Clause 31 - Specification for imitation firearms
Violent Crime Reduction Bill
5:30 pm

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Jonathan Djanogly (Shadow Solicitor General (Also Assists Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs), (Assist the Home Affairs Team); Huntingdon, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment No. 297, in clause 31, page 33, line 16, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

‘(1)If the Secretary of State is satisfied that any imitation firearm, or type, model or class of imitation firearm, will create a danger to public safety, he may by regulations, made after consulting such persons or bodies appearing to him to represent those trading in, or using, imitation firearms as he shall consider appropriate, prohibit—

(a)the manufacture of such imitation firearms;

(b)the modification of firearms or imitation firearms so that they become such imitation firearms;

(c)the sale of such imitation firearms; and

(d)the bringing into Great Britain of such imitation firearms,

unless the imitation firearms conform to such specifications and conditions as may be set out in the regulations.’.

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Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst, Conservative)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 277, in clause 31, page 33, line 16, after ‘requiring’, insert ‘realistic’.

No. 278, in clause 31, page 33, line 21, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 279, in clause 31, page 33, line 23, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 280, in clause 31, page 33, line 25, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 281, in clause 31, page 33, line 27, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 282, in clause 31, page 33, line 28, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 283, in clause 31, page 33, line 40, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘a realistic’.

No. 284, in clause 31, page 33, line 42, after ‘of’, insert ‘realistic’.

No. 285, in clause 32, page 34, line 13, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘realistic’.

No. 286, in clause 32, page 34, line 15, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘realistic’.

No. 287, in clause 32, page 34, line 30, in column 2, leave out ‘an’ and insert ‘realistic’.

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Jonathan Djanogly (Shadow Solicitor General (Also Assists Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs), (Assist the Home Affairs Team); Huntingdon, Conservative)

Amendment No. 297, a probing amendment, was suggested by the British Shooting Sport Council. A realistic imitation firearm is broadly defined as being indistinguishable from a real firearm by someone other than an expert on close examination or as a result of an attempt to load or fire it. The decision about whether something is a mere toy, an imitation firearm or a realistic firearm would depend on the circumstances of the case. Juries are likely to come to different conclusions about identical imitations, resulting in the law becoming vague and unpredictable.

The amendment would provide for the Secretary of State to make regulations prohibiting the manufacture, sale, import and modification of firearms or imitation firearms if he is satisfied that such firearms would create a danger to public safety. It would also amend the clause so that regulations can be made only after consultation with the persons or bodies who represent those trading in or using imitation firearms. The amendment would also remove the unnecessary complication of having to distinguish between realistic imitation firearms and imitation firearms.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 277 to 284 is to make clause 31 consistent with other clauses that relate to realistic imitation firearms. The strict specifications should apply only to imitations that could be thought to be realistic imitation firearms, not non-realistic imitations.

In the RIA that the Home Office published on the amendment to introduce tougher manufacturing standards to ensure that imitation firearms cannot be converted to fire live ammunition, it was acknowledged that it is not possible to make an   imitation that cannot be converted by a person of real skill and knowledge. Indeed, it is not possible to prevent such a person from making a gun from scratch. Nevertheless, the Government believe that it is important to introduce much stricter standards to tackle the problem at manufacturer and importer level.

Why are the Government once again ignoring their advice and proceeding with the stricter specifications when they know that the impact on crime would be negligible, while the impact on business would be significant?

Amendments Nos. 285 to 287 are identical consequential amendments that relate to clause 32. The amendments also avoid the possible nonsense of someone under 18 being unable to buy a toy water pistol, or even a potato gun.

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Hazel Blears (Minister of State (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Home Office; Salford, Labour)

Clause 31 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations that require imitation firearms to conform to specifications. Those specifications may be set out in regulations or approved by persons in a way set out in the regulations.

A person will be guilty of an offence if he or she manufactures or imports an imitation firearm that does not conform to the specifications. It is also an offence to modify an imitation or real firearm to create an imitation that does not conform to the specifications.

To help the Committee, I shall explain that the provisions are aimed primarily at blank-firing imitations, whether they are realistic or not, and to deactivated firearms. We propose to make regulations that will require any blank-firing imitation to be made with an inclusion that will make it almost impossible to convert it to fire live ammunition. That inclusion is a metal insertion that cannot be drilled out in order to convert the firearm.

The amendments would limit that power, either by linking it to specific imitations that are considered to pose a threat to public safety or by confining it to realistic imitations only. Therefore one could have an unrealistic imitation that could be converted to fire real ammunition. That is a real mischief.

The amendments would defeat the legislation’s purpose. Were they made, an unrealistic imitation that could still be converted would not have to conform to the specifications. To protect the public, we want to ensure that both realistic imitations and non-realistic imitations must conform to those specifications.

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Jonathan Djanogly (Shadow Solicitor General (Also Assists Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs), (Assist the Home Affairs Team); Huntingdon, Conservative)

If they apply to non-realistic imitations, presumably toys could be included within the clause’s ambit.

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Hazel Blears (Minister of State (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Home Office; Salford, Labour)

If unrealistic imitations could be converted to fire live ammunition, that is a mischief at which we are aiming. If a toy could not be converted to fire live ammunition, it would not fall within the definition given.

We also want the provisions to ensure that firearms are deactivated to strict standards. At present, no legal requirement exists for the proof house to approve a firearm that is being deactivated. If the proof house   approves the deactivation, that evidence could persuade people that the firearm has been properly deactivated. There is no strict legal requirement, however, to have it deactivated to that very high standard. We want to use the regulations to ensure that when a firearm is deactivated to produce a non-realistic imitation it will not be possible to reactivate it. We want to close a loophole to ensure that firearms are deactivated to a proper standard and are no longer a threat to the public.

The next set of amendments would restrict the offence of purchase by a person under 18 of an imitation firearm to the purchase of realistic imitation firearms. I have some sympathy with the idea that children should be able to buy toy firearms if they are sufficiently non-realistic. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington does not think that children should ever be allowed to buy them or probably even to play with them, and I am sure that some hon. Members will take that view.

It has been our clear view for a long time that we want to deal with the availability of imitation weapons in general, quite apart from the issue of imposing more stringent restrictions on realistic imitation weapons. However, I am prepared to consider whether we should study the area more closely. I am conscious of the issues relating to paintball guns and airsoft guns—although I am encouraged to learn that airsoft guns will become non-realistic. Matters remain to be resolved about paintball guns, however, and the age at which they can be purchased.

I am prepared to consider the matter more closely, to see whether we can avoid a ridiculous state of affairs in which it would not be possible to buy a water pistol but possible to buy something that might be more dangerous. I shall endeavour to close any loopholes.

5:45 pm
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Jonathan Djanogly (Shadow Solicitor General (Also Assists Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs), (Assist the Home Affairs Team); Huntingdon, Conservative)

I am grateful to the Minister for her response and her willingness to look again at the workings of the clause. On that basis we shall return to it later in the Bill’s progress, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.