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Mr. Khan: What are my hon. Friend's views on Her Majesty's official Opposition having what listeners of a radio programme think as the main platform of their home affairs policy?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is right. I shall say a little more about the populist approach, or otherwise, of the Opposition a little later.

This is the third Bill that has come before the House on the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North chickened out, rightly, after the poll came out. It was interesting to hear how he wriggled on the "Today" programme afterwards to get out of the difficulty. He was got out of the hole by the hon. Member for North Thanet, who introduced his own Bill, the Criminal Justice (Justifiable Conduct) Bill, in 2004.

In the last Session of the previous Parliament, that was followed by the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Household Protection) Bill. He is right in saying that that Bill got a Second Reading but that was only because the Opposition decided to exercise their whip on a Friday, which I regard as a real breach of parliamentary practice. It is a private Members' day and should not be subject to party political whipping.

Mr. Khan: As a new boy who has been here only six months, I am slightly confused because we do not have Whips on our side on a Friday. Will my hon. Friend explain what he means by his last comment about Opposition Members being whipped into line the last time such a Bill was before us?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) will not stray too far in replying to that intervention.

Mr. Dismore: Of course. Basically, the convention is that Fridays are a private Members' day. The Whips should keep out of the business and we should, as private Members, progress with the business.
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Occasionally, rather peculiar results occur as a consequence. If a party whips on a Friday—not individual Members whipping but a party whipping—that is a gross disrespect to the House and private Members.

Dr. Palmer: My hon. Friend will have noticed that the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) did not respond directly to my question about whether he was asked by his party to introduce his Bill. Has my hon. Friend speculated whether the same may be the case with this Bill?

Mr. Dismore: One can but speculate. My hon. Friend is right. We see on a Friday the same Bill coming back time after time. Earlier this Session, we again had a Bill on reform of pensions, for example. A Bill on food labelling has been brought back time after time by different Opposition Members. One wonders sometimes where they get their ideas from—let us put it as neutrally as that.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps we can now get back to discussing the Bill that is before the House.

Mr. Dismore rose—

Mr. Gale : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dismore: Of course.

Mr. Gale: As the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are so determined to try to turn a cross-party issue into a partisan issue, perhaps he will tell me on behalf of his colleagues which of his parliamentary colleagues he condemns—the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) or the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), neither of whom sits on the Opposition Benches?

Mr. Dismore: I would simply say that on a Friday there is a free vote. Hon. Members are entitled to have their own views. I disagree with the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on this issue, as I have on a number of other private Members' Bills and Government Bills.

One of the consequences of whipping on the previous occasion was that I was not able to make my speech on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newark. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Vale of York for giving me the opportunity to explain my views on the issue. I shall be as brief as I can, concomitant with my duty to the House, and to the public, to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised on Second Reading. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is not in his place at the moment but I am sure he
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would expect nothing less of me, bearing in mind his views on the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, particularly of private Members' Bills.

Mr. Evans : The hon. Gentleman will know that the Bill is a popular measure. How many of his constituents has he spoken to about it, and does not he believe that they would want it to pass?

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman is not alone in raising the popular sentiment behind the Bill, which I shall of course deal with a little later in my introductory remarks.

Mr. Khan: Will my hon. Friend comment on the Bill's compatibility with the European convention on human rights? I am, of course, aware that he chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Mr. Dismore: Of course I shall. I have taken a particular interest in that, and although the Committee has yet to review the Bill, it issued a report on the Bill previously proposed by the hon. Member for Newark and there is very little difference in the human rights implications

Dr. Palmer: In answer to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), may I say that I conducted a survey of my constituents, some 2,100 of whom get e-mails from me on current issues? I asked about their views on the Bill. I was undecided at that stage and asked whether they would be interested in a reformulation of the law. I was really quite surprised that the majority of responses said that that would be mistaken and that they wanted a reaffirmation of the current position.

Mr. Dismore: I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents are intelligent people who took the opportunity to read the background explanation of the present position that he doubtless offered them. Part of our problem with the current law is that people do not understand where they stand.

What difference is there between today's Bill and that previously proposed by the hon. Member for Newark? The short title is different, and I shall say something about that later. There is a definition of "building" in clause 1(2), the Bill extends, through clause 2, to Northern Ireland, and there is a technical amendment to clause 3(2). There has been no attempt, however, other than in the definition of "building", to address any of the criticisms advanced on the previous Bill on Second Reading or in Committee. I am extremely surprised that that opportunity has not been taken as it means that I shall have to remind the House of some shortcomings, which may make my speech a little longer than it might otherwise have been.

We all recognise the legitimate concern of a householder who has to defend himself or herself and his or her property against intruders. That is clearly a dreadful prospect for anyone to face, particularly when they are isolated or vulnerable or if they live in remote areas where help may not be close at hand. Whatever our differences over the Bill, we all recognise that those concerns are real and should be dealt with seriously and sympathetically. We all have a right to expect that our families should feel safe and secure in their own homes.

Mr. Khan: Bearing in mind the seriousness with which most of us take this Bill, will my hon. Friend confirm
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that the parliamentary colleagues to whom he has spoken reaffirm and support wholeheartedly the right of householders, shopkeepers and others to defend themselves, their families and their properties with reasonable force?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The issue between us is whether people should be able to defend their property reasonably and within the law or to make a disproportionate response.

Being burgled is a frightening experience, and householders who react instinctively and attack intruders will be prosecuted under the existing law only if they use very excessive force. Only in the most extreme circumstances are householders prosecuted for violence against burglars. The Director of Public Prosecutions made it clear on 12 January that prosecution would be considered only in those extreme circumstances. The law also takes account of the fact that a person under attack or being robbed may be frightened or confused. When they find an intruder at 3 o'clock in the morning, a person cannot be expected to judge to a nicety the level of force that might be required to defend themselves against the threat posed. The law quite simply asks that the person should act instinctively and honestly. We must be clear about that: the law, and every part of the criminal justice system, must, and do, support the right to self-defence.

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