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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He is far too decent a human being to try to mislead the House and I do not suggest that he would ever do so, but is he unaware that Sir Ian Blair made the first statement at about twenty past 8 in the morning, whereas the leaflet was not issued until 11 o'clock that morning? Would it not, therefore[Interruption.]
Patrick Mercer: As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His intervention is courteous, proper and, I am sure, designed to be helpful. The fact remains that I find it almost impossible to believe that the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner had not seen a leaflet of such importance on his first day in the job. Furthermore, whether or not he had seen it, the fact remains that he used the words "gross disproportionality". Given that the phrase "grossly disproportionate" is enshrined in civil law, the case seems clear to me.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): My hon. Friend is advancing a forceful case. Anyone listening to his argument would think that if the current law is not correct, it must be amended. Can my hon. Friend think of any other equally important piece of legislation for which a leaflet has been issued that does not clarify the law?
No, I cannot. However, the Government have an interesting habit of issuing explanatory leaflets: for example, in summer they issued a leaflet to explain the threat of terrorismalthough 1.5 million households have yet to receive it. I suggest that the issuing of a leaflet indicates that something is seriously wrong.
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Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that although the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) might have been wrong-footed by the "Today" programme, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner never would have been?
Patrick Mercer: I was not going to refer to the hon. Gentleman's personal grief[Hon. Members: "Oh, go on!"]but if my hon. Friend is patient, he may find that the subject crops up later in my speech.
Interestingly, The Times newspaper also tried to explain what was going on. It published a little series of cartoons along the lines of Cluedo. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins)an eminent recordercould not agree with at least one of those cases. There is utter chaos, utter confusion and an utter inability to understand the law as it stands. The need for a leaflet is clearly wrong, and I suggest that a bad law must be changed.
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue in the Bill. May I take him back to the first case that he cited? The jury12 good men, as he puts itwill have heard all the circumstances of that case and formed a judgment about what was reasonable. Is he saying that they got it wrong?
A number of Labour Members have already referred to the paucity of cases that have been brought. One of the figures that has been talked about is that only 11 cases have been quoted in 15 years. The Sunday Telegraph carried out some research into that very figure. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is rolling his eyes, but the fact remains that this is true. In one hour's research, seven further cases came to light that ought to have been on that list. I have had correspondencea number of emails and textsabout cases that I believe also ought to be on that list. I do not think that there are 11 cases; dozens, if not hundreds, more ought to be on that list.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Of course, it is true that there is some dispute, certainly on the part of the Government, about the number of cases, but the point is that law is meant to boost the public's confidence, which is what has been lost by the muddle that the Government have made. That is what my hon. Friend's Bill is designed to put right.
Patrick Mercer: My right hon. Friend is clear, as always. I add that the Bill is designed not just to rebuild the public's confidence, but to erode the confidence of burglars, who get away with far too much.
As a result of those spurious numbers, I have written to the Crown Prosecution Service to try to explain the position. The Sunday Telegraph also followed up that very list of 11 cases in 15 years with the CPS, which described the list as "an informal trawl". When the new cases were disclosed to the CPS, it said:
How can anybody base an argument on such faulty research? Just because the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the CPS and the Director of Public Prosecutions continue to quote those figures does not mean that they are true. That is inaccurate, unhelpful and thoroughly misleading.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that all our constituents are concerned about not simply the cases that come to formal prosecution, but the fact that, whenever a burglary takes place and a householder tries to defend their person, property and family, the police may start to interview them after the incident and suggest that they might be in the wrong, when all they were doing was defending their own property, person and family. That is wrong in itself. There should be a presumption in favour of the law-abiding householder, and we should get back to the concept that an Englishman's home is his castle.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) a moment ago, does my hon. Friend also accept that there are cases where householders are offered the choice between accepting a caution or having the due process take place, so many householders who have been affected by such circumstances have chosen a lesser exit route for fear of what might happen further down the road?
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and for his support as a sponsor of my Bill. He is absolutely right: many people will be daunted by the due process of the law and will seek exactly the course that he describes. Despite that fact, unnecessary pressure is still put on honest, ordinary people, and I resent that and believe that it is wrong.
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman almost took me by surprise by giving way just then. I simply wish to put to him a point that arises from the last but one intervention. Is he seriously saying that, if someone ends up dead, there should be no police investigation?
I will be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman in future if he stays alert. I believe that, under the new law, whatever happens must be tested against the test of gross disproportionality, not against that of reasonable force. That will give much greater latitude to the police, the CPS and to a jury, all of which will be helpful.
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Above and beyond everything else, this is a question of public support. That is why in all the opinion pollsevery one that I have seen anyway, and I acknowledge that polls are not always reliablethe percentage of people who constantly support what the Bill is saying is in the high 80s or low 90s. It is also clear, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) knows, that the Bill came top in the "Today" programme poll. As a former employee of the "Today" programme, I am free to criticise, of course. We may criticise or we may have our thoughts about who listens to the "Today" programme, but the fact remains that, even among its listeners, this is a very popular issue, and I suggest that, as democratically elected individuals, we cannot afford to ignore that.
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