|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Forth: I am interested in this part of the hon. Gentleman's analysis. Like me, he will recall such measures as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and, even worse, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and preceding firearms legislation, which were knee-jerk reactions to a public perception or public fear at the time. I am sure that he agrees that since most firearms were banned in this country, the number of crimes committed using firearms has rocketed. In some ways, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we should never legislate in haste, simply in reaction to a perceived problem at the time.
Mr. Pound: There are certain sentences that I would not wish to see on my tombstone: one is, "I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst." However, those who remember species called something like "the Doggo Argentino" and "the Japanese giant mastiff" being introduced into the Dangerous Dogs Bill are only too well aware of the problems of that type of legislation. I was counselling precisely against that. I suggest that the Bill before us would not only fail to resolve a problem, but make matters worse. That is what deeply concerns me.
May I respond to two specific points before I come to the meat and substancefairly thin substance, but substance it is for all thatof the Bill? I certainly will not attack the hon. Member for North Thanet. He and I once spent St. Patrick's day in Ottawa. While I remember little of the detail of that day, a general warm feeling of happiness remains with me. I hope the same remains with him. He mentioned Robin Baker-White. I have written to the former lord-lieutenant, whom I consider a good, decent and honourable gentleman. I have also discussed the matter with his Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier).
Mr. Baker-White's shotgun was not confiscated. It was taken away for standard analysis, as happens in every single case in this country where a firearm is discharged, except on a rifle range. The shotgun was tested and test-fired. The bore and the rifling were checked against the cartridge, and the shotgun was returned to himend of story. That is an example in which the perception is far, far worse than the reality.
A few weeks ago, the trial took place of a man in the north-west who stabbed an intruder to death with a bread knife. That man was found innocent; the case was dismissed. What happened was considered to be justifiable and the defence within common law was heard and agreed to.
The second name to be mentioned is that of Mr. Tony Martin. I have to say that building a case on the foundations provided by Mr. Martin is doomed to failure. I have met Mr. Martin on a number of occasions and I say quite frankly that, for all his eccentricities and all his fairly bizarre behaviour, there are certain aspects of his self-justification that no Member of the House would in any way support. To a certain extent, that taints the thrust and content of the Bill.
First, the hon. Gentleman must be awareI am sure he was listeningthat I specifically said that
30 Apr 2004 : Column 1157
my colleagues and I have carefully not founded the Bill on that ground for precisely those reasons. If he were to speak to Robin Baker-White, former high sheriff of Kent, he would find that considerable distress and concern were caused by what happened at the time and afterwards in terms of the legal process. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that under the Bill the person who was acquitted of stabbing somebody with a bread knife would have been in court at all and subject to that further distress?
Mr. Pound: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that and I also note for the record the correction that Robin Baker-White was high sheriff of Kent, not a lord-lieutenant. I am not greatly familiar with the hierarchy of the shires. When a person is killed, there has to be an inquest, a hearing and some legal procedure. That happened in this case. Common law applied and the accused was acquitted. I do not think that that is a problem.
Mr. Pound: In a moment. I can understand the reluctance of the hon. Member for North Thanet to have the matter associated with the name of Mr. Tony Martin. While I appreciate and understand that, and would wish to accommodate him, I must tell him that there is no way in which the Bill can be divorced from the name of Tony Martin. That is impossible. Before I explain why in detail, I give way to a Member who represents somewhere else in Norfolk.
Mr. Bacon: South Norfolk. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there has to be an inquiry of some kind if there is a death. He used the word "inquest", and of course he is right about that as well, but there does not have to be a prosecution. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet is making. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
Mr. Pound: The hon. Gentleman displays the nimbleness of wit that I admired so much when we were at university together, although I should say that I was a mature student at the time. If one is using the common law defence, one has to offer that defence in some forum. Clearly, the Crown Prosecution Service could decide not to prosecute but, in the interests of transparency and precedent, it is far more logical and sensible for there to be an examination and an exoneration. Exoneration in court is far more significant and telling than the bureaucratic tick of a box that says that there will not be a Crown Prosecution Service action. That is far more important. I give way to another rural Member of Parliament.
Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD):
I fully concur with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. There is a problem if things do not go to trial, which can be for reasons other than to establish guilt or innocence. There may be a lack of evidence, so there could be uncertainty in people's minds as to whether someone was guilty or innocent of a crime. It is far more
30 Apr 2004 : Column 1158
satisfactory to find people not guilty in court. After all, British law works on the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Mr. Pound: The hon. Gentleman makes a telling point. I grew to admire his intellect when we shared a cabin in the Royal Navy, although I was a mature entrant. It is precisely that. Had this particular case not gone to trial, there would have been any number of possible interpretations as to why it did not. That decision is crucial from the point of view of the exoneration of the individual and the creation of a precedent. The process must be seen as it is. The hon. Member for North Thanet talked about perceptions. We must realise how important this issue is. Whereas a perception may be an intangible thing that one cannot get a grip on, we can influence its drift and direction.
As I said, I have met Mr. Martin on a couple of occasions and I found him at the time perfectly amiable. He was, as I say, a tad eccentric. I cannot blame him for having an uncle who founded the National Front. I have some doubt about the fact that he drew £87,000 out of a bank in Swadlincote and failed to declare it when he made an application for legal aid. He has certainly made a number of utterly bizarre statements, including
"I can assure you; most people who have had an association with me are never quite the same again".
"I have never heard such a racket in all my life. I wouldn't be so rude as to say anything at the time but if I had a bloody shotgun I'd soon quieten that place down".
"Women are a dish to be savoured . . . a bit like peas"
"People used to say I talked a load of rubbish but personally I think they just don't understand me."
That may give the impression of a slightly eccentric farmer living fairly far in the country, but what I would like to say now has to be said on the Floor of the House at some stage today, because it has not often been said before. We have talked about Tony Martin and the law. We have not talked about Fred Barras. He was 16 when he was shot in the back with an illegally held pump-action shotgun. He died without the last rites, with his back to his murderer. He will always be 16 because he will never see another birthday.
Do we think, for all the sins of Fred Barras, for all the crimes that he committed, that that boy was so beyond redemption, was so incapable of being saved, of ever turning over a new leaf and becoming a responsible member of society, that he deserved the fate that he met in that lonely farm house in Norfolk in the middle of the night, as he turned to flee and a second blast of the shotgun caught him in the back and ended his life there and then, where he died lonely, without benefit of the clergy? Do we honestly believe that any 16-year-old cannot be redeemed? Do we believe that the whole criminal justice system of this country is so mired in failure that no person can ever, ever take another path in life? Do we believe that at the age of 16, one has cast one's life so much in stone that one will never, ever see another way of living? In the case of Fred Barras that, sadly, will never be known. Fred Barras is dead.
30 Apr 2004 : Column 1159
Fred Barras was killed by a man who served a few years in prison and became a national hero for it. Fred Barras was killed by a man who influences debate and discussion not just in the House, but throughout the country to this day and will continue to do so. Those people who wish to prop up a political career with the bones of a 16-year-old boy are nothing but despicable. I mean nobody in the House today when I say that. We may talk about such marvellous concepts as an English person's home being his or her castleyes, theoretically, let us do sobut let us never forget that behind the theory, behind the parliamentary draftsmanship, behind the fine words, we can still see the dead body of a 16-year-old boy. As far as I am concerned, nothing can ever justify that.
If somebody broke into my house or attacked my 16-year-old daughter, yes I would use a baseball bat. I would use whatever came to hand, but it would be proportionate and on the basis of the facts at the time. I would not have prepared it. I do not prop a bat behind the front door. I would not illegally obtain a pump-action shotgun, I would not remove the treads from the stairwell. I would not re-arrange the room to create a trap, and most of all, I do not think that any hon. Member would ever do as Mr. Martin did: shoot someone in the back as they ran away. I would not do that.
I am not some whingeing, Milquetoast, bed-wetting, muesli-scoffing, sandal-wearing liberal. I do not believe in any nonsense about inviting the burglars in to talk them through their unhappy childhood and say, "It's all society's fault, isn't it? It's not really yours." If somebody breaks into my gaff, they get a slapno two ways about it. What they do not get is a cartridge in the back; nor should they. So I am not prepared to support any piece of legislation that, wittingly or unwittingly, opens the door to the murder of 16-year-olds.
I may have been described as "pliant" in the excellent John McVicars book about the Martin case. I am insulted even more grievously that I am referred to as a "leftie". I can accept those accusations, but even I have my limits. Even I have a point below which I will not sink, and I will not join the inchoate howl of populism that has built up around the ludicrous case of a sadly eccentric man, which ignores the death of a 16-year-old boy.
The Bill has the great advantage of brevity, which is much to be commended. If it achieves nothing else, it will have achieved a further measure of public debate. The hon. Member for North Thanet has been extraordinary in the dedication and devotion that he gives to certain causes. His work in the field of animal welfare has a national and an international reputation. He is a man who has stood on the ice floes of northern Canada to stop people clubbing baby seals to death. Whereas that may not find favour with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), it finds favour with many of us.
However, the Bill that the hon. Gentleman has brought before us today is not just fundamentally flawed in intent. The content also needs re-examination. Clause 1(1) refers to the occupier of a dwelling. Is a squatter an occupier of a dwelling? There is no legal
30 Apr 2004 : Column 1160
definition of an occupier. The Bill does not refer to "the legal occupier" or "the authorised occupier". If a group of squatters break into a house, they are then the occupiers of the dwelling. They happen to be tooled up with a few shotguns. Somebody comes round who is a friend of the rightful owner. Lo and behold, they get their head shot off. According to clause 1(1), that is entirely acceptable, and even more so in the case of anyone who is in the dwelling with the licence of the occupier. So if the squatter brings half a dozen friends round for a rave, or whatever they get up to, that is also covered.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|