|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead was speaking about something that most of us have experienced in our lives, our families' lives or with constituents. That sadness, trauma and inability to recover is not recognised in the courts, which is why so many people feel let down by the leniency of sentences when people's homes have been violated in an appalling way. Even without violence on the person, the intrusion into someone's home continually scars their existence and seriously damages lives. Courts do not take enough account of that. Time and again, the victims of that sort of crime are amazed at the leniency of sentence dished out to the perpetrators.
I have been in the houses of people, including my family, who have been subjected to burglary, and I have been subjected to it. It is not a pleasant experience. The only assistance that I was offered when it happened to me were suggestions as to where to go to recover some of the things that were stolen, as I might be able to buy them back from some market or other where they might feature.
Mr. Pound: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman's flow, as he is talking a lot of good sense. May I please tell him and the House that I did not refer exclusively to the rights of the burglar? I quoted the Monckton case, and talked about the trauma in the family. I referred to the case of a young woman that occurred in my constituency in Northolt yesterday and invited the House to imagine the trauma involved. No Member, on either side of the House, has anything less than complete and utter sympathy for and understanding of the traumatic effect of such incidents on the victims.
I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I apologise to him if what I considered to be an accurate reflection of his speech has been misleading, which I did not intend. I accept that he mentioned those other issues.
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1144
Other hon. Members have raised as a red herring, to excuse their failure to support the Bill, the fact that it would not cover other types of abuse or crime that might be committed against people in their home. They have said that a woman who was raped in her own home, possibly even by someone she knew, would not be covered by this law. But we have other laws, and she is covered and protected by those. The amendment to the law that we are considering today is specific to issues that have been of general public concern. If the House
Mr. Gale: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have heard a lot of nit-picking weasel words, designed to get the Government and their supporters off an unpleasant hook? They want to oppose the Bill. They know that they cannot. This is a Second Reading debate. If they believe what they say, they have every opportunity to take the Bill into Committee and amend it.
Mr. Hancock: I could not agree more, and the hon. Gentleman has said it far better than I could. Nevertheless we have an opportunity today to do what most of our constituents believe is reasonable. Most of our constituents will not believe
It is perfectly reasonable for us to give this legislation a Second Reading today, and to let it test itself in Committee. What is wholly unreasonable is for the Government and Labour Members to hide behind a leaflet and believe that that is a reasonable alternative to a change in the law. When people are prosecuted, they are prosecuted not on the strength of advice in a leaflet, and on whether the prosecution will curry favour with the person who wrote that leaflet; they are prosecuted on the strength of what the law says, and whether there is a reasonable chance of a conviction. It is wholly unreasonable for us to leave here today having voted for a leaflet as opposed to a positive move in the right direction with a change in legislation.
I am delighted to be a sponsor of the Bill, and I again congratulate the hon. Member for Newark. I hope that Labour Members will not be led on this occasion by the Minister's words, because their constituents will not accept or understand the way that they voted on this issue.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): It is very often a great pleasure in the House to follow someone who can speak for 15 minutes without notes in a way that is focused, to the point, effective and powerfuleven if that was not the case on this occasion.
There is a phrase in the English language, "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut". That is a classic example of something being grossly disproportionate in its use, and that in fact is what we are talking about todaya Bill that is grossly disproportionate to the problems that
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1145
it pretends to address, and which I believe exists for no reason other than to provide camouflage for an election campaign.
Let us put the matter in context. I know that there is controversy about the number of cases where householders have been convicted following attacks on people entering their home, but of the 11 that have been most often citedthere may be more or there may not; we do not knowonly seven related to burglaries of domestic households, and that is over 15 years. I put it to the House that if that statistic is a huge underestimateif it is only a quarter, a fifth or even a tenth of the number of cases involvedit means that this problem simply is not large enough, wide enough, or often enough occurring to merit legislation of this type. We should certainly not be legislating on the basis of seven cases in 15 years, but I do accept that this occasion is a good opportunity to clarify the law as it stands through the leaflet and so on.
Still setting the Bill in context, the likelihood of being a victim of crime today in Britain is lower than it was 20 years ago. Overall crime is down 36 per cent., including a fall of 6 per cent. in the last year alone, or 11 per cent. down according to the British crime surveythe longest standing, most consistent measure of crime levels in this country. There are 500,000 fewer victims of violent crime each year and, since 1997, the incidence of burglary has fallen by 42 per cent.not a background on which legislation of this sort could be justified. The statistical average is equivalent to every house in the country being burgled once every 50 years or on one night in 18,500.
My constituency is fortunate in having below-average crime figures, but 60 per cent. of all crime in this country happens in just six police authority areas. We are not talking about a general problem of burglary or about disproportionate outcomes for householders.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has given some interesting statistics on burglary, but how many of those burglaries took place when the householder was on the premises? I believe the norm is for burglaries to take place in vacant premises or when the householder is not at home.
Tom Levitt: I do not have the figures to hand, but I believe that my hon. Friend is correct. Most burglaries of domestic properties take place when the house is empty or not occupied, and the Bill would clearly not apply in those circumstances.
It is quite amazing that a two-clause Bill should have so many loopholes. When the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) was speaking, some of us tried to raise the issue of what is meant by "property". Someone who lives in a caravan or a mobile home is not protected by the Bill. It relates only to buildings and not to gardens. Is a car port part of the building or part of the garden? Such issues would be raised if the Bill became law.
Is my hon. Friend aware that although the title of the Bill includes the words "Householder Protection", the Bill does not refer to householders?
4 Feb 2005 : Column 1146
It refers to property and buildings. Is it therefore not misleading to call it the Criminal Law (Amendment)(Householder Protection) Bill? It should be called a property protection Bill or a building protection Bill.
It is problematic to apply the same legal tests of proportionality and reasonableness to the civil threshold for damages and to the criminal threshold for the response that the householder is allowed. Under the Bill, if the same threshold for gross disproportionality were used in civil and criminal law and someone is found guiltylet us assume that people will be found guilty every now and then, although I gained the impression that this would be a law without any culprits the burglar attacked by the householder would automatically be able to claim damages. At present, because of the use of the word "reasonable" in criminal law, the householder is allowed to take a reasonable level of action. There is an unreasonable level of action but, if the householder takes such action, the burglar cannot to claim damages. Finally, there is a grossly disproportionate response, from which damages could ensue. The Bill would therefore provide a dangerous trigger.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|