HL Deb 15 June 1981 vol 421 cc446-8

3.52 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, before, from the Woolsack, I call Amendment No. 6, with the leave of the House perhaps I may now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement reads as follows:

"As the House is aware, on Saturday, 13th June, as Her Majesty was making Her way to the ceremony of Trooping the Colour, a man in the crowd of sightseers fired six shots of blank ammunition using an imitation revolver. A man was immediately arrested and has been charged by the police under Section 2 of the Treason Act 1842. As the matter is now sub judice, the House will realise that it would be wrong this afternoon to discuss the details of the incident itself.

"It has not been the practice, nor would it be desirable, to describe the arrangements made for the safety of Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the Royal Family, but I can assure the House that those arrangements are kept under continuing review, and have recently been re-examined. What occurred on Saturday is being carefully studied by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and full account will be taken of it in future planning arrangements. It is Her Majesty's wish that both on state and on less formal occasions she should be able to move freely among her people. Consistent with this everything will be done to keep the risks to a minimum.

"There has been concern in the past about the misuse of replica firearms. Although the law provides severe penalties for their misuse, I have asked my department, together with chief officers of police, to re-examine, as quickly as possible, what effective controls can be devised.

"I am sure that the whole House will wish to put on record its admiration for the calmness and control which Her Majesty displayed throughout".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Peart

My Lords, first, I should like to express the relief of the Opposition that neither The Queen nor any of her subjects was injured as a result of the incident last Saturday. I should also like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the Statement that he has made. The Opposition wish to applaud and support The Queen's own view that the day must never come when she is unable to move freely among the people of the United Kingdom. I know that sometimes this creates difficulties and that it may involve personal danger. But we look to the Home Office to ensure that the risks involved are kept to a minimum.

In another place the Home Secretary has reminded us that the incident is now sub judice, and therefore it would be wrong for us to go into detail. However, all of us admire The Queen. Our constitutional Monarchy is something that we treasure and we hope that it will show to the people of many other countries that we are proud of Her Majesty for her courage and for all that she stands for.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, we on these Benches should also like to express our respectful admiration for the incredible composure shown by Her Majesty at a moment which, at that time, must have seemed to be one of very real danger. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack only this question. Is it not a fact that year after year a substantial number of serious criminal offences, particularly of armed robbery, are committed by people using imitation firearms which are skilfully produced, which are advertised for sale without any restriction, and which are bought and sold without any limitation whatever? If that is so, would not the noble and learned Lord say that it is at least the intention of the Government to legislate as soon as possible to prevent this, once they are satisfied that there is a practicable way of doing so?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am very grateful to both noble Lords for the way in which this Statement has been received. I am sure that they were expressing the feelings of every person in this House in what they said about The Queen and the way in which she behaved on this occasion. Of course, she also showed very considerable horsemanship. It should not be forgotten that riding on horseback can lead to fatal accidents if the horse is in any way disturbed.

Responding for the moment to what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has asked me, I do not know the figure for offences committed with dummy firearms. I have read in the papers of precisely this happening, and it is obviously one of the arguments which my right honourable friend will be taking into account when he looks at the review which he has said in the Statement will be undertaken. Quite obviously, in view of the words in the Statement I cannot go further this afternoon.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I should like to associate all of us on this Bench, both present and absent, with what has been said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and by the spokesmen of the two longer established Opposition parties, especially about the deportment of Her Majesty during the incident on Saturday. I should also like to put a question, which has been raised, to the noble and learned Lord in a slightly different way. Is it not now nearly time that we shifted our interest in preventing these attempts and apparent attempts away from the local protection of public figures—which events around the world in recent months and years have shown to be impossible to achieve to perfection—towards a yet stricter control not only of guns but of toy guns, replica guns, air guns or anything which can look, sound or smell like a gun?—as both democracy and Monarchy depend upon the free circulation of politicians and monarchs, and neither depends on the free possession of guns.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, obviously these are questions which we must all ask ourselves since our anxieties have been very well focussed by what happened on Saturday. I know that toy guns and the difficulty of differentiating the toy from the so-called replica are part of the problem which my right honourable friend is having considered. I have sometimes doubted the wisdom of toy guns myself. I think we perhaps sometimes underestimate the importance of child play in adult behaviour, but of course it raises a very big question. There are literally millions of objects which would fall into this category. Whether one is talking about replicas or toys there are a very large number already available in the country, and therefore if one turns off the tap now to a larger or a greater extent there would still be those objects which it would be very difficult to control. I think that that is about all I can say about that at the present stage.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, I am sure that those sitting on the Cross-Benches will want to be associated with the feelings of thankfulness that no harm came to Her Majesty the Queen on this occasion, and also to express our congratulations on her courage at this very difficult time.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, whose words will again find an echo in all our hearts.