HL Deb 09 July 1903 vol 125 cc129-31


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships more than a few minutes in asking you to give a Second Reading to this extremely useful little Bill, which has been brought in in the interests of the public safety and has for its object the prevention of pistols falling into improper hands. This is by no means a new Bill. Since 1888 this question has been continually before Parliament, but the failure of previous Bills has been solely due to the fact that they have been too extreme, and have endeavoured to go too far. This was notably the case with the Bill which was introduced in 1893 by the Government of that day. The Bill now before your Lordships, however, is an extremely moderate one. I do not think there can be any question as to the necessity for some such measure as this. Six weeks ago there was a murder trial at the Old Bailey, the crime being entirely due to a pistol having got into improper hands. I refer to the Black-heath murder. In that case a pawnbroker sold a pistol to a man who was deeply intoxicated, and it resulted, first, in the severe wounding of a policeman, and, secondly, in the death of a man who went to the assistance of the policeman. The remarks of Mr. Justice Grantham at the trial were very strong. Addressing the pawnbroker who had sold the loaded pistol to the prisoner, he said— In my judgment you ought to be in that dock charged with manslaughter. When a man loads a revolver for another who is drunk, and that man goes and shoots another, it is a serious question whether the man who loads the revolver is not guilty of manslaughter. I think your Lordships will agree with that view. But in this Bill I do not ask you to make him liable to conviction for manslaughter but merely that he should be liable to a fine of £25.

There is a great volume of public opinion behind this Bill. The hon. Member who introduced it in another place has received a letter from the Coroners' Society of England and Wales, regretting that the Government Bill of 1893 was withdrawn and earnestly hoping that this Bill will receive the approval of Parliament. I have also a letter from Mr. Justice Bigham, which, I think, broadly explains the whole position. He says— I have had to try boys for offences arising out of the use of cheap toy pistols. In one care death had resulted, and the boy was convicted of manslaughter. I think I can safely say that every other Judge on the Bench has had similar experience. Judges have frequently suggested that some means ought to be adopted for regulating the sale of these weapons and juries have also spoken in the same tone. I also hold in my hand a report of an interview with the Birmingham Stipendiary Magistrate in which he expresses the hope that nothing will be done to prevent this Bill passing into law. Further, I would remind your Lordships that a distinguished Member of the other House—Mr. Herbert Gladstone—has left it on record that there is a pile of papers at the Home Office from Judges, coroners and other people strongly urging that some restrictive legislation should be passed in regard to pistols and toy pistols. So far as I know there is no opposition to the Bill from outside. The Gunmakers' Association of Birmingham were a little upset about one particular provision in the Bill as originally drafted, but this objection has been met by an Amendment which was introduced in the other House; and I have in my hand an article from the official newspaper of the trade welcoming the Bill as amended.

I will now briefly explain the provisions of the Bill. First of all, it enacts that a record shall be kept of all sales of pistols, this record to be open to the police; and in this connection I would again quote from the Gunmakers' Journal, which states that many gunmakers in point of fact do keep precisely such a register at the present moment. Secondly, the Bill enacts that whenever a person wishes to buy or hire a pistol he shall produce his game or gun licence. By incorporating certain sections of the Chin Act, 1870, this does not interfere in any way with cadet corps on the one hand, or with a householder on the other who wishes to buy a pistol to protect himself from burglars and for use inside his own house. Section 8 makes it clear that the provisions of the Bill shall not apply where an antique pistol is sold as a curiosity or ornament. Thirdly, the Bill enacts that it shall be illegal for a person under eighteen years of age to buy a pistol and illegal for a shopkeeper to sell a pistol to a person under eighteen, the penalty being a fine of £25. In all the previous Bills the penalty proposed has been £10. Fourthly, the Bill enacts that anyone selling a pistol to a person who is intoxicated or apparently insane shall be liable to a penalty of £5. That is the whole of the Bill, and I contend that it is incapable of causing any hardship to a single individual. It will be extremely simple in its working, and must have a very beneficial effect, and I trust your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

Moved That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I have to say, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that they are in entire sympathy with the object of this Bill. There is a large amount of evidence to show that not only have many accidents occurred, but many crimes have been committed in consequence of pistols being in the hands of irresponsible persons. As the noble Earl has said, this Bill is a considerable modification of previous Bills, and the Government see no reason why it should not be passed into law.

On Question, read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.