What does Cameron think about the death penalty?

Parliament could soon debate capital punishment but what does the PM think?

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Parliament hasn't voted on the death penalty since 1994 but that could be about to change with the launch of the government's e-petitions site. The site promises that any petition that receives at least 100,000 signatures will be "eligible for debate in the House of Commons".

Guido Fawkes has submitted a petition to reinstate the death penalty for "the murder of children and police officers when killed in the line of duty." So far, he's won the public support of three Conservative MPs - Philip Davies, Priti Patel and Andrew Turner. Davies said: "It's something where once again the public are a long way ahead of the politicians. I'd go further and restore it for all murderers."

With this in mind, I thought it was worth investigating what David Cameron has had to say on the subject. The PM is opposed to capital punishment but does not regard it as an "unacceptable" view for Conservative MPs to hold. He told Dylan Jones, the author of Cameron on Cameron:

[I]f someone murdered one of my children then emotionally, obviously I would want to kill them. How could you not? But there have been too many cases of things going wrong, of the wrong people being executed, of evidence coming to light after the execution, and sometimes there is just too much of an element of doubt. And I just don't honestly think that in a civilised society like ours that you can have the death penalty any more.

If, like me, you regard capital punishment as state murder, you should relish the prospect of a Parliamentary debate on the subject - the best arguments are on our side. The death penalty is not a deterrent (the US murder rate has risen, not fallen, since the penalty was restored in 1976), it can lead to the death of innocents, and it has a brutalising effect on society. As George Bernard Shaw put it: "It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind."

The last time Parliament voted on the subject the death penalty was rejected by 403 votes to 159. A separate attempt to restore the penalty for the murder of a police officer was rejected by 383 votes to 186. The public, by contrast, continue to support capital punishment, although in diminishing numbers. A YouGov poll in September 2010 found that 51 per cent supported the death penalty for murder, with 37 per cent opposed.

So long as Britain remains a member of the European Union there is little prospect of the return of capital punishment - it is illegal under EU law. But this is a debate, one suspects, that will run and run.

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.