18 Oct 1995 : Column 739

House of Lords

Wednesday, 18th October 1995.

The House met at half past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Lord Cuckney

Sir John Graham Cuckney, Knight, having been created Baron Cuckney, of Millbank in the City of Westminster, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Harris of High Cross and the Baroness O'Cathain.

Lord Blyth of Rowington

Sir James Blyth, Knight, having been created Baron Blyth of Rowington, of Rowington in the County of Warwickshire, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Rockley and the Lord Hesketh.

Viscount Midleton—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his kinsman.

Citizen's Arrest

2.59 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will clarify, and if necessary amend, the law relating to citizens who take immediate action to apprehend or prevent the escape of a person seen to have committed an offence.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry): My Lords, the law allows anyone to use reasonable force in effecting a lawful arrest. The principle is clear and simple and the Government have no present plans to ask Parliament to amend the law. Nonetheless, the application of the principle may give rise to difficulties in particular circumstances and my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General has accordingly asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider how further guidance to the police can best be given.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that very helpful Answer. Perhaps I may suggest to him that when these investigations are being undertaken the Attorney-General should look carefully at the proposals that clearer instructions should be given to the CPS and the police so that they act more sensibly in cases of this kind.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General does indeed have in mind that the charging standards in matters of assault are revised in such a way as to give better guidance to the police so that they may know

18 Oct 1995 : Column 740

better when to charge and when to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice. That will often be the very best way of dealing with these matters.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that in England and Wales—I cannot say what happens in Scotland—before the difference between felonies and misdemeanours was abolished, a citizen who saw a felony being committed had a duty under the common law to arrest the person doing it? To what extent is an obligation of that kind still part of the law, if at all?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, I would not like to answer that question on an examination of the English law off the top of my head. I know that the position in Scotland is that there is no duty on the citizen to take such a course. However, where people do intervene in this way the law takes a rather robust view of what is reasonable in the circumstances. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that that is appropriate.

Lord Monson: My Lords, does not the noble and learned Lord agree that the benefit of the doubt in these matters should always be given to the householder, shopkeeper or car owner rather than to the thief and the vandal?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, as a generality I think that the correct approach is to take the view that a person who is defending his property is likely to be in the right. On the other hand, your Lordships can appreciate that there may be particular circumstances. If, for example, the householder was a drugs dealer and it appeared that the whole incident arose out of his drugs dealing, a rather different attitude might be appropriate. It all depends on the circumstances in such cases.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that we have reached the absurd situation that criminals doing wrong are simply given probation or other considerate treatment while over and over again those who apprehend criminals are often sued for hurting them? Are we not entering Cloud-cuckoo-land?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, I have no doubt that there are occasions when slightly odd things occur, but your Lordships will be aware that it is often unwise to rely entirely on what one reads in the press about the facts of any particular case.

Building Industry Prospects

3.3 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to improve the prospects of the building industry so that there is an adequate provision of new housing.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the policies which Her Majesty's Government are promoting are designed to encourage the stability of the economy. That

18 Oct 1995 : Column 741

will lead to the provision of new housing both for ownership and for rent, which will benefit the construction industry.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his own department's latest figures for the three months ending in August of this year show an 8 per cent. cut compared with the corresponding three months of last year, including a substantial reduction in new house starts? Is the noble Earl also aware that Mr. Michael Quirke, the managing director of Costain Construction, is on record as observing only this week that those figures further fuel the view that unless the Government stimulate the building market, the industry will inevitably bleed to "death"? Are the Government going to let that happen or will they do something about it?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am aware of the figures which the noble Lord quotes and I would not dissent from them. There is no doubt that our figures and those of the industry show that the signs of recovery have not yet been fulfilled. The noble Lord says that the Government ought to do something, but the Government cannot wave a wand and suddenly improve the state of a whole industry. The fact is that when a recession hits—and we have been hit by a very bad recession—the construction industry suffers. I remind the noble Lord that the Government subsidise housing by £18,000 million in England, which in real terms is broadly the same as the figure for 1979. I expect that the noble Lord will think that that is not a bad effort.

Lord Rippon of Hexham: My Lords, can the Minister say when the Government hope to allow local authorities to spend the capital receipts which they receive from the sale of council houses on the provision of new low-rented accommodation?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it would be imprudent of me to anticipate the Budget in any way whatsoever. I prefer to ask my noble friend to wait until then.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an overriding shortage of housing in the United Kingdom and that much of the property that is occupied at the moment is unfit for human habitation? Therefore, there is a drastic need for an improvement in the housing programme for which the labour and materials are available and the money is in the hands of the local authorities. All that stands in its way is the Government's obstinate following of an ideology that has now become completely obsolete.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is pretty strong stuff, but that is not surprising from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. The noble Lord is being slightly unfair. The fact is that the public sector is investing in 70,000 extra social lettings in 1995-96—some are new, and some through grants to buy. That is in line with our view of what is needed, and that is what is being done. The most important thing that the Government can do is to keep the economy and prices stable. The fact is that the headline rate of inflation has been below 4 per cent. now for 39 consecutive months, which is longer than at any

18 Oct 1995 : Column 742

time in the past 50 years. I am sure that even the noble Lord will give the Government at least three cheers for that.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I was surprised to hear the Minister characterise that gentle question from my noble friend Lord Bruce, expressed in his usual moderate way, as "strong stuff". However, following the point that was made by my noble friend and by the Minister's noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Rippon—we are delighted to see him back in his place—what is the Government's estimate of the amount of money which local authorities now hold as capital receipts?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I do not have the figure with me, but I shall find it out and let the noble Lord know.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that in addition to the need for new housing there is an urgent need for the refurbishment of a large number of houses which are now in disrepair, which would, after all, have the effect of making more suitable housing available? Can the noble Earl indicate whether the Government contemplate stimulating such refurbishment?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page