§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the Firearms Bill, in its final form, has almost reached the end of its journey. When it came to your Lordships from another place its scope had been considerably extended since my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary first presented it in March. This House has suggested further Amendments and improvements, which have been incorporated in the Bill. I believe that it is now a fully comprehensive measure, designed to stamp out the menace of the armed criminal and armed hooligan. It tightens up substantially the existing legislation relating to firearms and creates new offences which will greatly improve our chances of catching the armed criminal or hooligan before he has had an opportunity to cause injury or damage. It also creates additional powers which will enable these dangerous offenders to be dealt with effectively.
Although the provisions of the Bill are wide, we have been at great pains to avoid any undue or unnecessary limitation of the proper freedom of the individual, and not to interfere with the legitimate interests of sportsmen or members of the gun trade. Indeed, your Lordships have agreed to two important Amendments designed specifically to obviate cases of hardship which the gun trade thought might occur. These provisions permit, under effective control, the repair of shot-guns by the sleeving method and, at the instance of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, relieve the craftsmen who make only shot-gun components of the obligation to keep records. Both these changes have been achieved without changing our firm intention of making the illegal acquisition of firearms as difficult as we possibly can.
In addition, we have introduced a number of Amendments designed to 1447 remove ambiguities, correct minor anomalies and generally to improve the drafting. I should like to thank your Lordships for the many valuable comments and suggestions that you have made at all stages, although, arising out of the comments made on Report, I have to inform the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that I am satisfied that our retention of the word "either" is right and to tell the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that his advocacy of the word "their" is wrong. However, we now have a Bill which deals firmly and effectively with the misuse, or potential misuse, of firearms and which I believe will be of considerable help in reducing the number of these offences. The Bill is a fine example of what may be achieved by co-operation on the part of both Houses and of all Parties in Parliament working to the common good. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has referred to this Bill going on its way, and I am sure that responsible interests on both sides of the House and outside will wish it well. From what it seeks to do, I think that the Bill is a good one. Those affected, particularly the members of the gun trade, are quite at one with those who believe in the principle of the Bill. I should like to remind your Lordships why, and the reason is that nobody who has given responsible thought to these matters would wish to have it made any easier for those who desire to commit crimes to acquire firearms illegally; indeed, the opposite is the case: he would want it made much more difficult. Therefore the provisions in the Bill, in so far as they tighten up the security of premises where firearms are customarily kept in the course of legitimate trade, are welcomed by all those affected. They had certain things to say, and I should like, here and now, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and those on the Benches behind him for being as helpful as they could in the circumstances and for listening and paying attention to what was seriously put forward, which, as the noble Lord said, resulted in Amendments which have improved the Bill while doing no harm to the principle.
1448 The noble Lord referred also to the additional powers which, for reasons I have stated, I do not think will prove objectionable to anybody. I would only say, in passing, that these additional powers, if carried to the extreme, might impose considerable administrative burdens on those who deal in one way or another in firearms. I am perfectly sure that anything of that kind is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government and that they wish merely to ensure the control and security necessary to prevent the illegal acquisition of firearms. I should therefore welcome from the noble Lord, when he replies, a word of assurance that when the Bill becomes an Act Her Majesty's Government will do their best to see that the operation of its provisions is no more than is necessary to the carrying out of what is the purpose of the Bill, and not such as to impose a burden on the trade that would be a handicap in such a competitive sphere as that of the manufacture of firearms. That is all I propose to say except this, regarding my own last Amendment to which the noble Lord referred. If "its" is the word, "it's" all right with me; if "their" is not the word, there is no doubt in my mind.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for having, for the third time, looked at a particular point that I raised? I said on Report that I was happy to leave it in his hands, and it is kind of him to have had yet one more look. I must also thank him for having accepted one of my Amendments: it is very unusual. Finally, I hope—and this point has been mentioned before—that the Home Office will see that full publicity is given to the terms of the Bill in the months immediately after it becomes an Act. It is essential that the public should know all about the provisions in the Bill, and I hope that special arrangements, even unusual arrangements, may be made for publicity purposes.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Chesham and Lord Derwent, for the welcome which they have given to the Bill. As we think that the Bill is a good 1449 one, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that we will neglect no opportunity, not merely when it receives the Royal Assent but continuously, to make its terms as widely known as we can. It is essentially a deterrent measure, we hope, and if its terms are fully known, as they must be, we shall be half-way to-wards achieving the object of the measure.
I was glad to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that the gun trade firmly believes in the principle of the Bill and supports the new steps which will have to be taken to strengthen the security of premises. Some suggestions have been made by the trade relating to the type of extra security measures which could be taken, although under the terms of the Bill that will always be decided by the chief of the police for the area. The noble Lord referred to necessary powers—we might call them statutory powers—relating to the keeping of records and so on—which, it carried to the extreme, would impose very heavy burdens on the gun trade. Having regard to what I said on Report about the craftsmen, he will be aware of the attitude of the Home Office and of the police in this matter. We are determined by every means in our power to make it as difficult as we possibly can for the criminal to secure illegal possession of a weapon which he might use for the purposes of committing a crime. We seek the co-operation of the gun trade in taking such administrative steps as are necessary—and only such steps as are necessary—to help towards that objective.
He is aware himself, from his knowledge of the Birmingham area, of the sensible and co-operative attitude of the police in these matters. The methods of control will be largely their responsibility. He can be sure that the responsible members of the gun trade—I think that is all of them—will have nothing to fear in this regard; but the powers are there, and if anyone seeks to infringe those powers then they will be fully employed, with, I hope, the full approval of the gun trade and of the British public.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.