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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman used the phrase "quite unreasonable force" when the Bill talks about "grossly disproportionate" force. Does he, like me, object to the use of the word "grossly"? Most people would accept that some disproportionate use of force may be acceptable, but grossly disproportionate force seems excessive.
Derek Conway: I cannot lawyer-quibble with the hon. Gentleman, and it is difficult to know in the heat of the moment what would be the response. However, I feel that if I had the opportunity to meet, even in a cool moment, the two young men who burgled my 80-year-old mother, I am not sure that I could exercise the control that the law requires of me, except to say that I would wish to help them not to father more children to pursue their lives of crime.
Mr. Pound: I am very grateful to the simple Geordie from Kent for allowing me to intervene. He mentioned the physical skill and military prowess of the hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), and both sides of the House would concur with that description. Is not the point that if one is young, fit and trained to kill, these sanctions are available? However, if one is elderly, frail and incapable of lifting a baseball bat, let alone taking the top of somebody's head off with it, the Bill would not be of any help at all.
Derek Conway: The hon. Gentleman is actually supporting what I am saying, so I am grateful for his intervention. Given his history in these matters, perhaps I should stay out of the Chamber. I am sure that the "Today" programme will carry a full report of our deliberations, and the hon. Gentleman will feature in that because of his outstanding achievements last year.
The point that the hon. Gentleman tempts me into making slightly earlier than I wanted to is precisely about the messages that the Bill sends. Of course, a fit man with military training and a baseball bat will have a serious go, but the hon. Gentleman would not expect an elderly widow to have a go. Therefore, how do we prevent people from coming into such circumstances? We do that by making sure that the burglar understands that the balance has swapped from the perpetrator to the victim. The frustration that people in Old Bexley and Sidcup and many othersincluding even readers of the Daily Mailelsewhere in the country feel is that the balance is wrong. That is why my hon. Friend's Bill is before the House today, and that is why confusion still reigns.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although it would not be unreasonable for a baseball player to have a baseball bat in their house and even to keep it under their bed, it may be seen as unreasonable
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if someone who is not a baseball player keeps a bat under their bed as a defensive weapon? Does that not suggest that the higher level of force provided for under the Bill might mean that more people will keep articles for use as weapons, and that that might mean that there is a greater use of violence in burglaries? At the moment, only a tiny proportionI think that it is about 1 per cent.of all burglaries include violence. I am very worried that, under the Bill, there could be more violence in burglaries.
Derek Conway: If there were more violence towards burglars, that would not make me an unhappy man. If anything, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark should amend the law to make it a requirement to assault a burglar when they come into a house. Most of us are trying to rein in our more unreasonable instincts on these matters. The hon. Gentleman is a very reasonable man and makes a very reasonable point, but he is making a very reasonable point about circumstances that are in themselves inherently unreasonable.
Mike Gapes: I know that the hon. Gentleman made a flippant remark, but is it wise for Members of the House to encourage a climate of vigilantism that could lead to increases in crime and death and destruction? Should we not give more support to the police who are doing a very good job in many areas in solving crimes and reducing the numbers of burglaries?
Derek Conway: The hon. Gentleman probably makes a very good point, but it is not for this debate. It does not apply to my hon. Friend's Bill, because he is not saying that people can run out of their homes with a proverbial baseball bat and chase burglars down the street and assault them. Nobody is arguing for that. The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about vigilantes, but he is wrong.
Mr. Cameron: Does my hon. Friend find it as confusing as I do that Labour Members keep suggesting that the Bill says that everyone must confront a burglar? This Bill says that if one confronts a burglar, there should be the highest standard of evidence before one is even charged. That is the point that we are talking about.
I thought that I just heard the hon. Gentleman say that he wanted every householder to attack every burglar who came into their home. If he is seriously advocating that, the problem is that it is sometimes difficult to know whether someone is innocently in a property or is a burglar. On the whole, it is best for the courts to decide that rather than others. Have-a-go heroism is probably one of the most dangerous things to be encouraged for householders.
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Derek Conway: If I found the hon. Gentleman uninvited in my house in the middle of the night, I promise him that I would not consider him innocent. I do not think that those who enter properties uninvited can consider themselves innocent.
Chris Grayling: Does my hon. Friend agree that the natural extension of the comments of the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) is that someone who was not a member of a baseball team and who had previously been burgled, who was terrified out of their wits and who then took the decision to put a baseball under the bed, would be acting in a criminal fashion? Therefore the response to fear would be to criminalise them.
I now wish to move on to the issue of confusion. We talked earlier about the statement by the Lord Chancellor, who said that burglars have rights. Of course, as Lord Chancellor, he would have to say that, having put the Human Rights Act 1998 on the statute book. However, in an interview, the Minister said that, in his opinion, burglars did not have rights. I do not know what the Government's position is, and I am sure that the Minister will helpfully clarify matters.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The point that I was making in the interview is that it is the burglar who is in the wrong and it is the householder in their own home who is in the right.
Derek Conway: I am grateful for the Minister's intervention, but I am not sure that it makes matters any clearer. If he had stuck with the original line in his interview, I would have applauded and supported him. I understand that he has probably had a good talking to from the Lord Chancellor. The Government must try to get their act together, and the trouble is that their act is completely confused. If the Government, Law Officers and Ministers are confused, why is it unreasonable for us to think that the electorate, our constituents and the wider world are utterly confused about what is going on?
Tom Levitt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. There is one sense in which burglars have rights. Under civil law, if they are the victims of grossly disproportionate violence, they are able to claim damages from a perpetrator such as a householder. By giving the same measure of what is allowable under the criminal law as in the civil law, the Bill will mean that anyone who is convicted under its provisions will automatically be liable for damages to a burglar who makes a claim. Is the hon. Gentleman happy about that?
I am not; I do not believe that burglars should have any rights whatever. In this matter, I go along with the Minister and a lot further
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down his route. Once burglars have perpetrated and been found guilty of a crime, any opportunity they have for restitution should have gone long out of the window with the jury's verdict. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, but this is not a matter for reasonable thoughts.
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