HL Deb 18 July 1988 vol 499 cc1061-117

2.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1[Prohibited weapons and ammunition]:

[Manuscript Amendment No. Al not moved?.]

3 p.m.

Lord Brain moved Amendment No. 1: Page I, line 16, leave out ("or pump-action").

The noble Lord said: I should first like to declare an interest in that I am a holder of a shotgun certificate and I have held a firearms certificate. Therefore I have an interest in the Bill. In the group we are discussing are Amendments Nos. 1 to 8, 18, 19, 21 and 29. I am particularly interested in Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 and shall speak to those. I support Amendments Nos. 18, 21 and 29 but shall wait to hear what the movers of the amendments have to say.

Amendment No. 1 leaves out the word "or pump-action" in the rifle section of the Bill. It gives the definition of: any self-loading or pump-action rifle other than one which is chambered for 22 rim-fire cartridges". The amendment catches two groups of rifle which I believe cause no risk to the public and arc caught unnecessarily. Both groups have fixed magazines of limited capacity; five is the normal number. The first group largely contains vintage or veteran weapons made prior to 1939. Almost all are chambered for proprietary cartridges which are no longer available. They are very much collector items and, as far as I am aware, are not used in any form of target shooting. The second group largely contains American rifles but also a number of other foreign makes. They are typically of deer-stalking calibres of 243 or -270 inches. I am concerned that they may be brought in by overseas visitors coming to stalk in Scotland. The visitors may have the problem that their favourite rifle is impounded by Customs as a prohibited weapon. That is no good to the promotion of stalking activities in Scotland which are a good currency earner.

I emphasise that those rifles have fixed limited-capacity magazines. One cannot change the magazine and increase the rate of fire or the total capacity of the magazine. They must he reloaded after the magazine is empty. I understand that the speed of fire of the pump-action rifle is no faster than the efficient use of the bolt-action rifle or the lever-action rifle. I can see no reason why those categories should be caught as prohibited weapons and I shall be interested to hear the Government's view as to why that is so.

Amendment No. 4 is a probing amendment. Many revolver-calibre cartridges cover genuine rifles. However, during the 1914–18 war some genuine Luger and Mauser pistols were made but some had the facility of having stocks attached to them, as do one or two modern machine pistols. I understand that if a pistol does not have the appropriate attachments it is not caught in the Bill. It is a pistol; it is not a prohibited weapon but a category of firearm that can he licensed. Just because it happens to have the lugs, let us say, even if it is without a stock, it may be caught in a collector's hands. If it has the lugs and the collector has the stock I believe that there is a strong probability that it is caught.

Those are mostly collectors' items and it would be sad if one collector were caught, while another, because he has an extra piece of equipment or a slightly modified weapon, is not. Those are the points that I should like to make in respect of Amendments Nos. 1 and 4. I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

Lord Torphichen

I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Ferrers to explain how the amendments to the Bill, which is an amendment to the 1968 Act, fit in? In Section 1 (1) (a) of the 1968 Act the prohibition is for a person: to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, a firearm". When one reads Clause 1 of the amendment Bill into the Act it becomes: any firearm which is so designed or adapted", and so on. But there is no sentence prohibiting the possession of those firearms. Can my noble friend tell the Committee where the prohibition now is in the Bill?

Lord Swansea

I should like to begin by declaring an interest as chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council. I hope that it will not be necessary for me to do so each time I rise to my feet during the Committee. I should like to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brain, and in particular Amendment No. 1 which refers to pump-action rifles.

I support the amendment because the pump-action rifle is manually operated. In no way can it be classed in the same category as a self-loading rifle. The method of operation differs only in detail from a bolt-action or lever-action rifle. Thank goodness those types are still to be permitted and I can see no reason why pump-action rifles should be lumped together with self-loading rifles. They are fish of an entirely different colour.

On Second Reading I spoke at length about self-loading rifles, with which we are also concerned in this group of amendments. For over 40 years such rifles have been used legally in this country by civilians indulging in what has become known as "practical rifle shooting". It is now an international discipline and one in which our national representatives have achieved some success. They have carried on in that discipline for over 40 years without an accident occurring. The only incident which was linked with the use of those rifles was the tragedy at Hungerford last year when an individual went completely off his head.

In no way can that tragedy be connected with the legitimate use of firearms of that kind. Users of those firearms are being penalised for a crime that they have not committed. They have observed the law and held the firearms legally for many years. Only as a result of the Hungerford incident has any blame fallen on that type of firearm. It is manifestly unfair that, after they have been legally used for over 40 years, the Government should now move the goal posts.

One does not find that problem in other countries. In Switzerland, for example, after a period of national service every able-bodied male must remain on the reserve list for a certain number of years. He is obliged by law to keep his firearms and ammunition at home and to turn out for practice whenever required to do so. In that country the incidence of armed crime does not figure in the national statistics. I must apologise for my voice; something funny has happened to it and I hope that I shall be able to carry on. However, the whole crux of the matter is that in other countries the Government trust the people. Apparently in this country the Government are not prepared to trust the people. Those who have observed the law faithfully for a long time now find themselves being ruled out of order.

The other point I should like to mention concerns Amendment No. 18 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, about the means by which a person might be permitted to retain ownership of a self-loading rifle. That covers various categories of people; for example, disabled people. I am sure that many of your Lordships know people who by reason of some disability—perhaps a war wound—may not be able to handle a bolt-action rifle very conveniently. That is an example of the kind of person who would be permitted to continue to own a self-loading rifle. He would be someone who has held a firearms certificate for a continuous period of three years before this application and someone who is thoroughly vouched for by a club affiliated to a recognised national association as being a well-established, bona fide target shooter and a thoroughly responsible person. That requirement seems to have been entirely overlooked by the Thames Valley police when they granted a firearms certificate to Michael Ryan. There is still a cloud of doubt hanging over that particular point.

The other category of person to whom 1 suggest this would be applicable is a left-handed person. There arc a great many left-handed people in this world. I am sure that many Members of the Committee are left-handed. Those people find it difficult or inconvenient to handle a rifle with a bolt action. That is another instance where a self-loading rifle or a pump-action rifle, which has been mentioned earlier, will be very useful to a left-hander.

Viscount Hanworth

Many of us believe that the Bill cannot have any immediate useful effect. In fact, it may have quite the reverse, because there are undoubtedly illegally held shotguns which will appear on the black market. However, I believe that those of us —and I include myself—who support the Bill are concerned with the future. There is no doubt that a few years ago there were very few armed robberies. However, at present, in the Metropolitan area alone I believe that there have been something like 1,700 armed robberies. Therefore, I am afraid that the argument put forward by the noble Lord who has just spoken that these weapons and others have been held for many years perfectly safely does not carry great weight with me. We must look at the increasing crime rate and the increasing use of guns. I believe that that is what the Bill is about and it should not be weakened.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I support Amendment No. 1. For over 50 years I have owned rifles and shotguns and even revolvers, but 1 have no ammunition for revolvers. I had my army revolver and my grandmother had a silver revolver. I do not know why she had it—perhaps she feared that something might happen to her. I also do not know where she secreted it. I now also own two revolvers which my father owned.

I particularly support Amendment No. 1. I have a pump-action 22 rifle which is now very, very old, and is invaluable for shooting rabbits when one is going along in the evening on the edge of a cornfield. I do not think that rabbits are very intelligent.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

One can bowl over one or two with a rifle —bang, bang—and they do not seem to worry unduly. One has to do that about four times before they come on the alert.

I believe that it would be a great pity not to allow pump-action 22 rifles. My noble friend behind me and the mover of the amendment has explained the reasons for the amendment which I support.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Strange

Perhaps Members of the Committee will forgive me if I intervene briefly to speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Swansea. If by chance a lunatic got hold of a Rover car, drove down the street and killed a whole lot of unarmed pedestrians, would we then be justified in immediately trying to ban all Rover cars? It seems to me that there is the same illogical over-reaction on this occasion.

Lord Burton

I wonder if the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has any idea how often illegally held firearms have been used for crime. I should be very interested to know whether he could give us any figures on this matter. I understand that illegally held firearms, particularly rifles, are used very seldom indeed, if ever. I believe that the only time that a self-loading automatic rifle has been used was in the case of Michael Ryan. Therefore I believe the noble Viscount should be very careful, and I should be interested to know if he could give us any facts.

The Earl of Balfour

I should like to make a comment about pump-action guns. Once they become worn, particularly the 16-bore type of shotgun, it is sometimes extremely difficult to be quite certain that that gun has been emptied of its eight shots. I have known a person to work the pump like mad, believing that everything is out of the gun, then to pull the trigger and the last shot has still been there and has been fired on the floor.

Another matter is that as I understand it, from talking with firearms dealers—referring to lines 14 and 15 of the Bill—although the trigger may have to be pulled each time, one only needs to file off the head of the bolt and the eight shots can be fired off in a row without again pulling the trigger. That is the only other comment on the grounds of safety which I believe is worth mentioning.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I believe that it is possibly worth considering what might have happened had Michael Ryan run loose in Switzerland where a very large proportion of the adult population keep automatic rifles in their houses for civil defence purposes. Somebody would surely have popped into his house, popped out again with his rifle, and shot Michael Ryan. There would then have been no problem.

Lord John-Mackie

Perhaps I may intervene briefly on this very difficult subject of the self-loading or pump-action rifle and shotgun mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, a moment ago. There is no question that there is very strong feeling in clubs about this matter. The whole question of disabled people and women who are not quite so strong to pull the coil and so on, is something which the Government must consider as carefully as possible with due regard to the object of the Bill; namely, to try to control firearms as much as possible.

I suppose that I should declare an interest as have many others in this Committee. I have shot all my life with rifles and shotguns. I have two clubs which come to the farm regularly to shoot. I have discussed the question about pump-action guns and so on with them. It may intrigue your Lordships to know that they think of the point that Lord Balfour made about not being sure whether a pump-action gun, whether it be a rifle or not, is safe, because there have been many accidents, particularly when somebody has been holding a gun pointing downwards, has pulled the trigger and blown off someone's foot. That has happened quite often; I have two friends to whom that has happened. They are very careful, particularly with double-barrelled shotguns, to ensure that when one is carried it is broken, whether the gun is loaded or unloaded.

An ingenious man invented a dummy cartridge. I have one here. It goes into a pump action shotgun to ensure that it is safe. As one pulls the trigger the dummy cartridge is hit and nothing happens. Somebody has said that it will not fit into the case, but the man who invented it is ingenious and the cartridge folds up so that it can be put into the case. That demonstrates that these people are taking an interest in safety as regards these pump-action guns.

I appeal to the Government to give the matter very close thought indeed, having due regard to the object of the Bill.

The Earl of Northesk

I think these groupings are a little unfortunate because, although all these amendments attempt to achieve more or less the same thing, Amendments Nos. 18 and 29 attempt to achieve it in a slightly different way. I think these are the most sensible of all the amendments. Most of this clause attempts to legislate against guns. As we all know, it is not guns that kill people; it is people that kill people. These are two amendments which attempt to legislate against people, which seems to me to be the most sensible way of' going about it.

I am not the only person who has advocated for many years that there should be tests of some kind before one is allowed to possess a firearm or a shotgun. One has to take a test in order to drive a motor car, which is just as lethal as a gun; one has to take a test in order to be a solicitor, and a solicitor can perhaps be as lethal as a gun. There should be a test for competence; there should be a test for behaviour; there should be a test for recognition of species; above all, there should be a test for safety. I wonder how many of us would pass? However, that is a different question. The right approach must be to attempt to legislate against people rather than against guns.

Viscount Dilhorne

I have tabled a number of amendments. I missed a manuscript amendment, for which I apologise to the Committee, but I am sure that it was not contentious and that I shall be able to make amends later on. It was purely a drafting matter. There are a number of amendments standing in my name within the groupings that we have been given. I think that probably the best way of dealing with them is to take them in what I consider to be the most convenient order. I should like, first, to speak to Amendments Nos. 5 to 12, and then go on to the amendment about which my noble friend has just addressed your Lordships. Amendments Nos. 5 and 12 are couched in exactly the same language.

Earl Ferrers

May I interrupt my noble friend? I do not like to do so but I think that there might be a procedural complication. We were discussing Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 but not 12.

Viscount Dilhorne

I shall speak to Amendment No. 5 and will not repeat myself when we come to Amendment No. 12. The points that I wish to make on both these amendments are the same.

The words that I wish to see inserted are: or which was manufactured before 1st January 1937". The reason for the amendment is that it seems to me that it would be a pity if we were to lose the heritage or history of firearms prior to that date if those firearms became prohibited weapons and had to be surrendered. There are not a lot of these weapons about. This is in a sense a fallback amendment if the other amendment in my name relating to pump-action shotguns and SLRs does not succeed. If the Government succeed, it seems that these old weapons, which have an intrinsic value, would be prohibited. There is no provision in the Bill for them to be kept except perhaps, one presumes, in forensic science laboratories. There is no provision for museums to keep them unless they receive a special dispensation, and it is impossible to say today whether or not a museum will have that.

These guns are part of our heritage, part of the history of firearms. I therefore beg to commend to my noble friend the Minister the amendment to page 1, line 17, which is the same as the one to line 22.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dilhorne for his intervention and I am sorry if I disturbed him in his flow. I was not surprised that he was not here to move his amendment because he tabled no less than four manuscript amendments today and even I had difficulty in obtaining the manuscript version. I received it five minutes before coming into the Chamber. I daresay the noble Lord was on his way here but did not succeed in arriving in time. I am grateful to him for having explained his views about this matter.

I should like to reassure my noble friend Lord Torphichen over the problem he mentioned regarding Clause 1 which he did not feel fitted happily into the Act as it is. This section of the Bill does not, of course, refer to Section 1 of the 1968 Act; it refers to Section 5 of the 1968 Act. I think that when my noble friend looks at that part he will see that the Bill as drafted sits comfortably within the original Act.

All the amendments which have been moved and spoken to are, I realise, aimed at one of the major hearts of the Bill which concerns a great many people who have quite legitimately used their weapons and feel that they will be encumbered by the proposed legislation. It is right to attempt to see why that is so. All the amendments in this group are directed at the Government's proposals to inhibit high-powered self-loading and pump-action rifles. We thought it proper to do this because of the incident, about which your Lordships will not need reminding, when a self-loading rifle was used last year by Michael Ryan in Hungerford on a day which we shall all remember. That incident has led the Government to look very carefully at all the circumstances surrounding these dangerous and lethal weapons. In the light of that incident, the Government had to consider whether it was responsible and proper to continue to allow the private ownership of weapons of such awesome and lethal power.

Although lethality—as it has been generally called—was the prime factor in our decision, we also looked at the extent of the legitimate use of such weapons. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said he hoped that the Government would think hard about that proposal, and I can assure him that we have done so. A great many representations have been made to us, rightly and perfectly properly; and we have tried to find the correct balance. It is certainly not our intention to disrupt legitimate shooting activities where that can be avoided, but we estimate that only 5 per cent. of the firearms certificate holders in Great Britain out of a total of about 200,000 own weapons which are either self-loading rifles or pump-action rifles. They are used in practical shooting and in a few service rifle competitions in which some civilians participate. However, the service competitions give priority to servicemen and few civilians take part. Indeed, I think that only 24 out of 1,300 clubs affiliated to the National Rifle Association predominantly use self-loading rifles.

I recognise that the ban on self-loading rifles will adversely affect practical rifle shooters who will not be able to continue their sport using such weapons. It may be of little consolation to them to know that; but they will be able to continue to use the traditional bolt-action rifles or to participate in other practical shooting events using pistols or shotguns. I realise that that will not be a convenience to people who have been using, rightly and legitimately, self-loading or pump-action rifles. However, the limited sporting use of those weapons, in the Government's opinion, is far outweighed by their destructive potential and the risk that they pose to the community. Perhaps I may say that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was right to draw attention to that. The risk of further abuse is not a risk which, frankly, the Government can accept or feel that they can ask the community at large to accept.

My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard expressed concern that he would not be able to shoot rabbits with a pump-action 22 rifle. He need not worry, because self-loading rifles which are chambered for 22 rim-fire ammunition—and are widely used for vermin control, as my noble friend uses them —will remain under Section 1 control as at present and they are not put under Section 5. They are lower powered and less accurate than the centre-fire models.

All the amendments that have been tabled, understandable though they are, in fact seek to water down the Government's proposals over self-loading or pump-action rifles. I accept that people feel their liberties are being curtailed. I can only make the point, as clearly as I can, that it is not a curtailment which we like to see but we believe that in the interests of public safety such weapons are not safe in the hands of anyone.

My noble friend Lord Swansea said that left-handed people found these weapons convenient to use. Others have said that the disabled find them convenient to use. I accept that point of view, but one comes hack to asking whether it is right to allow people who have certain constrictions nevertheless to use an instrument that is so dangerous that even in the hands of those who are fully able it is considered not appropriate for them to be available.

My noble friend Lady Strange asked whether, if a Rover motorcar had run into a number of people, we would ban all Rover motorcars. I believe my noble friend Lord Swansea put forward that suggestion at Second Reading. My noble friend Lady Strange is wrong. I said at Second Reading—and I think it is right that motor cars are lethal instruments and as such must he curtailed. The innocent motorist who is prefectly capable of driving a car at great speed is not allowed to do so in the interests of the whole community. It is the same for these dangerous weapons. In the hands of many people they are perfectly safe: hut in the interests of the whole they must be controlled.

My noble friend Lady Saltoun put forward the proposition and extended the imagination somewhat—a little unhelpfully, I thought—that had Michael Ryan been in Switzerland the sort of events in which he was involved would not have happened because someone in legitimate possession of a self-loading rifle would have come out and shot him. I do not think that is the kind of format that my noble friend believes should be introduced into this country. The argument for including self-loading rifles among legitimate weapons is totally destructive. My noble friend's argument destroyed her own case because it would be totally unsuitable for people to run around shooting others even though those shot were considered to be dangerous.

I absolutely accept that this is a difficult matter. I realise that there will he people who will find themselves curtailed from that which they have been allowed to do in the past. However, I hope the Committee will accept that the Government have done their best to meet, where possible, the interests of various lobbies. Nevertheless, we feel that self-loading rifles and pump-action rifles should be in the prohibited category. That is why I hope the Committee will agree that we have it right.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I hope that the noble Earl can clarify my mind about these weapons. I immediately say that I know very little about firearms. I have not used them a great deal in my life. Like everyone else, I was horrified at what Michael Ryan did in Hungerford. I live fairly near Hungerford and therefore it was a shock which affected me, as a near local, as it did everyone else.

I am not sure that this Bill will achieve what the Government seek to achieve. The noble Earl spoke about lethality. Is it correct that under this clause a pump-action .410 shotgun would be banned, whereas a bolt-action.303 rifle or a single loader pistol would not be banned? In terms of lethality, even I know that a .303 rifle is much more lethal than a .410 shotgun, which in terms of lethality is almost a toy with a very restricted range.

It may be that I am wrong. It may be that the noble Earl will be able to tell me that the .410 pump-action shotgun is not covered in this clause and will not be banned. However, perhaps it would be better if l now sat down and allowed the noble Earl to give me some advice.

Earl Ferrers

I shall give the not,:e Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, such advice as I can. I start by telling him as courteously as I can that he is wrong. We are dealing there with rifles. The difference between a rifle and a shotgun is one of the distinctions that we must make in this Bill. It is easy with .22 shotguns and .22 rifles to get them confused in one's mind. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that he does not know much about firearms. I can assure him that if he had had the advantage, or disadvantage, of studying this Bill very hard, as some of us have been obliged to do, he would have ended up knowing a great deal more than at the beginning—which has been my fate; even though there is much to be learnt.

The point is that we are dealing with self-loading and pump-action rifles, which are dangerous. They are considered to he so dangerous that they are put into a category where they should not be used. Shotguns come into a different category; namely, Section 2. Ordinary bolt-action rifles are in the Section 1 category. What we are doing here is to move the self-loading rifles out of the Section 1 category and into Section 5. That is because a rifle is considered to be, and is, very much more dangerous than a shotgun.

Viscount Thurso

May I ask the noble Earl a question?

The Earl of Northesk

I refer specifically to Amendments Nos. 18 and 29 because they are the ones which ask for some kind of test. During the course of the noble Earl's explanation he said that these guns are not safe in the hands of anyone. That is exactly the point. These amendments ask that people should take some kind of test and once they have they are no longer just anybody; they are people who are qualified, as I understand it, and capable of holding and using, for want of a better expression, a big bore self-loading rifle.

I ask my noble friend to refer specifically to this, and also refer it to his experts. Perhaps the noble Earl will consider referring it to the consultative committee (which I believe is to be formed as a result of this Bill) for consideration as something which may be reintroduced at a later date.

Earl Ferrers

It is perfectly fair of the noble Lord to raise that matter and to say that people should be permitted to take various tests. But I believe that he misses the onus of this clause, which is that these weapons are considered to be so dangerous that they should not be available for use. However, that does not mean to say that there are not plenty of people who would be perfectly capable of using them, because they would be in the right hands. The thrust of this clause is to say that these weapons should not be available.

My noble friend made the observation that perhaps one should have a test, rather like a driving test, to show that one can use such weapons, but that does not answer the point. What we are trying to do is not to be horrible to the legitimate shooting community, but to protect the community as a whole from dangerous weapons which can get into the wrong hands. The only way that this can be done is by having a system whereby some are not available and others should be subject to some kind of certification.

Viscount Thurso

I may be extremely stupid. I see the danger of a gas-operated rifle, which is one that reloads itself from the recoil of the cartridge, but can the noble Earl explain the essential difference between a pump-action rifle and a bolt-action rifle? As I understand it, a bolt-action rifle is one where the cartridge is ejected by pulling back the bolt and the rifle is loaded by pushing forward the bolt. With a lever-action rifle such as the Winchester the same thing is done; namely, the cartridge is rejected by pushing the lever forward and a rifle is loaded by pulling it back. In the case of a pump-action rifle exactly the same movement is done. The cartridge is ejected and one reloads. I can see that this method is useful for people who are disabled, but the action is no faster, more efficient or deadly than that of a bolt-action rifle. A gas-operated or a self-loading rifle is a totally different weapon, as indeed is a recoil-operated rifle. I do not see why a pump-action rifle is so much more deadly than a bolt-action rifle.

3.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

The simple answer—if one ever dares give a simple answer to anything of this nature—is that bolt-action rifles are legitimately used for a number of purposes such as stalking and other pursuits of the kind that happen in the part of the world from which the noble Viscount comes. In those circumstances the weapons are quite legitimately used and will continue to be. However, pump-action rifles have very much quicker fire power and therefore their lethality becomes much greater.

Lord Brain

Can the detailed information on this subject be put into the Library? Those of us who have received briefings on the subject understand that a pump-action weapon is no faster than an efficiently operated bolt-action rifle. Please may we have the information, because it is not good enough simply having a smoke screen.

Lord Swansea

It is a complete fallacy for my noble friend to say that a pump-action rifle is faster to operate and therefore more dangerous and lethal—if there is such a thing as degrees of lethality—than a self-loading rifle. It is sheer nonsense to equate a pump-action rifle with a self-loading one.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

It is true to a certain extent that with a pump-action weapon one does not have to divert one's aim at all. However, with a bolt-action rifle one has to move one's head to a certain extent.

Viscount Dilhorne

I wish to ask my noble friend a question. One can obtain a bolt-action rifle with a magazine with a capacity for up to 15 cartridges. There is a rifle called a Tikka. There is also the SLR, which has a limited magazine capacity and fires no quicker than experts can fire it. I am left-handed and about 15 years ago on the range I got off over 30 cartridges left-handed with a bolt-action rifle. It seems that there is no distinction that can be drawn between a rifle with a magazine and an SLR with a magazine. To say that the SLR is more lethal is not true. My noble friend has not given any evidence to prove that that is the case. It is simply a bald assertion.

If one abolishes the SLR and it is not restricted to the normal regime of rifle shooting, one throws away a rifle which is now used competitively worldwide. It is approved for shooting by different organisations around the world. One was used at Bisley this weekend and I believe it is called an SA80. This weapon beat all-comers from all over the world in competitive shooting. At Bisley this week the British weapon beat weapons from all countries including those of the East European bloc. It seems a great pity that a change which began long ago in Korea when it was known that the bolt-action rifle was becoming out of date and that something should be done to replace it should now be put aside and that no civilian should be allowed to own such a weapon but only the military. That weapon has been proved to be better in competition and it is a pity that it should be abolished. I ask my noble friend to answer the question as to what is the logical difference between a bolt-action rifle with a magazine and an SLR with a limited magazine that would be part of the provision of this Bill?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I was asked about pump-action rifles by the noble Viscount and he asks why it is considered that this kind of weapon is more dangerous than one with a bolt-action. I can tell him as a matter of factual presentation that it is possible to have a bolt-action rifle which one can shoot perfectly reasonably and perfectly successfully. In the hands of the wrong person a pump-action rifle has a fire power far greater than a bolt-action rifle.

Noble Lords


Earl Ferrers

My noble friends behind me say "No"; but they forget the fact that a self-loading rifle held perfectly legitimately caused great devastation. accept that many of my noble friends feel distressed about this matter but I ask them to address their minds to this problem. Although they have a perfectly legitimate interest to put forward they must also see the other side of the coin as the Government are obliged to do; namely, the interest of public safety. I can only revert hack to the, if I may say so, not very forceful argument about the motor car. If one has motor cars, one has to constrain them because they are lethal. These weapons are also lethal. The Government accept that by making constrictions they are inviting a certain degree of unpopularity, as the postbags of most noble Lords would admit. However, there is the point that if the public are to have confidence that these weapons will not be held in the public's hands, one must then turn round and say that these weapons ought to be included in Section 5.

My noble friend Lord Dilhorne was very persuasive when he questioned whether SLRs are more lethal. I can only repeat what I have told him; they are considered to be more dangerous. They have a limited sporting use because the bolt-action rifle has a considerable sporting use. These other weapons have much more limited use. if pump-action rifles were permitted and self-loading rifles were not, the chances are that there would be a considerable increase in the use and possibily the importation of pump-action rifles. We considered—and I believe that I will take the Committee with me over this that in the interests of public safety and while acknowledging that some people will face a certain degree of curtailment, nevertheless, these weapons are correctly held in the Section 5 category.

Viscount Brookeborough

When the army goes to a range, draws weapons from an armoury and uses them on that range, the public are quite happy. Why cannot the limited number of people who take part in practical shooting hold their weapons centrally—not centrally in the whole country but close to their range—so that they can then be drawn out for use on that range? We do not have madmen in the army killing masses of people on the range and there is no reason to suppose that if shooting clubs had those restrictions we would run into any trouble.

Earl Ferrers

It is easy to confuse the use of these weapons by the army with their use by civilians. The army has people specially trained in the use of weapons for certain purposes, primarily against the enemy. The use by the army and the use by civilians are different things. When my noble friend Lord 13rookeborough says that weapons can be held and brought out on special occasions I am bound to come hack to the point I made earlier. In the hands of private individuals, even though they are capable private individuals, these weapons are considered to be so dangerous that in the interests of public safety it would be better for them not to he in private hands.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I shall add only a few words. I apologise at the outset for not having been present at the beginning of the debate. That is why I have remained silent for a fairly significant time. After the Hungerford shootings the Home Secretary made a Statement in the House of Commons. The Government were then criticised from all sides of the House for not having proceeded with greater speed. It was, I think, right to take this matter at a more leisurely rate because inevitably some people believed that their liberties were to some extent being infringed by the provisions of Clause 1. However, having said that, I must also add this. As I said at Second Reading, I do not regard the provisions of the Bill as a grave blow to the liberties of the people of this country. After the Ryan shootings there was an explosion of public feeling and a great deal of anxiety to the effect that our firearms legislation was not framed in more stringent terms. Any government which ignored that would have done so at their peril.

It is right for me to add that there would be grave concern in the police service if amendments of this character were to be passed. As the noble Earl is aware, it is the view of the police service that the Bill is not couched in adequately strong terms. For the Committee to pass amendments of this kind would be a serious error and would cause the deepest disquiet among the public and the police service.

Lord Burton

Can my noble friend tell me the maximum number of rounds that Ryan fired at any individual? As I understand it, in most cases he fired only one or two shots. If that were the case the rate of fire has no bearing on the matter.

Earl Ferrers

I find it extremely difficult to get through to my noble friend the basis on which this legislation has come forward. Had he heard, as I am sure he did, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, he would have realised that there was great public outcry about the fact that these weapons were available. Whether one individual fired one round, two rounds or eight rounds is relatively immaterial. The fact is that these weapons were used. They were dangerous and we are trying to secure a reasonable degree—and it is only a reasonable degree—of protection for society.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is absolutely right. The police service thinks that the Bill is not strong enough, and the police force is responsible for trying to stop these weapons being used and for trying to find the perpetrators when they are irresponsibly used. The noble Lord was quite right to say that there is another side to this argument pitched right at the other end of the spectrum from that which we have heard from my noble friends behind me, which argument I respect and entirely understand. However, it is a question of getting the balance right.

Lord Swansea

The inclusion of pump-action rifles in this clause of the Bill is based on a complete misconception on the part of the Government. I can think of no other reason for it. Like so many other provisions of the Bill it is based on ignorance combined with prejudice. I should like to know why my noble friend thinks that a pump-action rifle can be considered to be as dangerous or as lethal—if he likes to put it that way—as a self-loading rifle and more dangerous than other types of rifle, all of which are only as dangerous as the person behind them.

Earl Ferrers

I do not wish to rise more than I should but I feel that I cannot let my noble friend's very courteous remark go by the board. He said that the Bill was brought forward as a result of ignorance and prejudice. I suggest that he uses those words to the people around Hungerford and elsewhere and see whether they think that that is so.

Lord Marsh

Does the noble Earl agree that it seems to be fairly obvious that the reason every modern army around the world has shifted from bolt-action rifles to self-loading rifles is precisely because they are more efficient vehicles for killing people?

4 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

If I may, I correct the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. They have not moved to self-loading rifles; they have moved to automatic rifles which is a different matter altogether.

I appreciate the Government's difficulties, and those of the noble Earl and appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about public feeling. I could not agree more. This debate concerns particular rifles and guns—I forget the name of the noble Lord who sits at the back of the Chamber and who has later amendments—but it is not a question of a rifle or a weapon but of the person who owns and uses it. That is the important matter. The noble Lord has mentioned statistics, but I am not keen on statistics as they cannot prove anything. There are some police statistics which show that out of 157 crimes of one kind or another including criminal damage, wounding, homicides and robberies, 101 were committed with the aid of shotguns. That emphasises the argument. We should be concerned with the people who use the gun and who own it rather than the gun itself.

I appreciate the difficulties of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the Government have to do something about it, but I should like to see some extremely firm licensing of guns that would help people such as the noble Lord, Lord Wynford, and other disabled people.

Lord Brain

I said a little earlier that I felt that the noble Earl was putting up a smokescreen and was not giving us specific answers to specific questions. For example, he has totally ignored my comments about the definition of pistols and self-loading rifles in relation to Amendment No. 4. He has not done me the courtesy of saying a single word about it. I am surprised.

I wonder whether we have not also been discussing much too wide a group of amendments. We were talking specifically about pump-action rifles to begin with and I spoke about two specific types but received no response. He has spent his time talking about self-loading rifles. He has studiously avoided the question as to the speed of action of bolt-action or lever-action compared with pump-action. The noble Earl says, without substantiating it at all, that in the hands of an incompetent person they can be used more efficiently. Perhaps what he means is that they can be used from the hip much more efficiently than the others. If that is the case, why not say so?

Concerning law and order and the police forces, I know that immediately after Hungerford people were speaking on the radio on behalf of the Association of Chief Constables, the senior officers and Police Federation. At that time one would have expected them to have reacted more violently and said, "We need greater controls". However, instead they agreed that the present controls are adequate and needed to be more efficiently and effectively applied, perhaps with minor amendments.

The Government have taken a steamroller to try to crack a nut, not just a sledge hammer. I should like to read what has been said or what has not been said and perhaps then come back to this matter at Report stage. As the names on this amendment also include that of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, should he wish to proceed to a Division on the amendment I shall support him and we shall see what the Committee feels. But at the moment I am minded to withdraw and to come back at Report stage when I have read what has been said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Wynford moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 16, after ("one") insert ("which is incapable of having a magazine with a capacity greater than four cartridges, or").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 2 stands on its own. Amendment No. 3 is wrongly on the Marshalled List and I have been authorised to say that it was cancelled and should have been cancelled and not printed on the list. Therefore Amendment No. 3 does not concern me and I shall not be moving it.

Amendment No. 2 is directed at the interests of the disabled or other handicapped rifle shooters. Whether they are men or women, confined to wheelchairs or not, all have difficulty with bolt operation. I must declare an interest because obviously I am disabled, although my preference at the moment is for the shotgun rather than the rifle. 1 was lucky enough to have made contact immediately after the war with old Mr. Churchill, the famous gunmaker and government expert adviser on forensic matters. He was a specialist in one-handed guns. He fitted me out with one of his specials and I use it today.

My long Army service made me very familiar with rifles and competitive range shooting, whether target or practical. I mentioned the interests of the disabled in my Second Reading speech. I wish now to re-emphasise one or two of their needs and aspirations. All members of the Committee will recognise what I mean when I refer to the fierce determination of disabled people to challenge, to compete and to try to succeed if possible on equal terms with their luckier fellows. I know that myself; it is my own inclination. Rifle shooting is an area which has great scope for such people. It carries the world-wide reputation of excellence which our country has built up in skill at arms, always in the forefront since time immemorial, going back, as I said at Second Reading, to the bowmen of Agincourt. The disabled thrive on this challenge. To deny it to them would be an awful blow. The public will think very badly of it. We simply must not do this.

The amendment is clear and simple. I ask the Committee not to confuse it with other amendments at paragraph (ab) on page 1 of the Bill. These amendments will be considered later.

Self-loading and pump-action rifles have come to be specially mistrusted by the Government as we have heard already this afternoon at considerable length. They are mistrusted also by the media and some sections of the public, though not all. That is a misconception. They are not more dangerous than bolt-action, self-loading and pump-action weapons, and they are today the basic infantry weapon of our Army and allies and possible enemies. Neither type is an automatic burst-firing weapon. We all ought to be clear about that. We are talking about the self-loading rifle which has no automatic burst capability. That is a different kettle of fish and a most dangerous weapon. Such weapons are already banned under the existing law. Discussion in another place disclosed much government anxiety about self-loading rifles with large magazines, which are naturally considered to be especially dangerous. But not all self-loading rifles have large magazines.

Self-loading and pump-action rifles have two advantages. They have no manual bolt operation and they have less recoil against the shoulder. Some disabled people, left-handers, lightly built men or women, young people and elderly people, whom I will call the disadvantaged, cannot shoot with bolt-action rifles. Self-loaders may be preferred by some people for deer culling or stalking, but I shall leave that matter for others to go into. In none of those cases is a large magazine used or needed. For those reasons, amendments were moved in Standing Committee F in another place to allow continued ownership, on Section 1 certificates, of self-loading and pump-action rifles with limited magazine capacity.

The case seemed overwhelming. The Minister in charge of the Bill seemed to agree. He expressed (at col. 326) his understanding of the different threat posed by small and large magazine rifles. He said that as a self-loading rifle would fire three, four or five rounds over an extended period it was difficult to argue that the gun was more lethal than the traditional 10-shot bolt-action. Therefore, there was a case for that limited range of rifles, but a wholly different argument applied to large magazine guns. In other words, small-magazine self-loaders could be reconciled with government policy as against large-magazine loaders. The Minister went on to make it clear that that applied only to guns with magazines that could not be enlarged (at col. 330). That made good sense to Standing Committee F. It accepted the Minister's undertaking to study the matter seriously. As a result, it did not press the matter to a vote, which would almost certainly have established the concession. Since then the Government have backtracked.

For reasons unkown to me, the Government now seem to think that small magazines must be treated the same as large, no matter who or how many people are hurt in the process. "How many" is important. People are hurt. Some Members of the Committee will have received a letter which I sent last week in which I described four disabled male shooters and how they would be affected by the Bill. They were called John Gruff, Clifford Owen, Dave Adams and Colin Marshall. I sent out 150 copies of the letter. I shall try to paraphrase it because I know that we must not waste time.

Clifford Owen has held a firearms certificate since 1937. He was wounded in the spine and wrist at Normandy. He shoots roe deer and red deer in this country and red deer and wild boar in Poland. He uses a rifle that can shoot from either shoulder. He chose a Remington pump-action rifle. He spent much time and effort modifying it to meet his special needs. It has a capacity of four rounds only. It will be banned by the Bill.

John Gruff of Merseyside has been a shooter all his life. He is now crippled with arthritis throughout his body. Occasionally, when he is assisted into position, he can fire with his old self-loading rifle. Dave Adams lives in Scotland. He had a serious accident when he tried to fire a full-bore rifle with a normal recoil. He received a sensation of 240 volts passing through his body. He takes part in sport and deer management. He has a Heckler knock, three-shot self-loading rifle. The ban will rule him out.

Colin Marshall lives in Carlisle. He is a disabled ex-serviceman who suffers from polyneuritis. He is a target shooter and uses a self-loading rifle. It has a big magazine, and he knows that he will have to change it to a small magazine. If they are allowed, he will at least be able to continue his sport.

I have quoted four serious cases only, but there are many others. They cover all grades right down to the left-handed man who, like me, is otherwise perfectly fit. I do not pretend that the numbers are large. We are not talking about large numbers. However, since when have we refused to help the disabled and disadvantaged because they were not numerous? That is not a good reason. Those in another place, and I hope many Members of the Committee, want so to organise things that the disabled and disadvantaged can take part in the growing sport, hobby or recreation.

Self-loading riffles with small magazines are in good supply. The Browing Bar is easily the largest selling stalking rifle in the world. It has a three or four-round magazine. Its present sales are 30,000 per annum worldwide and 3,000 per annum in Europe. The rate of production could easily increase. Present sales in the United Kingdom are small, but the weapon is in use by the Forestry Commission in Scotland for red deer stalking.

Rouger has said that it can modify the mini fourteen with integral magazines of any preferred size. An integral magazine is one that is not and cannot be removed from the rifle. Mr. Marshall would exchange his rifle for one of those with a magazine specified by the Home Secretary, as provided in my later amendment.

The amendment I now propose follows government preference expressed in another place. It limits magazines to four cartridges. The rifle must not be capable or taking a larger magazine. I have shown that such rifles are commercially available. The onus is on the Minister to show why this humane and safe proposal is not acceptable. There is no added danger to the police or the public. There is a clear and positive gain for some of our citizens.

I shall be moving an amendent later which tries to deal with another group of people, the practical shooter. This will suggest a solution to the problem of large magazine rifles. But that situation is quite different from this one, which stands on its own. It does not follow that if the Government accept Amendment No. 2 on four cartridges, they are committed to anything else. Taken on its merits, this amendment must succeed. I beg to move.

The Earl of Portsmouth

I support this amendent so ably and eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Wynford. As he says, it is primarily aimed at disabled, elderly and women shooters who either cannot operate a bolt-action rifle or who are unable to cope with the recoil of a full bore bolt-action rifle.

I raised this point at Second Reading and my noble friend Lord Ferrers very kindly took the trouble to write to me on this and other points. In his letter he says that the number of shooters who suffer from a physical handicap so severe that they cannot operate a bolt-action rifle at all and yet can use a small bore self-loading rifle is likely to be very small indeed. On the total number of shooters he may be right. However, great strides have been made in recent years in improving the quality of life for disabled people. Shooting has undoubtedly played a part here. I find it particularly depressing that among those shooters who will be affected will be some who have been wounded in the service of their country. The banning of self-loading rifles of the type which this amendment will permit will not make any measurable contribution to public safety.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers in his opening speech at Second Reading said that the Government remained ready to listen to legitimate concerns on matters of detail. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that these categories of shooters fall within that area of legitimate concern. I hope therefore that this amendment will be agreed to.

The Earl of Swinton

I should like to support this amendment. I did not speak to Amendment No. 1, as my noble friend may have noticed, but if the noble Lord, Lord Brain had pressed it to a Division, I should have been in somewhat of a quandary as to whether I should follow him through the Lobbies. If my noble friend decided to press this amendment I should have no hesitation in following him. The excuse which I have heard—and I hope my noble friend Lord Ferrers will not use it—is that this group of disabled people is so small that they are not worth bothering about. I do not think that that smacks of a Conservative Government, or indeed of any government, in this country. I hope it is not an argument to be put forward. I think that this amendment proposed so admirably by my noble friend Lord Wynford will bring much comfort for those who are disabled and enjoy the sport.

If my noble friend on the Front Bench cannot accept the amendment as printed, I hope at least that he will take it away and look at it. Then perhaps he will give an undertaking to consider something that might be worked out at a future stage in order to safeguard the interests of disabled people.

Earl Peel

I too should like to support what my noble friend Lord Wynford said in what can only be described as a persuasive and moving speech. Your Lordships' House has undoubtedly a first-class reputation as regards the way the disabled have been treated recently and I hope that this case will be no exception.

In practical terms, I should not have thought that four cartridges would give any additional risk to the proposals for firearms which the Government are trying to control. I do not think there is any doubt that many of us will be disappointed that a Minister in another place—I do not want to put the point too strongly—went back on the impression he gave of his intentions.

One other practical point which I should like to make is on the question of rifle shooting, particularly in connection with deer. I do not think there is any doubt that many people prefer this type of weapon purely and simply from a humane point of view. If unfortunately a beast is wounded, such a weapon can be used effectively and efficiently without the user having to re-sight the weapon. From that point of view alone I think there is justification for retaining it. However, I hope that my noble friend will consider very carefully what has been said. It is principally for the reasons of the disabled that I support this amendment.

Viscount Dilhorne

I also support the amendment because my Amendment No. 6 is couched in the same terms, with the same objective. It is phrased slightly differently, but it achieves exactly what my noble friend Lord Wynford has proposed. It would be a great pity to deprive the disabled—and I think it would be very wrong to do so—of a sport in which they can participate and which the prohibition of this weapon would prevent.

There was one further point which I wished to put on this. I should be very interested to know at some convenient time later from the Minister whether any other countries in the world actually ban SLRs from civilian use and if so which countries.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend Lord Wynford made, if I may say so, a very persuasive argument why these rifles should not be included in the Section 5 category if they do not have magazine capacities greater than four cartridges. He put forward with some considerable feeling, understandably, the position of the disabled. He said that there was a fierce determination of the disabled to compete. I accept that entirely. When a person has been disabled he has every intention of doing his best to overcome that disability. For those who have up to now used self-loading rifles, one can quite see how that has been of help to them.

However, he said that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary had undertaken to look at that. My noble friend Lord Peel said that the Government had gone back on their word. I do not think that is so. This was mentioned in another place and my honourable friend said that he would undertake to consider whether there was a case for exempting self-loading rifles of up to five-shot capacity. We undertook to do that and examined it. On examination, we found that only one or two models were on the market. We concluded, as my honourable friend explained on Report in another place, that this did not justify making an exemption from the total ban on self-loading and pump-action rifles, being the weapons that they are, for the reasons which I gave at the previous debate. I do not think it would help practical shooters who readily acknowledge that they need large magazine capacity.

My noble friend Lord Swinton said—I thought in a slightly cavalier and manifestly unjust way—that he hoped that the Government would not say that the disabled were so small in number that they were not worth bothering about. I do not think that the Government have ever said that. Certainly I have never said it and it is not my intention to do so.

I am bound to say to the Committee that if Parliament decides that this type of weapon, whoever uses it, is so dangerous that it ought to be put in a restricted category and not to be allowed to be used, I find it quite difficult to say that with all the handicaps of those who are disabled, for which we have enormous sympathy nevertheless they ought to he entitled to use these weapons which are extremely dangerous. I find it hard to believe that that is a correct approach.

I do not rest the argument there on this amendment, because if my noble friend's amendment were accepted this would apply not only to the disabled; it would apply to everyone. All self-loading rifles with a magazine capacity of under four would he readily available for everyone. That bursts open the whole principle that they should be put into a Section 5 category.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I should like to add a few words. I have supported everything that the Minister has said up to now, but I wish to make the point that it is important that disabled people should not be disqualified from doing something because of their disability. That case has been very strongly put this afternoon. As the Minister has said, the amendment before us now would mean that others besides the disabled would be allowed to use these weapons. Will the Minister put forward an amendment which would make a specific case for the disabled to be able to use these weapons, which are the only kind of weapons that they can use on account of their disability?

Lord Swansea

There are very few areas of sport and recreation in which disabled people can take part, although that depends on the nature of their disability. However, shooting is a sport in which they can take part. If the nature of a person's disability permits him to hold a rifle and fire it at a target, I can see no earthly reason why he should not be allowed to do so. The governments of nearly every other Western country are much more liberal in their attitude and they trust people. Why do this Government not trust the public?

Lord Harris of Greenwich

No doubt one of the reasons why the Government in this country are more cautious is that they have looked at what has happened in the United States and seen the appalling level of casualties affecting both the civilian population and the United States police service. It would be astonishing were we to accept the argument that, because in the United States there is no adequate federal legislation on firearms as a result of the power of the National Rifle Association, we should therefore move to a similar position in this country. That is totally unacceptable.

Lord Swansea

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, forgets that the law varies considerably from one state to another in the United States. Some are fairly liberal but others are very much more restrictive than this country.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I did not wish to intervene, but with great respect I must correct my noble friend as regards the position in the United States. By a curious quirk of the American constitution Article 2, I believe, of the so-called Bill of Rights states that nothing shall prevent the citizen from carrying arms. That applies to the whole of the United States and would be enforced by the Supreme Court. No doubt the regulations in different states differ to a great extent, but they cannot infringe the constitution of the United States of America.

Earl Ferrers

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who asked whether the Government would put down an amendment specifically relating to disability, I remind her that we shall come to an amendment regarding disability later. My view on that amendment is the same as it is on this amendment. If these weapons are considered to be of such a dangerous character that they should not be used, I think it is right that they should not be used even by disabled people. That does not mean to say that one is not concerned about disabled people. There is enormous concern. My noble friend Lord Wynford gave four impressive examples. But there is a saying that hard cases make had law. That applies in this case.

There cannot be many disabilities which entirely preclude the use of a bolt-action rifle but would allow the use of a self-loading or pump-action rifle, as has been said. I can conceive of a disability which would mean that a shooter could use a self-loading rifle more readily than a bolt-action one, but that is not the same thing. Therefore, I hope that for those reasons the Committee will agree to maintain the premise that these weapons should be put into the Section 5 category for whatever purposes they may be used.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The noble Earl has just said that hard cases make bad law. Surely Hungerford was a hard case, but look what we have in front of us?

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lady is quite right. That was a very hard case and that is the reason why we are taking action.

Lord Torphichen

The question I am about to ask would hang better on Amendment No. 6 than on this amendment, but the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, may not move that amendment. What do the Government feel will happen to the standard British Army weapon, in use from about 1957 to 1987, which I understand is a single-shot self-loading rifle based on the Belgian FN weapon? I do not know how many of these there are, but their predecessor, the Mark IV Enfield, found its second use as everybody's first training weapon in schools and Army cadet forces.

As I understand it, this Bill would totally outlaw any kind of self-loading rifle whether single shot or more than a single shot per squeeze of the trigger. Where do the Government expect the weapons for the next generation of school pupils to train on to come from? Where do the Government intend the surplus 1957 to 1987 weapons, for the sake of a label for them, to go to?

Earl Ferrers

All rifles which are of a self-loading or pump-action nature will come into this category. They will not be used by schools.

Lord Torphichen

I apologise for intervening again. I was referring to the physical disposition of the weapons. Will the Army's weapons be scrapped, thrown down a mine or otherwise destroyed? If not, what market will they be put on to?

Earl Ferrers

This Bill has no bearing on military weapons used by the military.

Lord Torphichen

I find it difficult to understand the Government's thinking behind this provision. The numbers of these weapons will be very large. There must be some understanding of whether the Government are going to pulp the weapons or scrap them or whether they will be resold.

Earl Ferrers

I do not know whether it is profitable to pursue this example. However, I shall certainly look into what my noble friend has said to see whether there is a point which I have missed. There is certainly some slight confusion in my mind, if not in my noble friend's, as he referred to a single shot self-loading weapon. Either it is a single shot weapon or it is self-loading, in which case it is more than a single shot weapon. That might be the cause of some of the confusion.

Lord Torphichen

I am sorry to return to this point again. I intended to make a distinction between the burst fire weapons, the sub-machine guns, the Kalashnikovs, and the replacement British Army weapon, which may be fired either single shot or burst, and the weapon that the British Army used between 1957 and 1987, which had to have the trigger squeezed once and repeatedly once more each time the soldier wanted a single round to be fired. There is a distinction there.

Earl Ferrers

I shall pursue that point and write to my noble friend about it.

Lord Wynford

My noble friend the Minister has once again used the phrase "enormously dangerous" as a description of this self-loading rifle. I cannot accept that. I believe there are other Members of the Committee who cannot accept it too. Any rifle is dangerous. The Lee-Enfield—I could go further back—and other rifles were all dangerous. All firearms are dangerous. But I cannot see that this one is enormously dangerous. It reloads itself. It does not fire bursts. It requires a separate trigger pressure for every single shot that is fired. That is the mechanics of it. It is not an automatic weapon; it is a semiautomatic weapon. That is the point with which I have difficulty.

Secondly, I do not see why the concession to the disabled and disadvantaged should lead to a general provision relating to everyone. I have stated specifically that the restriction would apply to certain people. I have tabled two further amendments which will provide for a greater tightening up of firearms licences.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend for a moment. He stated that he had specifically said that his amendment is restricted to certain types of people. That may be what is in his mind. However, it is not what the amendment says.

Lord Wynford

I believe that the reference to the United States is a red herring. That is a very different matter. I shall divide the House on the issue.

4.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 162.

Abinger,L. Mar, C.
Ailesbury, M. Milverton, L.
Blatch, B. Monson, L.
Borthwick, L. Mountgarrett, V.
Brain, L. Northesk, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Peel, E.
Burton, L. Portsmouth, E. [Teller.]
Clitheroe, L. Rankeillour, L.
Colnbrook, L. Renwick, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Cross, V. Savile, L.
Dilhorne, V. Shannon, E.
Erroll, E. Strange, B.
Halsbury, E. Strathcarron, L.
Killearn, L. Swansea, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Swinfen, L.
Lawrence, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L Thurso, V.
Mancroft, L. Wynford, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Belstead, L.
Ampthill, L. Bessborough, E.
Ardwick, L. Blease, L.
Arran, E. Blyth, L.
Attlee, E. Bonham-Carter, L.
Auckland, L. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Balfour, E. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Banks, L. Brookeborough, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Caithness, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Beloff, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lockwood, B.
Carnock, L. Long, V.
Carter, L. Lurgan, L.
Cathcart, E. Lyell, L.
Chandos, V. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Chelmer, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mais, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Manton, L.
Cox, B. Marley, L.
Craigavon, V. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Croham, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mayhew, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Merrivale, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Mersey, V.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Donegall, M. Munster, E.
Dormand of Easington, L. Nelson, E.
Dundee, E. Newall, L.
Eccles, V. Nicol, B.
Eden of Winton, L. Norrie, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Onslow, E.
Ennals, L. Orkney, E.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Faithfull, B. Oxfuird, V.
Falkland, V. Paget of Northampton, L.
Ferrers, E. Pender, L.
Fortescue, E. Penrhyn, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Peston, L.
Gainford, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Gallacher, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Galpern, L. Porritt, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Portland, D.
Glenarthur, L. Richardson, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Gray of Conlin, L. Rochester, L.
Greenway, L. Rodney, L.
Grey, E. Romney, E.
Gridley, L. Rugby, L.
Grimond, L. Sainsbury, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. St. Davids, V.
Sandford, L.
Hampton, L. Seear, B.
Hanworth, V. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Sharpies, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Shepherd, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Harvey of Prestbury, L. Slim, V.
Havers, L. Somers, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Stedman, B.
Hesketh, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hives, L. Strathspey, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hooper, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hughes, L. Terrington, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Teviot, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Thurlow, L.
Jacques, L. Tordoff, L.
Jeger, B. Trafford, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Trumpington, B.
John-Mackie, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Underhill, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Kennet, L, Wigoder, L.
Kimball, L. Wigram, L.
Lauderdale, E. Windlesham, L.
Layton, L. Wise, L.
Listowel, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.50 p.m.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Brain had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 17, after ("rim-fire") insert (", recognised pistol or revolver calibre").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I hope that when the Minister has read the Official Report he will be kind enough to write me a letter. If he will do that, I shall be very happy not to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Viscount Dilhorne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 17, at end insert (-or which was manufactured before 1st January 1937").

The noble Viscount said: I have already spoken to the amendment earlier in the debate, and therefore it is not moved.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Wynford moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("or which complies with magazine specifications that the Secretary of State shall from time to time by order determine, and which is possessed by a person who holds a firearm certificate issued on conditions required by section (Conditions attaching to the possession of self-loading rifles) of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 7 is linked to Amendment No. 29, which is a short new clause. I beg leave to speak to both amendments at the same time and to treat them as one.

This pair of amendments concerns those people who use self-loading rifles mainly for the distinct sport and discipline of practical shooting. I say "mainly" because ordinary static target shooting can also be undertaken: competitive, or with a view to experimenting for sighting, wind layoff, quick reloading or body positioning.

Practical shooting is a highly organised sport which involved competitors moving down the range from one firing point to another, perhaps running, and then while they are on the move shooting at moving targets or at fixed targets. The sport is practised in approved clubs, and safety considerations are of the highest. I think my noble friend Lord Portsmouth will be adding some remarks about that. The sport is a discipline in the true sense. There are about 18,600 members of clubs belonging to the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association who shoot with rifle or pistol or both. That is certainly not a negligible number, and it is larger than that for those practising basketball, fencing, water skiing or weight lifting.

Limiting it to those who use only the self-loading rifle, the number is more than 6,000; but I am unable to say how much more. There is a growing schedule of international competitions throughout Europe, involving competitors from America and some from Africa. While it is not yet an Olympic sport it is expected that it will be. No other country imposes a ban to prevent their responsible citizens from developing, practising and competing in the sport.

The proposal to relegate self-loading rifles to the prohibited class has been rejected by all United Kingdom governments of whatever persuasion since the matter was put forward in the 1973 Green Paper. The proposal was not simply shelved; it was generally agreed that it should be totally rejected.

In all the discussions since August 1987 the Government have been unable to cite one certain case other than that of Hungerford in which a self-loading rifle of the type proposed to be banned was being used in crime. Pump-action rifles have never featured.

Government policy made a wrong start because the policy was based on the weapon and not on the shooter. There is no logical reason for the distinction which the Government make between different types of weapon. From the very beginning the Secretary of State has had to admit that the Bill would not have prevented another Hungerford. Indeed, just as many horrible deaths at Hungerford were caused by a weapon not to be banned as were caused by a weapon now proposed to be banned. Prevention of recurrence can best be achieved by ensuring that only those fit to hold a firearm may do so. It is pie in the sky to hope that anything will be perfect, but controls can be greatly tightened.

The only government proposal has been that there should be a declaration by the signatory of the identifying photograph that he knows of no reason against the applicant's possession of a firearm. On the other hand, the Opposition suggest amendments for medical certificates and for the checking of referees. My amendment suggests a simpler, safer, and thus an altogether surer and more effective method. Those who know best whether a person is fit to have a firearm, and who have most to lose if they get it wrong, are those who practise and love the sport. They know how swiftly the public will judge them if they are lax. They know that they, the shooters, must spot the maverick, the unreliable, the sick or the rogue. They see their fellow sportsmen frequently, and if they do not see enough of them they will take action. My amendment uses that practical control.

The new clause, Amendment No. 29, imposes in addition four statutory controls over and above those to which I have already referred. First, a certificate to hold a self-loading rifle will not be given to a novice or to a probationer. Secondly, he will have been a member of a rifle club for three years and thus be well known to many members. Thirdly, he must join a club approved for practical shooting both by the two governing bodies of the sport and by the Secretary of State. So the Home Secretary will be able to distinguish between clubs that will be able to house practical shooting and those that will not. Presumably, he will impose necessary conditions on the clubs that he approves. Finally, the applicant will have to complete a practical shooting course specially set up by the governing bodies.

Those are four new, severe and practical safeguards, all of them under the control of the Home Secretary. However, my amendment goes still further. Many believe that as there is no logical reason to distinguish between one type of rifle and another, the proposal that I have just outlined in any new clause should be sufficient. I have taken into account the fact that the Government have become hooked on what they call the central pillar of their policy. As Mr. Hogg expressed it in another place, they define self-loading rifles as, full-bore, fast-firing, large-magazine guns with lethal properties".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee F; 3/3/88, col. 281]

The new clause that I suggest incorporates an amendment to Clause 1(2)(ab), which limits the kind of self-loading rifle that will be allowed. The amendment gives the Home Secretary the responsibility to set out the specifications which he requires for acceptable magazines. Let it be for the Home Secretary, with advice, to decide the limits. It seems likely that those concerned with practical shooting can meet with the Home Secretary and work out specifications which are reasonable and effective. They will have the new consultative committee to help them if they so wish.

My two amendments, Amendments Nos. 7 and 29, improve the law in that they greatly strengthen government and police control over the kinds of people who can own and use lawfully an SL rifle. They allow for careful discussion in order to satisfy those involved in the sport and the needs of public safety while ensuring that self-loading rifles remain under firearms certificate control. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Portsmouth

I support the two amendments of my noble friend Lord Wynford. Their principal purpose is to enable the sport of practical rifle shooting to continue. In common I believe with many noble Lords, I had never heard of practical shooting until the introduction of this Bill, although it is a recognised shooting discipline involving marksmanship against the clock for which a full bore self-loading rifle is essential.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers has referred to practical rifle shooting as a minority sport. I am not sure what constitutes a minority sport, but a figure of 6,000 plus represents a significant minority. Practical rifle shooting has been portrayed in certain quarters and in certain sections of the media as a sport designed for survivalist fanatics and therefore a sport the demise of which is to be welcomed. Far from it. The sport has a long tradition, originating with practical musketry competitions which took place before the turn of the century. I have seen for myself a demonstration of practical rifle shooting. I was impressed by the high degree of range safety and discipline observed by the shooters and the range personnel.

In practical shooting competitions organised by the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association, which is the governing body, only full members of the association may take part and before being allowed to enter any UKPSA competition a member of an affiliated club must first attend and pass a basic training course in range safety procedures and competition technique. UKPSA-accredited range safety officers must officiate. There is a match director, range master and chief range officer who run the match. In addition, there is a range safety officer who is directly responsible for each individual competitor when shooting. It should also be said that practical shooters are concerned about their public image and actively discourage civilian participants from wearing para-military gear. In addition to a high level of supervision, the practical shooter in this sport must also go through the process of obtaining a firearms certificate. That process, I know from personal experience, is extremely rigorous.

The proposed new clause, as my noble friend Lord Wynford has explained, is a most sensible additional safeguard. It is entirely welcomed by the shooting fraternity as it involves a strong element of self-policing. After all, for obvious reasons, club members have a clear interest in ensuring that they do not have in their midst unsuitable or unstable individuals armed with lethal weapons.

I turn to the amendment to Clause 1 which proposes an insertion at line 17. The amendment deals with the vexed question of magazine capacity which I know has given the Government headaches. It places the decision squarely in the hands of the Secretary of State who, it is to be hoped, will be advised by the consultative committee that is to be set up under the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made reference at Second Reading to the fact that while self-loading rifles were to be prohibited, automatic pistols would remain on Section I. I agree entirely with him about the illogicality of this state of affairs. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, automatic pistols which can easily be concealed about the person have far more potential for harm in the wrong hands. It is also entirely possible that many of those who will lose their self-loading rifles under the provisions of the Bill will switch to automatic pistols, thereby swelling the number in circulation. That development, I am sure, no one would welcome.

Among the reams of paper on this Bill with which I have been deluged, I have received many letters from obviously responsible and law-abiding shooters who ask why they will no longer be able to own self-loading rifles. They see the abolition of a sport, widely acknowledged to be the safest of the rifle shooting disciplines. Apart from the tragedy at Hungerford, they argue, there is no record of a legally held self-loading rifle having been used to commit a crime. I am glad that it is not my lot to have to justify the decision, because there is no real justification.

At Second Reading my noble friend Lord Ferrers made repeated reference to the need to achieve the right balance. These amendments not only represent a significant tightening-up of existing laws but give the Secretary of State a much greater degree of direct control, thus providing the balance sought by my noble friend without destroying the central pillar of his policy.

The Earl of Northesk

My name is also attached to this amendment. I have already spoken to it having been a little perturbed about the grouping of Amendments Nos. 18 and 29, to which my noble friend Lord Wynford, whether rightly or wrongly I am not altogether sure, has attached Amendment No. 19. I repeat what I said when I spoke earlier. This is an attempt to legislate against people rather than against guns, which surely must be the right approach in understanding how firearms should be used.

Lord Swansea

I should like to support my noble friend in the amendment that he has moved. It is entirely logical and provides a satisfactory machinery for allowing the continued possession of self-loading rifles. The national associations, together with their affiliated clubs, are entirely willing to help and co- operate with the police in any possible way by supervising their members and by giving their recommendation to an application for a firearms certificate only if they know the member thoroughly and are satisfied that he is a bona fide shooter and a responsible person. They, as much as anyone else, are anxious to preserve the good name of their sport and not to allow it to fall into disrepute, or to have the "Rambo" image attached to it.

This type of competition shooting is carried out under the strictest safety precautions, which are rigidly enforced. Apart from anything else, if we had a national emergency—which heaven forbid!—in which a large number of the population was called to arms, we should have, as a result of this Bill, a population of adult males of military age without experience in the use of firearms in the national defence.

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1860 under a royal charter for the express purpose of maintaining the standards of musketry in Her Majesty's volunteer forces. I like to think that competitive rifle shooting will continue to serve that purpose, and that it will continue to provide a body of people with experience in the use of firearms which I hope will never be necessary for national defence. However, one never knows what may happen one day. It is painful to think that we may no longer have a pool of people who are experienced either as shooters or as instructors in shooting.

Lord Torphichen

The amendment uses the expression "self-loading rifles" in the last sentence. It takes the words from Clause 1(2)(ab) and (ac) in the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. The noble Lord. Lord Wynford, quoted a definition of a self-loading rifle from the other place which was totally at odds with the idea that I had of a self-loading rifle. Can my noble friend Lord Ferrers define what is a self-loading rifle? In what way does it differ from the 1968 Act definition in Section 5(1)(a), which states: Any firearm which is so designed or adapted that, if pressure is applied to the trigger, missiles continue to be discharged until pressure is removed from the trigger or the magazine containing the missiles is empty". There are both single-shot and automatic types of self-loading rifles. The Committee will wish to be sure which it is intended to define.

Earl Ferrers

On the last point of my noble friend Lord Torphichen, what goes into a Section 5 category is self-loading rifles. They are those which can carry more than one burst, or one burst at a time. They will all be in the Section 5 category.

In moving this amendment, my noble friend Lord Wynford said that the Government's policy was wrong and that they had approached the matter in the wrong way because their policy was based on the weapon and not the shooter. My noble friend is quite right. That was the basis on which the matter was approached. My noble friend and I may differ, in that he says it is the wrong approach. However, he is right in thinking that it was the approach.

The reason is simply this, as I have tried to explain. There are such weapons which are very dangerous. In drawing up the provision we tried to consider which R1 were the most unsuitable to have in the public domain. These weapons were considered to be unsuitable in the public's hands and I believe that most people would agree.

My noble friend Lord Portsmouth said that this amendment, and Amendment No. 29, would be a good addition to the Bill. He said it was a sensible additional safeguard. However, that is not so, with the greatest respect. It explodes the whole principle. The beginning of Amendment No. 29 states: A firearms certificate may authorise a person to possess, purchase or acquire a self-loading or pump-action rifle". The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that people are not able to purchase, acquire or possess such a rifle. Therefore, although I understand my noble friend's concern, I am bound to say, because this issue is one of the central pillars of the Bill, that he cannot be quite so ingenious as to argue that his provision could easily be accepted.

I hope that my noble friend will realise that for those reasons I cannot advise the Committee to accept his amendments.

Lord Wynford

I find it difficult at the moment to gather up all the arguments from the Minister. I did not hear him clearly. I do not see why this amendment should be smeared with the accusation that it is not what it says it is. It provides very considerable additional safeguards. However, I should like to read the record of these exchanges. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Ferrers

Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment perhaps I may clarify one matter. I did not mean to smear anything that he said. He said that these amendments add additional safeguards. They add additional safeguards only once one has exploded the principle that these weapons should not be available to the public. Having destroyed that principle—which my noble friend wishes to do—he then puts in the safeguards. I was trying to tell my noble friend that the amendment demolishes one of the central pillars of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Burton moved Amendment No. 8: Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("or which is certified as designed and manufactured before 31st December 1936").

The noble Lord said: I hope that this amendment is in a rather different category although it applies to the so-called self-loading rifles. They are very old weapons. The amendment refers to a weapon which was designed and manufactured prior to 1937. They are therefore at least 50 years old. These weapons were designed for a rather different ammunition from that which is fired by modern weapons.

This point has not been brought out today. It is the ammunition which is more devastating than the weapon. Some of these modern bullets are extremely damaging. The main reason that I inserted this cutoff date is that it would be pre-1938, the start of the war. Furthermore, it would be before the Garand rifle. This was an extremely successful and efficient weapon which had not at that time come into being. Therefore many of these weapons are aged weapons.

In 1986 there were only 27 serious notifiable offences involving rifles. But I do not know how many of those offences concerned failure to notify the police, poaching, or whatever. I should be most surprised if even one of those 27 offences involved any of the fairly scarce weapons which I am now discussing. I think that it would be most unlikely that they would ever be involved. The weapons would be retained under a Section 1 certificate.

I draw the Committee's attention to remarks made from the Front Bench in this place in 1981 by the late Lord Avon when he was Minister of State. He said: Research has conclusively shown that there is no link between the level of crime and the number of guns held under a firearms certificate". Then, again, the Home Secretary in 1983, when speaking to the Police Federation, said: The link between armed crime and the private possession of firearms is not clear-cut as is sometimes imagined. There is, in fact, no clear unambiguous evidence that the tightening of controls would have a significant effect on crime". I feel that it would be a criminal act if such weapons were to fall within the terms of the Act, because they are old weapons and part of our national heritage. My noble friend on the Front Bench referred to the fact that they "should not be used". I am not quite sure what he meant by the word "used". Most of these weapons, being 50 years old, are not likely to be fired. It may be said that they would be taken out for exhibition but I am not sure how you define the term "use". I hope that when he said they will not be used that he was in fact referring to firing.

I feel that it would be a grave mistake if this part of our national heritage were to be destroyed because of this simple matter which is in no way likely to affect crime. I beg to move.

Viscount Dilhorne

With respect, I thought that it was 1919 and not 1936 as stated in the amendment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

It is 1936.

Viscount Dilhorne

I am much obliged. I should like to express my support for the amendment but can add very little to what my noble friend Lord Burton said. If these weapons, which are part of our national heritage, had to be deactivated or in any way changed that would in fact reduce their value. That factor should also be taken into account. They are part of our heritage and I think that that aspect should be considered by my noble friend the Minister.

Lord Swansea

I should like to support my noble friend in this amendment. The number of self-loading rifles tried and made before the date mentioned in the amendment is fairly small. They were nearly all experimental rifles or prototypes. There are not many of them about, but such rifles as there are should be preserved. They are of value to collectors; they are of interest to students of military history and they are also of value to museums. I do not recommend that many of them should actually be taken out to the range and fired now, with modern ammunition, but such as there are in this country should certainly be preserved.

Lord Renwick

I, too, should like to add my support to the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Burton on the basis that the Bill as a whole will involve a great deal of work for the authorities. Therefore, if we can exclude such weapons which are of a certain age and are most unlikely to be used in a situation such as the one which I believe caused this Firearms (Amendment) Bill to be put forward, I am sure that the Minister will look sympathetically at this amendment and the following one.

Earl Ferrers

I am most grateful to my noble friend for explaining the purpose of the amendment tabled in his name. He seeks to make a date before which it would be perfectly all right to have such weapons. Several dates have been put forward; for example, there is one in Amendment No. 8, the next one in Amendment No. 9 refers to the 31st December 1918 and in an earlier one, Amendment No. 5, reference is made to the 1st January 1937. All those dates are inevitably arbitrary.

Our proposal to prohibit high powered self-loading pump-action rifles is based on their lethality and not on the date when they were made. Efficient, self-loading rifles existed before the date which my noble friend has put down and many are still in circulation. Moreover, I suspect that we could expect large numbers of such guns to be imported from the United States and elsewhere to fill the gap left by the ban on more modern weapons.

It is worth remembering that many models of guns which would be affected by these amendments were manufactured from early this century right through to the 1960s without any significant change in their specification. They are therefore just as lethal if they were made before 1936 or 1937 as they are if manufactured after that date.

When my noble friend Lord Dilhorne said that such weapons are part of our national heritage, I think we must be clear—if one can be clear in this area—about what he is talking. When one talks about heritage one tends to think of items which belong to the past. Antiques come under the category of "heritage". Indeed, the Firearms Act 1968 exempts from the certification procedures antique firearms which are sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity or an ornament. Therefore antiques are covered and are not affected by the Bill. What my noble friend seeks to do is to suggest an arbitrary cut-off point. I am bound to tell him that I would find it difficult to accept that because a weapon made before a certain date can be just as dangerous as one which was made after that date.

Viscount Dilhorne

I wonder whether my noble friend can help me on this point. The date of 1936 which was fixed was not in fact an arbitrary cut-off date; there was a reason for it. As I understand it, in 1937 one started to get in America mass production of SLRs—especially the Garand, which has an integrated magazine. Therefore the amendment deals with weapons which were not mass produced but which were specially made, probably by special order. My understanding was, although I may be wrong—if I am, I am sure my noble friend will tell me—that one is not talking about a great number of weapons that would fall within that category.

Earl Ferrers

That may well be so. However, the fact is that if it is considered to be undesirable to have self-loading or pump-action rifles because of the nature of the danger they pose, then it does not matter whether they were made before or after 1936. I am afraid I cannot help my noble friend any more than that.

Lord John-Mackie

I should like to make the point that such weapons would surely be in the Imperial War Museum and if anyone wanted to see them they would be able to view them there.

Earl Ferrers

That of course is perfectly all right.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

It is already covered.

Lord Burton

I am very disturbed. I am sorry if I was incoherent when I made my submission. However, I thought I had made it quite clear why we picked 1936; as my noble friend Lord Dilhorne said it was not an arbitrary date. It was picked for a specific reason; namely, that the bulk of such weapons were not then in operation. Many such weapons are now in private collections and have never caused any trouble anywhere, so far as I am aware. They must be 50 years old and during that time they have caused no trouble. I cannot understand why my noble friend suggests that they might now do so; it seems to be illogical. A red herring was introduced about importing from America. Surely import restrictions can be imposed.

I am referring to the few weapons which are in the hands of private collectors at the present time. Antiques are said to be covered, but these weapons will never become antiques. They should do so; that is the object of the amendment. The very articles which will be of great interest in 50 years time will be destroyed and for that reason I move the amendment.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend says that he cannot understand my argument. It was that many models of guns were manufactured from early in the century until the 1960s with no change in their specification. We are worried about whether they can he used. The fact that they have not been used is of great advantage. As regards banning such guns, I should like to point out that if a bullet goes up the spout it will do so with the same speed and accuracy whether the gun was built before or after a certain date. 1 am bound to tell my noble friend that for that reason I find it difficult to accept his amendment, although I understand his concern.

Lord Burton

I am sorry, but clearly I have little option other than to withdraw the amendment. I hope that my noble friend will look carefully at what has been said. I believe that to destroy such weapons is vandalism. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Burton moved Amendment No. 9: Page I, line 18, after ("gun") insert ("other than one which is certified as designed and manufactured before 31st December 1918").

The noble Lord said: I do not believe it can be said that these are highly dangerous weapons; it is a question of our national heritage. On this occasion I have gone back to 1918. That is not an arbitrary date but a date from which many of the weapons became well established. There are only a few weapons in existence which were made prior to that date. They are now 70 years old and, as far as I know, none has been used in crime during that period. Yet according to the Bill these old weapons must be destroyed. I cannot follow that and I hope that this time I shall receive a more reasonable answer from my noble friend.

In the Standing Committee in another place it was agreed that these old guns should not be banned and that they should be excluded from the Bill. The committee in another place agreed that but the Government removed the provision on Report with a three-line Whip. I do not believe that that is reasonable.

My noble friend will see that 1 have fallen over backwards to try to be reasonable. I hope only that he also will do so. In agreeing to the amendment he will in no way be endangering public security. I beg to move.

Earl Nelson

I cannot see how my noble friend, Lord Burton, can argue this amendment any better than he argued the previous one. The fact of the matter is that these guns are still in existence and up until 1960 they were little changed in design. The Shooters Rights Association propaganda magazine freely states that self-loading rifles have been used by shooters in this country since 1905. I suggest that the date to which one goes back is rather academic.

Earl Ferrers

I agree whole-heartedly with my noble friend Lord Nelson. I wondered how my noble friend, Lord Burton, would be able to argue the amendment any better than he argued the previous one. Indeed, he used almost the identical words. He said that before 1918 only very few weapons were made and he used almost identical words in respect of 1936 as proposed in a previous amendment.

The fact is that worldwide at least 100,000 self-loading rifles were manufactured by 1910. Therefore, if my noble friend tries to use that as a date he is using another arbitrary weapon. If he uses the same argument that not many weapons were made prior to those dates, as he did in respect of an earlier amendment, it means that not many weapons could have made between 1918 and 1936.

The same argument applies in respect of this amendment as applied to the previous one. It is that if they are capable of firing in the way in which they were manufactured so to do, they are dangerous weapons. The date of manufacture is relatively irrelevant.

Lord Burton

The difference is that in respect of these weapons the Committee in the other place agreed to the amendment. With a three-line Whip the Government arbitrarily took it out. I have noticed that the only other speaker apart from the Minister and myself has been the voice of the police. I can assure Members of the Committee that that is the great worry in respect of the Bill. It will give so much power to the police, some of whom have voiced the fact that they do not wish to have any firearms left in this country. This is a big step on the way towards that and that is why I am so worried about the Bill. However, I obviously have no option but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Dilhorne moved Amendment No. 10: Page 1, line 18 after ("gun") insert ("excluding all air weapons").

The noble Viscount said: The purpose of the amendment is to remove from prohibition all air weapons, which must be included at the moment. I suggest, perhaps impertinently, that the Government have got it wrong and have done so from their point of view, not from those which have been propounded this afternoon.

It is clear that air weapons are included in the section as it is drawn. There is no definition of "pump-action" and to expel an air slug from the sharp end of an air gun one must pump air into it. That is a pump gun, but there is no definition of it. I suggest that the matter should be remedied by the Minister unless he wishes to exclude air weapons in the action of pump guns.

There is a little more to the issue than that. As regards the different types of air guns the Diana, a popular gun, has air pumped into the chamber in the way I have described. The air is then released behind the slugs, which go out one at a time. If instead of that air gun one buys what is called a "Saxby Palmer", in that case the cartridges are pumped into the gun. One can have 10 slugs in the chamber and the air operation is slightly different. Will the Minister make clear whether air weapons are included by omission or whether my amendment should be inserted into the Bill? I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

An air gun is excepted from the certification requirements of the 1968 Act unless it is classed as being especially dangerous; that is if it is capable of discharging a missile so that, on being discharged from the muzzle of the weapon, the missile has kinetic energy in excess of 6 foot pounds in the case of an air pistol or in excess of 12 foot pounds in the case of any other air gun. Air guns which are especially dangerous fall under Section 1 of the Act and an owner must obtain a firearms certificate.

My noble friend is concerned about air guns and their use. The compressed air gun is exempt from the 1968 Act. If it is very powerful, it can be controlled under the dangerous air weapons rules. Therefore, that comes under the firearms legislation. Gas fired air weapons are not exempt and come under Section 1. Therefore, I believe that my noble friend's amendment is not necessary.

Viscount Dilhorne

I am obliged to my noble friend for explaining the matter so clearly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brain moved Amendment No. 11: Page 1. line 22, leave out ("40") and insert ("36").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment and I have deliberately chosen the figure 36 which is significantly below the figure 40 so that we do not become involved in an argument as to whether I mean 39, 391 or 38. I suggest that there is a figure lower than 40 which one should consider as an acceptable length for a self-loading or pump-action shotgun.

The main reason for that is that I have a catalogue which in standard form for ladies' or youths' guns mentions in the case of a pump-action gun an overall length of 40 inches and in another case of a self-loading I 2-bore shotgun an overall length of 391 inches. Let us suppose that the person wishing to purchase this gun is of shorter stature or has a shorter arm than the standard. The gunsmith would normally fit the gun to the purchaser by reducing the length of the stock. That would immediately bring what was in one case a perfectly permissible gun and in the other case a non-standard gun into the nonstandard category.

I should like to know the Government's reasons for settling on 40 inches rather than a lesser figure. I shall not press my amendment. I want to hear the information and to see whether on Report it is possible to reach a compromise figure which we could all accept and agree. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

These amendments relate to Clause 1(2)(ac) which defines those self-loading or pump-action smooth bore guns which are to become prohibited. Both amendments seek to change the definition. Amendment No. 11 proposes a lower maximum length for such guns for the purpose of prohibition; Amendment No. 12 proposes a cut-off date for prohibition.

We have considered where the line on these definitions should be drawn very carefully. We have identified no legitimate sporting use for those weapons which have a shorter overall length of less than 40 inches, and do not consider that the public interest would be served by adjusting this. Although the noble Lord was kind enough to say that he would not press his amendment, if it were accepted it would weaken the provisions in the Bill as they are at the moment.

Lord Brain

Yet again I do not believe that the Government have answered the point. I have a catalogue showing sporting guns which are normally available, the length of which is right on the margin of the 40 inch length which the Government propose. 1 do not believe that it is an answer to say that the Government have done their homework and 40 inches is the right length. I believe that there is a need for greater statistics. Perhaps the Government would like to consider the matter and give me a little more information and if that is forthcoming—

Earl Ferrers

I believe that the noble Lord would like me to say something. The noble Lord said that I had not answered his point. I answered the matter as best I could. I did not answer the specific point which he raised because he has the advantage of a catalogue which I do not have. However, I shall certainly take the noble Lord's point into account and write to him on the matter.

As with all these matters, I do not believe that there is a specific magic about 40 inches as opposed to 391 or 401 inches. One has to draw the line at what appears to be an appropriate place. However, I shall write to the noble Lord on the specific point raised.

Lord Brain

In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Dilhorne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 12: Page 1, line 22, at end insert ("or which was manufactured before 1st January 1937").

The noble Viscount said: I shall not move this amendment because it has already been spoken to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 13: Page 1, line 23, after ("gun") insert ("Much has four or more chambers").

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers to the proposed prohibition on any smooth-bore revolver gun. Because of the concession which the Government made in a Standing Committee in another place, self-loading pump-action shotguns with a magazine capacity of not more than two cartridges were exempted from that prohibition. That still remains the case in this Bill.

However, there is a class of revolver guns with a cylinder containing a certain number of chambers. They are not very common. At present they are mostly collectors items. However, one must not overlook the possibility that at some time in the future that type of gun may become more common for economic reasons because I believe that they would be less expensive to construct than a current double-barrelled shotgun. Therefore, I believe that it is conceivable that these guns may become more commonly used in the future.

I believe that our sportsmen and manufacturers should not be unnecessarily restricted in the type of guns which they are allowed to make. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

Here we are of course dealing with smooth-bore revolver shotguns which are presently manufactured with a magazine capacity of up to 12 rounds. The Dragon and the Striker are two examples of that type. Our understanding is that they are used for riot control purposes by some countries overseas. They are not used for any sporting purposes and the Government do not intend to use them for riot control here. Therefore, we have decided to raise them to the prohibited category.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Swansea for saying that the type of guns which he wishes to see exempted are those with a capacity for three shots in the revolving chamber. We have not been able to identify any such guns manufactured with three chambers or less. To our knowledge none is envisaged at present. If my noble friend has information that this sort of weapon is likely to be manufactured in any number then we should have to take account of that. Our information is that that is not likely to happen as there seems to be no need for a revolving shotgun with three chambers rather than 12. That is why we thought it appropriate to keep them in that category.

Lord Swansea

I believe that my noble friend's attitude to this amendment is the same as that to his own Amendment No. 23 as regards development which might arise in the future. The type of gun with which this amendment is concerned may not be commonly used—certainly not for sporting purposes. It may be used for riot control. Personally, I am not concerned with that type of shotgun, but possibly people who shoot may be. In any case, I can see that there are technical difficulties here and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brain moved Amendment No. 14: Page 1, line 24, after ("for") insert (". 22 or").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is an attempt to bring paragraph (ad) into line with paragraph (ac). Under (ac) one is permitted to have a pump-action or smooth-bore gun if it is chambered for ·22 rim-fire cartridges, which are used for ratting or similar purposes. I understand that there are also in use and in circulation smooth-bore revolver guns, again using the identical ·22 shot-loaded rim-fire cartridges. It seems a nonsense to me to permit this in a magazine-type gun but not in a revolver-type gun. In this amendment I seek to bring the two categories into line and I hope that for once we have found an amendment that the Government view favourably. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

We have at earlier stages gone quite a long way to meet the concerns of the shooting community by exempting from prohibition those short-barrelled pump-action or short-barrelled self-loading smooth-bore guns chambered for·.22 rim-fire cartridges, but I think that a distinction has to be drawn with revolving smooth-bore shotguns. Those guns are generally smooth-bore conversions of Section 1 revolvers—rifles rather than purpose-built weapons, and the availabilty of the more lethal bulleted·22 rim-fire ammunition, in addition to the shot cartridges which they are intended to be used with, has led to their being used in crime. We should therefore be hesitant about including them.

Lord Brain

While there may be a few, I understand that there is also a significant number of specially made long-barrelled weapons in this category.

With regard to the latter remark, there is available—albeit not often in this country—9mm rim-fire ball ammunition which could equally well be used in the 9mm revolving chamber shotgun. I find it difficult to follow the Government's argument but perhaps on reading it in Hansard I may see it more clearly. In view of that, I shall withdraw the amendment. If, on thinking about it, the Minister has any thoughts that he might like to write to me about I shall gratefully receive any letter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Dithorne moved Amendment No. 15: Page 1, line 29, at end insert— ("(af) any rifle or smooth bore gun designed or adapted to reduce the velocity of propelling gases on the existing barrel to a velocity of less than the speed of sound:").

The noble Viscount said: Amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 17 all affect the same matter. One doubt I had about them is that perhaps they would be better placed in Clause 2 of the Bill headed "Weapons requiring firearm certificate". The purpose of these amendments is that silencers, or sound moderators, which I understand is a technical term, should come under Section 1 control. That means, if I understand it correctly, that the holder must have, and must give, sound and good reasons to have, hire, possess, purchase or acquire them, in the same way as he would for a pistol, revolver or rifle. The -22 silencer, which is a fairly popular one, is used on air rifles. That is not on the certificate. The same silencer can be used on a rim-fire rifle, which has to be authorised on a Section 1 certificate.

By this series of amendments I seek to propose that my noble friend the Minister should look more closely, between now and the Report stage, at the effect of having silencers on weapons and consider whether or not they should form part of a prohibition. At the moment one may have silencers on shotguns, which is a very popular ruse of poachers. The amendments that I have put down would prevent poachers from possessing them, in the main, and would enable the police to prevent the use of these weapons by taking them away. What happens, I understand—some of your Lordships may be more knowledgeable in the way of the poacher—is that the cartridge is emptied, the silencer is put on, candle wax is put into the cartridge and, while it is soft and not solidified, as many shots are put in so that a one-ball pellet surrounded by candle wax goes out through the silencer and cannot be picked up. Such a pellet can kill a deer. That is a dangerous weapon. I am not sure whether that is or is not covered by Section 1 of the Act. If it is not, I hope that my noble friend will make clear why it is not covered.

If you have a ·410 and you put a silencer on to it, that silencer can be used on ·45 calibre Colt revolver—the revolver which was used in Vietnam by the Americans. It seems to me that, if the Bill is directed towards allowing sportsmen to continue their sport within the limited context that we have heard this afternoon, there is no gound for anyone to have silencers that can be used on shotguns to poach game and other things in the dead of night—which is when it is usually done—when there is no chance of their being picked up. The use of a silencer can be an aid to a deadly weapon and can prevent a crime being picked up.

As I said when moving these amendments, it may be that they fit more felicitously into Clause 2 of the Bill: I looked at that clause and wondered whether they would or would not. I have probably backed the wrong 50:50 choice by putting it in here, but I shall be happy to amend that at a later date. This was a matter that was discussed at some length in Standing Committee F in the other place and, I think, left rather in the air. It is for that reason that I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider the points in the amendments I have put forward. I beg to move.

Lord Swansea

I think my noble friend may perhaps have overlooked one point in his Amendment No. 15. What controls the velocity of a bullet is not the gun itself but the cartridge which is used in it. Some cartridges produce a muzzle velocity in excess of the speed of sound and some produce a muzzle velocity below the speed of sound. There are a good many ·22 rim-fire cartridges which produce the latter velocity, and it has been found by manufacturers that the best accuracy for competition purposes is produced by this ammunition which is below the speed of sound. My noble friend may perhaps not have been previously aware of this point, but it has an important bearing on his amendment.

The Earl of Balfour

The idea of having a sound moderator on a gun is, clearly, to cut down the amount of noise. I have a ·22 which has a sound moderator but I had to get the modification specially included on the firearms licence in order to obtain it. It is vitally important, if one is using a sound moderator, to have shot which is below the speed of sound in order to avoid the sharp crack when the shot goes through the sound barrier.

I have to say that the idea of using a sound moderator on a shotgun is alarming. I have not come across it but no doubt it exists. With a ·22, when one is after rabbits or vermin, a silencer makes all the difference in the world. It gives the chance of a second shot.

6 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend Lord Dilhorne wondered whether the amendment might be fitted more felicitously—that was, I think, the word he used—in another part of the Bill. I am not sure whether that is the case. My noble friend said that poachers use sound moderators and silencers, which is perfectly true; but so do farmers and other people who legitimately use shotguns fitted with sound moderators and silencers for vermin control. Therefore, if the Government were to suggest that they should be banned I fear that my noble friend might find even greater opposition than there has been to this modest amendment before us.

I do not believe that we can justifiably raise this sort of device, or even shotguns with an integral silencer, into the prohibited category. However, any accessory to a Section 1 firearm—which is not the same as a shotgun—designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon is already subject to certification. Any firearm or shotgun which is so designed or adapted is subject to the same level of control as one which is not. The existing controls on both silencers and the weapons to which they can be fitted are adequate in the context in which they are used.

Viscount Dilhorne

I wish to correct my noble friend on one small matter. I was not aware that I used the word "banned" but no doubt Hansard will show that I did. I said that I wished that sound moderators could be put in the category in which they were controlled; not banned, as SLRs are banned. I want them brought under control, as are rifles, and registered so that they are part and parcel of the whole.They are used with revolvers and with other weapons and in those circumstances that would be reasonably acceptable. I do not think I said that they should be banned.

Earl Ferrers

I dare say my noble friend did not use the word "banned" but that is the effect of his amendment. To use the word "banned" would put them into the prohibited category.

Viscount Dilhorne

There is nothing further I can add. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Grantchester)

Is Amendment No. 18 not moved?

Viscount Dilhorne

Not moved.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I now call Amendment No. 19.

Viscount Dilhorne moved Amendment No. 18: Page 1, line 29, at end insert— ("(2A) (i) No firearms certificate shall authorise a person to possess, purchase or acquire a self-loading, or pump-action rifle to which section 5(2)(ab) below applies unless that person—

  1. (a) is a physically disabled person prevented by that disability from using other types of rifle; or
  2. (b) has held a firearms certificate for another type of rifle for a continuous period of three years immediately preceding his application under this section; and
  3. (c) has served a period of probationary membership and qualified for full membership of a society, club or association approved by the Secretary of State as being suitable for sporting, target, or competition shooting with self loading action rifles; and
  4. (d) has stated in the application for approval the type, style, calibre and description of rifle and cartridge for which authority is sought.").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment has already been largely discussed, put before this Committee and withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend. I think my noble friend said "not moved" to Amendment No. 18. We are now on Amendment No. 19.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Amendment No. 19 is the amendment called.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

The confusion is possibly my fault. I was prompting my noble friend, I hope correctly, because he has already spoken to Amendment No. 18 in a previous speech.

Noble Lords


Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I thought that my noble friend was not going to move Amendment No. 18 and that he wanted to say so.

Earl Ferrers

I think my noble friend Lord Dilhorne reacted to the prompting from my noble and learned friend because I thought I heard him say "not moved".

Viscount Dilhorne

I thought I said "not moved" to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17. 1 then thought I heard Amendment No. 19 called. However, I have not spoken to Amendment No. 18.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

1 call Amendment No. 18 in the name of the noble Viscount. Lord Dilhorne.

Viscount Dilhorne

Perhaps I may be permitted to speak to Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 together if that would be of assistance to the Committee.

Amendment No. 18 is similar to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wynford, but drafted in a slightly different way. I know that I have the barrier—if I may so call it—of having to convince my noble friend on the Front Bench, if this amendment is to succeed, that these SLR weapons are not of such an enormously dangerous character. I will be brief because it is a large wall to climb over and I am not very agile.

Amendment No. 18 is intended to provide a means by which people could, with sufficient controls, own SLRs. It is, I hope, a way to overcome the difficulties regarding the disabled and ladies, who find SLRs useful weapons to use, and the competitive shooters. There are four main provisions which lay down the ground rules. The Committee will see that the amendment begins by excluding pump-action self-loading guns. Incidentally, the reference to Section 5(2)(ab) should read Section 5(1)(ab) which is in line with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Wynford and relates, of course, to the principal Act.

Paragraph (a) of the amendment allows physically disabled persons, prevented by their disability from using other types of rifle, to use self-loading or pump-action rifles. The provisions that I recommend in any move towards allowing SLRs, even in a limited form, so that people can compete with them, are slightly different from my noble friend's proposals. One difference is that such people must hold a firearms certificate for another type of rifle. That has been very fully addressed by my noble friend. By some chance the period of three years is the same. There is no conspiracy to table two amendments at the same time on the same subject; it is by accident that it has occurred. The three years is a requirement before a person may be allowed to proceed with any application under that subsection to own a SLR or pump-action gun.

In referring to pump-action guns, there are guns which are not mentioned in the Bill at all and I do not know where they stand. These are automatics which are often described as lever guns. They have a lever that sticks out. There may have been an innocent drafting omission. If not, it would be useful to know for what reasons these guns are treated differently to pump-action guns.

I have elaborated under paragraph (c) the probationary membership and qualification required. I have slightly altered the terminology to "society, club or association" because to include one would exclude the others. I shall not put that into Latin because I am not very good at it. I have forgotten most of what I ever knew of the language and in any case I am sure that there are other noble Lords more than capable of fulfilling that task.

The fourth condition requires an application for approval to state, the type, style, calibre and description of the weapon required. That is again an omnibus requirement to put in every particular about the weapon someone wishes to acquire. I am the first to admit that there is a lacuna, a gap, in that amendment. If someone wishes to use such a rifle for sporting purposes—for example, stalking —there would need to be an amendment to (c) or (d). From the way in which I have drawn the amendment one would need to be a member of "a society, club or association" before one could go stalking. I am sure that many who participate in the sport are not members of clubs or associations or the other category of membership. However, they may be and I believe that it would be wrong for them to be excluded from it.

I now speak to Amendment No. 19 which is taken from the Act. Its purpose is this. If one has an SLR and limits the capacity of the magazine to a certain number of cartridges about which I am not feeling at all dogmatic—it may be three, four or five cartridges as in the case of a bolt-action rifle—anything beyond that would be illegal and totally prohibited. The use of the weapon with that magazine would be prohibited. I believe it to be within the capability of those abused, hardworked and overworked statutory draftsmen, to devise a wording sufficient to deal with that matter. The wording in the Act seems to me to be satisfactory but it may be that the wording of Amendment No. 19 does not cater for the problem. This amendment goes a little further than that tabled by my noble friend Lord Wynford. I beg to move.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

There are a few observations that we wish to make about this amendment. We do not believe that a provision aimed at the disabled should be wrapped up with an entirely different category and in particular with the category of person who, has held a firearms certificate for another type of rifle for a continuous period of three years immediately preceding his application under this section;". The Committee rejected Amendment No. 2 which was said to be aimed exclusively at the disabled though the proposed amendment in that case was wholly general in character. Here we have an amendment which is directed in part at the disabled, but it is wrapped up with other categories and that cannot be right. If there is a case for some easing of the controls as regards the disabled in order that they should not be prevented substantially from enjoying rifle shooting, surely it should be dealt with specifically and not in the context of other subjects.

We do not believe that the Committee should be impressed by any amendment which attempts to bring in a general loosening of controls upon these weapons on the back of the Committee's natural sympathy for the disabled sportsman or woman. We feel that this amendment is guilty of such an attempt because it couples physical disability with preventing the use of other kinds of rifle, with a general exception for those who have held for three years certificates for rifles and who belong to approved rifle clubs. When the noble Earl replies to the discussion we should welcome it if he could tell the Committee what consideration the Government have given to the special needs of the disabled and whether in the Government's view there can be any amendment which can apply exclusively to the disabled. We are firmly of the view that there should be no general loosening of control over guns on the back of a generalised sympathy for the disabled.

As regards the drafting of the amendment, we find rather ambiguous the use of the word "or" after (2A)(a) and the word, "and" after (b) and (c). Perhaps the noble Viscount can explain to the Committee whether he contends that conditions (c) and (d) apply only to (b) cases or to (a) cases as well. As the amendment stands it is not clear.

There is a more fundamental question upon which we should like assistance. The noble Viscount corrected his amendment from Section 5(2)(ab) to 5(1)(ab). If a rifle is a rifle to which the new Section 5(1)(ab) applies, is there any scope for a firearms certificate to be granted at all? Is it not a prohibited weapon under the principal Act? If so, it may not be possessed or acquired without the authority of the Secretary of State. I believe there is some assent to that. I believe it is not the intention behind these amendments that the Secretary of State should be able only to give his authority in the cases specified in this amendment, thus tightening the controls upon self-loading and pump-action rifles still further. if I am right then I cannot see the purpose of the amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Auckland

I have listened very carefully to my noble friend and I bow to his great legal knowledge. However, I believe that there is one fundamental objection as regards paragaph (a). Who is to decide the amount of physical disability? Will a medical certificate be necessary? Obviously, one sympathises with people who are disabled whether it concerns shooting or playing cricket or any other kind of sport. We are here discussing weapons of a very dangerous and serious nature. While one has sympathy for those who are handicapped, as my noble friend the Minister said, we must at all times, albeit reluctantly, think in terms of the safety of the general public.

There is also an objection to paragraph (d). The police already have enough difficulty in the issuing of firearms certificates. My interpretation of the amendment may be completely wrong, but many other kinds of information will need to be given which will add a great deal to the workload of the police authorities and the magistrates. For those reasons I do not think that these amendments should be accepted.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend Lord Dilhorne said that he had a difficult wall to climb and I believe that he has. I also have a difficult wall to climb because I have tried to persuade my noble friend that the Government's view is that these weapons are of such a nature that they should not he in private hands. That has not prevented my noble friend, quite reasonably I suppose, tabling such an amendment. This amendment would give people the ability to use self-loading and pump-action firearms. Both Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 propose that a shooter should hold a firearms certificate for at least three years and should meet certain other criteria. Those criteria are so widely drawn that more or less anyone who meets the three-year requirement would be able to make out a case for acquiring one of these guns. As soon as one does that, one undermines one of the central pillars on which the Bill is based.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who said that he did not feel that we should loosen the strict provisions in the Bill. As the noble Lord said, everyone has great sympathy for the disabled and one would not wish to take action to inhibit what they do unless it is necessary. We believe that it is necessary. I appreciate the concern that handicapped shooters may be disadvantaged by the Government's proposal to prohibit such guns. However, a blanket entitlement for handicapped shooters to possess these weapons, as my noble friend suggested, would be inappropriate.

My noble friend Lord Auckland put his finger on the point when he asked about the definition of "disabled". There are different types and degrees of disability, many of which would have no effect on a person's ability to use a bolt-action rifle. Unless the definition of "disabled" were carefully restricted, I think that quite a number of shooters would suddenly discover a disability which neither they nor anyone else had previously noticed.

It is difficult to envisage a disability which would entirely preclude the use of a bolt-action rifle but allow the use of a self-loading or pump-action one. I find it difficult to think of a disability which would mean that a shooter could use a self-loading rifle more readily than a bolt-action one, but that is not quite the same thing. Modifications can he made to bolt-action guns; and padded jackets can be used. One of the most effective measures is to change to a calibre and cartridge loading known to generate low levels of recoil.

Alternative measures can be taken by the disabled. I realise that that may be inconvienient to them but the inconvenience for the number of people who would be affected justifies keeping these weapons in the Section 5 category.

Lord Monson

I hope the noble Earl will forgive me if this question has been put to him before. How many crimes have been committed over the past 20 years or so in which self-loading or pump-action weapons have been utilised?

Earl Ferrers

I do not have the figures with me; but even if I had they would not really be very helpful. The whole point is that there is a requirement—not necessarily by those who participate in the shooting lobby but in the country as a whole—to tighten up the law in regard to weapons of extreme danger. That is the whole purpose behind the Bill. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that these weapons have been used on occasions. The public are concerned that these weapons, dangerous as they are, should not be in the hands of private individuals. That is why we have taken these measures.

Lord Gisborough

Is it not a fact that the only ones that have been used have not been held on certificates? Therefore it is only a matter of law enforcement.

Lord Ferrers

I do not think that is so. However, if it is so, that is an even stronger argument for having the law so that one can know where the guns are, which at the moment we do not.

Viscount Dilhorne

In view of what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have said, I should like at this stage to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Lord Brain moved Amendment No. 20: Page 2, line 8, at end insert ("other than one designed for use for pyrotechnic purposes or in a signalling apparatus.").

The noble Lord said: I move this amendment in the hope that the Government will tell me that it is totally unnecessary. Any sensible wildfowler going on to the marshes, over the sea wall at any time, day or night will have in his equipment—because mists may blow up, tides may come in or he may have an accident—12-bore cartridges. They will be loaded either to fire a coloured flare which will fire and show up as a rocket, going up the whole time and flaring, or go up and burst, again as a flare, or draw attention to a flare. The cartridge produces a sound that is in no way like the sound of normal 12-bore shotgun. It is a signalling device. As presently worded subsection (3)(c) on page 2 of the Bill probably bans these cartridges. For the noble Earl's information I have a leaflet which I shall pass to him later on in case he is not aware of the type of cartridges to which I am referring. This is a serious safety matter. If they are covered by subsection (3)(c) we should allow them to be permitted for this valuable purpose. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Brain, was kind enough to say that he tabled the amendment in order that I might assure him that it is totally unnecessary. I can so assure him. The amendment would specifically exclude from prohibition rockets or shells which are designed for use in pyrotechnic apparatus or in signalling equipment. Subsection (3) of Clause 1 already restricts the prohibition to rockets and shells designed to explode immediately before impact. By so doing that excludes the flares used for signalling and also rockets and shells where the explosive is used primarily for pyrotechnic effect. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Lord Brain

I thank the noble Earl very much. I thought that that was the case but I felt it necessary to probe for certainty. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Burton moved Amendment No. 21: Page 2, line 8, at end insert— (3A) After subsection (3) there shall be inserted— (3A) An authority shall be given under this section where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person possesses a firearm of historic, artistic or scientific interest which should not he altered from its original form.".").

The noble Lord said: In this amendment I am again seeking to protect the country's heritage and without this time any possibility of causing danger to the public. So far as I can see we have been given no details about how weapons are to be immobilised. This is absolutely crucial in regard to several parts of the Bill. Will it be adequate to remove the firing pin? If not, how severely will we have to mutilate our weapons before we can say that they are immobilised? This is important because there are a good many fine weapons of considerable artistic and sentimental value. It is only reasonable that we should know to what extent we are expected to destroy these weapons. I only hope that in this case the Government will not show too much vandalism. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The whole purpose of this part of the Bill is to seek to ensure that pump-action or self-loading weapons should go into the category which prevents them from being used at all. That is the whole philosophy. My noble friend's amendment does not alter that very much. The whole purpose is that these kinds of rifles should not be in public hands because of their lethality.

Lord Burton

That still does not answer the question. How seriously shall we have to vandalise a weapon before it is allowed to remain in private hands? This is fundamental. As I said, some extremely valuable weapons are liable to be destroyed. I have spoken on previous occasions about the pigeon post and not receiving answers. Perhaps my noble friend did not recieve it the first time. I hope that this time there will be an answer because I believe it is fundamental to many parts of the Bill that we must know about this. There has been talk about marking weapons and other kinds of issues. But it is important that we know what we are expected to do.

Earl Ferrers

Weapons which are of historic interest can he held in museums under a special museums licence, but they cannot be held in private possession.

Lord Burton

We still do not have the answer. Weapons can be held in private hands if they arc properly immobilised, or certain weapons may be. But nothing has been said about how they are to be immobilised. Museums are already over-loaded. There seems no reason why a fine collection of weapons, if immobilised, should not be allowed in a person's possession when authorised by the Secretary of State. But how seriously do we have to immobilise the weapons?

Lord Gisborough

These weapons are allowed in museums, but not in private hands. Are they allowed in a private museum? For example, many houses have areas which are effectively museum rooms. Would they he allowed there?

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend is concerned about how he can keep weapons which have been deactivated. In Clause 8 he will see that certain processes can be gone through which would have to be agreed by a proof house to show that a weapon has been deactivated. I cannot tell my noble friend exactly what the process is because it would depend on the weapon in each case. But if weapons are taken, deactivated and certified as deactivated, then my noble friend will be able to keep them.

Lord Burton

We can return to this on Clause 8. To avoid wasting time perhaps we may then have the answer to my question: what is necessary to deactify a weapon? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before I call the next amendment I should inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 22 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 23 to 26.

Viscount Dilhorne moved Amendment No. 22: Page 2, line 9, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Viscount said: The provisions of subsection (4), it seems to me, are widely drawn and bestow very considerable powers. I have proposed that the subsection shall be left out totally. I make no point concerning the words: If it appears to the Secretary of State that the provisions of the principal Act"— down to "or ammunition which". I am concerned with the words in paragraphs (a) and (b), and particularly the following words, he may by order add it to the weapons or ammunition specified in that subsection".

The powers given to the Minister seem to me considerable. If those powers had been included in the 1968 Act my understanding is that we should not be here today because the SLRs and other weapons would by order be prohibited. It seems to me an excessively strong power and highly authoritarian. I feel that it is a matter which should be put before Parliament if there are weapons that come on sale lawfully in Great Britain in substantial numbers at any time before 1988. That leaves only six months.

I am not clear either what the words mean. They seem to me to bestow a power which states that any weapons that come on sale after 1988 can be ordered to be prohibited. I am sure that this is probably only a drafting matter; it may easily be resolved by my noble friend the Minister. As the clause is drawn, there is no fetter on the exercise of his power or that of his successors to order what they like. I feel that that is very strongly drawn. I beg to move.

Lord Swansea

I should like to support my noble friend in his amendment. Shooting interests have been caused a great deal of concern. Who can say what might be prohibited in the future? It could be something that has not yet appeared on the market, something that we do not know about. We seem to be seeking to ban something which does not yet exist. To give the Secretary of State such wide-ranging powers as this without any hope of reversal is, I believe, entirely mistaken. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will think carefully about whether this clause is desirable.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I believe that I should point out to my noble friends that subsection (5) makes these orders subject to the positive approval of both Houses of Parliament. Thus the arguments that my noble friends have presented are totally without foundation.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

We urge the House not to support this amendment. We support the retention of Clause 1(4). It is clear that the prohibited list contained in Section 5 of the 1968 Act is a valuable and essential means of ensuring that the most dangerous types of weapon, those of which there is least need to have private possession, do not circulate freely within society. Much of the Committee's time has been taken up in debating how Section 5 of the principal Act ought to be amended so as to enlarge the category of prohibited weapons. I wonder whether any members of the Committee would go so far as to deny that there is a clear need for at least some enlargement of the class of prohibited weapons.

We suggest that there is an undisputed need for change. That need has come about substantially, though, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, explained, not exclusively through technological change. Weapons are now available which did not exist in 1968. Doubtless there are other weapons which were in theory available at that time but where the technology had not advanced to a stage where they were produced or distributed in significant numbers.

It must be the case that the pace of weapons technology will not slacken in the future. It is more likely, surely, to accelerate. There must also be a risk that the Bill will itself constitute an incentive to the development of new and lethal weapons designed to fall outside the strict language of Section 5 as amended. We cannot believe that it is right that the law should not be able to catch up with such new weaponry until parliamentary time can be found for changes to the primary legislation. We are very conscious that there may not always be a Hungerford to concentrate the mind of the Government of the day. Indeed, the desire to pre-empt and not merely to react to such a tragedy is one of the reasons for supporting the retention of Clause 1(4).

It is better to make the statute technological-proof, as it were, than to have a government amend and reamend the primary legislation. It is, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, pointed out, always subject to Clause 1(5). The Opposition do not approve of the tendency of Parliament to legislate in the barest outline and to give Ministers virtual carte blanche to make sweeping changes in the law. In the course of the Legal Aid Bill the Opposition objected to that. However, a power to keep primary legislation abreast of new technology in this area is unobjectionable so long as it is accompanied by proper safeguards. There are proper safeguards in Clause 1(4). The power to add to the prohibited category can be exercised only in the case of new types of firearms. There is also the safeguard that the weapon must appear to the Secretary of State to be especially dangerous. We see no scope for abuse.

Lord Burton

On this occasion, I am pleased to say that I have some sympathy with the Government's views. However, we are not at all happy, as has been made clear this afternoon, about a good deal of the advice that the Government are receiving. That may become even more apparent when we deal with the following amendment. At a later stage of the Bill, might it be advisable to include something such as, "subject to consultation with the Advisory Committee"?

Earl Ferrers

I am deeply indebted to my noble friend Lord Burton for saying that he has some sympathy with the Government. I knew that there would be a turning point in his views. I was not too certain when it would come, but it has arrived. The clause is essential. It merely provides that the Secretary of State can put into subsection (5) weapons or ammunition which are not: for the time being specified in subsection (1) of Section 5 but appears to him to be specially dangerous; and (b) in the case of a firearm, was not lawfully on sale in Great Britain in substantial numbers at any time before 1988". As the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, rightly said, that is a part of the Bill which is designed to look to the future. I believe that to be correct. We hope, by means of the power, to deal with plastic guns and weapons which may be capable of escaping detection by metal detectors.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham put, in a characteristically trenchant way, to my noble friend Lord Dilhorne, that he was wrong because he had not addressed himself to subsection (5), and had he done so he would have seen that it does not give unfettered right to the Secretary of State or his successors to do what they like. He has to come to Parliament with the proposals which would have to be debated under the affirmative resolution procedure. I hope that with that explanation my noble friend will agree that it is right to keep the subsection in the Bill.

Viscount Dilhorne

I accept that explanation. I must apologise. The noble and learned Lord was right with his comment. I had overlooked that subsection, if I may add that gloss to what he said and be completely honest. I can only say, more haste less speed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

if Amendment No. 23 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 24.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 23: Page 2, line 11, leave out from ("to") to end of line 15 and insert— ("(a) any firearm (not being an air weapon) which is not for the time being specified in subsection (I) of section 5. was not lawfully on sale in Great Britain in substantial numbers at any time before 1988 and appears to him to be—

  1. (i) specially dangerous; or
  2. (ii)wholly or partly composed of material making it not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal objects; or
(b) any ammunition which is not for the time being specified in that subsection but appears to him to be specially dangerous,").

The noble Earl said: The amendment takes power to add to the list of prohibited weapons by order any firearm which by reason of the material of which it is composed appears to the Secretary of State to be not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal objects. There are plastic guns and other metals which might turn up in the future. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 23, Amendment No. 23A: Line 2 leave out ("not being an air weapon").

The noble Earl said: The amendment leaves out "not being an air weapon" in the amendment moved by my noble friend the Minister. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 23B, which inserts "or projectile" after "ammunition". The powers available to the Secretary of State should not restrict him to excluding an air weapon. From what I can gather, the only legislation remaining on the statute book is Statutory Instrument No. 47 of 1969, which has been referred to. It deals with 6 foot pounds and 12 foot pounds of kinetic energy for the various guns. It is not in our best interests that air weapons should be excluded when the Secretary of State may come across something new.

As the Committee will know from my speech on Second Reading, I was concerned about the steel crossbow, which is why in Amendment No. 23B I suggest that we add "or projectile" after "any ammunition", which is not for the time being specified in that subsection. Otherwise I wholeheartedly support Amendment No. 23.

Lord Gisborough

I support the amendment because there has been a great deal of trouble from air weapons for a number of years. They are lethal. There are almost too many uncontrolled air weapons at the moment. Anything that can be done to control them a little is welcome.

Lord Swansea

I know why the amendment has been introduced by my noble friend the Minister. It has all been sparked off by the invention of certain automatic pistols originating in Austria, some parts of which are composed of plastic (non-metallic). Most of that weapon will not show up on an X-ray machine. It is absurd to describe such a weapon as one which would pass an X-ray machine. So long as there are steel barrels, metallic springs and metallic ammunition, that concept is pie in the sky.

Nearly every firearm has a wooden or plastic stock. I wonder whether that has occurred to the noble Earl. It could rule out practically every firearm or shotgun in existence. I think that needs looking at again very seriously and I suggest to my noble friend that he should not press this amendment today but should take it away and think about it again.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

From these Benches we support Amendment No. 23 moved by the noble Earl. It appears to us to be right that even if a firearm is not especially dangerous it should be capable of being prohibited if not readily detectable by metal detectors.

I wonder whether the noble Earl, when replying to the debate on Amendments Nos. 23 and 23A, could say whether firearms not readily detectable by metal detectors are already lawfully on sale in Great Britain in substantial numbers. If they are then his new amendment would not cover that situation. It may be that there is no substance in the concern which I expressed, but if there is substance in it then surely the amendment should expressly cater for that possible situation.

Lord Monson

I sympathise with both the noble Earls, Lord Ferrers and Lord Balfour, in respect of the amendments. I must say that I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, that crossbows are just as dangerous as air rifles and probably more so. I wonder whether the projectiles he has in mind include crossbow bolts. It would be interesting to know.

Would the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, explain the phrase "in substantial numbers"? Is this not a rather vague phrase to use in an Act of Parliament?

Earl Ferrers

With regard to the last point, I think that "substantial numbers" means what it says; namely, that they are there in large numbers. The whole purpose of the amendment is to cover things which are likely to happen after 1988. If it were to be found that there were one, two or three already in existence before 1988, clearly that prohibition should not be excluded just because one or two were available before 1988. That is why we have suggested these words, so that it covers only the new forms of weapons which might be used in the future.

When my noble friend Lord Swansea asks whether we are aware that there are some weapons which have stocks made of wood and so forth and that they might not be covered, I think perhaps he should look at the amendment and subsection (a)(ii) which refers to a weapon which is: wholly or partly composed of material making it not readily detectable". So that even if the detectable weapon had a wooden stock and was made from the same plastic which was not readily detectable by a detector, it would nevertheless be caught under this provision because it is wholly or partly composed of such material.

My noble friend Lord Balfour explained that his concern lay with crossbows and air weapons. I think we are all concerned about the use of those. But the incidence of the misuse of crossbows is relatively rare. The great majority of owners are responsible people who take considerable care of their weapons. They present no problem to public safety or peace. Crossbow archery is a well established sport. There are apparently 200,000 crossbows in circulation in this country although relatively few owners belong to clubs.

The overall picture of misuse tends to become distorted through the prominence given by the media to individual incidents. Under the Crossbows Act 1987 it is already an offence to sell a crossbow to a person who is under the age of 17 or for someone under 17 to purchase a crossbow or to have one in his possession, unless accompanied by a person aged 21 or over. In addition, the actual misuse of a crossbow usually constitutes an offence under a wide variety of other existing legislation.

With regard to air weapons, there are already a number of regulations controlling their purchase, possession and use especially by juveniles. Again, given the very large numbers of air weapons in circulation, the rate of misuse is comparatively low. It is encouraging that the criminal statistics for 1986 showed a decline in the number of notifiable offences involving air weapons, compared with 1985 and 1987. The 1987 figures, although they are still provisional, point to a further decrease.

We are keeping a particularly close eye on crossbows but my noble friend's amendment which would provide the power to ban such weapons outright is not a road down which we particularly wish to go. One doubts that crossbows are that dangerous. They are dangerous but one wonders whether they are especially dangerous in the same way as a self-loading rifle, a fast-firing shotgun or an automatic sub-machine gun. Those are especially dangerous and they are the types of weapons to which this Bill refers.

In any case, the reserve power is essentially a mechanism by which new technological developments in firearms which will escape the definition of this Bill can be tackled. That is why firearms on sale in substantial numbers before 1988 are exempted. Crossbows have been with us for a long time, since medieval times, and I believe in some forms since Roman times. I think that rapid and innovative technological development in that sphere is unlikely, given the score over the last few hundred years.

If the amendment were made, the types of crossbows which are currently available could not be affected by the reserve powers because they were available before 1988. So even if we accepted my noble friend's amendment, I do not think it would achieve his purpose.

The amendment also mentions projectiles. Perhaps my noble friend fears that the term "ammunition" used in subsection (4) is too narrow. I think I can reassure him on that point. Section 57(2) of the 1968 Act explains that the expression "ammunition" means ammunition for any firearm and includes grenades, bombs and other like missiles, whether capable of use with a firearm or not. I hope that my noble friend will agree that this definition would cover any projectile which we are likely to want to add to the prohibited category.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I do not want to prolong this debate but just to say to the noble Lord on the Cross Benches and to my noble friend Lord Swansea that what we are discussing is the power which the Secretary of State would have, if my noble friend's amendment is passed, to bring before Parliament a draft order for its approval. Therefore the short answer to what the noble Lord on the Cross Benches has said is that it would be part of the case which any Minister would have to bring before this House and the other place that the weapon under discussion was not present in substantial numbers. That is a question of fact and degree, about which this House at any rate would expect to be reassured.

Of course, the fact and degree would depend on the circumstances at the time. The same is true in answer to my noble friend Lord Swansea because he would also have to show that subsection (a) (ii) of the proposed amendment was not applicable. In the case of wooden stocks and things like that, what has to be shown is that it is wholly or partly composed of material "making it"—which I take it means the weapon under discussion— not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal Objects". In the case postulated by my noble friend, that would not arise when the Government of the day came to make their case to the two Houses of Parliament.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

I do not wish unduly to prolong the debate, but the noble Earl did not reply to the specific question which I invited him to respond to in my short contribution. I may be wrong, but I simply draw attention to what may be a deficiency in his amendment. If it is the case that there were in 1988. lawfully on sale in Great Britain in substantial numbers"— I emphasise "substantial numbers" and not the "small numbers" that the noble Earl mentioned—the plastic guns to which he referred, which were, wholly or partly composed of material making it not readily detectable", his amendment would not reach that situation. Therefore I invite the noble Earl to give thought to the factual possibility that they may have been on sale in substantial numbers in 1987. If so his amendment should reach that situation, but it does not.

Earl Ferrers

I apologise to the noble Lord for not having replied to that point earlier. I had intended to do so. We are not aware of any firearms currently on the market which would escape detection.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I wish to say a few words on crossbows, of which I have had experience. They are highly lethal, far more so than an air gun. They have a flat trajectory up to 100 yards. They have telescopic sights. They are silent and they fire a steel bolt which is nearly a foot long. Several people have been shot by them. If they hit somebody in the chest they go right through and kill them. I hope that the Government will keep a close eye upon these weapons. I have nothing against them for target shooting, but how can one prevent people who are using them for target shooting committing a criminal act and killing somebody? They are of course also often used for poaching.

Lord Burton

Will my noble friend have another look at the wording of (a)(ii). When I initially looked at it, I obtained the same impression as my noble friend Lord Swansea. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone has explained the situation. However, I think the wording could be misleading, and possibly a slight revision of it might help.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I am a little surprised to hear the Minister's defence of crossbows for sport and target shooting when he is not prepared to allow self-loading rifles or pump-guns for disabled shooters. Has he seen photographs of animals that have been shot with crossbows? Those weapons are by no means all in responsible hands. Some are in very irresponsible hands. The wounds and the pain that they inflict on animals are horrific.

Earl Ferrers

I did not seek to suggest that crossbows could not do substantial damage. I said that there was no evidence that their misuse was very frequent. I think that the noble Lady will agree that they are not the same as a self-loading rifle or a pump-action gun. They are motivated by different forces and their ranges are different. Of course we keep crossbows under very strict control. They have their own laws by which they are controlled. If there is evidence that they are getting out of control, we shall take note of it and take the necessary action. But that is not the same thing as saying that they are equivalent to self-loading rifles.

The Earl of Balfour

At this stage I think it would be quite right if I withdrew Amendment No. 23A. However, at the same time I wish to ask one other question in view of part of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. When Amendment No. 23 refers to Great Britain, does that include Northern Ireland?

Noble Lords


The Earl of Balfour

It does not. That is fair enough. Is it the Government's intention that it should not cover Northern Ireland? However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23B, as an amendment to Amendment No. 23, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 23 agreed to.

The Earl of Arran

This might be a suitable moment at which to break for dinner. I suggest that we return to the Committee stage of the Bill at 8.5 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.