HC Deb 19 November 1996 vol 285 cc860-1

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss Widdecombe

Clause 4 provides that a person does not need the Secretary of State's authority, under section 5(1)(aba) of the Firearms Act 1968, to possess, purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a firearm that is held on a firearms certificate with the condition that it is to be used only for starting races at athletic meetings. The clause also provides that a person other than a certificate holder, such as a race official, may possess a firearm at an athletic meeting in order to start races.

Most starting pistols—for example, those commonly used at school sports days—do not have an open barrel and are simply designed to make a bang. They are not classed as firearms and the legislation would not affect them. According to the British Athletics Federation, major athletics events require starting guns that are classed as firearms. For technical reasons, starters require a gun that can produce a very loud bang and a highly visible flash from the muzzle. Special blank ammunition is used for that purpose. The visible flash is required to notify the manual timekeepers who are required to act as a back-up in case the electronic systems fail.

Such accurate timekeeping is essential only for races where international, national or regional records will be set and such records are recognised only when a BAF starter is present. We understand that a .22 pistol would not be suitable for that task as it would not produce either a bright enough flash or a loud enough bang. A firearms certificate for a starting gun will not allow the possession of live ammunition as race starters require only blank rounds.

We believe that it is right that the chief officer of police should have the discretion to assess each case on its, merits and that it would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to do it any other way.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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