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Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): On this part of the Bill, will the Home Secretary accept my appreciation in respect of two matters? First, I appreciate the clarity with which he has dealt with the perceived problem of definitions, so that this important and long-overdue measure can become law. Secondly, I appreciate the courtesy and the care with which he has received representations from many organisations that are interested in this matter, not least the Gun Control Network, in which, as he knows, I have a tangential interest. He will also know what a great pleasure it is for me to be able to give wholehearted support to an important Home Office Bill, although he will appreciate that that cannot go on very much longer.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, I very much welcome the direction of the Bill, and I have previously introduced a private Member's Bill on airguns. On the specific issue of replica weapons, there is a slight difference of emphasis between clauses 30 and 31. Clause 30 stresses the need to avoid replicas that can be confused with genuine weapons, whereas clause 31 considers the possibility of allowing such replicas in circumstances that the Home Secretary may specify. He mentions an exemption for airsoft as one possibility. May I suggest that, when a specific club seeks such an exemption, it would be possible to allow some kind of registration procedure, so that people can prove that they are members of a re-enactment society, club or whatever, as a condition for owning such weapons?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is quite right to say that that is the kind of way to deal with the matter. As I said earlier, when there is a genuine interestI have more understanding of the interest of the re-enactment societies than that of some other bodieswe should simply look at a regime that will work. My hon. Friend's proposal might well be right, but I do not want to allow a situation in which any such activities can somehow be used as a diversionary path to try to avoid the legislation, which is why I am being cautious in my response.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):
I appreciate the worries of colleagues who are concerned about societies involved in games and re-enactments, but the majority of so-called Yardie shootings in inner London have long been perpetrated by people using reactivated imitation weapons. I have
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long argued in the House for a ban on imitation weapons. In the context of falling crime, gun crime has cast a peculiar shadow over communities such as Hackney, Harlesden and other parts of the inner city, so I would like to join those who have welcomed the Bill and especially its clear action on imitations.
Mr. Clarke: I appreciate my hon. Friend's support and pay tribute to the work that she has done. I remember from when I lived in Hackney the work that she did in her constituency to try to deal with such serious issues, some of which involved a gun shop.
Mr. Denham: My right hon. Friend has produced a clear definition of an imitation firearm. However, I am worried about firearms that are not clear imitations, yet could be taken to be firearms in bad light or during the practical operational work of the police. Is my right hon. Friend happy that he might be introducing a distinction into law meaning that a police officer who fired a shot in such circumstances at someone carrying a toy or wooden weapon could be judged by the courts to have acted badly because the weapon was not a real imitation firearm? He needs to think about the possible knock-on consequences of the definition that he is bringing into law.
Mr. Clarke: I accept what my right hon. Friend says, but this is a difficult area of definition. One of the arguments put forward for a long time against going down precisely the path in the Bill has been that the definitions are so difficult that we should not do so. After careful consideration, I have reached the view with my colleagues that despite the difficulty that he fairly identifies, the ill that we are trying to deal withthe abuse of replica guns and the danger that they can causemeans that we must legislate in such a way. I am willing to look carefully at specific points, whether that is in Committee or through other representations, but I am not prepared to accept that we should not legislate to deal with replica and imitation firearms simply because there is a difficulty with definitions. I do not deny that there is a problem, but we should not allow that to stop us from legislating.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary tell us what measures will be put in place to prevent the sale of replica guns and plastic ammunition from catalogues sent out by companies based both here and abroad?
Mr. Clarke: We are still carefully examining that point and the related matter of sales on the internet. The delegation mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) showed me shocking examples of what can be purchased on the internet, so we are still actively considering how to deal with that specific concern.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab):
I join other hon. Members in applauding the Home Secretary for taking action on imitation weapons. I note that the Home Office consultation paper on the matter ruled out the possibility of taking such action, so I welcome the change of heart. However, the same consultation paper referred to concerns about internet
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sales and implied that action would be taken. I urge my right hon. Friend to go one step further, otherwise, the measures on imitation weapons will have virtually no effect because people will buy them off the net and bypass conventional sales.
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments and pay tribute to his work on this subject. However, I do not accept the phrase "virtually no effect". Even if nothing is done on internet sales, the measures that we propose will have a substantial effect. I accept the thrust of his remarks, though, and we need to look carefully at how we can regulate sales and carry the policy through. As I said, we are doing just that.
Mr. Clarke: People who carry a gun can be given up to 12 months. There is a lot of speculation about what difference the sentence will make and how it will operate. We will keep the situation under review, but the measures will make a significant difference.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): If someone uses a gun or firearm legitimately for their recreation and they need a replacement part, such as a barrel or ammunition, how do they overcome the accusation that they are manufacturing a replica?
Mr. Clarke: By pointing to the truth of it. If someone legally holds a firearm in a licensed way and if he has participated in the process that is being developed, he will be able to establish that that new part is needed. Again, if there is an ambiguity, it is reasonable to discuss in Committee how we can eliminate it. I shall be flexible and consider particular proposals.
The fourth element on weapons is the sale of knives. Comprehensive legislation is in place to deal with knives and other offensive weapons, but public concern remains, so we intend to raise the age limit of who can be sold a knife from 16 to 18 to limit the distribution of knives among young people. It is already an offence to carry a knife or offensive weapon in a public place without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade of less than 3 in, and we have taken other steps to ban the manufacture, sale and importation of certain knives. However, the additional measures will further tighten controls and send the message that we will not tolerate the carrying of knives and other weapons in our streets.
The fifth and final measure on weapons is the introduction of a power to enable head teachers to search without consent any pupil they suspect of carrying a knife or other offensive weapon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills supports me in that, and although it is the case that there are not many knives in schools, tremendous tragedies have arisen when knives have been in schools, and we want to strengthen the arm of the head teacher to deal with that.
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There are a number of additional miscellaneous powers. In summary, they are an amendment to the football banning order provisions, a new forfeiture clause in relation to the trafficking of people, an amendment of section 82 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and a measure to strengthen our ability to tackle mobile phone theft.
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