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

Part of Violent Crime Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:30 pm, 25th October 2005

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.