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28 Oct 2009 : Column 76WH—continued

The case of Timothy Evans of Rillington place was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who rightly commemorated the life and work of Ludovic Kennedy, who was a man
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of extraordinary qualities. I found Kennedy slightly difficult to come to terms with because his passion for shooting animals appeared to be somewhat at odds with the humanity that he expressed, but we must allow Liberals their foibles. Timothy Evans was hanged for murders that were certainly committed by John Reginald Christie. Those of us who were brought up in west London remember the pub, the Kensington Park Hotel, which was at the end of the road that I lived on. I recall the dark shadow that that case cast over us in west London.

When we consider issues such as the death penalty, we come at them from various directions. There may be a consensus in most of Europe, outside Belarus, that the death penalty is a mediaeval barbarism, anti-Christian and something that goes against the principle of redemption, and that it is something that belongs to a dim and distant past and that should rightly be consigned to that bloody past. However, that is the ideological and sometimes theological argument; there is also a criminological argument. We all know that the murder statistics in executing Texas are higher than those in non-executing New York, and there is very little evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent. Many people have tried to use the deterrent effect as justification, but Amnesty International has completely refuted that theory.

In the summer of 1959, when I was 11 years old, a man called Gunter Podola was arrested very close to where my parents and I lived. He was one of the many people swept up in the detritus of war. He had been a member of the Hitler youth, and his father had been a barber who had fought and died with the German army on the Russian front. He emigrated to Canada, where he became a petty criminal and was promptly deported from Montreal to what was then West Germany. Those who say that border controls are lax today should note that Podola was then able to fly from Düsseldorf to London Heathrow with no problem at all. He went to west Kensington and started a career of petty crime and blackmail. He was arrested in Onslow square in west London, having shot Detective Sergeant Purdy. When we talk about the death penalty, we should never forget the victims, but I do not think that putting someone to death benefits the victim in any way, and it certainly does not bring them back to life.

Podola's case was heard over a few months during the late summer and early autumn of 1959. As an 11-year-old boy living in London at that time, I knew that the clock was ticking. Even though Podola had not appealed against his sentence, the Home Secretary called the case in, set up a medical tribunal to examine Gunter Podola's state of mind, and decided that he was fit to be hanged by the neck until he was dead. Although Mr. Podola claimed that someone else was his double and was acting in this strange way, the Home Secretary decided that he should hang, and hanged he was at Wandsworth prison. What I recall most vividly was the utterly dehumanising feeling that so many of my colleagues experienced.

Let us be honest: some people find a sort of vicarious thrill in the death penalty. Some people are death-penalty junkies and actually find something exciting about it. When I went to Mountjoy prison, I was one of the last
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people to visit what was called the "hang house", where not only Kevin Barry but 27 other people were put to death. I found it extraordinary that there were death tourists. There are people who have a fascination with executions, but I think that that says more about their own sad, sick and sorry souls than it does about the issue and principle that we are discussing.

Podola was a man whom I had never met and with whom I had nothing in common. He was a petty thief, a drifter and what we in those days called a "displaced person". However, his being put to death went against everything that I was brought up to believe in-that all people are capable of, and carry within them the seed, germ and hope of redemption. How could the execution possibly be justified? Seeing that case made me realise how utterly dehumanising putting a citizen to death is. A state or society that kills its own is somehow less humane, less decent and-I make no apologies for saying this-less Christian. I am sorry if that offends some people, but that is an issue, and such issues mean a lot to me.

Why are we having this debate? If it is now accepted that the death penalty is of the past, should we not simply say that we are pleased with the actions that the Government and all parties in the House are taking? We can congratulate the Minister on the work that he has undertaken personally-I repeat that the Minister has been extraordinarily assiduous in this matter-but the death penalty has not gone away. The death penalty, that dark shadow, is creeping up on us from other parts of the world. Virtually all countries of the English-speaking Caribbean have refused to agree to a moratorium on the death penalty. We know the situation in St. Kitts and Nevis and in Trinidad. Those people are close to us in many ways. The death penalty-judicial murder, execution; call it what you will-has not gone away; it is here. Amnesty International has produced figures stating that 2,390 people were put to death in 25 countries around the world. That was over how many decades? None; it was over one year. In 2008, more than 2,000 people were put to death. We also know that children are put to death.

As part of a country that I still hope can call itself civilised-I think that we are a civilised country as part of a civilised European Community-can we be silent while children are put to death? In Iran, children are swung off the end of cranes with wire around their necks. How utterly obscene is that? I do not say that there is a good or a bad death. Some poets may say that there is such a thing as a good death, but what is as vicious, vile and dehumanising as those deaths of juveniles? And what is the crime? In some cases, someone is killed in public for being gay. To paraphrase the former Prime Minister, that is a scar on the earth, not just on one region.

We have come a long way. It is salutary to remember that when the London underground system was opened in the 1860s, the first ever excursion train on the old Metropolitan line took passengers to a public execution-tickets were sold. That was in the 1860s, which is not that long ago. People queued up and took the family, including the children, for a day out to see a human being-one of God's creations; a living, breathing person-hanged. Therefore, we cannot be complacent about this
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in any way. We cannot stand back and say that civilisation has marched on, because the problem still exists throughout the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned the Hakamada case in Japan, which has thrown up all sorts of horrors. There is something called daiyo kangoku, which is a system of substitute prisons. Someone is arrested in Japan and they are held in a non-prison prison, where they have to sit in the same position for a long period of time and are subject to sleep deprivation.

In many ways, Japan is an admirable country. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland quite rightly said that it is conscious of its public image. However, how can it possibly allow that image to be projected around the world? Do the Japanese people want to be seen as a country that has shadow prisons, sleep deprivation and psychological torture of that nature? I cannot believe that to be the case. Therefore, an occasion such as this, which provides the opportunity to ventilate such cases, is welcome. Again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman not only on securing the debate, but on his extraordinary energy in travelling the world and working in an area that some of his constituents-and some of mine-will be completely unable to understand as a subject of such passion and importance. What he has done might not make him massively popular in his constituency, but the fact that he has chosen to do it is much to his credit. I offer him my admiration and respect.

If we are faced with a world in which the death penalty is coming back, why are people talking about it? I would say that putting a human being to death is the ultimate admission of failure in society, in the judiciary and in the whole jurisprudential system. If society's problems cannot be solved through civilised methods, the solution is to kill the problem. However, that is not the solution and does not solve the problem. It simply sets a standard of retribution. We all know the oft-quoted "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" from the Bible. However, if we read on, it ends up with a world where no one has any eyes or any teeth. The idea of God-ordained judicial retribution was nonsense then, and is nonsense now. It must be exposed widely throughout the world.

Without question, we live in a world of increased violence. That is partly because there are more of us, we live closer together and we are more acquisitive. There are many reasons for that increase in violence, and many ways of addressing it. One idea that we should immediately park and decide not to progress with is the suggestion that killing fellow humans somehow stops other crimes from being committed and somehow makes society a better place. It does not; it makes for a sadder, sicker society.

The work of Amnesty International is exemplary. I am a proud member of Amnesty International, although I am not sure whether I have to declare that-it is certainly not a pecuniary interest because I pay it money and it has never paid me anything. I hope that this debate will establish a few things: first, that judicial murder does take place, is taking place and could take place in countries that we thought had turned their backs on it; and secondly, that Amnesty International has by far the best track record of any organisation working in this area, and nobody challenges the evidence that it produces. Many countries are so terrified by the appearance of some innocent young lawyer or activist
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from Amnesty International that they will turn them away at the airport, call the riot police or move people from prison to prison rather than have that person turn up, let alone the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland-they probably close down the entire airport system when he arrives. [Interruption.] Well, I know that they have tried it. Amnesty's work is important, and it must continue to be publicised and ventilated. The case of Samantha Orobator, to which I referred earlier-it occurred only at the beginning of this summer-is another example of action being taken quickly and a life being saved.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has done the House a great service. At the risk of sounding too florid, I think that he has done humanity a great service, not just in his work day by day, but by putting down a marker today to say that whatever we in this country and on the continent of Europe are-for all our faults, warts and all-we are still a people who do not slaughter our own judicially. We do not take someone in the cold morning of Wandsworth prison and put them to death while crowds gather outside. We are not a country that allows the sick, vicarious thrill of judicial murder to permeate our social life-let us put that down as a marker today. Let us resolve collectively, as this Government have done and, I hope, all parties in the House will continue to do, that we in this country will continue to make the strongest possible case against this appalling crime that does not solve crimes, but creates further ones-this inhumanity that is the death sentence.

10.11 am

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I endorse everything that the previous two hon. Members have said, and I will not seek to repeat it, as they said it extremely well. I wanted to take part in this debate for two reasons. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) recently asked me to take on the task of chairing the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Also, I am and have been for some time one of the vice-chairs of the all-party group on China.

China alone is responsible for almost three quarters of the world's executions. Amnesty International's last report indicated that China carried out nearly 2,000 executions in 2008, although the figure is believed to be much higher, as statistics on death sentences and executions remain state secrets.

I turn the House's attention to process. I have three points to make about China that are well echoed in a recently published book by Martin Jacques entitled "When China Rules the World". The first point is that we are all going to have to get used to dealing with a country and a power that is growing exponentially. Martin Jacques makes it clear in his book:

In other words, according to present projections, by 2050, China as a global power will be well ahead of the United States, India, Brazil, Mexico and indeed much of the European Union. That says to me that we are
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going to have to recognise that we must manage many issues at a much more European level. We cannot presume that each member state within the European Union can take them on its own.

For a long time, the UK Government have been managing a UK-China human rights dialogue. I commend Ministers and officials for their work on that, but as any Minister who has taken part in it will acknowledge, it has taken on a slightly ritualistic dimension. Ministers give our line to take and then the Chinese give their line to take, and one wonders to what extent the Chinese officials are actually entering into the dialogue.

That brings me to my second point. Although China is theoretically a politically communist state, it is actually based on Confucian principles. Confucianism is essentially a set of precepts of what is right and wrong and prescriptions for appropriate forms of behaviour. The Chinese have a strong sense of what they think is right and wrong, which is reflected in their criminal justice system. It is not just about engaging China at a political level; it is about engaging Chinese society on what it believes to be right and wrong.

The third point about China that Martin Jacques makes-I think that we could all make it-is that China sees human rights very much in terms of the collective rather than the individual. What is important is for the state to ensure that people do not starve and have sufficient food and employment. Therefore, the rights of an individual are subordinate to the rights of the community. I certainly find-I do not know whether other hon. Members do-that when one engages in dialogue with the Chinese ambassador in London or with Chinese politicians, one almost has to start by finding a political vocabulary with which to examine such concepts, because their understanding of human rights is different from ours. One must find a common dialogue.

China practises judicial execution on far more people than any other country. If we are going to tackle the issue-I think that we would all endorse what the Minister said recently on world day against the death penalty:

we will have to tackle it with China. However, we will also have to recognise that China is beginning to feel itself to be much more influential in the world, so we will have to act at the European Union level.

That creates an issue for the House. All too often, when things happen at a European level, it effectively means that they are taken over by Ministers, whether in the Council of Ministers or acting collectively, by the Commission or by our colleagues in the European Parliament. The danger with that is that we as Members of the UK Parliament, if we are not careful, will be marginalised on human rights issues, whether they relate to capital punishment or something else. We will have to start working out how we can work much more constructively with colleagues in other national Assemblies and Parliaments in Europe to bring collective pressure on countries whose human rights records are not all that they might be, from Colombia to Zimbabwe to North Korea or wherever. It will require collective action.

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The complexities of negotiating, influencing and hoping to change policy in China demonstrate the need for us to work more constructively together. I suspect that if all of us try to do it individually, we will find it difficult to bring about real and lasting change on this particular issue in China. To be candid, if one cannot bring about change in China, which is far and away the largest perpetrator of judicial executions, it will be much more difficult to bring about change elsewhere. If we can start to effect change in China, it will hopefully be possible to effect change elsewhere. I hope that the Foreign Office and Members of Parliament can give some thought to how more can be done at a European level while still actively engaging Members of this House.

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Before I call the next speaker, I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that the winding-up speeches will start at 10.30 am. A couple of hon. Members wish to speak.

10.20 am

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I will keep my remarks brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on securing this debate.

I will begin with the areas on which I presume there is unanimity in the House and further afield. We have heard of appalling instances of juveniles being put to death in various nation states. There have been various early-day motions and campaigns on that issue. I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Gentleman on that issue. There are appalling statistics on the number of juveniles and individuals with learning difficulties who have been subjected to legal systems that result in capital punishment. It is obvious to us in the west that such things should not happen. I am totally and utterly in agreement with that aspect of the global abolition argument. That is paramount.

Setting that aside, there comes a time when we have to say what we think. I am not convinced by the case for total and utter abolition of the death penalty in all cases and for all people, however ruthless and repeated their crimes. Over the years, I have followed with interest those who argue that, even if a small number of people were spared who were guilty of vicious crimes such as repeated murder, total abolition would be worth it because many others would be spared who did not deserve such a fate.

The problem with that argument is that not much research has been done on the small number of serial killers who treat the prospect of redemption with utter contempt. There is still the prospect that one or two killers internationally, after being detained in jail, could commit another crime against an innocent person on release. Unfortunately, not as much research has been done to protect innocent people from the brutality and viciousness of the small number of serial killers.

I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) on the need for a society to be able to call itself civilised in the way in which it treats those who are guilty of serious crimes. I believe that a society that calls itself civilised must take account of the infinitesimal number of people who, despite all that the legal system offers in terms of appeal, the
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chance to reform their ways and to make amends for their actions, decline or defy our best endeavours. There must be some form of radical response by a civilised society to protect the innocent.

Mr. Carmichael: Serial killers generally suffer from a psychiatric disorder. In my experience, such people are never allowed back on to the streets, even after they have gone through the criminal justice system. Surely even such people should be subject to the same protection as everybody else. That relates to my earlier point about mistakes being made.

Mr. Campbell: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view on the mental capacity of a number of serial killers. However, if a person with such a criminal record is not released, but escapes from detention and commits another violent crime that results in the death of another innocent person, is that not the result of the lenient treatment of a serial offender?

The more I listen to the debate, the less convinced I am of the case for a total and utter abolition in all conceivable circumstances. I am not convinced that it is the correct way to ensure that society is a safer place. I emphasise the caveats that I have given about juveniles and so forth. In nation states such as Japan and the United States, there have been many indefensible cases of people being on death row and ultimately paying the last possible penalty. With those caveats, I am simply not convinced of the case for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

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