Britain recoils from using the rope
London — It looks as though Britain will remain in step with the rest of Europe in opposing capital punishment for the foreseeable future. In fact, the Wednesday vote in the House of Commons against restoring the death penalty was so emphatic - to many, surprisingly so - that a number of victorious opponents see Britain as having given a final verdict on the issue.
The rest of Europe, except for Turkey, Cyprus, and the Irish Republic, abandoned capital punishment long ago. It is also banned by the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, the issue may well surface again in the future. Proponents still insist that hanging is a deterrent against a rising crime rate and an increasing (though still small, by United States standards) use of firearms.
Polls also continue to show heavy public support for hanging in certain cases. A Gallup poll published July 13, covering 881 people in 90 districts July 7-11, showed 77 percent favored hanging for terrorist killings.
Proponents saw a golden opportunity to bring back hanging (it was suspended in 1965 and banned in 1969) when the June 9 election put a large number of first-time Tory members in Parliament.
Yet the general proposition that hanging should be restored was lost by 145 votes, with 368 against and 223 for. This was not much smaller than the 162-vote majority on the same vote in the House of Commons last May.
The closest vote was on the issue of hanging someone who killed a police officer. That was defeated by 81 votes. The widest vote was a majority of 145 against hanging for murder involving theft. On the key issue of murder by terrorists, hanging was lost by 116 votes.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a majority of nine of her Cabinet members voted in favor of hanging for terrorist killings. Northern Ireland Secretary James Prior was 1 of 8 Cabinet members voting against.
Mr. Prior argued that hanging would play into the hands of terrorists of the illegal Irish Republican Army, who wanted to be treated differently than other criminals.