§ Mr. Speaker
I have to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I beg to move,That this House supports the need for legislation which will provide additional and stringent controls over the possession and use of firearms: calls upon the Home Secretary to include within that legislation the requirement of a separate certificate for each individual firearm, a central register of all approved firearms, a prohibition of the private sale and use of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and a total ban on all mail-order sales of firearms: and further calls upon the Home Secretary immediately to introduce such a Bill in this House.I should like to express my surprise and regret that the Government propose to divide the House at 7 o'clock on what should and could be a subject of unanimous agreement. It was in the hope of such an agreement that we tabled a motion that is constructive rather than polemical. The motion proposes a strengthening of the gun laws, which is demanded by the general public, and happens to be a strengthening of the gun laws that is supported by the police forces of this country, yet the Home Secretary has tabled an amendment that amounts to no more than a string of platitudes. I presume that he is still not ready to stand up either to the shotgun lobby or to the mail order lobby, but whatever the motives of that vacuous amendment, the result is obvious and will be clear to the country. What Conservative Members will vote for this evening is a form of words that can be described only as wet. It is also risibly complacent, for it promises firearms legislation during this Session of Parliament.
The Home Secretary will recall that when, two weeks ago, he was kind enough to consult me about legislation concerning the limitation on knives and related weapons I asked, in his presence, the officials who advise him what legislation on these matters in this Session of Parliament meant. They told me that there was no hope within the present scheme of things for any new laws to be on the statute book before the summer of 1988. Frankly, the Home Secretary makes himself ridiculous by first 29 identifying a problem that he describes as urgent and then announcing that he proposes to remedy it some time during the middle of next year.
Throughout the country there is widespread agreement that we need more stringent, comprehensive and effective firearms regulations. I had hoped that that widespread agreement would be reflected in the House, despite the barrage of gun club propaganda to which we have been subjected in recent weeks. Some of that propaganda has been so irrational, blatant and obviously of a special pleading nature that it must have damaged its own cause, though clearly it has, in part, intimidated the Home Secretary. Public anxiety is inevitably high, and it has been heightened by the Hungerford tragedy and the other terrible shootings of the summer.
It is important to make absolutely clear that those terrible events demonstrated, rather than created, the urgent need for gun control. Indeed, as long ago as last March London Labour Members of Parliament wrote to the Home Secretary setting out and warning of the dangers of guns in London, and asking for a revision of the laws governing the ownership and use of guns and knives. That was in March, and I think the Home Secretary will tell us today that if he is to respond to that letter at all it will not be until next March—several months after a year has passed since that plea from London was presented to him.
I propose to spend little or no time this afternoon arguing the case for tighter gun control. That, I believe, is generally accepted, at least outside the House. However, I propose to concentrate on the way in which that tighter gun control should be achieved. I repeat that, in my view, it would be achieved most successfully if there were agreement in Parliament about how the desired objective could be achieved.
Arms control depends on three factors: the content of the law; the enforcement of the law; and the acceptance by those who own guns of the need to co-operate fully in the law's application. Such co-operation would most likely come about if the House came to a unanimous conclusion about stronger regulation. Even though that is not possible this afternoon, I hope that, on reflection, and when he has had his necessary consultations with the sporting interests and others, the Home Secretary will come to accept the virtues of a common approach and realise that if he desires an agreement on both sides he may have to rally round a central position which, although not altogether attractive either to the gun clubs or the Country Landowners Association, is nevertheless demanded and wanted by the country. I hope he understands that if there is to be the co-operation over gun control that I suspect he still seeks, he has to move into that central position. We shall do our best to accommodate him if he is reasonable enough to try to accommodate us.
In such a spirit, I want to make one thing plain. The Opposition accept that the possession and use of firearms is often legitimate and sometimes necessary. Farmers need guns. A man or woman has the right to spend leisure time shooting in competitions or in properly organised target practice. I admit that farmers, members of gun clubs and legitimate owners and users may be inconvenienced by what I propose this afternoon. However, I hope that most of them will regard that inconvenience as a small price to pay for a reduction in the number of guns that are illegally possessed, illegitimately used and irresponsibly carried from place to place. That inconvenience is also the price that they must pay for the necessary reduction in the 30 amount of ammunition that is insecurely kept and unnecessarily transported in areas where it may be stolen and may be misused.
Before I describe the nature and extent of the controls that I propose for firearms, I should like to refer briefly to the parallel problem of knives and other edged weapons, not least because we can learn from the principles of the Home Secretary's proposals and from the way in which he went about proposing them and thus obtained a great deal of agreement throughout the House. The Home Secretary proposes to prohibit the manufacture, sale and possession of various martial arts weapons, despite the objection that he will get from the martial arts clubs. We shall support the Government in that.
The Home Secretary proposes to define in law the circumstances in which it is legitimate and legal to carry a knife. Possessing a knife or a similar weapon in a public place, except for those defined purposes, is to become illegal. We shall support the Government's proposal about that. The inevitable consequence of those new regulations will be to place an added responsibility on those w ho sell knives, military memorabilia and what is euphemistically called survival equipment. When the shopkeepers and their associations complain, as complain they will, we shall support the Government. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see our high streets totally free from the so-called martial arts shops and so-called survival shops. The several that exist in my constituency make no contribution to the life and work of the area and represent a perpetual danger and temptation to young men. We shall support the Home Secretary when the complaints come in.
Equally, we shall support the Home Secretary on the prohibition of the sale of knives and similar weapons by post, catalogue and mail order. Notwithstanding that, the Home Secretary's scheme about knives carries with it two great problems. The first is his intention to shift the onus of proof to the person found carrying a knife. To require a suspect to prove his innocence is, in general, wholly unacceptable in a free society. However, in the case of the possession of knives it is possible to construct powers that preserve essential liberties and enable the police effectively to act against those who unlawfully carry knives and similar weapons. I hope that the Home Secretary will enter into early discussions with us on that precise point in order to present a chance of obtaining agreement on knives and their prohibition in the way that I want to see agreement on the safer use of guns.
The second problem about the proposal on knives is what the Home Secretary describes as an extension of the stop-and-search powers. I opposed the introduction of stop and search when five years ago it was first proposed in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I still oppose that general power, because it is open to abuse and is certain to result in harassment. During the passage of that Bill I made it clear that in my judgment the right to stop on reasonable suspicion and the right to search with the safeguard of prior warning and subsequent report was necessary when a police officer suspected the possession of an offensive weapon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said much the same thing when the Bill was reintroduced after the 1983 general election.
It is our intention to support the Home Secretary's proposals with as much enthusiasm as we can. That is because we believe that the principles on which they are based are right. The principles on which that legislation is 31 based ought to be applied equally to the regulations governing firearms. We ought to define far more precisely than is the present practice acceptable reasons for the ownership and use of firearms. Certificates and licences should be issued only to applicants who can demonstrate a specific, explicit and legitimate use. That rule ought to apply, and must apply, to all shotguns.
The idea that a shotgun or any number of shotguns may be available to every applicant who passes a perfunctory test is clearly absurd. That is the clear view of the Police Federation, which presently carries out that perfunctory test. The check is clearly and unavoidably inadequate. All licences and certificates should be issued for, and thus should legalise the possession of, only one weapon. The dangers of allowing one certificate to legalise the possession of an unlimited number of shotguns are so great and so obvious that to me at least it is astonishing that the system has survived for so long.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
Flow can every shotgun be individually certificated when, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, many shotguns have no form of numbering on them?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I hope that I am not stretching the hon. Gentleman's imagination too far when I say that the law must require shotguns to have numbers engraved upon them. That will be necessary if there is to be the sort of control that I, the public and the police want. Every gun must be individually accounted for, and the burden of requiring shotgun makers, some of whom I represent in my constituency, to number their guns is a small inconvenience if it results in fewer people getting their heads shot off. It is a balance of interests in which the numbering of guns pales into insignificance when compared to the advantages of control.
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a rhetorical question. He knows well that the possession of a shotgun certificate allows him or any other person to possess any number of shotguns. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me and with the Police Federation that the test for such possession is perfunctory to the point of being meaningless. If a person is enabled, through the possession of a single certificate, to become a multiple shotgun owner, that person can respond to an advertisement in the Shooting Times and Country Magazine and buy himself a shot slugster, fast operating, pump action, detachable barrel, magnum chambered shotgun for £155 by sending a deposit of £17.50. The idea that a magnum chambered pump action cut-off shotgun with a 24½ in detachable barrel should be available through the post to anybody who has passed his perfunctory test is self-evidently unacceptable. I shall be sorry if the Home Secretary does not make it clear in his speech that, despite the vacuity of his amendment, he intends to take the action against shotguns that the country expects of him and that the country wants.
Unless there is an individual shotgun certificate, it will be impossible to have any real check on or control over the guns that are in general use. It will be impossible to check on the security in which those guns and the ammunition that they use are kept, and it will make impossible the setting up of a firearms register which the police rightly regard as essential for proper control. The combination of an indefinite and extended number of guns available on 32 one certificate and the availability of those guns through the post by mail order is an impossible situation and cannot continue.
I know that farmers will regard the individual certificate as a burden. However, it is an example of the inconvenience that legitimate owners will have to bear in the interests of public safety. Even for legitimate owners and users there must be regulations governing the carrying of firearms and ammunition in public places.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
According to an article on the front page of the Manchester Evening News, Members of Parliament can bring private weaponry into the House for the purpose of club shooting. How does my right hon. Friend view that?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I regard Members of Parliament as suitable for the same treatment as the general public. As I believe that, in general, gun club members and people who wish to spend their time in that way should be required to keep their guns and their ammunition at their gun club rather than carry them home each evening or leave them lying about, as I fear is sometimes the case, I believe that the same rule has to apply to the House of Commons gun club. Since one of the objects of the restrictions I propose is to stop the unnecessary carrying of guns and ammunition, I believe that, as is often the case, what applies to the general public ought to apply to us as well.
One of the extraordinary features of the Hungerford tragedy was the revelation that licensed guns were kept in a car boot and were each day carried to work. The foreman of the man whose guns they were knew that they were in the boot, and nobody is quite sure whether the car and the guns within it were unlawful or whether the law was dubious on the matter. Carrying guns in such circumstances ought to be an obvious and automatically prosecutable offence, as would the carrying of knives in similar circumstances under the Home Secretary's proposal.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am listening to the right hon. Member with some interest. Is his proposal that nobody who is not a farmer or a member of a gun club shooting at targets of one kind or another should be allowed to possess a shotgun?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Nobody who cannot demonstrate a legitimate need or use should be able to possess such a weapon. In the coming months the Home Secretary will define "legitimate need" and "legitimate use" of knives, swords and similarly edged weapons, and there is no reason in the world, except the different class interests involved, why he should not equally define the legitimate use of guns. If he can do it for knives, he can do it for guns. The only thing that separates the two principles, which is why the hon. Members on the Government Benches have suddenly come to life, is that guns are owned by one class of people and knives are feared to be owned by a different class in society.
It ought to be an automatically prosecutable offence to carry a gun in a public place when it is unnecessary to do so. The law ought to be explicit. Guns ought to be transported in public only when it is unavoidably necessary. Ammunition should be carried only in the same essential circumstances. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. 33 Litherland) about the House of Commons gun club, that there is no need for gun club members to carry home every night either their guns or their ammunition.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say whether he agrees that there should be no automatic right to carry guns through crowded cities or to leave shotguns unattended in the back of Land Rovers in market squares.
§ Mr. Ashby
Has the right hon. Gentleman ever visited a gun club? Has he seen that, by their very nature, they are normally situated in remote places, where they cause minimum disturbance in their neighbourhood, and that nearly always the gun club building is a shed that can be kicked open? Does he really think that that is the sort of place in which guns should be kept?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I would place an absolute obligation on gun clubs to provide circumstances in which the guns can be kept securely without fear and without doubt. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that gun clubs are the ramshackle buildings that he describes, that seems quite extraordinary, because I suspect that some members leave their guns overnight in such ramshackle buildings. The suggestion that guns are left in those circumstances seems far more frightening than the situation that I was describing. There should be an obligation on gun clubs to have a secure place where members' guns and ammunition can be kept. The only argument against that is vested interest and special pleading.
As well as there being legitimate occasions when guns of a sort can be used and carried, and therefore there being a necessity to prescribe the occasions when the carrying of guns of all sorts is illegal, some guns should not be possessed or used in any circumstances. We ought to prohibit the private sale and private ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. I know that some collectors and vociferous gun club members will argue that the possession of a Kalashnikov is essential to the pursuit of their hobby or pleasure. However, their freedom to pursue their leisure activity has to be weighed against the freedom of the general public from fear of sudden mayhem and casual slaughter.
That essential freedom requires us to prohibit the sale of guns which in no circumstances should it be legitimate to use for amusement or pleasure. In my view, it also requires us to prohibit the sale of guns through any form of mail order. I know that the way in which sales are promoted through the Country Sports magazine is slightly more elegant than the methods employed by the martial arts bulletins, but the same principle ought to apply. Guns ought not to be bought and sold through the post.
The stop-and-search principle that the Home Secretary described so honestly in terms of his knife legislation ought to apply also to guns. If, as we should, we define the circumstances in which it is acceptable to possess a knife, we must also provide a similar definition for firearms. If youths in the inner cities are to be searched for knives, we cannot allow more prosperous adults to hang around country public houses with shotguns in the boots of their cars, or allow ammunition to be carried carelessly and pointlessly from place to place.
The proposals that I have made for the strict control of firearms seem so reasonable to me, and I believe to the general public, that it is astonishing that the Home 34 Secretary is not prepared to support them. They are supported by the Police Federation, I understand by most of the chief constables and I believe overwhelmingly by the general public. I ask the Home Secretary's support for them, because I believe that a strong statement now will lead to the urgent action that the country demands.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
If the right hon. Gentleman is serious, as I am sure he is, about reducing murder and mayhem on the streets, will he explain why the Labour party has voted in the last four years against the prevention and suppression of terrorism legislation?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I look forward to dealing with that subject when it comes up for debate in about a month's time. I had the privilege of being the first shadow Home Secretary to argue that we should vote against that provision, and I shall vote against it and urge my hon. Friends to vote against it when it again comes before the House.
I say two things in answer to the obliquely relevant question of the hon. Gentleman. First, the only way to combat terrorism is to drive a wedge between the real terrorists and the law-abiding population with whom they cohabit. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 encourages terrorism by alienating the law-abiding population of Ireland. Secondly. I am struggling today, though I did not so struggle on that occasion, to find a measure of agreement between the parties on an issue about which I think the general public want to see as much agreement as possible. The trivial intervention of the hon. Gentleman will only underline the clear truth of the debate, which is that the Government do not want unanimity on this subject. They want to appear tough and to talk tough, but they want to collapse at the first threatened response from the gun lobby and from the country interests. That has been demonstrated by every bit of gibberish that has come from the Government Benches this afternoon.
I want agreement on the nature and the timing of the measures. I repeat — I doubt whether the Home Secretary will deny it — that the earliest opportunity for the new measures to become law is for clauses to be spatchcocked to the Criminal Justice Bill that is going through the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that, a week last Wednesday, his officials told me that that Bill could not possibly become law until the middle of next year. That is absurd. A Bill should be presented to the House before Christmas. The right Bill — a tough, just and effective Bill — would have a swift passage. I hope that then, if not today, the agreement of the House will be obtained and will do more than strengthen the regulations. I hope that it will strike a blow against not only the improper use and possession of guns, but against the gun culture that is developing in Britain. That gun culture is not country sports and organised clubs, but the nightmare world of guns that is glamourised by some television programmes and newspapers. It is worth remembering that before Hungerford, when Rambo became a figure of hatred and fear, Rambo was a word that was used as praise and as the description of a hero in half our tabloid newspapers.
What I had hoped, when I believed that there could be unanimity today, and what I still hope will be possible through discussion, is that a message can come from the House of Commons not only that guns are acceptable in 35 our society only when they are used under the most stringent controls, but that in other circumstances they are illegal and that those who break the law, whoever they may be, are not heroes but criminals and will receive the most severe penalties.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:believes that the time has come for a strengthened system of firearms controls: welcomes the announcement by the Home Secretary on 22 September of the main conclusions of the study of ways in which firearms legislation might be improved: supports the need for further urgent but careful and detailed consideration of other possible measures under review: and endorses the Government's intention to announce shortly the outcome of this examination and to introduce new firearms legislation during this session of Parliament".I suppose that it is something that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) should believe that he is encouraging the Government rather than obstructing and holding us back. He will understand that that represents a change to Home Office Ministers. I hope that it will apply to the other proposals that we shall introduce for the greater protection of the public. But the right hon. Gentleman's account of the Government's attitude was ludicrous, and the reason why he gave that account emerged not in his text but in what he said under challenge. The strong tinge of class warfare came right through his proposal and undermined the pretence that he was trying to make of searching for central ground on which we could all travel. That point will emerge as I describe the Government's attitude.
I go this far with the right hon. Gentleman: this is a timely debate. The Opposition's motion is concerned solely with firearms but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the Government are engaged in a substantial overhaul of the law which controls the possession, sale and use of many types of weapon, including but not confined to firearms. We have a simple purpose. Those controls are part of crime prevention, and if we can find a reasonable way to strengthen them we shall add to the protection given to the citizen and to the security of our homes, streets and places of work.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, we propose to ban the manufacture and sale of weapons such as hand claws, knuckle dusters and death stars, for which we believe there is no legitimate use. We propose a radical change in the law on the carrying of knives. Both proposals will be included as amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill. I mention them because it is important that the public, and especially the legitimate shooters, should understand that our proposals on firearms will be one part of the general effort which I have described to strengthen public safety.
Strong action is required in relation to the three types of weapons that I have mentioned: martial arts weapons, knives and firearms. But the danger from each of them is different. That is where, to some extent, I quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis. The ban on the manufacture and sale of martial arts weapons is justified. With knives, the danger is overwhelmingly the concealed carrying of such weapons. There can be no licensing system for knives, so we must act, as we propose, on the 36 carrying of knives. There is a licensing system for firearms, and the right hon. Gentleman spent most of his speech discussing how that licensing system should be strengthened.
The right hon. Gentleman also urged a reversal of proof on the carrying of firearms such as the one that I propose, which he will support, on the carrying of knives. I do not wish to draft for the Opposition, but I suppose that they have roughly this sort of proposal in mind:A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (the proof whereof lies on him)"—the onus of proof has shifted—he has with him in a public place a loaded shot gun or loaded air weapon, or any other firearm (whether loaded or not) together with ammunition suitable for use in that firearm.That is a rough summary of what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, shifting the onus of proof on the carrying of firearms, and it is contained in section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968. If he reads that, as I hope he now will, he will see that the law as it stands reasonably defines the proposition that he spent several minutes criticising me for not having put forward.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I will give the Home Secretary credit for not realising the mistake that he has made. He misunderstands the position. I want a much clearer definition of when firearms can and cannot be carried and the circumstances in which they can be carried between one place and another. What he now accepts—if he did not accept it before this afternoon, he has heard his hon. Friends baying for its continuance this afternoon — is that guns can be carried unnecessarily between gun club and home. That is what I want to prohibit, and it is not covered by the Act.
§ Mr. Hurd
When the right hon. Gentleman talked about the need to shift the burden of proof on the carrying of firearms, he was clearly unaware that it had been shifted in the 1968 Act. The main thrust of his proposal is already in the law.
There are two pools of firearms in Britain, one legal and the other illegal. The number of serious offences involving firearms has increased by 61 per cent. since 1975, although the proportion of serious offences involving firearms has remained much the same. As regards illegal firearms, the problem is one not of the law, but of enforcement by the police. As regards firearms which are now legally held, on which the right hon. Gentleman concentrated, we should be clear about our realistic aims. There is no point in pretending that by making changes in the law we could guarantee the safety of the public against the quiet, withdrawn citizen who answers every question, fills in every form and keeps every law until the moment comes when he commits an atrocious crime. We cannot give Hungerford an absolute guarantee against Ryan.
Nevertheless, we must strengthen the law. I have made some proposals and I am considering others. As the House knows, we began to look at the legislation afresh earlier in the summer in the context of suggestions that it was time to have another amnesty. But of course — I do not quarrel with the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put this point — the disaster at Hungerford accelerated and widened the scope of that work. No one who visited Hungerford in those days could fail to be struck by the contrast between the peacefulness of the town and the hurricane of violence which struck it that afternoon. The sympathy which we all felt, and which we felt again after 37 the murders in Wolverhampton and the recent indiscriminate shootings in Bristol, has not ebbed away. It is right that our sympathy for those who suffered should, among other things, take the form of a determination to look more sharply at the law governing the legal possession of firearms. We must do whatever we sensibly can to ensure that legal authority is not given to dangerous people and to ensure that guns which are legally authorised do not pass thereafter into dangerous hands.
A balance must be struck. The House would not be taking the matter seriously if it did not fully recognise the wide variety of legitimate, indeed often admirable and highly disciplined, ways in which firearms are used in this country. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook recognised that. There is the case of the farmer who needs to keep the vermin on his farm under control. There are sportsmen who practise country sports. Above all, there are other sportsmen who belong to clubs, who shoot in national and international competitions and who pride themselves on a tradition of discipline and self-regulation. No one who has visited Bisley — as I did for the first time last year — would fall into the silly trap of denouncing the principle of private ownership and private use of firearms in this country in sweeping terms. We have tried to weigh all that up.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
No doubt the Home Secretary will recall the exchanges that we had across the Dispatch Box 16 months ago when he assured the House that he and his fellow Home Office Ministers saw no need to review firearms legislation. There is no doubt that the shadow of Hungerford is hanging over this debate and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to that. However, legitimate shooting interests in my constituency and others in south Wales have put it to me that the proposals that the Government intend to introduce and those suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark brook would never of themselves prevent a repetition of the events in Hungerford. Will the Home Secretary address his mind and his comments to the particular set of circumstances at Hungerford and explain how his proposals would prevent Michael Ryan or someone like Ryan from doing the same thing again?
§ Mr. Hurd
Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes he should listen to those passages that immediately precede his intervention. I have just dealt with that point. I said that there can be no absolute guarantee for Hungerford against Ryan. Nevertheless, the work that we started before Hungerford, which has been accelerated and extended since then and in the light of other shootings, is designed to shift the balance substantially in the interests of public safety and the objectives that I have just stated.
We propose to keep the main categories of regulation under the Firearms Act 1968. Fully automatic weapons such as machine guns are already prohibited. They require my special authority for their purchase and possession. Authorities are normally granted only to selected dealers involved in the import and export market. Also, under the existing system, rifles, pistols and shotguns with barrels less than 24 inches in length fall under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 and require a firearms certificate. That means that a good reason is required for each weapon to be held and details are provided. Shotguns with barrels of 24 inches or more may be purchased or possessed on 38 shotgun certificate, and the test for the issue of such a certificate is mainly one of good character. That is the existing system.
One of the weapons used by Ryan was a 7.62 mm calibre self-loading Kalashnikov rifle. That weapon has a magazine capacity and rate of fire that makes it especially dangerous. I can see no justification for the possession of such weapons in private hands and I believe that they should become prohibited weapons. I also propose that burst fire weapons, carbines and certain short-barrelled shotguns should also become prohibited.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend's line of thought and the policy that he is touching upon, but has he yet given any thought to the subject that has been raised with me by many people who own the kind of weapons that he is describing, that of possible compensation? Someone may have owned a perfectly legal item, but that may be rendered illegal because of events. Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider that point?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am aware of that point. As my hon. Friend said has been put to us increasingly over recent weeks. There are substantial difficulties of principle and practice in going down that road. However, I would be happy to discuss that matter with my hon. Friend.
The ease with which military and other weapons can be converted from one classification to another has also been a worry. In many cases, such weapons can be restored to their original condition without the need for professional skill. That is why I propose that where a firearm is converted from a higher classification into a lower one., it will retain its original higher classification. In other words, once a Bren gun always a Bren gun, no matter what changes are made to it. That is an important clarification of the law.
I am proposing a number of significant changes in relation to shotguns. The loophole whereby visitors to Great Britain may buy and possess shotguns without a shotgun certificate will be closed, and more satisfactory arrangements will be made for visiting sportsmen. I have also decided that pump action and self-loading shotguns should be brought under the control of section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 so that a good reason will be necessary for their possession. I believe that there must be a statutory obligation on shotgun holders to store their shotguns securely when they are not being used.
We have already announced our intention to raise the maximum penalty for carrying firearms in the furtherance of crime to life imprisonment, and we shall additionally raise the maximum penalty for being in possession of. a shotgun without a certificate in line with the similar offence in respect of firearms. That offence will become triable as an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment or a fine or both. We have already tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to that effect.
It is important to take illegally held firearms out of circulation as far as we can and that is why we intend to hold a firearms amnesty during the course of next year. Some people have said that the amnesty should take place immediately. I doubt the wisdom of that. If we are to derive maximum benefit from an amnesty, it needs to be properly worked out. Procedural guidance will need to be 39 given to all police forces and a publicity campaign will be necessary so that holders of illegal weapons know what to do. It makes sense that an amnesty should coincide with changes to the law so that suitable arrangements can be made for the disposal of weapons held illegally and under existing legislation and also weapons that the new legislation will no longer permit.
I am considering other suggestions and that is why the debate is timely. We shall look carefully at proposals from both sides of the House. However, I make no apology for not producing legislation or a detailed package in the first days after the recess. The arrangements that Parliament will work out on this subject must be robust enough to last perhaps another 20 years. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook acknowledged in one part of his speech —although he contradicted it in others—that means that legitimate interests must be consulted. The complications and technical details must be worked out.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
I understand that it will take some time for the law to reach the statute book. However, in the meantime, are chief constables allowed to take the law into their own hands by refusing to issue certificates to legitimate people who apply for them as I believe is the position with the Metropolitan Police and others who refuse to work within the current laws? Are the police allowed to do that?
§ Mr. Hurd
Various chief officers and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis have made statements, but of course they are operating within existing law. The Home Office is not dictating how they should operate the law because that is the business of the police. However, we are giving them guidance during this interim stage that they should act as strictly as is compatible with the law. That is the reasonable way of handling the immediate situation.
§ Mr. Hurd
I will deal with that point in a moment.
We are not interested in purely cosmetic proposals which sound good when first advanced, but which would simply add to the substantial burden that the police carry without improving the protection of the citizen. That must be a consideration. We must also consider the extra points in addition to those that I announced towards the end of September at Torquay.
I can give the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook an example of a further measure which we are considering, but which we have not yet decided upon. We are considering whether it would be right to link the purchase of shotgun ammunition to the production of a shotgun certificate. To some extent, that would deal with the point about ammunition that has been raised by many people. Other suggestions have been made along those lines. They are worth considering and we shall consult the interested parties with a view to producing a package of measures by the end of November if things go smoothly which can then be introduced to the House before Christmas in the form of a firearms Bill. That is roughly what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was pressing me to say. There is no reason why he should hang on my every utterance. He has other and better things to do. When I recently spoke to the Metropolitan branch of the Police Federation— 40 my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) was there — I made that point and set out the timing. I am glad to confirm it now.
Progress after that, of course, is not entirely within the Government's hands. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said on that point. If precedent is anything to go by, both Houses of Parliament will want to look at the matter with some care. But, given that there will be a separate Bill, and if there is reasonable co-operation, there is no reason why it should not move fairly swiftly on to the statute book. Indeed, it could be on the statute book well before the Criminal Justice Bill, which is an immense Bill that the House will want to consider again—it is now in another place — in which our proposals on knives and martial arts weapons will be contained.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Hanging on to the Home Secretary's every word, as I do, I recall what he said about guns, but I also recall what he explicitly said to me about knives a fortnight ago. We were then told that the knife element in his stronger weapons proposals will have to wait for the Criminal Justice Bill and will not be on the statute book until the summer. Since he has received from me a degree of co-operation, which I suspect he did not anticipate but which I gave him because I believed it to be right, may we have a Bill before Christmas which refers to firearms and knives? With a proper degree of co-operation, can we not move forward as fast as the public expect us to move on this matter?
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman ingeniously shifted his ground. A few moments ago, he thunderously pressed me to produce a separate firearms Bill which could be pushed through reasonably speedily. I told him, with documentary proof, that that was already my public intention. The more that one puts into a Bill, the slower it tends to be. The knife amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill will be forthcoming shortly. They will go into the Bill. I obviously hope that the Bill will go forward speedily. I am encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman's reaction. I hope that he will have a word with some of his lawyers and some of his right hon. and learned Friends, particularly those in another place. I hope that they will carefully weigh what he said about the onus of proof and, indeed, the stop and search power. Subject to the wishes of the Members of both Houses, I obviously want to make speedy progress with both sets of proposals.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
From the point of view of the police service, my right hon. Friend's timetable is convenient. Although the Police Federation has put forward a clear policy—I believe that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to it—the police see a need carefully to examine some of the complex points that my right hon. Friend has mentioned. The police would find it perfectly reasonable that there should be at least a few more weeks in which to consider the matter before we rush into firm legislation.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. The police are not a homogenous entity. Police officers in different parts of the country hold different views. No doubt, they have expressed them. There is no reason why they should have a single united view on every detail. My hon. Friend is correct.
I see the firearms proposals not as isolated measures or as something that should be rushed through as a hasty 41 response to days of intense grief and anger. Over recent months since the election, in several policy sectors, we have been planning a substantial strengthening of the citizen's defences against violence.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
I was waiting for an appropriate moment to intervene. The Home Secretary is asking for suggestions. Why not look at Northern Ireland? As he well knows, in Northern Ireland there are different gun laws, different rules about the holding of guns at home, and different rules about police inspections. Political murders in Northern Ireland are not committed with such guns but with a small number of guns that move from place to place. The House supported the changes that were made about 10 years ago. It is worth looking at Northern Ireland where the problem is greater.
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman was certainly not trying to wreck my peroration but was trying to bring in a genuine point. We are looking at the Northern Ireland experience.
I wish to put the subject into the general context of planning the substantial strengthening of the citizen's defences against violence. The new Bill will be a crucial part of that process. I hope that, when the House examines it, its purpose and main provisions will have overwhelming support. Clear thought and firm action have to go together on the matter. Both are needed in the matter, and we shall supply plenty of both.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South-West)
I am one of the rare members of the shooting fraternity on the Opposition side. As a legitimate target shooter, I realise that the existing firearms legislation when enforced works well. Ryan acted illegally when he carried his weapons around the streets. Perhaps we should ask why he was not stopped long before he performed his dreadful deeds.
It would be impossible to legislate against Kalashnikovstyle weapons. The action in such weapons is used in many forms of firearms and in many forms of sport. It is used in the most popular pistol shooting weapon in international competition, in which the United Kingdom does extremely well. I am sure that the Home Secretary knows that the United Kingdom has won many gold medals for the sporting use of firearms. As a responsible shooter, I realise that the House owes it to the public to take into account the fact that shotguns do not come under firearms legislation. I cannot see how bringing in pump action, automatic and semi-automatic shotguns under firearms category one legislation is' responsible when, at the moment, thousands of other shotguns do not come under any legislation and there seems to be no intention for them to do so. I am certain that the responsible shotgun lobby would be quite happy for them to be brought under firearms legislation.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I welcome the debate. I hope that I shall be forgiven if my remarks are couched with the town of Hungerford uppermost in my mind. Hungerford is in my constituency, and I was there on the afternoon of 19 August. Nobody who was in the town on that day will ever forget the events that took place. Until that day, nobody thought that one man could have the will or the firepower to massacre so many people 42 —a massacre the like of which has not been seen in any other part of the United Kingdom. But it happened, and one must recognise that a watershed was reached as a result of that dreadful tragedy. The debate is only one result of the killings. Sixteen people were shot dead, another 14 were wounded, and then, of course, Ryan shot himself.
I said a moment ago that I thought that the Hungerford tragedy was a watershed in the history of our country, at least in terms of killing with weapons. That is true and it might be said to be an endorsement of the view that our firearms laws were, up to that date, adequate, as we always believed them to be. They are said to be the most restrictive in western Europe. However, after 19 August 1987 we have to recognise that they are wanting and I shall suggest to the House one or two ways in which they could he improved.
I appreciated the visits by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary so soon after the tragedy. They saw the aftermath of the massacre. I welcome the fact that immediately after their visits they promised to conduct the review already in hand at a greater pace than might have been the case if Hungerford had not happened.
I digress to put on record how splendidly the police, fire brigade and ambulance services met the emergency at the time of the crisis and how subsequently the social services and voluntary organisations in Berkshire and Hungerford came to the help of the bereaved and injured.
We are fortunate in the man who is now mayor of Hungerford, because he brought a cool leadership to the town at a time of great difficulty for it and its citizens. That cool leadership has helped to bring back the town to something like normality. But, of course, the private grieving will continue for a long time. I am grateful to the trustees for the way in which they have handled the appeal fund and to all those people throughout the country who contributed so generously. The appeal fund now stands at £1 million. That is a remarkable tribute to the generosity of the British people towards a small town facing a massive tragedy.
The Hungerford tragedy invoked a wide range of reactions. It resulted in calls for a ban on all firearms and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), shouts of protest from the shooting lobby that their sport, the third most popular in Britain after fishing and golf, has been pilloried because of the actions of one deranged man. I admit to no more than a passing interest in shooting but if I had an interest I have no.doubt that I should feel the same and make my own protest. That is why the Home Secretary was correct when he said, soon after the tragedy, that in any review of the firearms laws a balance should be struck between carrying out his responsibility to ensure that society is properly protected and enabling shooters to enjoy their sport.
Immediately following the shootings, I was asked what step I thought should be taken to ensure that such an event could not happen again. I listed four suggestions. The first was that nobody should be allowed to possess a semiautomatic rifle at home—as Ryan had and had used in so many of the killings, replacing one spent magazine with another as he went his terrible way. The second was that the number of firearms held at home should be limited. Ryan had five. The third was that ammunition held at home should be limited. Ryan fired over 100 rounds. 43 Fourthly, I suggested that shooting clubs should become places with a secure armoury where weapons should be kept.
Some hon. Members will be disappointed that the Home Secretary did not say something about shooting clubs. We expect gun shops to be secure places from which weapons cannot be easily stolen. I do not see why we should not expect that, when guns are sold, they are kept in an equally secure place.
I read the speech by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the Police Superintendents Association in September when he said that he intended to prohibit high-powered self-loading rifles. He repeated that promise this afternoon. I welcome everything that he said about high-powered self-loading rifles, burst fire weapons and short-barrelled smooth-bore guns. I also welcome his announcement that other pump action and self-loading shotguns with a greater than average fire capability are to be put on a par with firearms for certification.
I also welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about another amnesty, but in conversation with a person involved in the last amnesty—an armourer at Weedon—I was surprised, as I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will he, to be told that all the weapons handed in were subsequently sold back to the gun trade. If that was so, what is the use of an amnesty? Surely the idea of an amnesty is that weapons are taken out of circulation. If someone hands in an antique pistol only to find that subsequently it is passed back to the trade and a profit is made out of it, I can see no real gain. I hope that at the next amnesty we will be sure that weapons handed in are not recirculated.
I am left with my suggestions for limiting the number of firearms, the quantity of ammunition that may be held at home and the role of gun clubs, of which there are 8,000 in this country.
I think that I am right in stating that membership of a gun club is one of the first requirements for the granting of a firearms certificate in nearly all cases. If that is so, it suggests that gun club membership confers a status on those seeking weapons that they would not have without such membership. If the gun club has that status and importance in the eyes of the police, why do so few rules apply to their establishment? For instance, they are not required to have secure premises, a range or other shooting facilities. I am told that anybody can start a gun club, just as anybody can join without being asked to show his or her proficiency or being required to undergo any training. I cannot help feeling that new regulations should be introduced.
If we are to have an overhaul of existing gun laws, gun clubs should be brought within the remit of the review. Gun club premises should be seen to be important in terms of whether a person has the right to possess a weapon. If clubs had secure armouries, it would not be an imposition to insist that only one firearm could be held in a safe place at home and that additional weapons should be held at the club. The same could apply to ammunition.
The firearms certificate—which should also apply to shotguns — should have a photograph of the owner attached to establish absolute identity. Ammunition and ammunition-making equipment should never be sold to a person who does not have a certificate bearing a photograph. The same should apply to shotgun owners. 44 Establishing who has guns and who has not turns to some extent on whether we believe that one certificate with a number of guns printed on it is adequate or whether separate certificates for each weapon should be required. I do not have strong views either way, but I believe that a national gun register, rather as our cars are held on a national computer, would enable the police to keep a check on who owns which weapons, and in particular, when guns are sold, to know to whom they are being sold. That would be a step towards giving the police additional powers and controls which I suspect they want. There is much to be said for constabularies creating firearms squads to specialise in gun control, which I believe applies to Sussex.
If there is to be really effective firearms control, we also have to find a way of stopping the huge illegal trade in arms, which is now of frightening proportions. My remarks have concentrated on the Hungerford massacre because the killings were carried out by one man in legal possession of all his weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, no law could have prevented some part of the tragedy because it is not guns which kill people, but people firing the guns. Nevertheless, if Michael Ryan had possessed only one weapon and a limited amount of ammunition, and if that weapon had not been semi-automatic, I have no doubt that most of his victims would be alive today. That is why some improvements to our firearms laws are now so necessary.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)
Like many hon. Members who have called for greater control over firearms since the Hungerford massacre, my postbag has been full of letters from the gun lobby and from sports enthusiasts protesting vigorously about the proposed changes in firearms regulations. When considering the issue of gun control, the recreational use of firearms should be secondary to the need for greater public safety. Although civil liberties implications arise from greater gun control, these should be considered subsidiary to ensuring that the public are adequately protected.
We have seen in the United States of America how the enshrinement in the constitution of the right to carry guns has led to havoc in some states. In California people have started shooting each other in traffic jams, and in one month there were nine such deaths. I am not suggesting for a moment that we are approaching that situation here, but unless we do something now to curb the use of firearms we will have to face the consequences and hold ourselves responsible for future deaths.
I accept that the Hungerford massacre probably would have happened to some limited degree whatever the circumstances. We cannot prevent someone running amok, but we can restrict the amount of damage that he or she does. It is clear that the type of weaponry and ammunition that Ryan had led to far more deaths than would have been the case had he been restricted.
We have learnt nothing new since the Hungerford and Bristol incidents. Many people were calling for greater control of firearms before those incidents, but they have focused our minds on the problem. We should be considering that problem now and passing the necessary legislation to tackle it, not with knee-jerk reactions, but with carefully thought out proposals that will stand the 45 test of time and prevent deaths. I am therefore pleased that this debate has been called today, and I endorse the call for some urgency in reaching conclusions.
I assure the Home Secretary that we will support the following measures in any legislation that is brought before the House. The first is a ban on the private sale and use of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons. As I have said, what many of us found particularly shocking about Hungerford was the scale of havoc and the number of deaths that one man could cause in one day by going over the brink. He had access to what many of us would consider to be a weapon of war rather than a weapon for recreational use. I am sure that I am not alone in not knowing before that incident that such weapons were lawfully possessed by citizens of this country.
It is clear that had Ryan had access only to a shotgun instead of a Kalashnikov rifle the death toll would have been much smaller, and instead of hundreds of bullets being fired, probably no more than 25 would have been fired before he was stopped. Therefore, the banning of what are clearly war weapons and weapons that have other than recreational use must be a first priority.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
The hon. Lady is giving the impression that the choice available to Michael Ryan at Hungerford was either a Kalashnikov or a shotgun. However, a range of weaponry between those two will not be affected by the Home Secretary's proposals. It would have been quite conceivable for Michael Ryan to roam the streets of Hungerford using a sporting rifle or any of the bolt action rifles which are freely available and which will not be affected by the Home Secretary's proposals. He could have wreaked his havoc using those weapons that have the same fire power, velocity and magazine capacity, except that they are bolt action instead of semi-automatic. Why, therefore, does the hon. Lady think that the banning of semi-automatic weapons would in any way have prevented what happened at Hungerford?
§ Mrs. Barnes
I accept that many weapons would have wreaked considerable havoc, and I endorse the suggestion that all weapons should be looked at carefully for potential inclusion in the restriction of firearms.
We should also look closely at tightening the procedures for licensing firearms. In common with the proposers of the motion, I find it ridiculous that firearms owners should be required to have only one certificate for any number of firearms. Each gun should be subject to a certificate, and only the person obtaining that certificate should he allowed to use that gun. In issuing that first certificate, the police must be very sure that the person who was given the licence is fit to be in charge of a firearm and that he has a genuine need to be in possession of it.
The police should also make detailed inquiries into how and where that weapon and ammunition will be stored. In particular, it would seem sensible to have the firearm and ammunition stored separately. The police must also be particularly vigilant when they issue individual firearm licences for further guns. The applicants should provide the police with very clear evidence and reasons why they need those additional guns. Spot checks by police on how existing firearms are used and stored before issuing additional certificates might be a further way of ensuring that firearms are issued only to people fit to possess them.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary should consider a further point about the storage of firearms. It is clear that there 46 are many categories of guns, especially those used for sporting purposes, that do not need to be stored in the home. I suggest that they be stored in the club concerned, under very safe conditions. Any sporting gun owner would then have to have very good reasons for storing his gun at home.
Finally, let me refer to a matter which has already been touched on today, but which I feel needs more attention— how violence in the media, and particularly on television, affects attitudes towards guns. Obviously this does not have the immediate effect of some of the legislation that we are considering, but it could be of critical importance to what is likely to be happening in 20 or 30 years' time. Programmes that children and teenagers love, such as "The A Team", which many of us consider perfectly innocent, show ordinary citizens holding guns and using them regularly. They illustrate very poorly what actually happens when those guns are fired. My two and a half year old son is convinced that people go, "Bang, bang", lie down for 10 minutes and then get up again. Children are growing up thinking that the use of guns is easy and acceptable, and that their use sorts out problems. They do not consider the consequences.
I suggest that a Royal Commission he appointed to consider violence in the media and to examine its effects on the minds of children and on the future of this country. Hon. Members may scoff, but we are considering attitudes, not just the control of weaponry. We are considering the mentality of the people who use that weaponry. We must not disregard the implications of what may be happening. I am not presupposing that we will find strong effects. I merely suggest that we should consider the matter very carefully and come to conclusions that are based on empirical evidence, not on prejudice.
§ Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)
I speak as the Member in whose constituency most of the recent Bristol tragedies took place. I know that the matter is currently sub judice, and that I therefore cannot comment on the events involved. However, it is significant that, although four people tragically lost their lives, the events in Bristol — following, as they did, those in Hungerford — seem almost to have been missed. Let me merely join my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in congratulating the police and fire services on their speedy and well-co-ordinated action on the day of the tragic incidents in Bristol. It was greatly appreciated by my constituents.
Let me say as an aside that I should like the Home Office to consider holding discussions with the media about the handling of such events. My constituents suffered substantial pressure, in some instances emotional, from members of the media attempting to establish facts, family contacts and so forth. I realise that the media have a duty to perform in such circumstances, but they must recognise the pressures faced by ordinary individuals when such tragic events take place.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, I broadly welcome the Government's proposals as outlined by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 22 September. However, I do not believe that — as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seems to have inferred —such proposals can be introduced at the drop of a hat, or that they will solve all the problems. Rash and fast legislation is usually bad 47 legislation — and bad legislation provides opportunities for the criminal element and others who wish to circumvent the law to do so. While I should like the legislation to be on the statute book as soon as possible, I consider it unrealistic for the Opposition Front Bench to propose such timetables.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook seems to have inferred that the only people interested in shooting are members of the upper class. That represents a complete misunderstanding of ordinary people. As has already been said, shooting is the third most popular sport in this country. Since the events in Bristol and in Hungerford, I have been staggered to discover how many of my constituents own guns — and I do not represent one of the great shire counties. I have checked some facts. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is not present, I shall make a comparison only between my constituency and that of Dewsbury, which I think may be relevant.
According to figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, my constituency is 40 per cent. middle class and Dewsbury 43 per cent. Fifteen per cent of Dewsbury's constituents are professional and managerial people, while the figure in my constituency is 11 per cent. My constituency, therefore, is substantially more ordinary and working class than Dewsbury. But my constituency contains large numbers of gun holders, the vast majority of whom are gravely concerned about the events in Bristol and Hungerford, and want correct and reasonable restrictions to be imposed on those who carry and use guns.
I suggest that, first, there should be stronger requirements for securing guns held in the home. I do not consider it realistic to require that all guns should be held by gun clubs in club houses. That would make them all too easy a target for the IRA and similar terrorist groups, and would be to the long-term disadvantage of the community, because—as has been pointed out—many such clubs are in remote places. It would be far too easy to break into them over a long period, however much security was installed.
The clarification of section 19 of the Firearms Act is important, and it would be worthwhile for it to be re-emphasised during the passage of any future firearms Bill.
I consider that the most suitable way of certifying all guns held would be to place a record of all the guns held by an individual to whom a certificate is granted on that certificate. I do not go along with the suggestion that there should be separate certificates, because, given the scale of gun-holding in this country, the administrative burden imposed on the police would be substantial.
§ Mr. Sayeed
It is obvious from what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he is keen to ensure that guns held privately, including shotguns, are held rather more securely than they are at present, to make it more difficult to remove a gun from a house when a theft takes place. Does my hon. Friend agree that at present it is far too easy for a gun to be stolen, whether or not it is securely held, and for the owner not to report it? Requiring the number to be put on a certificate, as my hon. Friend suggests, would force the owner of a shotgun to report the theft, and there would be more effective control against the stolen weapon entering the illegal market.
§ Mr. Hayward
I agree. The aim of my proposal is to make a more accurate record of the possession and transmission of guns from one individual to another. The obligation on those who lose guns to report the loss would be that much greater, whether they lose them by accident or through theft.
Let me touch on the question of accidental loss. It is all too easy to lose guns in transportation. Most of the comments made so far have concerned the storage of guns at home, but inevitably they will be transported from an individual's home to the place where they are to be fired.
When transporting guns, most people seem to be somewhat carefree, flinging them on to the back seat of their cars, in the back of their Land-Rovers and in unlocked boots. There should be an obligation on an individual to store and transport guns sensibly and securely.
One of the other matters that has concerned many people during the tragic events of this summer has been the large number of rounds available, and not only in the case of pump action guns. Ordinary individuals appear to carry large numbers of rounds with them. I do not have an easy solution to put forward regarding how many rounds it is appropriate for a person to store at home, but the Home Office should consider this matter carefully when preparing legislation.
As a result of the events in Bristol only a few weeks ago, I have taken an interest in the magazines that are on sale in W H Smith and other general newsagents. I have been amazed by the style of advertisements and photographs that appear to be acceptable in what I would describe as ordinary shooting magazines. There must be some connection between the appeal of these advertisements and the response they provoke from readers. We should consider carefully whether such reputable organisations and companies — we must presume that dealers who advertise in these magazines are reputable — should put in such advertisements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) mentioned re-purchase. If prohibition is substantially extended, it will inevitably include some weapons which represent a fairly substantial level of expenditure for relatively low income earners who enjoy shooting. If prohibition is extended without any offer of re-purchase, there will inevitably be a tendency for people not to hand in weapons. There is, therefore, a danger that such people will sell illegally and that more weapons will be available to the criminal element in society. I recognise that there are difficulties of principle in this respect, but this point should be carefully considered.
During the summer we have seen a number of tragic incidents in different parts of the country. My own constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury have been harshly affected. I hope that the tragedies that we have witnessed recently will result in a sensible revision of the law, but not an over-hasty revision in an attempt to appease certain groups of people, because that would produce bad legislation.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
Everyone was shocked by the tragedy at Hungerford and I believe that the House wants to extend its sympathy to the people who suffered. I know that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) will take back to his constituency the concern and sympathy of both sides of the House.
49 We are not considering whether legislation could stop a Hungerford incident recurring, but we as a society must look carefully at the escalating crime wave and the availability of modern weapons technology. As legislators, we must ask, not only why Ryan was holding an automatic or a semi-automatic gun in his home, but why the Home Office was not asked to explain why our laws allowed that to happen, without prior feedback. We have to consider whether the legislation is working properly. It is difficult to obtain statistics about the entry of weapons into this country from the continent for illegal, criminal purposes. I am not anti-gun; I am a member of the House of Commons gun club, where I practise target shooting. I do not kill animals or people. There have been recent tragic incidents not only in Hungerford and Bristol, but in America and Australia. As legislators, we have to consider the wider aspects of this problem.
Shotguns are the firearms used in most criminal activities, but I do not suppose that it makes much difference whether one is shot at close range by an automatic gun or a shotgun. Even as a member of the House of Commons gun club, I would not dream of keeping a weapon in my home. We are asking the police to supervise the holding of guns. The crime wave is escalating. Two-thirds of all crimes are not solved and the criminals are not brought to book. We must, therefore, address the problem of weapons being stolen in burglaries from the homes of legitimate users of guns. If a choice has to be made between sporting or other interests and the needs of society, the latter must predominate. Certain magazines glorify the use of weapons not for the protection of man but as a way of dominating his fellows. Survival clubs flourish in America, where people learn to use these weapons against their fellows.
It is no use closing the door after the horse has bolted. Our legislation must be sufficiently modern and flexible to counter the escalating crime wave. The Hungerford tragedy was the result of a deranged mind, but that is all the more reason for society to be vigilant. If somebody is killed, however much we legislate we cannot bring him back to life.
We should consider carefully the Northern Ireland experience. We should be much more strict about the number and the type of weapons that can be held. We should also examine more closely the credentials of those who say that they are gun dealers. Furthermore, these weapons should be held in much more secure places and not private homes. If I drive a vehicle I am expected to take out insurance and be responsible for its use. Such an element of responsibility must also fall on the gun holder.
The House must face up to this issue. The Labour party did little about it when it was in power, and I doubt whether the Government would have done much had it not been for Hungerford. The Hungerford incident is a lesson that will remain with us. I hope that, as representatives of the British electorate, we will see what can be done to save any repetition of that incident by fore thought and not hind thought.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) will forgive me if I do not exactly follow his line of argument, although I agree with much of what he said.
I am sure that the House shares the distress of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) 50 over the Hungerford incident. My hon. Friend put the matter eloquently, and as we listened it was apparent to us all that he has been deeply touched by the events there. I urge my hon. Friend, whom I have known for a long time, to recognise that Michael Ryan was a one-off case and that he went berserk.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) referred to people going off the rails. Michael Ryan went berserk. If he had not had access to a Kalashnikov. he might have seized a bus or lorry and run into a queue of people and killed as many in that way. One must not overreact to the fact that this this weapon was available. It was available in an exceptional circumstance, and to an exceptional person who, if a Kalashnikov had not been available, would have found some other way of venting his spite on society.
I support the measures which the Home Secretary announced he was thinking of taking when speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers on 22 September. It is obvious that any Home Secretary has to do something. Public feeling is very deep on this issue; it is not confined to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. The country was shattered by the offences at Hungerford; my right hon. Friend had to do more than make a gesture to quieten public opinion. The delicate balance that my right hon. Friend achieved in his speech on 22 September was about right; it would have been unthinkable for him to have done nothing. A good and sensible Home Secretary would not have bowed to the immediate pressures from the people of Hungerford, the Association of Chief Police Officers or from public opinion and introduced stringent and intransigent measures. As Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend has a very delicate job. Those who are concerned with shooting, as are several of my hon. Friends, realise that these measures will have a great effect on future civilian weapon possession.
I am sure that the House is united on the Home Secretary's proposal to ban the Kalashnikov rifle completely. Many chief officers of police would not have licensed such a weapon in the first place. A failure of the Firearms Act 1968 was the excessive latitude that it gave to chief officers. The chief officer for the Hungerford area considered it proper and right to give a civilian the right to use a Kalashnikov and other repeating weapons, yet many other chief officers of police, to my certain knowledge, would have been very loath, even under the existing regulations, to have issued such a licence. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on proposing that such weapons should no longer be available and that they are not needed in a civilian society.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Kalashnikov weapon, has been available and held in private hands for about 40 years?
§ Sir John Farr
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's research is 100 per cent. correct. He will probably discover that after further consideration his statement is incorrect.
I support my right hon. Friend's banning of all burst fire weapons and short-barrelled smooth-bore guns, thus bringing them within a prohibited category. In a peaceful society there is no justification for an individual's possession of such weapons.
There has been a great outcry with regard to my right hon. Friend's third proposal. It is suggested that pump action and other self-loading shotguns be brought under 51 the same control that currently exists for rifles and pistols. That is the very least that my right hon. Friend could have done. The outcry has come from people who possess such weapons. They say that this proposal is desperately unfair and that proper compensation will not be forthcoming for those who have to forfeit their weapons. My right hon. Friend is not banning such weapons; he is saying that exceptionally good grounds will have to exist for their purchase and continued possession. Rightly, he intends to include them in the section 1 certificate. In this proposal he is saying that anybody who has an ordinary shotgun certificate will be unable to obtain special weapons, with the special capacities that they have. Those people have to be approved through the more stringent section 1 procedures and they will then be allowed to keep them. It may be that tens of thousands of people who currently hold such weapons will pass the necessarily stringent test to allow them to continue possessing them under the section 1 procedure. I agree with my right hon. Friend on the point about military and other weapons that can be converted.
The final point that I should like to make relates to my right hon. Friend's proposals with regard to raising the maximum penalty for carrying firearms in the furtherance of crime to life imprisonment. I am sure that the House agrees that the penalty for carrying firearms in the furtherance of crime should carry a life sentence. I understand that that measure will be enacted in the Criminal Justice Bill, but I have, as always, a lingering doubt that if a man is apprehended carrying a weapon, even though he has no intention of using it, will receive a sentence of life imprisonment as well. I am not sure that the House is right in saying that if a man carries a weapon without the intention of using it he should still receive the same life sentence. I am not sure that that is the deterrent that the House would wish it to be.
I fully agree with the approach that is outlined on the Order Paper. What the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) suggested about the listing of all shotguns on an individual certificate would be difficult to implement because, as I tried to point out in an intervention, many shotguns do not have serial numbers. If the right hon. Gentleman asks the Birmingham gunmakers about this point I am sure that they will agree that one cannot diestamp on to an ancient but perfectly sound weapon without completely destroying it.
The proposal of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook for a separate certificate for each weapon would cause a tremendous amount of book-work, even if it was worth it. Is he aware that about six million shotguns are in legal circulation today? He may say that he will see that five million of them are taken out of circulation but he should tell the House. The police computer centre, which would administer a system such as that, would break down and the cost of the proposal would be out of proportion.
I have mentioned compensation. I feel that that matter should not affect the Government too much because the market will cope. It may be that many of the weapons held now on a shotgun certificate will continue to be held on a more stringent section 1 certificate and that the number of weapons for disposal will not choke up the demand.
I have been closely associated with the Palace of Westminster rifle club for many years. It is open at any 52 time for inspection on the range. It is just a few yards away and many hon. Members and members of staff spend a lot of time there. We are proud of our security and the way in which our weapons are held. We are also proud of the armoury and of the personal supervision provided by instructors at all times.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Does my hon. Friend agree that that entirely endorses my point about gun clubs? If we can have that sort of security in our gun club in the Palace of Westminster, why should we expect anything less than that in other gun clubs throughout the country?
§ Sir John Farr
My hon. Friend is right. Without being too naive, we try to set an example. That example is the very least one should expect in any of the many gun clubs in the country. The Palace range is inspected and licensed by Home Office inspectors and its use is restricted entirely to rifles.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said. I hope that he will press on with his approach which, as I said, is the right one. It is delicately balanced and sensible. We must not go overboard because of the events at Hungerford and Bristol, both of which were tragedies. We have to remember that a recent survey done by The Times showed that the firearms laws in Britain are generally much more stringent than in our European neighbours. We must bear that in mind. We have a strict system now and, by and large, it works well. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his amendment today.
§ Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)
This debate arises primarily out of the tremendous horror of the Hungerford massacre. The people of Bradford—I represent one of the Bradford constituencies—have a close affinity with the people of Hungerford because the Hungerford tragedy took place some two years after ours. It involved massive loss of life and injury to citizens. There was enormous sympathy for Hungerford from the people of Bradford, and our local authority sent to Hungerford staff with tremendous skills and knowledge arising out of their experience of the terrible fire at Valley Parade football ground.
The debate takes place in relation to Hungerford but is coloured by the events in Bristol, the shooting of a bailiff and young solicitor or solicitor's clerk in Wolverhampton and the terrible mass killings of a similar nature to Hungerford that have taken place in America and Australia. I recall watching one of a series of films about a hospital in south Chicago where the biggest cause of termination of pregnancy was gunshot wounds. That is the mirror of a society where guns are widely available. That is what it means in terms of social cost. I agree with so many people who have spoken today. There is no justification for automatic or semi-automatic guns to be available.
I have spoken about Bradford and Hungerford, but I recall the other side of the issue. The day of the Bradford disaster had been a day of enormous celebration with the promotion of the football team from the third division to the second. I can recall as a young boy the pleasure I got from being taken by my father to the local home guard rifle club to shoot on a 25-yard range with a .22 rifle. I had one enormous disadvantage in that I am totally incapable of winking with my left eye, and I had to wear a patch. My 53 excuse is that I gave up range shooting when Moshe Dayan and his patch became so popular, and I took up clay pigeon shooting. I have no axe to grind with people's legitimate right to participate and enjoy sport in that way.
I enjoyed clay pigeon shooting with ordinary working people in my community on a Sunday morning at a simulated game shoot. However, I do not think that the right of people to engage in sport can avoid the fact that we live in a climate and at a time of growing violence, not only gun violence but violence in general. The number of offences involving firearms has increased four and a half times since 1972. It is true that that increase is concerned largely with damage to property because those figures show damage which exceeds £20. However, there is a growing use of pistols, shotguns and more sophisticated weapons in relation to crime. Therefore, the licensing of shotguns and the keeping of a register is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable request to make and it should be done on the basis of individuals.
I have one slight criticism of the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I believe that the grounds for my criticism arise from a general misunderstanding of the mail order business. I worked for three of the five big mail order companies in this country. Two of those five are among the largest employers in Bradford. I have noticed in debates in the House that when the mail order industry is debated it is assumed that the little advertisements one sees in various journals, often for the most dubious of products, are part of the mail order industry. The industry involves large companies. Two of the companies for which I worked sell shotguns. They sell them on an entirely responsible basis. The customer has to supply a shotgun certificate which is checked with the police before a gun is issued.
I also agree with the system of registration. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on the class point of view. I can see no reason why the farm labourers and garage mechanics with whom I first went shooting should not use the traditional means of paying for a shotgun over a period of weeks or months in the same way as a more wealthy person can buy a pair of matching guns at one of the better London shops.
I end on this note. Violence is not divorced from society. One cannot draw general conclusions from an aberration such as the Hungerford disaster, but nor can one ignore the fact that we live in an increasingly divisive society. The factors that trigger off people with mental weaknesses are precisely the conflicts and tensions which arise primarily from the gross inequalities in our society — the poverty of so many people compared with the increasing and flaunted wealth of a minority. Those tensions have an effect on the use of knives and guns and on crime statistics generally. If we are to tackle violence of all kinds in our society we must have a social programme to deal with inequality, scarcity and poverty.
Personally, I also oppose the growing use of weapons of violence by the forces of the state. Perhaps a more restrictive attitude to the use of weapons in society generally will mean less use of firearms by the police and other forces of the state. The House should not forget the deaths of John Shorthouse and Gail Kitchen, two innocent children killed by police using firearms in the course of their duty. We therefore have a duty to deal with firearms in relation not just to the public but to the state.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
My hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) spoke movingly of the tragedies in their constituencies this year and we all appreciate the part that they played in helping their constituents.
I should say at the outset that I resent the phrase "gun lobby" being bandied about in the media as it implies a wild west, couldn't-care-less attitude to weapons and shooting which is far from the truth. Those to whom I shall refer are members of properly constituted and affiliated rifle clubs, pistol clubs and clay pigeon clubs. They are highly responsible people who look after their ranges, whether they be 25 yd indoor ranges or open ranges, and we should give credit to them for the recreation that they provide. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to react to the Hungerford tragedy. The law needs to be simplified, strengthened and amended, but he should not overreact. That is the burden of my remarks today. The traditional shooter for sport and recreation has a right to continue, and we should not make life too difficult in that respect.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I am disappointed at the amount of consultation so far. I am an office-bearer in the National Small-bore Rifle Association. the National Rifle Association, the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and the British Shooting Sports Council. I know that the latter, which represents all the sports in negotiations with the Home Office, has been in consultation on administrative changes and important matters of security. Immediately after the Hungerford tragedy, my noble Friend Lord Swansea wrote expressing grave concern and offering his services for immediate consultations, but I am sorry to say that no consultation took place before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his important announcement on 22 September. Had there been such consultation, I believe that some of the difficulties could have been ironed out before that announcement.
I warmly accept some of the points made by my right hon. Friend in relation to burst fire weapons, increased penalties and security matters, but any proposals must be practical and effective. So far, no one has mentioned the police manpower required to carry out the recommendations. We know how much administrative work the police carry out to implement the existing system of firearms and shotgun certificates. If the system is to be stepped up, I wonder how this will be achieved. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be flexible in thought and deed between now and the presentation of a Bill to Parliament. Like other hon. Members, I would rather the Government took a little longer than that they rushed something out by the end of the year.
Technical changes will also have to be borne in mind as weapons are constantly evolving and we must be able to adapt quickly to changes as they occur, including changes in international competitive shooting rules. The Minister will receive a very supportive response from the shooting world provided that he recognises the legitimate right to use firearms for sport and recreation. I cannot accept the views of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) or of the SDP. I therefore have no difficulty in opposing the motion and 55 supporting my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I welcome the announcement of 22 September, although I believe that one or two points require amendment.
A critical issue concerns self-loading and pump action firearms. Kalashnikov-type weapons must clearly be kept out of the hands of ordinary people interested in firearms, but the Government must listen to the arguments in relation to .222, .243 and .275 stalking rifles. Many stalkers feel that these are the most effective, especially when limited to a magazine of four or five rounds. For humane reasons alone, if one wounds a beast, one needs to be able to fire a second round quickly and there is nothing wrong with the use of self-action small-bore rifles for sporting purposes.
With regard to shotguns, I hope that my right hon. Friend appreciates the position of those who rightly use self-loading shotguns for clay pigeon shooting. Only two rounds are used and it may ultimately be necessary to ensure that manufacturers produce shotguns able to fire only two rounds. At present, however, the majority have a capacity of four or five rounds, although they may be adapted to fire only two. If the total of perhaps 200,000 such weapons is to be covered for the purpose of firearms certificates, there will be an enormous burden on the police in terms of inspection and administrative detail.
It is important to appreciate that a firearm certificate now costs £33 whereas 20 years ago it cost 5s. Moreover, variations cost £19. Any change of weapon, which is quite frequent in competition shooting, would mean a fee of £19 plus police inspection. That seems to me to be setting up a bureaucracy of incredible proportions relative to the practical results that we seek to achieve. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about that aspect.
Some people in the countryside use self-loading shotguns on pests and vermin. That is quite legal and they have perhaps five shots at their disposal. In relation to game and wild fowl, however, the Wildlife and Countryside Act limits them to three shots. All these matters must be taken into account when legislation is drafted between now and the new year, as I hope will be the case. In my view, to try to achieve this before Christmas is asking too much.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will also look very carefully at perhaps the most complicated area concerning security. We have the 1969 firearms rules. Rule No. 11, says that when firearms are "not in actual use", they must be "in a secure place." That is the critical issue. What is a secure place?
At the moment there is an enormous difference in police interpretation of that point, Some people have been prosecuted and convicted for not having their rifle or ammunition in a secure place when they are locked in the boot of their car. How is one to take a rifle from home to Bisley, for example, or the nearest indoor range, without taking it in one's car? One must be practical about this matter. If one has a long journey, one is entitled to fill up the car with petrol or have a cup of coffee. The police must accept the good will of the shooting population and realise that what seems to be nitpicking does not help to achieve what we want with regard to security.
Of course, we must have security in the home. It is crucial. The British Shooting Sports Council has been keen to ensure that. However, we must remove the controversial issues for which there has been legislation in the past two 56 or three years, which have caused heart burning in the shooting world and perhaps have not helped towards security.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I share many of my hon. Friend's feelings, although, as he will appreciate, I find myself on both sides of the divide. Does he believe that shooters would accept that the corollary of the requirement for safer keeping is that the police would need to have access to the premises of individual citizens and gun clubs, to ensure that the safe-keeping rule was being respected?
§ Sir Hector Monro
Indeed. I welcome the police coming to look at my safe keeping — I shall not say what it is —whenever I renew my firearms certificate. I do not see why that should not be extended to shotgun certificates. However, doing so would mean an enormously increased administrative burden on the police. It is all very well dealing with a few hundred thousand firearms certificates, but if there are to be over 1 million shotgun certificates. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Wales will realise what we are asking the police to do. If there is to be greater security in the home, inspection becomes almost inevitable.
I hope that we shall look carefully at specialist disciplines in the world of shooting such as muzzle loaders and flintlocks. Obviously, no criminal will set out with a muzzle loader or flintlock for use in crime. Therefore, the regulations must get round that specialist shooting interest.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will mention compensation for those who will have to surrender weapons which at present are legal and which they bought when they were legal. I hope that when the amnesty, which one supports, is held my hon. Friend will bear it in mind that, rightly or wrongly, there are several good historic weapons in people's possession, which I know they should not have. There should be some way in which those weapons could be disposed of through the gun trade so that we do not lose them any more than other works of art and so that they are not just broken up. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for selling them through the gun trade. Thereafter they would be registered. It has been said that it would not matter if they came into circulation. They would not necessarily come into circulation, but at least they would be registered and the police would know where they were.
I support the view that there should be a photograph on a firearms certificate. When a certificate is presented for the purchase of ammunition or a rifle, the dealer does not know whether the person who presents the certificate is the person to whom it refers.
We want careful control of firearms. I hope that in the legislation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary promotes he will do all that he can to ensure that sport and recreational shooting continue with as little hindrance as possible. As a nation, we have a tremendous record for marksmanship in the Olympic games, the Commonwealth games and international competition and it would be a pity if through thoughtless and over-hasty legislation that pleasure and recreation were removed from the sportsmen and the thousands who go to the countryside to enjoy shooting. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will think carefully and consult in great detail the BSSC and other interested bodies before he introduces legislation.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
As someone who lived in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for many years and who was his political opponent for a few of those years, I should like to associate myself with his remarks about the tragedy at Hungerford and the way in which the local people rallied to support the victims of that crime.
I should also like to associate myself with some of the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman, strange as it may seem. because I, too, draw a parallel between owning a car and owning a gun. We recognise that a car can be a lethal weapon. There are many reasons why it should be registered and its ownership known. Despite what the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said about the cost of such a scheme, I believe that people who want legitimately to use firearms of any sort should be prepared to have that done in the same way. That means that every gun should be registered by a separate licence. It is worth reflecting that if Michael Ryan had had to make a subsequent application for every firearm that he came to own, the examination of his mental health might have prevented the additional licensing of any additional weapon after he first acquired one.
No ammunition should be permitted to be made available or sold to anyone who cannot produce such a licence and give a legitimate reason why ammunition is needed for that weapon system. Therefore, I am pleased at the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) put forward our plans and requests to the Home Secretary to amend the proposed legislation in the ways that he suggested.
My constituents of Lewisham, Deptford, an inner-city area, are concerned that there should be a restriction on all dangerous weapons, not just those classed as firearms, because in my constituency, as in many others, injuries and death resulting from the use of knives are even more substantial than from the use of firearms. I am told that in Lewisham borough a man who was not considered fit to have a licence to sell shotguns or firearms of any sort was subsequently allowed to open a shop selling imitation guns and all forms of martial arts weapons. As we have heard today, many of those weapons are lethal; they can be used to kill people. They should be restricted in the way in which we seek to restrict firearms.
I do not want to go over much of the ground that has been covered in the debate, but I want to mention the related area of concern that cannot be ignored—the cult of violence that has become part of our society. I understand that available alongside those martial arts weapons there are, for example, audio cassettes entitled "Hitler Youth Sings Again". I fail to understand how such material can legitimately be on sale. I wonder whether the House is aware that a recent copy of Gun and Accessories Mart magazine carried on its front page a picture of an AK47 rifle and described it as "The infamous AK47". That appeared after the tragedy of Hungerford. Advertisements in other magazines refer to a knife known as "The Terminator" and another knife of "awesome strength and penetration".
Today the House has noted many things about the availability of weapons, but I believe that one cannot escape from that cult of violence. Another magazine, Combat and Survival, recently carried an article entitled:Infantry tactics in built-up areas".58 Another headline was "Fighting with the GPMG", which I understand is an automatic firearm. All those who would argue for the rights of sports people must address themselves to the issue of the cult of violence and advertising in magazines of that nature.
It has been noted in today's debate that weapons themselves do not cause loss of life or injury; it is the people who use them. It has also been remarked that restricting legislation already exists in this country as compared with other nations, yet there is a rapid rise in crime associated with firearms. While I welcome the proposals for the extension of restrictions in the law, I believe, too, that the House must accept that the problems of the misuse of weapons in this country are due, not only to isolated examples of mental sickness in individuals, but the expression of a deeper ill in our society that emanates from the alienation of so many of our citizens as a result of the divisive social and economic policies of the Government.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will forgive me if I do not pursue her final comments. I want to offer my support to the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with which I completely agree. I also congratulate him on the action that he has taken since the tragedy of Hungerford to re-examine the issue of the ownership and control of firearms and shotguns in the United Kingdom. I particularly agree with my right hon. Friend's suggestion that a careful and detailed consideration of these matters should be undertaken.
The shooting community in the United Kingdom is composed largely, if not wholly, of responsible citizens who pride themselves on their good citizenship, their interest in guns and their safe use of guns. As a group they are as much the victims of the tragedy of Hungerford as the unfortunate people of that community. We should bear in mind the need to balance the debate about the use and control of firearms and shotguns.
During the debate we have heard calls for different types of certificates, for the inclusion of weapons by number or description on certificates, and for the storage of firearms and shotguns in safe places. However, what will such calls mean? If we are to encourage people to store firearms or shotguns in gun clubs or armouries, what will be the requirements for the security of those premises? An hon. Member referred to what I believe he called a hut to which people went to fire a weapon in target practice. The premises in question might well be suitable for that sort of activity, but if they are to be used for the storage of weapons and ammunition the purpose of those premises will have changed completely, and we need to examine carefully what obligations or requirements we should impose upon those who set themselves up in business, or in association, or in clubs, and may accept responsibility for the storage of firearms, shotguns or ammunition.
There have been calls for a limit on the amount of ammunition that people may hold, but on some estates — this does not apply in my constituency in the centre of London — I am told that those who go shooting might discharge several thousand rounds in the course of a week's shooting. Under those circumstances, what are the implications for the holding and storage of that amount of ammunition? My right hon. Friend is right to 59 say that a careful analysis of these problems is necessary, because, although we are concerned about the aftermath of the Hungerford tragedy, it would be unwise to create a structure of bureaucracy that was so unwieldy that neither the police nor other authorities could make it work, or to create a Mecca for those who wish to steal firearms or ammunition by having them deposited in clubs in which there is inadequate protection.
Since 1920 we have had strict controls over firearms and shotguns in this country. Those restrictions have served the people of the country extremely well. For 67 years we have not had the like of the Hungerford incident, for which we are all most grateful. That is to be compared with the United States, where, in the 20 years following the murder of President Kennedy, about 210,000 Americans have been killed by firearms. Almost the same number have committed suicide with a gun. Another 50,000 have been killed accidentally by gunfire, and about 180 million privately owned guns are held by people in the United States. Our system of gun control has, for 67 years, prevented that from happening.
Now, we should be trying to prohibit the possession of firearms such as burst or pump action shotguns, which have no place on the sporting field—such as the semiautomatic rifle of the kind that was tragically used at Hungerford. There can be no justification for the private possession of such weapons. At the same time, we should not prohibit the legitimate use by responsible citizens of weapons used for sporting and firearm practice. Whatever arrangements the House finally decides upon, sadly, it cannot and will not, either by prohibition or certification, prevent people from going mad and using firearms, whether the arms in question were lawfully or unlawfully acquired.
We cannot prevent the occasional incident of armed crime. Most professionally organised criminals find no difficulty in obtaining unlawful weapons in the so-called black market, imported from the Republic of Ireland or from other parts of Europe. Such people will continue to have access to such weapons, and we should not deceive ourselves into believing that a more punishing regime for the shooting community will somehow prevent another crime, or the tragedy of Hungerford, because it will not.
That is not to say that my right hon. Friend is wrong to pursue his investigation into the controls that he has announced. He is absolutely right to do so. That forms part of a 67-year tradition of gun control that has served this country and its people well, and that is why I have no hesitation in supporting his amendment tonight.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
There was something in what the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said, but I have no problem in supporting the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Perhaps the hon. Member for Westminster, North and I should have a discussion later in the Lobby. However, I was broadly sympathetic to his remarks, with the exception of his comment — it has been made by other speakers, too — that there can be no justification for the individual possession of semi-automatic rifles and pump action shotguns. That is not true. There is a justification, and it is a good one. The use of semi-automatic weapons and 60 pump action shotguns is common in bona fide, legitimate sports—not only on the shooting field but in the sort of shooting activity that is organised by private shooting clubs on private, licensed ranges throughout the country.
Hitherto, there have been no problems, and the activities in which shooters have involved themselves have been properly controlled. They are properly licensed and supervised by the Ministry of Defence or the Home Office, and, by and large, there have been no problems. When it is said that there can be no justification for the use of such weapons, a challenge is being made to the Home Office, because it has accepted that indviduals have a right to own, use and enjoy weapons such as these. There is a justification for them in sporting terms, and that has been recognised by the Home Office.
There is a problem of two dimensions in the proposals that the Home Secretary will put before Parliament later this year. The first is that all the restrictions that are being mooted will be restrictions on the legal shooting lobby. As I understand it, fewer than 1 per cent. of the weapons that are used in crime or in the furtherance of crime are illegally held. It is not suggested that the 99 per cent. of weapons that are legally owned and used will be subject to prohibition, further restrictions and banning because of the misuse of the I per cent. of weapons that are illegally held by the criminal fraternity. The issue has not been properly grasped.
Secondly, in an intervention I asked the Home Secretary about the events in Hungerford. I understand that he is in something of a dilemma because he has to be seen to be responding to what happened there. Clearly, we all expect the Home Secretary to respond effectively. He has to balance the legitimate rights of the shooting fraternity. I am not a member of that fraternity. I no longer shoot, although I used to. The Home Secretary now faces a barrage of lobbying, not only from those who wish to own firearms but from those who wish to own shotguns. Underpinning that whole lobbying system is the lobby organised by people who engage in field sports.
The dilemma that the Home Secretary must resolve is how to reconcile the need that he sees to impose restrictions upon certain weapons while at the same time not infringing on the rights that he as the Home Secretary wishes to maintain for the shooting sports lobby. That is the problem. I asked him how he felt the abolition of semiautomatic weapons would have prevented what happened at Hungerford. He said that of course there could never be any absolute guarantee. I am not asking for a guarantee because we can never have guarantees. The abolition of semi-automatic weapons would not have prevented the events at Hungerford.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) was not aware when he made his speech that he gave the game away. He spoke about three classes of weapons that are commonly used for field sports, blood sports and stalking. Any one of those weapons could have been used by Michael Ryan to inflict carnage on the town of Hungerford. He did not need a Kalashnikov. The fire power and bullet velocity qualities of the Kalashnikov were of no consequence to the issues at Hungerford. The issue there was about a man who had clearly lost all sense of what he was doing and who had possession of a weapon capable of firing about 30 rounds in about one and a half hours. The hon. Member for Dumfries knows that any of the sporting weapons that he mentioned could have done exactly the same damage as Michael Ryan did with the 61 Kalashnikov. Therein lies my reservation about what is proposed. While the banning of the Kalashnikov might let the people of Britain sleep easy in their beds, it would do nothing to prevent the recurrence of events like those in Hungerford.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) knows the depth of feeling in the House and outside for his beleaguered community. The hon. Gentleman made four suggestions about how he felt the Government should respond. I listened carefully to his speech because about three or four weeks ago, probably in common with a number of hon. Members, I was approached by the members of a local gun club who expressed their concern. I spent several hours with them at their site at Llanbradach in my constituency. It was interesting to apply the hon. Gentleman's proposals to the situation in my constituency. First, he said that high-powered, high-velocity weapons should he locked in an armoury. The site in my constituency is licensed by the Home Office and is used frequently by the Ministry of Defence, by the SAS who come down from Hereford. The site is on top of a mountain and is in the semi-circle of a coal tip. Access is after a journey of about three and a half miles across open countryside. The armoury, if that is what it is called, is a small stone building used for storing targets. There is no security, and there cannot be.
The hon. Gentleman may say that it is necessary for that club to build a proper armoury. It may well be that in Newbury and in Westminster and in the more affluent parts of Britain gun clubs have the resources to spend £15,000 to £30,000 to build a secure armoury. The scores of people who belong to the shooting club in my constituency are miners, farm workers and unemployed people. By and large, the membership of that club represents the population of my constituency. They would not be able to build an armoury and if they were restricted in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests my constituents, who are currently quite legitimately allowed to use weapons, would be deprived of their enjoyment of those weapons. That deprivation would result from their inability to pay. If we are to impose any restrictions, they should be on the basis not of a person's ability to pay but on some other system of merit, justice or security.
The hon. Member for Newbury also suggested that there should be restrictions on the volume of ammunition. I think that the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said that hundreds of rounds of ammunition would be used. Shooters usually compete on Sunday afternoons. That practice may not be followed elsewhere, but certainly in my part of the world shooting on a range on a Sunday afternoon is an accepted part of the sporting calendar. It is as well to remember that the events that we are describing are recognised by the Olympic Federation as Olympic sports. On a Sunday afternoon people who wish to shoot on the range in my constituency have to drive to the range and carry their ammunition. How else can they equip themselves for a shoot of four to six hours unless they come equipped with a box of ammunition or a dozen magazines? Are they to go down every half hour to the local gun shop in Cardiff, which is not open on a Sunday anyway? How are they to cope with such a restriction? The hon. Gentleman's third point about a ban on holding a number of guns is superficially attractive. Michael Ryan did his damage with one gun.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Michael Ryan was carrying three guns—a Kalashnikov, an M1 carbine and a Beretta. He used the Kalashnikov and the Beretta.
§ Mr. Davies
I understand that the Beretta was the last weapon that he used and that the damage was inflicted with the Kalashnikov. That is precisely the point I made, that he needed only one rifle. Preventing a licensed person from having half a dozen weapons makes no progress in the sort of control that the hon. Gentleman suggests. If a person is deemed to be fit, in the eyes of the law, to possess a high-powered rifle, how can he be deemed unfit in the eyes of the law to possess a second high-powered rifle? That question must be answered by the hon. Member for Newbury.
In itself the banning of semi-automatic weapons would in no way prevent a recurrence of the sort of events that happened in Hungerford. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendment. I had hoped that the Home Secretary would have looked at greater length at the events at Hungerford and that he would have instituted a public inquiry to examine not only the events, the possession of weapons and the police response, but the very confused and dangerous area of the possession of weapons
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
This debate is important. This topic was chosen as the first subject to be debated in Opposition time after the recess because of the widespread concern of Opposition Members and, as we have heard. of some Conservative Members. Certainly there is concern throughout the country, not only about the incidents this summer, but about the increasing use and misuse of firearms in Britain. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, we had hoped that there would be general agreement throughout the House on the constructive proposals in our motion. We are disappointed that the Home Secretary's amendment and his speech this afternoon indicate that as yet he is willing to permit himself to make only minimal changes. We are disappointed and alarmed that he does not seem to grasp the urgency of the need for a complete and thorough review of the whole basis of gun control.
Conservative Members have urged the Home Secretary to delay and water down his limited proposals. I urge him not to backtrack, but to go further, and in particular to push ahead as quickly as possible, not only with legislation, but with the amnesty that he has proposed. He said this afternoon that that would take time to organise and publicise. We accept that, but he should not be complacent and simply say that it will happen some time next year. He needs to firm up on all those proposals if we are to make progress on this important matter.
My hon. Friends have acknowledged that many people who own and use firearms are not a threat to themselves. their friends, their families, their neighbours or to society as a whole. We accept that there are some people for whom the use and ownership of a firearm is probably an essential part of their working lives. We think of farmers in particular. We are not attempting to insinuate that all those who hold and use firearms are likely to misuse them: nor are we suggesting that they would knowingly allow them to fall into the hands of others who could misuse them. We are not attacking every member or every gun club as being irresponsible.
What we say, however, is that the increase in violent crime, the number of accidents and the misuse of firearms 63 generally has caused concern for several years. The incidents this summer have highlighted that concern and brought the fears of many to the forefront. However, there is no way in which that concern can be seen, as some Conservative hon. Members would suggest, as an alarmist reaction to the events of Hungerford and elsewhere this summer. The calls for stricter controls from Opposition hon. Members go back a long way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook outlined earlier today the attempts by my hon. Friends on many occasions to raise with the Home Secretary the need for stronger controls. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) all had meetings and correspondence with the Home Secretary to press for tougher action long before those recent incidents. They warned that such outbreaks and incidents could occur if controls were not improved, but all that is in the past.
What we must recognise is that the need is clear and the climate right for significant changes in the law on gun control. The Home Secretary said that we must think of legislating for 20 years ahead, and he gave that as a reason for delay. I believe that that is a reason to be as comprehensive as possible in the measures and changes that we decide should take place. The House now has to decide what the changes will be. Virtually every hon. Member agrees that changes in gun control must take place. The question is the extent of those changes — whether the changes will simply be to deal with some of the loopholes that evidently exist, some of which have been acknowledged by the Home Secretary, whether dealing with those loopholes will be the limit of the changes proposed, or whether we will review the whole basis of gun control.
The Home Secretary said today that he is willing to take what he called significant action. He has accepted the need for strengthening controls, but he has not made it clear where he stands on the points in our motion. He did not say where he stood on the individual licences for shotguns and all the other points. When the Minister winds up the debate this evening, I hope that he will be specific about the points raised in the Opposition's motion. Surely he must agree that it cannot be right for an individual to hold any number of shotguns on the basis of one licence. The police cannot be expected to supervise effectively the possession of shotguns if they do not have a record of the number of shotguns that an individual owns. At present the police do not even know the number of shotguns in circulation. That is why we believe that a separate certificate should be required for each shotgun. The Home Secretary needs to make his position clear on this, and I urge the Minister to be specific about that this evening.
Also mentioned in our motion is the creation of a central register of all approved firearms and shotguns, as this would greatly assist the police in tracing the origins of firearms used illegally. The United States and many other countries have set up central registers of guns. While this cannot wholly prevent the illegal use of weapons, it can act as a deterrent, it is an incentive to hold weapons securely and, as the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) said, it will ensure the proper recording of the theft of weapons from a legitimate owner, 64 The Home Secretary agrees with our third point. We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to extend the ban on automatic weapons to semi-automatic weapons. We agree with him that there can be no justification for an individual holding such weapons, but this is the only point mentioned in our motion on which the Home Secretary has commented. I repeat that we do want to know where the Government stand on the issues raised today.
We would also like the Home Secretary's comment on our fourth proposal, which is the ability of an individual to purchase weapons by mail order. It cannot be right that a person can buy a pump action shotgun, or any weapon, through the mail. It represents an unacceptably casual approach to the purchase of potentially deadly weapons and we believe that it should he stopped.
The measures that we have proposed in the motion are by no means the limits that we would like to see on new controls. The points in our motion are simple and practical proposals which are supported by the Police Federation and which we hope to use as the basis for common ground in today's debate. I believe that we will need to go further in new legislation and say that before a licence is issued or anyone is allowed to hold a gun in his home we should shift the onus of proof as to why someone needs a gun. Further, as the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said, we should look at the rules governing the establishment and running of gun clubs, and look thoroughly at the rules and legislation on ammunition. Incredible though it seems, presently anyone over the age of 18 can legally store 30 lb of gunpowder for his private use. Surely such a provision is asking for troulble.
§ Mrs. Taylor
For Guy Fawkes, indeed. It is significant that, in the incidents that have occurred this summer and have caused such concern, each of the gunmen had access not only to a number of weapons but to vast amounts of ammunition. While the control of ammunition may be difficult, and while I recognise that many gun users make their own ammunition because of the high cost of buying it, we have to ensure that we minimise the easy availabilty of ammunition so as to minimise the risks.
Much of what we propose is designed to minimise risks. We recognise that it can never be possible to prevent all crimes involving firearms. As many of the letters from the gun lobby point out, it will never be possible to legislate for a mad man. Of course it will not. It is not conceding anything to recognise that, but we can and must legislate to reduce the scope for the deliberate and the accidental misuse of guns. We know that we cannot prevent that entirely, but we must minimise risks.
Above all, we must decide where our starting point will be. Do we start from the premise that everyone is entitled to own a gun? Do we follow the United States model, or do we start from the premise that society has a right to security and to the freedom to go about its normal daily business with as much security and as little risk as possible, and that only those who can show good need to hold a firearm, as well as their basic stability — although this is a difficult area, since only this summer several murderers were legally in possession of their weapons — should be allowed to hold one?
The Home Secretary proposes to change the onus of proof in relation to knives—
§ Mrs. Taylor
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that if someone carries a knife in a public place the onus will be on him to prove why he is carrying it. The same should be true of firearms. The Home Secretary may not have heard the comments of some of his hon. Friends, who said that it was reasonable for someone who held firearms to lock them in the boot of his car while he went into a cafe for a drink on his way to a shooting match. I believe that that is an unreasonable place in which to store guns, and I hope that the Home Secretary will agree. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) said that he might agree with that and that there should be stricter controls on the transportation of lethal weapons.
The Opposition acknowledge that those changes would mean the loss of some rights among some gun holders, but sporting activities could be reorganised if the will was there. It would cause some inconvenience, although that would be as nothing compared with the loss of rights of all of us if the use and misuse of guns became even more widespread. The extent to which guns and violence generally are part of our society is alarming, and the extent to which they are part of the so-called entertainment industry is incredible.
Recently there has been much speculation about the extent to which gunmen have modelled themselves on the dubious heroes of films and videos — Rambo and the like. Whatever may have been the case with the gunmen this summer, it is impossible to believe that it is a sign of a healthy society to have a series of Rambo books produced for children of junior school age in which violence and the gun rule. They include titles such as "Operation Suicide" and are published just for children. A gun culture and mentality in our society diminish the freedom of everyone, so we do not apologise for our proposals to introduce the most stringent controls on guns.
We are at a crossroads. We will either bow to the gun lobby and its reported £100,000 campaign designed to limit controls, or, as the Opposition hope, we will grasp the opportunity comprehensively to rationalise and tighten gun control. Unless we go further than the Home Secretary proposed today, Britain will move nearer to living with violence. The whole House has a responsibility to prevent that.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
As the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said, this has been an instructive debate. It enabled my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to present the main elements in his proposals, which will soon be set out in a Bill. As a consequence, hon. Members have had an early opportunity to comment on those proposals and to make their suggestions for changes to law or to practice. In deciding what should be in the Bill, my right hon. Friend will pay close attention to what has been said during the debate.
Before I deal with the substance of the argument, I shall re-emphasise two points made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Nothing that we can do by way of law or practice can be guaranteed to prevent a tragedy from recurring. Moreover, nothing that we can do by way of changes to statutory law will prevent criminals from gaining access to guns. We can hope to reduce the risk of 66 tragedy and make it more difficult for criminals to get guns. But we need to be realistic about our attainable objectives. The shooting community, to which I belong, is a large, respected, and well-established part of our national life. Its interests are lawful and proper and must be taken fully into account. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said on this point. We need to strike a fair and proper balance between the need and demand for greater gun control and the legitimate concerns of shooting people who, with only rare exceptions, are as responsible and law-abiding as any in our community. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) and for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) for saying that we have the balance about right.
To the extent that time permits, I propose to deal with all the points that have been made by hon. Members either by way of specific questions or suggestions or by way of criticism of our proposals. If I fail to respond to any point, I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Member and I shall respond in writing later.
I shall deal first with the four main criticisms. The first proposition advanced by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), which received support from the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), was that every firearm should be subject to a separate certificate. I assume that that proposal applies to shotguns as well as to other firearms such as rifles arid pistols.
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman confirms my understanding. It is important for him to do so, because we must be clear about the manpower consequences of such a proposal. In Great Britain, there are about 198,580 firearms certificates and nearly 930,000 shotgun certificates. Frequently, firearms certificates cover several weapons, and we believe that there are well over 3 million shotguns in the community. An application for section 1 certification takes about two and a quarter hours to process. Simply to process the original application for each gun to which the proposal relates would impose a massive burden on police forces equivalent to thousands of police officers working a complete year. Before we went down that road, we would have to be certain that the net benefit in terms of law enforcement was substantial. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said on that point.
The second main point made by the Opposition was that we should subject shotguns to section 1 control. Why not impose a requirement that there should be a good reason to possess a shotgun? First, I want to re-emphasise what we are doing to increase controls on shotguns. We propose to subject semi-automatic weapons to the control of section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968. Secondly, we propose a statutory place of security condition regulating the keeping of shotguns when not in use. We are also considering a system for keeping records of those shotguns that individuals possess. However, our objective is arid must be to improve gun control and not merely to increase restrictions for the sake of being seen to do something.
My fear is that if we impose a "good reason" requirement on the possession of shotguns, we shall face massive non-compliance. If that happens, instead of there being a general acceptance of the measures already 67 outlined, a very large number of guns will simply disappear. The effect would be to make gun control less effective than if we were to adhere to the measures that I have just outlined.
§ Mr. Holt
If this manpower problem is so onerous, why does the job have to be undertaken by the police? We do not use police officers in connection with television or automobile licences until the law is broken. The presumption is, as hon. Members have said, that 99 per cent. of legitimate shooters who apply for licences are decent people. There is no need to bring the police into this matter at all. There are enough retired senior officers from the services unemployed in my constituency to deal with the problem.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I want to proceed if the right hon. Gentleman will permit me. He will have to allow me to get on.
The next point made by Opposition Members — largely, although not exclusively, by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook — was a call for a complete ban on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons. To the extent that that proposal is not already covered by existing legislation or by the Home Secretary's proposals, I suggest that that point goes too far. All fully automatic weapons are available only on section 5 certificates and that is never made available to individuals.
The proposals of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary involve extending section 5 control to burst fire guns and full-bore self-loading rifles. We shall consider including in a Bill a residual power to enable the Secretary of State to lift into section 5 control any specially dangerous fast-firing gun. Such a power would be subject to the ordinary control of Parliament.
The proposals made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook go too far. First, they would prohibit the possession of all self-loading pistols. That would destroy the ability of most pistol shooters to participate in traditional and well-established competitions. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, or should know, self-loading pistols are a very popular form of hand gun much used in traditional pistol shooting competitions. We believe that section 1 control is adequate to cover that. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals would prohibit the possession of a .22 calibre Rimfire rifle much in use for vermin control. Again we believe that section 1 control is adequate for that. Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals would mean a total ban on semi-automatic 68 shotguns of which there are probably about 200,000 in the country. We believe section 1 control is adequate for those guns.
The next general proposition raised concerns mail order.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Does the Minister share my concern that the limited and commendable proposals that he has made could be effectively undermined by the current EEC directive called "Mutual Recognition of Firearms Certificates" which can now be imposed in Britain against our will under the Single European Act, as the directive provides that by 1992 Community nationals could wander around Britain with Kalashnikovs so long as they have a valid licence issued in Sicily, Lisbon or Dublin? Will the Government do everything in their power to ensure that that directive is rejected by the majority of the EEC?
§ Mr. Hogg
Yes, Sir. The directive to which my hon. Friend refers sounds thoroughly undesirable to me. The Government's position is that we would regard any directive or draft directive as wholly unacceptable if it fetters our ability to impose the kind of gun control that the House considers appropriate.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I am sorry. Much as I dislike disobliging my hon. Friend, I intend to continue.
The next major proposition related to mail order. A number of the proposals that I have already outlined have an impact on mail order firms. However, we are concerned about the law which relates to the dispatch and carriage of guns and we are looking into that. I must say that I was surprised and pleased to hear that the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall)—not a natural ally of mine— supported my reservations on the amendment so far as it relates to mail order.
I wanted to consider some of the specific points that have been made during the debate. Compensation was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), Kingswood and Dumfries. We have not come to a conclusion on that matter. However, there are real problems of principle and practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury made a distinguished contribution. In the course of his remarks he made five points of substance. First, he referred to clubs. I agree with his comments on that. There is no reason to suppose that the law is not effective, but we propose to examine the law to see whether further checks are necessary. Secondly, he made a very important point about amnesty. He said that when weapons are handed to the police as part of an amnesty, they should not be available to return to a pool of illegally held weapons. I agree with that important point. Thirdly, he said that there should be photographs on certificates. We will look at that valuable suggestion. Fourthly, he referred to specialist firearm squads within forces. That practice is already being adopted. Finally, he made an important point about the recording of guns and was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), the latter in an intervention. We are giving urgent consideration to a method of recording the number and identity of shotguns. However, we must take into ccount the resource implications.
69 The hon. Member for Greenwich suggested that all guns should be kept at a club. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood disagreed and so do I. It would not be a sensible rule to apply universally because in some cases it would be inappropriate for a particular gun owner or gun and in any event it would make the arsenal a target.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood referred to the importance of safeguarding guns when they are in transit from the place of security to the point of use. That is a very important point that we must address. However, I take account of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, who was anxious that we should not impose impossible conditions during the period of transfer. We will do our best not to do that.
I welcome the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries that, in future, magazines in semiautomatic guns should be restricted to two cartridges. I am sorry that he considers that there has been a lack of consultation. In fact, we have been consulting fairly widely, and we propose to continue to do so. I take on board his point about the collection of antiques.
I fancy that it would be for the benefit of the House to proceed to the next business. Therefore, I conclude by apologising to those hon. Members to whom I have not responded in detail. I shall be writing to them.
Later this Session — we hope before Christmas — we intend to introduce legislation which will improve firearms control. In framing that legislation, we shall pay careful attention to what has been said in the debate. We must strike a fair and proper balance between the need and demand for greater gun control and the proper and legitimate interests of the shooting community.
I believe that our proposals will substantially improve firearms control but will not impose unreasonable or unjustifiable burdens upon those who shoot. It is in that spirit that I invite the House to accept the amendment that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend.
§ Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 210, Noes 314.72
|Division No. 33]||[7 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)|
|Allen, Graham||Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)|
|Alton, David||Buchan, Norman|
|Amos, Alan||Buckley, George|
|Anderson, Donald||Caborn, Richard|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Callaghan, Jim|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Ashton, Joe||Canavan, Dennis|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Cartwright, John|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clay, Bob|
|Battle, John||Clelland, David|
|Beckett, Margaret||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Beith, A. J.||Cohen, Harry|
|Bell, Stuart||Coleman, Donald|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Corbett, Robin|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Blair, Tony||Crowther, Stan|
|Blunkett, David||Cryer, Bob|
|Boateng, Paul||Cummings, J.|
|Boyes, Roland||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Bradley, Keith||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dalyell, Tam|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Darling, Alastair|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Marek, Dr John|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Dixon, Don||Martin, Michael (Springburn)|
|Dobson, Frank||Martlew, Eric|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Maxton, John|
|Dunnachie, James||Meacher, Michael|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Meale, Alan|
|Eadie, Alexander||Michael, Alun|
|Eastham, Ken||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Faulds, Andrew||Morley, Elliott|
|Fearn, Ronald||Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie|
|Fisher, Mark||Mullin, Chris|
|Flannery, Martin||Murphy, Paul|
|Flynn, Paul||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||O'Brien, William|
|Foster, Derek||O'Neill, Martin|
|Foulkes, George||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fraser, John||Patchett, Terry|
|Fyfe, Mrs Maria||Pendry, Tom|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Pike, Peter|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||Prescott, John|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Primarolo, Ms Dawn|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Gordon, Ms Mildred||Randall, Stuart|
|Gould, Bryan||Redmond, Martin|
|Graham, Thomas||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Reid, John|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Rogers, Allan|
|Hardy, Peter||Rooker, Jeff|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Rowlands, Ted|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Henderson, Douglas||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hinchliffe, David||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Holland, Stuart||Short, Clare|
|Home Robertson, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hood, James||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Howells, Geraint||Snape, Peter|
|Hoyle, Doug||Soley, Clive|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Stott, Roger|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Straw, Jack|
|Illsley, Eric||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Janner, Greville||Thomas, Dafydd Elis|
|John, Brynmor||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Turner, Dennis|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Wall, Pat|
|Lamond, James||Wallace, James|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Lewis, Terry||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Litherland, Robert||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Williams, Rt Hon A. J.|
|Loyden, Eddie||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|McAllion, John||Winnick, David|
|McAvoy, Tom||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Macdonald, Calum||Worthington, Anthony|
|McFall, John||Wray, James|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|McTaggart, Bob||Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Allen Adams.|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Alexander, Richard||Favell, Tony|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Allason, Rupert||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Amess, David||Forman, Nigel|
|Arbuthnot, James||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Forth, Eric|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Ashby, David||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Franks, Cecil|
|Atkinson, David||Freeman, Roger|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||French, Douglas|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Fry, Peter|
|Baldry, Tony||Gale, Roger|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Gill, Christopher|
|Batiste, Spencer||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bellingham, Henry||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Bendall, Vivian||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Benyon, W.||Gorst, John|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gow, Ian|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Boswell, Tim||Greenway, John (Rydale)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Grist, Ian|
|Bowis, John||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Brazier, Julian||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bright, Graham||Hannam, John|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Harris, David|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Hayes, Jerry|
|Burns, Simon||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Burt, Alistair||Hayward, Robert|
|Butcher, John||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Butler, Chris||Heddle, John|
|Butterfill, John||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hill, James|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cash, William||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Holt, Richard|
|Chope, Christopher||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Howard, Michael|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Colvin, Michael||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Couchman, James||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Cran, James||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Critchley, Julian||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Curry, David||Hunter, Andrew|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Irvine, Michael|
|Day, Stephen||Irving, Charles|
|Devlin, Tim||Jack, Michael|
|Dicks, Terry||Jackson, Robert|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Janman, Timothy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jessel, Toby|
|Dover, Den||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Dunn, Bob||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Durant, Tony||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Eggar, Tim||Key, Robert|
|Emery, Sir Peter||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Evennett, David||Knapman, Roger|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Fallon, Michael||Knowles, Michael|
|Farr, Sir John||Knox, David|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Rost, Peter|
|Latham, Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Ryder, Richard|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lilley, Peter||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lord, Michael||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|McCrindle, Robert||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|MacGregor, John||Shersby, Michael|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Sims, Roger|
|Maclean, David||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Madel, David||Speed, Keith|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Speller, Tony|
|Malins, Humfrey||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mans, Keith||Squire, Robin|
|Maples, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Marland, Paul||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Steen, Anthony|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Stern, Michael|
|Mates, Michael||Stevens, Lewis|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)|
|Mellor, David||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sumberg, David|
|Miller, Hal||Summerson, Hugo|
|Mills, Iain||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Moate, Roger||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Thorne, Neil|
|Morrison, Hon P (Chester)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Moss, Malcolm||Thurnham, Peter|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Mudd, David||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Tracey, Richard|
|Needham, Richard||Tredinnick, David|
|Nelson, Anthony||Trippier, David|
|Neubert, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Newton, Tony||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Onslow, Cranley||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Walden, George|
|Paice, James||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Patnick, Irvine||Walters, Dennis|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Ward, John|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Pawsey, James||Warren, Kenneth|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Watts, John|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Wells, Bowen|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Wheeler, John|
|Portillo, Michael||Whitney, Ray|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Price, Sir David||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Raffan, Keith||Wilkinson, John|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Wilshire, David|
|Rathbone, Tim||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Redwood, John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Renton, Tim||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wood, Timothy|
|Riddick, Graham||Woodcock, Mike|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Yeo, Tim|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question. That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House believes that the time has come for strengthened system of firearms controls; welcomes the announcement by the Home Secretary on 22 September of the main conclusions of the study of ways in which firearms legislation might be improved; supports the need for further urgent but careful and detailed consideration of other possible measures under review; and endorses the Government's intention to announce shortly the outcome of this examination and to introduce new firearms legislation during this session of Parliament.