HC Deb 25 January 1979 vol 961 cc658-9
6. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many offences involving the use of firearms were committed within the Metropolitan Police area in 1958, 1968 and 1978.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In 1969, the earliest year for which comparable figures are available, 483 indictable offences in which firearms were reported to have been used were recorded in the Metropolitan Police district. In 1977, the corresponding figure was 1,526. The figure for 1978 is not yet available.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, hardly any professional criminals carried firearms, but that last year firearms were carried in 80 per cent. of the attacks on banks, betting shops and security guards? Does he think that the total abolition of the death penalty has been a major cause of that regrettable occurrence?

Mr. Rees

No, I do not think that that is so. There are many causes of that in our society. I do not think that the abolition of the death penalty is the reason.

Mr. Townsend

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the shotgun is now the preferred weapon of the serious criminal in many of the metropolises? Will he confirm also that current firearms control legislation is totally inadequate, and that, if it had not been for the Lib-Lab pact, the Government would have already taken steps?

Mr. Rees

Shotguns are an important element. Heavy penalties up to life imprisonment are available on the statute book for armed crime.

Mr. Farr

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in recent years the classification of offences has changed, which has resulted in offences not formerly regarded as serious matters now being regarded as serious, and that the figures that he has given should be interpreted in that light?

Mr. Rees

Whatever the interpretation of figures, the Commissioner tells me that there is a growth of armed crime in the metropolis and throughout the country as a whole.