Three sessions (extended) of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill in committee – non-stop pleasure today! Broken only by lunch with ITV execs who are trying to get to know me. It was very pleasant and spent some time discussing the X factor – which I have to say is fabulous!
In committee we ranged through imitation guns, air weapons, knives, searching pupils and so on. I thought I did quite well during what was a long day. Even Hazel Blears looked bleary at the end of the last session, which terminated at 9 at night – as did I probably.
In terms of imitation guns, I think the show-stopper was around airsoft. For those who haven’t a clue what this is – as I didn’t only a short time ago – it is a game played with pellets by adults who shoot each other with imitation weapons. The speed or power is measured in ‘joules’. As I understood it, one joule is regarded as lethal. The Tories put down an amendment suggested that up to 4 joules should be allowed. The logic of which I still don’t understand.
However, the show-stopper was that I had asked my researcher to phone AirSoft and see if they minded if their weapons were painted with a day-glow orange ring around the muzzle so that they would be obviously not for real. They said no probs – basically. Hazel thought that was extremely helpful – and I surmised that – despite the mountain of lobbying mail we had all received from airsoft players – no one from Government had talked direct to the relevant organisations.
Imitation arms are a menace – and whilst you don’t want to catch out re-enactment societies, plays etc – I totally support the increased penalties and crack down on the sale and manufacturer of such arms.
[UPDATE: Thanks for all various feedback on this topic; see my latter blog posting.]
Another really good amendment of ours (if I say so myself) was about the searching of pupils for knives. The Bill will allow supervised and senior teachers, never alone, to search a pupil for knives. This is now prevalent in our schools and much preferable in my view to having a metal detector as you walk into school. However, the Government had completely left out Further Education colleges where lots and lots of youngsters under 18 now attend for a variety of courses. So they graciously acknowledged that this was the case – and hopefully will come back with their version of our amendment at Report Stage. Report Stage is when the same, but reduced process we have just been through in Committee comes to the floor of the Commons for all to have their say. It then goes straight into 3rd Reading – and either it passes or not.
So we finished around 9pm at the end of three sessions today. Glad to be to it and through it. The first is the worst. It wasn’t bad – but being the first time I had led a Bill through a committee it was very challenging as I was unfamiliar with the processes – which in Parliament are bizarre – as well as concerned to make sure that I got all the right amendments down and argued them properly. One thing I don’t yet understand – and maybe never will – is why the Tories write out speeches on every point and burble on for very long periods adding nothing whatever to the point. Perhaps it is because they were all lawyers and are used to charging by the hour!