HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc856-7
1. Mr. Michael

Brown asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what information he has received about the number of armed robberies which took place in the last year: and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

In 1977 the police in England and Wales recorded 1,234 robberies in which firearms were reported to have been used. Information for 1978 is not yet available. I shall continue to support the firm action taken by chief officers to deal with armed robbery.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. It indicates, does it not, that some armed robberies are probably resulting in considerable numbers of deaths? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance—bearing in mind the decision that the House took last week, for better or worse, in the face of public opinion—that when trigger-happy criminals are involved punishment will fit the crime, particularly for armed robberies?

Mr. Whitelaw

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, a person found guilty of robbery, or of assault with intent to rob, is liable to imprisonment for life.

Mr. George

Is the Home Secretary aware of any figures of the number of firearms held, either legally or illegally?

It is from this vast pool of probably millions of guns that criminals are able to obtain guns for their purposes. Does the Home Secretary propose any legislative steps to reduce the number of firearms, particularly shotguns? Will he consider an amnesty for the holders of firearms? The last amnesty netted probably 50,000 guns and 1½ million rounds of ammunition.

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept that there is a serious problem. I would not necessarily endorse the hon. Gentleman's figures. I should need to look into them in order to give him an accurate response. I accept that there is a duty on me to look into this matter and to consider what action ought to be taken.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that only a negligible proportion of these crimes involve weapons that are legally registered? Will he say what steps are being taken to prevent the bringing of hand weapons into this country from abroad?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree with my hon. Friend that very few of these crimes involve the use of legally held weapons. As I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, there is an important need to make sure that the custody of legally held weapons is properly secured. I believe that the interests concerned are ready to cooperate in that activity, and I shall be closely in touch with them about it.

I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer about hand weapons from abroad.