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Tom Levitt: My hon. Friend, who represents the most beautiful seat in the whole of Ealing, continues to make a powerful speech and he will be pleased to know that my mother-in-law has lived in his constituency for some 60 years crime free, but I should like to put to him a point that I made in an earlier intervention: if the Bill were to become law, a householder, lying in his bed and woken up by a noise, who goes into another room in his house to intercept a burglar who does not have any violent intention and attacks him could get greater protection under the law than a woman who is woken up in her bed in the middle of the night by a rapist and is in fear of her life. She would not receive the same protection under existing legislation as the householder who attacks the burglar in the other room would have under the Bill. What message does that send to women?
Mr. Pound: Perhaps unknowingly, my hon. Friend makes a point that resonates very strongly with me. Yesterday morning, as some hon. Members will be aware from reading the papers today, a young single mother was brutally attacked in Northolt in my constituency. Hon. Members will understand why I will not go into further details, as the incident took place 24 hours ago. In that case, the man who knocked at the door pretended that he was coming to read the gas meter. What he then did he did in front of that woman's two young children, and I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma and consequences of that awful act. However, she could not look to Newark for aid because she is not a householder; she is a tenant. That is one of the problems and anomalies that we face with the Bill.
Mr. Dismore: I may be able to help my hon. Friend. Under the Newark Bill, the issue is whether the person who attacks is a trespasser or has been invited into the property. The problem with the Bill is that it only protects people from trespassers, so following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), what happens if the assailant is known to the person, is invited in and is not a trespasser? That is the key to the case.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am reluctant to be thought too oppositional, so for the record of the House, I wish to say that the hon. and gallant Member for Newark has acted out of the best possible motives. Some peoplethankfully, not in the Housewould build a political platform and use the bones of a 16-year-old boy as part of the foundations. The hon. Gentleman is not one of those people; he is responding to widespread public concern. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon is absolutely right, and the point that he makes leads us to
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the anomalies that we are talking about. What about tenants? What about squatters? What about someone who invites a person in?
Mr. Pound: Before I give way, may I give an example? Four years ago, at 1 am, somebody was hammering at my front door. I naturally assumed it was the bailiff. I went down and, with a chain on the door, looked out and found on the doorstep a person in a considerable state of agitation and extremely worried. Fortunately I had a cricket bat to hand, which happened to be propped up in the hall. I do not claim to be as good a cricketer as many Opposition Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but I happened to have a cricket bat handy.
I rang the police and when they came round, they found that the man was suffering from severe mental illness who was in Milton road, Hanwell, when he should have been in Milton road, Acton. Should I have let that confused but angry and threatening man into my house, should I have dealt him a swift blow on the back of the head with my Duncan Fearnley, or should I have done as I did, and as I would counsel most people to doassess and ring the police? I appreciate that in moments of panic, calm assessment is not always an option, but could I have lived with myself if I had killed that man?
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous words. In the case that he cites, he was able to make a judgment, stand back and take himself out of the heat of the moment. I do not know whether he has been involved in bloody affray in the middle of the night. I have. It is very difficult in those circumstances to know exactly what to do. I believe a tenant is a householder, and if I am incorrect, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I can joust over the matter in Committee in due course.
Mr. Pound: I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says. In some ways, although we debate these issues in the daylight of a Friday morning, in our minds all of us are in the darkness of 4 am. That is when such events will happen, and that is when the life and death decision will have to be taken. It may be difficult for us to make that leap, but we must put ourselves in that position.
If one thing emerges from the debate, it must be that clarion callthat one emblazoned sentence: the law is on the side of the householder, the law is on the side of the victim, the law is against the aggressor, the law is against the burglar. Be it at 4 am or at 10 am, that is the loudest message that must be blazoned out and that is the clarion call that must come from this place today.
Mr. Dismore: I think I have the answer to my hon. Friend's predicament. If he had whacked the intruder with his cricket bat, the law would still have been on his side. "Archbold: Criminal Pleading", which is the bible of criminal lawyers, states clearly:
"The reasonableness or otherwise of the mistake is a factor to be taken into account when determining whether the mistake was or may have been a genuine one. Thus where a defendant is neither under threat nor actual attack but honestly believed he was",
Mr. Pound: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not have a copy of "Archbold: Criminal Pleading" in the hall at the time, but had it been to hand, I rather suspect I could have done more damage with it than with my well wrapped cricket bat, which has more Elastoplast than red circles on it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Newark has identifiedit is not the hardest thing in the worlda real area of concern, but by proposing the Bill in its present form, I respectfully suggest to him that he does not move us forward. He does not solve the problem. There are probably three people in the world watching us live on television. There were 6,500 before I stood up to speak, but the numbers went down a little. They are no doubt wondering why we are talking about iotas of legislation, when everybody knows what the problem is. I understand that, and I understand the emotion that drives the hon. Gentleman.
Nevertheless, we in this House have a wider and deeper responsibility, and a greater duty. It is not our job to write tabloid headlines; it is our job to attempt to legislate, or scrutinise legislation, and to ensure that in whatever we do in this place, even if we do not do a great deal of good, at least we do not make matters worse. What desperately worries me is that the hon. Gentleman's Bill will make matters worse.
I have mentioned squatters. What about security guards in commercial premises? What about someone trying to defend a young woman from being raped in a park? They will have no defence under the Bill. The idea that only the householder and the householder alone has the right worries me greatly. Let us suppose that the Bill becomes lawstranger things have happened; high hedges are now on the statute book, although they are still sprouting slowly in the Departmentand people think that they have the right to intervene in the course of a crime and assault the person committing it, to the point, ultimately, of death. Somebody who is driving down the road and sees somebody attacking somebody else may decide to drive their car at that person, because that is their immediate reactionbut they will not be covered by the Bill. If someone sees a child being attacked in the street and attacks the attacker, they will not be covered. They would think, however, because the tabloid headlines would tell them so, that "Mercer's made life better for us, and now we're all safe." That is the problem, because that is how people would perceive the Bill.
Mr. Dismore: Let me give my hon. Friend another more concrete example. Let us suppose that the great train robbery took place after the Bill had been enacted. If the people in the mail trainalthough unfortunately, we do not have mail trains any moretried to defend themselves, they would not be protected by the Bill, because a train is not a building. The two conflicting and different tests might make those people think that they had full protection, although they would only have the protection of the lesser test already set out in the Criminal Law Act 1967.
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