§ 2. Mr. Eric Clarke
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what new initiatives he has considered to curb the increase in crimes of violence involving firearms.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
Very strict controls are already in place regarding the acquisition and possession of firearms, but provision to increase the maximum penalties for certain firearms offences is contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Those will be brought into force on a Great Britain basis early next year. With the assistance of the firearms consultative committee, the Government keep firearms control under continual review.
§ Mr. Clarke
I am disappointed by not only that answer but the answer in the letter that I received from Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the Minister in the other place. I asked for an amnesty because in Bonnyrigg, in my constituency, Mr. Dunn, an innocent bystander, was shot and killed during a bank robbery in which all three of the bank robbers had sidearms. The use of sidearms in such crimes is escalating throughout the United Kingdom, and I ask, first, for an amnesty and, secondly, that after that amnesty people in possession of illegal arms be severely dealt with, with further penalties for anyone who has criminal intent. The people of Bonnyrigg, Midlothian and the rest of Scotland are asking the Government for action.
§ Mr. Lang
I understand about the tragic case in Bonnyrigg in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I offer both him and those involved my sympathy. Nevertheless, we should keep such matters in perspective. The question of an amnesty is one for the police; it is essentially an operational matter. There was an amnesty in 1988, and I do not think that it would be a good idea to have them too often. However, I am sure that the police will always bear the possibility in mind. I deplore any such use of guns as much as the hon. Gentleman does, and I also deplore the alleged increase in use, but it is important to realise that statistics show that only two in 1,000 cases of 295 all crimes and offences recorded in Scotland in recent years have involved the use of firearms. In many ways, using a number of Acts of Parliament, the Government have determinedly toughened sentences and other procedures in connection with firearms.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem is not those who hold firearms properly, with licences, but those who hold firearms illegally and use them? So long as there is no deterrent such as capital punishment, it will be difficult to prevent such activity from growing, because of the international dimension.
§ Mr. Lang
We should certainly always continue to seek ways of reducing that serious threat. The maximum penalty for possession of a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or to resist arrest is life imprisonment. We have increased the sentences for the unlawful possession of a firearm, including a sawn-off shotgun, and the sentences for the possession of a prohibited firearm. In those and in every other way open to us we shall continue to fight the growth in the use of firearms. I acknowledge that it is a serious potential threat.