Clause 29 - Restriction on sale and purchase of ammunition loading presses

Violent Crime Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am 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 amendments:

No. 246, in clause 29, page 31, line 14, leave out 'he produces' and insert

'he shows that he is the holder of'.

No. 247, in clause 29, page 31, line 14, after 'certificate', insert

'on initial purchase and shows that he is the holder of a certificate on any subsequent purchase from the same vendor'.

No. 238, in clause 29, page 31, line 14, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 248, in clause 29, page 31, line 15, leave out 'he produces' and insert

'he shows that he is the holder of'.

No. 249, in clause 29, page 31, line 15, after 'certificate', insert

'on initial purchase and shows that he is the holder of a certificate on any subsequent purchase from the same vendor'.

No. 239, in clause 29, page 31, line 16, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 240, in clause 29, page 31, line 19, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 241, in clause 29, page 31, line 21, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 157, in clause 29, page 31, line 23, after 'person', insert 'knowingly'.

No. 250, in clause 29, page 31, line 28, leave out 'he holds' and insert

'he shows that he is the holder of'.

No. 251, in clause 29, page 31, line 28, leave out 'he holds' and insert 'he produces'.

No. 252, in clause 29, page 31, line 28, after 'certificate', insert

'on initial purchase and shows that he is the holder of a certificate on any subsequent purchase from the same vendor'.

No. 242, in clause 29, page 31, line 28, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 253, in clause 29, page 31, line 29, leave out 'he holds' and insert

'he shows that he is the holder of'.  

No. 254, in clause 29, page 31, line 29, leave out 'he holds' and insert 'he produces'.

No. 255, in clause 29, page 31, line 29, after 'certificate', insert

'on initial purchase and shows that he is the holder of a certificate on any subsequent purchase from the same vendor'.

No. 243, in clause 29, page 31, line 30, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 244, in clause 29, page 31, line 32, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 245, in clause 29, page 31, line 35, after 'firearm', insert 'or a shotgun'.

No. 256, in clause 29, page 31, line 37, at end insert—

'(4A) On prosecution for an offence under subsection (1), it shall be a defence for a person to show that—

(a) he did not know that what he was selling was an object of a description covered by subsection (1); or

(b) he believed, on reasonable grounds, that the person to whom he sold the object was a person covered by subsection (2).

(4B) On prosecution for an offence under subsection (3), it shall be a defence for a person to show that—

(a) he did not know that what he was buying was an object of a description covered by subsection (1); or

(b) he reasonably believed that he was a person covered by subsection (4).'.

No. 257, in clause 29, page 32, line 2, at end insert

'but nothing in this section relating to ammunition loading presses shall apply to an antique loading press which is sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity or ornament.'.

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

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 156 and 157. Once again, we visit the issue of whether someone knowingly purchases or sells—in this case ammunition loading presses. To a great extent, we have already debated the subject, so I shall resist the temptation of mentioning the brewery that bought a pub called ''The Huntsman'' thinking that it had rifles on the wall, and not knowing that they were ammunition loading presses.

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

Clause 29 restricts the sale of ammunition loading presses and dies to all persons except those who may be permitted to purchase them by virtue of their being certificate holders, registered firearms dealers, exempt persons and so forth. It is sufficient to produce a certificate, and no recording of transactions is envisaged; again, persons may purchase on behalf of others. Offences, if committed, would be committed by both the seller and purchaser. We believe that that will serve only to penalise collectors and create a further unnecessary administrative burden yet do nothing to combat violent crime.

The amendments tabled by the Liberals are prudent; they would ensure that those who acted without malice or criminal intent were not unintentionally caught by this needless offence. We have debated the subject before; I do not intend to go over it again, although this is an issue that we will want to revisit at later stages.

Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

We have had extensive discussions on the word ''knowingly'', and the hon. Gentleman has indicated that he supports the Liberals' position. I think that he has a legal mind, so I propose a scenario.   He may recall the situation in Dunblane, where Thomas Hamilton killed 15 children and a teacher. If the word ''knowingly'' had been included in the legislation, and a similar event occurred, could that person legitimately say, ''I didn't know what I was doing because I was not of sound mind''?

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

No; the two cannot be compared. I shall move on.

In the unnecessary event that the Government want to proceed with the clause, we propose amendments Nos. 246 to 255—the same amendments on proof of possession of a firearms certificate as were proposed for the sale and purchase of primers; and we do so for the same reasons. Like our amendments to clause 28, amendments Nos. 238 to 245 serve to clarify the Bill; we assume that it was intended to include shotgun certificates within the ambit of subsections (2) and (4).

Amendment No. 256 is a precautionary amendment intended to ensure that innocent people are not caught unintentionally by the clause. The reasons that I gave for our proposed amendments to clause 28 apply. The amendment would prevent injustices that might arise if the clause was strictly applied.

I now move to amendment No. 257. Should the clause be pursued, it will be necessary to exclude antique ammunition loading presses from the legislation. Many collectors have valuable pieces that, in accordance with other firearms laws relating to antiques, should be exempted. Nothing in the 1968 Act applies to an antique firearm that is sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity. The Government have recognised that in relation to imitation firearms, and should do the same in this clause.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 12:00 pm, 25th October 2005

I assume that the hon. Gentleman's amendments that would replace the words ''he produces'' with the words

''he shows that he is the holder of'' are designed for the convenience of the purchaser. I have some sympathy with that approach, but how does he envisage that a purchaser might convincingly demonstrate to a vendor that he holds a certificate, without producing it?

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

By producing a photocopy, having originally shown the certificate. As I said in our debates on the previous clause, these are probing amendments, and this area needs to be considered further by the Government.

Collecting ammunition loading presses is not as rare a pleasure as one might think. There are at least three specialist books on the subject, and numerous articles in the shooting and collecting press. The clause will decrease the value of such collections, as it will limit potential purchasers of such items to those who hold certificates. Should our proposed exemption be ignored, the Government should address the issue of   compensation for those who hold such valuable collections.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I have some qualms about the clause, and the amendments go to the heart of the matter. During our debates on primers, the Minister said that the Government's reason for referring to them in the Bill, rather than lead, powder, shot or any other component parts, was that the primer is not inert—I suppose that makes it ''ert''—and is the active component that makes ammunition work. To reverse that argument, an ammunition press is useless without any of the component parts that make up the ammunition. I am therefore interested to know why ammunition presses are included. There may be a valid reason, but the provision seems too onerous.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked about certificates. A firearms certificate must be produced on every occasion, largely because expanding ammunition is, rightly or wrongly, considered to be so lethal as to demand that approach. It is different for shotgun ammunition if one regularly uses the same dealer. When one first produces one's certificate, the dealer is obliged to record that one has one, and its number. If one returns the next week for more cartridges, it is up to him whether one should again have to produce the certificate. One does not necessarily have to produce it, because he can say, ''I know you; you're an honourable person.''

My questions about the difference between shotgun certificates and firearms certificates pertain as much to this clause as to the previous one, but the Minister said that she would look into the matter, so I will not pursue it further.

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

We had a lengthy debate on similar issues on the previous clause, but I shall add another comment for the benefit of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone). In order to prosecute someone, the Crown Prosecution Service must be convinced that there is a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it is in the public interest to prosecute that person. Those are important tests and safeguards in criminal law. There may be strict liability for some offences, but the public interest test must still be passed. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured by the extra check that the Crown Prosecution Service has before it prosecutes the very rare case of someone who has got into difficulty because of inadvertent behaviour.

I certainly do not accept the words ''knowingly'', ''recklessly'' or ''intentionally'' in the hon. Lady's amendments, because the people involved in this trade are responsible for taking every possible precaution to ensure that they are selling things to people who are properly authorised to have them. We are not talking about selling soap powder; we are talking about component parts such as ammunition and ammunition loading presses. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said that such presses were inert, but they greatly facilitate the reloading of ammunition. Again, I am sure that many reputable dealers would ask for certificates, but we want to ensure that that is a statutory requirement. As I said,   the provisions deal with goods that could facilitate the assembling of ammunition and that could be dangerous if they fell into the wrong hands.

Amendment No. 257 deals with the separate issue of antique loading presses. I know that there are people who avidly collect a whole range of antique gun-related items, and the amendment would ensure that antique loading presses could not be sold to people who did not have a certificate. I am prepared to consider that matter to see whether there is something that we can do.

In preparing for the Bill, I learned that there is an extensive trade in cartridge cases. I had no idea that people collected them, but they do. Again, we do not intend to bear down on people who engage in proper and legitimate activities, so I shall consider tabling amendments on Report to address that issue.

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

I thank the Minister for her words. We strongly support the intention behind the clause, and she has gone some way to reassuring us about what would happen in court to someone who had broken the law unintentionally, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 95, in clause 29, page 31, line 16, at end insert—

'( ) he shows that he is a person in the service of Her Majesty who is entitled under subsection (4A) to acquire an ammunition loading press;'.

No. 96, in clause 29, page 31, line 18, after 'enactment', insert

'and otherwise than by virtue of being a person in the service of Her Majesty'.

No. 97, in clause 29, page 31, line 19, leave out 'such ammunition' and insert 'ammunition for a firearm'.

No. 98, in clause 29, page 31, line 30, at end insert—

'( ) he is a person in the service of Her Majesty who is entitled under subsection (4A) to acquire an ammunition loading press;'.

No. 99, in clause 29, page 31, line 32, after 'enactment', insert

'and otherwise than by virtue of being a person in the service of Her Majesty'.

No. 100, in clause 29, page 31, line 32, leave out 'such ammunition' and insert 'ammunition for a firearm'.

No. 101, in clause 29, page 31, line 37, at end insert—

'(4A) A person who is in the service of Her Majesty is entitled to acquire an ammunition loading press if—

(a) he is duly authorised in writing to acquire firearms and ammunition for the public service; or

(b) he is a person who is authorised to purchase a firearm or ammunition by virtue of a certificate issued in accordance with section 54(2)(b) of the 1968 Act (certificates for persons in naval, military or air service of Her Majesty).'.—[Hazel Blears.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

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

Although we thank the Government for agreeing to our proposal for a review of the legislation on antique presses, we still fundamentally   believe that the clause poses serious problems, because it does not work.

Thousands of shooting sportsmen use ammunition loading presses and dies for several reasons, including saving money, helping the environment and improving accuracy. The ability to reload can save up to 50 per cent. of the cost of factory ammunition, so clay pigeon shooters, for example, who use a significant number of shotgun cartridges, will save a lot of money.

In the absence of clear and workable definitions from the Government, the courts will have to decide what a loading press or a die is in strict legal terms. A loading press is not defined except in so far as the definition includes dies for such presses. There is no clarification, for example, of whether hand loading tools such as decapping and recapping tools, which are designed to exert pressure on a cartridge case, are covered. If they are, a question arises about antique accessories, including those contained within antique and vintage gun cases, as the sale and purchase of those would be restricted to certificate holders. The Bill would also restrict the resale of modern second-hand reloading presses.

We believe that it is unnecessary to restrict the sale of what is essentially a piece of engineering equipment that contains no explosive component and is not capable of discharging any missile. If the sale of primers is to be restricted by clause 28, clause 29 is rendered pointless, because ammunition cannot be made without primers. Indeed, the Minister said that herself. Many firearms that are not subject to any certification control are contained in original cases, with a full complement of accessories that often include reloading equipment. Under clause 29, people who collect cased antique guns will have to apply for certificates to cover the reloading equipment in the cases. That is disproportionate to the perceived risk.

A further problem with the clause is the fact that ammunition can be pressed at home with nothing more than a hammer, a length of wire and a small vice. In view of that, how will the clause have any impact on the determined criminal, who may prefer that approach in any event? For two reasons, clause 29 is unnecessary. First, ammunition presses are wholly useless without the primers, and, secondly, ammunition can be pressed at home without a press. Had the Government had any sort of expert advice on the matter, they would not, we believe, have included the clause in the Bill.

In addition, I note again the need for compensation in respect of loss suffered in consequence of the exercise of a power under clause 29. Reloading equipment for ammunition has been in existence since the 1870s, when the centre-fire cartridge became the predominant form of firearms ignition. Antique reloading equipment is avidly collected and over the past decade has grown significantly in value. An Erskine patent reloading machine and its accessories will easily command £1,000. Collecting ammunition reloading equipment is a legitimate activity that makes a positive contribution to the preservation of British heritage. Most firearms auctions routinely offer antique reloading equipment,   and Christie's has held a sale devoted solely to antique reloading equipment and gun tools.

Perhaps because of the bitter memories of the enormous cost and incompetent handling of the compensation scheme relating to handguns following the ban in 1997, the Government seem to have swept the issue of compensation under the carpet. Hon. Members should be aware of the additional cost to the police and prosecution authorities that the clause will entail, as well as the significant effect on business sales. Collectors and existing holders of ammunition loading presses should be compensated for the loss of value of their possessions under the clause. They should not be punished financially for the actions of criminals. I therefore ask hon. Members to vote against the clause.

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

I have two things to say. First, I have already given an undertaking that we shall consider the question of antiques and collectors with a view to finding a wording that will meet the hon. Gentleman's concerns. Secondly, a more general point is that it is a serious matter if people want to purchase modern ammunition presses that can facilitate the making of ammunition. I do not see why those people should not be required to produce certificates if that is the business in which they are engaged. Making ammunition that can be fired in guns is dealing with something dangerous.

I do not say that people who use the equipment legitimately will do so dangerously; I am sure that they will do so responsibly. However, we are considering not a harmless product but guns, ammunition, ammunition loading presses and primers. It is perfectly proper to require people to produce a certificate. I have undertaken to reconsider the arrangements for people who would be unlikely to have a certificate because they are in another category—that of antique collectors. On that basis, I ask hon. Members to support the clause.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 4.

Division number 6 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 29 - Restriction on sale and purchase of ammunition loading presses

Aye: 12 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 29, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.