Clause 30 - Manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms

Violent Crime Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment No. 302.

Amendment No. 266, in clause 30, page 33, line 14, at end insert—

'(9A) For the purposes of this Act, ''imitation firearm'' means anything which has the appearance of being a firearm whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile which is capable of being mistaken for a firearm for which either a certificate under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968, or the authority of the Secretary of State under section 5(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 would be required.'.

Amendment No. 267, in clause 30, page 33, line 14, at end insert—

'(9A) The definition of ''imitation firearm'' in section 57(4) of the Firearms Act 1968 means anything which has the appearance of being a firearm whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile which is capable of being mistaken for a firearm for which either a certificate under section 1 of this Act, or the authority of the Secretary of State under section 5 of this Act would be required.'.

Government new clause 21—Meaning of ''realistic imitation firearm''.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Secretary of State acknowledged on Second Reading that defining an imitation firearm had always been difficult. I am sure that this debate will illustrate exactly that.

We started from the definition in section 57(4) of the Firearms Act 1968, which states that an

''imitation firearm is any thing which has the appearance of being a firearm . . . whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile.''

That was our starting point. It is a wide definition that works because its application is tied in with a qualifying provision that relates either to the weapon's design when it is readily convertible or to its misuse when it is used to cause fear of unlawful violence.

A ban is a serious step to take, and I acknowledge that. A ban on manufacture, sale and import is a major step forward. It is right to try to narrow down the broad definition of an imitation weapon. We have narrowed it down to those that are indistinguishable from an existing make or model of a real gun or a generic type of firearm. Our formulation for that is in subsections (8) and (9) of clause 30. Since the Bill was published we have given considerable thought to how we might clarify the definition. We are aware of the fact that it will have an impact on a range of legitimate uses of imitations.

We are not attracted by the proposition in amendments Nos. 266 and 267 that the definition of an imitation should be limited to those that could be mistaken for a section 1 firearm or prohibited firearm under section 5(1) of the 1968 Act. That would leave out shotguns, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is not in his place, as he has certainly been instructive during our deliberations on shotguns. Although I accept that even real shotguns are not frequently used in crime, we would not want people to go round in possession of an imitation shotgun without challenge. Neither would we want them to be able to walk around with imitation air weapons. I hope that the amendments will help the   Committee to understand what we are looking to ban and what we may allow to be sold in the future.

In new clause 21, we have sought to introduce a greater element of objectivity into the meaning of ''realistic'' imitation firearm. Subsections (8) and (9), which currently define ''realistic'' in clause 30 are reproduced in part in the new clause. In addition, we are making it clear that size, shape and colour should be taken into account. We are trying to be as detailed as we can to give people some certainty.

In essence, we want to establish that where the predominant colour of the surface of the imitation is a bright colour, it should not be regarded as realistic. That said, we do not think that it would be appropriate to use imprecise terms such as ''bright red'' to describe what might be allowed, particularly in primary legislation. Instead, we think that it should be left to regulations to specify which colours are unrealistic. In that way, it should be possible to avoid disputes about distinctions such as those between red, crimson and scarlet. Specifying colours by reference to British standard paint numbers will probably be more accurate than using our simple lay understanding of colours and will provide some objectivity.

We accept that something that is made of transparent material should not be regarded as realistic, and clause 9 means that that can be dealt with in regulations. That is not to say that an item that does not conform with the regulations cannot be regarded as distinguishable from the real thing, but it does mean that those items that meet the regulations will definitely be regarded as not realistic; it gives certainty about the specifications that will be considered.

My officials have given me examples of realistic imitations, those that are likely to be realistic and some that might fall between the two. I do not have enough copies for all Committee members, but they are welcome to pass them around and look at them; they are very colourful. I found them helpful in terms of what is realistic—dark, black metal, similar to the kind of gun that most of us would consider to be a realistic imitation—and what is an imitation but not realistic, such as a transparent gun, which looks like a Star Trek phaser; it has the shape of a gun but one can see through it. In 30 or 40 years, as technology develops, that may well be a realistic imitation, but for the moment it is not. Then there are those that cannot be imitations because they do not look like guns. They are in bright colours, they are generally children's toys, and they are not covered by the definitions. If hon. Members would find it useful, I shall leave the copies out and they can look at them before this afternoon's sitting.

We have also tried to narrow down the definition, because some imitations might be so small that they would not pose a threat if misused. Again, let us think about mischief such as people going into shops and holding guns to people's heads, causing a huge amount of distress. If a gun is so small that it is not likely to pose a threat, it is likely that a court would rule that it is not realistic because it is so small. To avoid unnecessary court cases, it is right to introduce a   threshold: 38 mm by 70 mm is absolutely tiny, so a gun of that size would be unlikely to intimidate people unless it had been produced by Q for James Bond.

We are also providing for an exemption for deactivated firearms and for certain antique imitations, as well as for imitations of firearms made before 1870—our definition of a modern firearm being one made after 1870.

In moving our amendments and inviting hon. Members to withdraw theirs, I recognise that a range of issues might benefit from further examination. We have worked hard to narrow down the definition, because we know that the matter is of great public interest and we want to ensure that we get it absolutely right. Hon. Members may have concerns about deactivated weapons. One of the reasons for the exemption is that we do not want to discourage people from deactivating real weapons. If there were to be no exemption, deactivating a real gun would turn it into a realistic imitation, which would be banned. We have an interest in ensuring that real guns are deactivated to the point at which they cannot be used to cause harm in our communities.

We are also aware that deactivated guns can legitimately be used on military vehicles or as part of a display. The hon. Member for Huntingdon mentioned collectors. I have seen some deactivated guns that are worth a considerable amount of money, and there are active collectors out there. I hope that hon. Members will realise that we are genuinely trying to strike the right balance. We have a very real problem with people using imitation weapons, now that they are no longer using real weapons to the same extent. They are changing their behaviour and using imitation weapons that are almost indistinguishable from real ones. I can only imagine the trauma of shopkeepers and others going about their lawful business and being threatened with that kind of weapon.

I genuinely believe that the legislation is drafted in a way that addresses that particular mischief. I am sure that we will have an interesting debate about all the amendments and the issues that they highlight. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

As the Minister rightly said, the issue of imitation firearms is fraught with difficulty. We believe that this hasty legislation has been poorly thought through and without proper consultation. Clearly, there is no way in which the Government could have consulted before today on the new clause, which they tabled only last Wednesday. They certainly have not given us the opportunity to consult on it. I can tell the Minister, however, that we have consulted widely on the clause and that I have received hundreds of letters from interested parties.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The hon. Gentleman complains that the legislation was drafted hastily. Does he know how long some of us, and in particular the Police Federation, have campaigned for a ban on imitation weapons? Some of us would say that the legislation was not drafted too hastily, but is overdue.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I appreciate how long certain people, not least the hon. Lady, have been pushing for this   legislation. She must recognise, however, that the Government introduced it in the most unconsultative manner that one could ever imagine. I do not blame her for that, but that is the situation that we have been left with, and she might like to discuss that privately with the Minister after the sitting.

I must say, however, that the Government's last-minute amendments really have saved the clause from totally ruining the leisure pursuits and even the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in this country. The Minister talked away quite smoothly what amounts to a huge climbdown by the Government, but it is still a climbdown.

That deactivated weapons should be exempted from the scope of the clause is welcome, as is the Government's belated recognition of the interests of galleries, museums, theatres, the film industry, television and historical re-enactment groups. That it should have taken the Government this long to realise their untenable position was simply staggering, however, and the lack of notice given to the Opposition about the Government's amendments was unacceptable.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

May I direct the hon. Gentleman to clause 30(2)(a)? The original version of the Bill says:

''The Secretary of State may by regulations . . . provide for exceptions and exemptions''.

Surely he accepts that we always intended to propose exceptions and exemptions, as we realised that this was a difficult area of law and that we needed to listen to the representations that we all received in the summer months from various concerned groups.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I am afraid that the Minister is now digging the hole that she started earlier. What she says might be written into the Bill, but we received no notice of the Government's intentions in this regard. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in this country have been put out and have been very concerned by the Government's lack of notice of their proposals. The fact that we heard only last Wednesday in no way makes me happier. For that reason, we shall table several amendments to this part of the Bill in order to limit the effect that we still believe it will have on law-abiding businesses and lawful pastimes.

Following enactment of the Bill, it will be possible to own a realistic imitation firearm, and also to make a gift of one—but that is it; no one will be able purchase one, because it will be illegal to sell them in the UK, although we need to investigate the non-UK position, which we shall come to later.

Based on consultation with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Gun Trade Association, it seems that there may be as many as 30 million imitation firearms in the UK—excluding toys, of which there are between 30 million and 50 million. According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the replica firearms market has doubled in value since 1999; it is estimated to be worth between £30 million and £40 million a year.  

The Government say in the regulatory impact assessment that the estimated sale of blank firers and soft air guns is about 350,000 per annum. If realistic toys were included, that number could be at least doubled. A ban on the sale of imitation weapons would affect a number of companies in the supply chain, from importers to those involved in distribution and sale. It is important that we realise the magnitude of the change when considering how to regulate imitation firearms.

The Home Office regulatory impact assessment says that an amendment to firearms legislation to prohibit the sale of imitation firearms to under-18s could cause an estimated loss of sales of between £15 million and £20 million. A ban on the sale and manufacture of realistic imitations would cause an identical loss of sales. Having spoken to the industry, we believe that those figures are conservative.

Despite the Government's belated recognition of several respectable and law-abiding interest groups, my objective is to ensure that their and others' interests are properly represented, and that those groups are excluded from the scope of the Bill as categorically as possible and that their pursuits and activities are as unaffected as possible.

Although it is good that the Government realise the serious but unintended potential of the clause to harm groups such as re-enactors and museums, the Government's approach merely provides such groups with a defence to a criminal offence. That is not fair on law-abiding citizens, who should have been exempted from the scope of the Bill from the outset. What about the interests of private collectors who want to realise the value of their collections, and those who participate in the sport of airsoft? We believe that their interests remain unaddressed by the Government's amendments.

Government amendment No. 300 is welcome in that it allows the deactivation of weapons to continue. Coupled with new clause 21, it excludes deactivated weapons from the scope of the clause. It is amazing that it has taken the Government so long to do that, which highlights the lack of proper thought and consultation. Antique firearms, too, are excluded from the definition of realistic imitation firearms. What about the imitation of antiques that have not been deactivated, which are used to fire blanks? They are commonly used in historical re-enactments and films. I should be grateful if the Minister would deal with that matter.

Much of the Bill applies to imitation firearms and not just to realistic imitation firearms. Will toys, bananas or even table legs be included in the broad definition of an imitation firearm as opposed to a ''realistic'' imitation firearm? In March this year, Robert Downey used a banana in a blue carrier bag to threaten William Claridges Ltd. in Tower Hamlets. He was heard to say that if he did not get the money he would shoot the staff.

Then there was the man carrying a table leg, who was shot by an officer who mistook the table leg for a   gun. Harry Stanley, a 46-year-old, was shot in the head in 1999. He was walking home from a pub in Hackney in east London with a table leg in a plastic bag when someone, thinking that Stanley was carrying a sawn-off shot gun, called the police. The police claimed that they shouted, ''Stop—armed police!'' When Mr. Stanley turned around, they fired.

There was also the recently reported case of a 10-year-old boy in Salisbury allegedly being threatened with arrest by armed police officers for using a cap gun in the street during a game of cowboys and Indians.

Such scenarios illustrate the immense difficulty and the possible absurdities of trying to create a workable definition of ''imitation'', and the need to consult interested bodies and a variety of experts. If a courgette or a water pistol can pass as a firearm in a dark alley, then the whole exercise of creating a subjective definition could be futile. In the right context, virtually anything could be confused with a firearm. In any event, there are plenty of other offences that would cover a banana being used in a robbery—such as that of robbery, for instance. The Government are on the verge of making it an offence to carry a banana in public place.

On Second Reading it was acknowledged that it might be difficult to find a definition, but that should not deter us from finding one.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 12:30 pm, 25th October 2005

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and he has talked about the interests of businesses and historical re-enactment societies—but why does he not talk about the interests of the taxpayer, who has to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on firearms units being called out to incidents in which it turns out that the young person involved has an imitation weapon? Has he no concern for the interests of the taxpayer?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I have every concern for the interests of the taxpayer, and I shall address them later. In the meantime, I shall continue to address the amendment.

On Second Reading it was acknowledged that the definition is difficult, but that should not deter us from finding one. In its consultation paper, ''Controls on Firearms'', the Home Office says that previous suggestions included placing restrictions on the sale of imitations. It goes on:

''These options have been rejected in the past because of impracticalities of enforcement. It has proved difficult to find a workable legal definition of an 'imitation firearm' and we do not believe that the level of effort required by agencies to administer additional restrictions is offset by public safety gains. This is why we introduced the new offence of possession in a public place without legal authority or reasonable excuse. We do not therefore propose that imitations are licensed or their sales restricted.''

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the document goes on to cite a number of countries and US states in which there are practical examples of restrictions and bans on replicas and imitations?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

It would be nice to see the results of the Home Office consultation, but we have not had that pleasure. I have made a freedom of information request to the Minister for details of that consultation, but we have received nothing. The hon. Gentleman might be making an interesting point, but if we had   seen the returns on the evidence he might have a better point. In the meantime, I return to the original document and ask why the Home Office has had such a dramatic turnabout on this issue, especially without any further evidence—certainly none that has been given to us. Where is the evidence to support that dramatic change of tune? Why are we not waiting to see the impact of the new offence of possessing an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, which was created by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003?

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The hon. Gentleman asked why Ministers had introduced the Bill. Is he aware that the latest figures show that offences involving imitation firearms went up by 66 per cent. last year? [Interruption.]

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) reminds me that earlier in the debate, the Minister advised the Committee how wonderfully the Government are doing in this area. Perhaps the hon. Lady thinks otherwise; I would be interested to hear what the Minister thinks of her figures.

Many interested parties have written to me say that they support wholeheartedly any action that will reduce violent crime, and that they will obey any law that is passed, but none of them can fathom how the proposals will reduce violent crime. How will they remove the difficulties encountered by the police? How will they stop them incorrectly shooting a young man with what they think is a real gun but turns out to be an imitation?

The purpose of amendments Nos. 266 and 267 is to refine the definition of a ''realistic imitation firearm''. By including in the definition that it must be capable of being mistaken for a firearm for which a firearm certificate or the authority of the Secretary of State would be required, we would prevent this and other clauses from capturing toys and weapons that they are not intended to capture. The amendment would make the definition more stringent, and would refine it sensibly so that it would not encompass guns that are not a threat.

The proposed formulation is consistent with existing firearms legislation, particularly section 1 of the Firearms Act 1982, which provides for an imitation firearm to be treated as a real firearm in law. The amendment would mean that an air weapon must not look like a firearm for which a certificate would be required, but that a paintball gun would not be caught by the definition unless it looked like a gun for which a firearms certificate would be required. The Minister did not give much of an explanation as to why that would not work. She said that her problem was that shotguns would not be covered. Would she be more amenable to the amendment if it were expanded to cover them?

For the reasons that I have discussed, amendment No. 266 would alter the definition of imitation firearms for the purposes of the Bill only, but the wider amendment No. 267 would alter the definition of imitation firearms in the Firearms Act 1968 and, therefore, across the raft of firearms legislation. We   think that that might be preferable, to avoid further anomalies in the firearms legislation.

Despite the fact that the Government have now dedicated an entire clause to the definition of a realistic imitation firearm, we cannot stress enough that that will not avoid the anomalies that I have described. No matter how complicated the definition is made, if a table leg can be mistaken for a firearm the effectiveness of the amendments must surely remain in doubt. How are the police expected to enforce this complex clause in practice? It seems to be asking a lot of the police force. For those reasons I shall consider pressing amendment No. 266 to a vote.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

I hope to catch your eye later on clause stand part, Mr. Benton, but I want to support the Government amendments too. For a long time some of us—led by the Police Federation, I remind Opposition Members—have called for a ban on imitation firearms, and for a long time we have been told about the problem of definition. I support the Government in their attempt to deal with that problem and respond to the demand for a ban on imitations. Because the Government are a listening Government, as debate progresses they may want to table further amendments. However, I congratulate them on dealing with the issue of definition without letting it stop the important policy thrust of stopping the growth in the use of imitation weapons in crimes.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What the Government are trying to do is valid, and I support it. The amendments were late, but better late than never. They are important because they protect people who need protection. Having served on the Metropolitan police authority and visited SO19 I have some experience of imitation firearms. I well remember walking into a room in which there were pairs of guns, one of each pair being imitation and the other real. There was no way of distinguishing between them other than by lifting them up, when the weight and the feel of the material was different. That is what the Government are trying to tackle.

Will the Minister clarify a point? My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) wrote to the right hon. Lady about one of her constituents and received a reply telling her that

''The Bill looks to ban the importation, manufacture and sale of realistic imitation firearms. It does not look to ban their possession and legitimate use.''

I wonder if the Minister will define their legitimate use. Will she also clarify—she has already mentioned military vehicles—that military vehicle owners will be able to exhibit their vehicles as they always have, with deactivated weapons on display?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I refer the hon. Member for Huntingdon to new clause 21 and ask him to accept that the Government are trying to arrive at as close a definition as possible, to deal with the mischief at which the Bill is aimed—the misuse of realistic imitation weapons.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, there has for a long time been reluctance to introduce measures of this   kind because of the difficulty of arriving at a workable definition. All our amendments have been aimed at giving legitimate owners some certainty about what will or will not be caught by the provisions, and to narrow down the definition. Clause 30 would have enabled us to deal with those matters by regulation—but rather than go down that path, I have endeavoured to put into the Bill as much as I can about colour, shape and size, to give people a good indication of what will be caught.

I ask the hon. Member for Huntingdon to look carefully at new clause 21. A realistic imitation firearm is defined as one that:

''has an appearance that is so realistic as to make it indistinguishable, for all practical purposes, from a real firearm''.

That is a good workable definition. The hon. Gentleman raised some spurious issues about the use of items such as bananas to threaten people, but these clauses concern manufacture, sale and import, not use or possession. We seek to cap off the supply, so as to prevent the increase in numbers of such items, while recognising that some will continue to circulate. We want to ensure that we do not find millions more of them on the streets, able to be used in dreadful ways.

If people use items to threaten other people, they might well be committing any of a range of criminal offences, such as using threatening or intimidating behaviour or other public order offences. However, we are discussing manufacture, sale and import, not use. Therefore, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I found his questionable remarks about the use of table legs and other such items disappointing. I wish that he had addressed the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we were taking these steps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, the incidence of imitation firearms use has increased by 55 per cent.—and in the latest figures by 28 per cent.—but the use of real weapons has been reduced dramatically: shotguns down by 13 per cent., handguns down by 8 per cent., and 14 per cent. fewer people have been killed by real firearms. Criminals are changing their behaviour. They are moving out of real weapons into imitations, so we want to cap off the supply of imitations to prevent their continued manufacture, sale, import and use. There is a real problem, and I would have hoped that all parties would unite in trying to find a workable definition that does not penalise law-abiding citizens—that is not what we want to do. We are determined to reduce the availability of realistic imitations that can be used in our communities.

I am not aware of the letter from the hon. Friend of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, but I shall undertake to search for it and give her an appropriate response at a later date.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 12:45 pm, 25th October 2005

I support the general thrust of the clause, but I have some difficulties with it. First, a lot of groups that engage in historical re-enactments and so on, and transfer imitation firearms from one to   another, have genuine concerns that their activities might be stopped. The latest amendments will help to address those concerns. However, there is a large market among both groups and the individuals within them who hold deactivated weapons and sell them to each other. It is not clear from the amendments whether sale between individuals or groups will be permitted. I should like some clarification. In many cases, the weapons are quite valuable. Some individuals have extensive collections that they move around with the intention of selling them and buying other weapons. I should like to think that that trade will not be stopped.

Secondly, although we need to reduce the number of imitation firearms in circulation, it is probably over-egging the pudding to say that that will lead to a significant reduction in violent crime. For example, in parts of Northern Ireland there have been attempts to tighten up on dealers who sell imitation firearms, and people simply moved on to claw hammers, screwdrivers or whatever other weapon they could bring to hand to engage in the robbery of off-licences and so on. Although the provisions will help the situation, it would give the wrong picture to the public to say that they will reduce the problem totally.

One aspect that I do not think has been addressed is that some deactivated weapons could not possibly, and would not be, used in everyday crime. Many of the deactivated weapons that I have seen and that have been brought to my attention by groups in East Antrim have usually been of the long-arm type: Bren guns, for example. People do not hold up off-licences with that sort of gun, but many such weapons are sold between holders, and if their sale is prevented, all that that will do is stop a legitimate pursuit. It will have no effect on levels of crime.

I want some assurance from the Minister that sales between the holders of deactivated guns such as those, which may look like guns—indeed, they are guns—but nevertheless cannot be used to carry out a crime because they are deactivated, will not be prevented.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

The hon. Gentleman makes a lot of important points, which I will address later.

I said earlier that I was minded to ask the Committee to vote on amendment No. 266. However, the Minister has clearly expressed a genuine willingness to move towards an acceptable definition—and although it is not there yet, and the Government might have introduced a level of complexity that could work against the interests of the clause, having heard her general approach I will not ask for a vote.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I welcome the broad support for the proposals shown by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I do not think that we have ever said that any single measure will do away with violent crime at a stroke. We are trying to introduce a range of measures, which we genuinely feel will reduce it. He is right to say that in addition to dealing with realistic imitations we also need to do a huge amount of education work in our communities. We have a Connected fund that has issued lots of small grants to groups such as Mothers Against Guns all over the   country. We have had a guns amnesty, when 40,000 guns were handed in. There is a huge amount of work to be done, but if we can cap the supply of realistic imitations in this country, that will be another helpful measure.

I can confirm that deactivated weapons will not be subject to the ban on manufacture, import and sale. We are aware of the collectors' issues and the legitimate uses—the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green raised the issue of military vehicles and using them for display purposes. We want to direct our activity to the harm that is called by the imitations that are circulating far too widely in our communities, but we do not want to hit legitimate and responsible people.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 260, in clause 30, page 32, line 12, after 'Britain', insert

'for the purposes of sale or distribution'.

No. 55, in clause 30, page 32, line 13, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 262, in clause 30, page 32, line 13, after 'regulations', insert

', following proper consultation and consideration with a working group consisting of a wide spread of expert practitioners,'.

No. 263, in clause 30, page 32, line 15, after '(1)', insert

'with the burden of proving that a person does not fall within one of these exemptions lying with the prosecution'.

No. 271, in clause 30, page 33, line 14, at end insert—

'(9A) The Secretary of State shall provide for payment of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred in consequence of the exercise of power conferred by or under this section.'.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Enormously valuable collections, representing some individuals' pensions and sometimes even their livelihoods, could be rendered valueless by the enactment of this clause. A world war two Lewis gun would fetch around £15,000 at auction. At some point, if only on the death of the owner, such items have to be sold and the investment realised. The only hope of any financial recompense would be to export, but the practicality of that must be doubtful.

Clause 30 as it stands is limited to Great Britain. Unless the contrary intention appears, I believe that the position is that an Act of Parliament does not extend to the acts of Britons who are outside the UK, except in cases in which specific provision is made in regard to acts committed abroad. The whole body of the criminal law of England deals only with acts committed in England.

Has the Minister yet spoken to her European counterparts about the 30 million firearms that are deemed realistic, and that could now be flooding into their countries as collectors and owners attempt to   realise lifetime investments by selling those highly valuable weapons in countries such as France, where it seems that they will be allowed to sell them legally? Does she see that as being fair on our European neighbours? Is that what the Government mean when they say that they want Britain to be at the heart of Europe?

In relation to amendment No. 260, if re-enactment societies' deactivated weapons are to be exempt from the provisions, a large part of the problem goes away. However, if someone wanted to take their realistic imitation abroad—to a show, for example—I cannot see why they should be banned from bringing that imitation back into the country if it is not for the purposes of sale. That is why we proposed to add the words

''for the purposes of sale or distribution'' to the end of subsection (1)(d).

Amendment No. 55 would ensure that the comprehensive and non-exhaustive list of exceptions and exemptions was compiled as a matter of urgency. Despite the introduction of a defence for certain bodies, those defences do not go far enough. The amendment would help to give peace of mind to the millions of interested parties that stand to be affected by the clause.

We believe that amendment No. 262 is necessary to prevent further haphazard legislation of the sort that has plagued firearms law. Proper consultation with experts may go some way to limiting the damage that would be inflicted by the clause. The Government abolished the Firearms Consultative Committee and its replacement, the Firearms Advisory Committee, has yet to be seen. We believe that the Government should not continue to legislate without expert independent advice on firearms, especially where individuals' criminality, and livelihoods, will be determined by what is in the regulations.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Would the hon. Gentleman anticipate that his widespread group of experts would also include people who had been victims of the misuse of imitation weapons, and police officers or representatives of the Police Federation?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I do not believe that the Firearms Advisory Committee's remit is limited to imitation firearms.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I am perfectly open to discussion about who should be on that committee. I simply make the point to the hon. Gentleman that by now we should have such a committee, and it does not exist. Will the Minister reassure the Committee that the FAC will be established, and will play an active role in assisting the Government in compiling the list of exceptions and exemptions?

The purpose of amendment No. 263 is to shift the burden of proof from the accused, who may be carrying a gun safely and responsibly, on to the prosecution to show that the accused does not fall within one of the exemptions or defences that are being created, and was indeed holding the gun for an illegal purpose. If respectable and law-abiding citizens   are to be criminalised, albeit that they will have a defence, it should be clear and unambiguous that it is not for the re-enactor or museum owner to show that he is not guilty of the offence. It should be for the prosecution to show that that person cannot rely on the defence.

The amendment preserves the presumption of innocence, and will allow actors, re-enactors, collectors, airsoft participants and even museums to go about their legitimate activities without threat or constant fear of contravening these complicated provisions relating to imitation firearms. It should still prove sufficiently straightforward for the   prosecution to show that an accused person does not fall within one of the exemptions or the defence and therefore to ensure that justice prevails. The amendment is an attempt to safeguard civil liberties.

Amendment No. 271 would provide for compensation for the many holders of valuable imitation firearms, as well as to the businesses that stand to lose substantial parts of their revenue due to the clauses—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o'clock.