'Miscarriages of justice are a blot on a civilised society,' said Mr Howard, who until three years ago had favoured the death penalty for the murder of police or prison officers and for murder with firearms or explosives.
'To spend years in prison for a crime you did not commit is both a terrible thing and one for which release from prison and financial recompense cannot make amends. But even this injustice cannot be compared with the icy comfort of a posthumous pardon.'
Mr Howard was speaking during a Committee Stage debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. John Greenway, Conservative MP for Ryedale and a former Metropolitan police officer, moved a new clause to make the murder of a police officer punishable by death, which was rejected by 383 votes to 186, a majority of 197.
A second clause, moved by Elizabeth Peacock, Tory MP for Batley and Spen, to reintroduce the death penalty for all murders, but subject to confirmation by the Court of Appeal, was also rejected by 403 votes to 159, a majority of 244.
Mr Greenway, whose eldest son and prospective daughter-in-law are police officers, said that there was 'something particularly outrageous and despicable' about the murder of a police officer.
In the three years since MPs last debated the death penalty for police murder - and rejected it by 185 votes to 135 - eight officers have been murdered, the most recent only two weeks ago.
'If the life of just one of those eight officers had been spared by the death sentence, wouldn't this sanction have been justified?' Mr Greenway asked. 'I take view that these evil men who show such utter contempt for the lives of serving police officers deserve to pay for their horrific crimes by forfeiting their own lives.' He said it was an incontrovertible fact that when Britain had the death penalty it was extremely rare for criminals engaged in serious robberies to be armed with guns or knives lest in the heat of the moment a member of the gang panicked and committed murder. 'I believe that the threat of the death penalty would have a similar effect on some criminals today.'
Intervening, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, a former Conservative solicitor general for Scotland, said he had appeared in 17 capital cases. He did not believe the death penalty had a deterrent effect on offenders and said it could have 'a really bad effect' on counsel. 'If I make a mistake in asking the wrong questions . . . the man may go to the trap. Therefore, I believe it is wrong and evil in every way.'
Mrs Peacock recalled her warning in the last hanging debate that it was time MPs came down from their ivory tower and did what the British people wanted them to do - support the reintroduction of the death penalty.
'My postbag suggests that nothing has changed. In fact, there is more and more support throughout the country for this action. To me, beating an old lady to death in her own home or killing a policeman on duty are equally abhorrent - they are both murder. In my view, in a proven case of murder, it would be the duty of the court to pass the death penalty.'
However, she noted that many murders were 'carried out in domestic circumstances' and said that under her new clause death sentences would immediately be referred to the Court of Appeal to decide whether the circumstances justified the substitution of life imprisonment.
Menzies Campbell QC, Liberal Democrat MP for Fife NE, said the cases of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six showed how mistakes could be made.
'Some, or indeed all of them, might well have suffered the same fate as Timothy Evans. If they had, then they would simply have underlined the dangerous finality of the cruel and inhuman punishment which capital punishment represents. Are we so confident of
ourselves and our judicial system that we are willing to wager the life of any citizen on capital
Mr Howard explained that it was the failure of the appeal system in the case of the Birmingham Six that, three years ago, had led him to re-examine his support for capital punishment. 'We should not fail to consider the irreparable damage which would be inflicted on the criminal justice system in this country had innocent people been executed,' he said.
The shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair, told the House he opposed the two proposed death penalty clauses on moral and utilitarian grounds. 'The most powerful argument is the risk that we will kill the innocent,' he declared.
Murdering a police officer was heinous, he said, 'but so are terrorist killings of blowing people up in pubs, young girls raped then brutally murdered - and in all these circumstances the death penalty, if appropriate in one, would be appropriate in all'.
Seamus Mallon (SDLP Newry and Armagh) said: 'If we do incorporate the taking of life, the killing of people, into our legislation, then we have taken the values and the methods of the terrorist, of the gangster, of the gunman, and written it into our legislation.'
How Members of the main parties cast their votes
Conservatives voting for:
R Allason (Torbay), D Amess (Basildon), J Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford), J Arnold (Gravesham), Sir T Arnold (Hazel Grove), P Atkinson (Hexham); N Baker (Dorset N), M Banks (Southport), S Batiste (Elmet), V Bendall (Ilford N), Dr J Blackburn (Dudley W), Sir N Bonsor (Upminster), A Bowden (Brighton Kemptown), Sir R Boyson (Brent N), J Brazier (Canterbury), I Bruce (Dorset S), S Burns (Chelmsford); J Carlisle (Luton N), M Carrington (Fulham), M Carttiss (Great Yarmouth), W Cash (Stafford), S Chapman (Chipping Barnet), J Clappison (Hertsmere), Dr M Clark (Rochford), G Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury), D Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham), A Coombs (Wyre Forest), S Coombs (Swindon), J Cran (Beverley); Q Davies (Stamford and Spalding), D Davis (Boothferry), S Day (Cheadle), T Devlin (Stockton S), G Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth), T Dicks (Hayes and Harlington), D Dover (Chorley), I Duncan-Smith (Chingford), B Dunn (Dartford), Sir T Durant (Reading W).
Sir P Emery (Honiton), D Evans (Welwyn and Hatfield), N Evans (Ribble Valley), R Evans (Monmouth), D Evennett (Erith and Crayford); M Fabricant (Staffordshire Mid), Dame P Fenner (Medway), M Forsyth (Stirling), E Forth (Worcestershire Mid), Sir M Fox (Shipley), D French (Gloucester), Sir P Fry (Wellingborough); R Gale (Thanet N), Sir G Gardiner (Reigate), C Gill (Ludlow), C Gillan (Chesham and Amersham), Dr C Goodson- Wickes (Wimbledon), T Gorman (Billericay), Sir A Grant (Cambridgeshire SW), H Greenway (Ealing N), J Greenway (Ryedale), P Griffiths (Portsmouth N); W Hague (Richmond, Yorks), Sir A Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell), J Hanley (Richmond and Barnes), A Hargreaves (Birmingham Hall Green), N Hawkins (Blackpool S), W Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge), C Hendry (High Peak), J Hill (Southampton Test), J Horam (Orpington), A Hunter (Basingstoke); T Jessel (Twickenham), R B Jones (Herts W).
Dame E Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster), R Key (Salisbury), T Kirkhope (Leeds NE), R Knapman (Stroud), G Knight (Derby N), Dame J Knight (Birmingham Edgbaston); I Lang (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale), Sir I Lawrence (Burton), E Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle), D Lightbown (Staffordshire SE), M Lord (Suffolk Central).
A MacKay (Berkshire E), D Maclean (Penrith and the Border), P McLoughlin (Derbyshire W), Sir P McNair-Wilson (New Forest), K Mans (Wyre), P Marland (Gloucestershire W), T Marlow (Northampton N), J Marshall (Hendon S), Dr B Mawhinney (Peterborough), I Mills (Meriden), A Mitchell (Gedling), Sir D Mitchell (Hampshire NW), Sir H Monro (Dumfries), Sir F Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale), M Moss (Cambridgeshire NE).
Sir M Neubert (Romford), P Nicholls (Teignbridge), D Nicholson (Taunton), S Norris (Epping Forest); J Paice (Cambs SE), I Patnick (Sheffield Hallam), J Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth), E Peacock (Batley and Spen), B Porter (Wirral S), D Porter (Waveney); J Redwood (Wokingham), G Riddick (Colne Valley), A Robathan (Blaby), M Roe (Broxbourne), Dame A Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden); D Shaw (Dover), R Sims (Chislehurst), Sir T Skeet (Bedfordshire N), Sir D Smith (Warwick and Leamington), Sir D Spencer (Brighton Pavilion), Sir J Spicer (Dorset W), Dr R Spink (Castle Point), I Sproat (Harwich), A Stewart (Eastwood), G Streeter (Plymouth Sutton), D Sumberg (Bury S), J Sykes (Scarborough).
J M Taylor (Solihull), Sir T Taylor (Southend E), Sir D Thompson (Calder Valley), Sir M Thornton (Crosby), P Thurnham (Bolton NE), J Townend (Bridlington), R Tracey (Surbiton), D Tredinnick (Bosworth), N Trotter (Tynemouth), I Twinn (Edmonton); Sir G Vaughan (Reading E), P Viggers (Gosport); B Walker (Tayside N), J Ward (Poole), C Wardle (Bexhill and Battle), N Waterson (Eastbourne), J Watts (Slough), B Wells (Hertford and Stortford), R Whitney (Wycombe), J Whittingdale (Colchester S and Maldon), A Widdecombe (Maidstone), Sir J Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare).
Conservatives voting against:
P Ainsworth (Surrey E), J Aitken (Thanet S), M Alison (Selby), D Ashby (Leicestershire NW), D Atkinson (Bournemouth E).
K Baker (Mole Valley), T Baldry (Banbury), R Banks (Harrogate), M Bates (Langbaurgh), Sir P Beresford (Croydon Cent), J Biffen (Shropshire N), T Boswell (Daventry), P Bottomley (Eltham), J Bowis (Battersea), G Brandreth (Chester), G Bright (Luton S), M Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes), N Budgen (Wolverhampton SW), A Burt (Bury N), P Butler (Milton Keynes NE), J Butterfill (Bournemouth W).
K Carlisle (Lincoln), P Channon (Southend W), K Clarke (Rushcliffe), S Coe (Falmouth and Camborne), M Colvin (Romsey and Waterside), D Congdon (Croydon NE), Sir J Cope (Northavon), J Couchman (Gillingham), E Currie (Derbyshire S), D Curry (Skipton and Ripon); S Dorrell (Loughborough), Lord J Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh W), H Dykes (Harrow E). T Eggar (Enfield N), H Elletson (Blackpool N), J Evans (Brecon and Radnor);D Faber (Westbury), Sir N Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross), D Fishburn (Kensington), N Forman (Carshalton and Wallington), Dr L Fox (Woodspring), R Freeman (Kettering); T Garel- Jones (Watford), E Garnier (Harborough), A Goodlad (Eddisbury), J Gorst (Hendon N);Dr K Hampson (Leeds NW), D Harris (St Ives), A Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), J Hayes (Harlow), Sir E Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup), M Howard (Folkestone and Hythe), A Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon), R G Hughes (Harrow W), D Hunt (Wirral W); M Jack (Fylde), B Jenkin (Colchester N), Sir G Johnson Smith (Wealden), M Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale); T King (Bridgwater), Sir D Knox (Staffordshire Moorlands), G Kynoch (Kincardine And Deeside); J Lait (Hastings and Rye), N Lamont (Kingston upon Thames), B Legg (Milton Keynes SW), M Lennox-Boyd (Morecambe and Lunesdale), J Lester (Broxtowe), D Lidington (Aylesbury), P Lilley (St Albans), P Lloyd (Fareham), P Luff (Worcester), Sir N Lyell (Bedfordshire Mid).
J MacGregor (Norfolk S), Sir D Madel (Bedfordshire SW), Lady O Maitland (Sutton and Cheam), J Major (Huntingdon), G Malone (Winchester), D Martin (Portsmouth S), P Merchant (Beckenham), Sir R Moate (Faversham).
A Nelson (Chichester), T Newton (Braintree), E Nicholson (Devon W and Torridge); Sir C Onslow (Woking), R Ottaway (Croydon S); J Patten (Oxford W and Abingdon), E Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar), W Powell (Corby); T Rathbone (Lewes), R Richards (Clwyd NW), M Rifkind (Edinburgh Pentlands), A Rowe (Kent Mid), R Ryder (Norfolk Mid); T Sainsbury (Hove), N Scott (Chelsea), Sir G Shaw (Pudsey), C Shepherd (Hereford), N Soames (Crawley), Sir K Speed (Ashford), M Spicer (Worcestershire S), R Spring (Bury St Edmunds), R Squire (Hornchurch), Sir J Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling), M Stephen (Shoreham), M Stern (Bristol NW); Sir P Tapsell (Lindsey E), I Taylor (Esher), P Temple-Morris (Leominster), R Thomason (Bromsgrove), P Thompson (Norwich N), C Townsend (Bexleyheath), M Trend (Windsor and Maidenhead).
W Waldegrave (Bristol W), G Walden (Buckingham), G Waller (Keighley), Sir J Wheeler (Westminster N), D Willetts (Havant), D Wilshire (Spelthorne), M Wolfson (Sevenoaks). T Yeo (Suffolk S), Sir G Young (Acton).
No Labour MPs voted for.
Lib Dems voting against:
D Alton (Liverpool Mossley Hill), P Ashdown (Yeovil); A Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed), M Bruce (Gordon); M Campbell (Fife NE), A Carlile (Montgomery); D Foster (Bath); N Harvey (Devon N), S Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey); Sir R Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber), N Jones (Cheltenham); C Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye), A Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire); L Lynne (Rochdale); R Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland), D Maddock (Christchurch); D Rendel (Newbury); Sir D Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale); M Taylor (Truro), P Tyler (Cornwall N).
Minor party MPs in favour:
R Beggs (UUP Antrim E); C Forsythe (UUP Antrim S); Sir J Kilfedder (Pop U Down N); Rev W McCrea (DUP Ulster Mid), J Molyneaux (UUP Lagan Valley); Rev I Paisley (DUP Antrim N); P Robinson (DUP Belfast E), W Ross (UUP Londonderry E); Rev M Smyth (UUP Belfast S); J D Taylor (UUP Strangford); C Walker (UUP Belfast N).
Minor party MPs against:
M Ewing (SNP Moray); J Hume (SDLP Foyle); E Llwyd (Plaid Cymru Meirionnydd Nant Conwy); E McGrady (SDLP Down S), K Maginnis (UUP Fermanagh and S Tyrone), S Mallon (SDLP Newry and Armagh); A Salmond (SNP Banff and Buchan).
Tories who did not vote:
R Alexander (Newark), M Ancram (Devizes), J Aspinwall (Wansdyke), R Atkins (South Ribble); H Bellingham (Norfolk NW), Sir R Body (Holland with Boston), H Booth (Finchley), V Bottomley (Surrey SW), P Brooke (City of London and Westminster S), A Browning (Tiverton), J Butcher (Coventry SW);W Churchill (Davyhulme), P Cormack (Staffordshire S), J Critchley (Aldershot); N Deva (Brentford and Isleworth), A Duncan (Rutland and Melton); B Field (Isle of Wight);Sir N Fowler (Sutton Coldfield); Sir M Grylls (Surrey NW), J S Gummer (Suffolk Coastal); N Hamilton (Tatton), Sir J Hannam (Exeter), O Heald (Hertfordshire N), D Heathcoat-Amory (Wells), R Hicks (Cornwall SE), D Howell (Guildford), Sir R Howell (Norfolk N), Sir J Hunt (Ravensbourne), D Hurd (Witney);R Jackson (Wantage), G Jones (Cardiff N); A Knight (Erewash); Sir M Marshall (Arundel), M Mates (Hampshire E), Sir P Mayhew (Tunbridge Wells), D Mellor (Putney); R Needham (Wiltshire N); P Oppenheim (Amber Valley); R Page (Herts SW), Sir G Pattie (Chertsey and Walton), M Portillo (Enfield Southgate); T Renton (Sussex Mid), Sir W Roberts (Conwy), R Robertson (Aberdeen S), M Robinson (Somerton and Frome); T Sackville (Bolton W), G Shephard (Norfolk SW), R Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills), T Smith (Beaconsfield), A Steen (South Hams), W Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan); J Wilkinson (Ruislip Northwood), A Winterton (Congleton), N Winterton (Macclesfield), T Wood (Stevenage).
Labour MPs who did not vote:
S Bell (Middlesbrough); G Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich); A Faulds (Warley E); B Gould (Dagenham), T Graham (Renfrew W and Inverclyde); C MacDonald (Western Isles), J McWilliam (Blaydon), J Morris (Aberavon); G Oakes (Halton), M O'Neill (Clackmannan); R Parry (Liverpool Riverside), T Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde); A Rogers (Rhondda); P Tipping (Sherwood), J Wray (Glasgow Provan).
Liberal Democrats not voting:
R Michie (Argyll and Bute); J Wallace (Orkney and Shetland).
Other MPs not voting:
D Trimble (UUP Upper Bann); A Welsh (SNP Angus E); D Wigley (Plaid Cymru Caernarfon).