MPs to get free vote on hanging

THE COMMONS is to be given a free vote on the return of capital punishment for several categories of murder, including killing a policeman, early in the next session of Parliament, senior Tory backbench MPs confirmed last night.

Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, Tory chairman of the cross- party Home Affairs Select Committee, said it was expected that Tory MPs would table amendments to the Government's Criminal Justice Bill calling for the return of the death penalty for a range of categories of murder.

Sir Ivan was one of the leading sponsors of an unsuccessful Tory backbench clause to impose the death penalty for the murder of a police officer in the Criminal Justice Bill in December 1990, which was rejected by 350 votes to 215.

It will be the first vote on the death penalty in the present Parliament, but Tory supporters of the death penalty said last night that it was certain to be defeated. 'It was defeated when we had a majority of 100. Now we have a majority of 17, the margin will be even bigger. There is more support now for flogging,' said one Tory MP.

John Major and most of his Cabinet voted against. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, voted for restoring the death penalty for the murder of police officers, but since the Guildford Four acquittals he has said that he can no longer support capital punishment, although the death penalty remains for treason.

Majorities against the return of capital punishment, which was ended in 1965, were greater in 1990 than in June 1988, indicating that support for the death penalty was fading in the Commons, in spite of continuing calls by the public for its restoration.

Mr Howard plans to announce his proposals on the Sheehy report on the reform of the police next Thursday, but is expected to drop the idea of performance-related pay and limited-term contracts for rank and file police officers, although they may be offered to higher ranks.

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