HC Deb 19 November 1996 vol 285 cc871-2

'.The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1) (aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession or to purchase or acquire, or to sell or transfer, a shot pistol if he is authorised by a firearm certificate to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire such a firearm subject to a condition limiting its use to the destruction of pests, vermin or rabbits.'.—[Sir Jerry Wiggin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I should say to my hon. Friend the Minister that, however long one studies these complex matters, it is extremely easy to become confused. I know that her clear mind will weave its way through the maze of legislation, but I fully sympathise with the confusion of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). In the next week or two, he will learn a lot not only about the law, but about firearms. If any of the British Shooting Sports Council's experts could offer him assistance, I would be happy to make that available for two reasons: his amendments would be better and it would save everyone much time if they were clear.

Mr. Henderson

I assure the hon. Gentleman that his colleagues in the said body have already, on a very voluntary basis, given me a significant amount of briefing.

5.30 pm
Sir Jerry Wiggin

The important thing is to have the right advice and not all that is offered.

To return to the new clause, I confess to not having heard of a shot pistol until a few hours ago, but I understand a few hundred such weapons are kept, usually for the destruction of pests in and around buildings, near pens and in confined spaces where longer and more powerful weapons might be dangerous. If the new clause were to be incorporated, I would not be opening some great door for criminal activity. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister might take a sympathetic view of this special class of vermin and rabbit-killing weapon.

Miss Widdecombe

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) to withdraw the new clause. That does not mean that I reject it outright. It means merely that I appreciate and sympathise with what it is intended to achieve, but would welcome the opportunity to consider whether I can draw it more tightly and bring back a more restricted version later in the consideration of the Bill.

A shot pistol is a smooth-bore pistol usually using .410 cartridges and specifically designed, as my hon. Friend has correctly said, for vermin control inside barns and outbuildings. The relatively low power of small-shot cartridges minimises damage to the fabric of the building. It must be obvious, even to confused Committee members, that it is much easier to use something that scatters shot to a low power in a barn than a shotgun, which could blow away part of the barn as well as the animal. It should also be clear that, where there are many animals, something that scatters shot is better than having to take individual shots. Therefore, we need to consider seriously whether there should be an exemption for shot pistols.

I do not want to exempt all shot pistols from the prohibition in the blanket way that the new clause suggests. The purpose is reasonable. In some circumstances, a shot pistol is obviously the most humane and effective way and, if a good reason can be produced for possession of such a weapon, it can be left to the discretion of the chief officer of police to grant a firearms certificate for that purpose. Therefore, I am prepared to consider a tight exemption to the general prohibition for shot pistols. I want to consider further the best way of achieving that. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will trust me to table a Government amendment, which he will be able to accept or to oppose in due course.

Mr. Henderson

There is something in what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) says. Clearly, there is a need for people in the country and perhaps even in the city to deal with vermin, but I hope that, when the Minister considers this, her proposal will be sufficiently tight to ensure that there is no abuse. One would not want this to be used as a back-door method of retaining Magnums. We all know—even I know—that if people tried to shoot a rabbit with a Magnum, there would be no rabbit left, but, for someone who was involved in target shooting with such a weapon, this would be one way of trying to ensure that he could retain it in future. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when she considers the matter.

Miss Widdecombe

I am happy to give that undertaking. It is precisely because I want to consider how tightly we can draw the new clause, while at the same time honouring the principle behind it, that I am inviting my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare to withdraw it.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

A .410 will never be used for target shooting. It falls under the firearms requirements because of its length. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I can assure I always trust. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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