This has not come as a bolt from the blue. A string of e-petitions will mature soon and capital punishment is expected to be near the top of the list, as it always is when the public is asked for its opinion. Young sees this as a chance for parliament to reconnect with voters; he writes, ‘there’s no room for complacency: parliament needs to keep on connecting with the outside world.’
If a debate is secured, it will doubtless be heralded as a great victory for people power, transparency etc. I’m not so sure. Perverse though it sounds, capital punishment is an easy debate. MPs will gaze into their navels and ruminate on all manner of philosophical questions and legal quandaries before deciding, by an emphatic margin, against lifting the ban. I usually baulk at making predictions, but I’d put my house, pension and golf clubs on that being the outcome.
Of course, if parliament decided to restore capital punishment, it would then have to debate, among many other things, Britain’s place in the European Convention on Human Rights (which would necessitate renegotiating the terms of our membership of the UN), the Council of Europe and the European Union. Those are complicated, time consuming issues (for which there are also e-petitions, as it happens); I wonder if the Leader of the House will encourage a debate on them?