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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears):
Controls are already in place to tackle the misuse of ball-bearing guns, which are more accurately known as airsoft guns and which fire plastic pellets. It is an offence to possess them in a public place without reasonable excuse. We wish to go further and
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will be introducing tougher laws on the sale and manufacture of all imitation firearms in the proposed violent crime reduction Bill.
Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that answer, but will she explain why the two recent incidents in Thirsk and Easingwold have resulted in no prosecutions? The police are being put in a difficult situation because such guns look like the real thing, so it is only a matter of time before a youth who possesses one and fires it at another youth will be shot dead by an armed response unit.
Hazel Blears: I am not aware of the specific circumstances surrounding the matters that the hon. Lady raises, but I am more than happy to examine them. Clearly, whether or not a prosecution is brought is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, but she is right to raise the issue. We are concerned about the increase in the use of imitations, but I am pleased to be able to tell the House that when considering the use of real guns, there has been a 9 per cent. reduction in firearms deaths and a 13 per cent. decrease in the use of handguns. The use of imitations is a real problem, which is why we intend to introduce further measures in the forthcoming violent crime reduction Bill.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May I add my concerns to those of the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh)? Several cases in my constituency involving BB guns have resulted in serious injuries, largely to children. The current law is not effective and the police seem unable to use it effectively. We need to get across the message that such weapons are not toys and that they should never be given to children, even when those children are supervised. Will the Minister examine the current cases and ensure that legislation is strengthened to protect members of the public effectively?
Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend is right. She will know that in the recent antisocial behaviour legislation we introduced the offence of having an imitation weapon without reasonable excuse in a public place. We want to examine those provisions again and find out whether we can strengthen them. We also want to consider manufacture, sale and possession and thus examine every stage of the process so that we drive out the use of imitation weapons, which when used can terrify individuals and, as my hon. Friend said, cause injury in some cases.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I regret not having had an advance opportunity to alert you to this matter. I have just been advised that a question that I tabled in good order to the Advocate-General for Scotland is no longer allowed because she no longer sits in this place. There is thus no opportunity to ask any legal question of that Scottish Law Officer. Such questions are being grouped with those on Scotland in an amended order of questions on Tuesday 7 June. We have effectively been deprived of our opportunity to question the Advocate-General for Scotlandthe only Law Officer in Parliament to rule on Scottish legal issues. It is totally unacceptable that the slot has been merged with Scottish questions, Constitutional Affairs questions and questions to the Leader of the House. I request a ruling from you on the matter, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady is quite right that she did not give me any notice of that point of order. However, I am reliably assured that her questions will be received and answered here on the Floor of the House.[Interruption.] It is perfectly correct that they will not be answered by the Law Officer to whom she refers, but someone else will answer.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I spent last Friday evening with former Rover workers in my constituency. I am sure that you will not be surprised to learn that they are still angry and upset, especially about the activities of the Rover directors, because they believe that the directors' asset stripping led to the demise of the company, which has put their livelihoods and pensions in danger. To that end, they were even more worried to learn that Ministers are proposing to block the publication of their own report into the collapse of MG Rover. You, Mr. Speaker, are the custodian of Back-Bench rights, with which we make the Government answerable. Will you advise me how I can force the Government to publish the report and thus prevent the cover up, because many of my constituents think that it is perfectly right and reasonable for them to know whether the greed of the directors led to the downfall of that once great company?
I try to defend Back Benchers as best I can, as the hon. Lady knows, but I am not here to do the job of Back Benchersthat is up to them. She should table questions, ask for an Adjournment debate and keep probing because that is the way to do things. We are all very saddened that men and women should lose their jobs, especially in the engineering industry, which I came from. She should keep asking questions and put her point to Ministers at all times.
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We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.[Mr. Barron.]
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): It is a pleasure to open the debate on this part of the Gracious Speech. The Speech and this Session of Parliament follow the most unpleasant election campaign in my memory, most of all in respect of the matters for which the Home Office is responsible, particularly violent crime, the criminal justice system, immigration and asylum, all of which are legitimate and proper matters for public debate, including in an election campaignhowever, not the kind of irresponsible scare-mongering campaigning that we saw, in which some parties used dishonest statistics intended to demoralise communities[Interruption.]used inconsistent and economically illiterate promises, put forward impractical and inoperable policies[Interruption.]used inflammatory language and mobilised undercover sentiment appealing to the dark side of people's lives. [Interruption.]I believe that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) bears responsibility for that disgraceful campaign, which I am delighted to say the country rejected. I hope
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you were re-elected recently, you gave an injunction to the House about how debate should be conducted. Will you rule on whether the Home Secretary is in order with your instructions?
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I am delighted, in the Chamber or outside, to debate with Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, the specifics of the charges that I make. I believe that the conduct of politics is important, and it should be done in a proper way. That applies in the House, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) suggests, and as you, Mr. Speaker, implied. It also applies, in my view, to the conduct of general election campaigns. That is a point that I am entitled to make.
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