Madam Speaker : I have a short statement to make. On Wednesday last, the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) drew my attention to a document apparently circulating in this country, which I asked him to send to me. Having examined the document, I have decided to make a brief statement, making it clear that it would be a serious offence against Parliament for those addressed to do what they are urged to do.
The document, emanating from Jammu and Kashmir, is described as : "An appeal to our compatriots and their relatives in the UK" to
"boycott consumer goods produced by industries located in constituencies of British and European MsP who allow themselves to be used by the ISI and its surrogates in their efforts to destroy our country".
The document lists the names of 16 Members of this House. To attempt to intimidate a Member in his or her parliamentary conduct by threats of this kind is an undoubted contempt of the House. Fortunately, I have no evidence that any notice has been taken of the document and I trust that this will remain the case. I did, however, judge it appropriate to make this statement so that no one need be in any doubt about the seriousness of the matter.
Column 22know. We shall debate later today an new clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) on the subject of homosexuality. There is an amendment in my name
Madam Speaker : Order. May I stop the hon. Gentleman there. His point of order relates to amendments in Committee, which are not my responsibility as Speaker. My very good Chairman of Ways and Means will be taking over in a moment. He is responsible for those amendments. I ask the hon. Gentleman to hold on until then.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I thank you very much indeed for the consideration that you gave to the document that was the subject of your statement. I am sure that your statement was much appreciated by all hon. Members, particularly those who were listed. Your comments will be heeded, I trust, in this country, in India and elsewhere. May I ask you to consider one further step which I think would be appropriate and important ? Will you contact the Indian high commissioner in London to ask him to repudiate and condemn publicly the document and to ask him and his Government to use their good offices to bring the campaign to an end ?
Madam Speaker : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am concerned only with happenings in the House and the protection of Members of the House. However, I am sure that those at the Indian high commission--I know them well--will read our Proceedings and note what has been said.
(New Clauses of which notice was given not later than 9 February relating to capital punishment and the age of consent for sexual acts between men in Great Britain)
Considered in Committee .
in the Chair ]
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I seek your advice and, perhaps, your assistance. We shall be debating later today a new clause, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire South (Mrs. Currie), on the subject of homosexuality. Also tabled, in my name and in the names of at least 30 of my hon. Friends is a new clause on the subject of corporal punishment. It is fair to say that, in the country as a whole, there is much more support for a debate on corporal punishment than for a debate on the other subject I have just mentioned.
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. The House clearly remitted that we should have a debate on capital punishment, but not a debate on corporal punishment. I am bound by the decision of the House, and the debate will be, as prescribed, on capital punishment.
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : On a point of order, Mr. Morris. The business motion that directed the Committee to consider parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill specified that any new clause relating to capital punishment should be dealt with. It did not direct the Committee to consider only those new clauses providing for capital punishment.
New clause 2, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), has been selected for debate. I tabled an amendment to my hon. Friend's new clause, and my amendment was supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Sir R. Boyson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). My amendment, which has not been selected for debate, does not provide for capital punishment, but it relates to capital punishment in that it says that this is not the right way to deal with the murder of a police officer
The Chairman : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that I can read. I have given particularly careful consideration to his amendment, but have decided that it is outside the scope of the order of the House determining what matters might be considered in Committee today. The hon. Gentleman may well be able to deploy his argument in debating the merits of the new clause if he catches my eye.
Column 24should have a debate on corporal punishment rather than one on homosexuality ? The country as a whole is far more interested in the former than in the latter.
The Chairman : The hon. Gentleman is a senior Member. He knows that he has influence with his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and could get them to remit an appropriate motion. As matters stand today, it is very clear that we must deal with new clause 2 and new clause 4.
The Chairman : However quick it may be, it should be on a new subject. [Interruption.] Order. However senior the right hon. Gentleman may be, when I have ruled on a point of order the matter is finished. I must ask hon. Members on all sides to accept my ruling. If the right hon. Gentleman's point of order is a new one I shall be delighted to take it, but it appears that it is not.
A person aged 18 years or above who is convicted of the murder of a police officer acting in the execution of his duty shall on conviction be sentenced to death.'-- [Mr. John Greenway.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
(1) Subject to the following subsections the penalty for murder shall be death.
(2) No person aged under 18 years shall suffer the death penalty. (3) As soon as practicable following a sentence of death, a special sitting of the Court of Appeal shall be convened to consider whether the circumstances of either
(a) the commission of the offence or
(b) the offender
whether or not such circumstances were adduced in evidence at the trial, are such as would justify the substitution of a sentence of life imprisonment in place of the sentence of death.'
Mr. Greenway : It is a little more than three years since I argued during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for the death penalty for the murder of a police officer. Since that debate, it is my understanding that, not forgetting the many atrocities committed against the police and security forces in Northern Ireland, eight police officers in England have been murdered. The most recent of those was only two weeks ago today, when Sergeant Derek Robertson was brutally stabbed to death by armed raiders at a south London post office in an ordinary residential district. Last October, PC Patrick Dunne was shot dead in Clapham as he responded to a routine burglary call. In March last year, Sergeant Bill Forth of Northumbria police was stabbed to death answering a call to a disturbance. Last week, two men were found guilty of his murder.
Column 25In June 1992, in my county of North Yorkshire and in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), Special Constable Glen Goodman was brutally murdered by an IRA terrorist. His colleague, PC Sandy Kelly, was left for dead and his life was saved only by the miraculous work of local doctors. Detective Constable Jim Morrison was stabbed to death in central London. Sergeant Alan King was stabbed to death in east London. PC Duncan Clift was murdered in Northumberland and PC Robert Gladwell was killed in a west London hotel brawl.
Whatever view we take of the merits of capital punishment, there are three points on which I hope that all hon. Members will agree. First, we must pay tribute to the courage of those eight officers. Their bravery and that of their families should never be forgotten. Secondly, their courage is typical of that displayed throughout the police service in the United Kingdom. Many other officers have survived brutal and savage assaults in circumstances where their assailants were totally indifferent to their fate. Thirdly, I hope that we can also agree that the chronicle of violence and murder against our police officers is not acceptable. Hon. Members divide over what should be done about it.
Those of us who support the new clause believe that capital punishment for the murder of a police officer would reduce the number of police murders. Life imprisonment as a penalty has clearly not been a sufficient deterrent in those cases that I have outlined. But does it necessarily follow that the death penalty might have prevented those murders ? If the life of just one of those eight officers had been spared by fear of the death sentence, would not the sanction have been justified ? In the 1979 debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner) said :
"I greatly envy the certainty of those hon. Members ... who seem able to assert that the existence of capital punishment would not have saved even one life."--[ Official Report , 19 July 1979 ; Vol. 970, c. 2118.]
We cannot be absolutely certain either way, and I have concluded that the general question about deterrence is impossible to answer definitively one way or the other.
The arguments on both sides are formidable. The death penalty will certainly not encourage murder and, on balance, common sense tells us that it is more likely to discourage it. Sadly, however, police officers were murdered when we had the death sentence. Although the number of such murders has more than doubled since the death sentence was abolished, it must be acknowledged that there is more crime and society is more violent.
It is, nevertheless, an incontrovertible fact that, when this country still had the death penalty, it was extremely rare for criminals engaged in the most serious robberies to be armed with guns or knives, lest, in the heat of the moment, a member of the gang panicked and committed murder. They knew full well what to expect in such circumstances. The threat of the death penalty would have a similar effect on some criminals today.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I also pay tribute to the memory of those dedicated officers who were murdered when carrying out their duty, including the police officer recently murdered in New Addington, Croydon.
Column 26If one police officer--or more--had been murdered as a result of the IRA atrocities in Birmingham and Guildford and the hon. Gentleman's proposal had been law, the people convicted would have been executed. However, since then they have been found innocent-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh no they were not."] Conservative Members may disagree, but the fact remains that the people convicted were released from prison. Does it not trouble the hon. Gentleman that men, and perhaps women, would have been executed for murders for which, in the general opinion of the public, they were not responsible ?
Mr. Greenway : The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned the Guildford case. I will deal with his other comment in a moment. He said that the majority of the public seemed to think that the Guildford Four were innocent. However, I am not entirely convinced of that and the fact that the police officers charged with perjury were found not guilty also leads me to that conclusion. I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's point about the miscarriage of justice in a moment. He is absolutely right--it is the key point which we must deal with in this debate.
I believe, as I understand do many Conservative Members, that the threat of the death penalty would have an effect on criminals today, as it did in the 1940s and 1950s--and I suspect, until it was discontinued--when criminals did not take guns and knives with them when they took part in crimes.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) rose
Mr. Greenway : May I continue, as this is important ? I want to establish why we should consider the murder of a police officer separately from other murders. My theory is supported by the recent murders of policemen which I outlined, when the criminals very casually and cold- bloodedly calculated that they could use guns and knives to avoid arrest.
It is as if murderers are asking, "What have I got to lose ?" That is the question which hon. Members must answer. Would the death penalty persuade, force or urge some of those violent criminals to think twice ? I believe that it would and that is why I shall continue to advocate its availability to the courts.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I think that I am the only Member of the House who has ever appeared in a capital case--I have appeared in 17--and I am grossly against the death penalty. I do not believe that it has the slightest effect on the offender and it has another very bad effect. As the defending counsel, I am put on trial because, if I make a mistake, ask the wrong question or appear in the wrong way, the man may go to the trap. I, therefore, believe that the death penalty is evil and wrong in every way, and I have experience.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : The sentence of the death penalty is passed in many states in America and, unfortunately, it is regularly carried out. America is, however, one of the most violent societies in the western world. How does the deterrence effect work there ? Why should it be any different here ?
Mr. Greenway : America has a gun culture, which, thankfully, we do not have. I have already said that when we had the death penalty, even among the criminal fraternity there was not the gun culture or the knife- carrying culture of today.
I have conceded that the argument of deterrence can be formidable either way. We all have to make our own judgment on the balance of the facts as we see them. It is the current habit among the criminal fraternity to be armed with guns and knives, and to use them in such a cold, calculating way, which has convinced me that the death penalty would have a deterrent effect in some cases.
I know that many hon. Members will oppose the new clause--the hon. Member for Walsall, North has already made that clear--for fear of the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. When we previously debated the issue, the recent acquittal of the Guildford Four pub bombers was very much in our minds. That case persuaded many hon. Members, some of whom had previously supported the death penalty, that we should not take the risk of executing the wrong man. I understand that view and it is a matter about which we must rightly be concerned. The Runciman royal commission has made important recommendations to improve our criminal justice system specifically to deal with miscarriage of justice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has given his intention to implement change and he is consulting on what needs to be done. I am sure that he will want to say more about that today.
We must build on the significant improvements made to our criminal justice system in recent years. Nothing could be more important than the need to prevent miscarriages of justice occurring in the first place and to deal more speedily and effectively with appeals. The implementation of such arrangements is crucial to any reintroduction of capital punishment for murder generally.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the question of deterrence, would he care to cast his mind back to the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1947 ? His family is still contesting that sentence, which I regard as an obscenity. If the deterrence theory worked, why were there any more murders of that kind ? As the hon. Gentleman has been so generous in giving way, will he also consider the case of PC Blakelock who was murdered on the Broadwater Farm
The case of Derek Bentley happened a long time ago. I accept that the murder was committed at the time when we had the death penalty. As I understand it, the case was particularly difficult because the person who committed
Column 28the murder was under 16 years of age. He, therefore, could not suffer the death penalty, as would be the case under my new clause. I am surprised that anyone could suggest that Derek Bentley was not engaged in a serious crime. I, therefore, do not believe that that case is a valid argument of a miscarriage of justice. It may be fair to suggest that, in those circumstances, someone in Bentley's position either should have not been found guilty of murder by the jury or should not have suffered the death penalty. But such a miscarriage of justice does not undermine the argument in favour of the death sentence.
The implementation of important improvements and reforms in our criminal justice system and how we deal with miscarriages of justice are crucial. The same improvements would help to prevent miscarriages of justice involving the murder of a police officer. Such miscarriages of justice, however, are rare and exceptional. The hon. Member for Erdington mentioned the only two exceptions in modern times. The acquittal of the Tottenham Three--Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite--for the murder of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot of 1985 was the second case that he mentioned. Silcott remains in prison convicted of another murder. Opinions vary on whether he was responsible for PC Blakelock's death.
The Committee must face up to this question : if Silcott and his accomplices did not kill PC Blakelock, who did ? My impression is that the police remain satisfied that they got their man, but accept that the administration of the case was not all that it should have been.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Is the hon. Gentleman trying to persuade the Committee that it would be right to execute people in a case where--I use his words--"opinions vary" ? If so, it is a preposterous proposition.
Mr. Greenway : I am not putting that proposition to the Committee. I am saying that I understand that Winston Silcott was acquitted on appeal because there were serious shortcomings in how the police administered the case. Had that evidence been available to the jury during his trial, Silcott might have been acquitted and not found guilty. That issue is separate from whether any of us think that he was responsible for PC Blakelock's death. Having talked to the most senior Metropolitan police officers, my impression is that they are satisfied that they got their man, but recognise that a lot must be done to improve the administration of cases.
Mr. Greenway : My hon. Friend puts his finger on a point which I thought about mentioning in my speech, but decided that it would be a red herring. I believe that the changes that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is introducing through the Bill will have both those effects. How the defence must conduct its case, as well as how we deal with prosecutions and, eventually, miscarriages of justice, are all important reforms recommended by the Runciman commission.
Some people will argue that, as with the detection and prosecution of all serious crime, the police face enormous pressures to secure a conviction. The police are the first to accept that there has been malpractice in the handling of
Column 29some cases, and chief officers are determined to stamp that out. Considerable progress has already been made to that end.
However, when a police officer is murdered, it must be right to question what possible benefit there could be to the police service to convict the wrong man. The police have a vested interest in ensuring that the right man is caught and convicted, although that must be done within the proper rules of conduct and evidence. Otherwise, the true killer will remain at large and ready to strike and kill again at any time.
I remind the Committee that, only last week, James Hurley--who was gaoled in 1989 for his part in the murder of PC Frank Mason--attacked a prison officer while escaping from a prison bus. Hurley should never have been given that chance. I am not referring to the adequacy of the security arrangements for Hurley's transfer to Wandsworth or why he was transferred so early in his sentence.
Evil men who show utter contempt for the lives of serving police officers deserve to pay for their horrific crimes by forfeiting their own lives. If we do not reintroduce the death sentence for murders of policemen, what alternatives are there ?
An amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), which has not been called, has much to commend it. Although my own preference is the death sentence, the next best alternative would be to provide in law for those who murder police officers never to be released from prison. Perhaps the best for which we can realistically hope is that they serve a minimum of 30 years. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to consider that proposal.
Much more could be done to improve the protection given to police officers through the standard issue of protective clothing and side-handle batons. I raised both possibilities in an Adjournment debate more than two years ago- -which, not surprisingly, was not as well attended as this afternoon's debate. I highlighted a number of recent savage assaults on police officers --at least two of whom owe their lives to the skill of doctors and surgeons.
Although protective clothing and side-handle batons would be welcomed by police officers, would that be enough ? If the Committee rejects new clause 2, another consequence would become ever more likely--the routine arming of the police. I reluctantly reached that conclusion when we debated the issue three years ago, and subsequent events have made that prospect virtually inevitable. I understand that that view is being advanced by the Police Federation. When police officers rush to the scene of the crime--as did Sergeant Robertson just two weeks ago--they have no way of knowing whether the criminals are armed or the immediate danger that confronts them. I have reminded the House of my own experiences as a police officer in London in the 1960s. In such a situation, police officers do their best to protect their colleagues and the public. In doing
Column 30that, they give the criminal the benefit of the doubt. Tragically, some police officers pay a heavy price for doing so.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of younger members of the Police Federation feel that the time has come for police officers to be routinely armed ? If that were to happen, and police officers used firearms in situations such as that confronted by Sergeant Robertson, could not innocent bystanders also lose their lives ?
I began by suggesting that the Committee might at least agree that the number of police murders is not acceptable. If it takes that view, doing nothing is not an option. Tonight, the Committee will vote on two important issues of conscience. In the debate on the age of consent for homosexuals, I shall vote in favour of its being reduced to 18 and against a reduction to 16. However, many members of the public question our priorities when--as seems likely--we give in to the homosexual lobby, but do not have the guts and courage to answer the demands of the police service, by giving police the protection that they need and deserve. In my judgment, that must mean the death penalty for the murder of a police officer. I urge the Committee to support new clause 2.
The Chairman : Before I call any other hon. Member, I make the plea that that is a short debate of only three hours. The Chair has a very long list of hon. Members wishing to contribute. Therefore, I ask, please, for short and concise speeches.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South) : The debate is not about the respect that we have for the police, and for their courage ; nor do our views differ on police murders. The fact is that they are vile and we must do what we can to stop them. The debate is about capital punishment. We must decide our view on that. We will all be in support of the police. Having been the leader of an authority that was a police authority, I am naturally well aware of the many situations where the police put themselves in great danger. Our debate is about what is the proper punishment.
I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) that capital punishment is evil. For me, it is not only morally indefensible, but is irrelevant as a deterrent. It is inexcusable as a punishment in its irrevocability and is insidiously damaging to any society that practises it. As one who has followed from outside the consideration that the House has given to this issue over many years, from the pioneering days of Sydney Silverman, I applaud the sanity of hon. Members in rejecting clauses and amendments of similar effect to this, time after time, over more than 20 years. I count it a privilege to be able to speak and vote against these new clauses.
I take seriously the message that the Chairman has given and shall speak briefly on only two issues. I shall first deal with an issue that has already been discussed--miscarriages of justice. Since the issue was last debated in the House, a considerable number of miscarriages of justice have been revealed. Whether the increase is simply in line with the increase in crime or reflects on occasions
Column 31the pressures that are on the police to find a solution, any miscarriage of justice--we have seen a spate of them-- destroys the case for a final solution for the individual concerned.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : The hon. Gentleman is talking about miscarriages of justice, but is not it also a great injustice that, in far too many cases, convicted murderers are released on to the streets and go on to commit another murder ? Since 1965, there have been 71 such cases. Surely, if the death penalty had been introduced, those people would be alive.
Mr. Gunnell : The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that because some people have been released--from subsequent events, it is clear that it would have been far better had they not been--it is reasonable to allow some people who are innocent to be put to death. I cannot accept that argument. I shall give two names from my county area where there have been miscarriages of justice : Stefan Kiszco and Judith Ward. In each case, it is absolutely clear that their convictions were based on confessions. In each case, those confessions were not the truth.
As a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, I believe that, by ending the right to silence, we are increasing the probability of false confessions and their consequences. Kiszco was kept for a long time without access to a solicitor ; we are not insisting on a solicitor having to be present for silence to be cited later.