Gale’s View 3rd October 2012
Realistically, there is not a snowball in hell`s chance of capital punishment for murder being introduced during the lifetime of this parliament and only a very significant Conservative majority after the next general election would create even the opportunity to reintroduce a measure that the majority of British people have indicated, in poll after poll, that they would welcome.
I was the last person to seek to introduce, under a Conservative government with a modest majority but with a chance of success, an amendment to a criminal justice bill that would have made the death penalty not mandatory but at least the maximum available sentence that a court could impose. That amendment was defeated and since that time a Labour Government has enshrined in British legislation a European Convention Human Rights that places a double lock on any future attempt to change the law relating to capital punishment. Only the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights would alter that situation and whether we like it or not – and many of us do not – there is no majority, under the Coalition, to permit the repeal of the Human Rights Act. So no change.
I raise this again now because in the wake of the murders, while on duty, of Police Constables Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone there has been an understandable call to either bring back hanging” or to arm the police”. I have indicated that the former is a non-starter for the foreseeable future and I know of few people who would welcome the shift to a fully armed police force that carries guns as a matter of course. How, then, do we protect the men and women that we send into harm`s way to enforce and maintain our law and order?
Forget, for these purposes, the language that may or may not have been used by the Government Chief Whip when addressing police officers in Downing Street and the equally unacceptable behaviour of the leaders” – I use the term loosely – of the Police Federation when receiving the Home Secretary at their annual conference. Neither is typical or representative of the public`s attitude towards the police and the context of difficult but necessary negotiations in relation to the terms and conditions of the employment of the constabulary is not a good place from which to start to reconsider how we can offer some degree of safety to our police men and women.
When I took my oath as a Special” my Chief Constable took my wife to one side, explained to her the difficulties and dangers that I might face, and assured her that the police family” would rally round if anything went wrong. That was of some comfort and experience suggests that fellow officers certainly do their best, if the worst happens, to offer sympathy and practical support. That, though, is not enough. If we are not to reintroduce the ultimate deterrent or to arm our police then we have at the very least a clear obligation, irrespective of other negotiations taking place, to ensure that those who are killed or incapacitated and left unable to work in the course of their duties, and their families, are properly provided for. We have at last recognised, under this Government and through the Armed Forces Military Covenant, that when we send the men and women of our armed forces into battle our commitment to our soldiers and sailors and airmen extends far beyond sending them into battle and should be for life. The time has surely come to introduce a Police Covenant that spells out, in equal terms, the debt of care and responsibility for those that are prepared to give their all in their own not dissimilar line of duty.