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Mr. Kevan Jones: I add my congratulations to the Minister on steering the Bill through. It is an excellent Bill that adds to the existing menu of laws and other restrictions that are being introduced to control antisocial behaviour in our neighbourhoods.
I wish to concentrate on two aspects, the first of which is firearms. There are lots of scaremongering stories in the press suggesting that the Bill limits the freedom of people who use replica weapons. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)unfortunately she is not here tonightgraphically described the siege mentality in parts of her constituency as regards the use of replica guns. Any move to ensure that one less life is taken on the streets of our cities has to be welcome.
I welcome the restrictions on air weapons. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) mentioned one of his constituents in
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that context. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle has run a well-supported campaign in the north-east on introducing tougher measures on air weapons. Its readers will welcome the Bill, which increases such powers. In my constituency, which is semi-rural, the misuse of air weapons leads to tragic events, including the shooting and mutilation of people's pets, as well as wildlife. The Bill will be welcomed by numerous constituents who have written to me asking for tougher controls on the use of firearms.
I am pleased that the Mobile Telephone (Re-Programming) Bill, which I introduced as a private Member's Bill in the last Parliament, has been incorporated into the Bill. That Bill ran out of parliamentary time, although I did secure my Christmas Day (Trading) Bill. The theft of mobile phonesa crime against the youngis a growing menace in our cities. The amount of money involved in the theft and reprogramming of mobile phones is mind-boggling. The police and the industry believe that the Bill will be a welcome new piece of weaponry in their armoury in bearing down on a crime that did not exist 30 years ago but now plagues many communities. The police in the north-east have told me that there is a clear connection between the stolen mobile phone trade and drug dealing. The Bill makes it an offence to offer the service of reprogramming mobile phones. That gives the police much-needed weaponry to bear down on such crimes, albeit that the perpetrators will probably find ways around it.
We have discussed antisocial behaviour caused by alcohol misuse. The Bill will improve our communities in that respect. Many of the problems in my constituency are caused not by public houses but by youngsters who have access to alcohol and hang around on street corners and estates, making people's lives a misery. I was struck in Committee and today by the difference between the world that I live in and that of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). Perhaps he still lives in a quaint age in which people in villages in his constituency think that people getting drunk at weekends is down to high spirits. I certainly do not, and neither do many of my constituents.
Lynne Featherstone: I should like to put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton) and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for chairing my first Committee and to the Minister and all hon. Members for a constructive and instructive debate. Despite the Minister's comments, I welcome the Government's attempts to deal with a scourge in all our communitiesthe twin evils of alcohol and the rise in the use of weapons.
I fear that the Bill will have to deal with more disorder than it would otherwise have done. Although I have much sympathy with the Government's position on relaxing licensing laws, problems are already arising in that local residents' and local authorities' decisions are being overturned. That is a great pity. One of the main ideas was staggering the hours at which people would leave pubs, yet I understand that, instead of leaving at 11 pm or 12 am, they all come out at 2.30 am or 3 am. That will create problems for the alcohol disorder zones and make matters more difficult.
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Again, despite the Minister's comments, I support the idea of alcohol disorder zones. I am disappointed that she does not wish me to criticise what I find so difficult about the matter: the lack of regulations or guidance that show what differentials can be made in the charging regime so that different levels of culpability can be appropriately charged. However, we are short of time and I do not want to dwell on that.
I have learned more about weaponry than I ever wanted to know during our debates. One outstanding matter, which we had no time to reach, was determining the lethal Joule energy output. I am not sure that I could make a judgment on that because I understand that Ireland allows 4 J whereas 1 J is allowed here. I do not know at what point one dies or what test should determine that. I had thought about lining people up and ascertaining at what Joule output they keeled over, but I am not sure that that is the right way to approach the matter.
Weapons are a scourge of our time. In some parts of my constituency, young people aspire to criminality and owning guns. Guns and knives are what makes you coolwhat makes you the man. However, we need more than legislation to tackle that; we need more work on the ground to change the prospects, future and mindset of those who are so lost that they do not even want a way out. The Bill does not tackle that charter of despair. It deals with some of the important symptoms of what is going on but we need to do more work.
I welcome the beginning of parity between knife and gun crime, especially the moves against imitation firearms, which are a growing evil. I remember visiting SO19, where one is put in front of a training video with a gun, put in a position whereby someone runs towards one with a gun, and given a split second to decide whether to shoot or not. I would undoubtedly have shot, but the person was running past to save me from something.
We will have to ascertain whether some of the alcohol disorder zone and drinking banning order chickens that we have hatched come home to roost. I hope that the Bill will curb some of the worst excesses associated with guns and alcohol but we all need to put on our thinking caps and consider how to tackle the root cause of the twin evils.
I should like to concentrate on gun crime and especially knife crime. Knife crime is a menace in every community that we serve. In my experience in the west of Scotland, knife crime is reported with alarming regularity in all our newspapers almost daily. If any independent testimony were needed to verify the frightening use of knives in our towns and cities, police
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and hospital staff could give chapter and verse. Hon. Members would be horrified at the extent of knife crime in the west of Scotland, not only at weekends but every day of the week. History and experience of knife crime becomes crucial evidence for toughening existing laws. That is why I fully support the Bill and raising the minimum age at which a young person can carry a knife from 16 to 18.
I should also like to pay tribute to Strathclyde police, who are a force to be reckoned with. They deal very severely with knife crime. They have seen at first hand the way in which the gun and knife cultures have grown in the west of Scotland in the past 20 years, resulting in knives, blades, swords and Stanley knives becoming the weapons of choice among the gangsters and criminals. Anyone who has spoken to members of their local hospital staff will understand the problem that they, too, face in regard to health and safety. The country would be facing an increase in murders of tidal-wave proportions if it were not for the tremendous skill and professionalism of our surgeons and nursing staff.
I want to talk briefly about amnesties. Looking round the Chamber, I imagine that, with one or two exceptions, I am probably the only one here who will remember the amnesty in the early '70s led by the late Frankie Vaughan. He organised a very successful amnesty in the streets and housing estates of Glasgow. Some of our modern celebrities could go a long way if they were able to do the same thing.
A frightening development in gun crime has been the conversion and modification of imitation guns so that they can fire live ammunition, in which there has been a 66 per cent. increase in the 12 months up to this year. I have said that no area is exempt or excluded from the threat of gun crime. However, if further proof is needed, last week in a neighbouring constituency to mine in Renfrewshire, the police raided a flat and removed a 12-bore pump-action shotgun, a bolt-action .22250 rifle, a 12-bore single-barrelled sawn-off shotgun, a converted replica pistol, and 98 bulleted cartridges. I hope that this legislation will enable the police to do even more to get guns and knives off our streets.
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