§ 'The maximum sentence available to the Courts upon a conviction for murder shall be death in the manner authorised by law.
§ The jury shall have the power, upon reaching a verdict of guilt of murder, to recommend that such a sentence be passed.—[Mr. Gale.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.4.56 pm
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following: amendment (b) to the new clause, after first "murder" to add—'in the course of an act of terrorism'.New clause 11—Death penalty for murder—'The maximum penalty for murder shall be death.'New clause 15—Sentences for murder—'The penalty for murder shall be life imprisonment, but the trial judge shall have the power to impose the death penalty where the circumstances of the murder reflect particular premeditation, brutality or callousness; or to recommend the imposition of a minimum sentence where public protection requires it.'.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we know your intentions as to which of these new clauses you will permit Divisions to be taken upon?
§ Mr. Speaker
After new clause 1 has been divided upon—if it succeeds—there will be a Division on amendment (b).
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As new clause 11 is being debated with this, will a Division on it follow the Division on new clause 1?
§ Mr. Speaker
New clause 11 would fall for Division, if it falls at all, in its proper place on Report. Its fate depends upon the decision taken on new clause 1.
§ Mr. Gale
I am aware that a long list of names has been submitted to you, Mr. Speaker, by colleagues on both sides of the House who wish to speak on an important subject. For that reason, I shall endeavour to keep my remarks as brief as possible. I hope that the House will therefore understand if, within the normal courtesies, I give way to intervention as little as possible. Naturally, if a particular point is raised, I shall endeavour to accommodate it.
On many occasions since abolition, the House has voted on the restoration of capital punishment. On each and every occasion, the House has consistently rejected 744 restoration. On each occasion, it was absolutely apparent that public opinion was in favour of restoration. Therefore, no hon. Member would fail to concede that the House has flown in the face of public opinion. [Interruption.] Please hear me. I think that it should be a matter of public record that I particularly, as the hon. Member who has moved the new clause, accept entirely that the House and its Members are not mandated, and never should be.
I accept the deep moral and religious convictions of those of my hon. Friends, and personal friends on both sides of the House, who take the opposing view to mine. I believe that we, as Members of Parliament, have a duty to listen to public opinion, but a greater duty to exercise our judgment individually. For that reason in part, I have also never subscribed to the view that we should govern the country by referendum. While I have no doubt, having seen opinion polls, that a referendum on this subject would suit my purpose, once down that road we would have to question where we would stop and how we would govern the country in future. I hope and believe, therefore, that every hon. Member will exercise his own judgment when we vote tonight, without heed to official or unofficial party Whips or any other matters of which you, of course, have no knowledge, Mr. Speaker.
New clause 1 seeks to reintroduce capital punishment as the maximum available sentence for the crime of murder, and does so without stipulating any categories. It therefore also seeks to give a jury power to recommend a sentence to the judge. What lit does not do—I wish to refer to this later—is seek to give the jury power to sentence. That power would remain, as hitherto, with the courts.
The new clause and amendments have been the subject of much public debate in recent weeks, and therefore of much criticism. I have endeavoured to respond to the comments and queries raised by my hon. Friends on both sides of the House, and I should like to cover some of them publicly today. First, eyebrows have been raised over the proposal to introduce a maximum available sentence, rather than the mandatory sentence for the crime of murder that has been on the statute book in the past. Sir Ian Percival, when he was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport, informed the House in our last debate on this subject that he beleved that only a mandatory sentence would act as a true deterrent. While I supported the general thrust of his learned argument, I differed with him on that point. I believe that the reverse is true, and that the mere possibility that a criminal might face the capital consequences of his act would constitute a deterrent. I wish to pursue the deterrent argument again a little later.
Some have questioned the fact that the new clause contains no category of murder. Should we reintroduce capital punishment for terrorism, for the murder of police officers or officers of the Crown while on duty and in uniform, for the murder of children or for premeditated murder? The new clause seeks to reintroduce capital punishment as a maximum available sentence for all crimes of murder, because no two crimes are the same. It seeks to take into account the particular circumstances surrounding any one crime.
Perhaps most controversial has been the suggestion that the jury should have the power to recommend a sentence to the court. But it is the jury, is it not, who hear the evidence, see the demeanour of the accused and see each and every witness to the trial? The jury must therefore 745 be in a particular and privileged position to determine not only whether the alleged perpetrator of a crime is indeed guilty, but whether the crime is so heinous and so vile as to warrant the maximum sentence.
§ Mr. Gale
—because I want as many hon. Members as possible on both sides of the House to have the opportunity to make a full contribution.
It has been suggested to me that a jury in such circumstances might feel intimidated, and would be less likely to return a guilty verdict knowing that they would then have to make some recommendation on what should happen after the verdict had been returned.
§ Mr. Gale
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am coming to that point. There is good precedent for such a recommendation. Juries in the past, and indeed today, not uncommonly recommend that clemency or, alternatively, stringency be exercised in the sentence following the verdict that they have delivered. There is no suggestion that juries were intimidated in the past when they not only had the opportunity to recommend a sentence, but knew for certain that if they passed a guilty verdict in certain circumstances they would be condemning a human being to death. Juries in the past have carried out that task, I do not say with pleasure, but certainly as an act of duty, and I have no doubt that a modern jury is just as capable of performing the same task.
It has been suggested that in some way the jury will be given the power to pass sentence. This element of the new clause has been widely represented in the media. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) drew that salient fact to my attention this morning. It would not be possible for the jury to pass sentence, for only the judge and then the court, following the determination of guilt, have access to all the other factors—to a record of previous crimes or to previous sentences.
For that reason, I believe that it is absolutely correct that the jury should return its verdict and then, on the evidence that it has heard in the trial, make a recommendation. It will then properly be left to the judge and the court, in the knowledge of all the other factors, to decide whether to adopt the jury's recommendation or to ignore it; or, where a jury does not recommend, perhaps—in the light of a previous record—to impose the maximum sentence nevertheless. It will, as always in the past, be open to the defence to appeal against sentence. Under the new Criminal Justice Act which the Bill will become, it will also be open to the prosecution in the light of a jury recommendation overlooked by the judge to seek the right to appeal against sentence.
I have, of course, had to take into account the circumstances currently prevailing in Northern Ireland, where there are at present no juries. In those 746 circumstances, as with any other case that is currently tried in Northern Ireland, the judge alone will have to reach his decision. I fervently hope that the day will soon come when it will be possible to return to jury trial in Northern Ireland, but until that day I believe that we have courageous judges in Northern Ireland who are capable of carrying out that duty. Once again, if a judge decides not to impose the maximum sentence, the prosecution, under the new Act, will have the right to appeal.
This is a moral issue and as such the subject, I hope, of a completely free vote. This is the time and the place for each hon. Member to exercise his or her judgment and to take into account deeply personal views. I should like to take just a few moments to place mine on record. I have never been an advocate of the reintroduction of hanging. I have said consistently that I believe the ritual of hanging to be medieval and barbaric. Notwithstanding a Daily Telegraph article titled by a sub-editor:Why I believe in hanging",I do not believe that there is any nice way to take the life of another human being but there are available more humane ways, if it is necessary, than simply stringing somebody up.
§ Mr. Gale
I said that I did not wish to give way. I hope that my hon. Friend will make his own contribution later.
I have also had to address myself, particularly in the light of the questions that have been put to me personally and publicly in recent days, to the possibility of error. I have to accept, as any hon. Member must, that human justice is fallible. So I have to accept that the possibility of error, and therefore of wrongful execution, exists. But since abolition, more than 50 murderers have been released from prison to kill again. I do not wish to suggest to the House that had this amendment been on the statute book all those victims would be alive today, because that would be nonsense, but at least some of them would be alive. If this amendment were to save one life, that would make worth while the risk that I and my hon. Friends accept.
I have been asked why I am introducing the amendment. I do not seek vengeance or punishment; I seek solely a deterrent. Prior to the abolition of capital punishment, the overall trend in homicide was down. In the year immediately before abolition there was a slight rise, but the overall trend was down when the overall trend in every other crime was up. Immediately following abolition there was a dramatic increase not only in homicide, but, perhaps more significantly, in armed and violent crime.
It is an absolute and substantiated fact that prior to abolition the professional criminal as a general rule did not carry weapons. Not only did he not carry weapons but he would search his colleagues before going out on a job to ensure that nobody was carrying a weapon. Hon. Members on both sides will no doubt remember the "George Davis is innocent" campaign. At that time, I, as a professional reporter, met a number of large and sinister gentlemen from the east end of London. I was informed that they used not to carry weapons and that they regarded those who did as amateurs but that since abolition it had become commonplace for the professional criminal to go out armed.
We voted on this subject only a few months ago, so why am I introducing it again now? Of course, it is a new 747 Parliament and there are new Members who have not had the opportunity to voice their opinion on the subject. I hope and believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that new Members should have that opportunity, but for me there is a much more serious reason which lies in clause 42 of the Bill.
Under clause 42, the penalty for carrying a gun in the perpetration of a crime will be the same as the penalty for using a gun and the penalty for murder—life imprisonment. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, for whom I have the highest regard, has told the House that he believes that life imprisonment should mean life. His opposition to my new clause is well known. Therefore, when he addresses the House I have to ask him to tell me and others what reason the criminal will have, when cornered, not to pull the trigger.
The police, security guards and the public-spirited will no longer be able to face with safety the duty which they wish to carry out unless we have capital punishment on the statute book as the ultimate deterrent. Tonight the House will vote not just for the death penalty but either for the reintroduction of capital punishment or by implication for the introduction within a short time of a fully armed police force. I do not like either option, but I prefer the former to the latter.
This is an emotive subject. It is a matter of life and death. It is not only a matter of the life and death of the convicted criminal; it is a matter of the life and death of small children, of rape victims, of the elderly, and of the men and women of the police force whom we require to implement our law. I hope and believe that, having heard all the arguments, the House will vote for the new clause tonight.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. I should clarify what I said earlier to him. What we are voting upon today on new clause 1 is the principle of capital punishment. If it is carried, there will be a Division on amendment (b). I have not selected for Division new clauses 11 and 15.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) has moved his new clause with force and clarity, as we would expect, and he has done more. I agree with him that it is natural and right that the House should wish to discuss the matter fairly early in the life of this Parliament. His initiative has given us an apt opportunity to do so.
I think it would be right to follow today a convention which has grown up over the years—that the holder of my office should first set out some of the factual and statistical background, then offer some analysis of the proposal before the House, and finally, and in this case briefly, add his personal views.
So we start with the statistics. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) said during the debate in 1983, we cannot avoid doing so, but it would be a mistake if we expected the figures to give us an unequivocal answer. I do not think that anyone is likely to base his or her vote tonight on statistics alone, but here they are for what they are worth. 748 The number of offences initially recorded as homicide in England and Wales last year was 689. That figure has increased, with some fluctuations, since the late 1950s. In the decade from 1956 to 1965, the average number of recorded homicides each year was 294; in the following decade, from 1966 to 1975, it was 450; from 1976 to 1985, it averaged 580. We need to qualify those figures in a number of ways. In the first place many homicides turn out to have been manslaughter rather than murder. The number of convictions for murder has also been rising, although it is substantially lower. In recent years there have been between 150 and 170 convictions for murder each year.
Secondly, the rise in the number of homicides has been markedly slower than the rise in other violent crime. The number of recorded homicides in the 20 years from 1966 to 1985 was 60 per cent. higher than in the preceding 20 years, from 1946 to 1965. But the number of' serious violent offences was 160 per cent. higher, and the total of recorded crime of all kinds—20 years against 20 years—was 220 per cent. higher.
Perhaps it would be useful to take a longer historical view. The highest levels of homicide, as a proportion of population, were recorded in the latter part of the last century. The peak was 1.96 homicides per 100,000 population in 1865, compared with 1.38 last year. The period between the wars and immediately after the last war was one in which homicide was running at a substantially lower rate. Since the sixties, it has climbed back to roughly where it was in the late 1880s, but not to the level of the 1860s.
If we are considering the figures, we must look also at the circumstances in which those offences are committed. It is fairly well known that about half of all homicides result from a quarrel, revenge or loss of temper. In about another 15 per cent., the suspect commits suicide or is mentally disturbed. Almost three quarters of homicides involve victims and suspects who are acquainted with each other, often within a family.
So the statistics can and no doubt will he used both ways in the argument about deterrence. I have tried not to steer them in either direction. On the one hand, it is true that there has been a steady increase in homicide since the death penalty was abolished. On the other hand, that increase has not matched the general increase in crime; it is possible to trace it back to the period before abolition; and homicide was proportionately at its highest in the middle of the last century, when the death penalty was routinely imposed. As I said in the debate last year—I shall not repeat the figures—in the days of capital punishment, when the number of executions went up or down substantially from year to year, there was not a clear relationship between the number of executions in any year and the number of homicides in the immediately following period.
As others have done, I have looked at the research in other countries to see if it would add to the picture. The two leading American studies point in opposite directions and give rise to much academic dispute, but give no clear conclusion. The only conclusion that one can draw from the American experience is that, both in states where they have capital punishment and in the others where they have not, their murder rates are consistently and substantially higher than ours.
If the only consideration—the one my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North spent, understandably, some 749 time on—were to secure the public from even the smallest risk that a convicted murderer would kill again, then of course putting him to death provides that assurance. Offences of homicide committed by those who have previously been convicted of murder are rare. We know of only nine cases—I state this because other figures have been put—in which someone convicted of murder after the abolition of capital punishment in 1965 has later killed again. On the information available to us, we judge that at least six of those nine, and perhaps more, would not have been treated as capital murders under the Homicide Act 1957 had those offences occurred before abolition. In short, in only a handful of cases—at the most three—is it likely that a life would have been saved by the execution of a murderer in the period since abolition.
Nevertheless, whatever the right figure—I would argue that it is a small one—no one can deny that the death penalty is a sure means, although imperfectly targeted, of preventing reoffending. Perhaps at this point I should remind the House that those most likely to suffer the death penalty were it to be reintroduced—the perpetrators of the most heinous murders—would as a result of the policy introduced in 1983 by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, which I am continuing, normally expect to serve at least 20 years in prison and in some cases still longer. In a number of cases that will mean imprisonment until the end of the prisoner's life. There is no question of vicious murderers being let out after a few years of imprisonment.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Where does my right hon. Friend get the figure of nine for the number of murderers who have killed again? That is not the understanding of many hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Hurd
People use homicide as if it were the same as murder. The other is that, even in the case of murderers, of course, one has to ask whether in the days when there was capital punishment, or if in future we entered into one of the schemes proposed before the House, all murderers would or will be executed. We have to take both those matters into account in working out the figures. The result is then the result that I have given to the House.
In reply to the specific questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North, I would say that the deterrent to the offender whom he postulated pulling the trigger is that he would be more likely to receive the maximum of life imprisonment if he did so, since we are talking about maximum penalties and not mandatory ones. Judges are generally imposing longer sentences for violent offences and the actual time served for punishment by life sentence prisoners—often called the tariff—will take account of that. Each case has to be considered by the Home Office on its merits, but I can tell the House that there will be an increase in the time thus served.
I now come to the specific new clause and the amendments associated with it.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Before my right hon. Friend moves on to the new clause, will he tell the House two things? First, where a convicted person is already serving the maximum sentence, what is the disincentive to him murdering warders to effect an escape or murdering policemen who try to re-arrest him?
§ Mr. Hurd
That is one question. The convicted murderer will have to assess the likelihood, which will vary according to circumstances, that he will spend all his natural life inside prison. Before he commits that further offence, he must weigh against that the chance of being let out to spend part of his natural life outside, which he will prejudice and sacrifice. That is the calculation that he will have to make.
The big debate about capital punishment in the late 1940s and 1950s arose partly from a campaign for abolition as a matter of principle. However, it also arose from a dissatisfaction about the blanket nature of the penalty. For example, as the House has often recalled, there were the cases of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis which mustered the anxiety of many people. The view which gained ground in the early 1950s was that, even though the system was softened because the Home Secretary could recommend the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy, it was unduly harsh for death to be the automatic penalty in all cases of murder.
So the Homicide Act 1957 attempted to define degrees of murder, and gave a statutory definition of the murders which would in future attract the capital penalty. However, that ran into trouble. There were inconsistencies and anomalies that incurred a further sense of dissatisfaction which went beyond the principle of capital punishment. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North and my other hon. Friends are trying to get around that problem in a slightly different way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North would specify the death penalty as the maximum for murder, and would also give the jury an opportunity to recommend to the judge that he use the discretion in any particular case. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) and others would simply specify death as the maximum penalty for murder, thus leaving the matter entirely to the sentencing judge, with no role for the jury. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), and those who have signed his amendment, would put the judge in a slightly different position, with a power to recommend to the Home Secretary that a penalty should be imposed where the murder has involved premeditation, brutality or callousness.
All three approaches would confer on the sentencing judge a discretion which neither he nor the Home Secretary had in the days before the abolition of capital punishment. In those days, a judge had no choice but to impose the death penalty. Even the Home Secretary—although he had an unenviable job—was charged only with deciding whether the law should take its course, not whether the sentence in some cases should be death and in others a period of imprisonment.
That was precisely the point which the Royal Commission on capital punishment, under Sir Ernest Gowers, reported on in 1953. The commission considered—and rejected—the idea that the sentencing judge might have discretion over the use of the death penalty. It feared that it would lead to inconsistent practice and that it would put an intolerable burden on the judge. A short extract from the commission's report states:the responsibility of deciding whether a person convicted of murder should be sentenced to death or to a lesser punishment is too heavy a burden to impose on any single individual. The sentence of death differs absolutely, not in degree, from any 751 other sentence; and it would be wholly inconsistent with our traditional approach to such issues to lay on the shoulders of the Judge a responsibility so grave and so invidious.That was the judgment of the Gowers commission on that point.
After I had seen the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North, I thought it sensible to ask the Lord ChiefJustice to express a view, not on the merits of capital punishment, but on the possibility that the judiciary might have a role in deciding which murders should be punished by death. With Lord Lane's permission, I can tell the House that he would be strongly opposed to my hon. Friend's proposal. It should, in his view, be for Parliament, not the judges, to decide which types of murder should be met with death and which should not. Some individual variations in lengths of sentences of imprisonment are, the Lord Chief Justice believes, inevitable and acceptable, but individual variations in decisions of life and death would be inevitable and unacceptable. Quite apart from the wider question of whether capital punishment for murder should be restored, a matter on which I asked for no view from Lord Lane and on which he expressed no view, he regards my hon. Friend's proposal as unworkable.
Lord Lane's point about consistency of outcome——
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
Does not the view of the present Lord Chief Justice accord almost precisely with the view of Lord Chief Justice Parker who was also quite against the 1957 Act because of its arbitrary nature and because it was unworkable?
§ Mr. Hurd
My history does not go back as far as that of my hon. Friend, but I will take his word for it if he tells me that that is so.
Lord Lane's point about consistency is particularly important for the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North, because of the way in which it brings the jury into the picture. I am not sure how that would work in practice. A jury is the right body to determine the question of guilt or innocence on a serious charge, but under our system a jury are never left without guidance. They are directed as to the principles of law which they should apply. The proposed new clause does not give an inkling as to how the jury should exercise the new discretion. It does not state or suggest the way in which the trial judge should direct them, nor even whether it would be right for him to attempt to do so. It does not state whether the jury should be unanimous—a crucial consideration, since conviction can be by a qualified majority.
Although I could list other gaps in the proposal, those points are questions of principle and not of mere drafting detail. It is reasonable to put them to my hon. Friend because, after all, we are not discussing a general proposition or a motion; we are discussing a new clause which, if accepted, will become the law of the land, if it passes in another place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North addressed the point about a right of appeal. As he said, making the penalty a maximum would mean that there would be a right of appeal, and I imagine that that would be exercised in almost every case. My hon. Friend did not shirk the consequences of that. However, as a result of another proposal in the Bill, it would be logical for the Attorney-General to be able to refer to the Court of Appeal an unduly lenient sentence under the provisions in 752 this Bill, with a view to a more severe sentence—presumably including death—being substituted. My hon. Friend made it clear that that is part of his proposal.
Therefore, we would have the situation in which an offender had been convicted and sentenced, presumably to imprisonment, by the court in a perfectly regular way and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General would be expected and would be able, if he wished, to go to the Court of Appeal and ask that the person serving that sentence of imprisonment should be taken out and put to death if the Court of Appeal so agreed. If we look at that prospect, we can, to put it mildly, see its difficulties.
I fully understand the way in which the minds of my hon. Friend and his colleagues have worked in moving forward from proposals which have not found favour in the past. However, I do not honestly believe that my hon. Friend's proposal represents a completely satisfactory alternative to the blanket mandatory penalty which. for different reasons, proved unsatisfactory in the years after the war.
If one is looking for a deterrent or at the theory of deterrence—which, for reasons that I have given, I do not accept, although my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North does—one comes to the conclusion that the point of a deterrent is that it should be reasonably certain and that the potential murderer should be reasonably sure—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that he will suffer the worst punishment if caught and convicted. However, that would not be the effect of the new clause, which takes a broad-brush view of the question of life and death and which would ensure a good deal of inconsistency and uncertainty in the imposition of capital punishment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North also addressed the question of Northern Ireland, on which two points arise. The first is whether the imposition of the death penalty would, looked at coolly and objectively, help or hinder the struggle against terrorism. An amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) bears on that point. The second point is not in the form in which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North put it. It is not really a question whether the judges in the Province are courageous or not; it is a question whether it would ever be right to impose the death penalty on someone who had not been convicted by the verdict of a jury. That is a substantial difficulty. However, it is hard to imagine how two terrorist actions taking place, perhaps simultaneously, in Liverpool and Belfast could be punished by the death penalty on one side of the water but not on the other.
In that context I thought it right—as I did last time—to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and he in turn, as he has done in the past, consulted Sir John Hermon, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. My right hon. Friend's view is that the death penalty would not represent any significant deterrent to the terrorists. The Chief Constable's view is that the restoration of the death penalty for terrorist murders would increase the difficulties faced by the RUC, a view which is shared by his senior colleagues. These are conclusions which, from my own still fairly recent experience in the Province, I strongly endorse.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Apart from making martyrs of those who are undoubtedly engaged in evil—and terrorism is evil—is it not the case that capital punishment would hardly act as a deterrent to the IRA or 753 other terrorists in the Province, bearing in mind that in 1981 the hunger strikers continued their strike until they died? If they were willing to take that action and to starve themselves to death, how could the death penalty be any kind of deterrent?
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute if I can just finish my point.
We shall seek, with the approval of Parliament, to strengthen our defences against terrorism, in particular by making it easier to get at the funds on which terrorists depend. It would be bizarre if, at the same time, we took a step which would, in my view, be likely to increase the flow of money, and therefore guns, into terrorist hands.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
When the right hon. Gentleman made inquiries in Northern Ireland of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was the Police Federation for Northern Ireland consulted? After all, the Chief Constable is not in the front line in Northern Ireland. It is the ordinary man who does his duty in difficult circumstances, so surely his voice should be heard.
§ Mr. Hurd
I do not doubt that the hon. Gentleman may well be right in his analysis of the view held by the Police Federation on that side of the water. I was simply recording the clear opinions, derived from experience, of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and of the Chief Constable and his senior colleagues and those who are in charge of the campaign against terrorism in the Province.
Mr. Tony Fayell (Stockport)
While on the subject of terrorism, will my right hon. Friend deal with two points? The first is that a terrorist expects, eventually, to win his argument. Therefore, a prison sentence is no real deterrent because he expects to be released eventually under political amnesty, whereas capital punishment deters because no amnesty will help. Secondly, what about further atrocities committed by colleagues of the terrorist to secure his release if he is not to have the ultimate punishment?
§ Mr. Hurd
The second case would apply with even greater force and ferocity while the prisoner was awaiting execution if he had been condemned to death. I do not go along with my hon. Friend's analysis on his first point.
I shall conclude with three short points. The first is about the nature of this debate. Every hon. Member and anyone in tune with the worries of this country is deeply concerned about violent crime, but if capital punishment were restored it would be applied only to some murderers. Yet we are all familiar with the argument which starts with anecdotes about broken windows or hooliganism—a minor disorder—and leads straight to the argument that capital punishment should be restored. Murder is the foulest of crimes, but it is one tenth of 1 per cent. of violent crimes and less than one hundreth of 1 per cent. of all recorded crime. It is right that we should discuss this proposal, but it may deflect our attention and energies 754 from the real issues of how to check and reverse the general rise in violent crime which has continued since the mid-1950s.
I shall not labour my personal views, because they are the views of one Member of Parliament. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must listen to the views of our constituents and each form his or her judgment on this matter and vote accordingly. Like many others, I am swayed by the prospect that if capital punishment were reintroduced, from time to time we would execute innocent people, and I am swayed by the point about terrorism. Two further short points which are not often developed seem to go to the heart of the matter.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am coming to the end, so if I may I shall conclude and my hon. Friend can make his speech later.
After a brutal murder, there can be few people who do not have the immediate reaction that the perpetrator is too wicked to live. It is natural that that should most often be the view of the family and friends of the victim, although after Eniskillen we saw moving exceptions to that. Fierce, honourable anger immediately after the event is one thing; it is another to institute slow, cold processes of justice with months filled by the argument of lawyers and the hearing of appeals, at the end of which the judges or the Home Secretary may decide, long after the event, that the offender should cease to exist. An execution in this way, whether by hanging or by other means, can surely give only fleeting satisfaction, if any, to the public or those who knew the victim.
There is another effect. In earlier centuries, executions were public, but these were abolished in 1868 and we had nearly a century of private executions in prison. Since capital punishment was abolished, we have seen an explosion in the pervasiveness of the media and in the power of the searchlight which they turn on dramatic events. If we restored capital punishment, we would restore, not private, but public executions. It would not be a matter, as in past days, of a date recorded in an alcove in the Home Secretary's office in Whitehall or later of some discreet notice posted on the prison gate to be read by a handful of watchers.
Whatever the regulations and precautions, in practice in the weeks before execution a searchlight of publicity would beat upon the condemned man long after his victim had been forgotten. He and his family would become famous, and friends and family would be persuaded to record their story and emotions. I do not know what effect all that would have on the proposed deterrent power of capital punishment, but it might be the opposite of what was intended. Whatever the rules and efforts of Governments, such a circus would be created, as it has been elsewhere, and it would be greatly to the discredit of our society, which would soon sicken of it.
The arguments surge to and fro on this subject, and I have tried to do justice to them. Each of us is left to make a fundamental and instinctive judgment, and mine is certainly that this is a form of punishment to which we should not return.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Most hon. Members know how they will vote at the end of 755 today's debate and knew before the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) moved his new clause. Most of us knew of our intentions before the Leader of the House announced the date on which this long-heralded and much-publicised debate was to be held. On both sides of the argument, opinions on capital punishment are held with passions too deep and convictions too strong to be changed by one afternoon's debate. Those passions and convictions are based on two different sorts of argument and attitude. One is instinctive—the argument in principle—and the other pragmatic—the chief point made by the hon. Gentleman: that in some way the reintroduction of capital punishment would improve the safety and quality of life in our society.
I shall spend the first of my few moments dealing with the instinctive call for the return of capital punishment—the feeling that it should be part of our society and penal practice. I well recall the Prime Minister on television during the 1983 general election campaign simply asserting that some murderers are so evil and some murders so hideous that capital punishment is instinctively the only appropriate punishment. That is not a judgment, but a statement of gut feeling.
The notion that it is, in the common phrase, "only right" that murderers should die cannot be subject to logical examination. The insistence that the bestiality of one violent and unnecessary death should be paralleled by another act of similar violence sanctioned and carried out with the grotesque formality of the state cannot be justified in logic. It is at best the doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—a moral judgment which was later qualified out of existence by impeccable authority. The bald assertion that murderers "deserve to die" can be justified only by the belief that retribution and revenge are implicit and important ingredients of the criminal code. I do not believe that the House of Commons should or will write such a primitive instinct into our laws.
The instinctive call for the return of the death penalty is typified by the opinion that some murderers have—I use the Prime Minister's phrase—forfeited the right to live.The Home Secretary, criticising that view, offered his alternative: the feeling that some murderers are "too wicked to live". I do not believe that any individual or institution is entitled to make that judgment about a human being.
Those of us who are opposed to capital punishment accept that our opposition is similar to the sort of support that I have just described—it is in part emotional. I confess that I cannot imagine circumstances in which I would vote for the return of hanging or any other form of execution for any offence. A reversion to such a practice would debase and literally demoralise us all, certainly if, as the Home Secretary fears—and I have no doubt that his fears are justified—in this modern era capital punishment were accompanied by all the horrors of media attention. [Interruption.] Even were I to believe that capital punishment was a deterrent to murder or violent crime, I would not vote for its reintroduction. It is wrong in itself, for it undermines the principle of the sanctity of human life on which all our laws are based.
Having established my position in principle, I want mostly to turn to the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent, because that was the point that the hon. Gentleman made and that will inevitably take up a great deal of this debate.
756 When I say that I wholly reject the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent, I am quoting from virtually every authority that has made a judgment on the subject. That argument seems not only wrong but diametrically wrong. Murder and crimes of violence are, at least in part, related to the general mores of society—the acceptance or the rejection of the idea that violence can, in itself, solve some of society's problems. A violent society breeds violent crimes. To reintroduce the death penalty would be to institutionalise the most extreme form of violence. It would be an expression of Parliament's opinion that some lives are so cheap that they can be taken as a punishment. It is no good asking, as the Prime Minister has often done, the rhetorical question about whether murderers have such considerations in mind when they commit their horrible crimes. I expect the House of Commons to behave differently from them. I expect the House of Commons to have a different standard of values. We are supposed to act differently from such people., and we are supposed to respect the sanctity of human life.
The Home Secretary was right to say that to concentrate upon the reintroduction of capital punishment as if it were the certain way of reducing murder and violent crime is to divert attention from the remedies that are potentially more successful Immense damage has been done to the serious consideration, and therefore reduction, of crime in this country by the weak-minded insistence that flogging and hanging will solve all our problems and reduce violence. That attitude has diverted us from the real deterrent, which is the certainty of arrest, the certainty of prosecution and the certainty of conviction if guilty.
With regard to the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent, it is right to say that every authority that has made a judgment—save for a group of New Liberal economists in the United States who examined death in the language of supply and demand—has concluded that the evidence on death as a deterrent proves absolutely nothing. In the 1983 debate, the then Home Secretary said of statistics:we should be making a great mistake if we expected them to give us an unequivocal answer."—[Official Report, 13 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 886.]As one might expect, in the previous debate his predecessor, Lord Whitelaw, was far more robust and categoric. Talking about the evidence on deterrence, he said:the only sensible conclusion to reach is that their evidence is inconclusive."—[Official Report, 19 July 1979; Vol. 970, c. 2047.]That was also the judgment of the Royal Commission of 1953.
That judgment is reinforced by a comparison of murder statistics in those American states that have abolished the death penalty with those that have not. That is the conclusion to be drawn from the Canadian experience, where the murder rate fell after abolition. If we are so minded to interpret British experience, that is the evidence from this country. Although the murder rate has increased since abolition, it has increased at a much slower pace than other crimes of violence.
The truth of the matter is that one cannot say with anything resembling certainty whether capital punishment is a deterrent. That one is unable to say that should not surprise us. Sixty per cent. of murders are committed by men and women whose mental condition would allow them successfully to plead diminished responsibility; 75 per cent. of murders are committed within the family or in 757 a close circle of acquaintance, often as a result of sudden impulse or uncontrollable passion. Only an extremely small proportion of murderers pause to consider—even less, coldly, to premeditate upon—the consequences of their actions. If they do not think about that before they commit the murder, it is literally impossible for any penalty, no matter how severe, no matter how terrible, to influence their actions and prevent that murder from taking place. If there is a deterrent effect—I repeat that there is no evidence that can lead us to that firm conclusion—it can only possibly apply to one murder in five.
Some hon. Members—traditionally the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and today the hon. Member for Thanet, North—argue that the death penalty for murder deters other crimes of violence. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds always quoted the hypothetical burglar who, before the days of abolition, would not allow his confederate to carry a gun. He claimed the knock-on effect which, by the expedient of hanging one or two murderers, prevented other crimes of violence from taking place. The hon. Gentleman's theory, true or false, demonstrates to me the great dilemma of the theory of deterrence or, at least, the deterrent of the death penalty. I am not at all sure that it is morally right to hang one man to deter another. I am sure that it cannot possibly be right to hang one man to prevent another from committing a violent crime that is less than murder itself, especially as we have no hard evidence to prove that that deterrent would work.
If, once or twice a year, we are to hang one of our fellow citizens by the neck until he is dead—or if we are to gas him, poison him, electrocute him or shoot him—we need to justify the horrors that are involved by more than suspicions, vague impressions, hunches and venerable anecdotes. Among the horrors is the absolute bestiality of the process of execution, a subject about which the supporters of capital punishment naturally prefer not to speak. The hon. Member for Thanet, North almost broke a rule by confessing that the alternatives were "not nice". I believe that anyone who read the Gower report—the supplementary report on alternative methods of capital punishment—would agree with the hon. Gentleman at least about that.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once it is established that the statistics leave the matter open, that does not leave the argument neutral? If capital punishment were a deterrent, that, in view of the manifest research which has been carried out, would have been clearly established by now.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand the statistical and logical argument that my right hon. and learned Friend makes. If the position is neutral, it is impossible to argue other than the likelihood that capital punishment has little or no effect. Were it a deterrent, that would be shown by curves, movements and trends.
Let us consider the alternative methods of execution. There is no hope—supporters of a return to capital punishment should not hide behind the comforting pretence—that we can find an alternative method of execution that is any less barbarous than hanging. The Gower report on alternative forms of execution was 758 absolutely explicit. It said that the alternatives to hanging were equally macabre, debasing to those who took part and corrosive of a civilised society.
§ Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House and the country what is nice about the murder of small, innocent children? How can he reconcile that with what he is saying about the punishment of the perpetrators of such crimes?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I believe that such questions debase the entire argument. There is a clear implication in the question of the hon. Member that those of us who are opposed to capital punishment have some sympathy for the people she describes. We hold an opposite view. First, we do not believe that the return to capital punishment would deter the enormities that she has outlined; secondly, we believe that by being complacent about additional violence sanctified by society, by accepting the institutionalisation of such violence, we may encourage violent actions among our citizens.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) does her cause no good by implying that those of us who want to take a rational view on this matter want to take a soft and weak view. I repeat that one of the reasons crime has increased in this country is that too many people like her have adopted the weak-minded alternative of thinking that flogging and hanging will solve the problems. They will not. We need a far more rational attitude to crime than she has been able to offer us.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would settle his mind on the situation in Northern Ireland at the time when we were told that if the Prime Minister and the Government did not yield to the hunger strikers there would be untold trouble. A few more people volunteered to go on hunger strike, but those who volunteered after that came off the hunger strike because they were afraid of death.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall deal explicitly with Northern Ireland and hunger strikers in a moment. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that the creation of martyrs is more likely to continue the conflict in Northern Ireland, he is ignoring the troubled history of that Province over the last 300 years.
I should like to continue the point that I was making before the interruption by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock). I was talking about the consequential horrors of capital punishment. Some people, including the hon. Member for Thanet, North, speak about the risk, but many people, myself included, would argue that the greatest horror of all is the certainty that if we return to capital punishment an innocent man or woman will sooner or later be hanged.
The hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) sent to virtually every hon. Member the names of 10 men who in our recent history were wrongfully convicted, then pardoned. [Interruption.] It is a terrifying thought that decisions about capital punishment, the life or death of human beings, should be in some part taken by people whose emotional level is of the sort that we have seen in this debate. Of the 10 people on the hon. and learned Gentleman's list, one was executed and nine were eventually released. There is no doubt at all 759 that if the present proposal were in operation, five or six of those nine men would have been hanged. I cannot begin to justify a proposal that makes risk a possibility.
The hon. Member for Thanet, North said that by hanging an innocent man we might save the lives of a dozen potential victims. That idea seems to be taking marginal utility to unreasonable extremes. The idea that we might sacrifice one innocent life and save 10 others is wholly unacceptable by any moral canon that it is possible to construct. I hope that on reflection no hon. Member will vote for the notion that hanging somebody by mistake is the price that we have to pay to create the order in society that we propose and want to see.
The hon. Member for Thanet, North has attempted, as his predecessors have attempted, to win some support by saying that while he wants a return to the death penalty he does not want to return to it for all offences. By proposing a partial return of the death penalty he is offering the House judicial confusion and moral nonsense. The idea of hanging some murderers in the circumstances and in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described is barely less absurd than the notion of exceptional wickedness which supporters of capital punishment tried to write into law in the last debate.
With respect, the weakness of the hon. Gentleman's case was demonstrated by his speech, because his proposal raises many hard questions and he attempted to answer none of them. He suggested that we should reintroduce hanging for some sorts of murder but he was not prepared to describe the categories. As he continued his speech he gave a few examples. To reintroduce hanging for premeditated murder, for murder in the furtherance of theft, for the murder of policemen and for murder by terrorists raises many questions which the hon. Gentleman did not attempt to answer.
Let us assume that the murder of a policeman might come into this category. That is what the hon. Gentleman implied towards the end of his speech. He must tell us why it is morally worse or deserving of a more severe punishment to kill a policeman rather than a civilian. How are we to determine in law what is meant by premeditated? Who judges the true meaning of premeditated?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I have a list of questions for the hon. Gentleman; I shall ask them all and he can answer them.
The proposed new clause sidesteps other great questions. There is the question whether the decision to hang should he made by a combination of judge and jury or a jury's recommendation and a judge's final decision. Will criteria to guide the jury be laid down or does a jury go into such matters with a totally open mind? Do jury members make their own subjective and instinctive judgments as they go along? I do not think that a judge and jury would be prepared to accept such a responsibility. How could a judge or jury possibly make a decision without being told the lines along which the decision is to be made? We must assume that they start by obeying the dictates of their consciences.
Does the juror, or for that matter the judge, weigh expediency against morality in a case where a horrible crime has been committed and to execute the murderer may well result in a holocaust of reprisals? Are pragmatic questions to be put out of their minds? Does the jury or the judge call for a psychiatric report before making a 760 decision? Are we to get uniformity in sentencing? Are there to be hanging juries and hanging judges, and will some murderers be lucky enough to appear before lenient judges and jurors? Will hanging be a matter for majority decision? Could there be two men on the jury who think that the sentenced man is innocent but 10 who decide that he should die? Does the jury's decision on the death penalty have to be unanimous?
All those questions are central to the hon. Gentleman's proposal, and since he seemed anxious a moment ago to answer some or all of them, I shall now give way to him.
§ Mr. Gale
I was reluctant to intervene, having denied other hon. Members the opportunity to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has sought so greatly to misrepresent my speech that I can only conclude that he did not hear it. I specifically said that I was not seeking to define any category of murder, and that the maximum sentence would be available for any and every murder at i he decision of the court and the recommendation of the jury. That is because each and every case is different.
There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman sitting with a smug grin on his face suggesting that that is incorrect. The whole House heard what I said. I have deliberately sought not to lay down criteria, because I do not see how it is possible to lay down criteria for individual cases. The new clause seeks to allow the court and especially the jury who have heard the evidence to make a recommendation in each and every individual case.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about psychiatric reports. I specifically answered that point by saying that the jury would recommend but that it would be the judge, with the additional information before him, who would be required to make the final decision.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be uniformity. The answer to that is no, because, as I have said, there is no uniformity in crime. Each case is individual and must be judged as an individual case. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman asked about majority decisions. It is quite clear that I have not made any recommendation about that, because the country already accepts the principle of majority decision.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am reluctant to ridicule the hon. Gentleman, because his proposal seems too terrible to ridicule. However, since it is intrinsically ridiculous, if he is really saying that there is to be no recommendation and no uniformity, has he ever considered the pattern of sentencing for other offences throughout the United Kingdom? Does he not know that what happens in Bournemouth does not necessarily happen in Barnsley and that sentences in Southport are different from those in Stockton? Is he really contemplating a situation in which a murderer might know that he would be let off, at least from the death penalty, in one part of the country but hanged in another? The proposal is so intrinsically ridiculous that I cannot believe that anyone will vote for it this evening.
§ Mr. Hattersley
My reply to the hon. Gentleman is, do not ask me. As the House has begun to discover, I regard the proposals of the hon. Member for Thanet, North as wrong in principle and unworkable in practice and wholly ridiculous the moment one begins to examine the details.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I must get on, as I had taken more time than I intended before giving way to perhaps too many interventions.
I want to ask the hon. Member for Thanet, North at least one rhetorical question. It concerns the best example of why distinguishing between one form of murder and another would be wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. It can be demonstrated most clearly as it is a hard case to argue. This is the case of terrorism in Northern Ireland—or anywhere, but taking Northern Ireland as an example enables us to give it a terrifying clarity.
From time to time we are told—no doubt we shall be told this afternoon—that terrorist offences ought to be subject to the death penalty. Are we really saying that if on some future occasion a post office in Northern Ireland is robbed and the postmaster is shot dead and the murderer is captured and convicted he is to hang if the money is intended for the IRA but not if it is intended to pay off a gambling debt? That is simultaneously terrible and ridiculous. It is also wholly wrong within the context of Northern Ireland, for two reasons.
First, for almost 20 years to my certain knowledge, the IRA in Northern Ireland has tried to argue that its murderers are not common murderers and that its crimes are different from ordinary crimes. In the House, we have always insisted persistently that we are not prepared to designate terrorist crimes in any different way from the way in which we describe and categorise other crimes. To give a special category status to terrorist murder is to play absolutely into the hands of those who say, "We are doing something different." The resulting execution of IRA members would be to play into its hands in an even more dramatic form.
I am shocked that the hon. Gentleman would even contemplate the death penalty being passed on a man who had been convicted through the Northern Ireland emergency—and, God willing, temporary—system. If a man should die, surely it should be the result of a jury trial with the extra fairness that that implies. But that is only half the problem. The other half is the way in which the IRA would respond to the death of members of their active service units.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the hunger strike. I remember the hunger strike very well and I remember the IRA's attitude towards it. Not only did one man die, but, as the hon. Gentleman will confirm, members of the IRA tried to intimidate some of the hunger strikers—their own comrades—by saying that they would take horrible reprisals against their families unless the hunger strike went on until death.
The idea that people who could do anything as bestial as that would not glory in the death of their comrades and encourage their comrades to die to achieve the status of martyrs is a wholly misunderstood view of the situation in Northern Ireland. I regard it as pragmatically wrong in 762 terms of the peace and security of Northern Ireland to provide the IRA and other terrorists with that recruiting sergeant, which is what the death penalty would be.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I must conclude. These are my final words.
The more we consider the implications, the consequences and the results of capital punishment, the clearer it becomes that the restoration and the so-called practical benefits of restoration do not stand up to a moment's analysis. Ultimately, the call for the return to hanging is an emotional spasm, several of which we have witnessed in the House this afternoon. Were it to result in the change in the law, it would mean that society and the law had adapted to and was adopting the murderer's moral standards and the murderer's view of the sanctity of human life. For that reason, I shall certainly oppose the clause this evening, and it is with great pride that I believe that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will do the same.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I shall speak only briefly as many of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate. Perhaps it is no bad thing to look back for one moment at the history of this affair.
There has not been a majority in the House for retaining hanging since 1945. The House has consistently repudiated hanging when given the opportunity. The Labour party sought to bring in a categorised Bill in the late 1940s and it was laughed out of court by a famous speech by Winston Churchill. The Conservative party introduced a Criminal Justice Bill in 1957 which undermined the whole concept of hanging because of its illogicality. Never mind free votes, it is worth noticing that that Bill was taken through the House on a three-line Whip by the then Government. Subsequently, since the Silverman Bill of the mid 1960s, there have been 18 attempts to change the law back to what it was. At least the last two occasions have got away from the concept of categorising murder because it is manifestly ridiculous. Indeed, as we have heard from both Front-Bench speakers, it is simply not possible for the House to lay down guidelines for the courts to decide before cases come to trial.
On the last two occasions, recognising the impossibility of that, there have been two attempts. One imported the idea of wickedness, which in my view was legal illiteracy and was thrown out. We now have this proposal. I want to address it very shortly to see where it would take us and whether it is any better than previous attempts.
The death penalty is to be available to the courts. I suspect that it is inevitable for hon. Members to say things that have been said before, but it is worth repeating that it is to be available to the courts. In my view, only one amendment is worth the paper on which it is printed—and I would vote against it—and that is to say that the punishment for murder shall be death and that thereafter there shall be a proper retrieve system. I would oppose that amendment as vehemently as I oppose the one under discussion, but at least it would leave us in a logical position with a straight result at the end of the trial. Everyone would know what was to happen and the case would be examined when all the facts were known.
763 If we leave it to the judges, what are we asking them to do? I do not know whether I am absolutely right, but I do not think that a single High Court judge is in favour of a return to hanging or capital punishment. I may be wrong on that, but I am not wrong in saying that the overwhelming majority of them are so opposed. That does not mean that they would not do their duty if they had to, but, inevitably, they would take different views. Justice would be as long as the judge's foot. The consequence of that would be that the most important duty for a solicitor would be to see which judge was coming, to look at his record and try to ensure that his client did not did not go into that court. We should not have any illusions that that would not be done.
What is the wretched judge to do? It is said that he should pronounce sentence when he knows all the facts. As every lawyer knows, the judge does not know all the facts. If someone has pleaded not guilty, the judge cannot then have psychiatric reports done to decide what will happen if he is found guilty. He cannot ask for co-operation in that way. At the end of a trial a judge simply does not know. He could not make up his mind until he had seen such reports.
The judge is then left with the unenviable task of reminding the jury before it considers its verdict that it has the right to make a recommendation. The moment a judge makes that remark, the jury will start to think that the judge has it in mind to hang the man. That will not help to obtain convictions. Let us have no illusions about that. The great British public is said to be baying for justice and talks about it in pubs, but when people are sitting in a jury box it is different. At the Old Bailey, 48 per cent. of defendants are acquitted and I would guess that about 1 per cent. are innocent. That is the problem that faces the judge. He would have to give some direction as to what considerations the jury should look at.
I do not know how it is conceivable in judicial terms to give any such direction. Would the judge draw attention to particular bestialities that occurred in the case? Would he draw attention to the fact that the court may be deciding on what had become a more prevalent form of murder? Would he draw attention to the issue of public policy and would he look at what would happen if racial issues were involved? It would be a nightmare.
However, it would not be much better for the jury. It would consider its verdict with nothing. It would go out having sat for perhaps 10 days opposite a stranger and having listened to a case presented to it of which, inevitably, it will have heard only half the story because the mitigating elements cannot possibly be put before it. Those jurors—train drivers, secretaries and housewives—would then have to make up their minds. Are they to say that a rope will he put round that person's neck? There will be plenty of murderers walking our streets after such trials. We will not achieve a conviction rate.
The new clause is an attempt to avoid the crucial questions that cannot be answered by categories. It is an attempt to get round that issue for the second time. If anything, it is even worse than categories. We all know—we have the figures before us—that in the past we have buried our mistakes with the murderers who were convicted. The issue of whether it is a deterrent may be questionable. but we have evidence showing what has happened subsequently. It is no use my hon. Friends saying that people have been released. They were released after a decision that there had been a miscarriage of justice. 764 In this country, if one is released after a miscarriage of justice, in my book one is innocent and that should be made clear to everyone. Ten people are walking the streets today and one person was posthumously pardoned because of the ability to look back and examine the position. Bearing that in mind as well as the uncertainty of capital punishment being a deterrent and all the problems we would have if we passed the new clause, I believe that we would do well to stick for the 18th time to the decision that the House has made so consistently.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
We shall have a free vote in party terms, but I wonder whether it will truly he a free vote. I doubt whether many of us have changed our views since being elected and I doubt even more whether anyone will change his or her view during the debate. We are all hemmed in by our instinctive reactions to this topic. It comes down to a question of belief as to whether the state is entitled to take the life of a person who takes the life of another. I believe that it is not. I suspect that my belief will obtain whatever the evidence and however passionately such evidence may be marshalled during the debate. I also suspect that those who support the new clause will support it however compelling the evidence marshalled on the other side of the argument.
I accept that my view is neither a popular nor populist one. However, I, like other hon. Members, come here as a representative and not as a delegate. It is my duty and the duty of others to take into account public opinion, but it would be a sad and sorry day for the House if we were but the reflection of that and the mouthpieces of the most vocal groups within our constituencies.
As someone who has recently been elected to this honourable House, the debate has brought home to me in a sharp way the power that we wield and the responsibility that is incumbent upon us. I suspect, like others, that I recoiled somewhat to hear an hon. Member from a sedentary position suggest that hanging should be in public and should be accompanied by television coverage. I suspect that that remark was made as a result of his passion and emotion about the topic. I cite it only to underline the fact that there is a great responsibility upon us and that in the decision we take on this topic we exercise the power of life and death.
I believe that I come to this debate with an informed view, although not an exclusively informed view. I have prosecuted successfully and defended unsuccessfully people who, with hanging, would undoubtedly have been hanged. That will not be unique in the House, but nothing in my experience as crime counsel or defence counsel has persuaded me to change my belief that capital punishment is something I could not support. A generation of lawyers has grown up with no experience of capital punishment and the way in which it would have to be administered through the legal system. In Scotland I believe that there is no judge still sitting on the bench who has pronounced the death sentence. The last such judge retired two or three years ago.
The reintroduction of capital punishment into the legal system would impose an intolerable burden on lawyers, judges and juries. The issue of intimidation must surely be in the minds of all of us arising out of the events of last week. What would be the scope for intimidation if a jury had the power to recommend life or death? It would also be an intolerable burden on witnesses. If a witness is not 765 quite sure as to precisely what he saw at the material moment in the commission of a crime, what pressure would there be on him to give evidence in one direction or another, having regard to the fact that the consequence of that evidence might be the recommendation of a jury that the man or woman in the dock should be hanged? That would be a substantial price. We must ask whether we should be prepared to pay that price. The moral inconvenience of lawyers and the pressure on juries or witnesses might be a price that it would be justifiable to pay if it could be shown that the possible benefits outweighed the calculated horror of reimposition.
The new clause is put fairly and squarely on the basis of deterrence. I do not wish to add to what was most eloquently said by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but one is entitled to say, echoing the old but existing Scots verdict, "The case is not proven." If the case is not proven, it is not open to us to change the status quo unless we are presented with compelling evidence that justifies the reintroduction of capital punishment.
It has already been said that the majority of homicides are domestic, and arise out of passion, emotion, rage and, frequently, drink. I find it hard to believe that those homicides would be deterred by the retrospective knowledge that capital punishment might be imposed.
The issue of terrorism has been mentioned. We know that in many cases terrorists prefer martyrdom to life. Without passing judgment on the events in Gibraltar, may I say that any terrorist recalling those events must know that to be a terrorist on active service undoubtedly puts him at risk of his life.
What about the position of police and prison officers? Shall we endure the calculated horror of the reimposition of capital punishment to protect them? What about security guards, public officials or those who run post offices in remote areas? Why should their lives be counted on a different scale? The truth is that whenever categorisation is introduced there are inherent illogicalities, and unjustifiable preferences inevitably arise. That was the experience following the Homicide Act 1957. These proposals would introduce into our law random categorisation—categorisation not so much at a whim but based on the attitude struck, first, by a jury and, secondly, by a judge. The Home Secretary referred to the comments of the Lord Chief Justice, which only serve to underline the nature of that random categorisation and the dangers that it would necessarily involve.
The issue of capital punishment is for us to determine; it is not to be passed off to juries or judges. If the House believes that capital punishment should be available for murder, it should pass provision for it into law. It should not seek to hide behind the skirts of juries or judges.
§ Dr. Blackburn
The hon. and learned Gentleman eloquently raised the question of categorisation of offences. Does he agree that a police officer, prison warder or public servant deserves extra protection because society asks them to do a specific task?
§ Mr. Campbell
It is clear that the hon. Gentleman takes a particular view about the value of the responsibilities discharged by prison and police officers. How do they fall 766 to be distinguished from the categories of other public servants? Why should they be distinguished from those who might find themslves running post offices in rural areas? Categorisation leads to an inevitable need for value judgments and that comes close to a system in which justice is random and not uniform.
Reference has been made to retribution. I understand the motive of retribution. I understand people's horror, alarm, concern and fright that someone close to them has been killed. I also understand the view that it is open to society or the state to exercise retribution. If human life is sacred, the murderer's act is immoral. The act of the state is equally immoral if one substitutes the institution for the individual. Clothing the proceedings with legality makes the taking of life by capital punishment no less immoral than the taking of life that prompted the conviction of the murderer.
Fundamental to the debate—this matter should appeal to all the lawyers in the House—is the risk that capital punishment necessarily entails. I am pleased to observe the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) in his place. He defended Patrick Meehan, and in his autobiography, which was published recently, he writes movingly about the nature of the trial, the burdens that were placed on him, the result of the trial and the ultimate fight to have Patrick Meehan's pardon granted by the Crown. If Patrick Meehan had been convicted in a time of capital punishment, I have no doubt that, given the revulsion at the nature of the crime of which he was wrongly convicted, he would have been hanged. That is but one example. I shall not enter the argument about whether one can stand the loss of one innocent man for the protection of others because the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook dealt with it compellingly and comprehensively. The inherent weakness of capital punishment is that miscarriages of justice cannot be corrected.
I return to the question of belief. No hon. Member is entitled to be more highly regarded on this issue than any other. We each have one judgment and one vote. I shall certainly cast my vote against the new clause.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I am grateful to be called to speak in the debate. I believe that I have a special and unique experience to share with the House, especially with its newer and younger Members. I believe that I am the only serving Member who has appeared in a capital trial of any kind. I have appeared in nine capital murder trials and defended eight men for capital treason. During those cases, affecting 17 lives, my conduct was a principal determinant of whether my client lived or died. Of all the questions that I asked, the judgments that I made and the views that the jury previously had of me—Scotland is a family, in which people in public life are known by reputation or otherwise—one question may have been enough to sway the jury one way or another.
The first capital trial in which I appeared for the defence was that of Walter Scott Ellis, who, surprisingly, was acquitted of capital murder by nine votes to six. In Scotland we have a jury of 15 and three verdicts. Nine votes were for not proven, and six were for guilty. In another case—that of Smith—he was acquitted by eight votes to seven—eight for not proven and seven for guilty, which is one strand away from execution. I defended Boyle for capital murder on two occasions.
767 Before I leave the capital murder cases in which I appeared, let me deal with the deterrent question. Having been acquitted unexpectedly, Walter Scott Ellis went on almost immediately to a course of armed robbery of which he was convicted and sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment. If I am not mistaken, he is presently serving a further period of 10 years' imprisonment for armed robbery. So he was not deterred.
Boyle was not deterred. for he went on to be convicted of non-capital murder when I was appearing for his co-accused who was acquitted, and he, now released, has not offended again. If we are looking for deterrents, why did the deterrent not deter Manuel, who was convicted of six murders, or Ruth Ellis, or Bentley, or Heath, or Ruxton, or Haig? What was it about them for whom death had no fear?
I have also appeared for scores of others, indeed hundreds, charged with non-capital murder. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) referred to one who was wrongly convicted—Patrick Meehan—and pardoned, not released—and John Preece, who also, after seven years, had his conviction quashed by the High Court in Edinburgh.
There is no question but that both those clients would have been hanged, Meehan certainly. There was resistance to the pardon over seven years despite the fact that those who had committed the murder brazenly confessed to it in detail which could only have been known to them, and that they were in fact named in the special defence of incrimination at the trial.
There is no question but that Meehan and Preece would have been wrongly murdered, and who would have murdered them? I shall deal only with Meehan. Would it have been the police who falsified the identification parade in order to justify his detention? Would it have been the Crown agent who issued a statement saying that with his detention and the death of his co-accused they were not looking for anybody else; in other words, that he was guilty? Would it have been the court which refused his request to he examined under the truth drug by investigating officers? Would it have been the detectives who, when they discovered that they had no evidence but the false identification parade, planted the paper evidence on his deceased co-accused? Would it have been the Solicitor-General who, when prosecuting, with the sanction of the presiding judge, broke so many of the rules of evidence? Would it have been the presiding judge who removed the special defence of incrimination of those who actually did it? Would it have been the appeal court which refused to hear the evidence of all those wrongs? Or would it have been the evidence of the officer in charge of the case, who suppressed the evidence of the presence of the actual culprit, McGuinnes, outside the murder house at the time of the murder, which evidence was found in the locked drawer of his desk when the investigation ordered by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian), who had recently been appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, was put in the hands of Detective Chief Superintendent McDougall and Assistant Chief Constable Bell? Between them they would have murdered Meehan.
But I said a moment ago that one of the greatest difficulties of capital murder is that it is the conduct of the defending counsel which is one of the principal determinants of whether his client lives or dies. I have not the slightest doubt that it was my cross-examination of Dr. Alan Clift which resulted in the conviction of John Preece.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The forensic scientist—an English forensic scientist.
On the Friday evening he was a feeble, doubting and bad witness, and I took home all the slides of the fibres that he alleged came from the accused's rug and the deceased's coat. On Monday morning, he was a different man. Although on none of the slides that he had identified were to be found the fibres upon which he had based his opinion, he was confident and never ceased to add to every answer—"The fibres may not be there, but I have no doubt at all that that coat and that rug were together." That alone wrongly convicted Preece.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
It might be easier in that case to know who to charge with Preece's murder.
So we come to the next appalling question. In the capital treason trials, I as counsel had to ask some men to agree to plead guilty and be sentenced to death in order to save others. Fortunately, for reasons which I need not tell the House, those sentences were not carried out, but they had nothing whatever to do with justice.
Then we come to an even worse characteristic of capital murder, which I believe has never been raised. Of those charged with non-capital murders whom I have defendled I could name straight off 20 or 30 cases in which I would undoubtedly have advised the accused—despite my belief, and correct belief, in their innocence, or in the justice of their defence, be it self-defence or whatever—to plead guilty to culpable homicide because I dared not take the risk that, because of the whims of a jury, they might convict him of capital murder; cases in which I knew that the Crown would happily have accepted a plea of culpable homicide, which, for English Members, is manslaughter. So I would wrongly have condemned 20 to 30 men—I have not counted them all, but I wrote down between 20 and 30 that I could think of in my head—to long periods of imprisonment because I dared not take the risk of advishng them to take the risk of being acquitted or being hanged. That is a much greater extension of the wrong of wrongful execution.
It is important that we should understand the origin of capital punishment and how it came into our criminal system. If I contradict the law of England, I do so in ignorance rather than intentionally. Until there was a police force in this country, the only deterrent to crime—certainly to serious crime—was the deterrent of punishment. At different times in Scotland and England there were between 200 and 300 offences—from the meanest theft to the highest crime—for which one could be sentenced to death. The death sentence was not mandatory, but it was available, which is the basis of the new clause. It was ineffective; it did not work. Once there was a police force, all the categories of crime were removed from the list of between 200 and 300 except for three, for which capital punishment was made mandatory—treason, arson in the royal dockyards, and murder. Those three were excepted because they were the methods by which one could overthrow the constitution of the state.
Once the fleet was built of steel and not of wood, arson in the royal dockyards was forgotten as a category of 769 crime. Before that, the burning of the fleet would have been a major method of overthrowing the constitution. After the failure of the 1715 and 1745 rebellions, in which the correct and superior claim to the throne of Great Britain by the Jacobite successor was overpowered by force and the Hanoverian successor sat happily on the German posterior of Queen Victoria, treason too became irrelevant. That left the third category of crime, which was kept only because it was the remaining method by which one carried out the overthrow of the state. It was murder.
In the great cases of the romantic Victorian period when people killed their wives to marry their lovers, as Ruxton did this century, the fallacy grew up that the death penalty for murder was an extension, repeat, echo or exercise in the lex talionis—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a death for a death. That was a false deduction; it was never the case.
When the matter came into consideration in 1957, it was obvious that the penalty was illogical. One English case which is rarely mentioned but which seems to me to highlight the illogicality of the death penalty is the A6 murder. There is argument and doubt as to whether Hanratty was correctly or incorrectly convicted. However, there is no question at all but that he was sitting in the back seat of a motor car and that in the front were Gregston, who was driving and his lover, Valerie Storie. There is no doubt at all on the evidence at its height that Hanratty shot Gregston—probably by mistake, when he turned suddenly, and for that he was hanged. After shooting Gregston he drove Valerie Storie round southern England. He forced her out of the motor car on to the verge and raped her at gunpoint. He then emptied the other seven bullets into her body to eliminate her and her evidence. He rendered her a quadriplegic, but he could not be hanged for that. Which of the two crimes in justice would deserve the supreme penalty if it were available?
The penalty is illogical. The man who is a bad shot is not hanged, but the man who is a good shot is. The man who throws a stone into a pub and kills somebody by chance is guilty of murder by recklessness. The man who throws a hand grenade intending to kill everybody in the pub because they are thought to be of some other religion but instead blinds or maims them all lives. There is no justice or logic in a mandatory death penalty.
The new clause is an amendment of chance. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, we should look at the chances involved. The outcome does not depend only on the jury. I understand that the Bill would abolish the ability to manipulate one's jury by objection. In Scotland we still have that to some extent because I was persuaded as a Law Officer that to remove it would be to introduce absurd objections on alleged cause shown. Whichever way the matter goes, the 15 members of the jury are there by chance. One fact is never taken into account by those who listen to, or say that they are listening to, the public demand. The public who demand the death penalty are also the public who sit on the jury. When 15 members of the public are sitting on a jury, they do not represent the call of the public for capital punishment. If they did, Ellis, who I first defended on a charge of capital murder, would unquestionably have been hanged, and by a unanimous decision.
770 We do not just want a free vote. We ought also to come into the Chamber with a free mind. I am not encased by preordained attitudes in this matter—a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East. I am open to any argument that persuades me. I have not necessarily always held the same view, but I am persuaded that the death penalty is illogical, irreversible, unfair and unjust. It may have been appropriate at times in the past, but I am persuaded that that is no longer so.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the age of television. We have already seen what happens. The House will remember the events surrounding the execution for cocaine smuggling in Malaysia. There were interviews with the family. The question was asked, "There is an hour to go; what does it feel like as the sister of a condemned man?" In the aftermath of "Spycatcher" and "Tumbledown", it is clear that if one of the two sides would stand to make money from an execution, it would not be the victim's family; it would be the family of the deceased.
There are arguments in favour of those who say that there should be capital punishment. They say that it is a deterrent. It did not deter any of the first three people whom I defended for capital murder, who were very nearly hanged, from going on to commit appalling crimes with weapons.
It is said that the supreme crime demands the supreme penalty. That is a misunderstanding. It is said that the death penalty should be imposed for retribution, which I translate as vengeance. I want to make the next point without emotion but seriously. When I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in a television debate on capital punishment eagerly putting up his hand as the first person who would want to leap up the steps of the scaffold to pull the lever—as volunteer No. 1 at the head of the queue—it seemed to me that he was more interested in the thirst for vengeance than in the justice of an appropriate penalty. It is important that passion and emotion should not play their part. The horror of any appalling crime immediately moves us, if we are human, to want to take revenge, but that is not the purpose of or the justification for the law, or the duty of this House.
Those who vote for the new clause will inevitably vote to murder some innocent people. I defended two innocent people who were pardoned. I should not like to have to bear the thought that some act or omission of mine had resulted in their wrongful death. I have endured the agony of many capital trials. I have endured fear with the jury, the witnesses and the police, who are the investigators and prosecutors. I know what capital trials were about for all those involved. That awful event had nothing to do with hot justice and retribution, least of all for the jury.
The new clause would be absurd, but that is not the point. It is said in Scotland, "Oor juries always convict." One would therefore try to make sure that there was a transfer of the trial to Edinburgh, as happened in the Meehan case. We said, "Oor jury is not going to acquit a man who murdered Mrs. Ross from Racecourse road in Ayr." That trial was held in Edinburgh and it would have resulted in an acquittal but for the events in the trial, and before it, that led to a conviction by two votes.
For myself, and speaking only for myself, the power of life and death should, with limited exceptions, rest with 771 Almighty God and not with us. I do not believe that in any circumstances it is right for us to say that we should take unto ourselves that right, nor do I believe that it is right for us to say that the odd innocent, and hopefully also criminal, man who is murdered by the state is the right price to pay. There is no price to pay for life.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I do not propose to rehearse again the arguments that have already been canvassed at length about whether there should be the death penalty. Those arguments stand. Some people fundamentally believe that there should be the death penalty; other people fundamentally believe that there should not be the death penalty. I intend to deal with the proposed new clause.
I have to declare an interest as a practising lawyer. In my view, this is a thoroughly bad new clause. It brings sentencing into the mind of the jury. It has always been a fundamental principle of our system that the jury should determine matters of fact—whether a man is guilty and, if he is guilty, of which counts of the indictment he is guilty. If he is found guilty, the judge sentences him. The minute that we begin to depart from that principle, we depart from the principle on which jury trial is based.
The new clause seeks to do that. It says that the jury must consider whether a man is guilty of a capital crime. Having decided that question, it then has to consider whether that man should live or die. By asking a jury to take that second step, we are asking them to take a partisan view during the first step, which should be objective: whether, under the English system, the Crown has proved its case. It has always been a fundamental principle of our legal system that the defence has to prove nothing. It is for the Crown to prove its case. By seeking to introduce that aspect, the new clause takes us away from that fundamental principle and makes the jury very much partisan in the cause.
The new clause is also bad because there can be no certainty of uniformity. In theory, the system has always been that, whether one is tried in London or Newcastle, the verdict should always be logical. We know from our experience that juries vary. There is no way in which there can be a guarantee that the same decision will be arrived at in all cases. There has been much talk recently in the newspapers about juries. Certain politicians have already begun to climb on the bandwagon, suggesting that at Snaresbrook it is difficult to convict a burglar. That is not true. It is difficult to convict a handler at Snaresbrook because everybody seems to buy something in a pub. It is said that at Knightsbridge it is difficult to secure a conviction in other sorts of cases. If those problems already exist, how can there be uniformity of decision?
I notice that a few hon. Members are busy chatting about other matters, but I ask those who are in favour of the new clause to think about another simple issue. In future, jurors will not be selected at random, and there will be no right of challenge. The Bill takes away that right of challenge. How can we guarantee that a jury selected in Sheffield, Manchester or Leeds will be of the same sort and composition as a jury selected in London, Birmingham or Southampton? Without that certainty, there can be no uniformity of decision on the vital second question that the new clause seeks to ask—the right to live or die.
There will always be those who want to hang, and there will always be those who are violently opposed to capital punishment. I say to those who want a return to hanging 772 that they should not ask for it to be brought back on the simple premise that is before the House. They should not put before the House a new clause that would lead to uncertainty and, more particularly, that would lead to the destruction of our trial system and to the imposition on a jury of a question that should never be asked. A jury should never be asked to decide the sentence. They are there merely to decide guilt or innocence.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I shall vote for the new clause for the same reason as I have voted for every proposed new clause, amendment or Bill that has been introduced since I was first elected in 1974 that had as its purpose the restoration of capital punishment to our judicial system.
I have never been in any doubt that innocent lives would be saved if those who were motivated to murder knew full well that if they took the life of another person they could forfeit their own. All common sense tells us that this must be so. Are the opponents of restoration seriously trying to tell us that no one who sets out to burgle with a gun in his pocket will think twice before using it if the possibility of the death penalty exists? Are they seriously trying to suggest that no man raping a woman at knife point will be deterred from using that knife to obliterate his principal witness? Do they really expect us to believe that no criminal will be deterred from using his gun or knife to kill a policeman to avoid arrest?
But tonight I want to consider a different aspect which should be of concern to all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Will the hon. Member consider for a second the fact that capital punishment could be an encouragement to further murder if the original murder has been witnessed? What does he say to that point?
§ Mr. Gardiner
I would not accept that at all. I am speaking of deterrence as regards the original murder.
My principal argument concerns the continuing gulf between decisions that we take on this subject and the view of the clear majority of the people whom we collectively represent. The view of the public on restoration has been remarkably consistent ever since capital punishment was abolished 24 years ago. I cite the evidence of two respectable opinion polls, National Opinion and Gallup, since they have taken a regular interest in this issue over the years in question.
In 1964, before abolition, NOP recorded 67 per cent. wanting to keep the death penalty, but that did not slop Parliament abolishing it. In 1966 it recorded a staggering total of 82 per cent. against abolition, but still Parliament confirmed the experiment in 1968. Abolitionists assured us then that public opinion would in time come round to following this clear lead, but the public never did. Throughout the 1970s the proportion calling for restoration varied between 67 and 82 per cent., yet in 1979 the House still refused to heed that call. Since 1981 Gallup has recorded support for restoration from 64 to 69 per cent. Other opinion polls show even higher figures. Only last year NOP found 73 per cent. calling for restoration, and that was after 23 years' experience of abolition.
The public feel even more strongly on specific categories of murder. In polls conducted between 1981 and 1987, Gallup found the number wanting capital punishment restored for the murder of members of the Army and the police forces varying between 66 and 75 per 773 cent.; for terrorist murders from 73 to 78 per cent.; and for murders of women following sexual assault from 69 to 72 per cent.
Such figures cannot be dismissed as one-off verdicts following some particularly gruesome outrage; nor can they be dismissed as—to use the words of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—"an emotional spasm". They represent the consistently expressed demand of the British people over 24 years. Yet that clear demand has been blocked repeatedly in the House.
I have spoken and written on the issue many times and the letters I have received afterwards have always made very sad reading for anyone who has the well-being of Parliament at heart. One comment repeated over and over again is:It's no use telling our MP—he just won't listen.Another comment is:It doesn't matter what we think—Parliament just doesn't want to know. Yet we're the people who are afraid to walk alone or answer our door at night.Yet another is:Will Members of Parliament never listen?Apparently not, for the will of the majority is consistently frustrated in this House.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the only way for the House to know the will of the people would be through a national referendum on capital punishment?
§ Mr. Gardiner
I have my doubts about a referendum, for the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). In my view, a referendum would tell us nothing that we do not know already from reputable opinion polls over 24 years. And, as we know, one cannot legislate as a result of a referendum; one can only conduct it in an advisory capacity. So it would tell us nothing more than we know at the moment. The majority view, recorded not in a referendum but in opinion poll after opinion poll, tells us that the vast majority of the population want restoration of the death penalty. Yet they are frustrated by the decisions of the House.
Sir Winston Churchill said:The will of the majority, in accordance with traditions that have come down to us from earliest times, is the only healthy foundation for the State. The much tried and often proved good sense of the mass of the British people is the only safeguard on which the British Constitution relies. Trust the people.Why cannot we trust the people in their judgment of what directly affects the safety of their daily lives?
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that Winston Churchill also said that the grass will grow green on the battlefields, but never on the scaffold?
§ Mr. Gardiner
He did, but I do not think that that detracts in the least from the quotation that I have just made.
We are told that this vote is a matter of conscience.
§ Mr. Gardiner
No, I will not give way any more; I am sorry.
774 I accept that there are obviously some very deep religious convictions involved. Far be it from me to question the conscience of any hon. Member, but there is a danger that we all face of using conscience as an easy escape route to avoid taking a difficult decision. Surely our exercise of conscience must take cognisance of and embrace the clearly expressed wishes of the vast majority of those whom we represent.
Edmund Burke is frequently quoted to us saying that we cast our votes here as representatives, not as delegates, which is fair enough. But Burke also said:In all disputes between [the people] and their rulers, the presumption is at least on a par in favour of the people.That was in 1771. Again, he said:The people are the masters.That was in 1780. Let us not forget that they are our masters still. Our duty must be to heed their voice.
We are told that in the Division we shall lose. If that is the case, so be it. But this issue will come back to the House again and again so long as the people's wish is frustrated. Parliament cannot go on obstructing this consistent demand from the majority of people. The day must come when we cease to obstruct that judgment. I wish that that day were now.
§ Mr. Mallon
I acknowledge the powerful and impressive speech of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). He brought us face to face not only with the legality but with the humanity of the matter. It is right that, on the strength of such a remarkable speech, we should welcome him to the House.
It is a disturbing irony that we have had two almost simultaneous debates touching on the most central right of the individual—the right to live—and the right of society to state how individual rights will be decided. I refer of course to what is now known as the Alton Bill and this new clause. They have much in common. They are about the same thing—the sacredness of life and an individual's right to live out his God-given life until it ends in the way that it is supposed to end by that who gave him his life, and not by the abortionist's scalpel or the hangman's noose. I approach the debate from a pro-life and right-to-life point of view.
It is a fundamental contradiction that, one week, people can be pro-life in terms of abortion and, the following week, be anti-life in terms of capital punishment. I cannot see consistency, logic, or the type of humanitarian approach that must be brought to both debates if they are ever to reach the fruition that I hope to see.
There is danger in both debates. In effect, self-righteous indignation about both issues becomes self-righteous indulgence. Every year we trot out the sacred cow, give it its yearly outing, debate the issue, and then put it back out to pasture. That is bad for both issues. It diminishes the interest and the attitudes that we bring to the issues and the passion with which we should deal with them. We should debate this matter with passion, because we are dealing with the most fundamental principle—the sacredness of human life and whether it should be taken. Hon. Members should have no doubt that that is what we are discussing, and that is what we discussed in the abortion debate. We cannot allow the matter to become ritualistic.
Winston Churchill was quoted earlier in the debate. He made another point that is relevant to all of us, and we should remind ourselves of it when we debate issues with a high moral content. Of some of his friends, Winston Churchill said that they carried their rectitude like a 775 banner and stopped every now and again to salute it. Let us not do that with such fundamental issues as the unborn child's right to live and the adult person's right not to have his life terminated by the hangman's noose. I must bring that fundamental approach to the debate.
The Howard League for Penal Reform stated:A judicially sanctioned execution is an inherently immoral action. It is a barbaric, brutalising and degrading form of punishment which is contrary to respect and value for human life.From that point of view, I have a closed mind. My mind was closed before I came to the debate. I shall vote against the new clause, because it involves the taking of a human being's life for reasons that simply cannot be justified.
We are considering one of the most convoluted ironies that one could imagine. It has been implied and stated through the media by some proponents and supporters that new clause I would not apply to the north of Ireland. If it were so, we should have the most ridiculous situation in which a clause relating to capital punishment would not apply to that country under the Government's jurisdiction which, by comparison, had a remarkably high murder rate. That would make us the laughing stock of the rest of the world.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
I am working on the assumption that the supporters of the new clause expect it to be applied in Northern Ireland. That might make the situation worse, not better, for the argument, but I should like the matter to be cleared up.
§ Mr. Mallon
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Whether or not it applies to the north of Ireland, it is nonsense. We are constantly told by no less a person than the Prime Minister that the north of Ireland is as British as Finchley. If we are so British, then all the legislation that is passed by the House should apply to us. Yet this legislation simply cannot apply unless one thing is done, and that is to reintroduce jury trials. What a black comedy it would be if we were to reintroduce the jury system so that juries could recommend that people be killed. That is the type of black comedy that we would face with the new clause if it were to apply to the north of Ireland.
The ultimate protection for an accused person is his peers, and his peers are the jury. We do not have juries in the north of Ireland. To pass this legislation would be bizarre, contradictory, and macabre. We would be laughed at and scorned by every civilised country of the world.
Many eminent and able lawyers in the House will deal more effectively than I shall with the legalities of the legislation, but one point must be made as forcefully as possible. New clause 15 refers toparticular premeditation, brutality or callousness".I wonder how that will be determined. I wonder what it will mean to a jury who are charged with giving an opinion and a judge who is charged with making a decision. Will it be "quite callous and premeditated", "slightly callous and premeditated", "very callous and premeditated", or "extremely callous and premeditated"? At which point will an offence become a hanging offence? That is the difficulty that we face, and that is the tragedy that we shall bring to the country if the new clause is passed.
If the new clause means "very" or "extremely", rather than "slightly" or "quite", we shall get vengeance from society. If the wording is "quite" or "slightly", we shall get punishment from society. The aim of the law is not to do 776 either; it is to achieve the maximum protection for society. If we seek vengeance, we shall not deal with justice. Vengeance is for the terrorist, the maniacal killer and for the person who has no respect for the law. Vengeance should never be part of what we treasure as a proper system of justice. Over the centuries, the march of justice has been to overcome private vengeance. To leave our judicial and legal system in search of vengeance would be a disservice not only to this generation but to future generations.
The Secretary of State stated that if the new clause were passed there would be media hype, media trials, and show trials, and he said also that, in a dramatic way, they would become the focus of attention. He looked at the matter from one point of view, but I specify another point of view. If the new clause is passed and we have hanging juries and hanging judges, can hon. Members imagine the type of media hype that will occur not when it is over but before and during a trial? I have seen it recently with terrorist trials. I venture to suggest that it is almost impossible for a person to be given a fair trial, with helicopters on the roofs, snipers all around and the media carrying pictures of the scenes of the crime in which he is supposed to have been involved, before the trial has even begun. That will be multiplied 10 or 20 times, until the law and the whole trial process become part of a substantial media hype which can only do it a remarkable disservice. Let us not forget that jurors are simply people. They read newspapers, watch television, listen to rumours and talk to their neighbours, and they would be substantially influenced by such a hype.
It would he remiss of me, coming as I do from the north of Ireland, not to refer to the violence, terrorism and paramilitary activity there. I say with no fear of contradiction—because I come from a tradition in Ireland that knows it off by heart, has learned it the hard way and is still paying the price—that the most potent aspect of Irish political life is its martyrs.
We should remember the famous words of Padraig Pearse at the grave of O'Donnovan Rossa. Speaking of the British Government, he said:The fools, the fools. They have left us our Fenian dead".How right he was. Nothing is so potent in Irish political life as the martyr's gravestone; nothing is so tuned to the bugle in the blood, whether it be Protestant or Catholic blood, as that feeling of martyrdom for a cause. That is the motivation, the tremendous driving force, that has kept this series of troubles going for four times as long as the second world war. And I am told that the death penalty will be a deterrent in the face of that motivation. It is not, and it never will be.
I ask the House again, as I asked in the last debate on this topic, never again to let this type of legislation apply in this country. It does nothing for Parliament or the people that it serves, and it will do a grave disservice to the whole process of justice.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
In Northern Ireland there are killings weekly and sometimes daily, and every public representative must search his own heart and conscience on this issue, and those elected to public office must at all times be careful to recognise the position that they hold.
On Sunday afternoon, I was as at a home in Castlederg. There was a widow woman there. She had one son, who had been shot through the back of the head by the IRA. 777 The reason for his killing was his religion. He was a Protestant, and wore Her Majesty's uniform as a member of the UDR.
As has been mentioned, there have been some 17 murders in that area, for which no one has been amenable in the courts. We heard from the Home Secretary about Enniskillen, but he did not tell us that no one has been made amenable for that terrible massacre. In Kilkeel, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)——
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I always thought that it was part of Newry and Armagh, but I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong. As he knows, we have experienced a great change of boundaries in the past.
In Kilkeel, a former UDR member had a mercury tilt bomb put under his van. Fortunately, only the detonator exploded, or there would have been three other victims. Visiting such homes, one is faced with the realities of murder. At another home that I visited on Sunday, I was shown a picture of a wedding that had taken place just a few years ago. The mother said, "Only one member of the bridal party is still living—the bride." The groom and the best man, who were members of the UDR, were murdered, as was the bridesmaid, who belonged to the Greenfinch part of the UDR.
When faced with such events, it is necessary to search one's heart and to realise that those people's convictions have a granite rock on which to rest. I do not believe that gut reaction is the foundation on which our convictions should rest, although there is nothing wrong with gut reaction in the immediate wake of such atrocities. It was Bishop Butler, the famous philosopher, who said:The indignation raised by cruelty and injustice, and the desire of having it punished, which persons unconcerned would feel, is by no means malice. No, it is resentment against vice and wickedness: it is one of the common bonds, by which society is held together; a fellow-feeling, which each individual has in behalf of the whole species, as well as of himself.Perhaps that is a good illustration of gut reaction, but I must have something far more solid on which to rest my convictions.
I was deeply impressed by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). In that speech, which was made as a sort of confession of his relationship with trials in which he had taken part, he said that the power of life and death was in the hands of the Almighty. That is absolutely correct, but he should have gone on to develop the theme.
Capital punishment is in the hands of God, but God has delegated to mankind certain responsibilities and duties. Although we may not like those responsibilities or may resent those duties, we cannot get away from them. I have listened to some strange statements here today. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—the Scottish Liberal—said that the state had not the right to take life. Let us analyse that statement: it means that the state has no right to declare war. Where would we find ourselves if we followed the logic of that?
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said that every man and woman in this country should have the right to be saved from the hangman's noose. They have that right, if they keep their hands out of crime. Every man 778 has a right to keep out of prison if he does not violate the law—I have some practical experience of that. We all have our rights. Let us not be carried away with this wonderful theme of saving men from the hangman's noose. Everyone can be saved if he stays in line with the law. [Interruption.] I do not believe that every court in the land, every police officer, every judge and every jury is crooked. If that were so, we should wipe out the House because it would have no authority. I apologise for raising the temper of some hon. Members.
I believe with all my heart that capital punishment is a divinely revealed law that rests on the rock granite of biblical revelation. It rests on the very principle that some hon. Members have used to try to turn for their benefit. It rests on the sacredness of life. It is because life is not cheap and because life is sacred that divinely revealed scripture tells us that those who have responsibility in government should exercise the power of the sword.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) may turn round to smile at his friends but he talked about that authority which deals with capital punishment. I too want to deal with that authority. The word of God tells us, way back before the Mosaic epoch:And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.The sacredness of life demanded that if a man took life, he should forfeit his. That is why life is so valuable and sacred.
We come then to the Mosaic law where we have the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". I have heard abolitionists say in the House and in other places that that supports their case, but anyone who has studied the Mosaic law will have seen that the scriptures advocate that certain crimes should have capital punishment. That scripture is dealing with a person who goes out to commit the crime of murder. Some hon. Members may say that that is the Old Testament and that we should forget about it, but the Bible is one book and the Old Testament has within it the genius and grace of the New Testament.
I turn to the greatest authority of all, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. If ever any person set up the greatest of all deterrents, it was the incarnate Son of God when he walked this earth. He said that all that a man hath, he will give for his life. There we have the great deterrent from the one who spake as never man spake.
I have been in and out of prison and have talked to prisoners, and I know that all that a man has, he will give for his life. But Christ went on to point out that those who take the sword must be punished by the sword. I remember hearing in the House an hon. Member say that no man could be a Christian and not believe in the abolition of capital punishment. I asked that Member, "Do you believe that Paul was a Christian?" He said that of course Paul was a Christian. What did Paul say? He said:if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die".Let us remember that Paul wrote most of the New Testament under the inspiration of God. So let us get the facts right as they are revealed in scripture.
The very genius of the Gospel is the genius that lies at the heart of this, because the genius of the Gospel is a cross and a death. If Christ had not died we could not live, for we all deserve death: 779The wages of sin is deathandThe soul that sinneth, it shall die".That is at the very heart of the Christian message; someone else took my place and died for me.
I now come to the reality of the position as we have it in Northern Ireland today. When I first came to the House there was a debate on capital punishment. The IRA threatened to get everyone who voted against abolition. One man was got—the Rev. Robert Bradford, my near and dear friend. Two other Members of the House have been murdered by the IRA—the former Member for Southgate, Sir Anthony Berry, in the Brighton explosion, and Mr. Airey Neave, who was the Member for Abingdon.
We were told by the IRA that if we dared show our hand in the House against abolition we would be on the line. What else were we told? We were told that for every person who was hanged, two would be shot dead. I do not bow to terrorist judgment. I have walked too long with death in Northern Ireland, as has every public representative; no matter what side of the fence he comes from, every public representative is in danger. Every public representative walks with death every day. I say to the IRA, "You will not dictate to the representatives of Northern Ireland how we cast our votes in this House." If it means death, so be it, because principle and liberty are more dear to me than life lived under the threat of the scum of the Irish Republican Army.
I resent deeply on behalf of Northern Ireland what was said by the Home Secretary today. He said that he had consulted the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He said that the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary had told him that his senior officers did not want capital punishment. Has ever a Chief Constable in Northern Ireland been attacked? Has ever an assistant chief constable been attacked? There is a trade union for police officers in Northern Ireland. I should have thought that that would appeal to the Opposition Benches. Why was the Police Federation never invited to give its views? Its members are the men who stand on the street. We heard today that a policeman is no different from a post office attendant. Policemen in Northern Ireland put themselves in the front line. Why were members of the UDR not consulted to find out their view? When they put on their uniform, they put themselves on the line. Those people are a special category.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Will my hon. Friend tell the House that the Police Federation has expressed an opinion which is totally contrary to that of the Chief Constable? The Police Federation has requested humbly that the House should give policemen the protection of capital punishment. That is the reality. Will my hon. Friend also tell the House that in Northern Ireland capital punishment is taking place? The killing of the innocent is happening. It is time that many hon. Members were more concerned about the innocent than the terrorists and the guilty.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I feel very sore that Opposition Members should think that that is something to smile about. I have been in too many police homes not to realise reality. We live with it day after day. We are not taking part in an academic exercise. We are walking and talking with these people every day. The clear teaching upon which the Government rest is their authority to use the 780 power of the sword. Government is a divinely ordained institution. The chief magistrate has responsibility under God and we, as part of this Parliament. have responsibilities to discharge. There is no way that we can escape from that.
The power of the sword is in the hands of the chief magistrate to punish the guilty and to defend the innocent. Well, the innocent in Northern Ireland are not being defended today. I heard a graphic and gruesome description of hanging by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I can tell the House of murders that will make everybody here sick. Hon. Members have seen on their televisions something of what we have had day after day. However, they did not see half of it, because the eyes of one of those corporals were gouged out by a knife in the hand of one of the IRA killers. That kind of action calls for the Government to do something to defend the ordinary people of Northern Ireland and to give them a chance to exist and to live. Any Government who fail to exercise the power of the sword fail in their bounden duty and responsibility. Those are the things that concern us in Northern Ireland.
I believe in jury trials. I do not believe that the juries should have been done away with. I voted against it in Committee with some of the hon. Friends of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, because it was not juries which were being threatened at that time; it was witnesses. I want to see jury trials. I believe that we must have jury trials if we are to have capital punishment. However, I will vote for the new clause because I believe that it is putting up a marker. It recognises that in our constituencies there are people who are saying, "We should have a return to capital punishment." Some hon. Members might close their ears to that, but that tide will rise and, as crime continues in that part of the United Kingdom, and as the IRA and terrorism worldwide tightens its grip on freedom-loving people, those Members will realise what we are really up against. They will have to come to grips with the fact that there is only one real deterrent, and that is to deal with the people who commit those crimes.
I finish with the words spoken in this House by my late, beloved friend, Robert Bradford, who said:The issue is not whether capital punishment is a deterrent. The fact that both sides resort to statistics to prove their point means that the exercise is futile because it is inconclusive. The one thing that is certain is that capital punishment deters the terrorist, who is removed from society by capital punishment.When capital punishment is applied, there is commensurate punishment with the crime and at least one terrorist has been deterred. It does the Northern Ireland people a grave injustice to suggest that the murder of educationally sub-normal boys and girls and the murder of a two-year-old girl will result in a kind of secular canonisation of IRA terrorists.That is what we have been hearing today: "If we deal with terrorism, there will be murders." There will be some sort of secular canonisation. Do hon. Members really think that the right thinking, decent Roman Catholic and Protestant people in Northern Ireland will give these murderous thugs some sort of secular canonisatlion because they meet their just deserts?
I conclude with the words of my late lamented friend, who said:I conclude by saying that we must all be realistic. Hostages will be taken, counter-murders will occur"—and they are occurring— 781but unfortunately hostage and murder are ironies of our fate. One thing is clear: terrorism will win if we compromise our attitude in respect of the punishment applied."—[Official Report, 11 December 1975; Vol. 902, c. 709–10.]
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
I want to return to the main theme of the debate which is concerned with criminal law and the use of capital punishment for orthodox crime.
Of course, for many of us, the arguments about whether capital punishment is effective are independent. The argument about whether capital punishment deters is not the key issue. The key issue is how we feel about capital punishment. Whether the number of murders would be lowered is not the central issue. Every society has to decide which punishments, even if effective, are beyond the pale. Therefore, we deliberately reject some punishments, even when we know that they work. We reject the amputation of limbs, although we know that that would lead to fewer thefts. We reject some forms of drug therapy and brain surgery even when we know that they would lead to less horrific crimes. Many of us would also reject the idea of judicial execution even if the number of murders could be lowered by that route. However, there is no evidence that the number of murders would be lowered.
We take the view that judicial executions degrade us. One of the memorable experiences of my life concerns a friend who was a prison officer. He was a member of a team who, through the last stages of a prisoner's life, had to befriend him, make the remaining days of his life as comfortable as possible and then accompany him to the scaffold. Just hearing about that scarred me and I know that it scarred that prison officer. Among the most impressive evidence we have received has been that from prison governors who have said that they would have to reconsider their position in the service if execution was brought back.
We must continually be seeking to reduce the amount of violence. There is no other evidence other than that violence breeds violence. I have no evidence other than that which would show that, if we were to increase the amount of violence by judicial execution, it would be harmful.
There is no evidence that deterrence works in the case of murder. Deterrence is a flawed idea in any case. All around us is evidence of deterrents that do not work. One finds evidence in public house car parks of deterrents that do not work. There is evidence among smokers of deterrents that do not work. On the streets of America all sorts of people carry guns. The legal enforcement agencies carry guns. Instant deterrents are available, but look at the level of crime in that country.
We are constantly told that the certainty of detection is the best deterrence. The detection rate for murder is 97 per cent, yet that does not deter murder. Murder is a special crime about which the arguments for deterrents are even less effective than they are usually. We have heard several times that 75 per cent. of murders are among people who know each other—often very well. They are committed by people who are trapped in a unique situation—a once-in-a-lifetime situation of an emotional charnel house—that causes them to take this particular action. It cannot be those people that we are talking about today.
782 There is also a small minority of very disturbed people who will certainly not be deterred by the death penalty or anything else.
We must get away from the tempting idea that has been suggested in this debate that anything can be put right by judicial execution. Murder is a loss that cannot be restored. No matter how much we want to restore it, nothing can. Judicial execution would not put matters right.
New clause 1 is a cop-out and a fudge. It is put forward by people who basically want to reintroduce the death penalty but who know that a blanket provision for all murders is unthinkable and unsustainable in the House. They also know that choosing murders by category—for example, by the method or by the kind of victim—was completely discredited when it was used in the past. They have therefore gone for the idea of leaving it to the jury to choose who to recommend for the death sentence. That is a half-baked idea for reasons that have been mentioned. First, no one should add to the pressures on a jury in a murder trial. Imagine the pressures on those who oppose capital punishment when serving on a jury if they knew the consequences of a conviction.
The issue of whether majority recommendations would be allowed has not been adequately dealt with. It is difficult to imagine unanimous recommendations. We know the sense of relief that juries in ordinary criminal cases feel when, having found someone guilty, they then find out that that person has previous convictions Even if wrongly, they then have a sense of guilt lifted from them. If jurors had to recommend that someone should be executed, that sense of guilt would be much greater.
It has already been stated eloquently this evening that, compared with when the death penalty existed, we now have a much seamier media in this country which would exploit such trails for the basest of reasons, such as increasing the sale of newspapers or the number of television viewers.
A second difficulty about leaving the decision to juries and about the new clause is that all the prejudices of the jurors would come out when making death penalty recommendations. From experience and from elsewhere, we know that it is much more likely that women would be sentenced to death. We know that unpopular minority groups—on the basis of sex, sexual behaviour or sexual orientation—would be much more likely to be recommended for the death sentence.
Many people will remember the Jeremy Bamber case. Five members of the same family were killed by Jeremy Bamber. Colin Caffell, Bamber's brother-in-law, has written to me. He is the ex-husband of Sheila Caffell and the father of the children who were appallingly killed by Bamber. Mr. Caffell wrote to me on this issue, and to the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), stating:Had there been the death sentence, I suspect that Jeremy Bamber, who murdered my ex-wife and children, might have got off because people can't understand how 'a nice looking boy like him' could do something like that. Even though we can see, from the evidence, how dangerous he is, Jeremy doesn't fit the archetype image of a desperate killer. He is a good-looking and charismatic character with charm, a good education and everything to live for; a man who could, and almost did, sway the hearts of the jury; a man who could easily kill again!All the evidence, especially from America, shows that if there is the death penalty for categories of murder, it is the 783 people from the poorest sections of society who are most likely to be singled out for that recommendation. I thought that this would be a controversial point, but after what the lawyers have said today, it is not. We like to think that the law and juries are perfectly objective. However, we have heard some stunning evidence today about the lack of objectivity.
The third major difficulty about letting juries recommend the death penalty is that those who propose the new clause have seen that a tiny category of murders are so appalling and distressing that juries and courts will easily recognise them and recommend the death penalty. It must be realised that it is for precisely that category of murder that guilty verdicts are most unsafe. Timothy Evans would have been such a murderer. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) reminded us once again about Paddy Meehan. He would have been the kind of murderer who would have been recommended for the death penalty, having killed an elderly couple. David Blythe in Manchester, who was held for murdering two elderly women, would have been such a murderer. The Birmingham pub bombers and the Guildford bombers would have been such murderers. The Broadwater Farm murder was such a case.
I do not know enough about the latter three cases to pronounce on whether the people concerned were guilty or innocent, but. I do know that there are grave doubts in each and every one of those cases about whether those people were guilty or innocent. Those were horrifying murders of the kind that engender intense emotion; when the pressures on the police to find the guilty are intense; when there are pressures to short-cut and where the evidence is much more likely to be circumstantial and flimsy rather than conclusive. Such murders might attract death penalty recommendations from juries, but it is in precisely such cases that the verdicts are least safe. At least those involved in those currently troubling cases are still in prison and alive. Under the new clause, they would not be.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
Still vivid in my memory is the ordeal that I went through about 50 years ago as one of the pickets on the gates of Gloucester prison at the last hanging. I have never got over it. In all the years since, I have done my tiny bit to help to improve the appalling situation that existed in those days.
The deliberate taking of another person's life in cold blood is an uncivilised act under any circumstances. To carry it out accompanied by the solemn ceremony of the state apparatus is totally obscene. I feel passionately, therefore, that it would be utterly wrong to reintroduce the death penalty without the most conclusive evidence that it acts as a unique deterrent. That evidence does not exist. In fact, throughout the world, the evidence shows that the death penalty does not reduce the murder rate, but leads simply to a greater coarsening of attitudes to human life.
The arguments against capital punishment are well known to the House. So strong are they that they persuaded Parliament in 1965 to abolish the death penalty. So strong are they—[Interruption.] I thought that I heard somebody whispering or mumbling, but apparently not. So strong are they that they have persuaded Parliament time and time again not to reverse that momentous decision.
With the indulgence of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I enumerate the compelling reasons why 784 capital punishment was wrong, is wrong, and will ever be wrong—[Interruption.] It is off again—there is something in the background. [Laughter.]
First, capital punishment is not a deterrent. The Royal Commission of 1965——
§ Mr. Irving
No, I never give way and if you were the only girl in the world and I was the only boy, I would not give way to you.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his position perfectly clear.
§ Mr. Irving
First, capital punishment is not a deterrent. The Royal Commission of 1965 said that there was no evidence to prove it. Recent surveys in the United States of America, where some states have the death penalty and some have not, show exactly the same.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. It is reasonable to ask the hon. Lady not to continue interrupting from a sedentary position, as she has done most of the afternoon.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have sought to intervene from a standing position but the hon. Gentlemen did not give way, so it is scarcely my fault if I interrupt from a sedentary position.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
If one is not allowed to intervene from a standing position in this House, it is usual for hon. Members to restrict their comments until the Chair calls them.
§ Mr. Irving
Some states have the death penalty and some have not, but they all say exactly the same: where a killing is done in the heat of the moment, whether by a jealous husband or a thwarted mistress, the threat of execution seems to hold no terror.
Secondly, supporters of capital punishment do not call for it in every case. Surely that is a powerful admission by them that it is not necessarily a deterrent. Thirdly, we cannot restore life to a man wrongly convicted and executed. Alas, there have been in living memory the most appalling miscarriages of justice in a land which prides itself on its rule of law and whose legal system has been the object of worldwide admiration. Fourthly, hanging a terrorist would create a martyr and cause, not deter, more outrages. If capital punishment has the opposite effect, every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of both political parties would have come to this House to seek those powers, but we are told, and I accept, that it would create martyrs whose deaths would inspire a hundred fearful imitations.
785 I confess to feeling greater hostility to the terms of this new clause than I have felt towards any of its predecessors, and I have spoken in every debate on this subject since I have been a Member of this House. The new clause proposes to place on the shoulders of the jury the burden of deciding whether a killing is sufficiently evil to recommend the death penalty. That proposal is unprecedented in our legal history. For the first time, it places upon the jury, not the judge, the function of influencing the sentence of the accused. Further, by its very definition, it puts on the jury the burden of deciding fine matters of motive and morality.
If a husband poisons his wife because she is dying of an incurable illness and he wishes to put her out of her pain. a jury in one place may find that evil and recommend the death penalty, whereas a jury in another area may not find it so. The provision would be wrong, unworkable and intolerable if it became law. Will the House insist in such a case, where the sanction is so terrible and final, that a jury must return a unanimous verdict? To do less would be to undermine the awesome nature of the punishment, and if the verdict must be unanimous it would require only one juror who is opposed to capital punishment in conscience to refuse to convict. The trial would then be stopped and the jury discharged. In those circumstances, would it be right for that man again to stand trial and again to fear for his life? That is not civilisation.
We do not gouge out the eye of the person guilty of theft, we do not break the bones of the one convicted of battering, and we do not yet burn the house of an arsonist. While it is evil for an individual to take a life—I wholly agree with some of the comments and the cases that have been mentioned—it is equally evil and reprehensible for a civilised state to respond in the same way.
In any discussion on capital punishment, certain matters must be taken for granted by abolitionists and non-abolitionists: that the whole apparatus of the death cell and the executioner is disgustingly squalid, repugnant to decent feeling and offensive to most; that capital punishment inflicts intolerable mental agony on the condemned man and particularly on his family; that it imposes a sordid responsibility on the prison staff, so consequently may well keep many people from joining the service if it were reinstituted; and that it creates a mystique around murder which the press grossly and irresponsibly exploit.
If we pass the new clause, the bell will toll for this country and for the values which it should represent. The bell which tolls will be the death knell for a national reputation based on the solid foundations of civilisation and humanity.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)
Many moral issues cause right hon. and hon. Members on both sides great difficulty. I confess that I found the abortion issue particularly painful and had to reach a particularly painful decision about which way to cast my vote. Often we have great difficulty in deciding how to cast our votes. It is a great responsibility. We take these issues seriously and we work hard on them.
I have never found any of those difficulties attached to my decision on capital punishment. We can all find good 786 reasons for opposing the reintroduction of the death penalty. We have heard many of the arguments rehearsed during this debate and doubtless they have been rehearsed on numerous occasions in this House over the years.
There is the powerful argument that there could be a miscarriage of justice and an innocent man or woman would be sentenced to death. As hon. Members have eloquently said, while the system of justice remains fallible, and at present there are no grounds to believe that it is not, the danger will always be there. There are many well-documented cases, both when capital punishment was an option available to the courts and since then, where innocent people have been sentenced and condemned to death, and then under the old system pardoned or since capital punishment has not been an option pardoned and released. That is an extremely powerful and compelling argument.
It is also been argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Many well-argued reports and research documents have been published and many conclude that there is no evidence to suggest that the presence and liberal use of the death penalty deters capital offences. Evidence from the United States shows that it is impossible to differentiate between homicide rates in those states that have capital punishment and those that have not. The Home Secretary has already said that the rise in the number of homicides committed in Britain is substantially lower than the rise in other violent offences.
There is a great danger that the use of the death penalty would be arbitrary and unfair. We all know how difficult it was to differentiate between the types of murders that qualified for the death penalty under the Homicide Act 1957 and those that did not.
The danger that lies behind the new clause is the public clamour for the use of the ultimate sanction. If the new clause were accepted that clamour would concentrate on certain well-publicised cases. The danger is that certain sections of the press would decide before a case was heard which defendant might merit the jury's recommendation for the death sentence. The pressure would build up day after day. Members of the jury, probably trying a case for the first time, would not be qualified to make a judgment. They would be under immense outside pressure to make a decision or a recommendation. I believe that those pressures would be intolerable and it would be most unfair to subject a jury to them.
Another argument that has been canvassed today is the fact that the act of execution is both cruel and inhumane. The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) said that he did not support hanging and that other methods of capital punishment should be considered. We all know that there is no humane way in which to kill a human being.
All the arguments that I have outlined could be used against the restoration of capital punishment, but the most powerful, compelling and profound argument that could be deployed against its restoration is the moral argument. The taking of a life, even when it is sanctioned by the state, is a barbaric act. I believe that it is also an inherently immoral action. Such an act is based on the principle of revenge. We should base our sentencing provisions on the normal principles of justice and leave behind the feelings of private vengeance. That is why this is, above all else, a matter of conscience and why I shall vote against new clause 1.
§ Mr. Lawrence
There has been much disagreement in the House tonight, but I believe that we all share certain views. We all share the belief that the level of mindless violence in our society is far too high. We are appalled at the level of murders, maimings, terrorist acts, rapes, muggings and hooliganism. We all share a desire to take whatever steps we can reasonably take to reduce that violence. We would all share a desire to avoid capital punishment as it is horrible to contemplate the cold-blooded taking of human life and we seek any alternative punishment that would achieve a reduction in violent crime. Unfortunately, for 23 years we have tried the only logical alternative and it has manifestly failed as violence has continued to rise.
We must all agree that the overwhelming majority of people whom we represent believe that the one necessary and reasonable step that we should take to reduce murders, maimings, perhaps to reduce rapes and muggings or any other form of violence—the use of lethal guns, knives or other hideous weapons—is the restoration of capital punishment for murder. I am sure that all hon. Members agree with what I have said, but perhaps some would not agree that we have exhausted all the alternatives.
There are a number of matters, however, on which we do not all agree. Some hon. Members would never, under any circumstances, feel justified in taking human life. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) has said that such an act is uncivilised. It is in an uncivilised society, however, that civilised punishment fails to deter. We shall not enjoy the luxury of a civilised society until we reduce the level of murders, maimings, rapes and serious violence.
Some hon. Members are against retribution and that is an honourable view. If we are to have retribution, however, I should prefer state retribution according to the rules legally and properly laid down by it rather than the retribution of private individuals in back alleys. In any event, hon. Members who believe that society would be more civilised if capital punishment was not restored are in a minority in the country.
Some hon. Members are against capital punishment because they believe that if it were applied to terrorists it would result in reprisals and they cannot face that possibility. But if we gave way to such blackmail or fear it would mean that the lawless would be making the laws of our country and we would be betraying the trust of the people who put us here.
Some hon. Members are against capital punishment because mistakes could be made and innocent people might die. That argument rests on the reasoning that it can never be justifiable, under any circumstances, to run the risk of taking innocent lives. If that were the rule by which we lived our lives, would we have gone to war in 1939 or earlier? What do we think about Hiroshima, which resulted in the loss of countless innocent lives? Those lives were lost to save more lives that would have been lost had the war continued.
Should not the saving of innocent lives lead us to ban the most lethal weapon known to man, which daily takes tens or hundreds of lives in our society—the motor car? We should not let the risk of taking innocent lives, which might inevitably follow with capital punishment, stop its reintroduction but we should endeavour to make those mistakes unlikely or impossible. That is our obligation.
788 We can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past if we make careful rules. After a jury have recommended the death penalty there is no reason why a tribunal should not consider carefully all the surrounding facts concerning the convicted person to see whether there is anything at all that can be said to prevent that person from dying. If that test had been carried out on Timothy Evans, who had a mental age of 12, he would not have died. If Hanratty, who may or may not have been innocent and about whom there is much mythology, had advanced the defence of diminished responsibility he might have succeeded. However, he chose to advance the defence of an alibi which failed.
Those are the things that could be considered by a tribunal with access to all the background information. If the tribunal found that the killing was so horrible that nothing could be said to justify the saving of the life, so be it, but by that time it would be certain that the man condemned to die would be thoroughly, completely and utterly guilty.
Some hon. Members are against capital punishment because they say that they could not bring themselves to carry it out and would not expect others to do it. There are all kinds of jobs that I could not bring myself to do. I could not inject an animal so that it died; nor could I carry out an abortion. We expect others to do those miserable jobs and it is a cop-out for us to advance that as a reason for not being in favour of capital punishment.
Some hon. Members say that in Northern Ireland capital punishment would create martyrs. Of course it would, but martyrs will be created even if there is no capital punishment in Northern Ireland. The difference is that instead of martyrdom being continuous it would be anniversarial, and people tend to forget the names of the people whose funerals they were celebrating one, two or three years before. It is an insult to the Irish people north or south to advance the argument that the restoration of capital punishment would make martyrs.
Some hon. Members will be convinced by what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about new clause 1: that it is a non-starter because it is imprecise about the powers of juries and impractical because it does not sit easily with the Criminal Justice Bill, which I remind my right hon. Friend is not yet on the statute book. My right hon. Friend said that it would be too difficult to have it in Northern Ireland where there are no juries. He said that it is contrary to the wishes of the Chief Constable of the RUC and other important people and that anyway murder represents only one hundreth of 1 per cent. of crime and one tenth of 1 per cent. of violent crimes. Does that mean that we should not entertain such a new clause but should shrug our shoulders and walk away? The new clause could be further amended in another place once the principle of restoration is established. If we do not like the way in which it is amended we can vote for the new clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) which is much simpler and does not raise those objections.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the speech by the Home Secretary and to various aspects of what can be done in the Lords. He said that this is just a matter of principle. The Lord Chief Justice has offered 789 his view on it. As a recorder, what does the hon. and learned Gentleman think about the views of the Lord Chief Justice?
§ Mr. Lawrence
As I understand it, the Lord Chief Justice did not express his view about whether there should be a restoration of capital punishment. The view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as being the view of the Lord Chief Justice was that in its present state the new clause would not work. I am saying that it can be further amended in the Lords and if hon. Members do not agree with that and are worried about it they can vote for the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North. It is much simpler and I do not think that the learned Lord Chief Justice has been asked to apply his mind to it. At any rate, we were not told that he had.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
When one boils the question down, does one not see that the principle of capital punishment comes to the simple question of one's individual conscience? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that every man's conscience, whether it be the Lord Chief Justice or Joe Soap in the street, is equal on this issue? If that is right, surely the House should reflect the views and the consciences of the overwhelming majority of our people.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful for the obvious support from my hon. Friend. I did not know until this evening that he was likely to support us. We look forward to hearing why he has changed his views.
Some hon. Members may be against capital punishment because lawyers, judges, prison officers and witnesses might be intimidated and unwilling to do their duty and would want to resign or to reconsider their positions. What on earth did lawyers, judges, prison officers and witnesses do before capital punishment was abolished? Are any of us to be afraid of doing that which is right or necessary in order to save the lives of the innocent? Is that not a slur upon the sense of duty of those who make up the legal system?
In the United States of America where capital punishment is constitutional it has been restored in many states and I have not heard that the system is breaking down in those states because of lawyers, judges and witnesses being unwilling to do their job. Why should the system break down in Britain?
For one or some or all of the reasons that I have advanced, some hon. Members are opposed to the new clause. I remind them that in opposing it they represent a minority of the people of Britain.
The arguments for and against must turn on whether capital punishment is a deterrent. If it is a deterrent it will save lives. It will stop the convicted killer or the potential killer from taking innocent lives, the lives of people who have a right to live. If it is a deterrent, to oppose its reintroduction is to prefer the life of the convicted killer to the lives of innocent people. It is to pity the killer rather than the victim or the potential victim. To do that would be unjust, immoral and thoroughly indefensible. I am getting a bit tired of being called bloodthirsty because I support the restoration of capital punishment. If it is a deterrent it will save lives and not to restore it would be more bloodthirsty and far less defensible.
790 Those opposed to capital punishment say that it does not deter because there is no evidence to that effect, but there is some evidence. Professor Erlich of Chicago has produced evidence to show that between 1933 and 1969 there was a distinct deterrent effect in the United States and that each execution may have resulted in several fewer murders. A professor of Yale has concluded that between 1939 and 1968 capital punishment was a deterrent in Britain. There is evidence throughout the world that the murder trend has risen more slowly in countries where there is capital punishment.
Let me accept that the evidence is equivocal. If it is, it is because there is no way of registering statistically and convincingly the number of times that a murder was avoided because of the fear of capital punishment. We have to look elsewhere than the statistics., for evidence about whether it is a deterrent.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) made an interesting speech and gave examples of people who were not deterred. There will always be those who are not deterred, just as there will always be the poor.
I do not say that everyone will be deterred by capital punishment, but some will be deterred and that will save many innocent lives. Why do I believe that? First, it is common sense that in many cases the consequences of being caught with one's wrongdoing must have a deterrent effect on what one does. If not, why do we have punishment at all? Why do we have sentences of any kind unless we feel that a substantial justification for them would be deterrence?
Secondly, I believe that lives would be saved; the British people overwhelmingly believe that it would deter. The judgment of ordinary people about the motivation of ordinary people must be more compelling than the judgment of experts. We do not need experts to tell us how ordinary people would react to situations that sometimes end in murder.
Thirdly, another stratum of our society believes that capital punishment is a deterrent. I am referring to the IRA. Why else does it use capital punishment to bring its people into line unless it believes that capital punishment deters terrorists? Why else was the House threatened by the leader of the IRA some years ago, when we debated capital punishment, that if we reintroduced capital punishment there would be greater reprisals against British soldiers in Northern Ireland? If the IRA believes it, why should we disbelieve it?
I believe that capital punishment is a deterrent because in the 1960s I defended some really serious criminals in a number of serious criminal cases. I used to ask them, "Is capital punishment a deterrent? Did it ever deter you? Would it deter others like you?" I am talking about a time when capital punishment was just going out of operation. It was against their interests to say to someone who was interested in politics and might one day become a Member of Parliament, "Yes, we believe that capital punishment is a deterrent." They should have been saying, "No, it is not a deterrent." I do not remember one serious criminal sitting in the cells of any of our prisons of whom I asked the question "Is it a deterrent?" saying, "No." They said, "In the days when we knew that we might hang, we did not take guns on our enterprises. When we knew that we would hang, we did not take young tearaways with us who might go over the top and start killing people."
791 Serious criminals, who may or may not have killed and murdered, the IRA and the ordinary people who understand the motivations of ordinary people perhaps more clearly than the experts do with all their statistics make me sure that for some—not for all, but perhaps for many—capital punishment is a deterrent.
We shall all vote as our consciences lead us. I shall vote for the restoration of capital punishment, as I have always done, because I believe that its restoration will reduce the killing of the innocent, and the carrying of weapons which might be used to kill or maim the innocent. Whether juries have difficulties does not matter. What matters is that the would-be killer could never be sure in advance that he would not die if he were caught having killed someone innocent. I think that he would be deterred.
Of the two options I prefer the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, which states simply and clearly, as a matter of principle, avoiding all the criticism against it by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or the learned Lord Chief Justice, thatThe maximum penalty for murder shall be death".
§ Mr. Mullin
First, may I say how saddened I was to learn from the intervention of the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) that he is now in favour of the death penalty. Only recently I appeared with him on a television programme and he said the opposite.
§ Mr. Devlin
May I elucidate that point? Personally I am not in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment, but 86 per cent. of my constituents are. I regard my conscience as being no superior to that of my constituents, so I am prepared to represent their view on this issue, which I believe to be outside politics, and which was not in my manifesto, and I shall carry that through into action this evening.
§ Mr. Mullin
It is extremely sad that the hon. Gentleman lacks the guts to do what he knows to be right.
I am against the death penalty under all circumstances, for the reasons given by many hon. Members who have spoken so articulately tonight. I wish to dwell on only one aspect of the argument which has been touched upon by other hon. Members, and which I know a little about, and that is the possibility of mistakes because mistakes are the bottom line in this argument.
In America, a study carried out in 1985 by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that this century in the United States 343 innocent people had been convicted of capital crimes and of those 25 had been executed. I mention that only in passing because tonight hon. Members on both sides of the argument have accepted that innocent people would be executed. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) who robustly faced up to the possibility, or certainty, that innocent people would be executed, as in the past others who take his view have not.
I believe that we have made rather more mistakes in convictions related to murder than we have been prepared to admit hitherto. I was interested to hear the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) say that he personally knew of 20 or 30 cases in which he believed that innocent persons had been convicted of murder. That is more than I thought we were dealing with, but from my own experiences I realise that it is quite a big problem.
792 One aspect of that problem is the inability of our legal system to own up to mistakes. The bigger the mistake, the more difficult our legal system finds it to own up. That was acknowledged by the Select Committee chaired by Lord Eden six years ago. which considered miscarriages of justice. It acknowledged then that the present system of appeal does not do justice in most of the great alleged miscarriages of justice.
Lord Denning, who often can be counted on to say out loud what other distinguished judges will say only in private, has illuminated another aspect of that problem. Faced with a choice between owning up to a mistake and discrediting public confidence in the legal system, many of our senior judges will choose to avoid owning up. That very serious allegation was made by Lord Denning in a programme in February. He was perfectly prepared to contemplate the possibility that innocent people had been and would be convicted and he felt that it was better that they should be, to avoid discrediting the legal system.
The problem is compounded by our habit of convicting people on the most slender evidence. That is at the root of many great alleged and accepted miscarriages of justice, as are confessions given in police custody and repudiated in court. They run like a thread through many of the cases with which we are familiar.
There was recently an even more remarkable example in the case of Winston Silcott, convicted of taking part in the murder of PC Blakelock. That was a particularly horrible murder that aroused great public feeling. He was convicted solely on the verbal evidence of a police officer. He did not sign any confession and there was no other evidence against him. He was, as they say in the trade, "verballed". I do not allege that Mr. Silcott was innocent, but it was not proved to my satisfaction that he was guilty. That is the view of many other reasonable people. No one is in any doubt that, had we had the death penalty, Winston Silcott would certainly have been an early candidate for hanging.
There are other cases of mistakes to which our judicial system has eventually been persuaded to own up. Some of those cases have been touched upon by other hon. Members. Timothy Evans was convicted and hanged in 1950. In 1953, the police caught the person who committed the crime and it took another 13 years, with little help from the judges, before our judicial system or the Home Office was prepared to pardon Timothy Evans.
A case that has not been mentioned is that of Cooper and McMahon who were convicted in 1970 of the Luton post office murder. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal by no fewer than four successive Home Secretaries, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). On each occasion the judges sat stony-faced and said that they had heard nothing new. In the end, the Home Secretary of the day, now Lord Whitelaw, became so embarrassed at the inability of the Home Office to persuade the judges to own up to the mistake that he simply ordered the gates of the prison to be opened, gave the men a railway ticket each and sent them home without so much as an apology for the decade they had spent in gaol.
The case of Patrick Meehan has been mentioned. He was convicted in 1969 and released in 1977 with a pardon. He was framed on the evidence of police officers and would certainly have hanged. The case of Jack Preece has been mentioned. He was convicted in 1973 of a murder involving sexual assault. He was released and pardoned in 793 1981 after it became clear that the Home Office forensic scientist had dabbled with the evidence. He would certainly have hanged.
Geoffrey Mycock was convicted in 1969 and released in 1984. He was convicted on the basis of a confession obtained in police custody and on the evidence of our old friend the forensic scientist, Dr. Clift.
I should refer to one of Dr. Clift's colleagues, Dr. Frank Skuse. His was the key evidence in the case against the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings. Dr. Skuse, like Dr. Clift, has also been dismissed on the grounds of what the Home Office coyly describes as limited effectiveness. In Dr. Clift's case, 17 or 18 convicted people, including several convicted of murder, had to be released. In Dr. Skuse's case, no one has been released; that is because everyone knows that it would lead back to the Birmingham pub bombings and no one dares face up to that.
Ronald Leighton—no relation of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton)—was convicted in 1972 of the Confait murder. He was released and pardoned in 1975. He would probably have been hanged. Hon. Members have mentioned other cases, including that of James Hanratty who was hanged.
§ Mr. Couchman
The hon. Gentleman might care to know that Ronald Leighton was 15 years of age at the time of the killing of Confait.
§ Mr. Mullin
James Hanratty was hanged. I do not know whether he committed the crime, but I do know that the evidence was extremely slender and depended on the identification evidence of a woman who had been shot many times. He went to the gallows protesting his innocence to the last moment.
The case of the newsboy, Carl Bridgewater, has not been mentioned. That was a particularly emotive and wicked murder involving firearms. The people responsible for that would certainly have been sent to the gallows. Three men were convicted of that murder, but many people who have studied the case believe that they are innocent. I believe that the Home Secretary is looking into that case now.
I shall now deal with the case known as the greatest contemporary alleged miscarriage of justice, the conviction of six men who I believe to be innocent of the Birmingham pub bombings. No case this century has aroused such revulsion and emotion as the wicked act of placing those bombs in those pubs killing 21 persons. I am sure that nobody in the House is in any doubt that had we had the death penalty at that time those six would have been sent to the gallows. I have studied that case in detail and I know each of those men and their families well. I can place my hand on my heart and say that those men had nothing more to do with the Birmingham pub bombings than any of the people in the House today. I go further than that. I believe that many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and probably on both sides of the argument 794 about the death penalty, know that to be the truth. The problem is that no one has yet devised a way to persuade our legal system to own up to a mistake of that gravity.
The question of deterrence has been mentioned. It is perfectly obvious that one does not deter by putting away the wrong people. I cannot see any advantage in that. I have an advantage over the House, in that I know who did carry out the Birmingham pub bombings. That is an issue I am happy to debate at some time. One of the people who did carry out the bombings went on to commit another crime. Had he been captured, and had the police concentrated on catching the right people, he would not have committed that murder.
The case of the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings is well known. Three of the four people involved would certainly have been hanged. A total of seven or eight people were killed in those bombings. The only person convicted who would have survived is the woman who was too young to hang. All those people and another seven convicted with them were convicted on the basis of the confessions of one man, which were obtained in police custody.
I might add that those confessions had to be rewritten six or seven times in order to meet each new set of facts as they become available. It is widely felt by many people on both sides of the House who are more distinguished than myself that those people had nothing to do with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings. In the year 1974, that would make a total of nine people who would have gone to the gallows for crimes they did not commit.
Judith Ward was convicted in 1974 of the M62 coach bombing. Unlike the other two cases, I cannot put my hand on my heart and say that she did not do it. However, persons more distinguished than I who have studied the case in detail believe that Judith Ward, now serving 30 years imprisonment, is entirely innocent of the bombing. If that is so, she certainly would have hanged and 1974 would have been a black year in which a total of 10 innocent people would have gone to the gallows. Most of them were convicted by forensic evidence, which is now extremely dubious, or confessions given in police custody.
It has been suggested that perhaps we should have the death penalty only for terrorists, but that is precisely when mistakes are most likely to be made. In the wake of a terrorist atrocity, the police are most under pressure to get results, and public hysteria is at its highest.
It is sometimes said—usually by other judges—that we have the best judges in the world. We have some of the smuggest and most self-satisfied judges in the world. We also have some of the finest and some of the lousiest lawyers. Even if our judges are the best in the world—and that is not necessarily something I believe—mistakes would still occur. The choice between admitting a mistake on the scale that has been mentioned and discrediting the judicial system is one that judges find too difficult to face.
I said earlier that the hon. Member for Thanet, North had robustly faced the possibility of the wrong people being convicted. He was prepared, with equanimity, to face that possibility, but Labour Members and some Conservative Members are not prepared to do so. That, however, is not the real test. The test is whether the hon. Member for Thanet, North is prepared to be hanged for something that he did not do. Under those circumstances, I suspect that he might not be quite so keen on the death penalty.
795 9 pm
If we had the death penalty, would our judges or the police be more willing to own up to mistakes that they know have taken place? I should like to think that that would he the case, but in the Birmingham case the police already know, or strongly suspect, that they have the wrong people. As to the Guildford and Woolwich cases, I believe that the authorities, including the police, have known probably from the third day, but certainly after six months, that they had got the wrong people. I believe that that is known all the way up the line to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The authorities understood that at the time because they caught the right people—the Balcombe street IRA unit. It is evident from the way in which the Balcombe street case was massaged, with the exceptional amount of fraud and perjury that had to be organised, that everyone involved understood what had happened. They had got the wrong people, and they were trying to cover up.
As to the case of Judith Ward, a friend of mine recently had lunch with an assistant chief constable of a force that was not involved in the original investigation. They were discussing the Birmingham case, and the assistant chief constable said, "That lassie in Durham gaol did not do the M62 coach bombing either, did she? That was a cock-up by the Yorkshire police." It is common gossip, and they know that they have got the wrong people.
I cannot help noticing that those who bay loudest for blood are the most reluctant to face up to the possibility of error. The fact that we have not had the death penalty for the past 20 years or so leaves open the possibility that one day we shall persuade those in authority to face up to the wrongs that have been committed in the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich cases. It leaves open the possibility that one day those people will be released and compensated, and justice will he done. Had we had the death penalty, this discussion would be academic.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
It is 23 years since the death penalty was done away with in this country. There is no doubt, on the admission of the Home Secretary, that murder has increased. In particular, extreme violence has increased in every sphere of society. It is not only a question of the elderly lady who is frightened to live alone. People are frightened to take their children to a football match. The increase in violence has caused grave concern to the House and British society.
What we have tried to achieve in bringing an end to violence has not succeeded. Indeed, violence is on the increase. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other hon. Members say that capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder, how will they curb the further and greater violence that is continuing in our society? The Home Secretary, on his own admission, in the past week has realised the extent of this problem. He has said that he will further increase sentences for murder and extremely violent crime. Not before time, because there is no doubt that that is one of the most serious problems facing society today. It is no good having a society whose economy is improving and which sustains life through modern technology if that betterment of life is ruined by the type of violence that is going on in our society.
It is right to seek to put the onus of capital punishment on the judge, as my new clause 11 proposes. I can see the problems and dangers of the jury making such a decision. However, it is no good the Home Secretary saying that 796 judges can decide sentences in cases of extreme violence but that it would be wrong to put the onus on the judge to decide whether to impose the death sentence. Whichever way one looks at it, that is to have double standards. After all, the most competent person to decide whether the maximum penalty should apply must be the judge. He is the person with the wealth of experience, not the jury. He would not have been appointed if that were not the case.
There has been a lot of talk about the problem of martyrs in Northern Ireland. I should be extremely surprised if any hon. Member could easily remember the names of the hunger strikers, other than Bobby Sands. Let the House remember that it was the parents of those people on hunger strike who finally persuaded them to give up. Therefore, that argument does not arise.
Capital punishment has been compared with abortion. The unborn child cannot argue about being aborted.
§ Mr. Bendall
It is innocent. But the murderer has that decision in his own hands. Therefore, there is no comparison whatever.
The death penalty would act as a deterrent. In the 23 years that we have been without the death penalty the situation has worsened. Give us three years and let us see whether it acts as a deterrent. It will act as a deterrent to the young, headstrong person who murders an elderly person in his flat for 25 shillings. That is the sort of person that it will deter. It will deter the criminal from carrying a firearm. People have been carrying firearms in much greater abundance in recent years.
When I tried to introduce the death penalty in the House in 1982 I said that without the death penalty the use of firearms by criminals would continue to grow, and that is exactly what has happened. More and more, as time goes on, innocent people will be killed in the cross-fire when the police ferret out such criminals. If we had the death penalty, criminals would frisk one another to make sure that they did not have firearms. People would not go out with firearms. If the House decided to support the new clause, it would give the people a chance to see that the death penalty would act as the deterrent that they desire.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
It is not inconsistent to have supported the Alton Bill to date and to be committed to the restoration of capital punishment. I know—probably more than, or at least as much as, my colleagues from Northern Ireland—the real difficulty of sharing the sorrow of the relatives of those murdered in Ulster. Be they Protestant or Roman Catholic, their sorrow is the same. I have no hesitation in supporting efforts made to restore the death penalty, because it is the only appropriate punishment for murder.
I am opposed to private vengeance, but I believe that we have a duty and responsibility to society and to protect the innocent and the defenceless. The premeditated killing of any human being—the taking of any human life—requires the maximum sentence that can be imposed for that crime. The death penalty is final and in my opinion it is the only just sentence.
Reference has been made to moral arguments. I hope that the House will bear with me, because I speak with conviction. I accept God's word as my guide for life. Many eminent philosophers, academics and, indeed, gifted orators in this House believe that man-made laws are superior to God's laws for mankind. I do not share their 797 views. I remind those unfamiliar with Genesis, chapter 9, of the covenant made between God and Noah. God blessed Noah, but required acceptance by him of the principle thatWhoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed".Also in the Old Testament, chapter 35 of Numbers contains examples of murder. After each example comes the specific verdict:he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.In verse 33 of the same chapter, we read the reason for the death penalty:So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.Regrettably, our land is polluted by evil and by innocent blood. We as a nation must return to God's law.
There is ample provision in God's law, through "cities of refuge", for lesser sentences than capital punishment for manslaughter; and I entirely agree that we must continue to make such provision. I also agree that life sentences must be applied where appropriate.
There are many other Old Testament references. Some would say of them, "That is only the Old Testament." The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has already referred to Acts, chapter 25, verse 11, in which St. Paul says:For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die".That shows the continuity of the death penalty as between the Old and New Testaments.
God's law should guide us all. The opponents of the death penalty argue that the absence of capital punishment is the mark of a civilised society. It could equally be argued that the present absence of capital punishment and the short sentences, with remission, for serious crimes are leading the United Kingdom into becoming an uncivilized society. Life sentences for murderers, those guilty of serious crimes against the elderly, against women and children should, in the absence of the death penalty, be sentences for the rest of the criminal's natural life. There is so much evil and so much injustice. There is too much sympathy for and with criminals. Too many excuses are made for them, and there is too little sympathy for the victims.
The sentences still do not fit the crimes that are being committed in our society. Hon. Members have referred to Northern Ireland. Since 1969, more than 250 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the reserve have been murdered. Those figures refer only to one section of our security forces. There is no reference to the members of the regular Army or the Ulster Defence Regiment, but there are more than 2,000 innocent dead in Northern Ireland as a result of there being no real deterrent. Over 2,000 innocents have been murdered. Many of their murderers are still running free. The horror and tragedy of Enniskillen is almost forgotten.
Some terrorists may be fanatics. If the death penalty were in place for murder, it might not deter the fanatics, but it would remove some of them from circulation and thereby reduce the number of active terrorists who are terrorising law-abiding people. It would also make young 798 people who have not yet become involved as active terrorists think twice before they joined a terrorist organisation.
Society must not be held hostage and under threat, as it would be if the argument about the possibility of terrorists and criminals taking hostages were allowed to prevent the restoration of the death penalty for murder. The threat is already being carried out, as the release of prisoners is sought in exchange for hostages and as hostages are held for ransom to raise funds for terrorist organisations. Each hon. Member, according to his conscience, abhors evil, but we must also act so that the scales of justice are tipped towards greater detection, conviction and punishment for crime. It has already been said that there is too much sympathy for criminals and too little sympathy and help for the victims. The state has a basic responsibility to protect its citizens. I contend that, without the death penalty as the ultimate sanction, we cannot combat crime successfully or properly protect society.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I have been listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman. He proposes the restoration of capital punishment in Northern Ireland, but there is no jury system in Northern Ireland. For many centuries now nobody has been executed in the United Kingdom other than upon the verdict of a jury. How does the hon. Gentleman propose to implement capital punishment in Northern Ireland? Has he consulted the judiciary in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Beggs
That is a technical point. We are debating the principle of the restoration of the death penalty. If the decision is taken to restore the death penalty, the implications of its application to Northern Ireland will have to be dealt with. I have no doubt that there are honourable, upright citizens of both persuasions who are willing to do jury service and who should be given that opportunity. Hon. Members with constituencies in Northern Ireland continually say in this House, "Treat us as every other British citizen is treated." We ask for no more and no less. We ask for equal treatment. We shall accept the responsibilities that flow from it.
We should like to see an end to the present generous remission system. Those who are in prison for serious terrorist offences become recycled terrorists. They rejoin their organisations when they are released after having served only a short sentence. The death penalty is imposed almost daily on innocents by terrorists, who are the most sophisticated criminals today. Capital punishment must be reintroduced to restore balance, and to protect the innocent.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Will the hon. Member agree with me that in the history of Northern Ireland the 20 years of alternatives to the death penalty have been an abysmal failure? Will he agree with me that after 20 years murder is increasing? Does he therefore agree with me that the House owes it to the innocent to put pressure on the terrorists, on the guilty, to allow the innocent the right to live?
§ Mr. Beggs
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. The tragedy of the last 20 years is that Members of the House representing Northern Ireland constituencies have not been heard. Their advice has been 799 dismissed. A former colleague and member of my own party who served in this House, Robert Bradford, was himself a victim and was murdered. I ask all who have supported everything but the death penalty, including the failed Anglo-Irish Agreement, to consider seriously the value of introducing at this time capital punishment for murder.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
For obvious reasons, this speech will he a short one. The House will forgive me if it is somewhat truncated and is not a natural development of arguments at the length that I would like.
I respect the views of the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), with which I fundamentally disagree. I respect, as does everyone on my side of this argument—I almost said "on this side of the House", but it is not that sort of debate—the fact that he is in the front line. I hope that he respects our views too and remembers that on various tragic occasions we in mainland Britain have also been in the front line. The final point that I address to him for his consideration is that, in my humble and respectful view, if this new clause and an amendment to the new clause are passed we in mainland Britain will be more and more in the tragic front line that inevitably will follow capital punishment generally and capital punishment for terrorism in particular.
The deterrence argument was very capably put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall). But if it is so obvious that capital punishment is a deterrent, it is an awfully long time in the proving. Various distinguished lawyers, and a very distinguished Royal Commission in 1953, have not been satisfied that capital punishment is a deterrent. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton agrees on this and says that it will never he possible to prove it because we do not know the motives for murder. We then had a whole stream of legal reminiscences about his various clients who were quite satisfied that it would have been a deterrent for them. But, by the very fact that he agrees that it cannot be proved, he is only stating his belief based upon his very considerable experience.
Many hon. Members may not think of me as a legal eagle, but I had 14 years' practice at the Bar and a certain amount of criminal Bar experience, and also appeared as counsel in various murder trials, and I utterly and completely disagree with the conclusions of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton. Additionally, since everybody is speaking a bit personally about this subject. I also had certain experience as a very young member of the Bar as a judge's marshal in the days when capital punishment existed, when I sat next to the judge during a whole series of capital murder trials. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, in my view the worst murderer got off, and the most pathetic, who was almost the exact replica of the person to whom my hon. Friend referred in the midst of his oratory about an old person getting a battering and so on—one pensioner killing another in a lodging house in the course or furtherance of theft of a few shillings—was well, firmly and tragically hanged. So much for my hon. Friend's new clause and the example that he seeks to draw.
I support what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. For three or four months, I actually sat with and, by the peculiar position of judge's marshal, I lived and ate with the judges who had to try such cases. 800 Even then, let alone now, the effect on them during a trial and when the moment comes—I dare say that not everyone has witnessed it—when the black cap goes on is not only formidable in itself but pretty traumatic for those who must wear it.
Over the years, I have had varying views about capital punishment. I voted against capital punishment on the last occasion, and I shall vote against it tonight. I shall never vote in favour of it again. In 1983—this is purely personal—I sat in my usual place, waiting for the vote to be taken, having supported capital punishment. I waited with the first of recent Parliaments with a considerable Conservative majority. Hon. Members may remember that we were not quite as sure about the result as we perhaps have been on other occasions. The pride that I felt for those Conservative hon. Members who, on that occasion, voted against capital punishment was accompanied by a slight shame that I felt for what I had just done. It made me decide definitely that never again would I support such a measure.
I shall make two final points in addition to, rather than by way of repetition of, what has been said. The amendments have already been described as crazy. Without going into legalistic argument, I thoroughly endorse that description. From his point of view, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) was quite rightly anxious to emphasise that there would be appeals all round—that point has not really been made yet—whoever imposed the capital punishment. Whether there is a judge or a jury, it i highly likely that, from the defence or the prosecution, appeal there will be.
What a nightmare it will be for the Court of Appeal when a whole parade of cases are put before it on exactly the same grounds as the case before them when capital punishment has not been decreed by either judge or jury. How on earth can the Court of Appeal ever sentence anyone to death in such circumstances? One has occasionally heard of Home Secretaries almost being made ill by the decision. The exercise of the Queen's prerogative of mercy in this sort of matter would be a crazy task and quite impossible to execute.
With regard to terrorism, and without going into the details of the arguments, the same rules must apply, if ever this type of measure is introduced, in mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. I regret to say that that is the fact of the matter. If we cannot have juries in Northern Ireland, by way of caution trials may have to be brought across to mainland Britain. In the terms of the proposed measures, the consequences of terrorism, capital punishment, hostage taking, revenge killing and so on will not be confined to Northern Ireland. If this crazy legislation is passed by the House, we in mainland Britain will be in the same situation.
I say finally to the House that we have had enough of these debates. There should be an end to them. For goodness sake, can we not get on with dealing with crime and murder and not excite false expectations about capital punishment?
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
I have listened to nearly all the debate, but I shall be brief and try to avoid repeating points that have already been made. I shall confine myself to four points. Two are propositions that have, I feel, been established: during the debate, and two 801 are issues that have—surprisingly—been avoided, particularly by the proponents of the new clause and amendments.
The propositions that seem to me to have been established—and I have listened carefully throughout—are these: first, that should we vote for the new clause and amendments, we shall undoubtedly be voting for a course of action that will result in the killing of innocent people. That was admitted by a number of speakers who favour the reintroduction of capital punishment, and spelt out very eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who referred to many cases of people given life sentences since abolition who would otherwise undoubtedly have been executed. Without doubt, those who vote for the new clause will vote in the full knowledge that innocent men and women will be killed as a result of their decision.
The second proposition is perhaps rather negative, but it, too, has undoubtedly been established. It is impossible to substantiate by statistics the case that capital punishment is a deterrent. In view of the first proposition—that the reintroduction of the penalty will result in innocent people being killed—it seems to me that the failure to establish the second means that it behoves everyone to vote against the new clause.
§ Mr. Grocott
No, I must be brief.
Evidence exists—it has surprisingly been ignored today—particularly in North America where states exist side by side, some with the death penalty and some without. Such states as California and Mississippi, with murder rates of 10.5 and 10.6 per 100,000 of the population—those are the 1985 figures—have the death penalty. States without the death penalty have figures ranging down to the lowest in North Dakota, with one murder per 100,000 people. There is clearly no conclusive evidence that the death penalty deters; far from it. If anything the evidence points in the other direction.
Let me call in evidence someone who ought to know something about whether deterrence works—someone whose unique evidence is contained in his autobiography. Perhaps the best-known executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, said:It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men, grandmothers. I have been amazed to see the courage with which they take that walk into the unknown … All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.That was said by the executioner who, first as assistant and then as public executioner, carried out more than 400 executions between 1931 and 1956. His is surely a unique testimony which the House would be mistaken to ignore.
That brings me to two points that have been ignored almost entirely—and, I have to say, in a rather cowardly way—by the proponents of the new clause. They have not talked at all about the method of execution. And, my word, it is very easy to talk in generalities in the relative comfort of these Benches when others must deliver the goods.
802 The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) at least gave us a negative statement; he said that he was opposed to hanging. As we know, there is no humane way to kill people. We know how revolting hanging is. Again I call in evidence the Pierrepoint autobiography which described the careful calculations which Albert Pierrepoint and his uncle had to make to determine the strength of the condemned man's neck so as not to give him too big a drop which would pull the head off, and not to give too small a drop which would result in strangulation rather than a speedy death. People must consider seriously any form of judicial killing, whether by the electric chair, by lethal injection or by gassing. There has been no reference to that. It is cowardly that the proponents of capital punishment, who want the House to change its policy after all these years, should not tell us precisely how they would carry out capital punishment.
That brings me to my final point. Again the proponents of capital punishment have not told us who should carry it out. All too often the House ignores such matters. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) touched on this but he was not convincing. If we vote for the return of the death penalty, executioners will have to be recruited. They may be other kinds of executioners rather than hangmen, but executioners they will be. There was a strange tradition with the Pierrepoints whereby father passed on to brother who passed on to nephew the job of official executioner.
Where would we find new executioners? Where would we train them? Would it be in South Africa where so many executions are carried out? Would executioners be recruited by public advertisement? These are the grisly and detailed questions which proponents of capital punishment have refused to face up to. Again I call in evidence the person who knows about these things in a way that no one in the House can possibly know about them. Albert Pierrepoint said at the end of his autobiography, and I remind the House that he said it with the awful burden of his experience, having carried out over 400 executions:I now sincerely hope that no man is ever called upon to carry out another execution in my country. I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.In my judgment, that is a responsibility which the House should never hand over to anyone.
§ Mrs. Peacock
As we have heard, this subject has as always produced strong feelings inside and outside the House. Very few Members have mentioned the victims. Could we not give a little thought to the victims? What I have to say comes from deeply held convictions which have not been lightly or recently arrived at but which I have been persuaded over many years are right. My convictions are widely supported throughout the country.
There have been many passionate speeches on both sides of the argument for many different reasons. In recent years there have been 16 debates in the House, all resulting in an abolitionist stance towards capital punishment. The arguments for and against have been well rehearsed and we have not heard anything new in today's debate.
It is my belief and the belief of those who support the new clause that capital punishment is the supreme deterrent. If not, why do people appeal against it? If they are not afraid to die, why do they appeal? As evidence for 803 this, I draw the attention of the House to the fundamental and obvious changes which have taken place in society since partial abolition in 1965 and full abolition in 1969.
Recent tragic events in this country relating to elderly people and especially to innocent children are graphic examples of the fact that the possession of and resort to lethal weapons have become commonplace in today's Britain. In the 10 years from 1973 to 1983, the number of offences involving guns rose from 1,754 to 8,067. The number of murders arising out of the commission of some other offence—usually theft or rape—rose by a staggering 73 per cent. from 1965 to 1977. Figures for the years since show similar increases.
It is true that such rises reflect a general increase in the level of crime and that an overwhelming statistical case for the deterrent effects of capital punishment is always difficult to make, as is the argument that it does not deter. However, as with many other arguments over this issue, no absolute proof can be obtained. It is clearly impossible to calculate how many people would be deterred from carrying and using firearms if capital punishment was available to the courts.
We are told that the reintroduction of capital punishment would encourage a nothing-to-lose attitude among certain sections of the public. Do we not already have a nothing-to-lose attitude on the streets of Britain today? We must emphasise what has been an undercurrent in my comments so far—that murder has become commonplace. We never thought that we would see it in the streets of our country, but we have it and it cannot be denied.
Some people would argue that the absence of capital punishment is the mark of a civilised society. What is a civilised society thinking about when it encourages and enables elderly people to be battered to death in their homes and young children to be murdered when they are walking to their grandmothers? Recently there has been the "babes in the wood" murder in Brighton. I understand that the parents of those children have been in the House to see how Parliament debates these issues.
When will we think of the victims? When will we ask the courts to think of the victims and stop just thinking about the murderers? The criminal law no longer provides credible sanctions for the most heinous form of wrongdoing. Something must he done, and the House must take that decision today. The majority of people in this country are in favour of the reintroduction of the death penalty. Many polls have shown overwhelming evidence that that is so and that people would support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). While we cannot rule by a national referendum, if we had a national referendum today, I am sure that there would be overwhelming support for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Let us make no mistake about that.
Of course, as Members of Parliament, we are representatives. We are not delegates, so we are not delegated to represent views. However, we have to take into account the views of our constituents; otherwise, why are we here? We must listen occasionally to what they have to say. If our constituents decide that their interests are best protected by the death penalty, who are we to tell them that that is not so? Do we think of ourselves as morally superior? Do we have some secret information which persuades us to decide otherwise? I suggest we do not. It cannot be that a small majority of 650 people, 804 elected to the House, are in a position to take such an arrogant attitude merely because of the letters MP after their name.
On the streets, murder and violence are not distant and unreal, as many of our constituents are finding out on their own doorsteps. Fear of such happenings, not only perhaps to ourselves, but to our children and to our elderly relatives, is a constant companion and is real.
Of course, we recognise the fear of miscarriages of justice, of hostage-taking and of martyrdom. However, I implore the House that we should take this giant step for sanity and reintroduce the death penalty. It is high time that some hon. Members came down from their ivory towers and listened to what the people of this country want and voted for new clause 1.
§ Mr. Couchman
There is little fresh to say in this debate. The arguments against the reintroduction of capital punishment have been repeated many times since its abolition in 1965. As a convinced abolitionist and strict non-reintroductionist since before the abolition of the death penalty, I for one have no shame in reiterating the three defects of capital punishment which have held me steadfast in my view.
Although I am a fan of the British system of justice, I do not believe in judicial infallibility. I am persuaded that capital punishment is not a unique deterrent for a unique crime. Its reintroduction would further brutalise a society in which violence is already far too prevalent. A great deal has been said this evening about the mistakes that can be made. I fully admit that I am most persuaded against the reintroduction of capital punishment by the possibility of a mistake.
We have heard about John Preece, Patrick Meehan, Albert Taylor and the three young men who were convicted of the Confait killing. We have heard about the Birmingham pub bombers. The common thing bringing all those people together is that they were all alive to benefit from a review of their conviction and sentence, and to enjoy a pardon, if granted. One can only speculate as to whether any of them would have been executed if the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) had been the law in force when they were convicted.
Inevitably, those of us who oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty will always return to the case of Timothy Evans. The posthumous pardon that was granted to Evans in 1966 was cold consolation to his mortal remains, lying interred in quicklime in unconsecrated ground. Other cases cause us unease, such as the unequal treatment of Craig and Bentley—Craig, the killer, was spared but Bentley, the accomplice, was executed. We remember the doubts about Hanratty. I do not believe that anyone in the House does not regret the execution of Ruth Ellis. The irony of her case is that, had her lover, whom she subsequently shot, not assaulted her so brutally that she lost the baby she was carrying, she would not have been executed, because pregnant women could not be executed at that time.
I re-read our debates of 1983 and 1987. No hon. Member who spoke against reintroduction failed to mention his concern about the possibility of the innocent being executed. No hon. Member who spoke in favour—an honourable exception tonight was my hon. Friend 805 the Member for Thanet, North when he moved his new clause—was prepared to shoulder the responsibility of the possibility of executing the innocent.
New clause 1 places an impossible onus on the jury, because public expectations will be raised by media reporting in particularly notorious murder cases, stating that there should be a recommendation for capital punishment. Clearly it is essential that a majority verdict could not lead to the death sentence; otherwise, the dissenting jurors would feel that they were party to sending an innocent person to death. Juries which are cognisant of their full responsibilities might be inclined to find the accused guilty of a lesser crime. It happened before and it will assuredly happen again.
I have never been convinced of the deterrent effect of capital punishment. More eloquent people than I have given reasons for that, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Therefore, I shall not delay the House any longer on that issue.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) challenged those who are in favour of reintroduction to explain what method of execution they would prefer. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North does not like the idea of a return to the rope. What then would we have? Would we have the continental guillotine or garotte? Would we consider the transatlantic, high technology, electric chair or gas chamber? Or, if we are looking for a truly deterrent sentence, perhaps we should consider one of the brutal judicial murders prescribed by Sharia law, such as by stoning or the sword.
Another deterrent would surely be the media representatives who would accompany any person who had been convicted and sentenced to death. We would have that horrible build-up, which we used to have without the benefit of television. I am young enough to remember the grisly ritual of trial and appeal; of consideration by the Home Secretary; the titillation of the visit by the relatives on the last occasion on the night before execution; the prospects and possibility of a last-minute stay of execution; and the climax of that little white notice being hammered on the board outside prison walls by the warden just after 8 o'clock to say that another poor soul had met his end.
Our record on capital punishment is truly dreadful, from the days of Henry VIII when 72,000 were put to death in 38 years to the early 19th century when we were still hanging near-infants of seven years. Do we really want the brutalisation which would accompany the reintroduction of the death penalty? I think not.
I differ entirely from my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) who seemed to lay great stress on the opinion polls that have been published over the past 24 years and normally depend for their sample on about 1,000 voters. Interestingly, he rejected the notion that we should have a referendum, in which all electors should be asked for their opinion. If we were subjected to a referendum after a lead up period similar to that of a general election or the EC referendum in 1975, with the television showing mock executions and throwbacks to the Ellis trial and execution, the answer would probably be no to capital punishment. I urge all hon. Members to reject the new clause and to dispense with this matter once and for all.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
Five years ago following the 1983 general election we had a similar debate on the restoration of capital punishment. I sat through all our proceedings and the debate had a lasting effect on me. I could not believe the sense of jubilation when the result was announced. I drove home feeling depressed because the House had not reflected the views of the general public.
Murder has become so commonplace that it hardly draws any attention. The day after the 1983 debate the newspapers reported two further murders. I wondered how many hon. Members when they woke up the next day felt that they had done everything they possibly could to deter murder. Few could have answered yes.
Two years ago my cousin's wife was murdered. She took her children to school, parked her car in a multi-storey car park and was stabbed to death 52 times. The murder and the conduct of the trial were reported, but then the media dropped the case. No one wants to know what happens to the victims of crime. It is not good media copy. I hope that the 650 Members of this honourable House are interested in the victims of crime and that each and every one of us in doing our duty will ensure that we make laws which will deter crime.
I thought that the purpose of a sentence was not only to protect society from the criminal, but to teach the person who committed the crime not to repeat it. How on earth can one teach a person who has murdered someone not to murder again? How can we justify keeping someone such as the Yorkshire Ripper in gaol? He murdered 13 women; he raped a further seven and he destroyed the lives of more than 100 people. We continue to keep him in gaol and no detail is given as to how he is guarded.
§ Mr. Amess
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's opinion, but I am not sure that that is the case. I certainly do not believe that every person who kills another is insane. A number of people know perfectly well what they have done.
How can we justify keeping people such as Brady or Hindley in prison? I am sick to death of the endless media stories about them and of people pleading that they should be released. I do not believe that any hon. Member has the right to ask a person who has had a loved one murdered to forgive.
I hope that when we vote we shall not see scenes of jubilation similar to those that followed the vote in 1983. This is a serious matter. On the 18 occasions on which we have discussed it we have been rather arrogant and we have not reflected the views of the public.
I believe that murder is the ultimate crime and it should receive the ultimate sentence. When we wake up tomorrow morning we might unfortunately read of more murders, such as the three young women who were recently murdered in separate parts of the country. I hope that following our vote, however, we shall all have a clear conscience and feel that we have done all in our power to deter such crime.
§ Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)
Capital punishment is usually discussed in legal or moral terms. The underlying assumption is that all that has to happen is for Parliament 807 to bring in a Bill and there we are. I question that assumption and I believe that if we brought back hanging it would not work.
The first reason why capital punishment would not work is that the attitude and behaviour of juries have changed enormously in the past few years. Any prosecution lawyer will tell the House that it is extremely difficult to get a conviction in a murder trial. The attitude towards civic responsibility has changed and, because of sympathy for the accused or whatever, it is difficult to get a conviction. A leading prosecution lawyer who has spent most of his professional life dealing with murder trials told me that if hanging were in prospect his job would be impossible. If that were the case, what would happen? The prosecution might try for a reduced charge of manslaughter and therefore someone who should go down for life would come out with a four or five-year sentence. If an obvious premeditated murder had been committed it would not he admissible to bring a reduced charge. Therefore, there would be a strong risk that someone who had committed a murder would be acquitted and would walk from court. We should not do that and I should not be asked to expose my constituents to that risk.
Hon. Members have mentioned the much vaunted 70 per cent. of public opinion that is in favour of hanging. If people were asked the abstract question, "Do you want to bring back hanging?" many of them would say yes. But what matters is what happens when the public are confronted with a real case of a person who will be hanged and the broadcasting media being let loose on the family. We did not have that in the 1950s.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.