by Brian Dooley ABOUT one quarter of the total number of Catholic MPs are set to vote to restore the death penaJty in Tuesday's crucial debate in the House of Commons.
The vote will be taken as an amendment to the Government's Criminal Justice Bill, and nearly a whole parliamentary day has been set aside for the debate. MPs will be allowed a "conscience vote" on the issue they will not be expected to vote along party lines — and although nearly all members of the opposition parties are expected to vote against the restoration many Conservatives will join them in an attempt to defeat the motion.
All of the new Conservative Catholic MPs Rupert Allason, Nicholas Bennett, Julian Brazier and Patrick McLoughlin have indicated they will back the amendment to give judges the power to sentence convicted murderers to death.
In all, about a dozen Catholics will vote for the restoration, including Basildon MP David Amess, who once revealed his belief to the Catholic Herald that the death penalty was desirable because "some people are born evil and we have a duty to protect society". Catholic MPs who are against the ultimate penalty on principle include the Labour member for Monklands West, Tom Clarke. "I'm a pro-fife MP" Mr Clarke told the Catholic Herald, "and so I'm against the taking away of all life. Being anti-abortion and anti-death penalty is completely consistent, but it's very ironic that some of the people who complain most about abortion will be voting for the restoration of hanging".
All of the Catholic MPs who are likely to support a return to the death sentence voted for David Alton's Abortion (Amendment) Bill at its Second Reading, including James Pawsey, the MP for Rugby.
"I think it should be allowed because it's a deterrent. If people are aware that they face the ultimate penalty, then that's a factor they will take into account before they commit a crime. Too many crimes now involve the use of firearms and knives, and this would make people think again", Mr Pawsey told the Catholic Herald.
Mr Alton is firmly opposed to the death penalty and will not be voting for its restoration. "It's very inconsistent of people to support David Alton and then back those who want to see the death penalty. It's just legalised murder and I would be against it in all circumstances", said Catholic Labour MP John Hughes.
David Alton's plans to reduce the time limit for abortion have also been presented as an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, in the same way that the death penalty proposals were. However, Mr Alton's amendment has not yet been selected by the Speaker for debate even though many MPs regard the nature of both issues as very similar. "Both are crucial. Both are matters of life and death", David Alton told the Catholic Herald.
Although the Church is not officially opposed to the death penalty in principle, Assistant General Secretary to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Nicholas Coote insisted that "in modern times the Catholic Church has moved in the direction of saying that taking life tends to corrupt people's respect for life".
"The legalisation of the death penalty would signal a drift back to barbaric times with barbaric penalties with basically unconstructive attempts to deal with the problems of law and order", said Mr Coote.