|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Every hon. Member would agree that there has been public concern about this issue over the past few yearswe hope that we will manage to rectify that with this political debatebut may I clarify something with the hon. Gentleman? We all accept that the CPS says that there were 11 cases over the past 15 years, on top of which there are seven cases to which The Sunday Telegraph has referred. He says that there might be dozens of cases, but in our evaluation of whether this is a good Bill to pass, we need to assess how many of those cases would not come to prosecution if his Bill was passed. How many cases does he think would not come to prosecution?
Patrick Mercer: The hon. Gentleman asks about a proportion of an unknown number. I do not know what that number is, and I will not pretend to do so, any more than the CPS could furnish a comprehensive list at short notice. I do not intend to go down that path because it is not helpful. The fact remains that confidence was lost in civil lawthe law was changed. Confidence has now been lost in the criminal law, and it has yet to be changed.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of ordinary, law-abiding people have not the faintest idea how they will react if they find an intruder in their homes, particularly in the middle of the night and if they were asleep. That is a moment of panic, and they will react out of fear, anger, instinct or a mixture of those things. It is not a moment to start calculating the reasonableness of how they are reacting. The law needs to be clarified, and the presumption must be in favour of the householder, not the burglar.
I thank my hon. Friend for her extremely clear and common-sense intervention. She is, of course, only echoing the words of the new Metropolitan Police Commissionera professional police officer, in whom we must all have huge confidence. I have had support for the Bill from the police up and down the country. First and foremost, Sir John Stevens supports it. I think that Sir Ian Blair supports itcertainly, as we have heard, he supported it a couple of days ago. I have also had texts from Nottinghamshire policemy constituency is in Nottinghamshirenot only telling me that they support
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1082
the Bill, but making the point that if the householder and the shop owner are more confident about the law, the converse will be true: the burglar, the intruder, the lout and the thug will be that much less confident. As a result, there will be fewer burglaries and therefore fewer opportunities for bloody confrontation in the household.
The name Brendon Fearon might be known to the House. He was the boy who was shot and wounded by Tony Martin in Norfolk. Brendon Fearon is a constituent of mine. As a result of an outstanding piece of journalism by the Newark Advertiser, he was interviewed and clearly said that he supported my Bill. He believed the Bill would deter the sort of activity in which he had been involved in the past.
I have professional police officers supporting me. I have convicted criminals supporting me. At one stage I thought I had the Prime Minister supporting me. I find that extraordinarily compelling, and I believe it means that the law must be changed.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): With reference to the confidence of burglars, my constituent, Robin Baker-White, whose house was broken into by two large thugs, fired a shot over their heads as they ran away, in clear contravention of the current guideline leaflet. It was widely reported in the papers that his shotgun had been confiscated by the police. The thugs came back a couple of weeks later and viciously beat him up. Under the existing law they had the confidence to do that.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I am enjoying the entertaining way in which the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) is putting across his valid point of view. He was critical of the current provision relating to reasonable force. Why does he favour unreasonable force?
Patrick Mercer: I favour any force short of grossly disproportionate force. It is a simple test. It has been established by eminent lawyers who know much more about the matter than I do[Interruption.]
The second amendment is simple. Far too many people are arrested, charged and tried as a result of violence against an intruder in the home or in a shop. Far too many people go in front of a jury and a judge and are told, "You are as innocent as the day you were born. You have not contravened the law. Get out of my court. You're wasting my time." That sounds like justice. It sounds like someone being accused and found innocent. The fact remains that that length of time in Charlie Mayall's case, six monthsis a period of enormous stress, trauma, loss of earnings, break-up of families and all sorts of other pressures on individuals. That must be wrong.
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1083
In the second amendment to the Bill, we would make the judgment about those who come in front of a court the business purely and simply of the Attorney-General. Only on his say-so would someone come up in court. This is a powerful point. Too many people suffer needlessly at the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Bill is not designed to be party political. A cursory glance at the names of its supporters will reveal that Members of all parties have signed up to it. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), a respected general practitioner, wrote to me yesterday:
Sadly, others have chosen to confuse the issue. On 8 December in the Chamber, the Prime Minister seemed to be supporting the Bill. On Wednesday, however, he had done a complete U-turn. He told usas a result of pressure, no doubt, from his new Home Secretarythat the law was clear. He reminds me of a character from "Little Britain"the Vicky Pollard of Westminster: "Yeah but no but yeah but no". Where is the Prime Minister coming from? Is he, like the Home Secretary, flying in the face of public opinion? Is he responsible, with the Home Secretary, for the shameless buffeting of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner? If this were a Labour private Member's Bill, I have no doubt that it would go through without opposition, on the nod, for the common sense that it is. The Bill stands above party politics[Interruption.]
Patrick Mercer: The Bill stands above party politics and attacks the nonsense of political correctness. It will restore people's confidence in the law while destroying the confidence of burglars. It will empower ordinary peopleour constituentsagainst criminals and thugs. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on his success in being No. 1 in the ballot. I am pleased to say that I support the Bill. I shall briefly explain why.
Most of my constituents think the balance of the law is wrong, and that it needs to be changed radically in their favour and against those who break the law. If I have any criticism of the hon. Gentleman's Bill, it is that it does not go far enough. As most of my constituents know, when we have been burgled none of us is in a totally rational state. As the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) said, none of us knows how we will behave in those circumstances. However, a climate has built up in this country leading most people to feel that whatever they do in those circumstances, the law is more likely to doubt their word than the word of those who are breaking the law.
I was therefore disappointed when the Lord Chancellor weighed in on the debate to remind us, as he thought, that burglars, too, have rights. Those were his
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1084
words. I was surprised that, given his closeness to the Prime Minister, he was not more on message, for the Prime Minister is right always to have stressed that duties come before rights. Most of us in this country believe that we should be allowed to go about our business peacefully and without being interrupted violently or otherwise by other citizens, but that if we should decide to break into somebody else's property, the rights that have to be respected are negated. It is with regard to that balance that I support the change that hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve in the Bill.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman is very lucky to have come high in the ballot at this time of the parliamentary calendar, because it is at this stage, in the last few weeks of a Parliament, when voters become more powerful than they usually are and when, if there is such a thing as sovereignty in this place, it leaves here and goes back to voters. I therefore have no doubt whatever that my party will clarify its position on immigration before we face the electorate again. I am quite sure that, as a result of the Bill, whether it is passed or not, the debate has now been changed for the better and the law will be clarified in a way that is advantageous to our constituents.
I view the opportunity that we have today thanks to the choice of this Bill as a chance to have a slightly wider debate on how our constituents regard the criminal justice system. I therefore regard the Bill as almost the barium meal of an X-ray. I represent constituents who feel that the police force that they pay for has largely lost confidence in enforcing the law and is broken backed. They feel that the police themselves believe that, if they try to enforce the law as they believe it should be enforced, the weight of authority will again be against them.
It is deeply disturbing to look at the numbers involved, not of people who commit crime, but of those who are brought to justice. All the interventions from both sides of the House have assumed that the police force in this country works as we would like it to work and that the police keep turning up and taking evidence or are at least on hand. That is not my experience. The figures for London show that each police officer successfully helps to prosecute an average of three people a year. In Merseyside, the figure is six.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|