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.