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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 17:08 GMT
'Debacle' claim over burglar law
Burglar entering house
The Conservatives want the burglar defence laws changed
The Conservatives have been accused of cynicism after Tory MPs did not turn up to debate the party's own plans to improve laws on force against burglars.

Labour says the "debacle" shows Tories do not really care about the issue.

A committee is examining the Tory plan but its latest meeting was called off when only five MPs arrived in time - one short of the number needed.

The Tories admit three of their MPs were late but stress the bill is "very much alive" and will be debated later.

They blame Labour MPs' delaying tactics for preventing the bill going through the committee in just one meeting last week, as originally planned.

'Little breathing space'

It is now up to the committee's chairman, Labour MP Frank Cook, to set a new date for the meeting over the Householder Protection Bill before an election is called.

Labour members could have supported this legislation, which has the backing of the public and police alike, last Wednesday
Patrick Mercer
Tory frontbencher

Mr Cook would not comment on the party political row but said there was "very little breathing space" to find a new date before the election.

Tory MP Patrick Mercer's private member's bill would mean householders would only be prosecuted if they used "grossly disproportionate force" against an intruder.

Ministers say the current law, allowing reasonable force in self-defence, does not need changing but there is a government campaign to counter confusion over the current rules.

'Preying on fears'

Michael Howard has thrown his full support behind Mr Mercer's plans at a news conference and prime minister's questions.

But Mr Mercer was the only Tory who attended Tuesday morning's committee meeting, along with the chairman, a government minister, his parliamentary aide and one other Labour MP.

Three Tory MPs - Hugo Swire, Andrew Mitchell and Chris Grayling - were missing, although the party says they only turned up late.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has written to his Tory shadow, David Davis, saying the party should remove its posters claiming to be concerned about householders' rights against burglars.

"Your party is just trying to prey on people's worries as a cynical election ploy without having any real commitment to doing anything about it," said Mr Clarke.

'Delays'

But Tory leader Mr Howard said it was "absurd" for Labour to suggest the Tories had jumped on a bandwagon and now could not be bothered to follow through the bill.

And Mr Mercer said: "The committee stage of this bill has simply been postponed.

"The bill is still very much alive. We are now rescheduling and the chairman will decide on this date as soon as possible.

"At the end of the day, Labour members could have supported this legislation, which has the backing of the public and police alike, last Wednesday but instead used delaying tactics, which forced an arbitrarily imposed sitting today."


FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Daily Mail You CAN kill a burglar - 10 hrs ago
Mirror You Can Kill Burglars - 11 hrs ago
Independent Homeowners can kill burglars in self-defence, Government says - 21 hrs ago
Sky News New Advice On Tackling Intruders - 24 hrs ago
The Sun Rules to tackle burglars - 25 hrs ago
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



SEE ALSO:
Tougher intruder laws ruled out
12 Jan 05 |  Politics
Shot burglar case sparks debate
26 Oct 04 |  Derbyshire
Backbench MPs' law-making chance
02 Dec 04 |  Politics


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