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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Robert Key
Ainger, Nick (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab)
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Jones, Mr. Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
Meacher, Mr. Michael (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey (Coventry, North-West) (Lab)
Singh, Mr. Marsha (Bradford, West) (Lab)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton, South) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 17 March 2008

[Mr. Robert Key in the Chair]

Draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Key. I think this is the first time that I have done so, and I am pleased to be here this afternoon. I welcome the hon. Member for Hornchurch and other hon. Members and hon. Friends to the Committee.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 introduced an order-making power to ban the manufacture, sale and importation of specified offensive weapons. The current offensive weapons order prohibits 17 weapons, including sword sticks, knuckledusters, disguised knives and batons. Today, in an effort further to improve public safety we seek to add swords with a curved blade of more than 50 cm to the schedule to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988. That will make it an offence to sell, manufacture, hire or import any sword that fits that definition, subject to defences that seek to allow legitimate use of such items. A person would be liable on summary conviction to a maximum term of six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.
Violent crime committed with a bladed weapon is an ugly and destructive aspect of our society, and totally unacceptable. Statistics reflect a far too common view among some people that carrying and using bladed weapons is a way of displaying strength and earning respect. Our primary concern is public safety, and restricting the supply of weapons that are used in violent crime is an important contributor to that.
The Government have been concerned for some time about reports of weapons described as samurai swords being used in violent crime, including murder. Our information shows that samurai swords have been used in about 80 incidents during the past four years, including at least 10 murders. Police advice is that the availability of samurai swords makes them the weapon of choice for a growing number of young men with criminal intentions, and the Association of Chief Police Officers fully supports this ban.
The definition that we have arrived at is:
“a sword with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length”.
Although such a definition potentially captures swords other than samurai swords, the Government believe that it is proportionate to ensure a meaningful ban that has a real impact in reducing the availability of items that have been and can be used in violent crime.
We must remind ourselves that the proposed ban is about protecting people and communities. The hon. Member for Hornchurch is only too aware of the terrible consequences of crime involving samurai swords, and I congratulate him on his work on that issue. We all remember his private Member’s Bill two years ago, and, notwithstanding some of the comments that I suspect that he will make, the proposal shows that we can work together in the interests of public safety.
The case that motivated the hon. Gentleman was not an isolated one. In Newport, three gang members, who were involved in violence and drug dealing, murdered a man with a samurai sword after he stood up to them, and were given a total of 60 years in jail in 2006. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central will recall the terrible incident involving the then MP for Cheltenham and the injury that he sustained when his assistant was murdered by a man armed with a samurai sword. Only last month, a young man was jailed for life for murdering his brother with a samurai sword in Lincoln.
Responses to the consultation made a good case for not discriminating against law-abiding citizens who use samurai swords for legitimate purposes. The defences in article 3 of the order take into account genuine collectors of high-value samurai swords of historical and cultural significance. Articles 4 and 5 provide defences for people who use samurai swords to partake in historical re-enactments and those who are registered with reputable martial arts associations. The defences are in addition to those that apply to Crown servants, those that exist for museums and galleries for all items over 100 years old and those in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 relating to television and film productions.
We do not currently propose to add items other than samurai swords to the order. Arriving at a definition that captured items such as fantasy knives and hunting knives, but not knives that have a legitimate use—for example, pen knives and domestic knives—has not proved possible at this time. The Government will, however, continue to work with law enforcement agencies and local communities to keep offensive weapons policy under review.
The Government are determined to do everything that we can to tackle the menace of violent crime, and we have a strategy, which is overseen by the Prime Minister, to achieve that. Action is being taken on several fronts: new legislation; increased penalties; a national knife amnesty in 2006; tough enforcement operations by police to detect those who are carrying knives; and support for community organisations that work with young people. Banning samurai swords is not, in and of itself, the answer to tackling violent crime, as some people who oppose the ban pointed out in the consultation, but it is an important, if small, part of our strategy.
Although legislation is already in place that makes it illegal to carry offensive weapons and most knives in public, there is nothing to stop an individual aged 18 or over from walking into a shop or logging on to the internet and getting hold of these dangerous weapons, which have been used in several murders and violent attacks in recent years. That is unacceptable, and we need to cut off the supply of samurai swords and prevent them from getting into the wrong hands. However, we should allow for legitimate use without compromising the effectiveness of any ban. That is what the order seeks to achieve, and I urge the Committee to support it.
4.38 pm
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Key? I thank the Minister for his comments about the work that I have undertaken over several years in seeking to restrict the sale, resale and import of samurai swords. I first became involved in that work because of several serious incidents that occurred in my local community and area. Three incidents spring to mind: in one, a man’s hand was severed; in another, there was a serious assault; and another one involved someone waving and brandishing a samurai sword in a children’s play area. That frightened the many mothers, toddlers and children who were playing in thatpublic space.
Following those incidents, my concern was heightened by walking down a high street and seeing these lethal blades freely on sale in shop windows, on market stalls and in various other outlets. To my mind, as a matter of principle, that simply could not be right if we seek to restrict weapons and to have the means to reduce the risk of people falling victim to serious violent crimes.
Further examination of the issue reveals that, increasingly, samurai swords are linked with gang culture. There are suggestions that the use and, indeed, possession of such weapons are regarded almost as a rite of passage for certain criminal gang members. Some research suggests that the samurai sword is the weapon of choice for many organised criminals. That was reflected in the Minister’s comments about the 80 incidents in the past four years. Yet, as I have indicated, obtaining such lethal weapons is very straightforward and easy, whether from the high street, market stalls or car boot sales. It is almost as easy as purchasing a lotto ticket, which to my mind, as a matter of principle, cannot be right.
I became more convinced of the need for such restrictions following a pilot project carried out in Devon and Cornwall, where the police called on shops to stop selling samurai swords. That had an impact on the number of incidents of such weapons being used in serious assaults and of other serious violent incidents during a three-month campaign in the local community. On the basis of that pilot and other information, I became convinced of the need for clearer action to deal with the supply of such weapons, which is why I introduced a private Member’s Bill in 2006, seeking to raise the issue further and restrict their supply.
The idea behind the move is to reduce violent crime. Given the increasing link between gang culture and the use of such weapons, reducing their supply could make a difference to the number of violent incidents on our streets. Although I consider the proposal to be a small measure in the fight against the use of knives and other such weapons, and violent crime in general, if it can prevent at least one death or serious injury, it is appropriate for us to consider it and take it forward.
That leads on to the proposals set out in the order before us. A number of points have been raised by various legitimate groups about their use or collection of such weapons, which the Minister mentioned in his opening comments. If we are to examine the order properly, it is important to raise some of the concerns expressed to me and other hon. Members about the way in which it has been drafted and about whether it will have any unintended consequences or consequences not considered sufficiently.
The Minister referred to the fact that article 2 defines the type of weapon subject to the order as
“a sword with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length”,
with the length of the blade being
“the straight line distance from the top of the handle to the tip of the blade.”
Various points have been raised: about whether certain other cultural items, such as the Sikh talwar, would also be captured under that definition; about the extent to which he consulted religious and cultural groups in drafting the order; about whether the intention was to cover such items; about whether that was even considered; about the potential impact on the operation of the order, and about how he envisages religious and cultural practices fitting into to the order. I appreciate what he said about the need for clarity of definition to ensure that the courts and police understand how the order is intended to operate, but it is important that the Committee is clear about the Government’s intent in drafting it and about whether any further considerations, guidance or regulation might be required if issues arise from the current drafting.
I mention the issue because some have suggested that martial arts and historical martial arts are not recognised as sports by certain UK sporting bodies. It would be unfortunate if the drafting of the order was intended to capture legitimate martial arts but such groups did not fall within the definition of sport. Can the Minister confirm that the language about sporting activity in article 5 is intended to capture legitimate martial arts groups, such as those engaged in the sports of kendo and aikido? I use the term “sports” despite some of the representations that I have received. The practise of those sports calls specifically for the use of Japanese swords.
Is there concern about whether such martial arts will be captured by the order? I know that the Minister has considered the matter. He and I have spoken privately of the need to ensure that legitimate martial arts groups are protected under the order. There is clearly some concern about whether the framing and language of the order capture what I believe to be the spirit and the sense of how it should operate. If not, I trust that the matter could be addressed in subsequent guidance or in some other way, to ensure that those involved in legitimate martial arts groups are protected by exemptions. Some historical re-enactment groups have expressed concerns as well about whether their activities will be caught by the definition of historical re-enactment, although that is clearly the intention. Certain activities involving fencing have been mentioned in particular. Again, I ask the Minister to consider carefully the guidance and the operation of the order, so that those groups will not be penalised.
Points have been made about the definition of insurance. To fall within the ambit of the exemption as I understand it, certain public liability insurances are needed. Some historical re-enactment groups have suggested that that does not necessarily reflect or represent how they take out insurance. Some concern has been expressed about whether they would fulfil the requirements in article 4 and the exemption that has been specifically put in place to cover their activities.
I know that some swords are historic and valuable, and that collectors of ancient artefacts possess and continue to trade in those weapons. The Minister, or his officials, has framed the exemption such that it refers to the weapon in question being
“made in Japan before 1954 or was made in Japan at any other time according to traditional methods of forging swords.”
On the territorial scope of the regulations, I note that the order extends to England and Wales and Northern Ireland but not to Scotland. I appreciate that there are issues about scope, and the rights, privileges and powers that the Scottish authorities seek to retain and exercise in Scotland. However, I should be grateful if the Minister set out the discussions that he and his officials had with the Scottish authorities about the operation of the regulations to ensure that a regime operates fairly and appropriately throughout the United Kingdom, that the order will affect Scotland as well as the rest of the UK, and what might happen in Scotland in the fullness of time.
As I said in my opening comments, and from my interest in this area of law and policy and the need to protect the public from violent crime, I think that introducing regulations to limit the sale and resale of samurai swords is appropriate. They could make an impact by reducing the appalling crimes that too many of us have seen in our communities, so I welcome their introduction. However, I ask the Minister to reflect carefully on the points that I and others outside of Parliament have expressed fairly, proportionately and legitimately. I hope that he will reflect on them, that if issues require further consideration they will be considered, that if necessary, appropriate guidance or further changes will be introduced to ensure that the regulations operate as I believe the Minister and I intend them to operate, and that the appalling trade in weapons used for criminal purposes is dealt with firmly and appropriately by the police, backed up with appropriate enforcement but without penalising legitimate collectors and other persons who have an appropriate use for samurai swords. I hope that such people are not penalised by virtue of the regulations, in that they do not have unintended and unanticipated consequences that might bring them within the scope of the order.
4.55 pm
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): May I, too, say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Key? It is also a pleasure to have so many Welsh Members on the Committee, although one has just left the room.
Many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made, so I shall be brief. I, too, agree with the general purpose of the ban. There is an overwhelming feeling in the House that it needs to be introduced, for all the reasons that were mentioned by the previous two speakers, particularly the incident involving my noble Friend the former Member for Cheltenham and his member of staff. Following that case, all Liberal Democrats have had a personal vested interest in this issue.
I am concerned about how the order will work in practice. One of the easiest ways of purchasing such blades is on sites such as eBay. Being a conscientious Member of Parliament, I did some research this afternoon. If one searches eBay today for samurai swords, one will find that there are 692 blades available, more than 550 of which cost less than £30. Clearly, there is wide availability. Given how easy it is for people to access those swords, what has the Department done regarding potential online and retail sources in relation to the implementation of the order? There is a big difference between it being an offence to sell such items and their being widely available. Has the Minister or the Department assessed how likely it is that the weapon of choice will go from being curved blade swords to straight blade swords, which will still be legally available for sale and manufacture? On eBay today, there are more than 2,500 straight blade and samurai swords available. Clearly, there is a wider issue, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on that.
There is wide concern about public liability insurance for historical re-enactment societies, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned. Such societies represent about 18,000 people in the UK, so many people have an interest in and are concerned about the wording in the order. I think that we would all like some reassurance that there will be protection for those whose public liability insurance does not exactly fit the wording of the order.
Finally, there appears to be a gap, which has already been highlighted, not only for other cultural items, like Sikh swords and so on, but for items used in martial arts, which are not considered technically to be a sporting activity under the UK sports councils and are not to do with historical re-enactment. So some people are carrying out legitimate activities that seem to fall in the gap between the different definitions. I should be grateful if the Minister commented on how the Government intend to ensure that people carrying out such legitimate activities would be included in the defences so that they are not caught up in this legislation accidentally.
Overall, we support the legislation for the reasons that have already been given. I should be grateful if the Minister commented on my queries.
5 pm
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I declare an interest, in all senses of the word, as I am a special constable. In a relatively short time, I have come across a number of people carrying knives and one carrying a gun, but never anyone with a samurai sword. Although that observation is not particularly scientific, it suggests to me that this is probably not the biggest problem. Knife carrying is the biggest problem. Guns are a smaller problem, probably because some people regard those as accessories that they can show off with. People who carry samurai swords are probably committed criminals, because such swords are a lot harder to hide and the decision to carry one will, therefore, be premeditated and probably will be followed by its use. Because we are not tackling the biggest problem, I wonder how effective the order will be.
I should like the Minister to say how many people have been prosecuted for selling butterfly knives and the other forms of knives that are currently outlawed. It would be useful to know that. I have seen people arrested for carrying a bladed article, but the shopkeepers or people from whom they purchase it are never followed up.
Some of the re-enactment societies, which have already been mentioned—we have had a lot of e-mails about this matter—have said that naval cutlasses will be included. I hope that nothing will be done to infringe the rights of people with such cutlasses, because they are nearly always law-abiding. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch said, it is unacceptable that people can buy a samurai sword in a shop. Such things are being sold to irresponsible people. We cannot fail to go ahead with the order. I just hope that the innocent re-enactment people are not caught out.
I hope that the order will not be spun as some great leap forward in law and order. We are talking about a relatively small problem, although it is very nasty when it occurs. If the Minister really wants to tackle the problems of violence on the street, first, we urgently need changes to the stop and search laws, which I think are coming thanks to the Flanagan review. I welcome that and hope that the Minister will part of pushing that forward. Secondly, there need to be far greater punishments for those who are caught with guns, knives and, indeed, samurai swords. The maximum sentences have been increased, as the Minister knows, but the trouble is that increasing a maximum sentence—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention, because this is a serious point. The maximum penalty can be increased as much as people want, but if the sentencing advisory panel is not prepared to offer guidance to judges and magistrates so that they can say, if people are caught with an offensive weapon of any sort, that they should have a particular sentence—
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman explain why every time such measures have come before the House—possibly even before he was a Member of Parliament—his party has voted against them?
David T.C. Davies: I do not know about that, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I will always support any legislation that will lead to longer prison sentences for people who break the law, particularly with offensive weapons; I can assure him of that.
This Government have introduced legislation allowing increases in maximum penalties and made statements about that, but no guidance has been given by the sentencing advisory panels to instruct judges and magistrates in to impose those maximum sentences. [Interruption.] I will give way, but let me just inform the hon. Gentleman about something. I submitted a written question about how may people had received the maximum sentence and who had received a sentence of imprisonment for carrying a knife. Literally only a handful of people out of the thousands of people who have been stopped received such sentences.
Mr. Jones: I am sorry, but it is no good going on about the sentencing guidance when, if it had been left to the hon. Gentleman’s party, these laws would never have been on the statute book.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that, but his Government are responsible for the advice that comes out of the sentencing advisory panel. [ Interruption. ]
The Chairman: Order.
David T.C. Davies: Can I say to the hon. Gentleman that the youth with two handguns who I stopped received an eight-month referral order? That means that he did not go to prison at all and, in fact, he probably spends his time discussing his problems, such as they were, with somebody over cups of tea. There was no prison sentence whatsoever in that case, presumably, partly because of his age. But it does not suggest to me that the sentences being handed out at the moment are particularly strict. That is the only point that I would make. The Government can bring in all the legislation they want, and ban all these articles, but if the Minister is not prepared to ensure that people who break the law receive proper sentences and to give the police the powers to stop and search these people properly, which they cannot do at the moment, all his efforts will be in vain.
Mr. Coaker: I thank hon. Members for their comments. In answer to the hon. Members for Monmouth and for Hornchurch, we do not see this as a measure that can on its own deal with all the issues to which they referred. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham also pointed out some of the implications of that. We see this measure as an important part of our work here. There have been 80 serious incidents over the last four years, including 10 murders with samurai swords, and so this is something that we need to address. It will not address all of the other issues, which is why the Government have put other measures in place to tackle some of those other points.
As people who know me can confirm, it is not in my nature to publish or try to do things that are merely cosmetic just to grab the headlines. This measure is a serious one, which has the support of virtually every hon. Member. It is designed to tackle a serious issue, which may not as great in numerical terms as some of the others that have been described. None the less it will be welcomed by many people up and down the country. Indeed, many find it hard to believe that it is not already against the law. This is a proportionate and responsible response. It is not a populist thing where we just ban every single sword, because there are legitimate uses, but it is an attempt to tackle a real issue out there.
I was asked a couple of times about guidance and reviewing regulations and so on. Of course we will publish guidance in due course and we will take account of the points that have been made in the Committee about what that guidance should refer to specifically. I make that commitment to hon. Members. If the regulations have unintended consequences it would be arrogant and stupid not to then review them, given the unanimity of support in Committee for them. If there is a need to review something because it has an unintended consequence then of course we will look at it.
We are not aware that any religious uses will be caught by these regulations. Simple possession is not affected and therefore we do not believe that anyone wearing something for religious purposes would be affected. Regarding the definition with respect to sport, we have tried to define a sporting activity as the practising of a sport which requires the use of a weapon described in paragraph 1(r). It describes the weapon which we are trying to ban—a curved sword measuring more than 50 cm. We are trying to ensure that sporting activity means sport, which is martial arts, kendo and all the other sorts of sports mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. It is not our intention to affect those legitimate uses. We have tried to ensure that the definition in the regulations meets that requirement.
Jenny Willott: Could the Minister clarify whether they will rely on definitions of sport as accepted by the UK sports councils, or whether it will be broader than that because that is the area where it gets caught up at the moment?
Mr. Coaker: No, we will not. The definition that we will use is the one specified in the regulations, and not whether it is something that is recognised by the UK sporting bodies.
James Brokenshire: Perhaps the Minister needs to look at the definition of “sporting activity”. The point is that it refers to a concept of sport for its work, and that there may be questions whether something is a sport. I raised my earlier points because there have been questions whether martial arts are considered a sport. The absence of a definition of sport appears to be a concern. Perhaps some further guidance would be beneficial.
Mr. Coaker: We can clarify that in the guidance. I reiterate that we are trying to ensure that martial arts and sporting activities requiring the use of curved blades of more than 50 cm are not captured by the order. We will always try to make that clear. The hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned fencing. That is a sporting activity in which sabres are sometimes used, and we have no intention of capturing it.
On public liability insurance, we must ensure that the ban has teeth and an impact on the availability of swords. The public liability insurance provision will ensure that only well-managed groups are provided with a defence and will address attempts by unscrupulous retailers to circumvent the ban by offering membership of what is a club in name only on the purchase of a sword. In practice, the insurance will be held by the re-enactment society or other group. The aim of the provision is that the insurance will cover any of the society’s liabilities to participants if they are injured during a re-enactment. The insurance will not have to cover situations in which one participant is injured by another for which the society has no liability. The definition of third parties is the same as that used in the context of realistic imitation firearms, so we are following the precedent of a working defence.
I was asked about collectors. In consultation with law enforcement agencies, collectors and martial arts groups, we have not been able to come up with a definition of a collector that would allow the continued sale of valuable collectors’ items without also permitting the collection of low-value swords used in violent crime. We have tried to account for collectors by providing defences for collectible items rather than for collectors per se. The defences will capture swords made in Japan before 1954 or according to traditional methods of forging swords. They will not protect swords made outside Japan, as extending the defence to such swords could create a range of loopholes that would allow the continued sale, hire, import and so on of lesser value items used in violent crime, because there is no identifiable way to capture high-quality rather than low-quality swords, whereas there is for swords made in Japan. Hon. Members will know that Japanese swords require individual certificates. However, we will continue to consider further representations from groups that believe that a defence can be framed to capture such swords without undermining the enforceability of a ban. The hon. Member for Hornchurch made that point. I will reflect on it and look again to see whether it is possible, but in all honesty, it is difficult to come up with a definition that would not allow all sorts of loopholes that would undermine the work that we are trying to do in the order.
We have had discussions on the matter with our colleagues in Scotland. There is some debate about competencies. I have spoken to the Justice Minister in Scotland about it, and we are continuing those discussions. With respect to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I was not prepared to delay an important measure, but we will continue discussions with our colleagues in Scotland to ensure that we resolve the issue between us, so that we can have a UK-wide ban in legislation, which would be in everybody’s interests.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central asked about the consultation and the possibility of the ban going too wide. The Government’s consultation, “Banning offensive weapons”, sought views on whether weapons other than samurai swords should be banned, but the focus of the ban is samurai swords. As I have said on a number of occasions, in coming up with an enforceable definition that adequately captures samurai swords, we are also capturing other swords with a curved blade longer than 50 cm. That is preferable to a definition that allows for too much subjective interpretation to be enforceable. It would also contribute to tackling violent crime effectively by reducing the availability of cheap curved swords not specifically imitation samurai swords.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I have two or three small points to put to the Minister. Would enforcement of the order comply with the Hampton principles, with which, I must admit, I am not familiar? I am not sure whether the answer is yes or no; perhaps it is both. More significantly, the order will ban the import of the weapons being discussed. In the light of remarks about internet availability and the 20,000 collectors, are there plans to deal with stock in this country? An amnesty or appeal to owners—I would not call them collectors—might help. I realise that the definition of the type of sword covered by the order might be restrictive. Whether it was manufactured in Japan before 1954 might be too tight a definition for genuine collectors—they do exist—but if there is to be a tendency to exaggerate, it must be to capture the majority, rather than to allow for too many exceptions.
Mr. Coaker: We are sure that the order is consistent with the Hampton principles. Possession is not an offence, but we will consider everything to ensure that samurai swords or knives that might be dangerous to communities will be collected. We have no plans for an amnesty, but we could always consider one. We consulted widely on the definition and it is the most practical to enforce. However, we will always keep such matters under review.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate; I was attending a Committee in the adjacent Room on the important matter of European migration. As a former British light cavalry officer, I want to clarify the position on swords in the possession of those who have served in the forces or inherited them from those who have served. I am talking in particular about the 1796 British light cavalry sabre, which would fall within the remit of the order. Will the Minister confirm that it is perfectly proper for them to remain in a family’s possession and to be transferred to, and inherited by, future generations? Would they be covered by the legislation?
Mr. Coaker: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, who makes a reasonable point, that possession is not an offence and that it would be perfectly possible for the type of sword that he mentioned to be retained in possession and passed on.
Mr. Blunt: The explanatory note states that the offence relates to the sale, hiring, lending or giving of such weapons. I want to be clear that “giving” does not include it being passed to the next generation as a family heirloom.
Mr. Coaker: No, it does not.
In response to the question from the hon. Member for Monmouth, the explanatory memorandum and the attachments to it, set out the prosecution figures for section 141 offences—offences relating to the 17 other offensive weapons banned through inclusion in the offensive weapons order—which are of the scale of 40 in eight years. Although we do not expect that including samurai swords among section 141 offences will significantly increase that number, we would expect some increase if people do not obey the law.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008.
Committee rose at twenty-one minutes past Five o’clock.

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