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rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on
My Lords, the order seeks to replicate Sections 37 and 39 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. That fulfils an undertaking given by the Government at the time of the passing of that Act.
The order contains important law and order provisions which will enable police to deal much more effectively with airgun and imitation firearm-related crime. Article 3 adds to the list of prohibited weapons at Article 45(1) of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 any airgun that uses or is adapted for use with a self-contained gas cartridge system. It will therefore be an offence to possess, purchase, manufacture sell or transfer one of those firearms without the authority of the Secretary of State. The reason for prohibiting these firearms is that they can easily be adapted to fire live ammunition, which has made them attractive to criminals. The offence is punishable on indictment with a maximum sentence of 10 years and a minimum of five years.
Controls already apply to these firearms in Northern Ireland, and the existing small number of holders will be allowed to retain them on certificate, as is the case in Great Britain. Arrangements will be made for the Secretary of State's authority to be issued to the small number of people involved.
Article 4 will allow the Secretary of State to make any necessary consequential amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, or to any other statutory provision, arising from any addition he may make to the list of prohibited weapons by virtue of the order-making power contained in paragraph 10 of Article 45 of the 2004 order. He may also make saving or transitional provisions in accordance with paragraph 3 of Article 81 of that order.
Paragraph 1 of Article 5 adds unloaded airguns and imitation firearms to the list of firearms covered by the offence, in paragraph 1 of Article 61 of the 2004 order, of
"carrying a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse".
The offence currently applies to the possession of loaded shotguns, loaded airguns, or any other firearm, loaded or not, when possessed alongside the ammunition suitable for that firearm. Paragraph 3 of Article 5 adds the offence to the list of offences to which powers of summary arrest apply, set out in paragraph 2 of Article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order of 1989.
There are already controls on the misuse of imitation firearms, but the police must actually catch the person in the act of committing a crime before they can act. This new provision will allow the police to arrest and charge someone who is in possession of an imitation firearm or an airgun in a public place, if he, or she, is unable to show that he has for it a lawful purpose or reasonable excuse. The police in Great Britain already have the benefit of these important law and order provisions, and I am sure Members will agree that they should be extended to Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this order to the House today, and for his clear explanation. We on this side of the House support the objectives of the order and the order itself.
I have one question about Article 4, about which I am a little concerned. It says in the notes that the article
"provides that the Secretary of State may make such consequential amendments to the 2004 Order, or any other statutory provision, arising from any addition he may make to the list of prohibited weapons by virtue of the order-making power at Article 45".
It seems to me we are giving the Secretary of State a blank cheque here.
Well, my Lords, I have looked at that, and probably should have given an answer before the matter was raised by the noble Lord. The key word there is "consequential". I do not think this can be read in a wider context. The Secretary of State can make consequential amendments to other orders following the order-making power that is given here. Obviously, if I am wrong, I shall receive advice to that effect.