Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, and Head of Shooting, Liam Stokes, met the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Sarah Newton MP, on Wednesday (25 October) to discuss proposed changes to firearms law and the online sale of knives.

The meeting was a chance for the Countryside Alliance to raise initial concerns about of the Home Office proposals which could adversely affect people in rural communities. The proposals, which form part of a wider consultation on ‘offensive weapons’, are currently subject to public consultation.

The proposals include a requirement for knives purchased online to be collected in person in order to help enforce the ban on people under the age of 18 purchasing knives.

While we fully support the Home Office drive to tackle knife crime we feel this proposal will not be practical for many people in rural areas, and we are concerned that more high-tech solutions such as age verification have not been fully considered. We raised concerns about this proposal earlier in the summer in a letter to the Home Secretary highlighting the problems this could cause in rural areas where services and public transport are often limited.

The Minister acknowledged our concerns and said that online age verification would be considered when the technology became available, but emphasised the Home Office’s determination to act as quickly as possible to disrupt the ability of under-18s to purchase knives We expressed concern that this proposal would make delivery services responsible for checking the identity of people purchasing knives, and that this responsibility would cause some delivery services to simply stop transporting knives altogether. We discussed the possibility of rural post offices acting as collection points for knives purchased online.

The proposals also suggest a ban on large (.50) calibre rifles and rifles with a Manually Actuated Release System (MARS) on the grounds of public safety.

Whilst public safety should be paramount in firearms law, it is essential that legislation is based on principle and evidence to ensure that people who take part in lawful stalking and pest control are not burdened with un-necessary regulation and we wrote a letter to the Home Office highlighting this point earlier in the month.

We highlighted the diverse range of .50 calibre firearms that exist and the need for any future legislation to be precise to avoid inadvertently affecting the hunting and stalking community. The Minister accepted the need to ensure that lawful stalking and pest control were able to continue unaffected which included the need to clearly define the proposals to ensure there were no unintended consequences of any change in the law. The Minister gave an assurance that the Home Office would produce clear definitions and guidelines before any new restrictions of large or rapid-fire rifles were introduced.

Commenting on the meeting, Liam Stokes said: “The Minister is clearly supportive of game shooting and stalking, and is intent on ensuring that any changes in legislation do not adversely impact on our members. This was a very useful meeting in which we were able to provide input on exactly how to achieve that aim. We continue to have some disagreements over the implementation of restrictions on online knife sales, but we will work with the Home Office to secure the best possible outcome for rural communities.”