Let’s be honest: 2017, like many of its recent predecessors, wasn’t an overwhelmingly great year. If I could sum it up in just one word I think it would be ‘uncertainty’. I had made a vague promise to myself (and my esteemed editor) that I wouldn’t start 2018 with a mention of Brexit, but it’s really difficult to sum up the previous year without at least giving a nod to the perception of widespread consternation and turmoil which that process – and, importantly, those in charge of it – has caused for businesses and individuals across the UK. It was never going to be an easy process. Maybe now that the government has thrown the nation’s chequebook on the EU’s table, we can see some meaningful progress in relation to those aspects of the process that more directly concern us: trade deals. As for 2017 generally, I will merely reflect on the words of the Greek tragedian, Sophocles, who had Oedipus say: “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.” So let us leave 2017 for now and consider it only in the context of what the new year will bring.
In terms of firearms legislation, shooting and country pursuits generally, I am expecting 2018 to bring further changes to the law. In that regard, it is important to bear in mind some of the initiatives that were started in 2017 to see how all of this might develop. The government and enforcement agencies continue to demonstrate their propensity to erode what we can do and expand what we cannot. The Home Office has been particularly active, and since the autumn of 2017 we have seen a renewed campaign of initiatives in this area.
The process began on 3 October when the Home Secretary announced the Home Office’s intention to consult on new laws regarding ‘offensive weapons’. To summarise, the government’s strategy of targeting serious violent crime caused it to focus on knives and firearms offences. The overall aim is to restrict online purchases of knives so they cannot be delivered to a private residential address and must instead be collected at a place where age-related ID can be checked.
The next wave came just a week later, when the Home Office proclaimed its intention to review airgun regulation in England and Wales. This process supposedly arose out of the tragic case of Ben Wragge, who was shot and killed with an air rifle inMay 2016. The similar tragedy of Harry Studley, who was shot by a neighbour with an air weapon in July 2016, has also brought the issues regarding air rifle regulation into sharper focus for the public.
There were robust responses, from shooting organisations in particular, to the effect that we have plenty of good law in the arena of air rifle regulation. These served to illustrate the common view that any problems with our existing laws actually lie in the context of enforcement. The review will be ongoing during 2018. It is difficult to be optimistic, because to my best recollection it rarely, if ever, occurs that a consultation process of any kind finds that an existing legislative framework is perfectly adequate. The consultation process, by its very nature, is all but compelled to justify its existence and the public expenditure committed to it by recommending change. That said, I have offered the opinion in the past that a wholesale review and update of the Firearms Act 1968 is now justifiable. Formy part, I expect the report from the consultation to contain a variety of recommendations. Increased control of some sort therefore seems inevitable. In the meantime, guidance on airgun safety has been revised and circulated.
The next Home Office declaration came on 19 October; there would be a consultation on the laws relating to antique firearms. Antique firearms are likely to be re-defined, the aim being that older firearms which might still present a danger to the public should be licensed. This move followed a number of reported criminal cases involving antique firearms. The consultation will consider obsolete calibres and propulsion systems, and it is currently being mooted that the automatic cut-off date of manufacture could be moved from 1939 to 1900. In addition to these matters there are, of course, moves to consider the legal position in relation to .50 calibres and MARS actions, both of which have caused some controversy. More news on those will follow as the processes develop and report their findings.
Turning to more general topics affecting businesses, the new legislation relating to data protection comes into force in May 2018. For employers, there are also changes afoot concerning pensions. Since the Pensions Act 2008 came into force, every employer in the UK must put their qualifying employees into a pension scheme and, where appropriate, pay a minimum contribution. This is commonly referred to as automatic enrolment. The minimum contributions that you and your employees pay into the automatic enrolment scheme your business has chosen will soon be increasing. Minimum contributions are increasing in two phases. The first increase must be in place from 6 April 2018 and the second from 6 April 2019. The first increase will see employer minimum contributions rise from 1 to 2 per cent. The following year the minimum contribution will rise to 3 per cent. In both cases, there are proportionate increases for staff contributions payable by the employee.
Bearing in mind the inflationary increases we have witnessed in recent times as well as other planned rises in statutory employment related rates, it is easy to see that many of the smaller businesses involved in the gun trade (who are affected by the pensions legislation) will see the costs of employment and pension provision increase over the next few years.
For those of you who trade from leased premises, from 1 April 2018, it will become unlawful for landlords of non-domestic private rented properties (including public sector landlords) to grant new tenancies or renew the contacts of existing tenants if their property has an EPC rating of band F or G unless an exemption applies or they have made all the relevant energy efficiency improvements. For landlords this means having to survey and make any necessary adjustments to their properties in order to make them more energy efficient. For tenants it may help to reduce energy consumption in the long term, but of course if works are required then they should be prepared for some disruption.
With all of this going on, I do not feel that 2018 is an exciting year to look forward to as far as firearms regulation is concerned. The financial pressure on businesses is going to continue in other respects too, it seems. Whatever transpires, forward planning is the key to managing change. The price of hindsight is always much dearer than an investment in foresight.