HL Deb 11 June 1982 vol 431 cc411-22

11.40 a.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I cannot begin without paying tribute to my honourable friend Mr. Eldon Griffiths who promoted this Bill as a Private Member's Bill in another place. It is a measure of his experience and parliamentary skill, and the respect in which he is held, that the Bill passed so easily through another place and arrived in this House unamended. It also reflects the all-party support which the Bill received and which I venture to hope it may receive also in your Lordships' House.

The existing controls over firearms arc contained in the Firearms Act 1968 which is a somewhat massive consolidation measure. Indeed, it is so thorough that one wonders how there could be any gaps in it. But circumstances being as they are, and as crime increases and the use of firearms in the commission of serious crimes increases, any gap which does arise should be filled. I shall hope to show your Lordships that there is a gap here which should be filled and which will be filled by this Bill.

Many noble Lords like my noble friend Lord Swansea are familiar with the law relating to firearms under the Act to which I have referred and, indeed, the rules made under it. These controls require any person wishing to possess, purchase or acquire a firearm, to hold a valid certificate issued by a chief officer of police. It is generally acknowledged, I think, that these controls are reasonably effective in ensuring that firearms do not fall into the wrong hands. I must stress "reasonably effective" because they are not completely so—nobody could maintain that. But because of the difficulty which some criminals experience in obtaining a real firearm, there is a danger that they will turn to the adaptation and misuse of an imitation firearm.

The law already recognises the seriousness of the criminal use of imitation firearms by providing that there shall be the same maximum penalties for certain offences in relation to them as for the use of a real firearm. Those offences include carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or to resist arrest. It would, of course, be preferable if we could find a way of ensuring that all imitation firearms were not available to criminals. But the promoter of the Bill, whose concern for these matters is so well known through the advice which he gives and which he now has given to the Police Federation for many years, has looked closely at the problem and he has concluded, rightly in my view, that the introduction of controls over imitation firearms merely on the grounds of appearance would not be feasible. The Home Secretary who recently completed an exhaustive review of this matter has reluctantly arrived at the same conclusion. I think it will probably be generally accepted that it is not feasible.

However odious the criminal misuse of an imitation firearm might be, obviously it cannot be used to shoot a victim so long as it remains merely an imitation. That is a glimpse of the obvious which I think I have to make. But real distress can be and is caused to those threatened by a firearm, whether it is real or imitation. Indeed, a toy firearm, completely innocuous and incapable of being fired in any way, is sometimes used by criminals in pursuit of serious crime.

With the increased availability of tools used, for example, by do-it-yourself enthusiasts, there is a real risk that criminals may convert some imitation firearms so as to enable them to fire live ammunition. Some of them indeed are so constructed as to require very little work to enable them to to fire live ammunition. Although the act of conversion is, I must tell your Lordships, already an offence under the Firearms Act unless undertaken by a registered firearms dealer, it would be giving criminals an easy opportunity to convert an imitation firearm—an opportunity which should not be presented to the criminal—in circumstances, for example, where the barrel has merely to be bored to be converted from a false barrel into a real one. That is the type of thing which the Bill now before your Lordships seeks to prevent.

The substance of the Bill is contained in Clause 1. That provides that any imitation firearm which has the appearance of a firearm to which Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 applies, and which can be readily converted into such a firearm, is to be treated as if it were an actual firearm for most of the purposes of the 1968 Act. That means that the possession, purchase or acquisition of a readily convertible imitation fire- arm will become unlawful unless its possession et cetera is covered by a firearms certificate. People dealing in such imitation firearms in future will have to be registered dealers.

In practice it seems unlikely that many certificates would have to be issued in respect of readily convertible imitation firearms, because it will be difficult for an applicant to show that he had good reason for having such an imitation rather than one that was incapable of being readily converted into a firearm. The words "readily convertible" are, of course, the operative words.

Some noble Lords may wonder why the Bill does not extend to all convertible imitation firearms rather than to those which are merely readily convertible. With the aid of special tools and equipment and with the necessary expertise, virtually any imitation firearm, including many toys, could be converted to fire live ammunition. But I suggest that it would clearly be inappropriate to bring all such imitations under strict control. This view was taken in another place after a good deal of discussion. The Bill, therefore, is confined to those imitations which could be converted without any special skill and using ordinary do-it-yourself tools and equipment.

Clause 1(6), to which I should invite your Lordships' attention, embodies that formula and puts it into statutory form. I trust that your Lordships will agree that this is the right approach. It is the essence of the Bill. Of course, it will ultimately be for the courts to decide in any doubtful cases which are brought before them whether a particular imitation firearm is readily convertible. But, in order to help manufacturers, importers and retailers to comply with the law, the Home Office will draw up non-statutory guidelines, and these will describe measures which can be incorporated in an imitation firearm to render it capable of being readily converted.

Assurances were given in another place that these guidelines would be drawn up in consultation with representatives of the trade and other interested parties, and would be available to them before the new legislation is brought into force. Indeed, subsection (3) of the commencement clause—Clause 4—is, somewhat to my personal regret, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, will understand, left open. There is no fixed date. There is no time limit after the Bill receives Royal Assent, but it is to be done by an order of the Secretary of State when everybody is ready. I do not find that totally satisfactory, but there are many worse cases, so I am prepared to let this one run if noble Lords will agree that it should be so.

There is one other point which is of interest to lawyers, which I think I should just mention. I only hope that I have it right. However, it seems to me that these non-statutory guidelines will not be part of the law and, indeed, there may be doubt as to whether the courts' attention could even be drawn to them. Taking a somewhat strict view of those matters, I would lean against those being available to the courts, but I would be very interested to know what noble Lords think about that. However, they will not be part of the law. It may be that they might have the same sort of status as the Highway Code, but I do not know.

I do not think that there is much else in the Bill to which I should refer, but perhaps I should draw attention to the special defence in subsection (5) of Clause 1, because this will help to safeguard the position of a person who might already have an imitation firearm for perfectly innocent purposes without knowing, and having no reason to suspect, that it was readily convertible.

Your Lordships will appreciate from what I have said that this Bill is only a modest addition to the existing firearms law. Indeed, it is true that there have been some cases where the courts have considered an easily-convertible imitation firearm to be caught by the present legislation as being parts of a firearm within the meaning of the Act.

But in spite of that, which does not remove all uncertainty in this matter, the promoter of the Bill felt and I am sure that he was right—that it would be helpful to all concerned with the application of firearms law to have the status of such devices clearly set out in statutory form, and particularly to know the circumstances in which an imitation firearm could be regarded as readily convertible, whether or not the statement of the circumstances is part of the law.

I know that my noble friend Lord Elton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, intends to say a few words about some of the provisions of the Bill, and no doubt he will endeavour to answer any points that are raised by your Lordships. With the leave of the House, I shall endeavour to deal with them as best I can at the end of the debate. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Renton.)

11.56 a.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for undertaking the carriage of this, I think, useful little Bill through the House. It is reassuring to me that a great expert in this field in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea—who knows more about guns, used lawfully, of course, than any other person so far as I know in the United Kingdom and even including Wales—is to speak.

It is a mournful fact that the carriage of weapons is increasingly being used in crime and, therefore, any gap in the legislation to control and limit it, as far as one can, ought to be filled. There seems to be a gap here which I think that this little Bill probably helps to stop. I am bound to say that I am not sure that I am able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on one matter, when he expressed the hopeful opinion that firearms controls are reasonably effective. In the debate in another place there was a startling statement made by one of the Members, that whereas now there are only 50,000 to 60,000 legally-held and licensed hand guns in Britain, there are no fewer than 350,000 illicitly-held pistols. Where that interesting figure emanated from and what the basis of it was, I do not know, but it is a startling figure.

The opinion has been expressed that illicit hand guns can now be bought in our major cities more cheaply than it would cost to buy an imitation hand gun. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be able to give us any hope, comfort or reassurance in the face of those assertions of fact, because they present a very worrying situation indeed. The gap that, therefore, needs to be filled—if that is right—is a review of the licensing system and the degree of controls that presently exist, and perhaps even the attitude of the courts towards offences in this part of the criminal law. But if it be the case that the criminal can get the real thing pretty easily—and I fear that that may well be the case—we cannot take a great deal of comfort from the little entry that this Bill will effect into the field of limiting the accessibility of weapons to the criminal.

As regards the gap that needs to be filled, it seems to me—I must confess on a fairly limited study of the problem—that the attempt in the Bill to cover the situation seems to be as good as any that can be attempted. It is not easy. There is, on the one hand, the desire not to render inaccessible that which has become part of the upbringing of children in this day and age.

I am not sure that I have wholly welcomed the fact that television and cowboys, the wild west plethora that invades the television box day in day out, firearms and wielding them, have become part of life that the young become addicted to. It is alarming at times to see the youths and boys in action, hiding, concealing themselves, and making all the relevant noises in a most frightening way at times. I do not suppose there is anything we can do about that. As parents all of us have suffered the hazard of water pistols, and I do not suppose there is a great deal of harm in that. But we are becoming over-conditioned, and I think we are over-conditioning our young people in television to the acceptability of the handling and use of a gun as part of manhood. It is not a happy development.

However, the fact that there should be available now, without licence, readily convertible imitation weapons is, of course, a serious matter. If this Bill becomes law, they will need to be licensed. I come back to my question. If they need to he licensed it seems unlikely that the criminal will ever seek to acquire one. What puzzles me is this: what does the applicant for a firearm which is not a real firearm, but is readily convertible to one, want it for? If he wants it for an honest purpose of self-protection and self-defence, he can apply for a licence. In the appropriate case he can get one. What does the man who wants an imitation firearm that can easily be converted say to the police when he applies for the licence? It puzzles me.

I do not know what the point really is. In so far as it is said, after much discussion in another place, that this would apparently stop the criminal using these things, I suppose it must be right; but I confess to being mystified at the moment as to what are the grounds on which a person would seek to go to the trouble of acquiring a licence to have possession of these guns. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Renton, with his ability to understand these things so readily, may be able to give us a reassuring explanation.

I was delighted to see that he was able to have an opportunity, in introducing what is now his own Bill, to ride his favourite hobbyhorse; namely, the appointed day in question. If it is sought to achieve a satisfactory arrangement with manufacturers, et cetera, and effective guidelines, the sooner the Home Secretary has the power in his hands by this Bill becoming law, the greater will be the pressure he could exercise on those who are going to be putting these things on the market, or distributing them, or whatever it may be. I confess that on this occasion I unreservedly share the views, the concern, of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about this provision. Perhaps we could get an explanation as to why this should be necessary.

Having raised these questions, if the Home Office is assured that there is a practical gap here, and we are not merely cluttering up the statute book with that which (a), is not needed or, (b), is unenforceable, it seems to me that this is a Bill which, within the limits of its sphere of operation, could possibly he useful in the battle against dangerous crime. Any step to promote our success in that struggle is, of course, welcome.

12.5 p.m.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton on the able way in which he has outlined this Bill to the House, and to give the Bill a welcome, as it is a praiseworthy attempt to strengthen the law relating to the criminal use of firearms. I shall not weary your Lordships with too many details of a technical nature.

It is evident that the Firearms Act 1968 needs bringing up to date in this respect. Most of the content of that Act goes back a great deal beyond the time when this question of replica firearms arose and they became available on the market in such large numbers as they are now. Previous attempts to define replica firearms fell down on the question of definition and distinguishing them from the toy firearms which children—and who can blame them?— are so found of using in playing cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians, despite the best endeavours of their parents and other well meaning individuals to discourage them from warlike acts of that sort. Those of your Lordships who have read that short story by Saki entitled The Toys of Peace will know what I mean.

These replica firearms have now been freely available for a good many years. They are a legitimate item for collectors and for serious students of firearms design who may wish to study the mechanism, and so on, without all the palaver of acquiring the genuine article and having to go through all the formalities of getting a firearms certificate. The trouble is that the more faithful the replica is to the original in its appearance and mechanism, the more likely it is that these replicas may be used for criminal purposes.

No-one knows how many of these articles there are in circulation. It is certain that they have been used in many cases in the commission of crime. When the average layman sees one of these things pointed at him he cannot be blamed for not being able to distinguish the imitation from the genuine article. As your Lordships will remember, there was that well-known case in the Indian High Commission a few years ago. Two men armed with imitation firearms went in there, and they were discovered by one or two plain-clothed policemen who were armed. In the full belief that the arms in the possession of these two men were genuine, they opened fire on them. with the tragic results that we all know.

It is highly probable that replica firearms have been used in the assistance of many robberies and other crimes where the criminals have not been apprehended, and of course there is no way of finding out to what extent they have been used, except where the perpetrators are arrested. In such cases, they can be caught under Sections 17 and 18 of the Act as it stands. The present Bill is to cover the case where a replica firearm can be converted into what I shall term as a "shooter". There is a great temptation to do that by the criminal, and in some cases it is not difficult.

What is difficult is how to define a replica which can readily be converted. The honourable Member for Bury St. Edmunds, with the assistance of the Parliamentary draftsmen, has made a valiant attempt at achieving such a definition, but even so this part of the Bill can only be described as being a rather grey area. It is open to wide interpretation and so much hangs on what the court may decide is needed in the way of the skill of the individual and the resources and tools available to him. I foresee wide and differing interpretations being placed on that part of the Bill by the courts. Many of us are do-it-yourself enthusiasts—I dabble in it a bit myself—and it is conceivable that some replicas could be converted using ordinary tools available to the householder. "Do-it-yourselfery" has grown more sophisticated, with more elaborate implements and tools becoming available on the market, and some household workshops would do credit to an engineering works.

The question, therefore, is how to define that part of the Bill properly. It is conceivable that a particular replica firearm could be held to be not readily convertible with the equipment that is freely available at any one time, and then a couple of years later a new or improved tool might appear on the market rendering that same replica capable of conversion, and then it could be illegal. What would he the position of the owner in those circumstances? Could he take shelter under Clause 1(5), for example? Perhaps my noble friend would address himself to that.

The gun trade are willing and anxious to co-operate with the Government in making the Bill workable, and I hope they will be called into consultation to work out guidelines and a code of practice jointly with the Home Office experts to ensure that replicas put on the market in future are of such a nature as not easily to lend themselves to conversion. My noble friend mentioned non-statutory guidelines. He is a lawyer, I am not; it is a question which needs careful consideration in terms of how much force the guidelines will have and whether the courts will take any notice of them.

Among the points which occur to me and which could be covered in the guidelines are that the skill and equipment required should be more than that available to the ordinary person; that it should not be possible, with a given replica firearm, to exchange some of its components for the genuine articles so as to turn it into a shooter (that can he done, without greatly affecting the fidelity of the replica to the original, by minor dimensional differences); that the replica should be constructed of materials which, if it could be turned into a shooter, would prevent it from standing up to the shock of firing. That is an important point because, if it were generally known that replicas, if converted to shooters, would not withstand the shock of firing, a potential criminal would be deterred by the knowledge that it might do as much harm to him as to his intended victim, and the problem would be half way to being solved.

I shall not detain the House longer on what is a useful measure which deserves an easy passage through your Lordships' House. I wish the Bill well and commend it to your Lordships.


Lord Kilbracken

I intervene briefly, my Lords, largely as a result of some remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea. It seems to me—I believe it is more than just a Committee point—that the measure will be seriously weakened by Cluase 1(6), which says the Bill will apply only if the imitation firearm can be converted without any special skill. In other words, if any special skill is needed, no illegal act will have been committed. I should have thought it impossible for anyone to convert an imitation into a real firearm without having any special skill. It might not be necessary for him to have special equipment; if he has enough special skill, he might be able to do it with a screwdriver or some ordinary domestic tool. Surely special skill must always be necessary for such a conversion to be made, and in that case the offence would not be covered.

12.16 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I intervene mainly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on introducing the Bill. In the debate on law and order I referred to the violent crime now perpetrated against many workers in the course of their duty. Particularly in my work with shopkeepers, I have discovered that many holdups are carried out with replica firearms. As we have heard, if something is stuck in your ribs or you are threatened with something, unless you are an expert you have no way of knowing whether it is a replica or the genuine article, and it is too late to find out after discovering it was a real gun.

My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones wondered why people wanted collections of replica guns. I must tell him that a certain shop I pass every day in my locality is known as an aqua store and sells not only all the necessary diving equipment but has a tremendous number of replica guns in stock. I complained about that on one occasion because they were openly displayed in a window which anybody could break. In addition, they sell some fearsome things which I gather are used for dealing with sharks. I am not aware that we need such equipment in our waters. It seems that people collect items, perhaps like a trophy, rather as in the old days people collected the heads of the animals they shot.

There is no doubt that it is a flourishing trade. Anything which will make it less possible for people with criminal intent to obtain something which will make the commission of crime easier must be welcome. With other noble Lords, on one occasion I tried to promote much keener laws on firearms generally Nevertheless, we have a very good record in this country I compliment the noble Lord on introducing the Bill. May it have a speedy passage through the House.

12.18 p.m.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Renton for not being here for the opening, but I fully support his Bill. My noble friend Lord Swansea went into the detail of the matter, and indeed the Bill appears to refer to what look like replicas, which I assume means things that could easily be mistaken for real weapons. I had the privilege when in New York of being taken through one of the most difficult precincts. I was present when a gang were pulled in. They were stripped of their weapons and I was permitted to examine them.

I recall jocularly saying, "Nobody would be worried by that", which was a fair-sized gun made of cheap alloy with silver metal painting on it, the sort of thing you would expect a young child to have with a cowboy outfit. The policeman said to me, "Look down the barrel, ma'am. It looks so innocent with that cheap paint on the outside—look down the barrel Down the barrel had been placed copper tubing of a size that was readily available under planning arrangements for city buildings, to enclose electric wiring. The tubing was perfectly easy to obtain, and anybody faced with that trivial looking toy would never have thought that it was capable of firing. Admittedly it would be only one shot, and there is some doubt as to whether it would be totally lethal. But the police assured me that certainly at close range it would have blinded somebody, or caused very serious injury. So such a firearm need not necessarily look like a genuine replica, but can be turned into a lethal weapon.

12.21 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, at this stage your Lordships may wish me to give an indication of the Government's attitude towards my noble friend's Bill, and I should like to congratulate him on the eloquent way in which he has introduced it to the House. The purpose of the Bill has already been explained by my noble friend, and we do indeed recognise the debt of gratitude that we owe not only to my noble friend, but also to his and my honourable friend Mr. Eldon Griffiths, the promoter of the Bill in another place, for their efforts in steering through Parliament this modest, but important, contribution to firearms legislation.

My noble friend has already pointed out that the Bill extends only to certain imitation firearms which can be readily converted to fire live ammunition. Those are the weapons which it was set out to catch. He made clear that neither he nor Mr. Griffiths felt that the introduction of controls over imitation firearms generally was feasible, and mentioned that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary shared that view. Perhaps I should explain to the House briefly why my right honourable friend reached this conclusion, which was announced shortly before Easter in another place.

The Government share fully the concern which has been expressed about the criminal misuse of imitation firearms of all kinds. At this point I must say that I have no idea where the figures quoted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones originally came from. I do not get the impression from the police, with whom my department is fairly closely in touch, that existing controls of real firearms are defective, and if they were defective on the scale mentioned it could not possibly have escaped anybody's notice —

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I would say that the source of my information is entirely what was said in another place. One cannot always believe what is said in another place, but at any rate that is my sole authority. I hope that I have not spread alarm and despondency, though 1 could give my own personal vouching of the figures: but that is the origin.

Lord Elton

My Lords, what I intended to express was ignorance of the original source of the figures, not the words that the noble and learned Lord quoted. I would equally say that we have no evidence that such weapons are available at the kind of knock-down prices to which the noble and learned Lord referred. I hope that I can reassure anybody who is worried about that.

As 1 was saying, we share the anxiety expressed by my noble friend, and it was for that reason that a thorough examination was undertaken of possible ways of tackling the problem. However, there are already millions of toy firearms in circulation and many of them are modelled on real firearms. We concluded that it would be impossible to exclude these in their present form from any controls over "look-alike firearms that might be devised. Measures to achieve conspicuous dissimilarity could easily be circumvented by a determined criminal. In the final analysis, even if the manufacture, sale, and possession of all imitation firearms, including toys, were to be outlawed, it would still be possible for criminals to fashion guns out of wood which, under the conditions of stress in which they might be used, would easily pass for the real thing.

Against that background, my right honourable friend concluded that there were no practicable steps which could be taken to bring "lookalike" firearms under further legislative control. I fear that that will not comfort the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. However, it is clearly right that those imitation firearms which can be readily converted to fire live ammunition —and I dare say that what my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith referred to would fall into that category—should be subject to the same controls as actual firearms. The Bill now before the House therefore has the full support of the Government.

I do not propose to comment on all the provisions of the Bill, since my noble friend has already highlighted the main points. I should however say a few words about the non-statutory guidelines which have been mentioned—and they are a subject of interest since it will fall to the Home Office itself to draw them up. Perhaps I could first of all reassure your Lordships, especially those of you who might be particularly concerned about the possible effects of the Bill on the trade. by repeating the assurances which have been given in another place. As my noble friend said, the guidelines will consist of measures designed to render an imitation firearm incapable of being readily converted. They will be prepared in consultation with the trade—and that I think answers the question asked by my noble friend Lord Swansea—and other interested parties. The provision in Clause 4(3) to bring the new legislation into force by commencement order, will not be used until the guidelines have been completed and made available, but I can assure your Lordships that that will be done as soon as possible in the light of the consultation that must be gone through. As I am sure my noble friend knows, the admissibility of references to the guidelines in a court will of course be for the courts themselves to decide.

Although the guidelines will not have any statutory force, it is difficult to imagine that an imitation firearm which incorporated suggested features designed to render it incapable of being readily converted, would become the subject of a prosecution. The guidelines will be revised from time to time to take account of changes in technology, and those engaged in business transactions involving imitation firearms will be expected to keep abreast of these developments. However, I do not think that any responsible manufacturer, importer, or retailer will be at risk of prosecution.

My noble friend has touched on the certification under the 1968 Act of readily convertible imitation firearms. Although the issue of a firearm certificate is a matter for the appropriate chief officer of police, we agree that there are unlikely to be many occasions when the possession of a readily convertible imitation firearm would be authorised. Noble Lords may ask why an absolute prohibition is not therefore being introduced. Perhaps I ought to remind the House that under the Firearms Act 1968 no firearms are subject to an absolute prohibition, and even the most dangerous weapons can be possessed in certain circumstances, provided an authority is held from the Secretary of State. Moreover, there may be instances where a collector's item may fall within the scope of this Bill, but where it would not be appropriate to render the device incapable of being readily converted.

It is, I suppose, for my noble friend to reply to the principal question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, on the effect of licences and who would require a licensed weapon. I do not doubt that one consideration is that, if there is imposed a licensing system which makes nobody want the item, then the item will not be produced and the menace to society will have been removed. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the earlier, and more infantile, menace—the water pistol—as a kind of precursor of the menace of later years, and said that all parents were subject to it. I cannot help wondering whether in fact the noble and learned Lord's own parents were not subject to this menace at an earlier stage, and he is such a civilised example of the membership of your Lordships' House that I cannot believe that the water pistol is really such a malevolent precursor of violence as he would suggest.

I think that I have replied to all the points which it is proper for the Government to reply to at this stage, and I therefore conclude by once again congratulating my noble friend on the task that he has performed today and by commending the Bill to the House.

12.29 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton. If I may have the leave of the House to speak again very briefly, I should like to thank him and other noble Lords who have supported the Bill. I am grateful for the Government support. I should like to comment briefly on some points which I found so interesting and so welcome, made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. He made the very telling point that, thanks to television, in the minds of many young people firearms seem to have become part of the way of life. Of course the reason for that, as I understand it, is that "the Westerns" are made mostly in the United States, and in the United States there is no equivalent firearms control. I think there is possibly an arguable case for the media to point this out, that the mass of films that they show from another country are produced in circumstances which are quite different from those which prevail here. I am not in a position, of course, to comment on the number of firearms illicitly held here. I think there was some confusion in another place, quite frankly, about that matter, and I have nothing to add to what my noble friend Lord Elton said about it.

I welcome the support on this occasion of the noble and learned Lord about the desirability of a fixed date in a commencement order, but I must confess that I have no intention of moving an amendment to that effect in your Lordships' Committee in view of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Elton about the Government's intention to expedite the matter so far as they can. I was very interested in what my noble friend said about the non-statutory guidelines, and I must accept it that it will be for the courts to decide upon their admissibility.

May I say how interested I was, as I am sure all your Lordships were, in the speech of my noble friend Lord Swansea, with his great knowledge of these matters. If I may comment upon one or two of the things that he mentioned, reference has been made to the difficulty of defining what is really convertible. I hope that the non-statutory guidelines will resolve that difficulty. I was somewhat reassured by the statement of my noble friend Lord Elton that the guidelines will be revised from time to time. Obviously, this is a matter in which we have got to feel our way forward in the light of experience, and I hope that that prospect will reassure my noble friend Lord Swansea and, indeed, cover a good deal of what he said.

As to Clause 1(5), of course, it is unthinkable that there should be a blanket defence in respect of all the perhaps hundreds of thousands of imitation weapons which could conceivably be covered, but I hope that he feels that subsection (5) of Clause 1 gives a reasonable let-out for the innocent people concerned. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith each gave direct evidence of matters which they have observed from their own experience, and that evidence is welcome evidence in support of the Bill. With gratitude, I trust that your Lordships will now give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.