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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Lady is not giving way at the moment.

Miss McIntosh: When we consider recent case law we can see that the reasonable force defence is not satisfactory. The case of Tony Martin captured public imagination. Most of us would prefer, if we were being burgled, to phone the police and receive, as we would expect, a prompt response. However, as we have just heard in points of order, we are faced with a restructuring of the police force and in areas such as North Yorkshire and Norfolk we shall undoubtedly lose our rural police forces, as officers will be asked to serve in urban areas on anti-terrorist or security duties and will have even less time to attend to burglaries. People such as Tony Martin will thus regrettably be faced with the prospect of having to take the law into their own hands.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward this excellent Bill. She rightly mentions the case of my constituent, Tony Martin, who was driven to desperation due to the lack of a police response. He should not have been charged with murder; I feel strongly that when burglars break into a house they should leave their rights outside, except in the most extreme circumstances. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Tony Martin case has sparked a huge national debate and that there is a large amount of public support for her measure? Why are the Government not listening to her and supporting her Bill?

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps we shall all get a surprise this morning and find that the Government are willing to support my reasonable proposals.
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The Tony Martin case captured public imagination. Regrettably, however, a threshold was crossed and the burglar was fleeing the building, possibly not with stolen property—that could not be proved—and Tony Martin ceased to be acting in self-defence and was an aggressor. The modest provisions in my short three-clause Bill set out precisely where grossly disproportionate force would kick in.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Let me cite an example of something that happened to my family. My wife returned home one day to find burglars in the house. If she had set the dog on them, would she have been safe under the Bill? If she had done that and a burglar had been injured terribly, I am not sure whether she could have been charged under the current law.

Miss McIntosh: We would rely on the courts to decide what grossly disproportionate force would be.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss McIntosh: May I make some progress?

I wish to cite two recent cases that demonstrate how the criminal justice system is failing the victim—the home owner and the property owner. Persistent offenders can be released early and then go on to commit burglaries, which can lead to the death of innocent victims, as these cases show. Marian Bates was innocently going about her business as a jeweller in her shop in Nottingham. The persistent offender in that case was let out on licence. He was meant to be tagged and under the supervision of a security firm, but he released himself from the tag and went on, with tragic consequences, to commit a horrendous burglary during which he murdered Marian Bates. The case of John Monckton was equally tragic. It is a matter of fact that the main perpetrator in that case had been released after serving only seven years of his 12-year sentence for attempted murder.

The people of England feel badly let down by the Government not only because the police are not in a position to attend burglaries as quickly as would be liked, especially in rural areas, but because it is perceived that burglaries are on the increase. When burglaries do occur, they are virtually risk-free because there is little chance of a burglar being detected, prosecuted or convicted.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I fully support my hon. Friend's attempt to change the law on the use of reasonable force against people who are found in others' homes. Given the inadequacy of the law and the prevalence of burglary that she describes, may I draw her attention to the case of one of my constituents? He woke one early morning to find two people in his house and chased them off. When the case went to court, those people offered the defence that they had been in the house looking for their cat. Incredibly, the case fell because of lack of evidence that they had the intent to steal. Is it not absurd that they were able to offer that defence? Should not the law be changed
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further so that there is a presumption that if people enter premises with no reasonable excuse, they commit a crime?

Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend makes a valid point and echoes the sentiments expressed by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens.

Against the background of an increase in violence, we need a recognition that the concept of reasonable force is simply not understood. When the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines were issued earlier this year, Sir Ian Blair said that for a person faced with an intruder in their home at 4 am, the concept of reasonable force is difficult to understand, yet the concept of grossly disproportionate force would be more obvious.

We are not asking for the Oklahoma law and we are not saying that anything goes. However, people should not be prosecuted for force that is less than excessive or grossly disproportionate. The Government used that test when they introduced a provision in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow burglars to sue home owners or property owners for damages if they had been subjected to such force. I argue strongly that the same test should apply under criminal and civil law.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Constituents in Kettering are fully behind my hon. Friend's reasonable proposals because in Nottingham, as recent Home Office figures show, there is a rising fear of crime and a worryingly low burglary detection rate. Local people want extra protection against criminals.

Miss McIntosh: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines do not go far enough. They refer to people doing what they

but that could cover a multitude of things, some of which could well lead to the death of an intruder. However, under the heading "Will you believe the intruder rather than me?", the guidelines say:

It is still the case that an innocent victim will be subject to a police investigation and thus public attention.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that burglars are well aware of their rights before they commit a burglary? If the Bill is passed, it will send a strong message to all burglars. Does she have any evidence that some people might not have committed burglaries if the terms of the Bill had been in place?

Miss McIntosh: I hope that we can examine that matter in Committee. My hon. Friend is right that most burglaries that were examined in the context of the Bill were not opportunistic, but well thought out and designed for a specific purpose.

Let me move on to the definitions in the Bill. I paid tribute earlier to my hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet and for Newark. My Bill is different from their Bills, and especially the Bill that was introduced earlier this year by my hon. Friend the Member for
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Newark, because it would extend to all properties, both commercial properties and homes. It is interesting to note that the Bill enjoys the considerable support of members of the Federation of Small Businesses and members of the National Neighbourhood Watch Association. I was staggered to discover that Federation of Small Businesses statistics show that 58 per cent. of small firms are the victims of crime each year. I wanted to take account of excellent points made in the Standing Committee that considered the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. It would be wrong to limit the Bill's provisions purely and simply to homes, so I want to extend it to all properties, including commercial properties, such as shops and retail premises.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark recognised, we want a threshold for when prosecutions should be brought. I thus argue that no prosecution should be brought against a person without the permission of the Attorney-General. In preparation for the Committee stage of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, the flawed trawl of the Crown Prosecution Service found that there had been 26 cases in a 15-month period, of which 11 had been brought to prosecution. The measure in my Bill would dramatically limit future prosecutions.

Clause 1 would amend the Criminal Law Act 1967. Proposed new section 3(1C) says:

The Bill thus covers all buildings, homes, commercial vehicles and vessels. It is worth considering the provisions of the Theft Act 1968 because it makes the good point that the offence of burglary is a serious crime that involves not only a threat to property, but a threat to the privacy of one's own home. That factor differentiates the offence from simple theft. Over time, the offence has been understood to cover a dwelling place and to encompass any building. Under the Theft Act, someone is guilty of burglary if

They are also guilty if, having entered the building or part of it, they steal or attempt to steal anything in the building or inflict grievous bodily harm on anyone in the building. The Act includes in those offences the offences of

References to "a building" in the Act also apply to vehicles and vessels.

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