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My hon. Friend makes as good a point as many that he made when he was charging several
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1117
hundred guineas for appearing at the inner London sessions while also being a respected councillor in the City of Westminster. He said that he would raise a concrete example, and as he has already mentioned cricket bats and Archbold, I was afraid that he was about to move on to some other means of self-preservation to be retained in the hallway. It is difficult to talk about the great train robbery, because in the 42 years since it happened, its perpetrators have almost become an example of lovable rogues, and we forget that the train driver was brutally beaten and subsequently died of his injuries. There was nothing roguish or forgivable about that crime.
I say that I am a lawyer not with shame, but with some pride. Having read the Bill and discussed it with those who ply their trade in that profession, I think not only that the anomalies are so vast that they would overwhelm and subvert the good instincts in the Bill, but that in an increasingly litigious society, the weight of those anomalies would be such that the Bill would become not only unworkable, but completely unenforceableand, worst of all, utterly and desperately confusing.
That is not the only problem, however, and neither is the fact that the Bill does not provide a solution by proposing a nostrum, much as we would like to see a silver bullet, if that is not an unfortunate simile, to resolve the problem. The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) referred with some admirationand I trust without too great a knowledgeto the physical prowess of the hon. Member for Newark. The point has been made quite a few times, but it bears repeating: who is going to defend the defenceless? Who will protect the weak? If we create a system whereby young, fit former officers of Her Majesty's service armed with whateverbaseball bats, cricket bats or whatever else; it could be Archbold on criminal law, for all I careare allowed to do as they will, carte blanche, that is a wonderful situation for a small percentage of the population.
If we are to allow the high sheriff of Kent to have a shotgun to defend himself, will we allow every person in every street, on every estate and in every tower block, to have one to defend themselves? If we abdicate from law and order and denigrate the police as being incapable of performing their basic function, we must substitute a different form of protection. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is, instead of a chicken in every pot, a shotgun in every house, and unfortunately, that logic leads us to lunacy.
Mr. Hendrick: My hon. Friend has embellished my earlier intervention. If gross disproportionality becomes the norm, we will see gross disproportionality from burglars and intruders, with an escalation of the arms race in Acacia avenue, as my hon. Friend put it, and an escalation of the amount of force used by the police. Perhaps in future all police will carry arms. That is not the case today, and is certainly not what I want in my constituency.
I do not know whether I am unique in the HouseI suspect notbut I have had several conversations with convicted criminals. There are no
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no-go areas for new Labour. I have visited a number of prisons, including Wormwood Scrubs, which is close to my constituency. I have asked burglars the obvious question: "Why do you do it?" They say that they want to grab as many electrical goods, credit cards, cash, cameras and so on as possible, and get out.
The agony at the heart of our discussion is epitomised by the Monckton case. Can there be a more horrific, foul, murderous or sadistic case than that in which a decent, honourable man is slaughtered in his own home during a burglary? Yet for every such case, there are 99 in which the burglar just wants to get in and get out. If burglars think that when they get in they may be killed before they get out, they will inevitably start to consider the situation in terms of mutual antagonism. If the householder is to have a gun, as sure as eggs is eggs, the burglar will want a gun. If the householder has a bigger gunguess what?the burglar will have an even bigger gun.
My hon. Friend will be aware that burglary is down by 42 per cent. since 1997, and I am certain that that trend will continue. A high proportion of the burglaries that take place these days involve people trying to acquire the wherewithal to purchase drugs. Clearly, there must be continued vigilance in drug treatment and therapy to ensure that that demand does not exist. There is also evidence, certainly in my region, that burglars are burgling household sheds rather than homes. That is because the law has fewer and lower penalties for such crimes. Those trends and that anecdotal evidence suggest that disincentives to burglary are getting better, which is why burglary will go down.
Mr. Pound: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Is not it strange that although we in this House can refer to a reduction in burglary of 41 per cent. and a reduction in most household crimes of 31 per cent., people outside do not believe us, because everyone has their own perception of crime? The more we talk about the reduction in crime on a statistical basis, the less we are believed. One of the problems with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Bill is that he feeds that fear.
I would never imply that there is no cause for concern. However, let us balance legitimate fear with the reality of the reduction in burglaries and street robberies. That reduction has not happened in a glamorous Clint Eastwood world, but through good, old-fashioned, hard-working, honest coppering by police officers, of whom we have more, and who are better paid, than at other any time in this country's history. I would like to support police officers, rather than try to replace them with a shotgun or a baseball bat.
Are not putting proper locks on windows and chains on doors, and taking advice from the local police about how to make property more secure, far more effective ways of dealing with burglary?
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Many burglars act on impulse because they see an open window or an unsecured area. To continue the reduction in burglaries that the Government have achieved, we need to give far more advice about such matters.
Mr. Pound: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for rightly making the point that we all have some responsibility for ourselves. Just as we do not walk around with bank notes pinned to the outside of our jackets but put them in wallets in our pockets, we should also be aware of the threats to our homes. I hope that no hon. Member would be so puerile as to imply that we are saying that burglary is the householder's fault. I cannot believe that anyone would suggest such a thing, and my hon. Friend is right. Working with the police is far better than trying to replace them.
My hon. Friend mentioned additional locks and security methods. Let me make a case for Battersea dogs' home. For many years I had a wonderful mixed-breed dog called Trotsky. [Interruption.] Indeed, he was permanently revolting! He was extremely useful. A guard dog is one of the best possible aids. However, we are straying into peripheral areas. Let us revert to the Bill.
Mr. Stunell: No, Hazel Grove. The hon. Gentleman is straying into discussing the Bill that I promoted and which was passed last year. It deals to some extent with the security of the home. In his eulogies for the police, will he bear in mind the fact that some of us will have fewer police on the streets this year, due to the reduction in police grant for the Greater Manchester police authority?
Mr. Pound: Obviously, I accept your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise profusely for confusing one Liberal Democrat with odd socks with another who shares his sartorial sensealthough today the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) is rather restrained. I sincerely apologise. Were I a Minister, I would say that I would write to the hon. Gentleman afterwards. Sadly, I am not, and am never likely to be, but I will send him a note about the extra police officers whose presence we are enjoying in west London.
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