HL Deb 10 December 1968 vol 298 cc411-3

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 their reasons for increasing the fees for a firearms certificate from 5s. to £2 10s. and for a shotgun certificate from 5s. to 15s.]


My Lords, the fee for a firearm certificate has remained unchanged since 1920, and that for a shot-gun certificate was prescribed temporarily at the same level to facilitate the introduction, on May 1 last, of the new controls over shot-guns. Both fees are now being raised in order to cover the actual cost to the police of dealing with applications for these certificates.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. As the procedure for obtaining both types of certificate is now virtually the same, how is it that one is to cost £2 10s. and the other 15s.? I ask this question particularly because the applications for firearms certificates are much easier for the police to deal with. Unless they know all about a person when he applies for a firearms certificate, the application is refused, whereas in the case of an application for a shot-gun certificate if they do not know anything against a person they have to try to find it out. Therefore one would have thought that the charges for the two types of certificate would be exactly the opposite.


My Lords, the work of the police in dealing with applications for firearms certificates has increased substantially in recent years, for the very good reason—which the noble Lord will support—that we have asked the chief officers of police to make more serious inquiries before granting an application. The justification for the two different charges is entirely the cost of the work to the police. We have asked every chief officer of police throughout the country, in the light of experience, to give us estimates of the respective costs involved in the two classes of certificate, and the charges now made reflect a weighted average of these costs.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, when making these increases, any consideration was given to an objective of the recent legislation on this matter, which was to get weapons licensed, on the ground that crime is committed with unlicensed rather than licensed weapons? Are not these increases a further obstacle to this objective?


My Lords, I do not think so. I do not think either a £2 10s. 0d. licence fee for a firearm certificate or 15s. for a shot-gun will prevent anyone who really has a use for either from obtaining it. So far as the amnesty provisions are concerned, the amnesty ended before these new charges were made, and I cannot see how the noble Lord's question has any relevance.


My Lords, I apologise for asking one more question, but if this figure represents the real cost and presumably the cost is due to finding out about a person—why should the renewal of a firearm certificate cost £1 5s. 0d.?


My Lords, the police still have to make inquiries. I thought the noble Lord was going to say what a good thing it is that we are not charging £2 10s. 0d.


My Lords, am I right in thinking that both firearm certificates and shot-gun certificates are a form of licence? And am I right in thinking that the cost of licences to shoot game, and indeed licences to store petrol, have also been increased rather sharply owing to heavy administrative costs?


My Lords, I think I have made it clear, and I hope your Lordships will accept, that these two charges are precisely related to estimates of cost based on experience. I must confess I am surprised that these questions should be raised, since every possible authority having any kind of connection with firearms or shot-guns has been consulted about these changes, including the Long Room, and no one has made the slightest objection.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it would be improper to issue a licence for a sawn-off shot-gun, even at a fee of 15s.?


My Lords, that is prohibited under the Firearms Act, and of course a licence would not be issued.