HC Deb 02 December 1987 vol 123 cc933-45 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's proposed new controls on firearms. Those are described in the White Paper entitled "Firearms Act 1968: Proposals for Reform" that has been published today.

The House will recall that, in a debate on 26 October, I outlined the main conclusions of our review of firearms controls. Both before and since the debate there have been a number of other fatal incidents involving the use of guns. This reinforces us in the belief that it is time to strengthen the controls.

The law cannot guarantee against criminal behaviour, nor can it protect us against the individual who, having complied with all the requirements, loses control in a fit of madness. But we can seek to reduce the risk. A substantial shift is needed in the balance which has to be struck between safeguarding the public at large and protecting the interests of legitimate gun users.

The main responsibility of Government must be to secure, as far as possible, the safety of the public from the irresponsible or criminal use of firearms. But we must also take account of those who regularly use guns in a safe and responsible way in the course of their work or chosen sport. We have sought to accommodate the needs and interests of the legitimate shooting community wherever possible, providing this does not compromise our fundamental concern to give adequate protection to the community at large. Those who disagree, who would seek to remove entirely from private hands a wide range of firearms, misunderstand the nature of the problem. Certainly there are some types of especially dangerous weapon that we cannot allow the private individual to possess, and I have taken steps to prohibit more of those. But beyond that it would be wrong to deprive people— the farmer, sportsman, target shooter — of their weapons. Rather, we must ensure that they are subject to a degree of control and scrutiny that offers a real safeguard against abuse.

Let me briefly summarise our proposals. We intend to bring within the prohibited category full-bore, self-loading rifles; burst fire weapons; and short-barrelled, self-loading or pump action shotguns. Those are weapons that, for the most part, have no legitimate sporting use and which possess a rate of fire and a magazine capacity which make them especially lethal. We shall prohibit the movement of a firearm or shotgun into a less strictly controlled category by means of conversion. Pump action and self-loading shotguns, of normal length, which have a greater fire capability than traditional shotguns, are to be brought under the same controls as now exist for rifles and pistols under section 1 of the 1968 Act.

On penalties, the Criminal Justice Bill increases the maximum penalty for carrying firearms in the furtherance of crime to life imprisonment; and raises the maximum for being in possession of a shotgun without a certificate, in line with parallel firearms offences.

We shall be arranging a firearms amnesty to provide for illegally held or unwanted firearms to be taken out of circulation. There is to be a statutory safekeeping requirement for shotguns. We shall close the gap in controls whereby visitors to Great Britain may purchase and use shotguns without a certificate. We have given considerable further thought to the question of further controls over traditional shotguns, that is, those that will remain under section 2 controls. I have decided that they should remain in a separate category from rifles and pistols but that the safekeeping requirement on its own is not enough. At present a chief officer of police must grant a shotgun certificate unless he has reason to believe the applicant is prohibited by the Act from possessing a shotgun, or that to allow him to do so would endanger the public safety or peace. I propose to change the onus so that in future the chief officer will have to satisfy himself as far as possible that an applicant is not disqualified by these factors — and that will include the discretion to undertake inspections of security arrangements.

In addition, chief officers will be able to refuse to issue or renew a certificate where they are satisfied that an applicant does not have a good reason for possessing or acquiring a shotgun. We need to take this precaution against the danger of a steady build-up of shotgun holding without any sporting or professional justification. But we intend that these justifications should be widely and reasonably drawn. In most cases the reason for holding a shotgun will be readily apparent and inquiries will not be necessary as a matter of routine. But where it is not, the scope will exist, in a way that it does not now, for the police to make further inquiries. The onus will be on the chief officer, and there will be a right of appeal to the Crown court against refusal of a certificate.

I also propose that all shotguns should be listed on the certificate by a serial number or description. It is not: sensible that the police should have no precise information on the number and type of shotguns which are properly held in their force area. Finally, anyone seeking to purchase shotgun ammunition will in future need to produce a valid certificate in order to do so, and the more lethal types of shotgun cartridge will be subject to stricter control.

The White Paper also outlines our proposals in respect of gun clubs, firearms dealers and a number of other matters. We intend to strengthen the existing approval scheme for gun clubs and put it on a new statutory footing. This is important not least because membership of such a club is often a consideration in deciding whether a firearms certificate should be issued. We intend that the status of firearms dealer will in future be confined to those who can establish that dealing in firearms is a substantial commercial or business activity. Dealers will be required to maintain detailed records of transactions for a substantial time to help police in tracing illegally held firearms.

Miscellaneous proposals include the power to require a firearm or shotgun certificate to bear a photograph; the categorisation of stun guns as prohibited weapons; the regularisation of the position of museums which hold collections of firearms; and better control over the movements of firearms from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The White Paper is the result of a careful and detailed scrutiny of the current controls. It takes account of consultations that we have had with a wide range of interested bodies. We have brought forward the White Paper in advance of the Bill in order to give all concerned, and especially legitimate shooters, a further opportunity to assimilate and comment on our proposals. The main proposals will stand, but when it comes to legislation we will continue to listen carefully to detailed comment, because we want this to be a measure which will last for at least 15 to 20 years, for the good reason that its substance is sound.

In all, the proposals that we are putting forward offer a tighter system of control, with more accountability for those who buy, possess or deal in firearms or shotguns. They will help the police to maintain effective control over the possession and movement of firearms. They will place some additional burdens and restrictions on the legitimate shooting community, but I have tried to keep these to a minimum and I am confident that they will be accepted by sensible shooters as reasonable and justified.

All the measures are clearly focused on our central aim of ensuring effective control over potentially lethal weapons. They are a small price to pay for safeguarding the community as a whole. I shall introduce a Bill putting them into effect within the next few weeks, and I believe that the Bill will have the overwhelming support of this House.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Is the Home Secretary aware that the Opposition welcome his statement and the White paper on which it is based? Perhaps that is not altogether a complete surprise to him, since he has adopted so many of the proposals that we made in the debate that we initiated on 26 October. I propose to list some of them for the benefit of Conservative Members.

In that debate we called exactly for what the Home Secretary now describes as a substantial shift in the balance struck between safeguarding the public and protecting the legitimate user. In that debate we called for, and today I welcome, the prohibition of the ownership and sale of self-loading and pump action rifles and short-barrelled, smooth bore guns. We called for, and I welcome, the prohibition of the sale of burst fire weapons and stun guns. In that debate we called for, and I welcome today, an increase in the obligation which is placed on the owners of shotguns to store their weapons securely. Indeed, is the Home Secretary aware that we support the general and substantial extensions in shotgun control which he now recommends?

The Home Secretary's requirement that every shotgun should be individually identified on a certificate by serial number or by description means that the Government have accepted the need for the specific and individual certification of such guns. We proposed that during the debate on this subject five weeks ago and we welcome the Home Secretary's adoption of that policy.

But during that debate we also called for what I described as a change in the onus of proof. That appears today in the Home Secretary's White Paper, in different language, as the shifting of the balance of control. The language is unimportant. The intention and the change in policy is important. It is much to be welcomed and is welcomed by us.

In paragraph 25 of the White Paper the Home Secretary says that the chief police officer will in future be able to refuse … a shotgun certificate where he is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for having a shotgun". In the debate on 26 October, at column 67 of Hansard, the Under-Secretary explicitly rejected the "good reason" requirement and criterion. Will the Home Secretary accept our congratulations on the good sense of his conversion to the idea that anyone who possesses a shotgun must, if necessary, demonstrate his or her good reason for doing so.

Indeed, in only one major particular has the Home Secretary failed to support the proposals that we made on 26 October. There is nothing in the White Paper or in his proposals about the prohibition of, reduction in, or control of mail order sales. Mail order sales represent the one real remaining loophole, the one real opportunity, to evade the tighter controls that the Home Secretary now proposes, which we have advocated and which we support. Why has he not included a provision on mail order sales? Having stood up as bravely as he has to the gun lobby, I should have hoped that he would stand up to the mail order lobby as well. That is the only omission from a generally welcome document and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept our assurance that we shall support him when he brings it to the House in legislative form at the first and earliest opportunity.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman gives an amazing account of history. When he lists the things that he called for on 26 October, he omits to state that I had already said that most of them were our policy beforehand. He was fairly safe in calling for them as I had already said that the great majority of them, which he has carefully listed again today, were our policy.

But there is a difference of approach between us. Throughout, in his speeches and in print, the right hon. Gentleman has been pressing me to rush into some form of emergency legislation. He has been accusing me of protracted negotiations with the gun lobby, but we have been trying to consult and to get the detail as right as we can. We are now entering another phase before we lay a Bill before the House — I hope to do that before Christmas—during which comment will be able to be made on matters of detail. On 26 October the right hon. Gentleman took a lofty, scornful line on shooters. He talked of prosperous adults hanging around country pubs, until he was brought up short by at least three of his hon. Friends who carefully explained that shooting was not confined to the middle, upper and rural classes. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been busy rewriting history—

Mr. Hattersley

The reason.

Mr. Hurd

I am coming to that. We are not putting shotguns on the same basis as section 1 firearms as regards "good reason". The onus will be on the chief officers. I do not want the police or shooters to get involved in endless routine discussions about reason. We shall try in the Bill to set out what "good reason" can be. I want to be able to respond to the real concern of the police—not least in some of our cities—that people are beginning to own and store shotguns with no other reason than an argument about self-defence. We need some way of dealing with that without involving people in all the rigmarole that would follow from putting shotguns on a section 1 basis in the way that the right hon. Gentleman would like.

I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has made his case about mail order. Although this point strays outside the subject of firearms — it covers martial arts weapons and so on—we intend to prohibit the sale of certain things. When we do, their purchase by mail order, which has been one of the main causes for complaint, will have been ruled out anyway; but when it remains entirely legitimate to sell something, I cannot see why a particular technique of sale — such as mail order — should be excluded, while others are not.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to spell out to the House and the country what will happen to the firearms that will become prohibited when the legislation is enacted?

Mr. Hurd

That will be connected with the amnesty. First, there will be a period during which people can legitimately dispose of these weapons through the international market. After a certain stage, when the commencement order takes effect—if our proposals are passed — those weapons will become prohibited and should be handed in together with any others that people want to hand in under the proposed amnesty.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I give a broad welcome to the proposals in the White Paper. However, has the right hon. Gentleman borne fully in mind the widespread use of normal pump action shotguns for sporting purposes in the country? Will he confirm that police officers will not only scrutinise the safekeeping of shotguns but be willing and ready to give advice —especially to farmers — on the safekeeping of shotguns and how that can best be done? Will he ensure that application forms for shotgun certificates are clear, and clearer than they have been in the past, asking questions that are devised to produce the information needed by chief officers of the police?

Finally, will the Home Secretary give an undertaking that, although he has rejected controls on mail order sale for now, the Government will continue to keep mail order sales under close scrutiny—because many of us believe that that there are abuses of the mail order system?

Mr. Hurd

I am well aware — some of my hon. Friends have pointed it out to me—that pump action shotguns of the normal length are used, for example, in clay pigeon shooting. I want to make it clear that there is no question in my mind of putting those weapons in the prohibited category. They will be in the section 1 category, together with rifles and pistols. I would think—we can go into this matter in greater depth later — that clay pigeon shooting would be an acceptable reason under section 1 if other conditions were met.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that safekeeping needs further definition. Of course, the police in most forces are already willing to give guidance on safekeeping. We need to work out with representatives of the shooting community more precisely how safekeeping should be defined, and then to give guidance to the police on how it should be dealt with. On a related point, I am also conscious that we need to deal with the worry about the transport of shotguns in this category. A legal case has caused anxiety on that point, and I am anxious to remove that worry, because the transport of shotguns is necessary and one does not want an unnecessary restriction on it in reasonable circumstances. I have nothing to add to what I have already said about mail order. Of course we watch all these things, but I do not see the grounds on principle in which action against mail order in particular could be taken.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Bearing in mind that the police, with whom I have a connection, would have preferred my right hon. Friend to do more, whereas the shooters that I represent in East Anglia would have preferred him to do less, I welcome the balance that he has struck. I welcome especially what the White Paper says about arrangements to tighten the movement of guns to Northern Ireland, about the photographs that are to appear on the certificates, and about the new power of the police to screen applicants and to refuse shotgun certificates to those who are not fit. Can my right hon. Friend say how he proposes to match the names on the shotgun certificates to the guns to which they apply unless there is a numbering system? On behalf of the shooters, may I ask him to give his view on the principle of confiscation without compensation?

Mr. Hurd

I am glad that my hon. Friend's sense of equilibrium has brought him to roughly the same position as mine. He asked about photographs. There is already in the Firearms Act 1968 a power that has never been used to require one photograph. We propose to ask for a power to require two photographs, but we need to work out more carefully than has so far been done with the shooting community and the police whether this can usefully be used with modern technology in order to improve security. However, I think that it is reasonable to have that power.

What we have in mind about details on the certificate is not what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) suggested on 26 October, that each weapon should have a separate certificate, now do we propose that there should be a limit on the number of guns on a certificate, but rather that each certificate should contain a description of the number of guns applied for and held. When ownership passes, that description should also pass. That is a reasonable start in acquiring the kind of knowledge that I think we need about the number of shotguns that are legally held.

My hon. Friend asked about compensation. This is a difficult question and we have spent a good deal of time on it. Over the years there have been many occasions on which the use of equipment that people own is rendered invalid. Therefore, its value is substantially reduced by Government action without compensation being paid. It would be difficult in principle and I think almost impossible in practice to work out a scheme for this. We must rely on the facts that people will have plenty of warning and that there is an international market. It is preferable that they should use those opportunities rather than that we should put together some scheme of compensation that would inevitably have more critics than friends.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal to the House for brief questions. I think that I heard the Secretary of State say that there would be a debate in the near future.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I broadly welcome the Secretary of State's proposals. Does he agree that a matter of some considerable importance is the muzzle velocity at the time of exit? Has not the time come for us to look again at the definition of a firearm, especially bearing in mind that the muzzle velocity of some airguns and, indeed, some catapaults can be in excess of 100 miles an hour? They fire a metal projectile that will kill at up to 50 yards. Do we not need to look at that aspect of the matter?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman may be able to deploy that argument, but I prefer to confine myself to the scope of the 1968 Act and to maintaining the categories within it.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the responsible target and game shooting organisations are anxious to help the Home Secretary where he can prove that this measure will reduce crime? Does he accept that there is great resentment in the responsible shooting world because, despite requests, its members were not consulted before my right hon. Friend made his statement in September? Subsequently, their recommendations seem to have fallen on stony ground. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that the police think that it will take 330,000 more man hours to fulfil some of his wishes? Has he taken that into account relative to the cost of firearms certificates, and would not policemen be better used on the beat to prevent crime? In the interests of clay pigeon shooting, will my right hon. Friend carefully reconsider the matter of self-loading shotguns that are able to fire only three shots—two in a magazine — otherwise clay pigeon shooting will pay a heavy penalty?

Mr. Hurd

We have consulted widely; my hon. Friend was one of those who were consulted. At some points— I am referring particularly to paragraph 17 of the White Paper—we have modified our proposals because of the detailed comments that the shooting community has put forward. Of course, most of the police would like us to go further. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) said, they would like us to put all shotguns under section 1 provisions, as the Opposition has urged, but not least because of the problem of resources that my hon. Friend mentioned we have resisted that. In the next stage I shall be perfectly prepared to listen to further representations about pump action shotguns. In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), I set out the reason why we have reached our decision, which is an understandable and reasonable one.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

To save me time in discussions with constituents, will the Secretary of State explain the criteria in paragraph 40? What is meant by "properly constituted" and "fit and proper persons"? I have to meet my constituents soon, and I do not understand the paragraph.

Mr. Hurd

We shall have to refine and develop that matter—[Interruption.] That is reasonable; we have set out the principle in the White Paper. We shall have to discuss with the clubs and shooting community what the qualifications are for a firing range. The phrase "fit and proper person", as the right hon. Gentleman knows, already exists in legislation, so I do not foresee any particular difficulty in that regard. We shall have to flesh out the proposal about clubs in paragraph 40.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Will my right hon. Friend say how this will affect the ordinary working life of the farmer going about his everyday business?

Mr. Hurd

The effect on the ordinary shotgun owner will be that the police will be able to check when his or her certificate is issued or renewed that he is keeping his shotgun safely. When his certificate expires, he will need to list on his next application form the gun that he holds with serial numbers and/or a description. The police will then be able to ask him or her questions about reasons for holding a gun, if they feel doubtful about them. However, sport, profession and leisure activity will count as such good reasons. I do not think that, put like that, it is tyrannical or unreasonable.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Will the Secretary of State address the following three points? First and foremost, the cost of implementing this procedure will vastly increase the cost of a gun permit for the sportsman—probably by about 75 to 100 per cent. Secondly, does he agree that, unless police at each station have a specific role in dealing with the issuing of shotgun permits, his proposals are unlikely to work? The police will be required to devote a tremendous amount of time to this procedure, so that there will need to be an increase in establishment. Thirdly, does he agree that there will be a proliferation of clay pigeon clubs unless he lays down quite stringent regulations as to how they should be constituted?

Mr. Hurd

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. These proposals do not cover Northern Ireland. We have borne the cost of the proposals in mind when deciding how far we should go. They will result in an increase in fees for certificates. We shall reconvene the working group, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) knows, includes representatives of the shooting community, to work out what those should conveniently be. The reconvening of the working group is not dealt with in the White Paper, but I am glad to give that assurance. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about clay pigeon clubs.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I again appeal for brief questions? We have a heavy Opposition day before us with two important debates. I will allow questions to continue for a further 15 minutes and then we must move on.

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

Will my right hon. Friend consider the real possibility that, as his admirable proposals begin to bite, the irresponsible and criminal elements in society will find it more tempting to use weapons other than firearms? May we expect a complementary White Paper on offensive weapons generally and their greater control?

Mr. Hurd

We have covered my hon. Friend's point to a considerable extent in the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill in respect of knives and martial arts weapons which may be offensive weapons.

Miss Fookes

And crossbows?

Mr. Hurd

I do not rule out action on crossbows. It is doubtful whether such action would fall within the scope of the Bill, but I do not rule out action in future if that appears sensible.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

What will happen to illegally held weapons that are handed in during an amnesty or in other ways? In the past, they have been recycled back into the community.

Mr. Hurd

The working group considering the amnesty must consider that in some detail. I have made inquiries about what happened in 1968 and have been told that the great majority of weapons handed in during the amnesty were destroyed by the police. However, there was a special arrangement for weapons of particular value. I do not know how carefully that was defined then, but I will look into the precedent set by the Labour Government to see whether that is the right arrangement to follow in future.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

My right hon. Friend's reasonable statement will be welcomed in Shropshire where game shooting particularly has crossed social and political barriers and is followed by the Labour chairman of the county council. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, once the legislation has passed through Parliament, chief constables will be advised to apply the new legislation promptly and fairly and not in the rather maverick fashion in which they applied the Firearms Act 1968?

Mr. Hurd

There will clearly have to be more detailed guidance. I have referred to the transport of shotguns, and that must be carefully considered.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I welcome the Home Secretary's statement and particularly the firearms amnesty and the sensible safeguards for the storage of shotguns, control over their movements and the sale of ammunition, but will he think again about the problem of those who have lawfully and legally purchased weapons that are now to be on the prohibited list? Is he convinced that those who have legally bought such weapons will have a reasonable opportunity to recover the considerable sums that they have spent on them?

Mr. Hurd

They have time to make their arrangements. They are not in an entirely different position from, for example, the owner of industrial equipment that is outlawed or about to be outlawed or prohibited by factories and safety legislation. Indeed, their position is not dissimilar from those affected by environmental measures. Compensation is not normally paid in those circumstances.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents and I believe that his proposals strike a balance between protecting society and enabling the shooter to enjoy his sport? He will be aware that I gauge his proposals against the background of the massacre in Hungerford, which is in my constituency. In those terms, why has he decided not to limit the number of firearms that can be owned by any one person? He will be aware that Michael Ryan possessed no fewer than five firearms and several shotguns. It is clear that he used three of those weapons in that dreadful tragedy. If there were more control over weapons and he had possessed fewer weapons and less ammunition, I cannot help thinking that less damage would have been done to the population of Hungerford.

Mr. Hurd

I have read several times the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend on 26 October. The reason why we have not followed my hon. Friend's suggestion is that, having consulted the shooting community we were convincingly advised that in many shooting sports it is normal and perfectly reputable to have a wide range of weapons. It would be difficult to limit weapons on a certificate as my hon. Friend has suggested without trenching unreasonably on the exercise of those sports.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

When the Home Secretary introduced the White Paper this afternoon he said that we must try to get this right because it will hold fast for the next 15 years or so. In view of that comment, I examined that part of the document which summarises the present law on air weapons. There is great concern about air weapons because they cause millions of pounds' worth of damage to property. Windows have been broken, personal injury has been caused and people have lost eyes. Therefore, is it not appropriate now if we are to remould the legislation that we have a serious look at the position in respect of air weapons because people are grossly concerned about them?

Mr. Hurd

It is true that many firearms offences arise out of the misuse of air weapons. There is legislation on the statute book about the possession by the young of air weapons in public places. There is also legislation on the sale of those weapons. Most serious crime arising through the use of firearms does not involve air weapons. I would rather leave the proposals as they exist within the scope of the Firearms Act 1968.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I fully accept, following the two recent disastrous incidents, that it is essential that further tightening should take place. However, I am unhappy about paragraphs 33 and 47 in the White Paper. Paragraph 33 refers to foreigners who come here "to use" shotguns. Surely many people come to this country, including members of families who have shot all their lives. They may come to this country to borrow guns from family members and they use them. Will that be prohibited? On paragraph 47, I do not entirely agree with my right hon. Friend's view of compensation. People may own fairly antique shotguns. They are very valuable, but valuable only as antiques. People will receive no compensation for such weapons.

Mr. Hurd

I have answered the question about compensation. That point will certainly recur, but I have given the reasons why I believe that any compensation scheme would be difficult in principle and, however it was worked out, it would have more enemies than friends. In paragraphs 32 and 33 we are anxious to safeguard the position of visitors who come to this country to shoot or buy guns and then take them out of the country. I will consider the specific point about borrowing other people's guns.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Paragraph 21 of the White Paper refers to people satisfying the police that they have good reasons to own certain weapons. To borrow the Home Secretary's phrase, will he flesh that out? Some of us might believe that without guidelines the local constable may find it very difficult to establish what good reasons were.

Mr. Hurd

There must be guidelines. This is a statement of the existing law under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968. We are not proposing to change that law, but we propose to include new categories of weapons in it.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

Although I welcome the common sense reflected in the statement of the proposed legislation, I still have a slightly uneasy feeling about the mail order business, about which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken no action. I join the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) in suggesting that it is not too much to ask the Home Office to keep an objective and beady eye on that aspect of the trade to see whether any problems arise in future.

Mr. Hurd

I will certainly be beady.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the intended legislation and the amnesty will apply in Scotland and in England and Wales? With regard to air guns, will he listen to representations about what are very dangerous firearms in the wrong hands, or has he set his face against that?

Mr. Hurd

The answer to the first question is "Yes." In reply to the second, I believe that the main problem with air weapons lies in the enforcement of the existing law.

Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there are nearly 20,000 murders a year in the United States and that that is 10 times more per head of population than in this country? That cannot be entirely unconnected with the very high level of irresponsible gun ownership in that country. Does he agree that the aim now must be to avoid going down that road? In that respect, the firm and reasonable proposals that he has brought forward today will be very welcome.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has made a sound point which applies to guns held in the community and guns held and used by the police.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I do not think that the White Paper goes nearly far enough to meet the present public concern about the possession and use of firearms. I want to join in the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and say that it is a pity that the Home Secretary has not included air weapons because, in the hands of the young, they can cause great damage to wildlife. Will the Home Secretary consider banning the importation and sale of replica post-1914 weapons? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will next Tuesday join in supporting my Bill which seeks to ban the sale of war toys.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's question about airguns illustrates the point that I have just made that the problem is one of enforcing the existing law, including the possession and use of air weapons by the young, rather than of devising new laws. Legislation is already on the statute book which deals with replica weapons and it is satisfactory. It would not be sensible to get into the business of deciding which toys should be banned.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Unlike the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I agree with most of my hon. Friends that this package probably represents a fair balance between the obvious need to tighten up the legislation and the legitimate requirements of genuine shooters. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir. H. Monro)? Will he give an absolute assurance that he will carry out detailed and careful consultations with those legitimate shooting interests before the legislation is brought in? Will he also consider the burden that any legislation will inevitably place on our police force?

Mr. Hurd

The police have been one of the main urgers-forward on this front. I am glad that I shall meet the British Shooting Sports Council on 7 December to discuss the White Paper. We have already consulted 17 separate shooting organisations, but it is convenient that the BSSC exists so that we can carry forward that consultation. I have arranged for a further period during which we can listen to detailed comment, and we shall do so constructively.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

If the Government's proposals are to make sense, surely gun control must be fully enforced in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind that many of the paramilitary hold legally authorised weapons, as well as illegal weapons? Why are the Government shy of mentioning Northern Ireland, which is the crucial issue of the day?

Mr. Hurd

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman should address his questions to him.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposals that he has announced today will have little adverse effect on legitimate shotgun owners anywhere? Will he further confirm whether, in discussions with his EEC counterparts, he has any proposals to tighten up the carrying of illegal weapons across Community frontiers?

Mr. Hurd

On my hon. Friend's second point, we shall resist the draft Commission directive which would make it virtually impossible to carry out the controls that I believe are necessary. On my hon. Friend's first point, I am sure that the House will accept that public confidence in the existing system of control has been roughly shaken this year. If shooters are to have a surer foundation on which to carry on their sports and professions, we need to progress beyond the present controls, otherwise the system will always be shaky and in question. I want a system in which people know exactly where they are and can carry on under it for 15 or 20 years.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

The Home Secretary will know of the serious incident in Scotland last Saturday when a gas grenade was fired into a section of the crowd at the Celtic-Hibs football match in Edinburgh. He will also know that press reports in Scotland since Saturday have suggested that the weapon used might have been of a type issued by the United States army and which is available by mail order. The Home Secretary has already said that he does not rule out further action, but will he assure the House that in future it will not be possible for potentially lethal weapons of that or any other kind to be purchased by mail order and used indiscriminately in this country?

Mr. Hurd

I was in Edinburgh at the time and, therefore, know of that incident.[Interruption.]I was not the target. The point that the hon. Gentleman has raised is not within my jurisdiction and I do not know whether it has been established that that type of weapon was used or what its status will be. However, I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman is properly informed about that.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

As I understand it, the most often used weapon in crimes of violence is the sawn-off shotgun. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the balanced announcement that he made today will contribute to lessening the use of that type of weapon, which may be acquired through private treaty sales of second-hand weapons? Does he feel that his measures will cover that aspect of gun sales?

Mr. Hurd

It is because of that major mischief, which my hon. Friend has described accurately, that we are moving that category of weapon up from section 1 to the prohibited category.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Would it not be fairer if the full rigour of the law applied to shotguns, bearing in mind that there have been incidents in which landowners have used both barrels against passing air balloons? Under paragraph 40, firing ranges will be approved by the Ministry of Defence. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the MoD provides targets of ordinary pattern, rather than the figures of people, advancing with a gun, which are provided at the moment and which suggest a more combative approach than gun clubs need or want?

Mr. Hurd

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's second point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. On his first point, I have explained why I do not believe that it would be sensible to do what Opposition Members want and to put shotguns under section 1. That would be expensive and would add considerably to the aggravation of the measures. I do not think that any corresponding gain in security would be worth it.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)


Mr. Speaker

Was the hon. Gentleman here for the statement?

Mr. Devlin

No, not for the entire statement

Mr. Speaker

Well, in fairness we should move on.