|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman has just made a disgraceful statement and he knows it. For him to suggest that the Bill is being moved for partisan advantage rather than in response to public
2 Dec 2005 : Column 507
concern is about as sensible as Conservative Members trying to pretend that every Labour Member who opposes it is a burglar's friend.
Dr. Palmer: I am afraid I cannot share the hon. Gentleman's synthetic indignation. I note that not very many Opposition Members have bothered to turn up to take part in the debate. There are seven. Each of the Conservative Members present have pursued the issue in what seems to me a partisan spirit which is alien to what ordinary people in Britain want. What ordinary people want is a degree of certainty.
Mr. Paterson: Would the hon. Gentleman reflect that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) had a poll on the "Today" programme last Christmas and a measure like the Bill got overwhelming public support? His reply, which perhaps represents the view of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) as well, was, "The people have spoken, the ********". I am afraid the hon. Member for Ealing, North then used an unparliamentary word on the public airwaves.
Dr. Palmer: It is a common phrase that was used. It was used by a Conservative colleague of the hon. Gentleman on the website yesterday when he heard about the Labour gain in the constituency of Thurrock. Such partisan remarks are not unknown.
The fundamental question that we all have to answer is whether we have a degree of trust in the British jury system or not. If we examine a typical case, as evinced by several hon. Members who have spoken so far, we have great difficulty in imagining a British jury in the case describedthe hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who attempted to stop a shoplifter, or the hon. Member for Wellingborough, whose wife released a dog against an intrudersaying, "Yes, we are going to convict this person."
Mr. Flello: My hon. Friend is very kind. He mentioned the apprehension of, say, a shopliftersomeone who has gone into a premises and stolen something. The thief may have left the premises and may be on the street outside. He would no longer be covered by the Bill. Would the security guard giving chase have to stop and think, "I have moved from grossly disproportionate to reasonable force. Hang on a moment. Let me think back to the case law before I carry on apprehending this person."?
If we are honest about it, in all these situations people are operating at the edge of law and are not sure where they stand. That is the problem which, to be fair, the hon. Lady's Bill purports to address, which the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) attempted to address, and which the Home
2 Dec 2005 : Column 508
Office guidance on the existing law attempted to address. It is a genuine difficulty. I share with the hon. Lady, though not, I think, with the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), the view that Tony Martin moved beyond the stage of proportionate response, even to the point of grossly disproportionate response.
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend may have detected in the presentation by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) of her Bill today that there has been quite a significant shift from the way the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) presented his Bill a year ago, when he made it clear that he did not think that Tony Martin was acting properly and lawfully, and that his Bill, as then drafted, would have made no difference to his case. The hon. Lady seems to be suggesting that he would be let off.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): When I presented a similar Bill, I made no bones about my view that Mr. Tony Martin would be guilty of grossly disproportionate behaviour. My ears were fully open and, I trust, clean when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) make precisely the same point.
Dr. Palmer: Fine. Whatever positions may or may not have been taken in the past, we, with the exception of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) who represents Tony Martin and who is in a particularly difficult position, are approaching unanimity on that point. Unless someone wants to contradict me, the rest of us agree that Tony Martin exercised grossly disproportionate force.
Mr. Flello: Was it not also the case that the court found that Tony Martin had not used reasonable force and was therefore guilty under the existing legislation? In that case, what is the point of introducing the Bill?
Dr. Palmer: That is right. The Tony Martin case is useful because it illustrates one element of the grey area. We all agree that Tony Martin used excessive, grossly disproportionate force, and we disagree with a number of members of the general public, which is perhaps because the general public have not studied all the aspects of the case. For example, some members of the general public are not aware that the person who was shot was fleeing at the time, and they are not aware, as I understand it, that Mr. Martin left that person to die before calling the emergency services. Those elements clearly influenced the jury to convict Tony Martin. We must avoid going too far up the side alley of the Martin case, because as my hon. Friends have said, it was adequately covered by current legislation.
Conservative Members need to be careful, to use an outmoded metaphor, that they are not running with the fox and hunting with the hounds. The hon. Member for Vale of York and other Conservative Members cite the Tony Martin case as an example of strong public feeling, but if we agree that those elements of the public who
2 Dec 2005 : Column 509
sympathise with Tony Martin are mistaken, then it is not evidence to support her Bill or any other change in the law.
Dr. Palmer: I did not know that, but that is my understanding of the current law. However, we must be open about the point that some people are unsure whether that is the case. That is why it was particularly valuable when the Home Office issued a clarification last yearit is reasonable to say that the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newark prompted the Home Office to issue that clarification. Many people who, until that point, had felt that the law needed to be changed, looked at the clarification and said, "In that case, the current law is probably about as good as it gets."
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why misunderstandings have occurred and further clarification is required is the outrageous scaremongering by some Conservative Members on the past three occasions on which this Bill has been introduced?
Dr. Palmer: Yes; that returns me to my dialogue with the hon. Member for North Thanet. The issue has been exploited for partisan purposes, and it has also been whipped up by elements in the press. If one reads the Daily Express every day, and one reads only the Daily Express, it is very difficult to retain the will to live. [Laughter.] Every day, the front page contains a new catastrophe, a new sell-out, a new betrayal and a new threat to the existence of the British human race. Among the terrible catastrophes that the Daily Express describes is an alleged failure of the law to give due account to the position of the householder.
Mr. Paterson: The hon. Gentleman has underestimated the absolute exasperation in the countryside at the thin level of policing and the impact of regular burglaries. In the Martin case, people concentrate on the grossly disproportionate use of force, but Tony Martin had been driven to total distraction and almost irrational behaviour because he had been burgled 10 times. The forces of law and order did not support him, because they were not there. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that the Bill would have a deterrent effect? If the criminal law were brought into line with the civil law, there would hopefully be less burglaries and less Tony Martins who have been driven to total distraction and irrational behaviour.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|