HC Deb 01 March 1973 vol 851 cc1677-80
4. Mr. Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many offences involving the use of firearms were recorded in 1972; and whether he will make a statement.

18. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will be in a position to announce his conclusions upon the results now before him of the review of the law relating both to genuine and imitation firearms conducted by the former Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

28. Sir D. Kaberry

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to announce what action he proposes to take upon the report he has received relating to the retail sale in the United Kingdom of imported realistic model firearms.

35. Mr. Loveridge

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in the light of recent experience, he will now take steps to ban the sale of replica firearms that cost about £15 each and are unsuitable for use as toys.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

The provisional number of offences in England and Wales in which firearms were fired, used as a blunt instrument to cause injury or damage, or used as a threat, is 2,069. I intend to publish in the near future my provisional conclusions on the review of firearms law, and to invite comment on them before I decide what proposals to place before Parliament. The need for a ban on realistic imitation firearms, which would cover many children's toys, is one of the issues on which I shall welcome views before reaching final conclusions.

Mr. Fowler

That statement will be generally welcomed. Is it not a fact that crimes involving the use of firearms in this country are now rising at an alarming rate? Will my right hon. Friend also note that armed crime is also increasing in other European countries? Is there not therefore an urgent need that we should take action upon a European basis to control the supply of these illegal firearms?

Mr. Carr

It is unfortunately true that crimes involving the use of firearms are rising and the provisional figure I have just given for 1972, unfortunately, shows an increase over the previous year and confirms that trend. It is also true that this is not peculiar to this country. The need is urgent. I am hoping to put forward my proposals in a matter of weeks rather than months and I assure the House that I will treat them urgently. I also take note of the point about the need for European co-operation. I certainly welcome what we are doing about drugs in this connection. I should like to extend it to firearms, but in seeking for wider co-operation I do not think that I should delay action which we can take in Britain.

Mr. Lyons

I welcome the Home Secretary's remarks. Is he aware that the British Safety Council has been advocating measures with regard to replica and toy guns for the last 10 years? Does not he agree that it would be simpler to cut off the supply of replica guns, which are not always the same as toy guns, simply by banning their importation, as all of them apparently come from one source?

Mr. Carr

It is not as simple as just banning the import of replica guns, because many of the toy guns—if that be the word—manufactured in this country, as well as those imported, are sufficiently realistic to be mistaken for the real thing, at least when seen quickly just looking down the barrel. These are manufactured at home as well as abroad. It is a serious problem.

Sir D. Kaberry

May I urge my right hon. Friend to use the utmost expedition in publishing his recommendations? The difficulty about publicity concerning the sale and purchase of replica guns is that it tends to increase purchases of them by people who otherwise would not be buying them and using them in pursuit of wrongdoing. Therefore, may I urge my right hon. Friend to review what he has just said and to make it a matter of days instead of weeks?

Mr. Carr

I shall certainly act as quickly as possible on this matter, but it is a very difficult matter, because it covers the whole field of toy guns as well as anything approaching a genuine replica. This is very difficult, because, quite apart from what one does about the future, vast numbers of these things are in the possession of families and people throughout the country. So I would be foolish to underestimate the difficulty.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I welcome the Home Secretary's statement. Will he draw the attention of his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to the fact that sentences for carrying firearms have not increased proportionately to changes in maximum sentences as agreed by Parliament? Might not something be done in that respect?

Second, has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of a further amnesty—in Britain alone; I am not referring to Northern Ireland—in respect of the holding of illegal arms?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman consider making it more difficult for people to draw licences for the heavier-bore arms—that is, arms other than those for small game killing and the control of vermin? There has been a marked increase in the number of licences held on the mainland in this country.

Mr. Carr

I shall certainly discuss the question with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. It is, of course, a precious tradition in this country that we cannot tell the courts how they are to sentence. But the more public concern that is displayed about this matter the more likely it is that the courts will reflect that concern. I must be frank with the hon. Lady, in that I have not yet thought of the question of an amnesty, but I shall give it some thought, as she has mentioned it. The whole question of licences is very much part and parcel of the proposals that I shall be putting forward.

Rev. Ian Paisley

How many of the guns involved in these offences were legally held?

Mr. Carr

I could not answer that question off the cuff. I doubt whether I could do so even after research, because one does not always catch both the criminal and the gun. I am afraid that the figure is probably unobtainable.