'A person convicted by the unanimous verdict of a jury of the premeditated killing of another person or of knowingly and intentionally killing another person in a manner, or for a reason, or in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil, shall suffer death in the manner authorised by law.'.
Before I call the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) to move the new clause, I announce to the House that I have selected amendments (a), (b), and (c) to the new clause. I repeat what I said earlier. An enormous number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I have no way of limiting the length of speeches. However, it would be very helpful today if an average of 10 minutes per speech could he achieved. That would mean that a great many right hon. and hon. Members would be called.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I start from the premise that every single right hon. and hon. Member is greatly concerned about the level of violence in this country, that we all have an equal concern for the sanctity of life, and that we are all equally conscious of the responsibility that rests on our shoulders for the safety of those whose lives are at risk from criminals. I hope that every hon. Member will start from the same premise. That is to say, that no one has a monopoly of those thoughts or values. The difference between us is that those who support the new clause sincerely believe that the death penalty has a part to play in connection with those concerns and responsibilities. We do not claim that the death penalty will resolve all the evil violence with which our society is beset. However, we do claim that it has a role to play in lessening it.
I will explain fully to the House why I say that, but first I want to deal quickly with one or two generalities. Some people say—I think mainly to divert attention from the real issues—"Why again and why now?". The answer is quite simple. The reason we say that the House should consider the subject again is that we are putting a new approach before the House — and we are putting it before the House at a time when there has been a rising tide of evil, the like of which I have never seen in my life. We believe that the House should debate the new approach in the light of the new circumstances, and we believe that the public expects the House to do that. With regard to the question "Why now?", it is because the Bill is the perfect, if not the only, vehicle for raising the issue before the House, and it was inevitable once the Bill was presented that this debate would take place at this stage.
Next I want to consider another but quite different generality. There are some who will always say that in no circumstances is it permissible for anyone to take life, and that the worst of all is for the state to take life because that sets an example of brutality. I do not agree with that. I shall endeavour to show why I think that it is wrong, but it is a point of view. Neither part of that has ever been accepted by the majority of this House.
It has always been accepted that the death penalty is the appropriate penalty for treason and that the state has the right to execute those found guilty. Less well known outside the House is the fact that our service men are liable to execution if convicted of any one of five offences. It is well known in this House because as recently as 10 April 1986 there was an attempt, no doubt very sincere, to abolish those penalties. In fact, that was defeated by a majority of 3:1, and it is interesting to note that that majority included a significant number of hon. Members who on other occasions have voted against the death penalty. Maybe some of them have changed their minds. Whether that is so or not, it is clear that for the majority the question is not whether anyone guilty of any crime should ever be executed, but which ones should be executed. That is the question to which we who have tabled the new clause have addressed our minds, producing in the result a wholly new approach.
Immediately after the war, there were great debates in the House and in another place on this very issue. The then Archbishop of Canterbury put forward a view that was pretty representative of others when he said that, although he felt that the weight of experience and argument was against the abolition or suspension of the death penalty at that point, he was against returning to the state where it was the automatic penalty for all murder, and he hoped that someone would propose a way of discriminating between the less heinous and the more heinous, and he felt that if someone did so that would be a real step forward.
In an attempt to meet that., the Government of the day brought forward such a proposal based on a list principle. It listed certain types of murder that were supposed to be more heinous than others. That was enacted in statutory form in the Homicide Act 1957, and in my opinion that was a disaster. It led to the Lord Chief Justice of the day saying later, in 1964, that he was for the abolition of the death penalty not on any moral grounds, but merely because the Homicide Act 1957 was so bad. I would need a great deal of persuading before I would support any return to any kind of list because any kind of list necessarily involves a real danger of terrible anomalies. We have sought to meet the archbishop's point while avoiding the pitfalls of the list system.
I want to explain briefly to the House how the proposal would work because there has been the most fearful misunderstanding or misrepresentation, call it what you like. The system would work like this: the judge would have to say to the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, you have to be sure, and unanimous, that the accused killed the person referred to. You have to be sure that it was premeditated or that it was done knowingly arid intentionally. But that is not enough. You must also be sure, all of you, that the manner, reason or circumstances in which it was done was such that any reasonable person would consider it to be evil." The judge would say, "I cannot define evil to you. That is for you, the members of the jury, to exercise your qualitative judgment." There is nothing new in that. Already in many cases a qualitative judgment must be exercised by the jury. Where a qualitative judgment is required, what better body to exercise that judgment than a jury? Two objections have been raised to that so far. One was raised this morning that, on the drafting, two offences are created, one up to the first "or" in the new clause and one after. I do not think that that is so. Even so, there is nothing in that point which, if it is a defect, cannot easily be cured by including the words, "in either case done". On that point, if there is a defect, it can readily be put right and I would agree to doing that to remove any doubt.
The other objection is on the question of the definition of evil. I do not think that a jury would have difficulty with the word "evil". It is not a word that I dreamt up. It has been used by judges frequently recently. I noticed two cases in the past 10 days—they have nothing to do with my use of the word — where the judges in sentencing said, "You are evil men." "These were evil crimes". In any case, the system would work as follows. For example, if Hindawi had succeeded in killing 376 people, would any jury have had any doubt or would it have taken them more than five seconds to decide on the requirement of evil? Hon. Members do not appreciate that there is a built-in fail-safe provision in that if just one member of the jury says, "No, I am not sure", there can be no conviction under the clause.
I do not claim that my wording is perfect. but I know that if the new clause is carried there will be the most rigorous examination by everyone who is interested, including both Houses of Parliament and all the lawyers. I would in no sense resent that. On the contrary, any assistance which would improve the wording would be most welcome. It would be as flattering as it would be unlikely that I had got it exactly right first time.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend address himself to a problem relating to the jury? He will agree that a sizeable minority of people, among whom I number myself, oppose the death penalty. As some members of any jury are likely to be drawn from that number, what are the chances of anyone being found guilty by a unanimous verdict?
That problem is not new. It has always been with us, and it existed when juries tried murder cases when we had the death penalty. The answer is that no one with very strong views either way should sit on the jury if it can be avoided, and judges have ways of indicating this to those who are liable to serve. [Interruption.] I gave way to an old friend, but from now on I shall do my best to follow your wishes, Mr. Speaker, and, in the interests of brevity, to resist the temptation to deal with every point, let alone with interventions.
The other main question is whether we should have the death penalty even in such a limited area. Here again let me get rid of some of the generalities. This is not a debate about hanging. I deplore the way in which that word is continually used to send shivers down people's spines. We are debating whether or not we should have the death penalty. If the new clause is accepted, every hon. Member will agree that there must be careful consideration of the most humane method. There is much loose talk about brutalising, but I am probably the only hon. Member to have spoken to the executioner. He is a constituent of mine and a less brutalised man it would be hard to find.
Next, some suggest that one is civilised if one is against the death penalty and uncivilised if one is not. That is a most arrogant assertion. There is no need for the death penalty in a civilised society—but first find a civilised society! To suggest that those of us who support the death penalty are uncivilised is a great impertinence—and very pompous. There is a word for it in Yiddish, "chutzpah".
I shall continue to resist the temptation to deal with every point that is raised, but I intend to deal head-on with the three matters which I know are of most concern to people who are really interested in this issue — the special problems regarding terrorism, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland; whether capital punishment is a deterrent; and the risk of executing an innocent person.
I intend the new clause to apply to terrorism, including terrorism in Northern Ireland, exactly as it applies to other kinds of killing of such a heinous nature as to come within the provisions of the clause.
The Bill, which has been before the House for some time, does not apply to Northern Ireland. Moreover, Northern Ireland does not have trial by jury. I am not trying to make a funny point. I am concerned about Northern Ireland. Given the nature of the Bill, how could the new clause apply to Northern Ireland?
It would, of course, have to be applied by means of another provision. I am simply stating frankly that I intend it to apply across the board in an attempt to grasp a nettle about which I know that people feel strongly.
Some will say that we cannot execute terrorist killers in Northern Ireland— a part of our own country—for fear of the consequences and that we must therefore reject the death penalty for all other killings, even those carried out by international gangs. I agree that we must be consistent and that if something is to be done it must be done across the board, but I disagree with the conclusion that I have just described.
The killings carried out by the IRA are among the most cold blooded, savage and brutal even in this evil world. Members of the IRA use the death penalty to punish their own people, to deter them from committing what they consider to be crimes and to ensure that they obey orders. They also use it against members of organisations which oppose them, and against the public to deter them from exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms. The common element of all of that is that of deterrence. Why, then, should we ourselves not use the death penalty as a punishment and a deterrent for them?
I am coming to that. I must be firmer in resisting the temptation to deal with each intervention as it arises. I will deal with these issues in my own time and in my own way. The House will find that I shall not seek to duck any matter of importance.
We are told that we should not use the death penalty because it would create martyrs. I echo the view on this expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) on previous occasions and his attitude to it when Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. But I add this—if there is anyone who believes that the killing of a father in cold blood in the presence of his wife and children is the stuff of which martyrs are made, we should tell such people exactly what we think of them and not cringe before them. It is further said that if we dared to threaten to execute we would he faced with reprisals and that hostages would be taken and killed. That is as good as saying that we dare not do it. I believe that we have to say, unpleasant as it is—as we have said to many a thug in the past— that if it is right, necessary and proper to do something, we dare do it. It is not something to be said lightly but we cannot duck it, particularly when we are talking about our own country.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know exactly where we are in relation to this. If carried, this will apply, as I understand it. to England and Wales, not to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Even if it were carried, therefore, it would be necessary to have consequential amendments, obviously in the other place—
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I may be taking up time but I have to inform you that you are responsible for the conduct of business. I am now going to ask you again: if this is carried, will it or will it not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland and then what will happen about getting it to apply? How would we proceed?
I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that both you and right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that the more inverventions of one kind or another that there are, the longer it may take to make the points which I want to put across. I hope that the House will bear that in mind.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It would be necessary for these provisions, if carried, to be extended. I am merely looking the problem straight in the eye and emphasising the need for consistency.
I have already answered the point about fear of reprisals, but I would add that when we do not have the death penalty we have convicted terrorists on our hands in prison for life, with the consequent threat that hostages may be taken and may be killed. I have no doubt that the present Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will disagree with what I am saving. I greatly respect their views, both as individuals and as holders of those important offices. However, I am comforted in taking a different view by the fact that at least one previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned' Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), and one recent Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, have expressed different views. I also bear in mind that in our debate in 1983 there were those who, as they said, were at the cutting edge, and who expressed different views.
I am aware of the impossibility of having a unanimous jury verdict in a country where there are no jury trials, but I am not dealing with how the legislation would be applied. I refuse to duck the issue. There were those in the last debate who said that they did not agree, that there could not be juries. My point is that we must make provision for enforcing our law throughout our own land. The proposition that we cannot do what we believe to be right, proper and necessary to protect life in our own country because of threats from criminals of what they will do in retaliation is simply unacceptable.
Turning to deterrence, I would like first to put it in its proper context. Any judge in considering sentence has to have in mind at least four considerations. One is punishment — and I sometimes think that some hon. Members leave that one out. We cannot leave it out. It is one of the essential elements of sentencing—and there are many who believe not only that there should be punishment but that it should bear some relation to the crime. Another element is prevention, to ensure that the offender is, as far as possible, prevented from doing it again. A third element is the effect that the sentence would have on the rehabilitation of the accused—of course it is—and the fourth is the deterrent value of the sentence. The sentence itself is, however, only one of the three elements of deterrence. The first is the fear of being caught, the second the fear of being convicted and the third the fear of what will happen after conviction.
Let me get rid of some of the wilder statements. Sonic people have said recently that there is overwhelming evidence that the death penalty does not deter. That is nonsense. Others have said that the statistics give no support for the proposition. Of course they do not, because the only people who appear in statistics are those who have not been deterred. The ones who have been deterred never become part of the statistics, nor do the potential victims of their crimes, thank God.
I ask the House to look at the question from the point of view, first of all, of common sense and then from the point of view of the evidence that we have had. It is simply flying in the face of reason to say that the fear of death will not deter some people. It is a total fallacy to say that because it does not deter everybody it would not deter some. One might just as well say that life imprisonment does not deter anyone because it does not deter everyone.
Perhaps I could here remind the House of one aspect of the sentence of life imprisonment. If it means what it says—and unless it does it is not much of a deterrent—it is a fierce punishment. It means locking up a person for the rest of his natural life, killing him off at whatever speed it takes him to die. One might even ask if it is any more humane. Of course, those who oppose the death penalty suggest that if we ask convicted criminals which they would rather have they will choose the second. So they would, almost invariably, but surely that only serves to confirm the view of those who agree with me that the vast majority fear death more than they fear life imprisonment. That is why they would rather have life imprisonment than death. So it is a greater deterrent to those who can be deterred, not a complete deterrent but demonstrably a greater deterrent than life imprisonment. That leads in my view to but one conclusion.
I would also ask the House to look at this in the light of some known facts. Since 1964, when the last execution took place, the total of murders and section 2 manslaughters has gone up from 85 to 238. Some say "That is not too serious, some 70 per cent. of those murdered are killed by someone whom they knew." That is a strange proposition. It could be just as nasty to be killed by a friend. But even if that is so, and even if one discounted all those, the increase in the others, the professional crimes, I find very disturbing and significant in this context the fact that it has happened since abolition.
I find it also the more convincing when taken together with two other facts. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that in 1965, when we were talking about abolition, the police said that professional criminals did not carry firearms because of the risk of their killing someone and losing their own lives. Indeed, the police said that so strong was the fear—the fear of death—that before criminals went on a job everyone was searched and if someone was found to have a gun he was out of that gang for ever. The police said that if the fear of death was taken away, those vicious men would carry guns which they would use, primarily to terrify, but if necessary to kill. That stands to reason because if someone is faced with 30 to 35 years in prison for armed robbery, if apprehended, what has he got to lose by killing the person who might apprehend him?
Every single word of what was said to us then has come about. In 1972, the first year for which we have figures, there were 254 offences in which a pistol was used; in 1985 there were 1,390 such offences. The same applies to all other firearms used in armed robberies. The same applies to the carrying of knives. That seems to many of us to be a clear indication that life imprisonment is not as powerful a deterrent as the fear of death. Following the removal of the fear of death we have seen a rise in violent crimes generally in which weapons are used and an increase in the number of deaths.
The second point turns on a point made frequently by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) who speaks with such authority on these matters. He is quoted and relied upon by the Howard League on this. He has said:
Ninety seven per cent. of homicides are cleared up."—
and I say immediately that that is a fine record. He continued:
That is the best deterrent.
But surely that is disproved by his own words.
The deterrents are said to be the fear of being caught, the fear of conviction and finally the fear of the penalty that will be received. What my hon. Friend's figures show is that, although there is a 97 per cent. chance that the person who kills will be caught and convicted, such people are not deterred by the prospect of life imprisonment. Surely the right inference to draw is that if those concerned thought that there was a 97 per cent. chance of being caught and convicted, and then losing their lives, that must surely be a greater deterrent, not to all but to a substantial proportion.
Surely the alternative to what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said is that most of these crimes are committed by people who do not think rationally about the consequences, which is why his ultimate penalty would be of no value.
I have already conceded that there are some who will not be deterred by anything. I am talking about those who can be deterred. I do not accept that there are people who cannot be deterred. In respect of those who can be deterred the conclusion to be drawn from my hon. Friend's proposition is in my view the opposite of his.
The third point, which is the one that has given me most concern over the years, is the risk of a mistake. I have always regarded with horror the possibility of anyone being wrongfully convicted of anything. For anyone in the House to be wrongly convicted of the theft of £5 would be dreadful. I view with horror the possibility of a mistaken conviction resulting in an innocent man or woman being locked up in prison until he or she dies, and that is a risk that we take now, I view with even greater horror the possibility of an innocent man being executed because, as has been rightly said, there is no way of putting that right.
I am sure that every person who has ever taken part in a trial in which a person's life was at stake must have shared my view and must have taken every conceivable care to see that a mistake was not made.
I think that there is great exaggeration about the assertions as to mistakes that have been made. Many of the allegations are I think ill-founded. Nevertheless, I accept that there is a risk, and that there always must be, but that is not, as so many seem to think, the end of the matter. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen thought that that was cheapening the debate, they may think that I was being a bit offensive, but that is what I think.
There is, in fact, no course open to us that does not entail the risk of death for innocent persons if mistakes are made. What we have to weigh against the risk of executing an innocent person if we have the death penalty is the risk that other innocent persons will lose their lives if we do not have the death penalty. I refer to three categories. A number of people have been killed by those who, having murdered, were sent to prison and later released. I was surprised and horrified to hear that the total for the past 20 years is 33; that is, the lives of 33 innocent people have been lost because of mistakes. I do not criticise those who made the mistakes. It is easy to be clever with hindsight, but the fact is that 33 people who could still be alive lost their lives because of mistakes.
There are those who are at risk from those convicted of murder, such as prison officers and other prisoners. There are those innocent people who are at risk if, as we believe, the death penalty really is a deterrent and we deny the protection of that deterrent to our citizens. I conclude that, on balance, the risk that innocent people will lose their lives through mistakes is far greater if we do not have the death penalty than if we have it.
Lastly, I want—
Before my right hon. and learned Friend finishes, will he clear up one matter which has disturbed me? I have listened carefully to his speech. Does he wish us at the conclusion of the debate to vote for the principle that he has enunciated in his speech, that capital punishment will follow only when there is a unanimous verdict by a jury that a reasonable person would feel that the killing was evil, or does he wish us to vote for the terms of the new clause? I am sure that he has considered its terms. If he reads it, he will see that any interpretation by a court of those terms would mean that there are two categories of capital murder. If we are to vote for this, are we not voting for the proposition that
A person convicted by the unanimous verdict of a jury of the premeditated killing of another person … shall suffer death in the manner authorised by law
or the alternative, which is that
A person convicted by the unanimous verdict of a jury of …intentionally killing another person in a manner, or for a reason, or in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil, shall suffer death in the manner authorised by law.
There are two categories. If we are to vote for—
My right hon. and learned Friend, who is an old and valued friend, cannot have been present when I dealt with that point at the start of my speech. If it means what he says— and I am not sure that it does—it can very easily be put right by adding the four words "in either case done". My answer is simple and I am surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend should seek to deal with it in this way; it is a drafting point. If, in fact, it is capable of—[Laughter.]
If, in fact, it is capable of having the effect that my right hon. and learned Friend said, I would be the first to wish to remedy it by putting in those words. I am asking the House to vote for the principle that has been perfectly adequately summarised by my right hon. and learned Friend.
Finally, I want to say a word about the significance of public opinion in these matters. I hold as firmly as anyone else to the view that we are not delegates but representatives. I want to quote from something said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) with which I agree. He said:
I should be the last to imply that a Member of Parliament ought to subordinate his judgment of what is wise or right to even the most overwhelming majority of opinion. If he believes a thing harmful, he must not support it; if he thinks it unjust, he must denounce it. In those judgments the opinion of those he represents has no claim over him.
I agree with every word, but I also agree with what he went on to say, which was this:
But capital punishment is not for me in that caterogy: it is not self-evidently harmful, nor self-evidently unjust. I cannot therefore deny that in this context a settled and preponderant public demand ought to be taken into account or that at a certain point it would have to prevail.
He then said that he did not think that that point had been reached at that stage. But that was 12 years ago. I would also remind the House that the Royal Commission in 1953 said:
The continuing demand for retribution cannot be ignored".
Hon. Members will have had a lot of correspondence on this matter. I had a letter from an elderly gentleman living in Brixton who, in substance, asked, "Don't they know up there" — he meant us — "that we are more frightened now of violence from our own people than ever we were of Hitler? Don't they know that we believe that there is one thing that they could do to help and protect us? Don't they know we feel that they are putting our lives at risk to ease their misguided consciences?" That is just one example of what has been written to me. I could cite many others.
The figure for public opinion is now said to be about 85 per cent. in favour. That means — and the House should recognise this—that one cannot say that it is just the cranks or extremists at either end. It means that the solid bulk of moderate, middle-of-the-road thinkers in this country believe, and believe strongly, that we are not doing everything that we ought to do to give them the protection to which they are entitled. To those hon. Members who continue to vote against, I must say that I believe that the stage has been reached—or is very close—where if this House continues to ignore public feeling it will do so at its peril.
I commend my new clause to the House as something which has the support not only of logic and reason but of the vast majority of those for whose lives we are responsible.
The House has listened to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) with the respect and attention which his views and experience always command, and also with a sense of the peculiar responsibility which falls upon each of us and which he rightly emphasised. This is a matter which for many years Parliament has taken to itself. By that I mean that hon. Members make up their own minds about their vote and then justify that vote to their constituents. It follows that policy decisions by Government, advice from Whips, statements in party manifestos, have no place in this discussion. Only Parliament can change the law, and on this matter Ministers come to the debate simply as individual Members of this House.
Nevertheless, there is a convention that the holder of my office should try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. By that convention, the Home Secretary gives some factual background, attempts some analysis of the actual proposal before the House and, finally, adds something of his own personal views. I shall follow that convention this afternoon. I shall do so briefly, to allow other hon. Members to contribute.
Last year there were 3·8 million recorded offences in this country. Of that total, just over 3 per cent. were offences of violence against the person, and of that 3 per cent., 7 per cent. involved violence endangering life. So offences of violence endangering life constituted 0·2 per cent. of the total number of recorded offences. The rise in recorded crimes of violence including homicide has been substantial, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, but it has been markedly slower than the rise in recorded crimes against property. However, it is of course natural and right that crimes of violence should arouse the strongest feelings of anxiety, frustration and anger. An hon. Member's position on capital punishment is not a test of his or her resolution on crime in general because there is no evidence, either in the figures or from the experiences of other countries, that the existence of capital punishment for murder — that unique offence at the pinnacle of crime—has any effect in deterring or reducing crime in general. The House will want to concentrate, as my right hon. and learned Friend has done, on the relationship between capital punishment and murder itself.
Probably the least questionable statistics are those showing the number of offences initially recorded as homicide per 100,000 of the population. The number of homicides per 100,000 population reached its peak in the 1860s and 1870s, then began to decline in the last quarter of the last century and the first sixty years of this century. The high point in the figures was 1·96 homicides per 100,000 people in 1865 and the low point was 0·57 in 1961. Since then the trend has moved upwards again and last year there were 662 homicides in this country, amounting on the same basis to 1·33 per 100,000 of the population.
Against that background, it might be useful to say something about the three main justifications advanced for the return of capital punishment, which were all touched upon by my right hon. and learned Friend. They are the arguments based upon public protection, upon just punishment, and upon deterrence. As regards protection of the public, there can really be little argument. If the sole aim of justice in this regard was to ensure that in no circumstances could anyone found guilty of murder commit that offence again, capital punishment provides that assurance. As Queen Elizabeth I said in an earlier age: "Stone dead hath no fellow".
As regards the argument of just punishment, it is true that very many people in this country regard death as the only fitting penalty for some cases of murder. The argument is that anyone who, by a conscious and deliberate act done from evil motives, takes the life of another has forfeited his own right to live. A crime which is so final and irremediable in its effects is believed to deserve no less final and irremediable a punishment by way of retribution. I hope that I am stating the argument correctly. Against that there is the counter-argument that the state is less likely to instil an absolute respect for the life of its citizens if it chooses to include the taking of life among the instruments of its penal code. The conflict between these arguments is essentially something which every Member will have to resolve for himself or herself. We each have to decide whether the death penalty is the only penalty of sufficient severity for certain cases of murder.
Perhaps I should remind the House that since we debated this matter a change has come over the nature of life imprisonment, which under present law is the mandatory penalty for murder. This change is the result of the policy announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) in 1983. since then, in all but exceptional cases, those convicted of the most heinous forms of murder — murderers of police or prison officers, terrorist murderers, sexual or sadistic murderers of children and those who murder by firearm in the course of robbery—will all serve a minimum of 20 years in prison. Under that policy, in a number of cases life imprisonment will and does mean precisely imprisonment for life.
I turn now to the question of deterrence. The House will not be surprised to know, and my right hon. and learned Friend clearly said, that the figures and the research are really not a great deal of help to either side of the argument. For example, the figures for homicides and executions in England and Wales show no pattern that is of much use in settling the question. In 1903, for example, there was the largest number of executions in this century, but in 1904 the homicide figures rose. At the end of the last war, there was a rise in the number of homicides by more than a third. This was followed by 20 executions in 1946, but there was still a rise in homicides in 1947.
On the other side of the argument, 23 executions in 1952 were followed by three years of decline in homicides, but after that there was a further decline in homicides even though the number of executions was lower than ever before. International comparisons show no big difference in the incidence of homicide between those countries with the death penalty and those without. Even a study of the impact of the halting and then the reintroduction of capital punishment in a number of states in the United States of America over the last decade provides no firm guidance. Therefore, we are really left, as my right hon. and learned Friend was left, to make our own judgment on the importance of the deterrent argument.
About half of homicides arise out of a quarrel, a wish for revenge, or loss of temper. In almost 75 per cent. of each category, the victim knew the suspect. Perhaps that kind of murderer is less likely to be deterred. For the rest, the House will reach its own conclusion about whether any deterrent effect from capital punishment outweighs the possible reduction in the conviction rate which seems to go with capital punishment.
By drawing on his own experience, does the Home Secretary not agree that, however terrible and despicable the crimes of the terrorist, such people are not likely to be deterred by capital punishment? Bobby Sands and others demonstrated that they did not place too much value on their own lives.
I am suffering from the same problem as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport in that the hon. Gentleman is raising a point that I intend to cover later.
I should now like to speak about my right hon. and learned Friend's new clause. First, there is the question how widely it should apply in the various parts of the United Kingdom. That matter has been raised but not settled by interventions. The Bill applies generally only to England and Wales, and the House will have to consider whether it would be right to have capital punishment available in some parts of the United Kingdom but not in others. In this context we have to think particularly about Northern Ireland, the part of our country that has suffered most tragically from terrorism.
As has been said, my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal could not as it stands be applied to terrorist murders in Northern Ireland, since there is at present no jury in such trials in that part of our country. My right hon. and learned Friend said that he would like it to be applied throughout our country. I understand that reasoning, but his proposal could not be applied in Northern Ireland without some fundamental change in its nature. If I may say so, my right hon. and learned Friend has not helped us a great deal about what that fundamental change should be. Nevertheless, his proposal is clear—although we are not clear about its meaning in the absence of jury trials in Northern Ireland—that this should apply throughout the United Kingdom.
The House may remember that when it last debated this issue in 1983, my predecessor, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), made clear his considered judgment that the return of capital punishment would make it more difficult to bring terrorists to justice, would strengthen their support and would destabilise society in Northern Ireland. He added that the professional judgment of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, after consulting his senior officers, was that to reintroduce capital punishment for terrorist murders would make the task of the police in Northern Ireland substantially more difficult.
I thought it right to consult my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He has authorised me to say that his firm advice is against this new clause. He has asked me to say that in England and Wales during the four years from 1983 to 1986, six people were convicted of crime which could be classified as terrorist murder, and one of the murder of a police officer. During the equivalent period in Northern Ireland, the figure was 94. My right hon. Friend's view—I accept that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) holds a different view—is that in the main the terrorist is fully prepared to risk his own life as well as to sacrifice the lives of others. Up to the end of last year, for example, more than 330 members of the IRA had been killed in the present campaign, and, in my right hon. Friend's view, there is no convincing argument that the additional assistance of the death penalty would be any significant deterrent.
My right hon. Friend thought it right again to consult the Chief Constable of the RUC to see if he maintained his previous view. Sir John Hermon confirmed that he did and that his opinion had been, if anything, reinforced by recent experience. This view was shared by his senior colleagues in the RUC.
Will my right hon. Friend hazard an explanation about why, on the day in December 1985 when we debated the matter of terrorist offences meriting death, the leader of the IRA threatened that if this House were to pass the motion on capital punishment and if it were reintroduced he would take the lives of two British soldiers for every one in the IRA who was hanged? Why should he have done that, unless he feared capital punishment?
I shall deal with my analysis of that point and the impact of capital punishment on the IRA. I shall answer that point towards the end of what I have to say. I am reporting the views that I have obtained from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who at present holds the responsibility for making that assessment.
My right hon. Friend is always fair. Just as every hon. Member is equal before his conscience and his constituents, so too is the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland one man in this matter. My right hon. Friend will therefore want to remind the House that the representative body of the overwhelming majority of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers who have to face this at the sharp end take a contrary view and support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival).
In my experience that is certainly true, and it is also true that hon. Members from the province of Ulster hold different views. No doubt some of those hon. Members will express their views in this House. I am simply speaking about the professional analysis of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who holds the principal responsibility for making the assessment that I have mentioned.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable are right and lf their view is accepted, and if we continue to rule out the possibility of reintroducing capital punishment for murder in Northern Ireland, we ought to consider carefully what might follow from having it in operation in Great Britain and not in Northern Ireland. Not many hon. Members would think that that is a sensible conclusion, and I agree. If within the space of a week or so similar outrages were carried out in Belfast and Liverpool, it would not be right or even comprehensible to provide, as this new clause in its present form would provide, that those brought to justice should face capital punishment on one side of the water but not on the other.
I shall now turn to the effect of the new clause in England and Wales. As he explained, my right hon. and learned Friend is seeking to avoid the difficulty of classifying different types of murder by putting the onus for decision on the jury. In doing that he follows the line advocated by the Royal Commission in 1953, although that was widely criticised and not acted upon at the time. He also follows the special procedures that are used in several states of the United States of America.
It is a very heavy burden that my right hon. and learned Friend is proposing to put upon a jury. It is a heavier burden than was placed upon the judge when capital punishment was mandatory. It is also heavier than the responsibility placed upon the Home Secretary of the day, who was not, as the jury would be under the new clause, obliged to reach a positive decision to send a murderer to his or her death. The presumption then was that the law would take its course.
Under my right hon. and learned Friend's clause, a random group of jurors would not only be asked to decide beyond reasonable doubt about guilt or innocence; in addition to that finding of fact, they would be asked to make a moral judgment about evil. The House will wish to consider whether out of those moral judgments—case by case, jury by jury — are likely to emerge results sufficiently consistent to command public confidence. For example, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), it would seem at least likely that on a large proportion of juries there would be one committed opponent of capital punishment. Such an opponent might well agree on a verdict of guilty on the point of fact, but might never accept a moral judgment abour the nature of evil that would lead the defendant to execution. It is possible that whether executions took place would depend not on the nature or the degree of evil of the offence, but on the views of one or two members of the jury.
Our criminal justice system rightly places a heavy weight upon juries—we discussed that last night —but the House should be clear that what we are considering here is something additional and different. The results of seeking this second decision from a jury would certainly be unpredictable, and therefore less likely to act as a deterrent. They might also vary remarkably from case to case, and that would be deeply unsatisfactory to people on both sides of the argument. It is a revolutionary step to ask a jury to pass from findings of fact to findings of moral judgment. The criminal would have no means of knowing what the outcome might be.
Do my right hon. Friend and the House appreciate that, following last night's debate, however frightful or evil a murder may be, whether the defendant lives or dies will depend on a peremptory challenge?
My hon. and learned Friend is confusing two points, one of which was settled in the House last night. However, I see the link that he is making between those two points. I am not sure where that leaves his argument.
I understand clearly why my right hon. and learned Friend has made his proposal in this form. He wants to get away from the argument about different categories of murder, because in the past it has bedevilled the case for restoring capital punishment. However, in steering clear of that difficulty, he runs into another difficulty with the jury. The dificulty becomes inevitable once we move away from the simple notion that everyone convicted of murder should be executed. Few people today would hold to that simple proposition regardless of the circumstances of a case. Yet, having moved away from it, no one has yet found a satisfactory means of answering the crucial question of who should be executed and who should not.
Not all the arguments of either sense or morality point in one direction. There is a swirl of discussion in which each of us must find his or her balance as best we can. Let me mention three arguments—one of which relates to Northern Ireland—which weigh heavily and personally with me.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport spoke, as he is entitled to do, about public opinion. I do not believe that the present strong public support for capital punishment would last very long if the death penalty, in whatever form, were re-established. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) has just reminded us, in his fine biography of Sir Anthony Eden, how public opinion was disturbed by actual cases during the last years of capital punishment. Many of us remember vividly the case of Craig, who pulled the trigger and killed a police officer but was spared because he was under 18—whereas Bentley, who did not pull the trigger, was hanged, because of the fatal words that he uttered on the scene. That trial has always stuck in my mind. I wonder how long the public would continue to support a system that, whatever its form and its legal framework, would be bound to throw up that kind of anomaly and inconsistency.
I do not see how that phraseology alters the fact that the man who pulled the trigger was spared, while the man who did not was hanged. However it was phrased, such anomalies and inconsistencies would be bound to occur.
The public's view of capital punishment would also be affected by the publicity that any execution would receive from the news media, which are now much more intrusive and less inhibited than they were 30 years ago. The process by which the life of a man or woman is lost not as a result of accident, crime or war, but as a result of the cool and protracted decisions of the state is bound to be the focus of lurid publicity. What happens—as we see from the United States or, indeed, Malaysia—is that the offender, in a thoroughly perverse way, is treated as the victim. It is his sorrowing family who are interviewed, his words and actions that become famous and his last moments that are lovingly described. I do not believe that the Public would find that acceptable for long. A circus would be created, and the holder of my office, because he would still be the guardian of the prerogative of mercy, would be cast as the ringmaster.
My second point refers back to what I have said about terrorism, and the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). Of course terrorism is not confined to Northern Ireland, and what I say now reflects the total application of the clause. Whatever its leaders may say for tactical reasons, I am pretty sure from my own time in Northern Ireland that, if we really want to help the Provisional IRA to build up again the flow of dollars and guns into its armouries, the infliction of capital punishment on its members would be a good way of setting about it. The greatest single gain in strength that it has achieved in recent years came after the hunger strikes of 1981, when it contrived with some difficulty to provide corpses for its own purposes out of its own membership.
My last point rests on an even more recent experience. I spent part of the Christmas Recess looking through the papers relating to a number of people now serving prison sentences in this country for terrorist offences. As the House will know, I decided to refer one of those cases back to the Court of Appeal. It is emphatically not for a Home Secretary to say whether such individuals are guilty or innocent, but where there is new matter of substance in a case—for example, in the form of a new witness or new material bearing on the scientific evidence — a Home Secretary is justified in asking the court—indeed, he has a duty to do so—to look at the matter again. If such men had by then been executed, any review of their case would be a charade. A later finding of innocence in any such cases would leave a dark stain on our system of justice. Mervyn Russell was convicted of murder in 1976. Several years after his execution, the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction.
I do not put forward those three reasons as a Minister, but they weigh heavily with me in my attempts to find a balance between the different arguments. This is the fifth debate on capital punishment that I have attended; many right hon. and hon. Members have been in the House longer, and have attended more. My recollection, which perhaps they share, is of debates that, through sheer quality, have done the House honour. Courage, as well as clear thought, has been required of us all, and I believe that we shall fully maintain that tradition today.
It is a little less than four years since the House last debated this issue.
At that time — five weeks after the general election in 1983 — many hon. Members felt that the time was appropriate for such a reassessment. As some hon. Members put it, we had just been refreshed by our contact with the electorate. We are likely, fairly soon, to be refreshed again. Indeed, it might have been in the minds of the proponents of the new clause that, as Dr. Johnson almost put it, when a man knows that he is to be refreshed in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
Circumstances, however, are considerably different from what they were four years ago. First, we are not, as we were then, debating a general motion. We are debating a specific new clause that has been tabled for inclusion in a specific Bill which, if carried, would become the precise law of the land.
Secondly, the proposal is not that there should be a general return of capital punishment but that it should be reintroduced only where there is a jury trial, where the jury is unanimous and where a reasonable person would consider as evil the manner of the murder. the reason for the murder and the circumstances of the murder.
Those hon. Members who have proposed the new clause may well have drafted it along those lines to seek to make their proposition more acceptable. If there were, to begin with, any merit in their general case, it would be disposed of by the nature of their proposal as well as by the ambiguous manner in which the clause has been drafted, as was pointed out by the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas).
It is for the proposers of the new clause to persuade the House of their case and of the merits of their clause. No death penalty for murder is the status quo. Those who seek to change the status quo have to provide a convincing case for that change. The new clause signally fails that test. For example, the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) said that it would apply to terrorist murders in Northern Ireland. In response to a further intervention he said that if the clause were included in the Bill he would make the necessary drafting changes to ensure that there is consistency throughout the United Kingdom. However, as the Home Secretary has pointed out, the need for a jury decision, whether unanimous or not, means that the proposed change in the law would not be generally available in Northern Ireland.
It would not simply be that a special procedure would be required. An entirely different procedure would be required. The whole of the clause hangs on a jury verdict. In his new clause the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the unanimous verdict of the jury is required and that the unanimous verdict of the jury shall take into account
circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil".
If there is no jury — and in the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland there is no jury — the unanimous verdict of a jury, or any verdict of a jury making a judgment about the evil inherent in a case, would not be possible.
This morning I contacted the Attorney-General's office — it was extremely helpful to me, and I am grateful to it for that—about the nature of dealing with murder trials in Northern Ireland. The Attorney-General's office made it clear to me that the only way in which a murder trial can take place in Northern Ireland is if it is certified out by the Attorney-General himself. The Attorney-General's office also made it clear to me that, in what its representative called "the emergency situation" in Northern Ireland, domestic murders might be certified out but that non-domestic murders—namely, terrorist murders to which the Secretary of State for the Home Department referred —would not be certified out. Therefore, it would not be a minor change of a tidying up that the right hon. and learned Member for Southport would have to provide. He would have to provide a new form of capital punishment for Northern Ireland that was not based on a jury verdict. If it were not based on a jury verdict, it cannot be denied that the safeguard that he has presumably sought to build into this new form of capital punishment would not be available for terrorist cases in Northern Ireland.
If we are to deal with the unity of capital punishment for the whole of the United Kingdom, let us consider Scotland. A Scottish jury consists of 15 members and the verdict is 8:7, not 10:2. Therefore, the chances of being convicted of a capital, or an evil, premeditated crime in Scotland would be different from what they would be in England.
The hon. arid learned Gentleman points out that at least jury trial is available in Scotland. and I presume that the right hon. and learned Member for Southport is proposing that a unanimous verdict would be required of Scottish juries. If not, he would have to provide for three different forms of capital punishment decisions in three of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom.
I say again that it cannot be denied that capital punishment would not be available for murders by terrorists in Northern Ireland, even though such murders might be regarded as evil in manner, reason or circumstances, as is provided for in the new clause. I say that they might be regarded as evil, because the nature of evil is an entirely subjective concept.
As the Home Secretary has pointed out, most murders are not committed by habitual criminals. As the Home Office statistics make clear in tabular form, they are committed in most cases by a son, daughter, parent, spouse or other family member, or by a lover or former lover, or by a friend or an acquintance. Between 1975 and 1985, those categories of murder accounted for 73 per cent. of the murders that were committed. Moreover, again as the Home Office statistics make perfectly clear, 50 per cent. of the murders that were committed between 1975 and 1985 were committed during a quarrel, or in revenge, or because of loss of temper.
Only about 10 per cent. of murders are committed in pursuit of other crime, and that proportion is lower now than it was 10 years ago. Although the number of murders has risen, as I shall point out, it is curious that the actual number of murders committed in pursuit of other crime was lower in 1985 than it was in 1975. How on earth would a jury be able to assess which of these murders was or was not evil?
In any case, such an assessment—again as the Home Secretary pointed out—is a complete distortion of the role of a jury. The role of a jury in any trial, including a murder trial, is to consider the facts of the case, and on the basis of those facts to decide whether or not the defendant has been proved beyond reasonable doubt to have committed the crime of which he is accused. As I shall have reason to point out before I end my speech, to make a factual decision on the basis of evidence that is offered in good faith is a hard enough job. Juries, public spirited though they all are, have been known to make mistakes as to fact that have resulted in wrongful conviction. Under the new clause, the jury would have to choose the penalty. Decisions on penalties are for Parliament to make or for judges to impose. That ought not to be a job for juries, with one member having the right of veto over the penalty to be imposed, as is provided for in the right hon. and learned Member's new clause.
What is more, to impose on juries the duty to make a moral analysis whose outcome could result in the death of the object of that moral analysis is to impose an intolerable burden, particularly since there is no measure, except for an individual's personal judgment, which might well be prejudiced, as to what the nature of evil might be. Whole religions and whole methods of philosophy have been based upon an analysis of what is good and what is evil, yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman is imposing upon a jury the burden of having to make a decision in a few hours on the nature of evil and how it should be applied to a particular case and to a particular human being, a decision that might result in the death of that human being.
No, I wish to get on.
If we accept this proposition, Parliament would not only change the nature of jury trial and verdict, but it should also make every such verdict automatically liable to appeal. The basis of that appeal would not be, as it now often is, whether the judge had misdirected the jury, but whether the concept of evil in the minds of the appeal court judges was different from that in the minds of jurors. Appeals would become matters of differences of opinion, on which it is impossible for there to be any factual yardstick.
That hon. Members have put forward such an unsatisfactory formulation for the return of capital punishment for murder is a symbol of the fundamental flaws in the general case made by those seeking a return of the death penalty. To establish their case, they must prove that the absence of capital punishment fails to provide an effective deterrent for murder, such as they believe would exist if the death penalty were brought back. However, they cannot prove it.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Southport and the Home Secretary have pointed out, the statistics for murder are too insecure for any proof one way or the other. Arguments based on those statistics may be distorted by the classification of the murder and the base year that is chosen for comparison. Each year, some killings are initially regarded as murder. However, when they are pursued by the police, or dealt with by the courts, they are reclassified to provide a considerably lower total. In 1985, for example, the homicide figures in Great Britain fell by 69, solely as a result of reclassification.
Murder has certainly risen over the years, but not in a steady progression. Between 1951 and 1952, for example, when capital punishment was available, the number of murders rose by 72. Between 1976 and 1977 when capital punishment was not available, the number of murders fell by 83.
Murder is a uniquely dreadful crime, because it is uniquely irreparable. Every murder is hateful because it flies in the face of human instincts. However, it is necessary to see even the crime of murder in perspective, for example, in an international perspective. Last year, in England and Wales, 662 offences were initially recorded as murder. That figure is unacceptably high to us in this country, although it will certainly be reduced when the figures are reassessed, as they are annually. In New York city last year, the number of murders was not 662, the total for England and Wales, but in that single city 1,598. As a percentage of crime in New York city, the murder rate there is 15 times greater than that for the whole of this country.
As the Home Secretary sought to do, murder must also be seen in the context of total crime nationally. In the 20 years before abolition, murders constituted 14·7 per cent. of the more serious crimes of violence against the person. In the 20 years since abolition, that proportion has fallen to 9 per cent. In the 20 years before abolition, murders constituted 2·8 per cent. of all violent crimes. In the 20 years since abolition,'as a proportion of violent crime, that figure has fallen to 0·7 per cent. As a percentage of all crime, it has fallen from 0·05 per cent. to 0·02 per cent. All crime has risen unacceptably. Murder has risen far less than other crimes, although every murder is one too many.
Hon. Members proposing the reintroduction of the death penalty have yet to prove—so far they have failed to do so — that, if reintroduced, capital punishment would have a deterrent effect on potential murderers and assist in improving the Queen's peace.
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer or try to answer a question that I asked the Home Secretary? I remind him of it. If capital punishment had been reintroduced and the leader of the IRA threatened us by saying that he would take the lives of two British soldiers for any member of the IRA who was hanged, would not that clearly suggest that, to the IRA, capital punishment is a deterrent?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has intervened precisely when I was seeking to deal with that matter. I shall proceed as I was about to do, and hope that if my reply does not satisfy the hon. and learned Gentleman at least it will respond to his point.
Since hon. Members who are proposing the new clause probably rule out, by the criterion of evil, three quarters of the murders that take place each year, we have to ask what would be the impact of the reintroduction of capital punishment on the remaining quarter, among whom, presumably, the hon. and learned Member for Burton includes murders by IRA terrorists. Presumably, those hon. Members would include murders committed by terrorists, although — I repeat that it is important to make this point—the requirement of the presence of a jury would exclude all terrorist murders committed in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the leader of the IRA could bluster in vain because his members would not be faced by capital punishment in Northern Ireland, where most of the terrorist murders that are committed in the United Kingdom take place.
In the case of executions of terrorist murderers, the state would be faced with an enormous dilemma. I shall deal with the point that the right hon. and learned Member for Southport sought to make. Have those hon. Members considered, with any seriousness, the effect on the Queen's peace of reintroducing capital punishment for terrorist murders, even if it were possible adequately to define such murders in law? I ask the hon. and learned Member for Burton, how could capital punishment act as a deterrent among groups of people which include some—although not all—who actively seek death as martyrs?
Capital punishment is an ugly form of killing, but it is less gruesome than the death by slow starvation, which was deliberately sought and attained by the hunger strikers in Northern Ireland who deliberately killed themselves. How could capital punishment act as a deterrent to men who actively seek death, glory in it, and become martyrs after achieving it? One of them was an hon. Member of this House. As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could point out, that man's name is not only remembered in Northern Ireland, but is already part of folklore and song.
It is quite certain that executions of members of terrorist groups would lead to reprisals. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Burton made that point himself. When hostage taking has become an international disease and the prolonged disappearance of Mr. Terry Waite is, tragically, no longer even a regular news item, how can we be sure that the sentencing to death in Great Britain of any terrorist from Northern Ireland or elsewhere would not lead to hostage taking as a means of preventing the imposition of the penalty? If the capital sentence were imposed, it would result in the murders of innocent hostages, misnamed as revenge executions.
I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman when I have finished this point.
In the case of such executions, not only hostages, but the judge, prosecuting counsel and jurors involved in the case would be at permanent risk. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that we should not be deflected from doing what we regard as right. He and his associates propose that we do something wrong, knowing the consequences in advance, because they believe that it would be right.
The right hon. Gentleman misquotes me entirely. Let us leave aside for a moment the question whether it is right or wrong and assume that society concludes that it is right, proper and necessary to do something. His argument leads to the conclusion that, even if the threats were sufficiently severe, society should not do this. That is simply unacceptable.
The right hon. and lerned Gentleman is assessing the position incorrectly. When a Government come face to face with these matters, grand words in the House of Commons must be set aside in order to try to save human life. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) is sitting two rows in front of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. When the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister, he had to face just such a dilemma when Leila Khaled landed in this country. It is easy to propose a new clause it is different to be the Prime Minister or Home Secretary in a Government who must face these matters and seek either to negotiate out or to get rid of the object of danger to one's citizens from the country. The state would almost certainly be faced with a terrible dilemma of either doing a deal which would lead to the reprieve or even the release of the killers or seeing more innocent people killed, possibly in a country outside its jurisdiction, such as a country in the middle east. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Hindawi case. Does he believe that, if Hindawi had been sentenced to death, hostages would not have been taken in the middle east and the Government would not have had to deal with that predicament?
The proposals in the new clause must also deal with the potential deaths of other innocent people, namely those wrongfully convicted of murder who, if this proposal had been law, might have been wrongfully hanged. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he did not duck that question, but he did not deal with it. At best, he dealt with it in a cursory fashion. This is not a hypothesis. several people are alive today who were convicted of murder and might well have been hanged if capital punishment had existed. Martin Goodwin was convicted of murder in 1969 and his conviction was quashed in 1972. Patrick Meehan was convicted of murder in 1969 and his conviction was quashed seven years later, in 1976.
No. I have already given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman once and I must proceed.
Geoffrey Mycock was convicted of murder in 1969 and his conviction was quashed in 1984. Patrick Murphy was convicted of murder in 1970 and his conviction was quashed in 1972. Cooper and McMahon were convicted in 1970, three appeals were dismissed in 1974, 1976 and 1978 and they were granted special remission in 1980 because of doubts about their guilt. John Preece was convicted in 1973 and his conviction was quashed in 1981. Albert Taylor was convicted in 1974 and his conviction was quashed in 1978. Mervyn Russell was convicted in 1977 and his conviction was quashed in 1983. All those men might have been hanged if the new clause had been law at the time of their convictions.
In dealing with criticisms of the new clause, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that if there was a defect it could easily be put right. I have listed nine defects and it was possible belatedly to put them right, but if the death penalty had existed every one of those men might have been dead. A posthumous pardon would have done them as little good as the posthumous pardon from the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) to Timothy Evans when it was finally bestowed.
Two further cases are in doubt. The first case relates to the three men convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater. The Home Secretary, to his credit, has reopened their case. Secondly, there is the case of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. The Home Secretary, again to his great credit, has referred their case to the Court of Appeal. If any of those nine men are found to have been wrongfully convicted it will be possible to release them, but if the new clause had been law they might have been hanged. Therefore, if the new clause had been law at least nine men might have been hanged because they were wrongfully convicted and a further nine may yet be included in that category.
Can hon. Members who propose this change in the law face the prospect that their vote at 10 o'clock tonight may result in the deaths of innocent people? I hope that none is callous enough for that.
I do not base my present absolute opposition to this proposed change in the law only on statistics, the danger of reprisals or even the established and repeated fact of mistaken conviction: I base my opposition to capital punishment not on what it does to those executed, but on the injury which it inflicts on the whole of society. Its very presence debases and barbarises society. As the Home Secretary pointed out, the debasement is exacerbated by the morbid appurtenances of judicial killing, such as the interviews with the families of the convicted, the scenes outside the prison as the time of execution approaches and the poisoning of the national life during that period. If it is wrong for an individual or group of individuals to take another human being's life, as I believe it is, it is wrong for the state to do that with the additional torture of the weeks of waiting and anticipation.
No. I wish to conclude my remarks because many other hon. Members wish to speak.
If Britain restores capital punishment we shall double the number of countries in non-Communist Europe which practise it. Our sole companion would be Turkey. We would also be in line with the Soviet Union. That is why prison governors and assistant prison governors, faced directly with the consequences of capital punishment, have said that they will resign if it is reintroduced for murder.
Hon. Members may say, "What about the victims and their relatives?" At present, we have in mind an ugly, vicious murder — the murder of PC Blakelock at Broadwater Farm. Only 12 days ago, his widow was questioned about the possible punishment for her husband's killers and she said unequivocally:
Not the death penalty, I don't believe in capital punishment.
If that brave woman in all the tribulations of her cruel bereavement can see so clearly and assess so dispassionately, surely the House of Commons can make an equally clear and dispassionate assessment.
There is a justifiable horror of killing and there should be an equally justifiable horror of judicial killing or killing by a jury, as provided in the new clause. I shall vote against the new clause and I hope that the House will do the same. There is something morbid and unhealthy about the wish to return regularly to a subject on which the House has stated its opinion with great clarity so many times. Let us get rid of it tonight once and for all.
I am grateful for the opportunity of making what I hope will be a short intervention in the debate.
On each of the occasions over the last 20 or more years in which the matter has been debated I have voted against capital punishment. I intend to do so tonight. Nothing has happened since the last debate on capital punishment, which was opened by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardiner), to change my view in any way. My hon. and learned Friend said that his debate would probably be the last in the House on this subject. In some ways I had hoped that he was right; not because those of us who are opposed to capital punishment are reluctant to face any challenge, but for another reason, which is that it detracts from the effort which is required to consider the real nature of crime and to try to find better ways of reducing it.
Every one of us wants to minimise crime, but in the last decade there has been all too little thought about the psychology of crime, the social reasons for it and the means of dealing with it. Rab Butler devoted a great deal of time to these problems before he was Home Secretary as well as when he was Home Secretary. We began to feel that we were making progress. Since then we have had very little time, money or attention paid to the subject. That is why I regret that we constantly return to the subject in this way.
There is an automatic desire to debate corporal and capital punishment. Yesterday we had corporal punishment. Many of my hon. Friends referred to their times at public schools, the beatings that they received and expressed their desire that it should be widely extended to the whole electorate. I did not have the benefit of attending such a school. I have always admired the intellectual excellence of some of the leading schools, but it has never appeared to me that their disciplinary methods have led to a greater human understanding by those who suffered them. That is the past, that was yesterday. Today we are dealing with capital punishment.
We are dealing with legislation at this point. This is not just a general discussion about a motion in which views can be expressed; we are dealing with a specific new clause to a Bill before Parliament. It is from that point of view that we must examine it. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) pointed out, this clause is in no fit state to become part of our legislation. There is an argument between the lawyers as to whether there are two categories in the clause or only one. The highest legal advice that I have had is that there are at least two categories and that the question of premeditated killing is separated from the other questions of the reasonable view of a jury. We, as the House of Commons, cannot put a clause with that duplicity into our legislation. Whatever the public may think about capital punishment or the lack of it, they would think that we were ruefully incompetent to put such a clause on to the statute book.
I am interested that my right hon. Friend and others are making such a meal of this. If there be an ambiguity, it can be put right perfectly easily by the addition of four words. We have another House for that purpose. I would be the first to add those words. That point is no argument against the principle of the Clause.
I hesitated to give way initially only because I thought it might be more worthwhile to give my right hon. and learned Friend a general give-way at the end on all the points that I make rather than on particular instances.
Are we not entitled to expect that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends, when putting forward a new clause to the House, would at least have removed ambiguities and not said what the House must do is wait and see what the other House does about it? The other House may want two different categories; we do not know. So we have no opportunity of settling that for ourselves.
The other aspect is the application of the Bill to England and Wales or the United Kingdom as a whole. This is a basic point. As a House we are surely not entitled to include in a Bill that applies to England and Wales a measure which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport says that he wants to apply to the United Kingdom. In other words, even those who want the restoration of capital punishment must recognise that this is no means by which to restore capital punishment in this country. On that basis alone the clause should be rejected.
I want to support most strongly what the Home Secretary has said in his analysis of the situation. We have had cited the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1947, which is 40 years ago, the Royal Commission in 1953, which is 35 years ago, and it is now time capital punishment, having been abolished for nearly a quarter of a century, for there to be a re-examination in the light of abolition over a quarter of a century. Then we would have some basic evidence on which those who want to can form their judgments and change their views. It is not possible to ignore the intervening period of nearly a quarter of a century in which capital punishment has been abolished.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport said, in regard to Northern Ireland, that we must not take any notice of the consequences. I believe that he is profoundly mistaken. My Government abolished capital punishment in Northern Ireland because we knew that it was not conducive to a better situation, it was worsening the situation, and that was why we asked Parliament to take that decision. I face up to my right hon. and learned Friend quite frankly. What the IRA was doing was demonstrating what we all knew — that if we implemented the powers of capital punishment it would make the situation worse by the executions that it would carry out. My right hon. and learned Friend is entitled to say that, but we all knew it beforehand.
Let me come to this question of the deterrent. None of the figures show that it is a deterrent, but when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport said that we must ignore the consequences and do what is right he was denying his own argument. His argument was that it was a deterrent. It was a deterrent as one of the consequences and we are being asked to take notice of it. Therefore, he is entirely contradictory in his own arguments. What he cannot show is that it is a deterrent, and when he says that if things get worse we are to ignore it then he is, first, denying the reason for the death penalty, and, secondly, he is ignoring the results of the death penalty, which must be the main basis on which he is asking for it to come back. In that respect his argument is not only contradictory but fallacious.
As to the remaining aspects of the penalty, as I said before, I have been grievously worried about the question of mistakes. I cannot share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport that we balance up mistakes in which the state kills innocent people with other citizens who are killed by individuals committing a wrong.
I do not only rely on the BBC; I watch ITN as well. I was not aware that we were in a situation in which my right hon. and learned Friend can produce that sort of argument. There still exists the power of treason. Nobody believes that it will be used in peace-time for one moment, as long as capital. punishment does not exist elsewhere. When it comes to mistakes, I am horrified that anyone can say that they do not matter as long as there is more or less a balance between the mistakes and the innocent victims of killings. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that is one of the most powerful reasons why we should not acknowledge the reinstitution of the death penalty.
The clause would make unsuitable legislation. Some right hon. and hon. Members desire to reintroduce the death penalty, but it must be done by proper means. There must be produced a proper clause that can be justified in legislation that applies to the entire United Kingdom. Alternatively, it can be done by means of a debate in which general views are expressed on a motion that calls for the Government to introduce legislation. That is how the House should behave. The introduction of the new clause is not the way to carry on in dealing with the vital issue of life and death for those who have committed offences and for innocent people.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport concluded by saying that unless we reinstitute capital punishment the electorate will have no time for us. Indeed, he said that we would fail to reintroduce it at our peril. I disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend. Capital punishment was abolished nearly 25 years ago, and since then I have not noticed that the House has been at peril. I have not noticed that those who have supported the abolition of capital punishment have been at the peril of the electorate. I hope that no one will be influenced by what my right hon. and learned Friend said about being at the peril of the electorate if we throw out the new clause.
The new clause asks us to deal with a moral question. My right hon. and learned Friend said that he was introducing a new approach, but, with great respect, it is not new. This is an attempt to secure capital punishment for a particular form of murder instead of the general form. This proved a failure with the Homicide Act 1957, which was an attempt to arrive at a compromise, and, as he said, it failed. This is but another attempt by means of the back door to introduce into legislation a particular classification, and, similarly, it would fail.
We cannot ask juries to make moral decisions of the sort that would face them if the new clause became part of the Bill that in due course will become an Act. We cannot ask juries to decide what is evil and what is not. What would be the position of a Moslem juror who was faced with a defendant accused of blowing up an aircraft to bring pressure on a country which is a tyrant towards his, the Moslem's, fellow citizens in another part of the world? The Moslem would take the view that that was not evil. He would say that it was good and sanctified by Allah. What is his position on a jury? The jury system would be made impossible. A potential juror cannot be excluded merely because he happens to be a Moslem.
If the new clause were passed, we would be asking jurors to make judgments on morality and idealism, which they should not be asked to do. I know that some judges use the phrase, "This was an evil man" or, "This was an evil crime", but it would be better for us all if judges adhered to the law, commented only on the law and excluded from their remarks phrases likely to gain approval in the gutter press.
There are those who say that certain incidents on television may incite the young to commit crime. They must be aware that there is mass coverage of every sort of crime by a part of the press. The first items to be dealt with by local radio stations throughout the country are about crime, not the world situation, our economy or other major issues. This must be inciting psychopathic personalities to commit crimes. I return to my original argument that we have done far too little to study the impact upon our fellow citizens of the media, the gutter press and the comments that are made from judicial benches.
My right hon. Friend has said, properly, that we are discussing a new clause that, if accepted, would become part of the Bill. May I remind him that clause 30 enables those who are found to be carrying a firearm, and not necessarily using it, to be sentenced to life imprisonment? If a criminal can be sentenced to life imprisonment for carrying a firearm, and there is no further deterrent for using one, he will have the inducement to use a weapon. That is why the new clause should be supported.
I do not agree with that view and I cannot accept it. It does not deal with the arguments that I have advanced that turn on the ambiguity of the new clause, its limited application within the United Kingdom and the consequences of mistakes for us as Members of Parliament.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do what they believe to be right when the House is divided at 10 o'clock. They will not be at the mercy of the electorate, which understands that those of principle reflect their views by their votes in the House. I hope that the new clause will be thoroughly defeated.
I am glad to be able to take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I do so with almost complete agreement.
There is nothing novel about the debate, except for the form of the new clause. The Home Secretary made a speech of notable courage and clarity, especially when he set out strikingly what with modern conditions of publicity would be the almost inevitable swing of sympathy to the condemned man awaiting execution, and the effect that this would have on general morbidness throughout the country. Modern media methods would be applied to a far greater extent than the methods of more than 20 years ago were employed when the last executions took place.
The form of the new clause, if not the debate, has a certain novelty, but novelty is not always a virtue, and I do not think that it is with the new clause. It is not difficult to see the general motive for the novelty and the reasons for the form that it takes. The general motive is a rather desperate attempt to find a method — almost any method — that will persuade the House to accept the death penalty in some form, and it seems hardly to matter what that is. Its purposes are to try to divide murders into two degrees while avoiding the illogical catalogue of criteria which made the Homicide Act 1957 almost entirely unsatisfactory in everyone's view.
The method of making everything depend upon a judge's or jury's view of the meaning of "evil" — perhaps one of the least objective words in our language — can hardly be regarded as a triumph of precise draftsmanship. The second particular purpose of the new clause is to try to deal with the objection to death by majority verdict. There are grave difficulties. I assume without question that the sponsors feel that they have, perhaps regrettably, to avoid Northern Ireland and to make the Act not apply to it. The new clause does not refer to Northern Ireland, but if it were carried any Government would have to deal with the consequences and produce some consistent law throughout the United Kingdom.
I assumed that the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) was prepared, against his will, to exclude Northern Ireland because I could not conceive how he could fix his clause upon having a unanimous verdict in the United Kingdom and then, across 60 miles of sea, in part of the United Kingdom, to state that one could proceed without a jury.
This is difficult territory. The House may recollect that, in 1983, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) fell into a trap on Northern Ireland from which he had great difficulty in extricating himself, then or for several years afterwards. He did not advocate bringing back juries, but advocated, in a vague sort of way, that perhaps one could have two judges sitting together or perhaps a judge sitting with assessors. That cannot be regarded as remotely on all fours with the insistence upon a unanimous verdict in Great Britain and not accepting a majority verdict.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As I have said, I am a little surprised that such a meal has been made of this. I accepted that one must be consistent. I did not think it was acceptable to have the death penalty here, but not in Northern Ireland. I did not think it was acceptable that we should be prevented by threats from doing what we wanted. I said that special procedures would be necessary. They were discussed in the 1983 debate. There were those who said that juries could be returned to Northern Ireland and there were those who said that a unanimous verdict of three judges could be accepted. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider what he said about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) — I considered what he said was rather admirable.
No, not at all. I do not wish to go back over what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, but I believe that he put forward a singularly ill-thought-out proposition when Home Secretary and bearing in mind his responsibilities. The right hon. and learned Member for Southport has made a similar proposition, but at least he does not have the responsibilities of Home Secretary or any similar responsibilities.
The right hon. and learned Member for Southport does not recognise that there is an almost insoluble problem. Whichever way the right hon. and learned Gentleman moves to deal with it, he gets into almost impossible difficulties. The first difficulty is to state that one must have a unanimous verdict in Great Britain, but to proceed without a jury elsewhere. Secondly, if one returns to jury trial in Northern Ireland and abandons the Diplock courts, one can say goodbye to the majority of convictions for terrorist offences. Undoubtedly, one would make a symbolic, retributive punishment almost certainly counter-productive with regard to the safety of life. One would face allowing many terrorists, otherwise incarcerated, to be acquitted and to walk free to assassinate again immediately. Such considerations make the constant return to this subject look more in the nature of an obsession than a policy.
If it is proposed that the sponsors do not accept capital punishment in Northern Ireland—that is the logic of the decision to gear the sentence of the death penalty to the unanimous verdicts of juries — what do we do about terrorism in Great Britain? In. Northern Ireland, the threat to life by terrorism is 600 times as great as it is in Great Britain. If there was capital punishment in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland, one would have a position of proclaiming a unique, effective deterrent, but drawing the sword where the threat was least and sheathing it where the threat was greatest. What sort of policy is that?
If one was to have the death penalty for what might be called civilian murders, but not for terrorism, on what possible basis of logic is the criterion of evil to be applied? One of the features of the new clause is that its two arms inevitably run head-on in to each other — the evil criterion and the unanimous verdict of the jury.
This is an ill-thought-out mish-mash of a clause. It is contradictory. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made an effective case against the use of the death penalty in terrorism cases, and I shall spare the House a rehearsal of that argument. I accept that it is a powerful argument, especially in the Irish context, given the psychology or the psychosis of the Irish terrorist.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) constantly popped up and said that he could not understand why the leader of the IRA should say that, if the death penalty were introduced and terrorists hanged, he would murder two British soldiers every time it was carried out. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that that surely proved that the leader of the IRA was in deathly terror of the death penalty. The hon. and learned Gentleman failed to understand that, given the extraordinary psychosis of terrorism, a man like that wants a mounting total of death on both sides. That is exactly what would occur — a multiplication of threats and a reduction in safety.
The significant point is that that threat was made to the House on the day of the debate on capital punishment. Why should the leader of the IRA bother to issue such a threat unless he thought that his ranks would be deterred if capital punishment were introduced?
If the leader of the IRA or whoever made the threat thought that he would change the minds of those right hon. and hon. Members and others who had been dedicated to capital punishment, in season and out of season, he was extremely mistaken.
I believe that the change in the law that made majority verdicts possible has had considerable value. I introduced that change in the law in 1967 against considerable opposition from, as it happens, most of the Conservative party. It has worked well and is responsible for about 10 per cent. of convictions. Those are concentrated on the more serious and professional criminal cases. I would not like the position wherein majority verdicts were held to be good enough for some forms of conviction, but not for others. I would not like the position in which someone was held in prison for 20 or 30 years or their entire life on the basis of a verdict which, by a clause passed by the House of Commons, discriminated between verdicts and said that a majority verdict was not good enough in all circumstances. I believe that that would dangerously undermine the validity of majority verdicts. That is part of the wider case that has convinced and influenced many senior police officers against the death penalty. They see it as the enemy to a likely conviction.
If we reintroduce the death penalty, the conviction rate for murder will almost certainly go down. We must remember that the alternative to conviction is acquittal — the man does not go to prison, he walks free. Of course, if that man is innocent we want him to go free but, for the moment, I am considering the guilty.
However, one cannot discuss the reintroduction of the death penalty without contemplating the position of the innocent, or the possibly innocent, who are charged and convicted. It is not my view that it is majority verdicts that are peculiarly unsafe. It is my vice that the frailty of human judgment, whether expressed through majority or unanimous verdicts, is too great to support the finality of capital punishment. My view has been substantially strengthened since 1983.
During my two periods as Home Secretary, I had to deal with 10 capital cases in which there were varying degrees of doubt, some quite simply amounting to wrongful conviction. The right hon. Member for Gorton mentioned a substantial number of other cases that have occurred since 1976. The people involved in the 10 cases I had to consider were not all hanged, but two were, and more would have been had the death penalty not been abolished in 1965. I already thought that that was an unacceptably high proportion, but events that have taken place since have greatly compounded that view. For example, grave doubts have arisen recently in regard to the safety of the verdicts in both the Birmingham and Guildford bombings cases. There were six convictions in one case and four in the other. Incidentally, all were convicted by unanimous verdicts. There was one majority verdict in the associated but separate Maguire possession of explosives case. All 10, or perhaps more likely nine, could have been hanged if the death penalty had been in operation.
Looking back on previous debates, I discovered that in the 1974 debate when I was talking about wrongful conviction, I was interrupted by a Conservative Member, no longer with us, who said, "That does not apply to terrorists." I was half inclined to agree with him and I said that I would deal with terrorism later. That is a classic answer, not only for trying to defend the continuity of one's speech, but for disguising that one does not have an immediate answer to the point put to one. How wrong he was, and how half wrong I was.
Clearly, the Home Secretary believes that there is considerable doubt in the Birmingham case, or he would not have announced its referral to the Court of Appeal. I am sure that sooner or later he will have to do the same in the Guildford case, and it ought to be sooner rather than later. What a monstrous addition those nine or 10 people would have been to the already unacceptable level of people falsely or doubtfully convicted in capital cases. How, in view of that, anyone can believe that the case in favour of the death penalty has strengthened since 1983 I find it difficult to imagine.
The only difference is that we were then on the morrow of a general election and today we are on the eve of a general election. I do not believe that that will make any difference to more than a handful of votes in the House. This is pre-eminently an issue on which the House owes the country its independent, honest and unfettered judgment and it owes it the duty of importing perspective into the issue, in looking at and learning from the past, foreseeing possible consequences in the future and not merely reacting to the emotions of the moment.
I am honoured to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) who altered the jury system in 1967.
I support the new clause that has been introduced with clarity by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), and I believe that the death penalty is a deterrent. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) because I do not think that there is any reason why this clause should not be included in a Bill that already contains similar clauses imposing life imprisonment for certain firearms offences, such as clause 30, and it is an appropriate time to do it. We have tried many times to introduce it, but without success.
I have tabled two amendments. The first is about unanimous verdicts and the second is with regard to terrorism. I am a little perplexed. I am not sure that the alteration in the jury system made by the right hon. Member for Hillhead would not apply to this clause. Unless we alter the law, I think that the courts—nobody in the House and no official can tell one the answer—might well interpret it as being in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman's modifications. I do not know whether I have the right hon. Gentleman's support on that, but it is for the courts to interpret that if the clause is accepted.
On majority verdicts, it is impossible to know whether all or even one of the 12 jurors are committed to the abolition of the death penalty. If one juror is committed to the abolition of the death penalty, then the whole thing becomes a farce. However, if the right hon. Gentleman's alteration is applied the composition of the jury is changed. There is another alternative as suggested in my amendment (a): the majority vote. I understand that that is the law in Scotland.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport has said that the provisions of the clause would include acts of terrorism. I object to the fact that it does not apply to Northern Ireland and would require special legislation in order to cover terrorist actions. I have had an early-day motion tabled for about 15 years advocating that the death penalty should be imposed for terrorists and people who assist in terrorist actions both in this country and elsewhere. With amendment (b) it would be difficult to extend the clause to Northern Ireland without complicated legislation. Therefore, although I support the clause it would be inconsistent to have the death penalty in one part of the United Kingdom and not in another.
However, Northern Ireland was once in a similar position. For a time, it had the death penalty but we did not have it here. We would be faced with a grave problem but I do not think that it would be insoluble. I would like to see the necessary legislation imposed so that it affects Northern Ireland as well.
The Government introduced it in Northern Ireland for reasons with which I do not agree. With respect, that is my argument. I did not want to see it remain in Northern Ireland because it was right. The acts of terrorism would be reduced considerably if we had the death penalty. If we asked the police or the military—
The hon. Gentleman bases his argument on the idea that terrorism would be reduced in Northern Ireland. Where is the evidence for that? Will he bear in mind a point that I made earlier in an intervention in the Home Secretary's speech: that terrorists and those who were accused of terrorism were willing to sacrifice their own lives, and were in no way deterred by the possibility of dying as a result of a hunger strike. That played into the hands of the Provisional IRA.
That argument will go on for ever. In my view, capital punishment is a deterrent, and would be in Northern Ireland. I suggest that public opinion is behind us and that if there were ever a referendum in this country, the death penalty would be reintroduced.
Order. The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) set an admirable example of brevity. If all hon. Members do the same, I shall be able to call a great many of them.
The right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), in moving the new clause, spoke of the significance of public opinion. That is the argument with which I want to begin. It is a strong argument that we have to meet when we discuss the return of capital punishment for any category of murder. That has always been the case and the debate today is no exception.
It is suggested by many, both inside and outside the House, that the public wishes the return of the death penalty, as the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) said. I tend to think that perhaps that is the case, and that the majority wish for that. The return to judicial killing would be regarded as a mark of determination by the House to deter the criminal. Such symbols have a powerful attraction. I submit that they are of little benefit when they do not actually produce the required result.
Over a long time, I have read as much as I could about the matter and listened to what others have had to say, but it is hard to find any substantial evidence to suggest that judicial killing is an act that deters. I do not doubt that the death penalty deters some potential criminals, but it does not deter others. There is no real statistical evidence for believing that there is a clear correlation between the murder rate and the existence or otherwise of the death penalty. To me, it is incumbent on those who take the view that the death penalty should be reinstated—because life imprisonment and the present level of punishment do not deter — to show that capital punishment would deter further. The onus of proof is on them. Because it cannot be proved one way or the other, it then has to become a question of one's own personal judgment.
The second argument with which we must deal is that of retribution. I find it difficult to deal with those who demand retribution, because of the sheer single-mindedness of that approach. There are those who believe that murderers should be executed irrespective of the consequences of that decision.
The retributionists today, as on other occasions when we have had such debates, will not find much difficulty in arriving at their decision, all the more because of the emotive wording of the new clause—the word evil, and all that it implies, is used in the clause. For those who seek retribution there will be no problem in supporting the clause.
For my part, I do not believe that revenge and retribution are the business of Parliament. No one has greater respect for this House and its procedures than I, and I am firm in my belief that the business of Parliament is justice and the protection of the innocent. It is justice in the form of harsh punishment for the guilty, and justice in protecting the lives of the innocent and the values of our society. For me, retribution can never have, and I believe should never have, a place in the deliberations of a Parliament in a civilised nation.
My third and major argument is the question of selectivity. Selectivity is spelled out in the new clause and lies at the crux of it. Those who do not believe in judicial killing are not being asked to throw their convictions overboard. In fact, what is taking place today is that they are being persuaded to make their convictions flexible.
It has been suggested by those who tabled the new clause that it is reasonable to adopt a flexible attitude to the capital crime. During my years of service in the House I have spoken in a number of debates on this issue and there have been persuasive arguments seeking to apply the death penalty for acts of terrorism. I have learned this afternoon that this applies also to them. There have been persuasive arguments on other occasions for the death penalty for the killing of police and prison officers on duly. On each occasion, we have been asked to be flexible in applying the capital sentence to various groups of individuals.
Today, the right hon. and learned Member for Southport and his supporters have gone one stage further. They are suggesting that we should give authority to the courts to act in a selective and discriminatory fashion in determining the degree of evil that is associated with the act of murder, in that 12 jurors in unison are required to discriminate between murder that is more heinous and murder that is less heinous. So, in this discriminatory fashion, the death penalty can be applied to acts of a more evil nature, and that is left to the discretion of the jury.
Many hon. Members are far more familiar with the workings of the law than I. They have acknowledged, today and in earlier debates, that to restore selective judicial killing will present the courts with enormous problems. We know, from experience and from evidence that is sent to us from time to time, that attempts to implement legislation that distinguishes between different types of murder have been unsuccessful. We also know from some of the most eminent people in the judiciary that earlier legislation produced anomalies, despite the years of study and examination in attempts to define different types of murder.
The new clause will create chaos for those applying the law. It makes the jury system unworkable because it demands of jurors a subjective judgment in defining evil. This House must face reality. From my point of view, all murder is evil. So far as the House is concerned, either we have the death penalty for all types of murder or we do not reinstate it. We must be honest and have the courage to say that. That is the issue that is before us yet again today, and we cannot duck it. We cannot ask jurors to distinguish between, and be flexible towards, one act of murder as opposed to another. For those who commit outrageous and evil acts there cannot be any shred of sympathy. They must be met with long, tough sentences and I make no bones about it. I make no bones about the fact that I welcome the practice of committal for decades and conviction for life.
My final argument, which was mentioned earlier, is about the democratic process, because it brings into conflict individual conscience and what I regard as majority opinion. The first question put to me in the election campaign in Nelson and Colne. when I was the candidate following the death of Sydney Silverman, was on that issue. It was an emotive period. and to some extent I was unsuccessful because of my convictions as an abolitionist. Since first being elected to the House, I have consistently demonstrated my opposition to judicial killing, although in all honesty I cannot say that all my constituents are aware of my views. But I take the view—I believe that my constituents share it with me—that I am not a mandated delegate, and this is not a delegated assembly. I owe respect to the people whom I represent for their point of view. I also owe them my judgment in seeking what is right and best for the country in its entirety.
It would not only be wrong in itself, but wrong in the interests of the nation, to reinstate capital punishment on the basis of public opinion. That opinion I must face and convince. If I fail, my views and I can be rejected. It would be intolerable if I were to allow public perception rather than convincing argument to blow me away from the opinions that I hold. The right hon. and learned Member for Southport, in introducing the new clause, was far from logical and far from convincing. I find the new clause extremely misleading and confused. I shall demonstrate that in the Lobby tonight.
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd). She will find that I am equally forthright in my opinions and as content to stand by them. I hope to take up her remarks on deterrence and the point of view of the public, but first I should like to refer to the suggestion by the right hon. Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), that somehow it is a mark of a degraded and uncivilised society to consider the reintroduction of the death penalty. I shall hardly take lessons from a former Home Secretary who was responsible for introducing the permissive society—
I said at the beginning of my speech that I am confident of my opinions and I am prepared to stand by them. I shall continue to do so.
What causes me greater anxiety than the gratuitous slur which the two right hon. Members sought to introduce and which spoiled their arguments, which were until then stated in a perfectly logical fashion, is the suggestion which, unfortunately, has crept in on both sides of the House, that somehow capital punishment cannot be considered for terrorists because of the consequences. I hope that the Minister of State will take the opportunity, when replying to the debate, to restate the position of Her Majesty's Government on not giving in to terrorists' demands, and not being deterred by terrorists' threats from carrying out the policy to which the Government adhere, never mind capital punishment in that context. The spirit that infused some of the remarks that we have heard can only be described as craven.
The consequence of the death penalty in the 17 cases when I defended a person on a capital charge was that people were wrongly acquitted. The consequence was that they went out and murdered somebody else. The consequence of the death penalty being abolished is that, with the 500 people whom I have defended for non-capital murder, the jury has not had that difficulty. Two were wrongly convicted and both were pardoned—Preece and Meehan. If they had not been, they would have been wrongly hanged by us.
My hon. and learned Friend's forensic record is well known to the House, but he has not assisted me in my argument about terrorist offences. I now wish to return to the main point that I wanted to make. I should like to deal first with the concept of deterrence, because it is the main reason why I support the concept of the reintroduction of capital punishment.
As one of the main sponsors of the new clause, I must accept liability for any defects that may have been found in its drafting or its uneven effect. I am happy to accept the criticism that has rightly been made in the House today, but it should not be allowed to detract from the principle at stake. I admit that the new clause was a device to get the principle of the reintroduction of capital punishment re-examined. Were the new clause to be passed, I still cannot believe that it would be impossible for it to be dealt with through Lords amendments.
I wish to refer to the principle of deterrence and the role of the public. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) rightly stated that the main deterrent is to be detected. I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team have done in equipping, paying, raising the morale of and employing extra police to improve the chances of detection. I also pay tribute to them for the legislative measures that they have passed in the teeth of the Opposition, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, to improve matters considerably in that major respect. We should not get the idea of capital punishment out of all proportion. It is only part of the deterrent. The most important part is some of the work that my right hon. Friend has undertaken.
However, the concept of the deterrent is well established in the public consciousness. The purpose of the deterrent is not to be used but to deter. That is the concept that underlies our defence policy. It is an applicable analogy. We are attempting to introduce and further the same concept of deterrence. It is widely understood and accepted by the public. It is easy for hon. Members with abilities that sometimes are better than those with which I was endowed at birth to pick holes in arguments but lose sight of what the public are concerned about and their attitude. The public are well accustomed to the idea of a deterrent and have been encouraged in that by our Government, I am glad to say.
If the public really believe that capital punishment is a deterrent, as it seems to me they do from my travels round the country on by-election duty, it is reasonable to suppose that some of the criminal fraternity among the public also find it a deterrent. The limit of my ambition is to increase deterrence. That is what I am trying to do. It is important. It is all very well to win the argument in the House, but I do not find people going outside the House and campaigning for the views that they hold here. If they are sincere in their beliefs, a real educative process must be undertaken to sway the public—and perhaps educate the public — to their view. They must change the perception of the public. The reason why the matter has cropped up again this evening is not some perverse, atavistic, degraded thirst for blood and retribution among Conservative Back Benchers— [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, it is."] No, it has nothing to do with that. I am not interested in retribution. I will not be accused of that.
The reason for this debate is the wide concern among the public that there should be an increased deterrent for the increasing number of crimes of violence and murder. That is why we are debating the subject tonight. It crops up again this evening because of public demand, and we must discuss the matter. Although we are not delegated, it is right that we should discuss the matter in this House as representatives.
I accept that the new clause may be defective and may not be in a fit state to be passed by the House. However, I make no apology for discussing the matter and for putting my point of view. I sincerely urge all hon. Members to take very seriously the point about public perception and the public wish. If there must be a process of re-education, would hon. Members please undertake that process if they are opposed to the measure?
I have found that there is a very real wish for increased deterrence and a very widespread understanding that the reintroduction of capital punishment would help to achieve that end. That is why I will be supporting the new clause tonight, whatever its defects.
I am probably the only speaker in the Chamber tonight who lives in an area where there is capital punishment. The distinction that we are talking about in Northern Irish terms is capital punishment on the one hand and capital punishment as part of the judicial process on the other. I live in a part of a very small island which has suffered the deaths of approximately 2,600 people. Translated into British terms—when compared with England, Scotland and Wales — that is almost 12,000 people. We can rightly say that there is capital punishment in Northern Ireland which is extra to the judicial process.
It would also be true to say that I am probably the only person in the House tonight who has been on more than one occassion under sentence of death from the people who carry out capital punishment. That is not unique to me. That is a common position for any Northern Ireland politician.
For those reasons we must be very careful tonight. We must be careful that we do not allow self-righteous indignation to carry us away, that we do not let our very sincere convictions rule our heads and above all we must not allow a ghoulish macabre self-indulgence in these matters to take over the debate.
We are all against sin. This debate should not be a moralistic beauty contest on the Floor of the House. It should be the means of solving a very serious problem. As someone who lives in the middle of probably the most dangerous part of Northern Ireland, which has seen more violence than any other part, I do not want to see any Act incorporating capital punishment. I do not want to see it even contemplated.
There has been much debate tonight about the deterrent element of capital punishment. I have one simple question to ask. If that deterrent factor exists, why have the problems of political violence remained in Ireland after 800 years? Why, in 800 years, has that deterrent not worked? It has not worked for a very good reason—and that question was put continually from Conservative Benches. Those who are dedicated to violence in the north of Ireland, be it Republican violence or Loyalist violence, are dedicated to getting the most repressive legislation that they can from this House. I refer to the words of Daniel Morrison of Provisional Sinn Fein after the horrific bombings in Brighton. He confirmed my point clearly by saying that Provisional Sinn Fein would not get the repressive legislation that it sought. If those people were sitting in this Chamber tonight, they would be wishing the new clause to be carried. If it was carried, it would not be the leaders of those organisations who would suffer. The young lad of 16 or 17 years of age on the periphery of the violence would suffer. That is where I believe the central flaw in the argument lies. That essential flaw would play into the hands of those who are dedicated to change things by violent means in the north of Ireland.
We have heard numerous references to the IRA and I condemn every act of violence that it carries out. However, let us not forget that there are other organisations on the Loyalist side in the Unionist community which are acting in exactly the same way, in a way which is reprehensible for everyone in the north of Ireland and in a way which can never bring a solution to our problem.
I will not go into the legalities of the new clause I will leave that to the lawyers. However, having listened to some hon. and learned Members tonight, I do not believe that they have cleared the wooliness that surrounds the new clause. It is incredible that this type of legislation could only apply to Northern Ireland if there was a reintroduction of a jury system. We would enter a bizarre situation whereby, after derogating from the highest standards of the judicial process, we would have to reintroduce a jury system so that people could be hanged to cope with terrorism. That inherent bizarre proposal is central to the new clause. That is absolutely ludicrous and, in legal terms—and I do not speak as a legal person—that could not possibly be made to work by any remote stretch of the imagination.
Reference has already been made to the hunger strike deaths. Let us examine the implications of the new clause. Those people on hunger strike were seeking one aim—the definition of their position as political prisoners. Once such a new clause is introduced, those people would have that and a further definition of their position as political martyrs. We know the potency of the martyr syndrome in Irish politics. We know the way in which it seeps down from one generation to another and we know how the whole sub-culture of violence which is condemned as outlandish in one decade can become a source of admiration in the next decade. To play into the hands of that sub-culture of violence would be a crucial mistake if we hope to find a solution to the terrible problems facing the north of Ireland.
If we want the IRA, the UDA, UVF or the INLA—or whatever name an organisation may choose at any given time — to succeed, I recommend that the surest way to achieve that would be to hang those people. Imagine the position in a very closed community such as Northern Ireland the day the first person was hanged under this kind of legislation. Be he Protestant, Catholic, Unionist or Republican, imagine the attitudes within that community. Imagine the problems that would be caused for people living in that community. Some theories simply do not stand up. Some people say that capital punishment would be a protection for the vulnerable in society. It is not such a protection. The most vulnerable in society live in areas which would be taken over by emotion. Their areas would be laid bare by the men of violence.
Some people say that the proposal would be a body blow for violent organisations. That is not quite correct. Those organisations would be laughing all the way to their next sinister plan because they would know that the proposal was playing exactly into their hands. Those who see the death penalty as a means of creating peace and order—I do not use the term "law and order"—in the north of Ireland have only to consider the effect of the hunger strikes. Nothing created the Sinn Fein political presence so potently as what happened in those prisons. There was a cynicism and a callousness that was quite shocking, but there was also a blindness in the approach to that situation which in many ways was rooted in self-indulgence and gave those people the necessary impetus at the very time when it was needed.
I conclude with the words of Winston Churchill, which were quoted by my colleague the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) in the debate in 1983, but which bear repeating. Churchill said:
The grass grows green on the battlefield, but never on the scaffold.
Whether the battlefield be a mining village in Britain, an urban ghetto in London or the blood stained streets of Northern Ireland, I beg the House never again to allow the shadow of the gallows to cut out that light which alone can bring real peace and justice.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that our debates on this issue had been debates of distinction which had brought honour to the House of Commons. I believe that that tradition has been continued in today's debate, with the exception of a self-righteous display of petulance and intolerance by a former Home Secretary. I was not persuaded by another distinguished contributor that debates of this kind should not be held because they distract attention from the serious matter of the handling of crime. I entirely agree that this issue, whatever one's views about it, is not central to the problem of crime because, mercifully, murder is by no means the most prevalent of crimes. Nevertheless, no one paying any attention at all to the vast quantity of legislation emanating from the Home Office when I was Home Secretary and under my successor or to the debates that have taken place in the House could possibly believe that two debates on capital punishment separated by a four-year interval have prevented the House from considering the subject of crime on a broader basis.
The House is right to debate this matter because of the public concern and interest in it, which should not be condemned as merely some kind of morbidity that decent, intelligent folk should suppress. With regard to public opinion, I agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) that it is our duty to listen to what our constituents say but at the end of the day to make up our own minds. I am not sure that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that if capital punishment were reintroduced public opinion would be likely to swing against it. I do not think that that has been the experience in those parts of the United States where capital punishment has been reintroduced. Those who oppose capital punishment in all circumstances must therefore rest their views on their conscience and analysis rather than on the belief that they can accurately predict what public opinion would be following reintroduction of the death penalty as opposed to what public opinion is today.
There are those who say that it is always wrong for the state to take life. I respect but do not share that view. Others say that they would support capital punishment if it were a unique deterrent. The evidence on that point is complex. It was analysed at some length in the debate in 1983 and contributors to today's debate have gone over the ground again. In all fairness, the evidence can at best be said to be inconclusive. It does not provide a sufficient base for a decision one way or the other. Many people, however, feel that, although the evidence of a deterrent effect is at best inconclusive, capital punishment should nevertheless be restored for the most heinous of offences. As has been pointed out, in the last debate on the subject I voted in favour of the restoration of capital punishment for one particular category of murder and, despite all that has been said, I do not regret having done so.
The problem of deciding which murders are the most heinous has proved to be a formidable one over the years. Reference has been made to the Homicide Act 1957 and the attempt to found a category of murder which would be capital murder because it was committed in furtherance of theft. That is just one example of the difficulties that arise in seeking to make definitions of that kind. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) has therefore adopted a genuinely new approach, for which he deserves the respect and commendation of the House whether or not we feel able to support his proposal. He has attempted to define the most heinous of offences, which should be met with capital punishment, not by the motive or type of crime but by an assessment of its moral quality. I have much sympathy with that attempt and I do not agree with much of the criticism that it has attracted. It is a valiant attempt but, unfortunately, I do not believe that it is viable as a legal instrument.
There is a further obscurity in the wording of the clause in addition to that which has already been pointed out and which was dealt with very fairly by my right hon. and learned Friend. He made it crystal clear that he would require the ingredient of evil to be found in the offence whichever limb of the clause was applied. That being so, I am somewhat mystified as to the need for a reference to premeditated killing as an alternative to knowingly and intentionally killing, as in my view the category of those who knowingly and intentionally kill another person must include those who commit the offence in a premeditated manner. That obscurity, however real and important though it is, is not my principal reason for reluctantly concluding that I cannot go along with my right hon. and learned Friend's new clause, sympathetic though I am to the motives of those who support it.
The more substantial problem is that the clause envisages that the test of whether the murder should be capital is whether the killing was evil, and that that should be decided by a jury. I find the concept of evil far too vague and subjective to be the basis for deciding whether a man should be deprived of his life. I will illustrate this by my own reaction, which I do not think is unique. The purpose and intention of the clause is that capital punishment should apply only to the most heinous forms of murder and that those who sponsor the new clause do not favour the general reintroduction of capital punishment. Personally, I regard any deliberate taking of life as evil, except in very rare cases such as mercy killing. On that basis, the clause would constitute a general reintroduction of capital punishment if the jury happened to share my view, which I do not think is unreasonable, that except in the most exceptional circumstances any deliberate act of killing is an evil act. Yet that is not the intention that a majority, at least, of the sponsors of this new clause put forward.
It is also said that we should not worry about the use of the term "evil" because it would all be decided on the facts of the case. That is all very well if, even if undefinable, it were possible for us to think that there was a sufficient consensus as to what was particularly evil. I suppose that the analogy to be drawn here is with the person who said that he could not define an elephant but would have no difficulty in recognising one if he saw it charging at him. But it is a false analogy, because, although the man may be unable to define an elephant, a zoologist could describe the distinctive features of the elephant in such a way that it could not be mistaken for another creature, whereas a criminologist or a moralist would find it difficult to describe the distinctive features of evil so that there could be no doubt in a given case that conduct was or was not evil.
Reference was also made by my right hon. and learned Friend to the use of the word "evil" by judges. I do not myself think it is to be criticised if judges, addressing someone convicted of a particular criminal offence, use adjectives of that kind to describe the conduct which has taken place; but while it is one thing for a judge to use the word as an adjective in describing behaviour after a verdict, it is a very different thing to use it as part of a statutory definition of an offence. The two are not at all the same. The mere fact that it is possible to refer to spectacularly horrific cases and to say, "Surely those are evil," is not an answer to this point, because it is precisely the borderline cases that are important. It is the ability to distinguish one side of the border from another which should be the touchstone of the validity of a legal definition. On that basis, this definition is fundamentally inadequate.
It is also proposed that it should be a jury that should perform this task, but that does not resolve the problem. The judge would have to sum up the case. What is he to say to the jury? My right hon. and learned Friend has said that the judge should say to the jury, "Here is the case. You have heard the facts. If you think it is evil, that is capital murder, but I cannot give you any guidance at all as to what is or is not evil." That would be a very unusual situation in our jurisprudence.
I would rather not give way, if my hon. Friend does not mind.
It does not end there either, because the matter may then go to the Court of Appeal. How is the Court of Appeal to determine whether or not it has been right for a jury to decide that a particular case was evil to the extent to justify its being a capital murder? The Court of Appeal itself, in considering decisions, would be bound to build up a corpus of law, defining what is evil and what is not evil, in a way which would be completely arbitrary and unguided by Parliament but ineluctable in the discharge of its duties.
I have the greatest respect for the motives behind this further attempt to define those murders which should be singled out for capital punishment. I have no basic ideological objection to the task on which my right hon. and hon. Friends have embarked, but I must regretfully conclude that, valiantly as they have striven, they have not produced a proposal which is legally viable, quite apart from the general arguments with regard to capital punishment. It is for that reason, if no other, that I do not find it possible to commend this clause to the House or to support it myself.
To some, the whole concept of capital punishment is alien. It is a moral stance and I fully understand it. Others accept capital punishment. I make no bones about the fact that I have always opposed capital punishment, for the simple reason that it is so easy to make a mistake. A mistake can be made with the best will in the world by the most honest and honourable people in the world. If it is made in a case of a capital nature, it can never be rectified.
Earlier in the debate we heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House of mistakes that had been made, of cases where people had been convicted of murder and later acquitted. Perhaps I can give just one example which comes from personal experience of a case — not a murder case—where a mistake was made.
I have practised as a lawyer for some 20 years or more, as both solicitor and barrister. During that time, I have come across cases which have worried me. About 15 or 17 years ago I was asked to defend a man in a simple burglary case which involved kicking a window in and stealing a pair of shoes—not the most serious or most difficult case. He denied the charge but was convicted. The evidence against him was glass on his shoes. He was sentenced and did three months. The magistrates who tried that case were the most honourable and honest men before whom I have ever had the privilege of appearing. I knew them personally. They lived in Sheffield. They knew exactly what they were doing. They heard the evidence and they convicted the man. A year after that conviction, another man was accused of burglary and once more it fell to my lot to defend him. He asked for other matters to be taken into consideration, one of which was the case for which my previous client had been convicted. A full investigation was made and this showed that, as the first defendant had said on the previous occasion, he was not guilty. A mistake had been made but it was one which could be rectified and compensated.
That was a case where a mistake was made by innocent, ordinary people who were trying to do their job as fairly as possible. Our system is not perfect. Juries are not perfect. In 999 out of 1,000 cases, they do a wonderful job and try their best, but with the best will in the world mistakes can be made and if for no other reason than that there is always the possibility of a mistake people like me will continue to hold the view that capital punishment is something that we cannot have in our system.
There is perhaps one other ground on which I will oppose this clause and which will lead me to vote against it tonight, and that is the way in which it seeks to place on members of the jury the onus of deciding on life or death. It introduces into our system a completely new concept. It brings the jury into the realm of imposition of penalty. All we ask a jury to do nowadays in any trial, and all we have ever asked it to do, is to decide whether the Crown has proved its case. This new clause suggests that we add a second duty. Not only must the jury decide whether the Crown has proved its case; we then tell it that it has heard the facts and must decide. We say that if it is unanimous this man or woman will live or die. What guarantee would there be that two juries in, say, St. Albans and Southampton, sitting on the same day, hearing virtually similar cases, would come to the same conclusion? There is no guarantee at all.
It is these two reasons, plus a myriad of others which hon. Members on both sides of the House have already mentioned, that lead me to the firm and unyielding conclusion that the clause should be defeated.
I speak in the full knowledge that the subject of the debate produces strong feelings both inside and outside the House. What I have to say comes from deeply held convictions about capital punishment, convictions which have not been lightly or recently arrived at without serious consideration of the moral points involved, and convictions which I believe are widely supported in the country. There have been 16 debates on the subject in the House in the past 32 years, all resulting in an abolitionist stance. The arguments for and against have been well rehearsed and are widely known. I cannot hope to do more than cover three or four of the central contentions.
I must point out what the new clause does not seek to do, and what the debate is not about. It is not about unanimous verdicts; it is not about spur-of-the-moment crimes of passion; it is not about the method of the death penalty; it is not about the fear that juries will not convict but will acquit because they do not wish to convict on a capital charge. All those matters are specifically excluded by the wording of the new clause.
It is my belief and that of those who support the new clause that capital punishment or the death penalty, whichever name we like to give it, would and will be the supreme deterrent. As evidence of this, I draw the attention of the House to the fundamental and obvious changes which have taken place in society since partial abolition in 1965 and full abolition in 1969. Recent tragic events in Tottenham, in Oldham and in Sunderland are graphic examples of the fact that the possession of and resort to lethal weapons have become commonplace in today's Britain.
It is possible to paint misleading numerical figures with statistics, but certain facts speak for themselves. In the five years up to abolition in 1965, the average number of murders in England and Wales was 290. In the five years up to 1983, the average was 590. In the 18 years up to abolition in 1965, the number of police officers killed in the course of duty was 11; since 1965, there have been 30 such cases.
More worrying is the increased use of firearms and other weapons. In the 10 years from 1973 to 1983, the number of offences involving guns and other weapons rose from 1,754 to 8,067. The number of murders arising out of the commission of other offences, usually theft or rape, rose by a staggering 73 per cent. from 1965 to 1977. Figures for the years since then show similar increases.
Of course, such rises reflect a general increase in crime. An overwhelming statistical case for the deterrent effect of capital punishment is always difficult to make. However, like many other arguments on the issue, no absolute proof can be obtained as it is impossible to calculate how many people would be deterred from carrying and using firearms and other weapons if capital punishment were available to the courts.
I should like to deal briefly with a misleading point which is always put by the abolitionists, if I may to refer to them by that name—that is, that the reintroduction of capital punishment will encourage a nothing-to-lose attitude among certain sections of the public and the criminal fraternity. Such a position already exists on the streets.
That leads me to my second point, which is to emphasise an undercurrent in my comments thus far, that murder has become commonplace. In the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) in the 1983 debate, crime has become a game in which it is bad luck if one loses. There are those who will argue that the absence of capital punishment is the mark of a civilised society, yet the hacking to death of a policeman or the gunning down of a security guard or of innocent people who come between thugs and their desires surely cannot be the mark of a civilised society. Quite simply, the criminal law no longer provides credible sanctions for the most heinous form of wrongdoing. Something must be done and the House should support the new clause tonight.
My third point is that the majority of people are in favour of the reintroduction of the death penalty. According to a poll in 1983, over 90 per cent. of the very large sample interviewed supported the substance of the new clause.
My hon. Friend has mentioned polls. May I draw to her attention a poll taken on Saturday by Southampton, Test young Conservatives in the centre of the shopping parade in Southampton? It showed that 69 per cent. of those polled would like a referendum on capital punishment and that 65 per cent. wanted their Members of Parliament to vote for the restoration of capital punishment.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Recently, I did a poll in my constituency by knocking on doors. I spoke to 190 people who were picked at random. Only 13 did not want the reintroduction of the death penalty, so the figures speak for themselves.
The strength of feeling in constituencies has not altered since the poll in 1983. The most frequent comment that I hear in my constituency about law and order is, "I wish the House of Commons would bring back hanging because that is what we need." If instead of the debate there was a national referendum, I have no doubt about the result; there would be an overwhelming vote for the reintroduction of the death penalty. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) said earlier, we are representatives, not delegates, but it is clearly the duty of each of us to reflect the feeling in our constituency and to protect the interests of constituents and their families to the best of our ability.
If people decide that their interests are best protected by having the death penalty as a sanction for murder, who are we to decide differently? Do we think of ourselves as morally superior? Is that what we are to tell our constituents tomorrow? Have we secret information which should persuade perhaps some of us to decide otherwise? I suggest that we do not. The 650 Members of Parliament are not in a position to take a paternalistic and arrogant attitude merely because of the two initials which we have after our names.
Let me remind the House that out there in the country murder and violence are not distant and unreal. The fear of them happening to ourselves, to our young children and to our elderly relatives is a constant companion. Although I recognise that there is a constant fear of a miscarriage of justice and that mistakes can be made, it has also been suggested that we might have martyrdom and hostage-taking. Already such things happen, so the decision that I should like the House to take would not have that effect.
I implore the House to take this giant step for sanity and to reintroduce the death penalty. It is high time that some hon. Members came down from the ivory tower of the House and did what the people want. At least I speak for people in England. What they want is for us to vote for the reintroduction of the death penalty. I ask the House to support the new clause.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup ( Mr. Heath) who said in his excellent speech that, whatever the pros and cons of capital punishment, it is a wholly inadequate instrument for dealing with crime. All the lawyers in all parts of the House have recognised the enormous contradictions in the clause. If we in our wisdom or otherwise pass it into law we will make fools of ourselves.
I have been in the House for a long time and I remember the magnificent campaign inspired by the late Sydney Silverman. He was one of the most courageous men I have ever met, and, by his perspicacity and tenacity, he obtained the abolition of capital punishment. During my years in the House I have heard all the debates on the subject before and since capital punishment was abolished. I have always made my views clear to my constituents and I have never suffered electorally as a result of my views.
It has been said repeatedly in the debate, and it is perhaps trite to repeat it, that we come to the House not as delegates but as representative men and women, trusted to exercise our judgment on a multitude of issues and to account to our electorate for our behaviour on specific issues and on general performance. There is a great temptation for hon. Members, in the run up to a general election, particularly for those such as the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) who hold marginal seats, and especially when the result of that election is very much in the balance, to assess what they calculate to be the popular majority, as the hon. Lady asserted, on a specific issue and then, irrespective of the pros and cons, to plug a demogogic line for all that they are worth.
If the hon. Gentleman had checked my record, he would have found that my views were the same for many years before I came to this House. I have not changed them for electoral advantage and would not do so on such an issue.
No doubt the hon. Lady also promised at the last election to deal with law and order. One of the reasons why the Conservative party is sensitive about these matters is precisely that it has thrown hundreds of millions of pounds at the problem of law and order, but crime rates have got remorselessly worse. The Conservatives are seeking to convince the House and the public that one of the reasons for that is the abolition of capital punishment 20 or 30 years ago. It is all designed by those who support this clause to portray an image of toughness, virility, righteousness and morality.
As I have said, there is almost certainly an understandable sensitivity in the Conservative party about its calamitous failure to deal with the problem of law and order. I have no doubt that the new clause was carefully drafted. I can imagine the people who sponsored it sitting down at meeting after meeting carefully drafting it to cater for all eventualities. They have made a regular hash of it. It is a further attempt, no doubt sincere, to categorise murders. In this case it has to be premeditated, it must be shown without any shadow of doubt that the accused knowingly and intentionally killed, and it has to be proved that the crime could be considered evil by a reasonable person.
No one has defined a reasonable person or what is evil. If such vague absurdities were accepted, fortunes would be made by the legal fraternity arguing at great length and at great cost about the precise meaning of those terms. Lawyers and economists have one thing in common, and it is that they can never agree with one another for more than five minutes. They are paid very expensively for disagreeing with each other.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about lawyers. Is he aware that in 1983, before the last debate on capital punishment, there was a special extraordinary meeting of the Bar at which a motion against capital punishment was carried not only overwhelmingly but, I think I am right in saying, with only four votes against it?
I am glad to hear that. It shows that in certain special cases there can be some degree of unanimity. When they see a worthy cause lawyers can come to some measure of agreement.
Several hon. Members spoke about the absurdities inherent in the Homicide Act 1957. I was in the House at the time and I remember the attempts to categorise murder. Murder by shooting was evil — to use the terminology of this clause—but murder by poisoning or strangling was not. It was fine to strangle somebody but terribly bad to shoot him. If a person went into the corner shop and took a few sweets or chocolates or cigarettes, that was murder in furtherance of theft and was evil. However, murder done in the course of a rape was civilised and, while it was not acceptable, it was less obnoxious than robbing the corner shop.
Under that Act the murder of a policeman or a prison officer was reprehensible and evil, but the murder of a nurse, of a coalminer or even of the Prime Minister was less heinous than robbing the corner shop. All those absurdities were contained in an Act passed by a Conservative Government and they show the impossibility of trying to categorise murder.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) enumerated the number of mistakes that have ben made. With a judge or a judge and jury mistakes are inevitable. However conscientious those people might be, they can make mistakes and the death penalty is irreversible. When the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) moved his clause he spoke about this matter and reminded me of a comment by the Chancellor of the Exchequer who said that it is neither here nor there to make the odd mistake. The Chancellor said that that was in the nature of things. That is fine—provided one is not at the end of a rope. For the man at the end of the rope it is very final and a very big mistake. Such mistakes have been made over the years and that is why capital punishment is so morally indefensible.
If it is evil for an individual to take a life, it is just as evil and reprehensible for the state to take another life. That is why capital punishment is so immoral and why I think that this proposition will be roundly defeated. Let us get on with the job of really tackling the root problems of the crime rate from which we are now suffering.
As requested, I shall be brief. I support the new clause in the hope that it will be part of a more general enhancement of penalties for serious crimes. A few weeks ago I was reading my Sunday newspapers. I picked up a copy of the Sunday Times and a quite innocuous little story attracted my attention. It was about a milk float being developed by a dairy company and a local authority. The new float had metal grilles over the windows and was designed so that the driver stayed in his cab. He summoned his customers by a chime or klaxon. The milk was dispensed through a chute at the rear of the vehicle. It was in cartons rather than bottles, so that the bottles could not be used as missiles.
I had to stop and think about it. I wondered whether the milk float had been designed for some foreign, lawless society. However, I discovered that it was intended for use in this country—on some of the council estates of our capital city. That is the state that law and order has reached in some parts of the country. Everyone is now appalled by the rising crime rate. The problem is not confined to this country, but we are no exception.
In the 10 years between 1975 and 1985 murders have increased by 20 per cent.; rapes by 80 per cent.; burglaries from dwellings by 90 per cent.; thefts from vehicles by 100 per cent.; and robberies and arson by 250 per cent. In the past 25 years, the annual number of notifiable offences recorded by the police has risen by 700 per cent. At the same time, the number of crimes solved by the police has fallen. Most forces clear up about a third of burglaries from dwelling houses.
If the hon. Gentleman will listen for a moment, I shall explain in the five minutes that I have to make this contribution that I want to see increased penalties for all forms of crime, with murder at the top of the hierarchy.
As I was saying, most police forces clear up about a third of burglaries. The best solve fewer than half such cases; the worst, fewer than 10 per cent. Some forces clear up fewer than 15 per cent. of all crimes, including murder, and the best solve fewer than 55 per cent.
Two weeks ago I spoke in Birkenhead, near my constituency. After I had spoken, I joined the audience, walking among the tables and chatting to the people sitting at them. At the first table that I came to, I sat down with eight elderly ladies. Within three minutes, I had discovered that they had all been burgled within the past three years, one of them in the last week. Another had her car boot broken into within the last two weeks, and another had been mugged just two weeks earlier — not in a back alley, but in the middle of Boots the Chemists in Birkenhead. Is it any wonder that such people are concerned about the rise in crime?
When I was elected, I took as the principal points of my election campaign the economy and jobs, individual responsibility, strong defence and a stronger stand on law and order. Nearly four years have gone by, and we are now approaching another general election. I am proud of the Government's record on the first three items: the economy is in good shape, people are becoming more independent and rely less on the Government to do for them those things they should do for themselves, and our defence policy is well respected and supported. However, I am not so proud of our record on law and order. Yes, we have strengthened the police, devoted more resources and built more prisons. However, that is not enough.
People who commit crimes must know not only that they are likely to be caught, but that, if they are caught, they will face the severest penalties for the severest crimes. The public need to know that the punishment will fit the crime. Too often offenders leave the court laughing because of the leniency of their sentences; too often, when they do not walk free, there is a public outcry about such leniency.
There is a parallel between tax and prison, in that the Chancellor found that lowering the top rate of tax gives a greater incentive to work and thus increases the tax take. I believe that the Home Secretary would also find that longer and more rigorous sentences would result in a disincentive to go to prison, and hence a lower prison population.
A few weeks ago, a distinguished judge, Judge Argyle, was heavily criticised for making what some considered to be political remarks. He said:
The Government, when elected, had pledged to do something about law and order, but the Government have fallen flat on their face in dealing with the situation. Quite simply, law and order does not exist in this country at the moment. The criminals arc walking all over us.
I do not agree with all of that, but I agree with the last sentence—"The criminals are walking all over us."
Judge Argyle also suggested that judges should have discretion to impose the death sentence on anyone convicted of an offence carrying a sentence of 15 years or more. Again, I do not entirely agree, but I believe that the death penalty should be available in cases that satisfy the terms of the new clause. We need to make not only the punishment but the deterrent fit the crime, and for some crimes only one punishment is a suitable deterrent.
I am tempted to be swayed by some of the moral arguments against the death penalty. I do not lightly support the call for it, However, I am compelled to think that drastic circumstances demand drastic solutions. I support the new clause because I believe that it is a necessary part of a much more rigorous approach to sentencing generally.
Essentially, sentencing is about deterrence and about protecting the potential victims—not only the victims of evil murders, who are mentioned in the new clause, but those old ladies in Birkenhead who were robbed and mugged so many times. Although it may seem trivial, I am also thinking of the people who cannot have their milk delivered to their homes because of the fear of violence against an inoffensive milkman. I am thinking of the millions of other people in the United Kingdom who are fed up with the rise in crime, especially in violent crime.
However we vote tonight, one thing is quite clear: the nation is behind the new clause. I shall do my duty to my electors, and I hope and trust that others will do the same.
I have listened with interest to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock). However, his final comment, that he would vote in accordance with the wishes of his constituents, does not conform with his mandate. He is not here simply to represent his constituents. As he knows, he is here to represent the British people. He is not a delegate, and he is not mandated. That point has been touched upon a number of times this evening, and I accept the assurance by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) that she has made her views on law and order well known for the past few years, and that she has not been influenced by the fact that her majority is only 860.
It has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), among others, that we are all here to vote in accordance with our consciences. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who has been present throughout the debate, likes to claim from a sedentary position that Labour Members have been whipped tonight. That is not the case; we are voting by conscience on a free vote. That conscience is based on conviction and on the facts as we know them. Hon Members who may wish to vote in accordance with what they think is electoral gain will find that a very chilling electoral wind will blow in their direction if they do so.
Let me return to the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). He talked of a rising tide of evil, and it was obvious from that phrase that he and his colleagues had tabled the new clause on that basis. But he also uttered the most famous words of the evening. He said, "My wording is not perfect. It may be defective, but it is easily put right." That is one of the difficulties that the House faces — that, in the first instance, we must ask ourselves whether we believe in the death penalty as the ultimate deterrent, then take the clause and come to some conclusions.
In his opening speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked of the concept of deterrence, and he actually switched the concept of reasonableness from the jury to the accused. He said that a reasonable person would not commit murder, because that reasonable person would know, first, that he might be caught; secondly, that he might be tried and found guilty; and, thirdly, that he might be hanged, or be the subject of a lawful execution. It seemed to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was confusing the concept of reasonableness and transferring it to the accused. That is hardly so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said that we regret every murder and any death—
any man's death diminishes me. I am involved in Mankind.
We take the view that the new clause does not provide a solution to the problem of how to deal with murder. In his speech, the Home Secretary referred to crimes of violence against the person and said that they amount to only 3 per cent. of all the crimes that are committed in this country. He also said that, of that number, only 7 per cent. are related to murder. We do not share the view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that those figures are of no consequence.
He also said that, the jury would have to be unanimous. However, that was a cop-out for those hon. Members who are not anxious to exercise their conscience tonight. He was saying to them that it does not matter what decision they reach tonight; if one juror in a murder trial is opposed to the death penalty, he will use his discretion and our convictions will be superseded.
It reminds me of the case of the only American soldier who was executed for desertion in the last war. After he was found guilty of desertion by a military tribunal the death penalty was passed, on the understanding that when his case was reviewed by a higher court the sentence would be commuted. When the case went to a higher court, the original verdict was confirmed, on the understanding that when the case went to a yet higher court the sentence would be commuted. Eventually, the case went to the President of the United States who found that he could not commute his sentence. The man was therefore shot. Everybody who was involved in that case sail that they thought that the sentence would eventually be commuted and that if they had known that it would not be commuted the death sentence would never have been passed.
The right hon. and learned. Gentleman has said to us, as Members of Parliament, that how we look at this question does not matter because ultimately the jury will decide and that if one or two members of the jury abstain or do not return an absolute majority verdict the ultimate sanction, the death penalty, will not be available to the judge.
The hon. Gentleman used the phrase "cop-out". It is an emotive expression. However he describes it, the fact that 12 people will reach a unanimous decision is a most important safeguard. With the utmost respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is dismissing it in a casual, if not a cavalier, way.
I hope that I am not dismissing it in a cavalier way. The point was also made by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who referred to a Moslem who might be opposed to the death penalty. I shall turn to the subject of emotive language later.
According to the new clause, a single juror who is not convinced about the need for the death penalty will ensure that a majority verdict cannot be returned. But that would create legal apartheid for the crime of murder. We would introduce two ways of dealing with the same crime.
A jury would have imposed upon them as an additional responsibility the new concept of evil. At the moment they are arbiters of fact. They would also have to ascertain whether the killing was premeditated and whether it was evil. This morning on radio and again in the House tonight, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has sought to show that all these factors are cumulative: that there would have to be premeditation, prior knowledge and evil.
There are possibly three, not two, concepts of murder in the new clause. First, there would have to be premeditation. That in itself could put a rope around the neck of the accused, if he was found guilty. Secondly, there has to be the concept of evil. That is a different concept but it has the same consequence. It would lead to death by hanging, if hanging were to be the lawful method of execution.
Thirdly, what would be the penalty for manslaughter? Manslaughter may be evil but it may not be premeditated. Nevertheless, a jury may have to find, in accordance with the new clause, that the killing was evil and that therefore the death penalty is merited. The test of evil becomes subjective, objective and possibly both at the same time. Is the evil to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred evil in intent or evil in the circumstances? If a man killed his wife with a carving knife in a fit of temper and without a cooling-off period, that would be manslaughter under the law as it now stands; but according to the new clause the manslaughter could be said to be evil because brutality was involved in the death of the man's wife. Therefore, manslaughter could be converted into murder and the death penalty could be imposed.
There are those who argue that there is no such thing as ordinary murder—that all murders are evil and that in this context "evil" is an unnecessary adjective. A famous judge said that there is no such thing as gross negligence; there is only negligence with the epithet added to it. The new clause leads to an assault not only on the Criminal Justice Bill but also on the English language. An attempt is being made to convert the word "evil" from an adjective into a noun and to write it, as such, into our statute law.
Is it not a fact that there are certain people who have been convicted of murder and who are now serving a life sentence who might have gone completely free if the jury had known that the death sentence could be passed upon them?
That is one of the dilemmas that the new clause would introduce into our legal system, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing it out to me. I shall deal later with that subject.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) referred to my phrase "cop-out" and said that it was emotive. However, is not the term "evil" likely to inflame prejudice and to force members of a jury to look not at the evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, but at the actual killing? In the example that I gave, the fact that the wife had been brutally killed was not before the court of law. The case, simply, was that she had been killed. However, under the new clause the manner of death would be uppermost in the minds of the members of the jury; they would have to consider not simply that she had been killed but how she had been killed. They would therefore consider the nature of her death. How is a reasonable member of the jury to define evil? How would the man on the Clapham omnibus, referred to by judges of past decades, or the man on the Victoria underground between Pimlico and Green Park, define evil?
The right hon. and learned Member for Southport says that a reasonable man would have no difficulty in satisfying himself that all the necessary ingredients of evil had been established. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has confused what a learned judge might say after a verdict in a case such as that to which he referred, the Broadwater Farm affair, in describing a man found guilty of murder as "evil". That statement was made after the man had been found guilty of murder and after the evidence had been given. If a direction is to be given by the judge to the jury before the trial, that the crime that they are about to hear and to try is "evil", what happens to the principle of a fair trial and to that equally great British principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not told the House that by adding the emotive word "evil" he has made the verdict in a case of murder not the rational decision of a court but an emotive one. In the 1930s, a little emotion was sometimes conveyed to the jury by leading counsel for the prosecution. In a case of stabbing, the counsel for the prosecution said that the murdered man was plunged into eternity without warning and in the twinkling of an eye.
If it is for the judge to direct the jury that one crime is, or may be, construed as evil, and that another is not, what will the reaction of the jury be? Will not they think, "We do not have to worry too much because the death sentence is not necessarily the only sentence. The man may not be hanged but given only life imprisonment." How will that affect or influence the jury?
Having decided—as I understand the briefing notes that were kindly issued by the right hon. and learned Gentleman — that a man or woman is charged with murder of an evil nature, that is to say where the judge has not ruled that it is not of a non-evil nature—even I hate double negatives, and I wonder what the jury will make of them or of such a direction — the judge cannot afterwards give instructions as to what constitutes evil. It is as if the judge, rather than the jury, had first climbed on to the Clapham omnibus, converted himself into a reasonable man, then alighted and left the rest of the journey to the jury.
Having decided that murder was committed, and that it is of an evil nature, why should the members of the jury have to choose the only sentence that would mandatorily be available—the death penalty? My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup have stated that a morality would enter into the jury's deliberations, and that the court would become not only a court of law, but a court of morals.
On the radio this morning, the right hon. and learned Member for Southport stated that the construction of his new clause depended on the placement of commas, or some such phrase. I submit that that is hardly a satisfactory way for a judge to sum up what the new clause means, and I wonder what the jury would make of it. The draftsmen of the clause and the supplementary notes should have taken a leaf out of French law books because in that country juries are empowered not only to return verdicts of guilty or otherwise, but to state whether there have been extenuating circumstances. That would be a more honest approach to the issue that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has put before the House and to his new clause.
At least, had there been any logic to the new clause, the foreman of the jury would have to declare or return in the first instance a guilty verdict and, in the second, state whether the facts of the case as presented and of which the jury is certain beyond reasonable doubt constitute evil. The jurors would be not only the arbiters of the facts but the keepers of the conscience, responding to the outrage of public opinion and, by their verdict, condemning a prisoner to death. Why should members of the jury be placed in that sordid position?
Therefore, it would not be a case of the prisoner delivering himself into the hands of a jury in a murder case. He would be delivered up to the worst elements of the popular press. So-called public opinion would not be able to gauge or distinguish between the murder itself and its horrific detail, and the prisoner to be tried. Incidentally, the prisoner would remain innocent until proven guilty.
Out of deference to the House—if the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) wishes to intervene, he may do so and I shall give way — [Interruption.]
Out of deference to my parliamentary colleagues who wish to take part in this important debate and who are giving me encouraging nods, I shall finish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with a quotation from Lord Justice Birkett, who stated:
people are not tried by newspaper, not tried by rumour, but tried by juries called to do justice".
In the twilight of his life, Lord Justice Birkett also declared
We can never prevent crime or repress crime by severity alone. The eighteenth century demonstrated that. The death
penalty was as common then as a magistrate imposing a fine of 40 shillings today. However. people cried out for more severe punishments. Women were burnt alive at the stake and. people still cried out for severe punishment. However, crime still persisted.
The entire history of our country shows that the death penalty has no place in our society and that it is not a deterrent. The House should state tonight that the case is not proven for the right hon. and learned Member for Southport. In fact, the case is proven for the defence and for those who do not wish to see the death penalty restored: in our country.
I have no doubt whatever that innocent. lives would be saved if capital punishment were restored. I have no doubt that it is a deterrent to some who kill and maim in the course of their criminal enterprises. If would.o be murderers are stopped, the innocent people whom they would have killed will live. We should be most concerned to save the potential victim because, in most cases, the potential victim is an innocent person.
I believe that capital punishment would be a deterrent for several reasons, but I shall give only two of those reasons to the House. When I introduced a motion in the House in 1985 to restore capital punishment for terrorist offences, the IRA, which uses capital punishment as a deterrent for its own kind, threatened retaliation if we passed the motion. That clearly suggested that those in the IRA intending to kill feared the death penalty.
When I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to explain why that happened. he did not do so, because he did not have an answer. When I asked the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to do so, he could not either, because he had no answer. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) tried to answer that question and spoke about a psychosis of death. He continued by asking what would be the point of the IRA trying to change our minds by making that threat. But as I recall, that is precisely what happened. Hon. Members told me that they were in favour of capital punishment but that they did not want to be held responsible for the lives of innocent soldiers in Northern Ireland if we passed that motion. Therefore, the threat did work.
The second reason that I believe that capital punishment is a deterrent is that in the course of my career as a barrister I have been told many times by men of violence that they feared the rope and that they would neither take lethal weapons for burglary or robbery. nor enlist the help of young tearaways who might go crazy and kill someone. When people write to me to say that capital punishment has never acted as a deterrent, I am afraid that I prefer the evidence of experts to the guesses of the kind—hearted.
Of course I appreciate that not every one would be deterred. However, if some would be deterred and if some innocent lives would be saved, is that not well worth having? I go further and join my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) in believing not only that innocent lives would be saved but that there would be less violent crime generally in our society—fewer brutal beatings, muggings and woundings—if capital punishment were restored. If everyone was aware that there was a line beyond which no one could pass without suffering the ultimate deterrent, there would be more respect for other people and their possessions, and the general atmosphere of moral disintegration in society would be arrested.
I remind the House what has happened since the contrary view, that capital punishment is wrong, was adopted by the House. We suffer a much more violent, vicious society, the numbers of murders has risen, violent men are no longer afraid of carrying firearms and the number of firearm offences has shot through the roof. Can anyone seriously believe that that would still have happened if we had retained capital punishment? The elderly are terrified to leave their homes, women are frightened to walk alone in the streets, our football stadiums are half empty and 33 convicted murderers have been released to kill again in the past 20 years. That is what the gentler, kinder, more considerate approach has achieved. It has utterly failed.
Naturally, I am aware that the arguments against capital punishment, most of which we have heard this afternoon, have some substance, but on balance they are less than convincing. We are told that capital punishment is against God's law. If that is so, it took the churches hundreds of years to discover the fact, and since the Almighty has not seen fit to stop some of the carnage and killing, he must be leaving that to us, as a significant number of clerics have affirmed in a letter sent to hon. Members today.
We are told that capital punishment is uncivilised, and I agree; but we are living in an uncivilised society in which civilised remedies have failed. We are told that capital punishment would create martyrs and lead to the taking of hostages. But it is not only death that creates martyrs; life imprisonment does exactly the same, with the added feature that martyrdom of the dead is largely anniversarial, while martyrdom of a prisoner is continuous. Nor is it only the threat of death that causes the taking of hostages. Hostages are taken in the Lebanon to induce the release of people from prison. Capital punishment differs in that there is no point in taking a hostage after the murderer is dead.
We are told that the death penalty is no more than vengeance; but it is better for the state to exercise vengeance according to just rules of law than that vengeance should be wrought without fair trial by frustrated people down dark alleyways, as happens in Northern Ireland. We are told that juries would acquit more often. Perhaps they would, but an acquittal for capital murder need not be an acquittal for non-capital murder or manslaughter. The point is that the would-be killer could never be sure in advance that he would not suffer the death penalty, so he may well be deterred. Deterrence is the point.
We are told that juries must not make moral judgments, but that is precisely what they do, day in and day out, in every criminal trial. They must make moral decisions whether a man is guilty or not; whether his actions are honest or dishonest; whether his actions are decent or indecent; and even whether he shall be imprisoned for life in murder cases.
The right hon. Member for Gorton listed those who might have been hanged if the death penalty had been retained, but that is not good enough. If there had been capital punishment, they might not have been convicted of capital murder, and, if convicted, they might have been acquitted on appeal. One cannot rely on a purely hypothetical argument for not doing what is right.
I understand why many people cannot bring themselves to sanction the taking of life, and I have sympathy with their view. It is a difficult, nasty step for anybody to have to take. However, they might think differently if an innocent loved one were murdered and might have stayed alive if the state had not been so weak in its approach to the most evil of criminals. It is time this House brought back some security and safety for law-abiding citizens.
It does not matter whether the new clause is well drafted or wrongly drafted or whether it applies to Northern Ireland. The public expect us to make a decision on principle. No one can really suppose for a moment that if we approved the new clause today capital punishment would be introduced as an adjunct to this criminal justice measure and just tacked on during the Bill's passage. The capital punishment offence would be so important that the Government would have to say, "We shall not attach this to the Criminal Justice Bill. We shall have to have a separate Bill, having considered all the ways in which capital punishment can be properly introduced and reflecting the wish of the House."
The exact method of introducing capital punishment does not matter tonight. If legislation were introduced, we could undoubtedly ensure that a tribunal would make absolutely certain that people about whom there was the slightest doubt or for whom anything could be said after the trial should not hang. Many of those who are worried about mistaken verdicts would be reassured if such a tribunal were introduced. Indeed, in the past the Lord Chancellor has suggested just such a measure.
What matters is whether the House will now face up to its responsibility and reflect the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people we represent. The new clause reflects those wishes and it is our duty to support it and the wishes of the people. Therefore, I support the new clause.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke with his usual passionate eloquence which we respect and enjoy, but he fell into the error of misrepresentation when he dealt with terrorists. He suggested that my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) had spoken about the psychosis of death. He did not; he talked about the psychosis of terrorism and answered the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman kept repeating in interventions. Terrorists are psychotic, which means that some do not care whether or not they face death and, possibly even worse, others want to face death and welcome the martyrdom of it.
Tonight we are debating how best to protect the public from murder, but it is a much more complex question than that. We are debating how best to protect the public from murder while maintaining a fair system of trial, sentencing and review by appeal. Let us not forget that since the abolition of capital punishment our system of appeal has developed by the introduction of the Home Secretary reference.
It would be a sick mockery if mistakes such as those which were listed by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) could be corrected only posthumously. It would not help the victim or his surviving family. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of Geoffrey Mycock who was convicted in 1969 and released in 1984. I met him on two occasions before his case was reviewed by the Court of Appeal and on the day on which his appeal was allowed in the Court of Appeal.
Mr. Mycock had been convicted almost entirely on the basis of forensic evidence, consisting of the identification of fibres. After many years, it became clear that the forensic scientist who had given that evidence had been an unreliable witness on many occasions, particularly at that trial. There was a long campaign, which included work by Members of Parliament, to have that case and others reviewed.
When I visited Mr. Mycock for the first time, he was in Nottingham prison and had been in gaol for 15½ years, but he was very much alive. Indeed, he was alive with a lively determination which I judged could have been based only on the truth. When he reached the Court of Appeal on review after reference by the Home Secretary, the Crown did not even seek to argue that his conviction had been correct. As a result, he was released. He had lost 16 years of his life but he did not lose his life itself.
After a difficult period of adjustment, Mr. Mycock is leading a normal, private life in society. That error has been corrected in the way in which it should have been—by releasing him to make the best of what is left of his life. I feel a revulsion that the state should even countenance that he could have been killed and not have the opportunity to live the rest of his life at peace. His example is only one of many similar cases.
Those who support the new clause accept that they are prepared to face, on behalf of the state, the fact that such terrible mistakes could be committed. I am not, and that is one of the main reasons why I shall be voting against the new clause.
Secondly, I should like to turn to some of the practical difficulties which would arise if the new clause were passed. If a person kills and at the time of so doing intends to kill or cause serious injury, he is guilty of murder. That is the test of murder which is applied in our courts. It is surely in the public interest that all those who commit murder should be convicted of it. Once they have been convicted of murder, the public can be protected by a proper criminal justice policy and by proper examination of the murderers and their cases while they are in prison. The test of murder should be applied consistently; it is fairly simple; it can be and is applied consistently. What is murder in Newcastle is murder in Bodmin and anywhere else that one may care to mention in the country under the present rules.
Those who practised the law during the era of capital murder, although it could be defined quite easily and clearly, tell me that it was extremely difficult to obtain a verdict of guilty. It happened only in the plainest of cases, yet even then we know from the catalogue given by the, right hon. Member for Gorton that mistakes were made, even in what were thought to be the plainest of cases.
The new clause would lead to wrongful acquittals of murder, perverse acquittals of murder and acquittals of murder which would be the result of the lottery of the random selection of a jury.
The new clause is defective not only because of what it would cause but because of its drafting. Let us look at some of the words in the new clause:
in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil".
Does that include what happens before the killing, at the time of the killing or after the killing? Supposing a crime of passion is committed and in blind panic, as has happened, the murderer cuts up the body and does vile and ghastly things with it. As the clause is drafted, that person will be liable to execution for murder as a result of the things that he did after a dead body lay before him.
That seems to be quite wrong.
What is suggested in the new clause is that premeditated killings should be capital offences. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) to say that it can be changed later. That shows the danger of presenting a clause such as this on Report. If we are to introduce capital punishment, it should he introduced only after proper consideration of a proper Bill which goes through the proper stages—although I hope that we shall never have to face up to that.
Under the clause, any prernediated killing would be capital—a killing by euthanasia; a killing by a wife who, under intolerable strain, picks up the carving knife and waits for her drunken and violent husband and stabs him. Indeed, one of the matters that the right hon. and learned Member for Southport has not faced up to is that his new clause even deprives accused people of the defence of diminished responsibility which is currently available to them. That defence results from a temporary loss of sanity, which all reasonable members of the public and which certainly juries regard as giving a proper defence to a charge of murder.
I should like to talk briefly about some misconceptions that we have heard about deterrence. We heard an extremely eloquent speech on deterrence from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who has had to face day by day for about the last 20 years the risk that he might be murdered; who has had his friends around him murdered; and who knew many constituents who have been murdered. We should value his judgment that capital punishment would not be a deterrent in Northern Ireland.
I would say to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), if she were here, that, although she complained that the lack of capital punishment has led to the increasing use of guns in crime, she was ignoring the evidence of states in the United States of America which have capital punishment. It is quite plain, if we examine what has been happening in those states, that, despite the existence and use of capital punishment, the use of guns in the course of crime has increased. Indeed, as another hon. Member said, there is no evidence that there is more homicide in countries where there is no capital punishment than in countries where there is.
This new clause serves to create confusion. It certainly does nothing to deal with the general problem of burgeoning crime that we face today.
I must say that I do not care for new clause 1. Murder is, by definition, evil and, although circumstances may have some effect on the degree of that evil, the evil remains.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for selecting my amendment. For some time I have believed that the House should not take upon itself to have debates on whether the death penalty should be restored until we know what public opinion wants. Many hon. Members who have spoken have called public opinion in aid of their point of view, but over the past 18 years—during which time the House has had no fewer than eight separate debates on the subject—none of us have troubled to discover what the nation feels about the abolition of the death penalty and whether it would feel safer if the death penalty existed. I have put down my amendment because I believe that we must discover that simple fact and I should like to elaborate a little on my reasons for it.
It may be that the decision that was initially taken in 1969 to abolish capital punishment was fatally flawed because, unlike the promises made with the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, the House did not have five years of crime statistics on which to make its judgment. I suspect that it made a judgment that was based more on emotion than on statistics or reason. I believe that we made the decision without an adequate basis of fact, and that has plagued the subject ever since.
In tonight's debate we can argue that we are talking merely about a new clause or that we are talking once again about whether we should have capital punishment as the ultimate deterrent in our system of sentencing. Who of us would dare hazard that this is the last debate that we shall have on this subject? Should we not ask ourselves why this subject keeps returning to the Floor of the House roughly every two years? I suggest that it does so because we do not know the will of the people and because we seem not be sensitive to whatever that will may be.
In 1969, I was one of those who voted for abolition. I did so then — I have done so on a number of other occasions — because I believed that the abolition of hanging would not have much effect on the incidence of murder. Recently I have imposed a self-denying ordinance on my ability to vote because of my belief in the value of a referendum and because I want to know what the people think.
I cannot deny that there has been an increase in the number of murders, an increase that is to be seen in any statistics that any one of us cares to consider. I cannot deny that an increasing number of weapons are being carried in pursuit of crime, or that the police are being forced more and more to carry weapons themselves. I am aware that when weapons are carried by criminals there is an intent to use them and to kill with them. The carrying of a weapon is a rational, calculated act and not one of emotion. I am aware also that before the law was changed such a situation did not exist.
If we had replaced capital punishment with life sentences that were life sentences, rather than the 10 years which on average is a life sentence now, they might have had an effect. By that means we might have persuaded the people that they are as safe without capital punishment as they are with it. As so-called life sentences seem not to deter, it seems that we have a duty to ask the people whether they are satisfied with the present situation. Do they accept that abolition, with its belief in redemption of even the most evil people, is the better course, even if we have to accept higher rates of murder as a result, or that the brutality and irredeemable nature of capital punishment should be restored, albeit for a trial period?
As I have said, we have the duty to ask the people through a consultative referendum. I say that because no one in the Chamber can say that he or she knows with any certainty whether society is more or less safe without capital punishment than it would be if it existed. It is a personal judgment that is coloured by individual concepts of morality.
I know that on hearing "referendum" some of my hon. Friends will mutter about ours being a representative democracy and remind me of the Edmund Burke dictum that we individually should form our own judgment. I suggest that the comments of an 18th century politician are not really relevant at the end of the 20th century. He spoke when Parliament was of a different stamp, when the populace was largely illiterate and uneducated and did not possess television, radio or mass-circulation newspapers. It could scarcely claim to be informed. That society cannot be compared with our own. We have now a highly educated populace that is well informed and articulate. In these times those outside the Chamber are as well equipped as we are to make a decision on their individual safety and the safety of their community.
In 18 years we have never sought to ascertain the strength of public opinion. Why? Have we failed to do so because the feelings of the people might contradict the decisions that we have made on the Floor of the House, or because we think that if we have one referendum we might move on to having others, which will cause us to feel that we are losing control of our nation's affairs? I do not think so.
A referendum of the sort that I am talking about would be based on moral issues. I am not advocating referendums on all the great issues of our time, but I do not believe that the House can arrogate to itself a greater wisdom that it clearly does not possess. In simple numbers, membership of this place does not amount to the average size of the polling samples that constitute opinion polls. Our votes are even less representative on moral issues than we care to admit.
We are debating a new clause to the Criminal Justice Bill. In the past three months those of us who served on the Committee considering that Bill have watched and listened as Labour and alliance spokesmen have shed crocodile tears over law and order. We witnessed the Opposition vote against the abolition of the defence's right to challenge jurors without cause. We witnessed the Opposition vote against modest Government measures to guard against lenient sentencing policy. We shall be interested to see the results of tonight's vote and whether the Opposition will represent a cross section of views as we shall on the Conservative Benches or whether they will, as they did in 1983, toe a party line. [HON. MEMBERS: "This is a free vote."] The condemned men have had a hearty dinner.
The opposition to this clause faces a dilemma. Two weeks ago a married man with two children was hacked to death in a south London car park. His body was left lying beside a car and the axe with which he had been murdered was left beside him. Yesterday, I spoke to that man's mother. I did so at the request of an alliance Member of this House who felt unable to answer that lady's questions.
That lady wanted to know what this House was going to do to deter similar murders. She wanted to know why her husband and herself, as taxpayers, would have to support that murderer in prison for the rest of his life. Not surprisingly, her Member of Parliament, who is an abolitionist, was unable to satisfy her requests. I had to say that, in all honesty, I did not believe that tonight this House would be likely to satisfy her request. However, I understood her point of view.
This new clause has been subjected to misinformation and disinformation. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—I am sorry that he is no longer in his place—said on the BBC lunchtime news, and again in his speech, that the murderer of a drunken, brutal husband would be liable to the death penalty under this clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman well knows that that is wholly incorrect, but he is in good company. The hon. and learned Gentleman is joined by the gentlemen of the press in their misinformation and disinformation about this clause.
Yesterday The London Evening Standard stated:
Tomorrow the House of Commons will once again vote on hanging for murderers.
At least, we have established tonight that this is not a hanging debate, but a debate on capital punishment. That newspaper went on to say:
There are certain crimes so hideous — the Moors murders, for example—that if a law could be fashioned to hang those guilty of them, it would pass through Parliament by acclamation.
I would suggest that that is exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend's clause seeks to do. The aim of the new clause is to deter.
We have heard a great deal this evening about the definition of evil. I believe that 12 men and women on a jury are capable of determining whether someone is evil. We have had the judgment on the Broadwater Farm case. Indeed, the judge said to the man in the dock, "You are an evil man". One cannot define what the judge said, but everyone in this country knows what he meant. I suggest that most people agree with him.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that to make a decision on the death penalty would place an intolerable burden on the jury. However, I believe that that type of burdensome decision is required from juries in this country on all sorts of matters every day of the year. I believe that the men and women serving on juries do not shirk their duty and are capable of making responsible decisions.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) who spoke so eloquently earlier in the debate. I am not seeking revenge, but I am seeking a deterrent. It has been said that there is no evidence to suggest that capital punishment deters crime. Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that a policeman walking down the street deters burglaries. However, burglaries that are not committed are not reported, in the same way as deterred murders would not be reported.
It has been said that there has been an increase in the availability of weapons in recent years and that that is why there has been an increase in the incidence of armed crime.
I have very little time.
The increase in armed crime has taken place since the abolition of capital punishment. I suggest that if there has been an increase in the availability of weapons, it is because there has been a demand for weapons following abolition.
It has been said that we risk executing an innocent man. We have always faced that possibility as we face the possibility of gaoling innocent men or women for life when they have been wrongfully convicted. What we do know is that there are 33 innocent victims who, since abolition, have been murdered by murderers who have been released from prison. Those people might not be dead if we had had capital punishment on the statute book.
What we are seeking to do tonight is not a light decision, but I passionately believe that if, by taking this decision, we can deter the murder of one innocent person, that will be worthwhile. I believe that capital punishment will be that deterrent, and I am not ashamed to say that in their hearts I know that many hon. Members feel that way too. I hope that those beliefs will be represented in the lobbies tonight and I urge my hon. Friends—I use the word Friends advisedly—on both sides of the House to represent those views.
I have listened to this debate since it started, as I have listened to most such debates in the past quarter of a century. It is quite clear in the Chamber and outside that there are understandably strong feelings about the decline in law and order. It is a subject that we cannot ignore. The situation gets worse. There is fear on the streets. I do not think that there is fear on the streets of Morley or the streets of Batley.
In that case, people need to look at the situation in some of the inner city areas where there is a real problem.
There is fear on the streets in some housing estates. They seem to have been designed to facilitate crime. The wife of a recent Prime Minister was mugged not a mile from this place a fortnight ago. Nobody on either side of the House can be happy at the situation. However, this is not the time to relate the over-facile promises made in 1979. The situation gets worse all the time. In my view, the debate about the return of capital punishment is a reflection of the concern for law and order generally.
I sat in hospital towards the end of last year with some ex-service men. A sergeant who had flown Wellingtons said that one night his crew was going off and that he was pulled out because he had sinus trouble. That is not easy if one is a crew member. His crew was killed and he said to me, "I wish that I had been killed. Living in this country now with the problems of law and order is not what I fought for." The feeling lies deep. It lies deeply outside the House. It is a feeling that could be played with very easily.
We would do better if we concentrated on the problem of law and order, on the problem of what to do with lifers and the problem of the role of the police, rather than pretend that there is yet another easy solution.
At the turn of the century when the crime rate was high — it went down in the 1920s and 1930s — they had hanging. They hanged people at a high rate of knots, but murders still took place. To pretend that there is a simple solution—I suppose we shall all hear that in the general election this year—is not to the credit of any political party because there is a growing feeling that none of the political parties is talking sense. I do not believe that one can stand up and say, "Return capital punishment and all will be solved." The electorate will see through that.
The new clause speaks of a unanimous verdict. Given what has emerged since, I am not convinced that the juries in some of the nasty murder trials of recent weeks would have reached a unanimous verdict. Will it be easy to determine whether a murder was premeditated? The new clause speaks of "a reasonable person"—there are not all that many reasonable people in this House, let alone outside it. The new clause continues:
in a manner, or for a reason, or in circumstances".
Ignoring for a moment the general problem of hanging, I do not believe that the new clause is drawn in a way that would aid judicial decision-making. It is misconceived and bad.
The hon. Gentleman is experienced in prison reform and, as Home Secretary and since, I learnt the value of the extra-parliamentary work that he does. He has raised an interesting point. We have not been debating obscenity, but the words that a jury must interpret. That puts the jury in a different position.
The new clause is not only badly drafted; it does not achieve its aim. It is based on a complete misunderstanding of the Irish situation. I must tell the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) that for nearly 20 years, first through Gardiner and later through Diplock, we worked in Northern Ireland in circumstances in which we could not have juries—Gardiner agreed with that—not only because a jury would be divided but because jurors on a terrorist case would not be able to go home at night. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said tonight that that did not worry him. It worries me, and it worries me that we put the lives of soldiers at risk.
The right hon. and learned Member for Southport did not examine the question of Northern Ireland, where 2,500 people are dead. He is shaking his head, but there can be no juries in Northern Ireland. I would not be a juror in Northern Ireland, and I would not ask my wife to be one. My life would be at risk in a murder trial.
It is no good Englishmen—for this purpose I count myself as one—saying that Northern Ireland and the RUC do not matter: we over here have decided that they can have juries. They cannot have juries in Northern Ireland. It is wrong for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to cobble together the new clause, sit back and say, "Leave it to Northern Ireland to find something." Jury service puts people's lives at risk, and no politician has the right to do that, in whatever cause.
The right hon. Gentleman will I am sure acknowledge that I faced that matter head on and said that I could not agree to an inconsistent clause. It has to apply throughout the United Kingdom.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, for fear of the consequences, we must not have juries? He has overlooked the fact that even if that were true—I do not accept that it is—other suggestions have been advanced, such as the unanimous verdict of three judges.
It is no use coming to the House on a matter of principle with a new clause that talks of 12 good men—or women—and true, of unanimous verdicts and so on. What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), whose constituency is in an area in which members of the RUC, soldiers and civilians are dying every week, and have died in the past? It is no good saying to him, "Incidentally, we have juries here, but you lot over there—you colonial chaps—can have a judge assisted by two assessors." Either there is a case for juries, or there is not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The new clause is a poor amendment.
Let me explain. In 1973, the Leader of the House of Lords was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He believed in the death penalty, and he kept the death penalty in Northern Ireland. The figures were given at the time. I have them here, but I do not have time to give them. A large number of people had been killed that year and the year before. But the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland had not used the death penalty because they could not use it—not because they were cowards. Loyalists are not cowards. Republicans are not cowards. The people of Northern Ireland are far less cowardly than most of us over here.
A Protestant from the Shankill was found guilty of murder. Having just put legislation through the House, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland used the royal prerogative and the man did not hang, because the right hon. Gentleman could not do it. It was not because he was a coward, not the Leader of the House of Lords. He has seen more military action than most of us have had hot dinners. Later in the year it was a Catholic who was found guilty. The right hon. Gentleman said, "I cannot go on in that way." The death penalty was removed in Northern Ireland because of the reality of the situation — not because of an emotional spasm about being in favour of or against the death penalty.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), says that the new clause is a giant step forward. It is not. It is defective and it does not understand Northern Ireland. Any lawyer who votes for it can be doing that—I respect his views—only because he wants something to be done. It cannot be because he believes that the new clause will work. It is not a major step forward.
There is a problem of law and order. My constituents face it, in an inner city. We do precious little about it, but at the time of a general election we pretend that we will do something about it. No doubt tomorrow people will say, "It's a pity. We could have had the death penalty and in a week the whole thing would have been solved." That is not so. This defective new clause ignores Northern Ireland. English politicians, of whom I am one, should see that it is defective, not just on juries, but in other ways.
I feel strongly about this matter. I have friends on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland—nationalists and loyalists—whose friends have been killed and murdered. I have impolite words to describe the paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland. They will not be deterred by the death penalty. This morning I took the opportunity to go into the Library and look at the story of the 1916 rising. I am interested in it. My father died as a result of the first world war. He was brought back from France to be at the Easter rising. He never thought that many years later his son would be Secretary of State for a divided country. Redmond spoke in the House about the nationalist party. Because of the war and our feelings about it we shot was it six? [AN HON. MEMBER: "No, 16."] We shot 16 Irishmen, including Connolly, the great Socialist. They sat him in the chair and shot him. From that moment onwards, Left, Right and Centre in the south of Ireland said, "The English are finished." Pearce said, "The fools, the fools," about the death of a friend of his, "They have left us the Fenian dead". From then on, forget governing Ireland. Forget home rule. Forget Gladstone. Forget Healy.
The new clause's greatest weakness is this. It is an Englishman's clause. They do not understand Ireland and never have. We have a duty there, but it is to try to understand. We should not fiddle about with the new clause, which does not deserve to see the light of day. Of course, there is a law and order problem. I say to the House: deal with it. My constituents want it to be dealt with. They do not want to be fooled. The new clause claims that by bringing back capital punishment problems will be solved and there will be a deterrent. The problems in our society run deeper than that. There are guns, and people on the fiddle in the cities. There is something wrong with society. If capital punishment is returned in this daft way it will not deter that. If I am understandably angry it is because I feel for Ireland. The English have done it again. By doing this, they think that there is an advantage on this side of the water. It does not exist.
I shall vote against this new clause tonight because it deserves to be voted against irrespective of my general view. What a piddling little new clause to bring forward to the House. This new clause is not worth anything. I hope that it will be withdrawn. Let us have a proper debate about law and order.
Like the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I have sat through the whole of this debate. I made my maiden speech in this House on 21 December 1964 in favour of the Bill then presented by the late Mr. Sydney Silverman in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. I have sat through many other debates since then and I suspect that this is the last time that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) and I will sit through such a debate in the House.
On every occasion this issue has been debated seriously. The debate has justified the seriousness of the issue. That has happened again tonight. I was slightly sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), whom I expect to join in the Lobby tonight, tried to imply a criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) because she happens to take a different view from him and from me.
I believe that all hon. Members have a duty to vote according to what we believe to be right, taking into account the views of those whom we represent. However, in the end, we have the responsibility to make up our own minds. I shall oppose the new clause because I am opposed to the return of capital punishment.
There are strong moral objections to the death penalty and to the state taking life. I do not suggest that those objections are by any means absolute. I accept and realise that the state has a responsibility to secure the safety of society. However, I believe that the moral objections to the state taking life mean that the burden of proof for the restoration of capital punishment must rest on those who claim that it is right and necessary to take life. I believe that they can do that only if they can show that the death penalty is a unique deterrent.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke with great certainty and passion about the deterrent effect of the death penalty. I would have thought that no one would suggest that any form of penalty is not always some form of deterrent. However, is the death penalty a unique deterrent which we must bring back now? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) said, the evidence is totally and wholly inconclusive. There is no significant difference in the rate of homicide in those countries with capital punishment and those without The case for the return of capital punishment has not been made this evening.
I was rather surprised at the cavalier attitude adopted by those who support the new clause to the question of possible mistakes in verdicts. The very finality of the punishment is a matter of importance. Surely there is a great difference between making a mistake which results in a person being hanged or suffering death as a result of the verdict and a mistake in which someone is sentenced to life imprisonment. In the latter case, the mistake may be rectified.
Having made my own position clear, I should say in all sincerity that even if I supported a return to capital punishment I could not possibly vote for the concept contained in the new clause because I believe that it is unworkable. The intentions are clearly good, but I believe that the proposition is impracticable. The new clause deals with premeditated and planned killing. I accept that drafting errors could be put right in another place, but the new clause would require that if the jurors found that a person had knowingly or intentionally killed another person they would then have to ask themselves whether that killing had been carried out in a manner, for a reason or in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, I find it difficult to conceive of circumstances in which the intentional killing of one person by another could be for a reason or in a manner which a reasonable person would not consider to be evil. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said, murder is, of its nature, an evil act. The inference to be drawn from the new clause that there may be cases of intentional killing which in their manner or circumstances are somehow not to be considered evil is a concept that the House should neither recognise nor endorse.
Even if one accepts that that is not the intention and that the new clause is an attempt, albeit unsuccessful, to identify a particular type of murder by its degree of heinousness, juries will be asked to identify those most serious types of murder which in their eyes merit the death sentence. The jury is being asked, in effect, to decide the degree of moral turpitude involved in a particular killing. That is a wholly new concept and something that no jury has been asked to do before. Deciding whether a person should be subject to the death penalty on the basis of the degree of moral turpitude involved is by its nature a purely subjective decision and bound to lead to great inconsistency in its application. The test is not capable of being applied objectively across a range of cases because it depends upon a moral concept that is not capable of definition but must be decided on the basis of the subjective opinions of the 12 people chosen to form a particular jury.
A clause in that form would inevitably mean that the decision whether a person should suffer death would depend not on the heinousness of the crime but on the subjective views of the jurors and would therefore be totally inconsistent because juries faced with similar facts in similar cases in different parts of the country are bound to reach entirely inconsistent decisions. As has been pointed out several times today, a juror who is a strong believer in the abolition of capital punishment would be likely to influence the outcome by being unable to go along with the concept of the clause requiring the jury to adjudicate on whether the death sentence is justified. The resulting inconsistency would make the clause completely unworkable.
I do not consider it a fair task to ask a jury to undertake. It is not right to ask a jury to adjudicate on a sentence in the way that this clause would require it to do. It is no good my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) saying that we are voting for the principle tonight. We are voting for a new clause in a piece of legislation that is before the House. That new clause is gravely flawed and, despite my right hon. and learned Friend's efforts, I hope that it will be rejected.
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), I was here in 1964 when Sydney Silverman's Bill was introduced. I had been consistent in my opposition to hanging before I came to the House, and this will certainly be the last contribution that I shall make in this Chamber on the issue of capital punishment. Not long after I came here, a policeman was murdered and two others injured in a brutal attack in a little station in Cumbria. At the time my postbag was full of letters asking me to support hanging. I stood my ground and said that I would vote against it. I also said that I would be prepared to go back to Carlisle and justify my action. This I did and later many of the people who had written to ask me to oppose capital punishment wrote to congratulate me on being consistent in the stand that I have taken. I have listened to and taken part in almost every debate on this issue since then.
Not long after I came here, like other hon. Members, I applied for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association trip. I was fortunate in being selected to go to Australia. The leader then was Lord Brooke, known in this House as Mr. Henry Brooke. During the three weeks that I was in Australia I became very friendly with Henry Brooke, so much so that when he died I felt that I had lost a good and loyal friend.
I well remember the Sunday night, after attending a service in the Methodist central hall in Sydney, going back to the hotel and having dinner with Henry Brooke. We spent a long time talking very privately about capital punishment. I will never forget that he told me that, as a Conservative Home Secretary, he had reprieved more murderers than any other Home Secretary. That, I thought, was an admission. He also said that time and time again he had had an awful job trying to make up his mind whether he should reprieve or not. He said, "I don't want to go through that again."
A few years afterwards we had another debate on the same issue. I remember Henry Brooke speaking from the Opposition Back Bench, pleading with the House not to bring back hanging. His plea was successful. I hope that the plea that we are making tonight will be successful too.
On Monday The Independent said:
Above all, the responsibility for deciding whether another human being should live or die is too much for anybody to shoulder—be it a judge, a Home Secretary or a member of a jury. No matter how sanitised, and no matter what the safeguards, capital punishment remains unacceptable in a civilised society.
I stand by that and will vote aganst this new clause tonight.
I do not know whether capital punishment would deter; I suspect that it would. Many hon. Members think that it would not, but their views arc no more confirmed by the evidence than mine are. None of us knows for certain. One thing I know for certain is that, before abolition, the average British police officer acted in the belief that while on duty he was protected by the invisible armour plate of the law of capital punishment. The police were convinced, and acted in the conviction, that any criminal who murdered a police officer would be signing his own death warrant. It makes little difference whether that belief was or was not statistically or morally justified. What matters it that in that belief our unarmed police—for they were unarmed then—regularly performed acts of gallantry in the face of criminal gunmen. They did so as a matter of routine.
Today there is a new position. First, there has been a massive increase in the carrying and the use of firearms by criminals, precisely as the Police Federation predicted to the House. There is nothing accidental about that. The man who cleans, oils and takes out a gun for the commission of a crime does so as a rational act. He does so because he believes that it will be easier to extract from his potential victim the money that he is seeking. He also believes that if challenged he is more likely with that gun to be able to get away with his crime.
The second major change since abolition, which again the Police Federation predicted in a memorandum to the House, is that as a result of the removal of what the police believe was a sure-fire defence against criminal gunmen, policemen would become "much more hesitant"—those were the words used in the memorandum — about risking their lives to arrest armed criminals. So it has come to pass.
The practical point is that in that split second of timing when, as often happens, the policeman has to decide whether or not to tackle an armed criminal, the odds are now stacked against the policeman. If the police officer, while unarmed, decides to tackle the criminal, the policeman risks all he has—his life, his family and his future. But the gunman he confronts no longer risks his life, for the law now protects him from that. So if the gunman shoots the policeman, who may well be the only witness, first, he greatly increases his chance of getting away scot free and, secondly, if he is caught and convicted, the worst that can befall him is a sentence of life imprisonment.
The odds are too one-sided. No hon. Member should therefore be surprised if nowadays more and more police officers hesitate to tackle armed criminals unless they, too, are issued with firearms. That is the third development which, again, the police predicted at the time of abolition; the policeman had to be armed for his own and the public's protection.
I do not say that abolition is the sole or even the principal reason why more and more police posts have had to be issued with firearms, but what I find painful and egregious is that the voices that are loudest in the House in condemnation of the police for carrying guns are the very voices which so scornfully brushed aside the warnings of the police that this would become inevitable if the capital sentence were abolished.
I would not support the death penalty for the vast majority of murders committed in Britain — those committed in family circumstances. Nor do I believe that the capital sentence would deter the fanatical terrorist murderer or those who kill under the influence of drugs. However, some killers of two types could be deterred by the prospect of death after conviction. One of those types is the hired gun, the professional assassin, who makes a contract to commit murder on behalf of some terrorist gang or even as an enforcer working for some criminal agency. Such men exist and there is no doubt that they kill for money. The most essential characteristic of such men is that they want to live to collect and enjoy their blood money.
It is known to many in the security service that in those nations which have the death penalty the price of hiring such an assassin or enforcer goes up. The cash nexus makes it more difficult to procure such a murderer, and to that extent the capital sentence provides a measure of increased protection for the potential victim. The second type of potential murderers who would be deterred are the members of criminal gangs, notably here in London, who before abolition of the death penalty would regularly frisk younger members of the gang to make sure that they were not carrying guns. They did so because they feared, in the vernacular of the time, that if one of them killed a cop they would all be topped.
It is now the norm and not the exception for such gangs of criminal burglars to go out in London with guns. They feel safer that way because the gun makes it easier and quicker to force their victims to hand over money, and because if they are caught the gun provides them with a better chance to escape. I and the vast majority of police officers dealing with such gangs believe that the restoration of the capital sentence would serve to reduce both the carrying and the use of firearms by such criminals and would therefore save innocent lives.
On behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), I can tell the House that we have had a most interesting and reflective debate. I say wih some diffidence and humility that the speeches that we have heard on both sides of the argument have, in the main, been excellent contributions. It is with equal diffidence that I shall briefly address one or two of the points made by hon. Members who opposed the new clause and then make a few brief and substantive remarks.
In his thoughtful and interesting speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made much of the difficulties that would apply in Northern Ireland if this clause were to become part of our criminal law. In a most moving speech, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) told the House of his concern about the difficulties that would apply in the Province if this provision were enacted.
Not long ago in France, the judges in a case involving terrorism, despite the advice that by all accounts they received from the French Government, said quite clearly that once a nation comes to believe that sentences imposed after due process of law in open court have to be tempered by the effect that those sentences may have on terrorists or others, that nation will go down a very dangerous road. Of course this is not an easy matter. A former Prime Minister, a former distinguished Home Secretary and the present Home Secretary have made that clear. However, that surely cannot be the overriding consideration of hon. Members on this issue.
If so much is to be made of the drafting point, why should we not heed the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle)? Although he opposed the clause, he made it clear that if the House were minded to reintroduce the death penalty, it would ensure that the clause could be suitably amended if necessary before it became law.
Many Conservative Members deeply regret that the level of violence, not only in the United Kingdom but in all Western societies, is still so high that it is inevitable that we should debate such a motion either now or at such equally propitious time. Whatever politicians or sociologists may claim to be the reason for it, violent behaviour is unquestionably with us. Although we are dealing with the death penalty for murder, it is wrong to think that the debate is concerned solely with about 600 cases. We are also dealing with the many cases of violent assault that escape being murder cases by a hair's breadth, thanks to the skill of surgeons and the dedication of the police.
I understand the argument about the cathartic effect on society, which from time to time feels the need to ventilate its revulsion and contempt as it witnesses the appalling crimes that are committed. However, that alone would not make me support the clause. I accept that the amendment will not apply in many cases of murder, nor should it necessarily apply in such cases. Some Conservative Members accept that many killings are unpremeditated. Domestic murders, for example, often result from a strong familial relationship that has led to conflict. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is still murder."] None the less, such people will not be deterred by the existence of the death penalty. Perhaps even less acceptable to the general public is the certainty that there is no deterrent value in the death penalty for those who are so psychotic or insane that they are wholly unaccountable for their actions. In such cases, the death penalty will make no difference.
Nevertheless, the continued existence of appalling and barbaric crimes in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere is not in question. Recent cases beggar description — for example, the Keith Blakelock case, which must have turned some of the strongest stomachs. If ever there was a case of murder being evil, that was it.
It is perhaps even more sinister that terrorists and paramilitary groups in the United Kingdom, the middle east, north Africa and elsewhere are recruiting young people barely into their teens to carry out appalling crimes for their own strange and convoluted political ends. Such crimes have only one common denominator, as in the Hindawi case: the victims are innocent people. Many women and children will be slain and maimed.
In recent years, there has been a frightening increase both in violent murders and in crimes involving sexual offences, followed by murder, on women, children and elderly people. In addition, there are crimes against the police, who are mostly unarmed who endeavour to protect the most vulnerable in our society from such violence. It is against that background that we must consider what society and Parliament can do to reverse the tide of violence.
We must ensure that those who are contemplating offences of this nature are certain that the likelihood of their being apprehended and convicted is considerable. Any system of penalties that does not take account of the need for certainty of conviction to be present in the mind of the criminal is of no avail. Certainty of conviction must be paramount.
We have also to consider whether the existence of the death penalty would be likely to deter. Of course there would be many who would still commit the crime of murder and who would not be deterred. Young terrorists are being intimidated by the paramilitary groups into running little errands on their behalf, which lead to greater involvement in terrorist offences and eventually to murder. Furthermore, there are the mindless muggers, the vandals, the casual thugs and the calculating professional criminals who go out with a gun in their hand either to frighten or to use it to kill. Given that nowadays a life sentence rarely means more than 10 years, the possession of a firearm is not worth worrying about, so they decide that they might as well take a gun with them.
I refuse to believe that in those groups, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said in a powerful speech, there will be a number of people who will not be deterred by the existence of the death penalty. In his opening speech my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport pointed out that that number will be significantly greater than those who are deterred by the prospect of so-called life imprisonment. Almost by definition, those who are deterred cannot be detected. A few moments ago that conclusion was derided, but were we to compare the present murder rate with what happened over 20 years ago we should have to assume that the only factor in the equation that has changed is the existence or otherwise of the death penalty. Were we not to draw that conclusion, we should have to ignore all the social developments of the last 20 years. The common sense conclusion that the vast majority of ordinary people will draw is that some people would be deterred by the existence of the death penalty.
As for pubic opinion, I am as opposed to a referendum as I am in favour of capital punishment. I do not believe that the course that was advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) is appropriate. I believe in the supremacy of Parliament. I believe, too, that all hon. Members are representatives, not delegates. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said that we have to accept that the moral authority of Parliament, which is based on public acceptance of the supremacy of Parliament, is seriously jeopardised if it consistently ignores the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens.
Since abolition, the British people have had over 20 years in which to consider the implications of this issue. What is now being proposed was not in existence at that time. We cannot turn back the clock, and those who have tabled the new clause do not propose to do so. This issue is beyond politics. It is beyond party and class. There is a very real sense of frustration by the British people bordering on anger at Parliament's patronising, "We know better" attitude.
Tonight, this House has an opportunity to take just a small step, but not the only step, to combat and punish serious violent crime. However, that step expresses, in the clearest and most unequivocal way, society's abhorrence of premeditated and evil murder. Capital punishment will certainly deter a number of offenders. It is a step which would be massively welcomed in every quarter of this land, and I commend it warmly to the House.
|Division No. 132]||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Cash, William|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Alexander, Richard||Chope, Christopher|
|Amess, David||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)|
|Arnold, Tom||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Cockeram, Eric|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Coombs, Simon|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baldry, Tony||Corrie, John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dicks, Terry|
|Beggs, Roy||Dover, Den|
|Bellingham, Henry||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dunn, Robert|
|Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic||Durant, Tony|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Eggar, Tim|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Blackburn, John||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Farr, Sir John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Favell, Anthony|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Bright, Graham||Forth, Eric|
|Brinton, Tim||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Browne, John||Fry, Peter|
|Butcher, John||Gale, Roger|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Galley, Roy|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Norris, Steven|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Greenway, Harry||Osborn, Sir John|
|Gregory, Conal||Ottaway, Richard|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Grylls, Michael||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Pollock, Alexander|
|Hannam, John||Porter, Barry|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Portillo, Michael|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)||Powley, John|
|Hawksley, Warren||Price, Sir David|
|Hayward, Robert||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Heddle, John||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Henderson, Barry||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hickmet, Richard||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Hicks, Robert||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Hill, James||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hind, Kenneth||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry E)|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Rost, Peter|
|Holt, Richard||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Shersby, Michael|
|Jackson, Robert||Silvester, Fred|
|Jessel, Toby||Sims, Roger|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Key, Robert||Speed, Keith|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Speller, Tony|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Spencer, Derek|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lang, Ian||Steen, Anthony|
|Latham, Michael||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Lightbown, David||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Lord, Michael||Stokes, John|
|McCrea, Rev William||Sumberg. David|
|McCrindle, Robert||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|McCusker, Harold||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Terlezki, Stefan|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Maclean, David John||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Thornton, Malcolm|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Thurnham, Peter|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Tracey, Richard|
|Marland, Paul||Trippier, David|
|Marlow, Antony||Trotter, Neville|
|Mates, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mather, Sir Carol||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Viggers, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Merchant, Piers||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Watts, John|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Whitney, Raymond|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Mudd, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wood, Timothy|
|Neubert, Michael||Woodcock. Michael|
|Yeo, Tim||Mr. Peter Bruinvels and|
|Mr. James Pawsey.|
|Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Craigen, J. M.|
|Alton, David||Crouch, David|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Anderson, Donald||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Ashby, David||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Deakins, Eric|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Dewar, Donald|
|Ashton, Joe||Dixon, Donald|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Dobson, Frank|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Dormand, Jack|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Douglas, Dick|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosemary||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Barron, Kevin||Dubs, Alfred|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Beith, A. J.||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Bell, Stuart||Eadie, Alex|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Eastham, Ken|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)|
|Benyon, William||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Ellis, Raymond|
|Best, Keith||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Fatchett, Derek|
|Bitten, Rt Hon John||Faulds, Andrew|
|Blair, Anthony||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Fisher, Mark|
|Bottomley, Peter||Flannery, Martin|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fletcher, Sir Alexander|
|Boyes, Roland||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Forman, Nigel|
|Britten, Rt Hon Leon||Forrester, John|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Foster, Derek|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Foulkes, George|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Franks, Cecil|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Freeman, Roger|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Freud, Clement|
|Buchan, Norman||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Garrett, W. E.|
|Buck, Sir Antony||George, Bruce|
|Budgen, Nick||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Burt, Alistair||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Butterfill, John||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Caborn, Richard||Gorst, John|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Gould, Bryan|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Campbell, Ian||Gow, Ian|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Grist, Ian|
|Canavan, Dennis||Ground, Patrick|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hancock, Michael|
|Cartwright, John||Hardy, Peter|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Harris, David|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Clarke, Thomas||Harvey, Robert|
|Clay, Robert||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Hayes, J.|
|Cohen, Harry||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Coleman, Donald||Haynes, Frank|
|Conlan, Bernard||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Cope, John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Corbett, Robin||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Home Robertson, John||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Howard, Michael||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Moate, Roger|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Howells, Geraint||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)||Needham, Richard|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Nellist, David|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Newton, Tony|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hume, John||O'Brien, William|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Irving, Charles||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Park, George|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Patchett, Terry|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|John, Brynmor||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Pendry, Tom|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Pike, Peter|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Prescott, John|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Knox, David||Radice, Giles|
|Lambie, David||Raffan, Keith|
|Lamond, James||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Raynsford, Nick|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Redmond, Martin|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Leighton, Ronald||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lester, Jim||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Lilley, Peter||Robertson, George|
|Litherland, Robert||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Livsey, Richard||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Rogers, Allan|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Loyden, Edward||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Rowlands, Ted|
|McCartney, Hugh||Ryder, Richard|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Scott, Nicholas|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Maclennan, Robert||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|McTaggart, Robert||Sheerman, Barry|
|McWilliam, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Madden, Max||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Madel, David||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Major, John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Mallon, Seamus||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Maples, John||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Marek, Dr John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Martin, Michael||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Maxton, John||Snape, Peter|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Soley, Clive|
|Meacher, Michael||Spearing, Nigel|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mellor, David||Squire, Robin|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stern, Michael|
|Michie, William||Stott, Roger|
|Mikardo, Ian||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Milian, Rt Hon Bruce||Strang, Gavin|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Straw, Jack|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Taylor, Matthew||Wareing, Robert|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Watson, John|
|Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Weetch, Ken|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Wheeler, John|
|Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)||White, James|
|Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Tinn, James||Wilson, Gordon|
|Torney, Tom||Winnick, David|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Woodall, Alec|
|Wainwright, R.||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Waldegrave, Hon William||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wallace, James||Mr. James Couchman and|
|Walters, Dennis||Mr. Ron Davies.|
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The House has spent two long days on the concluding stages of the Bill and I should like to draw our consideration of it briefly to a conclusion.
The Bill contains much heavy matter and many different subjects, each of which might have justified a Bill of its own, and I shall not go through its contents.
Naturally there has been controversy—sometimes it has been sharp—and this has occurred sometimes between parties and sometimes between laymen and learned Members. I am sure that the Bill has benefited from the examination that we have given it.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is noted for his sharp sword or razor, and I do not think that he will take it amiss when I say that he has shown once more a clear and constructive grasp of how Parliament should get to work on a Bill of this sort. The same is true of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I pay particular thanks to my hon. and hon. and learned Friends for sustaining the burden of the argument, and a special thanks to my hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State, who have borne the great share of the work.
The Bill goes now to another place and their Lordships will consider it carefully in the knowledge that no guillotine has been imposed upon it in this place. The Bill does not go to the other place with the bloodstains of the faithful Commons upon the papers. Each matter has been carefully weighed more than once, and I am sure that in doing its duty as the second Chamber it will bear that in mind.
I take this opportunity to correct an error which I made in the earlier part of the day in the debate on the new clause moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). In referring to Mr. Mervyn Russell, whose conviction for murder was quashed several years after he had been sent to prison, and developing the matter, I referred inadvertently to the quashing of the conviction several years after his execution. I must correct that slip of the tongue. The right hon. Member for Gorton got it right, and I intended to say that Mr. Russell was one of a number of persons whose conviction had been quashed since the abolition of capital punishment and who might have been liable to execution but for abolition.
I would like to join the Home Secretary in sending the Bill to the House of Lords in the hope that that House can complete the necessary corrections that we were unable to make in the House of Commons.
This Bill has many good parts and I agree with the Home Secretary that it has been improved as a result of the proper and sensible consideration given to it in Committee. I would like to thank my hon. Friends who have shared with me the burden of dealing with the Bill and who have assisted to ensure that the Bill is properly considered and improved. I would also like to thank the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State who, for Conservatives, have managed the Bill very well. I believe that they now understand the way in which Government and Opposition, while in no way abandoning their differences, can co-operate to improve the legislation.
Although there are matters in which we would like some improvement and although I do not approve of what goes on along the Corridor, I nevertheless hope that, while the other place is around, it will restore peremptory challenge. On that basis, I would like to thank everyone involved for helping us to work so well on the Bill.
I should like to thank the Home Secretary and other Ministers for their great courtesy, forbearance, help and willingness to listen during the passage of the Bill. As in the case of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, every single clause and every schedule was considered, and that is how it should be with Bills that deal with criminal justice policy.
I also thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and his hon. Friends for their assistance. I hope that we have assisted one another from time to time, when needs must, during the passage of the Bill.
Although I should like to see some improvements to the legislation in the Lords, I believe that it contains considerable improvements to the law and I look forward to those improvements being put into effect.