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Dr. Palmer: When the hon. Gentleman says that it was Sir Ian Blair's first day in post and he did not know the Government's line, is he suggesting that Sir Ian is a sheep who automatically follows the Government's line?
Patrick Mercer: I would not dream of suggesting anything about such an eminent police officer. He seemed to change his tune very quickly, however, between appearing on the "Today" programme, on which his comments were unequivocal, and the ACPO briefing, which followed a few hours afterwards and which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will remember.
With the support of a convicted criminal, a persistent offender, the outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, the incoming Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the apparent support of the Prime Minister and the overwhelming support of the public, I thought I had a compelling case when the Bill came before Parliament earlier this year. Sadly, that proved to be incorrect. Much to my regret, the Bill was hijacked by politicians and turned into a party political issue, and I genuinely regret its proximity to the general election. We were robbed of a useful measure that would deter burglars, help and assist policemen, support householders and, most importantly, shift the balance from householders feeling that the law was against them to burglars and other intruders knowing that the law was against them. At the same time, we might achieve a lessening of the possibility of bloody affray either in shops or houses. I hoped that the Bill's deterrent effect would stop confrontation, lessen the fear of householders and increase the fear of burglars. Clearly, I failed.
A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) skirted over my point when I intervened on himwhether that was intentional, or whether he had not had time to look at the Bill, I am not sure. Many of his good points, however, are addressed by that provision. The point is that the arbiter of whether people are taken to court is not some policeman or the
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Crown Prosecution Service but the Attorney-General, who must decide what is grossly disproportionate as opposed to reasonable or unreasonable.
Dr. Palmer: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the importance of including the Attorney-General in the decision-making process, and I look forward to his supporting our Racial and Religious Hatred Bill on similar grounds. I also agree with his earlier point that it is a great pity that this issue has become so politicised. Will he tell us whether his party urged him to introduce his Bill just before the general election?
The hon. Member for Broxtowe, of course, comes from crime-locked Nottinghamshire, as I do, and he makes some very good points. I hope that he knows me well enough now, however, to understand that I will always try to put the good of my constituents before any petty party political advantage. I hope that I have made a reasonably compelling case that this subject is close to my heart. Perhaps the subject did not originate in Newark, but it has a strong bearing on my constituents, not because it is a mainly rural constituency such as the Vale of York, but because it has a combination, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe knows, of inner-city and rural problems, which are exacerbated by the lowness of numbers of the excellent Nottinghamshire constabulary.
Mr. Khan : The hon. Gentleman's justification in relation to lack of certainty is that the Attorney-General would be the arbiter of what is grossly disproportionate. If soand that is the logic, as I understand itwhy did he and his colleagues find it so offensive for the Attorney-General to be the arbiter of incitement to religious hatred? In that case, he argued that people would not know how far they could go. Similarly, in this case, a householder would not know how far he or she could go.
Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Government introduced the phraseology of gross disproportionalitythat is Government wording in civil law. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale
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of York is trying to do now is to bring criminal law in line with that designed by the Government under civil law.
The Minister has asked who Charlie Mayall is. Charlie Mayall lives in a crime-ridden area of Newark called York drive. He resisted an armed break-in by a number of hoodlums some months ago. When he struck one of them, who then made off, the police arrested him immediately. They believed at the time that they could secure a prosecution against him because he had acted unreasonably.
As a result, Mr. Mayall appeared in court on three occasions, was dragged to and from Newark police station on many different occasions, lost his job, was subjected to all sorts of personal pressures and lost earnings. Only after seven months of that process was he told by the police that the case had collapsed through lack of evidence and that there was no case to answer. How often, in such cases, do the jury and judge eventually say, "This is nonsense, there is no case to answer and you have acted perfectly reasonably"? The fact remains that the individuals involved are treated as criminals. They are put under the most enormous pressure yet are ultimately not found guilty.
Mr. Flello : Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, if this Bill were enacted, police should arrest someone in similar circumstances, or should they not investigate the case, automatically thinking, "It is obviously not grossly disproportionate"?
Patrick Mercer: I have no doubt that the police will make an arrest on those occasions and that they will feel much clearer in their own minds that the arbiter will quickly decide whether the individual should be taken to court. The best scenario is that, as a result of this measure, the likes of Charlie Mayall will not be put through months of pressure and indignity.
The Bill makes a huge amount of sense. I believe that it has the support of criminals, police officers and, most important, the public. I hope that Labour Members will not view this as a party political issue but will try to view it as something that we are going to do for the good of all our constituents. I commend the actions of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York and the articulate and extremely convincing way in which she presented the Bill today, and I commend those Labour Members who speak from the heart, and who feel the rights and wrongs of this case as passionately as I do. I hope today that we can agree in the House that the Bill should become legislation and that, if it does so, it will be for the good of all concerned.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) on coming so high in the ballot and on introducing the Bill, although I regret to say that I shall not support it today. May I also express my commiserations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound),
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who unfortunately is not in his place to hear this debatehe has the high office of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister with responsibility for police and law and order. This is all his fault in a way. I think that he should be here to listen to the debate.
Mr. Dismore: I will mention something about that later. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North was somewhat hoist by his own petard as a result of that. He was rescued by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who picked up the issue later. I suspect that "Today" listeners were probably exercising disproportionate force on my hon. Friend, bearing in mind the number of times he appears on the programme, to try to teach him the error of his ways and persuade him that he should be a little less of a media junkie and a little more restrained about some things.
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