Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr. Watts.)
It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. It is also a particular pleasure and something of a novelty—perhaps it is even the first time—that I have obtained an Adjournment debate on a topic on which I can speak almost entirely positively about Government policy.
The Minister is very kind, but I shall resist the temptation.
It is a matter of some pride for me, as a British national, when I travel to different parts of the world, to be part of a country that has not used the death penalty for the past 40 years and whose policy today is to oppose its use wherever it happens in the world. That is a significant policy, and I commend the Government for their adherence to it and, as I have learned in recent years, promotion of it. I appreciate the assistance of embassy and consular staff in different parts of the world who are, as I have seen, active in promoting Government policy. Earlier in the year, I travelled to Seoul, where the embassy had organised a seminar or conference encouraging local politicians to abolish the death penalty, or at least to maintain the moratorium. The assistance that I received from staff there and in Tokyo, and most recently in Washington DC and from the consul general in Atlanta, was first rate and not to be faulted.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. Will he mark, in his speech, the passing a few days ago of Ludovic Kennedy, whose 1961 book, “10 Rillington Place”, about the hanging of the backward, illiterate Timothy Evans for the murders that John Christie had committed, led ultimately, at least in part, to the 1965 abolition? Ludovic Kennedy played a major part in that, did he not?
Yes, the late Ludovic Kennedy did indeed play a leading role in the case for abolition. I was fortunate as a teenager to meet him a couple of times. I was trying to persuade him to stand for rector of the university of Glasgow. He had sufficient judgment not to rely on my campaigning skills and he politely declined the invitation, but he was a truly inspirational character. He took the view—I know because I heard him speak on the matter many times—that, in the terms that Amnesty International uses, the use of capital punishment is the ultimate denial of a human right. He was motivated ultimately by justice. Even after the abolition of capital punishment in this country, he maintained an active interest in the issue. He also maintained an interest in campaigning on other miscarriages of justice, especially in this country. I was most intimately familiar with his involvement with the Paddy Meehan case in Scotland, but he also took an active interest in the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.
All those cases serve to remind us how right we are to have maintained our opposition to capital punishment in this country as an instrument of domestic policy. A thread running through the use of capital punishment, wherever it happens in the world, is the fact that criminal justice systems are fallible. They are run by people for people, and people can make mistakes, as happened recently in the state of Texas in the case of Todd Willingham. It is now accepted that an innocent man was executed.
Once we have accepted in this country that our system has got things wrong, as happened with the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, we can at least turn the key in the door and let those who have been wrongly imprisoned walk free. That cannot happen to Todd Willingham in Texas, where even now the government are not prepared to allow further ventilation of the issues. That is the one argument that those in favour of the death penalty can never refute: the opportunity for mistakes, and the finality of that. Whether one takes my view that it is morally wrong for the state to take a life, or a more pragmatic one, the case against the use of the death penalty is substantial and unanswerable.
I remind hon. Members of my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests about various campaign visits that I have made on this subject. I am also a member of Amnesty International and a patron of an organisation called Amicus—a charity operating in this country to provide legal representation for people facing the death penalty in America. I want to mention my appreciation of the efforts of the campaigning and legal organisation Reprieve, with which I have also worked closely.
There are three headings on which I want to speak this morning. First, I want to mention a couple of specific current cases involving United Kingdom nationals. Then I will touch briefly on the question of countries where the death penalty is used for juveniles. Finally, I shall deal with a few bilateral issues—in particular, matters affecting our relations with Belarus, Japan and the United States of America.
Perhaps the most pressing—and indeed most publicly commented on—of the cases involving UK nationals at the moment is that of Akmal Shaikh. The Government are engaged in his case and some hon. Members may be aware that he is awaiting execution in China. He is a 53-year-old British man from London. His appeal before the Urumqi high court was denied in August, although I am told that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not informed of that until earlier this month. His sentence is now to be reviewed by the People’s Supreme Court, and if that is not successful, he will be executed.
The concerns that I and many others have about Akmal Shaikh’s case include his apparent mental health difficulties. He has always maintained that he went to China to start a career as a pop star. He met a group of men in Poland who persuaded him to travel with them to China via Tajikistan. Upon arrival in the airport there, he was told that he would have to travel to China alone, as there was only one seat left on the flight. His companion gave him a bag to take with him and said that he would be on the next flight. He was then arrested with 4 kilograms of heroin at Urumqi airport. He told the officials that the suitcase did not belong to him and that he did not know anything about the drugs. We are told that no intimation of the death sentence was given to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until some months after it had been passed. That is indicative of the extreme secrecy that shrouds the use of the death penalty in that country.
Reprieve is actively engaged in Akmal Shaikh’s case and has sought permission for Dr. Peter Schaapveld—a clinical psychologist—to visit him and make a proper assessment. To date, Dr. Schaapveld has not been allowed access to see Akmal Shaikh, but there is already substantial evidence in the public domain that he suffers from significant mental health issues. I am told that, on the last appeal hearing on 26 May, he insisted on reading a long, rambling and often incoherent statement to the court, notwithstanding advice to the contrary from his legal representatives. Embassy staff at that hearing were not allowed to take notes, and Dr. Schaapveld was of course denied access to his patient. I am told that the Foreign Office produced a number of the e-mails that Akmal sent to the embassy in Poland while living there. It perhaps gives a flavour of the man’s state of mind that they were written in a 72-point font, and they were described to me as being rambling and incoherent.
I have some questions for the Minister on Akmal Shaikh’s case. For the benefit of hon. Members and those outside who are watching the case with interest, will the Minister outline how the Government plan to intervene in the People’s Supreme Court? We know that it now automatically reviews every death sentence. However, we do not know the timings, so there is clearly an element of urgency about the representations that the Government should be making.
The Minister’s Department was asked to file an amicus curiae brief with the People’s Supreme Court outlining its opposition to the death penalty and, in particular, addressing the question of mental health. I am told that the Foreign Office replied that it would prefer to write to the court, rather than enter a formal amicus curiae brief. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s explanation, not least because China has been known to use amicus curiae briefs when its nationals have been involved in legal proceedings in other parts of the world. It is difficult to see what objection there could have been to that more formal route being followed.
The other case to which I shall refer briefly is that of Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman—two British nationals facing execution in Pakistan. The background to their case is that they were subject to a significant degree of torture following their arrest. The history of the case is fairly well in the public domain. Early consular intervention could have made a significant difference. It is a matter of regret that early intervention was not as vigorous as it might have been. If the Pakistani authorities failed to make a meaningful investigation or to take other steps to rectify the situation in a reasonable time, what will the Government do to preserve their position? Will they consider instigating legal proceedings against the Pakistan Government pursuant to the UN convention against torture?
A number of issues relating to consular involvement have been raised with me, but I do not feel able to explore them today. However, I should be grateful if the Minister were to indicate a willingness to engage with me and other members of the all-party group on the death penalty and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who is representing Hussein and Zaman and who has been vigorously involved in their case from the start.
On the question of juveniles being the subject of capital punishment, I have been campaigning with Amnesty International, most recently in the case of Delara Darabi. So far in 2009, six juvenile offenders have been executed, four of them in Iran and two in Saudi Arabia. Last year, Iran executed eight juveniles. It is clearly prohibited under international law, as stated in article 6.5 of the international covenant on civil and political rights and the convention on the rights of the child. Iran is a party to both treaties, Saudi Arabia to the latter only. Neither country should be executing children under the age of 18.
Will the Minister continue to urge the Iranian and Saudi Arabian authorities to uphold their international obligations, calling an immediate moratorium on the execution of juvenile offenders as a step towards the ultimate abolition of the death penalty in those two countries? Will the Government continue to make representations to the relevant authorities whenever a juvenile is scheduled for execution there?
The position of Belarus should concern the Government on a bilateral basis. It is the last country in Europe to continue to use the death penalty. We do not know much about the country’s use of the penalty, but I understand that four people were executed there in 2008. Belarus is one of those countries—Japan is another—where condemned prisoners are given no warning that they are about to be executed; they are usually executed within minutes of being told that their appeal for clemency has been rejected. Their families are generally told days or weeks after the execution that it has been carried out.
In June, the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe voted to restore special guest status to the Belarusian Parliament, but under certain conditions. One was that it should instigate a moratorium on the death penalty. Notwithstanding that, two people there have been sentenced to death this year. Their appeals have been turned down by the Supreme Court and the prisoners are now appealing for clemency. On 12 October, the UN Human Rights Council called on the Belarusian Government not to execute Vasily Yuzepchuk until it had also considered the appeal of Andrei Zhuk.
Will the Government continue to call for the moratorium required under the Parliamentary Assembly’s resolution No. 1671 of 23 June, which deals with the status of the Belarusian Parliament? Will the Government press the Belarusian Government to uphold their obligations as a party to the international covenant on civil and political rights and to respect the decisions and recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council? Will they continue to press for clemency in the other two cases to which I have referred?
Japan is now one of the top 10 killing states in the world. Having been in Japan earlier this year, I formed the impression that the country is sensitive to its standing in the world. It is a global trading nation, and people understand that it does Japan no good to be in a position that puts them in the company of nations such as Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.
One of the most egregious cases is that of Hakamada Iwao, who was sentenced to death in 1968 and has been on death row ever since. He has been in solitary confinement for 29 years, and is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. He confessed under duress, but withdrew his confession at his trial. Could not the Minister urge the Japanese ambassador at the very least to offer the man a pardon or a retrial?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say. I, too, have been engaged in that case. When I was in Japan, I was privileged to meet a number of those campaigning in support of him. I also met his sister and one of the three trial judges that presided at Hakamada’s trial. In my experience as a lawyer and politician, Hakamada’s case is unique. In addition to all the compelling evidence to which the hon. Gentleman referred, one of the three judges who presided over the trial has now said that he was never persuaded that Hakamada was, in fact, guilty. If that is not what we in this country would regard as a reasonable doubt, I do not know what is. If our commitment to international standards of procedure in criminal justice means anything at all, the Minister should take on board the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. Hakamada has been in detention for 43 years, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. As a consequence, there are, unsurprisingly, substantial concerns about the mental health of Hakamada Iwao. To execute a man in such circumstances falls well below the standards of basic decency and humanity that we are entitled to expect of those countries that, along with us, are part of the international community of nations.
The one bright spot in relation to Japan is the recent change of Government. I understand that the new Justice Minister is an abolitionist, so we may have got to a position in which there is a de facto moratorium in Japan. That remains to be seen, but I hope that the Government here will take the opportunity to push the case for a moratorium in Japan, because the standard of care for those on death row in that country is probably among the worst in the world. When one considers some of the other countries involved in such a practice—China, North Korea and others—it is quite a damning indictment.
Finally, I should like to bring to the Minister’s attention the position of the United States of America. The USA is one of the largest users of the death penalty in the worldwide community. It is one of those countries that is most frequently cited as the reason why countries such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, China and others feel that what they are doing cannot be that bad because they are only doing what the United States does. It frustrates me that there is real opportunity for the United States to give a positive lead, which would make a tremendous difference to its standing in the world community, but it refuses to do so.
I visited the United States last month. Along with members of Amnesty International, I visited Troy Anthony Davis, who is on death row in the state of Georgia. I could probably talk for 90 minutes about the experience of being on death row, which is a truly awful phenomenon. Anybody who thinks that death penalties are justifiable or in some way workable should experience it for themselves. The consulate in Atlanta was exceptionally helpful in its dealings with us. It was able to facilitate our visit to Mr. Davis on death row. Although this is not a case that involves a British national, it is one that should cause us concern.
There are substantial issues involving the apparent innocence of Troy Davis. Seven of the nine witnesses who gave evidence against him have subsequently revised or recanted that evidence, which brings me back to my earlier point about the fallibility of criminal justice systems. Had Troy Davis been prepared to roll over and let the system take its course, he would have been killed by now. He told me how, one day, he came within two hours of his execution. At one stage, he was taken into the room and made to stand no more than 2 feet away from the gurney to which he would, later that day, be strapped for the lethal injection to be administered.
Such an experience is a very chilling illustration of just why it is wrong to use the death penalty, and why it is right for our Government to speak against it wherever they see it. We should continue to promote the view that the British Government and the British people do not want to be associated with such a barbaric practice.
May I add to the comments made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and say what a pleasure it is, Mr. Benton, to serve under your wise leadership today?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on bringing such an extraordinary combination of skills, abilities and personal qualities to this debate and to his parliamentary work. He is a lawyer, and a man of forensic intelligence and great humanity. The work that he undertook in the case of Samantha Orobator at very short notice might have saved—did save, in my opinion—the young woman’s life. If any of us can look back on our parliamentary careers and say as much as that, we will have reason to be proud.
I should also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has visited one of my constituents in Bangkok. As a Foreign Office Minister, he has been assiduous in visiting, assisting and advising, and prompting action throughout the world.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned something that goes to the very heart of our debate: if a miscarriage of justice occurs, a person can be released from prison—they may be broken, but they are free—but if a person is executed, there is no release or redemption. He mentioned the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. It is perhaps appropriate to remember that one of the Birmingham Six, Giuseppe Conlon, died in prison. He was not executed, but because he died in prison, there was no release for him. No one can say whether or not he would otherwise have died at that point, but I think that the facts suggest one interpretation.
The case of Timothy Evans of Rillington place was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who rightly commemorated the life and work of Ludovic Kennedy, who was a man of extraordinary qualities. I found Kennedy slightly difficult to come to terms with because his passion for shooting animals appeared to be somewhat at odds with the humanity that he expressed, but we must allow Liberals their foibles. Timothy Evans was hanged for murders that were certainly committed by John Reginald Christie. Those of us who were brought up in west London remember the pub, the Kensington Park Hotel, which was at the end of the road that I lived on. I recall the dark shadow that that case cast over us in west London.
When we consider issues such as the death penalty, we come at them from various directions. There may be a consensus in most of Europe, outside Belarus, that the death penalty is a mediaeval barbarism, anti-Christian and something that goes against the principle of redemption, and that it is something that belongs to a dim and distant past and that should rightly be consigned to that bloody past. However, that is the ideological and sometimes theological argument; there is also a criminological argument. We all know that the murder statistics in executing Texas are higher than those in non-executing New York, and there is very little evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent. Many people have tried to use the deterrent effect as justification, but Amnesty International has completely refuted that theory.
In the summer of 1959, when I was 11 years old, a man called Gunter Podola was arrested very close to where my parents and I lived. He was one of the many people swept up in the detritus of war. He had been a member of the Hitler youth, and his father had been a barber who had fought and died with the German army on the Russian front. He emigrated to Canada, where he became a petty criminal and was promptly deported from Montreal to what was then West Germany. Those who say that border controls are lax today should note that Podola was then able to fly from Düsseldorf to London Heathrow with no problem at all. He went to west Kensington and started a career of petty crime and blackmail. He was arrested in Onslow square in west London, having shot Detective Sergeant Purdy. When we talk about the death penalty, we should never forget the victims, but I do not think that putting someone to death benefits the victim in any way, and it certainly does not bring them back to life.
Podola’s case was heard over a few months during the late summer and early autumn of 1959. As an 11-year-old boy living in London at that time, I knew that the clock was ticking. Even though Podola had not appealed against his sentence, the Home Secretary called the case in, set up a medical tribunal to examine Gunter Podola’s state of mind, and decided that he was fit to be hanged by the neck until he was dead. Although Mr. Podola claimed that someone else was his double and was acting in this strange way, the Home Secretary decided that he should hang, and hanged he was at Wandsworth prison. What I recall most vividly was the utterly dehumanising feeling that so many of my colleagues experienced.
Let us be honest: some people find a sort of vicarious thrill in the death penalty. Some people are death-penalty junkies and actually find something exciting about it. When I went to Mountjoy prison, I was one of the last people to visit what was called the “hang house”, where not only Kevin Barry but 27 other people were put to death. I found it extraordinary that there were death tourists. There are people who have a fascination with executions, but I think that that says more about their own sad, sick and sorry souls than it does about the issue and principle that we are discussing.
Podola was a man whom I had never met and with whom I had nothing in common. He was a petty thief, a drifter and what we in those days called a “displaced person”. However, his being put to death went against everything that I was brought up to believe in—that all people are capable of, and carry within them the seed, germ and hope of redemption. How could the execution possibly be justified? Seeing that case made me realise how utterly dehumanising putting a citizen to death is. A state or society that kills its own is somehow less humane, less decent and—I make no apologies for saying this—less Christian. I am sorry if that offends some people, but that is an issue, and such issues mean a lot to me.
Why are we having this debate? If it is now accepted that the death penalty is of the past, should we not simply say that we are pleased with the actions that the Government and all parties in the House are taking? We can congratulate the Minister on the work that he has undertaken personally—I repeat that the Minister has been extraordinarily assiduous in this matter—but the death penalty has not gone away. The death penalty, that dark shadow, is creeping up on us from other parts of the world. Virtually all countries of the English-speaking Caribbean have refused to agree to a moratorium on the death penalty. We know the situation in St. Kitts and Nevis and in Trinidad. Those people are close to us in many ways. The death penalty—judicial murder, execution; call it what you will—has not gone away; it is here. Amnesty International has produced figures stating that 2,390 people were put to death in 25 countries around the world. That was over how many decades? None; it was over one year. In 2008, more than 2,000 people were put to death. We also know that children are put to death.
As part of a country that I still hope can call itself civilised—I think that we are a civilised country as part of a civilised European Community—can we be silent while children are put to death? In Iran, children are swung off the end of cranes with wire around their necks. How utterly obscene is that? I do not say that there is a good or a bad death. Some poets may say that there is such a thing as a good death, but what is as vicious, vile and dehumanising as those deaths of juveniles? And what is the crime? In some cases, someone is killed in public for being gay. To paraphrase the former Prime Minister, that is a scar on the earth, not just on one region.
We have come a long way. It is salutary to remember that when the London underground system was opened in the 1860s, the first ever excursion train on the old Metropolitan line took passengers to a public execution—tickets were sold. That was in the 1860s, which is not that long ago. People queued up and took the family, including the children, for a day out to see a human being—one of God’s creations; a living, breathing person—hanged. Therefore, we cannot be complacent about this in any way. We cannot stand back and say that civilisation has marched on, because the problem still exists throughout the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned the Hakamada case in Japan, which has thrown up all sorts of horrors. There is something called daiyo kangoku, which is a system of substitute prisons. Someone is arrested in Japan and they are held in a non-prison prison, where they have to sit in the same position for a long period of time and are subject to sleep deprivation.
In many ways, Japan is an admirable country. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland quite rightly said that it is conscious of its public image. However, how can it possibly allow that image to be projected around the world? Do the Japanese people want to be seen as a country that has shadow prisons, sleep deprivation and psychological torture of that nature? I cannot believe that to be the case. Therefore, an occasion such as this, which provides the opportunity to ventilate such cases, is welcome. Again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman not only on securing the debate, but on his extraordinary energy in travelling the world and working in an area that some of his constituents—and some of mine—will be completely unable to understand as a subject of such passion and importance. What he has done might not make him massively popular in his constituency, but the fact that he has chosen to do it is much to his credit. I offer him my admiration and respect.
If we are faced with a world in which the death penalty is coming back, why are people talking about it? I would say that putting a human being to death is the ultimate admission of failure in society, in the judiciary and in the whole jurisprudential system. If society’s problems cannot be solved through civilised methods, the solution is to kill the problem. However, that is not the solution and does not solve the problem. It simply sets a standard of retribution. We all know the oft-quoted “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” from the Bible. However, if we read on, it ends up with a world where no one has any eyes or any teeth. The idea of God-ordained judicial retribution was nonsense then, and is nonsense now. It must be exposed widely throughout the world.
Without question, we live in a world of increased violence. That is partly because there are more of us, we live closer together and we are more acquisitive. There are many reasons for that increase in violence, and many ways of addressing it. One idea that we should immediately park and decide not to progress with is the suggestion that killing fellow humans somehow stops other crimes from being committed and somehow makes society a better place. It does not; it makes for a sadder, sicker society.
The work of Amnesty International is exemplary. I am a proud member of Amnesty International, although I am not sure whether I have to declare that—it is certainly not a pecuniary interest because I pay it money and it has never paid me anything. I hope that this debate will establish a few things: first, that judicial murder does take place, is taking place and could take place in countries that we thought had turned their backs on it; and secondly, that Amnesty International has by far the best track record of any organisation working in this area, and nobody challenges the evidence that it produces. Many countries are so terrified by the appearance of some innocent young lawyer or activist from Amnesty International that they will turn them away at the airport, call the riot police or move people from prison to prison rather than have that person turn up, let alone the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—they probably close down the entire airport system when he arrives. [Interruption.] Well, I know that they have tried it. Amnesty’s work is important, and it must continue to be publicised and ventilated. The case of Samantha Orobator, to which I referred earlier—it occurred only at the beginning of this summer—is another example of action being taken quickly and a life being saved.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has done the House a great service. At the risk of sounding too florid, I think that he has done humanity a great service, not just in his work day by day, but by putting down a marker today to say that whatever we in this country and on the continent of Europe are—for all our faults, warts and all—we are still a people who do not slaughter our own judicially. We do not take someone in the cold morning of Wandsworth prison and put them to death while crowds gather outside. We are not a country that allows the sick, vicarious thrill of judicial murder to permeate our social life—let us put that down as a marker today. Let us resolve collectively, as this Government have done and, I hope, all parties in the House will continue to do, that we in this country will continue to make the strongest possible case against this appalling crime that does not solve crimes, but creates further ones—this inhumanity that is the death sentence.
I endorse everything that the previous two hon. Members have said, and I will not seek to repeat it, as they said it extremely well. I wanted to take part in this debate for two reasons. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) recently asked me to take on the task of chairing the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Also, I am and have been for some time one of the vice-chairs of the all-party group on China.
China alone is responsible for almost three quarters of the world’s executions. Amnesty International’s last report indicated that China carried out nearly 2,000 executions in 2008, although the figure is believed to be much higher, as statistics on death sentences and executions remain state secrets.
I turn the House’s attention to process. I have three points to make about China that are well echoed in a recently published book by Martin Jacques entitled “When China Rules the World”. The first point is that we are all going to have to get used to dealing with a country and a power that is growing exponentially. Martin Jacques makes it clear in his book:
“According to projections by Goldman Sachs…the three largest economies in the world by 2050 will be China, followed by a closely matched America and India some way behind, and then Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Indonesia. Only two European countries feature in the top ten, namely the UK and Germany in ninth and tenth place respectively. Of the present G7, only four appear in the top ten.”
In other words, according to present projections, by 2050, China as a global power will be well ahead of the United States, India, Brazil, Mexico and indeed much of the European Union. That says to me that we are going to have to recognise that we must manage many issues at a much more European level. We cannot presume that each member state within the European Union can take them on its own.
For a long time, the UK Government have been managing a UK-China human rights dialogue. I commend Ministers and officials for their work on that, but as any Minister who has taken part in it will acknowledge, it has taken on a slightly ritualistic dimension. Ministers give our line to take and then the Chinese give their line to take, and one wonders to what extent the Chinese officials are actually entering into the dialogue.
That brings me to my second point. Although China is theoretically a politically communist state, it is actually based on Confucian principles. Confucianism is essentially a set of precepts of what is right and wrong and prescriptions for appropriate forms of behaviour. The Chinese have a strong sense of what they think is right and wrong, which is reflected in their criminal justice system. It is not just about engaging China at a political level; it is about engaging Chinese society on what it believes to be right and wrong.
The third point about China that Martin Jacques makes—I think that we could all make it—is that China sees human rights very much in terms of the collective rather than the individual. What is important is for the state to ensure that people do not starve and have sufficient food and employment. Therefore, the rights of an individual are subordinate to the rights of the community. I certainly find—I do not know whether other hon. Members do—that when one engages in dialogue with the Chinese ambassador in London or with Chinese politicians, one almost has to start by finding a political vocabulary with which to examine such concepts, because their understanding of human rights is different from ours. One must find a common dialogue.
China practises judicial execution on far more people than any other country. If we are going to tackle the issue—I think that we would all endorse what the Minister said recently on world day against the death penalty:
“we continue to call for an end to the use of capital punishment around the world”—
we will have to tackle it with China. However, we will also have to recognise that China is beginning to feel itself to be much more influential in the world, so we will have to act at the European Union level.
That creates an issue for the House. All too often, when things happen at a European level, it effectively means that they are taken over by Ministers, whether in the Council of Ministers or acting collectively, by the Commission or by our colleagues in the European Parliament. The danger with that is that we as Members of the UK Parliament, if we are not careful, will be marginalised on human rights issues, whether they relate to capital punishment or something else. We will have to start working out how we can work much more constructively with colleagues in other national Assemblies and Parliaments in Europe to bring collective pressure on countries whose human rights records are not all that they might be, from Colombia to Zimbabwe to North Korea or wherever. It will require collective action.
The complexities of negotiating, influencing and hoping to change policy in China demonstrate the need for us to work more constructively together. I suspect that if all of us try to do it individually, we will find it difficult to bring about real and lasting change on this particular issue in China. To be candid, if one cannot bring about change in China, which is far and away the largest perpetrator of judicial executions, it will be much more difficult to bring about change elsewhere. If we can start to effect change in China, it will hopefully be possible to effect change elsewhere. I hope that the Foreign Office and Members of Parliament can give some thought to how more can be done at a European level while still actively engaging Members of this House.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I will keep my remarks brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on securing this debate.
I will begin with the areas on which I presume there is unanimity in the House and further afield. We have heard of appalling instances of juveniles being put to death in various nation states. There have been various early-day motions and campaigns on that issue. I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Gentleman on that issue. There are appalling statistics on the number of juveniles and individuals with learning difficulties who have been subjected to legal systems that result in capital punishment. It is obvious to us in the west that such things should not happen. I am totally and utterly in agreement with that aspect of the global abolition argument. That is paramount.
Setting that aside, there comes a time when we have to say what we think. I am not convinced by the case for total and utter abolition of the death penalty in all cases and for all people, however ruthless and repeated their crimes. Over the years, I have followed with interest those who argue that, even if a small number of people were spared who were guilty of vicious crimes such as repeated murder, total abolition would be worth it because many others would be spared who did not deserve such a fate.
The problem with that argument is that not much research has been done on the small number of serial killers who treat the prospect of redemption with utter contempt. There is still the prospect that one or two killers internationally, after being detained in jail, could commit another crime against an innocent person on release. Unfortunately, not as much research has been done to protect innocent people from the brutality and viciousness of the small number of serial killers.
I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) on the need for a society to be able to call itself civilised in the way in which it treats those who are guilty of serious crimes. I believe that a society that calls itself civilised must take account of the infinitesimal number of people who, despite all that the legal system offers in terms of appeal, the chance to reform their ways and to make amends for their actions, decline or defy our best endeavours. There must be some form of radical response by a civilised society to protect the innocent.
Serial killers generally suffer from a psychiatric disorder. In my experience, such people are never allowed back on to the streets, even after they have gone through the criminal justice system. Surely even such people should be subject to the same protection as everybody else. That relates to my earlier point about mistakes being made.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point of view on the mental capacity of a number of serial killers. However, if a person with such a criminal record is not released, but escapes from detention and commits another violent crime that results in the death of another innocent person, is that not the result of the lenient treatment of a serial offender?
The more I listen to the debate, the less convinced I am of the case for a total and utter abolition in all conceivable circumstances. I am not convinced that it is the correct way to ensure that society is a safer place. I emphasise the caveats that I have given about juveniles and so forth. In nation states such as Japan and the United States, there have been many indefensible cases of people being on death row and ultimately paying the last possible penalty. With those caveats, I am simply not convinced of the case for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
I will keep to the time that you have set, Mr. Benton. I add my appreciation for the work and leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on this issue.
Within 18 months of being elected to this place, I dealt with the family of a constituent who faced the death penalty in Pakistan. I pay tribute to colleagues from all parties who have been vocal on this issue. However, only a few of us have dealt with a constituency case of this nature. I have always been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, but it is something else to sit with the family of somebody who faces the death penalty and to look into the eyes of people who face the prospect of a state deciding to use its might, authority and legal system to kill in cold blood. Mirza Tahir Hussain was a dual citizen, so Pakistan would have been killing one of its citizens as well as ours. It was a strange case because he had not been in this country for 18 years by the time he was finally released.
I again pay tribute to Amnesty International, Reprieve and Fair Trials Abroad for their support in that case. I also thank the Prince of Wales for his support and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the work that it did behind the scenes. However long or short my political career, I will always remember the moment when I met my new constituent, Mirza Tahir Hussain, for the first time at Heathrow airport after his release, when justice was done. He was not guilty, yet he languished for 18 years with the death penalty hanging over his head.
I could not possibly mention that case without mentioning the heroic contribution of his brother, Amjad Hussain. Since then, he has not disappeared into the shadows, but taken up the case of the global moratorium. He campaigns on Muslim nations in particular. My question for the Minister is therefore whether he can update us on discussions with Pakistan and other Muslim nations. There has been a change of Government in Pakistan and there is an opportunity to move this issue forward.
Finally, I must disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell). I have seen the effect of the death penalty on an individual and a family. It brutalises society and dehumanises the justice system. In the case of Northern Ireland, even if we had had the death penalty—understandable as it may be for the people who have suffered the horrific crimes carried out there to want it—would it really have taken the Good Friday peace process forward, which I think we all agree has been a good thing?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that we must have real justice and clear life without parole for the worst offenders—there is no question about that and we must make that clear—but how many innocent people would have to die if we had a so-called perfect system where we could kill the worst offenders? It just does not make sense. It is simply wrong for any state to kill its citizens in cold blood in the name of justice. I hope that Amnesty’s continued campaign is a great success.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on getting the debate on to the agenda and on the way in which he opened it. He is hugely knowledgeable on the subject and has a strong record of campaigning on the issue around the world. I know that partly because he is my colleague and we have discussed these issues, and partly because, like him, I am a member of Amnesty International. When Amnesty’s magazine comes through the letter box every few months, although I often find it difficult to read because of the horrors within, from time to time, there is a piece about his work on these important issues.
I reiterate and add my voice to my hon. Friend’s congratulation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government on their work on the issue. As he mentioned, it is rare for most of us to be in agreement in this House, but I think this is one of those matters on which the vast majority of hon. Members come to the same conclusion. It is good to know that our Government take forward these issues on the international stage.
This is a timely debate because it comes so soon after the world day against the death penalty. Sadly, it is also timely because, last Tuesday, we had the news about the three Tibetans executed in Lhasa. News of such executions punctuate our news media regularly. In some ways, it can be said that we are making progress on the international campaign to achieve global abolition. Although there are worrying trends in some states, in 2008, 106 countries voted in favour of a worldwide moratorium on executions and 46 voted against in the UN General Assembly. That was clearly progress on what happened in 2007, when 104 voted in favour, with 54 against. We should take some comfort and inspiration from that.
Although global abolition must remain our ultimate goal, in the meantime, we should do all we can to seek a reduction in the number of executions that happen in countries around the world. That is partly why the work of the many organisations campaigning against the death penalty is so important, particularly those that take up cases to stop individual executions. Even reducing the number of executions by one in an individual country has a huge value, and I pay tribute to the work that is done. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) set out well the impact that such work can have on an individual basis. I congratulate him, his constituent, his constituent’s family and all who were involved in that successful case, which happily ultimately had a good outcome.
I disagree with the argument of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) that the death penalty is an appropriate action for the state in some cases. I have found no evidence in the research that the death penalty acts as a deterrent and makes us safer. In fact, countries that have the death penalty, such as the United States, have incredibly high homicide rates and a correlation can often be seen in relation to that. In any case, the worst serial killers and murderers do not commit such crimes rationally and often do not think through the consequences.
I accept that there are some serial killers and horrific cases in relation to which there is very little or no possibility of redemption, but I put it to the hon. Gentleman that it does not follow that the only solution is the death penalty. True lifetime imprisonment could also keep society safe and, indeed, in various cases in the UK—for example, that of Ian Brady—that was ultimately the decision made.
We have incredibly high security in the places in which these people are held, and that is not something that happens. A tiny minority of cases would fall under the category that the hon. Gentleman is outlining but, given the extreme security we have, we are effectively talking hypothetically about that scenario.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) has described a scenario, but he has not given us any actual examples of notorious serial killers who have either been released and killed other people, or escaped. He is giving us Hollywood fantasy scripts; he has given us no concrete examples.
I concur with the hon. Gentleman. I am certainly confident that, in those tiny minority of cases, the state has secure institutions available to ensure that the public are kept safe, without resorting to state-sponsored murder or compromising our humanity in that way.
Some countries carry out a huge number of executions, and 93 per cent. of all known executions last year took place in just five countries: USA, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In an eloquent contribution, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the situation in China. I agree with him on the importance of working collectively through organisations such as the EU, so that we can have greater influence on the issue. Where there is agreement across the EU, by speaking together we can often have a stronger and louder voice.
As I mentioned, the case of the Tibetans who were executed is of great concern. I welcome the visit of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), to Tibet last month. I hope that he will have spoken to Chinese officials about those Tibetans and others who have been executed—indeed, some people are still facing execution. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland raised the case of Mr. Akmal Shaikh. I echo his concerns and I hope that the Government are doing absolutely everything they can to raise the issue at the highest levels within China.
Despite the place of the US on the global stage and the fact that it argues for human rights in many circumstances, those efforts are entirely undermined by having the death penalty. Some 52 people have been executed in the US since this time last year. I would like to raise the horrific recent case of Romell Broom, who is a man from Ohio who spent two hours waiting to die as technicians looked for a suitable vein through which to administer a lethal injection. He helped them to try to find the vein and in the end the execution could not happen and he was taken away. We need only consider such cases to find a clear reason why the death penalty should be abolished in its entirety.
Of course, there is also always the prospect of executing an innocent person. In America, there was a recent report about the case of Cameron Tod Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 for apparently murdering his three daughters in a house fire. At the time, it was said to be arson, but a recent report published in August by nine investigators has shown that the prosecution of the case was fatally flawed. We can see that such events and innocent cases still happen in all such countries. As mentioned, if the US stopped the death penalty, it would act as a beacon for other countries to stop hiding behind the excuse that because the US does it, they can too.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) made a powerful speech about Iranian executions for homosexuality. Since 1979, more than 4,000 people were killed just for being gay. Although we have generally had a fairly consensual debate, I shall introduce a small note of discord by saying to the Minister that the UK Government need to consider again their policy of deporting gay Iranians despite the fact that they risk imprisonment and potential execution at home. There may not be a good or bad death, but in Iran the methods of execution are particularly harsh and death by stoning still takes place.
In summary, there are myriad reasons why the death penalty is wrong: there is the moral case, the human rights case and the absolutely unanswerable case that mistakes will be made. People are human and mistakes happen in our criminal justice system. Therefore, the state will murder innocent people if there is a death penalty.
The UK Government must be a passionate advocate of ending the death penalty around the world. I appreciate that in many ways we are preaching to the converted because the Minister is in agreement and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a strong record on this issue. However, I hope that today’s excellent debate will act as further encouragement to the Minister by reinforcing that the FCO’s work on raising this issue with Governments around the world is important.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on securing the debate and on the fluent and learned way in which he introduced the subject. I was also impressed by the passion with which the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) spoke.
I had better declare my credentials. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), I have voted for the abolition of capital punishment in this country. I have also, like him, argued that case in front of Conservative party meetings and even Conservative party selection committees when that was not the most fashionable or popular cause to adopt. However, I was glad that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) spoke, because it is important when we debate capital punishment that we do not give the impression of having got together into a political class that is dismissive of what is still a majority view among the British public. The most recent opinion research that I have seen shows that a majority of the public—fewer than 50 per cent., but still a majority—favour the restoration of the death penalty in this country. That should put us on our guard when we debate how to engage with other sovereign nations that have decided, for reasons of their own, to retain the death penalty.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said when he talked about China, there is little to be gained from the ceremonial recitation of opposing lines if no real discussion, engagement or persuasion takes place. I suggest that the Government should focus on three specific ways of seeking to influence countries that retain the death penalty. The first way is to persuade them to reduce the range of offences that are subject to the capital penalty. As others have said, it is obscene that countries such as Iran still have the death penalty for apostasy and for consensual sexual intercourse between adults.
Secondly, I hope that the Government will focus strongly on securing due process where it is absent. It is plainly wrong for capital trials to be held when the accused person is unable to understand the charges against them, or for such trials to be held in secret or without independent observers. Hon. Members have discussed the execution of juveniles in Iran and elsewhere. One might talk about the barbarism of methods of execution such as stoning that are still used in some countries. An important theme to pursue in discussions with China is that it should live up to its declared policy of having all capital cases reviewed by the Supreme Court, but it is far from clear whether that was done in the case that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) mentioned that involved the three Tibetans.
Thirdly, I hope that the Government will focus on the argument that Governments who retain the death penalty should have regard to mitigating circumstances, particularly to the concept of mental illness being a mitigating factor. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked about the Akmal Shaikh case, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised directly with State Councillor Dai Bingguo at their recent meeting. Let me also mention Japan. As recently as 2008, the Japanese executed a man who had been receiving psychiatric treatment in custody for more than a decade. I hope that the Government will pursue those themes both bilaterally and through international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to be serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton.
It is ironic that we are having this debate in Westminster Hall, which was for many centuries the place where state trials were held. I believe that the first execution ordered from just outside this Chamber was in 1295, when Thomas de Turberville was sent off to be executed, oddly for spying against the French—I do not know why we were concerned about that. Ten years later, William Wallace was executed, as I am sure our Scottish colleagues would be more than keen to point out. Charles I was executed following his trial in Westminster Hall, and after that, Oliver Cromwell’s head stood on a pike outside this building for some 35 years. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) would remind us, Thomas More’s trial took place just outside this Chamber, as did Cardinal Fisher’s and Edmund Campion’s. All of them were executed, as were many others.
Sir Thomas More. I am still an Anglican, even though the blandishments of the Bishop of Rome are tempting to others who do not want women bishops. I, however, am very happy to have women bishops.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on securing this important debate. Given the history of Westminster Hall, perhaps we should have an annual debate in the hall itself on the death penalty around the world. I intend to write to the Speaker and to the Leader of the House to suggest that we should do so on the day that is set aside by many organisations such as Amnesty International—of which, I, too, am a member—so that we can showcase our work on this issue. The Government are passionately against the death penalty around the world. Indeed, I think that view is shared by most political parties, if not all.
My arguments against the death penalty are very simple. First, all too often, sentences are wrong. We have heard about such cases today, and tribute has been paid to Ludovic Kennedy. We have heard about people in British cases who were sentenced to death and executed, whom we now know could not possibly have committed the crimes for which they were sentenced. That has happened even in this country, which has a robust judicial system, but the numbers are much higher in countries in which many people do not have access to a fair trial and due process.
Secondly, the death penalty undervalues life. I am a Christian. I know that not all Members of the House are, but I believe that God gave us life so that we should respect it, not so that we should take it away. There is absolutely no evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect. As several hon. Members have already pointed out, states in the United States of America that have the death penalty often have a higher murder rate than states that do not. The same is often true of countries around the world. The Bible is quite clear. “Vengeance is mine” does not mean mine as a Minister, the state or humanity; it means that vengeance is God’s, and we should not use the justice system to perpetrate vengeance.
I also believe that human rights are a seamless garment. I am sorry to keep using all this biblical language. We cannot say that we will stand up for women’s rights in Iran, but that we will not stand against the death penalty. We cannot say that it is wrong for people in Britain to be murdered for their sexuality, but that it is not wrong for people in Iran to be executed for their sexuality. It is particularly poignant that in the past couple of weeks, a man—Ian Baynham—was murdered about 300 yards up the road in Trafalgar square for being gay and that only last weekend a police community support officer was attacked in Liverpool because of his sexuality.
Both I and this Government believe that human rights are a seamless garment, and we will always take up these issues, wherever they apply, in every country in the world. That is a passionate campaign for us politically, because 2,390 people were executed in 25 countries in 2008—a shocking figure, even if it was in only 25 countries—and 8,864 people were sentenced to death in 52 states. As we have heard today in several hon. Members’ passionate speeches, the whole process of being on death row and waiting for a sentence that might or might not be executed and of people being taken to the moment of execution and then taken back is barbaric.
When women are stoned to death in places in Iran, the pit is dug deep enough that they cannot raise their arms to protect themselves so their deaths will be swifter, but the pit is dug relatively shallow for men so that they will try to protect themselves and the execution will take longer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said, in Iran people can be strung up to the back of a lorry that suddenly moves away, and that takes place in main squares with everyone watching, cheering and jeering. One could talk about the methods of execution used in the United States of America, as sometimes it is impossible to find a suitable vein and the execution cannot proceed. Whatever type of execution one looks at, the whole process of being on death row is inhumane and every bit as wrong as the death penalty itself.
We fight politically on that issue around the world, but we will also take up representation wherever we possibly can, case by case, and I pay tribute to the consular staff who work in our embassies around the world, because they are absolutely unstinting in that work. Of course, we must always be intelligent, clever, sage and wise in the precise way that we deploy our diplomatic activity on behalf of an individual, as steaming in with the British diplomatic cavalry will not necessarily achieve our objectives in particular cases. Those consular staff work hard and deal with many complex cases, from child abduction to British people being sentenced to death, so I pay tribute to them.
In many parts of the world, simply ensuring that there is a decent prison in which people can serve their sentences is another part of the diplomatic effort that we have to engage in. I was in Peru three weeks ago but unfortunately was unable to visit Callao prison, which I had wanted to do because of the horrific experiences many British people have had there. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to my visit to Thailand and Laos earlier this year to see Samantha Orobator. I am absolutely delighted that we were able to bring her back to serve her sentence in a British prison. I am passionately concerned about another British prisoner in Laos—John Watson—and desperate to ensure that he, too, is able to serve his sentence in this country, because the conditions in Thai and Laos prisons do not allow for a justice that we would want to be proud of.
We use three main vehicles, the first of which is the European Union. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, it is absolutely vital that we deploy our EU membership to greater effect. I would argue that that is one of the reasons why we need the Lisbon treaty. I hate to enter into difficult territory today, because that is an argument not with the hon. Gentleman but with his party leader, but I will say that we need the EU to be far more effective on a diplomatic and political level around the world. By bringing the roles of the higher representatives together into one figure who would report to the Council and Commission, we could be more effective in that area, particularly in relation to Belarus. Our work to try to persuade Belarus to move towards a moratorium and abandon the death penalty can be done most effectively both bilaterally and through the EU, and that is what we will strive to do.
The second vehicle is the UN. I was delighted that the 2007 resolution was passed and that the 2008 resolution was passed with a bigger majority and included a call for a moratorium. To those who have referred to the US, the matter is still a stain on the American reputation on human rights around the world. I wholly agree with Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, who said that there is absolutely no reason why the US should be behind the rest of the world on that, as he has abolished the death penalty in his state, and we will continue to make that point. Those in Washington are in absolutely no doubt about the British position on that, not least because the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland went there to tell them so. I was delighted that our embassy was able to facilitate his meetings. He has paid tribute to the support he received from many embassies around the world, and I pay tribute to the sustained campaign that he has run.
In response to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)—I was about to call him my hon. Friend, because I think of him as an honourable, friendly person, although he sits on the opposite side of the Chamber. We have the Buckinghamshire mafia here today.
Oh, I am sorry—Thames valley.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to focus our efforts in the three ways to which he referred. I do not differ with him to any degree in that regard. We also must focus on specific countries, and some of them have been mentioned, such as China, Japan, the US and Belarus. There has been scant mention of Caribbean countries, but obviously, we have a particular relationship with the Caribbean, where there are both overseas territories and Commonwealth countries. It is still a problem for us that there are countries that retain the death penalty even though they may not use it. We would prefer them to move to a situation where there was no death penalty.
The first person to hold the post that I now hold was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who was a playwright among other things, but also Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He said:
“The surest way to fail is not to determine to succeed.”
We in the Foreign Office are absolutely determined to succeed in the campaign to bring an end to the death penalty everywhere in the world.
I will allude as quickly as I can to the specific comments that have been made. We have raised the case of Akmal Shaikh at the highest level. On 14 October a letter from the Prime Minister was presented to the Chinese authorities. The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) and Peter Mandelson have all raised that issue directly. In particular, we have raised the issue of Akmal Shaikh’s mental health. In fact, the Prime Minister raised the issue again with the Chinese authorities on 19 October. There was an EU démarche last year, and we hope that there will be another one in the very near future.
On the suggestion of an amicus curiae brief, strong legal advice has confirmed that there is no such provision in Chinese law, despite the fact that the Chinese have used it in other countries. However, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is absolutely right that we need to find other means by which we could make effective representations directly to the People’s Supreme Court in China.
With regard to Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman, I am more than happy to have a meeting and hope that we will be able to put that together as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman referred to the delay at the beginning of that case. There was a complexity that related to how we used to work in those days, in August 2004. At first we did not believe that they wanted us to make representations on their behalf, and we certainly did not have clear instructions from them in the first meeting. Then their lawyer said that they did not want us to act on their behalf. We have changed the way we work, so we would now almost certainly take that as the final statement. We will certainly raise the allegations of torture, because we are always opposed to torture in all cases—full stop.
Several hon. Members mentioned the execution of juveniles in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and there have been six such executions this year. Iran is a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child, so there is absolutely no reason why it should not follow its own treaty obligations. There have been 45 juvenile executions in Saudi Arabia since 1990, and we will work as hard as we can to ensure that there are no more.
I have already referred to Belarus in general, and we will continue to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. Spain does not have representation in Belarus, so during the Spanish presidency of the EU, we will take on that responsibility and ensure that it is one of our top four priorities in the first six months of next year. That relates to the two cases the hon. Gentleman raised—those of Andrei Zhuk and Vasily Yuzepchuk.
Several hon. Members mentioned Japan, and exactly the same issues apply. We constantly take up those issues, including the case of Mr. Hakamada. We believe that that is an extraordinary case in which the mental health of that gentleman has never been taken properly into consideration.
I have referred briefly to the issues in the US, which we try to raise regularly. We believe that the treatment of Troy Davis was unusually cruel. We note that 41 people have been executed this year in the US, 18 of them in Texas. I think that it will be difficult for me to win an argument with the politicians in Texas on that point; but none the less, we will continue to keep up the pressure.
The hon. Member for Banbury said that China sometimes sees issues—