HL Deb 04 July 1963 vol 251 cc995-7

2.35 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the sporting rifles of a German team, who were invited to take part in a shooting match at Worthing, were confiscated at Dover; in spite of the fact that the team had received a letter from the British Embassy in Bonn informing them that they would be allowed to bring their rifles with them into the United Kingdom.]


My Lords, for reasons of public safety firearms and ammunition may not be imported into the United Kingdom except on production of an import licence or firearm certificate. The German marksmen who arrived at Dover on the 21st of May had neither of these documents, which their hosts here could and should have obtained beforehand, and their rifles and ammunition were therefore detained pending the issue of a firearm certificate. Although the host club telephoned the West Sussex police the same evening and were invited to call in the next day, they did not pursue the matter and therefore the necessary certificate was not obtained, but the weapons were returned to the marksmen when they left the country on the 27th of May.

The marksmen had not been informed that they would be allowed to bring their rifles into the United Kingdom, but Her Majesty's Consul in Düsseldorf, who is of course not competent to issue import licences or firearms certificates, had given them a letter to Her Majesty's Customs and Excise saying that any assistance which could be afforded to the party in effecting the temporary importation of their guns into the United Kingdom would be much appreciated. I regret the inconvenience suffered by the German sportsmen, but these regulations are very necessary.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his reply, and fully appreciating and agreeing that these regulations are necessary, I would ask him whether he is aware that a certificate can be granted only if the number of rifles concerned is known. Is he aware also that the host Club did not know the number of rifles arriving at Dover and therefore could not be issued with a certificate? This was not their fault. Is the noble Earl also aware that the German team had been here before and had been allowed to bring in their rifles; but that they brought this letter from the British Consulate to make certain that all would be well? Is the noble Earl further aware that this Act gave rise to rather hilarious and uncomplimentary cartoons in the German Press?


My Lords, I am not aware of all those points; but I am aware that it is the usual practice for rifle clubs in this country who entertain a visiting team to arrange beforehand about their import licences or firearms certificates. That was not done in this case. It could have been arranged the following morning, after their arrival, but the matter was not pursued by the host Club. I am glad to learn that they did lend their guests rifles, which was no doubt the reason why they did not bother to proceed with the application for a certificate. I hope that they all had some very good shooting.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will forgive me, the reason they did not pursue the matter is that Chichester is 120 miles from Dover. They were also informed, I understand, that there was not much chance of the rifles arriving before the end of the contest. I think it is not quite the same thing to shoot with other people's rifles.


My Lords, it depends on the rifles.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether this incident does not show that there ought to be in every Customs station of this kind somebody who has enough responsibility entrusted to him to be able to waive regulations in cases of this sort? The disadvantage of incidents like this is far greater than any advantage gained by enforcing the regulations.


My Lords, Customs officials are very competent people; but I think it might be a little hard to pass on to them the onus of judging whether an arrival in this country is or is not a suitable person to be entrusted with firearms.

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