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Chris Bryant: I wonder whether that is right. Is it right to put very high-profile cases, covered by the national media, on a politician's desk for a decision on whether a prosecution should proceed? Is that really what we want?

Mr. Dismore: I see the force of my hon. Friend's argument, but in such circumstances the Attorney-General would be acting as a Law Officer, not as a politician. Perhaps a better way forward is to suggest that the decision be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions personally—an alternative that would probably achieve the same objective.

For completeness, the CPS gave a number of examples of people actually being prosecuted. In one case, a man laid in wait on commercial premises for a burglar, caught him, tied him up, beat him up, threw
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him into a pit and set fire to him. That is probably grossly disproportionate, and the individual concerned would not, I suspect, find a defence under the Bill.

Mr. Flello: But would that be grossly disproportionate under the Bill; where does it state that?

Mr. Dismore: The Bill does not state that, but common sense tells us that such an action would be regarded as grossly disproportionate.

In the second case cited by the CPS, several people trespassed on to private land to go night-fishing. They were approached by a man with a shotgun who threatened to shoot them. They ran away, but one was shot in the back with 40 shotgun pellets. Again, that was probably grossly disproportionate; moreover, the Bill would have offered no protection in such an incident because it took place outside. In a third case, a householder laid in wait for a burglar who tried to burgle his shed, and shot him in the back. That is the "Tony Martin circumstance", which, as we know, given the concessions already made by Opposition Members, would amount to grossly disproportionate force.

The question then arises of why we need to change the law of self-defence in the first place. I suggest that we do not. The law is clear and we have to have consistency in the law; having different tests for different circumstances is fraught with danger. We have already discussed what would happen when such incidents occur in, and outside, buildings; and, for example, whether a dormobile constitutes a building. I mentioned earlier the example of a security guard taking such action on a building site. As it stands it would constitute reasonable force, but if he is in the construction hut, the question arises as to whether the hut constitutes a building—a marginal point. If it is on completed premises, it probably constitutes a building. Would he have the nous to work out when he can and cannot use the defence provided in this Bill? What about allotments and garden sheds? Clearly, the allotment itself is not a building; the garden shed may or may not be, depending on the size of the structure.

What about people who are attacked who are not in any form of building? The victim of a street mugging could use only reasonable force. We know that a phone box is not a building, because there is case law to that effect. The victim of a phone box mugging could defend himself with nothing other than reasonable force. Such an incident could easily happen, because as we know, a lot of drug deals are done in phone boxes.

Dr. Palmer: I realise that my hon. Friend is in danger of running low on time, but I want to mention one issue that has yet to be stressed. The general public take separate views on the danger of excessive injury to a criminal, and on the danger of any injury to an innocent party or to someone who has committed a very minor act of trespass. Does my hon. Friend not think it important to stress that the Bill as drafted poses a risk of excessive over-reaction to someone who commits an actual offence, and of grievous harm to someone who has done no real harm?
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Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. My main concern is that, one way or the other, the Bill would lead to an inevitable escalation of violence, rather than a diminution, as its proponents would have us believe.

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend has explained the Bill's inconsistency in respect of the approaches taken by victims of crimes against property, and by those who have been mugged in the street. However, is there not a more fundamentally offensive aspect of the Bill? Victims of crimes against their person—those who are raped in a park or assaulted in a public place, for example—would have fewer rights and less protection under the Bill than the victims of crimes against property in the household.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, that was to have been my next point. How can we distinguish between the victim of a rape in a park who is allowed to use only reasonable force against her assailant and the victims of rape in other circumstances, inside a building that could be a public place, such as a tube station or a shopping centre—attacks have occurred in both—or the victim's own home? In one case the victim would be allowed to use disproportionate force to defend herself, whereas if she was raped in a park, in an open space, she could not. That cannot be right. How can we explain to women what they can or cannot do to defend themselves if we have to say that it depends on where they are attacked? That is ludicrous.

Chris Bryant: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I urge him to agree yet again with Melanie Phillips, who wrote in the Daily Mail:

Is not that the fundamental problem? Changing the law as the Bill proposes would ratchet up violence by both burglars and their victims.

Mr. Dismore: Exactly. It is interesting that one can agree with that eminent journalist twice in an afternoon.

Mr. Khan: Does my hon. Friend agree that we must ensure that our hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has better reading matter for his spare time?

Mr. Dismore: One always has to look at the views of the opposition in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday. On this occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda is to be congratulated on his reading material.

Mr. Khan: For research purposes.

Mr. Dismore: Indeed.

The problems posed by the Bill go beyond the position of the victim. What about the good Samaritan
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rescuer? In trying to prevent a crime, the rescuer could find themselves in an extremely difficult position. The circumstances would be different depending on whether they were inside or outside a building and whether force was disproportionate. The measure would create significant difficulties.

After going through all that material, my view is that we would do better to leave well alone, while making sure that people are aware of their rights under existing law.

Jim Dowd: In summary, this is the worst type of legislative change. As my hon. Friend has demonstrated, not only would it be largely ineffective, but where it was effective it would be counterproductive, so the Bill does not have much merit.

Mr. Dismore: I have to agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Khan: I am troubled by the fact that my hon. Friend may not have time to deal with the European convention on human rights. Given the other hat he wears, I should be interested to hear his views on the compatibility of article 2, the right to life, article 3, the right not to suffer inhumane and degrading treatment and article 8, the right to privacy and family. What are his views about the findings of the previous Joint Committee on Human Rights? Will he share his experience and expertise in those issues?

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I promised him that I would cover those points, and although I really wanted to work through a lot more material relating to the Bill before I did so, I am inclined to indulge him. I do not know whether I have sufficient time in the seven minutes left for the debate to deal fully with and give full justification for the human rights arguments, but I will give it a go.

Chris Bryant: Important as those issues are, will my hon. Friend deal with one more point before he moves on to them? I think that he has said six times that people would have only the defence of reasonable force, which seems to suggest that such force would not be substantial. In fact, the Law Commission, referring to partial defences to murder, stated:

In other words, one can go quite a long way and it is important that we get that point across to the public.

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