THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Lambeth, Brixton),
in moving the Second Reading of the Pistols Bill, said the subject of the Bill was one in which he had taken an interest for a long time. He had been exceptionally fortunate in the ballot this year, and so was now able to bring forward this Bill. He knew it was not an heroic piece of Legislation, but it would be of very great benefit to the people of this country. The Bill had not been an easy one to draft. He should have preferred a Bill providing that nobody except a soldier, sailor, or policeman, should have a pistol at all, because they were a source of danger to their possessors; but he had been obliged to fall back on the Bill as amended by the Standing Committee of the Lords last year. He had made one or two alterations in it which he thought were improvements. On the general aspect of the question he should have thought everyone would have been in agreement had not an hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lancashire, who was thoroughly consistent in his opposition to this Bill, given notice to move 1658 its rejection, his objection to it being that it was an interference with the liberties of the subject. He was not himself in favour of legislative interference with the liberties of the subject, or of what was called grandmotherly legislation; but when the injuries inflicted by these pistols were to be counted by hundreds he thought it was time for the Legislature to step in. It was a great and growing evil which was year after year steadily increasing. He had subscribed for many years to a press-cutting agency for cuttings on this subject, and he had ample proof of the enormous number of injuries inflicted. Judges, coroners, and coroners' juries were constantly urging that something should be done in the matter. Mr. Justice Lawrance, on Monday last, at the Manchester Assizes, asked how long the people of this country would permit men like the prisoner—who had murdered a poor woman—to arm themselves with revolvers. At one time the Home Secretary had been strongly of the same opinion, and he hoped he was still of the same opinion. The first alteration he had made in the Bill was to substitute "some consecutive number of a series'' for "a distinctive trade mark," as he thought that this method of marking a pistol would be a further means of identification. An influential deputation from the gun trade had assured him that this could be easily done. Another change was in the direction of making the Bill rather less stringent; he had not made any provision in regard to foreigners, who, when in England, must conform to the regulations of the country. In regard to Englishmen about to emigrate who desired to buy pistols, in the original Bill they had to sign a statement before a Justice of the Peace, but it had been pointed out to him that emigrants might by this regulation be seriously inconvenienced, or that the trade might suffer, and accordingly he had struck out that provision, and the Bill simply required that intending emigrants should sign a declaration themselves stating that they were going abroad for a period of not less than six months. He had raised the fee for the licence to sell pistols to £1, and he thought this provision would be very useful in checking the sale of the cheap so-called "toy" pistols by 1659 which so many of these injuries were inflicted. He hoped the charge of Protection would not be made against this clause of the Bill, because he believed that it was a step taken in the interest of the safety of the public. The greatest change he had made in the Bill was in Clause 9, which provided that—Every person who at the time of the passing of this Act is in possession of a pistol must within one month of the said date obtain from an officer of the Post Office a licence to possess such pistol.For this licence 1s. would be charged. He had drafted this clause because he thought it very necessary to deal with the thousands of pistols already distributed. He thought this licence should be an annual one, but this would be a point for a Committee to decide. He submitted that it was no greater hardship for a man to have to take out a licence for a pistol than for a dog, for armorial bearings, or even for the right to have a crest on the liveries of his servants. Those who represented the Home Office might point out objections to this course; and, if it were necessary to secure the Second Reading of the Bill, he was even ready to forego the clause, but he thought it a very desirable one. He had re-inserted the Search Clause, which had been struck out of the old Bill, but this was, of course, a matter for the Home Office rather than for a private Member to pronounce, upon. The only other alteration was in the definition of a toy pistol, which, according to Clause 13, was—one in which no communication between the nipple and the barrel can be made:and he thought it was by no means an unnecessary alteration. He hoped the House would consent to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *MR. C. H. HOPWOOD (Lancashire, S.E., Middleton) rose to move: "That the Bill be read a second time that day six months." He remarked that he hoped to be able to show that on this, as on previous occasions, the House would be justified in refusing to enter upon objectionable Legislation such as the Bill proposed—Legislation that savoured strongly, too, of a grandmotherly character. The Bill, if passed, would be utterly futile and inoperative. It involved an 1660 entire disregard of public and individual liberty; and, having regard to the manner in which the House had previously received similar proposals, he was surprised that the question should be again brought forward. Seeing also that the predecessors of the present Home Secretary had refused to listen to such proposals, he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have pledged himself to this Bill. Such Legislation as the Bill proposed was not to be tolerated; it descended too low into minutice to be effective; and, as it would be inoperative and disregarded, it would tend to bring the law into contempt. The Bill was introduced, he presumed, to protect the public in two respects—firstly, against young people who possessed, or used pistols—mostly toy pistols; and secondly, against the use of pistols by certain disorderly and violent persons. Against the latter, he presumed, the Bill was mainly directed. The law already was, that every person who had a pistol was, liable to pay a gun licence. The Gun Licence Act declared, however, that everyone possessing a firearm for the defence of his house should be exempt from the licence; but this Bill ignored altogether the question of self-defence, and proposed to place every possible difficulty in the way of a person freely purchasing a pistol under any circumstances. An important ground on which the Bill was based was the number of accidents which had taken place with pistols or firearms, and here he demurred strongly to the exaggerated statements made. Now, in 1893 the Home Office issued a Return giving particulars of cases treated for revolver or pistol wounds in the Metropolitan and provincial hospitals during the years 1890, 1891, and 1892. What were the facts? During those three years the total number of fatal wounds inflicted was 59, and that among a population of nearly 30,000,000! Was that an extravagant number? Did that number justify the extreme nervousness expressed about the free possession of pistols; Well, of those 59 cases 19 were accidental, 35 were suicidal, and only 3 were homicidal—one a year. Was it supposed that the Bill would have any effect in the repression of suicide? The notion was absurd, whilst so many other means of self-destruction were easily accessible, Therefore, on this ground also, there was 1661 no warrant for such pernicious Legislation. The total number of cases not fatal dealt with in the hospitals in the three years was 226—again, not an extraordinary number when compared with the number of the population. Then as to coroners' inquests in cases relating to the use of the revolver; Of those there were altogether 536 in three years, 49 of which were accidental, 443 suicidal, 32 homicidal, and 12 not known. Again he would put it to the House whether those figures justified such a stringent Bill? He maintained that they did not. The number of persons sentenced to death in the three years for murder committed by means of revolvers was 3 in 1890, 4 in 1891, and 3 in 1892. Another Return relating to outrages committed in England and Wales by burglars carrying firearms had been issued. The Return covered the five years ending December 1892. It showed that during that time no policeman had been "shotdead," the words of the Return, that 3 had been wounded, that 18 had escaped arrest by use of firearms, and that the total number of burglars on whom firearms were found on arrest was 31. To say that because there were some persons who would make a violent use of pistols, therefore the right of purchase or possession by every Englishman should be taken away, was monstrous. The facts he had quoted were before the public two years ago, when similar proposals were brought forward and withdrawn from the House; and why, in face of them, the question should be again introduced, and this Bill receive the support of the Home Secretary he could not imagine. There was always some one in the House who thought that an Act of Parliament would stop anything; but the argument he wished to present was, that Acts of Parliament should be limited to such matters as could really be governed by Acts of Parliament, and that their force should not be lessened by application to matters which they could not possibly effect, and in regard to which no sufficient case had been made out. There were men in this law-loving country who attached an almost sacred effect to an Act of Parliament. Directly something was denounced, an Act of Parliament was suggested to deal with it. The noble Lord said that coroners 1662 juries and some of the Judges had expressed themselves in favour of the Bill. He claimed to see as much as any Judge of the evils with which it was supposed to deal; and he had not had one single case of pistol-wounding for the last 10 years. Truly, fatal cases would not come before him, but wounding cases would; and he, moreover, saw the Assizes. If individual experience were to be quoted, then he threw his against the Bill. Within the last six months there had been two gun accidents by the instrumentality of children; and these accidents were, as often as not, carried to the credit of revolvers. But no attempt was made to restrict the sale of guns, in order to diminish gun accidents; and why? Because the class who used guns would not stand it; the sacred claims of sport would be interfered with. But if Legislation was good in regard to pistols and pistol ammunition, why was it not good in regard to guns and gun ammunition? Was the House going to vote on this Bill with the blind hope of being able to do what the Bill purported to do? Such Legislation was descending to deal with what was not a crime, and to prohibit what might be perfectly lawful, genuine, and rational, because violence, accidental or otherwise, might result. If the use of dangerous weapons were to be prohibited, why not have an investigation in regard to knives? Why should a man be allowed to carry a dagger or stiletto, and not a revolver? The number of murders, suicides, and woundings, committed by means of knives was infinitely greater than the number committed by pistols. One might carry life-preservers and all sorts of offensive weapons, but this special prohibition was made with respect to the revolver, and was mainly directed against the toy pistol. Was this the time to pass a Bill which must have an effect on trade if it were to fulfil its purpose? No doubt, there were gunmakers who would be subservient to the Government's wishes; and no doubt the noble Lord was a good customer. He did not wish to say anything personal, but there was a tendency in human nature to be kind to those who were kind.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMAR-THEN
I may tell the hon. Member, for his satisfaction, that I have never 1663 bought a pistol in my life, and I hope I never shall.
§ *MR. HOPWOOD
said, that the noble Lord had bought guns. The Bill would restrict trade in favour of the foreigner who might import wholesale; and when so many workmen found difficulty in obtaining employment it was not the time to impose vexatious restrictions on trade, which it was not certain would effect their object. By the Bill, young people under 18 were not to be trusted with pistols. Probably, hon. Members who approved of that had forgotten their own young days. The thing was childish. If it were wrong for young people to have pistols, the matter was one for the cognisance of parental authority. Would a fine of 10s. quicken parental control? And, if a boy possessed a pistol in spite of parental prohibition, it was rather hard to fine the parent, for, of course, it was he who paid the fine. To send the boy to prison might be efficacious, but he should not counsel any such course as that. The gunmaker was prohibited expressly from selling a pistol, or ammunition for a pistol, to a person under 18 years of age. Was the effect of that enactment seen? It was practically a declaration that the gunmaker might sell as much ammunition for a gun or a cannon as a young person wished to buy. A boy might blow his head off with gunpowder for all the Bill might do; and the accidents from gunpowder had been far more severe and numerous than those from pistols. The Bill made our Legislation ridiculous. It was as much as possible a piece of class Legislation, for those who had wealth would find a way of getting round the provisions of the the Bill; and they would only touch those who were low enough in the social scale to come within the cognisance of the police. The noble Lord had flung certain parts of his measure overboard. But why had he put them in? What had happened since the Bill was brought into the House two years ago. It was impossible to make the proposal in the Bill effective in a manner that the temper of the people would stand. The Bill proposed to give any officer of police power to search any person whom he suspected of carrying a pistol, and a nice state of things such a clause would be likely to produce. The noble Lord had 1664 said he was going to throw that over, but such a course would, after all, hardly be a logical one. Unless there were some means of knowing who carried a revolver, how could such an Act be carried out? The draftsman of the Bill was acting logically in putting that provision into it, as without it the greater part of the provisions of the Bill would fall to the ground, excepting such irritating provision as making a man enter into the barest of declarations on entering a gunsmith's shop. There were men who had to walk home in lonely and disturbed districts, and there was really nothing in their wishing to carry a revolver for protection. But before such a man could do so, he was bound to go to the head policeman of the district and get his permission to carry the weapon. Such a proposal was perfectly absurd. Imagine anyone low down in the social scale wishing and asking for such permission. A man might have some strong difference with his mates, or know of a ruffian who was likely to beat him; but, before he could carry the arm, he had to go to the head constable, and then, if he got the permission, he could go about with practically six men's lives in his keeping. It interested him to know whether the Government intended supporting that clause, which practically made those persons who ought to be our servants our masters. These constables should have every consideration that the law demanded of us, and should receive every respect and attention which could be given them, but they should not receive special powers under an Act of Parliament which would set them up as dictators. The noble Lord was under the impression that vast numbers of revolvers were in existence, and that their existence, must be ascertained, but one could not comprehend how that information could be obtained except by having a domiciliary search. Perhaps that was the intention, and then the police could see who possessed these things. But if such a search were made he had no doubt that there would be a little pressure upon one class, and a little relaxation in favour of another class, because, as he had said, this was class Legislation. The noble Lord further proposed that persons who possessed pistols should be registered, so that every man 1665 who had an antiquated pistol in his possession—it might be for decorative purposes only—would have to walk away to the post office and get it registered. Every Member of that House who had an old and useless weapon, long since forgotten, and lying by in some out-of-the-way drawer, would have to get leave to retain it. Of course, it might be said that that would not be much for them to do, but it was a degradation to have to do such a tiling, and he felt bound to protest against the proposal being passed into law. The Bill would impose a most inconvenient disability upon a traveller returning from abroad, and who happened to have got a pistol for his protection. On landing he would have to sign a declaration as to its possession before being able to proceed to his destination. And not only would an additional duty be thus imposed upon the Customs officers, but strict searching of baggage would be revived. A large number of exceptions, however, were made, applying to men in the Navy, Army, Volunteers, Yeomany, Police, and the Postal Service, so that there would be a large number of pistols about, with nothing in the Bill to prohibit their being lent to boys. He had endeavoured to put forward some of the salient points which could be urged against the Bill, but had further objections to make to the clauses if the Bill reached the Committee stage, and he promised that those objections should be fully heard. No case, he maintained, had been made out for this extraordinary alteration of the law, and as it would interfere with personal liberty, he thought that many hon. Members would agree that the importance of the subject warranted his moving the rejection the Bill.
§ *SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
in seconding the Amendment said, that although he objected to the principles of the Bill, the noble Lord (Carmarthen) had ably put before the House considerations of some force in its favour. But while it might be conceded that, there was a mischief to be aimed at by the Bill, he submitted that it proposed unnecessary restrictions, and went beyond what was necessary to achieve the purpose in view. For some of the provisions of the Bill there was a good deal to be said. The danger of the carriers of pistols to other people might be considered, and for the 1666 clauses which sought to prohibit young persons from obtaining pistols there were precedents in legislation. But, it had been said that toy pistols were the most dangerous of all, yet they were expressly excepted from the provisions of the Bill, and the definition of a toy pistol in the Bill was an absolutely impracticable one—namely, one in which no communication between the trigger or cartridge and ball can be made. The definition defied both physics and mechanics. Therefore, not only was the Bill objectionable because it excepted toy pistols, but the very definition of them was manifestly impossible. His chief objection to the Bill was that it conflicted with the principles of legislation. Law was an evil, but often a necessary evil, and they should not legislate except in cases in which it was absolutely and conclusively proved to be necessary. Restraint of trade was manifest in the Bill and emphasised in it, because it was only to apply to purchases "in the course of trade and business." Therefore, he supposed the prohibitions of the Bill would not apply to dealings between two individuals not engaged in a particular business. It restrained business by applying to all transactions in retail buying and selling, and would make such dealings almost impossible for the time of purchase, and the cost, &c., of a weapon which might be used for a harmless and useful purpose, were to be entered in a book, all of which trouble meant, in trade, money and additional cost, for a clerk might have to be kept to make the necessary entries. Pistols were to bear the mark of the maker or vendor. Merchandise marks had been useful, but they were in danger of carrying to excess a system which was already interfering with over-sea traffic, especially in cases of transhipment and direct shipments from the Continent, instead of through England. The present owners of pistols were to present themselves at the Post Office and effect the registration of the weapons—which would lead to time and cost—and in addition a licence of £1 was to be paid, which exceed by half the present cost of a gun licence. There was a great disparity between the tax of 1s. proposed in former Bills and the, £1 now proposed. Even more objectionable than the restraint on trade was the restraint on 1667 personal liberty involved in the Bill. Any policeman who suspected anyone of carrying a pistol, was to be at liberty to search him and seize the pistol if found. He protested against anything in the nature of class distinctions, and if that provision of the Bill took effect it would not do so with regard to a certain class, but might be applied to others in a humbler social position. The exemption as to soldiers and volunteers only applied to those who were in the performance of their duties or engaged in target practice. So that a volunteer who, for convenience, took his firearm to his office or place of business before going to drill, as volunteers often did, would be rendered liable to a penalty of £10. He remembered Sir Redvers Buller, saying, during the Featherstone Riots Inquiry, in answer to a question, that a man carrying a pistol was a far greater danger to himself than to others. If the dangers to others was thus minimised, the danger to the man himself was one against which he should be taught to protect himself. When he was in the United States he remarked upon the absence of precaution with regard to the railways down the main streets, for the safety of life, and the reply was: "We, in our country teach people to take care of themselves and to learn that legislation can't do it." The restrictions on personal liberty proposed in the Bill passed the bound, which should be observed in legislation of this kind. This Bill was a sample not only of what was called grandmotherly but great-grandmotherly legislation, and he was surprised that an advanced Government like that in power should think it necessary to help people to take care of themselves instead of teaching them to do effectively what was their duty to themselves.
*THE UNDER SECRETARY FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (MR. G. RUSSELL,) North Beds
said, the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Herbert Gladstone), who was more connected with the early stages of the Bill than himself, would deal with its details. He, himself, rose mainly for the purpose of assuring the noble Marquess opposite that the Government were exceedingly well disposed to the experiment he was undertaking. [Ministerial-cries of 1668 "Oh," and cheers.] Yes, but he did not wish to make his statement stronger than was absolutely necessary. He did not, of course, intend to convey that every provision of the Bill would meet with the approbation of the Government. Two clauses in particular—the Search Clause and the Registration Clause—he understood the noble Marquess had abandoned. He would have consulted the interests of the Bill in not inviting hostility by allowing those clauses to appear. He cordially recognised, and he thought the House would do so, the moderate, candid and reasonable tone in which the noble Marquess approached the consideration of the question. The time-honoured phrase "grandmotherly legislation" had been used. There was a time when it conveyed a distinct reproach. In the days of a restricted suffrage, grandmotherly legislation was passed by a privileged and represented class at the expense of the unrepresented class. But now every man was his own grandmother; at any rate every man had a share in shaping the counsels of what, might be called his grandmother the State, and therefore the sting of the reproach had been removed. The evil with which the Bill sought to deal was not of such magnitude as to justify legislation by the Government. It was very properly the subject of legislation by unofficial Members on the general lines of this Bill to which the Government would give their sanction and support. With regard to the use of firearms by burglars, it appeared from the interesting collection of burglars' weapons at Scotland Yard that the use of pistols by that class of criminals was largely on the increase. He set higher store than some hon. Members seemed to do upon life and eyesight, and if they could demonstrate that the present state of the law placed life and eyesight in unnecessary peril from firearms, a prima facie case would be made out for legislation. If they could save one life or one human beings eyesight, then trouble would not be thrown away. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middleton had said that the natural tendency of human nature was to be kind to those who were, kind to us. He sincerely hoped that his hon. Friend would find that that maxim held good in his own case, and that 1669 pistol buyers arid pistol users would be kind to one who, in Parliament and out of it, had been so kind to them. His hon. Friend also said that those who were responsible for the clause dealing with the young person must have forgotten the days of their youth. The whole discussion had brought hack vividly to his mind an occurrence during his school days at Harrow, when a con-temporary of his shot himself dead accidentally with a pistol which he had brought from home. It was on account of such sad recollections of the carelessness of young persons with firearms that the Bill would find favour in the eyes of most people. His hon. Friend spoke about the impossibility of carrying out the, law. Certainly, it would not be easy; but that was an objection that could be advanced against all legislation. All legislation was more or less liable to be defeated by the perverseness of those it was intended to control; but if a law of this kind were passed there would be a discouragement by society of the free use of those deadly weapons which would be a substantial benefit to the community. His hon. Friend contended that the possession of pistols was a primary necessity of human nature, and that it was cruel to interfere with it. His hon. Friend drew a graphic picture of a gentleman with self-preserving instincts who after dinner—his hon. Friend laid emphasis on the "after-dinner"—walked in the dark across the fields armed with a pistol. He held that a self-preserving gentleman after dinner in the dark armed with a pistol was a serious danger to the community. His hon. Friend used one significant phrase. He protested against the degradation to which a free citizen was exposed by being called upon to give an account of his movements to the police authorities. It seemed to him that there was a fundamental error undelying his hon. Friends view as to what was degradation. Compliance with the law was not necessarily degradation, and the preservation of 1670 life and limb and eyesight was no invasion of the principles of personal freedom. These were the grounds on which the Government sympathised with the objects of the Bill, but they reserved to themselves the right to deal with the details of the Bill in Committee.
§ MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)
agreed that the object of the promoters of the Bill was excellent. It was to prevent that unrestricted use of pistols by small boys which was the cause of so many accidents. But he was disposed to think that many of the clauses went beyond what was necessary for the simple purpose of the Bill itself. The principal clause of the Bill, in his opinion, was Clause 3, which said that a person under the age of 18 should not possess or carry a pistol. The age ought to be lowered in Committee. A small boy of 15 was better without a pistol, but when they came to be 18 he doubted whether they would put up with being denied pistols, and if they did not put up with it, with being liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month. He thought the clause would be a valuable one if limited to the lower age of 15, and if the punishment were dropped altogether. Indeed, taking the Bill as a whole, the House would find that about half the clauses should be struck out; but if what remained were valuable, as he believed it was, it would be a pity that it should be lost because the Bill was overloaded with bad clauses. Clause 1 provided that certain persons were to be allowed to buy pistols, such as officers of the navy, military, volunteer and yeomanry services. The simple plan would be to allow everyone to buy pistols except lads of 15 years. Then there was a clause declaring that no person should carry a loaded pistol on a highway or public place without the permission of the Chief of Police. That clause would be unnecessary if the application of the Bill were limited to boys of 14 years. But the people did not desire to put themselves in the hands 1671 of the Chief of Police. In this country the police were the servants, the excellent servants of the people; and the people had no intention of making them their masters. Again, he did not think the people would tolerate a punishment of a month's imprisonment, whether they were under 18 or over 18, because they happened to carry a loaded pistol in a public place. He also confessed that he had sympathy with the attack made on the Bill on the ground that it savoured of class legislation. It was like the betting laws. A poor man with a pistol would be hauled up by the police, and the man with a good coat would not. The substance of his observations was that there was in the Bill a useful principle to which they might all assent; but when it got into Committee it would be their duty to cut out nearly half of the clauses, and what would be left would be of solid and real value.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, that a sad accident which occurred in his constituency last year was an illustration of the kind of accident the promoters of the Bill desired to prevent in the future. At a school treat, a boy pulled the trigger of a pistol, one chamber of which was loaded; and a lady, the daughter of the Vicar of the parish, was shot dead. The pistol had been bought in Newcastle, that afternoon, by a schoolfellow or boy, for the sum of 4s. At that time a great number of pistols was being sent over from Belgium, and they were being largely bought by schoolboys, who, when riding in railway trains, made a practice of firing out of windows. It was astonishing to him that more accidents did not occur, seeing that pistols could be bought so easily. The licence duty of 10s. for the carrying of arms was inoperative. Many people kept dogs without paying duty, and it was much easier to carry a pistol than to keep a dog. He did not commit himself to all the details of the Bill, but he hoped the Second Reading would be carried.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, they might agree that it was desirable to keep pistols out of the hands of objectionable persons and out of those of young people, and yet they might find it difficult to give effect to those principles without vesting the police with overwhelming powers. If the age of prohibition could be cut down to 13 or 14, then it would seem that the desired object might be attained by the exercise of parental authority. As regarded an objectionable person, it was obvious that the difficulty to be placed in his way was that of obtaining a licence, in the same way that it was attempted by law to diminish the facility of obtaining poisons. The question was who was to grant licences to curry pistols. It was said it was to be the justices; but that would hardly meet the case, because objectionable persons would be able to get licences from them. It would seem to be impossible to maintain the clause giving power of search, and he did not expect that even that would be effective for the purpose of keeping pistols out of the hands of objectionable persons. Still, it was possible that the House might be able to turn the Bill into a useful measure, and therefore he would support the Second Reading.
§ MR. A. CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
doubted whether it was wise to proceed with the Second Reading of a Bill the friends of which began by admitting that something like one-half of the clauses would have to be eliminated. The proposals of the Bill had led him to ask himself whether he was living under a Home Rule Parliament in Glasgow or in Ireland, particularly the provision that a man was not to have a gun or a dangerous weapon without being liable to account for the possession of it to the police. On broad grounds he protested against the Bill, first because it was admitted to be imperfect to the extent of one-half of it; secondly, because its provisions as to the searching of individuals was monstrous, and ought not to be 1673 embodied in a Bill applying generally to the whole country; and, thirdly, because it would be waste-paper if it was passed. He could understand it if it was proposed to destroy all pistols that were already in private possession. The use of these could not be prevented except by the exercise of police powers, which would not be tolerated. The Bill would be ineffectual because it excepted wholesale transactions, and therefore would not prevent distribution by wholesale buyers. There was not a clause through which a coach and four could not be driven, even by a Scotsman. The only part worth retaining was that which was to be deliberately abandoned. If accidents were to be prevented, search must be insisted upon, and the Bill must apply to pistols already in private possession. He regretted that the House was devoting its time and energy to this Bill.
*MR. LLOYD MORGA N (Carmarthen, W.)
entirely agreed with the remarks of the last speaker. The discussion of the Bill seemed to him to be a positive waste of the time of the House of Commons. The Bill was silly, childish and babyish, and, if he had known it was coming on he would have supported a motion against the House meeting at all on Ash Wednesday. No case whatever had been made out for the Bill. A very strong case ought to be made out for any Bill which interfered with personal liberty which created a new offence, and which would be a penal Statute if it was passed. No doubt accidents occurred with pistols, as with guns, and in other ways; but the House would not be justified in passing such a Bill because a few accidents happened through carelessness or negligence. Recently there had been a case in Kent, where a farm labourer went out of his mind, took a gun from his master's house, and shot two ladies. That was very distressing; but no one proposed exceptional Legislation in consequence, and the present Bill would not touch such 1674 cases. If there were to be Legislation in regard to fire-arms, let it cover the whole ground. As to the Returns which had been brought forward, and on which alone any case for the Bill could be made out, the vast majority of the fatal cases were suicides, and cases of suicide and murder could be set aside in considering the purposes of the Bill, for it would obviously do nothing to prevent them. Then it came to this—that, because of a few hundred accidents which had occurred among a population of 30,000,000 in three years, this Bill was to be accepted. If the measure were passed, next Session some one would move for Returns of the number of violent crimes committed with knives, and then it would be made a penal offence to carry a penknife. The Bill ought to be laughed out of the House of Commons and treated with the contempt it deserved.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. HERBERT J. GLADSTONE,) Leeds, W.
thought that the hon. Member had overstated his case. He did not attempt to attach more importance to the measure than it deserved; but it was one which ought to receive the attention and consideration of the House. Several hon. Members asked why the Government had expressed sympathy with the measure. As a matter of fact, successive Home Secretaries for the last 20 years had pledged themselves to deal with this question if possible, having before them the official information supplied by various authorities throughout the country. There were piles and piles of papers at the Home Office, including letters from the Judges and coroners; urging that some restrictive Legislation should be passed in respect of pistols and toy pistols. The police, were of opinion that, a measure of this kind was very much needed, and there was nobody in the country in a better position than the police to know the circumstances under which each of the accidents arising from pistols took place. They investigated each case as it came before them, and 1675 when the Bill, which the Government brought in two years ago, was sent down for the opinion of the experienced chiefs of police, it received their hearty approval. If all these officials were in favour of the measure, and if successive Secretaries of State on consideration of the question had all come to the conclusion that something ought to be done, it was a question which, at any rate, deserved serious attention. The figures from the returns had been quoted, and no doubt the totals were not very remarkable. But in three years there were in the coroners' returns 49 fatal cases from accident with revolvers and 443 cases of suicide, while the hospital returns showed 26 cases of injury from pistol wounds. But while the complete list of fatal accidents was available it was impossible to get anything like a complete list of injuries. There were only the hospital returns to go upon, and there were many cases which were treated at home. But if it were possible to say that a certain percentage of life would be saved by the Bill the Bill ought to be passed. He did not think that it could reach the majority of the cases, but it might reach a considerable proportion of them; and if it saved the lives of eight or ten unhappy lads in the course of a year, and prevented many more cases of serious injury, it would be doing a good work. The question was—would the Bill be likely to do any harm? He could not see what harm it would do by any possibility. The hon. Member for the Camlachie Division said that he might purchase 100 pistols and give one to every member of his family. That would be a family on rather a large scale, and it would not be the action of any reasonable man. Of course, unreasonable people could defeat the object of the Bill. It was said that the Bill represented class Legislation. It was nothing of the kind. The majority of the accidents which happened were among poor people, who could not afford to buy 1676 good pistols and who bought the cheap and dangerous weapons. The Bill was primarily designed to protect them from accident. There was no sign of class Legislation in the Bill. Hon. Members urged that the measure was an arbitrary interference with the right to carry pistols. People generally had the right to look after their own life and limb, and if Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Middleton (Mr. Hopwood) were going to walk about after dinner armed with revolvers other people had the right to take reasonable precautions against being accidentally shot. There were certain Clauses in the Bill which were highly unsatisfactory, but those could be considered in Committee. As to the objection that the provisions could not be carried out, it was to be observed that under the Bill the police would have power to act on their own information, a power which they did not possess under the Gun Act. He did not attach too much importance to the Bill, but it justified the Government in extending sympathy towards it, and he hoped that the House would read it a second time.
§ Mr. C. DIAMOND (Monaghan. N.)
said, that he was almost inclined to support the measure, in order that people in England might realise what treatment was meted out to the Irish people. He had formed the opinion, after hearing what had been said, that this Bill ought to be considered reasonably and calmly. He should, therefore, support the Second Reading. If it should be thought that more evidence ought to be obtained on the points with which it dealt, let the Bill be referred to a Committee.
§ MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holm firth)
thought the Bill was ridiculous. Sub-section 2 of Clause 9 provided that a copy of the measure should be exhibited in every post office in the kingdom. For a proposal of that kind there was no precedent, and assent ought not to be given to it. 1677 Reference had been made by the Representative of the Government to the statements of the police, but those statements had not been submitted to the House in the usual way. There were police and police in this country: and, while the conduct of some of the members of the force was admirable, the conduct of others was arbitrary and harsh, and to these he should be very sorry to intrust the power which the Bill would confer upon them. He hoped the measure would be laughed out of the House.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
observed that a large majority of the seamen in our ports carried revolvers, although there was no necessity in this country to be armed with such a weapon. In trade disputes he had sometimes found himself in the position of having to disarm some of the men on his own side. In one case he collected between 10 and 15 revolvers. He was of opinion that some restriction ought to be put upon the large sale of revolvers that took place in some of our towns. In industrial disputes they found that employers were arming the men. If precautions were not taken hon. Members who laughed at this Bill would perhaps hear some day of a civil war on a small scale in this country. A Clause in the Bill proposed to give the right to officers on board ship to carry revolvers. To that proposal he could not assent. At the present time a large portion of the crew on many vessels were armed with revolvers, and the practice ought to be put an end to. If a seaman wanted to purchase a revolver he would not take the trouble to apply to a magistrate for a licence. In many seaport towns, such as Cardiff, it was a common thing to see piles of revolvers exhibited in the shop windows. He was in favour of the principle of the Bill, but there were Clauses in it which needed amendment.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, that it, was necessary that officers 1678 on board ship should have weapons in order to control the men in cases of emergency. The First Commissioner of Works had quoted from papers which had not been laid upon the Table of the House. That was contrary to the ordinary practice and was unfair.
§ MR. HERBERT J. GLADSTONE
explained that the only papers to which he had referred were papers containing statements which had appeared in the Press. They were the public recommendations of juries, coroners, and others in favour of the change advocated by the promoters of this Bill.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
pointed out that reference had also been made to reports of police superintendence which had not appeared in the newspapers. If all documents of this kind bearing on the question had been laid on the Table of the House, it might have been found that some of them recorded opinions against the Bill. The retention of these documents constituted good ground for a postponement of the measure. The real promoters of this Bill were the game preservers, the gentlemen who supported the iniquitous Game Laws. They hoped by this means to put a stop to poaching. Even if the Bill were passed it could not prevent the occurrence of such accidents as had been mentioned. They ought to have more evidence before them as to the dangers caused by bad or inferior pistols before being asked to pass such grandmotherly Legislation. It had been said that the Bill could do no harm; but were they to agree to all Bills recommended on such negative ground? If so, there would be indefinite additions to the Statute Book. This measure; would be quite powerless to prevent murders or suicides. If once they embarked in Legislation of this kind, where would they stop? Why should they not be asked to pass a measure to prevent people from walking in the streets of the city where there was, he believed, one serious accident a day on the average? Why did not the noble 1679 Marquess turn his attentien to a "pocket pistol" of another kind? The consumption of alcoholic drink caused many thousand deaths every year. The noble Marquess did not propose to legislate on that subject because it concerned the pockets of his friends the brewers. Let the noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite use their influence, if they were afraid to do it openly, at least assist the Radical Party to put down the great evils to which he referred. He should be sorry to take up time in going over this Bill clause by clause, because it was a most wicked Bill. Members of the gun trade had come to him and urged that the Bill would be an interference with trade, and would not prevent people having pistols. He should like to know that the gun licence, for example, had prevented accidents from guns, because he had never heard that that was the case. If anything of the kind could be shown, the Bill would be worth having. He strongly objected to a Radical Government, which owed its existence to the Radical Party, who were so anxious to get rid of the iniquities of the Game Laws altogether, supporting a Bill which was of no use whatever except to the game preserving interest. He trusted the House would have the good sense to throw the Bill out on Second Reading and not be bothered with it any more. There was quite enough interference with the liberty of the subject already. In the interests of public health some interference was necessary, but it was not necessary to have this grandmotherly legislation, because if they carried out the principle to its logical conclusion, next year the House would be asked to assent to a Bill to prevent the use of pocket-knives; and even the use of forks would be denied them. He hoped, bearing in mind where this Bill came from that the House would send it where it ought to go.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, he had had considerable doubt whether he ought to support 1680 this Bill but the doubt had been removed by the speeches of those who had opposed it. The Bill, he assured the hon. Member, had nothing on earth to do with the Game Laws. No man ever went shooting pheasants with a revolver: no, nor even snipe. The hon. Member for Islington warned the House that all Legislation was an evil when it could be avoided. He rejoiced to hear that, because of all the patentees of new and original Legislation, promoted in this House after hours, the hon. Member for Islington was the greatest offender. He trusted the hon. Member would lay to heart his own homily. The hon. Member opposite drew a fearful picture of respectable gentlemen going home after dinner without a revolver. What respectable middle-aged gentlemen wanted to carry about a revolver for he did not know. He asked whether the hon. Gentleman had got one in his hip pocket now? He ought to be searched for arms when he left the House. It was proved by statistics at the Home Office, and demands made upon that Office, that this was a good Bill—in intention. The only fault imputed to the Bill was, that all its clauses were bad. That, however, could be said of every Bill ever introduced by the Front Bench opposite, and he would suggest to his noble Friend to refer it to the Standing Committee on Law, which would be competent to remove any defects, small or large, that might lurk in any of its clauses.
§ MR. W. P. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)
desired to draw attention to the position this question had now attained in the House of Commons. The Bill, or a similar Bill, had been before the House in previous sessions, but had never got through this House. On this occasion the noble Lord had dropped clause after clause of the Bill until there was almost nothing left of it but its Preamble, and he hoped in that way to scrape it through the House. The Bill was almost entirely unsupported by 1681 argument, and, on the other hand, it had been covered by ridicule.
§ *MR. J. FLETCHER MOULTON (Hackney, S.)
said, the Bill left untouched almost every one of the evils to which its supporters had referred. What was the meaning of the statement of the First Commissioner of Works? It must mean either that Secretaries of State for 20 years had considered the material in their hands, and had given up the subject as too difficult to legislate upon, or that they had abandoned the hope of doing it themselves in the hope that some measure brought in by mixed interests might get through Second Reading without their responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman said it was the intention of the Government to support any attempt to reduce the number of accidents arising from the sale and use of bad pistols; but there was not a word in the Bill which prevented bad pistols being sold. There were two distinct classes of evils arising from the use of pistols, namely, those which resulted from accident, and those which were the result of design. Under the first head there was the use of pistols by incompetent persons, and the use of bad pistols; and under the second head there was the use of pistols by persons who ought not to have pistols at all. But this Bill touched neither class of cases in any effective way. It did not touch the question of the ownership of the pistols, but only the question of their purchase. If a man wanted to buy a pistol, he had only to take out a game licence, and once a pistol was possessed by him it could go from hand to hand without the slightest restriction. The first effect of the Bill would be to enormously increase the number of pistols thus passing from hand to hand, instead of being sold in the regular course of trade, or which were surreptitiously sold, and there would thus be a large quantity of pistols available at very cheap prices for that class of characters who made no special point of obeying the law, and from whom it was desired to keep pistols. There was a prohibition as to the sale of pistols, but the Bill did not in the least prevent the gift of pistols. It did not prevent the use of pistols by persons who borrowed them. The only persons it did deal with were those under 18 years of age, who, it said, 1682 ought not, to be allowed to sell or to use pistols. That was the only clause which had been, supported by the opinion of the House. Let him show how utterly the Bill failed to face the matter. One of the speakers had referred to seamen as being a class who ought not to have pistols. But there was a special exemption of seamen who were about to leave the country within 14 days. They were allowed to purchase pistols; therefore, the persons who wanted pistols on board ship were specially exempted from this Bill, which that hon. Member was about to support because he considered it would keep seamen from having pistols. Again, the Bill did not apply to the sale of pistols except by persons in the ordinary way of business. In other words, they could be sold from hand to hand, without the faintest interference being offered by this Bill. He might describe this Bill as a Bill for the purpose of hampering people from getting pistols who would probably make good use of them, whilst there was no obstacle whatever placed in the way of those who were willing to get them by surreptitious means. One clause related to pistols which were already in the possession of persons, and it provided that every person who possessed a pistol must obtain from the post office a licence to possess such pistol, for which a fee was to be charged; but such licence was not to be granted to any person who did not comply with certain provisions set forth under three heads in the first sub-section. In other words, there was an absolute confiscation of all pistols possessed by such persons who were not qualified now to purchase them; and any person having a pistol at the present moment, however fit and competent he might be to manage that pistol, would have it confiscated because he could get no licence to possess it. If it was said that it was not intended that in such cases they should be confiscated, people would continue to possess them without licences at all. The only real evil touched by the Bill was the, question of pistols being used by persons under 18 years of age; and that the House should be asked, or that the authority of the Government should be used, to persuade them to support a Bill in which one short clause of about six lines, out of four or five pages, alone was defensible, appeared to 1683 him tit be an invitation to engage in a kind of Legislation they ought never to be asked to pass. Surely, if the Secretary of State thought so seriously on this question, they were entitled to ask that the matter should be brought forward by somebody with a sense of the responsibility of Legislation, and they should not be invited to pass Bills like this interfering with such a large number of people in the hope that they might reduce an accident list which amounted to something like eight or nine cases a year. Was that Legislation they ought to be asked to pass with the sanction of one of the great Departments of the Government? He submitted to the House that they ought to wait till somebody was prepared with the full responsibility of Office to draw up a Bill, the clauses of which he could defend, before they were asked to support any Legislation of this kind.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 204; Noes, 85.—(Division List, No. 15.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN moved that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.
§ *MR. HOPWOOD
complained that the Government Whips had put pressure upon hon. Members to support the Bill. Had the measure been left to the unbiassed judgment of the House, the result would have been different. He was, therefore, disposed to say that his opposition to the Bill would be continued until the Bill assumed a shape that would do credit to the House, and to those who brought it forward, What was the proposal now made? Was it to evade the light of day? Was it to prevent the House, which had already been operated upon, having the provisions of the Bill laid fully before the public? He did not see why the House should part with its jurisdiction in this respect. The Bill was not such a one as should be sent to the Standing Committee on Law. That Committee was intended to consider Bills on the principle of which they were all agreed; it was intended as a tribunal where, without passion or political bias, the different clauses of measures should be threshed out. Such measures as the 1684 Bankruptcy Bill, and as the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill, seemed to him eminently measures which should occupy the time of the Standing Committee on Law. This measure, however, appealed to the Members in their public capacity. He desired to keep the Bill here, and he hoped the House would also hold that view. The consideration of a measure which affected the ancient principles of the liberty of the subject should take place where the individual vote and action of each Member could be observed by the public. He regretted the adhesion of the Government to the Bill: it was an adhesion which made some of their supporters less and less inclined to stick to them.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. H. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
said the question was one entirely for the decision of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had suggested that the Government Whips had put some pressure on hon. Members on their side of the House. That was incorrect. The Government Whips were entitled to vote like any other Members, but so far as the Government were concerned, no pressure of any sort or kind had been placed or would be placed on any hon. Member in regard to the Bill. The Government had no responsibility for the Bill. Many of its provisions they strongly objected to, but they were not out of sympathy with its object, and if the measure could be made workable and presentable, they would not be sorry, but indeed glad. The Motion made by the noble Lord was entirely for the decision of the House. He confessed that, personally, he was in favour of referring all Bills of this sort to a Standing Committee, for in that way they saved the time of the House, which might be more usefully employed than in working out the details of what after all was only a secondary measure. He did not know whether the Standing Committee on Law was the best Committee to refer this Bill to. He was rather disposed to think the Standing Committee on Trade was a better tribunal to deal with the Bill; but, whatever the decision of the House was, the Government would acquiesce in it.
§ COLONEL J. P. NOLAN (Galway, N.)
asked why lawyers were supposed to know all about this Bill? He had read that in old days the lawyers in the Four Courts in Dublin were very handy with their pistols, and in those days there might have been some sense in referring a Bill like tins to a committee of lawyers; but the position was different now. He agreed with the Home Secretary that, if the Bill was to be sent to a Committee, it should be referred to the Standing Committee on Trade, because traders were more interested in the Bill than lawyers. But he would much prefer to see the details of the measure discussed in the House itself.
§ *MR. J. LLOYD MORGAN
also opposed the Motion to refer this Bill to a Standing Committee. Though its details were fitted [...] an investigation by the Standing Committee on Trade, he preferred to keep the Bill in the House.
§ Question—"That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 189; Noes75.—(Division List, No. 16.)
§ Ordered—That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committtee on Law, &c.