HC Deb 30 March 1894 vol 22 cc1036-43

said, he was anxious to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the large number of accidents caused by the indiscriminate carrying of Pistols and Revolvers calls for immediate legislation. He did not think he need offer any apologies to the House for bringing this matter before it. It was a subject he had taken an interest in for a long time, and the object of the Motion was one which he knew had the sympathy of many Members in all parts of the House. He had seen it stated in several newspapers that his bringing the matter forward was a work of supererogation, the Government having shown that they were in favour of the principle of the Motion. He was aware that the Government had brought in a Bill, and no one regretted more sincerely than he did that that measure had failed to pass into law, but he did not think the Motion was a work of supererogation, for the reason that he had put the word "immediate" into it. His only fear was that perhaps the insertion of that one word would prevent the proposal being received with favour by the Government, because he felt sure that if it had not been inserted the Government would have had a great deal of sympathy with the Motion. He had put the word in, because he felt that the time was come when this great and growing evil must be seriously and determinedly grappled with. He did not propose to go into the merits of the Pistols Bill of last year. He did not know that it would be in order to do so, but he might be permitted to say that the Bill was in a rather peculiar position. The whole Session was a peculiar one, because, while it was practically given over to one Bill, the Government gave a pledge that no measure of a contentious nature should be proceeded with. There was one hon. Member who took a strong and active part against the Bill, and, unfortunately, that Member was able to procure 37 hon. Gentlemen to go into the Lobby on a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, and these were quite sufficient to show the Government that there was some contentions matter in the Bill. The Government having given that pledge, of course there was nothing further for them to do but postpone the Bill. What hon. Gentlemen could have found contentious in the Bill he was bound to say he could not understand. They were not friendly to armed burglars, and they could not be in favour of allowing young children—mere babies— to go about carrying these absolutely useless and extremely dangerous weapons to the great danger of themselves and their unfortunate neighbours. Here was a case reported in all the newspapers yesterday— Fatal Revolver Accident.—A J arrow Correspondent states that between 4 and 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon Miss Kathleen O' Brady Jones, daughter of the Rev. O'Brady Jones. Vicar of St. Luke's, Wallsend-on-Tyne, met with her death under painful circumstances. She had been taking part in a rehearsal for a concert which was to have been held yesterday evening, and was leaving the hall with friends, when a boy named Dewar, aged 15. presented a revolver with which he was playing and pulled the trigger, under the impression that it was unloaded. The weapon went off, the bullet being lodged in [the girl's light temple. She died half an hour later. The revolver belonged to another lad, and was only purchased yesterday morning. Dewar, who is the son of respectable parents residing in the neighbourhood, is now in custody. The affair seems to have been purely accidental. In this case be did not ask for legislation against the boy. One sympathised almost as much with him and his relations as one did with the relations of the victim, but one did ask for legislation which should make it impossible for mere babies to go about carrying these very dangerous and useless weapons. The Home Secretary knew very well that the case was not an isolated one by any means. he could give the House countless instances of the same kind. It was the Home Secretary, he thought, who disliked so much legislation by Press Cutting Agencies. But Press Cutting Agencies had their uses. He (the Marquess of Carmarthen) had been for years a subscriber to Press Cutting Agencies, and the only information he asked them to send him was accounts of accidents caused by pistols and revolvers. Since the Home Secretary introduced his Bill, be had asked from one of these Agencies the comments made upon the measure in the Press. He had been supplied with a large number, and they were all favourable to the Bill, save as to one or two practically small matters of detail. A further point was this—the coroners in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Devonshire had strongly supported the Pistols Bill, and juries had in every instance endorsed their remarks as to the danger attending the indiscriminate carrying of firearms. That alone was sufficient testimony to give him the right to demand legislation. But there was further evidence. There was the information supplied by the Home Office. The Return supplied last year showed that the number of fatal cases of this kind treated at hospitals was, in 1890, 10; in 1891, 22; and in 1892, 27; while the number of non-fatal cases was, in 1890, 59; in 1891, 72; and in 1892, 95; so that in each class there had been a steady increase; and he believed that that increase had been maintained in 1893, although the Returns supplied did not go beyond 1892. Of course, there were a number of cases which were not treated in the hospitals. In like manner the number of inquests in such cases had grown from 139 in 1890 to 180 in 1891, and to 217 in 1892. As be said, he had not the statistics for 1893, but from all he had been able to learn there was quite as much—he thought even more—injury inflicted by revolvers in 1893 than in 1892. An hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lancashire, who opposed the Bill last year, said, "Why should not Englishmen have the right of protecting themselves?" No one wanted legislation, or asked for legislation, which would prevent responsible householders from arming themselves against burglars if they thought it right. What he did ask for was legislation which would strengthen the ordinary law, which would make it imperative on every one who carried arms to take out a licence, and would prevent young children from carrying dangerous weapons about. He had, he thought, said enough to show that there was some reason for this legislation. If the Go- vernment took exception to his proposal that there should be "immediate" legislation, he hoped they would, at any rate, re-introduce the Pistols Bill, and send it to a Committee. They should do something to put a stop to this great and growing evil. He was conscious that he had not made out so strong a case as might have been made out. He wished some one of more power and influence had taken it in hand, but he had interested himself in the subject for a considerable time and felt keenly in regard to it.

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

said, he would only say one or two words in reference to the Motion, as the noble Marquess had really exhausted the subject. It was within the knowledge of everyone that pistol accidents were increasing day by day. The law was already very stringent with regard to the carrying of revolvers by burglars. The punishment meted out to a robber who was armed was always much more severe than that to one who was unarmed. The proper way to deal with the indiscriminate use of revolvers was to place a heavy tax upon them. He should think that revolvers and pistols ought to be dealt with under the gun licence; and he should suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was, as he understood, somewhat short of money, that he should put the heaviest possible tax upon revolvers. This would he a very useful tax. The evil was growing year by year, and these weapons were becoming more and more toys, and could be bought for a very few shillings. From the instances quoted by the noble Lord, it was evident that they had become mere playthings in the hands of children. He did not think the word "immediate" ought to present any difficulty to the Government. An opportunity would occur when the Chancellor of the Exchequer could deal effectually with this growing evil by the simple expedient of putting a heavy tax on revolvers in the Budget Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, In the opinion of this House, the large number of Accidents caused by the indiscriminate carrying of Pistols and Revolvers calls for immediate legislation."—(The Marquess of Carmarthen.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


The noble Lord who moved this Motion, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, must know that so far as I am concerned they have been preaching to the converted. I have more than once expressed pretty much the same opinion as they have now expressed upon the danger of the indiscriminate carrying of revolvers, and last Session I did what I could to provide legislation to put a stop to the practice. I believe that if the House had not treated the measure which was introduced as a contentious measure we should have already seen its fruits, and that many of the accidents which had recently happened would have been avoided. I do not recede from the position I then took up, and I should only be too glad to see a Bill of the kind passed into law. I do not adopt the view altogether of the hon. Member for Preston that this is a matter which can be efficiently dealt with by taxation. Inquiries which we have made convince us that it would not be sufficient to meet the evil to impose a higher tax. I am satisfied that the lines upon which we proposed to proceed were right—that any person who buys one of these pistols should be compelled to produce a licence; that each pistol should be identified by a particular mark; and that the seller should enter the name and address of the purchaser in a book, just as is now done in the case of the sale of poisons. These are practically the proposals which were in the Bill of last year, and it is not thought that these provisions would hamper or seriously injure the trade. The Motion of the noble Lord asks us to say that this is a matter which calls for immediate legislation. I say frankly that if I saw a possibility of the Bill which I introduced last year being treated as a non-contentious measure I would re-introduce it with pleasure; and if in the course of the Session I receive satisfactory assurances which convince me that it will pass as a non-contentious measure, I will undertake to say that I will re-introduce it. At the same time, I am bound to acknowledge that after the experience of last year, when no less than 37 hon. Gentlemen voted for the adjournment of the Debate, thereby strangling the Bill for the Session, I do not see any prospect that the measure, if re-introduced, would be treated as non-contentious. Therefore, I do not see how I can accede to the Motion of the noble Lord, which declares that this is a matter for immediate legislation. If I were to do so on the part of the Government the Bill would enter into competition with, and even take precedence of, other measures to which Her Majesty's Government are already pledged. While agreeing most heartily with the noble Lord as to the necessity for legislation on the subject, I am afraid that I must ask the House to negative the Motion as introduced.

* MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, it ought to be borne in mind that the claim was put forward that certain Bills should be treated as non-contentious at a time when the House was brought together under exceptional circumstances. What took place was the outcome of an attempt to improve the Rill. Apart from that, he must say that there were many Parliamentary chances arising dining the Session which might be taken advantage of if proper vigilance were exercised in order to pass the Bill. But, meanwhile, he should like to ask the Home Secretary whether it was not possible to do more to meet the necessities of the case by administrative action? When he was in the Department a Circular was sent out to the authorities inviting them to increased vigilance in prosecutions for the carrying of pistols, the idea being to bring home to the public mind the fact that a pistol was a gun under the Gun Licensing Act of 1870. There was no doubt that many people were under the impression that a pistol could be carried without a licence, and that they believed that it was only for the carrying of a gun that a licence was required. He must say that he had found a certain supineness on the part of the Inland Revenue Authorities in prosecuting persons who carried revolvers without a licence. Their object was to get as much as possible for the Revenue, and they did not see any use in attempting to exact a £10 penalty from the class of people whom they wished to stop carrying revolvers. He could not help thinking that something more might be done by closer administrative action. He did not quite see why the Motion of the noble Lord should be negatived, because it was not at all necessary to adhere to the word "immediate"; and he contended also, that even if that word wore adopted, it would not involve the dislocation of the Government programme of legislation. He remembered an occasion when the Conservative Party was in Office, when a Motion was brought forward relating to the use of schools for public meetings. The Motion was not resisted, and it was passed unanimously; and the claim was put forward that the Government ought to postpone all other legislation in order to comply with the terms of that Motion. But that, of course, was an untenable claim, and he was sure that the Home Secretary need not oppose the Motion of his noble Friend upon any such ground. He could promise that the same amount of support would be again received from the Opposition for the Bill. It was his belief that the central principle of the Bill of last year was a most valuable one, and he thought it should be made an offence for a person to carry a revolver in a public place.


said, he desired to cordially acknowledge the support which the Bill of last year had received. He did not agree with the last speaker that there had been supineness on the part of the Inland Revenue Authorities. There were very great difficulties in the way of the Inland Revenue officers, because it was not easy to ascertain who were carrying revolvers, and who were not. Unless in the actual commission of an offence the necessary evidence was not forthcoming. Moreover, they found that it was of no avail to prosecute children for offences against the Inland Revenue. Magistrates would not convict in cases of the kind. Another point in connection with the matter was that there was no power to confiscate the firearms. The Government, however, would do what they could to ascertain the feeling of hon. Members who opposed the Bill last year, and if it appeared that the measure would not be further opposed the Government would re-introduce it.

SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)

said, that with all deference to what had fallen from the First Commissioner of Works he wanted to point out that the real matter of complaint was that the gun licence was not applied to pistols and revolvers. If a man carried a gun without a licence he was prosecuted, but if he carried a pistol without a licence he was not prosecuted at all.


It is a question of evidence.


Evidence in regard to a pistol would be as good as evidence in regard to the carrying of a gun. If a man is proved to be carrying a pistol without a licence he is liable to prosecution, and ought to be prosecuted.


You can see if a man is carrying a gun, but you cannot see if he is carrying a pistol.


But our argument is that there is always evidence of the pistol having been carried in all cases in which an accident happens. Why are not the persons who carry these pistols prosecuted? We believe that it is the slackness of the authorities in prosecuting that is accountable for this condition of things. If the right hon. Gentleman asks what we propose, we say that more stringent steps should be taken by the Executive at once, and that the Public Prosecutor and his officials should be more vigilant in enforcing the law with reference to the carrying of pistols without a licence, especially in the ease of young people. When an accident happens, there is never any doubt as to the actual carrying of the pistol, but the difficulty is that there has been no prosecutor.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 54.—(Division List, No. 8.)

Main Question again proposed.