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Replica Firearms

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

As of 1 October, measures from the Government's Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 were introduced which emphasise the Government's determination to crack down on the problem of replica firearms. They include making it an offence to manufacture, import or sell realistic imitation firearms, increasing the maximum sentence for carrying any imitation firearm in public without reasonable excuse from six to 12 months, and ensuring that only persons aged 18 or over can purchase such replicas.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said so far. The Rhys Jones murder shocked Merseyside and other areas. Some replica firearms can be reconverted to live firearms. We do not know yet whether that process was involved in the Rhys Jones murder, but the murder certainly seems to have been related to rejuvenated firearms and gun culture. In Merseyside, the Liverpool Echo is running a campaign—rightly, in my view—on what more can be done about the link between firearms, replica or otherwise, and gang culture. What further observations can my right hon. Friend make about that issue?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the murder of Rhys Jones was tragic, and very serious for his community. We all hope that the case will be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. He is also right to say that the case identified something that I had already spoken to the House about in July—our need to focus on serious violence, particularly that which relates to guns and gangs. That is why I have made available £1 million and set up the tackling gangs action plan, and I am pleased that the deputy chief constable of Merseyside police, Jon Murphy, is now leading that work. We are increasing activity in the neighbourhoods in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Birmingham and London where most gun and gang-related violence occurs. As a result of the way in which local police forces, local authorities and my Government colleagues have engaged in that work, I am optimistic that we will see important results very quickly.

I welcome the action being taken against replica guns, but will the Home Secretary say something about the number of real guns being smuggled into the country? Why are there nine times as many customs officers now dealing with cigarette smuggling as there are dealing with the illegal trade in real guns? Will she assure the House today that any new national border force will have real police powers and the necessary resources to deal with this awful trade in such dangerous weapons?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have asked the Serious Organised Crime Agency to prioritise investigating the illegal firearms trade, and I am content that that is happening. I am pleased that, as a result of the cross-Government work that is part of the tackling gangs action plan, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has agreed to prioritise intelligence gathering about, and catching, those who are importing firearms. Through the work of those organisations, and the Border and Immigration Agency, in tasking the new unified border force that we will be putting in place, we will be able to have a bigger impact than previously on the international trade in guns, which has achieved a new priority in the work of all those agencies.

The whole House appreciates the extra measures concerning replica guns, but might there be a real strengthening of border controls so that people know that if they purchase guns legally abroad, it will be illegal to bring them into this country?

My hon. Friend makes two important points. First, I hope that he is reassured that the agencies involved in the trade and border control of guns will be upping their game in this area. Secondly, he raises an important point about the availability of imitation and replica firearms in the rest of Europe. This country has the toughest firearms legislation, and it is right for us to lead the way, as we are in Europe, in trying to strengthen the European weapons directive to cover the production and sale of realistic imitation firearms in other European countries where they can be too easily bought and brought into this country. I pay particular tribute to Arlene McCarthy MEP for leading that work in the European Parliament.

After the tragic death of Rhys Jones, the Home Secretary made the extraordinary claim that

“statistics aren’t a help but gun crime is down”.

That is an extraordinary claim. This year’s Home Office report contains one set of figures that cannot be rigged: gunshot woundings. The figures disclose that gun-related killings and injuries have increased fourfold since 1998. Does the Home Secretary recognise that if she cannot even count gun crime, she certainly cannot cut it?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, what I actually said is that gun crime has decreased by 13 per cent. in the past year. That is correct, but what I also made very clear—and have made clear, too, in my subsequent actions—is that I believe that the use of guns is a serious problem, particularly in relation to gang-related violence and their use by young people. That is why my priorities have been not only extra investment, but extra action focused on the areas where it is most likely to make a difference, and why that action is now under way.

That does not get us past the fact that gun crime has quadrupled under the right hon. Lady’s party’s Government. She also claimed that Labour’s “tough”—to use her word—five-year minimum sentence for anyone over 18 possessing a gun is serving as a deterrent, so will she explain why the five-year sentence became law for 18 to 21-year-olds only this year, rather than four years ago when the original law came into force, and why the law is so riddled with loopholes that only one in five convictions of over-21-year-olds involves the enforcement of that five-year minimum sentence? Is that her idea of being tough on gun crime?

What I do know is that in 1995 the average sentence for the possession of guns was 12 months, and that, following the action that this Government have taken, the average sentence is now more than 47 months. That is because we have been willing not only to take the tough decisions, but to put them through the House by voting for them—often in the face of opposition from both main Opposition parties—and then to put them into operation.