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Commons Chamber

Volume 238: debated on Monday 21 February 1994

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House Of Commons

Monday 21 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Transatlantic Air Routes


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress he has made towards liberalisation of transatlantic air routes.

The United Kingdom tabled proposals in December, which would achieve substantial further liberalisation on transatlantic routes, further than anything that we have previously offered. It takes a phased approach offering immediate complete liberalisation of all United Kingdom-United States services, except those involving Heathrow and Gatwick, and offers real commercial opportunities at those two airports. I am disappointed that the United States Government have not been able to respond in a similar manner.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the apparent stalling by the United States Government gives the unfortunate impression that they are more interested in protecting their industries than in demonstrating a genuine commitment to airline liberalisation? Does he agree that it also appears that the United States is afraid of competition from efficient British Airways and is unaware of the great benefits of liberalisation to the travelling public on both sides of the Atlantic?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that further liberalisation would bring great benefits—the benefits of further competition—for passengers on both sides of the Atlantic. I also agree that United Kingdom airlines are very competitive. I can only speculate as to why the talks have been postponed and it has not yet been possible to take them up again, and I do not know whether my hon. Friend is right. I am disappointed that the talks were postponed and I hope that the United States Government will recognise the real values and virtues of our proposals, which are serious, and agree to meet us around the negotiating table again soon to discuss them in greater detail.

Where does Glasgow airport stand in that scheme of things? It is a major employer in the area and there is burgeoning demand for transatlantic flights to and from Glasgow. I hope that the Secretary of State is arguing the case for that airport as much as for other airports south of the border.

I am aware of the improvements at Glasgow airport and of the considerable expansion there —not least since the British Airports Authority was privatised, which has greatly increased investment.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there have been big improvements since privatisation.

On transatlantic routes and the negotiations—sadly, there are no talks at the moment—the answer is that in December we proposed complete liberalisation of flights from Glasgow airport.

Am I to understand that the American Government are refusing to negotiate at the moment? Is that not extremely unsatisfactory and very much against the interests of air travellers? What steps does my right hon. Friend propose to take to break that deadlock?

It is very disappointing. There would be great benefits if we could reach a successful conclusion to the negotiations. We are in discussions with the United States Government in the hope that we can resume the talks as soon as possible. I have said that I would be prepared to go to Washington if that were likely to benefit the progress of the talks in any way.

I hope that the Secretary of State will put great pressure on his American colleagues, because his news will be greeted with great disappointment, especially at Birmingham airport. Our regional airports need that way into transatlantic routes. I hope that he will do all in his power to ensure that the Americans come to the negotiating table and that regional airports are not used as a bargaining chip for the London airports. I would not want him to miss that point.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing everything that we can to develop services at regional airports, including Birmingham. Representatives of those airports are on the United Kingdom negotiating team because they know the position and they can be sure that their voice is fully heard. I can, therefore, give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks.

As I said, I am disappointed, too. I hope that we can resume negotiations. It would weaken our negotiating position simply to give away valuable rights to United States airlines with nothing in return; therefore, we must consider the negotiating package as a whole and not give away parts of it in advance.

Swale Crossings


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what are the maximum traffic flows over the Kingsferry bridge on the A249; what was its design capacity; what are the traffic flows on a typical two-lane motorway; and what steps he is taking to speed up construction of a second crossing of the Swale.

There are about 26,000 vehicles a day; design capacity figures are no longer readily available. The traffic flows are equivalent to 33,500 vehicles a day. The priority given to the Iwade to Queensborough improvement will depend on the outcome of the road programme review.

I thank my hon. Friend and his officials for the sterling work that they have done in bringing forward this project, even to the planning stage. Does he understand, however, that as up to 26,000 vehicles a day go over the single lifting bridge, the only means of access to the Isle of Sheppey, and as there was an electrical failure a couple of weeks ago, this is a transport crisis waiting to happen? Will he please try to ensure that the construction of the second crossing is a matter not just of local priority but of national priority?

It is clear that the vast majority of people who replied to our consultation exercise are in favour of the scheme and wish it to proceed as swiftly as possible. Sheppey is an environmentally sensitive area, but the needs of industry and of the local population are also great. We shall have to consider the scheme in the light of those factors.

Rail Freight


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will initiate an urgent review of British Rail's proposals for increased use of the west London line for rail freight.

I am asking Railtrack, as one of its first acts on taking over infrastructure provision in April, to examine the case for providing an alternative route for channel tunnel freight trains which avoids central London.

I hope that the Minister will take on board—I think that he is beginning to do so—the enormous and growing opposition from residents who live alongside the west London line. That opposition does not affect just my constituency, because the proposal to increase usage of the line to about one train every eight minutes, day and night, is seen as unacceptable in a residential area. If the current minimal use of the line is increased, people should be compensated when trains pass within a few feet of their windows. Concern is growing, however, about local authorities that are not financially equipped to meet that need.

I hope that there is all-party support for the exploitation of the channel tunnel, for both passenger and rail freight trains. I am sure that the hon. Member shares my hope. My Department has recently agreed to consider requests from all local authorities, including those in London, for additional financial provision to contribute towards the erection of noise barriers. I answered another question recently from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) dealing with compensation issues.

In the context of rail freight, is my right hon. Friend aware of the policy to involve private money in transport schemes, as advocated by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)? Will my right hon. Friend speculate on how many extra freight trains would run as a result of that policy?

Perhaps my hon. Friend refers to the document published today, which I have read with interest. I am bound to say that it is a consultation document, which contains no proposals. Meanwhile, the Government are getting on with introducing private sector capital to the rail infrastructure. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) laughs, but I can tell him that, within the next few days, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will issue the pre-tender qualification documents to invite private sector finance for the construction of the channel tunnel rail link.

Roads Budget


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of his Department's annual budget is currently spent on roads; and what proportion on public transport.

In the coming financial year, I expect roads to account for just over 50 per cent. of my budget and public transport for about 40 per cent.

I confess that I am somewhat taken aback by that reply, because I was going to put in a special plea for the Oakham bypass in Rutland. Does not my right hon. Friend's reply show that whereas 90 per cent. of journeys are undertaken by road, nearly half of his Department's spending is on public transport? Will he undertake to trumpet that statistic rather widely and use it to confound those critics who try to argue that the Government do not spend enough on public transport?

I entirely agree. We are spending substantial sums on the road programme and on, I assure my hon. Friend, the bypass programme, which I know is widely welcomed. When we compare our expenditure with that made a long way back, it is clear that we are spending record sums on public transport. The fact that 40 per cent. of my Department's budget goes towards the equivalent of 10 per cent. of total journeys shows how much we are skewing it towards public transport. I assure my hon. Friend that I am determined to demolish the myth that the Government do not spend on public transport. Many statistics, including those on London Underground, prove that.

Given the future balance between spending on roads and on public transport, will the Minister bear in mind the growing evidence of the connection between vehicle emissions and respiratory allergies? That evidence has come particularly from the Office of Science and Technology and the British Lung Foundation. Is he aware that 90 per cent. of the carbon dioxide pumped into the air comes from vehicles? Will he bear in mind that small children are among those most at risk because in urban areas they are at the height of vehicle exhausts? What steps will he take to toughen standards for vehicle emissions in urban areas? Will he put more money into public transport as an alternative to the motor car?

I have already said that 40 per cent. of my Department's budget is spent on public transport. The fact that 90 per cent. of passengers and inland freight goes by road clearly shows how much we are spending on it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will support me in all the other measures that we are taking, such as insisting on catalytic converters, our drive for further improvement in vehicle emission standards and the programme to improve motorways, trunk roads and local roads. If we can remove congestion, we shall remove a considerable amount of atmospheric pollution. Our traffic-calming measures are also contributing to reducing that problem.

What proportion of my right hon. Friend's budget is being spent, and how much is it costing the taxpayer, to remove protesters from places such as Twyford down where protesters have failed to achieve their aim in the democratic process but now seek through public disorder and, in some instances, violence to achieve their aims? Is it not time that we spent that money on road safety schemes and public transport infrastructure in general, on which it deserves to be spent?

I take my hon. Friend's point. The cost to the public purse of security measures at Twyford down was £200,000 and the protest against the M11 link at Hackney has also cost a considerable amount. The important point is that there have been prolonged public inquiries into those schemes and others, at which everyone has had the democratic right to have his or her view taken into account and expressed. Decisions must be taken and it is a negation of democracy for a tiny minority of people to hold up what the vast majority wants. Moreover, my hon. Friend is correct to say that the money could otherwise have been spent on environmental issues, such as planting even more trees and shrubs along the roads concerned.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as a result of the access charges announced by Railtrack last week, every part of the British rail network, including the vastly profitable east coast main line, will need subsidising by the taxpayer? What sort of triumph is that for Tory doctrines? Will he further confirm that, as a result of last week's announcement, the whole railway network will be charged those enormously inflated access charges indefinitely, whereas decisions on subsidy will be taken every year? In the light of that, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those inflated access charges will make the railway system appear to be far more heavily subsidised than it is and that, in the long term, those access charges represent the biggest threat to our railway network since Beeching?

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he wants taxpayers' money put into the railway system to subsidise socially necessary lines. I hope that he will not condemn us for making it clear that we are continuing to do so. Had the hon. Gentleman done his homework, he would be aware that we are having the access charges accurately costed to reflect the cost of running the infrastructure. Until now, that has not been done. The costing will take account of depreciation and the proper return on capital so that we can get investment in the infrastructure.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the change that I announced last week will have no impact on fares or investment. He should look at the whole matter properly, as we are giving the system a proper commercial structure so that decisions can take account of the cost of different parts of the system.



To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of car owners frequently use motorways; and what proportion never use motorways.

In the summer of 1992, my Department carried out a number of surveys into the use made of motorways in this country. The results indicate that half the number of road users rarely or never use motorways and about 85 per cent. of motorway miles are driven by frequent users.

When does my right hon. Friend expect to be able to use new technology to recover the cost of motorways from those who use them rather than from motorists in general—not all of whom enjoy the undoubted benefits of motorways?

As the figures that I quoted show, a surprisingly high proportion of British motorists hardly ever use motorways. We announced our decision in principle to go for motorway tolling so that, at least in part, the cost of motorways would be met by the user. I stress the words "at least in part".

As to technology, I expect to announce later this week the first part of our research and development programme on electronic technology, which I expect to be one of the biggest in the world. We expect interest from more than 300 companies in that research and development.

If there were more buses and trains whose routes were interlinked, might not car owners leave their vehicles at home more often? Would not less money need to be spent on motorways and other roads, so that we could have a decent public transport system?

It is clear from the choice of individuals to drive on motorways, and of companies to transport freight on them, that many more people want the freedom to use their vehicles, and I must take that into account. The hon. Gentleman must understand that myriad types of journeys are undertaken on motorways every day, which involve joining them and leaving them at different points. It would be impossibly expensive to duplicate that flexibility with a railway infrastructure.

Ministerial Visits


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will pay an official visit to south-west Bedfordshire to review the road-building programme.

In view of the ever-increasing congestion on the A5, will there be an early start on constructing the Sheep lane roundabout between Heath and Reach and Woburn? Also, can my hon. Friend give a firm date for the commencement of the public inquiry into the north-south Dunstable bypass?

The Dunstable bypass must await my right hon. Friend's decisions on the road programme review. As to Sheep lane, we are examining the recommendation of the public inquiry inspector that there should be a roundabout at that point, but I cannot say when it will be implemented. I understand the frustration that my hon. Friend frequently expresses on behalf of his constituents, but I ask him to be patient a little longer.

Does the Minister not realise that the road programme cannot be dealt with in a fragmented way? When will he and the Government get the message that Britain needs a transport policy? That cannot be formulated without a fundamental review of the roads programme. What account will the Minister take of the report, due out soon, on traffic forecasts? What criteria does he use to decide what is included in the roads programme, which he has never properly justified?

An integrated transport policy means different things to different people, but that is exactly what the Department is producing. Since my right hon. Friend announced the decision last August, we have been undertaking a fundamental review of the prioritisation of the roads programme. The hon. Lady will not have to wait long to discover our conclusions. I announced last December—and I am delighted that it has taken only two or three months for the hon. Lady to notice—that we would review the fundamental methodology of road traffic forecasting.

Red Routes


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what are his future plans for red routes in London.

The pilot red route scheme in north and east London is to be extended to a 315-mile network throughout London. Detailed plans must be submitted to the traffic director by 24 June, and implementation will begin later in the year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unfortunate that too many people have tried to suggest that red routes are some sort of urban motorway? Notwithstanding some local difficulties, do they not bring great benefits?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Labour picked up on the idea of red routes, and tried to scare many people who live on such routes into believing that they are some kind of urban motorway. In reality, they have brought tremendous benefits to pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport, as well as to the motoring public generally. They are an extremely good thing.

Lorry Bans (London)


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received in response to his proposed changes to the London night-time and weekend lorry ban.

I have received representations from hon. Members, Members of the European Parliament, noble Lords, London borough councillors, the London Boroughs Transport Committee, the Freight Transport Association and members of the general public.

I thank the Minister for that response. Can he confirm from the rich catalogue that he has just outlined that the only people in favour of the Government's proposals were the members of the Freight Transport Association, that the people of London have benefited hugely from the imposition of the ban and that, rather than lifting the burden from business, the Government's proposals to water down the ban will impose an extra burden on business, from which it thought that it had mercifully escaped?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on his first point. The vast majority of those who wrote simply asked for information on what was proposed. They were not helped by the deliberate misinformation that was put about by the Labour party, as well as by Members of the European Parliament who stand in the socialist interest and who saw fit deliberately to distort our proposals, to create the false impression that we were in some way watering down the London lorry ban. Conservative Members very much appreciate the advantages that the ban brings. What they do not appreciate is the mountain of paperwork that surrounds the current Greater London council-inspired scheme. That is what will be abolished, not the scheme itself.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the ban will remain in place and that money will be saved by the deregulation to which he referred? What compensation arrangements can be made for people living near the A40 in my constituency and in small roads whose homes are rattled by heavy lorries? Their numbers are increasing. That problem is of great concern to my constituents.

First, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the ban remains. Secondly, on the effect of the ban, it will remain the case that any vehicle that is not on an appropriate journey through central London will be committing an offence. It is that to which the scheme should always have addressed itself, rather than simply accumulating a mountain of paperwork. The savings will be about £400,000 to the scheme operators—funded by the hard-pressed council tax payers—and about £3 million to the business community, which will, of course, flow through in prices. As to the A40, I am afraid that I have to tell my hon. Friend that compensation arrangements do not generally take account of the increased use of an existing road.

Does the Minister agree that, without a permit scheme, a night-time and weekend lorry ban in London can be enforced only by regular and widespread spot checks, for which the participation of the Metropolitan police is essential? From where will the extra police resources come to do that? Unless he can give an assurance that he has the agreement of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and the Home Secretary, to deploy extra police to enforce the ban, everyone will know that his claims about keeping it in force are simply hollow boasts, because in practice the scheme will be killed and millions of Londoners will be exposed to unnecessary noise, nuisance and disruption at night?

By abolishing the ludicrous paperwork that surrounds the scheme, some £400,000 will be available to the London boroughs transport scheme to increase the amount of on-the-spot enforcement that is carried out. I should ask the hon. Gentleman whether he can think of any other city—indeed, of cities that are controlled by Labour councils—that sees the need for such paperwork. He would think in vain, because not a single council in the whole of the United Kingdom, whether controlled by Labour or by Conservatives, uses that ludicrous typical GLC-Stalinist paperwork basis.

On behalf of my constituents, I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the Enfield-Barnet lorry ban, the implementation of which will improve the quality of life of my constituents, and the implementation of which was delayed by the opposition of Labour councillors.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Enfield and Barnet have taken advantage of the opportunity that is available to local authorities to introduce lorry bans much more stringent than the scheme on which the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) appears so keen —24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week bans on all vehicles above 7.5 tonnes. They are useful schemes and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

Train Speeds


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the speed of intercity rail travel in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) France.

Speed of intercity rail travel varies according to route and the types of trains used. The fastest timetabled United Kingdom service is the InterCity 225 on the east coast main line between Doncaster and Grantham, which runs at an average speed of 107 mph; the fastest French service is the TGV Atlantique between Massy and St Pierre, which runs at an average speed of 153 mph.

What benefits of the British system would the Minister commend to the French?

All British Rail's InterCity services—diesel and electric—are designed to run at fast speeds over 90 mph. If the hon. Gentleman makes inquiries, he will find that France operates a two-tier service—the TGVs, which are excellent, and the rest, which are not.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British Rail has many more services that run above 90 mph than French railways? Does he also agree that we have the most extensive track network in Europe and that more people travel by rail in Britain than in France?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There seems to be a plot among those on the Opposition Benches to run down the quality of British Rail services—including a reference by the shadow Chancellor in the weekend press to the fact that trains from Waterloo to the channel tunnel terminal will run at 45 mph. That is not true. When the trains start in the summer, they will run through Kent at 90 mph.

Does the Minister recall claiming proudly that, following the opening of the channel tunnel, the train journey from London to Paris would take just three hours? Will he confirm that if the train travelled through France at the same speed at which it will travel through Kent, the journey would take not three hours but five hours 25 minutes—and those are the figures supplied by British Rail?

The hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that trains must negotiate Southern region in the London area. No train could possibly run at 225 kph from the Waterloo terminal to the outskirts of London. I commend the train journey to all hon. Members—I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will be among the first to use the channel tunnel train service—and confirm that the trains will travel at 90 mph.

Wyre Piddle Bypasses


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with Hereford and Worcester county council or Wychavon district council about the proposed western and northern Wyre Piddle bypasses.

No such discussions have been requested. However, I discussed the bypass schemes with my hon. Friend last November.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that, against the background of a rather disappointing transport supplementary grant settlement for Hereford and Worcester, there is very real pleasure among the residents of Wyre Piddle—a village which derives its name from the Piddle brook—at my hon. Friend's repeated reassurances that the northern bypass will be eligible for transport supplementary grant? Does he recognise, however, that there is equal disappointment among those same residents and the residents of Pershore in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) that the western bypass, which is a strategic road, is not recognised as such by his Department?

I am sure that there is not half as much joy in Wyre Piddle as the residents of Puddletown and Piddletrenthide in Dorset would feel if they could get their bypasses. As I explained to my hon. Friend, the northern bypass is on the A4538, which is a road of more than local importance in through-traffic terms. The B4083, which the proposed western bypass would relieve, is a secondary road linking Pershore and Wyre Piddle. I am none the less grateful for the continuing representations on behalf of the inhabitants of those delightful villages and will always be ready to discuss them with my hon. Friend.

Does the Minister agree that progress on both the northern and the western Wyre Piddle bypasses —a matter of great concern to my constituents—would be accelerated if the Government adopted the imaginative policies presented today in the Labour party consultation document? Does he further agree that, were the Government not locked in their ideological straitjacket, in which they see things as just private or just public, we should have had progress both on those bypasses and on the channel link, which would not have been 10 years behind schedule as it is today?

I have read that interesting fairy story. The bad news for the hon. Gentleman is that his party would slash road building of all kinds and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) would be terribly badly off, as they would be if we had the misfortune of any influence from the Liberal Democrat party.

Railway Privatisation


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what benefits he expects to see for passengers as a result of his plans to privatise the railways.

As a result of the franchising of passenger services, I expect to see better services run more efficiently, better targeted to markets and hence to what passengers want and to which they will respond.

To dispel some of the many misconceptions put about by opponents of increased commercialisation in our railways, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be through ticketing and through timetabling under the new arrangements and that those arrangements will be sensible?

Yes, I can confirm that. As we have made clear on many occasions, we have given a clear commitment that through ticketing will continue. The regulator will have a statutory duty to promote it. Railtrack will be responsible for producing a working national timetable for the railway and will be required in its licence to make arrangements for the publication of the timetable, if it would not otherwise be published by another party.

The Secretary of State knows that discounted tickets are of special concern to passengers and he also knows that it has become painfully clear, under the schemes that have been carried out in other areas, that Ministers have no control whatever over the actions of individual companies after privatisation. Will he stop trying to mislead people who have the misfortune to need British Rail as it is?

I make it clear again that the operators will be required to participate in common ticketing and revenue allocation arrangements which are based at the outset on BR's current systems. They will therefore be able to offer through ticketing on much the same basis as at present, on a range of ticket and fare types.



To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what benefits Billericay will derive from crossrail.

My hon. Friend's constituents will either travel to Shenfield to use the line directly, or will otherwise take advantage of reduced congestion on existing services. They will gain benefits in journey time savings and reduced overcrowding.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. He should know that my constituents in Billericay who travel to Liverpool street each day are greatly looking forward to that new service, which I am sure, because it is largely privately funded, will set a new standard in the quality of service for passengers. Does he agree that the tube lines on which they currently make their journeys, especially the Central line, are grossly overcrowded and relatively underfunded? Does he agree that we should seek private capital funding for the tube system to improve that service, too?

My hon. Friend's basic thesis is entirely right. When one has exhausted the investment that the taxpayer can prudently make—an investment which, under the Government, is four times the level of the best years of the Labour Government—and when one has exhausted that which is contributable by the farepayer, the only sensible and prudent course for anyone who is concerned to improve the system is to consider how the private sector can be involved. Of course, it depends on the particular circumstances as to how it can be accomplished. However, I am delighted about my hon. Friend's support for crossrail. It will be a useful and imaginative project which will allow substantial participation by the private sector.

I am somewhat equivocal about any means of transportation that gets the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to the House of Commons quicker. Having said that, crossrail will be of great benefit to the whole of London. When can we expect crossrail to operate?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's question is not connected to the fact that, as I recall, the train runs directly underneath his house. He has a more than passing interest in the scheme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill which is currently before the House will have to complete its proceedings and I cannot anticipate when that may be. When the powers of the Bill are obtained, it will be for the private sector and the promoters to get together to develop a financable scheme. My view is that it will be such an attractive scheme that there should be little delay between the obtaining of the powers and the start of works. If that were the case, we may be looking at the operation of a crossrail scheme in the early days of the next century.

Journey Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what percentage of journeys in the United Kingdom are made by road; and what percentage by public transport.

Some 90 per cent. of passenger and inland freight traffic goes by road.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his interesting reply. Does he agree that many people in London are keen that we should have a good transport system for the public sector and a good rail network, not only for business, but for commuters and the general public? Does he further agree that only Conservatives believe in real choice in respect of public transport and the private use of motor cars, lorries and vans?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The figures are somewhat different for London. There is not only much more Government subsidy into public transport in London than to roads, but more journeys are made by public transport. As an indication of the Government's contribution to public transport in London, it is worth noting that, at the moment, the capital grant to London Underground amounts to £300 a year per regular tube user and the subsidy for Network SouthEast is more than £400 a year for the average regular user.

Public Accounts Commission

Nhs Trusts


To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what funds will be made available for the National Audit Office to investigate the work of NHS trusts.

The Commission approved the National Audit Office's corporate plan for 1994–95 to 1998–99 in July 1993 and the estimate for 1994–95 in December. Those include provision for the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine, certify and report on the summarised accounts of NHS trusts and other NHS bodies and to visit individual NHS bodies to examine the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Department of Health and the NHS use their resources. Selection of topics for value for money investigation is a matter for the CAG in consultation with the Public Accounts Committee.

I thank the Chairman for his answer. Will he ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff examine the forthcoming budgetary provisions and consider the proposals, which are now in the public domain, as they affect Guy's hospital? The proposal, about which the Chairman may have heard, would potentially considerably underuse a new building—Sir Philip Harris house—which has cost £140 million. I have referred the matter to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who has passed it on to the CAG. Will the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission ensure that the Comptroller is directed to look into that matter before a decision is made so that we are not considering waste afterwards, but preventing it in advance?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. However, I will draw the CAG's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the CAG and the National Audit Office are carrying out a review of Treasury management of NHS trusts.

National Audit Office


To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what assessment he has made of the effectiveness in terms of value for money of the National Audit Office.

The National Audit Office corporate plan is considered by the Public Accounts Commission in July each year. It sets out NAO efficiency and performance overall and the impacts of NAO work. In 1992, bodies audited made 173 significant changes as a result of value for money recommendations by the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee resulting in estimated savings of £204 million. National Audit Office financial audit work also led to wider improvements. In 1992, it recommended 208 significant changes in systems and controls which resulted in estimated savings of £34 million.

I thank the Chairman for that reply. However, how does that impact on the effectiveness of the NAO when it can report into an organisation, as it did in respect of the Welsh Development Agency, only to discover that the people who were found to be culpable were popping up in other public posts? For example, the discredited chief executive of the WDA subsequently ran the property department of the Further Education Funding Council on £46,000 a year. How can that possibly enhance the efficiency that the Commission is trying to achieve? Should not such reports include recommendations as to whether those people are fit to continue as public servants?

That must be a matter for the PAC to recommend in the first place. If the hon. Gentleman has a complaint about any individual, he should refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. The CAG is concerned with the control of public expenditure and departmental expenditure in particular, but not with what happens to personnel.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the National Audit Office to make a cost-benefit analysis of the decision by the trustees of the independent living (1993) fund to exclude from support severely disabled people who are terminally ill?

Public Money (Checks On Use)


To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what consideration the Commission is giving to the extent to which the Comptroller and Auditor General can check on the use of public money once it has passed into private hands.

The CAG's powers to check the use of public money are governed by statute. Where public money passes into private hands, the CAG's statutory powers are normally restricted to examining the activities and papers of the Department or agency issuing the funds. In some cases, the CAG also has rights to inspect the books and records of bodies receiving those funds, to ensure that the money has been spent as Parliament intended. Those inspection rights can be statutory as a condition of grant, or they can be built into contracts for services provided by the private sector. There can be advantages in doing so. The extension of the CAG's statutory powers is, of course, a matter for the House.

I am grateful for that detailed reply. Does the Chairman agree that it would be better if the Comptroller and Auditor General could follow money through to its end use once it has left the Treasury, bearing in mind allegations about the Pergau dam? That would bring us into line with many other countries.

There is a strong case for that. The PAC recommended it some years ago and I understand that the PAC and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee are now also considering it. It seems rather strange that the Audit Commission can appoint auditors who may follow every penny of public spending through local authorities and that the European Court of Auditors can do the same. I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friends and, when I have done so, I shall write to the hon. Lady.

House Of Commons



To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made for the installation of annunciators in the offices of hon. Members' staff.

A figure of £260,000 has been included in the works services estimates for 1994–95 to start design work for the parliamentary data and video network, which could include the provision of annunciators in the offices of hon. Members' staff. Use of that provision will depend on approval by the House of the report from the Information Committee recommending the final form of the network.

I am grateful for that reply. The House might be aware that, a fortnight ago, an annunciator in a room of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) caught fire. That might have been an act of God. Indeed, one hon. Member suggested that it reflects the powers in this place.

On a serious note, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that expenditure on annunciators will be in the context of the new technologies that he described and not of keeping antiques going beyond their useful life, at a risk to hon. Members' staff, hon. Members and, indeed, this building?

I believe that that point is fully appreciated by the House authorities. I expect it to be covered in the report which we shall shortly receive.



To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what representations he has received regarding smoking in the Palace of Westminster; and what assessments he has made of the risks to persons and the fabric of the building.

In addition to questions from hon. Members, representations have been made by the trade unions. Although no specific assessment of the effects of smoking on individuals has been made, the House authorities are aware of the statutory requirements in that respect and of recent reports on the subject. The Accommodation and Works Committee recently considered a fire action plan, which includes a statement on the fire hazards caused by smoking.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the House should lead and not drag behind in public policy? Is he satisfied that progress will be made if it is left to individual Departments? Should not there be a co-ordinated approach, bearing in mind the fact, for example, that the Refreshment Department has only just implemented a ban to meet statutory requirements in food preparation areas? Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced of the need for co-ordinated action to tackle the problem?

Considerable progress is being made. The Refreshment Department is one of those which, relatively recently, announced comprehensive changes of policy, which I hope meet some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I will ensure that the Commission is made well aware of his point.

Employment (Women)


To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps the Commission is taking to increase the number of women employed in the House of Commons service.

Recruitment to, and promotion in, the House of Commons service is based on ability, qualifications and fitness for the work. There is no discrimination on any other ground.

An equal opportunities officer has been appointed to monitor the operation of the policy. In addition, a number of schemes have been introduced that take account of the needs of those with family responsibilities, such as career break schemes, part-time working, job sharing and holiday play schemes.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I am sure that he, like me, is aware of the enormous importance of highly skilled and dedicated women to the running of this place, especially those in the background jobs. Does he agree that it is surprising that, as yet, only two Departments are headed by women—the Library and the Refreshment Department? I have observed that other Parliaments—in Australia, for instance—employ women as badge messengers. As a result of training over the generations, women are—if nothing else—very good at running after men to give them messages.

It must be obvious to all that women occupy not just important backroom jobs in the House of Commons, but important front-line jobs. I regard the fact that two Departments are now headed by women, after a long period when none was, as a mark of progress. I shall, however, draw the attention of the appropriate authorities to the hon. Lady's recommendation about messengers.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the employment of women would be greatly facilitated if there were arrangements for child care in the House? He must be aware that the absence of such facilities limits employment opportunities for many women, especially those with young children and especially in view of our strange working hours.

I believe that child care provision would facilitate the employment of women in the House; whether my assumption is correct is currently being tested in a survey conducted by the Administration Committee, whose results we await. There are some practical difficulties connected with where such facilities could be housed which the Accommodation and Works Committee has often drawn to our attention. When we receive the results of the survey and the Administration Committee's recommendation, however, we may be able to take the matter further.

Visitor Services


To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made in the House of Commons Administration estimate for 1994–95 in respect of services for visitors to the Palace.

Financial provision in the financial year 1994–95 for facilities for all types of visitors is contained mainly in the estimate for works services. It includes an initial sum of £250,000 for measures to improve access for the disabled, funds to improve the line of route and the provisional 'allocation of £50,000 for an additional souvenir kiosk. Other costs are borne on the administration vote, but cannot be separately identified.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware of the pent-up demand among visitors to London, who want to come into the Palace and view this major tourist attraction? Will he use his good offices in the cause of trying to develop a scheme that will enable those visitors to enter the Palace during the summer recess, when it is more or less empty, so that the House and the Palace in general can benefit from the resulting revenue? That revenue could accrue to help with improvements of one kind or another.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the general objective of creating more opportunities for visitors. The Library's education division organises school parties during the summer recess and there may be scope for extending that scheme; but responsibility lies with the relevant Committee rather than with the Commission. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the Committee's attention.

Disabled Visitors


To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made in the estimate for improvement of facilities for disabled visitors to the House of Commons.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for warning me of the figure involved in his answer to question 35. Does he agree, however, that even following the expenditure of £250,000 facilities for the disabled visitor to the Palace of Westminster will still be extremely poor? Will he ensure that in future years, particularly the next financial year, provision will be much greater?

A specialised report on the subject by an architect with noted experience in the field is currently under consideration. When it has been considered by the appropriate Committees, it may help to guide the Commission about the extent of the further facilities that are needed, and can be accommodated, in a building which —unfortunately—was not designed with the interests of disabled people sufficiently in mind.

Public Accounts Commission

Overseas Development Administration


To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what funds will be made available for the National Audit Office to investigate the work of the Overseas Development Administration.

The Commission approved the National Audit Office's corporate plan for 1994–95 to 1998–99 in July 1993 and the estimate for 1994–95 in December. The funds enable the National Audit Office to audit the financial accounts of all Government Departments, including the Overseas Development Administration, and also to deliver about 50 major value for money outputs to Parliament each year. Selection of topics for investigation is based on a systematic review of expenditure and value for money, including the Overseas Development Administration, but the final decision on whether to proceed with an investigation is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, in consultation with the Public Accounts Committee.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will be able to investigate fully the link between arms sales and overseas aid in cases such as the Pergau dam project?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Comptroller and Auditor General has reported to the Public Accounts Committee, but I understand that the Committee has not yet issued its report. The Pergau dam is also being investigated by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and it is for those Committees to report to the House.

House Of Commons

Voting (Time)


To ask the Lord President of the Council how much time was spent in voting in the House in the last Session.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

There were 402 Divisions last Session, which took on average about 14 minutes, giving an approximate time of some 94 hours spent in Divisions.

I thank the Lord President for that piece of mathematics. Is it sensible that, in this day and age, hon. Members spend days in a Session on voting procedures? Is not it time that we all looked at this matter more sensibly and came up with a system more like that which is operated in other parts of Europe, so that we do not spend hours hanging around this place late at night? Would not that allow us to get on with our proper business of running the country?

I sense some ingredients of an own-goal and also some squirming by hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, whose recent practice has extended not only to unnecessary voting by any reasonable standards, but to voting against pensions increases in the interests of taking up time. Although I am certainly amenable to suggestions that might avoid such absurdities, the remedy at the moment is in the hands of others.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Government Back Benchers greatly value the fact that we are able to buttonhole and corner Ministers while waiting to vote in the Lobby and that we would greatly resent the loss of that opportunity?

Speaking as one who in his time has been buttonholed more than once, my hon. Friend's argument might be construed as supporting the hon. Lady, but I agree with him.

Electronic Voting


To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will carry out a feasibility study into the use of electronic voting in the House of Commons.

May I point out to the Leader of the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) was talking about the time that is spent voting, not thy issues on which we are spending the time? Would not voting machines be one way of speeding up the voting procedure? Is not it about time that this place was dragged into the 20th century?

The Chamber is not particularly historic; it dates back only to the 1950s. Should not hon. Members have allocated places and desks where we could sit and write properly? From a personal point of view, one of the advantages of having allocated places would be that I would not have to fight off the buttocks of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) every Tuesday and Thursday?

The prospect of moving to electronic voting would not command universal support, as has been made clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) advanced quite an important argument. I will say that the prospect of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) being replaced by an electronic bleep is quite exciting.

Early-Day Motions And Written Questions


To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will introduce measures to allow hon. Members to table early-day motions and written questions when the House is in recess.

One of the few avenues open to Back-Bench Members is tabling parliamentary questions for written answer and early-day motions. It is a useful avenue for those Members who are not Privy Councillors or Members of Parliament who have been here since the year dot. Why cannot that avenue be available during the increasingly long recesses so that we can push the interests of our constituents?

Both procedures are associated with the sittings of Parliament. It would be a large step to activate them while Parliament was not sitting. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has put his proposals to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. If the Procedure Committee made such a proposal, of course we would consider it with care, but it is not something which I would want to do without careful thought and advice.

Legislative Process


To ask the Lord President of the Council what new proposals he has to improve the efficacy of the legislative process.

It remains my aim to achieve agreement on a balanced package of measures that can be brought before the House.

Is the Leader of the House worried about the great increase in the number of statutory instruments? They have increased by at least 50 per cent. since 1979. Does not that greatly devalue the role of Back-Bench Members and degrade the quality of our democracy?

I do not think that it devalues the role of Back-Bench Members of Parliament, given the opportunities that exist to debate statutory instruments in the Standing Committees and the well-established convention —I know that there are some difficulties at present—from which we certainly would not wish to depart, that statutory instruments of sufficient importance are given time on the Floor of the House. I believe that that is a reasonable and sensible approach.

Speaker's Statement

3.31 pm

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"
"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.

Points Of Order

3.32 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I look for your help and assistance. Possibly, the matter is in your hands. I do not know. 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—

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.

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?

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.

Orders Of The Day

Criminal Justice And Public Order Bill

(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.

[MR. MICHAEL MORRIS in the Chair]

3.34 pm

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.

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.

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—

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.

How would it be possible for the Committee to remit—as you, Sir, have said—that we should 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 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.

I hope that this is a new point of order, and not one with which I have dealt already.

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.

New Clause 2

Punishment For Murder Of A Police Officer

'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.

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

With this, it will be convenient also to consider new clause 4—Punishment for murder

'(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.'

    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.

    In 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 he 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.

    3.45 pm

    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.

    If 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?

    I am not entirely sure that the final part of the hon. Gentleman's statement is right. I suspect that, given what happened in both trials involving the Guildford case, the public—

    What is this: trial by the Conservative party or trial by jury?

    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.

    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.

    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.

    My hon. and learned Friend makes his own point, but I am not sure that it was an intervention on my speech.

    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?

    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.

    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—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. An intervention, by tradition, is a single question. We have only three hours for debate.

    The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) mentioned the Blakelock case, which I intend to deal with in a moment, because we have different views on it.

    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 the 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.

    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.

    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.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that he could apply the same argument the other way round, to the administration of the defence in a murder trial?

    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 some 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?

    4 pm

    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.

    My hon. Friend points out that such an option would cost a fortune. I made it clear that I am in favour of the death sentence, but I am discussing alternatives.

    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 that, they give the criminal the benefit of the doubt. Tragically, some police officers pay a heavy price for doing so.

    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?

    My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He gives another reason why, on balance, I favour the restoration of capital punishment.

    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.

    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.

    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 the 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.

    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.

    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.

    I have never understood the right to silence, which which was compulsory in both countries until 1892—

    1898. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that every person on earth, whoever he was and wherever he lived, could be compelled to give evidence, except the person whose evidence was vital—the accused. I have always regarded the right to silence as both idiotic and wrong.

    I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman—and in the Standing Committee we argued logically in favour of an alternative way of dealing with the issues.

    There is no doubt that the ending of the right to silence will in many cases lead to confessions that may not be accurate. Judith Ward had mental problems. That would mitigate her silence in some circumstances but not in others.

    It is ironic that a royal commission set up because of public concern at incorrect verdicts should recommend a procedure to reduce their effects which has been ignored in favour of procedures that diminish the suspect's rights—procedures that some wish today to cap with an irrevocable punishment.

    I believe that restoring judicial murder—because that is what capital punishment is—would degrade our national life. If we legalise killing, we are agreeing that the taking of life is necessary in some circumstances. How can we stop people deciding those circumstances for themselves —deciding that what they have done to another person is appropriate given that the state is making similar decisions? How can we expect young people to grow up with an abhorrence of murder if they see murder carried out by the state?

    In the years since the last execution took place, the nature of media reporting has changed so much that, although we do not envisage executions ever being shown live on television, every member of the family, every friend and every colleague of the person who is to be executed—and every person nearest to the case—is likely to be pestered and even paid for interviews. Through the media, and the interest that they now show in such events, the nation as a whole would experience the real horror of it all—and that, I believe, would be degrading to the nation.

    At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman said that the new clause was all about punishment. Some of us believe that it is both about punishment and about deterrence, and that if one deters, one does not need to punish. However offensive capital punishment may be to the hon. Gentleman, will he not admit in his heart that criminals would be less likely to carry guns and knives if it existed?

    In my heart, I believe that the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) is completely wrong. If the hon. Member considers the statistics from the United States, he will find that those states in which the death penalty has been reintroduced have higher murder rates that those in which it has not been reintroduced. There is no evidence that it is a deterrent. I said that it was irrelevant because I believe, not only in my head but in my heart, that it has no effect as a deterrent and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. There is no reason to think that those who may consider murdering a policeman would take account of a death penalty being in existence. There is no evidence of that from any country where the death penalty is used. What is more—

    Many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude. If the precedent of other legislation is a guide, given the difficulties that we would have in returning to a system in which capital punishment is used, and given that I understand that there is only one gallows remaining—in Wandsworth prison—the process would be likely to go out to tender.

    After all, we have already provided for private secure units, private prisons, private escorts and private prison ships. No doubt, with no facilities available nationwide, putting it out to tender would be the economic option. Judging by their faces, some hon. Members think that that is unthinkable and that it could not possibly happen. If they believe that, I suggest they consider what the Foreign Secretary said about private prisons in 1987 when he was Home Secretary. They will see how the climate has changed over the past six years.

    Capital punishment is an obscenity, it is ineffective and it would be damaging to the well-being of the nation. I hope that many hon. Members will join me in opposing it.

    4.15 pm

    In speaking to my new clause 4, I have no hesitation in beginning where I left off when we previously debated the matter in the House in 1990. At the end of that speech, I said:

    "It is high time that we as Members of Parliament came down from our ivory towers, did what the people of Britain want us to do and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty"— [Official Report, 17 December 1990; Vol. 183, c. 103.]
    My postbag suggests that nothing has changed. In fact, there is more and more support throughout the country for that action. Certainly, my resolve is strengthened. The number of vicious murders has continued to increase. The number of horrific murders, especially of elderly people in their own homes, has continued to increase. The people of Britain want some action to deter murderers and they want to see the House take action. They clearly want the reintroduction of the death penalty.

    Every test of public opinion in recent years has clearly demanded the return of the death penalty. According to polls that have been conducted over recent years for national newspapers and for radio stations, a steady 90 per cent. of the large samples interviewed supported the substance of the measure. The strength of feeling in constituencies, not only in Yorkshire, but throughout the country, has not altered and does not alter. There is a strong feeling that the death penalty would act as a deterrent. I firmly believe that it would.

    However, I do not believe that Members of Parliament are delegates because we are not. The House and we as Members should reflect public opinion. Certainly, the mass of public opinion at the moment is that people want action, they want change, they want a deterrent to murder and they want the death penalty reintroduced and available to the courts to deal with all murders. The new clause asks for the death penalty not only the murderers of policemen, but for all who commit murder. It has never been clear to me why the House continues to ignore such public opinion. Of course, the measure is a matter of conscience and we shall be debating another one later today.

    Would the hon. Lady agree that public opinion tends to vary from case to case and from time to time? At the grand old of 46, I am old enough, as she will be, to recall when there were regular hangings in this country and the majority of public opinion was against the death penalty. That occurred after it was discovered that we hanged Timothy Evans by mistake, after the Craig and Bentley case and after the hanging of Ruth Ellis. I am old enough to remember that. Public opinion can be swayed quite easily by a sufficiently ruthless and unscrupulous campaign. As the hon. Lady rightly said, we are not delegates: we are here to exercise our judgment.

    I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. No doubt if he catches your eye, Mr. Morris, he will be able to develop his argument further. However, I am not responding to a knee-jerk campaign. I have held my view for many years and it has never changed. My postbag is not part of a campaign. It comprises letters from people of all ages around the country, many of whom remember when we had capital punishment and who wish it to be reintroduced.

    I believe that capital punishment should be available to the courts to deal with all categories of murder. Beating an old lady to death in her own home, as happened in my constituency three or four years ago, or killing a policeman on duty, are equally abhorrent and they are both murder.

    In a proven case of murder, it would be the duty of the court to pass the death penalty. However, I know and appreciate that many murders are carried out in domestic circumstances. Many murderers know their victims and many victims know their murderers. New clause 4, with its referral to the Court of Appeal immediately after the passing of the death sentence, would take such details into account.

    For that reason, all proven cases following the death sentence should pass immediately to the Court of Appeal; not in one year, two years or three years, but immediately. It would then rest with the guilty person and that person's lawyers to convince the Court of Appeal that the sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment. In that regard, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and I believe that life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment.

    New clause 4 meets the demands of the majority of people in this country—certainly, the demands of the people who have taken the trouble to write to me over the past 10 years. They want the death penalty available for murder.

    My new clause also provides a formal safety net to deal with murders in the domestic environment and it provides a further net for those who carry out horrific and sadistic murders. I am often accused of a knee-jerk reaction. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested in his intervention that this was some kind of short-lived campaign. I have always held the view and I would not be speaking in support of my new clause as part of a knee-jerk campaign. I have always believed that we should have the death penalty.

    Some people argue that the absence of capital punishment in this country is a mark of a civilised society. I believe that we are rapidly becoming uncivilised. Some of the things that happen on our streets and in people's homes certainly do not constitute civilised behaviour. Action must be taken to arrest that dangerous trend.

    My hon. Friend said that the final decision would be taken by the Court of Appeal, but does not the final final decision rest with the Home Secretary? Would that not be the most horrendous decision for any person to have to take?

    My hon. Friend is right. Traditionally, the final decision would be taken by the Home Secretary. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is on the Front Bench and is listening to the debate. The final decision would be his. That is the Home Secretary's responsibility and part of his duty in the job and office that he holds.

    During the debate, we shall no doubt hear many figures about crime and punishment. Figures can be made to say many things. However, the figures reflect the general increase in the level of crime, particularly vicious crime such as attacks on elderly people in their own homes.

    The deterrent effect of capital punishment cannot be proven by statistics. Over the weekend, I was asked how I could know that capital punishment would be a deterrent. I replied with a question: "How do you know that it wouldn't?" If we do not have capital punishment on the statute book, how can we collect statistics to show that it is or is not a deterrent? As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, if we have a deterrent, we probably do not need the punishment. My hon. Friend is right. Many young thugs would think twice about going armed for burglary. They would also think twice about carrying a knife to the pub on a Saturday night and using it in the heat of the moment in a punch-up outside.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that statistics can show only the number of people who have not been deterred? There is no way in which statistics can show the number who have been deterred. Therefore, it is impossible to know from statistics how many have been deterred, so it is useless to attempt to rely on statistics. Instead, we must rely on common sense.

    My hon. Friend is right. Statistics cannot prove who would be deterred. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said when he talked about the killing of policemen, it is well known that in the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, criminals would not take a younger new member with them until they had made sure that that individual was not armed, in case he decided to use a weapon in the heat of the moment. They had a policing system of their own because they knew that if somebody was killed there was the death penalty for it.

    My hon. Friend has picked up the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member of Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) about not being able to prove statistics. Will she reflect on why the murder rate in England and Wales is one third of that in Scotland and why it is virtually the lowest in the European Community? There must be many things that we do right in this country.

    I am sure that there are. I cannot say that I have studied the figures for Scotland and compared them with those for England and Wales, but I am sure that if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Morris, he will develop that argument very well.

    In such debates, we always hear a great deal about what should or should not happen to murderers, but very little about the victims, their families and the effect that such a traumatic happening can have on them, often for the rest of their lives, particularly when children are involved. The tragedy of murder and its influence on families is not sufficiently considered. We must consider it more. We have a responsibility and a duty to look carefully at that side of the debate.

    The whole country is tired of horrific murders and expects Parliament to take the lead in dealing with the situation. The criminal law as it now stands no longer provides a credible sanction for the most heinous form of wrongdoing. The Committee will surely agree that action must be taken. We cannot resist the majority for ever. The majority in this country want the return of the death penalty, so we should help to provide it by voting for the new clauses.

    Already, it is clear that this is an issue in which belief will be rather more significant than evidence or logic. I understand the case that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) makes on behalf of police officers, but I find it very difficult to justify that case compared with, for example, the position of sub-postmasters or sub-postmistresses in obscure post' offices in rural constituencies such as mine. Experience after 1957 suggests that if we try to create categories to which capital punishment applies there will always be cases that fall on the edge of a category and which test the whole notion of capital punishment for a certain group. For example, the words

    "in the execution of his duty"
    appear in new clause 2. Those words are capable of more than one judicial interpretation. I therefore believe that our experience of capital punishment should lead us to the firm conclusion that we are either in it completely or out of it completely.

    I should like to make progress, if I may.

    The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said with conviction that life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment. She must bear in mind that it is not the decision of the legal system whether a convicted murderer is released on licence, but the decision of the Home Secretary of the day in England and Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland. Those are administrative decisions and they are difficult decisions, but let us be clear that they are made by those who have to answer to the House of Commons. It is clear also that the issue we are discussing is most likely to be joined on the question of the principle. I start with the unshakeable conviction that human life is sacred, that to take human life is immoral and that it is as immoral for the state to take human life as it is for any individual to do so. Such a belief, however, cannot arise through chance or inspiration; it must be the product of influences.

    I began my professional practice at the Bar in 1968, after abolition. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), I have no direct experience of capital murder cases. However, I have talked to people with such experience—as either counsel or judges—and I have found no enthusiasm for a return to capital punishment among those people. I myself have prosecuted successfully some who would undoubtedly have been hanged, and I have defended unsuccessfully others who would have suffered the same fate. Nothing in my experience, during those years of practice at the Bar, has persuaded me that restoration would be justified.

    4.30 pm

    The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) made a number of references to public support. I believe that she is right to the extent that there is substantial public support in the abstract, but I doubt very much whether that support would survive the experience of any part of the administration of justice leading to capital punishment. Once people had understood the horrors of the means by which capital punishment was carried out, and had become aware of the strain on jurors and witnesses, I very much doubt whether public opinion would remain as implacably in favour of restoration as it apparently is now.

    I can think of no other civilised society that has restored capital punishment. So far, the debate has been notable for the absence of evidence to suggest that any society that has felt it necessary to restore capital punishment has been able to reduce the number of murders by that means.

    Following the reintroduction of capital punishment in the United States, there is evidence that the number of murders in Florida has been reduced.

    The United States does not reintroduce capital punishment; individual states do so. As much evidence can be produced on one side as on the other. That is the point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale—the deterrence argument is entirely inconclusive.

    No state in the United States has reintroduced capital punishment. What has happened is that, for years and years, people have suffered the degrading experience of not knowing whether they will be executed the next day, the day after that or the day after that; then the authorities started to execute a few of them. That is the inhuman thing that has happened, and is happening, in the United States.

    I remember the example of Mr. Caryl Chessman, who spent 14 years on death row. It could be argued that that was caused by a defect in the American system—or, rather, the state system—to which he was subject, in that he was provided with the opportunity for appeal after appeal. The hon. Gentleman is right, however —what could be more inhumane or degrading?

    A fundamental issue has not yet been mentioned. Whatever the intrinsic merits of capital punishment, the passage of nearly 30 years since it was last carried out must be a compelling factor against restoration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] As has been pointed out, after 30 years we have no sets of gallows, and no magistrates whose duty is to stand and supervise. We do not have the administrative arrangements. All of that has been swept away. Is it to be restored?

    What we have had during those 30 years is a vast increase in the incidence of violent crime. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that the reintroduction of capital punishment would deter violent criminals?

    The hon. Member for Ryedale made it clear that the deterrence argument was inconclusive. The onus rests on those who advance that argument, and who want change, to demonstrate that capital punishment is the only way to deal with the upsurge in violent crime. I believe that the fear of apprehension and conviction is a more significant factor in deterring people from the commission of a crime than the particular penalty which may follow.

    Running through this debate is always the implication of retribution. I understand the motive for retribution. If any member of my family were to be murdered, I would feel horror, anger and a sense of loss which no doubt would give rise in me to a sense of vengeance. However, our legal system has moved away from self-help and revenge. Prosecution—except in a few instances—is the responsibility of the state. That is because the collective response of the state is more likely to be dispassionate and more likely to be in the interest of us all. The supremacy of the institution is given effect, rather than individual redress.

    I return to a point that has not been addressed in the debate, but which I believe to be fundamental. What right does the state have to take revenge on a citizen by taking his life?

    The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that there is no evidence that capital punishment deters. Can he explain why, prior to abolition, the average number of murders in the United Kingdom was approximately 140 a year, and why the current average is 700?

    There has been a substantial rise in violent crime, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to relate all of that rise to capital punishment, he will find it hard to bring his evidence home conclusively.

    An important consideration is the risk of mistake. The hon. Member for Ryedale developed a curious argument that if we improve our procedures, there will be less risk of miscarriages of justice and therefore we should be willing to accept capital punishment. But the hon. Gentleman forgets that genuine mistakes occur. Identification evidence is notoriously fallible, and genuine mistakes may occur as a result of that. He forgets that mistakes often occur through inefficiency, and because of inadequate forensic examination. He forgets that mistakes are sometimes made as a result of the inadequacy of defence counsel. He forgets that mistakes that occur because of a breach of the rules of evidence or because of the concealment of evidence can be extremely difficult to discover, no matter what provisions the Home Secretary may introduce.

    When all that is put against the inconclusive possibility of the reintroduction of capital punishment providing deterrence, the argument falls strongly in favour of those who do not support reintroduction.

    Many hon. Members agree that capital punishment should not be restored, but is not the alternative of life imprisonment, which means on average about 12 years, a fraud on the public? Should not a person who otherwise would be executed he sent to prison for life meaning life, subject only to the Court of Appeal being able to let him out if it should transpire that he was wrongly convicted?

    If it is a fraud on the public, it is a fraud —dare I say—committed by Home Secretaries and by Secretaries of State for Scotland who make that decision, and not by the courts. The life sentence imposed by a court is for life—[Interruption.] As a matter of law, it is for life. A person is released on licence and is liable to be recalled at any time during his life because a life sentence has been imposed on him. He can be recalled for crimes which fall a long way short of further commission of the crime of murder.

    Mistakes that lead to capital punishment cannot be put right. The names of Evans, Hanratty and Bentley in their own ways stand as monuments to injustice and to the inherent risk that capital punishment necessarily embraces. A posthumous pardon is no substitute for life and liberty.

    Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we have not abolished the death penalty? We have taken it out of the courts of law. We have obliged our police officers and others, when going to arrest dangerous persons, to go armed. When they are shooting, mistakes occur and it is often not the person who has committed the murder but a perfectly innocent bystander who is killed.

    I have to challenge the proposition with which the hon. Lady opened. I understood the effect of the 1965 Act to be the abolition of capital punishment for crimes of murder. It still exists for certain crimes within the armed setvices, but capital punishment for murder has been abolished.

    I return to the point that I made earlier: it is almost 30 years since capital punishment was abolished. One must have regard to that fact as much as to any other in determining whether reintroduction is possible.

    I mentioned Evans, Hanratty and Bentley. I could have mentioned more contemporary illustrations such as Preece, Meehan, the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four, some or, indeed, all of whom might well have suffered the same fate as Timothy Evans. If they had, they would simply have underlined the dangerous finality of the cruel and inhuman punishment which capital punishment represents.

    We have to ask ourselves this: are we so confident of ourselves and our judicial system that we are willing to wager the life of any citizen on capital punishment? I do not have that confidence and I do not believe that the Committee should have it either.

    I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) on the way in which they spoke to the new clauses. This issue gives rise to deep-seated and passionately held convictions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends for giving the Committee the opportunity to express its view.

    By tradition, the role of the Home Secretary in these debates has been to offer some analysis of the background to the factors that the Committee will wish to take into account, to comment on the effect of the new clauses and to say something about his personal views. I shall attempt to follow that tradition.

    The first thing to do is to set the debate in the context of history. At the beginning of the 19th century, capital punishment was available for more than 200 offences, including cutting down trees and consorting with gipsies. During the first half of that century, there was a lengthy and eventually successful campaign to reduce the scope of the death penalty, and by 1861 it was available only for murder, high treason, piracy with violence and the destruction of public arsenals and dockyards. Since then, apart from for treason, there have been no executions other than for murder. In 1908, the death penalty was abolished for children under 16. The minimum age was raised again in 1933, to 18.

    The abolition debate continued during the first half of this century. In 1930, a parliamentary Select Committee recommended suspension of the death penalty for a trial period of five years, but no action was taken. In 1948, the House carried a motion to the same effect, which was heavily defeated in another place. The same fate befell a later Bill to abolish the death penalty in 1956.

    In 1957, as a response to growing concern about the appropriateness of the death penalty for every murder, the Homicide Act 1957 was passed. This restricted capital punishment to the most heinous categories of murder. That categorisation failed to command confidence. In 1965, Sydney Silverman's private Member's Bill to abolish the death penalty for a trial period of five years was passed; abolition was confirmed by Parliament in 1969.

    Since 1965, the House of Commons has returned to this matter on at least 13 occasions. That shows both the strength of feelings held about capital punishment and the irreconcilable nature of the convictions held on both sides of the argument. It is now more than three years since we last debated the issue, and it is right that we should return to it now—particularly in the context of legislation to introduce a number of significant measures to combat crime.

    The homicide statistics set the context for our debate and bear in particular on the question of the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent—a factor which will, no doubt, weigh heavily with right hon. and hon. Members this afternoon.

    The number of offences initially recorded as homicide in England and Wales has risen steadily since the 1950s, although the rate of increase has slowed considerably in the past decade. In the decade from 1956 to 1965 the average number of homicides a year was 294; from 1966 to 1975, it was 450; from 1976 to 1985, it was 580; and from 1986 to 1992, it was 670. In 1992, the number was 687.

    Those figures need some amplification. First, the figures include the offences of manslaughter and infanticide. Many homicides—well over 50 per cent. in 1992—do not result in a conviction for murder, but the number of convictions for murder has also risen steadily, averaging 187 over the 10 years ending in 1991. The recorded figures for crime in general and violent crime have risen much faster than have the number of homicides. Although the number of recorded homicides between 1966 and 1985 was 60 per cent. higher than in the preceding 20 years, the number of serious violent offences was 205 per cent. higher. The total of recorded crimes of all kinds was 220 per cent. higher. That said, I have made it clear on many occasions that I share the widespread scepticism about the value of total recorded crime figures. The level of reporting of particular offences can be influenced by many factors, including the availability of telephones and insurance, and the extent of public confidence in the ability of the police to take effective action in a particular set of circumstances.

    The picture in the United States, which has much more recent experience of the death penalty, is not much clearer. In the 10 years between 1967 and 1977, when there were no executions, the homicide rate rose from 6.2 to 8.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. When executions were started again in 1977, it continued to rise, to over 10 per 100,000 in 1980. It fell back to 7.9 in 1984, but has now almost regained its peak at 9.8. In the period during which the homicide rate fell—between 1980 and 1985—there is no evidence that it fell at a greater rate in those states that had the death penalty than in those that did not.

    The story is similar elsewhere. Other countries that have abolished the death penalty have, like the United Kingdom, seen lower increases in homicide than in other violent offences. In Canada, the homicide rate has fallen slowly since the abolition of capital punishment in 1976.

    4.45 pm

    Will my hon. Friend forgive me for a moment? I should like to finish this point and then I shall certainly give way to her.

    I have given the figures. They are not conclusive either way. I have no doubt in my own mind that the death penalty may act as a deterrent in certain cases. That is why, until and including 1990, I voted consistently in favour of the death penalty for the murder of police or prison officers, or for murder committed with firearms or explosives. I thought that the deterrent effect would be greatest for those categories. Indeed, there is widespread anecdotal evidence, and support among the police, for the view that criminals are today far more willing to go to the scene of crime equipped with a firearm than in decades gone by. I changed my view about bringing back the death penalty in 1991 for reasons other than the argument about deterrence. I shall explain them at the end of my speech.