Mr. Ian Austin: One of my concerns about the Bill is that burglars, far from being deterred from breaking into people's houses, may arrive at the view that home owners are more likely to be arming themselves with guns and all the rest of it to defend themselves should they be burgled, and that they should arm themselves too. So if the Bill were to come into force, we may end up with an arms race and with more people being shot by burglars.
Does my hon. Friend not think it bizarre and irrational that the Opposition appear willing to give the victims of crime in the home greater rights than the victims of crime in the streets? For example, is it not illogical and irrational that the victim of a rape in a park will be allowed to use only reasonable force to defend herself whereas the victim of a burglary in a house would be able to use grossly disproportionate force?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope to address that issue at greater length when I come to analyse the Bill. To go into more detail, rape can be part of a burglary. A woman who is raped in her own home can use excessive force whereas a woman who is raped in a park cannot do so. That cannot be a sensible way forward.
To deal with the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), I think that the Bill defeats its own object. Presumably the object is to make householders feel safer in their own homes and to deter burglaries. I think that the hon. Member for Newark said that the purpose of the Bill was to erode the confidence of burglars. I am concerned that the Bill will encourage people to have a go rather than to call the police. Unfortunately, bearing in mind the profile of burglars, these offenders tend to be younger men. We
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know that from the crime survey. I have gone through the profile of people who are likely to be the victims of burglary, and I think that the householder is the person who is most likely to come off worst if there is such a confrontation. We have heard examples of that.
The best advice that a householder can be given is to call the police rather than to get stuck in with a burglar. I am concerned that, as a result of the Bill, householders, instead of just losing their jewellery and television, which is serious enough, will end up losing their lives. People will be encouraged to try to defend themselves, but they are likely to come off worst, especially if they are half asleep. Of course, the burglar will be wide awake and will have his senses fully about him.
Mr. Gale: The hon. Gentleman is going down a ludicrous route. Is he seriously suggesting that a burglar will stand by while someone reaches for his telephone to call the police? Has he ever had his home burgled? Has he ever had his home violated? Does he begin to understand the offence that he is causing this morning?
Mr. Dismore: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am causing offence. I disagree with him on the issue, but for perfectly logical reasons. He has a view of the Bill and I have a very different view. The hon. Gentleman's Bill would introduce the Oklahoma law, which would allow a householder to use whatever force he wanted to use against the burglar. There would be no arguments about disproportionate force or any other force. I shall talk about the Oklahoma law and its consequences shortly.
Mr. Khan: I am concerned by the contributions of Opposition Members. Given the choice of having a panic button installed in one's home with a burglar alarm or purchasing a gun with a 10-year licence and having a safe in which to keep it, which option would my hon. Friend advise his constituents to take?
My hon. Friend is right. Presumably someone who has a firearm will keep it under lock and key, as is required by firearms legislation. Is the hon. Member for North Thanet suggesting that someone should go down the stairs in his home, unlock the case, get the gun out and load it while the burglar stands by waiting to be shot, or is he suggesting that the firearm should be kept under the pillow in complete breach of firearms legislation?
We know that the hon. Gentleman is here to filibuster and likely to speak for a long time, so the
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idea of not intervening is nonsense. For the record, he knows perfectly well that no Conservative Member has mentioned firearms at all.
Mr. Dismore: I am not sure that that is right. We will have to check Hansard, because I think that firearms have come up several times. I take great exception to the suggestion that I am filibustering. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have a lot to say about the Bill, but if I was filibustering, it would be in breach of the rules and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would call me to order.
Mr. Ian Austin: My hon. Friend was asked whether he had been burgled. I can tell the House that I have been burgled three times and I well understand the shock and fury caused when one's home is invaded and one's private property is gone through. I, too, take great exception to being described, as we were earlier, as the burglar's friend. I do not recall referring to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) as the terrorist's friend during the terrorism debate. Should he not withdraw the offensive remark that he made earlier?
Mr. Gale: The record will show that what I actually said was that it was as ludicrous to describe this Bill as partisan as it would be to describe every Labour Member as the burglar's friendprecisely the reverse of what the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) suggested.
Mr. Flello: We were discussing the possibility of someone removing a firearm from a locked case and using it. Is my hon. Friend aware of the case in which armed robbers threatened a pub landlord and barmaid with extreme violence and the barmaid escaped, fetched her employer's shotgun and shot one of the intruders? She was not prosecuted under the current law.
The other way in which the Bill defeats its own object is that it encourages the setting of traps where people lie in wait for a burglar. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member for North Thanet has in mind in talking about how burglars should be confronted. There have been cases where people have been repeatedly burgled and it is a problem, but the answer is not the Bill and certainly not to set traps.
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I want to return to the risk of the escalation of violence if the burglar thinks that the householder is likely to have a firearm, knife, sword or other such weapon. In the last debate on this, there was a discussion of the merits of cricket bats and baseball equipment and I was pleased to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North equipped himself with a cricket bat in good British tradition. The fact remains that, if householders are likely to have weapons of defencethere is nothing in the Bill to prevent itburglars are more likely to be tooled up too and there will be an escalation of violence, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, North put it, an arms race between the burglar and the householder.
The other risk is that burglars may go for softer targets. They may think it too risky to choose households where people are armed with swords or knives. They will be less likely to confront the firearm-owning toff but more likely to invade the home of the old lady living alone. The Bill would have a disproportionate effect: the lord in his castle armed with his shotgun would mean that the burglar would be more likely to carry firearms, while the old lady in the Burnt Oak estate in my constituency would be at more risk of being severely beaten by an intruder. She would not be in a position to defend herself, not because of the law, under this Bill or the previous one, but because she is frail and the burglar has switched his modus operandi because he is frightened of attacking wealthier homes, which, as the figures I gave earlier show, are less likely targets anyway.