HL Deb 08 June 1973 vol 343 cc286-8

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 for an assurance that opportunity will be given for both Houses of Parliament to discuss the Consultative Document on the Control of Firearms (Cmnd. 5297) before any legislation on the subject is brought forward.


My Lords, I cannot of course speak for another place, but so far as this House is concerned I understand that my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip will be prepared to make time available for a debate on the Green Paper before legislation is introduced.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that encouraging reply, may I ask him whether he is aware—I think he is, but I have to put it in the form of a question—that the matters raised in the Green Paper are of great complexity, with many facets, and of great concern to several hundreds of thousands of citizens who use firearms for wholly legitimate purposes? Will he press upon his right hon. friend the essential importance of having the matters raised in the Green Paper fully discussed before any question, even of drafting legislation, let alone of bringing it before Parliament, arises?


My Lords, yes; I know that this matter has caused a great deal of concern to people who quite properly and legitimately hold and use firearms.

The equal problem, of course, is that of those who illegitimately use firearms, and this is not a matter that any Government can take lightly. That is why some of the things proposed may look a bit stringent.

We have already asked for comments; we have asked for them urgently. If noble Lords would like to tell us provisionally what comments they would like to make, naturally we should be glad to receive them. I fully understand the sort of points my noble friend has made, and I hope that we can discuss them in a debate. If he wishes to raise some of them even before that, he is very welcome to do so.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that however much the concern caused by this Green Paper—and the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, has made—to people who legitimately use firearms, the concern is much greater to those people who do not have firearms and who suffer when people use firearms in the wrong way?


My Lords, yes, that is exactly the other side of the case. This is the one that particularly worries the Government, although of course we do not want to prejudice a properly controlled legitimate use of firearms.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the shooting interests as a whole are very appreciative of the Government's consideration in putting forward their proposals in this form? At the same time, is he aware that the time limit set for representations to be sent in does not allow enough time for interested organisations to collect the comments of their members and to discuss the proposals fully within their own ruling bodies? So will Her Majesty's Government allow an extension of time for the reception of comments on these proposals?


My Lords, I think I ought to say this to my noble friend. I know that time is short, but it is an urgent problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has pointed out. A time limit is laid down. I should have thought that the responsible sort of bodies about which my noble friend has spoken would have agreed that this needs urgent consideration and would have done everything they could to consult their various colleagues, and so on, about it in time. If they cannot do this, we shall not resist the reception of comments later; but, clearly, the sooner they are received, the more likely they are to be listened to.