|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
As has been pointed out, even a former burglar supports the Bill. For a moment, the Government appeared to support the Bill, too. Then they changed their mind. The Lord Chancellor said that he was not sure that changing round the legal test would make the difference. The former Home Secretary was said to be "relaxed" about a change in the law. The Prime Minister said,
Finally, the Home Secretary decided that a leaflet was the answerperhaps he had forgotten the question. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), broke ranks and said, if I remember him correctly, "The burglar has no rights. The burglar is in the wrong." That is simply another example of the chaos at the heart of the Government's policy making in this area.
In relation to this Bill, several Opposition Members have prayed in aid quotes from Ian Blair's interview on the "Today" programme. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the same interview, Mr. Blair, referring to existing legislation, continued:
"I don't really mind whether it's a change in the law or a change in the guidance. I don't mind which of those two it is as long as everybody is clear that it is the intruder who is at risk not the householder."
David Davis: The Government have offered neitherthey have offered a leaflet, which is not a change in guidance. It has no standing in the law, as he of all people should know. What we are talking about is a proper change in the law to make this clear, constant and a defence for the victim, not the villain, which is generally the burglar.
The hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), for High Peak (Tom Levitt) claimed that burglary has fallen. They
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1124
did not point out that there were still nearly 820,000 incidents of burglary last year. Home Office researchers recently interviewed burglars, asking them to describe the decisions that they had taken when planning and carrying out a domestic burglary. The Home Office published that report last year, with which I am sure the Minister is familiar, and it was clear that the need for drugs money was the main reason that offenders gave for burgling property. That was another issue raised by the hon. Member for High Peak.
One of the main findings of the report, which will not surprise many people, was that burglars considered their criminal activities to be "virtually risk free". Sixty-seven per cent. thought that there was little or no risk of being arrested for their crime. The threat of detection during the course of burglary was not a deterrenthardly surprising, since detection rates under this Government have halved in seven years. Two thirds of the sample said that they had returned to the same property that had been burgled previously, which is relevant to some of the discussions about baseball bats and whether people should be allowed to defend themselves having been attacked once already. All that is hardly surprising either, given that the burglar has hardly any chance of being brought to justice. According to the Home Office's own statistics, only three out of 100 burglaries resulted in a conviction. Out of the 820,000 cases of burglary, 25,000 people were convicted. In addition, since 2002, first-time burglars are likely to be given a community sentence instead of going to prison.
So the judicial system that has been much vaunted today does not actually provide much protection. To compound it all, when the householder faces one or more burglars, he does not know where he stands in the eyes of the law when he tries to protect himself, his loved ones or his property. That is what my hon. Friend's Bill will put right.
In some cases, the Bill will stop people being dragged through the courts on a charge of assault or worse. It will also protect the many more people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) pointed out, suffer unnecessarily extended investigation, which can wreck their lives. It will give home owners peace of mind that, if confronted with an intruder, they can defend themselves, their possessions and their family, and they can do so with complete freedom from prosecution if the force that they use is not "grossly disproportionate".
As I said, we have had a lot of Aunt Sallys today, but this not an Oklahoma law as people have suggested. It is simply an amendment to criminal law to bring it in line with the Government's own amendment to the civil law. The Government say that the current phrase "reasonable force" is adequate for criminal law. I disagree. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark pointed out, "reasonable force" is a suitable term, why was it changed by the Government in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, under pressure from ourselves and the Liberal Democrats, to "grossly disproportionate"? That term is used for similar purposes in other countries, such as France and
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1125
New Zealand. As I said before, even the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner said only this week that the term proposed by my hon. Friend
The Government say that everything is finethat people just need to be educated on what is acceptable and what is not, so on Tuesday they published 100,000 leaflets to send to householders explaining their rights. The other 700,000 people who were burgled last year presumably will just have to guess.
The cartoonists had a field day, but in short the leaflets have done nothing to clear up the confusion. There were headlines all over the next day, saying that you may kill a burglar but, if you chase him out of the house, "don't dare hit him twice", and "Advice is laughable and silly, say the victims" and many more. Will a householder really remembera point made, to be fair to him, by the hon. Member for Ealing, Northat 2 am when chasing an intruder down the street that they can only rugby tackle him or land him a single blow?
Two things are notable about the debate that has been engendered by the leaflet. The first was that, in order to explain what was allowable under the law, the language used by the representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers was not very "excessive and gratuitous force"almost synonymous with not "grossly disproportionate" force. Indeed, spokesmen seemed to find a variety of ways of re-expressing precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark has written into the Billironic, given that the words in the Bill are the Government's own.
A leaflet does not have the force of law, so the leaflet will not do. A range of views was expressed by the people who should know, particularly chief constables: Sir John Stevens believes that a clarification is necessary; and Sir Ian Blair voicedhow can I express this?a range of views. Others, it is true, have said the opposite. Indeed, I saw on television three weeks ago a chief constable expressing a view of what a householder can do in far more robust terms than are laid out in this leaflet. So if chief constables do not knowindeed, Sir Ian Blair appeared not to on the programme the other morninghow on earth, even with a leaflet, can ordinary members of the public be expected to know?
Leaders of our police forces are unclear because the law is unclear. The law is unclear because it involves a great deal of interpretation by the police, by the Crown Prosecution Service and, in the final analysis, by the juryeven those who throw out these cases in half an hour. The fact that interpretation is difficult and uncertain is demonstrated by the changing
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1126
interpretation of "reasonable force" over the decades. There was even a case in 1924the hon. Member for Ealing, North will like thisin which the court said that
That was considered reasonable force. Nobody would agree with such a stark definition today, but it demonstrates that over the years the interpretation has changed with changes in conventional wisdom and political correctness.
There will always be in the law a margin for interpretation, as we discussed in the speech of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). That is why we have judges and juries. The Bill moves the point at which that interpretation is made in favour of the householder, including those who rent, and away from the criminal. It is as simple as that. All the confusing tactics deployed by Government Members will not drive that fact away. The public deserve betteran evocative phrase from the pastand they deserve clarity, consistency and protection against villains. The Government are not providing any of those. The Bill provides them all and therefore deserves the support of the House.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|