HC Deb 04 February 1965 vol 705 cc1265-9
17 and 73. Mr. Braine

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) whether, in view of the increase in crimes of violence, he will introduce legislation to stiffen the penalties for illegal possession of firearms;

(2) if he will arrange for an amnesty to be granted to persons who surrender illegally held firearms to the police by a fixed date.

30. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to amend the law regarding the control of sale of all forms of firearms and the issuing of licences for these weapons.

31. Mr. William Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in view of the continued incidence of criminal offences in which firearms are carried, if he is satisfied that the penalties for so doing under the Firearms Act of 1937 are adequate; and if he will make a statement.

37. Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will take steps, by amendment of the Firearms Act or by a limited amnesty, or both, to reduce the number of pistols and revolvers in private possession, and to increase the penalties for illegal possession.

45. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now make a statement, following his consultation with chief officers of police, on the adequacy of the present legislation affecting firearms.

48. Mr. Webster

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he now proposes to take to establish a tighter control over the possession of firearms.

50 and 51. Mr. Weitzman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) when he will make a statement as to the adequacy of the present legislation affecting firearms;

(2) whether he will introduce legislation imposing conditions as to physical security in the premises of dealers in firearms, and requiring losses and discrepancies to be notified to the police within 24 hours.

56 and 57. Sir Richard Glyn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) whether he will extend the present definition of a firearm to cover any shotgun whose barrels have been shortened or any shotgun whose barrels are less than 24 inches in length; and if he will make a statement about the increased use of shotguns by violent criminals;

(2) whether he will introduce legislation to increase the present maximum penalty for possessing a firearm without a firearm certificate to a fine of £200 and/or six months' imprisonment for a first offence, with substantially heavier maximum penalties for second and subsequent offences, or for carrying a firearm in a public place without owning a firearm certificate.

58. Mr. Raphael Tuck

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of the increase in the possession and use of firearms, he will now introduce legislation to prohibit the ownership of any firearms, in the sense in which the word is popularly understood, to include shotguns and airguns, except by licence under stringent penalties.

Sir F. Soskice

The examination that I am conducting of the adequacy of the present legislation affecting firearms is not yet complete, but I shall make a statement shortly.

Mr. Braine

While I am sure that the whole House and the country will be pleased to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is conducting this inquiry, would he not agree that the police are seriously hampered by existing loopholes in the law, especially in relation to smooth bore weapons such as shotguns? Would he not agree that there is the strongest possible case for bringing these weapons within the ambit of the Firearms Act? Is not the time ripe for another amnesty, but ensuring on this occasion that the weapons surrendered are not returned to the trade or exported, as they were on the last occasion, as that carries no guarantee that they will not be returned to circulation?

Sir F. Soskice

I can assure the hon Gentleman that we are considering these practical alternatives and that among other things we shall consider an amnesty.

Mr. Morrison

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind when considering this matter that there may be a need to tighten up control over premises from which firearms are sold, premises which may be unsuitable for such purposes, partly because they are easily broken into?

Sir F. Soskice

That is certainly one of the things I have in mind.

Mr. Yates

Will the Home Secretary consider again before issuing statements asking the public to assist the taking on of criminals, who might possess arms, before his new legislation comes forward, because it is rather invidious to ask people to take on armed criminals if we are not sure whether the police are in a position to prosecute them for carrying arms in public?

Sir F. Soskice

I recognise the urgency of all considerations affecting this matter and I am pressing on with it as hard as I possibly can.

Mr. Lloyd

In considering an amnesty, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that when this policy was pursued resolutely before the war, when I was Under-Secretary at the Home Office, some 70,000 weapons were surrendered, together with several million rounds of ammunition?

Sir F. Soskice

I have carefully studied all the figures and have in mind what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mrs. Butler

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that there is great public anxiety about this matter, that a very early decision on his inquiries would be welcomed, and that it would be particularly appreciated if it were required that anybody wanting firearms of any kind should have a police certificate before purchase? This would not seem to be any hardship to farmers, or others with a legitimate need for buying guns, but it would be some safeguard over the present very loose system of licensing.

Sir F. Soskice

Obviously, I am fully conscious of the public anxiety about this matter and, if it were not otherwise made plain, it would be made pellucidly plain by the many Questions addressed to me on this subject. Certainly I will consider everything my hon. Friend has said, but I have to consider how legislation, if any, can be most effectively enforced.

Mr. Weitzman

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take into account the fact that voluntary co-operation between the police and dealers in firearms about physical security is not sufficient, and will he take steps seriously to consider legislation on this matter?

Sir F. Soskice

A very obvious and important aspect of this matter is the source from which criminals can obtain firearms, and one would naturally have to consider the position of dealers in firearms and any other persons possessing stores of firearms.

Sir Richard Glyn

Will the Home Secretary very seriously consider whether the existing penalties for improper possession of firearms are not outmoded and derisory and have no deterrent effect whatever? Will he consider imposing severer penalties for persons carrying firearms in public places and particularly the possession of shortened shotguns, the law as to which is now full of loopholes?

Sir F. Soskice

I will certainly consider all those things.

Sir J. Hobson

Will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in principle it is much more effective to hit hard those who are in illegal possession of firearms, or who use them in the course of crime, rather than to set up complicated administrative machinery which affects the ordinary innocent citizen and is usually wholly ineffective? In particular, will he bear in mind the experience in New York, where there are the most elaborate provisions for the licensing of firearms, but where 22 per cent. of the crime is committed by persons carrying firearms?

Sir F. Soskice

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has put his finger right on one of the central points of the inquiry. One has obviously to make any steps one takes completely effective and not put immense burdens on people who could not in any sense be said to be suspect.