HL Deb 11 November 1952 vol 179 cc158-60

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the attention of the Home Secretary has been drawn to the increasing possession of revolvers and other weapons by civilians; whether he is taking any steps to put an end to this dangerous situation, and, if so, the nature of the action taken.]


My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord has in mind the unlawful possession of firearms and their use for criminal purposes in connection with crimes of violence. Since the war every endeavour has been made by the Home Secretary and his predecessor to reduce the number of firearms in the possession of civilians, and the appeals for the surrender of firearms have not been without success. In the nature of the case, however, firearms which are retained by individuals for criminal purposes are unlikely to be surrendered in response to official appeals, and the vigilance of the police can be exercised only in relation to persons whose conduct gives reasonable cause to suspect unauthorised possession of such weapons. Such evidence as is available does not point, however, to a significant increase in the use of firearms in connection with crimes of violence. Nevertheless, Her Majesty's Government recognise that there have of late been more armed outrages than can be contemplated with equanimity. Your Lordships will recognise that the police themselves have best cause to take every practical step to limit the dangers to the community arising from the unlawful possession of firearms. The Home Secretary is confident that they are, in fact, doing so. Her Majesty's Government are watching the situation closely but are not satisfied that special action is called for on their part at the present time.


My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he is aware that it will not give the public very much satisfaction to learn that while there have been—I think this is admitted—more crimes in which the use of firearms has been involved, the Home Secretary is not going to take any steps other than to depend upon the police? Further, is it not the fact that there is more than one authority for licensing firearms and that that is likely to give rise to some doubt about the proper administration in connection with this matter?


Certainly I will call the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord has said. Of course, it is a fact that the issue of a certificate to hold a firearm rests with the particular police authority. There is no central authority which deals with this matter. I can perhaps help the noble Lord by giving him this piece of information which is taken from the statistics of the Metropolitan Police District—I cannot give the noble Lord figures for the whole country. So far as proceedings under the Firearms Act are concerned, in 1950 there were eighty-two prosecutions and seventy-six cautions. In 1951 there were seventy-two prosecutions and 113 cautions.

Now I will give the noble Lord this further information which I have succeeded in obtaining. The numbers of cases in which the possession of firearms, whether used or not, has come to light in connection with crimes of violence, are as follows: in 1948, forty-eight cases; in 1949, twenty-eight cases; in 1950, thirty-nine cases, and in 1951, fourteen cases. During the first nine months of 1952 there were seventeen cases. These figures have been extracted for me, and perhaps they may throw some light on the problem which the noble Lord has raised.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he will convey to the Home Secretary the fact that undoubtedly the public mind is much disturbed on this question at the present time?


My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to "other weapons" as well as firearms, and to their possession by civilians. May I ask the noble and learned Lord what is his view about the sale to children of weapons such as coshes, stilettos, and the like? Does he think that Her Majesty's Government would be ready to do anything to stop that?


Perhaps the noble Earl would be good enough to put down a special Question dealing with that quite new topic. If he will do so, I will consult with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary upon the matter.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would convey to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary information of the fact that in this country there are undoubtedly a considerable number of war souvenirs, in the shape of firearms or other weapons? It seems to me that if an appeal were made to the possessors of these weapons to hand them in, that appeal would have some good results. Obviously, the people who have firearms and the like for criminal purposes must get them from somewhere, and I believe that this is one of the sources from which they may do so.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord and I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what he has said. The question of appealing for the surrender of firearms is a matter which is under constant consideration, and I think the noble Lord will realise that there are pros and cons in respect of it.