(2) sentencing any person convicted of murder to imprisonment for life the court may at the same time declare the period which they recommend to the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland as the minimum period which in their view should elapse before the Minister orders the release of that person on licence under section 23 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953.
(3) The Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland shall not release or discharge on licence a person convicted of murder and serving a sentence of imprisonment for life or detained under the said section 73(1), except after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland together with the trial judge, if available.
(4) For the purpose of any proceedings on or subsequent to a person's trial on a charge of capital murder, that charge and any plea or finding of guilty of capital murder shall be treated as being or having been a charge, or a plea or finding of guilty, of murder only; and if at the commencement of this Act a person is under a sentence of death for capital murder, the sentence shall have effect as a sentence of imprisonment for life.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
At present in Northern Ireland the death penalty for murder is provided by the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The Bill in its present form leaves that Act unchanged, except for one amendment in consequence of the repeal of the Special Powers Act. That concerns murder done in the furtherance of the activities of an association which is unlawful under the Special Powers Act.
The remaining capital punishment provisions of the 1966 Act require the death penalty to be imposed on conviction for the following types of murder: first, murder of any constable, or person in the service of the Crown, or anyone assisting a constable or person in the service of the Crown, if the murder is in any way connected with duties to enforce the law; second, murder done in the furtherance of a seditous conspiracy.
The new clause is directed to the abolition of capital punishment on conviction for these crimes. It does not raise the question of other murders either because they no longer carry the death penalty in Northern Ireland or because they have been covered already in the Bill. Nor does it raise the question of capital punishment for those offences—treason and piracy—which are still punishable by capital punishment in Great Britain.
The Act defines all these types of murder as capital murder, and enables people to be charged specifically with that offence. If a person so charged is convicted, a sentence of death must be passed.
When I moved the Second Reading of the Bill I explained that the legislation in its present form was designed simply to implement the recommendatons of Lord Diplock's Commission and to repeal the Special Powers Act, while providing such powers as are considered essential during the emergency to enable the security forces to perform their rôle efficiently. It was not, therefore, thought appropriate at the time to make changes in the remainder of the criminal law in Northern Ireland, particularly changes of a permanent nature.
The vote on the Ten-Minute Rule Bill, introduced recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) led Her Majesty's Government to decide, however, that the House should have the opportunity to consider the remaining provisions for capital punishment in Northern Ireland. This is particularly desirable in view of the recent constitutional proposals by Her Majesty's Government that the Government should remain responsible to Parliament for matters of law and order in Northern Ireland for the time being.
These, then, are the reasons for introducing this new clause. As is usual on this issue, both the Government and the Opposition have agreed to a free vote. I should now like to describe the effect of the proposed new clause and briefly explain my own attitude to it.
The new clause would not be subject to the provisions for expiry and renewal in the Bill. It provides that no person shall suffer death for murder, and that a person convicted of murder shall be sentenced to life imprisonment, unless he was under 18 years of age when he committed the offence. In that case, as at present, he will be sentenced to be detained during pleasure. That is the effect of subsection (1).
Subsection (2) of the new clause will enable the court which sentences a convicted murderer to recommend to the Minister of Home Affairs a minimum period during which, in its view, the person should be kept in custody. This follows the practice in England and Wales.
I am coming to that point. The answer is that it would be made under the present Act, and in future provisions, by the Secretary of State.
The Minister of Home Affairs is responsible under Northern Ireland legislation for deciding whether to release on licence a person sentenced to life imprisonment, but by virtue of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland exercises that responsibility. If the Government's constitutional proposals are implemented, he will continue to exercise it for the time being. Subsection (3) will prevent any such release from being authorised unless the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and, if he is available, the judge who tried the person who is being considered for release, have been consulted by the Minister, that is the Secretary of State.
If the Bill, amended by the inclusion of this new clause, comes into effect, there may at that time be people charged with capital murder, who may have pleaded or been found guilty of the charge, and may be under sentence of death. The clause provides in subsection (4) that in all such cases the charge, plea or finding, should be treated as if it were for murder only, and the sentence as if it were one of life imprisonment. Subsection (5) defines capital murder as having in the clause the same meaning as in the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.
It perhaps is important for the House in reaching a view on this that it should also have the history of capital punishment in Northern Ireland over the last 50 years. There have been only 11 executions since 1922 and since 1944 there have been only two executions.
In the course of 51 years, only one man—in 1942—has been executed for murdering a policeman. There have been no executions under the particular provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1966, and the last execution in Northern Ireland was in 1961.
The question which this House has to decide is whether conditions in Northern Ireland are such as to justify retention of capital punishment in one part of the United Kingdom when, by the will of Parliament, it has been abolished elsewhere. In coming to a conclusion on this difficult, emotional and essentially personal issue, one consideration must surely be paramount. Will the retention, and so, if it is to mean anything, the implementation in certain cases, of the death penalty serve to give greater protection to our policemen and soldiers?
I have always believed that this House has an overriding duty to protect to the best of its ability those who serve the State, particularly in the enforcement of the law. Indeed, it was solely because of my anxieties on this score that I personally voted for the retention of capital punishment when Parliament abolished it in 1965. Now I believe that this House has to make up its mind on this issue for Northern Ireland. I can only therefore tell the House, with all the reservations that any personal view must have, what I have concluded.
First, I have decided that one's views about capital punishment in Great Britain are irrelevant because this House has recently reaffirmed its view on that question. I look, therefore, entirely to the Northern Ireland scene. In this context I must tell the House that I have received representations urging the retention of capital punishment from the Royal Ulster Constabulary Police Federation and the RUC Superintendents' Association. I can also appreciate the views of those who say that whatever may be the merits of the case, this is not the time to make a change.
I find it hard to believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent in Northern Ireland today because anyone who shoots at or attempts to kill a policeman or soldier in Northern Ireland knows that he risks immediate counter-fire and possibly death.
Since my right hon. Friend thinks of this as the real deterrent can he give to the House the number of the security forces who have been killed in Northern Ireland? I know that it is about 250. Can he say how many people have been killed? Again, it is about 700. Can he tell the House how many members of the IRA or any terrorists, putting it in general terms, have been killed by the soldiers in this war?
I can give my hon. Friend these figures but I have not got them with me. I do not think they are relevant to my argument. My hon. Friend may feel that capital punishment is a deterrent. I am simply saying why, in my personal view, it is not.
Secondly, I have experienced at first hand the sort of emotional reactions which particular events provoke in Northern Ireland. I am therefore absolutely convinced, as a result of that experience, 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.
I cannot claim any greater wisdom than any other Member of the House on this point, and, of course, I may be wrong. I can only plead that Irish history is on my side and that the creation of martyrs in Ireland has certainly not helped to protect the lives of those trying to enforce law and order.
For all these reasons I have come to the conclusion, despite what I know to be the feelings of many people, that, far from there being a particular reason for keeping the death penalty in Northern Ireland when it is abolished in the rest of the United Kingdom, the arguments are entirely the other way. Therefore, personally—I speak for myself—I shall vote for the new clause.
The Standing Committee considering the Bill has met twice. Today's debate is part of the Committee stage process.
The Bill arose from the recommendations of the Diplock Committee which reported in December last year. Although we are dealing with a matter of principle which stands on its own, it is important to fit the Government's new clause into the perspective of the Bill in Committee. The Secretary of State did that, and I should like, for my own purpose, to take the same route.
The greater part of the special powers legislation is repealed by Schedule 5. That legislation included capital punishment for crimes coming within Sections 2 and 3 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883. The Government, by publishing this Bill in April 1973, indicated their intention of limiting capital punishment in Northern Ireland in the special powers legislation respect. The Bill also further limited capital punishment under the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 by making changes in Section 10(l)(b) which concerned murders by those in "unlawful association". What was left in the measure was capital murder under Section 10(l)(a) of the 1966 Act—
murder of any constable or person in the service of the Crown "—
or those assisting them—and, in the first part of Section 10(l)(b), murder done as part of a seditious conspiracy.
In the face of events in Northern Ireland, the Government, as the Secretary of State has explained, have changed their mind since they published the Bill on 2nd April. In my view, the Government were, and are, correct to seek completely to end capital punishment in the United Kingdom as a whole. There is a United Kingdom argument and a Northern Ireland argument.
As to the United Kingdom argument, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Our involvement in Northern Ireland is real and earnest, as the security forces know. It is this United Kingdom to which the majority in Northern Ireland wish to belong, with all its strength which that community sees and with all its weaknesses. Over the years, tortuously, capital punishment in Great Britain has been abolished. Only on 11th April this year the House refused leave, on a free vote, to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) to bring in a Bill to provide for capital punishment to be the penalty for murder involving the use of firearms or explosives and for the murder of a police or prison officer. The hon. Gentleman's wording included those types of murder which the Government had removed when the Bill was published and now wish to remove by the clause. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and for this general reason alone the Government are right in bringing the clause before the Committee of the whole House.
It was not for some logical argument of this nature that the Government sought to alter the capital punishment law in Northern Ireland—and to alter it by the new clause. The Government have changed their mind in the context of Northern Ireland. As in the nineteenth century—shades, for example, of the Duke of Wellington crying with anguish at the time of the Corn Laws about "those damned potatoes"—events in Northern Ireland have forced us in the United Kingdom to make a change in a fundamental aspect of policy which has great political import in these islands.
We do not have to rehearse the tragedy of the breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland, the sectarian murders or the situation of the troops and paramilitary forces. It is all known to us. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asked a question about figures. As at 12.50 p.m. today, the figures—and I cannot ignore them in my argument— show that, since 1969, 33 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, four members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve, 179 members of the Army, 34 members of the UDR and 538 civilians, making a total of 788 people, have been killed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that fact is never far from my mind, and it is not far from my mind in deploying this argument.
The hon. Gentleman has quoted comprehensive statistics. Has he the statistic in which many of us are interested, namely, how many terrorists have been shot by the troops?
No, because I do not know how many of the total of 538 civilians were members of the IRA, nor do I know the number of IRA members taken into the Republic in the early days. But it is likely that a number of those civilians were members of the IRA or of other organisations which conduct themselves in the fashion about which we know.
The question which we must ask is whether the death penalty in the form in the Bill, if the new clause were not approved, would be relevant to Northern Ireland and whether it would contribute to peace and to a political solution in the province. As someone who has consistently supported the abolition of capital punishment in the Great Britain sense, if I thought that it was relevant, and if I thought, in the face of the figures, that it would contribute to peace and a political solution, I would vote against the Government.
I am sure that it would not do so. As far as I can trace—and the Secretary of State gave detailed figures relating to the death penalty—there has been no death penalty sentence imposed under the Special Powers Act. People have not been found guilty or executed. Until the end of 1972 no one had been found guilty under Section 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 1966.
To those who claim that the threat of capital punishment is a deterrent, I say that the threat of the use of the death penalty in the Special Powers Act or in the Criminal Justice Act has not deterred violence in Northern Ireland. All the facts of the situation during the last three years go against anybody who feels that way. The threat has been there consistently by the presence of the Army.
In Brigadier Kitson's book "Low Intensity Operations", he says at page 24,
when the regular army was first raised in the seventeenth century, 'suppression of the Irish' was coupled with 'Defence of the Protestant Religion' as one of the two main reasons for its existence.
There has been the threat of instant death from the security forces. That is the point which the right hon. Gentleman made. The Army has been firing back, following the instructions in the yellow cards. I suspected—and today the right hon. Gentleman revealed what I suspected—that the fact that the death penalty, in that straight sense, has been operated in Northern Ireland for the last three years, and the fact that the number of people killed has continued to increase, has been one of the issues that forced the right hon. Gentleman to change his mind.
In a highly charged political situation, such as the situation which we have in Northern Ireland, the threat of death does not deter. One of the developments that has taken place in recent months and in recent years is the participation by the young in Northern Ireland. We have seen them on television hurling bricks at the forces. We have seen them going right up to members of the security forces and putting bricks down their visors. The sort of thing which we have seen has made people angry on this side of the water. We are now finding that young people under the age of 15 are playing a real part in the activities of the para-military forces in Belfast.
Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the book called "Children in Conflict" by Morrice Fraser. It was reviewed recently in the Financial Times. One passage from the review caught my eye. It said:
What is socially far more ominous, and has brought some of Dr. Fraser's acquaintances to despair, is the intensity of hate, starting from infancy, already developed by early childhood, and apparently irremoveable. Hate on both sides. The Catholic children (and Dr. Fraser judges this would be true of a large majority of all the Catholic population) hate the British soldiers, don't regard them as human, and wish only to see them killed. Very small children stone ambulances when they arrive to carry away a wounded man.
The Protestant children hate the Catholics, don't regard them as human, and reciprocally wish only to see them killed. After the Derry shooting when 13 Catholics died, Junior Orangemen sang, 'We've got one, we've got two, we've got thirteen more than you…." On both sides, the children regard their hate-objects almost exactly as the Hitler Youth regarded the Jews—that is, as vermin, fit for nothing but extermination. The children are, if possible, more unfeeling and crueller than their seniors.
It has been put to me in recent weeks that the very young are one of the material reasons for the security forces not getting the ultimate success of preventing violence. It appears, judging from their activities, that, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, their ideal is to wear a martyr's crown. The threat of death is irrelevant in the context of martyrdom, the feeling of hate and the evil side of nationalism.
In reverse, the threat of death by the Provisional IRA, which carries out its own death penalty, does not convert the Protestants to a belief or an acceptance of a united Ireland. Indeed, it has the opposite effect.
The Secretary of State was not unaware of these arguments when he published his Bill on 2nd April. He left in the Bill the death penalty in a Section 10 sense and, if I may say so, in the Cathcart sense. Indeed, until the end of 1972 no sentence under the relevant section of the 1966 Act had been passed. It took 1973 to concentrate the mind of the Secretary of State. It took the sentence of death on Albert Brown, Protestant, a member of the UDA who was found guilty of murdering a member of the RUC with a licensed gun. Subsequently the right hon. Gentleman announced that Brown was to be reprieved under his powers.
What moved the Secretary of State? He told us today—and I believe that he could have expressed himself more forcefully at the time if he had not restrained himself—that there came the realisation that if Brown had been executed the Protestant areas of down-town Belfast would have erupted. From the information which I have—and I do my best to keep in touch—the mood in the Protestant areas of Belfast that weekend would have led any Secretary of State to take that factor into account. Whatever would have happened had the penalty been carried out, the right hon. Gentleman changed his mind, and changed it rightly. He did not change his mind by force of logic but by the logic of events in Northern Ireland.
Would those who are against the new clause and who are against the Government's advice have executed Brown? A short time ago I saw the hon. Member for Cathcart indicate his disagreement with me. Were he Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—it is no use pulling words or punches—and as a Scot in Northern Ireland, would he have given approval for the execution of a Protestant member of the UDA?
The hon. Member for Cathcart feels strongly about the killing of policemen. So do we all. The hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about the matter that he introduced a Bill. However, since the Secretary of State used his powers to reprieve Brown, a man who killed a policeman, I have not heard or read that the hon. Member for Cathcart has spoken out against that decision. But just before the decision was taken, he felt strongly enough about the death penalty to raise the general principle on the Floor of the House.
Those like the hon. Gentleman who intend, I presume, to vote against the new clause, are not indicating only a general view or approach. They are voting on the one case that made the Secretary of State change his mind. They are voting on the case of Albert Brown. There is a Catholic in the legal pipeline who has been found guilty. He is the second man to be in that position since 1973—that is, since the Secretary of State has had full powers. William Gerard Holden has been sentenced to death for the murder of Private Frank Bell of the 2nd Parachute Regiment on 17th September 1972. Holden is a 19-year-old chef. He is a Roman Catholic. The Secretary of State—not me, not the hon. Member for Cathcart—has to decide what to do. He has to make up his mind and to exercise what is, in effect, the Royal Prerogative. He has to decide whether to deal with the Holden case in the same way as that in which he dealt with Albert Brown.
Whatever we do today, I believe that the Secretary of State has only one course of action to follow in Northern Ireland. By following the reprieve of Brown with general legislative action, he is correct. The Brown case concentrated his mind, and he changed his mind. In the debate on his Ten Minute Rule Bill, the hon. Member for Cathcart invited us to look at the facts in Great Britain over the last eight years. He invited us to look at South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal and States of the United States. I invite him to look at Northern Ireland.
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely, and his remarks are of a powerful nature. But would it not be right in this context to remember that some very dastardly crimes have been committed by the IRA? Does the hon. Gentleman recall the murder of a policeman who was washing his car at Old Park filling station? He was gunned down in a planned, sinister attack. Because the law of Nortern Ireland does not cover a crime of that nature in the provision of the death penalty, for the policeman was off duty, a capital charge could not be brought against his killer.
But that incident would not fit what the Government are proposing to do now. Whatever they do, the killer would not be executed. In a strict sense, that case is not relevant to the debate, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that I have never believed that the doctrine of "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is of general application. That is the Old Testament argument and I would not argue with the hon. Gentleman, with all his knowledge, although we come from not dissimilar backgrounds. But I do say that because it is "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" the problem in Northern Ireland goes on and on and on.
I am aware that the death penalty still applies in Southern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act and the Offences Against the State Act there. But that is Southern Ireland's business. Northern Ireland is our business and should be brought into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. The death penalty is not relevant to the Northern Ireland situation and it should go.
Our duty is to press on along the political path, with all its difficulties. None of us can yet see the conclusion that we all wish to see. There are no easy solutions—certainly none to be had by imposing the death penalty in the sense in which the Bill as drafted would have done. The Government are right, and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the new clause which the Government, by the logic of events, have seen fit to bring before us.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said that there are no easy decisions and solutions in Northern Ireland. But if the Labour Government in 1969 had faced the situation and had not been afraid of the possibility of death in confrontation with the IRA, we would not by now have had a total of 788 people killed in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman made a powerful and emotional speech. He referred constantly to the terms "Protestant" and "Roman Catholic". But we are not debating in terms of religion, and I hope that the Committee does not decide the issue in terms of religion. I regret that the hon. Gentleman dragged in religion in this way because what we are debating is the safety of life in Northern Ireland.
I have taken a stand on capital punishment. In 1965, I voted in favour of its retention but subsequently decided that I had been wrong, and I wish to state that to the Committee today. I abstained recently when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) submitted his Ten Minute Rule Bill, which would have reintroduced capital punishment for certain offences. For some time now, I have firmly believed that the supreme penalty which the State can impose on a wrongdoer is not in normal circumstances an effective deterrent to those who commit murder.
The evidence is imprecise and not clear, but I am prepared to change my mind if sufficient evidence is adduced to show that the death penalty is a genuine deterrent. The evidence would have to be very strong indeed, however, before I could agree to the judiciary having the power to extinguish a human life. But again I emphasise, "In normal times" in talking in terms of England, where even the shooting of one policeman in Blackpool created a hue and cry throughout the country and a demand for law and order in Great Britain.
But in Northern Ireland we face a totally different situation. The great majority of hon. Members of the Committee represent constituents in the United Kingdom, which are free from the terrible, obscene violence we face daily in Northern Ireland—violence encountered by ordinary citizens as well as by members of the security forces. The Committee should therefore think of the protection of those people and remember its duty to them if this issue comes to a Division tonight, as I hope it will.
Is not the hon. Gentleman's argument somewhat confused? Incidents of extreme violence associated with Northern Ireland have taken place in Great Britain. Happily, they have, to some extent, been isolated, but they have occurred. Does the hon. Gentleman draw a distinction of principle between the occurrences in Aldershot and more recently in London and the general situation in Northern Ireland? Surely, if we do not apply capital punishment in Great Britain, notwithstanding that sort of provocation, how can it be right to apply it in Northern Ireland?
I have always believed that almost all Acts passed by the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom should apply in Northern Ireland. I say, "Almost all" because there are some to which I would take exception. But I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deal with his question later rather than out of context with what I have to say now.
Had the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart sought to introduce reached its Second Reading, I should have listened carefully to the evidence and the arguments, but he was defeated on a free vote and was refused permission to introduce it. That seems to have prompted the Government to give the advocates of capital punishment a slap in the face. That is how I interpret it, although, as I say, in the United Kingdom context I am against the restoration of capital punishment unless there are strong arguments to show that it is a genuine deterrent.
Not only have the Government given the advocates of capital punishment a slap in the face, but at the same time their decision seems to throw a sop to the IRA terrorists. On Second Reading of this Bill, the Secretary of State said— although capital punishment had been abolished in Great Britain—that the Government did not think it appropriate in the Bill to make a permanent change of this kind. Their change of mind came only after the defeat of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. It is remarkable that the new clause was introduced only after that defeat.
I do not have to remind the Committee that these are not ordinary times in Northern Ireland. There, we do not just have the occasional atrocity such as that at Aldershot. Our sympathy goes out to the bereaved relatives and friends of those who died in the Aldershot explosion. But far more people have died in Northern Ireland, more are dying and more will die. We must face it and admit that it will go on for some considerable time unless strong and determined steps are taken to wipe out the IRA.
Indeed, these are extraordinary times. There is murder, and there are terrible mutilations, shootings and explosions— all part of a callous terrorist campaign which has been going on for four long and bloody years. As a former Home Secretary said, we are at war with the IRA. Unless the Secretary of State has secretly negotiated some truce, presumably we are still at war with the IRA.
In my view there is no sinister connection with any Ten Minute Rule Bill of the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). I deplore a Protestant or a member of the IRA killing a policeman, but the hon. Gentleman is deploying his argument in terms of the IRA. Surely the turning point for the Secretary of State was a Protestant killing not a Catholic killing.
I mentioned the IRA terrorists because I do not think there is any doubt in the minds of the security forces and those who advise Her Majesty's Government that the great majority of those who have been killed— indeed, I would say 90 per cent. of them —have been killed by members of the IRA. I do not think that that would be disputed from the Government Front Bench. In fact, it may be an understatement. It may well be more than 90 per cent. Let us talk in terms of the IRA, but I apply my remarks to Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. I would much rather that these terms were not introduced in this debate because it is creating an emotional atmosphere and dividing the House into those who favour the union and those who are against it. I hope that the House will ignore these terms.
I pointed out that a former Home Secretary—was it two years ago?—said that we were at war with the IRA. What I said was that, unless the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has secretly negotiated a truce, we are presumably still at war with the IRA, and therefore we need the strongest possible measures. That is what I am saying. I trust that this is perfectly understood.
If there were any kind of insinuation in my hon. Friend's remarks—and, of course, I accept that there was no such insinuation—I can give the absolute, categorical answer that there is not the smallest vestige of truth in such an insinuation. I hope there will be no further nonsense of that sort, if there were any.
I have not made any insinuation and I am sorry that the shadow Attorney-General was unfortunately not paying attention to my words. I was saying that we must be determined if we are to destroy the terrorists in Northern Ireland.
This is a time when the security forces need all the help that organised, decent society can provide. Yet this is the time when the Secretary of State chooses to abandon a legal sanction of powerful psychological value to the policeman on the beat, the soldier on duty in the streets and their wives and families at home either in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, every day expecting the dread news of another killing.
In my opinion, this measure will be widely interpreted in Northern Ireland as another surrender to the terrorists. The Secretary of State proudly stated at the Dispatch Box in introducing this new clause that there is a deterrent of death already in Northern Ireland because in battles the security forces shoot and kill members of the IRA. We have had the figures from the hon. Member for Leeds, South. They show that 788 people have died in Northern Ireland since 1969 and that of these about 250 have been police and soldiers. But fewer than 100 terrorists have been killed by the security forces. Thus it is not such a powerful argument that the Secretary of State is placing before the House—that we have had 788 people killed since 1969 and yet, on the other hand, fewer than 100 of these gunmen, these obscene thugs, have been killed.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or his hon. Friend when he winds up the debate will try to give an approximate figure to the House.
Instead of weakening in the face of this fearful onslaught, the Government should be showing great resolution and determination. It is not the principles of Wolf Tone which activate the Republic terrorists but the life-style of Al Capone. Those with this love for the spilling of blood, this love for violence, this love of robbery—these are the people who at the moment are terrorising a whole community, part of the United Kingdom. Seventeen-year-old youngsters blow themselves to pieces carrying bombs, ft is horrible, but how many innocent people did they help to kill before fate disposed of them?
The Secretary of State has declared his intention to sound out local opinion in Northern Ireland. Perhaps he can tell the Committee whether he sought the views of the Advisory Commission on this new clause. We are facing elections to the new Assembly on 30th June, which is not very far off. Would it not have been appropriate for my right hon. Friend to show confidence and faith in that new body by asking its members for their views on the death penalty during these dreadful times? Why this rush now to push this clause through?
Extradition is a one-way ticket to the Republic of Eire. There is no evidence that the Government of the Republic will reciprocate the actions of the Northern Ireland courts. And, as we have heard, the death penalty is still in existence in the Free State. It has been argued that there is the threat of instant death from the security forces for members of the IRA or any other terrorists who use guns in Northern Ireland and kill. But on past performance, as we know, the two IRA men who crossed the border recently to murder the UDR corporal at Aughnacloy, if they are ever arrested in the South—and I have my doubts—will be charged with no more heinous an offence in the Republic than that of being members of an illegal organisation. And if Northern Ireland seeks their extradition it will not be granted because their dastardly crime will be regarded as a political offence. In the eyes of the politically motivated courts in the Republic, the murder of a British soldier or a British civilian is regarded as a political crime, and political crimes are not covered by the extradition treaty.
We are talking about the removal of the death penalty. It is a ridiculous position where an IRA man can be shot by the Army or by the police during a gun battle but cannot be hanged for terrible murders after a fair and proper trial by the courts in Northern Ireland. Yet although soldiers are liable to be hanged for certain offences the IRA are to have that sanction removed.
May I mention one example in particular because the hon. Member for Leeds, South castigated my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart? Three young Scottish soldiers—have we already forgotten them?—were deliberately brought to the outskirts of Belfast by a coldly calculated plan and each shot in the head —two young brothers and another young soldier. The IRA man who is regarded is being principally responsible is at liberty, as I understand it from information, in the Irish Free State. That was a cruel, calculated deed. Surely the death penalty ought to be retained for such a fiend.
I am talking about such atrocities. I am not talking about ordinary murders where my right hon. Friend or his successor as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can reprieve a person convicted of murder if the circumstances so warrant. All religious leaders in Northern Ireland and politicians of different hues in Northern Ireland have condemned some IRA murders as being atrocities which shame the name of Northern Ireland and shame the name of Christianity and civilisation. One recent instance was a murder which was carefully planned and in which two young girls were involved, the carefully planned, brutal bedside murder of three soldiers in Belfast.
Those girls deserve no sympathy. They do not deserve the sympathy of anyone in this Committee or any person in this country. Are they to escape with their lives if they are ever foolish enough to come from the South to Northern Ireland so that they can be arrested and tried? That is an example of what I am talking about. Surely they ought to face the final sanction.
The Secretary of State has power to reprieve any condemned man, as he did in the case of Brown, but there are some cold-blooded murderers who should, in my opinion, pay the supreme penalty.
I am following the argument as closely as I can. Would the hon. Member in those circumstances have said that the Brown case was one of those in which the Secretary of State should not have reprieved? He was guilty of killing, of murder. Or is the hon. Member saying that there is a difference between that kind of case and those to which he has just been referring?
This is a matter with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in a better position to deal than I, because he has the information. I do not want to upset the Chair by going into details of that case now, and I want to bring my remarks to a close. I do not want to go into the details of that case, but I think we all remember that Brown shot a policeman. I condemn that murder without reservation and have no sympathy with the man whatever. When about to commit an offence, he shot a policeman. I briefly looked at the arguments which were put forward by his leading counsel to the Court of Appeal. I would not compare that—I do not think the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) would compare that— with the examples of cold-blooded murder of three young soldiers, a murder carefully planned, perhaps days in advance, or the murder in which those two women took part, and which was calculated and planned perhaps weeks in advance. Those are different cases altogether.
We have the figures of the number of people who have been executed in Northern Ireland. The last execution was in 1961. That was years before the death penalty was abolished in this country. Only 11 people in all have been executed in Northern Ireland since 1922. It seems to me extraordinary that, using the words of the former Home Secretary, we are at war with the IRA and yet this terrible final sanction should be removed, bearing in mind what the Army always said when they captured IRA men, that they were so frightened that they used to tell everything. Surely there must be some advantage in retaining capital punishment till we see peace restored in Northern Ireland.
If the argument, to which we have just listened, by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) carried any sort of weight in this Committee, it would mean that there would never be any solution, never any end, to the extremities which have been perpetrated by both sides in Northern Ireland. With respect to the hon. Member, his was a highly emotive speech, but it contained no element of constructive purpose or thought. It seemed to me that the arguments upon which he relied were quite deliberately selective. It was put to him on a number of occasions whether he could in principle draw a distinction between the appalling offence involving this man Brown and the other offences to which the hon. Member referred. He drew such a distinction.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. I have made my speech, and I do not want to interrupt him or take up any more time, but there is a clear distinction. As I said, no one can condone Brown's action, but he shot on the spur of the moment. There are other examples of other people who have committed calculated and atrocious murders planned in advance.
I found it very difficult to understand that distinction upon which the hon. Member sought to rely, and I began to form the impression that he was arguing that capital punishment should be retained for a certain section of the community in Northern Ireland and not for another section. That would be the practical application of the hon. Member's thinking.
When he opened his speech and made an attack upon the Labour Government of 1969 as being responsible for this terrible escalation of violence I thought that he was injecting a massive dose of irrelevance into this debate. Maybe the hon. Member thinks that it is helpful to his argument to rely upon bogus political points. Perhaps more realistically it indicates his growing political insularity and desperation.
When he said that it was a slap in the face for those of this Committee who favoured capital punishment, I do not think that he could have listened to the very measured speeches which came from both Front Benches this afternoon. It was not a question of attacking the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), who put his own view in the debate we had some weeks ago. The logic of what has been said time and time again was that the House of Commons had enunciated a particular view that in the United Kingdom we should not impose capital punishment and that there was, therefore, no reason for making a distinction in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Down, North interprets that as an attack upon the hon. Member for Cathcart and his supporters. That does not do any sort of justice to the very serious matters we are debating now.
What I found difficult to understand about the hon. Member's speech was whether he was arguing that capital punishment in Northern Ireland represented a deterrent or whether he was arguing for a process of revenge. The hon. Member is saying that it was a deterrent, but he produced not a single statistic, no sort of evidence at all, that it had ever operated as a deterrent. What evidence was the hon. Gentleman able to produce that capital punishment would have stopped one serious act of violence leading to murder?
This is not the sort of thing that can be proved with evidence. Goodness knows how many more people would have died if gunmen, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, had realised that they could get away with not just ordinary murders but obscene, calculated crimes.
I hope to be able to show, as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) have already shown, that capital punishment in the circumstances affecting Northern Ireland is completely irrelevant, because it does not deter and is not capable of deterring the people who are bent upon committing the sort of crimes that are occurring in that part of the United Kingdom. One therefore comes inevitably to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman's main argument is based upon revenge.
The hon. Gentleman denies it, but the House will draw its own conclusion from his speech. He asserts that terrorists would be deterred by the imposition of the supreme penalty. There are plenty of terrorists who are irrational and they certainly would not be deterred. Let us take the rational terrorists who set upon a planned criminal enterprise in which they are determined if necessary to take life, the sort of terrorists who participate not only in events in Northern Ireland but in hijacking.
Unhappily, the world has seen too many examples of brutal murders being perpetrated by political activists of the worst kind. These people set out purposefully to undertake this form of criminal adventure with no regard to the possible consequences of imprisonment or capital punishment. They know the risks they take, because the aircraft is protected by armed guards, and they assume the risks quite deliberately. Do the hon. Gentleman and his supporters believe that the imposition of capital punishment would make the slightest difference to them or to those who aid and abet them? Of course it would not.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the powerful psychological value of capital punishment, but that is gibberish. It is straining credulity to believe that these people would be deterred for one instant by such considerations.
Self-preservation can be, amongst rational and law-abiding people, but does the hon. Gentleman think that a person who decides to hijack an aircraft at Munich, for example, is concerned about the possibility of death? He would not embark upon the enterprise if he were. The fact that capital punishment is imposed in certain countries made no difference to hijackers who operated in those countries.
The hon. Gentleman says that it did, but he has produced no evidence to support his conclusions.
All hon. Members will agree that the history of Northern Ireland in the last few years has been a horrendous chronicle of death and maiming. That has been translated to some extent, though mercifully only on isolated occasions, into Great Britain. That is an import we do not want. Incidents have occurred in Aldershot and in London. I was involved in the Aldershot case and there could not have been a more clearly calculated attempt to commit murder. The people who perpetrate such crimes would not be deterred by capital punishment. They are political militants who could not care less about the personal risks to themselves.
I have given way several times. Many hon. Members wish to speak and I think it would be unfair for me to continue to do so.
We had similar debates on the motion put down by the hon. Member for Cathcart and in Committee on the Protection of Aircraft Bill. The Committee decided without a Division not to include in the Bill capital punishment as the penalty for hijacking. We have decided not to have capital punishment in any shape or form as part of the law of this country. Yet the hon. Member for Down, North and his supporters wish it to be retained in Northern Ireland. To do that would place an intolerable burden upon the Secretary of State who is already sufficiently burdened in the exercise of his duties and functions in Northern Ireland. Would not the imposition of capital punishment exacerbate the already enormous difficulties? What would be its value? Would it act as a deterrent or would it create an even more explosive situation? I think the latter is likely to be true.
When the supreme penalty is capable of being executed there is always the possibility of error, and that can arise in Northern Ireland just as it has in this country. Has the hon. Gentleman considered what would be the political consequences of a judicial error or an error on the part of the Secretary of State? What pressures would be imposed upon the Secretary of State in the exercise of his prerogative of mercy? Would not those pressures be enormous, and would not the terrorists be encouraged to take even more active measures while he was giving consideration to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy? The hon. Gentleman has avoided the full significance of these possibilities.
It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that soldiers can be condemned to death, but that does not support his argument. Rather it supports the view that soldiers should not be exposed to that penalty. I hope that we shall be logical and make sure that the Army does not continue to have the capacity to impose this penalty. I do not know when was the last time the supreme penalty was exacted in these circumstances, but I hope that it will cease to be any part of military law.
Having abolished capital punishment in Great Britain, the only logical step is to ensure that Northern Ireland similarly does not in future apply the penalty of capital punishment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke with some emotion, and emotion is not always the best tutor nor is it the best guide to wisdom. When a Member representing a Northern Irish constituency speaks strongly about his feelings of what is happening or what is likely to happen in Northern Ireland, those of us who represent other parts of the United Kingdom always listen with respect and sympathy.
The issue whether we should today vote for the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland is for me, and I am sure for many other right hon. and hon. Members, a matter of great concern. The one thing I wish to do is to avoid any charge of inconsistency in the decision which I personally intend to take. I am one of those who have consistently opposed the abolition of capital punishment. I have consistently supported the attempts, recent and more remote, to re-introduce capital punishment as the penalty for murder. I am fully aware that the views which one expresses on this issue are not likely to attract unanimous support on one side or other of the Committee, but I do not think that anybody would disagree with the view taken by the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment that undoubtedly the gravest of all crimes is murder which deserves the gravest of all punishments.
Nobody would seek to argue that capital punishment is not the gravest of all punishments. I do not think there is anything which the law can devise which is able, or which is likely to be able, to achieve the deterrent effect of the death penalty on the mind of a potential killer. I personally believe that no other form of judicial punishment can be relied upon to inspire the degree of fear which is most likely to discourage a potential killer.
I am not moved by the argument that if capital punishment were to be retained in Northern Ireland that would be the only part of the United Kingdom where this form of punishment would be available. Nor am I moved by the fact that capital punishment in Northern Ireland would be mainly aimed at the terrorists. It may well be right, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, that fear of death would not deter the terrorist. However, I do not believe that to be a decisive argument. My approach to the very difficult decision that we all must make today is governed by the fact that before I would be willing for capital punishment to be reintroduced into this country I should want to have an assurance that the verdict which would precede that punishment would be the verdict of a jury of 12 and not an emasculated decision of a majority verdict.
One difficulty which faces me today is that only last week the Standing Committee which is considering this Bill voted to abolish the jury in Northern Ireland for scheduled offences, including murder. The practical effect of that decision will mean that a single judge will have to come to a verdict which may result in the death penalty. I believe that would be an intolerable burden to put upon the shoulders of one man, be he judge or otherwise. I cannot see a judge carrying out the function of what essentially is the onerous duty of a jury of 12. For this reason, and for this reason alone, I find myself compelled, after the most considerable worry and agitation of mind, to vote for the clause.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) will forgive me if I do not take up the points made in his speech.
On 11th April I voted against the motion for a Bill to reintroduce the death penalty proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) largely on grounds of principle which apply equally to this new clause. I do not accept the doctrine of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I regard such a doctrine as profoundly illiberal and contrary to the views of most Members of this House. However, I accept that society must be able to use the ultimate sanction of taking human life in its own defence where no other effective alternative exists and where it can be proved that the taking of human life is essential to the defence of that society. I believe that the onus of proof must be on society and upon those who advocate the retention of the death penalty to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there is no effective alternative to the death penalty and that its use will be an effective deterrent. I believe that no such case has been made out.
If that is the case for the United Kingdom, how much more clearly must it be the case in Northern Ireland? We have today heard the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) set out far better than I could the reasons why the death penalty should not be retained in Northern Ireland. If it cannot be seen—and I believe that it cannot—as an effective deterrent in this country, how can it be seen as such in Northern Ireland?
We have heard of the innumerable examples of the effect that the death penalty has had in Northern Ireland. On the occasions when it has been used it has turned murderers—which is what they are—into martyrs. Perhaps I might remind the Committee of the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) on the last occasion on which we debated this subject. He said
But does anyone seriously believe that in cases of political terrorism capital punishment would be a helpful deterrent? To take this view seems to me to show a grave misunderstanding of the motivation of those who commit such crimes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April 1972; Vol. 854, c. 1337.]
The right hon. Gentleman was, in that context, speaking about Northern Ireland in particular, and the question of motive is of paramount importance. It is unlikely that anyone imbued with a political ideal, or with political hatred, will be deterred by the threat of the death penalty. Indeed, we know from experience that in all too many cases it has acted as a spur.
The Secretary of State said that anyone shooting at a policeman or soldier in Northern Ireland is in effect risking the death penalty because he is likely to be shot. But the figures which we have been given today show that over the last four years that deterrent has had no effect.
I think that a brief look at Irish history bears that out. I was not present at the Easter Rising in 1916, but I believe that at the end of it those concerned were derided and spat at by the people of Dublin, but as soon as the leaders were executed they became martyrs to be remembered as part of Irish history. As soon as others concerned with the rebellion were detained they, too, became heroes of Irish nationalism. That will be the effect if the death penalty is used in Northern Ireland today.
We have heard that the death penalty has hardly ever been used since 1942. The hon. Member for Leeds, South told us why the Secretary of State has had to commute the sentence on a Protestant. He is now likely to have to commute a sentence on a Roman Catholic. The use of the death penalty in Northern Ireland is now politically impossible. It would grossly inflame the situation there. Therefore, on that ground alone, there is little point in retaining a doubtful deterrent which cannot be used and which is wrong in principle.
I do not see any reason for retaining the death penalty in Northern Ireland rather than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it seems to me that the reverse is true and that there is far less of a case for retaining the death penalty in Northern Ireland than in the United Kingdom, and that is little enough in itself.
I hope that for reasons both of principle and of practicality the House will give its full support to the new clause, as I shall.
The House has on various occasions expressed itself on the issue of capital punishment, and the overwhelming vote has been for its abolition. Therefore, I do not think that any speeches today by those who feel that in the present situation in Northern Ireland the death penalty should be retained will carry weight.
It is easy for someone to say, "I do not accept the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", which was the view put forward by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) and the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), but one must remember that in the scriptures there are arguments of principle and personal relationships, and there are also arguments of principle and national relationships.
If someone says that he utterly rejects the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he should change the arrangement of the yellow card for the Army and tell its members that that is not a principle by which they can abide. There must be a clear distinction between the personal relationship of "if a man smite thee on the one cheek allow him to smite thee on the other" and national relationships, and that should be made clear.
It has also been argued that capital punishment is not a New Testament doctrine, but the man who wrote most of the New Testament was the Apostle Paul, and he said, "If I am guilty, I am prepared to die", so he evidently accepted the principal of capital punishment. I do not want to develop this, because it is not the relevant argument today. We are today arguing about the circumstances of Northern Ireland, and we ought to keep that clearly in mind.
It should be clear to hon. Members— but it appears from the debate that it is not—that the death penalty in Northern Ireland is for a limited degree of murder. If a policeman is not in uniform and is on the way home—and the same applies to a member of the Army who is off duty—and someone knows his movements and plans callously and coldly to ambush and kill him—as happened in the brutal murders on the Antrim road when members of the forces while off duty were lured by women into a house which had been rented and paid for some days before, and then killed—he cannot be indicted on a capital charge. That must be kept clearly in mind when discussing the matter that is before the Committee today.
The law says that if a policeman is on duty, or if a member of the security forces is on duty, or if a member of the public is assisting the security forces in carrying out their duties, then, if a murder is committed, there can be a capital charge.
As a matter of record—because any discussion ought to be on the facts—Section 10(l)(a) of Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Act 1966 says:
murder of any constable or person in the service of the Crown acting in the course of, or of any person assisting any constable or person",
and so on.
I said that it applied to a person assisting the forces of the Crown when they were doing their duty. If such a person were gunned down, there would be a capital charge. But that is the limitation of the section.
I think that we ought to keep some of the murders and facts in mind. I utterly deplore the shooting of policemen, or anybody else, in circumstances outside the law. In the Brown case, there was an on-the-spot confrontation. The policeman was on duty and was attempting to prevent a man from committing a crime. The outcome was that the policeman was shot. There was no premeditation, and no prearranged set-up. I hear someone say that there could have been premeditation. I shall leave it at that. The murder had not been planned. The murderer had not taken a room in advance. He had not arranged for the policeman to be decoyed to that room so that he could be murdered there. In that case there was a straightforward confrontation. Under the present law, a capital charge can be brought in those circumstances, because the policeman was on duty.
Another case concerns the Old Park filling station where an off-duty policeman was washing his car. A member of the IRA saw him and told a companion. The two men hi-jacked a car, got a stocking mask and a gun from their homes, went to the filling station and brutally murdered the policeman. Under the present law no capital charge can be brought against those men, who were guilty of premeditated and coldly calculated murder.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, irrespective of whether a case could be the subject of a capital charge, both the cases to which he referred resulted in the murder of policemen, and that, whether they were premeditated or not, they were wrong? We ought to say so in this House if something is wrong.
I have already said that. What I am saying now is that we should think of giving the utmost protection to policemen and soldiers, on or off duty. We have heard the voice of people who are more intimately related to the situation than we are. This was the voice of the Police Federation, which represents the lower strata of the police society, and we have also heard from the superintendents. Those policemen of Northern Ireland are saying, "We are the people who will suffer, whose families will feel the blow of this action by the House. We ask you to keep this deterrent."
We are all aware of the views of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Police Federation also wanted the death penalty retained in the rest of the United Kingdom. Policemen are very close to these issues. Obviously, one takes cognisance of their views, but at the end of the day Parliament must make up its mind. The question that the hon. Gentleman should ask himself is, will the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland prevent the death of policemen in the present circumstances? That is the crucial question.
I will apply myself to that question, but I still feel that it is no use English Members arguing this matter in the context of England. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)—a very unusual thing for me. It is no use blinking the facts: religion and politics do come into this. I have no brief for any murderer, but is it not unfortunate that, after the IRA had gunned down many policemen and soldiers, not one of them was arrested on a capital charge, and that the first person arrested on a capital charge happened to be a Protestant belonging to an organisation that had reacted after a whole series of murders? That is a very solemn fact.
It is said that a deterrent already exists in that the Army and the police can shoot on sight. Is it not remarkable in how few cases the Army or the police have been successful in gunning down someone who is actually committing a crime? The greatest deterrent would be if a man planting a bomb knew that he had only one chance in a hundred of getting away with it. But the odds are nearly 100 to one that he will get away with it.
We all condemn the dastardly murder in Belfast yesterday and the bombing of a bar in Belfast without warning, whoever was responsible. We must remember that the British Army and the police have not always been able to get at those who are trying to murder them. How can anyone say that a soldier's gun is a deterrent when the wires that detonated a landmine ran across the border to a foreign country, where men could sit in happy isolation and trigger off an explosion which could kill soldiers?
Let the courts of Northern Ireland keep the law and allow people to be extradited to the South. They are then handing them over to a State that has retained the ultimate sentence. If that young man from Londonderry is found guilty of the crime alleged against him in the South, he will hang. Extradition should not be a one-way street. If the courts of Northern Ireland are expected to do their duty, the Government should ensure that extradition is held off until we see noted criminals in the South, who boast of having murdered soldiers, brought back to face trial. It is inconsistent——
The hon. Member is powerfully explaining certain facts to English Members. Perhaps he would also explain the peculiar fact that, when young Brown was under sentence of death, the minority community to a man joined the majority in seeking his reprieve, but that, now that another young man, who happens to come from the other community, is under sentence of death, not one leader of the majority community, not one organisation, has joined the minority in seeking a reprieve. How does it come about—the hon. Member was right to say that religion comes into this—that, when a Protestant is under sentence of death, the entire population demands a reprieve, but that when a Catholic——
It is entirely unfair of the hon. Member to make those allegations. Many people in Northern Ireland believe strongly in the abolition of capital punishment and, whether they arc Protestants or Roman Catholics, have always said that it should be abolished. They have said it in the case of this Roman Catholic. I have never made any comment on the case of Brown. I have been absolutely consistent in this matter, but I utterly deplore the hon. Member's suggestion that the Protestants of Northern Ireland, even those who are professed abolitionists, are so biased that they want abolition only for Protestants. That is not true.
Church bodies and others who are convinced abolitionists are entitled to their view, as I am to mine. I think that I can say that they hold their view as sincerely as I hold mine. They have said that the death penalty should be abolished for everybody.
I think the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a very serious admission when he said that it would be impossible under the present circumstances to carry out this law because of the reaction against the police and the Army if capital punishment took place. That is almost an admission that law has broken down in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we need to realise that there is a far deeper principle here, that we are only seeking to do away with the death sentence because the Government find it impossible to carry it out. That being so, the sovereignty of this House is at stake, and the sovereignty of this House needs to be reinforced. We should not run away from it and pretend that is not the issue. It was with sorrow that I heard the Secretary of State admit that. The reality of it will perhaps come home to every Member of this House today as we consider it.
There is another matter which my Friend the hon. Member for Down, North mentioned and which I think we should consider. Not only have we the police saying that this should not be done, but it will be looked upon at the present moment as another way of allowing the terrorists to get their power and to get their strength in Northern Ireland. Whether we like it or not, that will be the way in which it will be interpreted—and that again weakens the power and the influence of the Government, for here are the Government, whose chief spokesman has said today that even if this is the law, we cannot carry it out. That is a terrible admission, and the reality and the implications of it should weigh heavily on every Member of this House.
Those are the matters which concern me as a Member for a Northern Ireland constituency. I should have liked to see the ultimate sanction, not only in the sense in which the law stands today, but in the present circumstances as a dark shadow over every person in the community, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, who goes out to murder his fellow citizens, whether on duty or off duty. I say that sincerely from my heart. The Government have plotted another course. [Interruption.] Had the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) been in the House, he would have heard me give the arguments from the Christian point of view and if he wants to take them up with me at any time I will be happy to do so. We are not saying to the Army today that if an IRA man strikes a soldier on one cheek he should allow him to strike him on the other. That is not the policy that the Government are carrying out. Everybody knows that in the scriptures, the basis of Christianity is the New Testament and there are personal laws to do with personal relationships. [Interruption.] The man who wrote most of the New Testament, for the information of the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) was the Apostle Paul. He believed in the death penalty for he said, in the Book of the Acts, "If I am guilty, I am prepared to die". So if the Apostle Paul believed in the death penalty, it ill-becomes the hon. Gentleman to say that it is un-Christian.
I always thought that the Apostle Paul was a Christian. I want to continue to deal with the important result of what we do today. Members of this House say very strongly that the House has the right to do this, and I do not take anyone up on that, but surely when we are having an election in Northern Ireland, when people are to get a direct mandate, the opinion of that Assembly, which will be elected at the end of this month could have been sought. It would be interesting to know the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland who are affected by what we are doing here today. Their views should have been taken into account.
Some hon. Members of the Opposition may think that we shall have another Stormont. All Opposition spokesmen, however, have hailed the Assembly as a reform. The Opposition Front Bench certainly hope that the Assembly will not be another Stormont and that it will be able to make a contribution to Northern Ireland. Surely the opinion of that Assembly should have been received and heard.
The Secretary of State has the power of reprieve. That does not mean that in every case that comes before him a person has to have the ultimate sanction. The Secretary of State has exercised the power to reprieve, no doubt carefully, in keeping with the situation that has been presented to him. I sympathise with the Secretary of State in his arduous task and his difficulties. No one knows those difficulties better than hon. Members who come from Northern Ireland. But today the viewpoint in Northern Ireland, if it were ascertained, would be found to be the viewpoint which has been expressed by the police and which would be expressed by the mothers and sons of men serving in the Army, who would say, "We want our boys to have the greatest possible protection from the gunman's bullets."
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) suggested that this was not a question for the United Kingdom Parliament because it was distinctly an Irish question. Clearly there must be an Irish dimension to the question whether there should be capital punishment in Northern Ireland. But none of us who have to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament to adjudicate on that decision today can do so without any kind of reference to our experience in the United Kingdom or to our views about the ultimate question of capital punishment and the taking of life.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North discoursed at some length on two occasions on the interpretation which he puts on the scriptures in relation to the duties upon Christians, in both their personal relationships and their social relationships. I hear what he has to say about that matter. As a Christian, I disagree with his division of responsibility between personal and social relationships in that way. I am sure that it makes life a good deal easier, but in my interpretation of my obligation as a Christian, I cannot divorce my personal relationships from my social relationships. That is not the interpretation that can be brought to the whole message of the New Testament.
I start on this personal note because one's views about capital punishment is inevitably coloured by one's personal conviction about the nature of life and the right of the State to take life. That is why I reply in this personal way to the matters raised by the hon. Member.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not get the tenor of my remarks. I did not say that there were two relationships. I said that there is a difference between the relationships of persons and the relationship of the State. I was saying that the State has power to do things, which the hon. Gentleman will readily agree, which the person has not the power to do.
I disagree. If the hon. Gentleman has not yet been able to interpret the idea of social relationships, namely, our obligations to each other and our obligations as a State, which is simply a collection of the individuals who comprise the community, he has a good deal to learn about Christianity, despite his calling.
For that reason, I return to the fundamental concept that life is valuable to anyone who adopts the philosophy of the Christian. It is immensely valuable because each individual is conceived to be created in the image of the Maker. For that reason, therefore, I cannot accept that the State has a right to take life unless it can show that it will be of overwhelming importance in the saving of other human lives within the community.
I make a distinction here in relation to the rôle of the Armed Forces. I accept that where the State is threatened by attacks upon it which are likely to endanger human life and the taking of human life by the State might save that endangered human life, there is there a difference of evils, one evil being rather less than the other. It is in that way that I approach the whole business of capital punishment.
I am not a pacifist. I have never believed that it was necessary for a Christian to say that he would not take life in any circumstances, because in a difficult human situation one is sometimes faced not with the choice of good and evil but with the choice of differing evils. That is a situation in which the State sometimes finds itself. It finds itself in that situation in Northern Ireland. Because of the immense value of each individual human life, there must be an overwhelming public good in taking life in order to save other lives before one can accept the necessity for capital punishment.
Therefore, I begin with that personal statement, and I move on to my view about capital punishment generally. I have heard the arguments that have gone over the years on this subject. I listened with great interest, as I always do, to the arguments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) for reintroducing capital punishment in this country. The House of Commons has rejected those, and rightly so. If the Committee accepts the thesis that I have just put forward, it then has to turn to the evidence to ascertain whether the public would be better served by capital punishment as a measure of protection against those who would take individual life in murder.
All the evidence is against that argument. I have studied the arguments that have been put forward, particularly by the hon. Member for Cathcart but also by others, that experience in the last few years has belied the arguments that led most of us to accept the abolition of capital punishment in 1965. All that has happened is that there has been an increase in murder in that period, but the increase in murder is far less relatively than the increase in serious crime generally.
Of course it is right that in a violent situation one is likely to find an increase in the number of murders. Violent societies, be they in New York or Johannesburg, are experiencing enormous rises in the number of murders. It would be very curious if we in Britain were to find, with an increase in serious crime and violent crime of all kinds, that there was not also an increase in the murder rate. There is an increase, but it is so miniscule in comparison with the overall increase in crime that it cannot be said that it is an indication of a lessening in the deterrent, if there ever were a deterrent in any kind of criminal punishment.
Since 1962 serious crime has increased in Britain by 100 per cent., but crimes of murder have increased by only 40 per cent. Taken as a percentage of the population, the number of crimes of murder has risen by an almost infinitesimal amount. For that reason, therefore, I see no real evidence for the argument that capital punishment is now a deterrent when it was not thought to be a deterrent in 1965.
That was because when I looked at the figures for serious crime I found that those which served most easily were those contained in the report of the Inspector of Constabulary last year, and they go back to 1962. They are not related to capital punishment, but it is interesting to make this comparison because it was in that period that capital punishment was tried as was non-capital punishment, and it was in that period that capital punishment was abolished. At any rate the hon. Member will be able later in the debate to argue a contrary case.
However, I deal with the continuation of the argument as it applies to Northern Ireland. If there is no evidence now, as there was not in 1965, that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder in the settled conditions of the United Kingdom, is there a case for saying that there is a different situation in Northern Ireland? Clearly, transparently, there is a very different situation in terms of what has been referred to as the breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland. That is obvious. But does that mean that one should apply a different test to determining whether capital punishment should be abolished there?
I am interested in the argument that my hon. Friend is putting forward. Is not the difference in Northern Ireland that this House has accepted the fact that the soldiers there should be capable of immediate capital punishment? If any gunman, from whatever side, shoots a comrade or a civilian the soldier is permitted immediately to shoot back to kill. Are we not therefore hiding behind our responsibilities when we support the soldier to do such a thing, but when the person involved is not shot but is captured and found guilty of the crime of murder we do not have the courage of our convictions to do what we are asking the soldier to do?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he pinpoints the part of the argument so far adduced in the debate to which any of us who take a contrary view have to reply, and I hope to reply to it in the course of my argument if my hon. Friend will permit me to do so in my own way.
The argument that has been advanced seems to be twofold. First, it is argued that this is a war situation and that in a war situation the State is entitled to take life not because it will be a deterrent but because in a war situation the enemy shoot to kill the upholders of the State and the State is entitled to kill those who are involved in a war. To some extent that is the burden of the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Baxter). He asks, if the soldiers are taking life in the course of the struggle, why should not the State in its organisation through the courts take life in relation to murder?
I should have thought that the answer to that was well rehearsed in any war situation that had taken place in this country. During the last war we were fighting an enemy and we killed them by the million. We bombed them, we blasted them and we shot them in personal confrontation. We encouraged our soldiers to bayonet them when that was necessary in the course of a war situation. But if we captured them, we did not shoot them because they had been engaged in a war. We did not take them to one side and kill them. Indeed, on the occasions when the Germans did that to our prisoners, we regarded that as a horrible crime of war for which they were subsequently condemned by public opinion and ultimately, when they were captured, condemned in the courts.
Is my hon. Friend not making a fundamental mistake? We are not at war in Northern Ireland. The facts speak for themselves, irrespective of what anybody else says. We have forces there to keep the peace. In a general war situation we do not murder anyone we capture, but in war the innocent as well as the guilty are destroyed. Here is the difference: in Northern Ireland it is the innocent who are being destroyed and the guilty who go free. I should like my hon. Friend to direct his attention to the facts. Northern Ireland is not in a war situation. The men and women in our forces are there to keep the peace, and my hon. Friend should direct his attention to that aspect.
I cannot deal with all the objections raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire because my speech will be unwieldy. However, the hon. Member for Down, North, who was one of the first speakers in the debate, specifically put his argument on that basis, that we were in a war situation and that we had to act accordingly.
Indeed, we are not, but there is some relevance in the argument because it indicates that even when we are at war we take a different view of the situation between soldiers acting out a war situation in battle and the State taking vengeance for something that was done by any of the individual participants in the war.
Therefore I inquire whether there is any argument for taking the lives of those who have murdered in Northern Ireland in a terrorist situation, whether they be Protestant or Catholic. For the life of me I cannot see any. I have already indicated that I reject the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There must be the overwhelming reason of deterrence when capital punishment is applied, yet in a situation of terrorism for a political end deterrence has little relevance. As the hon. Member for Down, North, indicated, there are boys who are willing to be blown up as they carry explosives in order to further the cause, who clearly would be deterred if they were concerned about the loss of their lives. But they are not. In situations like this it is an honour to die for the cause. To die at the end of a hangman's noose, with the accompanying publicity, would further increase the strain on relationships between the communities in Northern Ireland and would be a great honour that any participant in the terrorism would seek.
The hon. Member for Down, North, spoke about the war against the IRA but we should be handing the IRA the situation on a plate if we were to hang a Catholic in this situation for an offence which those who supported him regarded as being part of a political campaign for the freedom of Northern Ireland. He would go down in the long list of Irish martyrs who have exacerbated the situation there. Therefore when the situation in Northern Ireland dictates a different course from the situation in the United Kingdom, it dictates a contrary course. If we continued with capital punishment in Northern Ireland the situation would worsen and not improve.
Another argument was put forward by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). I have considerable respect for the hon. and learned Member but he was less than forthright in advancing his argument. He said that there is now a changed situation in Northern Ireland for the peculiar technical reason that the Bill introduces a changed situation in relation to jury trial. There would be some weight in the hon. and learned Member's argument had he not voted with the Government in Committee on the clause that changed that situation in relation to jury trial. If he had voted the other way the situation would have remained unchanged. When the vote was taken in Committee there was an equality of voting. The Clause remains in the Bill only because the Chairman supported the Government. I find that an unacceptable argument for the hon. and learned Member to use to change his position. I find it an unacceptable argument anyway.
Whatever may be said about the rights or wrongs of the abolition of the jury system in Northern Ireland, the fact that we shall have no such system is a fact which we cannot ignore and which must be taken into account by all who take part in this debate.
I was about to enter that second part of the argument. One of the strongest arguments against capital punishment is that any human institution of judgment is necessarily fallible. Whatever kind of institution we devise for assessing the guilt of any accused man in relation to murder will occasionally be the subject of mistakes. We know that it has been in this country. We know that once we have hanged the innocent man who was the subject of a mistake we cannot call him back again. It does not matter whether the mistake is made by 12 men, 10 men or one judge. It is at the root of the difficulty of capital punishment that mistakes will be made.
What the hon. and learned Gentleman may be saying in his argument is that the fact that we are abolishing juries in Northern Ireland through this Bill will lead to more mistakes. I should have thought that that was an argument against Clause 1 generally and that we might have to reconsider the Clause on that basis. The way he put it was that it might be an intolerable strain upon the single judge. There is an intolerable strain upon a single Home Secretary or Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who in the final analysis has to decide the State's view about the value of a single human life.
I do not think it right that we should put that burden on the Secretary of State unless the argument is overwhelming. For that reason I do not accept any of the arguments put forward suggesting that the Irish example is different from the rest of the United Kingdom and therefore merits a different punishment. All the argument goes one way and we ought to accept the decision of the Secretary of State that capital punishment in Northern Ireland, too, should be abolished.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) raised the interesting question whether a war situation exists in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), when Home Secretary, used to say that a war situation did exist. In these circumstances the Government have to decide whether to treat it as a war situation—and to use all the powers, the rigours and the ruthlessness of war— or as a civil situation, with the normal civil procedures of the judicial trial, witnesses and juries, and with the troops being used in aid to the civil power.
If we choose the latter course it is important that the State retains the ultimate penalty—the death penalty. Otherwise it is better to switch over to a war situation.
The question whether there is a war in Northern Ireland has been argued at considerable length by Labour Members. There is, is there not, a marked difference between a military and a civil war? What we are concerned with here, despite what hon. Members say, is a civil war situation. The question then is whether we should apply the emergency procedures necessary to a civil war, as is done in other countries.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I shall be returning to the point shortly. Since this new clause was published, three weeks ago, nine soldiers have been murdered in Northern Ireland. We use the word "murdered" advisedly. We do not say they were "killed", we say they were murdered. The reason why we do this is partly to emphasise the fact that it is a terrorist situation—a civil situation by its nature—and partly to emphasise the heinousness of this crime and, within this, the protection and justice which the ordinary soldier or policeman feels he ought to receive.
Soldiers and policemen in Northern Ireland are exposed to a great deal of risk. The sniper's rifle with a telescopic sight is a deadly weapon. To give some measure of protection we issued the troops and the police with flak jackets. Everyone knows that these jackets will not protect against a direct hit. It is a psychological protection giving a certain sense of security. We would not dream of taking it away. In the same way, the death penalty gives the soldier or policeman a kind of psychological protection. He knows that it will not deflect a bullet. He knows, however, that at the back of the mind of the man behind the gun there lingers some doubt whether he will be subject to the death penalty.
This affects the question of morale. In this situation we need to give every protection, however slight, to the men out there who are so exposed in what must be the dirtiest campaign of modern warfare. Morale is an extremely important weapon in our armoury. Abolition of the death penalty would affect that morale. It would have the effect of cheapening the life of the soldier or policeman by creating in his mind and in the mind of the terrorist the idea that his life was less important than was previously thought.
We have also to consider the fact that these men, particularly the soldiers, are on four-month tours, during which time they are always on duty. They get no time off and are therefore exposed for four months, except when sleeping, to the danger of sudden death. It is not as if this was a once-for-all tour of duty. The norm for the average British Army unit is now rising to seven of these tours. That is a long time to expose men, particularly soldiers, to this kind of danger. Policemen and members of the UDR are equally exposed the whole time. But the soldiers are the main targets, and there have been two-and-a-half times more killings of soldiers since 1969 than of members of the local forces. We are considering this new clause against a very alarming background—in terms of the total number of people murdered in Northern Ireland, the number of members of the security forces murdered, namely, 251, and of the number of members of the British Army murdered, namely, 179.
I speak from experience, because I have been at the heart of the matter. We all know that there has been sweeping through this country a wave of revulsion against violence and terrorism. For that reason many of us in this House decided to take the initiative to try to re-introduce the death penalty in this country. The initiative taken in the Ten Minute Rule Bill was not that the House should confirm an existing situation but that a substantial number of Members wished to see the return of the death penalty. Therefore, this seems to be an odd time to propose abolishing it.
In describing that situation, the Diplock Commission stated that it was unquestionably an emergency threatening the life of the nation. That sums up the situation, but that is not the way in which we often hear it described in the House.
My right hon. Friend, today and in his speech on Second Reading, gave as his reasons for introducing the new Clause the Ten Minute Rule Bill, which I have already mentioned, but I cannot believe that this in any way changes the situation.
It simply confirms an existing and unhappy situation, in which the House is apparently at loggerheads with opinion in the rest of the country.
There is another factor which people say played a great part in that decision, namely, the result of the Diplock proposals and the question of juries being replaced by a single judge. If this criticism is accepted, can it be wrong for the highest penalty not to be decided by a single judge and yet have the alternative penalty—life imprisonment—decided by a single judge?—because that sentence also deprives a man of his liberty.
There was recently a court of appeal hearing relating to the conviction in the case of Albert Brown. We did not hear any complaints from the appeal judges that the decision which they were asked to make was too onerous for them. The judges had to decide on a matter of life or death. In that case they confirmed the death penalty. Therefore, if this criticism is valid in terms of a single judge there is no reason why a panel of judges should not be created to hear murder cases in which either life imprisonment or the death penalty may be invoked.
We have been given a free vote in the House today. In a way, this is a compliment. There are many occasions when we press for a free vote because we feel it gives us more power of decision. In this case we are discussion—to use the terms of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966—murder and the protection of persons in the service of the Crown. This is a decision for the Government. They should have the courage of their convictions and say whether they made this decision, and whether they are prepared to carry it through.
This is a war of attrition. The side which has the best staying power and resources will win. When we are in sight of winning, it is not a very good idea to throw away one of our most important psychological weapons. I do not say that the decision we are considering will affect the outcome of the campaign, but it may give hope and comfort to the enemy and it may provide discomfiture for our own side. It may lengthen the campaign, and it could cost more lives.
I wish to put the following question, which is on similar lines to that which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put to the House but with a different emphasis: shall we, by the new clause, save lives? After searching our consciences, if we can honestly say that voting for the clause will save lives, no doubt we shall vote for it. On the other hand, if we have the smallest doubt in our minds whether it will save lives, it is our duty to vote against it, and I shall vote accordingly.
In his closing remarks, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), said that we should try to satisfy ourselves whether the new clause will save lives. I put the question slightly differently. We need to satisfy ourselves whether the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland may save lives. That is a less severe test, and it is the test which I impose on myself. I have come to the conclusion that the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland might well save lives. Therefore, I shall vote for its retention.
In my short membership of the House, I have never been more unhappy about speaking in a debate, because I realise that by speaking in the sense which I have indicated I shall offend some of my friends, in both their principles and their greater knowledge of Northern Ireland. If I could be persuaded away from that view, I should have been persuaded by the formidable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). He mounted the arguments, both of principle and of tactics, to their fullest value, in relation to the practical situation in Northern Ireland. I take seriously the recommendation of the Secretary of State, who has the unenviable task imposed by his post and who, with the knowledge and authority of that post, recommends that we should accept the clause. Nevertheless, I feel sufficiently sure of my own thinking not to accept it.
There have been many references to the matter of evidence. Does the evidence suggest that capital punishment will deter in Northern Ireland? We all recognise that there is no reliable evidence one way or the other on this matter, in relation either to Northern Ireland or to capital punishment generally, for murder in more normal circumstances. We exercise our common sense, rightly or wrongly—and only the Almighty will know whether we have done it rightly or wrongly—invoking the facts not ex post facto but in support of the view at which we have arrived prior to the facts. Statistics cannot prove the case one way or the other.
It has been questioned whether we are in a war situation. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), for whom I have the greatest respect, put forward the view that as we do not kill prisoners of war we should not take the life of a person who has been tried and convicted for committing a capital offence. The difference is that in Northern Ireland we are dealing with people who, for their grievances, have access to the law. In a war situation we are dealing with two sovereign States with nothing above them to enable them to reach a decision on the argument between them. Therefore, we have no means of judging, except in relation to the narrow class of war crimes, whether the activities of the armed forces on one side are sufficiently abhorrent to make them illegal and therefore punishable. Therefore, we do not exercise judgment against them.
However, in a civil case, where there is a fight within a country, where a person or group of people is offending against the law, and where the democratic processes, while imperfect, exist to be used, the situation is different. If a person offends against the law and the dangers he creates for others are sufficiently great, in principle the State is entitled to impose whatever severe penalties, up to the ultimate, seem to it to be necessary to achieve the best practical result.
I accept the principle that the punishment for murder in Northern Ireland should be the same as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. I should be prepared to face that and say that if a situation exists, in Northern Ireland principally, which justifies the retention of capital punishment it is incumbent on us at that time to retain it in the rest of the United Kingdom. Although I did not speak in the debate—there was not an opportunity to do so—it was for that reason that I abstained on the Bill of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) which was debated a few weeks ago.
The entity which creates the special considerations in this case is Ireland. It is not Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom. It is the whole of Ireland that suffers the risk of the matters that we are considering being done, and continuing to be done. That is why the death penalty still exists in Southern Ireland—because there the situation is exactly the same.
I realise that there are two anomalies. Is it right that the death penalty should exist in Northern Ireland and not in the rest of the United Kingdom? Is it right that it should be abolished in Northern Ireland but retained in Southern Ireland? The second anomaly is the more persuasive, but I should be prepared to face the consequence of the view that it should apply throughout the United Kingdom by saying that for this type of offence, despite the fact that the manifestations of these offences in Great Britain are not many, in order to preserve the principle that we should have one law throughout the United Kingdom, if we require it in Northern Ireland—as I think we do—we need to reintroduce it in Great Britain.
Does my hon. Friend realise what he is saying? He says that he cannot produce any evidence which shows that the retention of capital punishment in Northern Ireland would save lives, but he thinks that it might be so. On that basis, he wants us to reintroduce capital punishment in this country, in order to be consistent and to keep it in Ireland. His case must rest on evidence which is much stronger than that before even he can be convinced of it.
In many aspects of human lives we tend to call evidence facts that are adduced in support of instinctive opinions. We do not like to admit to instinctive opinions, because instinct is thought to be erratic and wrong and evidence is considered to be reliable. However, in truth, most of us reach our conclusions by what can be called instinct or the concept of common sense, or something like that.
I recall an old professor of mine saying, in a relative way, that the irrational is not always unreliable. There are considerations which come often to the mind, which are based on experience of life but for which it is difficult to adduce statistics. I do not think that we can adduce statistics that can prove the case one way or the other. As Bernard Shaw said, once a man's leg is cut off it cannot be said with certainty that he would not have lived if his leg had not been cut off. That is the situation that we are in.
This is an extremely serious matter, and I do not take my decision lightly. I should not be prepared to overrule my general principles except in the sort of situation that exists in Northern Ireland. Equally, when that situation exists, we must be prepared to take greater risks with our principles to ensure, or to make it more likely, that action will be taken which is necessary to stop the atrocities.
My hon. Friend has fairly put the matter on the basis that we must make up our minds on issues in respect of which it is often difficult to come to a conclusion. If we are dealing with people who are terrorists or guerrillas, in support of a political or religious point of view about which they feel passionately and for which they are prepared to risk being shot by soldiers in the course of their atrocities, are they the people whom my hon. Friend feels are most likely to be deterred by the threat of capital punishment? On the other side of the coin, if a prisoner, who is a popular hero of one side or the other, is to be executed, does my hon. Friend think that that is more or less likely to exacerbate violence in the community from which the prisoner comes?
I think that there are three kinds of murder. There is normal murder, which takes place in a community in normal circumstances—for example, the murder within a family. That is the sort of case where it is highly unlikely that that person, having committed one murder, will ever do so again. Then there is murder in the furtherance of serious crime. In such a case the argument that the death penalty may deter is at its greatest. Thirdly, there is murder in the pursuit of a political cause. I accept that there are people in Ireland who would almost be more encouraged to do these things if the death penalty existed.
The greatest danger in Northern Ireland is that we are breeding a young generation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South said, which takes breaches of the law for granted. It is a young generation in which a youth who is law-abiding is considered a drop-out. That situation is encouraged if we in any way suggest that we take these offences less seriously than they could be taken.
I did not rise to attempt to persuade any hon. Member to vote as I shall vote. I rose merely to explain my vote. I know that it will be offensive to my hon. Friends. I shall not attempt to make a persuasive speech. The point which I have mentioned is the one that is persuading me. We are breeding a generation of young people to whom the law is something which is there to be defied. It is considered that the police and the troops are targets to be shot at with impunity. Bombers are heroes and those who do not want to do such things are under intense pressure to do them or, at least, not to report those who do.
That situation is far more serious than any situation that has existed in the United Kingdom in modem times. The atrocities being permitted in this situation are far more severe than those which were characteristic of the several colonial wars in which Britain was engaged. Can any hon. Member think of many cases in Cyprus which were comparable to what happens almost weekly or monthly in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) suggests that he can. But such events did not happen monthly in Cyprus. Such things have become regular occurences in Northern Ireland. They are now taken for granted. We, on this side of the water—I confess that I am not an expert on Northern Ireland—do not fully appreciate the enormity of the departure from normal life which has come about in Northern Ireland. There has been a prolonged series of killings which goes on daily. In that situation we should be prepared to take fewer risks. By abjuring the most severe penalty we may be giving up what is to some people a deterrent.
My hon. Friends know that there is only one other aspect of the Northern Ireland situation on which I have been active in the course of my time at the House. That was the incident surrounding the Compton Report and the torture of prisoners who were in the charge of the British Army. I was deeply offended and ashamed by what happened. I spoke in that sense in the House. Consequently, I feel an obligation to say that just as I would not tolerate the British Army's overstepping the law and using torture against people in their charge, so it is my duty to fall over myself to find legitimate and legal ways in which to try to deter atrocities being committed against the British Army.
I accept, as would anyone who has read any history, that the case of Sir Roger Casement was not a miscarriage of justice but, politically, a highly stupid thing to do. I realise that were the death penalty to be retained the Secretary of State would have an onerous job. I accept that in many cases he would feel that for political reasons he would not wish the penalty to be exercised. However, I think that there may be circumstances in which it would be right to exercise it. Therefore, we must keep it on the statute book.
My hon. Friends and I very much respect the views that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) is putting forward. He has no need to apologise for putting forward his views. This is an important and emotional issue, and one on which my hon. Friend obviously feels deeply. But has he thought through what he has just said? Has the Secretary of State, whoever he may be, the right, in certain circumstances —for example, in the Brown case—to grant a reprieve, and in other circumstances not to do so? Is not that an intolerable position in which to put any Secretary of State? Would he not be open to political blackmail and pressures from either side of the community? Would it not make his job absolutely impossible? My hon. Friend has the right to try to prove the views that he is putting forward, but would his views lead to people being deterred from committing crimes in Northern Ireland? How would the implementation of the death penalty lead to a reduction in the killings in Northern Ireland?
I can no more prove that the retention of the death penalty would lead to a reduction in killings than my hon. Friend can prove that it will not, but this much can be asserted in common sense—that the retention of the death penalty would not lead to more killings, so there is no possibility of its going in that direction. Either it has no effect or else it could have the effect of reducing the number of killings, or, as I would prefer to say, of reducing the number of people in the community who get themselves into a situation where they might be brought to kill.
I accept that this would impose upon the Secretary of State an enormous responsibility which he does not want to have—who would want it? But in the circumstances someone must have it and only on these grounds do I suggest that it should be retained.
I want to take up a point which the hon. Gentleman has raised—that the retention of the death penalty would mean no reduction in killings. I think that one has again to depart from statistics. The fact is that in Northern Ireland, moving from the academic sense, to date only two people have been convicted of capital murder. One of them is a Loyalist and the other a member of the Provisional IRA. One reprieve has been granted. The two cases may be said to be different. The Secretary of State in his wisdom may decide that whereas he would grant a reprieve to one he would not grant a reprieve to the other. I am not pre-judging the issue, although I have asked for a reprieve for Holden, but I can safely say that, taking the political connotation of the Loyalists having already been reprieved, now not to reprieve the member of the Provisional IRA would guarantee such retaliation against the British Army as would make up for any reduction which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
I do not believe that whatever action the British Government take they can in any way soften the actions taken by the gunmen. I do not think that any political solution is available which will alter the actions of the gunmen. I do not think that any reprieve or lack of reprieve by the Secretary of State will make the gunmen hesitate to pull out their rifles from under the bed. If, in a certain eventuality, they would have shot a British soldier, they will shoot him. There is no way of buying them off with soft treatment or with hard treatment—call it what we like. These men are going to shoot every time they can shoot until they get a united Ireland—and not just a united Ireland, but a united Ireland under them.
The real danger is not the men who now shoot but the growing number of youths who are conditioned by what they see as the possibility of immunity for those who are doing these things. I can only assert it and those who disagree with me can only assert the opposite, for neither of us can prove it, and we must all rely upon our erratic common sense, but I believe that the existence of the death penalty may well deter a significant number of such youths from engaging in this kind of activity.
I am trying to follow closely my hon. Friend's argument about youth. Would not he accept that the people he accuses as being terrorists, and so on, were themselves youths a few years ago, and that they have been conditioned by the same kind of oppression as that by which their fathers were conditioned? One can go right back in Irish history and find the same kind of conditioning of youths over the centuries. That is one of the problems there. If the Committee were to reject new Clause 1, it would continue that process. Yet it is time we faced the fact that it has failed. This alleged deterrent would be counterproductive and have exactly the opposite effect.
The violence grew out of the history of Ireland. My blood is about as Irish as the blood of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). I acknowledge that the violence has come from the history of Ireland, including 50 years of gross misrule in Northern Ireland. But that violence can be continued by other means. It can be continued or led to continue more than it otherwise would be by reluctance on our part to impose the severest penalties.
My hon. Friend has himself indicated that he is talking about those people who are going to be terrorists whatever happens. Is he saying that they might be deterred but that they need not be provoked?
I do not fully understand the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer). I believe that there are people who might be recruited to the terrorists but are far less likely to be recruited if this penalty exists. One could write a book, but it would not say more than that sentence. It comes back to the question: does the proposition appeal to people, or does it not? Clearly, it does not appeal to a majority in this Committee, which is why the clause will be passed tonight.
I do not stand here to persuade my hon. Friends but only to explain my position. I say that the argument is persuasive to me and I do not believe that it is possible by any action by the British Government, positive or negative, to lead the gunmen to commit fewer atrocities than they have committed over the last few years. There is only one way of achieving that—to catch them, to try them and then to impose such penalties as seem to us in our common sense to match the acts which they have done and which seem most likely to deter others from committing such acts. On these grounds I shall vote against new Clause 1.
I have pleasure in following the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham). I admire his courage in making that speech. I listened carefully to the close argument that he advanced, and although I was not in agreement with him on the previous occasion on which he spoke I found that very much of what he had to say today reflected my own view of the situation in Northern Ireland.
I feel that it is not the dedicated terrorist that we are attacking tonight but the young boy who might be persuaded to join the terrorists, who will be given a gun and trained to use it. There is one point which the hon. Gentleman omitted to make, perhaps because of time and other reasons—the effect on that young boys' parents, his sisters, and perhaps his wife, if they know that he is going to risk his life, that he is likely to be hanged if he uses the gun and is caught. They will use the maximum influence they can to persuade him not to join these men of violence. That is what we are trying to achieve.
Let there be no mistake about it—the death penalty is a fearsome thing. If it were not, we should not be debating it as we are. It definitely has an effect on the minds of men and on the minds of their mothers and others in their families who have an influence on the course of events and on the steps which these young people will take. I have seen in my constituency how these young people are carried away by the emotion of it all. I have heard the arguments that are put up. I have seen how, in certain quarters, young people are encouraged to go along with the terrorists by people who, if the death penalty were retained, might take a different course.
Will the hon. Gentleman address his mind to the question of the emotive element which he is deploying? The point was put before that if the Secretary of State exercised his prerogative of mercy in one case but not in another there would be an immediate wave of emotion leading to violence of an incalculable character. Is that not exactly the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to argue?
I agree with the hon. Member. If capital punishment is retained it must be exercised fairly and properly on both sides. The hon. Gentleman may recall—or he can see in the record—that after very careful thought I did not advocate that Brown should be reprieved. That was because I feel that capital punishment is essential. In these circumstances, whether Brown, Holden, or any other person has been caught committing a crime of this nature, he must face the full consequences of his act. Only in that way can we protect innocent people in Northern Ireland, whose lives are being placed in peril by the weakness of this House.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that probably the greatest possible protection for the lives of the innocent is conviction and the upholding of law and order in that way? Does he not agree that in those circumstances the risk that a jury might not convict because of the mere existence of the death penalty, as has happened in this country over the years, is something which could undermine the whole system at this time?
My hon. Friend has a very important point. It is one I intend to cover later in my speech so, if he will forgive me, I will come to that in a moment.
I feel that the arguments which have been advanced during this debate have been in fact self-defeating. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said that he did not think that retaining capital punishment would bring a decrease in violence. But I would remind the Committee that the Army has been very much more active in the past six months and has been very much more successful not only in arresting but in some cases in shooting and killing terrorists. And what has been the effect of this success of the Army? It has led directly to a reduction in terrorist activity. I ask the Committee to consider that.
I see my right hon. Friend raising an eyebrow, but he must admit that there has been a quite clearly discernible reduction in the past six or eight weeks in terrorist activity.
I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend agrees with me at least on this point although he is introducing a new clause which goes in the opposite direction from my own argument.
My own argument is that if one successfully takes firm action against terrorists the result is that the amount of terrorism in Northern Ireland is reduced. I will quote in support of what I have said the actual events of the past two months.
The list of casualties is frightening. In the three years in which this terrorist activity has continued in Northern Ireland there have been more casualties than there were in the troubled period in the twenties. People seem to forget that. In fact, as has been quoted previously by the hon. Member for Leeds, South, among others, some 788 people have been killed in Northern Ireland.
I was surprised that my right hon. Friend, in opening this debate tonight, said that he could not state how many people had been killed as a result of IRA activities, and how many as a result of other activities. He must know that of these in the security forces who have been killed, some 250 is the total to date, including some 179 soldiers, in almost every case the IRA—the Provisional IRA or, on a few occasions, the official IRA—has issued a statement immediately afterwards claiming responsibility for the killings. There can, I suggest to the Committee, be no doubt at all as to who is guilty of the great preponderance of the deaths in Northern Ireland. It is the Irish Republican Army, and the deaths follow directly from the campaign they are waging in Northern Ireland against the people of Northern Ireland and the security forces there.
There have been some 206 people killed in explosions which have been the result of bombs deliberately and carefully placed at points where they would cause the maximum amount of damage in Northern Ireland, often quite regardless of the casualties that will be caused.
I feel in speaking against this new clause tonight that one fundamental point has to be considered, and it is a point which has been raised often during this debate. Will the retention of the death penalty in the limited cases to which this particular new clause applies save lives, or will it not? I suggest that it will save lives. I suggest that it will save lives simply because the boy who goes out with a gun in Northern Ireland, the Republican terrorist, firmly believes: first —to cover the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money)—that he will not be caught; secondly, that if he is caught and convicted there will be an amnesty in due course and he will be released, that he will not serve the full sentence which is imposed upon him by the court; and, thirdly, that if he uses the weapon with which he is provided, or if he plants a bomb in such a manner that it goes off and kills somebody, and is caught, then in the very unlikely event, in his own eyes at least, that he is convicted, he will not be hanged.
It is because he believes, first, that he will not be caught, secondly, that if he is caught he will not serve the full sentence, and, thirdly, that if there is a death he will not be hanged and therefore has every expectation of being free again in a matter of months or at the most years, that he is in no way deterred from carrying a gun and committing these offences. That is why the death toll has reached this appalling figure of 788. It is because there are so many people going about in Northern Ireland who are not deterred, as my hon. Friend pointed out, quite rightly—because they think they are going to get away with it. I agree with my hon. Friend.
I think the first step to bring the violence to an end—although this is perhaps irrelevant to this debate—is to increase police and army activities and the rate of detection. But, further than that, I believe that it is essential in the present circumstances in Northern Ireland that the death penalty be retained, simply because so many of those people are convinced that in the end there will be some form of amnesty. While they believe that, and while they feel that they will not be sentenced to death, they will go on carrying guns and bombs and performing the dastardly acts of terrorism from which we have suffered over the past three years.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he was afraid that, if the death penalty were exacted, there would be a reaction. This was exactly the argument advanced over the past three years when it was suggested that the British Army should go into the no-go areas. It was said that we should not go there because to do so would be inflammatory, that it would produce a reaction, innocent people would suffer, and the situation would be exacerbated. I need not remind my right hon. Friend of what happened in fact when the army went into the no-go areas.
In spite of what is said on both sides of the Chamber about the terrorists being heroes of the people, I am sure that, if they are caught after shooting a policeman in cold blood or, as in the recent case, pouring bullets into the backs of three off-duty soldiers forced to lie on their beds, no one on either side of the religious fence in Northern Ireland, no good Protestant or even Roman Catholic, would say anything to stop them being hanged for the crime.
Who can tolerate the sort of dastardly murder being committed in Northern Ireland? I am sure that if men caught committing offences of that kind are hanged, no violent reaction in the community will be provoked. I am certain of this, having spoken to many Roman Catholics in my constituency. They deplore the terrorist acts of the gunman. They want to see the day when terrorism ends. They would be the last to rise up and attack the British Army because the just processes of the law were carried out.
What will happen if the new clause is passed? One has only to think of the comrades of the Scottish soldiers who were shot, or of the others who went into a house yesterday and were blown to pieces by a booby-trap. When soldiers see a terrorist, will they try to catch him? Will a police officer who has seen a friend shot at his side try to catch the terrorist? The policeman or the soldier will become his own judge and jury, and the situation will get worse. I strongly urge that capital punishment be retained in order to reinforce the courts of law and the system of justice in Northern Ireland.
There is another factor in the mind of the terrorists. Many of them believe, quite apart from the possibility of an amnesty, that they will escape. They think that, if they are caught and given a life sentence, there is a strong possibility that they will escape and get away. They have seen others do it. This is yet another argument for the retention of capital punishment.
Perhaps the argument advanced most strongly from both Front Benches is the one based on the difficult position of the Secretary of State if capital punishment is retained, the terrible burden which will lie upon my right hon. Friend's shoulders in deciding who shall be reprieved and who shall not. I regard this as the weakest argument of all. Is the House of Commons to run away from its duty because of a fear of the duty which will lie upon the Secretary of State?
I apologise at once to my right hon. Friend. I accept that he did not advance that argument. But it has been an argument advanced in the House. [Interruption.] It is an argument which has been advanced for the abolition of capital punishment. In my view, it is a very weak argument.
I return to what I said at the outset. Capital punishment is a fearsome penalty. Anyone who has read anything about it— anyone who has read the "Ballad of Reading Gaol", perhaps an apposite reference in this debate—will know what it means. We have an unusually difficult situation in Northern Ireland. If we are to deal effectively with it, if we are to deter people from committing offences towards which emotion carries them in such circumstances we need an unusually severe deterrent if we are to deter them at all.
I support the new clause, for two reasons. First, I believe that all human life is sacred. I believe that no one living on this earth has the right, in any circumstances, to take the life of another. When I say that, I think of all human beings— members of the security forces, soldiers, policemen, UDR men, Provisional IRA men and Official IRA men. No one has the right to take another's life. That is my main reason.
The second reason which I bring to bear on this argument must, I believe, carry equal weight. In the Library of the House there are thousands of books written about the relationships between this country and Ireland. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of those relationships, or has turned the pages of history must be forced to conclude that the death penalty as it was applied in Ireland for political offences throughout the centuries had no deterrent effect. One has only to think of the long list of Irish martyrs, from Wolfe Tone, and before him, to the last Irish patriot condemned to death.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) said that if we now abolished the death penalty for capital murder there would be more murders, or at least that those committing them would have less to fear. Does the hon. Gentleman understand what has been happening in Northern Ireland over the past four years? One has only to think of the toll of soldiers, policemen, civilians, UDR men and all the others who have lost their lives. Was the death penalty any deterrent during the past terrible 48 months? Obviously, it could not have been.
No one can prove it one way or the other, but does the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South say that, instead of there being 788 deaths— the latest figure we have—there would have been 1,788 deaths if there had not been the death penalty? That is what that argument comes to.
I take that argument in reverse. The argument deployed by those who wish to maintain capital punishment is that self-preservation is man's prime instinct, that people will on all occasions strive to protect their own lives. But those who won the Victoria Cross deliberately put their own lives at stake. They were not afraid of death.
I am convinced that many of the people who are engaged in the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland at the moment are prepared to give up their lives because they are so dedicated to their cause, whether one agrees with them or not. I do not agree with the campaign of violence at present being waged by the IRA. It has brought disaster, destruction and tragedy to the whole of Northern Ireland. I do not believe they will achieve their political ends by carrying on the campaign. Let no one say that because I am tonight speaking in opposition to the death penalty I am in any way supporting those who are engaged in the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland.
Throughout the past week, as the Secretary of State will be aware, goons in Northern Ireland have been using, for their political ends, the fact that a young man is now under sentence of death in Northern Ireland. Last week and the week before we had many protests and demonstrations in the streets by people involved in the local government elections. That is one of the reasons why we said that the Secretary of State should not have the local elections at this time. Now the fact of this young man's being under sentence of death is being used by people in a very distasteful, indeed, nauseating way to attract to themselves votes in the local government elections. The sooner the Secretary of State makes up his mind about this case the better— but perhaps it will be decided for him by a free vote of the Committee tonight, so that this young man will no longer be left under sentence of death. I have no doubt that in the light of the recent debate the Committee will abolish the death penalty.
I come to another reason for which I oppose the retention of the death penalty in Ireland for capital murder. We have been asked to retain it for the murder of a soldier, a policeman, or someone in the security forces. I have already said that their lives are sacred, but so are the lives of other people who may be murdered in Northern Ireland—civilians killed by an explosion. I remember 1966, when the present Northern Ireland law on the death penalty was passed. I remember the very emotional atmosphere that prevailed in the House of Commons at Stormont at that time. There could be no doubt about the different attitudes of the various members. The Unionist Government wanted to retain the death penalty so that they could use it against Republicans convicted of murder—with one notable exception, the hon. Member for Shankill in the Stormont Parliament at that time, who spoke along the lines on which I am speaking this evening, saying that he was opposed to the death penalty for any reason.
Irish history illustrates the fact that the death penalty was never and can never be a deterrent in the relationship between these two islands and Republican attitudes to those relationships. I have no doubt that if Protestants such as Albert Brown, or anyone like him, were to be executed in Northern Ireland, it would bring on a very heavy loss of life, or that if a Catholic Republican such as young Holden, who is now under sentence of death, were executed, it would have exactly the same effect. Not only would their lives be forfeited, but the lives of many innocent people who would be caught up in the terrible political and religious turbulence that would follow, as would also the lives of members of the security forces.
I cannot accept the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Belfast, East that we should not worry about Operation Motorman. The case I am putting is very different from that illustrated by the hon. Member for Belfast, East.
As the Secretary of State will be aware, a few months ago a young boy and his fiancee were cold-bloodedly murdered in County Donegal. It is understood that the Irish Government are now asking for extradition proceedings, and that a member of the UDA in Northern Ireland is wanted in the South for questioning in relation to that killing. Members of Parliament in Northern Ireland, particularly the hon. Member for St. Anne's, Mr. Laird, have been on television recently saying that in no circumstances should that UDA person be extradited to the South. That view has been taken up by the Protestant political extremists in Northern Ireland. In other words, whether he be guilty or not he must not be extradited to the country where the crime was committed. If Members of Parliament adopt that attitude about a wanted or an accused person because he comes from their own community we can readily foresee what will happen if an execution is carried out.
I said at the outset that my main reason for voicing vehement opposition to the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland in any circumstances is that I do not believe that anyone—and that includes the State, the Secretary of State, the hangman, all those who would be involved—ought to take part in the barbaric practice of taking away a human being's life. That is my main objection to keeping the death penalty in Northern Ireland, but, secondly, living in Northern Ireland and knowing the emotions that are running daily with such strength throughout that divided and tortured country, I know what an execution would bring in its train—the loss of many more lives.
I intervene very briefly. I have no doubt that Opposition Members who know me will be surprised when I say that I propose to abstain from voting in the Division, in which there is a free vote. Only a short time ago the House of Commons voted conclusively against the death penalty. I voted 100 per cent. for it, but it seems to me, having regard to the delicate situation in Northern Ireland, that it would be utter folly if we had one law in England and another in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is and surely always will be part of the United Kingdom, and the laws which we have here, if they are voted for on the basis of a majority, pertain in Northern Ireland.
Surely my hon. and learned Friend can distinguish between the situation in Northern Ireland, with its terrible terrorist campaign amounting almost to civil war, and the ordinary peaceful situation in the rest of Great Britain? Is this not sufficient in itself to support the argument against the new clause?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is much too young to remember Professor Savory, who used to say that Ulster was loyal and Ulster is part of the United Kingdom, and that there can be no difference in the laws which pertain in Ulster and the laws which we enforce in the rest of the United Kingdom. There should be no difference between the laws that operate in Ulster and those that we enforce in the United Kingdom. If we were to create a difference—the House of Commons having only a short time ago expressed itself forcefully against the re-introduction of capital punishment—it would only create further trouble. After all, there is no problem in creating trouble in Ireland, so why make it worse?
I hope that we shall have a further opportunity of discussing the death penalty. My view is that it must be a deterrent. If it is not a deterrent, what is the point of awarding the Victoria Cross, the George Cross, and so on? From my experience at the criminal Bar, I have no doubt that it is a deterrent. In the old days, when the death penalty was retained, the old lags would never go out if they thought that someone else was armed. They felt that they would be in danger of being regarded as part of a joint enterprise if there was a shooting match, and they were in fear of being "topped". Often they were. I am certain that the death penalty was a deterrent. That is why I should like to see it retained, not only in Ireland but in Great Britain.
In cases like the Moors murder case or the Kray case—in which I was concerned—some people might think that the crime was so bad that after being found guilty the perpetrators merited the death penalty. It is argued that the death penalty puts a heavy burden of responsibility on the Home Secretary. I should like to keep the shadow of the death penalty, and to implement it only on rare occasions.
I suggest that the whole matter should come before a court of criminal appeal of seven or 12 judges—a court that should have before it all the medical evidence, so that it could, if necessary, make a recommendation to the Home Secretary. No one could then say that an intolerable burden was being placed on the Home Secretary. If that gentle shadow hanging over the would-be robber who would otherwise go out with a gun does act as a deterrent, a number of murders may be prevented.
If a gang goes out on an armed robbery to collect £150,000 from a bank, the members of the gang know that if they are captured they will receive a sentence of 18 or 15 years. If they behave themselves while they are in prison they will get a one-third remission which means that in the event they will serve 10 or 11 years. Equally, it is common knowledge that in 98 cases out of 100 if a murderer is convicted and given a life sentence he becomes so institutionalised after nine, 10 or 11 years that he is let out. In other words, there is no difference between the two penalties. We have put a premium on murder.
A criminal engaged in an armed robbery for £150,000 who knows that he will get 15 of 18 years if he is caught naturally takes a gun with him. If a policeman appears upon the scene it pays the criminal to shoot his way out, and shoot darned straight—and that is what is done time and again. There is no difference either way. But if the dreadful shadow of the gallows hangs over that person and there is a possibility of the matter being considered by a court of seven or 12 judges with responsibility for recommending that he shall be condemned to death, it will act as a deterrent. I shall not begin to discuss the method of execution. Hanging may be old fashioned. The United States of America and other countries use other methods.
Although I am 100 per cent. in favour of keeping capital punishment on that basis, and implementing it only on rare occasions, I shall abstain from voting because I think it is wrong to have one law in Northern Ireland and another in Great Britain.
I apologise to the Committee for being absent during part of the debate. For that reason I did not intend to intervene, but I was led to do so by some of the surprising arguments that have been adduced.
I do not think that anyone in the Committee would suggest that the Secretary of State or my right hon. and hon. Friends were indifferent to the sufferings of Northern Ireland or that we were less sympathetic to the victims of atrocities than anyone else in the Committee. When the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) argues for firm action, we support him in his call, provided that there is a connection between the firm action which is proposed and the results we want to see achieved.
But when the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Crowder)—who has had to leave— suggests that the question whether the retention of the death penalty is a method of safeguarding those people is the same as the question whether people like dying, with the greatest respect to him, I think he has confused the issue. Of course it is true that people do not like dying. For that reason it has been necessary in the past sometimes to give them an incentive to offer their lives for a good cause. It does not follow from that that the retention of the death penalty is a way of deterring them from committing an offence. People do not like hangovers, but they go on drinking.
To repeat what has been said more than once, the question in the debate is whether the proposal to retain the death penalty is a way of deterring people from committing murders, whether it is a way of saving life. Several speakers have said that, but I am puzzled that they have gone on to introduce arguments which are not obviously relevant to that issue.
I entirely accept what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham). We can never be sure of the answer to that question, but having to answer the question to the best of our ability on such evidence as we have is not the same as abdicating any attempt to answer it. If the answer to the question is that it does not save life, then whatever may be the number of crimes of violence, whatever may be our horror at a particular atrocity, whatever may be the savagery of the perpetrator—it does not carry the argument one whit further. Unless what is proposed is a method of preventing what we want to prevent, it does not assist us in arriving at a conclusion.
If from time to time it has been assumed —I think assumed rather than stated— that there is a kind of cosmic justice which requires that savagery shall evoke further savagery, then once that argument is stated, that is sufficient to reject it. If it is suggested that somehow the world becomes a better place by taking two lives instead of one, I do not believe anybody would argue for that proposition once formulated.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West speaks of an instinctive reaction, I accept that for most of us when faced with a particularly horrifying atrocity, and perhaps seeing a horrifying photograph in the Press, our instinctive reaction recognises that there is nothing particularly helpful which we can do, but since we desperately want to do something helpful we tend to call for the utmost rigour of the law in respect of those who have perpetrated that atrocity. But that does not tell us very much except that it would make us feel better. It might make my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West feel better, but I do not believe that it will assist in reducing the amount of violence.
I thought I had made it clear that in talking about an instinctive view, I meant an instinctive view about the consequences of a particular type of punishment. I was not suggesting that we should take an instinctive view about natural justice or revenge but about the consequences on people who might commit an act of the existence of a possible punishment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying that point. If he is saying that we must apply common sense to the question whether the retention of capital punishment is a method of reducing violence, then I go along with him and I will deal with that point at a later stage.
But some hon. Members who have contributed to this debate have given the impression that because there is an instinctive "gut" reaction among ordinary people—whatever "ordinary people" may mean—that those who perpetrate these horrible offences should be visited by similar treatment, that is an argument for retaining the death penalty, perhaps it is worth while, even though my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West has dissociated himself from it, to spend a few moments in dealing with it. If it could be shown that it contributed to what we have all formulated as the purpose to be desired, that might be a different matter, but if all it does is to make us feel better, then it does not carry the argument one step further. It does not assist the victims of past violence. It does not make the world a safer place for potential victims of future violence.
It has been suggested from time to time that we are in a war and that in a war one is entitled to shoot at the enemy. If one saw somebody about to commit atrocity, I would not object if someone were to shoot at him, because there would be a clear causal connection between the object to be achieved, the prevention of the atrocity, and the act of shooting. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), I do not take the view that in any circumstances one is never entitled to take life, but that is very different from suggesting the retention of capital punishment.
The idea that those who commit atrocities may if subsequently caught suffer a penalty of this kind as a deterrent is a very different argument. As my hon. Friend the Member for York said, it is not normally regarded as a civilised action to shoot prisoners of war, but the argument goes further than that. I have never yet heard the suggestion that it is a method of winning wars. The causal connection between the retention of capital punishment and achieving the end we all desire to achieve does not follow from the fact that we are involved in a war.
I turn to the answers to the question and look at the evidence. Perhaps it is a relief that nobody so far has quoted extensive statistics. We all agree that at best the statistics are inconclusive and probably do not throw much light on the subject. The statistics which influence my thinking relate to the numbers of murders between 1957 and 1965. In 1957 capital punishment was abolished in this country for certain kinds of murder and was retained for others. For the period while that situation obtained, if it had been a deterrent, one might have expected an increase in those types of murder in respect of which capital punishment had been abolished relative to the others. One might have expected a proportional increase. But in fact such an increase did not take place. The line followed by the statistics—a line which was far from convincing—was broadly similar for both capital and non-capital kinds of murder. But I would not pin my faith on statistics. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West, that in the end this is essentially a matter of common sense.
What strikes me as a matter of common sense is that the people with whom we are dealing do not follow the same kind of mental processes as commend themselves to hon. Members in this House. The kind of arguments that find favour in this Committee do not, I suspect, carry very much conviction in a den of terrorists somewhere out in the bogs of Northern Ireland. We are dealing with people who, by our standards—I do not say this offensively even of them— are irrational, since their methods of weighing cause and effect intellectually are very different from ours. One could go further and say that they are people who, from the nature of the activity which they have undertaken, have shown that they are not greatly impressed by the risks, because they run risks of interception, of being shot at, blown up in the course of their activities, and so on. Therefore, they are not greatly deterred by the risk of death.
One could go even further and say that it might be counter-productive to threaten them with death because they may be people who would embrace martyrdom without a heavy heart. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West said that we are not dealing with hardline terrorists, with people who will commit acts of terrorism in any event, but are considering those who are not yet committed to terrorism. We all admired his courage in stating his case and the clarity with which he stated it, but I believe that he fell into a certain confusion. What I tried to suggest in an intervention was that he cannot have it both ways: either they are people who can be influenced in what they do, or they are not. If they cannot be influenced in their decision, then it is pointless to speak of deterrence. If they can be influenced in their decision, they might just as easily be influenced for evil as for good by the course of action we propose to take. It is a course of action which could be counter-productive. This point was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South and also in an intervention by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey).
It does not fly in the face of common sense that if one accepts as axiomatic that there should be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then an atrocity is likely to lead to an execution and that execution is likely to lead to the next atrocity. There is likely to be an escalation in the whole ambit of violence and in the chain of events which has been set in motion. In the end a number of people have been driven, as it were, to enter into a blood feud with the State. If our instincts are likely to lead to that result, then we carry a heavy load of responsibility.
In the last resort we return to that original question: is the proposal to retain capital punishment likely to save lives in Northern Ireland, or is it likely to have the reverse effect? I ask those hon. Members opposite, who in all sincerity have assumed that it can have only one effect, to consider it possible that they may be wrong.
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friends who are Irish Members. I have seen the horror occasionally, for a few days at a time, but they have lived with this situation for three or four years, and I fully understand their desire to protect the lives of the police and our soldiers in Northern Ireland.
The hon. and learned Gentleman put his finger on the pulse of this issue when he asked which course of action was best designed to achieve a common end. I believe that a proposal to retain the death penalty could only escalate violence and communal tension. The long-term interests of both the Army and the police force lie in carefully de-escalating communal violence until it leads to the point at which we can bring the troops home, and a vastly improved and expanding police force can control the streets of Belfast and elsewhere, as the bobby does on the beat here. That is the prospect if we do away with the death penalty. If we retain it, one killing will lead to counter-violence, counter-violence to another killing, and so on.
There is another reason why the use of the death penalty would escalate violence—the appalling habit which the Irish have had over many centuries, of creating martyrs. A fascinating article was published last summer in a Jesuit magazine called Studies. It was an historical review by the late Father Francis Shaw, and it blew sky-high all Irish history about the Easter Rising of 1916. Father Shaw said that the senior British officer in Dublin at that time was a captain, and that the post office was so heavily guarded that the soldiers outside it did not even have ammunition for their rifles.
The whole thing was a complete fiasco, but it was turned into a saga of history
simply because the British people, somewhat naturally preoccupied on other fronts—we were at that time fighting for our lives on the Somme—had the folly to execute a few people and thereby turn a dismal flop into what is now part of Irish legend. It was an Irish writer who, only a couple of years ago, wrote:
Elsewhere in the world on Easter Sunday they celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. Here in Ireland we celebrate the feast of the Insurrection".
That is due entirely to the fact that we were stupid enough to indulge in political executions.
If we were to reject the new clause, could the system of the death penalty operate under the Bill as it stands? By a narrow shade of odds, I think rightly, we decided that owing to the intimidation factor we would suspend—I would not say "abolish"—the operation of trial by jury in those cases. I agree with those who have said that to put the onus for deciding a capital charge on one judge sitting on his own without assessors is to place an intolerable burden upon him.
Tomorrow we shall debate the possibility of having a panel of three judges rather than one. I admit that on the face of it that is something with which I have much sympathy, though I shall want to hear the arguments on both sides deployed in greater detail. None the less, even with a panel of three judges it would always come back in the end to the one man who had to decide what should be done—the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State would be on a hiding to nothing, because the one surprising thing about the case involving a chap under sentence of death is that the only time the IRA and the UDA have been at one was in agreeing that an execution would be disastrous. I think that in nine cases out of 10 whenever a comparable instance arose the Secretary of State would be bound to refuse to sign the death warrant. If a member of one community were hanged, one can imagine the clamour on the part of that community for a reciprocal hanging. The Secretary of State would be under enormous pressure to refuse to sign any death warrant.
Reference has been made to the appalling cases that have arisen. I recall the case of a personal friend, Marcus McCausland and that of the four soldiers lured to their death this year. One can envisage a situation in which public opinion was outraged, and the unfortunate Secretary of State would come under even heavier public pressure if he failed to sign the death warrant than if he did.
We have been asked by the Secretary of State to support the clause. If, on a free vote, the Committee failed to do so, it would put an unwarrantable strain not only on this Secretary of State but on any person who might follow him during the next 10 to 15 years, and might even encompass future administrations. I have no doubt that we are right to support the clause and make the Bill a more humane measure and Ireland in the future a happier place in which to live.
It is not my intention to detain the House for long on the question of hanging, or to refer to many of the arguments that have been adduced during the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) claims that people can be taught respect for the law. I think that he was dealing with young people growing up in an atmosphere of lawlessness. I do not know how he can expect to teach any community respect for the sanctity of life by taking life, particularly in the present situation in Northern Ireland.
I grew up in much less troubled times than there are now, but I remember hearing in my family and in my community stories about the last political hanging of a Republican, that of Tom Williams. Anyone familiar with Northern Ireland knows that Tom Williams is one of the greatest folk heroes in the music of the Republican sector. Almost every night of every week concerts are held for internees and their dependants throughout the rural and urban areas of the Republican sector. At every concert the highlight of the evening is the community's best singer giving a rendering of the tribute to Tom Williams. It ends with what is tantamount to a call to join the Irish Republican Army.
The hanging of Tom Williams, far from deterring anybody, in fact encourages young people, as the song says, to remember the cause that was proudly borne by a lad who lies within a felon's grave. Therefore, any idea that in the present political situation in Northern Ireland the death penalty would act as a deterrent is grossly mistaken.
One cannot deal with statistics, but one can take the case in point. A young Republican has been sentenced to death, and the community awaits a reprieve by the Home Secretary. Not only does the community wait for that reprieve, but it expects it, on two grounds: first, because people believe that he should be reprieved. Many who do not agree with his actions are—in the way that most civilised people in this country are— opposed to hanging. Secondly, there are those who believe that he should be reprieved because they can justify his actions.
With respect, Mr. Mallalieu, I am not making any judgment on the case. I am merely referring to it in the hope of drawing an example from it. I shall not refer to whether he should be reprieved. I am citing the case as an example of the pressure on the Secretary of State. If the new clause is rejected, the Secretary of State will have to take a decision which may cast into disrepute the rejection of the clause.
We may retain the death penalty only to have a series of reprieves. Then it will not be a deterrent, because people will say, "Although the death penalty exists, we can take it as an odds-on chance that we shall be reprieved by the Secretary of State". However, if the Secretary of State decides that he cannot issue a reprieve so soon after the rejection of this new clause, then he will find himself facing communal strife, in which he will be accused of partisanship.
My own attitude is that we cannot have it both ways. If we claim that this is a civilised and democratic country, the sole argument is that hanging is uncivilised. We cannot say that hanging is not right for the British population but is right for that section of the population who live in Northern Ireland. It will be absolutely useless as a deterrent, because the persons involved in the IRA are not deterred by fear of death or by long prison sentences. A young man sentenced to 12 years in prison recently stood in the dock, having refused to recognise the court, and told the judge to make it 25 years while he was at it. That shows how frightened he was of a long prison sentence.
It is on record that 30 or 40 members of the Provisional IRA have lost their lives accidentally in the course of their activities. They have blown themselves up while making or planting explosives. Yet young people still flock to join the IRA. So the death penalty is totally irrelevant.
If the death penalty were retained, given the increase in violence and paramilitary activity, a member of a Protestant para-military organisation might find himself before the courts on a charge of capital murder. The Republican sector of the population does not claim the sole right to martyrdom. The Loyalist population may have claimed few martyrs in recent history, but nothing is to be gained by alienating that section of the population that still retains some respect, even if it is rapidly failing, for the institutions of law and order, for the police and the army. They would feel as the Republican population do, totally deserted by the institutions of law and order. Then there would be no basis for respect, there would be retaliations against the institutions of the State by Loyalists as well as Republicans. Retaining the death penalty will bring nothing but further deaths.
One has only to consider a situation in which the death penalty meted out by the courts is almost academic. One thinks of people such as John Paddy Mullen, Hugh Herren, Tony Hughes and Jake McGarrigle, who received the death penalty but never saw a court, who were shot down where they stood. At each of these burials many of which I attended, I recall retaliation being promised by the offical IRA or the Provisionals. How much greater, then, would be the retaliation against all the institutions of the State if not only were people shot down in a war situation but if, after deliberation in cold blood, the Secretary of State signed men's lives away?
There is no argument in any civilised country for the retention of hanging, but those hon. Members who might believe that hanging has some deterrent value should remember not just Tom Williams or James Connolly or Roger Casement but the long list that stretches from the eighteenth century to the present day of martyrs whose blood and death deterred nobody but ensured the next generation of members for the IRA. The death penalty will swell the ranks of the IRA and do nothing to deter its members.
Most people will agree that the debate has so far been conducted in a very moderate tone. Most hon. Members have applied themselves to the arguments for and against the retention of capital punishment in Northern Ireland. It has been said that the last time a person paid the penalty was in 1961. It has also been said, on one side, that the death penally will increase violence and, on the other. that it will lead to a decrease. Let us consider for a moment the person who has not been discussed very often in this debate—the victim.
Of course it will not. People talk about capital punishment as a terrible thing, but how does one go about describing some of the terrible things that have happened in Northern Ireland to members of the RUC, the Army and the Reserve? They have not had the quiet death of public execution; they have been tortured until life itself was a torture.
We have a duty as Members of Parliament, and the Government have a duty, to protect society from men of violence. The advice of the police at the moment is simple—do not suspend the death penalty in Northern Ireland. I can readily appreciate the Government's difficulties today in introducing a Bill to deal with terrorism by dispensing with the jury. But in the course of a capital trial, an appeal could be made to a court in which several judges would share the responsibility of recommending for or against the death penalty. That would get over the difficulty.
Over the past 3½ years, both Governments have been pushed along like ships before the storm until they were about to pass completely over the horizon There was a successful campaign to abolish corporal punishment in schools. If a schoolmaster now takes a cane to a boy who has been doing something wrong it will almost cost him his job. The campaign for the abolition of capital punishment in this country has been successful, and it is now to be applied to Northern Ireland. Whether or not we nave capital punishment, this will be interpreted by the man in the street in Northern Ireland as another victory for the terrorist.
Let us get our sense of values correct. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, hundreds of unborn children are taken out of the world without one murmur being heard, yet when it is proposed to retain capital punishment for murderers there is a hue and cry.
The very phrases that my hon. Friend is using, when he talks of "this country" as opposed to Northern Ireland, are the root of the problem. We must think of this country as including Northern Ireland.
I agree. My argument is that capital punishment should not have been abolished in any part of the United Kingdom. Whether we like it or not, the power of parliamentary democracy has been slowly eroded. When we are pushed over the brink, we shall find great difficulty in getting back to our original position. We have a decision to take tonight which is not easy. I am judging it on one criterion only—will it or will it not help the security forces to bring peace to Northern Ireland. I know that it is a boost to the morale of the security forces to know that they have some protection. Should this last vestige of protection be taken away, one can well imagine that the morale of the RUC, the Army, the police reserve and the UDA will be shattered.
I am not a man of violence. I deplore violence. I deplore the fact that capital punishment may be brought in, or retained, and I shall be the first man to throw his hat into the air when conditions, not only in this country but in Northern Ireland, support no case for, or need of, capital punishment. We have a duty to those who protect society, and in this respect I must tell the House that I shall vote against the proposal of the Government to abolish capital punishment in Northern Ireland.
Inevitably when discussing Northern Ireland with respect to the subject of capital punishment, I suppose that most of us are more sensitive than we otherwise would be. I very much resent the rhetorical question put to me by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) when he said would I, as someone representing Scotland, have been prepared, in the event of being a Secretary of State, to hang someone who was a Protestant and a UDA man.
I think that he was implying—and I hope I misunderstood him—that in some way hon. Members, on the Labour side of the House or on the Conservative side, who were in favour of capital punishment were affected by the same obscene prejudice as that which I believe is sometimes at the very root of the problems in Northern Ireland. I can assure him that what I would do in such a case is that I would, as someone from Scotland, be prepared to approve the hanging of someone who was a UDA man and a Protestant.
I hope that the hon. Member will try to accept that those of us on this side who support capital punishment do not support one section of the community against another. We think that capital punishment is a deterrent in all cases. Bearing in mind the enormous problems which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has, he must often have been tempted to give up his job, but the one thing which might deter him from taking that action might be the prospect of my taking over. However, if I were the Secretary of State, I should at ten o'clock tonight, after the vote is taken, say that I would be prepared to implement the law as it stands in respect of all murders occurring after 10 p.m. tonight, irrespective of whether the person concerned was a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, whether he was in the UDA, the IRA or any other such organisation. As from ten o'clock tonight I should ensure that the law would be applied, irrespective of these situations, and also that I would not in any way discriminate one from another. But the fact is that we have a situation——
That is an extremely honest reply that I would have expected from the hon. Gentleman but when I spoke some hours ago it was in the context that, in my view, the reason the Secretary of State changed his mind was the Albert Brown case. He was a Protestant and a UDA man. If I mention Scotland it is because Scotland looms in Northern Ireland's affairs. I am satisfied that the hon. Member has honourably answered the question I put and I accept exactly what he said.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
What we are debating is not clear. Are we abolishing something which exists? Are we trying to create a deterrent which does not exist? We have to ask ourselves about the position. When we were debating capital punishment a few weeks ago in the House, we were debating a situation which was clear. Up to 1965 we had capital punishment in this country, and it was applied. But from 1965 it was abolished.
What we have had in Northern Ireland is a situation in which the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 has been the law of the land, but in which the vast majority of people, rightly or wrongly, have assumed that no Government and no Home Secretary would ever hang anyone under that law because of the decision taken in respect of the United Kingdom in 1964.
Whether that is right or wrong, I suggest that the vast majority of hon. Members take that view and that the majority in Northern Ireland have taken the view that, bearing in mind the people who are at the Home Office and the views of members of the present Government and the previous Government, it has been rather meaningless to have capital punishment applying in Northern Ireland, because no Government of any party would have been prepared to carry out capital punishment in view of the decision of Parliament.
On the other hand, if we decide tonight to reject the new clause and the proposition to abolish capital punishment in Northern Ireland, if we say by a majority vote that we want capital punishment retained in Northern Ireland, for the first time since 1965 we should have a meaningful deterrent, if people regard it as a deterrent. Just as I should not accept for a moment that the threat of eviction in Northern Ireland is in any way a deterrent against withholding rent or rates to those engaged in rent and rate strikes because the law concerning rent and rates is not being implemented, so the existence of the law on murder as it stands is not a deterrent in the sense in which I would accept a deterrent. Neither the present Government nor the previous Government have had any intention of implementing this law. But the situation could be radically altered if tonight we voted to reject the new clause.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) said that there was a great moral issue here. He made an excellent speech. The great moral issue was, first, that it was wrong that one man should carry the responsibility of saying whether someone should live or die. The hon. Member also suggested that this was not a decision, perhaps, that we in this House of Commons are entitled to take. It seemed that he was prepared to accept, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would accept, that individual troops who shoot terrorists should be given the responsibility of deciding whether to shoot. But if we say that the decision to take a life in this kind of situation is one which we cannot give to an individual, we should bear in mind the responsibility that we are putting on young troops in Northern Ireland who have to decide whether to shoot.
If the hon. Member for York seriously believes that it is utterly wrong for the State as an organisation to contemplate taking human life, he and his hon. Friends, and some of my hon. Friends who agree with him, should introduce a Private Member's Bill saying that no person in the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland should ever shoot a terrorist because it would be entirely wrong to do so.
If the hon. Member reads my speech in cold print tomorrow, he will see that he does me an injustice. I argued that the State and the individual are sometimes put in a position in which they cannot choose good as against evil. They have to choose between the lesser of evils. That is the situation of our troops fighting in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member may not accept it, but I put the case in relation to the State executing a right to decide upon the life of a convicted criminal. Therefore, the matter was quite different. The necessity for executing that criminal had not been made out to my satisfaction.
That is a very unusual argument. The hon. Member is saying that he can accept a situation wherein a soldier of Her Majesty is in a position and has the right to shoot a terrorist but the hon. Member thinks that it is utterly wrong and indefensible for a court of law to sentence the same man, the terrorist, to death. Surely this is an unusual and monstrous situation in which we do not give this responsibility to politicians because it is something that they cannot bear but we are prepared to give the responsibility to a lad aged 19 whom we send to Northern Ireland. It is an outrageous situation. If my right hon. Friend believes that it is wrong for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to take a decision to kill that terrorist, how much greater is the responsibility of a lad aged 19 who has this responsibility? We must be consistent. There is either a case for killing terrorists or there is not. It is utterly wrong to say that politicians cannot carry that responsibility but that young soldiers can.
There is a case for killing terrorists, which the hon. Gentleman has made out, but there is no case as yet for killing convicted murderers. The hon. Gentleman has yet to prove that case.
I shall try to prove the case. I was trying to illustrate a grave inconsistency. According to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we feel that it is an unfair responsibility to put on a senior Cabinet Minister but we are prepared to give the same responsibility to a 19-year-old soldier.
The hon. Member for York asked whether capital punishment was a deterrent in Northern Ireland. We had a debate in the House on 11th April on the issue of whether we regarded capital punishment as a deterrent in Britain. I then presented the official Home Office figures which show that since abolition in Britain, our murder and manslaughter convictions have doubled and our crimes of violence have more than doubled. Even if we do not accept this as sufficient proof, the number of crimes involving the use of firearms has shot up dramatically.
I had hoped today that we should have more up-to-date figures than the 1971 figures, the latest that we have. I tabled two Questions to the Home Secretary and two Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland for answer last Thursday, seeking the up-to-date figures on the number of people convicted of murder in Scotland and in England in 1972. Unfortunately, I have not yet received a reply. The reply might tell a certain story. But I suggest that when we get the figures we shall have further evidence of the position.
One thing that we all know is that on 11th April in the debate in the House no one voted with a great deal of certainly in either Lobby. Some who voted for capital punishment were very doubtful about it, as were some who voted against it. Bearing in mind this doubt in the minds of many hon. Members whether capital punishment can deter, is it wise, reasonable or even responsible to make this change in the present situation in Northern Ireland? If some of us believe that by removing such deterrent as exists we may contribute to additions to the number of people killed in Northern Ireland, precisely what will be achieved by the change? What is the case for a change?
At present, the law is not being implemented. Secondly, and far more important, the people who are facing up to the terrorists—that is, the police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the soldiers, so far as they can express themselves within the limitations placed on them—appear unanimous in the view that capital punishment should not be abolished in Northern Ireland. Therefore, why are we proposing to make this change, which will succeed in undermining the morale of the police in their difficult job, and the morale of the RUC and some of the troops in the field, who also have a very difficult job?
Much of the case put forward today has been concentrated not on the argument about capital punishment but on the so-called Irish dimension. It is suggested that while certain arguments may apply to England, Wales and Scotland, the Irish situation is quite different because there we have a group of misguided, bloodthirsty, brave, fanatical men who are not concerned in any respect with their own lives and who will do what they think is right, misguided as they may be. Nothing will deter them.
It was suggested by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech that the death sentence is no deterrent when these men already can be shot by soldiers. Where was the deterrent, he asked, when although soldiers can shoot them, they are still carrying out their murders? But my right hon. Friend should realise that the evidence is clearly there that the risk of being shot by soldiers is a deterrent because since the start of the campaign there has been a dramatic change. No more is there the situation of the old Easter rising where a group of fanatical men moved into the post office knowing that the troops would shoot them, and that their lives would be thrown away. The situation exists to a limited degree but the typical situation is that which occurred yesterday when two soldiers were killed and two seriously injured because of a booby trap. The brave, fanatical terrorists no longer stand up to shoot it out with the soldiers. Instead, they go out of their way where possible to avoid a direct confrontation which may lead to their death.
If there is a case for a deterrent it is proved by the change in the pattern of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Now the tactic is for little groups of terrorists to sit in Eire, to lay their booby traps and to escape from the forces that might shoot them. That pattern is being seen every day in Northern Ireland and it was seen yesterday when the fanatical terrorists did not shoot it out with the soldiers but scurried away to their funk holes.
The suggestion was made that these brave, fanatical, misguided men were unwilling to give up their lives for this great cause. Let us consider the brave leader of the cause, Mr. Sean MacStiofain, who at one time threatened to die, to give up his life by refusing to take food and drink, in the cause of Ireland. He changed his mind. Why? We shall never know, but this shows that the great Sean MacStiofain has great respect, if not for human life, then for his own miserable skin, and there are a great many terrorists who are in exactly the same situation.
My right hon. Friend's third argument was that we should not upset things by creating martyrs of these people because that would only rally the youngsters behind the terrorists and lead them to regard the terrorists as wonderful men who should be followed. What is the difference between a terrorist who is shot by a soldier and one who is strung up by the law? Are they not both martyrs? Surely the propaganda machine of the IRA can create a martyr out of someone who is shot down by his own people— the IRA, or other terrorists, or by the police or the troops. But in these circumstances, while there may be an Irish dimension, while there may be prejudice the like of which we in England and Scotland do not fully comprehend, we should remember that we are not here dealing just with brave, fanatical, fearless and misguided men. All the evidence shows that the IRA terrorist is every bit as much concerned about his own skin as Members of this House are about theirs. The evidence is mounting up to prove this conclusively.
There is a second important argument. It is to question why we are taking this decision just before we establish the new and wonderful and democratic Assembly in Northern Ireland which has been praised by the Opposition and and Government Front Benches alike. There has been a great deal of talk about assemblies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) well knows, at a conference in Perth. It seems that we are to have an assembly in Scotland. I wonder what kind of assembly it will be. The Prime Minister wants to give the people of Scotland a meaningful rôle in their own destiny. Presumably, it is this great patriotic populist motivation which is encouraging the Government to establish an Assembly in Northern Ireland which will enable the people there to express their views on the things which will affect them. Yet, here on a vital issue that affects their security and their welfare, we are rushing through a decision to change the law before that Assembly has been established and before anybody has a chance of knowing what the people think about this issue.
One of the dangers facing our democracy is the growing contempt of politicians for the views of the people, and that is probably why there is growing contempt of the people for politicians. Whether or not that is true, surely there is a case for saying that before making a definite move we should obtain an idea of what the people of Northern Ireland think about it and that view could be obtained from the Assembly.
There is another important aspect. It is suggested that the situation in Ireland is different from that in Britain on a number of counts, first because of these brave, fearless, fanatical men. But there is another. It is that there is a meaningful deterrent in Northern Ireland. In Britain we have the great deterrent of our so-called life sentence—depending on who is the Home Secretary and who is on the parole board at the time. There may be differing views about the effectiveness of the life sentence. I have my views and others have theirs. But in fairness to the troops and police in Northern Ireland, we must consider what is the real deterrent to terrorists there who are contemplating shooting a policeman or a soldier. Like other parts of the United Kingdom the terrorist can be sentenced to life imprisonment, but he must know that it has been openly suggested that such persons in Northern Ireland need not worry because one day in order to create a situation of good will there will be an amnesty.
On Second Reading I made my only speech on Northern Ireland so far and in two sentences I asked for a clear, unqualified and unambiguous assurance that in no circumstances in the future would there ever be an amnesty for terrorists, Protestants or Catholic, IRA or any other organisation. Unfortunately, because of pressure of time, it was not possible for me to be given a reply. I have not looked up all the Minister's speeches to see whether this was dealt with in subsequent debates, but our excellent Library tells me that it has not been dealt with. If nothing else comes out of today's debate and if I and my hon. Friends who feel deeply on this issue lose again tonight, perhaps by a substantial majority, may we at least have the clear and unqualified assurance that I sought on Second Reading that existing life sentences will be meaningful so that there may be no doubt.
May I say clearly, categorically, with no small print and with no reservations, that in no circumstances will my right hon. Friend ever agree to an amnesty for a terrorist convicted of crimes in Northern Ireland? That at least would be something for the police and our forces in Northern Ireland, whom I am sure are not perfect, but to whom we have given this unenviable task.
Although it is wrong to try to make these things over-dramatic and to bring in a great deal of the sob stuff which is sometimes justified in these debates, we have to bear in mind the wives of those serving in Northern Ireland, particularly the policemen's wives who simply do not know whether their man will be coming home at night and for whom perhaps the next thing they hear will be a call to the hospital or a call with even graver news. Any step which will undermine the morale of the police and the forces in Northern Ireland will be an act of grave and stupid irresponsibility.
I suggest that we leave things as they are. Let us by our vote tonight make it clear that not only do we say that the law should stand but that we are determined that the law should be implemented so that we have a real deterrent against those fanatics, those criminals from both sides of the community. Whether or not we accept this, there are no grounds for taking action further to undermine the morale of our brave forces who are facing up to these daily problems on our behalf—on behalf of the people of the whole of the United Kingdom.
It gives me very little pleasure to say that I cannot go all the way with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor)—a man whom I admire enormously. I was particularly glad to support him when he sought to introduce his Bill dealing with capital punishment a few weeks ago. I acted as one of his Tellers on that occasion. He was absolutely right to try to bring about a situation in which capital punishment was restored in this country.
In normal, civilised circumstances capital punishment is a deterrent. I believe that this House will be obliged to reconsider this subject in the not too distant future in the context of the United Kingdom and of crime against the civilian population. I am bound to say that tonight we are facing a very different, although difficult issue. If I could believe—and my hon. Friend advocated it with great passion and sincerity—that this would make the wives of policemen and soldiers sleep more easily in their beds, and that it would act as an added protection for those men as they go about their difficult nightly duties, I would have no hesitation in supporting my hon. Friend.
I am afraid that having listened to the debate and thought deeply for many weeks about this I cannot accept that that would happen. I fear that it might have the same effect as internment, namely, of increasing violence in Northern Ireland. If we reject the new clause we could produce a similar situation. We must face the fact that over the last 12 or 13 years this law has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Despite the fact that it is on the statute book the sniper still goes about his evil nightly duty.
Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear on the radio of another soldier being shot and killed. But the death penalty remains on the statute book, and tonight we are being asked to remove it. I believe that I shall abstain this evening, because although I feel that in the context of the United Kingdom, the civil community and crime, capital punishment is a deterrent which should be on the statute book, to preserve it for Northern Ireland alone, in these special, particular and outrageous circumstances, must be rash, for one would have a judge but no jury, and a situation in which terrorists might be egged on, rather than deterred, by dicing with death.
What troubles me is that so many of the most heartrending situations in the last two years have involved women being blown to pieces, children being mutilated, and men being gunned down off-duty. These have not been crimes carrying the death penalty, nor would they carry the death penalty after tonight if we rejected the new clause.
If there is a case for having a death penalty in Northern Ireland, or for having such a penalty throughout the United Kingdom, as I believe there to be, it is for having a death penalty that can give some measure of protection, however small, to people other than policemen and members of the security forces. If we had political hangings in Northern Ireland— because this is how they would be interpreted although we would not accept them as such—the lot of the soldier and the policeman would be even more difficult. The gunmen would increase in number and would shoot down more people. I very much fear that this would happen.
I cannot prove this any more than my hon. Friend in his passionate and brilliant speech could prove what he was advancing. This is the difficulty when we speak of the death penalty being a deterrent. No one can prove that there would have been more or less murders over the past few years if we had had the death penalty. Within the context of the United Kingdom it seems that the enormous increase in the use of firearms, in crimes of violence, with many victims escaping death purely by the grace of God or the skill of the surgeon's knife, indicates that the death penalty had a deterrent effect.
I am prepared to give the innocent victim the benefit of the doubt and to support it. I hope that my hon. Friend will not slacken in his endeavours in the next Session. I believe that there will come a time when we have to grasp this issue properly, dealing with the whole of the United Kingdom—but in these special circumstances, talking in terms of Northern Ireland, of a community rent by strife, of people who believe, however mis-guidedly, that they are patriots for a cause, I believe that we are wrong to say that for this section of our country there must be the death penalty, and only for those crimes which involve the security forces.
I understand that my hon. Friend supported the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). That was a United Kingdom Bill to deal specifically with similar types of case involving the use of firearms and explosives and the murder of a policeman or a prison officer. How was my hon. Friend able to vote for that Bill if he is unable to vote against this new clause?
I have tried to explain. I shall develop the point, because it is important. My hon. Friend knows, because we have discussed the matter, that my feeling was that his Bill did not go far enough in the categories that it prescribed. I believe that the milk roundsman or the night-watchman killed in the course of his duty is just as entitled to the protection of the law, if this is an added protection, as is the policeman or soldier. Those are my views, which I would have sought to develop in Committee and on the Floor of the House had the Bill proceeded.
Tonight we are talking about Ulster— that part of the United Kingdom which is rent by a particular, peculiar, obnoxious and vicious struggle. Rejecting this new clause would not contribute towards a solution of the problem. For those reasons, although I was much moved by my hon. Friend's speech, I shall not be going into the same Lobby.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). He always pursues his arguments fearlessly. He is a terrier, and when he gets on to a subject he pursues it to the end. He pursued it today. One of his arguments, as I understood it, is that those of us who oppose capital punishment in Northern Ireland somehow regard the terrorists, whether members of the IRA or of Protestant organisations, as brave, fearless men. Those were the words he used. He went to a lot of trouble to say that he did not regard terrorists as brave and fearless men.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not regard terrorists in Northern Ireland, or any other country, as brave and fearless. I regard them, in the main, as pretty cowardly—and the way in which the hon. Gentleman described them as laying time bombs and running away, was very accurate. But I think they are fanatical. The hon. Gentleman described them as fanatical. Fanatical men are not likely to be deterred by the threat of capital punishment, or any form of punishment. These men are politically motivated to the highest degree and are prepared to carry out their activities, regardless of whether the carrying out of those activities results in death to innocent people.
All the evidence in Northern Ireland is that the death penalty has not deterred these people one little bit. That seems to be the only piece of concrete evidence that we have had in this debate. As has been repeatedly stated, terrorism is not limited to Northern Ireland. Terrorist activities are committed throughout the world, and frequently take place in countries where there is capital punishment, and usually a pretty brutal form of capital punishment. In many cases capital punishment is preceded by a mockery of a trial. People are merely lined up against a wall and shot. It does not seem that the "ultimate deterrent" acts as any form of deterrent in dissuading people throughout the world from carrying out their activities.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said. Can he state the date when capital punishment was last operated in Northern Ireland? Is it not true that it has not been operated for a considerable time, and therefore has not been a deterrent at all?
I cannot state the exact date, but my hon. Friend knows as well as I do that although capital punishment has not taken place in Northern Ireland for some time it still exists. One of the reasons why it has not been carried out in the context of Northern Ireland is that the Secretary of State, who has to decide whether a hanging should go on, has recently decided otherwise. He decided on the evidence available to him that it would be counter-productive in Northern Ireland to carry out the death penalty. The hon. Member for Cathcart stated that the IRA propaganda machine was quite capable of making its own martyrs. The IRA can make a martyr out of almost anyone. If that is the case there is no reason why the Secretary of State should himself make an extra martyr.
We pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the way in which he carries out his job. We always pay great regard to what he says, because he does his job fairly, honestly and to the best of his ability. He is an honourable man. He has decided that it would not be in the interests of bringing peace to Northern Ireland that those activities should be carried out. If I felt—which I do not— that in the context of the peculiar situation in Northern Ireland capital punishment would be a deterrent, and if the Secretary of State, with all the facts at his disposal, decided that a hanging should not take place and that more violence would flow from it if it did, that would sway me. But I do not pretend that that is why I am against capital punishment. I have always been against capital punishment. It has never been a deterrent, and there is less chance of its being a deterrent in Northern Ireland than anywhere else.
We are not simply talking about hanging somebody after a trial by judge and jury. Like the hon. Member for Cathcart, I am serving on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, and we are discussing whether the death penalty, which is already law in Northern Ireland, should be passed by a single judge. I do not know how the Bill will emerge from Committee. The Committee may well decide that three judges are better than one. But in the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State's proposal is that trials of those charged with terrorist activities in Northern Ireland should take place before a single judge who, as the Bill stands, has the power to pass a sentence that could result in somebody's being hanged. The responsibility would pass to the Secretary of State to decide whether that punishment should be carried out.
I am against the whole concept of trial by one judge, and on Second Reading and in Committee. I voted against the abolition of the jury system in Northern Ireland. It is not right that one judge, with all his failings and frailties, should have the responsibility of deciding whether a man is guilty, and usually in the most serious cases. We condemn it when it happens in other countries, but that is the suggestion put forward by the Government.
My right hon and learned Friend always puts matters concisely and lethally. He is absolutely right. It is a terrible responsibility for a single judge to have to carry out. It could well bring him into great disrepute if, time and again, he had to pass judgment and condemn men to death. If it is the Secretary of State's policy that hangings should not be carried out in Northern Ireland—which I think is absolutely right—it makes the position of a judge even more anomalous, ridiculous and trying.
Unless those who are proposing that the death penalty should remain in Northern Ireland can produce evidence to show that it has acted as a serious deterrent, I hope that the law will be brought into line with the law of this country and that the death penalty in Northern Ireland will be abolished.
I do not think we can ever satisfactorily resolve by means of ordinary reason and argument the question whether the death penalty is a deterrent to anything. Those who, like myself, are basically abstentionists, are not likely to be convinced except by very cogent evidence and well-documented proof that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. However, I do not wish to argue that question.
I did not intend to say anything in the debate, but there is one question which has not been properly considered. We are dealing with a new clause which the Government seek to add to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. That is a Bill which is designed to deal with emergencies. It is essentially in most of its provisions a temporary Bill We have not abolished, as the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) no doubt unintentionally said, the jury system in Northern Ireland. In fact, we have temporarily suspended it for one year to deal with certain—
Surely that makes the matter even worse. In that one year a single judge could presumably condemn a man to death and that sentence might be carried out, whereas later, for a similar offence, he might well be tried before a jury and even acquitted. Does not that make the matter worse?
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it comes to the point which I was making. The proposition put forward in the new clause is not that the death penalty shall be suspended for one year or for the existence of the Bill. It is not proposed that there should be a suspension while the jury system is suspended or for the period of an emergency or anything else. I object to the new clause because it has suddenly been introduced after the introduction of the emergency provisions Bill. Further, it does not deal solely with the period of the emergency or the period for which the emergency provisions Bill lasts. It makes a permanent change in the substantive criminal law in Northern Ireland. It makes that change without consultation with the people of Northern Ireland.
I object to the new clause as one who is fundamentally an abolitionist. It has been argued by some of my hon. Friends that it is wrong that the law should be different in this respect between Britain and Northern Ireland. But the law has been different in this respect since 1920. It cannot be argued that the same kind of considerations should apply for example, in Yorkshire as apply in Northern Ireland. Yorkshire is properly represented in this House and Northern Ireland is not. It is a fact that Northern Ireland is under-represented by statute on the ground that the very matters with which we are now dealing were to be dealt with by the Parliament of Northern Ireland. That was the basis of the 1920 Act. That was why Northern Ireland normally decided these matters for itself.
In 1966 Northern Ireland went a long way towards following the pattern of the rest of the United Kingdom. It did away with the penalty for everything but the few things with which we are left. I object to the new clause because it should not have been produced for inclusion in the emergency provisions Bill. It should have been produced, if it were intended to alter the substantive law in Northern Ireland, after consultation with the new Assembly or after a situation had been brought about where Northern Ireland was properly and fully represented in this House.
It is therefore, and will be looked upon in Northern Ireland as, an imposition from outside. I suggest that the Secretary of State should have trusted his new Assembly to give him an opinion. It is by no means certain that that opinion in Ulster would necessarily have followed that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). There has been a strong tradition against the death penalty in Ulster.
It is interesting to look back on the voting in 1966, when the Parliament of Northern Ireland was doing away with the death penalty for a whole series of types of murder. Those who voted in what I might call the "retentionist lobby" included Captain O'Neill, the Hon. Phelim O'Neill, Mr. William Craig and Mr. Desmond Boal. In the "abolitionist lobby", there were Mr. Brian Faulkner, Captain Austen Ardill, and Major James Chichester-Clark. Therefore, it should not necessarily be assumed that it would have been dangerous to leave a decision on the abolition of the death penalty in Northern Ireland to a Northern Ireland Assembly since the result would have been a foregone conclusion. It would not have been a foregone conclusion.
The abolition of the death penalty in Ulster done in this way, in the context of an emergency provisions Bill, will be looked upon as an imposition from outside, as something which has been done from outside. It will not therefore command the respect that it would have done had it been done after proper consultation with some kind of Northern Ireland representative assembly or after a full integration in this House. It is on this ground and this ground alone that I shall oppose new Clause 1.
This is a very difficult question to decide—there is no doubt of that. There is not one hon. Member, irrespective of his point of view, who is in favour of taking anyone's life. I think that is a statement of fact, and it would be wrong to try to convey any other impression.
But again, if one asked everyone for or against the new Clause whether they were in favour of law and order and of stabilised government, one would get a unanimous opinion in favour of such a society. So we have a difficult situation in Northern Ireland—difficult in the respect that so many hon. Members believe that we are at war.
I contend that we are not at war at all. We are trying to keep the peace and to re-establish peace in part of the United Kingdom, and we have, in our wisdom or otherwise, decided that the Armed Forces of the Crown should use whatever powers are at their disposal to contain those, from whatever side they may be on, who would seek to disrupt law and order.
We tell the Armed Forces, without fear or favour, "If someone should attempt a terrorist act, you have the liberty and the responsibility to make a decision to take that person's life if you feel inclined to do so." This is the salutary point which must make every hon. Member hesitate. Are we to be Pontius Pilates of this day and age, washing our hands of the crimes being committed and saying to the Armed Forces, "We will give you the power to mete out immediate justice, but we take no responsibility for it"?
This is a tragedy, not only for each of us as individuals but for the British parliamentary system of government. No wonder—if I may presume to say this— it is held in great disrepute and is gradually sinking into the mire in the opinion of honest, sensible men and women throughout our country. We are afraid to stand up and face the responsibilities of honest men and women. We shield behind the Pontius Pilate attitude. We say, "It is not for us to decide. We know you have a job to do. You crucify. We have nothing to do with it".
The fact of the matter is that we cannot get out of our responsibilities so easily. We have a duty to look at this in as unbiased a manner as possible: war or peace? The difference between war and peace—peace as we find it in Northern Ireland and war as we have seen it right through the ages. We attack the innocent in war, not so much the fighting forces—and this is even more true at the present time. The atomic bomb will not discriminate between the forces of any nation and the poor, defenceless citizens of that nation. So let us look at this as responsible men and women.
If we agree that the forces in Northern Ireland have to mete out immediate justice, then we must reflect on our degree of responsibility. No one can say whether the death penalty is a deterrent. But no one can say that a life sentence is a deterrent. No one can say that six months in gaol is a deterrent. No one can be emphatic about what is and is not a deterrent. But at least this can be said —that if the supreme penalty is exacted the person who committed the crime and has forfeited his life will not have the opportunity to do it again. That is a certainty, and that is an answer to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson). It is a finality, and that is what it really should be, because for the poor person who has been murdered, the innocent person who has been slain, it is finality, and the person who commits that crime must expect the same change as far as the coinage of life is concerned.
With the difficulty of getting witnesses in Northern Ireland, the chance of a miscarriage of justice must be that much greater. Is it reasonable to impose a final sentence when we are in such a weak position as regards establishing the absolute guilt of that person, for there is no recall from death?
It is true that there is no recall from death, but where there is no doubt at all who committed the crime, where there is no dubiety at all, there should be no hesitation in exacting the full penalty of the law, irrespective of who it is. If a declaration went forth from the Secretary of State and from this House of Commons tonight that from this day forward, if anyone commits the crime that we have all recognised as obscene in Northern Ireland, if it is proven without a shadow of a doubt, there will be no interference from any person here or elsewhere, but the full penalty of the law will be imposed, that would be a deterrent. There is no doubt about that.
Each and all of us can answer that question for ourselves. What deters us from time to time? None of us is an innocent abroad. We have all had temptations one way or another. We have not resisted temptation because of the goodness of our nature or our Christian faith. More often, there has been in our mind the penalty which would be imposed if we were caught. Let us not be hypocrites. We have all been tempted, but we know that a deterrent lies behind us, be it a lifetime in prison or just a period of years. This is what deters each one of us, whether from fraud, from theft, or from the destruction of life.
I do not regard as brave those who lay bombs or booby traps to destroy the innocent. None of our Service men in North Ireland is guilty. We are the guilty ones if they are called guilty. We sent them there to try to maintain law and order, not for the benefit of one section or another.
The declarations of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and of my right hon. and hon. Friends, have made abundantly clear that we are anxious to see peace in Ireland, both North and South. But we do not want that peace to be borne of the bonfire and destruction of all that is good in humanity. We must contain the brutes wherever they come from, and the only way to make them understand, the only way to put it in their own language, is to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Unfortunately, it has not been possible for me to be here throughout the debate, but I have heard a great deal of it, and I rise at this late stage more in the hope of explaining my voting intentions than of being able necessarily to add anything new.
The tragedy of such an occasion as this is that the House of Commons, whether sitting as a Committee or as a House— in plenary session, if I may so put it, though I realise that that is not the correct phrase—can often be both at its best and at its worst when it is in moralising mood. I must say that I have found a little disagreeable, to say the least, the pontificating mood which, certainly in the major part of the debate which I have heard, has tended to predominate in the speeches of those who seek to abolish capital punishment in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) have already emphasised that this is not an issue of capital punishment, as such. When will this point be taken on board? What we are discussing tonight is simply a new clause proposed to be added to a Bill now in Standing Committee under which, among other things, we are temporarily suspending the jury system. What I find so horrible—I mean "horrible"; I might even say manifestly dishonest— about the debate is that what we shall be asked to do when the Division comes is not merely to suspend capital punishment in the context of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. If that were so, I should support the Government, for it would clearly be wrong to impose the death penalty when one had abolished or suspended—the fashionable word is "prorogued", I suppose— the jury system for a limited period. We are asked to go further than that.
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I seem to be in somewhat militant mood, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart was absolutely right. It is this sort of back-door method for making a permanent change in the law which brings the House of Commons and those who sit in it into contempt in the eyes of the general public. Heaven knows, politicians the world over, in Washington or elsewhere, are not the most favoured people today, and I feel that what is now being done diminishes our position still further, or gives capital to those who criticise us and seek to diminish Parliament in the eyes of those whom we seek to represent.
Of all the remarks which I have heard today, the one I found most irritating and anger-making came in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) when he spoke, as others have done, of the views of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on this issue. The answer came from the Opposition benches: the police are too closely involved to be objective. I have never heard more arrant supercilious nonsense in my life—for any member of this Committee to arrogate to himself the right to say whether or not the views of those men in the security forces in Northern Ireland, who are in the front line 24 hours a day, are worth listening to. We are the custodians for the electorate. Why on these occasions, must we always say that we are leading the people, that we must give a lead even though that lead is arrant nonsense?
I know the views of my constituents on this issue, and if I were to vote otherwise than in the way in which it is my intention to do I should be betraying what I know to be their views. It may be said that they are wrong. That is not the point. Those are the views of the people I am here to represent, and I should be dishonest in the extreme were I to take no cognisance of them.
I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has many problems with which to contend in Northern Ireland. I found his speech this afternoon deeply impressive. The one point above all others which I should have thought an Ulsterman or anyone conversant with Irish politics would have taken on board was the point about the danger of making martyrs—and having more postage stamps and processions to commemorate them.
However, why can this issue not be taken in the narrow context of the Bill rather than in the wider context of the abolition of capital punishment in Northern Ireland? Why cannot this be left for the Assembly, to be elected in six or seven weeks' time? In all conscience, it is hard enough to convince people in Northern Ireland that the proposed Assembly has any credibility about it. I know that the Bill about the constitution will be published in the not too distant future, and we shall know at that time the intentions of the Government. We are talking of only a short while. Why cannot we take tonight's discussion and tonight's vote in the context of a temporary suspension of capital punishment and leave the final decision, for the longer term, to the Assembly which will be with us in a matter of a few weeks?
To sum up my reasons for opposing the new clause, they are my anxiety that we are taking unto ourselves an arrogance which I would have thought improper, that we are ignoring or are seeking to ignore the views of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who are directly involved, and that this decision should be left to the Assembly. For these reasons I will not be supporting the Government tonight.
I had not intended to speak in this debate. I felt that those who had some considerably closer knowledge of Northern Ireland were perhaps more competent to speak.
I am still of that view, bat I have listened with care to what has been said and have asked myself the question whether I should or should not declare here how I think and how I should vote. Unlike an hon. Member who went to some lengths to say how he had supported the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) in his Private Member's Bill, and then went on, in reference to this new clause, to say that he would abstain—taking a course of action unlike that—I say, that there is one thing of which I am certain, and that is that Members of this Committee have a responsibility to vote one way or the other. I would have thought that to abstain in this kind of situation, although the rule is that we respect an hon. Member for doing that, would be the unwisest course of all.
The Government have not sufficiently persuaded me that the reasons they have given for their proposed action are the right ones. Why have those reasons not been given before? With the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill in Committee, what has prompted the Government at this time to produce a proposal the effect of which will be permanent?
I am an abolitionist, and I think that most hon. Members who have been taxed with this problem on various occasions expressed themselves within their general concepts of Christianity and humani-tarianism towards leniency and abolition. But we are not today dealing with the kind of problems that have taxed us in the past. Before the vote is taken I shall try hard to remove any emotion from my mind. I shall try to remove from my mind everything that might prejudice my view and I shall seek objectively and honestly to vote in accordance with what I believe to be right.
But I have lost more than one constituent in Northern Ireland. I shall never forget having to visit a mother whose young son was lost for reasons which she could not understand. I came away from her house convinced that while all the answers in Northern Ireland might elude us, the general will of the United Kingdom is to be firm in our attitude towards those who seek to take life. Yet for some we have come a long way since Nuremberg. Other hon. Members justify Nuremberg and would not change Nuremberg if we had to live that time all over again.
In this case we are not talking about murder as that word is generally understood. We are talking about a vicious, premeditated political judgment for political purposes to mutilate and kill ordinary decent citizens. It is not a question whether we could do this or do that. It is a question of defining a deterrent or, if we cannot define it, considering whether a deterrent already exists which we might seek to implement. The question is this: should a person who sits down in concert with his political conspirators—Protestant, Catholic or IRA— be allowed to make a judgment the effect of which is that at a certain moment in London or in Ulster a bomb is exploded and ordinary citizens lose their lives or are physically mutilated for life? Should that act be punished?
I know that some people will say that the philosophy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is wrong, but we are not dealing with crimes of murder on the ground of passion, or murder committed in anger, as a result of a fight in the street, or even arising from robbery when somebody is cornered. We are dealing here with deliberate, calculated murder committed for political reasons, often with the aim of subverting the State —as some would put it, in the course of a treasonable act. In the pursuit of such an act ordinary people—typists, shop assistants, secretaries, young people with lives full of hope before them, men and women of mature years, old men and women who have served their country— will die. There are no boundaries in such a vicious, treacherous crime in which a calculating animal seeks to take the life-blood of ordinary people.
I am not trained in the law and I am not sufficiently informed about the right thing to do at this stage. I have not been told anything about the extent to which the law might be modified in a few weeks' time when the newly elected Assembly is formed, and the problem is complex. Therefore, I must start from a basis of what I know.
I know that the law as it stands would be dangerous if interfered with without the benefit of more thought, more care and more concentration. I have reached a conclusion that since the Government have not made out their case and because I am not satisfied that the law as it stands has been harmful—certainly no case has been made out that because this penalty exists in Northern Ireland it has encouraged further violence—I must disagree with the Government's line of thinking. Therefore, I ask the Committee to rely on the situation as we know it and to allow a change to come about only after more thought and more concentration. Because the Government have not taken advantage of this possibility, I must vote against the new clause.
An important group of people is missing from the debate this evening. I mean the soldiers and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland. While we in this House, year after year, engage in semantics about capital punishment, day after day, and night after night, our soldiers in Northern Ireland are risking their lives for us. They are the people who are carrying the can, and they are the people who are really affected by the debate.
I support the Secretary of State in his general policy, and I am delighted that recently there have been some hopeful signs in the Northern Ireland situation, but I cannot agree with the new clause. Our soldiers are being shot and murdered almost daily. Can this be the moment to indicate to the murderers that they can continue the process with increased inmmunity?
If we pass the new clause today, what will our soldiers think about it? How can the Government possibly explain this to the individual soldiers? How, most of all, can they explain it to their families? Conversely, what will the parents in Belfast and Londonderry of those misguided young men who join the IRA or terrorist organisations think about it? I believe that if we pass the new clause those parents will be far less likely to try to deter their sons from adventurously creeping into the night armed with sniper's rifles to seek to kill our soldiers.
I believe that the new clause is utterly misguided and fantastically mistimed, and I cannot do other than vote against it.
I have a great admiration for our soldiers in Northern Ireland. They are facing a difficult situation, and everyone in this country—and particularly hon. Members in this House—ought to convey to them their grateful thanks for the job that they are doing.
There is one group of our forces about which I have been particularly concerned and have asked questions on the Floor of the House on more than one occasion in the immediate past. I have in mind the boys who are called upon to deal with a known bomb threat. Not only have they to defuse the bomb in order to save the lives of the civil community; they run the risk, while doing so, of exposing themselves to the sniper's bullet. On several occasions I have suggested to the Prime Minister that the boys of the bomb disposal squads who have faced that threat should receive the highest possible award for gallantry. I have said, too. that our boys in the Armed Forces operating in Northern Ireland should have the maximum backing of the people of this country.
I want to pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who has burdened himself with an almost impossible task. I would not swap places with him for all the money or glory that could be bestowed upon me. I can imagine his having the most harrowing experience of his life in trying to resolve this almost intractable situation. He has acted in a way that brings credit not only to himself but to the House. He has backed up the Army, and I hope that this House will continue to back up the Army, which is operating under the most fearful conditions in Northern Ireland.
I do not believe that the death penalty can be a deterrent in any circumstances, but, whether we like it or not, in Northern Ireland we are not dealing with the normal situation in which murder is committed; we are dealing virtually with civil war. This is almost a racial situation, with Protestant citizens, who are colonialist in nature, facing the Irish people. Although there is a conflict between Catholics and Protestants, we must not forget that one race—the Irish —albeit a minority, are in conflict with the majority, who, historically, are not Irish at all.
Any argument that the death penalty can be a deterrent in a civil war flies in the face of the history not only of this country but of the world. No deterrent is possible in this kind of situation. The fact that someone will be hanged is more likely to be a stimulus in a civil war.
The IRA and its supporters are pursuing tactics which are wrong, and for which they should be completely condemned. If part of this island, say Northumbria, were being occupied—and I want to take into account the whole history of Ireland—by what I considered to be a foreign Power, I do not believe that if I were a patriot the death penalty would be a deterrent to me. The possibility of death to the patriot is a stimulus rather than a deterrent.
I have tried to deal with the point of view of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) who spoke about our boys operating in Northern Ireland. If it is logical to assume that the existence of the death penalty is likely to be a stimulus rather than a deterrent in the situation in which our boys are operating, I submit to the hon. and gallant Member—I do not do it in an arrogant way—that if we could eliminate that deterrent we should be doing our boys a greater favour than if we did not.
Northern Ireland is part of the British Isles, and there is not a single representative of Northern Ireland in the House who does not claim that Northern Ireland is a part of the British Isles.
I stand corrected by the hon. and gallant Member, and I am not being clever when I say that I mean the United Kingdom. If the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom, exclusive of Northern Ireland, is that there is no death penalty, if Northern Ireland claims a right to be part of the United Kingdom it cannot expect to have a penalty which does not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. I repeat that there is no deterrence at all to the patriot, even though he may be totally misguided. I do not believe that Northern Ireland any longer has a right to claim a penalty that is not applied in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I want to spend one minute on what I believe to be the answer to those who claim that we ought to wreak vengeance upon the murderer. There have been a number of cases where a mistake has happened. The one real impact of death is its finality. I know that, because I have been affected by its impact. It is final.
At the time of a previous debate about the death penalty, I recall that some of my constituents who did not agree with me wrote to me about it. One person who happened to know the name of my daughter wrote, saying, "What if it were your Kathleen who was killed?" I replied saying, "But what if it were my Michael who was charged?"
There is more emotion in the death penalty than in any other issue. When a death penalty is imposed, greater vengeance is wreaked upon the parents and relatives of the person convicted of murder than on that person himself, who is likely to be hanged. I can think of nothing more harrowing than the condition of a mother in not only the three-week period that precedes the hanging but the 24 hours immediately prior to it. Can anyone imagine the condition of a mother who has conceived and suckled a child who is later sentenced to death, and her agony in the 24 hours prior to the hanging? Apart from the possibility of mistakes, which have occurred, it is completely uncivilised for any system of society to impose upon the relatives of the person concerned the utter agony and devastation of the preceding seven days and especially the preceding 24 hours before the deed is committed.
The same decency should apply in Northern Ireland as has applied in this country in the last few years. We shall not be stabbing our troops in the back or betraying the lads, to whom I pay the greatest possible tribute. Be they the ordinary squaddies, the officers or the bomb disposal squads, they should have the best possible conditions while serving in Ireland. We ought to give them those conditions. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) nods his head. If he wants to intervene, he can do so. I should like to see the Government and the House of Commons not only paying a tribute to them but giving them due reward and the best possible reward when they return. I do not believe that we shall be rewarding them by hanging on to a medieval absurdity—something that is truly and thoroughly uncivilised.
I should have liked to pay the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) the courtesy of replying to his speech, but as he spoke for 25 minutes he leaves me with no time to do so. If I speak briefly, it is not because I have not pondered deeply on what I wish to say. At the end of the debate I shall come to the same conclusion as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but for different reasons from those which he has in mind.
Some of the decisons we are asked to take in this House are difficult, and some are impossible. Tonight I believe that I am being asked to take one which is impossible. Two aspects of the matter are paramount in my mind. The first concerns the Armed Forces, and this is not least because I spent Saturday with my own county regiment—the Devon and Dorsetshire Regiment—which goes to Northern Ireland for the third time in October. I spent the day talking to the officers and men of that regiment. My admiration for their gallantry is second to none, and nothing that I say or would wish to say has any other purpose than to ease their task.
The second consideration is that in normal and English terms I would support the death penalty for the limited purpose of deterring those who murder police or prison officers, and I go not much further. That is my approach. However, if I were to oppose the clause I should leave the law as it now stands. That would mean that if a murder were to be committed the task would fall upon the Secretary of State to recommend or refuse to recommend to Her Majesty that she should exercise her prerogative of mercy. In his personal capacity, I can imagine no one better qualified to exercise that task than my right hon. Friend, but to my mind he has one insurmountable objection: he is English. I try to visualise the sort of situation of perhaps, a member of the IRA, maybe from the South, having committed the sort of murder we have in mind. I do not believe that an Englishman is the right person to take such a decision. I do not know how many hon. Members have walked around the Dail, or around Dublin, and seen the number of statutes raised to Irish patriots who, they think, were unjustly killed, ultimately at the behest of English Ministers. Having considered not only Ireland but Cyprus, and all the other places in the world where this has hap-pended, I am bound to ask myself some question other than, does it deter? I cannot answer that question But I do know that executions ring down 400 years of history. That, to my mind, is the more important answer.
Why do I find it difficult to take a decision on this issue? I believe this is where I differ most from my right hon. Friend, in that I consider this preeminently to be a decision that should be taken by Irishmen. Irishmen are not properly represented in the House. We —wrongly, I think—took away their Parliament, whether for good or for bad, so that there is now no elected Assembly to consult. We make a grievous error when we ask an Englishman to take decisions in respect of other nations where nationality deprives them of the standing to take those decisions. Of course, the argument tonight goes wider than that question, and I am sure that in the end the concept of governing a portion of Ireland from England, with the aid of an Army, however gallant and devoted, is not one which can last. That is why, tonight, I shall abstain I believe the decision to be impossible in the shape in which it is asked to be taken.
In my last few words—because I know that the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) is anxious to speak—I repeat a memorable saying, I think, by Winston Churchill. It is apposite to this occasion. He said:
Over the graves of soldiers who die in battle the grass grows quickly. Over the graves of those who die on the scaffold, never.
The Committee will fully understand the anguish of mind of the Secretary of State in introducing the new clause, knowing, as the Committee does, his own personal views on the death penalty. It is manifest that his decision to end it is the result of his experience in Northern Ireland and the outcome of what presumably is the hard-headed calculation of the man on the spot of the consequences of not doing so. The Committee should pause many times before rejecting his advice and conclusions.
We meet today under the shadow of the wicked murder that took place in Belfast this weekend when yet another young soldier lost his life at the hands of evil killers—I am now told that, alas, it is two young soldiers. If I thought that retaining the death penalty could end or even marginally reduce the risk of these murders taking place, or of policemen being killed, I would certainly revise my personal objections on grounds of morality and practical expediency to the grim business of the State putting to death a person in its captivity.
It is principally because to hang an IRA man or a UDF man would, in my view, aggravate and inflame further the situation in Northern Ireland and even further endanger the lives of our soldiers, the police and civilians, that I support the new clause and its sensible implementation provisions which provide for judicial intervention in the process of reviewing life imprisonment sentences. To retain the death penalty in Northern Ireland with the certainty that it can never be enforced is a futility and a dangerous and embarrassing futility.
The basic fact must be faced that the continuing existence of the death penalty in Northern Ireland has not deterred the murderers. Murders have continued. Its abolition now will not weaken or worsen the position but could have beneficial results for law and order. There is no evidence that the existence of the death penalty affects the murder rate generally in any community or, in particular, in Northern Ireland. It affects the situation even less when the murders are politically motivated. Those killing for political motives will not, broadly speaking, be deterred by anything done to them.
Indeed, at any rate some of them would welcome the martyr's crown, particularly in the context of the drama and publicity preceding a murder trial when the whole thing is highlighted in the tense excitement and atmosphere of court proceedings. I ask, not for the first time in this debate: can anyone sensibly expect that to hang an IRA man or a UDF man now would in any way assist the reconciliation between the sects and the parties which we are so desperately seeking to encourage?
As was said in the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), the hanging of political figures produces a reaction in their favour. Rebellion, violence, further killings, would flourish at the foot of the gallows. This is reflected in the whole tragic history of Ireland. It is significant that the trend of modern societies has been not to enforce the extreme sanctions of the law against politically motivated crimes. This is why we do not extradite people who are guilty of these crimes. It is also significant that in the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967 Parliament provided that the Secretary of State may decide to refuse extradition to another country where the death penalty exists and that refusal of extradition may be on that ground alone.
It is also significant that only two European countries, France and Spain, now retain and use the death penalty. I understand that the last hanging in the Irish Republic took place in 1959.
Apart from France and Spain, all the other countries in Western Europe abolished the death penalty well in advance of abolition in this country. Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal abolished the death penalty before the turn of the century. Denmark and Sweden followed suit between the two world wars, Italy abolished the death penalty in 1944, Austria in 1945, and Germany and Finland in 1949. Analysis of the experience of these countries shows that no relation can be traced between retention or abolition of the death penalty and the murder rate. Studies have been made by distinguished criminologists comparing the murder rate in two adjoining countries or States with reasonably similar social conditions, where one State had retained the death penalty while the other had abolished it. It has been done time and again in the United States and there is a study of it in the publication "Crime and Delinquency", in the issue
for January 1969. The article concludes in this way:
A comparison of homicide rates in abolitionist and contiguous retentionist states; a contrast of murder incidence in states which abolished and later restored capital punishment; the number of homicides just before and just after sentence of execution; the count of killing of policemen in cities of abolitionist and retentionist states; and the incidence of fatal assaults in prisons—all these sources contain no evidence that the absence or non-use of the death penalty encourages murder; and no evidence that the presence of liberal use of the death penalty deters capital offences.
When this issue was debated in another place last year, a significant United Nations International Research Report was quoted and the conclusion of the United Nations body in an analysis of the experience of a number of countries was as follows:
With respect to the influence of capital punishment on the incidence of murder, all the available data suggests that where the murder rate is increasing, abolition does not appear to hasten the increase. Where the rate is decreasing abolition does not appear to interrupt the decrease. Where the risk is stable, the presence of capital punishment does not appear to affect it.
Interesting statistics from the United States were considered by the Royal Commission on capital punishment. They pointed to the conclusion that the five States in America with the lowest murder rates were the five which did not have the death penalty. The five States with the highest murder rates were the five with the death penalty. The inference to be drawn from this is that all the incidence of murder is the result of complex social conditions in which the presence or absence of the death penalty does not play a significant part in the pattern of murder or of violent crime.
Therefore, the case has not been made out for the continuance of the death penalty, which has not been applied in Northern Ireland because no one dare apply it. I shall not dwell on the other general factors which, in my view, militate against the death penalty. That it is irrevocable, that there is the possibility, it being a human judgment in a human process, of error must be faced. If we take life away we cannot bring it back, even though a mistake has been made. The special quality of the finality of the penalty gives the process of the death penalty a peculiar and alarming significance.
Considering the nature of it, I remember being very impressed by the observation of a former governor of Pentonville Prison to the Royal Commission on the Death Penalty who said:
I never can help asking myself why it is that whenever I am called upon to superintend an execution I should be affected by such an acute sense of personal shame. There must be something very wrong with a law which lowers the self-respect of those whose duty it is to carry it out.
Last year, the California Supreme Court came to this conclusion about the death penalty:
We have concluded that capital punishment is impermissibly cruel. It degrades and dehumanises all who participate in its processes. It is unnecessary to any legitimate goal of the State and it is incompatible with the dignity of man and the judicial process. This conclusion is not grounded in sympathy for those who permit crimes of violence but in concern for the society that diminishes itself whenever it takes the life of one of its members.
We live in a period when there is a desperate need to restore respect for human life. There has been too much cynicism. There has been too much readiness to accept the matter as not being of vital importance. My hon. Friends have spoken of the fearful damage done to the young people of Northern Ireland. I should have thought that the one way in which, in a civilised society, we can encourage respect for human life is by the State itself giving a lead. That encouragement has never been more needed that it is now. To take the opposite course, and for the State in cold blood to kill one of its captives, diminishes respect for life and promotes the killer instinct in all of us instead of controlling it.
Having dealt with those broad issues of morality and philosophy, I return to the theme which the Secretary of State addressed to the Committee at the beginning of the debate, namely, that the imposition of the death penalty in the conditions in Northern Ireland today, so far from relieving that grim situation, would aggravate it, and I, for my part, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his courage in introducing the new clause.
It might be appropriate, even though I spoke at the start of the debate, that I should say a few words in conclusion. It is right that I should do so because inevitably the decisions which are involved in this issue are decisions for me and in some cases for me alone. Therefore, it is only right that I should speak and not my Ministers.
I hope that we can all start from one basis. There have been moments when we have strayed from that position. I hope that none of us would suggest that we have a monopoly of interests in the safety of our soldiers and policemen in Northern Ireland, or that any one of us is more zealous than another because of the views that he may hold. It is possible honestly to hold views one way or the other and still be just as determined to consider the morale and the interests of the soldiers and the policemen. Nor do I think that any of us has the right to claim to speak in a general way for the soldiers. I suspect, from my own knowledge, that the soldiers, very much like the rest of us, have split minds on this issue.
I recognise the danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) said, of pontificating on the position of the police. But it is true —and I thought that it was my duty to tell the Committee—that the Superintendents Association of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Police Federation have expressed the desire for the retention of the death penalty. Neither body, either here or in Northern Ireland, would claim to speak for all its members. Obviously they, like the rest of us on this emotional issue, have their split minds. We can probably all agree about that.
No one can possibly be answerable in this House for the position of Northern Ireland on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and not have as a major consideration the morale of our soldiers and the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Indeed, upon their efforts rest everything which we are seeking to do in ending the violence so that political progress can take place. Therefore, anyone in my position must take a paramount interest in that consideration. If I seem sometimes to be a little resentful should it be suggested that I do not take that interest, I think that it is reasonable to say that it is a consideration which is bound to be uppermost in my mind.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) suggested that I had changed my mind because of the Brown case. It would be wrong for me to comment on that case. I decided to recommend a reprieve. My reasons for doing so must remain mine and mine alone. Therefore, I cannot tell the House my reasons. However, the Brown case did not change my mind.
I have thought deeply about this issue not only in the context of the Northern Ireland situation but in the context of the position of a Member of this House exercising his responsibilities and being answerable to the House, bearing in mind the views that the House has taken on the issue. It is not possible to divorce the two positions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), in an important speech, spoke about the responsibility for the actions of the Army. I apologise to my hon. Friend for having missed his speech. If I have been incorrectly informed I am sure that he will inform me. I understand that he said that we are in danger of being hypocrites. He suggested that we are prepared to allow the job of shooting the terrorists to be given to our soldiers and that we are not prepared to take that duty ourselves with the imposition of the death penalty. I believe that that was his position.
I say, in answer to my hon. Friend's first point, that the Government, answerable to the House of Commons, and therefore the whole House of Commons, are responsible for the actions of our soldiers and of the Army in accordance with their instructions clearly set out in what has become well known as the "yellow card". From that responsibility, there can be and will be, as far as I am concerned, no retreat whatever. We will stand up for them and no one can accuse me in the last 14 months of not having stood up for our soldiers and the RUC. If there is such a man, he had better interrupt me now and say so. I feel strongly and deeply on this and I am entitled to say to the Committee that we are responsible for the actions of our Army and our young soldiers and that no one should seek to run away from that position. Nor do I think that any of us would wish to do so.
My right hon. Friend poses a question. There is no doubt that a great number of people wanted for the murder of members of the security forces are hiding in the Irish Free State, and although their whereabouts are in many cases known to the Eire authorities they have not been produced. If they are caught with explosives or have been responsible for bombings along the border which have killed British troops, they have been charged only with minor offences, such as that of being members of the IRA. Why do not Her Majesty's Government force the Republic to produce these people instead of allowing them to hide in the Republic as guilty of political offences only?
My hon. Friend would be the first to admit that that goes somewhat wider than the question of the imposition or otherwise of the death penalty in Northern Ireland. It raises very important issues of extradition on which I would not wish to embark tonight, for a number of extremely good reasons. Suffice to say that I think that my hon. Friend will be the first to recognise some of the very determined action which has been taken by the Government of the Republic in the Dundalk area in the last week or so. He will be the first to recognise that that has been the case.
I return to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. I hope that I have convinced him that we have complete responsibility for the actions of our young soldiers and that we do not run away from it. Perhaps I may say to him also, as one who has had experience both as a soldier and now as a politician, that I think there is all the difference in the world between actions in what might be described as hot and cold blood. I believe that there is a very great difference there which one has to recognise in considering this issue.
I turn to the question of this Parliament and why it is right at this time to produce new Clause 1. Parliament some time ago voted to abolish capital punishment in this country. Recently, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart sought leave to introduce a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, Parliament expressed its view once again forcefully. I believe that this immediately raised the issue, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Kilfedder), whose position on this is almost exactly the reverse of my own as we approach the vote—but I understand his view— and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South, that that vote by Parliament immediately raised the question whether there was a good reason why the law should be different in Great Britain from that in Northern Ireland. Of course, the House of Commons can always review its decisions in the light of experience or of any views expressed. That is the answer to much that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Down South. Therefore we had to make up our minds whether there was such a good reason.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North that this action would be represented in some way as a retreat from our determination to end violence. I simply cannot accept that for one single moment. There may be those who will try to represent it in such a way. I am well used in Northern Ireland to people trying to represent actions as exactly the opposite of that which they are intended to be. I quite understand that. But there is no justification whatsoever for it. There is no question of any retreat from the utter determination of Her Majesty's Government to end violence.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) said about the successes of the security forces in recent weeks. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North and the hon. Member for Antrim, North that if they talk about sterner action from the British forces, I hope they will come forward with their proposals and tell us what further and sterner action they think we ought to take in the present situation. We shall certainly be very glad to consider whatever proposals they may put forward. But I think that general talk about sterner action without detailed proposals does not help, particularly when our security forces are having considerable successes against the terrorist campaigns.
I turn to what has been put by many people as the emotion argument. This was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) and Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), and indeed, in another context, by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather).
Perhaps I might put this argument in this way, as I did earlier this afternoon to the Committee. Several hon. Members have made the point that the danger of making martyrs in a terrorist situation must surely be very real. Any student of history must accept that fact and any student of Irish history above all must certainly accept it. I also take the view, for better or worse, that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South put about the problem of Englishmen in this context. I think he has a considerable point, so it must be faced. If one carried out an execution, would one be in danger of creating a martyr for many years to come? I believe that one would.
But it is put to me, "Of course retain the death penalty, but, in view of this, reprieve everyone. Do not use it". I maintain that that is a fundamentally dishonest position and one which certainly cannot be justified on constitutional grounds. It is clear that the Secretary of State or anyone exercising these prerogatives must look at every individual case on its merits and cannot accept the idea of a blanket reprieve. That has been constitutionally stated and I believe it to be correct.
Furthermore, unless the death penalty, if retained, were indeed to be implemented, surely it must be expected that it would immediately lose any credibility that it might otherwise have. Indeed, one is bound to question what credibility the death penalty in Northern Ireland has when it has not been used since 1961. If it is to be retained, and if this Committee so decides, I cannot accept the position that it is right simply to decide to reprieve in every single case without any regard to its merits, because that would be wrong. That again must be considered.
I come finally to the point very fairly put by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher. He answered it one way. He asked, will the death penalty save lives? He believes that it would, and there are other hon. Members who take the same view.
Having considered the matter most carefully in the Northern Ireland situation, I have come to take exactly the opposite view. Moreover, I believe that if one had an execution fixed for a certain date and that date were well known, as the date approached, and immediately after it, there would, I am utterly convinced, be increased violence on the streets.
If there were such increased violence on the streets, could it be suggested that one would not be putting one's soldiers and policemen at increased risk, and, in those circumstances, could it then be said that by retaining the death penalty one was taking action to protect the lives of our soldiers and policemen?
I am the first to understand that I may be wrong in this regard and that my hon. Friend may be right, but I hope that neither of us will be arrogant enough to assume that the other is inevitably wrong. I do not. I merely put it to the Committee as my personal view of the position. I believe that, if one honestly decided to retain the death penalty in Northern Ireland when it was not retained in the United Kingdom, and if one then decided that an execution should be carried out, one would put our soldiers and policemen at greater risk. If one believes that, then, if one has my job, it is one's bounden duty to say so to the House. That is why, reversing the position I have taken in the past, I shall certainly vote for the new Clause.
|Division No. 133.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Hattersley, Roy|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Havers, Michael|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Delargy, Hugh||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Ashton, Joe||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Astor, John||Dempsey, James||Higgins, Terence L.|
|Awdry, Daniel||Dormand, J. D.||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Horam, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hornby, Richard|
|Barnes, Michael||Duffy, A. E. P.||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Dunn, James A.||Howell, David (Guildford)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Eadie, Alex||Huckfield, Leslie|
|Benyon, W.||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.N.)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Ciedwyn (Anglesey)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||English, Michael||Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Ewing, Harry||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Eyre, Reginald||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Body, Richard||Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.||Hunter, Adam|
|Booth, Albert||Fisher, Nigel (Surblton)||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Janner, Greville|
|Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Fookes, Miss Janet||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Buchan, Norman||Foot, Michael||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Ford, Ben||John, Brynmor|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Fortescue, Tim||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Foster, Sir John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Gardner, Edward||Jopling, Michael|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Garrett, W. E.||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Gilbert, Dr. John||Judd, Frank|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Cockeram, Eric||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Kerr, Russell|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Gower, Raymond||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Coleman, Donald||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Kinnock, Neil|
|Concannon, J. D.||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Kirk, Peter|
|Coombs, Derek||Green, Alan||Knox, David|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Lamont, Norman|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lane, David|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Grylls, Michael||Latham, Arthur|
|Dalyell, Tam||Gummer, J. Selwyn||Lawson, George|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Leonard, Dick|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hamling, William||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Loughlin, Charles|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Deakins, Eric||Haselhurst, Alan||McAliskey, Mrs. Bernadette|
|McBride, Neil||Palmer, Arthur||Stallard, A. W.|
|McElhone, Frank||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|McGuire, Michael||Pardoe, John||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Parkinson, Cecil||Strang, Gavin|
|Mackie, John||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|McLaren, Martin||Pavitt, Laurie||Thomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff, W.)|
|McManus, Frank||Perry, Ernest G.||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Thomas, Rt. Hn. peter (Hendon, S.)|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Maddan, Martin||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Tinn, James|
|Marquand, David||Price, William (Rugby)||Tope, Graham|
|Marsden, F.||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Torney, Tom|
|Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Probert, Arthur||Trew, Peter|
|Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Tuck, Raphael|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Radice, Giles||Varley, Eric G.|
|Meacher, Michael||Raison, Timothy||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Millan, Bruce||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Walters, Dennis|
|Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Watkins, David|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Richard, Ivor||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Moate, Roger||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Money, Ernie||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Rowlands, Ted||Whitlock, William|
|Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Royle, Anthony||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Morrison, Charles||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Moyle, Roland||Sandelson, Neville||Williams, Mrs. Shirely (Hitchin)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Scott, Nicholas||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|O'Malley, Brian||Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Oram, Bert||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)||Woof, Robert|
|Orme, Stanley||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Oswald, Thomas||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Padley, Walter||Silverman, Julius||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Spearing, Nigel||Mr. Daviid James and|
|Paget, R. T.||Speed, Keith||Mr. Miehacl McNair-Wilson|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Hill, S. James A.(Southampton,Test)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Pounder, Rafton|
|Baxter, William||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Bell, Ronald||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Redmond, Robert|
|Biffen, John||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Kellelt-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Rost, Peter|
|Bowden, Andrew||Kilfedder, James||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Kinsey, J. R.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Bray, Ronald||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Soref, Harold|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Leadbitter, Ted||Sproat, lain|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Churchill, W. S.||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||MacArthur, Ian||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||McMaster, Stanley||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Cordle, John||Maginnls, John E.||Sutcliffe, John|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Marten, Neil||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Costain, A. P.||Mawby, Ray||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Cunningham, G. (lslington, S.W.)||Meyer, Sir Antheny||Tebbit, Norman|
|Dean, Paul||Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Dixon, Piers||Molyneaux, James||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||Montgomery, Fergus||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Drayson, G. B.||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Waddington, David|
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Mudd, David||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fell, Anthony||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fowler, Norman||Neave, Airey||Wilkinson, John|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gray, Hamish||Normanton, Tom||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Owen, ldris (Stockport, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Paisley, Rev. Ian||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Hicks, Robert||Pike, Mist Mervyn||Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles.|