Mr. Khan: If my hon. Friend is suggesting that "Archbold" should be compulsive reading for all citizens, I second that idea. He referred to the fact that, once a defendant raises the issue of self-defence, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove otherwise. What will the position be in the new context if the Bill, God forbid, is ever passed?
The Bill is silent on that interesting point. In those circumstances, one can only assume that
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the burden would shift to the defendant from the prosecution, where it is at present. That would create even more confusion. I am surprised that the Bill does not make clear whether the burden will lie on the defence or the prosecution.
"For unlike the current law, where the householder may have to explain why the action he took was reasonable, the person who would need to prove that the force used was 'grossly disproportionate' might well be dead."?
Mr. Dismore: It is interesting to hear such an eminent journalist as Ms Phillips, writing for the newspapers she does and holding the position she normally holds, expressing that view. That shows the real unease felt throughout the country about the Bill's proposals.
Lynne Featherstone: Does the hon. Gentleman agree, information being key, that it would be useful that, rather than either the Bill or Archbold being distributed, a leaflet such as the one which already exists could be distributed to every householder?
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Lady raises an interesting point and an issue canvassed previously when the Bill of the hon. Member for Newark was debated. It is incumbent on the Government to make sure that there is a proper information programme so that people are made aware what the law is. It is also incumbent on them to produce a leaflet in other languages, too, as people from minority communities particularly fear the impact of burglary. For recent arrivals to our shores, the regime of law under which they previously lived may have been a little more anarchic than ours, and it might be important to remind them of exactly what they are or are not entitled to do. I hope that the Minister will be able, should she come to reply to the debate, to pick up that point and say whether the Government intend to distribute the leaflet in a way that makes it accessible to all our citizens, whatever their native tongue.
Mr. Flello: Does my hon. Friend agree that rather than bringing in a vigilante Bill, a better way forward would be to encourage the Home Office and the Inland Revenue, for example, to work together so that small businesses receive just such a leaflet directly with their end-of-year packs?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the leaflet is targeted at householders, the same provisions apply to business people, whether they be shop owners or work in an office. The Home Office might well imagine that it would be helpful to ensure that shop owners, about whose fears of people breaking into their shops we have heard much, benefit from a leaflet that would not require greatly to be changed from the existing leaflet, which sets out the position very well. It might require just a change to the title, and shop owners would benefit from it. I hope that the Minister will pick up on that if there is time for her to reply to the debate.
I urge caution. My hon. Friend has explained his excellent practice of informing his
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constituents about their rights, but I urge caution because we must put matters in context. Fewer than 1 per cent. of burglaries are aggravated. Burglaries are also at the lowest level for 20 years. My hon. Friend, as a hard-working constituency MP, will understand that the perception of crime often overtakes the reality, and I would not want us to be carried away and to end up creating more concern among some of our most vulnerable constituents.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend echoes some of the points I made earlier in giving some statistics about the incidence and risk of burglary. The important thing is that the leaflet must reassure people, and can do so in two ways. First, it can reassure them that the prospects of their being the victims of burglary are relatively slight. Secondly, they could be given some information on what they could do to reduce the risk of burglaryfor example, the installation of window locks or asking the local police service to make a crime prevention visit. It is important that people know where they stand on these difficult issues. An information leaflet would not be just about telling people what they could do if their home were invaded. It would tell them what they could do to stop their home being invaded in the first place, and to reassure them that the risk of that happening is relatively slight.
Mr. Khan: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is grossly irresponsible of opportunist Opposition Members to refer to the one or two stark cases where householders have been prosecuted because of action that they took against intruders?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we examine some of the cases, we see a different picture emerging. As we have no definition of "grossly disproportionate", perhaps we should consider some of the cases that have come before the courts and test them against the existing definition and against the "grossly disproportionate" definition.
The research paper from the Library helpfully sets out a number of examples. The Library has gone back almost 20 years in looking for these cases. Having done so, it has produced relatively few. The number of cases that we are dealing with, even under existing law, is relatively small. The first case concerns a Mr. Eric Butler in May 1987. He was charged with malicious wounding after he stabbed a mugger on the underground with a sword stick. That case was withdrawnit was reasonable force.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Going back to the discussion that I had earlier with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd), it could be argued whether it was or was not a building, depending on whereabouts on the underground it took place.
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The second example is the case of Mr. Carrera. In May 1991, he was charged with murder after he was attacked with a knife by a drunken drug mugger. He turned the weapon on his assailant. He was acquitted under the present law of reasonable force.
Mr. Khan: Would my hon. Friend agree that even if the Bill were ever enacted, Mr. Carrera would still face the prospect of investigation and potentially the same outcome, and that the stress that he endured would be the same before and after the Bill's enactment?
Another case was that of Mr. Tony Evans, who in June 1993 shot an intruder. Presumably that was inside a building. He used a small-bore shotgun. He was not prosecuted because it was considered that he had exercised reasonable force.
"They had to act. It could lead to a vicious circle if everyone starts arming themselves to shoot at burglars. The burglars may start arming themselves and then the police and before we know it we may be living in a gun society."
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is correct. Mr. Evans says it all. We heard earlier the hon. Member for Newark quoting a burglar supporting the Bill. He had been shot in the buttocks. Mr. Evans, the victim of the attack, was saying that the existing law is correct and that police behaviour was correct in investigating him. He was not even prosecuted, because it was felt that he had responded with reasonable force.