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I get the impression that my hon. Friend is drawing his remarks to a close. One part of the Bill with which I have a degree of sympathy provides that no
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prosecution should be brought without the consent of the Attorney-General. That would provide an additional safeguard. The Minister has not mentioned that provision so far. Will he let us have the Government's view on it? I can see how it could be a useful safeguard, but it could also result in politics being brought into the decision making process.
Paul Goggins: There are a number of dangers involved. We strongly believe that the decision whether to prosecute and the investigations that are carried out should take place at local level. We also believe that we have a service that is professional and experienced enough to make such judgments. Given the correct guidance and the correct public understanding, the local Crown Prosecution Service officers will be the most appropriate people to make those decisions.
My hon. Friend was completely right in his judgment that I was coming to the end of my remarks. I hope that I have explained the Government's position clearly. We believe that the law on reasonable force is perfectly adequate as it stands. It is not as limiting as the public might sometimes think. For example, in certain circumstances it is reasonable to strike the first blow when dealing with an intruder, and it might be reasonable to take an action that ultimately leads to the loss of the intruder's life. I believe that the term "reasonable" gives us the degree of latitude that we need. What we need more than anything is to convey this message to the publicand I wish that the whole House would unite behind us in thisnot to sow further confusion but to give people the confidence that, when they are in their own home, they can take reasonable steps to defend themselves and their family.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I want to offer my warmest congratulations to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), not only on coming first in the ballot but on having the courage to take this issue on. I find quite unacceptable the suggestion that he has done this for short-term political gain. Surely everyone who has taken part in the debate has been faced in their constituency with the reality of the situations described in the debate. They will be aware of people's distrust of the law, and of their perception of the law's inability to protect them properly, either through the courts or in terms of the ability of the police to respond. What is a reasonable response time when someone's life is being threatened in the middle of the night, either in a big city or in a rural environment? Most people's perception is that, if they dial 999, there is little likelihood of the police arriving in time either to protect them properly or to apprehend the perpetrators of the crime.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about opportunism, many hon. Members have mentioned the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, in his capacity of Home Secretary in 1997, said that he did not feel that the current legislation needed to be changed, yet now, with only half the number of burglaries that there were in those days, his party is proposing this draconian change in the law. Does the hon. Gentleman not regard that as opportunistic?
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Mr. Hancock: The hon. Gentleman should put that question to the Leader of the Opposition, not to me. It is not for me to answer on behalf of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The hon. Gentleman's own Prime Minister had some doubts about this issue just a few months ago, when he spoke positively in favour of what the hon. Member for Newark is proposing. So we should not be too critical of people who have held different views on this issue; the Prime Minister is probably at the forefront of that group at the moment.
Several hon. Members have deliberately introduced red herrings to defeat what the Bill is attempting to achieve. No one today has suggested that there would be no investigation if a person was killed during the committing of a crime. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) did not say that if a person was killed, the coroner would have no responsibility for carrying out an investigation of that death. It is convenient that so many Members have spent so much time hiding behind that as an excuse for not discussing what the hon. Member for Newark hopes to achieve here today. We seem to have lost the plot on that score.
That argument is similar to the one put up by so many Labour Members, who have suggested that someone who is not a householder would not be covered by the Bill. Where is the reasonableness in their thought about what the Bill is trying to achieve? I suggest that anyone in their own home would be covered. Using such a reason as an excuse for not voting for the Bill is pretty shallow.
Mr. Hancock: No, no. I have listened very carefully to every intervention and all that has been said this morning. The hon. Member for Newark and I, and possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), are the only Members who have stayed [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will have ample opportunity to make his own speech. I would encourage him to do so. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says that the Bill does not say "home" anywhere. The suggestion is that this applies in someone's homemy home, their home. I do not believe that any reasonable person
Mr. Hancock: If the hon. Gentleman was arguing that to his constituents, they would laugh at him and say, "I'm sorry, but no wonder you don't understand the issue of lack of policing. You don't even understand when I am trying to protect myself in my own home." It is clear that Labour Members are so intent on defeating the Bill that they are using any excusegrasping any strawto do so. They are once again failing to address what people are concerned about.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right: the Bill would protect those who were in their own homes, but it would also protect, for example, those who were attacked in the street. The point that he is concerned aboutthe one that our constituents are concerned aboutis what happens in their own houses. He is perfectly right to address it. I would not expect him to be bothered by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
Mr. Hancock: We are hearing the rattle of a very sad tune. Labour Members have realised that their Prime Minister probably had it right in December when he said that he believed that it might be time for the law to be changed. Their regret is that the hon. Member for Newark happens to be introducing the legislation, not one of their own. That is the real reason for the rebuttal we have received today. I am sure that many Members who have spoken would have sung from a different sheet had one of their colleagues introduced the Bill today.
Today's debate is about whether the House has the confidence of the British people in delivering to them a change in the law that they want. They want that change because the only action that the Government have been prepared to take is to produce a leaflet. I share the view, which has been expressed by others, that the hon. Member for Newark has already made a considerable contribution to the debate. The leaflet has been produced only because of what he and others have been doing in the last three months. If the law was so right, readily understandable and correct, as Labour Members have said today, why was there a need for a leaflet? It did not just suddenly appearit was needed to get the Prime Minister off the hook, and to give the Minister a reason for saying today that the Government would not back the Bill. That is a pretty shabby way to treat the House and public opinion on such an important issue as whether the public have the Government's support in defending their rights.
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The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made the most telling point about the effect that a burglary or intrusion into someone's home space has on them. For some people I have known, that intrusion might not have ended in a terminal incident on the day, but certainly ended in an early death. Such people were traumatised and had their whole life turned upside down because of that sort of intrusion. Never once in the near-hour for which the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) spoke did he mention the crisis that happens in the home of the victim.
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