HC Deb 14 February 1946 vol 419 cc538-40

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

98. * Mr. Austin.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider an appeal to the public for the surrender of all unlicensed firearms, such surrender to be made on a basis of no penalty for improper possession.

At the end of Questions—

Mr. Ede

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer Question No. 98.

I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about the serious risks to the public arising from the existence of large numbers of firearms and quantities of ammunition which there is reason to believe are being held without firearm certificates issued by the police. It is an offence punishable by heavy penalties to hold a firearm or ammunition without a firearm certificate.

With a view to reducing this risk and providing an opportunity for the surrender of firearms or ammunition which are unlawfully held, I have asked chief officers of police in England and Wales, with whom the enforcement of the Firearms Act, 1937, rests, to arrange that proceedings are not taken against anyone who surrenders firearms or ammunition so held by 31st March. My right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate has agreed that proceedings will not be taken in Scotland against anyone who surrenders by that date firearms or ammunition unlawfully held.

The Government appeal to all concerned to take advantage of this arrangement and so help to put an end to a situation which has already resulted in a number of tragic accidents. Firearms and ammunition may be handed in at any police station.

Mr. Austin

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his long answer, may I ask whether he will give the greatest possible publicity to this statement in the Press, through the cinema and over the radio?

Mr. Ede

I have already had a Press conference on this matter with, I think, quite satisfactory results, judging by the information that has been given. A statement will be made on the radio this evening, and I will consider whether there are other means of giving publicity to this statement which we regard as being of urgent importance.

Mr. McGovern

As a considerable number of people are in possession of firearms which have been stolen, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, when the firearms are handed in, any inquiries will be made and proceedings taken against the people in unlawful possession?

Mr. Ede

If anyone will hand in firearms, the promise is that no proceedings will be taken.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew

Will this concession cover people who wish to keep firearms which they illegally hold if they license them?

Mr. Ede

If a person desires to hold a firearm, he has to prove that he has some special ground for having it, and this cannot be regarded as an opportunity for people to cover up past delinquencies by getting a firearm certificate for the future.

Sir J. Mellor

To avoid any possible confusion, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that that does not apply to shot-guns?

Mr. Ede

It does not apply to smooth bore rifles of a barrel length greater than 20inches.

Mr. Garry Allighan

Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing more severe penalties than exist at present for the un-lawful possession of firearms, after 31st March?

Mr. Ede

I think the penalties are quite clear, and people who run the risk of keeping firearms after 31st March must take the consequences.