Death penalty 'should be debated'
MPs must not shy away from debating the restoration of the death penalty if a groundswell of voters backs a petition demanding it, the Commons leader has said.
Sir George Young warned that it would damage democracy to ignore strong opinions among members of the public "or pretend that their views do not exist".
He spoke out ahead of the publication on Thursday of the first submissions to a new e-petitions scheme which could see the most popular appeals discussed in Parliament. Among the most prominent is one calling for legislation allowing child killers and those who murder on-duty police officers to face execution.
It has been presented by Paul Staines, who writes the libertarian Guido Fawkes blog, and has already been backed by several MPs. If it is signed by the required 100,000 supporters or more then the cross-party Backbench Business Committee will decide whether it will be debated.
Sir George played down fears about airing the subject - which was effectively abolished as a sentence for murder in the UK in 1965.
"The site has been widely welcomed as a realistic way to revitalise public engagement in Parliament," he wrote in the Daily Mail. "But there have been some who have been concerned by some of the subjects which could end up being debated - for example, the restoration of capital punishment.
"The last time this was debated - during the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1998 - restoration was rejected by 158 votes. But if lots of people want Parliament to do something which it rejects, then it is up to MPs to explain the reasons to their constituents. What else is Parliament for?
"People have strong opinions, and it does not serve democracy well if we ignore them or pretend that their views do not exist."
Tory MP Priti Patel said such a debate was long overdue and that she favoured restoring capital punishment "for the most serious and significant crimes" - a position echoed by party colleague Andrew Turner.
Sir George said hundreds of petitions had been submitted on subjects "from setting up an English Parliament to ensuring Formula One remains free-to-air". Any petition deemed to be libellous, offensive, duplicates existing open petitions or is not related to Government will be rejected.