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Mr. Pound: I know that my hon. Friend is an extremely modest man, but does he accept that the Government have listened to his innovative suggestion, because the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 does precisely that? At this stage, however, tax exemption for tools of the trade does not normally cover jemmies and crowbars.

Harry Cohen: I take that point. The Proceeds of Crime Act mainly deals with drugs—

Mr. Pound: Not just that.

Harry Cohen: I take my hon. Friend's point.

Crime has come down. We have record police numbers, which will be increased again next year, with 4.8 per cent. extra for police nationally next year, and 5.8 per cent. extra funds for police in London. We will have safer neighbourhood teams, with eight in each London borough and six dedicated officers in each team—one sergeant, two PCs and three community support officers. I am delighted that in the wards of Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Cann Hall, Cathall, Leyton and Leytonstone in my constituency there will be safer neighbourhood teams, which will have an impact on burglary as well as other sorts of crime.

One aspect of this Bill is that the Tories fear that they are losing on crime—which they are—and they hope that it will revive their fortunes. It is a red herring. It might influence a few, but it will not succeed electorally, because the facts are there—crime is down 30 per cent. since 1997, we have record police numbers, and the popular antisocial behaviour orders, safer neighbourhood teams and community support officers. It is a success story, and the Tories' only response is to try to spread anxiety and fear of crime.

The existing law is clear: it allows the use of reasonable force. In response to my intervention, the hon. Member for Newark seemed to make a distinction between unreasonable force and grossly disproportionate force. That was a false distinction. The distinction is clear and simple: force is either reasonable or unreasonable, and unreasonable force should not be accepted.
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11.8 am

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on his Bill and on the succinct and extremely impressive way in which he presented it. He has significant public support in the country, as this is a very big issue.

I became involved in this whole debate as Tony Martin's local MP. I believe that had it not been for all the debate about and interest in that case, it is highly unlikely that we would be here today. My hon. Friend said that his Bill would not have represented a defence to Tony Martin. I do not want to get distracted by going into the details of the Tony Martin case, but what happened was that we had a wide-ranging debate about householders' rights and exactly what a householder could and could not do and, as Tony Martin's local MP, I was able to play a small part in that debate. It is ironic that, as my hon. Friend said, his constituent, Brendan Fearon, who was one of the burglars who broke into Tony Martin's home and was shot by Tony Martin, supports the Bill. Tony Martin also supports the Bill.

I have had a chance to look at the details of numerous other cases, and of all the conclusions that have flowed from the Tony Martin case and the in-depth discussion of those many other cases, the conclusion that most people have drawn is that the law is currently weighted against the householder. Most people take the view that there is a presumption of guilt against the householder who takes any action at all, and there is some evidence for that in the way in which householders whose homes have been burgled have been treated.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the paucity of the cases that have actually reached court, and he is absolutely right, but what about all those householders who have been arrested and questioned, and suffered trauma, stress, loss of earnings and, in some cases, the break-up of marriage, even though their case never came to court? I wrote to ask the Minister how many cases there had been in the last eight years of householders being arrested for taking action against intruders, and I was told that there are no statistics or facts on that. What about all those other cases where the householder who has suffered a burglary or an intrusion on to their property has decided that they cannot take any action against the burglar or intruder?

What about the attitude of various police forces? How often have we heard statements from police forces, grudgingly announcing that no action will be taken against the householder, after the householder has been through hours of questioning and may have spent a good number of days in a police cell?

We have had a significant and lengthy debate about the reasonable man test. This was one of the areas that I looked at very carefully in the wake of the Tony Martin case and the subsequent debate and discussions. I took a detailed look at the reasonable man test and at how it applied in other parts of the law and in other countries. We are talking about someone who takes action at four in the morning, perhaps completely petrified and standing at the top of the stairs. His judgment may have been warped by fear, by being woken up and by loss of sleep. That person is not judged subjectively in terms of what he felt was an appropriate response, but is
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judged many weeks later by the police and the prosecuting authorities, according to what a reasonable person would have done.

The test is completely inappropriate, because one is applying different values, at a different time, to a situation where that individual was probably petrified, in the dark, at the top of the stairs, and confronted by something that was unbelievably terrifying. Only people who have had a break-in at their home—I guess that many people present or their family members have had a break-in—know the sense of violation.

Apart from the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark proposing his Bill, one of the best speeches that we have heard was that by the very wise right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who talked a great deal of sense. He said that when people are broken into there is a sense of violation, not just of their property but of their space, their person, their family and their possessions, which leads to emotions and reactions that may not be totally rational. Therefore, applying the reasonable man test many months later is in no way appropriate. It is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. It certainly has not given confidence to the public.

How often we hear people argue that the jury should decide whether a person was reasonable and used reasonable force! My whole point is that these cases should not be going to court. Indeed, the Lib Dem spokesman walked right into that trap; he said that it was up to the jury to decide whether or not the force used was reasonable. We do not want these cases to be prosecuted. Those people should be arrested only in extreme circumstances, when the force used was grossly disproportionate. That is why I thought that the argument used by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark was spot-on.

Derek Conway : My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way. He is setting out to the House how victims of burglary feel, and I am sure that his constituents would absolutely support his measured contribution. Does he agree that his constituents in Norfolk would be equally perplexed by the statement of the Lord Chancellor, who said that burglars have rights as well? Does he think that his aggrieved and robbed constituents think burglars are entitled to rights?

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful for that intervention. I take the view that, 99.9 per cent. of the time, people who break into property or houses, who know that they are committing a criminal offence, should leave those rights outside that door. The Lord Chancellor completely misjudged the mood of the country, as did the Home Secretary—who, after all, is a Norfolk MP and ought to know how strongly people in East Anglia feel about the lack of policing. People who live in rural areas feel incredibly vulnerable, so when people such as the Lord Chancellor say that burglars should have rights, it is incredibly surprising. In the most extreme cases—

Patrick Mercer: Was my hon. Friend therefore enormously encouraged when the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who is not in his place at the moment, said on television the other day that burglars have no rights?
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Mr. Bellingham: I was extremely encouraged by that. On the other hand, one does not know what happened later that morning at the ministerial team meeting, after the Minister returned to the Home Office. I suspect that words were said, because we are getting badly confused signals from the Government. One Minister says one thing; another says something completely different.

Tom Levitt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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