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Samurai Swords

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to forbid the sale, manufacture, hire, loan or importation of sharpened samurai swords; and for connected purposes.

The recent knife amnesty has reminded us of just how many knives and other bladed weapons are in circulation in our communities. Nearly 90,000 weapons were handed in to police and, in virtually every local or regional news story that I have read, samurai swords are mentioned as having been deposited at police stations during the amnesty. It is a sad fact that there is an increasing number of these lethal weapons out on our streets, and ease of supply is a significant factor.

Too many families and communities have suffered the appalling consequences arising from the use of samurai swords. In my own area in and around Hornchurch, we have seen at least three serious incidents. In one, a man’s hand was severed, and another involved a serious assault. In the third incident, mothers and toddlers were forced to flee a children’s play site when someone started wielding a sword in the area where the youngsters were playing.

I wish that I could say that those were isolated incidents. However, from a brief examination of some of the reported attacks that have taken place this year alone, it is clear to me that samurai swords are being used increasingly in violent crime up and down the country. The following extracts from stories in the past few months give some feel of the nature of the incidents involving the use of samurai swords:

“Two gang members have been found guilty of murdering a builder with a samurai sword at a pub in Newport”.

“Police in County Durham have released the name of a woman who died after she was stabbed with a samurai sword and then run over by a car”.

“A teenage thug who nearly killed a man when he sliced through his chest with a samurai sword is facing years in jail. The victim’s heart stopped twice on the operating table as surgeons battled to save his life”.

“A robber who threatened to behead a hotel porter with a samurai sword has been jailed for seven years”.

“A twenty six year old man has appeared in court charged with the murder of a man who was stabbed with a samurai sword in Corby.”

Those are just a few examples, but each case highlights the tragic consequences when these weapons are used. I have little doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be able to provide many other examples.

There is also a disturbing link between samurai swords and gang culture. It has been suggested by some that obtaining a samurai sword is almost becoming a rite of passage for criminal gang members. The recent pictures in the national press of 15-year-old Alex Mulumba—thought to be a member of the south London gang “Man Dem Crew”—lying in his hospital bed with a ventilator tube protruding from his mouth after sustaining a single fatal stab wound from a samurai sword say a great deal about the impact that those weapons are having on the streets. A report in the Daily Mirror from last December summarizes the position well. It said:

“Police in Plymouth are reporting once incident involving a samurai sword every week. In Middlesbrough they are the ‘most attractive weapon’ for thugs ahead of guns and knives. A senior Home Office source said, ‘They are now the weapon of choice amongst many organised criminals’.”

Yet buying one of those potentially lethal implements could not be easier. People can buy them in shops, in markets, on the internet and even in car boot sales. As one commentator said:

“It’s as easy as purchasing a lotto ticket.”

Police and trading standards officers are absolutely powerless to do anything about that. Although it is an offence to have a samurai sword in a public place without good reason or lawful authority, it is entirely within the law to sell an item with a blade or point—including a samurai sword—to someone over the age of 16. That seems ludicrous to me, and the consequences of having these dangerous swords out on the streets in criminal hands is increasingly plain to see.

I have become convinced that the availability and supply of these items is a significant factor. A campaign last autumn by Devon and Cornwall police calling on shops to stop selling samurai swords had a clear impact. Instead of averaging one samurai sword incident a week, the force reported only a single incident during its three-month campaign. The time has come to ensure that that approach is taken across the country and that it is given statutory force through legislation.

That said, it is important to recognise that many people use or possess samurai swords lawfully and without causing harm to anyone else. The sports of kendo and aikido specifically call for the use of Japanese swords. The original Japanese katana is the sword that is most commonly referred to as a samurai sword, and those traditional items, forged with the highly specialized tamagahane steel, are highly valuable and important cultural and historic items, some of which are considered works of fine art. It is possible to frame legislation in such a way that sales of samurai swords to museums, heritage bodies, martial arts groups, theatre and drama companies and other lawful groups can be protected, while banning the sale of dangerous weapons for criminal use.

The reference to “sharpened samurai swords” in the text of my proposed Bill is intended to reflect that approach, as a number of samurai swords imported into the UK are made from an aluminium composite that cannot be sharpened to have a cutting edge and therefore would not be capable of being used for the sorts of attacks that I have highlighted.

If action is required, which I believe it is, the only realistic alternative to prohibiting the sale and importation of samurai swords is some form of licensing scheme. I am persuaded that a general scheme would be costly and bureaucratic and would not reduce the flow of these items into criminal hands. However, licensing of certain groups or organisations may assist the framing of the exemptions that I have highlighted, and I will certainly reflect on that in the drafting of the Bill, should I be granted leave by the House today. The Home Office has said for a long time that it is considering a ban on samurai swords—that was said most recently by the current Home Secretary on 19 June—but we have yet to see a firm commitment actually to introduce legislation to that effect. Although powers are being reserved, it remains uncertain whether those powers will be used. It is for that reason that I seek leave to introduce this Bill.

There is a clear and increasingly worrying link between gang culture, violent crime and the use of these dangerous implements. Reducing the ease with which such swords are supplied would have a direct impact on taking these potentially deadly weapons off our streets. A ban on the sale, import and manufacture of such items—with appropriate exemptions—is the only practical way of giving effect to my intent. The time to act is now. I hope that the House will take this opportunity to introduce a law that will significantly restrict the sale of these potentially deadly items, and in so doing reduce the number of serious attacks in which samurai swords are used.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by James Brokenshire, Mike Penning, Mr. Lee Scott, Angela Watkinson, Mr. David Jones, Mr. Shailesh Vara, Jeremy Wright, Andrew Rosindell, James Duddridge, Mark Pritchard, Martin Horwood and Mr. David Amess.

Samurai Swords

James Brokenshire accordingly presented a Bill to forbid the sale, manufacture, hire, loan or importation of sharpened samurai swords; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 217].