sutcliffe, the Kray brothers, Hindley or Brady would not have been executed if the new clauses were already implemented. All would have been excluded. But the public are frustrated and want us to do something. When we are nonplussed about what to do, it is helpful to tell the unvarnished truth to the electorate, who are usually far more intelligent than some of us give them credit for.
The first truth is that there is no solution to an easily quantifiable law and order problem. It is not that politicians are failing to fulfil their obligations. It is a problem of rising crime that the whole community, as well as ourselves, must attempt to solve. It would be extremely helpful if we could devote as much time as we are spending on this rather negative subject to the real problems of crime that face us.
The public want to solve the problem of the roots of crime. Are they in television violence? That must play a part. Are they in the breakdown of parental influence and discipline? Are they, to some degree, in the problem of our soulless comprehensive schools? Are they in the fact that the more property we acquire in our society, the more policemen we need to guard it? These are the important matters to which we should be addressing ourselves, not the totem pole of capital punishment by which we continually divert ourselves from the real problems.
Another and most important issue that we should address ourselves to with speed is why small children and those between the ages of 12 and 18 are committing crimes of violence and vandalism in school hours. These are matters that we can do something about. They are far more important than debating yet again the issue of capital punishment, as I am sure we shall have to in the next Parliament.
I can find no evidence in the Home Office statistics relating to the possibility of executing those who kill policemen to prove that police deaths have escalated substantially since 1965. I agree with hon. Members who say that public opinion would find it extremely difficult to accept the selection of the police, as a group, for the sort 664 of protection that we would not give to other, extremely important groups in our society, who are also possibly exposed to death—bank clerks, for one.
The use of statistics relating to armed robbery and to murders committed during armed robbery by some of my colleagues and by the press recently in furtherence of their case is, to put it politely, somewhat spurious. If people talk about the enormous escalation of the number of guns used in armed robbery, they should also point out that the bulk of these guns are air guns. Many of the offences that are termed serious are, when stripped down, not particularly serious.
I should be fascinated to know if, when Spike Milligan shot his neighbour's cat in the bottom, that was part of the statistics quoted as a reason why we should consider yet again the reintroduction of capital punishment. The use of these statistics by my colleagues makes a good case for the regulating of air guns, but it does not advance the case for capital punishment one jot.
I endorse what hon. Members have already said about the serious mistakes that have been made in the past when, after the event, fresh evidence has been unearthed which, if it was known at the time of the trial, would probably have meant that the jury would have acquitted or that the judge would have stopped the trial. This is not just a question of innocent people being killed by the State, although that is intolerable, and a terrible thing to be done. These mistakes have happened often in the past—for brevity's sake I shall not dwell on the circumstances of each case. If hon. Members wish to know, they can see me afterwards and I shall show them a document that will horrify them.
It is clear to me—I have been told this by several senior policemen and barristers—that the fears of a jury about errors subsequently discovered could be played upon, and the jury might feel compelled to acquit someone who otherwise, as a guilty man, would have received a long prison sentence. Society could be put further at risk with a guilty man, capable of committing a crime of murder, still at large.
It is incredible that anybody can sustain an argument that capital punishment can deter terrorists. All history dictates the contrary. We have seen example after example—in Aden and Cyprus, and in the Easter Rebellion of 1916, which saved no lives but cost many, and united a people who had had no previous use for the Sinn Fein to its bloody cause.
After several young men have starved themselves to death in the cause of old Ireland, how can it be said that capital punishment is a deterrent? The ghouls who run the IRA are not deterred by death. They feed on death to suck inspiration from the grave. The IRA needs destruction to fuel its cause and it is frustrated, indeed, that until this time we have denied it judicial execution, enormous international publicity and martyrs.
Young men starved themselves to death to gain the publicity that we denied them. Without any question, to hang them would be to aid their cause. We should let them rot. That is a tough and terrible sentence. Let us not be fooled for one moment. Our prisons are not the glorified holiday centres that were described to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) by his friend in a pub. Many of our prisons are horrible, rotting stinking places.
665 I believe that if a young man were sentenced to an extremely long sentence ——
§ Mr. Benyon
Let no one be under any illusion. These people are in prison for an extremely long time. I would much prefer to be executed than to stay in prison for a long time.
§ Mr. Benyon
How would we work out who would be executed? Would it be just those who planted and made the bombs? Do we really believe that the IRA has not thought this through carefully? Do we really believe that the IRA will not get 16-year-olds to plant the bombs? Do we think that the IRA will not get pregnant 16-year-olds to do it? What will we do then? Do we believe that the IRA will not get black pregnant 16-year-olds to do it if we exclude them?
What are we going to do about those problems? Has anyone seriously thought through the problem of hostages which would come in the wake of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Benyon
It is conceded in civilised societies that no man should suffer sentence of death without the benefit of trial by jury. The absurd situation could arise where murderers would hang in Britain but not in Ulster. Perhaps that is regarded as a detail and perhaps, if the will is there, all is possible, but I would wish the proposers of the clauses the joy of all the juries they could find which would convict a man of capital charges in Ulster. The answer would be that we could replace juries with military tribunals. Men should think carefully before they venture down that avenue.
The senior politicians involved do not want the return of the death penalty in Northern Ireland for crimes of terrorism. The security forces and the judiciary do not want it. Home Secretaries, current and past, do not want it. The only beneficiary of the reintroduction of capital punishment in Northern Ireland would be the IRA. If the new clause dealing with terrorism is scrapped, the others will fall. If an individual who plants a bomb in a pub and kills 12 people is not hanged, how can a man who kills one man in a robbery be executed?
I have been told that, because the overwhelming majority of my constituents want the return of capital punishment. I should be mandated to come to the House to reflect their views. I am not a messenger boy for my constituents. I was elected to make judgments and, if those judgments are bad, my constituents have the option to vote for someone else at the next election. We do not have a plebiscitary democracy. I believe that that would undermine the House. Without doubt, a plebiscitary democracy is a friend of tyrants and demagogues. I shall not surrender my judgment to my constituents just because I feared that the expression of my convictions might prove unpopular to some.
Let us unite to fight violent crime. There is no division in the House on that fight and on our resolve to do all that we can to defeat it. We must place logic before emotion and reason before passion. It is our duty to our constituents to use our reason and judgment. I am sure that the new clauses are honourably motivated in their intent but they 666 would cause anguish, division and confusion in operation and save not one innocent life. A Member of Parliament's duty is to use his reason and I shall vote "No" tonight.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I am glad to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon). I noticed that he was nodding agreement when my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) said that we need a much more informed debate throughout the country on the restoration of capital punishment. The manner in which the subject is handled by the media is too flippant. If it is discussed on a late-night television chat show, it is usually one of several items that is discussed rather than the one item. The degree of human emotion that is involved and the necessity for a calm and reasoned judgment means that the issue warrants the widest possible debate.
Those of us who have consistently opposed the restoration of capital punishment over the years fear the groundswell of public opinion, which is urging us to lake what I described in an earlier intervention as a decadent step for the nation. It would appear externally that Britain was taking a backward step and a disproportionate view of its internal affairs.
It is all very well to say that for an offence of murder judges should be allowed to sentence an individual to death. Surely it becomes a ludicrous intellectual exercise to try to equate the murder of a policeman with the murder of any other person in the execution of his or her duty or in going to the aid of a policeman.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who advises the Police Federation, made an extremely blunt speech. He spoke of the mistiming of the debate. I understand the emotion that caused some policemen to organise a considerable lobby to restore capital punishment.
It has been said by many who have participated in the debate that there is a massive urge to bring back capital punishment. I do not believe that. If my own mail is anything to go by, there is no reason to think that that is so. London Members have received many communications enclosing cuttings from newspapers on fares increases in London. That lobby has been helped along by the insertion of coupons in newspapers and by other means, but at the same time there is genuine feeling about the increases. I understand the arguments that have been advanced by the Bromley council, but there is a strong feeling in London that it is necessary to introduce cheap fares. There is a relationship between crime in London and the ability to travel by public transport. The arguments intertwine. I shall not allow myself to be sidetracked by the argument that is adduced by London Transport.
There is an enormous swell of public sympathy when it is announced that a policeman has been killed in the execution of his duty. That is extended to those who are injured or maimed for life. I have in mind a policeman who apprehended some robbers when he was not on duty. He was shot. He is paralysed and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
There has been much sympathy for such people. One can understand that. There is no lack of sympathy on my part for policemen who have been injured in the execution of their duties. In my family circle I have argued whether the restoration of capital punishment would deal with the problems more effectively. Notwithstanding the strong argument that the wrong person may be convicted, if I thought that the restoration of capital punishment for 667 certain types of murder would bring about a dramatic change in the crime rate, I would go into the Lobby with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis).
I am not as well informed about the criminal world as my hon. Friend. He told the House about the robber who would go out with a gun, and be ready to use it, if he knew that he would not be hanged if he was caught. My hon. Friend may have superior connections with the criminal world. I hope that the story that he related is on the police records. He had a duty to inform the police in advance about the man who was disposed to commit the crimes about which he told the House.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
My hon. Friend could not have been listening with his usual diligence. I repeat, at the time of the Sydney Silverman Bill, for which I confess I voted, the criminal told me that if capital punishment was abolished, criminals would go out with their guns to shoot us. The matter is on the record. I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) the name and address of the person concerned afterwards. What the criminal told me has happened. Otherwise, every time one picks up a newspaper and reads that criminals have used sawn-off shotguns, the press is not telling the truth.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I cannot accept the part of my hon. Friend's story that implies that the criminal would discriminate and calmly shoot another person rather than a policeman. If it was his intention to shoot at the outset, he would shoot the person who prevented his getaway.
§ Mr. Bidwell
The House will know that most of the speeches that I have made in the past have been on immigration. The present topic reminds me that the public favour or do not favour an issue in a blanket way until they consider individual cases. That is precisely the case if we are to restore previously used practices. The possibility of reprieve must, therefore, be placed in the hands of the Home Secretary. It is interesting to note that his would be the final judgment on both the death sentence and immigration.
Home Office Ministers responsible for immigration matters will know that there is blanket hostility to immigrants, especially brown and black people, until there is a specific case. The public then examine the humanitarian issues involved and may want to make exceptions. I suspect that the same is true of public attitudes when there is a specific instance of the possible disposal of a human life. Historically, public attention has always varied in proportion to the horrific nature of the crime.
As I did not know how many Opposition Members would have the chance to take part in the debate and I was conscious of your warning, Mr. Speaker, about the large number of hon. Members who wished to take part—especially Conservative Members, although I appreciate that this is a non-party matter—I intervened earlier to try to explain my position to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) who has always been an activist in this matter. I had to narrow the matter down, and in doing so I thought in terms of the military situation 668 that the hon. Gentleman sought to introduce, allying this matter to the Falkland Islands situation. That is a wartime situation. I am not a pacifist and in certain circumstances, if I were a military commander, only the firing squad would suffice.
That is not the situation here. Although many Opposition Members wish fundamentally to change the society in which we live, we cherish its liberties and processes as a whole and we cherish the nature of our national debates to rationalise these matters. When the London Television network sought a round-up of opinion in advance of today's debate to find out where Members of Parliament stood as individuals, I said that I do not tell people in advance exactly how I shall vote. I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, although I pulled his leg a little today, and I know that he reflects a large body of public opinion. Nevertheless, I believe that his conclusions are wrong, because I do not believe that people have considered coolly and calmly, in a national debate, the pros and cons, as has the Home Secretary. Moreover, the Home Secretary's views were buttressed in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).
I have listened to a number of these debates over the years. Today we had a massive, reasoned statement from the Home Secretary which, in my view, is well worth reading by those not privileged to be in the House when it was made. He made an unanswerable case against the restoration of capital punishment.
In the end, however, it comes down to me. Even in cases of the most hideous crime, am I prepared in normal peacetime circumstances and normal civilised conditions to dispose of a human being? That is the question that I put to members of my family circle and beyond who, from a distance, argued for the restoration of capital punishment. Could they play the role of the executioner, the hangman? Some say "Yes", but most shy away from that challenge. In the final analysis, however, that must be the question, because we are asking the judicial process, the judges, and ultimately the Home Secretary, to make that lonely decision, unless the old system is changed to something new, which the Home Secretary was hinting at but which is unlikely to take place.
Criminals and murderers are not let off in this country. As has been suggested, to some extent life imprisonment—if that is really what it is—or imprisonment for the best part of a person's life is a far worse punishment. Certainly my mentality recoils from it. Indeed, we have to prevent those serving life sentences from having in their cells the means to dispose of themselves. I remember a Tory candidate in one by-election suggesting that hardened criminals should be provided with the wherewithal to dispose of themselves, but we have rightly recoiled from that. Also, some people come out of prison to lead serious, successful and useful lives when, after the sifting process of probation and so on, they eventually emerge from incarceration.
I have been open-minded and listened to the whole debate, but nothing has deflected me from my view that it would be a nationally decadent step to carry any of the new clauses, either the straight one to which I have alluded or any of the more idiotic gradations of sentencing.
I make a special appeal to the House. I understand that the wind-up is expected to begin at 9.40 669 pm, which gives us 50 minutes by my arithmetic. If speeches were limited to 10 minutes, we could have at least five.
§ Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Liverpool, Garston)
It is quite clear that there is a great deal that is not clear. It has been said, I think by the Home Secretary in his remarks, that when one looks at the question of the deterrent it is a marginal decision as to whether the statistics back up or disprove the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) referred to the fact that there is no easy solution to the problems of law and order and the increase in violence, not only in this country but in any civilised society throughout the world.
I believe we should seek to add to the range of punishments that are offered by the courts. It has been said that a deterrent is the certainty of detection coupled with an effective punishment. Many of us believe that the ultimate deterrent, the finality of death, is the best deterrent for certain classes of capital murder. There are a number of clauses before the House and I particularly support the all-embracing one that seeks capital punishment for the wilful and unlawful taking of another person's life.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) talked about the distinctions drawn by the Homicide Act 1957 and the fact that they were unacceptable to public opinion. I believe that it has been shown quite clearly that it is almost impossible to draw such distinctions in the House. I believe strongly that we should answer what I believe are the people's overwhelming wishes. It has been said that we are not here as delegates. That is quite true. The views that I hold are views I have held for a long time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon said, he and I received today from people in the North-West—the majority of whom actually live on Merseyside—a petition of almost 125,000 signatures asking the House to restore capital punishment to our courts. In my constituency we recently undertook a sample survey of 1,000 voters and 960 of them were in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment. There is a tremendous level of public support.
I do not ask any of my colleagues to act against their wishes or their consciences. I am certain that they feel as strongly as I do, but I believe that they should, in all conscience, recognise that public opinion is equally strong. I believe that it is important to point out, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup mentioned, that there is a degree of confusion in the public mind when it calls for capital punishment to be restored. The public somehow believe that, by doing that, all violent crime will suddenly disappear from our society. I do not suggest that that is so. I suggest that for this most heinous of crimes—the wilful taking of someone else's life—the death penalty should be the ultimate deterrent. It is because I believe that it is a deterrent that I support the new clauses.
Arguments may be marginal on either side, but it is important that hon. Members should say why they are prepared to support a course of action. I go back to the occasion when, as a very young man, I talked to a prison chaplain who had officiated at the executions of three murderers. He talked about not only his own experiences but the experiences of some of his colleagues. Between them, they had officiated at the executions of 11 murderers.
670 Obviously, many of us were interested to know what he felt about the death sentence. He said many things, but one thing especially stuck in my mind and I can recall his words to this day. He said that when a man is taken to be hanged it is an especially horrible experience. He is seldom able to walk and is usually dragged. He is out of control. He is vomiting with fear and unable to control his bowels. The prison chaplain said:It is an experience which we all found extremely degrading—an experience which, because we were them on behalf of society, must inevitably degrade society as well. But do not ever, ever, underestimate the deterrent effect of that most awful punishment".The thought of being hanged by the neck until one is dead, which as we all know is an extremely clinical way of despatching someone, would certainly act as a deterrent to me. It should be available to our courts and the vast majority of our fellow citizens believe in it. For that reason, I shall go into the Lobby tonight and vote for the new clauses.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
The lion. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton) has expressed a belief—no doubt sincerely—about the value, as he considers it, of capital punishment, but he did not elicit any evidence in support of that conclusion. I find it impressive that Home Secretary after Home Secretary in successive Governments of different political colours has formed the view that there is no satisfactory evidence that capital punishment provides a deterrent effect. Home Secretary after Home Secretary has concluded that the judgment of the House of Commons, as expressed for many years now, has been what he would wish. That is impressive because such people speak with considerable experience. A volume of evidence is available to them in making that judgment. The present Home Secretary expressed precisely that view today.
Like most hon. Members, I have travelled in many countries where the death penalty prevails, but I have found no evidence in countries comparable to Britain that the position is demonstrably better in their inner city areas than here. Often it is significantly worse. The burden of establishing that capital punishment should be resurrected in Britain lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those who wish to re-establish it.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
Would the hon. Member confirm that one of the most vehement opponents of the argument of capital punishment being a deterrent is the former official hangman, Mr. Pierrepount, whose book on the subject—"Execution"—should be read with great care?
§ Mr. Davis
I had not thought, Mr. Speaker, that I fad said anything remarkable or contentious up to now but the House seems to be in a tizz about it.
Several propositions have been put before us about categorisation. None of the propositions is new. Of course, 671 hon. Members have properly referred to the experience of the Homicide Act 1957 in which capital murder was categorised. Murder in the furtherance of theft, by shooting or explosion, murder to prevent arrest, the murder of a policeman or the murder by a prisoner of a prison officer were categorised in that Act as capital murders. But grave anomalies were revealed, both as to sentencing and as to definition. That is what some hon. Members want to foist on us again. That would be a cardinal error.
There are many reasons why capital punishment should not be reintroduced. I support particularly the argument about mistakes. I was interested to hear the arguments adduced by the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve). He accepted that mistakes might occur but thought that, however sad, that was a risk that should be accepted. I am not prepared to accept that risk.
In regard to the sort of mistakes that can occur, there is the innocent mistake that all advocates come across at some stage in their professional practice. I have been a lawyer since 1953 and have practised in the criminal courts for a long time. Often there is an innocent mistake about the identity of the assailant or the accused. Of course, careful directions are given by the trial judge about that sort of matter but I recall a case, not one of murder, where my client was positvely identified by two witnesses who could not be shaken. They had no room for doubt, but they were absolutely and totally wrong. Many such experiences could be revealed to the House by lawyers who have appeared in criminal cases over the years. In that instance we were able to establish an alibi but it is not always easy to do so. Often it is difficult to obtain corroborative evidence to support an alibi.
Again there is often a mistake about what was said, the circumstances in which it was said and who said it. These aspects of evidence can often lead to a jury finding someone guilty, but they may be wrong. Capital punishment means that such mistakes cannot be repaired.
Then there is the deliberate mistake, where a jury may be induced to make mistakes because of concocted evidence, such as "verbals" or planting. These things happen in real life, regrettable though they may be.
§ Mr. Davis
That is an absolute statement by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure there are many lawyers who would disagree fundamentally with his conclusion.
The risks are grave indeed. They are notably grave where the defendant has a record and where, perhaps, the prosecution genuinely believes that he has committed the offence but where the evidence is a little threadbare.
There have been a number of cases—I will not cite them all—where people have served sentences of imprisonment in murder cases for long periods of time and then had their sentences quashed. A posthumous pardon provides little satisfaction to anybody.
I agree with those Conservative Members who spoke about the dreadful symbolism in the taking of life by the State. I was recently in South Africa where I attempted to see a prisoner in Pretoria prison. I do not begin to compare that tawdry and corrupt society with our own, but I will never forget the haunted faces of relatives who were 672 visiting their loved ones day after day, waiting for the day when their loved ones' lives were to be extinguished. It is not a happy situation.
For me, that situation made a reality of something that I had not witnessed for many years. When I was an articled clerk my firm was engaged in the Ruth Ellis case, although only towards the end. It was a ghoulish situation indeed. I never want to see a situation recur where people wait outside the prison gates for the notice to be posted, for the bell to toll, waiting to see some signification that the prisoner's life has been taken, because it is not the sign of a civilised society.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby)
I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) will forgive me if I do not pursue him too far down the road that he has signposted.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member of Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) on his initiative in introducing this debate. It has proved to be extremely worth while.
I am pleased that the debate is taking place without the added pressure of emotion. Thankfully, there has not recently been an infamous murder, such as the brutal killing of a paper boy some years ago, the Moors murders or the kidnapping of Leslie Whittle when she was taken into a tunnel and murdered. There is no emotive case fuelling today's debate. There are no screaming headlines. There are no distraught parents or anguished friends. There is only the realisation that society evidently cannot protect itself effectively from those who are not prepared to live by the rules that bind most of us. That underlines the strength of today's arguments for the return of capital punishment. It is not being pressed in this Chamber in heat as a result of some recent terrible action. The debate is the more thoughtful and the more reasoned because of the absence of such emotional pressures. Yet, as I said, it certainly underlines the strength of public feeling on this issue. Public opinion demands the return of capital punishment. That it can be argued coolly and unemotionally in the Chamber reflects well on all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.
I am convinced that the death penalty constitutes a real and substantial deterrent.
§ Mr. Pawsey
The hon. Gentleman asks me to prove it. If he is patient and listens to my argument, perhaps he, too, if he has an open mind, will be convinced of the strength of my argument.
The overwhelming majority of people believe in the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Criminals and murderers are part of that same society. Therefore, I see no reason why they should be different from the mass of society, in this instance at least. If that majority of society believes it to be a deterrent, it follows logically that the majority of those who might be tempted to commit murder will likewise be influenced and the existence of the death penalty will therefore have a considerable deterrent effect.
Those who favour the continued abolition of the death penalty have, throughout the debate, produced a string of statistics that allegedly support their view. I am reminded of a quotation:lies, damned lies, and statistics.I am also reminded that selective figures may be produced to bolster and substantiate virtually any argument that one 673 wishes to advance. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, the numbers of homicides has doubled since 1964. That is fact, not myth. The death penalty would be a positive deterrent to certain types of murder. That would certainly include the murder of a police or prison officer.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
I have taken part in five murder inquiries and arrested a murderer. The last case of a police officer being killed in the execution of his duty occurred in the Merseyside police force in July last year. Constable Davonport was murdered. His assailants were convicted and sentenced to four years and two months imprisonment.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend, who is certainly learned in this matter. That instance helps to underline the strength of my case. The death penalty would also be an effective deterrent to premeditated murder. Under that heading, I include the carrying of a firearm. I mention that because, according to Mr. Kelland, assistant commissioner for crime in the Metropolitan Police, firearms were used in 1,415 offences last year compared with 767 offences in 1980. Clearly the increase in the use of firearms has resulted in an increase of the number of people at risk. No doubt we shall shortly read that someone has been shot and killed in the futherance of a criminal act. But fewer criminals would carry firearms if they knew the penalty that would probably be exacted from them if their victim died.
It cannot be argued—as hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought to do—that life imprisonment is a significant deterrent for violent crime. Violent crime continues to increase and, therefore, a deterrent that clearly does not deter is worthless. I am also convinced that fewer people would be maimed and injured if the death penalty were in existence, for the criminal would know that, if his aim were a little less sure or his blow a little less precise and his victim died instead of being desperately disabled, he would pay the penalty.
Criminals calculate just as we do. They will weigh up the risks and decide that it is not worth carrying a firearm or weapon. Therefore, the introduction of the death penalty will have a significant effect not only on the number of murders committed but on the number of violent assaults against the person, particularly assaults in which a high degree of violence is involved.
§ Mr. Pawsey
In an earlier intervention the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) asked how I could believe that the public were in favour of restoring the death penalty. I am quite prepared to put the issue to a referendum, because I am confident of the outcome of such a referendum.
§ Mr. Flannery
The hon. Gentleman, I hope not deliberately, has totally misquoted me. I never said to him that he should prove to me that the general public would 'agree with his stance. He said that he would prove that capital punishment was a deterrent, and I said to him `Trove it". So the hon. Gentleman has utterly distorted what I said. What is more, he has not given one iota of proof about the subject that I asked him to prove.
§ Mr. Pawsey
The hon. Member has not been listening carefully. One of the snags of making sedentary interventions is that one can be misunderstood.
I come back to the argument. The fact that we rightly exercise our individual judgment in the House and make up our own minds is clearly good for parliamentary democracy. However, in another sense it may weaken that same parliamentary democracy, because we are clearly shown to be at variance with the overwhelming wishes of our constituents.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I shall not give way. There are other hon. Members who wish to speak.
The electorate may well question the effectiveness of Parliament and democracy when it sees proceedings in this place running counter to the wishes of the majority. After all, we accept majority decisions in our lives, and it is a majority decision that brings hon. Members to the House.
To disregard the wishes of the public brings the institution of Parliament into question. I do not advocate Members of Parliament becoming populists, but we should accept that perhaps the people have a point. On this issue they might be right and the majority in the House might be wrong. I do not particularly enjoy advocating capital punishment, because it is a penalty that I personally find repugnant. However, I find equally repugnant the murder of those who, if the penalty had truly reflected the crime, might be alive today.
One of the arguments that is often advanced against capital punishment is the risk that an innocent person might be properly tried and yet wrongly convicted. That is the principal objection. I recognise it and take it into account. However, such cases are rare. The point was well made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) who spoke from personal experience on the matter. I respect the advocacy that he presented to the House.
We must have a balance sheet with, on the one hand, the loss of one or perhaps two innocent lives through judicial procedure, and, on the other, the loss of innocent lives by acts of murder that would have been prevented had an effective deterrent been in existence. The balance sheet of life would show that many more people would be alive today if capital punishment had been retained.
Justice should be as nearly perfect as we can get it in an imperfect world. Clearly the death penalty should be exacted only when all the proper and judicial procedures have been exhausted. I am aware that no human justice can be perfect, and that even the cleverest judge and jury can be fallible. Even knowing that there is a risk of an innocent person being convicted and executed, as an indication of my sincerity and belief that the deterrent will work, I advocate the reintroduction of the death penalty tonight. I shall therefore vote for the new clauses.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
In debating the issue whether a convicted murderer should be liable to capital punishment, we have to face the fact that no punishment is presently available to British courts which acts as a deterrent to murder. The figures prove it, and the people know it. Although it would not be right for hon. Members to vote on this issue under pressure, or to vote against their conscience, they should take into consideration the clearly expressed and overwhelming opinion of the British people in deciding the issue.
675 To consider that opinion is one thing. I am not saying that we should be shepherded into the Lobbies by it if it is against our consciences, but we should consider it. I do not think that the British people are bloodthirsty, vindictive, stupid, overemotional or thoughtless. They are apprehensive and fearful. Whatever the statistics may be said to show, the people know that there are more murders today than they can ever remember in the past. I have been amazed to hear hon. Members suggest that it is otherwise. Only a few years ago, a murder would make the headlines. Today, in practically every paper that we pick up we find that in several instances small paragraphs are sufficient to contain the news about a murder.
To a certain extent, statistics have been fudged by the renaming of so many murders as manslaughter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) mentioned that point. In Birmingham recently, while a man was working peaceably on his allotment, two young thugs came up who wanted to steal his car to impress a couple of girls. They battered him to death. According to the statistics, that is manslaughter. I cannot understand it. Recently, an old lady was stabbed to death by robbers in her corner shop for the few pounds in her till. According to the statistics, that is manslaughter. Even when police on duty today are killed in the execution of their duty, time and again the case is down as manslaughter. I find that difficult to follow.
We should listen to what the people say. I am certain that they want Parliament to protect them. In deciding this issue, we must take that into consideration. The great question that we have been debating is whether capital punishment would deter. Some hon. Members believe that it would not. I respect their view. They have a perfect right to express it and to vote in support of that view. Equally, I have a right to say that I cannot believe that capital punishment does not deter.
I have no doubt that, faced with the possibility of losing his life, a potential murderer, in most cases—not all cases—would draw back. The only reson why I support new clause 22 and making the sentence of capital punishment available to the courts is that I want to save life. I am not interested in the least in revenge.
In the debate hon. Members' views are coloured 95 per cent. by their own convictions and 5 per cent. by statistics. That is wise because statistics on this matter can be made to prove anything. We are making up our minds. We should listen to the evidence. I have been surprised that in the whole debate there has been so little reference to the evidence of the Police Federation. Whatever we may feel and whatever our convictions may be, the members of the Police Federation are 99.7 per cent. adamant that capital punishment would deter. We should listen to the experts.
Many times in the debate the old argument has been brought up about the possibility of mistakes being made and of innocent people being hanged. What has not been brought up in the debate or in any other debate on the issue is the fact that on record there are now a large and frightening number of known murderers who have been convicted, sent to prison and let out and who have murdered again.
I shall give a few names. There was Wesley Churchman, who murdered in 1958 before the abolition of the death penalty. He was imprisoned for his crime and released in June 1964 and murdered a man called Mr. 676 Alfred Martin. Donald Forbes murdered a night watchman. He was imprisoned and then released on parole in May 1970; he killed again in July 1970. Mr. Simcox, who had relatives in my constituency, murdered his wife in 1948. He was released and murdered his sister in 1964.
There are many others, and I have spent a considerable time investigating their cases. There was Abdul Hussin, Kenneth Sharley, Terence Iliffe, Bryan Knight, John George Robinson, Stefan Sterncynski and Leslie Goodall. George Unsworth killed a prostitute in 1970, was released from prison in 1979, and eight months later killed a little boy of 8. In 1977 Vincent Smith stabbed and beat a man to death. He was given life imprisonment and while in prison strangled a young cellmate. Arthur Wynne was freed from a life sentence for murder. He was a model prisoner, undertaking an Open University degree course and getting his BA degree with flying colours. He was a splendid prisoner. Two months after his release he strangled a 23-year-old girl.
There are many more such cases. Time prevents me from citing them all. In a fairly short time in the Library last night I found no fewer than 18 examples of convicted murderers who had been released and had murdered again. It has been adduced that the overwhelming majority of murders are committed within the family. Out of those 18 murders, seven initial murders were committed on members of the family, but 10 were committed on strangers. The argument that murders are nearly all family matters does not stand up. It is absolutely certain, beyond peradventure, that between 20 and 25 people were killed by those released murderers. Many of those people would have been alive today if capital punishment had not been abolished.
§ Mrs. Knight
No. I am trying to get through my speech as quickly as I can.
The arguments run thick and fast, but because they are so well balanced we must in the end come back to the evidence of the experts and the conviction of hon. Members. Every point put forward on this subject has a counterbalancing argument. I cannot believe, as one hon. Member said, that if we brought back capital punishment there would be a rush of people anxious for the glory and drama of facing the gallows who would murder because of the dramatic effect. That does not make sense.
The argument has been put forward that capital punishment would coarsen society. Society was not as coarse when we had capital punishment as it is today. There was much more respect for people's lives. Again and again all the arguments have their counterbalance. I do not like the fact that the police carry guns and kill without judge and jury. However, that is necessary in todays circumstances. We have capital punishment in' Britain today, and to a large extent it is capital punishment for the young, the old, the innocent and the helpless. That worries me. Not once tonight has a reason been put forward that convinces me that a return to the threat of capital punishment would not save life. On that basis shall support the new clauses tonight.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
I wish that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) 677 had given way during her speech, because some of her remarks were inaccurate and must be corrected. Many of the people on her list were not convicted murderers.
§ Miss Lestor
They are convicted murderers only if initially charged with the crime of murder. Many of them were charged with the crime of manslaughter. That point was not made by the hon. Lady.
§ Miss Lestor
I shall not give way. The hon. Lady did not give way during her speech and so she must remain seated and take it for a moment.
The more important argument is that many of the people on the hon. Lady's list, even if we had retained capital punishment, would not have been hanged, because of the circumstances of the crime they committed. The hon. Lady must be accurate when she brings forward such evidence.
Earlier, an hon. Member said that it was worth the lives of a few innocent people to ensure this great deterrent of capital punishment. I wish he would say that to the family of Timothy Evans, who was hanged and later pardoned; to the family of James Hanratty, over whom much doubt still exists and has existed ever since he was hanged for murder; and to the parents of Bentley, an educationally subnormal young man who was hanged for a crime that he did not commit because at no time was it ever alleged that he fired the shot that killed.
I wish that those hon. Members who say that it is worth sacrificing innocent lives so that the rest of us may go in safety would face those parents, some of whom I have met, and put that argument to them. I doubt very much whether they would make the same suggestion if it were their sons who were hanged for murders that they did not commit.
Many hon. Members have talked a great deal about the deterrent value. We have heard about the prison chaplain who spoke of the horror and indignity of a man being dragged from prison to be hanged. That chaplain said that, although it was horrific, we should never underestimate the deterrent value of such an event. On that argument, we had better go back to public hanging, because, thank God, most of us will never witness such a thing. If the deterrent value in hanging lies in the drama, tragedy and horrific nature of the ceremony that surrounds it, we must go back to public hanging. In effect, that chaplain was saying "Let people see what I have seen and they will be deterred from murder." That is what must happen, because that is the logic of the argument.
Other hon. Members who support the reintroduction of capital punishment have said in simplicity that society is more violent today—I am not convinced of that—and that it follows that if we had hanging for certain types of murder people would be deterred.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston gave an example of a person who had committed the crime of manslaugher or murder at a time when capital punishment existed. Therefore, it was not a deterrent to that person. Nevertheless, the argument is that people will be deterred.
The arguments and all the evidence do not sustain that view. Whether we are more violent now than previously is something that we must debate on another occasion. I 678 look to South Africa, where a quarter of all executions by States or countries take place. That is a most violent society—[Interruption.] There is nothing wrong with my figures. I said that a quarter of all the executions in the world take place in South Africa. South Africa is an extremely violent society.
I look to Iran, where, despite the most hideous penalties, including various types of death sentence, people again and again risk those penalties and suffer them to oppose a regime about which they feel deeply.
In America, the situation varies between States as to whether they have capital punishment or not.
The evidence in support of the deterrent argument is very weak indeed. People trot out the referendum argument when they believe that it will be on their side. But whatever our constituents may say, they have a choice. They can say to us at the end of the day "We do not agree with what you did; therefore, we shall seek a representative who supports our views on capital punishment." Alternatively, we must go to them and say "These are my views. This is what I believe. Just because you believe something else, I cannot vote for something that I believe to be damaging and brutalising to our society with no evidence to suggest that it will deter one individual or make our society any better."
Many people who take refuge in the argument that hanging is a deterrent run away from some of the more difficult problems about why a minority of people behave in the way that they do and how we can begin to change social conditions and circumstances to prevent it from happening.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I have listened to most of this debate and I do not wish to comment on any speech except to say that we have had two notable speeches from the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that he thought that this debate should not have taken place so soon after the last debate on this subject. I agree with him and I hope that there will be no repetition of this debate, at least in this Parliament.
Most of the debate has revolved around the question whether the death penalty is a deterrent. We used to speak of the death penalty as being a deterrent against murder, but the argument has now been extended so that even the Police Federation is speaking of it as being a deterrent against not only murder but violent crime generally. This reasoning has been taken up in the country and, to some extent, in the House itself. Some people are beginning to say that the abolition of the death penalty is a cause of all violent crime. I do not accept that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), in a good speech from his point of view, somewhat destroyed his own case. He said that when he was a Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency, there was much violent crime in Glasgow, especially among young people. It was stamped out because the courts began to take a strong line on imprisonment and imposed heavier prison sentences against the young razor gangs in Glasgow. Therefore, I believe that my hon. Friend destroyed his argument that the death penalty alone is a means by which violent crime can be reduced. There 679 are other means of reducing violent crime, and one of them is to increase prison sentences and the rigours of the prison system.
My position has changed since we last debated capital punishment. I then voted in favour of the death penalty for those who murdered police officers, prison warders and the like. I do not intend to repeat that. I shall not vote for the death penalty in any circumstances. I shall give two reasons, and only two reasons, why I have changed my mind and will therefore change my vote. First, recently a man in Leeds sought to apprehend someone who was committing a burglary. The burglar turned on the man. That man, who was really making a citizens' arrest, was killed.
If there were the death penalty only for those who killed policemen, the relatives of that man, acting as a policeman, and the country would have had no redress. The man who had committed the murder would not have suffered the death penalty under most of the proposed new clauses. Do the police really want cover for themselves but not cover for other citizens who are trying to hold back those who are violent?
My second reason for a change of mind is the jury system that now exists. This matter was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hillhead, but he did not take it as far as I intend to do. In a system where there is both a unanimous verdict and a majority verdict, is it not inevitable that among the 12 people on the jury there would be at least two, perhaps three and maybe more, who would be opposed to the death penalty?. They would be reluctant to contribute towards a unanimous verdict. I do not believe that any judge would put on the black cap and inflict the death penalty under a majority verdict. In practical terms, I believe that there would hardly ever be a unanimous verdict if the death penalty were available.
Most of our constituents do not understand the difficulties. I become as mad as anyone when I hear of some of the murders that take place. I do not think that the number of murders of police officers has greatly increased, although the number of murders generally has increased. Of course I should myself feel like murdering any person who had committed a murder. My instincts are no different from those of my constituents. I believe, however, that hon. Members have to be practical. In practical terms, I do not believe that it is possible to bring back the death penalty.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I am sorry to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) has changed his mind and will not be accompanying in the Lobby those who support the return of capital punishment. I have little time in which to try to change my hon. Friend's mind again, but I am not entirely without hope.
This has been a most impressive and, at the same time, most disturbing debate. A distinguished contribution was made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who gave a cool and careful appraisal of the arguments both for the reintroduction of capital punishment and for retaining the present position.
The debate has also been distinguished by the speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), a former Home Secretary, who, as I understood 680 him, said that if he could be satisfied that the security and protective effect of capital punishment did what it was purported to do by its supporters he would think again.
I should like also to mention the authoritative and impressive contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), a former Prime Minister, who used those sweet words of Edmund Burke instructing Members of this House that they must act according to their conscience. Those words, coming from a former Chief Whip, gave an authority and comfort that otherwise they would not have had.
Three new clauses have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) that attempt to bring in capital punishment for specific forms of murder—for murder by terrorists, for murder by firearms, and for the murder of police officers and prison officers. The clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) adds to those three categories capital punishment for robbery and burglary with offensive weapons.
Each of those clauses is an illustration of the way that capital punishment could be used if it were reintroduced. The clause in my name, and the names of my hon. Friends, is an attempt to give the House the opportunity of voting on the general principle of whether we ought to reintroduce capital punishment into our law.
We all know, and have known for a long time, that the overwhelming majority of people in this country—our constituents—want the death penalty to be reintroduced because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the death penalty is a deterrent—a unique deterrent that no other punishment can replace, will give hope of reducing the numbers of murders, and will provide a safeguard for those innocent lives that may otherwise be lost at the hands of potential murderers.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Does my hon. Friend think that the sixth vote—which is what tonight's will be—on capital punishment will persuade the people in this country who believe that Parliament is not in step with them that it is in step? Does he not consider that perhaps a referendum is the only way by which Parliament and people can come together over this issue?
§ Mr. Gardner
I have seen my hon. Friend's amendment, as we all have. Let us wait to see what tonight's vote produces before deciding what to do if it produces the wrong result.
There is no doubt that we are called upon tonight to decide by our vote whether we can reflect in the House, by a majority, the view of most people by restoring capital punishment to the legal punishments that are available for murder.
If it were possible to be persuaded that without capital punishment there is remaining to the law a deterrent as effective as capital punishment many of us would have to think again. The view of those of us who want the return of capital punishment is that there is no other alternative that will give the effect that we want to achieve and that capital punishment undoubtedly provides. Whatever our views on capital punishment, we all agree that the paramount duty of the State is to protect innocent human life with the best possible means available.
The protection of human life is a duty higher than any duty to protect the property. The vital question that we are 681 debating—it is vital to the people of Britain, whatever the House may think about it—is how best we can provide the best means of giving the best protection against murder.
The death penalty is undoubtedly a terrible punishment, but it is a punishment for a terrible crime. It is the gravest of all crimes which deserves, in the opinion of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment of 1953, the gravest of all punishments. Can anyone doubt that the death penalty is a deterrent? But what kind of deterrent is it?
We believe that by reintroducing capital punishment we can materially lessen the risk to innocent lives of death by murder. Those hon. Members who support new clause 22 believe that the death penalty is the most powerful and effective deterrent, the most likely deterrent to deal with and suppress any intention to kill and that there is no other form of punishment that compares with it. In other words, it is a unique deterrent. Dr. Johnson said that those who contemplate this punishment have their minds concentrated. It could be added that there is nothing more likely to persuade a professional criminal to leave his gun at home than the prospect of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Frank R. White (Bury and Radcliffe)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Albert Pierrepoint, the last official executioner in Britain, in his autobiography concluded, having faced murderers eye to eye, at that last terrible moment before putting the noose over the neck, that no single act of hanging had been a deterrent?
§ Mr. Gardner
He did write that in his book, but he said later that he had changed his mind. In any event, it seems to me, as it may seem to the House, that that is a completely irrelevant point. There is nothing so terrible as the death penalty. In 1964, Henry Brooke, a former Home Secretary, in the debate on Mr. Silverman's Bill, said:I think that if it can be shown that by retaining the death penalty for some or all types of murder one is materially lessening the likelihood of innocent people suffering death by murder, then there is no ground or moral principle on which one should dismiss the death penalty … it is a unique deterrent."—[Official Report, 21 December 1964; Vol. 704, c. 908.]Mr. Brooke was saying what I understood the right hon. Member for Hillhead to say, that if he could be satisfied that the death penalty was effective there were no moral grounds for opposing it. That is the case for the abolitionist—for the person who does not want to have the death penalty back. It is a question of the onus of proof.
Speaker after speaker in the debate has said that the onus of proving that the death penalty is an effective deterrent lies on the shoulders of those who assert it. The burden of proving that the death penalty is not a deterrent lies well within the province of those who are trying to defeat our attempts to reintroduce it. If someone could establish with any certainty that capital punishment is no more effective as a deterrent than life imprisonment, he would have a formidable argument and those of us who want to see the reintroduction of the death penalty might well have to think again. However, no one has established that. There is no evidence to that effect.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that he thought that those of us who want to reintroduce capital punishment are acting on a hunch. He said that there is no conclusive evidence on either side of the argument. He claimed that the statistics do not add up and that the figures do not make sense. He argued that we cannot produce a conclusive argument from such figures. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we 682 are acting on a hunch, what is he acting on when he invites the House to reject our arguments? How can anyone believe and accept that capital punishment is to be equated with life imprisonment as a punishment?
Life imprisonment does not mean what it says. It holds out the continuous hope of release on licence. The police do not believe that life imprisonment can be equated with the death penalty, and nor do prison officers. The enormous majority of the public who have made their views known do not believe it either. In common with them, those of us who want to reintroduce capital punishment do not believe it either, and that is why those of us who support the clauses will vote for them in the Division. I hope that other hon. Members will follow our good example.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:
§ The House proceeded to a Division:—
Would the four Tellers come to the Table, please?
MR. MARCUS Fox, MR. GEORGE GARDINER, MR. ALFRED DUBS and MR. JOHN MAXTON, who had been named as Tellers in the Division, came to the Table.
§ Mr. George Gardiner ( Reigate)
In the "No" Lobby, Mr. Speaker, there is a dispute between the Tellers over the counting procedure, so we have halted counting and we are not in a position to complete it.
Under those circumstances I shall put the Question again and call the Division a second time.
§ Question again put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 195, Noes 357.686
|Division No. 142]||[10.16 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Cockeram, Eric|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Cormack, Patrick|
|Alexander, Richard||Corrie, John|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Costain, Sir Albert|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Crouch, David|
|Atkins, Robert (Presfon N)||Dean, Paul (North Somerset)|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Dover, Denshore|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Dunnett, Jack|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Eggar, Tim|
|Blackburn, John||Eyre, Reginald|
|Blaker, Peter||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Farr, John|
|Bowden, Andrew||Fell, Sir Anthony|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bright, Graham||Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh|
|Brinton, Tim||Fry, Peter|
|Brotherton, Michael||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Goodhew, Sir Victor|
|Burden, Sir Frederick||Gorst, John|
|Butcher, John||Gray, Hamish|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Grieve, Percy|
|Cant, R. B.||Griffiths, E.(B'ySt. Edm'dis)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Grylls, Michael|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hamilton, Hon A.|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hannám, John|
|Hastings, Stephen||Price, SirDavid (Eastleigh)|
|Hawkins, Paul||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Hawksley, Warren||Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)|
|Heddle, John||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Henderson, Barry||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Hicks, Robert||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Hill, James||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas(Gr'th'm)||Roberts, Albert(Normanton)|
|Holland, Philip(Carlton)||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D.(G'ldf'd)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Howell, Ralph (NNorfolk)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rost, Peter|
|Jessel, Toby||Shaw, Michael(Scarborough)|
|Kaberry, SirDonald||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Shepherd, Richard|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Silvester, Fred|
|Kimball, Sir Marcus||Sims, Roger|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Lang, Ian||Smith, Dudley|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Latham, Michael||Speller, Tony|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Spence, John|
|Lee, John||Spicer, Jim (WestDorset)|
|LeMarchant, Spencer||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)||Sproat, Iain|
|Loveridge, John||Stainton, Keith|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stanbrook, lvor|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Stanley, John|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (NewF'st)||Steen, Anthony|
|McQuade, John||Stevens, Martin|
|Marland, Paul||Stewart, A. (ERenfrewshire)|
|Marlow, Antony||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Mates, Michael||Stokes, John|
|Mather, Carol||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Mawby, Ray||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Mills, Iain(Meriden)||Thompson, Donald|
|Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Thorne, Neil(IlfordSouth)|
|Molyneaux, James||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Trippier, David|
|Moore, John||Trotter, Neville|
|Morgan, Geraint||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Viggers, Peter|
|Mudd, David||Wakeham, John|
|Murphy, Christopher||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Neubert, Michael||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Normanton, Tom||Ward, John|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Warren, Kenneth|
|Osborn, John||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Wilkinson, John|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Williams, D. (Montgomery)|
|Parris, Matthew||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Wolfson, Mark|
|Percival, Sir Ian||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Mr. George Gardiner and|
|Pollock, Alexander||Mr. Marcus Fox.|
|Abse, Leo||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)|
|Adams, Allen||Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)|
|Allaun, Frank||Beith, A.J.|
|Alton, David||Benn, Rt Hon Tony|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Bennett, Andrew(St'kp'tN)|
|Ancram, Michael||Benyon, Thomas (A 'don)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Best, Keith|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Ashton, Joe||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey)||Body, Richard|
|Bagier, Gordon A.T.||Booth, Rt Hon Albert|
|Baker, Kenneth (Sf.M'bone)||Boothroyd, Miss Betty|
|Banks, Robert||Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Flannery, Martin|
|Bradley, Tom||Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)|
|Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Ford, Ben|
|Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)||Forman, Nigel|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)||Forrester, John|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Foster, Derek|
|Buchan, Norman||Foulkes, George|
|Buck, Antony||Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)|
|Budgen, Nick||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Freud, Clement|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n&P)||Garrett, John (NorwichS)|
|Campbell, Ian||George, Bruce|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Ginsburg, David|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R 'c'n)||Golding, John|
|Carmichael, Neil||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gow, Ian|
|Cartwright, John||Graham, Ted|
|Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Grist, Ian|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Coleman, Donald||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hardy, Peter|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Cook, Robin F.||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Cope, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Cowans, Harry||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Cox, T. (W'dsw't h, Toot'g)||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Haynes, Frank|
|Critchley, Julian||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Crowther, Stan||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Cryer, Bob||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cunningham, G.(IslingtonS)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L|
|Cunningham, Dr J.(W'h'n)||Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Holland, S.(L'b'th, Vauxh'll)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Home Robertson, John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Homewood, William|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hooley, Frank|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hooson, Tom|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Horam, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Hordern, Peter|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Howell, Rt Hon D.|
|Dewar, Donald||Howells, Geraint|
|Dixon, Donald||Huckfield, Les|
|Dobson, Frank||Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Dormand, Jack||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Douglas, Dick||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Dunn, James A.||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Dykes, Hugh||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillhead)|
|Eadie, Alex||John, Brynmor|
|Eastham, Ken||JohnsonSmith, Geoffrey|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'nSE)||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Ellis, R. (NED'bysh're)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|English, Michael||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Kerr, Russell|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Ewing, Harry||Kinnock, Neil|
|Fairgrieve, Sir Russell||Knox, David|
|Faulds, Andrew||Lambie, David|
|Field, Frank||Lamborn, Harry|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Lamond, James|
|Fitch, Alan||Lamont, Norman|
|Fitt, Gerard||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Race, Reg|
|Leighton, Ronald||Radice, Giles|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Renton, Tim|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Litherland, Robert||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)||Richardson, Jo|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Luce, Richard||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Robertson, George|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rooker, J. W.|
|MacGregor, John||Roper, John|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Rossi, Hugh|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Rowlands, Ted|
|McKelvey, William||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Maclennan, Robert||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M.||Sandelson, Neville|
|McNally, Thomas||Scott, Nicholas|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sever, John|
|McTaggart, Robert||Sheerman, Barry|
|McWilliam, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Madel, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Magee, Bryan||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Major, John||Short, Mrs Renée|
|Marks, Kenneth||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. (Dulwich)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Silverman, Julius|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Snape, Peter|
|Meacher, Michael||Soley, Clive|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Mellor, David||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Squire, Robin|
|Mikardo, Ian||Stallard, A. W.|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Stoddart, David|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Stott, Roger|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Strang, Gavin|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)||Straw, Jack|
|Moate, Roger||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Morton, George||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)|
|Myles, David||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Needham, Richard||Tilley, John|
|Nelson, Anthony||Tinn, James|
|Newens, Stanley||Torney, Tom|
|Newton, Tony||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)|
|Ogden, Eric||Wainwright, R.(Colne V)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Park, George||Waller, Gary|
|Parker, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Parry, Robert||Watkins, David|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Wells, Bowen|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Welsh, Michael|
|Penhaligon, David||Wheeler, John|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||White, Frank R.|
|Pitt, William Henry||White, J. (G'gow Pollok)|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Whitlock, William|
|Price, (Lewisham W)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Williams, Rt Hon Mrs||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|(Crosby)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Wilson, William (C'try SE)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winnick, David||Mr. Alfred Dubs and|
|Woolmer, Kenneth||Mr. John Maxton.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of any remaining new clauses relating to capital punishment selected by MR. SPEAKER which might be brought up.