HC Deb 17 December 1990 vol 183 cc22-116

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.34 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

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

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 2—Terrorist Murder'A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of murder committed as, or in pursuit of, an act of terrorism shall on conviction be sentenced to death.'.

New clause 3—Punishment for murder

  1. '(1) Subject to the following sub-sections the penalty for murder shall be death.
  2. (2) No person aged under 18 years shall suffer the death penalty.
  3. (3) As soon as practicable following a sentence of death, a special sitting of the Court of Appeal shall be convened to consider whether the circumstances of either
    1. (a) the commission of the offence or
    2. (b) the offender
    whether or not such circumstances were adduced in evidence at the trial, are such as would justify the substitution of a sentence of life imprisonment in place of the sentence of death.
  4. (4) This Act shall apply to Northern Ireland.'.

New Clause 4—Abolition of death penalty

  1. '(1) In section 1 of the Treason Act 1790, for the words "hanged by the neck until she or they be severely dead" there shall be substituted the words "sentenced to imprisonment for life".
  2. (2) In section 1 of the Treason Act 1814, for the words "hanged by the neck until such person be dead", there shall be substituted the words "sentenced to imprisonment for life".
  3. (3) In section 2 of the Piracy Act 1837, for the words "suffer death" there shall be substituted the words "sentenced to imprisonment for life".

New clause 5—Death penalty for murder'A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of murder committed by means of firearms, explosives or an offensive weapon, or for the murder of a police or prison officer, shall on conviction be sentenced to death, unless the court determines that the circumstances of the case, including any extenuating circumstances, make it more appropriate for a life sentence of imprisonment.'.

New clause 6—Punishment for murder of prison officerߞ 'A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of the murder of a prison officer acting in the execution of his duty shall on conviction be sentenced to death.'.

New clause 7—Punishment for other indictable offences 'A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of murder committed during the preparation or commission of any other indictable offence shall on conviction be sentenced to death.'.

Mr. Greenway

I should also like to voice my support for new clause 3, standing in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).

Some have questioned why the House should debate this issue for the second time in this Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and I understand why the question has been asked. The Committee is considering an important Criminal Justice Bill that goes to the heart of sentencing policy and contains a number of important new measures, which we are debating constructively in Committee and which are based on the well-known maxim that the punishment should fit the crime.

In the eyes of many outside this House, many cases of murder these days do not attract punishment that fits the crime. The public would have found it astonishing if the House had not debated this matter as part of our detailed scrutiny of the important legislative changes that we are introducing in this Bill.

It must also be acknowledged that the sentencing of murderers and terrorists continues to demand our attention and concern. Statistics suggest that, since the House last debated this matter two and a half years ago, more than 1,500 people have been unlawfully killed in the United Kingdom—not including those who, only two years ago, were blown out of the sky over Lockerbie. I am sure that the House will want to extend its sympathy at this Christmas time to the families of the Lockerbie victims and of the victims of many other recent acts of murder. Above all, we extend our sympathy to the family of our great and dear friend Ian Gow, whose brutal murder remains very much in our minds, especially today.

As the House knows, I served for almost five years as a policeman here in central London in the 1960s. I should like to recall two incidents which, if I remember correctly, took place in 1966 while I was a uniformed constable at West End Central police station. Shortly after eight o'clock one morning. I was called to a jeweller's shop in Mayfair. Two men had lain in wait for the proprietor to arrive and open the shop. They dragged him to the basement, where they savagely beat him to death before stealing what amounted to no more than a few hundred pounds' worth of silver. His battered head and body made an appalling sight, which will live in my memory for ever. Yet his murderers could not pay the ultimate price for their premeditated savagery, because the House had abolished capital punishment less than a year before. I knew then that that was a mistake, and I have always believed so since.

The second incident occurred in the early hours of a Sunday morning. A call came that there was a man brandishing a gun in Berwick street in Soho. I ran to the scene, and seeing a crowd on the street corner, I continued to approach them; but shortly before I reached them, a gun was fired. I then heard the sound of a gun being thrown on the pavement, and a man ran off. As one says when giving evidence in the police force, I gave chase and apprehended him.

The man's fingerprints were found on the gun recovered from the scene, and forensic experts later removed a bullet from the frame of the door that I had run past. The man pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of a firearm, but was acquitted of all other charges. I did not see him point the gun at me or anyone else. I could not swear on oath what I had not seen—tempting though that might have been to some officers. Other witnesses, consisting of the usual assortment of deadbeats and riff-raff who frequent Soho in the middle of the night, were, as one might expect, unreliable.

These two experiences point up what I believe to be the five crucial questions that the House must answer when considering the restoration of the death penalty. First, in abolishing the death sentence for all and any murder, have we given the armed criminal too great an advantage over the innocent victim? I think that we have, and that that is the view of the great majority of the British people.

Secondly, is society today more violent than it was in the past as a consequence, if only in part, of the abolition of the death penalty? That is also the perceived view, and later I shall suggest why I agree with that view. Thirdly, are we placing too great a burden on our police, either by asking them to face the intolerable pressures of a split-second decision when facing armed criminals or in seeking to secure the conviction of those whom they know or believe have committed serious crimes such as murder or acts of terrorism? Fourthly, has Parliament done enough to check or reduce violence by way of the sentencing powers that it has given the courts? The Bill recognises that it has not.

Finally, what more must we do or can we do to prevent miscarriages of justice which, understandably, are cited as the fundamental reason against the restoration of the death sentence? I dare say that that argument will be advanced in the debate. The new clause tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) seeks to address that point by referring all convicted murderers to the Court of Appeal. If my hon. and learned Friend speaks in the debate, I am sure that he will wish to address that issue.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Although the hon. Gentleman has rightly anticipated the point and despite the other new clauses, may I ask him whether he thinks that there is something illogical in trying to bring back the death penalty, bearing in mind the fact that the Guildford Four were released after many years in prison? One almost certainly expects the Birmingham Six also to be released. In the face of those cases and in view of all the other arguments that will be deployed in the debate, how can we possibly think of bringing back capital punishment?

Mr. Greenway

I am sure that the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman will be the crux of the debate. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is in two parts. First, are we saying that the sentencing policy for offenders must be determined by whether we believe that the verdicts of juries are reliable? That is a serious matter, which must be considered.

Secondly, throughout the last eleven and a half years, the Government have repeatedly brought to Parliament measures which seek to make our criminal justice system better. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988, when we last discussed this matter, are both in force. If I remember correctly, those measures were opposed by the Opposition. We must ensure through the criminal justice system that miscarriages of justice do not take place.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the evidence is that 49 people who had committed murder did so a second time, and that if those people had been executed they would not have been able to commit murder again?

Mr. Greenway

That valid point is often made, and if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Walker, he may wish to elaborate on it.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if capital punishment were available to the courts, it would be far less likely that bombs such as the one at Guildford, whoever planted it, would be planted in the first place? Does he futher agree that policemen would be far less likely to perjure themselves in court if they knew that the result could be a life wrongly taken by the state?

Mr. Greenway

Much as I should like to agree with my hon. Friend. I am not sure that he is correct. I hope that the Committee will agree that my experience, which I have described to the Committee, shows that there are pressures on our police force. One cannot ever forgive or sanction officers who perjure themselves, in whatever circumstances. However, as I have said, we must ensure that our criminal justice system does not allow the opportunity for that, particularly when the evidence is in the form of confessions, which are now recorded by tape or video. There are provisions on that already in the Bill, which shows that we can improve our criminal justice system, and that we are right to do so.

3.45 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

My hon. Friend has accepted that it is impossible to be certain that police officers will never perjure themselves. Does he extend that argument to saying that it will always be possible that an innocent person may be convicted and hanged? Do not the two arguments come to the same logical conclusion—that we should not reintroduce capital punishment?

Mr. Greenway

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Parliament, the House of Commons and society have to strike a balance in protecting innocent lives. Since we last debated this matter, over 1,500 people have been unlawfully killed, even though our society is less violent than those of other countries, even within the European Community.

Society is more violent than it was 25 years ago.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

That is not true.

Mr. Greenway

It is true. In particular, the use of firearms in crime has risen sharply—more sharply than crime generally.

A recent incident provides a clear focus of what is at stake. Police officers and armed criminals exchanged fire only two weeks ago in a peaceful Surrey village. One of the gang was left dead and another seriously wounded, but it could so easily have been the other way round, with either policemen or members of the public being killed.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my hon. Friend accept that, when capital punishment existed, experienced criminals invariably frisked their younger colleagues to make certain that they were not going armed? Now, arms are a tool of the trade.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend has touched on a point that I shall make in a moment.

In the incident that I mentioned, those policemen in Surrey had a split second to decide how they should react so as to protect the public and their colleagues. I pay tribute to their bravery, but we in the House of Commons, with all the time at our disposal, seem not to have the nerve to do what might have prevented those officers from being confronted as they were, and sadly so often are.

The facts speak for themselves. In the 25 years preceding the abolition of capital punishment in 1965, 22 policemen were killed in the execution of their duties. In the 25 years since abolition, 53 police officers have been killed in such circumstances. How many more would have been killed but for the skill of doctors and surgeons or the presence of mind of police marksmen?

One accepts that crime in general has increased and at a faster rate than that for murder of policemen. However, it is deeply disturbing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said, that the nature of crime in Britain has changed. The use of firearms was noticeably absent from the culture of crime in the 1950s and early 1960s. Now, the use of firearms is commonplace. "Criminal Statistics"—this is the only other statistic to which I shall draw the attention of the Committee—shows that whereas in 1972, 539 crimes of robbery involved the use of firearms, in 1989 that had risen to 3,390—an increase of more than six times—and that they accounted for much more of the crime in Britain than they had before.

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Waddington said at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth in October that, in his view, the death sentence would deter some—not necessarily all—murderers. I agree with that, but I believe it to be especially true of the murderers of police officers. Parliament has provided the courts with stiffer powers of sentencing for violent criminals. There are specific measures for that purpose in the Bill. There is little appreciable difference, however, if there is any, between sentences for murder, attempted murder, firing a weapon or merely brandishing one in pursuit of a crime.

What is more, the inexorable rise in the commission of crimes by armed criminals shows that it is not unreasonable to conclude that current sentencing does not deter. We are left with a choice of concluding that there is no deterrent or accepting the inevitable argument that Parliament was wrong to abolish capital punishment altogether, and that only the death sentence can provide the deterrent which society is demanding to reverse the tide of violence of recent years.

I shall refer to a passage that appears in the report of the Royal Commission on capital punishment of 1949–53 that is often ignored by those who are in favour of abolition. In considering whether capital punishment, had failed as a deterrent, the report states: We can number its failures. But we cannot number its successes. No one can ever know how many people have refrained from murder because of the fear of being hanged. There is so much more that I could say on this issue. I shall not add greatly to my remarks, because I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. I shall try to set an example by being as brief as possible. As I have already said, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with a view to explaining the thinking that lies behind new clause 3, which establishes the principle which we ought properly to adopt to avoid miscarriages of justice. The new clause goes beyond what has already been achieved.

I have referred already to the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

I commend new clause 1. It seeks to provide our policemen with the protection that they deserve. If the House rejects the clause, it will bring us nearer to the day when all our policemen may need to be armed.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

My hon. Friend is advancing a most interesting argument. Before he goes into the details of individual new clauses, will he give us his views on whether capital punishment and its reintroduction or otherwise should be decided by the nation by means of a referendum, as many of us think it might be?

Mr. Greenway

I understand the arguments that are advanced in favour of a referendum. I take the view that a referendum would tell the House only what it knows already. The results of a survey were published in the Daily Star. With no disrespect to that newspaper, it is one that would not normally be quoted in the House of Commons, but it is the views of 6,200 readers of the Daily Star who took the trouble to telephone the newspaper to tell it of their views, not the views of the newspaper, that I draw to the attention of the House. Of the 6,200, only 200 were against the death sentence. Obviously, the other 6,000 were in favour of it. If that does not tell us what a referendum would tell us, I do not know what would.

Many of us have taken part in phone-in programmes on television. I have done so on two occasions. The public telephone to give their views, and overwhelmingly they have been in favour—

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)


Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)


Mr. Greenway

I have given way several times already, and I should like to bring my remarks to a conclusion. As I have said, I want others to have a chance to contribute to the debate.

Unless we accept and implement new clause 1, all our policemen may inevitably have to be armed. That is something which younger police officers feel, with reluctance, to be inevitable.

I loathe and detest all violence. It saddens me greatly that there is now so much violence in our society, whether in the real world or on our television or cinema screens. I believe instinctively, however, that sometimes the only way to defeat violence is through the use of violence. All killing is evil, but do we not on occasions have to resort to evil to defeat evil? If not, why have we sent thousands of our soldiers to the Gulf? The public believe instinctively that the availability of capital punishment must be an essential element of the fight against premeditated violent crime. Can this House for ever remain out of step with that view? By voting for new clause 1 tonight, the House would restore to the police a protection that it should never have removed.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

This is the 19th occasion since 1955 that the House has debated this topic. We debated it fully two years ago. We can all bring to the House recollections of what we have detected outside it. I believe that I have detected a feeling both in the House and in the country that our nation has some very real problems which should be dealt with in the House, but for which no time can be found, and the House might have been better occupied in debating them.

Of course I respect the right of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) to his opinion, and I do not for a moment question his sincerity. But I hope that he will forgive me if I say that none of his arguments burst upon us for the first time, and I do not believe that I can adduce any new arguments. We have both been around the course many times before.

I wish mainly to speak to new clause 4, and I shall leave it to other right hon. and hon. Members to deploy arguments on the general question. I say only that two arguments are uppermost in my mind. The first is the reflection to which the hon. Member for Ryedale adverted, but which he dismissed rather lightly—that is, that if capital punishment had been retained for the offence of murder, the guilt or innocence of the Birmingham Six would now be academic because we would have hanged them 13 years ago. We would also have hanged the Guildford Four for an offence for which we are now agreed the conviction cannot safely be allowed to stand. The hon. Gentleman replied to that with the optimistic view that perhaps our legal system would never perpetrate another mistake; that perhaps we had achieved perfection. I wish that I could believe it, but I am bound to say that I do not share his optimism.

New clause 3 makes another attempt to deal with that issue. I find it logically perplexing, because it proposes that, if the Court of Appeal finds that there is a doubt about the validity of the conviction, that would be a reason for sentencing people to life imprisonment. No doubt, when the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) speaks to his new clause, he will try to elucidate that. I am still persuaded by the argument that the legal system may perpetrate mistakes and that we would all bitterly regret it if we reinstated capital punishment. Secondly, I do not believe that it enhances respect for human life solemnly to break the neck of a human being on behalf of the state.

Turning to new clause 4, my hon. Friends and I simply want to say that, as the House is called on again to decide the question of principle—whether we think it right to regress to capital punishment—that principle should be applied consistently. I am not clear why the matter was not dealt with on earlier occasions. I do not believe that Parliament ever decided, on the merits, to retain capital punishment for treason and piracy. They are anomalies which were overlooked in earlier debates because, understandably, the House was concentrating on the offence of murder.

I am grateful to Amnesty International for reminding me that those inconsistencies remain. That has added to the debt which we all owe that organisation. I am somewhat prejudiced, because I was a founder member of Amnesty International, and for some time I was chairman of the British section. I have never invested time to better purpose.

The case for new clause 4 is simple. The question of principle, which the House will be deciding once again, applies equally to these remaining offences. I know of no argument applicable to the penalty for murder that does not apply equally to the penalty for treason and piracy.

I should like to spend a few moments making clear what we are not seeking to do. Some observant commentators have noticed that we have not sought to abolish the death penalty for offences against the Army Acts, re-enacted in the Armed Forces Bill. They relate to offences such as mutiny in time of war. I do not believe that our nation would be any safer because we have capital punishment for mutiny in time of war, but I recognise that the arguments are different. It may be better not to complicate the debate by introducing those considerations. I shall be satisfied for the present if we can achieve consistency in time of peace.

4 pm

I should like to turn to the second thing which we are not seeking to do. We are not addressing the content of the law of treason or of piracy. I have heard a rumour, which may be entirely without foundation, that, when the Home Secretary addresses the Committee, he will argue that, because the substantive content of the law of treason is in need of revision, that should be regarded as a reason for retaining capital punishment. If he says that, it will be a curious argument—that anyone who is convicted under a law which admittedly is in a muddle should for that reason be hanged. You and I, Mr. Walker, might have thought that it would be an argument in the opposite direction.

If it helps, I agree that the substantive law of treason is much in need of revision. Much of it still stems from the Treason Act 1351, and consists of such a strangely assorted list as compassing or imagining the death of the sovereign; violating his eldest daughter, provided that she is unmarried, so it does not apply to Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, and slaying the Chancellor or the King's justices, provided that they are in their place undertaking their offices—so they are not protected by the law of treason if they are having dinner or walking the dog.

In 1977, the Law Commission published a working paper inviting comments, and it became clear, if it was not blatantly obvious already, that the law was in need of a wash and brush-up. The project did not go any further, which was not in any way the Law Commission's fault.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

The argument that treason is a particularly evil thing is a complex matter to many of us. Treason means that a British subject betrays his own kind. It is said, even by the Russians in their perestroika and glasnost days, that George Blake helped to kill 45 agents. The Gulf has been mentioned today. If someone betrayed British troops, resulting in the loss of the lives of hundreds of those troops, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that it was terrible for the state to say, "This has been a heinous crime and that person should give up his life"? Are we really going to say that anyone who betrays other people can cause the death of those people without that costing his life?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I hesitate to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), but the Committee will know that, at the end of Question Time, I asked Mr. Speaker whether he had had any request from the Government to make a statement about the introduction of conscription. He replied that he had received no such request. We now know that a written question gives a substantive answer, reintroducing the principle of conscription to this country—

The Chairman

Order. I remind the hon. Gentle man that we are in Committee, and that this is not a matter for the Committee.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to the point of order, Mr. Walker. My point of order is very simple. Surely such an important decision should be revealed to the House in an oral answer or a statement. To introduce the principle of conscription in a written answer is absolutely unacceptable— The Chairman: Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern but I am sure that he will recognise that, because we are in Committee, I cannot deal with this matter.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to the point of order, Mr. Walker. Surely, even if the House is in Committee when something as important as this happens and when the House is treated in this way, there must be a way in which we can ask for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement.

The Chairman

A Minister cannot come to the House and make a statement on such matters while we are in Committee. The hon. Gentleman will doubtless use his experience and ingenuity to seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on a more appropriate occasion.

Mr. Archer

The point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was on an important matter, but I think that it was addressed to you, Mr. Walker, rather than to me, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I return to my argument.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) asked me to respond to the suggestion that treason can be a terrible offence. I agree—

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Not "can be"; it is.

Mr. Archer

It depends on all the circumstances.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Treason is a terrible offence.

Mr. Archer

That depends on what someone has done. If it helps the hon. Gentleman, I readily agree that treason can be a terrible offence—so, I believe, can murder—but that is not what we are debating today. I do not believe that our country would be any safer if we retained capital punishment for the offence of treason—any more than individuals would be safer if we reintroduced capital punishment for the offence of murder.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Archer

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me proceed. He will no doubt have the opportunity to develop his argument in due course in a speech of his own.

I was about to make a confession, Mr. Walker. Purely inadvertently, I failed to include in the new clause a reference to the Treason Act 1775, dealing with compassing the death of the sovereign. The fault is entirely mine. I noticed it myself and I understand that the Home Secretary's advisers noticed it subsequently. But I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not consider that a reason to deprive the House of the right to make a decision on principle. Clearly, any defect for which I am responsible can be rectified at a subsequent stage in the consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Wilshire

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a confession and offering the House an apology, may I say that there is only one issue on which I have disagreed with him so far? He keeps referring to the list of hon. Members who have signed the amendment as "we", and he makes it sound as though they are all Labour Members. Does he accept that many Conservative Members, myself included, would have liked to sign the amendment, and fully support the arguments that he is advancing?

Mr. Archer

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, especially as he is a fellow Methodist. I confess that I did not specifically invite him to sign the amendment, but it would certainly have pleased me had I seen his name on the list of those who did.

If the offence of treason were abolished, the people to whom I have referred—members of the royal family, the Chancellor and the judiciary—would still be protected by the ordinary law relating to murder and other violent offences. Clearly, if anyone offered violence to a member of the royal family or a judge, they would be prosecuted under provisions quite different from those of the 1351 Act. Our criminal law is in need of some reform, but I do not believe that we have been reduced to that.

I agree that there is a need to review the position relating to the substantive law of treason. But the new clause is not about the substantive law; it is about the penalties. The statutes which the new clause proposes to repeal were intended to civilise the penalties. The Treason Act 1770 was not concerned with the substantive law. It provided that a woman convicted of treason should be hanged instead of being burned. The Treason Act 1814 extended the same leniency to men by providing that a penalty of hanging should be substituted for the penalty of disembowelling.

If the Secretary of State promises to review the law on treason, many Opposition members would say, "Not before time." However, that relates to the substantive law and not to the penalty. We believe that this debate is about penalties and that the arguments which persuaded the House two years ago, and which will no doubt be deployed again today, apply with equal force to the offences of treason and piracy.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Is this debate solely about penalties? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that one cannot open a newspaper on any day of the week without seeing accounts of horrific crimes or of murders of women and children? The statistics point clearly to a decline in society and a growth in violence. What has the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say about that?

Mr. Archer

If I understood the relevance of the right hon. Gentleman's question to what I was saying, I would endeavour to answer him. Horrific crimes are committed and some of us have complained that the Government should be doing more about them. Many things could be done to reduce the number of horrific crimes, but, as I was saying, this debate is about penalties.

If the rumour that the Secretary of State is proposing to use the argument that I have described transpires to be justified, I would be disappointed, because that would not be characteristic of him. It might conceivably be characteristic of the Home Office: it would not be the first time that we have heard the argument from the Home Office that, if a thing is worth doing, it is worth delaying until we are all dead. however, I hope that we do not hear that from the Secretary of State.

The last person to be executed for treason was William Joyce, known affectionately as Lord Haw-Haw, immediately after the second world war. Capital punishment for piracy is dealt with under the Piracy Act 1837 and the last person to be executed for piracy was executed in the 19th century.

So some people may ask whether it matters greatly that we retain capital punishment on the statute book if it is not likely to be used. I believe that it matters for two reasons. First, what the state prescribes about this is a test of our civilisation. If we have a death penalty on the statute book, we will be virtually the only democracy in western Europe to have one, and we will be resisting the tide of civilisation.

Secondly, under the sixth protocol to the European convention on human rights, the member states of the Council of Europe undertake to abolish the death penalty. That protocol has not even been signed, much less ratified, by the United Kingdom. Apart from the United Kingdom, only Cyprus, Ireland—I understand why in Ireland's case —Malta and Turkey have not signed the protocol.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would be relieved if he could inform the Community that the United Kingdom was no longer on that list. If the Foreign Secretary cannot remove our name from that list, I hope that the Home Secretary will explain that our name is there not because Parliament is in favour of capital punishment, but because he advised the House not to make up its mind on the issue.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the sanctity of human life should apply in particular to innocent human life, such as those that are destroyed by the million by abortion?

Mr. Archer

Certainly the sanctity of human life applies to innocent human life, including, for example, the Guildford Four, as my hon. Friends have said. I happen to believe that it applies to all human life. One of the most important ways in which we can establish that, as a community, we condemn the taking of life, is to abstain from doing it ourselves.

4.15 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that Ireland is one of the countries that still have capital punishment on their statute book for the murder of policemen. As the principle applies just as much to the Irish position as to what we are debating, is this not an ideal opportunity to ask the Irish Government also to remove capital punishment from its statute book, so that such offensive legislation would not exist either here or anywhere in Ireland? I take the opportunity of publicly asking the Irish Government to do that, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in doing so.

Mr. Archer

The hon. Gentleman is fully entitled to make that point. If it helps him, not for the first time, I would join him in representations that he addresses to the Government of the Irish Republic. But I would prefer for the moment not to introduce a further complication into the debate. I want to keep the argument simple.

Perhaps I have been doing the Home Secretary a total injustice, and he does not intend to introduce that rather spurious argument at all.

It remains for me to give one other explanation. I have been asked why I am seeking to replace capital punishment with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. It has been pointed out, as I already knew, that many senior judges believe that judges should have some discretion in relation to that sentence. Obviously, some cases fully merit life imprisonment, and no doubt that is what would be decided in that event. Some cases may be better disposed of by a determinate sentence which relates to the seriousness of the offence. In some cases, it might be better if a judge had a discretion to make a hospital order under the Mental Health Act 1984. I am aware of the debate on that matter and of the helpful discussion in the book entitled "Responses to Crime" by a former Conservative Home Office Minister, Lord Windelsham. I spare the Home Secretary that issue, because this is not the occasion for the House to embark on that debate.

We are seeking to ensure consistency in the penalties that apply to the law of murder and which, by the end of the debate, will have been considered by the Committee. If, one day, Parliament decides to give a discretion to judges, that will be another matter for another day.

I apologise for the length of time that I have taken, but I have had several interruptions. Meanwhile, I shall be content if today the House rectifies what I believe is simply an oversight and takes a decision that it would have taken on previous occasions if its attention had been called to the matter, applies the same arguments to these offences as persuade the House in relation to capital punishment generally, and if we place the United Kingdom squarely among the company of civilised nations.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I shall deal later with the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer).

I wish to state at the outset of this debate that I yield to no one in my detestation of violent crime. When there are tears to be shed, they should be shed for the innocent victim, not the guilty perpetrator, so I want to assure the House that a determination to protect the innocent is my overriding concern as Home Secretary.

The arguments that I shall advance in this debate are arguments about the efficacy of capital punishment. Of course there is ample room for passion in these debates, burl want to put forward a case based upon reason and fact.

I do not underestimate the strong feelings held by the supporters on the two sides in this debate. On one side, many argue—some interventions have demonstrated the passion with which the view is felt—that it is possible to contain the innate violent tendencies in society and protect the innocent only if the state is empowerd to take the life of a murderer. Some crimes are so repulsive to society, displaying such depths of cruelty and inhumanity, that it is only right for society to exact the ultimate penalty.

Indeed, the ultimate penalty is a duty to be exercised by society. The argument is that, to protect life, one must be prepared to take life.

On the other side, there are those who believe, either from deep religious or moral convictions; that it is wrong for the state to take away the life of anyone; that no circumstances can justify the deliberate and elaborate process that ends on the gallows. They feel passionately that such a brutal reaction to the very crime of brutality defeats its object by dehumanising society. Although not expressed in exactly those words, those views were expressed with feeling a few moments ago by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). These views are deeply held, and I respect them; but I recognise that they are irreconcilable.

A tradition has developed during these debates that the Home Secretary should offer the House some analysis of the background to the factors which hon. Members will wish to take into account, and then say something about his personal views. I intend to follow that tradition.

Since capital punishment was abolished for murder in November 1965, the House has returned to this matter on at least 12 occasions. There have been 22 votes on this issue, with majorities against restoring capital punishment varying from 170 to 81. Nonetheless, the House wishes to return to this subject, since it concerns many hon. Members and it also concerns the general public, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said in his very good speech.

There is a long history of parliamentary interest in and concern about the death penalty. In the early 19th century, over 200 offences were punishable by death, and there was a prolonged campaign to confine the death penalty to only the most serious offences. By 1861, the death penalty was available only for high treason, murder, piracy with violence, and the destruction of public arsenals and dockyards. Today it remains available for treason, piracy with violence, and for some treasonable and mutinous offences under the Armed Forces Act 1971.

Since 1861, treason apart, there have been no executions except for murder. Public executions came to an end in 1868 as a result of a campaign whose supporters included Thackeray, Dickens and Thomas Love Peacock. Only in 1868 was the death sentence abolished for children under 16, and the age limit was raised to 18 in 1933.

Since the war, the Homicide Act 1957 restricted the death penalty to certain categories of murder. This proved unsatisfactory in practice. Some heinous crimes escaped the death penalty; others, arguably less heinous, became liable to the death penalty if a firearm was used rather than a knife. I am sure that many hon. Members will recall the Ruth Ellis case. Finally, Sydney Silverman's private Member's Bill abolishing the death penalty for murder became law in 1965, and the House reaffirmed the position in 1970. So much for the history.

Despite the British parliamentary interest in this issue, I have to say that similar debates do not seem to occur elsewhere in western Europe. There is no campaign to restore the death penalty in other western European countries. Although most of them have higher homicide rates and higher records of violent crime than we do, there is no campaign to restore the death penalty. The death penalty remains available in Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Japan, the majority of states in America and also South Africa—where it is suspended—Singapore and south America.

I turn now to the incidence of homicide. In England and Wales in the past 10 years, some 500 to 650 offences have initially been recorded as homicide by the police each year. This, of course, includes the offences of murder, manslaughter and infanticide. In the past 10 years, the number of people convicted of murder has varied between 130 and 230 a year. The number of homicides has been increasing in the last 30 years or so. In the 10 years from 1976 to 1985, the average number of homicides has been 580; in the 10 years before that—from 1966 to 1975—the average was 450 per year, and in the 10 years from 1956 to 1965, the average was 294.

However, I noted as I looked at those figures that the number of offences initially recorded as homicide per 100,000 of the population was almost the same in 1989 as it was in 1857. The rate then was 1.26, and the rate for 1989 was 1.25. The highest rate of homicides was 1.96, in 1865. But there was a long period of 70 years, from 1902 to 1974, when the homicide rate was less than one for every 100,000 of the population. Since then, the rate has varied between 1.0 and 1.3, although it fell to just below one in 1977.

In the United States the rate is much higher—over eight for every 100,000 of population. Yet the death penalty is available in 37 states in America. It is interesting to consider the American experience in the past 20 years. In 1977, the first execution took place after a gap of 10 years. Since then, there have been 120 executions in America up to the end of last year. I believe that an execution took place last week, but it may have been postponed until this week. In 1977, the homicide rate in the United States was 8.8; in 1980—three years after the resumption of the death penalty—it had risen to over 10; but by 1986, it had fallen to 8.6, which was roughly its previous level.

Numerous studies have shown that there seems to be no relationship between changes in the homicide rate and the availability of the death penalty. For example, from 1980 to 1985, the homicide rate fell by 20 per cent. in Georgia and Florida which both had the death penalty, but it fell by 26 per cent. in New York, which did not have the death penalty.

The conclusion reached by a distinguished British academic, Professor Roger Hood, in his report for the United Nations "The Death Penalty: a Worldwide Perspective" is that different methods of study failed to support the hypothesis that the death penalty is marginally a more effective deterrent than lengthy imprisonment". In the Scottish parlance, the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent is "not proven".

So one cannot draw an absolute conclusion that the death penalty is a deterrent. This is a point on which I know that hon. Members will wish to exercise their own judgment, but there is no evidence from other criminal jurisdictions that the existence of the death penalty reduces murders or other crimes of violence.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend. He has gone through the statistics from his Department and drawn on the views of other analysts. Can he explain to the House why, in the 20 years following the second world war—that is to say, from 1945 to 1964, the year in which the death penalty was abolished—the number of killings made known, according to his own table of figures, fell from over 300 to about 296? Almost from the day of abolition, the number of killings rose sharply and the number of crimes involving the use of firearms increased dramatically. He may quote figures to show that there is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime but will he accept that the figures for Britain at least seem to be clear, precise and convincing?

Mr. Baker

I have not sought to disguise those figures from the House or from my hon. Friend. With respect, I mentioned the increases in the rates of homicide over the past three decades. I told the House that the rates had increased.

Mr. John Greenway

indicated assent. Mr. Baker: I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) nodding. The reasons for the increase are indeed complex. It is difficult to conclude from all the evidence available that the increase is associated with the suspension of the death sentence for most crimes in 1957 and its abolition in 1965.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baker

If I may finish this passage, I shall give way to my hon. Friend. I shall deal later with the point about firearms referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).

Another factor relevant to the debate is the method of execution. We cannot seriously discuss the restoration of the death penalty unless we are prepared to consider how it should be carried out. Lethal injection is the preferred method in the United States. The procedure is similar to a general anaesthetic, but the drugs are injected in fatal quantities. It is considered to be the most humane method—less likely to involve severe pain. But there can be difficulties in administering the drugs. In Texas, one prisoner took at least 10 minutes to die. There has been an intense debate in the medical profession about the ethics of doctors using their medical knowledge in the administration of death. In Florida, the doctors have refused to administer the fatal injections.

Hanging is not much favoured in America, although it involves fewer preliminaries than electrocution or lethal gas. One state in America still has execution by shooting. The speed and painlessness of death is not thought to differ much between the three methods, apart from shooting. But hanging—although it requires more skill from the executioner—is simpler and may be quicker. It used to take less than 30 seconds between the executioner entering the condemned cell and pulling the lever. But with all three methods, there have been difficulties which have considerably prolongued the condemned person's death.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, except for the few intent on self-immolation, the death penalty will not encourage murder, and that, on balance, common sense tells us that it is likely to discourage murder?

Mr. Baker

I am coming to the question of deterrence. I take my hon. Friend's point that many people feel that the relationship is one of common sense. However, where a country has restored the death penalty, the evidence is inconclusive. One cannot say that, as a result of America restoring or implementing the death penalty from 1977, there has been a significant reduction in crimes of violence in any of the states in which it has operated.

4.30 pm
Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the statistics, all of which are open to varying interpretations, will he agree that his Department has recently given me one statistic, the interpretation of which cannot be disputed, and that is that, since the abolition of the death penalty, almost 60 innocent people have died at the hands of killers who have been released from prison?

Mr. Baker

In reply to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]—sorry, my right hon. Friend; all former chairmen of the Conservative party have an umbilical cord binding us—offences of homicide committed by those who had previously been convicted of a murder are rare. We have known of only nine cases. I state that because other figures have been circulated dealing with people convicted of murder after the abolition of capital punishment in 1965 who have later killed again. On the information available to us, we judge that six out of those nine and perhaps more would not have been treated as capital murders under the Homicide Act 1967. That is the key point. Had those offences occurred before abolition, in only a handful of cases, at most three, is it likely that life would have been saved by the execution of the murderer.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baker

I have given way, and I shall give way again. I shall give way to my hon. and learned Friend when I come to deal with the new clause which stands in his name. If I may, I shall proceed and answer the questions raised.

Mr. Lawrence


Mr. Baker

All right, I am happy to give way to my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I do not want to impede his speech. Is it not a fact that, in 11 out of the 12 states in the United States where capital punishment has been restored and executions have been carried out, there has been a reduction in the murder rate?

Mr. Baker

Yes, but there has also been a reduction in the murder rate in states which have not introduced the death penalty. I am happy to make available to my hon. and learned Friend all the reports which flood into the Home Office on the analysis of what has happened in America since 1977. I am happy again to give way to my hon. and learned Friend when we reach his new clause.

I turn now to the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Rydale, asking that the death penalty should apply to someone who is convicted of murdering a police officer. Connected to that is the clause making it also available for the murder of a prison officer.

May I make it absolutely clear that we all deplore violence directed against the police? The murder of a police officer is a particularly heinous crime. We all recognise that the work of police officers makes them particularly vulnerable. That is why the Government have always been determined that the police should be adequately protected in carrying out their vital task of preventing crime and protecting all of us.

The Court of Appeal has made it clear that the normal sentence for any assault on a police officer involving the deliberate use of force, even where it has not been severe, will be imprisonment.

The greatest risk to the police is from firearms. However, in the past 10 years, the proportion of all notifiable offences involving firearms has remained at about 0.3 per cent. We have introduced new laws to tighten up the control of firearms, offensive weapons and knives. The Firearms Act 1988 banned private ownership of some of the most lethal guns. We hope that that has gone some way to making the streets safer for the police and the public.

I can assure the House that I shall continue my predecessor's policy of requiring those responsible for the worst categories of murder, including those who kill police officers, to serve at least 20 years in prison. I must emphasise that 20 years is the minimum; many murderers will serve longer. For some, life will mean life. I believe that the length of the sentence is critical. There are 2,300 prisoners serving life sentences for murder. Some 175 murderers have served 15 years or longer, and 54 have served more than 20 years. Of that 54, some 40 have served between 20 and 25 years, nine have served between 25 and 30 years and five have served more than 30 years. In the decision whether to release such murderers, the overriding consideration must always be the risk to the public. In reaching such a decision I must take account of the considered advice of the Parole Board, the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice.

In considering the proposal, it is also important to consider the views of those most closely involved. The Police Federation believes that capital punishment should be restored for the crime of murder—I believe that hon. Members have received a letter from the federation. In recent weeks, I have spoken to many police officers and I have found that younger officers in particular are not in favour of the death penalty. I do not believe, however, that that in any way reduces the strength of the Police Federation's view. There are differing opinions among chief officers and the Association of Chief Political Officers [Interruption.]—I meant the Association of Chief Police Officers—which has no collective view. I understand that the Police Superintendents Association is more or less evenly divided.

Similarly, we rely on prison officers to protect the public from those in custody. Prison officers were also covered by Leon Brittan's statement about the worst kinds of murder. The Prison Officers Association has long supported capital punishment as a discretionary penalty. The Prison Governors Association has not taken a collective view, but governors have opposed it in the past. They have been especially concerned about the effect on the staff who had custody of the condemned prisoner.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) spoke about deterrence. For me, the key argument at the end of the day is whether capital punishment is an effective deterrent. The restorers have no doubt about this. They claim that natural common sense would appear to make it so, but there is considerable doubt. In well over 70 per cent. of murders, the victim and the murderer are known to each other. Some 62 per cent. of all female victims are either related to or the spouse or lover of their murderer. Many of those victims die as a result of sudden, uncontrolled anger by their killers. I think one can legitimately doubt whether the existence of the capital sentence would have any bearing upon such actions.

I accept, however, that, for some murders, and by far the greatest majority of crimes, there must be effective and strong deterrents. No one should underestimate the effect of a long prison sentence. If anyone doubts that, let them visit a prison. In the three weeks that I have been Home Secretary, I have so far visited three prisons, and I will be visiting another one this week. I must tell the Committee that all prisons are grim, and some prisons are much grimer than others. To deprive someone of their liberty for 20, 30, 40 years, or even the whole of their life, will in some cases be fully justified, but let no one underestimate the severity which that punishment represents.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Lord Scarman, one of the most eminent lawyers in the country, is an arch opponent of capital punishment. This morning, on radio, he conceded that, for a certain number of murders, capital punishment would be a deterrent. Are those lives not worth saving?

Mr. Baker

I am as concerned as my hon. Friend to ensure that the lives not only of police officers but of everyone are protected as well as possible in our country. I imagine that Lord Scarman—I did not hear the report—had in mind those murders involving firearms. As I said, we have considerably tightened the laws in that sector. In 1988, the Criminal Justice Act made carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime punishable by life.

New clause 2 proposes the death penalty for murder committed in the pursuit of terrorism. I do not know whether it will be called tonight, but nonetheless I think I should deal with the argument behind it, since many Members feel very strongly about this. The Government are utterly determined to tackle the crimes which are committed in the name of terrorism. We can never tolerate this evil. The murder of Ian Gow left me, as it did many others, utterly shocked, deeply distressed and very angry. It is a quite understandable reaction to want to see the perpetrators hanged.

However, nearly everybody who has had direct responsibility for dealing with terrorism has the gravest misgivings about the reintroduction of the death penalty. They have been concerned about the desire for martyrdom by terrorists. Those who have been prepared to starve themselves to death are not likely to have any fear of the gallows. They have also been concerned that, quite callously, terrorists would be prepared to use young people under the age of 18 in their dastardly crimes.

Nor can we overlook the fact of the possibility of hostages being taken later while the execution is awaited and society being subjected to blackmail. The Government could never yield to that sort of blackmail—the sentence would have to be carried out—but one has to recognise that the result of reintroducing the death penalty could be that more innocent lives may be put at risk.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

My right hon. Friend must exclude from his list of those who he claims oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty, those who are in the front line in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland—the Police Federation of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Baker

I shall come on to Northern Ireland in a moment.

Mr. Mullin

Does the Home Secretary agree that we have been most unsuccessful in catching the perpetrators of terrorism, no doubt partly due to the outrage felt at the time and the pressure on the authorities to get results quickly? We now know that, in 1974 alone, at least 10 innocent people would have hanged.

Mr. Baker

I do not intend to deal with particular cases, but I disagree with the basic proposition with which the hon. Gentleman began his intervention.

However, my real objection to singling out terrorism in this way is that it recognises terrorism as a special crime to be punished in a special way. I want to make it clear that, when we are fighting terrorism, we are not engaged in a political war: we are engaged in a war against criminality by evil and callous men and women. That point is recognised across the world. Terrorism, however terrible, is a criminal act. Those who perpetrate it must be treated as common criminals.

Today's debate is concerned mainly with England and Wales. But we need to keep in mind that the largest proportion of terrorist murders in the United Kingdom is committed in Northern Ireland. The same is true of the proportion of murders of policemen.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked me to say that it is his view that the imposition of capital punishment in Northern Ireland would make the defeat of terrorism in the Province more difficult. He would draw particular attention to the following dangers of restoration of the death penalty. It would create martyrs; it would make the special legal processes which exist in Northern Ireland for the purposes of dealing with terrorism more difficult to operate; and it would damage the prospects for the trust between the security forces and the community, which is essential if information about terrorist activity is to be collected and acted upon.

I understand that the Chief Constable and the most senior officers of the RUC, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, are of the view that the reintroduction of capital punishment would make the task of the police in Northern Ireland more difficult in combating terrorism. The prison authorities in Northern Ireland consider that it would be a setback to their successful policy of denying prisoners and their supporters any issue upon which to mount a campaign.

4.45 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is it not a fact that the weapon in the armoury of the IRA is capital punishment? Is it not a fact that in that way, the IRA have punished people throughout Northern Ireland—Protestants, Roman Catholics, and members of the security forces and their families? Does not the Home Secretary agree that there is no way to deal with this matter but the method used in the other part of Ireland when there was similar trouble there and a rigorous campaign of capital punishment was introduced?

Mr. Baker

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has dealt with such matters in a more intimate way than many other hon. Members over the years, but the advice that I have relayed to the House, given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, senior RUC officers and the prison services, does not accord with his views. They consider that it would not help them to deal with the utterly vile crimes. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman in his condemnation of those who perpetrate such crimes and of the way that they have tried to destroy society in Northern Ireland during the past 20 or 30 years.

Mr. Winnick

As the Home Secretary may know, my loathing of terrorism is second to none; but is there not a wider issue involved? Is it not a fact that, although they would never admit it, the Provisional IRA would like the death penalty to be applied simply because the execution of terrorists would invoke sympathy in the United States and Ireland? In the Republic of Ireland, Provisional Sinn Fein has been unable to get more than 2 per cent. of the vote in general elections, but reaction to the hunger strikers demonstrates that execution would invoke the sympathy on which the IRA relies for its sordid and murderous ends.

Mr. Baker

I do not think there is any evidence that the IRA would welcome the return of the death sentence. However, I am absolutely certain that, if it existed, the IRA would do everything it could to exploit it.

For all these reasons, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not believe that capital punishment should be made available in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon

I welcome the information that the Home Secretary has given in relation to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable and the Army authorities, because it concurs with the view I hold, having had discussions with them. Does the Home Secretary agree that the one thing that the Provisional IRA cannot deal with is normality, both in law and society, and that to create an abnormal place in law in relation to capital punishment for them could be successfully used by the IRA for propaganda purposes?

Mr. Baker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but many of the victims of terrorism would certainly say that the terrorists are creating a state of abnormality by the acts that they perpetrate against society in Northern Ireland.

The amendment standing in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West would, as he said, make life imprisonment the mandatory sentence for treason and for piracy with violence. It would mean that the death penalty would still remain for some offences under the Armed Forces Act of 1971. I am advised that the amendments as they stand are defective in that they do not cover one of the statutes relating to treason, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman invited me to rest my opposition to his amendment on the fact that it is defective, but I shall not do so. Should the House pass the motion tonight, it would be the responsibility of the Government to remove the defect of the amendment.

I have some sympathy with the view that the death penalty should be abolished for piracy, especially as there is some doubt about the circumstances in which it would apply. Life imprisonment is the maximum penalty for the equivalent offence of hijacking an aircraft. However, that is a somewhat academic question, since the last execution for piracy was in 1830.

The question relating to the penalty for treason is, however, more complex. In 1977, the Law Commission's working paper on treason, sedition and allied offences pointed out that, apart from some cases in wartime, there had been no modern instance of prosecution in English courts for the offence of treason. In practical terms, therefore, the law of treason is important only in time of war.

The paper concluded that the present statutes dealing with treason and treason felony should be repealed and that there should be an offence of treason applicable only during the existence of a state of war. The deficiencies were recognised during the last war through the passing of a special Act in 1940.

Clearly, what is needed is a complete revision of the law relating to treason and the appropriate penalties that would attach to any new provision. It would therefore be inappropriate at this stage to amend solely the penalty without consideration of the offence giving rise to that penalty. I have discussed that with the Lord Chancellor, who considers that it would be appropriate for the Law Commission to continue its examination of this law in the context of its work on the codification of the criminal law. This will allow Parliament in due course to consider the complex matters surrounding the law of treason. Merely to amend the present law by substituting a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment would give the wholly erroneous impression that, apart from that change, Parliament was content with it.

Mr. Archer

So it is the right hon. Gentleman's argument, as I anticipated, that, because the statutes should be repealed, we should retain the death penalty for them—on the face of it, a curious argument. In any event, will he seize this opportunity to say that, since the working paper of the Law Commission was issued in 1977, he will at least ask it to press on with the matter and, once it has reported, give us an early opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Baker

I have great sympathy with that point of view, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that his new clause raises complex issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman several questions which—I do not want to be offensive to him—he did not answer convincingly. In any case, the new clause raises important matters which, as a former Law Officer, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Minister referred rather curiously to the work of the Law Commission on codification. The Law Commission has produced a Bill codifying English and Welsh criminal law and it has been available to the Government for some years. What sort of time does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind for the completion of the work to which he has referred?

Mr. Baker

I appreciate that it would be sensible to draw this matter to a relatively speedy conclusion. I am not a lawyer, so I do not know what "speedy" means in legal terms, but it is clear that the law should be revised fundamentally. I shall draw what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I am anxious to get the Home Secretary's view on this clear. He told my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) that his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) had asked my right hon. and learned Friend questions that he had not answered convincingly. The question asked by the hon. Member for Selly Oak was: is not treason such an horrendous crime that a capital sentence is appropriate for it? I hope that the Home Secretary is not using that argument in defence of his position. I hope that he will make it clear that he does not share that view, even though he chose to quote it for some reason.

Mr. Baker

That is a fair point, but my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak raised practical considerations about what constitutes treason in time of war and in time of peace. The House should have time to reflect on that, rather than coming to a snatched decision over the course of a prolonged weekend.

Mr. Dicks

Should not the same logic also apply to terrorist activities? My right hon. Friend cannot have it both ways to suit his convenience: if a terrorist has killed 30 or 40 people and it is wrong to hang him, it must by definition also be wrong to hang a man for treason. I am in favour of capital punishment. Terrorists should be hanged for murder, and so should those who commit treason.

Mr. Baker

The two matters are different; I have already dealt with terrorism. I am fully aware of my hon. Friend's opinion on these matters. He has forcefully expressed them over the years, and he will continue to do so. Such arguments as I have adduced today my hon. Friend will not accept, I fear, but I ask him to consider that terrorism and treason are very different.

I emphasise that there is a free vote on the new clause but that it would be much more sensible to leave the penalty as it is until wider consideration of the law of treason is completed.

Mr. Wilshire

My right hon. Friend suggests that it is right to leave well alone until he has had a chance to deal with this matter. Will he accept that some of us, if we are to agree with his argument, will have to vote against the abolition of the death penalty? We accept that the law needs thorough revision but we will find it impossible to give it that revision tonight, so we shall have to vote for the new clause if it is put to the vote.

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is right. That is why we have always had free votes on these matters. I do not suggest that he should vote one way or the other. I have placed before the House certain considerations which it is my duty as Home Secretary to place before it. If my hon. Friend does not want to follow that advice, that is up to him, but I shall vote against the new clause for the reasons that I have set out.

The new clause tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is important and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale referred to it. It is the nub of the debate today. I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend will catch your eye later, Mr. Walker, but I spoke in his constituency on Friday night—in his support, I hasten to add—and he was then able to tell me the gist of his arguments—

Mr. Lawrence

My right hon. Friend spoke very well.

Mr. Baker

I thank my hon. and learned Friend—he was very good, too.

The effect of the new clause would be that juries would continue to decide whether a defendant would be convicted of murder. Death would be the mandatory sentence for defendants of 18 or over, but, as soon as practical after a sentence of death, there should be a special sitting of the Court of Appeal to consider whether the circumstances of the offence or of the offender would justify the substitution of a sentence of life imprisonment for the sentence of death.

This is an important idea, which I have no doubt will be the focus of today's debate. It makes a proposal which the House has not considered before. My hon. and learned Friend proposes that there should be no distinction between different types of murder at trial. Neither the jury nor the trial judge should be asked to differentiate between different types of murder or to decide between different penalties. The House will recall that the Homicide Act 1957 was found to be most unsatisfactory because it sought in practice to do exactly that—to draw distinctions between different types of murder.

Such distinctions run into difficult problems in logic or in practice. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between different categories of murder. That has been the greatest weakness of the case of those who have wanted the restoration of capital punishment since 1965. The degree of heinousness of a crime can be considered only in the unique circumstances of each offence. There are difficulties in trying to categorise according to the status of the victim, the weapon used or the relationship of the offender to the victim. Many would say that it is just as heinous of someone to poison his wife or mistress over a long period as it is to shoot someone in the furtherance of crime—I notice my hon. and learned Friend nodding at that. However, he recognises that there is in practice a wide variation in the culpability of offenders and in the seriousness of different murders.

We may think of examples—the murder of a child in gruesome circumstances, or multiple murders—and contrast them with someone who kills after suffering years of violence and abuse from another member of the family, or with someone else who feels it right to put an end to the life of a much loved relative who is suffering acute pain in terminal illness. Society recognises that there are differences and that not all these cases would permit a sentence of death.

The position of juries, given mandatory death sentences for all charges of murder, might change. Faced with such mandatory sentences, we would or could experience a marked reluctance on their part to convict the accused—

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)


Mr. Baker

Perhaps, but there is an area of doubt. There would also be an increased demand for the level of proof brought by the prosecution to be utterly convincing.

The new clause also raises the question whether a majority verdict would be appropriate for the death sentence. We could well end up not only with more acquittals but with fewer murderers being brought to trial. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton will deal with that point if he catches the Chair's eye.

Secondly, the new clause would place on the Court of Appeal the onerous responsibility of deciding whether the death sentence should stand. The responsibility would be placed not on the single judge but on the Court of Appeal. This is such a major change that I thought it right to consult the Lord Chief Justice, as one of my predecessors had done in a previous debate. He told me that he continues to take the view that a death sentence should be imposed not by the judges, whether at the trial or on appeal, but by Parliament. He has also authorised me to point out that, under this arrangement, the Court of Appeal would not have heard the evidence or seen the defendant or the witnesses, and would accordingly usually being a worse position than the trial judge to make the decision that the new clause would require. The House will want to weigh the advice of the Lord Chief Justice carefully.

This process would also add a further stage in the appeal process, because another court could still be asked to consider whether the verdict itself was sound. Presumably there would also be an appeal from the sentence decision of the Court of Appeal. In the 19th century, the gap between trial and execution could be very short, in some cases as short as a week. In 1950, the average period between sentence and execution in England and Wales was about five weeks. In some cases where there was an appeal, it rose to more than six weeks.

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But this, of course, is nothing like as long as the time in the United States, where condemned persons spend, on average, nearly eight years awaiting execution or reprieve. Even if we avoided delays of that length, there is no doubt that all opportunities for appeal and delay would be exploited. They might include attempts to get the issue considered by the European Court of Human Rights. During that period, media interest in the convicted prisoner, his family and friends would increase, and the family and friends of the victim might well be drawn into that. The public's attention would more and more focus on the fate and demeanour of the murderer and less and less on the poor victim. One can well imagine the field day that the media would have in such a situation, and I have little doubt that much of it would be in favour of the murderer rather than the victim.

The Committee will wish to consider very carefully the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. Any criminal justice system makes mistakes. We must try to minimise the risk of error, but all experience in this country and abroad shows that mistakes can happen. The Committee will not expect me to comment on particular cases. I say only that it is very hard for someone to serve years in prison on the basis of a conviction that is subsequently found to be unsafe. Release from imprisonment and financial compensation cannot really make amends for the lost years, but even those are better than a posthumous free pardon.

I recognise that murderers care nothing about the innocence of their victims, but one must not compare the responsibility of the state as the deliberate instrument of justice with the evil-intentioned actions of criminals. Those who favour the reintroduction of capital punishment must address this issue. The possibility of an innocent person being hanged by mistake canot be dismissed with a shrug. If the concept of British justice is to mean anything, we must retain the possibility of rectifying a mistaken verdict. Capital punishment denies that redress. There is no appeal from the grave.

Each of us has to make up his or her own mind on this issue. There will, of course, be a free vote on each new clause. I do not take it for granted that every hon. Member has set and unchangeable views on this matter. I have found in my time in Parliament that colleagues have changed their views as new circumstances have arisen. I have tried to set out various considerations that provide grounds for hon. Members to re-examine their views.

We all agree that murder is the worst of all crimes, because it takes away that most precious gift, the life of another human being. But we should remember that murder accounts for just one tenth of 1 per cent. of violent crimes, and less than one hundredth of 1 per cent. of all recorded crimes. One of the critical issues in the debate is whether capital punishment is a deterrent, and I have shown that the evidence on this is far from conclusive. It does not point clearly one way. The most important deterrent for most criminals is the likelihood of detection and arrest, and the knowledge that, for a serious crime, a long spell of imprisonment is not just a possibility but a certainty.

I fully understand that, in the aftermath of a particularly shocking murder, society is angry and demands revenge, but as Francis Bacon said: Revenge is a kind of wild justice". Justice is not weakened by the absence of the capital sentence. Justice is strengthened if the public have confidence in the ability of the police and of the judicial system to detect, to arrest, to secure the conviction, and to see the imprisonment for long periods of criminals who are dangerous to society. That is the positive and necessary alternative to capital punishment.

Public confidence also depends upon a judicial system that is capable of recognising and making good errors that may appear from time to time. The restoration of capital punishment would preclude the making of such amends, and would therefore contribute to a lessening of public confidence in our judicial system. That is another reason why I shall vote against the amendments.

The right of all citizens to live their lives free from the fear of crime and peaceably to go about their business is one of the oldest rights that any Government must uphold. Let us concentrate all our efforts on a relentless and unremitting fight against crime and do all that we can to adopt policies that will aid the forces of law and order in that task.

Mr. Hattersley

I have already had the privilege of congratulating the Home Secretary on his assumption of such high office. It is now my pleasure to congratulate him on what I am sure the Committee will agree was an excellent speech. The one qualification in my congratulations is the clause to be moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). However, that does not detract from the quality of the Home Secretary's speech. He held the Committee's attention for almost an hour and his speech was a cliffhanger in that none of us knew whether at the end of his judicial analysis of the pros and cons of the argument the right hon. Gentleman would be for or against. I hope that I can match his persuasiveness and lucidity in what the Committee will be pleased to know will be a rather shorter speech.

Our debates about capital punishment, especially general debates on the subject which in a sense we now undertake because of the new clause tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), usually have two ingredients. The first ingredient is what I shall call the argument in principle: on the one hand the belief that the state does not possess the right to kill its citizens under any circumstances; and on the other the conviction that some crimes are so intrinsically wicked that they must be punished by nothing less than death.

The second ingredient is more pragmatic: it is the effect of the death penalty on the community. Opponents argue that its existence debases and literally demoralises society while its supporters insist that it is a deterrent to murderers, prevents murders and by stiffening the criminal code reduces the number of offences.

I think that most hon. Members made up their minds on those issues before they entered the Chamber for the debate and I suspect that most will agree that there is little new to be said about either ingredient. Our recent debates on the subject all cover the same well-trodden ground. Because of that, some of us were somewhat surprised that the Government thought it right to devote another full day this year to this subject. I understand that it is the result of an assurance by the previous Home Secretary which the present Home Secretary felt obliged to honour.

Perhaps the subject can never be fully put to rest, but I hope that in future we can at least avoid debating it twice in the lifetime of a Parliament. The Committee's judgment on the significance of this occasion is already clear. During previous debates on the subject, the Benches were packed and today's absence of participants in the debate, although not when we come to vote, demonstrates the clear view in all parts of the Committee that the subject has been dealt with, finished with, and cleared up. I hope that we can accept the Government's assurance that, however long this Parliament lasts, we will not have another debate of this sort before the general election.

I begin in this debate as I began in previous debates by asserting my belief that the death penalty is wrong in principle. The state has no right to take the life of one of its citizens. Even if there were evidence to demonstrate that the State's possession of that power was a deterrent to murder, I would still hold to that principle. I accept that that fundamental belief, like all such beliefs, is difficult to justify in hard logic. However, I can offer some supplementary justification for my position. There is the obvious example of the belief that a society which sanctions the taking of life is more likely to encourage violence than to discourage it, and that by killing murderers we become too like murderers ourselves. The whole community is reduced to at least part acceptance of the view that in some circumstances violence is justified. That is only the second—the subsidiary—part of my case against capital punishment. In my view, it is simply morally unjustifiable.

Anyone who doubts the debasement that society would suffer were hanging to return need only read the features page article in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, which refers to a statement made in the House in 1988 by the then Home Secretary. He offered as one of his objections to capital punishment the way in which it would be treated by the newspapers. He said that a circus would be created and that the circus, which would revolve round every judicial hanging, would soon come to sicken society. I have no doubt that would happen, but equally I have no doubt that the blame would rest with society as much as with newspapers.

Some of the so-called deep thinkers on this issue demonstrate their views on how they believe that society should react to such a situation. Yesterday in The Sunday Telegraph, a Mr. Robin Harris, commenting on the previous Home Secretary's fears about media treatment, said that he would welcome the creation of a media circus round the judicial hanging. He said: The full horror of capital punishment, the practical preparations, the awfulness of the drama which unfolds and the cold finality of the execution itself are the only response which society can ever make to taking of human life. I cannot see how the circumstances that he described could be anything other than debase society and, by debasing society, make it more violent, and by making it more violent, make crimes of every sort, including murder, more likely.

Mr. Maclennan

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that the abolition of public executions in 1869 followed a point in our history when homicide was at its highest level, but that, after the abolition of the circus associated with public executions, the offending rate fell noticeably in the next two decades?

Mr. Hattersley

It is important on these occasions not to carry any of the arguments to their logical or even illogical conclusions. The argument that we have to make a great show of the execution so that we demonstrate it in all its brutality and show in formal horror what executions are like is an argument for making the whole affair more public. Those of us who believe that the existence of judicial death debases society would take the opposite view and the fact that we are allowed by the fiat of society to kill people is more, not less, likely to create the violence that, in its turn, produces murder.

More important even than that in the article by Mr. Harris yesterday was his view that execution is the only possible response. I do not understand what justification is ever possible for the assertion, usually unsubstantiated, that judicial killing is the only possible response to murder.

Two years ago, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made on television what can loosely be described as the ethical case for capital punishment, and did so, as the House would expect, with extraordinary passion. I quote her today simply because of the clarity with which she argued her case. She said that it was "only right" that some murderers should die. She did not go on to say why it was "only right", or indeed what "only right" means. The only possible interpretation is that she meant that one violent unnecessary death should be matched by an act of parallel violence sanctioned and carried out by the state in conditions of grotesque formality. In effect, that is the doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—a moral judgment that was subsequently qualified out of existence by the highest authority.

On the same television programme, the right hon. Member for Finchley then insisted that some murderers have forfeited the right to live".

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hattersley

My notes say that I am sure that that opinion will be repeated here today and I might even have put in brackets that it would be likely that the hon. Gentleman would say, "Hear, hear". Talk of the right to live and deserving to die is no more than the belief in retribution and revenge. There is no other way to justify it.

Mr. Dicks

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a philosophical explanation of what is meant by forfeited the right to live", I will gladly give way.

Mr. Dicks

With every right goes responsibility. With the right to life goes the responsibility to act reasonably. If one decides not to act reasonably, then one's right to live is in question. Most people would not share the right hon. Gentleman's concern if the perpetrators of the murder of Ian Gow had to suffer execution. There would be a mass welcome if such people were found and executed.

5.15 pm
Mr. Hattersley

I shall come on to the point of terrorism and terrorist murders later—the Home Secretary also dealt with them—but if the hon. Member thinks that that is a philosophical explanation of what is meant by the right to live, he misunderstands the principles that we are debating. In my view, and I believe in that of most hon. Members, the right to live is an inalienable right that the state does not have the power to withdraw from any of its citizens. The moral judgment inherent in taking the opposite view is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I do not believe that the Committee is about to pass that principle into English law.

In the opening speech, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) talked about the punishment fitting the crime. I have not the faintest idea what that means in this context. If a man brutally and wantonly kills a child, if a man committing a robbery kills a policeman, if a drunken driver kills an innocent pedestrian, what is meant by the concept of the punishment fitting the crime? One of the features of debates on capital punishment is the reckless abandonment of logic that characterises so many speeches in a way that it would not characterise speeches on any other subject.

In other parts of the debate, the logic is more acceptable, although the evidence on which it is based is questionable. People have argued, will continue to argue and will argue today, that capital punishment can have a positively beneficial effect on society in that it deters murder. The statistics of crime give no support to that view. Certainly, in the recent past, the murder rate has increased, although it is nothing like it was, by coincidence, exactly 100 years ago and slightly less than it was 120, 130 and 150 years ago, but the increase in murder has been nothing like the increase in other crimes of violence over the past 20 or 25 years. In debate after debate, successive Home Secretaries have made the same speech about the conclusions that it is reasonable to draw from the statistics.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall give way, but I shall first give the Home Secretaries' conclusions and then the hon. Gentleman can argue with me and them simultaneously.

In 1988, the Home Secretary said: The statistics can and no doubt will be used both ways." —[Official Report, 7 June 1988; Vol. 134, c. 748.] In 1983, the Home Secretary said: 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.] In 1979, the Home Secretary said: The only sensible conclusion to reach is that their evidence is inconclusive"—[Official Report, 19 July 1979; Vol. 970, c. 2047.] The Royal Commission on capital punishment said very much the same in 1963.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's strong feelings and his opinion that the evidence is clear, will he explain why he thinks that, over the 20 years from 1946 to 1964, in which general crime has more than doubled, the number of killings fell? In addition, why does he think that, whenever capital punishment is abolished, the situation changes dramatically? What does he think was the important factor around 1965 that led a static and declining rate to become a rising one?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that when capital punishment is abolished the murder rate increases. The Home Secretary told us, and the hon. Gentleman can check for himself, that in many other countries where capital punishment has been abolished, the murder rate has not increased. In some places, it has gone down. Comparison between the retentionist and abolitionist states in the United States does not give any credence to the hon. Gentleman's view.

I cannot say why the figures for the brief period that the hon. Gentleman chose moved in the way that they did, but I can tell him the nature of his error. It is called post hoc ergo propter hoc. He is assuming that, because two things happen simultaneously, or one follows the other, the two are connected. There is no reason to assume that that is so. I repeat that that has been the judgment of successive Home Secretaries. It was the judgment of the Royal Commission on capital punishment in 1983. All international comparisons come to the same conclusion. Crime statistics confirm the judgment that the case for capital punishment as a deterrent is—at best, I speak from the point of view of those who want it returned—entirely unproven.

I recall what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said when I made the same point in 1988. He asked me to agree that once it was established that the statistics leave the matter open, it does not leave the argument neutral. He said that, if capital punishment were a deterrent, and given all the research that has been carried out, the case for its being a deterrent would have been clearly established by now. In my view, the logic of my right hon. and learned Friend's assertion is irrefutable.

All the evidence shows that it is impossible to demonstrate that capital punishment is a deterrent to any form of murder. Therefore, it is only reasonable to assume that it is not. Yet the proponents of capital punishment refuse to accept that. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who is no longer in his place, interrupted my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West to ask him whether he had noticed that many horrible crimes are being committed day by day. He assumed that, by having our attention drawn to those crimes, we would accept a connection between their existence and the deterrent effect of capital punishment.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

The right hon. Gentleman is on an important point. Does he agree that there is a widespread belief in our society that reintroducing the death penalty will be a panacea for many forms of crime that are entirely unconnected with capital offences? In fact, that is untrue. Capital punishment is a deterrent for only one type of offence, not for the entire range of offences that come before the courts.

Mr. Hattersley

I am sure that it is my fault, but I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is refuting my case or supporting it. In my doubt, I shall comment on what he said. One of the detriments of the capital punishment argument for society as a whole is the emphasis that it places on deterrence rather than prevention. It encourages the belief that, as long as penalties are sufficiently severe, crime will be reduced. There is hardly any evidence to support that. One of the problems of our society is that we spend too much time thinking about punishment and not enough about prevention. The capital punishment debate has concentrated too much attention on retribution, which is part of punishment, as compared with, and distinct from, prevention.

Mr. Archer

I fully accept what my right hon. Friend has just said. Does he agree with the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) that, in addition there appears to be an argument that if capital punishment is restored for murder, it will somehow reduce the incidence of grievous bodily harm? That is clearly a fallacy.

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I shall come to that in a moment. It is a fallacy that is associated with the idea that crimes which take place now, especially burglaries, involve firearms whereas in the past they did not. The evidence is on the side of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Is capital punishment a general deterrent to crime? That is what we would have to believe if we were to find sympathy with new clause 3, to which the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will speak. The fact that capital punishment is not a deterrent in most instances becomes obvious when we consider the background to murder in the United Kingdom. More than half the murders that are committed here are the result of sudden impulse or loss of temper. Three quarters are committed within the family or a close circle of friends.

It appears that 15 per cent. are committed by individuals who are defined clinically as mentally disturbed. Perhaps as many as 50 per cent. more are committed by men and women who could claim diminished responsibility before the courts. It is clear that for them capital punishment cannot be a deterrent. They would believe that they would be acquitted of the capital offence, and perhaps it is more likely that they would not even think about that when committing the offence.

Notwithstanding that consideration, I know that some hon. Members will argue that statistics and logic may show one thing but hard evidence, self-evident principles—common sense, as it has been described—demonstrate something quite different. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) used to refer to the hypothetical burglar in these debates. He would argue that, before the days of abolition, that burglar forbade his partner to carry a gun. I believe that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) quoted that example today. I have no doubt that we shall hear more of that burglar as the debate continues.

I have no doubt, either, that we shall be asked some hypothetical questions—for example, what now prevents a man serving a life sentence from killing a prison officer in the hope of making good his escape? We shall be asked how, except by capital punishment, the criminal who is already facing a long prison sentence can be deterred from killing a policeman to escape arrest. I think that it was the hon. Member for Lancaster who raised these questions during the previous debate on capital punishment. The then Home Secretary answered her by saying that in all the hypothetical cases—the burglar with a gun, the criminal attempting to avoid arrest and the prisoner trying to effect his escape—the length of the additional sentence was in itself a potent deterrent. That was said in 1988.

I wish to underline and endorse something said by the Home Secretary in a passage of particular eloquence. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that, for some crimes, a long prison sentence is right, just and inevitable. Anyone who has visited one of Her Majesty's prisons, as I have and as he has, cannot doubt the consequence and severity of a prison sentence, the feeling of hopelessness that ensues and the erosion of personality and character that it involves. The idea that imprisonment for 20 or 30 years is a soft option is patent nonsense. When I visit a prison I always leave it, hearing the door clank, believing that anyone of a normal disposition who has seen a prison would be so concerned never to be incarcerated therein that he would be determined never to commit a crime again. It is enormously important in this debate not to dismiss a long prison sentence as something of no consequence and no punishment.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that one of the factors that disturbs criminals is certainty of detection and arrest. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one reason for a criminal carrying a firearm is to wipe out witnesses so that he is never arrested and never has to suffer the degradation of 20 years of imprisonment?

Mr. Hattersley

No, I do not agree with that at all. The evidence suggests—this is an indication of the mentality and the morality of many members of the criminal classes—that criminals carry firearms in the real belief that they will never use them. That is a disastrous, reckless and wicked misjudgment of the situations in which they find themselves. The idea that criminals go out with the intention of burgling premises and of killing anyone who sees them is, on the evidence, a fallacy.

The hon. Lady leads me to another consideration—

Mr. Sayeed

As carrying a firearm in the commission of an offence attracts a life sentence, why should that deter a criminal from using a firearm to stop himself being caught? He will still get no more than a life sentence.

Mr. Hattersley

As the Home Secretary made clear about an hour ago, a life sentence is a variable term of imprisonment. He said that on some occasions it could be 20 years and in others 30 years. He added that in many other cases there should be imprisonment for the duration of natural life. The man who commits a second crime must know that 20 years is bad enough, that 30 years is 50 per cent. worse and that entire life is total. There is an additional punishment. The hon. Gentleman does his case no good by pretending anything else.

Mr. Gale

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall mention the hon. Gentleman in a moment. He should wait until I refer to an amendment which he tabled in a previous debate.

I emphasise that I believe that the Home Secretary was right that an additional prison sentence is in itself a deterrent to all the hypothetical cases of which we shall hear as the debate continues. If we are once or twice a year to hang a human being from his or her neck until he or she is dead, we must justify doing that by something more than vague suspicion, ancient anecdotes, long-held prejudices and bits of evidence that are dredged up from heaven know where.

The problems of dealing with the subject ad hominem were demonstrated by the hon. Member for Rydale. With respect to him, I am not sure that the description of killings witnessed is the best background against which to make a general decision on the reintroduction of capital punishment. By dealing with it in that way, it is easy to fall into the sort of errors which the hon. Gentleman made. He spoke of the 1,500 unlawful killings since we last debated the issue. That is a large and awful number, but he must know that the number is irrelevant to the debate, because most of those unlawful killings could not conceivably be covered by any of the new clauses.

Equally, there is the irrelevance of mentioning Lockerbie. It was a hideous crime, for which there has been no charge, let alone conviction. The likelihood is that the crime was perpetrated by a terrorist of foreign origin. The idea that the return of capital punishment might have prevented Lockerbie is the sort of fantasy that we hear only in this sort of debate. Having referred to Lockerbie and to terrorist crimes, and in talking about the deaths of policemen and prison officers—

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Mr. John Greenway

I wish to make it clear that in no part of my speech did I suggest that. I said that the number of unlawful killings justified the House debating the matter again tonight. It was in that context that I used those arguments.

Mr. Hattersley

I do not want to take passionate issue with the hon. Gentleman, because the subject must be debated calmly. If he did not think that quoting a figure of 1,500 was relevant to the debate, I am not sure that it was right for him to try to plant that figure in our minds and in the public's mind. If he did not think that Lockerbie was relevant, I am not sure that he was right to treat it in the same way.

I want to deal with the specific point of the killing of policemen and prison officers, as best I can, item by item. Almost everyone, including the hon. and learned Member for Burton, accepts that capital punishment is appropriate only for a limited number of murders in a limited number of categories—[Interruption.] I note that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not accept that. He is therefore excluded from the difficult question, for those who want capital punishment for certain categories, of how we categorise the wickedness of murder on the one hand and the deterrent effect of capital punishment on the other.

I have no idea how those who take a theological view of murder—that it is so wrong as in some cases to justify the death of the murderer—make an evaluation of the moral difference between killing a policeman and killing a child. I do not understand how we can evaluate different degrees of morality, one of which justifies death and the other of which does not. I emphasise that my objection to such a distinction is not that I minimise the horror of either sort of violence, but that I do not want the horror of homicidal violence to be extended to judicial execution.

That being said, I repeat the view that it is difficult to distinguish between one category of murder and another. It has been generally agreed since the 1957 Act, at least among supporters of hanging, that a distinction should be made between one form of murder and another. The application of that principle culminated in 1988 in an amendment moved by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) which, incredibly, amounted to the introduction of a local option in these matters.

The attempts to differentiate between one murder and another demonstrate the difficulties of defining some hanging categories and excluding others. Until today, I had hoped that we had ruled out the notion that judges should be asked to make decisions between capital punishment and life imprisonment. We know from the Gower report that judges simply would not make that distinction. Gower was explicit in saying that capital punishment must be a mandatory offence for stipulated classes of murder because judges would not make a decision between life and death.

As I understand it, new clause 3 almost imposes that obligation on the Court of Appeal—three judges deciding whether a man should hang or whether a woman should be reprieved. I have severe doubts whether the judges would accept that obligation. I understand from the Home Secretary that the Lord Chief Justice is explicit on that point—he does not regard it as an appropriate function for judges to perform, especially in the circumstances that the Home Secretary described only in part. If every mail or woman convicted of murder is to be sentenced to death, every man or woman so convicted will appeal. The idea that the Appeal Court should go through every murder re-examining the evidence to decide between life or death would be an intolerable burden to place on the judges, and one that they would be right to refuse.

The difficulties of characterising one offence as suitable for the death penalty and another as not suitable are best demonstrated by the proposal in new clause 2—that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for people convicted of murder as part or in pursuance of an act of terrorism. The objections against selective murder indictments resulting in capital punishment in some cases but not in others are overwhelming, and they are especially overwhelming when they apply to the special category of terrorism. When consulted by the previous Home Secretary—

Mr. Archer

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for intervening again. Reverting to new clause 3, does my right hon. Friend understand the significance of the Court of Appeal being invited to consider what evidence was adduced at a trial? As it will not be open to a jury to make a distinction between capital and non-capital murder, the only significance of the evidence can be whether the conviction was safe.

Mr. Hattersley

I heard my right hon. and learned Friend make that point during his speech. Although I feel great trepidation in arguing with him, I do not think that that is the intention of the hon. and learned Member for Burton. It is not that the Court of Appeal should examine the appropriateness of the conviction and whether it is safe, but that it should consider such matters as extenuating circumstances. My right hon. and learned Friend's question comes from a logical legal mind. I do not believe that the answer shows such characteristics.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton is saying—I put this in the crudest layman's language—that everyone who is convicted of murder must be condemned to death. The Court of Appeal might then say, "This is a premeditated murder intended to result in vast financial gain. He should die." On the other hand, it might say, "This was a sudden act of passion. He will not die." The Court of Appeal will consider the circumstances of the murder. It is a bizarre proposal, and it is that bizarre quality that has made my right hon. and learned Friend misunderstand it. I believe that that is the bizarre intention of the hon. and learned Member for Burton. By drawing attention to it, my right hon. and learned Friend has demonstrated how impossible it would be to implement such an idea.

On the matter of terrorist crimes, the previous Chief Constable of Northern Ireland told the then Home Secretary that the extension of capital punishment would increase the difficulties in the Province. The present Chief Constable told the present Home Secretary that it would not be helpful. However, despite those pragmatic and practical objections, there are three much more powerful reasons for opposing the idea that terrorism should attract capital punishment.

First, as the Home Secretary said—it is right that this should be said from both sides of the House—to single out terrorism in that way would give the IRA something that it has wanted for years—special status. We have always insisted that IRA members are common criminals, and to treat them differently from other murderers would be to differentiate between them and the man or the woman who committed murder for other reasons. To differentiate in that way would be a prescription for creating martyrs.

Secondly, if the rule applied to Northern Ireland, we should be sending to the gallows men and women who had been convicted not by a jury of their peers, but by Diplock courts. Surely that would be intolerable in a democracy. Thirdly, we should be requiring the courts to make absurd distinctions between two classes of crime. If a man killed a postmaster while robbing a post office and gave the money to the IRA, presumably he would be hanged. If he killed the postmaster in the same circumstances but gambled the money at the Curragh or Leopardstown, presumably he would be sent to prison for life. One has only to describe such anomalies to see why the application of the death penalty to limited categories would be absurd.

Mr. Hunter

The right hon. Gentleman again makes the familiar point that one should not differentiate between IRA criminal activity and other ordinary criminal activity. We have done that for many years, starting when the Labour party was in government. We have proscribed organisations and scheduled offences. We have prevention of terrorism Acts. Surely this argument has worn thin over the years.

Mr. Hattersley

I do not believe that it has. I remember that, in the summer, the previous Prime Minister talked about being "at war" with the IRA. I was asked to comment and I said that occasional slips of the tongue should not be held against us, because that was not the Prime Minister's view of the IRA's status, and that members of the IRA were common criminals who must be treated in the same way as other criminals. I recall the Prime Minister saying in a broadcast that she did not believe that the members of the IRA were special people with special status about whom special laws should be created. That is the proper, necessary position if we are to defeat terrorism. We cannot deviate from it when, temporarily and emotionally, it seems convenient to do so.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

There is another aspect. It is not enough to say that there is a proscribed organisation. In the recent legal history of Northern Ireland, people have tried to prove that a particular person was a member of a proscribed organisation. I was advised that proscription hardly helped in that respect at all. It was almost impossible to prove it. It always ended up being a makeweight. I hope that the argument that there are proscribed organisations will not be called in aid, because the biggest organisation is the UDA, which is not proscribed.

Mr. Hattersley

My right hon. Friend should not provoke me to say what I did not propose to say—that Labour Members are anxious that in no particular should there be special criminal laws governing the conduct of and prosecution of the IRA. I shall not particularise our differences on that point, because I want to be as emollient as I can in this rational—I hope—debate. That may be slightly more difficult as I turn to the proposal by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West that we should no longer have the death penalty for treason and piracy.

Despite the compliments which I paid the Home Secretary, which were genuinely meant, I feel that the passage of his speech dealing with that matter was wholly unconvincing. I do not deny the propriety of inquiring into and examining the need to retain these ancient laws in principle. There is much to be said for examining the reasons why the laws of the 18th century—unused and unloved—have remained on our statute book for so long, but inquiring into them does not in any way justify the notion that we should not here and now abandon their attachment to the capital sentence.

The Home Secretary gave no convincing description why, for instance, the law on piracy, for which the last execution was 160 years ago, should not be modified to remove capital punishment. He gave no convincing explanation why a complete revision of the laws relating to treason would make it inappropriate to remove the capital punishment sentence now. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman talks about giving the erroneous impression that all we need to do is to change the sentence.

I believe that we could give the opposite impression were we not to remove the capital sentence. I suspect that hon. Members are united in believing that those laws need examining and eventually revision and, in part, abolition, but that is not an argument for retaining capital punishment while they are on the statute book. I shall vote for the new clause tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do the same.

Many of us—I believe everyone on the Opposition Benches—regard the arguments against capital punishment in principle and in practice as overwhelming, but there is one argument which this year must be regarded as the strongest argument of all: the risk that innocent men and women will be hanged if capital punishment is retained. It is no good the hon. Member for Ryedale saying that that is an argument for improving the law. It is, and we must all struggle to improve the effectiveness and justice of the law. But some errors will occur, as they have occurred in every judicial system.

This punishment is distinguished from other punishments by the fact that, once the error has been made, there is no prospect of redress. Again, I share the Home Secretary's view that, after 15 years' wrongful imprisonment, a large sum of money is nothing like compensation for the period of life that has been lost. But compare that with hanging a man or woman who has been wrongly convicted and one begins to understand why a civilised society should not even risk that happening—not in 10 or 20 cases since the war, but in one case in a lifetime.

5.45 pm

When we last debated this subject, the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) told the House that, since the war, there had been 10 cases of men and women convicted of murder who subsequently were found to have been convicted without appropriate evidence and their sentences and convictions were quashed. He told the House that nine of them had been subsequently released and one had been executed. This time the total is certainly 14, although it may be more. We know that the Guildford Four were wrongfully convicted. I have no doubt that, had the capital sentence been in operation, the Guildford Four would have been hanged.

Mr. Dickens

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, because evidence was found to be unsafe and sentences were overturned, it does not necessarily follow that people were innocent? All those who escaped from the Maze prison to bomb again and murder other people, including one of our colleagues, did not have a trial by judge and jury. That is a silly argument.

Mr. Hattersley

Knowing the propensities of some Conservative Members, I was careful not to use the word "innocent" but to say "wrongfully convicted". I am opposed to hanging people who are wrongfully convicted. The question of evidence is important. Innocence is, in one sense, irrelevant. If a man or a women is wrongfully convicted by a court, clearly that person should not hang. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mrr. Dickens) tempts me to go on longer than I had intended because he made a point which other hon. Members raised earlier and which, no doubt, will be raised later: the idea that we may have to pay the price of hanging the occasional innocent man to deter others.

Let us assume that capital punishment is a deterrent. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth will recall that I do not accept that assumption, but even if that is so, the idea that we might say, "It is worth it to deter a few murderers," and that we should hang a man or a woman who has been wrongfully convicted is barbarous. I am sorry to put it in such dark language but it makes us too like the murderers themselves for me to be comfortable with such an idea.

Were capital punishment in place in general or for terrorist crimes, the Guildford Four would be dead. It is no insignificant fact that today the so-called, once-alleged Birmingham bombers come up for the second appearance before the Court of Appeal. I have no doubt that those men would be dead as well had capital punishment been in operation during that terrible time in 1974 when they were caught, prosecuted and convicted—in my view, wrongly for the crimes in the two Birmingham public houses. I do not understand how, with those examples of wrongful conviction and possible wrongful executions hanging over us, anyone in the Chamber can vote for the return of capital punishment in any of its forms.

I shall certainly vote against all the new clauses, other than that tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West, which I shall support with great enthusiam. It is a matter of privilege and pride for me to think that all my right hon. and hon. Friends who go into the Lobbies tonight will vote against the return of capital punishment.

Several Hon. Members


The Chairman

Order. I remind the Committee that the House has determined that our proceedings should conclude no later than 10 o'clock. I have the names of at least 20 right hon. and hon. Members who seek to catch my eye. Unless speeches are reasonably brief, I am afraid that some will be disappointed.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I do not see the slightest reason why those of us who advocate capital punishment should be on the defensive in this debate. Judging by the speeches made so far, we appear to be outnumbered, but it is time that we went on the attack nevertheless.

Why are we having another debate on capital punishment? We are having another debate because Parliament is the sounding board of the nation and because, if the public opinion polls are right, the nation is overwhelmingly in favour of the restoration of capital punishment. Those whom we represent are entitled to hear us discussing and debating the issue, giving our reasons for and against and taking the matter seriously because it goes to the heart of our fundamental security and stability that law and order should be preserved. We are taking the opportunity presented to us by the Criminal Justice Bill to suggest new provisions. That is why we are here.

Since we last debated the matter some two years ago, 1,500 people have been murdered. I believe in capital punishment because I believe that a substantial proportion of those 1,500 people would still be alive had the deterrent of capital punishment remained. That is what the debate is all about; it is about whether capital punishment would save the lives of innocent victims. If it would not, there is no excuse for it. If it would, it is a live issue. Moreover, the majority of people in Britain regard that as the reason for the restoration of capital punishment.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend has intervened on several occasions. He will forgive me if I do not give way, because I must try to be brief.

It seems to those who think that the debate should not be taking place are those who oppose capital punishment. Those of us who are in favour of it take every reasonable opportunity to raise the matter in the House and to ensure proper discussion. Whether we win or we lose, those whom we represent will know that this Parliament is taking the subject seriously.

Those who oppose capital punishment wish life imprisonment to remain the ultimate deterrent. Let us examine that proposition. Has not life imprisonment been the most utter failure as a deterrent? Five years before the abolition of capital punishment, there were 290 murders a year on average. In the past five years, there have been 647 murders a year on average. Since the abolition of capital punishment, the number of murders has more than doubled.

In 1972, 2,000 crimes were carried out with guns and weapons. Last year, 10,000 crimes were carried out with guns and weapons. That means that there has been a fivefold increase.

In the 24 years before the abolition of capital punishment, 14 police officers were murdered: in the 24 years after its abolition 53 police officers were murdered. That means that there has been a fourfold increase.

Between 1963 and 1989, 59 people in England and Wales were killed by people who had previously been convicted of homicide. Had capital punishment remained, many of those criminals would not have been there to murder their second victims. So it cannot be said that life imprisonment—the alternative to capital punishment—has been a success; it has been a failure.

It is argued that one cannot prove that capital punishment is a deterrent. I concede at once that that cannot be proved conclusively and scientifically as it would be preposterous to suggest that one could ask 10,000 people whether they were in fact deterred from committing murder by the fact of capital punishment. However, much of the evidence tends to suggest that capital punishment is a deterrent.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put an unfavourable interpretation on the United States statistics, but let us examine them. In 11 of the 12 states where capital punishment has been restored and where executions have been carried out, there has been a reduction in the murder rate. Of the 12 states without capital punishment, the majority—seven—have seen an increase in the murder rate and four a reduction. In one, the rate has remained the same. That suggests that the existence of capital punishment in American states has been responsible for the reduction in the murder rate.

Mr. Janman

My hon. and learned Friend has been describing the murder statistics for Britain and the United States. As he rightly said, the murder rate per million of the British population rose from 6.3 to 12.7 between 1964 and 1989. In other words, the number of murders more than doubled. In the United States—a country which I do not think many would regard as less violent than Britain; it is probably more violent—the murder rate per 100,000 of the population rose from 7.1 in 1970 to 8.4 in 1988. Capital punishment is available in many parts of the United States. We have abolished it. The statistics are clear.

Mr. Lawrence

I thank my hon. Friend for making a further point in favour of the United States statistics. I realise that the causal links are not always clear, that hand guns are readily available in the United States and that that is a complicating factor.

I concede that there is some conflicting evidence, but the trend is clear: in the parts of the United States where capital punishment has been restored and implemented, there has been a fall in the number of murders committed and in the murder rate. That is also consistent with the analyses made in universities. Professor Erlich of Chicago university showed that there was evidence of capital punishment having had a deterrent effect in the United States up to 1969. I know that that has been challenged, but the challenge has also been rebutted. At any rate, there is a respectable, logical, sensible, scientific argument to support the deterrence proposition. Kenneth Wolprin of Yale university drew the same conclusions using United Kingdom statistics dating from before the abolition of capital punishment. It is true that the evidence can be read both ways, but it cannot be said that there is no statistical evidence to support the deterrence theory.

Japan, a country whose achievements we admire, has the lowest murder rate in the developed world—one can almost call it the western world. Along with 50 other countries, Japan has not only continued to use capital punishment, but has extended it to other offences to which it did not apply before—to drug trafficking and rape in particular. Those countries have done that precisely because they believe that it is a deterrent. The IRA certainly believes that it is a deterrent. I have heard it suggested that that is not so, but when, in December 1975, I moved a motion in favour of the restoration of capital punishment for terrorist offences, the then head of the IRA issued an ultimatum. He said that, if the House reimposed capital punishment for terrorist offences, he would hang three British soldiers for every member of the IRA who was convicted and hanged. If that was not a threat, I do not know what it was. The head of the IRA made that threat because he believed that the existence of capital punishment would seriously undermine the effect and influence of the IRA. What other justification could he have had for threatening the House?

Before I came to the House, I spent much of my time as a criminal lawyer. In the 1960s, I defended a number of serious villains and I asked all of them whether the existence of capital punishment had deterred them from committing more serious crimes. Invariably the answer was yes. They said, "When we thought there was a risk of being hanged, we did not take guns with us when we committed a crime, and we did not take mad tearaway juveniles with us in case they pulled the trigger and people died as a result." I know that this evidence is anecdotal, but it comes from an impeccable source. I was told by people in the 1960s who had committed serious crimes that, when capital punishment had been available, they were deterred from committing such offences.

We must also consider common sense. The simple fear of being caught is not enough to deter people from committing crimes. People must be afraid about what might happen once they are caught. No one is much worried about being caught if, once he is caught, he gets only a pat on the head and tuppence out of the poor box. He will continue to offend for as long as he wants. The size of the sentence is the deterrent, and the real deterrent is the ultimate sentence of death.

6 pm

The ordinary people know as much as any expert about what deters people from committing serious crimes. The overwhelming majority are in favour of the restoration of capital punishment precisely because they believe that it would deter people from murdering innocent people and that innocent lives would be saved.

The police are at the sharp end. They have to fight in the streets with the murderers. The Police Federation has stated that capital punishment would be a deterrent to the criminals who use violence and kill. The Police Federation's view is good enough for me.

Taking all my evidence of deterrence together, there should be no more nonsense spoken in this place about there being no evidence that capital punishment deters.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, in Northern Ireland, the Police Federation, which represents the men on the ground who must work on when their colleagues are murdered, believes that capital punishment should return, but the senior, high-ranking officers who have been referred to today, and those of similar rank who have never been under attack or murdered, claim that there should not be a return to capital punishment?

Mr. Lawrence

It is clear that there is more evidence that capital punishment deters than that it does not.

If we do not have capital punishment, we must have life imprisonment, but that has failed. There is some evidence that capital punishment deters some people from committing murder. We need not ask how many people would be deterred, although that number might be significant. Bearing that in mind, what are the objections to the restoration of capital punishment?

It has been said that capital punishment is wrong in a civilised society. However, with so much lawlessness, why do we presume to have a thoroughly civilised society?

It has been argued that human life is sacred and that that is a reason to resist the restoration of capital punishment. But the life of the murder victim is also sacred and we should care about that person as well.

We are also told that retribution is wrong. If retribution were the reason for restoring capital punishment—and it is not my reason—I should rather we had retribution organised by the state after laws of evidence and proper court trials than retribution in dark alleys and streets at night because the law is incapable of protecting the innocent.

It has been said that capital punishment is contrary to God's teaching, but that depends upon which page of the writings concerning the Almighty we consider.

It has been said that capital punishment will create martyrs, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is afraid of that. But if we are to have martyrs, I believe that it is better that their martyrdom is celebrated once a year than that they be perpetual martyrs while they serve life imprisonment. That is what has happened to many people who are serving life imprisonment.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

What about the Guildford Four?

Mr. Lawrence

I shall consider the Guildford Four in a moment.

It has been said that, if we had capital punishment, there might be reprisals, particularly with respect to terrorist offences. If we give way to such blackmail, the law breakers will be making our law, and that would be utterly unacceptable to society.

It has been suggested that the reintroduction of capital punishment would lead to hostages being taken. But in recent years, the taking of hostages—I include aircraft hijacks—has occurred in respect of people who are prisoners, not in respect of people who have been subject to capital punishment.

The objectors claim that most murderers know their victims. So what? Why should a victim who is known to the offender have any less right to protection than the victim who is not known to the offender? I do not see the logic in that argument. If the cause of the offence was only passion and there was no premeditated calculation or any time span before the formulation of the desire to kill and the killing, that would not be murder. The jury would acquit of murder. It might convict of manslaughter, but there would be no question of the death penalty being imposed.

If someone is contemplating murder, he might bear in mind the fact that, with capital punishment, if he is caught he may die. If we are talking about the murder of someone who is known to the murderer or of someone in a family, if there is an element of premeditation or calculation by which that person would be convicted of murder, there is time for the deterrent aspect of capital punishment to take effect.

Mr. Hattersley

We have now established that the hon. and learned Gentleman's new clause is intended to provide an omnibus provision for capital punishment, so that everyone convicted of murder, of every category of murder—nothing relating to the 1957 categories—should be sentenced initially to death. If the new clause is accepted, can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us and the Court of Appeal any guidance about which categories he wants to hang? Under the new clause, everyone would be sentenced to death and some would hang and some would not. Until a moment ago, I had assumed that only a small number would go to the gallows, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that his new clause will send virtually every murderer to his or her death. Is that what he means?

Mr. Lawrence

No, not at all. The right hon. Gentleman came closer in his speech to appreciating the value of my new clause. The point of the new clause is that if, following a death sentence for any offence there is some reasonable argument why the death penalty should not be carried out, in that particular case, the Court of Appeal would say, "Not death, life imprisonment."

It is not a matter of categories—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) may laugh and shake his head, but it is not a question of categories. I am not putting down a list of categories under which someone will or will not die. I am describing a situation in which, according to ordinary common sense—and our judges exercise common sense —if anything can be said as to why a person should not die, whatever the category of offence, the sentence of Fife imprisonment should be substituted.

It has been said that hanging is too horrible. If that is the case, we could develop other methods, such as those that exist in other countries.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook commented adversely on an article in The Sunday Telegraph by Robin Harris. I do not believe that what Robin Harris said in that article was as absurd as the right hon. Gentleman made out. The more people who are aware of, and feel the horror of, the punishment and the taking of life that caused it, the more respect will be engendered in our society for human life and the greater will be the element of deterrence. That is what Robin Harris was saying; he was not glorifying the circus that surrounds some murders.

Finally, we must consider the possibility of mistakes. That is the most powerful argument against the restoration of capital punishment, and it has been discussed at length in our debate today. I shall address that issue as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary demanded that I should.

To avoid mistakes, as far as humanly possible, is one of the main purposes of the review tribunal in my new clause 3. In essence, I repeat that the purpose of the review tribunal, once the death sentence has been passed, is to ask, "Is there any sensible, humane reason in this case why the death sentence should not be imposed?" The Court of Appeal would consist of three, five, or as many High Court judges as is thought prudent, and they would sit as soon as practicable. I hope that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will listen carefully to this point, as it answers some of his questions. I have his rapt attention so far. They would consider any circumstances, not just the circumstances that had been admitted in evidence at the trial, circumstances that surround both the offence itself and the offender.

I must inform the right hon. Gentleman that there are exclusionary rules of evidence. Not everything that emerges during the investigation of a murder case is admissable in a trial. All sorts of details and all sorts of facts about a person and the circumstances are ruled out as inadmissable. From my reading, I cannot remember whether what I am about to say applied to Timothy Evans, who has been found to have suffered one of the miscarriages of justice. It was nobody's fault that Christie, whom everybody believed to be an honourable person, turned out to be a mass murderer. But Timothy Evans would not have hanged if—[ Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) will allow me, Timothy Evans would not have hanged if the Court of Appeal, sitting afterwards, had heard evidence that he had the mental age of a child of 12, below the age at which one would expect anybody to have moral culpability. The Court of Appeal would have said, "Even though he did it, he should not hang."

Hanratty is another example. He was convicted because he put forward a false alibi. If he had run the defence of diminished responsibility, he would not have hanged; he would have been found guilty of manslaughter. The Court of Appeal sitting after that could have heard that there was an alternative defence that he could have run. The court could have called evidence to see whether it was satisfied by it, and if it had been satisfied that he was suffering from diminished responsibility, he would not have hanged.

I now refer to Craig and Bentley. Bentley was hanged despite the fact that Craig was the one who told him to shoot. Craig could not hang because he was 16. There is a manifest injustice, is there not, in having two parties, both of whom are equally to blame, and one hangs because he is a little older and one does not hang because he is a little younger? That is the sort of matter in which—

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

It is the other way round.

Mr. Lawrence

No, it is not. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not heckle. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. It is not the other way round. Craig lived and Bentley died. Bentley was the elder of the two. That is precisely the sort of extraneous matter that the Court of Appeal would consider.

One could go further and say that, even if the evidence of identification were so positive that a jury would accept the identification evidence of one witness, the Court of Appeal might say, "Even one positive identification that satisfied the jury is open to the possibility of error, and there should be no death penalty." Even if somebody confessed to the police in circumstances that were utterly impeccable—one could not criticise them—and said, "All right, I did it," the Court of Appeal might say, "That is not enough; there must be more evidence than one confession before the man will die." He was undoubtedly guilty because he was convicted by a jury and because the evidence was impeccable, but whether a person should die when there is an outside possibility that just one piece of evidence might have been wrong is a matter that the tribunal could take into account.

I now refer to the Guildford Four. It is preposterous for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook or anybody else to assume that, if there had been the death penalty, all these terrorist offences would have been committed. Because the death penalty deters terrorism, it is one of the reasons why we advance the cause of the restoration of capital punishment. It is equally preposterous to assume that, if there had been the death penalty, police officers would have lied about the circumstances in which they took a statement. Perhaps they would have done, but there cannot be the certainty with which the right hon. Gentleman seems to have invested so much of what he says.

If there were the penalty of death and the only evidence against the men were confessions, there is no certainty that a jury would ever have convicted them.

Anyway, the situation has changed—it can no longer occur. These convictions took place in relation to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six 15 years ago, since when we have introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That Act safeguards the interrogation of suspects. There is absolutely no reason why every interrogation of a murder suspect should not be tape-recorded and video-recorded, so that there could be no question about the integrity of such investigations. If we had those safeguards, it would be almost impossible for the mistake that happened 15 years ago to happen again.

6.15 pm
Mr. Hattersley

I fear that the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong in that particular. If what happened in Birmingham and in Guildford occurred again, the men who were immediately arrested would not be subject to all the protections of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; they would be initially cross-examined under the prevention of terrorism legislation, which excludes those protections.

Mr. Lawrence

That is all the more reason why the Court of Appeal in considering the matter—[Laughter.] It is no use laughing. The Court of Appeal considering the matter could say, "If these alleged terrorists have not been afforded the normal protections of the court, then we cannot be 100 per cent. sure about the confession evidence". In the case of the Birmingham Six, there is more evidence than the confession to be considered. In the case of the Guildford Four, there was only confession evidence. Even if the confession evidence was beyond reproach, as it might have been under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act—whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about that, although there may be different circumstances in regard to the Birmingham Six—there might not have been capital punishment if there was no corroboration of the confession.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I am somewhat confused by the line of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. He made the case that there was a substantial inherent deterrent in the death penalty, and he referred to terrorism, especially Irish terrorism. The death penalty has existed for the greater part of 800 years, and it has proved to be anything but a deterrent. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman take on board the fact that the real sea change in Irish life came about as a result of the use of capital punishment in 1916? It changed the course of Irish history from then until now.

Mr. Lawrence

If I can be forgiven for leaving the Irish aspect of this dispute to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I shall save time, because I am taking up rather a lot of time in dealing with these important matters. To conclude on this point, the possibility of mistake is not a valid reason for refusing to protect the lives of innocent people who would otherwise die if we do not have the deterrence of capital punishment.

I refer now to another attraction—if I may be so bold as to suggest that anything that I have said has attractions —of new clause 3 than the avoidance of mistake. Only if all murder was subject to the death penalty would it be an effective deterrent. The murderer contemplating murder would never know in advance whether he was likely to be reprieved. He would have to assume that he would not be reprieved and that he might suffer the death penalty. That is the secondary importance of the Court of Appeal and the requirement that the penalty for murder shall be mandatory death.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has analysed new clause 3 and has made four criticisms. First, he said that juries would be more likely to acquit. That may be so, but not where the crime is so heinous that everybody feels that death is the only appropriate result that should follow. If there is doubt about the case, it is absolutely right that the jury should acquit. We could have no possible objection to that. If the existence of capital punishment makes juries more concerned to look for doubts and to give the verdict according to any doubt that they find, we should welcome that, not object to it. However, even were the jury to acquit against the evidence, there would often be the possibility of a manslaughter alternative. In any event, no would-be murderer would know in advance that the jury was likely to acquit and the deterrent value of capital punishment would still exist.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend says that the Lord Chief Justice has said that life or death should be a decision taken by this Parliament. If new clause 3 is accepted, Parliament will indeed have decided that death shall be the punishment for murder. The judges' role will be to be merciful in a proper case. Parliament would have given judges the power to be merciful. I find it difficult to believe that the Lord Chief Justice would be against giving judges the power to be merciful once Parliament had decided that the death penalty shall be mandatory unless there are grounds for mercy. I can see no objection in the Lord Chief Justice's response to what I have suggested and to what my right hon. Friend has said.

Thirdly, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary objects that the Court of Appeal would not have seen witnesses. That is no argument because, in any event, the Court of Appeal seldom sees witnesses before an appeal. However, it does see witnesses in some circumstances and it could in this instance. If there was an argument that required the calling of evidence that was not admissible in the lower court of trial, such evidence could be considered by the Court of Appeal. I remind my right hon. Friend who has come to the position of Home Secretary after Parliament passed these provisions into law, that the Government never considered the fact that the judges in the Court of Appeal had not seen the witnesses to be a valid reason for refusing to allow the Court of Appeal the right to increase sentences. I do not understand why, if it is not necessary to see a witness in order to increase the sentence, it is necessary to see a witness in order to reduce a sentence.

Fourthly, in criticism of new clause 3, my right hon. Friend has said that there would be the possibility of delays in carrying out the sentence and then a media circus would take place. If there are unacceptable delays, the Court of Appeal will have to sit more often. If there are so many murders, it will have to sit every day. Why is it so impossible for the lawyers and the judges of this land to sit regularly and frequently to consider such matters?

As for salacious media interest, why does my right hon. Friend assume that the media would always be in favour of the murderer, never the victim? Why does he assume that such coverage day after day would be good copy? Why does he assume that there would be nothing else on the front pages day after day except murderers—no politics, nothing about the state of the world, no bimbos and nothing about the sexual activities of anybody in public life? Why does he assume that murderers and their victims would always be on the front pages? That is taking that assumption far too far. Avoiding saving innocent lives simply for reasons of bad publicity seems a wholly bad reason.

We shall, of course, vote tonight where our consciences lead us, but I shall vote for capital punishment because the alternative has failed and because too many innocent people have died and too many innocent people will go on dying unless there is an effective deterrent, which life imprisonment is not. I shall vote for capital punishment because I believe that it deters some murderers—perhaps many. I believe that we should not only, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, "shed tears for the victims rather than for the offender"; I believe that we should take steps to save the lives of the innocent victims, not simply cry tears for them. By "innocent victims", I include all those who are maimed through the carrying of firearms and not necessarily only those who are murdered.

I shall vote against new clause 4 because treason involves the death of many. It is exceptionally serious and the law should not be reformed only as a side wind in another debate. It also involves the monarch and there should be a proper examination of her interests, which I am sure has not taken place in the short time since the tabling of the new clause. I shall therefore vote against that new clause.

But I have tabled and seek this opportunity to speak to new clause 3 because I want to see the lives of the innocent saved. That is my only purpose. I shall therefore support new clauses 2, 6 and 7 because they are steps towards that end.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

My colleagues generally take the view that a person who deliberately takes a life forfeits his or her right to life. That is a fairly simply and straightforward view that would apply to all murders. However, I feel somewhat uneasy with that position, for two reasons. First, as has been said, most murders occur within a domestic environment where right and wrong do not separate as absolutely as the proposed penalty of capital punishment.

Secondly, as has also been said, there is the danger of a mistake—the danger that innocent people may be hanged. Undoubtedly, that has happened. As has been suggested, that consideration could lead to the conclusion that the courts should do their job better. It has also been suggested that procedural reforms might assist in that regard. Other reforms have been mentioned recently about the operation of the Court of Appeal, and I have tabled some amendments to the Emergency Provisions Bill which are not irrelevant to this, but that is by the way.

The danger of a mistake and the nature of its consequences are such that there must be some additional compelling reasons to justify a risk, however small, to the innocent. For that reason, I do not favour new clause 3, which has been tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) because of its general nature. In addition, referring cases to the Court of Appeal is undesirable because, although they may be decisions on matters of fact, the decisions of the Court of Appeal are likely to be treated as precedents. That would be unfortunate and inappropriate in this context.

Having said that there should be some additional compelling reasons to justify the risk of hanging the innocent, I am sure that the supporters of new clause I see that additional reason as the need to protect certain persons; they have mentioned policemen. The supporters of new clause 6 have mentioned prison officers. Those persons are called upon to risk themselves in the defence of the community. I emphasise the words "called upon" because there are circumstances in which it is the duty of police officers and prison officers to expose themselves to risk, and they do so in defence of the whole community.

I have no doubt that there are occasions when the greater good of defending the whole community can justify capital punishment. In saying that, I accept that there may be a risk to other persons, and that it is a matter of balancing the risks. Nevertheless, there may be occasions when the greater good of defending the community justifies the resort of capital punishment. For that reason, I support new clauses 1 and 2.

Short of war, the need to defend the community is greatest when we are confronted with terrorism, which is an attack on the whole community. The need to defeat that form of warfare against the community should and does provide a compelling reason for supporting new clause 2. It should be compelling to all but committed pacifists. I disagreed with the Home Secretary on that. It is not right to regard terrorism as an ordinary form of crime, however attractive it may be to do so. Its motivation and character are different.

Terrorism is indiscriminately directed against the community. It is a form of declaration of war on society by a group of people. We should not suffer by recognising that that is what it is. That does not make it legitimate. It is a particularly loathsome form of warfare. Indeed, if the international conventions on the conduct of war applied, most terrorist activities would be war crimes and if those who were caught were not wearing a uniform, they would be persons whom, under the prevailing laws of war, the authorities would be perfectly entitled to execute out of hand. One does not suffer by recognising what terrorism is.

It has been suggested that, in the context of terrorism, capital punishment would be counter-productive. I am not sure that the record supports that. There were some interesting precedents in what happened in Ireland this century, particularly in the 1920s. In May 1922, the newly established Northern Ireland Government became responsible for security in the midst of a terrorist war which had started in 1919. The first Ulster premier, Sir James Craig, decided as a matter of policy that he would not invoke the death penalty, and, indeed, he did not do so. He considered that reliance on the death penalty would deepen and prolong the bitterness that existed in the community.

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In the same year, civil war broke out in the Irish Free State—what is now the Republic of Ireland. The Government of the Irish Free State took a different view from that of the Government of Northern Ireland. About 80 persons were officially executed, and it is believed that about double that number were unofficially executed in killings which were not admitted by the forces of the Irish Free State but were carried out under the direction of the Government.

Conventional wisdom among historians and politicians is that those killings permanently embittered the politics of the Irish Republic. But since then, a comparatively liberal Ulster has been racked by successive outbreaks of terrorism while, in what was a repressive Republic, the provisional IRA has a standing order which forbids violence. So one must admit that the Republic's security policy has been more successful.

Mr. Mallon

The hon. Gentleman referred to official and unofficial executions. Perhaps he should amend that and describe both sets of executions as unofficial. The executions were the result of cases brought, not before the courts but before kangaroo military tribunals.

Mr. Trimble

I do not wish to be drawn into a semantic argument on that point. The executions were official in the sense that they were carried out by the lawful authorities of the Irish Free State, acting under the law in force at the time, according to the procedures under which the Government operated. Admittedly, the executions were carried out under a regime of martial law, but that does not change the fact that they were official executions at the time. The unofficial executions were those which were not admitted and were carried out by what journalists today would call death squads sent out by Ministers in Dublin for that purpose.

I was examining the contrast between the positions taken in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Free State. In Northern Ireland, the death penalty was not resorted to, yet we have continuing terrorism. In the Irish Republic, the death penalty was resorted to on a massive scale, and it has had peace since the 1920s.

New clause 4 reminds us that the death penalty is available for many of the terrorist crimes committed in Northern Ireland. Many of those crimes come within the definition of treason. One could invoke the death penalty, if only people were charged with treason. Clearly, we must ask why, in such cases, people are not charged in the appropriate manner. The charge is available.

It cannot simply be the decision of the Law Officers of the Crown exercising their discretion not to charge people with treason, because that discretion has been exercised in an identical way under successive Governments. It is more a matter of Government policy. Indeed, there was some hint of that in the Home Secretary's speech, when he said that the charge of treason was used only in the case of war. That may explain why no one has been charged with treason in Ulster in the past 20 years.

The Government's inconsistency would be resolved if they supported new clause 4 and removed the death penalty for treason. However, the Home Secretary said that the Government do not intend to do so. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who spoke to new clause 4, that the answers given were rather poor on that point. Some of us suspect that there are other reasons. It seems that the Shakespearean couplet might apply: Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason. One wonders whether the reason why the Government dare not call it treason is that some members of the Government expect, or even intend, that treason to prosper.

That would be in line with the recent speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in which he described the objectives of the IRA as "legitimate". I wonder how one of Her Majesty's Ministers can defend that. Nothing is more likely to encourage terrorism than to describe its objectives as legitimate. Nothing is more likely to discourage it than making it clear that the state will use all the legal weapons in its armoury to combat it.

It has been said that terrorism in Ulster, particularly republican terrorism, is a high-status, low-risk occupation. We can do nothing to lower its status, because its status is conferred on it by the community in which it operates, but we can do something to increase the risk, and we certainly should do so.

Sir John Wheeler

The arguments presented to the Committee this evening have, predictably, covered both the moral and practical issues and have been rehearsed many times in the Chamber in previous debates. This is a subject on which many hon. Members on both sides of the arguments have particularly strong and absolute views.

They are not to be swayed by continued argument, even of the magisterial nature of the arguments delivered to the Committee a few moments ago by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).

I shall not repeat all the points that have been made. I shall make some points of my own. It would be utterly wrong to reintroduce capital punishment without the most conclusive evidence that the death penalty is a unique deterrent. I contend that no such evidence exists. Worldwide research suggests that the death penalty would not reduce the murder rate but would simply lead to a greater coarsening of attitudes to human life. Little can be proved by citing offence rates over a long period since abolition because over such periods crime rates can vary a great deal for reasons which have no connection with the death penalty. Nevertheless, during the 20 years from 1969 to 1989, the percentage rise in the number of homicides in England and Wales was less than half the percentage increase in all other indictable offences, for most of which there was no comparable change in penalty.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Sir John Wheeler

With reluctance.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I merely wish to point out that a dead body is more obvious than the consequence of any other form of crime. The reporting of other types of crime may have increased, but the reporting of murder is unlikely to have increased because it is such an obvious crime.

Sir John Wheeler

As I said at the beginning of my speech, those in favour of the restoration of capital punishment are unlikely to be persuaded by anything that I or anyone else may say against it. That will be especially true if we bat the various statistics to and fro across the Chamber or between ourselves.

I contend that some tentative conclusions—I state it as marginally as that—can be drawn from the figures for crime shortly before and shortly after the abolition of capital punishment in 1965. Before then, there were two categories of murder: capital and non-capital. The former included murder in the furtherance of theft, murder by shooting and the murder of a police or prison officer. Following the abolition of capital punishment, there was an increase in the number of murders judged to be capital. However, the increase began before abolition, so cannot have been caused by it. There was a corresponding increase in non-capital murder, for which there was no change in penalties, and in crimes of violence generally, for which there was no change in penalties.

The evidence from abroad also casts doubt on the unique deterrent value of capital punishment. For example, many studies in the United States of America have compared the murder rates of abolitionist and neighbouring retentionist states, murder rates in states which abolished and later restored capital punishment, the number of homicides just before and just after a sentence of execution, killings of police officers in cities of abolitionist and retentionist states and the incidence of fatal assaults in prison. They contain no evidence that the absence of the death penalty increases murders or that its presence deters capital offenders.

Even many advocates of the death penalty recognise that most murders are emotional and impulsive, and largely within the family or among close associates, thus not susceptible to the deterrence argument. Therefore, most advocates of capital punishment favour restricting it to certain types of murder. Yet any attempt to make such distinctions in legislation would produce invidious and morally indefensible results in the future just as it did in the past.

New clause 1 refers specifically to police officers. Yet the figures for murders of police and prison officers before and after the abolition of capital punishment suggest that capital punishment has no unique deterrent effect. The number of killings of police officers resulting in murder convictions has varied between nought and six every year since 1958. In the 31 years from 1957 to 1989, 27 police officers were murdered on duty out of a total of 51 police homicides, with no killings in 1957, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1968 and 1976.

New clause 6 refers to prison officers, and for them the argument is even less sustainable. In a period of nearly 50 years, when the prison population has more than doubled and more high-risk offenders have been in prison than ever before, only two prison officers have been killed—one in 1948 and one in 1965. New clause 5 refers to firearms. In the 10 years from 1977 to 1988 the average number of homicides by shooting was 48 with considerable annual variations, as one might expect from small figures. There is no case that gun killing has changed in any way to necessitate a special penalty.

New clauses 2 and 3 relate to terrorism in Northern Ireland. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and it is understandable that there should be strong feelings about the death penalty for at least terrorist murders. In fact, terrorists are even less likely to be deterred than other murderers. They are fanatics who are perverted in their thinking and feeling and who see themselves fighting for a cause higher than themselves. They are willing to live in a state of dangerous exaltation in which they hold even their own lives at a relatively low price.

First, it would be necessary to define what a terrorist murder is. Would it be a murder committed by a known member of the provisional IRA or of a middle east terrorist group? Would it apply to a known terrorist engaged in an ordinary crime, such as a bank robbery, where killing occurs? Given that political status for the inmates of the Maze prison has long been withdrawn, would not a working definition of terrorism produce irresistible demands for the restoration of that status on the grounds that the criteria of political crimes had at last been set out?

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Mr. Hunter

My hon. Friend is making a fundamental mistake in overlooking the fact that we already have definitions of terrorism and terrorist activities on the statute book. We have proscribed organisations and scheduled offences.

Sir John Wheeler

I gave way to my hon. Friend because his name leads those who propose that the death penalty should be applicable to people who are called terrorists. He proposes a special and separate penalty for a category of offenders who would have to be separately defined within this Criminal Justice Bill. That would be a fatal mistake.

It is incredible that new clause 3 would make the death penalty apply in Northern Ireland. No one has been hanged in the United Kingdom for hundreds of years except on the verdict of a jury. As is well known to the Committee, the degree of intimidation in Northern Ireland is such that it has not been possible to try such cases by jury. They are tried by the Diplock, one-judge courts. Has anyone asked the Northern Ireland judiciary whether it is prepared to act as judge and jury in capital cases?

There are other important reasons arguing against the introduction of capital punishment for terrorist murder, many of which have already been mentioned. In the stages leading up to an execution, a terrorist would have a strong motive for taking and threatening to kill hostages and for intimidating all those taking part in the trial, particularly jurors. There would be the expectation that executions would be followed by reprisals. Informers would be less likely to help the police.

Since capital punishment would not apply to those under 18, the death penalty would reinforce the trend for terrorist organisations to recruit increasingly young members. Capital punishment would create martyrs and there is considerable evidence that martyrs stimulate support for and recruitment to terrorist organisations. For all those reasons, I agree with many senior Army and police officers that the reintroduction of capital punishment would hinder rather than help the fight against terrorism.

A substantial proportion of homicides in England, Wales and elsewhere are committed by people in an abnormal state. Most murder victims are killed as a result of rage, quarrels or jealousy. In more than 70 per cent. of homicide cases, the victim was a member of the suspect's family, such as a spouse or lover. The deliberately planned and carefully executed murder, on which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton touched, is relatively rare. Deterrence in the form of capital punishment would work only for those who think before killing.

The best protection for the public remains the certainty of detection. Most of the more serious offences are cleared up. In 1988–89 the clear-up rate for crimes of violence against a person was 75 per cent., for frauds and forgeries it was about 70 per cent. and for theft and burglary overall it was about 30 per cent. Remarkably, the clear-up rate for homicides is 96 per cent. That is the best form of deterrence.

In concluding, I should like to touch briefly on new clause 4 proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He renders a great service to the House in bringing to our attention the technical availability of the death penalty for offences in archaic Acts of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

It is perhaps relevant to say that the 18th century saw the greatest use of capital punishment, but controversy over its use was as sharp then as it is today. By 1820, there were no fewer than 200 offences for which, in theory, capital punishment could be imposed, but such was public opinion that juries would often refuse to convict regardless of the evidence. It is also relevant that even in those cases where the death penalty was given, only about 10 per cent. resulted in execution—so much for the deterrent argument.

I have great sympathy with what the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West has proposed, but I regret that I cannot support him in the Lobby because I believe that those old Acts and the offences they create are in need of repeal. I do not want to substitute a sentence of life imprisonment for an offence that could be abolished or at least reformed to suit the modern age.

I believe that the House should invite the Law Commission to give urgent consideration to the abolition or review of those archaic Acts, when I would wish any penalty to be available to the courts to be anything other than the death penalty.

Mr. Rees

I liked the reference of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) to the 18th and 19th centuries. A study of the statistics on the recent upsurge in crime in comparison with that committed in the 1920s and 1930s might suggest that the explanation is a sociological one. At one time I read about the middle years of the 19th century in great depth. The vast number of murders then committed seemed to have nothing to do with the number of people hanged in London at the time. There is no relationship between the two.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North also referred to the Diplock courts and the no-jury trials. I agree that that makes new clause 3 extremely defective. Terrorism is at large in Northern Ireland, but the new clause does not appear to understand that.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) raised a number of historical issues to explain why there was relative peace in the south of Ireland rather than in the north. We do not pay nearly enough attention to Northern Ireland in the House because most of us know little about it. When we talk about crime and punishment we do so in terms of England, Wales and Scotland.

I regret that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] I notice that he is occupying the seat of the Chief Whip —no doubt doing what he would like to do, but has not yet achieved. I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that there would be 1,500 fewer murders if capital punishment had been available in the past 20 years. That can only be a guess. I believe that he has misread the statistics on murder and probably confused them with those on homicide. I do not believe that anecdotal evidence will do about the use of guns. The trigger point to determine which cases should go to the Court of Appeal should be given far greater attention. I shall vote against the hon. and learned Gentleman's new clause.

I appreciate the point behind the new clause on piracy tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). Whatever happens tonight, I hope that the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence will consider that part of the Armed Forces Act 1971 that relates to sedition and mutiny. I have a personal interest in that, because men were charged with mutiny at Salerno. I shall not rehearse the story, but I understand what those men and other people felt. Those men could have been sentenced to death and it would have been wrong. My noble and learned Friend Lord Elwyn-Jones played a part in preventing those men from being shot. In common with the legislation on piracy, the death penalty for mutiny should be reviewed because it is as misplaced today as it was 40 years ago.

I intervened earlier in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to say that proscription and membership of a terrorist organisation are insufficient evidence when it comes to sentencing people to death. I remember when the last detainee came out of the Maze as a result of the House's decision. The last man out made it clear to television reporters that he was a member of the IRA. I mentioned that to the police and said that I thought that one could be brought to court for such membership. I was told that it would be extremely difficult to prove in court that someone was a member of the IRA, the Red Hand Commandos, the Ulster Freedom Fighters or the Ulster Volunteer Force. To seek to impose the death penalty when the evidence rests upon membership and proscription is a mistake.

It is only those who do not know Northern Ireland who could argue that martyrdom is something with which one could live. That country is shot through with stories of past martyrs. That is one reason why killing and shooting still takes place. We are not talking about England, Wales or Scotland. Such martyrdom is part and parcel of the life of Northern Ireland and to ignore that flies in the face of Ireland's history.

I have my own anecdotal evidence about martyrs. My father, a Welsh coal miner, was a soldier at the Easter rising. He belonged to an Irish regiment then in France but he was brought back to go to Ireland. To some extent, I was brought up with the story of that rising. The fact that the British, as a result of military courts, shot people involved in that uprising—some of them sitting down, including James Connolly—broke the Irish parliamentary party. It was finished because of the way in which the British had acted towards the Irish. We forget about the history of Ireland when we talk in terms of England and the new clauses.

Mr. Trimble

If one carried the right hon. Gentleman's point about martyrdom to its logical conclusion, it would mean that the police and soldiers would be prevented from using lethal force in circumstances where they are entitled so to act. Martyrs would also be created in those circumstances. The 1916 executions did not cause the break-up of the Irish parliamentary party, the home rule party, but the opposition to that party from Catholic bishops. That opposition was first manifest in June 1916, but was repeated in forthcoming years.

Mr. Rees

I must give in on the argument about the Catholic bishops. That intervention illustrates the nature of the problem in Northern Ireland far better than anything that I might say.

Why did the Conservative Government before 1974 amend legislation so that there was no capital punishment in Northern Ireland? Many right hon. and hon. Members now present voted in favour of that decision. A note prepared for me at that time outlined that the death penalty came under two pieces of legislation, section 6 of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) (Northern Ireland) Act 1972 and section 10 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 1966.

The first step was to do away with the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) (Northern Ireland) Act 1922. The second was to leave in section 10 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 1966. Albert Brown, a Protestant and a member of the UDA, was found guilty of murdering a member of the RUC with a licensed gun and sentenced to death. Lord Whitelaw reprieved him because he was told by the security authorities in Northern Ireland that, if Albert Brown was hanged, they could not hold Belfast. What is the use of bringing back capital punishment and flying in the face of what happened as recently as 1973? As a result, Lord Whitelaw, who was in favour of capital punishment, came to the Dispatch Box and said that he had changed his mind, not because he had read books but because he had learnt in Northern Ireland that he could not allow the death penalty to be carried out.

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The same thing happened shortly afterwards when, after an amendment had been passed in the House, a man called William Gerald Holden, a Roman Catholic 19-year-old chef, was sentenced to death for the murder of Private Frank Bell of the 2nd Parachute Regiment. The then Secretary of State, Lord Whitelaw, also reprieved that man. Therefore, the same law applied on both sides of the community.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)


Mr. Rees

It is no good saying "Whitewash", which is what some of the majority community called Lord Whitelaw. The advice given from a Conservative Minister was that capital punishment could not be carried out in Northern Ireland. Capital punishment would be a mistake for Northern Ireland. I happen to think that it would be a mistake in the whole of the United Kingdom, but it would certainly be a mistake in Northern Ireland.

If capital punishment were returned to Northern Ireland, I would radically change my views about policy for Northern Ireland. I do not believe in pulling out of Northern Ireland, but if there were capital punishment, I could no longer support staying there. I would not be prepared to say to the soldiers—many of whom come from my constituency and constituencies in the north of England and Scotland—"Go to Northern Ireland," because the reprisals would be enormous and would be based on the martyrdom of the past. There would have to be a complete reappraisal of policy in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) told us the interesting story of what happened in the Republic in 1922–23, when 81 people, perhaps more, were executed by military tribunal—that is the origin of the two political parties in the south. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are born of the six counties and the 26 counties by the killing of 81 people—I thought the figure was 78. In the election in the south in 1978, chalked on the pavement was the figure 78. It was held against Fine Gael that it was the 26-county party that had initiated—I had better be careful what word I use—the deaths of those people. That was still remembered all those years later.

If our forces were not in Northern Ireland, I concede that similar action would have to be taken there. Regardless of legislation passed by the House, there would be killing because the hatreds born in the north of Ireland as a result of the activities of the provisiona IRA and others lie deep, but we do not know that here. We could have that view. I do not believe that a British Government could execute without trouble a Protestant, Catholic, Unionist or Loyalist—call them what one will. If we were not in Northern Ireland, the story of 1923 would be written again in the north.

The hon. Members representing both sides of the community in Northern Ireland represent a district where murder matters, where they see it and have heard about it for 20 years. The rest of us are different and that is why we are acting as we are. I could not possibly support capital punishment in Northern Ireland in particular or in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Gale

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to the debate held in 1988, which I sponsored, and my amendment. He said that the motion referred to what he called a "local option", which was quite incorrect and a misrepresentation of the motion before the House in 1988. That motion sought to reintroduce capital punishment as the maximum available sentence for murder. It is correct that, at that time, it would have been left to the court and the judge to determine whether capital punishment was a suitable sentence. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has refined that motion and turned it into something more legally acceptable, and I shall most certainly support him tonight.

The argument in favour of the restoration of capital punishment must turn upon whether the House believes that for even a small number of murders, capital punishment is a deterrent. I believe that that is so, and for that reason alone I have consistently supported restoration and will continue to do so.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the hopelessness of a life sentence. He said that it was a terrible punishment to inflict on a man or woman who had committed murder, which was why the Government recognised, and it was now on the statute book in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, that murder should be penalised by life sentence. I believe that the life sentence has made the task of our police force immeasurably more dangerous.

It is an absolute fact that, before the abolition of capital punishment, the professional criminal, as a matter of course, did not carry weapons. This afternoon we have heard anecdotal evidence about how the professional criminal would not only not carry a gun or a knife himself, but would search his colleagues before going out on a job to make sure that they were not "tooled up", because it was recognised that, if one used a weapon, all were liable and would face a capital sentence.

Since abolition, it is an absolute fact that the incidence of armed crime has risen dramatically. My argument in support of new clause I is simply that we have a stark option. It is no longer possible to ask the men and women of our police force to go out and face armed criminals when they themselves are unarmed. I do not believe that any hon. Member, from either side of the House, would ask a young soldier to go out in Northern Ireland and face the IRA without carrying a gun, but that is exactly what we are asking the men and women of our police force to do.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is an incentive for the armed robber to commit murder because, if he is arrested or confronted by an unarmed police officer who asks him to lay down his weapon, the criminal knows that, under existing sentencing policy, he is bound to get 20 years. Therefore, the incentive is for the criminal to shoot his way out of trouble.

Mr. Gale

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—the incentive is there and I regret that it has been heightened by legislation passed by this Government. The last Criminal Justice Act and successive Home Secretaries have made it clear that the murderer will face life imprisonment, so the murderer carrying a gun has no disincentive to use it.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is clear from the evidence of recent cases that the criminals concerned went out armed with an arsenal of weapons and with every intention of using them? That is so clear that it is extraordinary that it has been suggested in this debate that robbers go out with guns but with no intention of using them.

Mr. Gale

My hon. Friend makes the point more succinctly than I could have done.

If 1—as I do—believe that we can no longer ask the men and women of the police to go out, unarmed, and face armed criminals, the choice before my right hon. Friend is to acknowledge either that we must afford the police the maximum possible protection and the deterrent of capital punishment, or that we must arm our police. It is as stark as that. I find the latter wholly unacceptable, and that leads me inevitably to the former.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) rested his case principally on the predicament of the police and of our soldiers in Northern Ireland—a theme that has run through several of our debates. I prefer the view of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who speaks with great authority as a former Secretary of State both of Northern Ireland and for the Home Department. He rightly drew attention to the views of Lord Whitelaw who, when in a position of responsibility, spoke forcefully about his change of mind: I am … absolutely convinced …that in the days immediately before and after any proposed execution the police and the soldiers would be at increased risk. As a result, the effort to protect the lives of policemen and soldiers by making an example in the case of a death which cannot be reprieved would be likely to provoke more shooting and more risk of death than to reduce it."—[Official Report, 14 May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 1029.] Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence, but of a kind that has commended itself to every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland since the troubles started in 1969. We could almost begin and end the debate with Northern Ireland, because, if it is not possible for these reasons to espouse capital punishment in Northern Ireland, then for what crimes can we espouse it?

As long ago as 1953, Sir Ernest Gower's Royal Commission on capital punishment pointed to the extraordinary multiplicity of crimes that go under the name of murder: There is perhaps no single class of offences that varies so widely both in character and in culpability as the class comprising those which may fall within the comprehensive common law definition of murder. Few of us would regard any crime as more culpable than that of terrorism. If, for the practical reasons that have commended themselves to successive Secretaries of State, we are debarred from invoking capital punishment in terrorist cases, we are driven by logic and by the difficulty of these moral connections to the view that we must exclude capital punishment for all murders.

It is strange that we have returned to this debate yet again. We last considered it within the lifetime of this Parliament, and we decided, comprehensively and by a very large majority, that the case, which has been considered about 15 times since capital punishment was abolished, had not substantially changed. Of course it is right to reconsider these matters when public opinion is persistent in believing that capital punishment offers some way out of the problem of serious crime and of murder in particular, but I fear that the public, in espousing this commitment to capital punishment, may be looking for an easy answer to a very difficult problem.

7.15 pm

I accept the Home Secretary's analysis that the evidence of deterrence is inconclusive. Those who seek to argue that we should reintroduce capital punishment must discharge the onus of proof. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) attempted to do that, I thought unconvincingly, by referring to a number of articles about the American experience. I thought that the Home Secretary had already demolished that argument quite effectively, by looking at examples of American states that have retained or reinstated capital punishment and comparing them with those that have not, following the 10-year gap in its use. I am sure that he drew the right conclusion: that the evidence does not support the view that capital punishment is a uniquely effective deterrent.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton did not rest his case only on deterrence. He also invoked the argument of retribution—heard perhaps not so commonly in this House but often outside it. For my part, I regard retribution as a matter for the Divinity, not for the legislature of this country.

I also find it hard to accept that those of us who have objections, not only of the practical kind that I have mentioned but also of principle, to capital punishment should be asked to bend our consciences a little to accept it in certain cases, some of which are set out in the new clauses. It is not as though we have no experience of trying to operate with categories of murder, drawing distinctions between moral turpitude of one sort or another. The Homicide Act 1957 ran for long enough to bring that notion into disrepute, and materially contributed to the abolition of capital punishment.

Who can say that murder using explosives or firearms is morally more culpable than a long-planned poisoning for gain? But such a distinction could be the consequence of accepting at least one of the new clauses. It is impossible to draw up these nice categories and to apply capital punishment to some of them but not to others.

Perhaps the newest argument advanced by those who want to reintroduce capital punishment relates to the proposal in new clause 4—that we should pass the ultimate decision from this House, and even from a jury, to the Court of Appeal. Capital punishment would be exacted in most cases—this was the burden of the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Burton—but the Court of Appeal would have the right—indeed, the duty—to intervene and assess the evidence again. That is a strange proposition, bearing in mind the part that the court played in the Guildford cases, which must have given rise to some doubt about its suitability for a role of this sort, even if it wanted it. The Court of Appeal would not have heard the evidence which led the jury to convict. It would not have heard the witnesses and would have no sense of the trial. It would be quite wrong to impose upon a group of judges the duty of making a life-or-death decision.

I was surprised to learn from the Home Secretary that the Lord Chief Justice has categorically stated his view, and that it does not contain the kind of qualifications suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Burton. The Lord Chief Justice has said that it would be inappropriate for judges to exercise that sort of discretion, and I take it that that is also the view of his fellow judges.

It is bound to be a discretion. The hon. and learned Member for Burton says that it is Parliament that would have decided, but judges would have to exercise a discretion in life-and-death cases and it is not appropriate for us to ask them to do that. In 1953, the Royal Commission on capital punishment considered that proposition and was strongly against it. The Commission's report stated: 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 be inflicted on any single individual. The sentence of death differs absolutely, not in degree, from any 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 invidious. That has always been the case in this country. There have been variations of the extent to which capital punishment has been applied, but in modern times they have added nothing to the variability of the judges.

The new clause tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) raises new issues. As some hon. Members have said, that new clause is a welcome innovation, because it has brought to our attention the anomaly of the retention of capital punishment for treason and piracy. The repeal of capital punishment for those crimes should not depend on a review of the substance of the law. If we are persuaded, as I think most hon. Members are, of the inappropriateness of capital punishment, we need not wait for the decision of the Law Commission on the review of the substantive law.

In an intervention during the Home Secretary's speech, I said that the codification of the criminal law, to which he had referred, is a task to which the Law Commission set its hand a long time ago and effectively completed. As the law rolls on, and as Parliament intervenes to amend the law, the task of updating that work of codification remains and will continue. The Committee has not been asked to give effect to the findings of the Law Commission on codification. No one could pretend for a minute that such matters are pressing. In future, they will simply slip out of the Home Secretary's action tray.

I regret that the Home Secretary concluded his speech on a depressing and negative note, because the rest of his speech was entirely in accordance with the views of most Home Secretaries since 1965 and reflected his careful consideration of whether the settled mind of Parliament should be shaken by new factors. In this matter, Parliament's mind is settled, and there is no case for continual reconsideration of the issue. [Interruption.] I have had an experience which I do not think the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) has had. One of my opponents at the last general election stood with the sole intention of demonstrating the strength of feeling about capital punishment. That independent candidate attracted 686 votes.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I shall give way when I have finished my point.

Mr. Boyes

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has only been here for 10 seconds.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Lady's views are well known, and she has intervened already. I shall be delighted to let her intervene again.

Some people hold a strong view on the issue, and that was reflected in those 686 votes in my constituency. We must decide the issue ourselves, not by reference to popular opinion polls or plebiscites. We have been sent here to represent our constituents and to do our best in their interests as we conceive them.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

With the exception of the last 10 minutes, I have been here for the whole debate.

I may well have had an experience that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has not had. After capital punishment had been abolished, I was defending a man charged with a particularly unpleasant murder of which he was subsequently convicted. Because capital punishment had been abolished, he was not very concerned about whether he would be convicted. If capital punishment had still been in force, he would have said to me, "I didn't do it, Miss." However, when I went to see him in his cell, I was staggered when he said to me, "I want two ounces of Cut Golden Bar, 10 Craven A cork tipped and a paper with the latest racing results." He would not have said that if capital punishment had been in force.

Mr. Maclennan

Hon. Members can consider whether the hon. Lady has strengthened her case by that intervention.

The main argument that must weigh with the Committee in reconsidering the issue is the fallibility of human judgment, the evidence that is presently in our minds that juries have made mistakes which, had the law remained as it was prior to 1965, would have resulted in innocent men being hanged. That is an overwhelming argument against reversing the settled view of Parliament.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The general sentiment that I have taken from the debate on this serious issue is that most hon. Members seem to think that those who spoke before them spoke for far too long. I shall be brief, because I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate.

Hon. Members have said that having another debate on the issue is a bit of a nuisance. They say that we have decided on the matter and that there is not much point in debating it further. We have to impress on those who are opposed to capital punishment that the argument cannot go away, because on the basis of firm evidence many of us feel that innocent lives are being put at risk almost every day because there is no effective deterrent.

Secondly, many of believe that the law in its present state is such that some determined criminals, especially armed criminals, almost have an incentive to use their weapons if they are caught on a job. No judicial system can prevent murder, but I and many reasonable people are convinced that the evidence clearly shows that many people could be deterred from committing murder.

We have heard a great deal about people's views of the evidence and we have heard their assessment of the situation in America. I appeal to those who have doubts about the clarity of the evidence to look at the splendid paper produced by the House of Commons Library. Page 9 is astonishingly clear and precise. It shows that, between 1945 and 1964, the year before abolition, there was not an increase but a reduction in the annual rate of murders from 346 to 296, and that from the moment when capital punishment was abolished, there was a sharp increase in the rate of murder. Those are not my opinions: they are clear, established facts.

One can look at the figures in certain ways. One can look at convictions, which would be misleading because there might be more conviction when we had capital punishment than there were after its abolition. However, when one considers the number of bodies—the number of murders made known—the situation seems clear.

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Mr. Rees

After the abolition of capital punishment, the classification of murder and manslaughter were changed, by virtue of the courts, so the hon. Gentleman may not be comparing like with like.

Mr. Taylor

I have the greatest of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but it does not matter how one classifies murders or manslaughters. 1 have here a table of the number of bodies—the number of people who have been killed—and the categories include manslaughter, infanticide and murder. The position is clear. The opponents of capital punishment cannot deny that total. From almost the moment of abolition, the number of bodies increased sharply.

I challenge those who say that there is no evidence to explain why it was that, in the 20 years after the second world war, when there was plenty of uncertainty in life, including plenty of unemployment, we had a stable or reducing murder rate. Why was it that, after that, under Conservative and Labour Governments, when there was more prosperity, there was a sharp rise from under 300 a year in that 20-year period to 650 murders a year in the next 20 years?

There is another piece of evidence that we cannot ignore. I appeal to those who are opposed to capital punishment to explain to me and to people outside why there has been an enormous increase in the use of guns in the commission of crime. It is not just a marginal figure of 10 or 20 per cent. We know that, with capital punishment, criminals in Britain rarely carried guns, but since abolition, guns have been used for quite petty offences. We are talking of enormous increases of hundreds of per cent.

I hope that nobody will say that the figures for the murder of police are not relevant. The figures are clear. In the 25 years before abolition, 22 police officers were killed but in the 25 years since abolition, 53 police officers have been killed—a doubling of the figure. People may look at Japan and the evidence there for certain years in different categories, but the evidence is clear. For us, since we abolished capital punishment, there has been a sharp and sudden alteration in the situation.

The one argument that must haunt every supporter of capital punishment, and the one argument from which we cannot run away, is that of the possibility of a mistake. Is there a likelihood that an innocent person could be hanged? However, even though that is desperately important, we must not forget that, since abolition, 59 people have been murdered by someone who has already been in prison to serve a sentence for homicide. We do not know what category they would be in.

Another factor may arise in such cases. I have studied carefully the case of poor Timothy Evans. Although it appears from the evidence that he did not murder the person whom he was convicted of murdering, there is evidence that he may have killed somebody else.

However we look at the figures, I ask hon. Members to think about the matter in terms of defence policy. I was amazed to hear the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and even our delightful and splendid Home Secretary talking about the dangers to society of treating individuals in such a way. What on earth are they doing supporting our defence policy? Why do we have these terrible bombs, rockets and atomic weapons which can fry people alive, vaporise them or give them devastating long-term illnesses, and which cost so much money? We have them because we want to save life and we want to deter. These chaps are out in the Gulf now to deter war.

I accept that it is important that we show great humanity in all we do, but it makes me think that there is something very strange when people who support defence policy to the hilt, remembering that pilots can make mistakes, bombs can drop in the wrong place and innocent people may be killed, change their ideas with capital punishment.

I hope that hon. Members will support new clause 5. In it, I have tried to identify clearly those who can be deterred. If someone is carrying a weapon, he should not be, as he should not be carrying explosives, or going out with a clearly defined offensive weapon. Those who might kill a police officer or a prison officer can be deterred. My new clause has tried to deter such people and to leave the judge an escape clause if he feels that there are extenuating circumstances.

Hon. Members are trying to kid themselves when they say that there is no evidence. The evidence is as clear as anything. Some Ministers at Conservative party conferences have tried to explain how well things are going on the basis of figures that are difficult to interpret. Those figures make the argument clearer than do many of the figures that I have heard quoted at Conservative or, dare I say it, Labour party conferences. We all know that if we do not agree to the reintroduction of capital punishment we shall, as a Parliament, deliberately be sentencing some innocent people to die. For that reason, we should support reintroduction.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I shall try to be brief because I realise that many hon. Members still wish to speak and it is important that they speak in this important debate.

I shall concentrate on two points. The first is concerned not with Ireland or the situation in Northern Ireland but with Britain, because I happen to believe that the loss of human life is a tragedy whether the person is killed in Northern Ireland, Birmingham, Glasgow, or wherever. We are talking here about how we best express, through legislation, our regard for the sanctity of human life and for that which will protect the life of those who are charged with enforcing the law and those who happen to break it. The responsibility of society for those who break the law is as great as it is for those who enforce the law.

It is morally wrong, publicly and through legislation, to take away a person's life. It debases the legislation that allows it to happen. One of our problems in relation to the spill-over from terrorism not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the world is that it has comprised the law. Legislation has danced to the terrorists' tune. The Acts that the House has passed in the past five or 10 years show that the integrity of the law has been debased by the very people to whom we are addressing our message.

One cannot defeat terrorism by the use of more stringent law. If it could have been done in that way, the problems of Northern Ireland would have been over long ago. Instead of damaging terrorism, it has damaged the law and people should be aware of that. Sooner or later, the Northern Ireland problem will be over—sooner, we all hope. The British system of law will have to be put together again and, if we agree to the new clauses, the ultimate sufferers might be people here who will have sacrificed what was an excellent system, based on the highest integrity, to pursue something that cannot be achieved by those methods.

Capital punishment also dehumanises the society within which it is used. It uses the method of the terrorist because it takes the brutality of vengeance and violence, which are the hallmarks of the terrorist, and puts them into the court room and legislation. That debasing and dehumanising element is one that can become greater.

When I heard about Japan's approach to these matters, I was astounded. What we heard about that country is not good. However Japan's approach is quantified in material terms, such legislation will lead to its ultimate detriment. Alarm bells should ring in this country. It is not so long ago that we saw what stemmed from Japan when the ethic of violence existed throughout its entire body corporate. As we all know, the results were horrific. The conclusions that the Japanese have appeared to draw could rebound on the very values that we want to protect and retain. We should be extremely wary about drawing the same conclusions.

There is another reason why we should consider these matters clearly and with compassion within the Irish element. Many mistakes have been made. One of those mistakes was made in 1916, when people were executed. The poet, William Butler Yeats, summed up the situation better than most when he wrote All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty was born. That was not because a few men took over the general post office in Dublin and started a shooting war. It was because they were executed. As Padraig Pearse said at the funeral of O'Donavan Rossa: The fools; the fools; they have left us our Fenian dead. That martyrdom is the most potent factor within Republicanism in Ireland and always has been. To argue now that we should introduce martyrdom by reintroducing capital punishment is bad law and extremely faulty thinking.

References have been made to Albert Brown. I agree with the decision not to execute him. If it had not been taken, it would have been impossible to control Belfast at that time. It would be impossible to control parts of Northern Ireland if a Republican were executed now. That applies to the Protestant community and the Catholic community. It would be deeply wrong if such an execution were to take place. Lives would be lost—lives are always being lost in Northern Ireland—but something that is perhaps much more important would be lost, too—the ability to retain or sustain any semblance of peace or stability.

Once that happened, the complexion of all that is happening in the north of Ireland would change. It would not change in the way that many Members of this place may wish it to change. In such circumstances the north of Ireland would become completely ungovernable, no matter what laws the Government of the day passed, no matter what army they had and no matter what force they were prepared to use. The change would be to the detriment of us all. We must never consider reintroducing capital punishment in Northern Ireland. If the House of Commons ever decided to do so, there would be enormous suffering for the entire community, and the results would be counter-productive.

We have heard much about the execution of 80 people when the Irish Republic was in its infant days. Please let us not make a virtue out of that. It would be wrong to do so. Those who undertook the execution of the 80 were killing British soldiers only a few weeks before as they then fought against the British presence. No great virtue should be attributed to those who undertook the executions. They did not become involved because of decisions that were made in the courts. They carried out the executions as a result of the decisions of insidious military kangaroo courts.

I happen to know something about the executions, because one of my relatives was a victim. That is Irish history. Irish history has not come to an end because of some of the things that have happened. Do we want more executions to take place? Do we want to draw political or legal conclusions from something of that sort, which was entirely illegal in any terms? We surely cannot draw any conclusions from such events.

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The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) drew an entirely spurious conclusion when he said that the IRA had not been able to function properly in the Republic of Ireland since the executions. That is wrong. Whatever stringent methods were adopted—the actions taken were wrong and illegal—they were implemented by Irish people. The actions taken were not replicated in the north of Ireland because that was not a new, emerging Irish nation. In Northern Ireland the forces of Britain remained. That is why the decisions of the Republic were not taken in the north of Ireland. The right decision overall was taken in the north of Ireland, but whether that was for the right reasons is another matter.

Capital punishment is not a deterrent. I do not want to draw any conclusions from cases that are pending. I have expressed my views on those cases on several occasions in the Chamber. I leave what I think is the most pertinent observation on the Guildford Four decision, and what I hope will be the right decision in respect of the Birmingham Six, to the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). On 24 October 1989, in the context of the Guildford Four, The Guardian reported the right hon. Gentleman as saying: My immediate reaction to Guildford was that this puts the kibosh on capital punishment … I was in favour of its retention. It took this case to tell me, 'Look. Pause. Reflect. What if they hanged innocent people? Those are the words, as I have said, of the Father of the House. He said that he had always been in favour of capital punishment, but that people should pause, look and reflect.

Mr. Shersby

As the Committee knows, I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. It is right that I should declare that interest in speaking in support of the provisions that are set out in new clause 1. My remarks will be confined to that new clause, which concerns the murder of a police officer in the execution of his duty.

Although I have the outside interest that I have declared, I wish to make it clear that my purpose is to express what I believe is the view of a large majority of my constituents, as well as that of the police in the federated ranks. The view is that, if Parliament and the people of our country have a claim on the police to protect them and to risk their lives on their behalf, the police have a claim, and a special one, on Parliament for protection. That claim is for a penalty which would deter all those who would consider killing a policeman to avoid the consequences of their crime.

It is the view of many police officers to whom I have talked that the penalty which would achieve that end is a capital sentence. That has been confirmed by recent surveys of members of the federation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who referred to the federation this afternoon, will take account of that.

This is not a debate about hanging. We are debating whether the state is prepared to take the life of those who kill in the course of crime, by whatever method is considered the most humane in the closing years of the century.

As we heard form my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. and learned. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), it is a matter of fact that, in the quarter of a century that has elapsed since the abolition of the ultimate penalty, the number of police officers murdered has more than doubled. In recent years the Police Federation, at its central conference—which is attended by some 2,000 officers—has called for the restoration of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. That will be of particular interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who speaks on police matters. There has been no attempt to establish different categories, in which some murderers would be liable to execution and others not, because, in the period before abolition, when the law made such distinctions and anomalies, the position was most unsatisfactory.

The position is different today. The Police Federation supports new clause 1, which would restore the death penalty for the murder of police officers. That is based on the experience of three attempts to establish special deterrents for armed criminals as an alternative to capital punishment. All those attempts have failed and, in practice, there is no difference between the maximum penalty for the armed criminal who kills a citizen in the course of a crime, or one who wounds someone, or one who fires a weapon, or even one who carries a firearm. Both the Government and the House have, on each occasion, recognised the very serious nature of a crime involving the use of firearms, but there is little concrete evidence to suggest that the increased penalties have had any real deterrent effect. On the contrary, there has been an inexorable rise in the commission of crimes by armed criminals. There can be no hon. Member who is not aware of that.

I wish briefly to cite an example. On 13 April 1989, two armed robbers were shot dead in a shoot-out with police after an attempted raid on a post office in Rayners lane, West Harrow, which is only a couple of miles from my constituency of Uxbridge. Police called on the men to stop, but they did not do so. As a result, between 20 and 30 shots were fired in the gun battle that followed in a quiet, suburban, English street. The men fired on the police, using a Colt 45 pistol, a Luger automatic pistol and a sawn-off shotgun—a deadly armoury of weapons.

One of the robbers killed had just been released from prison, having been sentenced to 17 years for armed robbery. So much for the deterrent penalty of a long sentence. He had escaped from Chelmsford prison in 1971 while serving 13 years for robbery and possession of firearms. Another dead robber had served several years for kidnapping a bank manager in the 1970s. What nice people. It is clear that prison sentences did not deter those men from carrying and using firearms in the commission of a crime—not even 17 years in one case.

In extending sympathy to the relatives of the dead robbers, the acting deputy assistant commissioner saitd: I have to say that we are dealing with a hard core of ruthless and sophisticated criminals. He said that those who armed themselves to shoot at the police would "face the inevitable consequences." Those armed robbers were not deterred by prison sentences, and they could be prevented from shooting the police only by the police returning fire. Because of the skill of the police, no innocent bystander was injured or killed, but the risk was there, and it had to be taken. It will have to be taken again and again and again unless Parliament resolves to deter those ruthless men.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend is making a clear statement of the increasing dangers and risks that our police face at a time of rising violent crime. Whatever may be felt in the Committee, there is no doubt about the apprehension that is felt outside it. If nothing is done and the trend continues, is it my hon. Friend's conclusion and that of the police who safeguard the public that, sooner or later, the police will have to be armed? What will be Parliament's answer to that?

Mr. Shersby

My right hon. Friend has raised an important point, which I shall deal with in a moment.

Hon. Members may remember that, only a matter of days ago, in a quiet Surrey suburb of Woodhatch, another armed robber was shot dead as his gang tried to hijack a security van thought to contain £1 million in cash. Again, the PT17 squad returned fire when under attack from the criminals. The police seized a veritable arsenal of guns, including a sawn-off shotgun, a revolver and two self-loading pistols. Can any hon. Member honestly say that those men took those weapons with them simply to give themselves a sense of security? Of course not—they were prepared to shoot and kill if they were caught.

Hon. Members should not show any sympathy towards those who engage in such premeditated crime and who will kill, kill and kill again to resist arrest. Were those men deterred by the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which increased from 14 years to life imprisonment the penalty for possessing a firearm or imitation firearm when committing a crime or having been arrested for criminal intent? Of course not. Parliament took that step after the most careful consideration, but raising the penalty from 14 years to life imprisonment did not stop such men, and it will not stop others.

There can be no doubt that the job of a police officer in protecting the public—protecting us—is much more dangerous than it was in 1965, when the death penalty was abolished. The result, not sought by the police but caused by the stark reality of the position, has been to transform the police service from one that was almost wholly unarmed—a point made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—to one in which firearms are part of the standard equipment of every force.

Whether we like it or not, hundreds of police officers are trained and authorised to use firearms. Many officers, such as those engaged in specialist duties, have to carry them regularly. Is that what hon. Members want? I think not. Is that what the law-abiding citizen wants? I am certain that it is not. Is that what the average police officer wants? I can assure the House that it is not.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said, it has now become clear to the leaders of the Police Federation, 25 years after the abolition of the death penalty, that there is a significant change in the attitude of police officers to the carrying of firearms on duty. From the almost unanimous position taken a few years ago, there is now a small but significant body of police opinion, especially among the younger officers, that the regular arming of the police is inevitable.

We need only look across the channel to France, where the carrying of sidearms is a fact of life, as it is in Spain, Germany and many other countries. It will be a fact of life in Britain before very long. The Police Federation very much hopes that that will not happen, but it cannot ignore current developments. Nor can we lightly dismiss the very real risks taken by unarmed police officers on our behalf.

I wish to deal with one important question. It has been said several times this evening that there is no conclusive evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent. That may be so, but we must make our judgment based not on statistics that any clever advocate can use to argue the case one way or another, but on the use of our intelligence and our own eyes to see what is happening.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I know of the hon. Gentleman's close relationship with the Police Federation. Does he agree that we should also judge something in which the police have expressed interest—what our European partners do? As the hon. Gentleman knows, all our European partners have given up capital punishment. He knows that the sign of liberation—[Interruption.] I should like to make my point. As a sign of liberation and of the rise of democratic and decent values, eastern European countries get rid of the death penalty as soon as possible.

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Mr. Shersby

The hon. Gentleman makes his point forcefully but, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, all police officers in those European countries are armed, and they are prepared to use their weapons as and when necessary.

The moral question which we must consider is, does the state have the right to take the life of a citizen who murders a police officer in the execution of his duties—those officers whom we have appointed to protect us and the great British public? I suggest that the answer is yes.

If the Committee decides to reject new clause 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and others, only one solution will be available to the Police Federation and its members. In Committee or on Report, several of my hon. Friends and I will table a further amendment calling for life imprisonment to mean imprisonment for the rest of an individual's natural life.

That is a little different from the situation described by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It would mean that no Home Secretary would ever have the ability to release, after a long period in prison, any individual who had been convicted. I put it to the Committee that there is a powerful argument for that measure, because successive Home Secretaries have told the House that they will not release those who kill a police officer in the execution of his duty. I see no objection to putting that provision into statute so that at least the police can be assured that the House of Commons supports them in their difficult job and that, if we are not prepared to restore capital punishment, at the very least anyone who kills a police officer in the execution of his duty will never again be free to do so.

Sir Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

I am grateful to you, Miss Boothroyd, for giving me a few minutes in which to speak in the Chamber. I do not take much of its time. I do not particularly enjoy speaking in it. I have spent 40 to 50 years in and out of prisons, and I have ended up here. The issue has been fully debated over the past 10 years and I have had the privilege to be called in every debate. I have with me the speeches in five major debates. If anyone would like a copy, I should be happy to sell one.

I have listened with great care and sympathy to those who take a totally different view to the one that I have held all my life, and I have no intention of changing it. In fact, it would be easier to change one's views than to go along with the crowd who would welcome hanging or whatever form of capital punishment is introduced. It is always easier to go with the throng, but I could not follow that course in any circumstances. Those of us who firmly believe in that view have a right to it just as much as other people have a right to the view that capital punishment should be reintroduced.

Over the years, as I have gone in and out of various prisons in England and America, I have seen men and women in the condemned cell. I have been there on the Friday night of the fry-up, when the electric chair was to be used. The atmosphere, the terror and the misery, not just in the condemned cell but throughout the whole prison, were absolutely appalling.

Mr. Janman

What about the terror of the victim?

Sir Charles Irving

One of my colleagues asks, "What about the victim?" I sympathise with the victim. I was probably the first in this country to think it prudent to have a victim support scheme, and I started one in Bristol. Much more is now being done to help victims than was ever done during the formative years of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman). If he wants to speak, he should stand up.

There is no evidence in this or any other country that capital punishment is an effective deterrent. It simply leads to a coarsening of attitudes to human life. A 1965 royal commission concluded that there was no deterrent effect. Recent surveys in the United States, where some states have the death penalty and some do not, show the same results.

Terrorists are even less likely to be deterred than other murderers. They are fanatics, seeing themselves as fighting a cause higher than themselves, holding their lives at a low price. In the stages leading up to an execution, terrorists would have a strong motive for taking hostages, threatening to kill them and to intimidate all taking part in a trial, especially jurors.

The fact that some supporters of capital punishment do not call for it in every case is an admission that it is not necessarily a deterrent. I find it particularly offensive to have a selection of whom one will or will not execute. We must not forget 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—poisoning and strangling were surely not notably morally better than shooting, but one carried the death penalty and the others did not.

Under the 1957 Act, the murder of a policeman was a capital offence, but the murder of security guards, bankers and post office workers was not, even though they were also at risk because of their employment. Murder in the course of theft was a capital offence, but not other murders for gain. The problem of distinguishing between capital and non-capital murder would inevitably prove intractable if done on a selective basis. For example, a policeman chasing someone armed with a gun may be joined by a member of the public. If the criminal turns and shoots the policeman, some would argue that he should be executed, but if he shoots the member of the public, he should not.

I accept that homicide rates have risen, and I sympathise with hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have expressed concern about the rise in violent crime. The published Home Office statistics include manslaughter and infanticide as well as murder. We cannot restore life to a man wrongly convicted and executed. There have been appalling miscarriages of justice in a land that prides itself on its rule of law and is the admiration of the world. But in the cases of Timothy Evans, the Guildford Four and many others, there is no pride in thinking what has happened in the name of justice.

The reintroduction of the death penalty would place an intolerable burden on the jury. There is evidence that juries would rather acquit than have on their conscience the responsibility for sending a man to the gallows who might ultimately be found not to have committed the offence. Some argue that juries should have the power to recommend life imprisonment in capital cases where there are mitigating circumstances. For the first time, that would place on the jury and not on the judge the function of influencing the sentence. If a husband poisons his wife because she is dying a painful death from an incurable illness, a jury in one place may find that evil and recommend the death penalty whereas, in another area, a different jury may find otherwise.

So many inconsistencies would arise from the proposals before the Committee. Suppose that a jury is allowed to make such a recommendation. Must it return a unanimous verdict? To do less would be to undermine the awesome nature of the punishment. If the verdict had to be unanimous, it would require only one juror who was opposed to capital punishment in conscience to refuse to convict for the trial to be stopped and the jury discharged. Would it be right for the accused to stand trial again, and again to fear for his life?

A far more constructive approach would be for certain categories of murderer to serve very long, determinate sentences with no parole. Personally, if I were in that position and had the choice, I should rather leave this world and go to a better one than serve a minimum of 20 years—perhaps 30—in prison, especially in the prisons that we have in Britain today, which are still a disgrace in Europe. One must congratulate the Home Office on doing its utmost, under extremely difficult circumstances, to improve the prisons, but there is a long way still to go.

There can be no longer sentence than a mandatory, life sentence, which is a lifelong surrender of liberty. The existence of such a sentence would allow the Home Secretary, in deciding when a prisoner should be released —or whether he should not—to take into account the circumstances of the offence and the risk to the public. The Criminal Justice Bill proposes stricter criteria for the release of prisoners on parole, focusing on the risk of serious harm to the public. The proposed criteria make it likely that many offenders convicted of violent crime will not be released on parole.

I urge the Home Secretary—if that is necessary, and I do not believe that it is—to continue his predecessor's policy of requiring those responsible for the worst categories of murder to serve at least 20 years. I would include those who kill policemen or prison officers, those responsible for the sexual or sadistic murder of children, terrorist murderers and those who use guns to kill in the course of robbery. Some murderers should never be released. I believe that that point has been fully taken into account by the Home Secretary and his advisers already, without the need for any further discussion in the House. Of the 26 adults convicted of police murders since 1965, none has yet been released. Of the life sentence prisoners convicted of homicide since 1966, eight have been convicted of homicide offences while on licence.

The arguments against capital punishment are well known. They are so strong that they persuaded Parliament to abolish the death penalty in 1965. That has been confirmed by the House as the right decision every time that we have debated the issue since. This may well be my last speech before I retire. I hope that I shall find the vote acceptable.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) will not want me to follow him, as I take a completely different view from him. Nevertheless, we will be sorry to lose him. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman will not change his mind about capital punishment, he will change his mind about his retirement and decide to stay among us. I take a different view because I have been in prison—not just as a visitor—and I know something of what prison life is like.

8.15 pm

There is a part of Irish history that hon. Members need to get in perspective. We have heard a worthy speech from the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and also served at the Home Office. The right hon. Gentleman gave his view—a Welsh view—of Irish history. We heard the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) give a different view. We heard the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) give yet another view. I am entitled to put my view, and my view is a simple one. It has never been answered, and I urge those three right hon. and hon. Members to think about it.

In the south of Ireland, after the signing of the treaty, there was a similar situation to that which prevails in Northern Ireland today. Under De Valera, the irregulars were killing their own people. Fathers were set against sons and sons against fathers. Total catastrophe lay ahead for the Irish Free State. There came into office a man called Kevin O'Higgins. He knew what Irish republican terrorism was about because he had been brought up in the school. He knew that the only way to deal with it was to introduce capital punishment for anyone who held a weapon to do murder. He proceeded accordingly. What happened? Peace was established. De Valera disbanded the irregulars and went into politics and there was a great change in the Irish Free State, which started on the road to democracy. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Mullin

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is not very concerned about the possibility of innocent people being convicted in the Guildford and Birmingham cases, but is he concerned about the four UDR men convicted in Armagh of a murder for which many people, including him, say they are not responsible? Would it trouble him if those people went to the gallows?

Rev. Ian Paisley

If the hon. Gentleman had studied my remarks about the Guildford Four, he would know that he has totally misrepresented my view.

Mr. Mullin

Tell us, then.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I shall develop my argument and, at the end of my speech, the hon. Gentleman will understand where I stand.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh painted his picture, saying that, if capital punishment came again in Northern Ireland, there would be an ungovernable, uncontrollable bloodbath. I heard similar speeches from members of the Social Democratic and Labour party when the hunger strikers died, the position would be uncontrollable and that the police and the Army would not be able to handle it. In other words, it would be curtains for everyone.

Many voices were raised in this House in an attempt to stop the hunger strikers. However, they continued with their hunger strikes, and they died. I do not know how many hon. Members could name those hunger strikers. Indeed, very few people on the streets of Belfast could name those hunger strikers. The real martyrs in Northern Ireland are the police officers, the Army personnel, the UDR men and all the innocent people who have been murdered there. They far exceed in number those other martyrs.

So far, 3,000 people have been killed and 30,000 have been maimed in Northern Ireland. Who are the martyrs? There are so many of them that the only people who weep after the funerals are the immediate family circle.

Let us consider what has been said in the debate. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made an amazing statement. He said that the state does not have the right to take a life. If we believe that, we do not believe in the Army and we do not believe in those policemen who are trained to shoot. When those policemen face criminals or terrorists, they shoot and there will be killings, because it is impossible for them to shoot to maim. People are going to be killed, and the House should be aware that the state has the right to take away a life.

I recall a debate on this subject when I first came to the House 20 years ago. At that time, an Opposition Member said that no Christian could believe in capital punishment.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

No real Christian.

Rev. Ian Paisley

All right, no real Christian.

I asked that Opposition Member whether he thought that the Apostle Paul was a Christian and he said he did. Paul said that, if he had committed a crime worthy of death, he "refused not to die". The Apostle Paul believed in capital punishment. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) who used to attend meetings in Europe with me, will agree that the Apostle Paul was a real Christian.

I believe in the Christian philosophy of Government. The state has the power of the sword. The Government have an ordinance of God to deal with the evildoer and to defend those who do well. I believe with all my heart that the state has the power under God and under a system of justice to execute someone who takes away another person's life. I am not distinguishing between people now: I believe in capital punishment for all who commit murder.

The majority of hon. Members are not living under the conditions that exist in Northern Ireland. They do not follow the coffins or try to help the widows and orphans. That is the daily lot of all of us in Northern Ireland, of all classes and creeds. I represent the whole of Northern Ireland in another place. I know how the votes were cast under proportional representation, and I know the number of Roman Catholics who voted for me. I sympathise with them, and I know that the tears of a Roman Catholic mother are the same as the tears of the Protestant mother. I know, because I have been to their homes. Letters have appeared in the press in Northern Ireland stating that I have visited those places. When that young women was murdered at Warrenpoint, I was one of the first politicians to visit her home.

Those people who are suffering are calling on this House to do something. The prime weapon in the terrorist's armoury is to kill. They have that great weapon. They shoot to kill. Unless Parliament wakes up to the fact that we have to have the supreme deterrent to tell the terrorists that if they kill, they will be killed, the murders will continue.

I regret what the Home Secretary said tonight and I also regret what has been said by the chiefs of police. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), who is the spokesman for the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, is not here tonight to give the federation's official view that it is in favour of capital punishment. The spokesman for the Police Federation of England and Wales has put that view here tonight. I know that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone does not believe in capital punishment, but he should have been here to put the official view to the House. The Police Federation of Northern Ireland represents the policemen who are suffering and being murdered, and they believe that they need that deterrent.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the widows and orphans in Northern Ireland will find not one crumb of comfort from many of tonight's speeches? If the House refuses to take a definite stand against the murderers who have struck in one part of the United Kingdom, the only folk who will find any comfort in Northern Ireland are the terrorists, who will know that the House is not willing to do the job that it should do—to defend the innocent.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I agree with my colleague.

I have been a Member of this place for 20 years. I recall that Frank Macguire was elected as hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He only came to the House on special occasions, but he always attended when there were votes on capital punishment. I asked him why he came here on those occasions, and he used to tell me, "You know the pressures that I would face if I was not here to vote against capital punishment." Those pressures came from the Provisional IRA.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

The House has a duty to listen with special care to what Northern Ireland Members have to say about this issue. Whether or not we agree with them, they are in the most literal sense in the firing line and it is absolutely right that they should express their views with clarity and force. I believe that the idea that every person who commits murder should be executed goes far beyond the bounds of anything that has been suggested so far. I do not believe that much support could be found for that proposition anywhere in the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), in his strongly felt speech, told us that it was two and a half years since we last debated the subject and he felt that it was high time that we debated it once again. I must confess that it does not seem like two and a half years since we last debated it and when I learned of the debate, my first reaction was to say, "Oh, not again." It seemed pointless to go once more through the debate and the votes that will be similar to those that occurred on the previous occasions.

I consoled myself by thinking that the impact of these repeated debates and repeated votes would make the public recognise that Parliament will not change its mind on the issue. Many people might regret that, but there is a growing awareness outside this place that continuing these debates is a little barren.

When I counted my correspondence about this debate, I found one letter in favour of reintroducing capital punishment and one against. There is clearly a change of attitude among the public on the issue. Nevertheless, although an abolitionist, I have always thought carefully about the arguments that make up the subject of our debate. Two aspects in particular have made me think most carefully. One is deterrence and the other is terrorism. It is in those respects that the argument must be reheased most carefully.

I am not one of those who dismiss the notion that deterrence can have an effect in penal concept. By and large, criminals are often more rational, or a t least calculating, than some people are prepared to accept. If one looks at the literature, as I have tried to do, one will see that—although the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seemed to be inclined to the opposite view—there is no clear-cut picture showing that deterrence simply does not work.

8.30 pm

Perhaps the most balanced and authoritative assessment that I can find was by the doyen of British criminologists, Nigel Walker, in his book "Crime and Criminology". He said: Naive beliefs both in the effectiveness and in the ineffectiveness of a policy of deterrence have been replaced by the less exciting realisation that for some length of time some people can be deterred in some situations from some types of conduct by some estimation of likelihood that they will be penalised in some ways; but that we do not yet know enough to enable us to be very specific about the time, the people, the situation, the conduct, or the subjective likelihood or nature of the penalties. That is very far from a clarion call, but it is a fair assessment of our state of knowledge about the impact of deterrence, and we should recognise it as such.

It follows that it is very clear that the onus of proof lies with those who wish to change the present situation and move back to capital punishment. It is for them clearly to make out the case that the reintroduction of capital punishment would have a deterrent effect. I do not believe that they have been able to do so in this debate. I have never denied that there may be some cases in which a murder might not have taken place had we had capital punishment, but, overall, the argument must still be made strongly to move away from our present situation. Deterrence needs careful thought.

The other matter that needs careful thought is that of terrorists. It is not true that all terrorists are fanatically oblivious of the risk of death. After all, they do not carry bombs on to aircraft on which they themselves are flying. The whole basis of aircraft security is that proposition. We must also accept that, in Northern Ireland, the criminal law is finding it hard to deal with terrorism. We have had some interesting discussion about the experience of the 1920s. The hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) argued that the execution by the Irish free state of a large number of IRA members had a deterrent effect that lasted for years. However, against that, we heard the views of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). Those are important and difficult arguments to make.

Against that, I firmly believe that, whatever we think about those points, other potent arguments should lead us to say that the restitution of capital punishment would be a great disaster. The first must be the possibility of error. At this stage, nothing much can be added to what has been said about the possibility of error. However, it has become vivid over the years that people have been convicted and that they would have been sentenced to hang, and we now know for certain that they did not commit those crimes.

Even if some people would have been deterred from murder because of the threat of capital punishment, we must set that against the innocent people, or at least the people whose cases have not been adequately proven, if we are to make a fair judgment. I simply do not believe that public opinion, however initially sympathetic it may be to the idea of bringing back capital punishment, would welcome a succession of occasions on which mistakes of that gravity were made. If we refer back a generation, the Timothy Evans affair had a devastating effect on capital punishment at the time. Inescapably, the Guildford affair and those of other people who have been wrongly convicted would mean that public opinion simply would not tolerate the conviction of people who are not guilty.

Mr. Janman

It it not the case that the reverse applies? The vast majority—99.99 per cent.—of convictions would be accurate. It certainly would not be the case that the public would see a succession of wrongful convictions. If the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) is correct, jurors are even more careful to make sure that, when they convict of murder, the evidence is absolutely clear. Surely, even compared with the 1950s and 1960s, that would reduce even more the chances of wrongful convictions.

Mr. Raison

Jurors are as careful as they possibly can be. It cannot be argued that they have been light-hearted in their approach to such matters. The impact of even a limited number of cases in which convictions have proved unsound would be of devastating effect. As I said, that was so in the case of Timothy Evans. It is perhaps the strongest single argument.

There are also arguments about practicalities. When one mentions practicalities, one is talking not only about technical details, but about matters of major substance. The first is who would ultimately decide whether somebody should be executed. That question has recurred in the debate. Should it be the jury, the judges or the Home Secretary? Somebody must make the decision. Already, new clause 3 has been shot to pieces by the position of the Lord Chief Justice and by the common sense of a situation in which one is asking the justices of the Court of Appeal to make decisions when many of them would come to those decisions with a passionate disbelief in the rightness of capital punishment. It would be an appalling burden to put on to those judges.

At the same time, there is inherent in new clause 3 the idea of an instant retrial. The new clause includes the notion of a special sitting of the Court of Appeal which would be allowed to look at matters which had not been considered in the original trial. That is an extraordinary idea. I can see why it would sometimes be necessary, after the passage of time, but to have it as an instant sequel to those cases would be very difficult. It would pose tremendous problems for the Home Secretary to carry the decision. Many of our Home Secretaries have been strongly opposed to capital punishment.

In every respect, those arguments are most difficult. There is then the matter, which I shall not embellish, of who would carry out the execution, and how. Tremendous problems flow from that.

We must recognise the prospect of an appalling, morbid, bizarre public interest in the sequence of events. We have seen on television American criminals in death cells. I do not think that that would necessarily happen here, but there would be a tremendous hyping-up. Our popular newspapers would go to town in the most lurid way. There would be demonstrations and pickets, and possibly public disorder. We should not be blackmailed by such activity, but it would create a climate that would make it extremely difficult in practice to carry out more than a few such executions.

Mr. Wilshire

My right hon. Friend says that we should not be blackmailed by the arguments. Does he accept that it might not be blackmail and that it might be a very good thing not to allow that to happen? We could be looking at blood lust and the dehumanising of society rather than being put under pressure to opt for capital punishment. I do not think that we should be apologetic. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree with me.

Mr. Raison

I come to the same conclusion as my hon. Friend. Capital punishment in the modern world would be deeply repellent in many ways.

There is also the difficult question of what would be deemed capital murder. Two of the new clauses propose that the killing of a police or prison officer should be deemed sufficient to bring back capital punishment. I find it hard to accept that the law enforcement services should be singled out in that way. We owe a tremendous amount to them—I owe a tremendous amount to the police in my constituency and have great respect for them—but it does not make sense to pick out one group in the population. Let us consider, for example, a bank robbery in which both a Securicor guard and a policeman were shot dead. The killer of one would be liable to execution, but the killer of the other would not. If that sort of nonsense happened, it would tear apart the proposition we are considering.

I do not believe that the police themselves are strongly committed to that proposition. It is not for me to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who ably represents the Police Federation, but I am absolutely certain that many policemen in this country would dislike the idea that they and they alone should receive that special protection. That proposition is no more sustainable than the argument that it is worse for a service man to be killed in war than a civilian.

Finally, we return not to questions of formal logic or rationalisation, but to one's own profound beliefs in the kind of society and world for which one is working. These are the things that are hardest to put into words. One knows what one believes and one knows that, with equal conviction, honesty and sincerity, others believe the opposite. However, to take the step of bringing back on to the statute book the execution of those who have committed murder would be to retreat from the peaceable kingdom that we want to see. Therefore, I hope that the House will once again reject the new clauses.

Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

Tragically, murder is no stranger to my constituency. By a bizarre coincidence, today is the 27th anniversary of the very day in 1963 when two men were hanged—one in Bristol and one in Winchester—for the murder of a farmer in my constituency. The motive for their crime was robbery, and the sum they gained was £4. For £4, three people died—the farmer and the two murderers. One of the two men later claimed to have been a victim of the supernatural. Having been cautioned, he asked the interviewing officer, "We are over 21, so I suppose we can hang?"

During the 20 years that I have represented my constituency, we have, since the abolition of the death penalty, had four more identified murders. In the case of one, the offender was committed to an institution. In the second case, the offender used what is known as "the Portsmouth defence"—which I understand is a polite way of saying that he used undue and unnecessary violence in responding to an improper sexual advance—and, as a consequence, received what many people would regard as a light sentence. In the third case, the Director of Public Prosecutions was reluctant to proceed because he was not happy with the evidence, and in the fourth case, the magistrates decided that there was no prima facie evidence against the accused on which to commit him for trial.

The point that I wish to make is that, in the case of the murder for £4, the two men—on the admission of one—still proceeded with the crime, despite their awareness that the gallows was the logical and inevitable consequence of the commission of that crime. To them, the death penalty was not a deterrent. Nor could it have been—had it existed —at the time of the four more recent murders. Therefore, in my opinion, the death penalty per se is not a deterrent to anybody embarking on an act that can result in an unlawful killing. Indeed, if from the works of Hogarth and Rowlandson we can see that, when public execution was the penalty for something as minimal as stealing, pickpockets stood in the crowd near the scaffold and plied their skill and trade while a felon was dangling before them as a solitary example and deterrent.

Again, the suggestion would seem to be reinforced that the criminal's mind does not, at the time he is committing the crime, dwell on the penalty likely ultimately to be inflicted by society. Indeed, it could be argued that the real deterrent for somebody embarking on any crime, be it a civil "crime", a non-violent crime or an unlawful killing, is probably based more on, first, being seen; secondly, being informed against; thirdly, being detected; fourthly, being convicted; and only then, fifthly, as a last consideration, the question of the possible penalty.

8.45 pm

Yet having said that, my own gut reaction is still that capital punishment has an important role in the armoury of law and order. The public want it; the public call for it and they feel that they would be much more secure with it. The police and prison services believe that their front-line task of detaining and then containing violent and vicious people would be made more secure and safer were the death penalty still to exist in this country.

The House disregards at its peril the joint cry of people, police and prison officers for what they see as the ultimate protection rather than the ultimate deterrent. Therefore, tonight, as in every similar Division since 1970, I shall support the reintroduction of capital punishment, as encompassed in new clause 5.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I intend to be brief. This is either the 22nd time that we have discussed this matter—according to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—or it is the 19th time, but as we come back to this subject time and time again, I want to make one protest. I accept the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that perhaps the public are beginning more and more to realise that this House is not minded to change its view. I know not whether that is actually happening, but it would be a benefit.

However, something else is happening at the same time. We are cheating those of our constituents who think that we will change our view. In fact, it is very unlikely that the House will change its mind. I have no doubt that the majority tonight will be similar to those in the past. It should be noted that that majority will be led by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—and will include the whole Cabinet, with one possible exception. It would be interesting if the House were to change its mind. What would the Government do? What would be the constitutional position? We have a free vote only when the Government know what the result will be.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we have had free votes in the past, but that has not always been the case. There was trouble with the Homicide Act 1957, which was driven through on a three-line Whip. The Government needed it and used it. My protest is simple. By constantly returning to this subject, we do no good —and we do no good to many of our constituents also.

If I had been minded to change my mind, that would have been made impossible for me by what has happened in the past few years. When I last addressed the House on this subject, I gave the House a list of 10 cases that had been referred, by Home Secretaries over the years, back to the Court of Appeal. With varying degrees of certainty, but in each case, the cases were rejected, and it was said that those previously found guilty were not guilty. We should now add to that the case of the Guildford Four, on which I have just one brief comment. Nobody could conceivably read the summing up or look at the evidence given 16 years ago—this is not criticism of either the judge or the jury—without inevitably concluding that we would have used capital punishment at that time if it had been available. We did not use the death penalty.

It is noticeable that when the case came before the Court of Appeal on the final occasion, the Director of Public Prosecutions did not fight the case. He said, "1 have looked at the new evidence and I have decided that I am not even prepared to ask the court to continue with this case. I ask the court to quash the conviction." Those men were wrongly convicted. That is the phrase I use. If we had used capital punishment, they would have been murdered in our name.

Mr. Hunter

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief speech in this debate but regret that I follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), with whom on this occasion I find myself in profound disagreement.

I wish to speak to new clause 2, tabled in my name, to which there have been many references in the past almost three and a half hours debate. It is supported by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who is the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) and others.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) opened the debate, he said that there had been criticism that the debate was taking place. That sentiment was echoed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). It is argued that only two and a half years ago the general subject of capital punishment was well debated and on that occasion the House rejected the reintroduction of the death penalty. I do not apologise for tabling one of the new clauses that led to the debate. I remain wholly unrepentant. It is right that the Committee should consider the broad theme which—I agree, in an amateur way—I have sought to convey in the wording of my new clause. The death penalty should be imposed on A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of murder committed as, or in pursuit of, an act of terrorism.".

Mr. Wilshire

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hunter

Not for the moment.

Not all hon. Members realise that, in the two and a half years since we last debated the theme, over 500 people have died in the United Kingdom as a result of terrorist activities. Almost 2,500 have been injured. As far as I have been able to discover, that is a macabre and unwanted United Kingdom record for any two-and-a-half year period. Therefore, I make no apologies for introducing the theme of capital punishment.

After a terrorist outrage, the reintroduction of the death penalty is high on the agenda in pubs, clubs and homes throughout the country. It is entirely right that, during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill the Committee should debate capital punishment and I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate.

As the arguments for and against the reintroduction of the death penalty are so well known, one can be extremely brief. One can speak more in paragraph headings than in substantive detail. I shall concentrate on two things. First, I wish to explain why I am convinced that the death penalty should be restored for murder committed as, or in pursuit of, an act of terrorism. I use the word "convinced" advisedly, because for me this is conviction politics. I have not always believed in the reintroduction of capital punishment. During my adult life I have changed my views and I now believe that it should be reintroduced. Secondly, I shall refer briefly to one argument that is often used against the reintroduction of capital punishment, an argument that we have heard this evening.

Let us have no illusions. By any diabolical criteria of judgment, terrorist murder is among the most cruel, calculated, callous and deliberate of all murders. In general, the modern terrorist is a highly sophisticated, highly trained and highly equipped dealer in death. In the United Kingdom, the terrorist effectively declares war on a free, open, liberal and democratic society. That is far removed from the armed struggles of liberation movements in countries with oppressive regimes.

I stress immediately that, in describing terrorism as war waged against society, one makes no concession to any claim for recognition of status, which the terrorist often makes. "War against society" is merely the appropriate description of the terrorist's use of the bomb and bullet.

To return to fundamentals, the state exists to promote and protect the interests of the individual. It is the state's duty to fight terrorism. I argue that the death penalty is an essential weapon in the armoury of the state in its on-going fight against terrorism and that, by failing to use it, as is now the case, the state fails in its twin obligations of fighting terrorism in the most effective way and protecting and promoting the interests of the individual in the most effective way.

First and foremost, the reintroduction of the death penalty for terrorist murder would be a moral statement of our total and utter repugnance of terrorism. It is surely right that our repugnance should be demonstrated by reserving for terrorist murder the ultimate sentence that courts can pronounce.

Secondly, the reintroduction of the death penalty for terrorist murder would bring due retribution to the terrorist murderer. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland suggested during his interesting speech that retribution should be left to the divine. Neither of us is fully qualified to pursue the debate, but I have always understood that an essential part of Christian theology is that the state has its part to play in the divine ordering of things. The blood of the innocent cries out for vengeance. We should be able to look to the state with confidence for that vengeance. The murdered and the maimed deserve no less.

Thirdly, the terrorist most emphatically sees the death penalty as a deterrent. To fail to understand that is to fail to understand the psychology of the terrorist. If any hon. Member believes that the IRA, for example, does not regard the death penalty as a deterrent, I respectfully suggest that he or she is profoundly mistaken.

If the IRA does not regard the death penalty as a deterrent, why does it inflict the death penalty on its members who break its code? It does so because it believes that by so doing it will deter others from following that course of action. If the IRA would welcome the reintroduction of the death penalty, as some hon. Members have argued this evening, why did it plead against the death penalty when Joe Cahill, the last member of the IRA to be in this position, was under sentence of death in the Republic of Ireland? The IRA did so because it was frightened of the impact that the execution would have on its movement.

9 pm

If the IRA does not fear the reintroduction of the death penalty, why did it threaten that, were capital punishment reintroduced, three British soldiers would die for every member of the IRA hanged? If the IRA does not fear the reintroduction of the death penalty, why did it try to intimidate this House against making such a decision by the brutal murder of six people on the day when we debated this subject in July 1983? It was because the IRA was frightened that we might vote for reintroduction.

Remember, the death penalty has never been abolished in Northern Ireland. It continues to this day in the form of tit-for-tat, sectarian murders. The greatest terrorist threat to the United Kingdom in Great Britain and Northern Ireland comes from the IRA. My straightforward plea and heartfelt conviction is nothing other than that IRA murderers should hang.

What about the Guildford Four? Every Member of Parliament and everyone who addresses the subject must come to terms with that. Let us keep the matter in perspective. There is no compelling evidence that the Guildford Four would have hanged—[Interruption.] Neither the police nor the jury would necessarily have behaved as they did had the death penalty been in existence. The death penalty did not exist in the 1970s, so the argument about whether innocent people might have hanged is purely academic. The relevant question is whether the Guildford miscarriage of justice could happen again. Much has been said and written about that. In my opinion, it could not.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hunter

In a moment.

Recently, a senior police officer said: One thing is certain, no juror will ever forget Guildford. In the aftermath of Guildford and, perhaps, Birmingham, which Crown court jury in a trial brought on the basis of confession evidence will set much store by that evidence? Certainly, jurors will be mindful of the possibility that what is being presented to them is what Lord Lane described as a "choreography of perjury".

Mr. Maclennan

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that if, following the reintroduction of capital punishment, no jurors will forget Guildford, the likely logic is that they will fail to convict?

Mr. Hunter

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and those of us who propound the reintroduction of the death penalty must come to terms with it. I concede that convictions would be harder to secure. The Guildford and Birmingham cases are salutary experiences for our process of justice. Because of that, we can have more, not less, confidence that justice will be done.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Our great anxiety is that nobody can know what the court would have said to the Guildford Four if capital punishment had existed. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, his is wishful thinking. He does not know. At the end of the day, there was a risk, although how big it was is debatable, that those convicted by the courts could have been hanged by the neck.

Mr. Hunter

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is more important that I proceed. I sense that other hon. Members wish to speak.

The tragedies of Guildford and, perhaps, Birmingham, coupled with the reintroduction of the death penalty, will make it virtually certain that such miscarriages of justice never occur again.

In conclusion, let me summarise my argument simply: I have no hesitation in saying that our fight against terrorism, most especially IRA terrorism, will be stronger and more effective if the death penalty is restored.

Mrs. Peacock

I should like to confine my remarks to new clause 3. Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the new clause was not compatible with British justice. In that case, he should introduce a suitable clause that is compatible and technically correct, so that the death penalty is returned to the statute book.

This subject generates more heat than light, and deeply held personal convictions are rarely swayed. Capital punishment is a moral question as well as a practical policy matter, and one strand cannot be separated from the other. In the short time available to me, I cannot hope to change views and I believe there will be precious few floating voters in the Lobby tonight. I shall, however, set out some of the arguments for and against capital punishment while suggesting, on balance, that those in favour are more convincing.

Whatever the Committee decides, if we had a national referendum today it would demonstrate overwhelming support for the reintroduction of capital punishment—to be used as and when necessary rather than for a specific category of crime. I should explain that I have had for many years deeply held convictions about capital punishment that have not been arrived at lightly or without serious consideration of the moral issue involved. I can merely recount my personal views, but I believe that they are widely supported in the country, as they are in my constituency.

There have been 17 debates in the House in the past 30 years, all of which have resulted in an abolitionist stance on capital punishment. It was removed from the statute book for a trial period and then absolutely in 1969. The arguments for and against have been well rehearsed and are widely known. We all agree that there is little new that one can add to the argument, but it is right that we should respond to the many people who feel that this matter should be debated from time to time.

I believe that capital punishment would be the supreme deterrent. In evidence, I draw attention to the fundamental changes that have taken place in society since the partial abolition of the death penalty in 1965 and its full abolition in 1969. Recent tragic events, many in Ulster, and the recent murder of two consultants at Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, are graphic examples of the fact that the possession of and resort to lethal weapons has become commonplace in Britain. Only this year, an elderly lady constituent of mine, aged 92, was murdered in her house, which was part of a terrace, at 6 o'clock at night, but nobody heard the attack and, as yet, no one has been found responsible for that dreadful crime. At one time, such attacks were associated with metropolitan areas only, but now they are widespread.

Figures on crime can be made to say different things. It is true, however, that those figures reflect the general increase in the level of crime and the fact that, in the past couple of years, there has been an increase in willingness to report crime. No absolute proof for or against capital punishment can be obtained from figures. The deterrent effect of capital punishment cannot be proven by statistics. It is impossible to calculate how many people would be deterred from carrying and using firearms if capital punishment was available to the courts.

I do not accept the argument that many criminals in the course of a burglary carry arms just in case—if they do not intend to use them, they should not carry them. A misleading argument that is often advanced by abolitionists is that the reintroduction of capital punishment would encourage a nothing-to-lose attitude among certain sections of the public, but I assure the House that such an attitude already exists on our streets.

So far, the undercurrent of my speech has been that murder has become commonplace. There are those who argue that the absence of capital punishment is the mark of a civilised society, but the hacking to death of a policeman in our streets in recent years or the gunning down of security guards or other innocent people who come between thugs and their goal surely cannot be the marks of a civilised society. The criminal law in this country simply no longer provides credible sanction for the most heinous form of wrongdoing. Surely we are all agreed that something must be done.

The majority of people in this country are in favour of the reintroduction of the death penalty. According to polls conducted in recent years for national newspapers, a steady 90 per cent. of the large samples interviewed support the substance of the measure. The strength of feeling in constituencies where I have spoken around the country has not, and does not, alter. There is a strong feeling that the death penalty would act as a deterrent.

Only this past weekend, the Yorkshire Evening Post—a well-known evening newspaper in Yorkshire—carried out its own referendum. The result was that 2,505 callers were in favour of capital punishment and 444 were against. That referendum was conducted between the newspaper coming out on Friday afternoon and midnight that evening. BBC Radio Leeds carried out a poll this morning during a short 20-minute programme, when 327 people phoned in in favour of the death penalty and 37 against. They are only small samples, but they show the general feeling throughout the country today.

I realise that we are here as Members of Parliament and not delegated to put forward the exact views of our constituents, as trade union representatives might do at a conference. However, we have a responsibility to represent our constituents' views in debates in the House. We should do the best we can to protect our constituents' interests. If people in this country decide that their interests are best protected by the death penalty as a sanction for murder, who are hon. Members to decide differently? Do we all have secret information that persuades us to decide otherwise?

Mr. Wilshire

We have our consciences.

Mrs. Peacock

My hon. Friend says that we have our consciences—we should have a conscience for the victims. We have heard a great deal today about what happens to the actual murderers, but little mention in the House about the victims, their families or the follow-on from such tragic events. We have a right to look at those responsibilities.

We should not take a paternalistic or arrogant attitude to matters in this debate just because we have been elected and have two letters after our names. That does not make us different from other people; it does not mean that we should not listen to the views of our constituents. It is high time that we as Members of Parliament came down from our ivory towers, did what the people of Britain want us to do and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty—as we should do in the Lobby tonight.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I shall speak briefly on new clause 4. We all agree that treason is one of the most horrible and foul crimes—that has always been so in England and in any civilised society. It seems utterly extraordinary that the movers of the new clause have chosen this time to bring forward the new and revolutionary idea of letting off traitors with a prison sentence. Have they no knowledge of recent history? Do they not know the immense damage that a catalogue of traitors has caused to the country since the war, from Blunt to Blake and from Philby to any number of lesser traitors? What sort of signal does the new clause send to any evil-minded person who might consider becoming a traitor? Why reduce the sentence for the most heinous of crimes just at this time because of a liberal, wishy-washy idea that has no support from our constituents except among the chattering classes and possibly readers of The Guardian?

The people whom we represent are troubled today as never before by crimes of violence. They are troubled by terrorism and, from time to time, by treason. Have the movers of the new clause any idea of how ordinary people feel about these grave matters? Listening to the speeches of some hon. Members today, I have been amazed by how out of touch with their constituents they seem to be.

9.15 pm

We are sent here to represent ordinary, decent, law-abiding people who look to us to uphold the full rigour of the law. We have all English history behind us. This afternoon, I looked up in the Library the Treason Act 1351, which in part states: When a Man doth compass or imagine the Death of our Lord the King, or of our Lady his Queen, or of their eldest Son and Heir; or if a Man do violate the King's … Daughter … or if a Man do levy War against … the King … they ought to be judged Treason". We would all say amen to that.

Those who support the new clause stand opposed to centuries of English history. Their views are those of a tiny minority, completely out of touch with public opinion. The new clause deserves to be decisively rejected.

Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)

I shall vote in favour of new clause 1 and have lent my name to it because I believe in the sanctity of life and I am in favour of saving life, not taking it. It is only by having a deterrent that life will be saved. It is particularly appropriate that I should have been called this evening, since I am the only Birmingham Member to have spoken apart from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), and the word "Birmingham" has occurred time and again in the debate and been used for various purposes.

The terrible explosions that night took place in New street at the Tavern in the Town, a pub kept by one of my councillors, and at another pub. Both were blown up. Incredible carnage was wrought, not by accident or mistake but by design—and not against the state, but against innocent people, whose blood ran through the gutters of Birmingham that night.

The people of Birmingham are in no doubt whether they believe in capital punishment as a deterrent. This evening's Birmingham Evening Mail, which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will not have read yet, announces that it has just conducted an in-depth analysis of its readers' views. They have overwhelmingly, knowing all the facts of this and other matters, declared that more than 85 per cent. of them are in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment at this opportune time for a debate, when there is a new Prime Minister and a new Home Secretary.

I am a comparatively new Member of the House, having been here only since 1979. I have taken part in seven debates on the subject and have voted in favour of the death penalty in all 15 votes—as I shall again tonight. Let us not denigrate the views of the people whom we represent. They are the views of the democracy that we are supposed to translate into this Chamber. They are expressed concisely in this evening's Birmingham Evening Mail editorial, which says of Members of Parliament: They claim to consider matters on a higher plane than the gut emotional reaction of voters who put them there in the first place. The arguments mainly ranged against reintroducing the death penalty are that it is inhumane, that it does not act as a deterrent and that miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified. This last point is likely to weigh heavily on MPs … But the man in the street clearly remains unconvinced. Unfortunately for public opinion, MPs are not. My views and those of my constituents are crystal clear. Britain has rejected a policy that has been successful in other areas, the philosophy of the deterrent. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member wishes to speak, he should ask you, Sir Paul. He has not been here very long and I should be obliged if he would allow me to proceed.

The philosophy of the deterrent has been successful in the other areas in which it has been used. Without the deterrent of the nuclear bomb, we should not now be disarming and seeing peace and diminishing aggression.

We are told that the figures are unclear. The homicide statistics are palpably clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has explained. The number of homicides decreased substantially from 1946 to 1964, but they doubled between 1969 band 1989. Such points are made elsewhere in an excellent book that I have—the Government statistics. The Spanish figures on page 16 show that, after capital punishment had been abolished, homicides per million of the population rose from 5 per cent. in 1978 to 23 per cent. this year. Similarly, the Japanese percentage declined by half when capital punishment was in force.

The last page shows the American statistics, which reveal that the percentage per million is lower where capital punishment is in force than where it is not. That is sustainable country by country, perimeter by perimeter, sector by sector. When I last moved and spoke to a new clause in 1983 which proposed capital punishment for the murder of a policeman while performing his duty, it failed by only 81 votes, the smallest margin by which such a new clause has failed since I entered Parliament.

I hope that hon. Members will look not only at their consciences but at the statistics. I hope that they will bear in mind our responsibility to the people whom we represent. Overwhelmingly they tell us that there is a tremendous case to do what they, under our democratic system, have asked us to do, and reintroduce capital punishment for specific types of crime, including murder.

Mr. Sayeed

The last judicial execution occurred 27 years ago today in Horfield prison, Bristol. Some of the older residents of Bristol remember it well in a variety of ways. They view capital punishment with either repugnance or great anger. We can all understand the repugnance. For the state to kill a person is repugnant. We must also understand what their anger is about: it is caused by their feeling that this Parliament of the people neglects the people's views. It does so partly because the format for our debates is too rigid. We have to codify, to use clear legal language and to be specific. We have to vote on a specific legal measure, and this can be limiting.

We should have the opportunity to debate the principle of capital punishment before deciding on any aspect of it. We should have the opportunity to answer this question: does the state have the right to authorise its servants to take life outside times of war or to save life? Put simply, is judicial killing right? Only when that question has been answered can we answer the questions about what methods may be used or to what crimes capital punishment should be applied or what safeguards are necessary.

Many arguments have been adduced for and against capital punishment, but they fall into three groups. First, the suggestion is that it is never right to take life. That is a perfectly honourable and respectable view to hold, but it is naive.

Secondly—I am using shorthand terms—is capital punishment a deterrent? We have been told both that it will and will not deter terrorists. I believe that the first terrorist who is judicially executed may be a martyr, but the following ones will be mugs. To support that argument, I ask who remembers the names of those who died through the hunger strikes. Bobby Sands is probably the only one who will be remembered.

People also query whether capital punishment will deter the domestic murder. Although there is no proof, it is said that it will not. Thirdly, we come to one of the most serious arguments—one that should not be ducked—against capital punishment, and that is the possibility of making mistakes.

My answers to the queries are as follows. First, the state has the right to take life. Secondly, except for those who are intent on self-immolation, and there are only a few of them, we can be certain that the death penalty will at least not encourage murder. I believe, and common sense tells me, that it is likely to deter some murders. On the third point, there is a possibility—it may be only theoretical—given appropriate safeguards, that mistakes can be made, as men are not infallible. Mistakes have been made in letting murderers out from gaol. Some 59 people have been murdered by people who have been let out of gaol after committing other murders.

A society that treats life, rather than how life is led, as the most precious thing, should demonstrate its utter repugnance of the actions of certain individuals. It can do that by exercising the ultimate sanction of judicial killing.

I do not agree with all the new clauses. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has tabled an interesting new clause. I agree with its aim, but not with its specifics. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has suggested that the murder of police officers should attract the supreme penalty. I disagree with him. Why should police officers be singled out as those who should be especially protected? After all, they enter a profession—it is one that we value—knowing the risks that are involved. They are paid to be police officers. Why, as others have asked, should a police officer who tries to apprehend a criminal and is shot make that criminal liable to a capital sentence when he would not be subject to that risk if an ordinary civilian tried to apprehend him?

Mr. Gale

Will my hon. Friend give way on that?

9.30 pm
Mr. Sayeed

No, I shall not give way. I have little time available to me, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

I support capital punishment. I shall support the cause of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale but only because I support the principle behind it and believe that that principle should be implemented.

This is an important debate. As we are discussing an issue that will not go away, it would be for the benefit of the House of Commons if in future we could come to a decision on the principle of capital punishment before arriving at decisions on related specifics.

Mr. Janman

I shall speak to new clause 3 and then turn to some of the wider arguments that stem from it. At this stage in a debate it is almost certain that I shall be repetitious, and I apologise in advance should that prove to be so. It is interesting that new clause 3 answers some of the concerns that have been expressed about the reintroduction of capital punishment. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have asked, "If we believe in the deterrent effect of reintroducing capital punishment, why should the deterrent apply only to certain categories of murder?" The new clause does not suggest in its provisions that prison officers, policemen or any other members of society will be protected by the deterrent effect and that others will not. It will apply to all cases of murder.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, the new clause would mean that someone who committed murder would not know what the eventual outcome would be. Thus, while providing a deterrent effect, the clause provides a safety net or a second hurdle. It means that, after the case has been heard and the initial court has convicted, or found the defendant guilty, and imposed a sentence of capital punishment in accordance with legislation placed on the statute book by Parliament, there will be a period of review. The new clause would ensure that the Court of Appeal would have an opportunity to ensure that there were no mitigating circumstances that should lead to the sentence being commuted to life imprisonment.

New clause 3 is the most comprehensive of the proposed new clauses that we are considering. It is the most logical, and it is the one that will take us nearest to the position that pertained before abolition. There was capital punishment then, but it was used judiciously and not merely for the sake of using it.

I support capital punishment because it provides a deterrent. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) quoted statistics, and others have repeated them. It is worth homing in on the statistics, because they are so important. They are British statistics that relate to the experience and history of our country and to those whom we represent. It is a fact that the murder rate has more than doubled from about six per million to over 12 per million since abolition. There are those who say that crime generally has been increasing—I accept that the rates of many different types of crime have increased—but between 1945 and 1964, when the murder rate stayed on a plateau, the background to that was a doubling of crime rates generally. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was perhaps being optimistic when he said that, during that period, the murder rate declined.

It was not against a background of crime in general remaining static. The fact that crime has been rising from 1965 does not nullify the fact that, between 1945 and 1964, the murder rate was on a plateau, but that since the abolition of capital punishment it has more than doubled.

Much use has been made tonight of foreign statistics. As I said in an intervention in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), in the United States as a whole—we must remember that many of its states retain capital punishment—the murder rate between 1970 and 1988 rose only from 7.9 per 100,000 of the population to 8.4 per 100,000. That country has many communities and cities which, unfortunately for them, are some of the most violent and homicidal in the world, yet its murder rate has risen only marginally while Britain's has more than doubled.

Statistics for individual states in the USA can be used to draw all sorts of different conclusions by any person with good powers of analysis. The figures for individual states conceal more than they reveal. For example, the ratio in one state may be different from that in another simply because of an influx of people to that state, none of whom has committed murder. We cannot draw too much on the statistics for individual states, but the overall murder rate for the USA as a whole has hardly changed since 1970 because many individual states retain capital punishment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) pre-empted some of what I had intended to say when he referred to Spain and Japan. However, it is worth recording that Japan has retained capital punishment for murder. Unlike previous speakers, I do not propose that we should extend the remit of the courts to impose capital punishment for other sorts of crime. The number of murders in Japan since 1974 per million of the population has fallen from 17.4 to 13.8. In Greece—a country that my hon. Friend did not mention—where capital punishment was abolished in 1972, the murder rate increased from 8.7 per million in 1974 to 15.4 in 1986.

I was astonished to hear the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) say that there was no evidence to prove the deterrent theory. I could accept an hon. Member saying that it is difficult to conclude from the statistics whether there is a deterrent effect, but my close study of the statistics leads me to believe that it is without foundation for anyone to say that the statistics do not, at the very least, leave room for doubt. If the statistics from various countries point to anything, they point to the fact that capital punishment deters.

Let us talk not just about statistics, but about real life. In the east end of London—which is near my constituency—and in some parts of Essex, it would be optimistic to suggest there there is not a large number of people who embark on criminal activity. My constituents tell me all sorts of anecdotes about what used to happen and what happens now. In days gone by, when capital punishment existed, criminals checked each other to ensure that they were not carrying what is known in my part of the world as a shooter. They knew that, if one of their colleagues carried a gun, they could all swing for it. That self-policing and that desire to reduce the enthusiasm of their criminal colleagues to carry guns have been negated by the fact that the ultimate deterrent, capital punishment, does not exist.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) said that, if he were faced with the option of a 20-year sentence or capital punishment, he would choose the latter. I wonder whether he would still say that if death were facing him. Death is and must be the ultimate deterrent. I do not believe that any man who was sentenced to death would refuse the possibility of his sentence being commuted to life imprisonment, and that is the real test. A legal historian last century, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, explained why. He said: All that a man has, will he give for his life. In any secondary punishment, however terrible, there is hope; but death is death; its terrors cannot be described more forcibly". That historian summed it up in a nutshell. A person sentenced to life imprisonment will always have the hope that some do-gooder will come along and convince the Establishment and the authorities that he should be let out and that at some time he will again have his liberty and see the light of day.

Another main reason why I support bringing back capital punishment is public opinion. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that he did not believe that the state should have the power to take a person's life. What did he mean by the "state"? Did he mean the British nation state which, as many of us observe, is gradually being undermined? Did he mean the Government? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, if he means the Government—I assume that he does—he is talking about a Government acting on behalf of the citizens of the state.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley put it so eloquently, lucidly and passionately, every opinion poll has shown that the citizens of the state, the people who should decide what the state does on these issues, are wholeheartedly in favour of bringing back capital punishment. The support for bringing back capital punishment is just as strong in Thurrock as it is in the fine city of Birmingham.

I do not like reading out long quotes, but I should like to quote a letter that Enoch Powell wrote to The Daily Telegraph in 1974. I choose that man because he was an abolitionist and voted against capital punishment. He wrote: I should be the last to imply that a Member of Parliament ought to subordinate his judgment of what is wise or right to even the most overwhelming majority of opinion. If he believes a thing harmful, he must not support it; if he thinks it unjust, he must denounce it. In those judgments the opinion of those he represents has no claim over him. But capital punishment is not for me in that category: it is not self-evidently harmful, nor self-evidently unjust. I cannot therefore deny that in this context a settled and preponderant public demand ought to be taken into account or that at a certain point it would have to prevail. I do not believe that point has been reached; but it would be disingenuous for me to deny that it could exist. I contend that we have now reached that point. If the views of people in my local pub are anything to go by—we have all heard views put to us in our local pubs—people are even more in favour of reintroducing capital punishment than they were in 1974. Several people said to me, "Ten years ago, Mr. Janman, we did not support capital punishment, but now, with terrorist offences and the increase in the number of child murders, we believe that this must be looked at again. We believe that Parliament has got it wrong."

Let me return to the comments of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. He said that the state should not have the power to take a person's life. He was very honest about it; he said that, even if he thought that the deterrence argument was correct, he would still hold to that view. But who is the right hon. Gentleman and who are those who vote against capital punishment to impose their moral and ethical views of capital punishment on the majority of people in this country? The majority of people—and, presumably, if the polls are correct, the majority of those whom the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook represents—want capital punishment back. The general view of people in this country is that it is not immoral to vote for capital punishment. Given the proven case for the deterrent effect, I contend that it is immoral to vote against something which would save a large number—probably hundreds—of innocent lives every year.

I had intended to speak for longer, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) and others wish to speak. Parliament must reflect on the fact that the vast majority of people in this country, who live in the real world and with the real consequences of abolition—a vastly increased murder rate—want capital punishment back. Let us vote to bring it back tonight.

9.45 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Without mincing my words, let me say that the House of Commons always fails to reflect public opinion on this matter. Every opinion poll and every radio survey tells us that the people of Britain would like the ultimate deterrent to be put in place. When I came to the House, I vainly thought that my small influence on the Back Benches would produce a country where women could walk to their friends' and relations' houses and to the shops without fear of being raped or murdered, where the elderly could go out after dark and were safe in their own homes and where children could play without fear of being molested or murdered. That is not the sort of society that we have produced, and I will tell the House why: we do not have the ultimate deterrent to the most evil offence.

The police, who are at the sharp end of the game, have to detect and apprehend criminals. They want capital punishment restored. Who are we to deny our unarmed police that facility? It is absolutely disgraceful. Does anyone in the Committee know how much it has cost so far for Myra Hindley and Ian Brady to be kept in a mental hospital and in prison? It has cost £250,000. Much of that money is paid out of the taxes of the bereaved whose little children they murdered and buried one mile above my house in Saddleworth moor. Today, we would have to find something like £500,000 to sustain someone convicted of murder in prison for 30 years. That is absolutely disgraceful.

What sort of people are we? I will tell the House. Our armed forces are the envy of the world. General Eisenhower said that he would rather serve next to a British soldier than any other service man in the world. If we are strong on defence—if we are the sort of nation that will not be pushed around—why are we so woolly-headed and mealy-mouthed about capital punishment?

We should take note of the speech made by the reverend Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who sees his people being killed day after day and visits the bereaved whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. For the murder of a police officer or prison warder, for going to commit a crime with a weapon, and killing, and for the murder of a child, people ought to suffer the rope. It is retribution—perhaps it is revenge—but, my goodness, it is the ultimate deterrent. Dr. Johnson once said that nothing concentrates the mind like the imminent fear of death.

Sir Winston Churchill said, "Trust the people." Why does Parliament not trust the people? Whatever papers we read, the public demand capital punishment.

Mr. Mallon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dickens

No, the hon. Member made a long speech earlier.

It is absurd that we are having this debate today. There have been only a few by-elections since 1988. Those of us who want the reintroduction of capital punishment are on a hiding to nothing, because we know the stance that most hon. Members will take. The debate keeps the ball in play, but it encourages people to believe that we might be successful tonight. We should really have held fire and allowed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to settle in a bit. We should have had time to work on him. We should have waited for the next general election and an increased Conservative majority. We would then have got capital punishment through Parliament.

It gives me no great pleasure to vote for someone's death. That is against all my beliefs as a Christian. However, I am prepared to vote for it, because the state has a duty to protect its citizens. Parliament is a long way from protecting the citizens. If we do not control the most evil of crimes and set a tough tariff, judges will give carpet-slipper sentences instead of using hobnail boots.

Whether we win the vote or not, we need capital punishment. Those who say that we do not need it are weak. When those people were selected, they were asked where they stood on capital punishment. Most of them said that they supported it, but they do not support it once they became hon. Members. They only said that they would support it because they were grovelling for a seat in Parliament. Right hon. and hon. Members should follow me into the Lobby and vote for the restoration of capital punishment.

Mr. Wilshire

I can agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) only to the extent that this debate is a little premature. If we are to re-run the debate, the circumstances should have changed. I accept that a general election leads to a change of personnel in this place, and it would then be appropriate to re-run the debate. However, since 1988, only one thing has changed. The list of those who might have been hanged has been extended by four in the case of the Guildford Four. If we take that change into account, the majority against the reintroduction of capital punishment tonight should be higher than it was last time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) both said that Christianity calls on the state to kill. They said that as if it was the definition of what Christianity said. I hope that they and others will accept that other people reach the opposite conclusion when they consider the Christian approach to capital punishment. Some believe that the state should kill, but I believe that the state should never kill.

Deterrence has been debated at great length, but it has not been proved. If we are to restore capital punishment using deterrence as the argument, that argument must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt before we start once again to kill people in circumstances in which the facts can be taken one way or the other.

No one took up my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he referred to the process of killing. He asked the House to consider, if we were to approve the new clause, which method of killing we would prefer. He asked us to consider which would be the most efficient method. Should we inject, should we electrocute, or should we gas? With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, whichever method we were to choose, some of us would consider every single method barbaric. If efficiency is to be one argument—again, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth, if we are ever again to hear the argument that the economics of keeping people in jail is one reason for capital punishment—I shall despair of the future of the House and of democracy in this country.

The debate started with the argument that the punishment should fit the crime, as though that somehow justified capital punishment. Many people from whom I hear argue like that because life does not mean life. There are plenty of ways of making the punishment fit the crime. That is not a logical argument that leads only to capital punishment.

We also heard the argument that we have now somehow refined the system and that we have now somehow changed the Acts of Parliament so that mistakes will never be made again. If you look at Hansard, Sir Paul, you will find that, after every mistake, it was said in this place that we had changed the system and that it would not happen again. Even if there is a 1 per cent. risk of just one more innocent person in this country ever being killed by the state, that is the most powerful reason for not reintroducing capital punishment.

On new clause 4, hon. Members heard the debate about whether we should abolish capital punishment for treason. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—I am afraid I do not follow his logic—said that, if we were to vote to change the law on treason, we would somehow indicate that we accept that law and want to see it operate. The opposite could just as well be true. If we were to reject the call to abolish capital punishment for treason, it could be argued that the House indicated that it wants that Act to be enforced and that it wants capital punishment to stay on the statute book and to be used. The choice is clear.

The only point on which I disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) was his statement that he could understand why the Armed Forces Act 1971 should be left out. I cannot see any reason to leave on the statute book anything that requires capital punishment for crimes under that Act. If we have an opportunity for the Armed Forces Act to be amended, that is what should happen.

The last point that I want to tackle is the comment that has been made to me when hon. Members have given way and allowed me to intervene. It is summed up by the hon. Member who asked, "Who are we to ignore our constituents?" We must never confuse disagreeing with ignoring. There is a great difference. I do not ignore my constituents, I just profoundly disagree with them. What do we owe our constituents? We owe them not only our enthusiasm and hard work but our integrity. If we were to listen to some constituents, we would be listening to the mob. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, on these issues, we would. I have a horrible feeling that, if we were to listen to opinion polls and act accordingly, we would have some nasty conclusions about the coloured population of this country and some nasty conclusions about people with alternative life styles. I hope that we shall never follow the route of the mob. We owe our constituents our integrity.

If, like me, Sir Paul, for all your adult life you had been opposed to judicial killing, and if you had believed that it was obscene for the state to take life in that way, you would agree that it was a pretty shoddy thing and a shoddy way in which to treat your constituents to say, "I will curry favour with you and abandon my principles." You should stick to those principles, Sir Paul, and remember, as I said last time—it bears repeating—when you shave in the morning, make sure that you like what you see in the mirror. If we abandon our self-respect, we are of no use to our constituents.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)

The Chairman of Ways and Means said at the beginning of the debate that the Chair would listen to the arguments used and then decide on which new clauses Divisions would be available. The first Division will be on new clause 1. After that, if the Committee so desires, Divisions can take place on new clauses 3, 4 and 5.

The first Division is on new clause 1.

It being Ten o'clock, THE FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to the Order [13 December], to put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The Committee divided: Ayes 215, Noes 350.

Division No. 30] [10.00 pm
Adley, Robert Fry, Peter
Alexander, Richard Gale, Roger
Allason, Rupert Gardiner, George
Arbuthnot, James Gill, Christopher
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Arnold, Sir Thomas Goodhart, Sir Philip
Aspinwall, Jack Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Atkinson, David Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Batiste, Spencer Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Beggs, Roy Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bellingham, Henry Gregory, Conal
Bendall, Vivian Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Grylls, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Hague, William
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hannam, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hayward, Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hill, James
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hind, Kenneth
Brazier, Julian Holt, Richard
Bright, Graham Hordern, Sir Peter
Browne, John (Winchester) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Burns, Simon Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Butcher, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Butler, Chris Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hunter, Andrew
Carrington, Matthew Jack, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Janman, Tim
Cash, William Jessel, Toby
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Chapman, Sydney Key, Robert
Chope, Christopher Kilfedder, James
Churchill, Mr Kirkhope, Timothy
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Knapman, Roger
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Colvin, Michael Knowles, Michael
Conway, Derek Lang, Ian
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Lawrence, Ivan
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Lee, John (Pendle)
Cran, James Lightbown, David
Davies, Q. (Stami'd & Spald'g) Lord, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) McCrea, Rev William
Day, Stephen Maclean, David
Devlin, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Dickens, Geoffrey McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Dicks, Terry Malins, Humfrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mans, Keith
Dover, Den Marland, Paul
Dunn, Bob Marlow, Tony
Durant, TonyMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Eggar, Tim Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Emery, Sir Peter Maude, Hon Francis
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Evennett, David Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fallon, Michael Miller, Sir Hal
Favell, Tony Mills, Iain
Fenner, Dame Peggy Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mitchell, Sir David
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Moore, Rt Hon John
Forth, Eric Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Moss, Malcolm
Fox, Sir Marcus Moynihan, Hon Colin
French, Douglas Mudd, David
Neale, Gerrard Stokes, Sir John
Neubert, Michael Sumberg, David
Nicholls, Patrick Summerson, Hugo
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norris, Steve Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Page, Richard Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Paice, James Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Paisley, Rev Ian Thorne, Neil
Patnick, Irvine Thornton, Malcolm
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thurnham, Peter
Pawsey, James Townend, John (Bridlington)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Tracey, Richard
Redwood, John Tredinnick, David
Riddick, Graham Trimble, David
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Trippier, David
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Trotter, Neville
Roe, Mrs Marion Twinn, Dr Ian
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Viggers, Peter
Sayeed, Jonathan Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Shaw, David (Dover) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Ward, John
Shelton, Sir William Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Warren, Kenneth
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Watts, John
Shersby, Michael Wells, Bowen
Sims, Roger Whitney, Ray
Skeet, Sir Trevor Widdecombe, Ann
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wiggin, Jerry
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Wilkinson, John
Speed, Keith Winterton, Mrs Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Winterton, Nicholas
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wood, Timothy
Stanbrook, Ivor
Stevens, Lewis Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock and
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Mr. Teddy Taylor.
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Abbott, Ms Diane Bray, Dr Jeremy
Adams, Mrs. Irene Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Allen, Graham Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Alton, David Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Amos, Alan Buck, Sir Antony
Anderson, Donald Buckley, George J.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Budgen, Nicholas
Armstrong, Hilary Burt, Alistair
Ashby, David Butterfill, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Caborn, Richard
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Callaghan, Jim
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Canavan, Dennis
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Barron, Kevin Cartwright, John
Battle, John Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Beckett, Margaret Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Beith, A. J. Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bellotti, David Clay, Bob
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clelland, David
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Benton, Joseph Cohen, Harry
Benyon, W. Coleman, Donald
Bermingham, Gerald Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bidwell, Sydney Cope, Rt Hon John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Corbett, Robin
Blair, Tony Corbyn, Jeremy
Blunkett, David Couchman, James
Boateng, Paul Cousins, Jim
Body, Sir Richard Cox, Tom
Boswell, Tim Critchley, Julian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Crowther, Stan
Bowis, John Cryer, Bob
Boyes, Roland Cummings, John
Bradley, Keith Cunliffe, Lawrence
Curry, David Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Darling, Alistair Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dewar, Donald Illsley, Eric
Dixon, Don Ingram, Adam
Dobson, Frank Irvine, Michael
Doran, Frank Irving, Sir Charles
Dorrell, Stephen Janner, Greville
Douglas, Dick Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Duffy, A. E. P. Johnston, Sir Russell
Dunnachie, Jimmy Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dykes, Hugh Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Eadie, Alexander Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Eastham, Ken Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Evans, John (St Helens N) Kennedy, Charles
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Fatchett, Derek Kirkwood, Archy
Faulds, Andrew Knox, David
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Lambie, David
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fishburn, John Dudley Latham, Michael
Fisher, Mark Leadbitter, Ted
Flynn, Paul Leighton, Ron
Fookes, Dame Janet Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Foster, Derek Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Foulkes, George Lewis, Terry
Franks, Cecil Lilley, Peter
Fraser, John Litherland, Robert
Freeman, Roger Livingstone, Ken
Fyfe, Maria Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
George, Bruce Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McAllion, John
Godman, Dr Norman A. McCartney, Ian
Golding, Mrs Llin Macdonald, Calum A.
Goodlad, Alastair McFall, John
Gordon, Mildred McGrady, Eddie
Gorst, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gould, Bryan McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Graham, Thomas McKelvey, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McLeish, Henry
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Maclennan, Robert
Grist, IanMcMaster, Gordon
Grocott, Bruce McNamara, Kevin
Ground, Patrick McWilliam, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Madden, Max
Hardy, Peter Madel, David
Harman, Ms Harriet Mahon, Mrs Alice
Harris, David Major, Rt Hon John
Haselhurst, Alan Mallon, Seamus
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Maples, John
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Marek, Dr John
Haynes, Frank Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Henderson, Doug Martlew, Eric
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Maxton, John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hinchliffe, David Meacher, Michael
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Meale, Alan
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Mellor, David
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Home Robertson, John Michael, Alun
Hood, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Howarth, Alan (Strafd-on-A) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Miscampbell, Norman
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Howells, Geraint Morgan, Rhodri
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Morley, Elliot
Hoyle, Doug Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Short, Clare
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Sillars, Jim
Morrison, Sir Charles Skinner, Dennis
Mowlam, Marjorie Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Mullin, Chris Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Murphy, Paul Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Needham, Richard Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Nellist, Dave Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Nelson, Anthony Snape, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Soley, Clive
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Spearing, Nigel
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Squire, Robin
O'Brien, William Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
O'Hara, Edward Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
O'Neill, Martin Steen, Anthony
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steinberg, Gerry
Parry, Robert Stern, Michael
Patchett, Terry Stott, Roger
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Strang, Gavin
Patten, Rt Hon John Straw, Jack
Pendry, Tom Tapsell, Sir Peter
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Powell, William (Corby) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prescott, John Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Price, Sir David Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Primarolo, Dawn Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Quin, Ms Joyce Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Radice, Giles Turner, Dennis
Raffan, Keith Vaz, Keith
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Randall, Stuart Walden, George
Rathbone, Tim Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Redmond, Martin Wallace, James
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Waller, Gary
Reid, Dr John Walley, Joan
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Walters, Sir Dennis
Rhodes James, Robert Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Richardson, Jo Wareing, Robert N.
Robertson, George Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Robinson, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Rogers, Allan Wheeler, Sir John
Rooker, Jeff Wigley, Dafydd
Rooney, Terence Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wilshire, David
Rowe, Andrew Wilson, Brian
Rowlands, Ted Winnick, David
Ruddock, Joan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ryder, Richard Worthington, Tony
Sackville, Hon Tom Wray, Jimmy
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Young, David (Bolton SE)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. Peter Bottomley and
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Mr. Stuart Bell.

Question accordingly negatived.

The FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to the said Order, to put forthwith the Questions which he was directed to put at that hour.

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