§ Mr. Charles Wardle
Recorded offences of burglary and theft in which firearms were reported to have been stolen were 1,774 for 1989, 2,024 for 1990, and 2,410 for 1991. It is possible that more than one firearm may have been stolen in some cases.
§ Mr. Ashby
Those are very worrying statistics, showing an increase in the theft of firearms. Is my hon. Friend aware that I sent the Department details of a disabling device that can be fitted to shotguns so that any shotgun with such a device could no longer be used for crime—and stolen guns will be used for crime? Instead of fobbing me off, when will the Department instigate a proper evaluation of the device and make it mandatory for all with shotgun certificates?
§ Mr. Wardle
There was a 19 per cent. increase between 1990 and 1991, but I hope that my hon. Friend will bear it in mind that controls were considerably strengthened after the introduction of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. The latest figures are still lower than the figures for the early 1980s. My hon. Friend's recommendations will be considered and passed to the Firearms Consultative Committee.
§ Mr. Lewis
Is the Minister aware that in my area eight handguns were stolen from one source not many months ago, and that two have already turned up having claimed three lives? I suggest stricter controls on how many handguns can be held by one person—eight magnums in one flat seems a ludicrous number. Secondly, a court case is proceeding involving one of those stolen handguns, and the original owner of the gun has demanded it back even 397 though it was used in one of the killings. That, too, is ludicrous; will the Minister put a block on it as far as is humanly possible?
§ Mr. Wardle
The hon. Gentleman's recommendations will be considered by the Firearms Consultative Committee. He will also bear it in mind that just one fifth of 1 per cent of all recorded offences last year involved the use of firearms, and that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 introduced stiffer penalties for the judiciary to use in cases involving the criminal use of firearms.
§ Mr. Conway
Will my hon. Friend accept from one who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Firearms (Amendment) Bill that there was considerable concern that, despite our best intentions, we would end up with a campaign against legitimate firearms holders in rural areas, particularly farmers and those who enjoy field sports? Does he agree that there is anxiety that if we move away from police certification the intimate knowledge that local police have about genuine holders of firearms in country areas will be lost if a civilian body is set up? Will my hon. Friend tread carefully in the rural parts of Britain?
§ Mr. Wardle
I hear what my hon. Friend says. He will know that responsibility is vested in the chief officer. The recent consultation paper that proposed a firearms control board spoke of a body of information being stored centrally, rather than constabulary by constabulary. My hon. Friend will know that when we consider responses to that consultation document the interests of public safety will be paramount.
§ Mr. William Ross
How many of the weapons that the Minister listed as stolen were handguns or bullet-firing weapons? Does he have any evidence that any of them turned up in the hands of terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Wardle
I cannot answer the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question now, but I will seek the information and then tell him. Most of the weapons stolen in each of the past 10 years have been air weapons. Fewer than 150 weapons stolen in each of the past five years have been pistols.