§ 11.31 a.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Firearms (Amendment) Bill be now read a second time.
1056 The Bill before your Lordships today has recently had a somewhat turbulent and eventful passage through another place. The number of speakers taking part in the debate today—and on a Friday—would indicate to me that there will not be a shortage of views expressed on the matter. The debate will be enhanced by two previous members of the police force, and two maiden speakers. We look forward to those contributions with pleasure. It is a cause of some slight, twinkling pleasure that there is a common but unique thread which relates the two maiden speakers—not necessarily to firearms, but more to matters of a nautical nature—in that the one should be called Nelson and the other Portsmouth.
The subject of firearms controls has always lent itself to extremes of opinion, and this Bill is no exception. There has been much criticism of some aspects of the Bill, and a number of changes have been made to its provisions. Some people would prefer to see more changes. Others think that too many have been made. That is, I suppose, inevitable in a controversial Bill, but we have tried to meet the criticism which has been made where we felt that the criticism was justified.
When my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, spoke at Second Reading in another place, he emphasised that, although we believed that the central pillars of our policy were right, we were prepared to listen to legitimate concerns on matters of detail. We have done so, and the result is that the Bill before us today is a changed and, I think, a better Bill than it was when it was first introduced to Parliament. The Bill recognises the proper and reasonable interests of the shooting community. It acknowledges the paramount concern of public safety. And it will help to ensure that all shooting activities—whether sporting, competitive or recreational—can be reasonably carried out, but within a framework of proper and effective control which offers the ordinary citizen the safeguards from the misuse of guns which he has the right to expect.
Perhaps I may say a little about the background to this legislation, why it was brought in, why it was necessary to bring it in, and the criteria that we had in mind when considering the form that it should take.
The tragic events of Hungerford, although now almost a year ago, linger vividly in all our memories, and I do not propose to dwell on them. But this Bill does not begin and end with that tragedy. Other recent incidents involving firearms—which, let us remember, were perfectly legally held—have occurred at Wolverhampton, Bristol, Gunthorpe, Stowmarket and Rochdale, to name but a few. They all had the effect of eroding yet further public confidence in the adequacy of the legislation under which firearms are permitted. There is not one person who is not concerned about the increase in violence, especially where firearms are concerned.
In our endeavour—and I believe it to be a right endeavour—to bring more effective control over these weapons to prevent their misuse, it is unfortunate, as so often happens, that it is the honest, law-abiding citizen, who is going about his affairs in a perfectly legitimate and perfectly proper manner, 1057 who is put to inconvenience. But that is the price which we have to pay because a few in society abuse the privileges and freedoms which have been accorded to them, in a selfish and unacceptable way. The difficulty is to get the balance right, to keep a control and check on these lethal weapons, yet to allow their reasonable use by reasonable people.
I do not pretend that the Bill is the only answer to the problem. Of course it is not. Nor do I claim that it will prevent disasters of this kind ever occurring again. It will not. What I do claim is that it is a reasonable answer—and a proper reaction—to what was an unsatisfactory state of affairs and one in which we have attempted—I think with care—to meet the concerns, so far as is possible, of the wide variety of interests which are inevitably affected by it.
As regards those incidents to which I have referred, some involved firearms, some involved shotguns. It is some 20 years since the last major firearms legislation was enacted. Much has changed since then. In looking at the whole scenario in which firearms are used—their manufacture, their use, their misuse, the methods of trading—it was clear that there was need for a substantial tightening of control. I believe that we are right, not only to tackle the implications of what happened at Hungerford and elsewhere, but to redress the demonstrable weaknesses which exist in other aspects of the control.
Throughout our deliberations the one determining factor which we have sought to pursue is balance; balance between protecting the ordinary citizen, yet preserving the rights of the legitimate shooter; and balance between producing a fair and effective system of control, and ensuring that the police and the shooting community are not subject to excessive or unnecessary administrative burdens. That may be irksome for some, but I think that it is right for all.
The additional burden—and I recognise that it is an additional burden—which is placed on the shooting community, is the minimum which is necessary, and I think that it is accepted as such by most responsible shooters. We have consulted closely with representatives of the shooting community throughout our consideration of the Bill. Immediately after my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced his outline proposals last September, Ministers met with representatives of the British Shooting Sports Council, headed by my noble friend Lord Swansea, to discuss their implications.
Throughout the development of the proposals and the progress of the Bill, there have been many meetings between Home Office officials and a whole range of organisations representing all the shooting concerns and disciplines. We remain ready to listen to legitimate concerns on matters of detail. I do not pretend that we have been able to meet them in all their requests. They have a perfectly legitimate interest to protect and to promote. We have acknowledged that. We have respected that. And, where we can, we have accommodated it.
Perhaps I may turn now to the main provisions of the Bill itself. Clause 1 forms a crucial part of the Bill. It extends the list of weapons and ammunition which 1058 are prohibited and which can be held only with the specific authority of the Secretary of State. That authority is not normally given to private individuals, and the clause lists various types of weapon and ammunition which we believe should not be in private hands. They include burst fire weapons, full-bore self-loading rifles—the type of weapon which was used by Michael Ryan at Hungerford—full-bore pump action rifles, and fast-firing short barrelled shotguns. Rocket launchers and mortars will also become prohibited, as will explosive bullets, and any grenades, bombs, rockets and shells which are capable of being used with a firearm. That seems fairly reasonable. Indeed, much of this is uncontroversial.
Concern was expressed in another place about the ban on self-loading rifles, and we have given considerable thought to whether there is room for some compromise. But we remain of the view that the limited sporting use which is made of these weapons is far outweighed by their lethal potential, and that the risk of their further misuse is unacceptable.
Clause 19 makes provision for payments to be made to the owners of self-loading rifles —and any other firearm which will become prohibited under Clause 1(2)—in recognition of the fact that their weapons will have to be surrendered.
Some concern has been expressed about the buy-in figures which my right honourable friend announced, and I should like to make these figures clear. Payment for self-loading rifles which are handed in will be either£150 or 50 per cent. of the average retail price—or, to put it another way, half the shelf price—of the firearm last summer. Payments for other weapons such as the fast-firing short barrelled shotgun will attract the 50 per cent. option only.
The Government do not intend to pay the full retail price of the weapons, as this would include the dealer's mark-up. Research has shown that the auction price of a second-hand weapon at that time was about 50 per cent. of the average retail price of a new weapon. So we hope that that figure is about right.
Clause 1 also provides a reserve power whereby the Secretary of State may make an order to add to the list of prohibited weapons and ammunition any which may appear to him to be especially dangerous. This is an essential power in view of the rapid development in weapons technology.
The present controls on shotguns are very loose. The only ground on which the police may refuse a shotgun certificate is if the applicant is of proven bad character or if his possession of the shotgun would be a danger to public safety. No good reason for possession needs to be established, and there is no limit as to the number or the type of shotguns which may be held on a certificate. As a result, no one really knows how many shotguns there are in private hands, nor where they are held. I think your Lordships will agree that this is not really very satisfactory. New controls for shotguns are therefore set out in Clauses 2 to 4.
Clause 2 redefines the type of smooth-bore gun, which does not require a firearms certificate, which may be held on a shotgun certificate. The result is that 1059 a smooth-bore gun with a magazine capacity of more than two rounds, and a smooth-bore revolver gun may no longer be held on a shotgun certificate. But it allows for smooth-bore guns with large magazine capacity to be adapted to two-shot capacity, provided that they are certified by a proof house, in order to enable them to remain under shotgun controls.
Clause 3 strengthens the criteria for the issue of a shotgun certificate. It requires the chief officer of police to be satisfied that the applicant does not represent a danger to public safety or to the peace. It also provides for an application to be refused where the police are satisfied that an applicant does not have a good reason for wishing to possess a shotgun. This will not affect the majority of ordinary shotgun users, but it will have an effect in cases where there is genuine doubt about someone's motives for seeking to possess a shotgun. I really believe that this is not unreasonable. This clause, taken with Clause 4, also provides for the listing on a shotgun certificate of details of all the shotguns which are possessed by the holder, and for the notification of transfers.
Taken together, these new controls will mean that the shotgun holder has to give more of an account of himself, his guns and his motives. Where his reasons are genuine, this should cause few difficulties. It does, though, enable the ungenuine to be found out and located more easily. These controls will enable the police to make closer inquiries in cases of doubt and to keep track of shotguns which are held by individuals. The burden which they place on the legitimate and responsible shotgun holder will be minimal.
There has been some concern that the firearms legislation will not be administered consistently as between one police force and another. I understand that concern, but I hope that I can reassure your Lordships about it.
The Home Office, in consultation with the shooting interests, has been in the process of revising a memorandum which at present is only available to the police. It is intended that it will be made publicly available. The memorandum gives advice to the police on how the firearms legislation is to be administered. The memorandum is now being updated to take into account the further changes which Parliament may see fit to make in the present Bill to firearms legislation. The shooting interests will continue to be consulted. The memorandum will cover issues such as the territorial conditions, the safekeeping of firearms, the good reason requirement for a firearm certificate, all of which can be subject to different interpretation.
This is a major step forward. It will help to standardise the practices between police forces. It will be done in consultation with the shooting interests. It will be made public so that everyone knows what is going on. It will, I hope, foster better relations and better understanding between the police and the understandable anxieties of individual shooters. I trust that your Lordships will find this reassuring.
I need not, I think, take your Lordships through the rest of the Bill clause by clause, but I should like 1060 to highlight briefly some of the other important provisions.
Clause 7 deals with converted weapons. It ensures that Section 5 weapons—that is to say, those weapons which are prohibited—and Section 1 weapons with a barrel length of less than 24 inches will retain their original classification regardless of anything which may subsequently be done to convert them to a lower category. In other words, once a Section 5 weapon always a Section 5 weapon, however much you monkey around with it. Special provision, though, is made in Clause 7(2) to permit long-barrelled rifles, which have been converted to smooth-bore guns to continue to be held on a shotgun certificate. Only those types of conversion, therefore, which cause the greatest concern will retain their original classification.
Clause 8 provides a means of certifying firearms as deactivated, placing them outside the certification requirements of the 1968 Act and this Bill.
Clause 11 permits a chief constable to issue a shotgun certificate for a period of less than three years in order to enable both a firearms certificate and a shotgun certificate to be renewed at the same time. This should help the shooting community and ease the burden on the police.
Clause 12 introduces some new provisions in respect of firearms dealers. The most important is that the status of registered firearms dealer is to be confined to those who can establish that dealing in firearms is a substantial commercial activity. In future, a chief officer may refuse to register an application for a dealer's register unless he is satisfied that the applicant will engage in business as a firearms dealer to a substantial extent or as an essential part of some other trade, business or profession.
The purpose is to ensure that only legitimate dealers and those who require to handle guns—for example, for research purposes—are registered. We intend at the same time to extend the period of registration from one to three years.
Clause 14 sets out revised arrangements for approval by the Home Office of rifle and pistol clubs, the membership of which is often an important consideration in the grant of a firearm certificate. We shall be looking to see that clubs are properly constituted; that they have suitable arrangements for full and probationary members; that they are run by fit and proper people; that adequate arrangements are made for the security of club firearms and ammunition; and that club activities are carried out at a suitable firing range.
Under present legislation, any visitor who has not spent more than 30 days in this country may bring in, may purchase or may take out with him an unlimited number of shotguns. I believe that this is not reasonable. It is also unsatisfactory that the present legislation makes no provision for the grant of permits or firearm certificates to people such as sportsmen who wish to bring firearms legitimately to this country. Clauses 15 and 16 therefore seek to put these matters right.
Clause 20 establishes a Firearms Consultative Committee. This is something for which the shooting 1061 community has long sought. The qualifications for membership have been widely drawn in order to include representation from the sporting and trading interests, museums, the police and the Home Department.
I am aware that there has been criticism about the composition of this committee in that it is said that the Bill does not allow it to contain members from the sporting or competition world. If any of your Lordships are still concerned about this, I would direct your Lordships to the wording of the Bill which says that members of the committee should be those people who have:knowledge and experience of the use of firearms".Those words were specifically chosen in order to include people from the competition and sporting world.
We think that the committee should consist of at least 13 members including the chairman. We also hope to bring forward an amendment at Committee stage to enable us to pay expenses to committee members. As your Lordships can see from subsection (4), the committee will have an important role to play in reviewing the working of the firearms legislation.
In the Schedule to the Bill, special arrangements are made for museums. They are designed in order to regularise the position of national museums which, following the enactment of the National Heritage Acts, lost their Crown immunity in respect of their firearms collections. They will also extend to local authority museums. The large collections of firearms and significant numbers of staff at major museums would make compliance with the normal certification requirements burdensome, and we have, therefore, provided for a museums licence to be issued on the authority of the Secretary of State.
Everyone recognises that the provisions of the Bill cannot provide any sort of guarantee against criminal abuse, or negligent misuse, of guns. Periodically, human beings go beserk. No law will stop that. What the Bill can and does do is to reduce the risk to the individual citizen and the community at large of suffering from the effects of that happening.
All of these measures have one simple purpose. They aim to ensure the effective control over potentially lethal weapons.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that this is a small price to pay for safeguarding the community as a whole. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the House will be grateful as usual for the gracious and lucid way in which the Bill has been introduced by the noble Earl. I must tell him at once that I have a personal grievance which I wish to utter. He has stolen my references to the names of the distinguished noble Earls who will be maiden speakers. As I object to being a gramophone record of the noble Earl I merely say that I am sure that all noble Lords will welcome their speeches when they are made.
1062 I believe that the House will accept as a general matter of policy the need to control properly the possession and the use of firearms. I shall be most surprised if in this debate any noble Lord adopts the view that that principle is wrong and that no revision of our legislation is required in that context.
Having said that, I say to the House most deliberately that all the considerable wisdom that this House possesses will be needed in the following stages of the Bill. I have four reasons for saying that. First, there are substantial lobbies, as noble Lords may have appreciated from the extent of the literature which has arrived upon our desks, if we are lucky enough to have rooms in your Lordships' House, or in some other part of your Lordships' House, if we are not. The bulk of the literature is comparable to that which we received with regard to the subjects of homosexuality and the poll tax. The subject of firearms now runs close to producing the same amount of literature, if it has not already exceeded it. Some of the lobbies are moderate and wise and it is proper to heed what they have to say. Some of them are extreme and have substantial self-interests. We in this House must exercise proper judgment in regard to listening to what lobbies have to say.
In that context we must obviously also exercise judgment to distinguish between trying to control the crimes of the guilty with regard to firearms and the innocent enjoyment of the citizen and those who I would refer to as the peaceful, rural users of firearms. That judgment must be carefully exercised.
The second reason why we must exercise our wisdom in the following stages of the Bill is that, in spite of what the noble Earl said, the legislation follows upon the most tragic occurrence at Hungerford. Although it was, as he said, almost a year ago, we remember that 16 of our fellow citizens were killed and 14 were wounded. There are those who say—I put it no stronger than this and it is part of the lobbying that we have received—that there was not proper or full consultation before this legislation came before this House and another place. In addition to that the Bill had a chequered and somewhat messy passage through another place. I believe that it is not for the first time that the nation relies upon our revising record in regard to this legislation in particular.
The third reason why we must exercise our wisdom most carefully is that, apart from our duty to look after the public at large, which I am sure we all recognise, noble Lords may think that Parliament has a special duty to look after the safety of the police. The police take the largest risk with regard to crimes associated with the use of firearms. We must remember that fact and in our judgment we must have the police very much in our minds as well as the general considerations of the public at large.
The fourth reason why we must exercise our wisdom most carefully is that we must not mislead the public into thinking that in passing this legislation, or anything similar to it, we are guaranteeing that a situation such as occurred at Hungerford will never happen again or that there will necessarily be a lessening of such terrible crimes of violence associated with firearms. The noble Earl 1063 touched on that matter in his opening speech. As he said most fairly, we are trying to ensure that we control as much as possible the illicit use of firearms.
Arising from that I found some rather disturbing, if very material, information being given only a few days ago at a meeting of the Shooters Rights Association. Mr. Colin Greenwood said that he had undertaken detailed research and he gave some figures. This is what he had to say. In 1954 the total number of robberies in London in which firearms were used was four. There were eight occasions on which there was suspicion that they might have been used in addition to the four I have mentioned, but there was no evidence. The figure was four.
In the annual report for 1987 given by the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police—I should have made it clear that I am talking about figures for London—he said there were 1,693 robberies in which a firearm was used. The House may well hesitate for a moment for a little reflection on what has happened to our society and society at large in the years from 1954 to 1988. Perhaps this is not the occasion on which one does anything more than reflect with some sorrow on those figures.
Quite apart from those figures, there were some interesting figures given in another place during the passage of this Bill. I should like to quote them only so that we do not disabuse ourselves of real reasonableness and consideration of what we are doing and what the public can expect. In the proceedings in another place some consideration was given as to what the legislation was abroad, and the effect of it. It is rather interesting and I am not quite sure what one deduces from it, but we ought to know it.
Switzerland has a 625,000-strong militia who all keep their weapons and ammunition at home. It possesses 6,000 assault weapons and 2 million military weapons in total. Kalashnikovs are very easy to acquire and no certification is required on transfer. Armed crime in Switzerland is minimal.
The Home Guard in Denmark provides cover during mobilisation and its members possess 60,000 assault weapons, all of which are kept at their homes. In the past 25 years there have only been 13 homicides attributable to those 60,000 weapons. Those are two countries with little control of firearms.
Perhaps I may turn, by contrast, to Germany, which has the most draconian firearms legislation and control; but its record of firearms-related crimes is far worse than those in the other two countries. Therefore, as I said, we must disabuse ourselves of romancing into thinking that necessarily control of firearms, however rigorous, is going to relieve us of one of the malaises of our time.
There are several matters—and your Lordships may wish to know and may be delighted to know that I shall not be long—on which we ought to concentrate not only on Second Reading but also, if I may say so, at the following stages of the Bill. Provided one does not deal with detail as one does in the following stages of the Bill, I believe that it is always helpful to give the Government an indication of the sort of matters which may well be raised in at 1064 least one quarter of the House in Committee or on Report. If I do not misuse a phrase and seem facetious in this connection, which I do not mean to be, I believe that we must ensure that we do not have any hit and miss legislation.
There is one anomaly with which the noble Earl did not deal. He talked about the need for the banning of self-firing rifles. What he did not do —and incidentally in that connection he mentioned that one had been used by Ryan at Hungerford —was to explain why it is that the Bosetta-type pistol with which Ryan killed half his victims is not subject to a ban. We have the automatic rifle banned and the automatic pistol, which is the easiest thing in the world to carry, not banned.
It so happens, as I understand it, that the Ryan disaster is the only occasion for which there are records of an automatic rifle being used in a firearm-associated crime. Therefore, there appears to be an illogicality, if I may put it that way, at which we must look in that connection.
There is no mention at all in this Bill of mail order sales, which is one of the most dangerous ways, especially in regard to youngsters, of buying weapons. There is no mention at all, although there is mention of weapons being licensed, of any certification required under this Bill by a general practitioner that the person applying is not suffering from any mental illness which ought to prohibit him from having a licence. I should have thought that if we are thinking of Hungerford, that is one of the matters that should be in this Bill.
The noble Earl referred to the question of consistency. He was right to do so because in another place there was much mention of consistency and the need for it. He talked of the memorandum. I have not seen that and I imagine that your Lordships also have not seen it. However, I believe we should ask for a little more than a requirement of a memorandum. There has to be a code of practice—we have become used to codes of practice in your Lordships' House in regard to so much legislation—and the House has to see the code of practice. It must be approved and must show quite clearly that there is consistency of interpretation of the requirements of the Bill so that that is appreciated throughout the police forces in this country.
There must be consistency —there is not at the moment—in the forms issued by the various police forces for further information which is required. Some are very exacting; some are not. I should have thought that we would like to see consistency in that connection.
The next matter at which we must look which is not in this Bill is the requirement for a national register for missing and stolen weapons. With all the electronic ability that we have to enable us to have such a register, surely that is necessary if we are trying to trace and control possession of illicit weapons.
Perhaps I may come to my very last point, which is one with which the noble Earl dealt by reference to what happened in another place. But he told your Lordships only half the story, not because he wished in any way to hold it back but because he was limited, I am sure, in time. The consultancy committee which 1065 is to be set up is to be established under Clause 20 of the Bill. It was only in the Bill as it came to us from another place because the Government were defeated in regard to the requirements for this committee, which the Government did not want embodied in the Bill.
The Government thereupon, in Clause 20, put forward this limitation upon the consultative committee. It is to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It is to keep under review and make recommendations for the improvement of the working of firearms legislation, and then come these vital words:to make proposals for amending those provisions".But the words that have been inserted are:if requested by the Secretary of State".Therefore, if he does not request any proposals the committee has no right to make them. The clause then continues:to advise on any other matter"—but only on any other matter —which he [the Secretary of State] may refer to the committee".One could not have a more weak and wobbly consultative committee if one tried awfully hard to define it.
This was dealt with by the Minister, with old-world courtesy existing between the Minister and his Back-Bencher. This is what happened; and I finish on this note of gracious courtesy and chivalry. The Minister said, as reported at col. 415 of the proceedings in another place for 25th May:My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, who spoke with great eloquence during the debate, laid down one essential condition—that the committee should be statutory—and we have met it. He made it plain that he had no objections to other significant changes, and I am grateful to him for his constructive approach.I look forward to hearing his comments".The honourable Member, Sir Hector Monro, replied as follows:One would have expected my hon. Friend not to devalue the committee, but to keep its original strength and content. Instead, one finds the truncated and emaciated rubbish that he has put in now".I do not use that language in your Lordships' House.
§ 12.12 p.m.
My Lords, I seek your Lordships' indulgence while I do my very best to keep to the conventions of the House and deliver what I hope very much will be seen as a non-controversial speech on what I know to be an extremely controversial subject.
With that very much in mind, I have to say at the outset that I would wholeheartedly support any proposed legislation by any political party which is designed to assist in curbing the spread of firearms or shotguns and of their illegal or irresponsible use. I have absolutely no difficulty in saying that, having spent almost 23 years of my life as a policeman and having witnessed at first hand the damage, the destruction, the terror and the death caused by the illegal, accidental, irresponsible or criminal use of these weapons.
1066 I am also able to relate from first hand experience what it is like to deal with the armed criminal face to face; and I am also able to tell opponents of firearms legislation that to experience the sensation of having a loaded sawn-off shotgun pointed in your direction, as I have, is somewhat removed from the relatively tranquil atmosphere of the local shooting club.
Critics of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill maintain that the proposed measures have been brought about as a result of government panic or media hysteria following the tragedy at Hungerford. The tragedy at Hungerford served to illustrate all too vividly yet again the problems confronting us as a society and has served only to accelerate that which so many of us so surely believe needs to be done.
If I appear from now on to be addressing my remarks today more towards shotguns than towards firearms it is only because my time is somewhat limited. Therefore, I shall confine my remarks for the most part to Clause 3. Surprising though it may seem, it is a fact that nobody in this country can estimate with any true degree of accuracy just how many shotguns are held legally, let alone illegally. It is also a fact that many shotguns are held by people residing in urban areas who have no apparent justifiable reason for possessing them. These people do not engage in any of the recognised pursuits involving the use of shotguns. As the law stands at present, provided they are not prohibited from possessing a shotgun they may apply for and obtain a shotgun certificate which, having been granted, permits them to possess any number of shotguns. The question has to be asked: what do all these people require these shotguns for?
I do not propose to attempt to answer that question today. I have come to certain conclusions on the subject and I am sure that the conclusions of many of your Lordships correspond with mine. For that reason I am sure that many of us will appreciate the necessity for this Bill and in particular the measures contained in Clause 3. My only reservation in respect of the proposed new subsection (2A) to the principal Act concerns the words "if known" in relation to the identification numbers of shotguns, because most modern shotguns bear their identification numbers both on the barrel and on the stock, and have done so for a number of years. No doubt that is one of the many aspects that will be considered in Committee.
I am sure we will also examine the apparent contradiction in terms, again in Clause 3, between the new subsections (1A)(b) and (1B) in respect of the grant and renewal of shotgun certificates. Subsection (1A)(b) states:No such certificate shall be granted or renewed if the chief officer of police … is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring one".Subsection (1B) states:and an application shall not be refused by virtue of that paragraph"—referring to subsection (1A)(b)—merely because the applicant intends neither to use the gun himself nor to lend it to anyone else to use".If that is the case, why have a shotgun at all?
1067 I know that there are a few exceptions, but in general terms this would appear to be a loophole through which almost anyone wishing to possess shotguns may pass and it appears to undo much of the proposed tightening of this legislation.
Having studied the Bill from cover to cover I can see nothing to support the views expressed by opponents that it curtails shooters' rights in any way which might be construed as unacceptable. Among many others, the Federation of Shooting Sports Clubs has produced a set of guidance notes which overall, in 58 paragraphs, reaches the conclusion that consultation between all interested parties—whatever that may mean—and the Government is the answer to all our current problems. It is my belief that the Government could have consultations with all interested parties from now until the cows come home and still be no nearer agreement with the various shooting factions. In the meantime, the proliferation of shotgun ownership would continue unabated, as no doubt would the use of shotguns and firearms in general.
I am sure that we all have our own theories and have come to our own conclusions as to why there has been a veritable flood of firearms legislation and gun legislation since the mid-1960s. But whatever those conclusions may be, the fact is that the Government are attempting in this Bill to tighten up gun legislation for the benefit of the vast majority of the population, shooters included. To the shooters whose interests I do not believe to be in any way damaged by this Bill, I say this: legislation to tighten up existing firearm and shotgun legislation is required now and not in two, five or 10 years' time. To those who continue to put forward the fact that the use of firearms and shotguns in crime has remained relatively constant over the past few years—in itself this is not in dispute—perhaps I may draw their attention to the warnings used in advertisements for unit trusts and the like. In those advertisements there are always the words: "Past performance is not necessarily a guide to the future".
I know that this Bill crosses all party lines and that there are supporters and opponents of it on all sides of the House. I have seen all too often the horrific aftermath of the illegal, irresponsible and the criminal use of firearms and shotguns. In general terms therefore the Bill has my full support. May I conclude by thanking all noble Lords for the welcome given me in your Lordships' House and for the kind attention afforded me today. Thank you.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, the noble Earl's famous forbear is claimed to have said, in so many words, when putting a telescope to his blind eye, "I see no signal". I know that is not actually what he said. Today we heard the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, speak from the heart as a police officer who served for 23 years and who has faced people with firearms. It is amazing that he managed to make a speech which was non-controversial. It is very easy for us to talk about the prohibition of firearms. Actually to face someone with a loaded firearm takes guts. I hope that there will be further occasions on which the noble Earl gives us the benefit of his advice.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I was hoping that my speech today would follow that of the noble Earl. His was very good. It was fair and non-controversial. Personally, I have never fired a shot in anger. I have fired a .303 at Bisley; I have fired machine guns there. The other day I went to my local licensed gun dealer and handed in my .22 rifle and ammunition, I had no reason to have it. As the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, said, there are people holding firearms today who have no earthly reason to do so.
I live surrounded by what amount probably to millions of acres of Ministry of Defence land where one can shoot. I have never owned a shotgun and I have never wanted to. But it worries me that the Bill confines more and more those people who are law abiding and who take out certificates. They are licensed. If one intends to commit a crime one probably does not use a licensed firearm. As the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, said, no one knows how many unlicensed firearms there are. If one is to commit a crime those are the weapons that will be used.
Like all noble Lords, I have received a vast amount of material from the firearms lobby. I thought that it would probably be like that issued by the National Rifle Association of America which supports all Americans who carry arms. I am dead against that. I read as much as I could and I was struck by the fairness of the arguments put forward. I thought that I would be dead against it, but my conclusion is that we do not have to worry about licensed firearms. I believe that we can forget Hungerford. There was one deranged man who should never have been allowed to become a member of a gun club. It is not the licensed guns that we have to worry about; it is the unlicensed ones.
The other day I bought a Webley .22 air pistol. I placed a milk bottle in my garden 35 feet away, aimed and actually hit it. I shattered the milk bottle with a gun for which I require no licence. One can go from air pistols to air rifles, but probably far worse is the crossbow. Why does anyone in this country want to own a crossbow and for what purpose? Target shooting? No. They may exist but I do not know of any clubs where one has members with crossbows. So why do we allow them to be sold?
Personally, I am against blood sports; so I do not like shooting, anyway. The Bill is very important but it is like the curate's egg —good in parts. I feel that at later stages we shall have to look very carefully at the various clauses to see whether we can tighten them up and improve them. In conclusion, perhaps I may once again congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, on a wonderful speech.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Lord Knights
My Lords, perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, on his maiden speech. Having made mine so recently I know only too well the courage that is required to stand up and speak on what is a very controversial subject. The noble Earl handled that extremely well. He brought to your Lordships' House a feel for the practicalities of armed crime and what it means to the police officer. I am sure that we shall listen with great 1069 pleasure to the further contributions that he will no doubt be making in your Lordships' House.
I should make it clear from the outset that shooting is not one of my recreations. Nevertheless, as a boy I was brought up in rural Lincolnshire where shotguns were to be seen in most houses and barns. I used my father's .410 to shoot rabbits and as a member of the school OTC I was trained to handle and use a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. Later, as a member of the Royal Air Force, I had experience of clay pigeon shooting and I learnt to handle a Browning machine gun. Therefore, I have some practical experience, albeit not recent, of handling firearms. In 1959 I moved to Birmingham and thereafter my experience became much more centred on the criminal use of firearms rather than on the complexities of the night poaching and the ground game Acts.
The watershed for the police probably came in 1966 when three detectives were gunned down on the streets of London in one incident. The subsequent manhunt for one of those involved led many senior police officers to question the ability of the force to confront the armed criminal. At that time all they had was some tear gas together with a few weapons which were generally very old and often had been obtained by way of confiscation from criminals or had been handed in by members of the public. Firearms training was non-existent and reliance was placed on those members of the force who happened to have had military experience, either in the armed forces during the war or as national servicemen. In addition, there were the members of the force's sports and shooting section.
Clearly this was not satisfactory and by 1970 a Home Office working party was recommending a much more professional approach with standard weapons and recognised training. Armed crime, however, was still at a level where it was not regarded as necessary to analyse it in the criminal statistics. That did not come until 1976. What a different picture it is today. Fuelled by the perceived risk of increasing armed crime, the activities of the IRA and international terrorism, every police force now has its stock of modern weapons. The Metropolitan Police alone has 1,600, including 14 sub-machine guns. Regular training is given to anything between 6 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the total police force. Permanently armed officers are to be seen on duty at our major airports, and we learn that in one or two areas weapons are carried routinely in patrol cars.
By 1986 the number of offences recorded by the police in which firearms were reported to have been used had risen from approximately 1,700 in 1971 to 9,363. There are those who would claim that the growth in armed crime is the consequence of the greater arming of the police. There is no evidence, I suggest, that that is the case. Indeed, in 1922 the Metropolitan Police had 400 weapons more than it has today. However, what is beyond doubt is that certainly in the urban areas there is a real fear and apprehension of armed crime which cannot be ignored. This apprehension existed well before the tragic events of Hungerford, Wolverhampton, Bristol or the others. Certainly the police saw a need 1070 long before last year for the greater control of shotguns.
It is against that background that we must examine the Bill and the balance which the Government are seeking to strike between the need to ensure the safety of the general public from the irresponsible or criminal use of firearms and the need to protect the rights and interests of those who use such weapons in pursuance of their work or their sporting and leisure interests, as the 1987 White Paper puts it. It must be recognised too that it is necessary to restore public confidence that the possession of firearms is controlled. The public must also be confident of the effectiveness of the police in reducing crime.
The fundamental questions which we must address are whether as a result of the Bill the community is likely to feel reassured and whether crime involving firearms is likely to be reduced to an extent which at least justifies the increased restrictions on those who seek to use firearms lawfully. As to the first question, as a result of the Hungerford tragedy many people were surprised, if not indeed shocked, to find that self-loading rifles were to be found in the hands of private individuals. They are looking to the Government to prohibit such weapons and they will not feel safeguarded unless they are prohibited. Additionally, they are looking for some action to encourage them that their fear of facing a handgun or a sawn-off shotgun is recognised and that illegal possession and use of such weapons will be made more difficult. The Bill will go a long way to reassure them of this, always provided that there is an accompanying decrease in armed crime. Whether the new provisions will also achieve that is a much more difficult question to answer, principally because we know so little about armed crime save that it exists.
Inevitably the statistics are somewhat unreliable, being based in large part on information supplied by the victims. It is anybody's guess whether the sawn-off shotgun which they allege was used was not in fact two tubes taped together, or whether the pistol was not in fact only an imitation. Statistically, in all categories of crime except robbery it is the most easily obtainable weapon—that is to say, the airgun—which is the most frequently used. In 1986, out of 9,363 armed crimes reported, no fewer than 5,886 were committed with airguns. That is followed by the pistol and then the shotgun. Of those two, the pistol is used more frequently in robbery in the ratio of approximately 2:1. However, in homicides and serious wounding the shotgun is undoubtedly the major weapon. Clearly our major effort must be directed at keeping these two weapons out of the hands of criminals.
It will be said that it is not the lawful holders of these weapons who are the criminals, so why direct one's effort at them. However, it should not be overlooked that, apart from a few which may be smuggled into this country from abroad, all weapons start out by being lawfully held by somebody. Again, unfortunately, we have no good evidence as to how they then eventually get into the hands of the criminal. There is talk of guns being bought easily in Belgium or in the Mediterranean areas and then being smuggled into this country. All we can say is that most of those weapons used in crime turn out to 1071 be old rather than new ones and they are probably made available by other criminals who act as dealers.
Most police officers believe that the weapons come into the possession of those dealers following theft. Indeed there are specific examples of weapons having been stolen in order to commit crime with them. It is a matter of real concern that every year on average 2,616 weapons, including 678 shotguns and 167 pistols—in 1986 alone it was 804 and 177—are reported to the police as stolen. If one takes that over a period of 10 years, a great many weapons have got into the hands at least of thieves. No one knows how many thefts of shotguns go unreported. Very few, if any, of those stolen weapons are recovered. If we can stop the supply by ensuring that only really responsible people are permitted to have them—people who understand the importance of the real security of their weapons and of the ammunition—it should in the long run at least have an effect on armed crime. I therefore particularly welcome the new provisions requiring shotguns to be kept in a secure place when not in use and the revised arrangements for running shooting clubs.
I am not saying that I regard the Bill as being entirely acceptable. I am especially concerned about Clause 16 which permits a visitor to purchase and possess shotguns for export without holding a shotgun certificate. Unlike Section 1 firearms which are required to be delivered by the dealer to the point of export, clearly this provision makes it possible for shotguns to be diverted to criminals before export. I believe that they should be treated in exactly the same way as Part I firearms; that is to say, they should not come into the possession of the purchaser.
Secondly, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I am concerned about the decision not to ban mail-order sales. If the Government are introducing powers to require photographs to be placed on firearm and shotgun certificates, presumably this is for the purposes of the police and dealers so that they will be able better to identify the person who is presenting the certificate. If that is the case, how can it apply in respect of mail orders, where the certificate is sent by post to the dealer? Perhaps the noble Earl can explain what is intended in this respect.
Thirdly, I am concerned about the use of what is known as "armour-piercing ammunition". Further, when ammunition which is not strictly armour-piercing, is fired from high velocity rifles, it is equally capable of piercing the body armour used by the police—which was the case in Hungerford. I am not aware of any legitimate requirement for this ammunition, aside from the armed forces, and I hope that the Minister will look again at the possibility of outlawing ammunition with this capability—despite the apparent difficulty of finding an appropriate definition for it. I understand that the police are required by the Home Office not to obtain this ammunition for their own use, which presumably means that it can be defined reasonably satisfactorily.
Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I believe that further thought should be given to the part which could be played by the family practitioner in the registration and licensing process. At least the Government have promised guidance and I presume 1072 that the Association of Chief Police Officers has also been consulted upon the matter, although the noble Earl did not mention that fact. I hope that this guidance might address the issue. For example, I wonder whether a list of medical conditions could be drawn up which would disqualify the sufferer from possessing a firearm of any description, as is the case with driving licences, where the applicant for a licence has to declare whether or not he suffers from certain prescribed medical conditions which then have to be reported to the licensing authorities by the medical practitioner if they develop after the licence has been issued. In this context, too, I hope that the police will be given the necessary resources to enable them to employ full-time experienced staff in the registration and licensing field, rather than leaving it to whichever officer happens to be available at the time.
In conclusion, our best safeguard against the unlawful use of firearms is the inbuilt, natural unease which this nation has for the casual, open possession and use of such weapons, as one sees in other countries. Indeed, that is why it is still a cultural shock for most people to see an armed police officer. Most people are reluctant to accept that we must naturally go down that road. It is essential that that national reaction should not be weakened by an escalation of violence of any kind. The present situation worries me in that connection. It must be buttressed by sensible up-to-date and well enforced firearms legislation which recognises that the right to carry and use firearms should be granted only to those who have a good reason to possess them and who are clearly fit, trained and responsible enough to handle them properly; and able to secure their security when they are not in use. I believe that the Bill will help to that end and I therefore support it.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of Portsmouth
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for their kind words. I especially enjoyed their remarks about the maritime connection. I feel most fortunate to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech on this Bill. I speak not only as a keen shot but also as one who is aware that the proper control of firearms is in the interests of everyone; that is, the general public and the gun user alike. The timing of the Bill is the result of the Hungerford tragedy. However, leaving that aside for the moment, a new firearms Act is necessary both to take account of the advances in weapons technology since the 1968 Act and to tighten up the existing laws.
One example of the new technology is the development of burstfire weapons which are capable of firing three shots from one pull of the trigger. I do not know of any legitimate civilian use for those weapons. It is logical that they should be transferred to Section 5, along with explosive bullets which are quite unnecessary for game or target shooting.
Loopholes in the 1968 Act have produced ingenious abuses; such as, the conversion of pistols in such a way as to enable them to be legally held on a shotgun certificate. Such conversions will now rightly become offences under the provisions of the Bill. Other sensible provisions include the requirement 1073 that a shotgun certificate must specify the number and description of the shotgun to which it relates; that the certificate must be produced in order to purchase ammunition and that photographs of the holder should be fixed to both firearms and shotgun certificates.
The Bill provides for the setting up of a firearms consultative committee. I see this as a good opportunity for the creation of a forum where the committee can get together with the police firearms experts to draft a code of conduct for the shooter, and also a code for the police to refer to when considering applications for shotgun and firearms certificates.
There is already considerable concern about the differing attitudes of chief constables towards gun ownership. There must be consistency and equality under the law in this regard, as in everything else. I do not think that the Bill, as it stands, adequately addresses the problem.
I should like to see a specific provision for representation from the fields of sport, recreation and competition on the committee, without which I feel it would not be properly constituted. There should also be an imposition on the Secretary of State to consult the committee before introducing any new legislation.
I mentioned the Hungerford incident earlier. It would be impossible to speak on the Bill without referring to it. If course it was right for the Government to respond. Indeed, it is unthinkable that they would not do so. However, the result has been the introduction of a Bill which has been drafted in a highly-charged atmosphere in which misinformation and confusion has ruled.
I remain to be convinced that the transfer of self-loading and pump-action rifles (apart from 22 rim-fire) to Section 5 is an appropriate response. After all, in no fewer than four European countries—namely, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland—military pattern self-loading rifles, together with ammunition, are kept at home by members of their militias and home guards. Indeed, Switzerland actively encourages the integration of civilian marksmanship into the structure of national defence.
I have been unable to obtain any figures about the number of incidents involving legally held self-loading rifles since the Firearms Act 1920. Apparently such figures have not been compiled. Therefore in my opinion there is not sufficient evidence to support taking this drastic step which will not only ruin the sport and enjoyment of thousands of law-abiding people—including many who are disabled and cannot operate a bolt-action rifle—but will also make it most difficult for professional stalkers and gamekeepers to carry out their jobs efficiently. I hope that that aspect of the Bill can be amended somehow.
I welcome the Government's change of heart on self-loading and pump-action shotguns so that those which are capable of firing three shots before reloading may still be held on a shotgun certificate. If, however, the ban on self-loading and pump-action rifles is to remain part of the Bill, the compensation terms for surrendered firearms must be improved so 1074 that their owners will receive the full market value for them on a willing buyer/willing seller basis.
I hope that my speech has not been tendentious and that I have not spent too much time repeating what other noble Lords have said. I trust that where I have expressed myself forcefully I have not tested the tolerance and kindness which your Lordships reserve for maiden speakers. I am sure that the considerable weight of expertise in the House that will be brought to bear on the Bill will turn it into good and practical legislation. It is in that knowledge that I should like to give my support to the Bill.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Lord Swansea
My Lords, it is a very particular pleasure for me, and one that has fallen to my lot only once previously, to congratulate a maiden speaker. I have great pleasure in doing so in this case. My noble friend is a well-known sportsman. He speaks with some experience on the subject and I am sure that as well as that experience he has a measure of ability. I hope that he will be able and willing to give your Lordships the benefit of that ability on some future occasion.
I must first declare my interest as a life-long shooter with an interest in the development of firearms of all kinds and, especially on this occasion, as chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council of which some mention has already been made. It comprises the national governing bodies of practically every branch of the shooting sport whether involved with game shooting, shooting at targets and prey with shotgun, rifle and pistol. It is acknowledged by the Home Office as the mouthpiece for all shooting sports.
It would be easy to say that this is a bad Bill and sit down immediately. Your Lordships might welcome that. However, I think some explanation is called for. The number of speakers today bears witness to the wide degree of interest among your Lordships and outside Parliament. The Government may have been slightly taken aback by the number of speakers, which probably exceeded their expectations.
The whole country was naturally appalled on 19th August last year when we saw and heard the reports on the radio, television and in the newspapers about that terrible disaster at Hungerford—a madman on the loose. There was of course an immediate outcry, which was only to be expected, from the press and the public, but much of it was extremely ill-informed. It was also to be expected that there would be immediate pressure on the Government from many sources to do something about it. I can imagine the figure in Downing Street beckoning one of Her Majesty's Ministers and saying, "Douglas, do something". What the Government have done has not been well received by a great many people, especially in the shooting world.
On 21st August, two days after Hungerford, I wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Home Office on behalf of the BSSC expressing horror at what had happened. I said that I hoped that the Government would treat the case in isolation and would not visit the sins of one madman on the rest of 1075 the shooting community. I also offered consultation if the Government wanted to make up their minds about what they were going to do. The Minister acknowledged the letter but went no further. We heard nothing more for months. Then, on 22nd September, the Home Secretary announced his intentions at Torquay at a meeting of middle-ranking police officers. He said:For some time I have been considering in what ways our firearms legislation should be tightened. The fearful events at Hungerford gave added impetus to this work".He announced his proposals, which were later incorporated in the White Paper and the Bill.
His opening sentence begs the question: in what ways before Hungerford was it thought necessary to tighten the law? Successive Home Secretaries in the past nine years have said that they did not see any necessity for any major change in the law. They have now done an about face. So one may well ask, "Where is the fire? Why all the hurry?"
The Bill has all the hallmarks of panic legislation. I am sure your Lordships will agree that panic legislation, whatever the circumstances and whatever the reason for it, is seldom a success. The Bill has been cobbled together in great haste and without any consultation with shooting interests. It is such a complex, technical subject that one would have thought that the Government would need all the expert advice that they could obtain.
Some of your Lordships may remember what happened in 1973 when the Government produced a Green Paper on the reform of the firearms laws. It was debated in both Houses. It was shown to be thoroughly impractical, undesirable and unnecessary. It was shelved. The Government have now taken that Green Paper out again, blown the dust off it and incorporated its recommendations in the Bill. Much of the Bill is irrelevant to what happened at Hungerford.
Shooting is not a minority interest although it is often regarded as such by the public and the press, because it does not attract much public attention. It is not a spectator sport although your Lordships may remember that television series called "The Golden Shot" which appeared a year or two ago and which I think was popular. Shooting is a purely amateur sport. It attracts no big money prizes and for that reason it does not attract the publicity which it may deserve. It is the second biggest participatory sport in the country, second only to angling. It is wholesome recreation in its various forms for all ages, both sexes and, in many cases, for disabled people. It also inculcates a kind of mental discipline.
On the figures available to me, I estimate that the number of shooters in the United Kingdom taking part in all branches of the sport is somewhere between 3 million and 4 million. That figure includes a large number of people who do not belong to a rifle club or any national governing body. It is a far from negligible section of the population. The point is that they are all law-abiding and responsible members of society. They have to prove themselves as such in order to hold firearms and shotguns. I think it is the only recreation in which those participating have to undergo positive vetting by the police.
1076 Many noble Lords, I am sure, have been brought up on the jingle which begins:Never let your gunPointed be at anyone".That thought is always first and foremost in the minds of responsible shooters. In competitions, certainly the strictest safety precautions are always observed. The Rambo image which has been attached to some forms of shooting is quite unjustified. People who use that term have probably never been on a rifle or pistol range themselves. They do not know what they are talking about.
The history of firearms legislation in this country, which goes back to about 1920, shows that it has not stopped armed crime. It never will stop armed crime because the criminal has no difficulty in obtaining weapons from sources outside the law. He is not concerned with any laws passed by Parliament; he will laugh at them. The only one who suffers from the legislation is the legitimate shooter, who suffers from increasing erosion of the right to practise the recreation of his choice. I think one must agree that in a free society such as the one with which we are blessed in this country, every member ought to have the right to practise the recreation of his choice as long as it is properly regulated. It is generally acknowledged that the present law under the 1968 Act works as well as it could be expected to. There is room for improvement, but a reform such as is envisaged in the Bill is totally wrong and using a much too restrictive means.
The increase in armed crime which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Knights, and others brings out the whole question of whether our penal system acts strongly enough and whether the courts make the fullest use of the powers which they already have. I think that there is an undeniable statistical connection between the increase in the incidence of armed crime and the abolition of capital punishment, but that is another question to which noble Lords may address themselves at some future time.
The attitude of the Government, of successive governments, reminds me of a mother saying to one of her children, "Go out to the garden and see what young Willie is doing and tell him to stop it!" All legislation which comes before Parliament is drafted for a purpose, but what does this Bill seek to achieve? Have the Government really demonstrated the need for it? The Bill is an increased erosion of the freedom of the individual. Although the present legislation has been shown to be quite adequate, there is room for improvement, given good will and consultation on both sides. The Home Secretary has said that no law can guarantee against criminal behaviour. He said so in the debate on the White Paper on 2nd December, and he also said in the debate on 26th October that the law cannot cater for the madman. Its only purpose is as a sop to public opinion. The old expression vox populi which comes to mind in this connection is sometimes a not very reliable indication.
The shooting community are sick and tired of being treated as scapegoats for the actions of criminals and madmen. They strongly resent being treated as potential criminals or potential lunatics. If 1077 the present law had been properly applied, the disaster of Hungerford would not have happened. Even if this Bill had been before Parliament this time last year it would not have prevented Ryan going mad and killing a number of people by whatever means he could.
Not enough attention has been paid to the role in this incident of the Thames Valley police. The chief constable's report and the debate in another place on Second Reading cast grave doubts on whether that force did its job properly in granting Ryan his firearms certificate in a very short space of time, as well as in its reaction on the day.
Noble Lords perhaps may not realise that there is a considerable amount of co-operation between the national governing bodies of rifle clubs and the police. If a club acquires a new member who is not known to it, its usual practice is to make him a provisional or temporary member. Only after a period of time when he has established his bona fides to its satisfaction will the club support his application to the police for a grant of a firearms certificate. That was not done in this case and it is quite clear that Ryan was only a provisional member of the club because his membership card was so stamped. Many of us would very much like to know how that got past the police. It is surprising that no official inquiry has been instituted into the role played by the police. That has been swept under the carpet and the legitimate shooter has to carry the can.
The Government's intentions were announced on 22nd September without any consultation of any sort with shooting interests. Of course we had many meetings after that with Ministers and officials, but the Government's attitude was that some of the proposals were what they called pillars of policy. Their whole attitude could be summed up as, "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts". The Government have refused to face up to the realities and the technicalities of shooting and have had a closed mind throughout. They should have been prepared, as this subject is so technical, to take the benefit of the best advice they could get.
The use of self-loading rifles is not fully understood, but they have been used with complete safety for over 40 years. The incident at Hungerford was the first and only incident so far in which a rifle of that category has been used in crime. But if, for example, Ryan had run amok with a kitchen knife, what would the Government do? Ban all kitchen knives? If he had been driving, say, a Ferrari and had run into a bus queue, would the Government ban all Ferraris or any cars capable of travelling at over 70 miles an hour?
The safety record of practical shooters is 100 per cent. They enforce high standards of discipline in their competitions. If this Bill goes through in its present form, they will be prevented altogether from taking part in international competitions in which up until now they have competed with great honour and considerable success. They will be regarded in future with some derision, rather in the same way as "Eddie the Eagle", and they will become a laughing stock in shooting circles.
1078 The Government have made great play of the lethal effects of self-loading rifles and in particular they have had what amounts to an obsession about magazine capacity. They have persuaded themselves that a rifle with a magazine capacity of, say, 20 rounds is more lethal than one with a magazine capacity of four or five rounds. That is ridiculous. A weapon is either lethal or it is not. There are no degrees of lethality. When my noble friend comes to reply, perhaps he will give us an example of a weapon which is only slightly lethal.
When the Bill was first published, no compensation clause was included. The matter was one of straight confiscation without compensation. Understandably, there was such a row about that in another place during Second Reading and at the beginning of the Committee stage that the Government were forced to do something about the matter. They therefore added the compensation clause. However, that is still completely inadequate. It shows a meanness on the part of the Government which is beyond belief. Such rifles can cost up to £1,000 or even £1,500 off the shelf. A few days ago at Bisley I saw an example of a rifle which was custom-made for its owner, who said that it had cost approximately £4,000.
The noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Knights, mentioned the question of mail order weapons. A great deal of nonsense has been talked on that subject. That method of transaction is subject to exactly the same conditions as any other transaction with firearms. The vendor must be a licensed dealer and the purchaser must be entitled, under a firearms certificate, to purchase a weapon of the kind that he wants from that dealer, whether by post or over the counter. There is no difference between the methods of transaction.
As regards the expert consultative committee, shooting interests were pressing for that long before this Bill was drafted and also before the Hungerford massacre. We view that as essential for the proper administration of the law. Against the wishes of the Government, the provision was accepted by the Standing Committee in another place. On Report the Government drew the teeth of the provision. In its present form it is much less effective. We should like to restore it to something like its previous form. Such a committee could provide the Government with expert advice which is not fully available to them at present. It could take account of technological developments while the law, as we have seen in the case of the best of our weapons, is overtaken by technical developments. It could also assist in the drafting of a code of conduct as regards security, and help to achieve greater uniformity in the administration of the law between one police force and another.
I should like to ask my noble friend, when he comes to reply, to take note of the fact that there are a number of police forces which are jumping the gun and anticipating the law coming into effect as is envisaged in the Bill. I hope that he will impress on them that they are still bound to apply the law as it stands under the 1968 Act.
I thank the Home Office for laying on a demonstration at the Metropolitan Police 1079 laboratories last Tuesday. It was very interesting. However, not all of it was relevant to the Bill. That was especially true of the part of the demonstration that involved the firing of fully automatic weapons, which, as the Government know, are prohibited under present law. It was a demonstration of a volume of unaimed fire which had no connection with the legitimate use of such weapons by private shooters. Above all, it reminded me of the fat boy in Pickwick Papers who said to an elderly lady:I want to make your flesh creep".I hope that the Government will reflect on the debate and on what has been said in the press. There are many other points which I should like to mention. However, I believe that other noble Lords who speak in the debate may deal with many of them. Perhaps I may mention one comment which was made in the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday of this week in a leading article dealing with reform of the drinking laws. That stated.It is easy enough to make instant law, like the ill-drafted legislation curbing the use of some weapons after the Hungerford massacre, and then discover that the freedoms of the law-abiding majority have been violated to get at an errant minority".That is a message which I should like to leave with your Lordships. I hope that the Government will note what has been said this afternoon and will make an effort to improve the Bill to make it easier for the police to administer. Otherwise, it will impose an intolerable burden on them which will inevitably result in an increase in the fees charged for certificates. I hope that the Government will attempt to put the Bill into a form which will be easier to administer and easier for the legitimate shooter to live with. They have not adequately demonstrated the necessity for the Bill and they must approach the matter with an open mind and show that they are prepared to listen to reasoned argument. I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, before I begin, I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I must leave the House at four o'clock to catch an aeroplane and it is conceivable that I shall not be able to hear the whole of his winding-up speech.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in the much more elegant phraseology which he is wont to employ, the Bill in front of us has been hastily cooked up in the aftermath of the Hungerford massacre. That does not mean that it is all bad. However, unless we are careful, it may deprive many innocent and law-abiding shooters of their sport without having any effect on the illicit owners of firearms.
I shall turn to various points in the Bill which give me cause for concern. Clause 3(1A)(b) relates to grant and renewal of shotgun certificates. It states:No such certificate shall be granted or renewed if the chief officer of police … is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring one".I am glad to hear of the memorandum which is to be given to chief officers of police as a guide as to how that is to be interpreted. However, I am worried about the contents of the memorandum. Perhaps it will be possible for those of us who are interested to see the draft memorandum.
1080 I am concerned lest the situation which already obtains in a considerable number of police authorities regarding firearms certificates should be extended to shotgun certificates—that is, when one applies for a firearms certificate, one is asked to state where one will be using the firearm. If one is the owner of a stalking estate, one does not have any problem. One says that it will be used on the estate and that ends the matter. However, if one does not own an estate, one has a problem. If you do not own an estate you have a problem because you cannot say where you are going to stalk or shoot until you have been invited. Nor can you know two or three years in advance where you will be able to rent shooting or stalking.
That brings me to the question of the estate rifle. Mainly because of the difficulty of obtaining a firearm certificate, which I have mentioned, many stalking guests and tenants do not own a rifle of their own, so it is common practice that they use the estate rifle. If they did not, life would be very difficult indeed both for them and for the estate. However, under existing legislation it is illegal to lend a rifle to anyone over the age of 18. The police turn a blind eye, partly because they really cannot spend their days in the stalking season on the top of mountains checking up on what is happening. Perhaps the Bill would provide an opportunity to regularise that position.
To return to the question of shotguns, I should be very sorry to see a situation in which the same difficulty could apply to applications for shotgun certificates. Few, if any, estates are in a position to lend guns to everyone who comes to shoot grouse or pheasants; nor would it be satisfactory if they were since a gun has to suit and fit the individual.
There appears to be no right of appeal against a refusal of a licence or certificate. Perhaps the noble Earl could comment on that. I wonder whether the advisory committee—that committee which must not speak unless it is spoken to, like a well behaved child—could possibly act as an appeal committee.
Speaking more generally, I am concerned at the considerable extra expense to which shooters will be put by the increased cost of a shotgun certificate and by the probable requirement that their gun be kept in an approved steel cabinet, the price of which I understand is upwards of £90. Shooting is not just a rich man's sport. My own shooting tenants are a syndicate of local tradesmen, fishermen and so forth to whom the additional outlay will not be peanuts. Perhaps I should declare an interest here because they are very good tenants and I do not want to lose them. Would it not be acceptable to keep a shotgun in a cupboard, chained and padlocked to the wall, with the fore-end removed?
For the additional reason of the enormous extra burden that the new licensing requirements will put on the police, might it not also be possible for firearm and shotgun certificates to be renewable every five years instead of every three years? I think that that would reduce the burden on the police and it would also reduce the financial burden on the shooter.
I am also concerned about visitors' permits under Clause 15, particularly as it affects Scotland where foreign shooting and stalking tenants make a vital 1081 contribution to the local economy in rural districts. I think that we should be very chary of complicating the procedures they have to go through, particularly in view of the fact that their activities are scarcely likely to contribute to the incidence of armed crime. It might be profitable, if it has not been done, to consider the regulations in other EC countries. While some, such as those in Spain, are very stringent, those in others are very simple. To shoot pig in Germany all you need is to be sent a game licence for the relevant clays by your host, and your own firearm certificate. I think that whole area needs further consideration.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has mentioned crossbows, and I know that the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, will be speaking about them, so I shall not elaborate on that subject save to say that I am in entire agreement with the noble Earls and that I hope the Government will prohibit the ownership of those horrible weapons.
Finally, I want to say a word about the question of firearms of historical interest and in museums. The case for an age exemption was recognised at Committee stage in another place. Standing Committee F amended Clause 1(2)(ab)—relating to self-loading and pump-action rifles—to exclude any such rifle which was manufactured before 1st January 1939. However, that age exemption was deleted by the government amendment at Report stage. Though the cut-off date for exemption is open to argument I think that we should be told why the Government have apparently rejected the principle of an age exemption and why they feel it necessary to prohibit any traditional pump-action rifle.
Regarding weapons held by museums and the schedule to the Bill, during the Committee discussion in another place on 25th February, at col. 232 of Hansard, the Under-Secretary of State gave an undertaking that when the Bill was on Report an amendment would be introduced to the schedule. The amendment would make plain that the Secretary of State's power to impose conditions requiring a gun to be deactivated,does not extend to a power to require the deactivation or physical alteration of a firearm held by one of the museums".The amendments put forward by the Home Secretary on Report, although going some way to meet this point, could lead to some ambiguity. Due to the guillotine procedure, no debate or response from the Minister was possible. It would be helpful if the noble Earl could confirm to the House that the statement made concerning deactivation or alteration of firearms held by museums defines the Government's intentions.
Lastly, I wonder what is the situation about collections of firearms in private houses which are open to the public. They do not seem to be covered in any way in the schedule.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Ferrers for the detailed and fair way in which he presented the Bill. I think that he was honest in what he said. He stressed, I think quite rightly, that this is a matter of balance.
1082 This is very much a curate's egg type of Bill. The trouble with the curate's egg was that parts of it were bad. I do not think that I need remind Members of this House, and particularly my noble friend Lord Arran—who is just leaving, I hope not for that reason—of the effects of eating bad eggs because I understand that that was what led to the recent salmonella outbreak in your Lordships' House. I hope to take the salmonella virus out of the Bill, to improve it, and make sure that it ends up as a good egg at the end of the day and not as a curate's egg.
My noble friend Lord Swansea quoted the number of people who shoot for sport. I have no means of knowing whether his figures are right or wrong. I am quite sure that they are right. But I know that in my own county of North Yorkshire alone there are 24,500 shotgun certificate holders and 6,220 firearm certificate holders. All of them will be adversely affected by the Bill as a result of greater costs and more administration.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nelson on his very moving maiden speech. I think that anyone who has been confronted by a sawn-off shotgun which is pointed at their stomach is perfectly justified in feeling as he does. However, I cannot believe that all members of the police force will be delighted by the enormous amount of extra work, administration and cost that will fall on them as a result of the Bill.
As we have heard from many speakers, even after all that extra cost, extra work and inconvenience to both the police and members of the legitimate shooting public, it is doubtful whether the objects of the Bill will be achieved. I was very impressed by the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, concerning the increase in crime since 1954, especially when one considers that during that period the Firearms Act 1968 was passed. That was the first time that anyone was required to have a firearm certificate. Despite the passing of that Act, which was intended to cope with the very problems which we are now trying to cope with again, there is little evidence that this kind of legislation works. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was quite right when he said that we had a duty to warn the public about this situation.
It seems to me that there are five major ways in which this Bill could be improved or in other words have the badness taken out of the egg. It could be improved by amendments to which I shall refer briefly today. There are also many minor amendments which I look forward to discussing during the Committee stage of the Bill.
I shall be very brief because I am fully aware of the time. The first of my five major points is the matter of the consultative committee about which many noble Lords have already spoken. I am quite certain that its powers and membership need to be strengthened. Despite the undertaking given by my noble friend in his opening speech, I should like to have it written on the face of the Bill that one of the members must have knowledge and experience of sport, recreation and competition. I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Portsmouth, whose maiden speech I enjoyed enormously, for mentioning that matter.
1083 Secondly, I should like to see some change in the use of self-loading rifles, in particular in so far as it concerns disabled sportsmen and sportwomen —because I imagine that there are disabled sportswomen who practise this sport —so that they can take part in what is a perfectly justified sport. They cannot use bolt-action rifles because of the effect of the recoil. I think that disabled people should be allowed to continue with what up to now has been for them a perfectly legitimate and enjoyable sport.
Thirdly, I am worried about compensation for the Government's buy-back scheme which at the end of the day must be seen to be both fair and realistic.
Fourthly, I am grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for mentioning a matter about which I also am very worried; namely, foreign visitors. Surely we should be encouraging foreign visitors to come to this country both to compete in target shooting and to shoot for sport. There seem to be numerous little discouragements in this Bill in respect of where they can and cannot shoot. I think that we should do everything to encourage them. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, these visitors are a source of enormous income especially in the upland areas. Obviously they not only directly pay for their shooting, tip the keepers and pay for their accommodation but very often their wives —and in some cases ladies who quite obviously are not their wives—do not like to go out shooting with their menfolk so they go off to spend money in the local market town or village and are a considerable source of income for the area. Therefore I should certainly like to see this part of the legislation amended to make it easier for them to come and spend their money and enjoy themselves in this country.
My last point, which was also mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, concerns the estate rifle. She has put the case for it extremely well. I feel that something should be written into the Bill in order to allow that to happen.
Of one thing I am certain: it is not right for this House to criticise the way in which this or any other Bill is handled in the other place. At the same time it seems to me that, vice versa, there is no reason for the other place to criticise or complain about the way in which we handle legislation in this Chamber. I believe that if ever there were a Bill that needed revising and there were a case for the revising Chamber to give it long, hard and detailed scrutiny, then this is the Bill. I can promise my noble friend on the Front Bench a very interesting and exciting time during the passage of this Bill through this House.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, we have heard some fairly extreme views expressed already by noble Lords. I should like to take the middle line and give the Bill a guarded welcome. I certainly appreciate the need for such a Bill but, as my noble friend mentioned in his opening remarks, we must try to achieve a balance between the protection of the general public and the legitimate firearms' user. However, it is certain that the Bill as drafted at present is a lot better than it was when it first started out. I hope that noble Lords can make it an even better Bill along the lines that my noble friend Lord Swinton has just proposed. Apart 1084 from the obvious need to take the more potentially lethal or specialist weapons into the Section 5 category, it seems to me highly sensible—and I say this as a regular shotgun user—to tighten up the system on shotgun control. It was far too lax to have in existence a system in which virtually anybody could acquire a shotgun certificate and consequently buy such a weapon without justifying the use and reason for ownership. Noble Lords have also mentioned the desire to try to quantify the number of shotguns in existence and that must surely be a step in the right direction.
There are many parts of the Bill which I support but there are also a number of passages which give me considerable concern. I do not propose to go into too much detail about them at this stage. The main point that I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention is that no matter how much legislation is introduced to try to control the illegal use of firearms, unless each police authority has officers who are qualified to deal in such matters the law will not be effective.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, quite rightly made the point that we must look after the interests of the police when dealing with any form of legislation, but on this matter I believe that the police have a duty to look after themselves. Whether they are dealing with rifles, shotguns, pistols or any other form of weapon, the police must have the technical knowledge to deal with each type and know exactly what are its capabilities and for what it is generally used. It also seems to me to be vital that the officers concerned should be aware of the weapons that are required for the various sports and activities in which the applicant will be participating. In order to achieve that I believe that a prerequisite of any effective legislation must be that the memorandum of guidance—if that is the correct term for it—sent to the chief officers of police from the Home Office must include a requirement for the presence of such qualified officers. My information is that at the moment quite clearly that is not the case. Furthermore, such guidance from the Home Office must be precise in order to avoid inconsistencies between the various police forces when dealing with the issue and renewal of certificates.
I welcome the reference made by my noble friend to the fact that there is likely to be a new memorandum and that it is to be made public. However, it is certain that if this fails to be done effectively it is bound to lead to confusion and inequality in the way in which applications are dealt with by the police. That can only drive a wedge between the legitimate shooting public and the police force which everyone I am sure would agree would be a total tragedy.
I should also like to suggest that in order that the police can comprehend more fully the use of firearms with regard to the various sports, it would help considerably if they could liaise more closely with those organisations which have the real expertise in these matters. I refer in particular to the National Rifle Association, the British Deer Society, the British Field Sports Society and indeed the Army, who can give more advice than anybody on the technical use of weaponry.
1085 Much reference has already been made to the Firearms Consultative Committee, which I welcome as I believe other noble Lords have welcomed it. However, I agree most strongly with those who have expressed the view that it must have more teeth. Furthermore, I should like to see it written into the Bill that on that committee there should be experts who are qualified to talk about shooting and competition shooting. There seems to me to be little point in having an expert on technical weaponry if there is no one to appreciate how those weapons are to be used and in what circumstances.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Swinton mentioned a visitor's permit. I do not want to add very much to what they said other than to say that I appreciate their views. As the Bill stands at the moment I fear that there will be a lack of flexibility in this matter. What concerns me is this. Let us suppose that a group of people come to this country for bird or competition shooting and at the last minute—by which I mean only two or three days' notice—someone drops out and is replaced by someone else. Will the system as envisaged in the Bill give the flexibility to allow for a change in personnel under those circumstances? I should like to ask my noble friend to give that question some thought.
Finally, and again I believe that this point has already been mentioned by several noble Lords, there is the question of compensation. In my view it is simply not enough. I accept in his opening remarks my noble friend mentioned that the Government figures included the retailers' mark-up, but I honestly do not believe that this will be enough to satisfy those people who in good faith will be handing their weapons in. Perhaps I may quote some specific weapons. The Browning 308 Match has a second-hand value of£500. I believe that there are quite a number of these in existence. The Colt AR15—very much favoured by the practical rifle shooter—has a secondhand value of £300 to £400. Under the present legislation, there will not be proper compensation for guns of that value. I wonder what will happen to them. Will they end up on the black market? I believe that there is a real danger that that will happen.
Finally, on that same question, there are those who have bought pump action guns since 22nd September 1987 in good faith on the understanding that they would not be prohibited under this new Act. Since this situation has now been reversed, they are likely to have a pretty raw deal.
I accept that the Government have to be seen to be doing something positive after the tragedy of Hungerford and the various other incidents that have been cited by noble Lords, and that they are bound to take heed of the pressures from police for tighter controls on the use of firearms. But legislation must be seen to be effective and fair from the point of view of the legitimate firearms users. In order to achieve these objectives, I feel that there is still a considerable amount of work to do on this Bill.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, this Bill has triggered off much public concern about firearms. The more I look at the present position of the regulations on their use, 1086 the more I wonder whether this Bill will achieve its real purpose of determining the unauthorised user. I realise that it cannot; but if it passes in its present form, it will erode still further the rights of responsible individuals, apart from complicating the function of the police and making business more difficult for companies competing in the international firearms market.
It is a patchy piece of legislation. It exposes all the cracks in the Firearms Act 1968. The time has come for a new Act based on new practices and developments in firearms, taking into account the way we live, work and trade. The road to 1992 to Europe is now being paved; and this must be reflected in our legislation. However, we are faced with this Bill and are I believe in control. There is no other Bill; and although I am sure that we can improve it, I still think that we are missing an opportunity to introduce measures which reflect the big steps forward which are now being taken in firearms technology.
I am a shotgun owner—licensed, of course. I was a gunnery specialist in the Royal Navy. I am a council member of the Defence Manufacturers' Association, representing this House in competing for the Vizianagram Trophy at Bisley. I suppose I can therefore also claim to be a marksman. While marksmanship has been relatively unaffected by the march of technology—and it appears that the Government would like to keep it that way—firearms technology has leapt forward and we need new ground rules for it.
To illustrate what I am saying, the close assault weapons now on the world markets are very light, with a very high rate of fire, very short barrelled, and often smooth-bore weapons, using smart ammunition and sighting devices. The Irish Defence Force did not buy the SA80 rifle. They bought the Steyr Masnnlicher 5.56 mm army universal gun, with a standard barrel length of 20 inches—which in Clause 6 of the Bill is now a prohibited length. The Pilkington night-sight is now used on the SA80, turning night into day, but it is not a prohibited accessory. A laser-fitted SA80 is now used by the British Army for training. It is a direct energy discharge device but it is not prohibited. Yet the stun gun discharges a noxious thing, contrary to Section 5(1)(b) of the 1968 Act. Is it an electromagnetic gun, as being developed for star wars, or is it not? It uses only plain old electricity from a small torch battery, but it produces an electromagnetic effect.
Heckler and Koch in conjunction with Olins in the States have produced an ambidextrous semiautomatic shotgun with a 10-round magazine firing 240 rounds per minute with a 19½mm cartridge. Left-handers, I suppose, will love it. But it is prohibited.
We have reached a position where companies are not required to apply for firearms dealership for selling powerful accessories such as night sights; but, if they wish to, they have to apply because of the mounting clip, which is a component part of a lethal barrelled weapon. As flash limiters and silencers are the only recognised accessory under the Act, the advanced accessory makers are penalised by having to observe regulations which have no relevance to public safety and peace.
1087 The English Electric Valve Company at Chelmsford has no weapons on site so far as I know, and is the leading designer of image intensifiers, and, in order to ensure that it meets the purpose for which it is designed—that is the image intensifier the company must be registered as a firearms dealer and have a firearms certificate for the mounting clip. The Essex Constabulary under the 1968 Act judged the company from the standpoint of public safety and peace. But under Clause 12 of this Bill, they will be required to judge whether they engage in business as a firearms dealer to a substantial extent, or as an essential part of another trade, business or profession. How will they do it? Perhaps they will look at the company report, or perhaps they might even call in auditors. If the applicant is foreign-owned or controlled, they will have some difficulty about doing this and foreign dealers are not identified in the Home Office statistical bulletin. I have seen the bulletin for the register of firearms dealers for 1985 and 1986, but apparently the figures for 1987 are not available. I wonder how many more registered firearms dealers there now are.
Assessing the business is a new role for the police and it would be scandalous if the English Electric Valve Company was refused a dealership. They are big and can look after themselves. But what about small firms trying to make a track record for themselves? The police have wide powers of discretion in this matter and could refuse application.
I have been able to read some of the early draft guidance notes for the police for registering applicants. But even in February 1988 there is no guidance on how to assess the applicants' business, the criteria still being risks to public safety and peace. They have wide powers of discretion. They are required to assess as well an applicant's knowledge and experience, yet no professional qualifications are needed for firearms' dealerships.
The question of registration at exhibitions needs attention. How many exhibitors have had to pay fees to the Surrey Constabulary to exhibit at the British Army Equipment Exhibition which is taking place next week, where items such as night sights, and firearms, will be exhibited?
The danger is that the police could frustrate the legitimate firearms business because they could not judge the technology connections. It is important to resolve the uncertainties because the new subsection in Clause 12 is capable of misinterpretation. Either the subsection should be better defined or much more explicit guidance must be given to the police. I would ask my noble friend whether he will be prepared to consider suitable amendments and whether he can assure the House that the guidance to the police in their new role of assessing the extent of the business will cover the issues that I have raised. I am glad that he will be able to make a copy available to the House at Committee stage. That will be very helpful.
The police are constrained by the bad definition of "firearm" in the 1968 Act. Also, the words "competent parts", I believe, need redefining to differentiate between those parts which are incidental to the design, such as gunmetal screws, and those which are crucial to performance, such as control 1088 mechanisms, trigger mechanisms and that sort of thing.
I am concerned too about the way Clause 16 will work in relation to the proposed EC directive No. 8356/1987 on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. By our definition a firearm is a lethal barrel weapon; by EC definition a weapon is any firearm, sidearm or mace. In Eurospeak the Mace on the Woolsack is a weapon. We have perhaps some evidence to show that the Mace in the other place might well fall into that category. But your Lordships are very much more restrained and here it merits a less aggressive definition. I am sure the Yeoman Usher today did not realise that he was carrying a weapon. I am happy that he is a responsible person and that we can see him undertake that task responsibly. I hope therefore that my noble friend can give an assurance that Clause 16 takes into account the EC directive, as 1992 is creeping up on us very quickly.
I should like to mention one other matter about the consultative committee. The Defence Manufacturers' Association has 25 members who are registered firearms' dealers. There is much expert opinion in that quarter. I hope that my noble friend will be able to consider represenatations from the association when the consultative committee is set up.
We are taking the line of least resistance with the Bill. Technology has advanced so much and we should be enabling individuals to benefit. We should not always take the easy way out and go for a ban. The stun gun has arrived. Laser simulators and laser ignition are here. Night can be turned into day. We have lightweight materials with the quality of steel; we have rapid fire ambidextrous weapons. But a licence is still needed for a gunmetal component part which has no reference to the performance of a weapon.
I do not believe that this is an ideal Bill. I hope that my noble friend can give assurances that firearms dealers—who are plainly not all just gunsmiths any more—will not be penalised by lack of proper definition and by the discretionary powers of the police who now have to judge a business in addition to dealing with security. Weapons are only dangerous when one forgets that they are designed with safety in mind.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I should first like to say that due to the late stage at which Northern Ireland was brought into the Bill no consultation took place with the RUC and Northern Ireland shooting organisations during the drafting stage. That was a most unfortunate omission when one realises that we in Northern Ireland have by far the greatest experience of strict gun controls.
I should like to mention some of the provisions contained in the Bill from a practical point of view as I see them. I shoot in Northern Ireland and Great Britain; I also run a tourist business for foreign clients and I am one of the gillies or stalkers.
The proposed numbering and identifying of every shotgun held on a person's certificate seems to be 1089 causing a great deal of alarm. I feel that to a great extent this is undue concern. In Northern Ireland this system has worked very well since, I believe, 1926. It cannot he unreasonable for the police to know who holds individual shotguns and where they are situated. It is believed that a large number of stolen shotguns are not reported as such. Quite clearly if found, reported or not, or having been used in a criminal act, there can be no trace of their origin—or at the very least it will take a long time to ascertain it—without a national register of shotguns. I support that idea.
However, it now appears that the likelihood of all shotguns being declared is slim. At least that is what the press in general and the shooting press in particular seem to think. I feel that the reason is this: if an amendment for the registration of shotguns had been introduced on its own the owners would not have been worried. However, the Bill contains so many other seemingly undesirable restrictions, seen as panic measures, that individual shotgun owners fear some further action at a later date to reduce the number of shotguns held. Let us remember that without going through a troublesome appeal it is basically up to chief constables of varying knowledge and characters and with little time to spare to grant certificates or not to do so. I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Ferrers what action police forces can be expected to take if many shotguns are not registered and what would be the consequences?
I now come to the problem of semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, other than 22 rim fire. The Government seem to be treating this issue in black and white terms. However there has to be a considerable grey area where there is room for compromise. We have heard many reasons for leaving the situation as it is. But there is and must be room for an in-between position.
I take semi-automatic shotguns first. I personally should back a ban on these weapons being used for game shooting except by invalids or such-like groups incapable of using side-by-side or over-and-under shotguns. Landowners and gamekeepers could also be licensed to use them on vermin or pests. In the clay pigeon world, women and invalids especially find them easier to use.
There should be a compromise on semi-automatic rifles. Deer shooters are among the most careful and trustworthy group of enthusiasts. Why not allow semi-automatic rifles to be purchased for this sport or at least permit people already holding them to continue to do so? They are not very popular anyway. And there are not many of them. These weapons, again, are particularly suitable for women and invalids.
Semi-automatic rifles are popular for target shooting. Indeed, in the relatively new international sport of practical shooting they are essential. I believe that it may one day become an Olympic sport. It is a growing sport and apparently there are already 150 or more clubs. The semi-automatic weapons required for target shooting could quite easily be kept in military armouries when not in use. Of course it will cost a small amount of money, but we all have to pay for our sport to a greater or lesser extent. The amount could not compare with the cost of a string of polo ponies or skis and ski-ing holidays. It would not be very much.
1090 Can the Government not introduce selective licensing of semi-automatic shotguns and rifles as I suggest? It would entail little or no extra cost and effort on the part of our police forces. I believe that the Government have missed the opportunity to bring in a couple of useful and important measures. The first is an additional measure concerning visitors. At present a visitor to Great Britain can apply for a visitor's permit to use a shotgun or a rifle, even though he may not hold a similar permit in his country of origin or in any other country for that matter. I believe that from a safety and animal welfare point of view that is wrong. He may be totally unpractised in weapon handling and safety; he is often likely to be an inaccurate shot especially when, as the Germans say, he gets "the hunting fever" or becomes over excited. It believe that those who are not practised in a similar sport with a similar weapon should not be permitted to make their beginners' mistakes in our country. We are not a testing ground for foreigners. The question was put to me, "What about our novices and young people?" There is no problem about that. The practice time on targets or clay pigeons can be for as long as one likes. But a visitor does not have such a long time to become a safe or accurate weapon handler.
The Bill would also provide an excellent opportunity to introduce a measure concerning insurance for firearm accidents. Although many people have third-party insurance covering the use of guns I believe that there are many more who do not. Could we not take one leaf out of the Germans' book? In Germany, when one pays for one's certificate or permit, the fee automatically gives one a large personal insurance. I believe that that would be a most welcome move were it introduced here. It must be done centrally for the sake of simplicity and to ensure that there is no way round it. That is the minimum protection from shooters in this country required by those who do not shoot.
In conclusion I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government look at the Bill again and ultimately produce a Bill that may be more workable. I know that law-abiding sportsmen will support it and help it to function.
§ 2.2 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I have only one reason for speaking in this debate. It is what one might call a constituency reason in that I am Lord Hungerford. I was on a holiday on my boat when the terrible tragedy occurred and at first I could not believe it. Why should such a terrible thing happen in Hungerford? We know of the many terrible incidents which happen in inner cities. We are told, usually by the Opposition, that they are due to high unemployment, bad housing, terrible surroundings and the lack of honest things to do to pass one's time. None of that is true in Hungerford which is a sweet little town. It is surrounded by beautiful public parklands. It has a charming High Street which leads down the hill to the River Kennet with excellent fishing. The Kennet and Avon Canal has been refurbished and now has good boating. All the sports and so forth that one might expect to find in the countryside are available in and around Hungerford. 1091 Why should such a thing happen in Hungerford? If it can happen in Hungerford what can happen elsewhere?
I should like to quote a passage from Chaucer; it is one which many noble Lords may know. It is:If golde rust what shall yrone do?If the gold begins to rust what kind of rusting will be happening to the iron? If such things can happen in Hungerford what can happen in our inner cities where things are so much worse? I am horrified by what I see as the possibility of the rising use of firearms about which we have heard a great deal.
I listened to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and I largely agree with what he said. I shall listen carefully during the Committee stage because I believe not only that the Bill should be made stronger but that it should be made stronger in a number of other directions which have not yet been incorporated. I do not wish to speak for long as against noble Lords with great gun interests.
I have had guns and fired them; I have had guns fired at me; I have been hit. However, I shall not now shoot because I cannot bear the idea of looking at the creatures that I have killed. I am a carnivore; I will shoot for the pot. I am an omnivore and as a science fiction writer I know that the omnivore will rule the universe for the simple reason that he will eat everything. Therefore I cannot be said to be a pacifist; I shall shoot to defend myself, my wife and my country. However, I cannot see why we need such a high level of guns as we have in this country. Indeed, there are guns which no one should have and there are certain people who should never have any gun. Surely the legislation must move towards following those two lines.
I thoroughly support the purposes of the Bill and I shall thoroughly support any amendment which goes in either of those two directions.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, I find it a little difficult to follow the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, because I cannot agree with a great deal of what he has said. I believe that the Bill is basically unnecessary because, by and large, it will not achieve what it has set out to achieve. Nevertheless, it may well be the better of two evils. if it is possible to obtain some such reasonable and acceptable legislation it should prevent possibly more prohibitive and draconian measures from being imposed upon the legitimate and law-abiding gun user by the extremists who wish to ban the use of guns altogether.
The White Paper which preceded the Bill indicated two essential themes. The first was to protect the interests of those who use firearms. The second was to ensure the safety of the general public from the criminal use of firearms. Whatever the rights and interests of those who previously used such weapons no one can honestly suggest that, after the enactment of the Bill as it stands, they will be anything but worse off. Nor, in my view, does the Bill do anything to ensure the safety of the general public from the irresponsible and the criminal.
1092 Much has already been said about the problems in preventing the kind of awful incident which happened in Hungerford. Much has already been said to support the view that the Bill will not prevent the criminal use of firearms. Although I could say a great deal more to support that view I believe that to do so would waste your Lordships' time. There is also some justification for commenting on our national behaviour or (should I say?) lack of national behaviour and the right punishment for the right crime; that is to say capital punishment or corporal punishment. However, again I suggest that this is probably not the right time to discuss that.
I believe that this legislation is of little use. I think it was conceived by hysteria and out of haste and has only become politically expedient because of media and police pressure.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl a question. He appears to suggest that the Government have behaved wrongly because they have given in to police pressure. Is it not right that the Government should listen to the views of the police when armed crime is being discussed?
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, I find it difficult to answer the noble Lord. With respect, I believe that the police pressure is in many cases misplaced and misunderstood. It has been suggested by other speakers today that the police do not have within their ranks people who sufficiently understand firearms. if there were members of the police force who understood more about that, then I should go along with what the noble Lord has said.
Because I believe that this Bill may well be the better of two evils, I believe that we must go along with it. However, I should first like to ask a few questions about one particular clause which has to do with visitors. Here I have to declare an interest because living as I do in the Isle of Man every time I cross the Irish Sea I am, according to this Bill, a visitor. The same applies to those living in the Channel Islands.
It is quite likely that as soon as this revised firearms legislation is in place in the UK, the Manx authorities may well consider revising their own legislation to be based on that which will exist here, and possibly the Channel Islands will also do the same. In the Isle of Man we already have a Section 1 firearms licensing system which is similar to that over here, and both Guernsey and Jersey have a very similar system. Therefore, it seems logical that the Manx and Channel Islands firearms certificates should be recognised by the UK licensing authorities and I suggest that that should be so.
If and when the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have Section 2 shotgun legislation which is acceptable to the UK, licences and permits issued by the island authorities should be recognised in the UK in the same way as UK licences will be recognised in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
I should like to quote from comments obtained from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation from their members in the islands:Serious implications for Isle of Man clay pigeon shooting—extra costs of shooting in Great Britain will preclude some shooters from 1093 travelling for competitions … Proposals will increase the administrative burden on police … Proposals will deter visiting sportsmen—especially those to major shooting events, including Bisley … For those sportsmen not knowing anybody in the UK the requirement for sponsoring residents will prevent them from visiting Britain … Many Isle of Man sportsmen compete in major events in Britain, including Bisley, Inter Island Games, Commonwealth Games"—and perhaps I should mention that we have a Commonwealth Games gold medal winner,—Clauses 12 and 13 will prove a retrograde step to any Manx sportsmen wishing to compete at national or international level".There are many other remarks like that.
Notwithstanding the situation in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, I suggest that a visitor's permit is issued for a period of 12 months, and not six months as in the Bill. That would overcome some of the problems from the many other parts of the world besides the islands and would also save the issuing authorities a great deal of trouble and expense.
Delving further into visitors' problems, one must ask: how long will it take to obtain a permit? If a visitor knows no sponsor in the United Kingdom, to whom can he apply for a permit? Is a visitor's permit for a firearm or shotgun issued in, say, Sussex, valid in Suffolk or Scotland? When visitors enter this country with firearms do they actually need to have the permit in their possession and present it at the port of entry? If it takes three weeks to deliver a permit to the United States, for example, what happens if for some reason the visitor can be given only a few days' notice to join a shooting team? I ask that the shooting world be given sufficient notice of the enactment of this Bill; otherwise there may well be a number of visitors in the country holding guns illegally.
There are many thousands of sportsmen who come to this country to compete in some of the most prestigious competitions in the world. That applies to both shotguns and firearms. There are many thousands of sportsmen who also come to this country to shoot game and to stalk. This country is one of the last bastions of sporting shooting in the world and the countryside is much better off for it both financially and conservationally. Therefore, it is important that we do not discourage visitors who come here to shoot by making the regulations too restrictive.
Finally, I believe one of the more pleasant tasks my noble friend on the Front Bench must undertake when he has the time is to visit the Isle of Man. I can assure him he will be very welcome.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Lord Wynford
My Lords, I propose to confine my remarks to the situation created by the move into the prohibited weapons class of self-loading rifles. These rifles are the basic army weapon of today. They have been in existence, as I believe my noble friend Lord Swansea said, for 40 years. What I have to say bears a little on that. Other noble Lords have spoken to some extent about self-loading rifles, but only sporadically. I wish to emphasise differently some of the points made.
First in importance is that this relegation to the prohibited area strikes at the very heart of our civilian 1094 skill-at-arms standing in the world. I believe that that is not an overstatement. This standing can be traced back through our history like a golden thread, back to the archers at Agincourt and up to the present day. We have been exceptional in that way among the nations. Great Britain has always excelled at these skills and they have stood us in good stead in many an emergency through the ages. Who is to say that that is old hat? The past 40 years have shown us a sad succession of emergencies to which we must add rising terrorism and the continuing activity of the IRA.
At present there are about 150 rifle and pistol clubs. They vary greatly in size and memberships range from between 50 to several hundred. I know that in my own county of Dorset they vary to that extent. The clubs have full-bore, safety authorised ranges. Some are underground and others are in the open air. The sport is attracting swiftly increasing numbers of all ages, not just old men like myself. I have witnessed some events. I had the strong impression of very professional and extremely knowledgeable people, proud of their skills. They are responsible people and seekers after excellence for both their weapon and the way in which they handle it. For many it is truly their hobby; for some it is their principal and only hobby.
The club I saw consisted of 50 members including one woman, two policemen and a young man of 18 years of age being instructed by his father. They hold correct licences and value them like gold. A motoring offence or any laxity found in storage arrangements and precautions will lead to the loss of the licence. The total of such members in the UK is probably about 50,000 —the figure quoted by the Shooters Rights Association.
These clubs shoot according to a variety of disciplines. Perhaps the most popular is practical shooting. This is highly competitive and physically testing for those taking part who move along the range and fire at moving targets, falling plates and so on. There is a very wide variety of competitive shooting, not only in the UK but also in Europe. The UK always occupies a high place due to its long experience in the training and the know-how required. We lead the world. We have done so for a long time.
Perhaps I may emphasise something said by my noble friend Lord Swansea who spoke about the disabled and others unsuited to bolt-action rifle operation. This is a very big point. The number of such people interested in these disciplines is increasing probably rather faster than among the wholly fit. The recoil is very much less with the self-loading rifle. A man without legs or, like myself, with one arm; a woman similarly affected; someone with small bones and of no great weight; young people; all can operate with a self-loading rifle whereas they would be unable to do so with a bolt-action weapon.
They have to perform a different kind of task to the practical shooter. They cannot move in the same way but they practise target disciplines of which there is very great variety. A new field is opened up where such people can excel, developing the urge to achieve ever-increasing excellence on level terms. If such 1095 weapons are allowed to pass into the prohibited class in Clause 1 of the Bill, unamended, all this fruitful competition must come to an end. Our skills built up over many years will inevitably wither away. It is no exaggeration to say that the development of firearms' technology over the years has come in the main, and in the first instance, largely from civilians such as the people I have been describing —Forsyth, Colt, Maxim, Luger, Browning, Metford, Garard and Stoner are just some of them. All this damage to our hard won high-standing has been triggered off by ill-considered and over-hasty action in the wake of a police error which seeks to make scapegoats of our skill-at-arms, experts of tomorrow—the instance, and the only instance of a maniac killing with a self-loading rifle.
Self-loading rifles are not the favourite tools of crime; far from it. Some figures have been quoted. In 1986 there were 3,177 offences, of which only 27 were with rifles. That is 0.86 per cent. of the total. It does not mean that those were all self-loading rifles. A very great number of those rifles, if not all, were probably.22 in calibre. Records do not record the breakdown of those 27. One wonders why not.
We have touched on the compensation proposal. It is disgraceful that the citizen should not be fully paid for his honourable property. Other noble Lords have drawn attention to this point. I feel that the present proposal is entirely inadequate. Whatever the mistakes of the police or of others in the past, we can help to restore public confidence. If we can do that we are doing something useful. We should explore the limitation of built-in magazine size and/or the custody of weapons. I was going to say that police stations and military establishments should be used, but that is not practicable and it would be dangerous to concentrate the weapons. We can help with more comprehensive licensing conditions and/or even stricter spot inspections of clubs and their memberships—anything to avoid the obliteration of these skilled people.
If we fail to gain acceptance of the self-loading rifle, our army's general issue weapon, we shall fall out of the running in competitive shooting and, much more importantly, technological expertise and inventiveness will gradually fall away. This is the nub of the problem. This is a national danger. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough made special mention of this. Meanwhile, unauthorised types of weapons will continue to be available to the irresponsible through the market which has always supplied them. The criminal and the terrorist will continue while the police are dogging the innocent.
I fully endorse the consultative committee. I agree that it is important, but it must have teeth. It must not be the lackey of the Secretary of State. It must have power to make proper suggestions. I hope that noble Lords in all parts of the House will pursue this theme in Committee.
§ 2.30 p.m.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I very much regret that I was unable to attend your Lordships' House last year when Clause 3(2) of the Crossbows Act 1987 was passed, which prevents anyone under the age of 17 possessing a crossbow with a draw weight of over 1096 1.4 kilograms or 3 lbs. That would indeed be a toy compared with the crossbow used for hunting which has a draw weight of at least 34 kilograms or 75 lbs.
No sportsman, farmer, rough shooter, gamekeeper or archer would have anything to do with a crossbow. Everyone to whom I have spoken, including many Members of your Lordships' House, would like to have it banned. The projectile called a bolt is usually 14 inches long and is made of aluminium or fibreglass. It makes no noise and it is for that reason that it is the ideal weapon for the poacher, rustler or wanton killer of farm animals and game. There are several makes available—to any adult—and the commando crossbow is the most powerful, having a maximum draw weight of 100 kilograms or 220 lbs. Such a weapon would have a killing range of at least 50 yards, with considerable penetrating force.
I have passed to my noble friend Lord Ferrers a catalogue giving all the details and showing many steel crossbows that are sophisticated weapons. Some of them are even fitted with telescopic sights, which are held and fired from the shoulder in the same way as a rifle or shotgun. The gamekeeper or sportsman culling deer or other animals uses rifle bullets which are designed to flatten out or shatter on impact, thereby so damaging vital organs that the animal is killed as quickly and as painlessly as possible. On the other hand, the bolt of a crossbow does not flatten out on impact and therefore does not have the same killing power as the bullet, but is invariably lodged in the animal. Moreover, as it takes quite a few seconds to reload a crossbow the hunter has little chance of a second shot and the poor animal escapes, usually dying some time later in agony.
Horses, ponies, sheep and deer have been found still alive with crossbow bolts lodged in some part of their bodies, resulting in these poor animals having to be put down. Geese and other game birds have also been seen alive with bolts through their bodies.
I am most grateful for the notes which I received today from my noble friend Lord Ferrers in which he points out that under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 killing or taking a wild bird or animal with a crossbow is subject to quite a heavy fine. That is one thing. However, what concerns me more than anything else—and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for supporting me in this is that a person over the age of 17, even with a criminal record, can go and buy these things provided he can write a letter and send a cheque. That is what I am really against and I think there should be some restriction on the purchase of this highly dangerous weapon.
From my investigation into the provisions of the Bill, I think that the Government are placing our wonderful police in an impossible position. I make that sweeping statement because I am quite certain that neither the Government, nor the police, have any idea of the many types of weapons that are changing hands each week. For example, there is the well-known firm of Weller and Dufty Limited of Birmingham which advertises itself as "Europe's largest arms auctioneers". The firm has a sale about every six weeks throughout the year. Further, there are within the United Kingdom about 10 top gun 1097 auctioneers, resulting in about 1,000 weapons of some kind or another changing hands every week throughout the year.
I gave my noble friend Lord Ferrers the November 1987 catalogue of Weller and Dufty Limited, in which there are for sale modern arms and ammunition; namely, shotguns, sporting and military rifles, revolvers, automatic pistols, machine guns, modern muzzle-loading weapons, together with parts and accessories—a total of 1,358 items. Who buys machine guns? I give that as one example. So far, I have not mentioned one firearms dealer and there are about 850 of them throughout the country.
A firearms dealer or auctioneer buying or selling within that trade does not need to inform the police of a transaction. A firearms dealer has to inform the police of any sale or purchase of a weapon to or from the holder of a shotgun or firearms certificate or under the provisions of Clauses 4 and 16. I think that that is the case with an auctioneer, but I am not sure. Surely it is time for the Government to take advantage of modern technology and have all forms of certificates, gun licences and dealers' licences and particulars of weapons put on a computer at, let us say, Swansea, in the same way as motor vehicle and driving licences are now kept and issued.
Let me reverse the position for a moment. Let us suppose it to be up to the chief constable to decide whether we should be allowed a driving licence or a motor vehicle licence in the same way as he alone can decide whether we are allowed a shotgun or firearms certificate. How would we feel then? As some noble Lords have said, we cannot legislate against the maniac behind a gun any more than we can legislate against the maniac behind the wheel of a motor car. Although chief constables throughout the country will know how many firearms are held by individuals under Section 5 of the principal Act, at present they have no idea of the number of firearms held by auctioneers or firearms dealers or the number of organisations there are within their areas.
I appreciate what the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, said in his excellent maiden speech when he mentioned that point. Equally, I enjoyed listening to the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, in his very nice speech, but I take a rather different line from him. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough made a similar point. Perhaps I may give the House an example. A Member of your Lordships' House has been helpful to me in my research. He has a private collection of over 40 guns, pistols and so on. He is a lot older than I am. What will happen when he dies and that collection comes up for auction?
Clause 18 amends Section 6 of the principal Act and restricts the movement of arms and ammunition to Northern Ireland. Would it not be better if the clause and the section were to restrict the movement of arms and ammunition across the Irish Sea, thereby controlling the traffic in arms both ways?
Much has been said about security. One of the matters that concerns me is the security of rifles and pistols belonging to clubs as provided under Clause 14. Many clubs do not have their own premises, which means that at least some members must take 1098 the weapons back to their homes. I believe there is a Home Office approved cabinet but I cannot find any note on the statute or statutory instrument where that matter is laid down.
Rifles can easily be disabled by removing the bolt. Shotguns can be disabled by removing the fore end, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. Pistols are much more difficult to disable, and they concern me more than anything else. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Wynford, has just said. I should not like anything to happen to clubs but I am concerned about those clubs which perhaps do not have any premises of their own. Members just go out to Bisley to have a practice shoot. I feel we need to take great care that the weapons they use—quite legitimately—do not get into the wrong hands.
Lastly, and here I am on dangerous ground because it is not covered in the Bill, I turn to registered firearms dealers under Section 3 of the 1968 Act. On the grounds of security, I should like the Government to consider dividing the registration into two separate categories by introducing a licence permitting mail order firms and others to sell shotgun cartridges and rim-fire ammunition but not the ironmongery side of the business, for want of a better word.
The problem as I see it is that in order to be able to sell ammunition, the trader has to obtain a firearms dealer's licence which then permits him to sell or repair shotguns, rifles, etc. I fully understand that people living in out of the way places like Cornwall or the islands of Scotland must be able to obtain ammunition through the post. However, guns, rifles, pistols, the ironmongery side of the business, should not be obtainable through mail order firms, many of which are only interested in selling and have no local knowledge such as most firearms dealers have. With most of the firearms dealers whom I have known, if somebody suspicious comes along they ring up the local police or try to find out something about him. But all mail order firms are only interested in selling. I hope that the Government will seriously consider this point even if I am slightly out of order in respect of this Bill.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, I am delighted to start with the pleasant task of congratulating my noble friends Lord Nelson and Lord Portsmouth on their maiden speeches. It is a welcome relief to do so because what I now have to say on this legislation gives me no pleasure at all. I feel that we have to try to get the need for firearms legislation into perspective. In 1973 there was a panic and a Green Paper was produced. Fortunately, that Green Paper came to your Lordships' House and was so debunked that we heard nothing more on the subject for 15 years. During that debate my noble friend Lord Swansea and I both emphasised the need for an advisory committee. Had a committee been set up, we could by now have had infinitely better firearms legislation. The problem is that this is an emotive subject on something which should be largely technical.
1099 Now we have a further panic resulting from Hungerford which, along with marked misinformation fed out over this episode, has resulted, not surprisingly, in the Government feeling that they must produce legislation to allay the fears of the general public, particularly those who know little or nothing about weapons. Had the promised consultation taken place with those who know about these weapons, such as the British Shooting Sports Council, there is little doubt that we could have had a far better Bill and certainly far less aggravation.
The firearms lobby is a most reasonable body and only too ready to co-operate with governments of any persuasion to produce reasonable and fair legislation on firearms. The existing legislation under the 1968 Act is now full of flaws so that we have a Bill attempting to add to a bad Act, and all this brought about by false surmise arising from Hungerford.
The Opposition fell into the trap just as much as the Government, so there is no need for anyone on the other side to feel cheerful about my remarks. I think that I am correct in saying that we already have some of the most severe firearms regulations in Europe, even though the German regulations are possibly more draconian. Now an attempt is being made to impose substantial extra burdens on those who wish or need to hold firearms or shotguns.
It was only when amendments were moved in another place by someone who had some of the technical expertise required on the subject that some of the errors in the proposed legislation were demonstrated. Members on all sides in the other place, as well as the media, began to realise that the legislation was wrong. It was difficult for those who had committed themselves to backtrack. It was not only Government Ministers who were in that position but also Shadow Ministers and the media. It was necessary for the Government to put on a three line Whip and the Opposition were given the opportunity to torment the Government with an all night sitting. Therefore, it will not be possible to suggest that anything we do in this House will be going against an elected majority in another place.
We have another chance. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, put the matter more eloquently than I can. We have a chance to do what the country wants and the kind of thing for which this House is highly regarded. Although we can correct some of the errors, I fear that we can never make this into good legislation. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will have an open mind. There is much that we can do that will greatly improve the Bill.
First, let it be made clear that had this legislation been in operation before Hungerford it would probably have made no difference to what occurred. As I understand it, if the 1986 Act had been properly implemented in the Hungerford area the current legislation would have been adequate. Great play has been made of the fact that a Kalashnikov rifle was used. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said, Ryan shot fewer people with an SLR than he did with a pistol. Under the proposed legislation, he would have been legally entitled to have that pistol in any case. Furthermore, he fired only one or two shots at each of his victims. Therefore, the fact that he was 1100 using a self-loading rifle is largely irrelevant. He could have done the same damage with almost any rifle. Hungerford should not enter into the equation at all. It is nothing more than a red herring and an excuse for empire building by the Home Office.
The proposed legislation will undoubtedly be a considerable imposition on the legitimate, honest firearms or shotgun owner. However, what effect will it have on the criminal who wishes to use a firearm? That question was put at the police demonstration which my noble friend kindly arranged for us last Tuesday. The answer was that it would have very little effect initially but that more and more weapons would be taken out of circulation as time went by.
I wonder if the consequences of that proposal are appreciated. It means that more and more legitimate owners or would-be owners will be penalised—that the effect on the criminal fraternity will be nil or at best marginal over a period of years. There will be no diminution of the number of firearms used in crimes by restricting their control and possession by legitimate users. The pistol has been the subject of the strictest control for 60 years and yet it is one of the most commonly used weapons in violent crime.
I remind my noble friend that over a million people are licensed to hold either a shotgun or a rifle. Many of those people are very angry about this legislation, and rightly so. The largest proportion of that lobby are clay pigeon shooters. When one takes into account their friends and relations, that adds up to a large number of votes. When they find out what the Government have been trying to do, they will not be convinced that their vote is safe in the hands of the Conservative Party. Why are guns used in this country to be so severely penalised? My noble friend is looking round. However, he should ponder the fact.
My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt my noble friend. However, I looked round to make certain that I was hearing what he was saying. It came as some slight surprise. I believe that he will see in due course that it was a bit exaggerated.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, we shall be told that a gun is a lethal weapon. However, so is a car. There are far more people killed and injured every year by cars than by guns. I wonder how many people—apart from those shot by the police—have been killed or injured accidentally by guns over the past few years. I suppose that there have been some accidents caused by people wrongfully leaving a loaded gun lying about. There may be a few who have picked up an accidental pellet. However, I suspect that the number killed, let alone injured, is minuscule compared to the number killed and injured by cars. After all there are a million licensed holders of weapons. You can imagine the outcry if everyone who wanted a car licence had to have a good reason for owning a car. That is what is being asked of the weapon holder.
The Government are hitting the wrong end of the scale. They are hitting at some of the most law-abiding citizens and they are tying up hours of valuable police time on unnecessary administrative work. It has been estimated—I do not know how accurately—that there will be at least 300,000 extra man hours per year required by the police to operate 1101 the legislation. Everyone knows that this country's police forces are crying out for more men and more money—men and money which will be taken away from the detection of criminal activity by this Bill.
I cannot conceive that the Government appreciate how much extra police time will be taken up if this Bill becomes law, certainly in its present form. It will result in a massive increase in the cost of shotgun and firearm licences. This seems highly inconsistent, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, might consider this point. I think that it is very inconsistent that on the one hand the police should be crying out for more men and on the other asking for this additional administrative work which will be of little use to anyone.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, told us about the position in Switzerland. When I raised that point at a meeting with the police on Tuesday I was told that the reason for more stringent controls in this country was that there is a difference in temperament between the Swiss and the British. Might it not be said that it is due not to a difference in temperament but to a total lack of discipline becoming prevalent in this country? The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, should be able to put me right on this point, but I understand that in Israel every able-bodied man between 18 and 55 years old is a soldier or part-time soldier and as such keeps his weapon at home. Is the Israeli of a more placid temperament than the British?
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I find it difficult enough to speak for the Opposition in this country; I find it impossible to speak for the Government of Israel.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, it is not for me to say how this situation should be put right but I should hate to be a schoolmaster in Britain under the present restrictions to which they are subjected. Perhaps the difference arises from conscription, which both Switzerland and Israel have. It may instil some discipline into their populations. Whatever the causes, it seems that the penalties for hooliganism, whether on the picket line, the football field or in the city centre, are not a deterrent.
Under this proposed legislation, if a shotgun owner fails to notify the police by registered post or recorded delivery within one week that he has lent his shotgun to someone he is liable to six months in jail plus a fine of £2,000. That is just for failing to let the police know by registered post or by recorded delivery. It will not be good enough for him to go to the police station to provide this information; it has to be done by one of those two methods.
I know that Ministers of the Crown cannot interfere with the penalties imposed by the judiciary, but there must be something very wrong when a man who has been known for some time to be poaching deer, when eventually convicted in court, is able to send his lawyer round to the sheriff's clerk after the case and is permitted to buy back the rifle which had been confiscated. Perhaps I may also refer to a report in my local paper earlier this week concerning a man who was caught poaching a stag out of season. He was fined a mere £20—about one-fifth of the carcass value of the animal. In the same paper there was 1102 another report that a man was fined £50, admittedly in another court, for stealing a packet of prawns and coleslaw. The fine was two and a half times as much for stealing a packet of prawns as it was for shooting a stag and illegal use of a weapon.
Let me quote another instance. A few months ago my keeper, luckily with a young boy in attendance, came upon a man with a rifle in the middle of our woods. When tackled, the man gave a false name and address and when told to hand over the rifle pointed it at the keeper and threatened to shoot him. The keeper, a big strong man, knocked the poacher to the ground and the young boy seized the rifle, which was loaded.
The police were delighted that the man had been apprehended. They said that he was a really dangerous character with a record as long as your arm. He had threatened a policeman with a power saw and he had gone into the Fort William police station with a can of petrol and threatened to set it on fire. Despite the fact that he was apprehended only two miles from home, his plea that he did not know where he was, was accepted. On pleading guilty he was fined £175 despite the fact that he had threatened someone with an illegal firearm. The police had hoped that he might go the the High Court where they thought he might get five years in jail.
In contrast, a highly respected citizen with no police record at all had left an aged single-barrel .410 in a house on his shoot near the rearing field—a weapon he used for scaring crows. The occupier of the house had no shotgun certificate and consequently the owner of the gun was charged. He was fined exactly the same amount as the man who had threatened my keeper—£175. But this respected citizen had to pay all his legal expenses, unlike the villain, who had free legal aid. This emphasises how the law-abiding citizen is penalised while the villains go laughing from the court.
The legislation before us aggravates the situation and diverts police time from the detection of criminals. It requires the most careful scrutiny and substantial amendment. I think that it is in 1992 that we shall have to fall in line with Europe. I understand that the Government say that they will not bring our firearms legislation or taxation into line with Europe. I cannot understand how such a situation will he tolerated by the European Court.
Will a foreigner wanting to come to stalk in this country be happy about paying a high firearms licence fee when he is already licensed to hold a weapon in his own country? Is there not a considerable likelihood that the European Court would find against the British Government?
Some noble Lords may have seen the Answer to a Question which I put down last week concerning prosecutions under the Firearms Act 1968. It is not known how many of those concerned illegal weapons and how many concerned legal weapons. I understand that the figures given to me included airguns and that the vast majority of the prosecutions related to that sort of weapon. However, according to the latest figures available the number of offences fell markedly from 1982 to 1986. The 1968 Act also applied to Scotland, so the figures are incorrect 1103 anyway as they only apply to England and Wales. In view of the number of offences with airguns it is debatable whether the law on those should not be tightened up. Certainly there seems to be a need for restriction on crossbows.
There appears to be a sad gap in the legislation between the time that someone cannot show good reason for having a weapon and the time that the weapon becomes an antique. Are all old weapons to be mutilated before they can become antiques? For instance, I have a pair of Gibbs 400 rifles which I inherited from my grandfather. They are now obviously obsolete and there can be no ammunition available for them. However, they are beautiful weapons and worth, I am told, several thousand pounds. Are they to be vandalised? There are many old weapons, particularly in old houses, which are no longer of use but which are of great interest. That point was mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and I believe that it is something at which we must look very carefully. There are many fine collections which may get lost.
Finally, as we cannot make this Bill into good legislation in this place, let us take one step which would produce better laws. It was only after strong pressure in another place that the Minister conceded the need for an advisory committee. What was produced, however, as has already been said, had no teeth at all. This is a technical matter and Ministers cannot be expected to know all about the subject. In fact, there is probably no one in this Chamber today who knows about all the disciplines involved in firearms. There will be those who are expert on target shooting or different kinds of game and vermin shooting, or clay pigeon shooting or the study of weapons and ammunition and even muzzle loading. There are many facets of this subject.
During our visit to the police on Tuesday I heard at least three contradictory statements from among the experts. What is required is a statutory committee of about 12 persons, plus an independent chairman. The representatives of that committee should be selected from the nominations submitted by the various disciplines. There is no object in having a committee which is dominated by the Home Office or the police. These are technical and complex matters and need people who know about them.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may remind him that crossbows are already covered under a separate Act, which I took through this House.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, I am very interested to hear that but I thought from what the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, said, that he was most concerned about that matter.
§ 3 p.m.
§ Lord Tryon
My Lords, I wonder whether we should be here today had not one man run amok last year. With equal seriousness I wonder whether we should be here today if the police had been as rigorous as they might have been in applying the existing rules to him. Frankly, I was totally astonished that Ryan could possess such an arsenal 1104 of weapons with the sanction of his local police. My experience as an owner of three Section 1 rifles is that my local police are incredibly careful and take great trouble over policing the operation of the firearms certificates. I might add there that the rifles to which I have just referred are not affected by this legislation.
I should also declare an interest in that I am a director of a major, leading firm of London gunmakers. I am concerned therefore in the manufacture and trading of a number of weapons. Public opinion was so outraged by what happened at Hungerford that I accept that any government would have had to do something to tighten controls, although this Bill over-reacts in respect in particular of the million or so users of shotguns. To return to Ryan for the last time, he was an owner of shotguns but he did not use them on his rampage.
The Minister talked very reasonably about balance being required. As we go through the further stages of the Bill, balance—particularly in regard to shotguns—will need more consideration. I have a slightly different idea about where the balance should lie. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, put it well: we must all accept that there is no law or system of control that will ever prevent a determined criminal from getting a weapon or which will prevent a hitherto normal person going mad and running amok.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has accepted this; but I still sense that many people see in this Bill a panacea, which quite clearly it is not. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, we must keep emphasising that it will not bring an end to the type of tragic events that have led to its production. It is also most depressing that past experience does not suggest—as we have heard from several noble Lords—that increasing firearms control leads to any decrease in firearms offences.
Perhaps I may deal quickly with the question of rifles. I have considerable sympathy for the suggestion that special rules should apply to disabled people. This point was very fully covered by the noble Lord, Lord Wynford, and touched on by several other noble Lords. There is no doubt whatever that self-loading rifles are much easier for these people to use. Conventional rifles are very difficult. I should also like to support the idea—it came first from the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and has been supported by other noble Lords—concerning the estate rifle which people are able to borrow on visiting an estate.
A point which I do not think has been made yet but which should commend itself to the Government is that if some such system were possible it might obviate the need for many people to own rifles in order to take them on occasional stalking trips to Scotland. It is certainly the wish of everyone that the number of rifles in circulation should be reduced.
I return therefore to the large part of the Bill devoted to tightening control on shotguns. I cannot understand the logic of virtually totally banishing pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns. I refer to those capable of firing more than two shots. I have never heard any evidence that they have been misued more often or that they are more lethal than ordinary breach-opening shotguns. They can indeed fire up to 1105 five shots more quickly than a double-barrelled breach-opening gun. But reloading is very slow and they would probably fire fewer shots in one minute than could be fired, say, by an experienced man with a breach-opener. They are also used almost entirely nowadays for clay pigeon shooting, having been banned for game shooting purposes under the Wildlife and Countryside Act when they have more than three shots in them. They are used by people from all walks of life.
Only this Monday when I came to London to attend a lunch to discuss the Bill, I took a taxi via my gunmakers in order to drop in some guns for annual overhaul. The taxi driver then engaged me in conversation about guns. He told me that he owned two shotguns; one a pump-action shotgun and the other a self-loading one. Under this legislation he will probably lose both guns. I asked him why he had them: his answer was that for his holiday he used to visit a clay pigeon shooting place. One of the most popular contests was to put up several clay pigeons at once and therefore a rapid rate of fire was required. All that will be brought to an end.
A further point concerns sawn-off shotguns used by criminals. Such guns are almost invariably of the conventional breach-opening type for the reason that they can be made much smaller than a self-loading or pump-action shotgun. The mechanism is relatively very large in the centre and the resultant sawn-off gun that much larger.
As to the requirements to list shotguns by serial numbers, I quite understand the wish to be able to track and follow them. I believe however that the burden on the police and the resultant bureaucracy may have been very seriously under-estimated. We are talking of keeping in touch with several million shotguns. No one yet knows how many. We have very little idea. This will have to be done by an already overstretched police force. The whole exercise, I strongly suspect, although I wish it were not so, would have no effect on their misuse. I have tried to find an example of where this has been tried elsewhere in the world. I believe that the most recent example is in the state of Victoria in Australia where a shotgun registration system was tried. The system almost completely broke down and was abandoned after a year or two because the workload on the police was too great and it seemed to be having no effect whatever.
With respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, Northern Ireland is a very much smaller place than the rest of the United Kingdom. The registration scheme there was started a long time ago in response to the very special problems that have to be faced there.
I turn to the question of foreign visitors. I thought that the Minister was a little bland in his explanation of the need for the clause. The theme appears to be that if we are tightening up on our people, let us bring the foreigners into line also. I shall be interested to hear any evidence which he may have showing that foreign visitors have caused any particular problems in the past. If they have not done so, why legislate? I am afraid that it will discourage some visitors from coming here.
1106 The House has heard a great deal on this subject from other noble Lords. I should like to add one point. From the gun manufacturers' point of view—they are large exporters of guns—many salesn are made to visiting foreigners. The sales made in the busy shooting months are far greater than those which take place during the rest of the year. Many people who come here for their shooting holiday visit the gunmaker and order guns. There is great concern that a valuable trade and export-earning activity may suffer if such people are discouraged.
In conclusion I should like to say that I accept the need to tighten control on semi-automatic full-bore rifles. I strongly welcome the requirement for safer custody of all firearms. Beyond that I need a great deal more convincing that the tighter control of shotguns—bringing great trouble and cost to the police and law-abiding shooting community—will produce any real improvement in public safety.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, I like eggs, even curate's eggs. If the Bill has been likened to a curate's egg by my noble friend Lord Swinton I can say only that I like the Bill in principle. I am not sure why curates' eggs have always been singled out as being bad, but that is not the subject before us today.
I believe that the amount of play that has been made of the Hungerford disaster is slightly to over-react. It was the spark which lit the gunpowder. I believe that our existing laws are not now sufficiently adequate to control as far as is humanly possible the threats of putting shotguns, firearms or lethal weapons into the hands of the wrong people. I cannot agree with the fact that the provisions in the Bill, while probably consuming more police time and therefore adding to expense, are sufficient to deter the House from giving the Bill a guarded Second Reading. I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Burton. Perhaps he did not listen to what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said in his opening remarks; namely, that this is the kind of price that we must pay. I make the same comment to my noble friend Lord Swansea.
The law-abiding shooters are not being made a scapegoat by the Bill. In my view, any self-respecting, law-abiding shooter should be quite prepared to put up with the minor inconveniences—I put it no stronger than that—and the expense if he is concerned that the enjoyment of his sport should continue, provided that we do everything in our power to make it harder for the crooked men or women to get their hands on such weapons. Having said that, I feel that I should sit down because basically I agree with everything that many noble Lords have said when referring to their anxiety about passages in the Bill although I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Burton when he suggests that the Bill would indicate to Conservative voters that their votes are not safe in the hands of the Conservative Party. I fail to see the relevance.
I believe that the suggested compensation of £150 or half the price, whatever my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, is barely adequate. I agree with my noble friend Lord Peel who asked whether we can really expect people to hand in their weapons for £150 1107 when they know that they are worth more. The answer is that there will be a black market fund. If my noble friend Lord Ferrers is going to say to the law-abiding shooter that that is the price that one will have to pay to have this kind of Bill, then I say to the Government that by paying the full market value that is the kind of price you —the taxpayer—will have to pay to ensure that illegally held weapons are returned to the rubbish dump.
On the question of security, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, hit the nail on the head exactly. It is as easy as falling off a log to have the fore end or the bolt of a rifle or shotgun removed and kept locked in a different place from where the weapon itself is kept. In my view, that should be part of the requirement to be considered by the chief constable before he considers the granting of a shotgun or firearms certificate. It is the responsibility of those who possess these weapons to ensure that the maximum security is maintained by them. They have a great duty on their shoulders.
The noble Lady was concerned about the ability to lend a firearm. I believe that would ease the administrative problems and the difficulties that non-regular sportsmen have to meet when they receive the odd invitation to take part in a sport which requires a firearm. If it is on the owner's estate or under his personal supervision or something which could be discussed later, that would be helpful to the shooting world.
I turn now to the real point that I should like to make. We are very fortunate in this House to have Members from all walks of life and to be able to have the benefit of their wide experience and knowledge in order to discuss and debate upon these matters. I was delighted to listen to the excellent speeches of both maiden speakers but in particular that of my noble friend Lord Nelson. He has the privilege of having been a policeman and therefore on that side of the law. There are others of your Lordships' House who perhaps, as far as I am concerned, have been on the other side of the argument and therefore can bring a little light to bear on the receiving end of what the law may produce and show up matters under the 1968 Act which are not covered by this Bill.
I turn to the question of the granting of shotgun certificates, for which there is a degree of provision in the Bill. However, there is nothing in the Bill relating to the removal of a shotgun licence or the possible regranting of it. Perhaps I may give a personal example because it is relevant. For an unfortunate reason about which some of your Lordships may know—well, if I do not say so somebody else will—I found myself short of a shotgun certificate for a few years and the chief constable absolutely correctly exercised his judgment in that respect. However, he was not very forthcoming about if and when I might be in the privileged position of having a licence again. Time wore on and he retired and a new chief constable took over. He was very kind and we had a chat. He said that he was not very happy with the position which he thought was unfair. "You have suffered a penalty" he said "and rightly so, but every criminal has the right to know the length of time that his penalty is likely to last." He said that there is 1108 nothing laid down in the 1968 Act to make any provision for this situation, possibly because nobody had thought of it.
Though I am perhaps being a little frivolous, nevertheless there is a case for encouragement or indeed a requirement by chief constables to look carefully at the possession of a shotgun certificate if someone is convicted of an offence which might undermine the provisions whereby the certificate was granted in the first place. If that is done, then the chief constable should advise the person concerned at the time how long it might be before he should consider applying for a re-granting of the licence. That would be fair. I hope that point will be taken on board by the Government.
My noble friend Lord Nelson made a very important point concerning Clause 3. As he said, it does not make sense. Why should not an application be refused just because the applicant neither intends to use nor lend the gun. That seems absolutely ludicrous. If an applicant does not want to use or lend a gun why have it in the first place? I suggest to my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Bill is amended either by deleting the word "not" or deleting the whole sentence. If one does not want to use or lend a gun then one should not be in possession of it in the first place.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made an extremely important point. I enormously enjoyed his speech which was delivered in his usual most lucid and clear manner when he gives advice to your Lordships. I refer to his suggested requirement for some form of medical or similar report from a doctor. That would be helpful to a chief constable. I should have thought my noble friend would be happy to take up that point.
Yes. it is a good Bill in principle. We should give it our support. I know that many amendments will be tabled to improve the Bill and I hope that they will be taken on board as much as possible by the Government.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, for some 40 years I indulged in game shooting and deer stalking. Like a number of other noble Lords, I have taken part in the Vizianagram Shield competition at Bisley. I have not handled a shotgun for eight or nine years, partly through the constraints of time and partly because I do not now live in an area where there is a great deal of shooting.
I should also mention that my brother owns a hotel country house which was the ancestral home of my grandparents in Scotland for many years. Shooting and deer stalking are available there. I think it is important to bear in mind that all the guns and rifles on that establishment, so far as I am aware, will be covered under this Bill; so there is no question but that the Bill will affect that establishment. Naturally I shall be consulting him between now and the next stage of the Bill to ensure that he does not have any problems on that score.
If there is any real criticism of this Bill it is in its timing to the extent that it has been pushed into a legislative timetable where there are already four or 1109 five other major Bills. Looking at the position with hindsight, I believe that this Bill should have been introduced three or four years ago.
I do not believe that the dreadful incident at Hungerford necessarily concerns this Bill. Where one has psychopaths they will act in any case. It is interesting to recall that at the same time as the Hungerford incident, in Sydney, Australia, there was a similar dreadful incident in which I believe even more people were killed. I do not know what is the legislation in Australia or whether it is similar to the legislation here. In many parts of the world now this kind of terrible incident takes place for reasons which at this late hour on a Friday I shall not seek to elaborate upon. It is a subject that may be developed in the later stages of the Bill.
Clause 20 is an important one as regards the firearms consultative committee. When the Bill goes into Committee this clause will need close attention because it is very important that those persons who serve on the committee are persons of real stature. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could consider—certainly not now but in due course and with his officials—the possibility of including someone from the Magistrates' Association or someone with magisterial duties who naturally has some experience relevant to Clause 20(1) of the Bill. As cases come to court, it is the magistrates who initially have to deal with them. Obviously, they will be advised by their learned clerks, but it seems an important point arising from this Bill.
I believe this to be a very reasonable Bill. There are shortcomings with it. It is the first really major piece of firearms legislation for some years. It is always very difficult to define categories, whether it is firearms or anything else. I believe that in most shooting establishments the weapons excluded under Section 5 of the Act, as amended by this Bill, will give sportsmen and sportswomen a reasonable deal. My noble friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this Bill has been introduced largely as a result of public opinion. I believe that the general public of this country is deeply concerned about the large number of firearms, many of which are particularly lethal. Last Tuesday many noble Lords went to see some of these firearms in action. I believe that many people are very worried. This is not a matter upon which it is easy to legislate. It has been said already that no one can legislate for the psychopath who gets hold of a weapon and runs loose with it.
Comparison has been made with the motor car. I believe that is totally illogical. A person who is driving dangerously, whether under the influence of drink or not, is usually apprehended by the police before an accident takes place. Admittedly, that does not occur every time. Of course there are more people killed on the roads than by firearms, but I do not believe that is a reason there should not be legislation against the illegal use of firearms and a reduction of the number in use.
The hour is late and other noble Lords have yet to speak. It is quite clear that in Committee the Bill will have to be closely examined, and that a number of 1110 loose ends must be tied up. I believe that the Government are to be congratulated on introducing legislation (however imperfect some of it may be) to correct a serious situation both in this country and internationally.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Dilhorne
My Lords, the House will be glad to hear that at this late stage on a Friday afternoon I shall be brief and I hope factual. I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and to my noble friend Lord Swinton. I entirely align myself with the speech of my noble friend Lord Swinton and with much of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, particularly in relation to the advisory committee, with reference to which he ended his marvellous address to us.
He described it as "weak and wobbly". I am concerned that the advisory committee—a last minute thought conceded by the Government by a defeat in the other place—should have the proper constitution. By that I mean not the purposes or the aims of an article or memorandum of association, but an equal balance between the police, the Home Office and the experts. I do not know whether there is substance in this, but I have heard that certain experts who are slightly contentious in their views have been told that they will not be heard in the preliminary stages to the Bill. That is worrying. I hope therefore that my noble friend on the Front Bench is aware of the constitution.
I raise this point for another reason. At the time of the Report stage in another place the size of the committee was eight. It has now grown to 13. Nothing has been said about who will constitute it. I look forward to hearing the Government's view at the Committee stage, and no doubt I shall be tabling amendments.
I said that I would try to be brief and factual. This subject can touch the emotions frequently more often than the intellect. I shall try not to fall into that trap. I hope to be reasonably factual and intellectual on an extremely difficult and highly technical subject. It is the subject of many peripheral pieces of legislation which creep into other statutes. I hope that before Committee stage my noble friend on the Front Bench will take into account the cross-application of what is proposed here into the other pieces of legislation, many of which were passed in this century to protect the police and to protect people from the wrongful use of firearms. In this respect I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and my noble friend Lord Swinton. That has to be secured. How it is secured is the matter that interests us now.
At the Committee stage I shall be concerned with the drafting of the Bill. In my view, the drafting is nothing short of appalling—and I use that word after great consideration. I shall give one example of why it is so appalling. In Clause 1(2) of the Bill words are used which are supposed to be substituted for the words in Section 5 of the Firearms Act. Subsection (2) states:Any firearm which is so designed or adapted"—we can forget that; it is the same—that two or more missiles can be successively discharged without repeated pressure1111 If one looks at what that is proposed to replace—one supposes that one goes from worse to better—it reads,Any firearm which is so designed or adapted" —those are in fact the same words—that, if pressure is applied to the trigger, missiles continue to be discharged until pressure is removed".However, the proposed wording makes no mention of pressure being applied. Therefore I call this the "immaculate discharge clause" of the present Bill. If no pressure is applied, I do not see how anything can come out of the wrong end. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will look carefully into this matter because no drafting points seem to have been raised in the other place. The old wording is good English, and it is clear. Moreover, I am sure that if my noble friend Lord Renton were present in the Chamber today he would not totally disagree with me; in fact, I think that he might even agree with me.
There are examples elsewhere in the Bill of double negatives. There are examples where the person who has the gun and applies for a certificate must prove a negative, which is a most unhealthy development—not common to this Bill but common and widespread in many other matters, especially in housing legislation—which is creeping into the legislation purely on a drafting matter. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will look into the matter with considerable care.
There is another aspect that concerns me which my noble friend has already addressed. The old Act provides that the chief constable "shall" give—that is mandatory—a certificate unless he is satisfied that the fellow comes within the various categories when he can disallow it. The Bill's new provisions provide that the chief constable has a right to be satisfied, so that the stress is turned round. The burden is shifted from the police constable to the person who is applying for the firearm certificate. Then the chief constable has the right to investigate whether there is a safe place for keeping the firearm, and so on.
That is a lever which I find most unattractive because it is that lever which will enable the chief constable to say, want to come into your house"; whereas, in 1968, under the provisions of the previous Act, he would have had to have a search warrant to do so. It is not difficult to see that he will not grant a certificate unless he is sure that you have taken the right precautions for looking after the weapon; the right safeguards so that it cannot be stolen, and so on.
I am all in favour of making things difficult for criminals. However, I am not sure that I like what the Bill does without directly going to the point of saying that he must have a right of access. If he has a right of access then let it be said; do not let it be made available by some quiet way through. If such a provision must be made I hope to hear from my noble friend why it cannot be made clearly and in good English.
I have one or two further points to make in regard to the compensation provisions. I should like to draw my noble friend's attention to my concerns in this connection. I suggest that 50 per cent. is not entirely the right approach. Many people who will lose their 1112 rifles will lose the opportunity to participate in that sport. Therefore I suggest that somewhere between what would have been the market value at the time the person wished to sell had not the market been interfered with by the Government—which is of course their right—and the upper limit of the replacement value is the right measure of compensation.
The Government's proposal excludes the value of accessories which form part of that weapon. Furthermore, the trader who has bought those weapons will receive no compensation. As I understand it, there will be no compensation for shotguns which come under Clause 1. That will inevitably devalue the gun. In consequence, innocent people will suffer.
I urge my noble friend to look again closely at the pump-gun provisions. Pump-action guns are heavy weapons. I believe that about 250,000 people have such weapons. They are not expensive to buy. When the present volume of expensive side-lock guns, which one may have been fortunate enough to inherit, wear out or blow out, many noble Lords may find themselves wishing that they had bought such weapons, because they are reliable, durable and inexpensive. Many people use those guns for sport, especially in boats shooting pigeon off the coasts of the whole kingdom. Suddenly to find themselves affected by Clause 1 is not fair, especially when there is no compensation. I was glad to hear my noble friend say that the guidelines to be issued to the police would be disclosed. I shall look forward to seeing what they say and I will reserve my position on that point. I hope that those guidelines will preserve the position of people who use such guns and enable them to purchase them and enjoy the sport as they hitherto have. The Bill, as it now stands, prevents certain people at the bottom end of the market from enjoying the sport when they cannot afford to spend. What is the price of a new Purdey, a new Holland and Holland, or one of the top side-lock guns?
I have spoken too long. I align myself entirely with what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Peel have said about visitors. I hope that the restrictions that are to be imposed will not discourage visitors from coming to our shores and spending money. My noble friend Lord Swinton said that those visitors often bring their girlfiends with them. What little experience I have—which of course does not measure up to his—is that the girlfriend almost always exacts the cost of the gun to her own benefit. It would be a valuable concession to allow people to come here without having to take a licence for a whole year and having to spend a great deal of money on it. In Spain a licence costs £3. That is paid to the Government. I shall be interested to see what my noble friend will do about allowing people to come into the country and produce certificates through the Customs and Excise, which I understand has not been more than usually unco-operative in these affairs, and to leave the country within a given period having used the gun not on just one shoot but on two or three.
I have said too much. I have spoken for three times longer than I planned, but then I have not used my notes. I am most grateful to your Lordships.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, I refer my noble friend Lord Dilhorne to the middle page of this week's Shooting Times. I had a feeling that the argument about the cost of pump-action guns being the poor man's weapon might come up. If he bothered to look in the Shooting Times he would have found that the best choice of a double-barrelled non-ejector shotgun can be obtained for as little as £69. The argument about a pump-action shotgun being a cheap weapon is disproved.
We have almost reached the end of the debate and there is only one argument that has not been used. It is an important argument and it concerns the management of wildlife and the countryside as a whole. I do not believe that there is a sound conservation argument at this stage for doing anything to increase the amount of fire power available to sportsmen in the countryside today as regards game shooting or the control of avian or mammalian predators. I think that is a very important argument. It leads me to the view that I support the Government in their ban on self-loading rifles.
However, I think that perhaps some of us may have to have another look at this. What concerns me about the self-loading rifle is that while most of your Lordships were taught to shoot with a bolt action rifle, I understand that today most people in the services are taught to shoot with a self-loading rifle. So we may have to give special attention to that.
There is one other argument which I think we must remember. The Bill is necessary, quite apart from the troubles that happened last year. The existing shotgun certificate is a perfectly useless piece of paper as it stands at the moment. It only hears the name of the person; it does not list his weapons. In listing the weapons there is no question of restricting the number of shotguns that anyone may own.
However, I think that my noble friend Lord Nelson was right in his excellent maiden speech when he said that information technology was such that in a few years' time it will be perfectly possible for every shotgun that is numbered and licensed on a shotgun certificate to be listed by the police. We were advised at the demonstration the other day, which my noble friend Lord Ferrers laid on for us, that if they have the number and type of the gun they can identify the ejected ammunition for that gun. In many cases that would be extremely useful.
If we are to have a shotgun certificate, let us have a more useful and realistic one. The present shotgun certificate does not stipulate safekeeping. There can be no argument among any of your Lordships that keeping a shotgun behind the door is no longer acceptable. There are still far too many in houses behind the door. With 650 shotguns stolen last year, we must face up to the safekeeping of all shotguns. Just to put the fore end in your desk drawer and lock it up is not sufficient, a shotgun will fire without its fore end. The fore end is only there to work the ejectors.
The other reason why I think this Bill is necessary is that it was shown clearly to us the other day that when the original shotgun certificate was brought in 1114 there was no question of the new weapons which are now becoming available. It seems incredible to me that an importer could have brought into this country in excess of 1,000 of the 12-bore shotgun that is issued to the Italian police. It has a magazine holding 40 rounds of ammunition and can be fired as an automatic weapon. For what purpose could such a weapon ever be introduced into this country? Somebody has chanced their arm and brought in 1,000 of them. They should never be allowed to get into circulation and I trust that this Bill will stop that.
I also feel that we ought to face up to the fact that there is no sound reason to encourage people to buy and own any more pump-action shotguns. The Bill will allow the existing pump-action shotguns, subject to a certain amendment, to be placed on the firearms certificate and still continue to be used. However, I think that the time has come when we should all say that the clay pigeon shooters do not want pump-action shotguns. If there are five on a clay pigeon shoot and somebody is using one of the pump-action shotguns, nine times out of 10 it will jam and spoil everybody else's concentration. There is no argument for having those guns there.
There is no argument on the subject of price. They are not the poor man's weapon; there are many cheaper guns, as I have already demonstrated. One cannot actually carry a pump-action shotgun safely in company. It is an unbalanced, crude bit of ironmongery which it is not possible to use under the normal courtesies of shooting. We should say straight away that we shall allow those who have them to keep them, subject to amendment, but we should discourage anybody else from buying them.
I do not think that there is any argument about safekeeping. There is one point on safekeeping included in the Bill which I particularly welcome. It is that the safekeeping for a relative or friend is a sufficient reason for wishing to continue to own a shotgun. If any of your Lordships died and your widow wanted to keep your guns for your grandchildren, provided they are safely kept there is no reason a chief officer of police should not grant a shotgun certificate.
In dealing with Part 1 weapons—firearms—I am aware of the fact that in the parish in which I live no fewer than nine offences involving Part 1 firearms have been committed in the past year. It is distressing to find that, where people plead guilty to misuse of a firearms certificate—using it in an area without an invitation or in an area for which it is not licensed—the firearms certificate has been renewed in many cases. If an offence is proved, the chief officer of police should withdraw the certificate.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, covered the other points which concern me. She mentioned the problem of the estate rifle and the problem of people who are taken out by a keeper with a rifle which is on his firearms certificate. I am very conscious of the fact that the Minister's honourable friend committed an offence when he shot a stag using an estate rifle. The Bill should be amended to cover that point.
Apart from those matters, I give the Bill my wholehearted support. I am sorry that so many of the 1115 shooting community have made such heavy weather of a measure which produces a good balance between the safety of citizens and the demands of the legitimate shooter.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Borthwick
My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name on the list of speakers. I decided to speak this morning and I have not prepared anything. Therefore, I shall not keep the House long.
There are one or two points that I wish to make. The first concerns explosive ammunition. That type of ammunition explodes when it hits something. Before the war, I always shot with solid ammunition. When I was in Germany, I learnt to use explosive ammunition. It kills much more quickly and painlessly. No doubt many of those in the animal-loving fraternity will approve of explosive shot because it is less painful for the animal, which does not run several miles, drop down and die in agony. It is killed at once.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned the Swiss and how good they are with weapons compared to the Germans. However, they are very different people. The Swiss are a closely knit race. Even Caesar will tell you about that. When the rest of Gaul was getting overrun by all sorts of tribes, the Swiss kept themselves to themselves, as they do to this day. Their discipline is worthy of note. They do not fire guns off everywhere. They learn, as I learnt when I was a small child, to respect arms and guns.
During the First World War, things were tough at home for me. I do not remember much about it. However, I remember being given a gun and going out to shoot rabbits and hares. Later on, I used to get pheasants, ducks and all sorts of things. I kept the larder going. Our old head keeper—an elderly gentleman—could not go about with me. He used to give me my gun in the morning and tell me where to go, and off I would go and shoot one for the house. I would come back again and carefully hand my gun over to him so I that it would be nicely cleaned and looked after for the next time. I respected that gun. That training made me careful with guns. I believe that people should respect their weapons.
A lot has been said about the crossbow. The crossbow is a good weapon for rabbit control. At one time a crossbow was issued by the army and used by Continental people. The English then came along with their long bow. That could fire nine arrows compared to one arrow fired from a crossbow. That meant that the fire power of the English was far greater than that of anyone on the Continent. As a result the crossbow became very unpopular. I am inclined to think that it ought still to be very unpopular. I agree on that point.
I had not realised that there was so much argument about the issue of licences. I used to think that we could make quite good legislation fairly quickly on the licence, but from what I have heard today I realise that it is a much more complicated subject than I had realised. I am still very much inclined to back the scheme. I approve of the whole idea but it needs to be tied up and it will take a lot of thought before it is tied up properly. If a permit is introduced I think that it should be valid for at least five years.
1116 I was interested to hear the comments about police powers. A short time ago six of my rifles were stolen. They are antiques of various sorts ranging from flintlocks to modern weapons. They were going to an exhibition in a museum and the whole damn lot was swept up one night and I never saw my guns again. The police looked into the matter; they asked about the guns but they did not even follow it up. We think that we know who took the guns but they got safely away and that was the end of my guns. I think that recording the names and addresses of owners and the numbers of the guns would be very useful.
I should like to know what the opinion is about explosive shot. I think that it is very useful for stag shooting, and I understand also for wild boar. I have not shot wild boar but I believe it is used for that purpose.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I shall begin on a point on which I am sure there will be common agreement; that is, that we have heard two very attractive maiden speeches today by the noble Earls, Lord Nelson and Lord Portsmouth. I think that they were bold men indeed to try to make non-controversial speeches on the Second Reading of this particular Bill. If I may say so, I think that they both acquitted themselves extremely well. There was a strong difference between them in terms of the conclusions which they reached, and I come down unhesitatingly on the side of the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, who has the immense advantage of having been a serving police officer in this country and having seen the way in which armed criminals are prepared to use firearms.
I think that it will generally be agreed that this has been a rather odd debate. The Bill before us has been assailed by many of the Government's traditional supporters in this House. It has had few, though some, supporters on the Benches opposite. The latest count which I have made in terms of the line up of forces is seven in favour of the main principles of the Bill and 14 against, with a number of speeches being of what I might describe as an unclassifiable character.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in opening the debate made some criticism of the way in which the Bill had been handled in another place and of the drafting of the Bill. He came down in favour of the Bill. That is hardly surprising because in the other place the Opposition—rightly in my view—initiated a half-day debate on this general issue and the terms of the Opposition Motion were entirely consistent with the central purposes of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Knights, speaking with the authority of a former chief constable of the West Midlands and president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, also came down firmly in favour of the Bill, subject to some rather important qualifications related to whether the Bill went far enough. I very much agree with all points that he made. I propose to come back in my own speech to one of the issues that he raised.
I must make clear at the outset that my noble friends and I are broadly in favour of the central 1117 purposes of the Bill. On one quite important issue we intend to listen carefully to the debate at the Committee stage. It is the question relating to compensation. I think that the Government seriously mishandled this matter in the House of Commons. I am sure it was not the responsibility of the Home Office because it was almost certain, given the argument about the level of compensation, that the Home Office was receiving its instructions from the Treasury. Undoubtedly the Committee stage of that Bill got off to an extremely bad start in the House of Commons and poisoned the atmosphere, which proved much to the Government's disadvantage in the Bill's later stages.
I must say at once that I do not for one moment believe that had the Government had the most prolonged consultations with the shooting interests, there was any prospect whatever of an agreed Bill emerging. I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, agreeing with that remark. It is a point that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, and I am bound to say in the light of all the speeches that have been made in this Chamber today that the prospect of those consultations leading in some magical fashion to a happy outcome is wholly unrealistic. That is made even more clear by the very large number of representations that I have received—as did the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and I am sure many other noble Lords —some of which were couched in pretty extreme terms.
I should like to touch on just one or two points that were made during the course of those representations because I believe that they are relevant to our debate. I shall deal with two letters that I received, one from the Country Landowners' Association and another from the South-West Lancashire Pistol Club. Apart from one or two relatively secondary issues, both those organisations made it quite clear, as did others, that they were opposed in principle to the central purposes of this legislation. I think that the views of some of the "shooters" can be summed up fairly accurately by two statements that were made in those letters. In one passage of the letter from the Country Landowners' Association it says:If anything, it" —that means the Bill —will increase crime by giving the criminals more laws to break".Of course that statement, if true, would prevent Parliament from ever adding any provisions to the criminal law of this country. I have not noticed any reluctance on the part of the CLA and its supporters to urge extension of the criminal law when they considered it right to do so. That strange argument appears to be used only when the interests of shotgun users are concerned.
Similarly, is it in fact true to say, as did the South-West Lancashire Pistol Club (and others)—and indeed it is a view that has been echoed in some of the speeches made today—that:firearms legislation has little effect upon the level of armed crime"?That is certainly not the view of the many senior United States police officers with whom I have had the advantage of discussing this matter. They believe that our tough, highly restrictive legislation on the 1118 ownership of hand guns is an immense asset to this country. They are saddened that it is virtually impossible to have similar legislation put on to the statute book at either federal or state level, because of the political power in the United States of the National Rifle Association.
Despite the astonishing level of armed crime in the United States and despite the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy, the killing of Martin Luther King and the slaughter of scores of police officers, the NRA, with its very substantial resources, has succeeded in intimidating legislators in both Washington and the state legislatures and so has prevented the passing of effective gun control laws.
I believe that one of the reasons the level of armed crime in this country is so much lower than in the United States is because of firearms legislation, in particular in the past, relating to handguns. Until 1967 our firearms legislation almost exclusively related to handguns and rifles. In that year my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, as Home Secretary, for the first time introduced controls over shotguns in the Criminal Justice Act of that year and these were incorporated in the consolidation measure in 1968. My noble friend took that action because of the very serious disquiet of the Metropolitan Police and a number of provincial forces about the absence of any significant controls on shotguns. I think there is little doubt, with the benefit of hindsight, that we should on that occasion have gone a great deal further.
However, in the past few years the use of shotguns has once again increased. It is certainly true that shotguns are not used as regularly as handguns. The present ratio in the Metropolitan Police area is about two to one in favour of handguns. But it is also right to take account of what is happening to the level of armed crime in London.
In 1983 just over £1.7 million was stolen in armed attacks on security vehicles. Last year that figure had risen to well over £7 million. The amount stolen in the same period in armed raids on building societies has more than doubled. Because of this, and the increasing threat of the use of firearms in domestic disputes—an issue which should never be ignored—the number of times Metropolitan Police officers have been required to draw their weapons rose from 55 in 1978 to 162 last year. That means that the number of occasions on which metropolitan officers draw their firearms is now running at over three a week. That is a situation which, as the noble Lord, Lord Knights, said at the beginning of his speech, we would have regarded as extraordinary only 10 years ago.
The weapons that cause the police the greatest anxiety are not handguns, which are strictly controlled, but shotguns, which are not. Most shotgun confrontations are taking place during robberies or following family disputes and are at extremely short range.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, perhaps I may question the noble Lord on this. He referred to shotguns. Surely he is referring to sawn-off shotguns, which are already illegal.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I am not. I am referring to shotguns of both categories and not simply to sawn-off shotguns. As I have indicated, the confrontation normally takes place at a range of between one and 10 yards in the kind of incident that I am describing. If a shotgun is fired at that range the effect inevitably is a large hole in the body of the person who has been struck. It can measure in many cases between two and six inches.
The reason for such fearful wounds is that at that distance the shot has not had time to separate and spread. In addition, the hardboard or plastic wad containing the shot within the cartridge and some unburnt or still burning powder grains are often embedded in the wound. That is why a shotgun blast at close range has far more devastating effects in many cases than a single missile handgun. In many cases death is instantaneous. In the United States many highway patrols these days tend to use shotguns rather than handguns when approaching vehicles about which they have any suspicions. That is because the shotgun is, at short range, an infinitely more effective weapon.
It has been the increasing use of these weapons that has led the police to ask the Home Office to tighten up the law in respect of shotguns. The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, said that this would have the unfortunate effect of adding to the manpower problems of the police. I am sure that that is true. But I also have no doubt whatever that chief officers of police who are concerned about the establishment of their forces take the view that this is one of the most urgent priorities facing them. So far as I am aware, that is the view of very nearly every chief officer of police in England and Wales.
The Minister will be aware that the police were raising this question with the Home Office well before the episode involving Mr. Ryan at Hungerford. So were some of us in this House. We had an exchange with the noble Earl's predecessor but one, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, when two years ago —this relates directly to what the noble Lord, Lord, Kimball, said at the end of his speech —we asked him when he proposed to strengthen controls on shotguns and particulary whether there would be an obligation on certificate holders to store their weapons safely when they were not being used. All we received on that occasion was an assurance from the noble Lord that:it is under active consideration".—[Official Report, 17/7/1986; col. 1011.]Two years later this active consideration has led us nowhere. But now as a result of what happened at Hungerford, we have a satisfactory reference in the Bill to this problem.
But even here I do not believe that the Government have gone far enough. If I may, I shall give one example. Clause 3, as the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, pointed out, is crucial because it lays down for the first time that a chief officer of police not only has to be satisfied that an applicant can be permitted to possess a shotgun only if there is no danger to public safety or to the peace, but he can refuse to grant or renew a certificate if he does not believe that the applicant has a good reason for having such a weapon.
1120 However, in the new subsection (1A) in the draft of Clause 3 there is an extremely unfortunate double negative. It reads:No such certificate shall be granted or renewed…Then later in paragraph (b), if the chief officer,Is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring one".That may just be a piece of inelegant drafting which can be dealt with at Committee stage. What I should be grateful to hear from the noble Earl is whether it is simply a drafting matter or whether there is not here a point of substance underlying this provision. What is disturbing to a number of lawyers whom I have consulted and to some chief officers of police is that they fear that the use of this double negative could be designed to limit the powers of the police. They believe that it may make it more difficult for the police to prove whether or not there is good reason. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would consider this and particularly see whether we could not substitute the language of Section 27(1) of the 1968 Act which, if it is simply a drafting matter, could deal with this matter far more easily.
I shall now briefly deal with a point that I anticipated at the beginning of my speech, a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Knights, which is causing substantial anxiety. It is a matter which I hope will not affect the majority of shotgun licence holders in this country. The issue was undoubtedly highlighted by the Ryan affair and relates to the use of armour-piercing bullets. This kind of ammunition is commonly available, I understand, primarily from Eastern bloc countries. Ryan had just such ammunition at Hungerford; as the noble Lord, Lord Knights, indicated, the police did not. That was because they must accept the standards applied by the Home Office; and, in my view, that is right. But is also means that the kind of soft-body armour worn by policemen in those circumstances can be penetrated by just such bullets.
The noble Lord, Lord Knights, and I are anxious to hear from the Minister whether the Government will deal with that point at the Committee stage by prohibiting the use and possession in this country of ammunition of that character. That is a point of great substance. It has been raised previously with the Government and I hope that on this occasion we shall have satisfaction from the noble Earl on that important matter.
In conclusion, I should like to say that the majority of noble Lords who have spoken today have been critical of some of the central purposes of the Bill. I do not believe that that view is representative of the state of public opinion in this country. The public expects that they, and police officers, will be protected so far as possible from attacks by armed criminals. The Association of Chief Police Officers, the Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation have supported the broad approach of the Bill. In so far as they have criticism—and indeed in some cases they have criticism—it is that the Bill does not go far enough.
I hope that today the House has listened carefully to the views which have been expressed by the police service and not only to arguments advanced in good 1121 faith on behalf of the owners of shotguns. After all, it is the police who have the responsibility of tackling armed criminals. It is police officers who daily stand at risk of being subjected to attack by criminals carrying shotguns.
In those cirumstances, I do not believe that their views can be lightly disregarded. I believe that the Bill should be supported and that it would be entirely wrong for this House to weaken it still further. Not only would it be wrong, but I believe that in such circumstances we should be profoundly lacking in a sense of responsibility.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I should first like to suggest that this is not a party matter. There may be some party cracks in another place. In this House the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, raised several points and, in a humourous way, so did the noble Lord, Lord Burton. I like to think that noble Lords from all sides of the House can agree that something should be done about the control of firearms.
I wish to congratulate the two maiden speakers. I was particularly impressed by the experiences of the noble Earl, Lord Nelson. I hope that the House will take note of what he said because his comments were germane to the situation. We look forward to hearing from the noble Earl at the Committee stage. I was great friends with the grandfather of the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth. I travelled with him in America; I spent a great deal of time with him in Committee. The great feature of the noble Earl's speech was that it was very much to the point and very brief. I congratulate him and hope that he will take part in our Committee work.
As the second to last speaker and someone who was pulled in at the last moment to wind up the debate, I have listened to 23 speeches. I do not know what more I can say that will interest your Lordships. However, I must declare my interest. From the age of about 16 I have shot ground game —partridges, pheasants, and grouse —and I have also done a certain amount of stalking. There are two shooting clubs which I entertain on my farm in Essex. Therefore, I have a considerable interest in the subject.
On this side of the House, we agree that the Bill is a necessity. I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on what he said at the beginning, the manner in which he said it and the clarity with which he put the Bill across despite the strictures of my noble friend Lord Mishcon about the consultative committee. I believe that we were well served by this explanation.
Most people agree that the present law on guns and shooting requires amendment. Some people say that the Bill does not go far enough; others say that it goes too far. I believe that we have much to do in sorting out that issue in Committee.
As I said earlier, what more can I say? I shall mention one or two matters. There is the question of lobbying and briefing. My noble friend made the point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the various briefings and lobbyings we have had. The 1122 Shooters Rights Association produced a large glossy report which was quite interesting. I believe that the association did a good job in producing it at such short notice. There was a much shorter brief from the organisation of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, and, if I may say so, it was a much milder criticism than was the noble Lord's speech today. I am afraid that I disagree with quite a lot of what he said. We had a good brief in some respects from the Pistol Club. I have received quite a few private letters mostly from ordinary members rather than officials of clubs who feel that there is something to be said for an amendment, particularly with regard to the possible expense for ordinary members of shooting clubs. We shall have to look at that.
We had briefs from the NFU and the CLA. I believe both were agreed that the Bill is necessary although the noble Lord, Lord Harris, picked out a point in the CLA's submission which I had not noticed. As I say, they had several reservations about some aspects. A question raised in nearly every brief that I received concerned the lack of consultation. I then read the speech of the Home Secretary on Second Reading in another place. He seemed to refute that suggestion, saying that there had been consultation. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, also made that point. Many noble Lords have mentioned lack of consultation. I believe there must have been a blank somewhere. It would be interesting if the noble Earl could assist on that matter.
There are three points that I should like to address. First, there is the question of Hungerford. Much emotion was created by that dreadful occasion, and rightly so. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, made a very emotional speech—again, rightly so because his name is also Baron Hungerford. I believe that we must be very careful. I believe that emotion has figured rather too much in the debate on this Bill. I do not believe that emotion is a precursor of good law. Many people, I think, would agree with that.
In my opinion the important matter is not so much the gun or rifle but the person who owns or is using it. I believe that far stricter references should be demanded by the police before anyone receives a gun or arms certificate. I do not think that that should be too difficult. It should be insisted on by the police. They should be satisfied about the referees. I believe that would do much to help the situation.
The third point I want to make is that the actual ownership of a gun does not, in my opinion, encourage a person to use it illegally. Frankly, the horror films on TV are more likely to do that than the cosh, knife, broken bottle or the gun. They are only the instrument of that influence. I know that a gun is the worst of the four weapons that I have mentioned and if this Bill helps to reduce misuse, well and good; but we must not presume that ownership of a gun in itself encourages violence. I believe that one noble Lord said that anybody can go mad like the fellow at Hungerford; but that is a slightly unlikely event.
From the briefings that I have received the main worry from clubs, and so on, is that the Bill might inhibit genuine law-abiding gun users. I should mention the two clubs that come to my farm in Essex. I know the members fairly well. They are law-abiding 1123 people. They would have strong feelings about any inhibition of their activities which they so much enjoy. One comes to my farm every month and the others about once a fortnight. We let the shooting to one of the clubs. They are the sort of people who should be considered in this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, referred to keeping guns at the back door. I must admit that until recently that is where I generally kept my gun. Regulations in that respect will affect the farming community in keeping down pests. On my farm we are troubled by deer from Epping Forest. My wife sometimes comes home from a walk to say that there are 20 deer in the wheat field—generally there are only 10, but that is another matter! By the time I unlock my rifle from the cupboard upstairs, go to my office and open the safe to obtain the bolt and some cartridges, the deer are halfway back to Epping Forest. Therefore, the position is not as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, suggests. There will be a bigger nuisance than he makes out. It will be difficult to get farmers to look after their weapons in the way proposed.
As regards automatic rifles, and as I said a moment ago, I have done some stalking and I believe my experience is shared by many people. The last time I stalked was at my brother's estate at Glen Roy. I had the good luck (I suppose one can say) of getting three stags. The first two each fell with one shot. The gillie was congratulating me as we approached the third, after a very vigorous day on the hill. I had an automatic rifle with a telescopic sight. If one misses or does not hit properly with the first shot there is no question but that one can get in a second shot before the deer moves and therefore one does not let loose a wounded deer in the hills. That point has been made by keepers in many places and I believe that automatic rifles should be allowed in such circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Wynford, referred to people like himself who are disabled. The recoil is much less and therefore it helps them to enjoy rifle shooting. Therefore, automatic rifles must be considered from that aspect.
I now refer to compensation. One of the letters I received was from a man who owns a rifle which he feels he should give up. He says that it is worth £1,000. Does the noble Earl agree that he should be given only £150 as compensation? Compensation is another aspect that must be considered. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, rightly emphasised that aspect.
I was interested in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knights, about airguns, pistols and shotguns in the orders. There was no order for an automatic rifle in that category. There is too much emphasis on the question of the automatic rifle. Ryan shot half of his victims with a pistol which would have been passed within the terms of this Bill.
The only other point I wish to make is on the broader question of Northern Ireland. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised it. My noble friend Lord Blease left me a brief. He is very worried about the effects of this legislation on Northern Ireland. He left me with three questions to ask the Minister about what consultations took place with the shooting federations there, the Ulster Farmers' Union, the security forces, and the RUC who will 1124 have the difficult task of administering the proposed legislation. He also asked what provisions there are to repeal the present legislation as regards firearms in Northern Ireland. I hope that the noble Earl will look into those matters.
I have notes concerning what various noble Lords said today. I was interested in the point made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, about the EC and the fact that there will have to be comparable legislation within that organisation by 1992.
The subject of crossbows is an interesting one. I referred to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and I hope I replied to it suitably. I believe that we shall have a very interesting and, I fear, prolonged Committee stage; but that is the right time at which to go into the detail of the Bill. In the meantime, we give its general provisions our blessing and we hope to improve the Bill still further at Committee stage.
§ 4.32 p.m.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said, we have had a very interesting debate which has continued for quite a long while. I thank your Lordships for the courteous way in which this debate has been conducted. There are a large number of wide-ranging views on the subject, some of which are emotional and some of which deal with sport. It is a quite right that all these matters should be considered carefully and closely.
I find the problem of winding up the debate and answering the many questions that have been asked a formidable one. I hope that if I do not reply to all the questions your Lordships will not feel offended. If I can, I shall reply to those which I believe to be the most important and I shall do my best to contact other noble Lords as regards the more detailed questions. However, many of the points raised will arise again at the Committee stage.
I was grateful for the welcome which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, gave to this Bill. He asked me who had been consulted in Northern Ireland and a number of other questions of that kind. I have a great list of those who have been consulted in general and perhaps I may write to him on that point. I am grateful too for the welcome given to this Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, particularly when he said that Peers may be critical of it but that the public is not. I believe the noble Lord is absolutely right. There are bound to be criticisms but the point is that there needs to be control over these weapons.
A most interesting part of this debate was the maiden speeches made by two noble Earls. The fact that they are both Earls was perhaps an added distinction in a modest kind of way. I congratulate both of them. My noble friend Lord Nelson spoke with most genuine feeling and from his experience as a policeman. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, followed him and said that my noble friend Lord Nelson spoke from the heart. He was quite right. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that when police face firearms they have to have guts. Both my noble friend Lord Nelson and the noble Lord, Lord Knights, have had experience of the police force and what it is up against. The debate was enriched by those contributions. My noble friend Lord Nelson said that no reasonable person would be against the Bill. That was a helpful interjection.
1125 My noble friend Lord Portsmouth gave his speech with the gentle delivery of a person who is concerned and knowledgeable, and brought with it the advantage of youth. I say that with some special feeling because it is a matter of mild concern to me that when I first knew my noble friend he was 10 years old and at the same school as my son. That has a horribly accelerating effect of anno domini. They were both at school at my noble friend's house.
I am glad to see that the damage which my son and others may have inflicted upon my noble friend's house will now be repaired as his house is returned to the purpose for which it was meant —as a private home. I am delighted to know that my noble friend will be returning there, in, I hope, more splendour than was the case when it was a school for rather recalcitrant pupils. We look forward to hearing both noble Earls on many occasions. Their speeches were of enormous help.
I was grateful too that my noble friend Lord Kimball, who has such experience of the countryside, should have said that he is in favour of the Bill and that he thought those in the shooting community were making heavy weather of it. Whether or not they are making heavy weather is, I suppose, a matter of individual perception. I hope they will realise that we have tried to meet them over many of the points, and many of the points produced today will be considered carefully to see whether there are ways in which they can be met.
The noble Lord, Lord Knights, spoke with all the authority of a former chief constable of the West Midlands. He said that people were surprised to find self-loading firearms in the hands of private individuals and that the public will not be content while this is allowed. That was an important statement. In the Bill we have tried to allow a more reasoned control over these weapons.
My noble friend Lord Ironside spoke in an especially knowledgeable and detailed fashion. I could not help having a wry smile when he said that the Government should not have taken the easy way out. I have never thought that the Bill is the easy way out for anyone. My noble friend Lord Burton said with his customary modesty that the Home Office is empire-building. If anyone wished to build an empire he would not do it with this kind of Bill, which causes enormous problems, as has been witnessed this afternoon. I reject mildly but severely both those observations.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, it would be a very much more difficult task to have a new Firearms Bill before us.
My Lords, let us not go down that track of having a new Firearms Bill. This one is difficult enough as it is. My noble friend Lord Portsmouth suggested that we should have a new Firearms Bill. However that may be, my noble friend Lord Ironside referred to the stun gun which uses plain old electricity —I like that expression—and is powered with ordinary batteries. Perhaps that is so but the effect of it is pretty shattering. It may use only simple batteries but by the time those batteries have the capacity to knock a person out for a period of 1126 time he will realise why it was decided to put that into the category.
I was also grateful to my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, whose knowledge and use of weapons is so extensive as well as being unique. I was glad that he welcomed the Bill and that he did not agree with my noble friend Lord Burton. I was also grateful that he was so generous in his remarks about the previous chief constable.
My noble friend Lord Burton said that the firearms lobby was reasonable; that the Bill was a false surmise resulting from the incident at Hungerford and that we should do what the country wants. I can understand my noble friend taking a very severe view about the Bill; but I think that he will realise when he has heard—as he has—the views which have been expressed by various people, that the Government have tried to do what the public want; namely, to ensure that these lethal weapons are more securely held.
My noble friend Lord Swansea said that many people do not like the Bill and that much of it was irrelevant to Hungerford —of course it was. Hungerford might have been a catalyst for thought but this Bill goes much further than Hungerford. It was never intended to be related only to that incident. He asked me whether the Government would listen to reasoned argument. Of course we shall do so.
However, I only wish that such reasoned argument had been more evident in my noble friend's speech. He did not express one word of support, so far as I am aware, for the Bill; he did not acknowledge that there are those who have had the use of guns which were perfectly legally used; that this will have a great effect upon people and that the Government have considered that there was a case for controlling such weapons. Of course people will be affected. You cannot effect the law on firearms without impinging on the freedom of people. Further it is bound to affect certain people of whom my noble friend is fully aware and of whom he is a substantial leader.
However, I do not think that what he said about the courts not using the penalties they have and that the Government are using the old Victorian adage of telling people to see what the children are doing and then telling them not to do it, was reasonable. He said that the shooting fraternity was sick and tired of being treated as potential criminals or lunatics. No one has done this. The shooting community happen to operate with lethal weapons. All we are trying to do is to say that there ought to be greater control over these lethal weapons.
My noble friend used the argument of a Ferrari going into a bus queue, and he asked whether we would then ban all Ferraris. With respect to my noble friend, I think that that was the worst of all arguments. The answer is that of course all Ferraris would not be banned. However, cars are lethal weapons, and one must use them within certain confines. For example, sometimes you are only allowed to travel at 70 mph, sometimes at 50 mph and sometimes even at 30 mph. Further, if you happen to put your car where it should not be, then you may find that it is clamped. At the end of all this, you must also have a licence to show that you can control this lethal implement. However, you do not have to have 1127 a licence to use a firearm so, presumably, a car is a good deal more lethal than a firearm.
Many important points have been raised, and I shall, if I may, try to cover one or two of them. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked what consultations have been held. In addition to meetings and correspondence with a number of Members of this House and another place, Ministers have met representatives from the British Shooting Sports Council, which represents all aspects of shooting in the country, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Shooters Rights Association and the United Kingdom Practical Rifle Commission. Officials have also met representatives of many organisations, a list of which I have with me, but I do not propose to burden your Lordships by rehearsing it.
§ Lord Swansea
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, the point on consultation that I was attempting to make was that the Government arrived at their conclusions and their intentions without any consultation. There has been a great deal of consultation since, but that has not had any effect on the Government's opinion.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has certain responsibilities which he must carry out. It is up to him to try, on behalf of the Government, to decide the right lines along which to go, and then of course there are consultations. I do not think that even my noble friend would consider that the interests he represents have the right to say what the law of protection in the country should be. They have the right to say how their interests may be affected.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, if the Minister will allow me, I was not criticising the consultations. I have read the clause, read the Home Secretary's speech and listened to the Minister. Why has there been so much criticism that there was no consultation? That was the point I was making.
My Lords, I think we are firing both barrels, so to speak, in opposite directions. I was trying to tell the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, what consultations there had been. My noble friend came up on another point and complained that the consultations had not been early enough. I think that we had better leave the matter there.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked me about the double wording in Clause 3(1)(a) and (b). The wording is deliberate. It distinguishes the position with regard to Section 1 firearms. When one applies for a Section 1 firearms certificate, one must show a good reason for having the certificate in every case. The wording ensures that where one applies for a shotgun certificate one does not have to show a good reason in every case. However, it enables the chief officer of police to refuse to grant the certificate if he is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for having it.
The noble Lord asked about armour-piercing ammunition. We looked at the possibility of prohibiting it, but came to the conclusion that the definition makes that impractical at present. All ammunition has armour-piercing capabilities, 1128 depending on the type of ammunition. Some ammunition is sold as armour-piercing without necessarily having great penetrating power. In the circumstances, there is little to be gained by a general ban on such ammunition at present. If in future it proves possible to devise a suitable definition of armour-piercing ammunition or especially dangerous ammunition appears on the market, the Secretary of State will be able to use the reserve power to prohibit such items under Clause 1(4).
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. The Minister will be aware that there is widespread concern in the police service, especially among chief officers, over the Government's inability to find an adequate definition of armour-piercing ammunition. I wonder whether he will meet my noble friend Lord Knights and I and perhaps some ACPO representatives to discuss the matter to see whether we can make some progress.
My Lords, I shall be happy to do that. I realise the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. One of the problems is to decide what is armour-piercing. Anything will go through tin plate, but if we are dealing with six-inch thick metal the qualities described as armour-piercing would be somewhat different.
The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, and my noble friend Lord Swansea referred to Michael Ryan's firearms certificate and to the Thames Valley police. My noble friend Lord Swansea said that there had been no inquiry, that the matter had been swept under the carpet and shooters had been penalised. That is not fair. The chief constable of Thames Valley has made a full report on the incident to his police authority. That report has been made public.
Although membership of an approved club is not a statutory requirement for the grant or a variation of a firearms certificate, Ryan was a full member of a gun club when he was granted his firearms certificate. He joined a second club before being authorised to acquire his Kalashnikov and Underwood rifles. Ryan's applications were dealt with in accordance with the normal procedures of the Thames Valley police and there is nothing to suggest that they were processed with undue speed or haste. However, the Police Complaints Authority is at present investigating these matters as a result of a formal complaint. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to take it any further than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the noble Lord, Lord Knights, and my noble friend Lord Mountgarret referred to the possibility of a medical reference before a person is granted a certificate. We have consulted the British Medical Association on this. It has expressed the view that a general practitioner could not reasonably be asked to make a judgment as to whether an applicant is a fit and proper person to possess a firearm, although he could offer a purely factual statement about an applicant's medical and psychiatric history and whether he was currently taking any psychotropic, hypnotic or controlled drugs. But general practitioners would have to retain the right to decline to offer such a statement, and there should be no legal obligation on them to perform this function. The BMA's view was that a fee ought also to be charged.
1129 In view of all this and the fact that only a negative factual statement would be offered rather than a positive judgmental one—
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I wonder whether I could help the noble Earl. My colleagues in this House have been extremely patient in listening to the speeches of others when they were making them. The noble Earl was, I think, just about to reach a stage where, with his usual courtesy, he was going to answer the various points that I made. Those are Committee points and I release the noble Earl completely from any discourtesy if he should now decide to wind up finally so that the House can have a happy weekend.
My Lords, nothing would please me more than to do that, but I think I ought not to take the suggestion of the noble Lord quite that far, just in case some other noble Lords were not so magnanimous in their views as is the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
The noble Lord, Lord Knights, referred to air weapons. High-powered air weapons are already subject to the dangerous air weapons rules of 1969. They require a firearms certificate. The Firearms Act 1969 also imposes restrictions on the possession and use of any airgun by young people under 17. The Government are not persuaded that further restrictions on low-powered air weapons which would bear heavily on legitimate uses by large numbers of people should be introduced. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, my noble friends Lord Swinton, Lord Peel and Lord Ironside referred to the memorandum. I should be happy to place a copy of that in the Library of the House in due course.
Various points were made about the consultative committee, and if I may I shall write to noble Lords about that. However, I remind your Lordships that the consultative committee's terms of reference are drawn wide so as to include the members of the sporting community. That was the reason they were drawn in that way and it is up to the Secretary of State to decide on the composition of that committee.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, was concerned, and I know that the noble Lord,Lord Eden, had he taken part in the debate. would have been concerned, about museums having to deactivate or convert their firearms. The answer is that they will not have to do so. We made it clear that the conditions which the Home Secretary can attach to a museum licence will apply only to the safe custody of the firearms and the ammunition.
My noble friend Lord Peel asked why payments were only made for weapons held prior to 22nd September 1987. The whole principle behind the buy-in scheme is that payments will be made to people who bought guns without knowing that they were to become prohibited. If they bought guns after the date on which my right honourable friend made his Statement, they would know or should have known that they would most likely not be able to keep those guns. It is unreasonable to expect the general public to fund those payments.
There was some concern about the payments for guns or rifles. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, 1130 said that if you had a £1,000 gun you would only get £150. The noble Earls, Lord Swinton and Lord Peel, and my noble friend Lord Wynford said that it was disgraceful that anyone should not to be properly compensated. My noble friend Lord Dilhorne made similar suggestions. The point I wish to make again is that the payment for rifles will be either £150 or 50 per cent. of the retail market price. In other words, if you go into a shop and pay so much for a new gun, you will get 50 per cent. of the average price for that gun. The reason for that provision is that we do not think it is right for the taxpayer to pay a sum higher than that which a seller would get for his secondhand gun when sold at auction. That would also include the dealer's mark-up.
I shall avail myself of the offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and hope that other noble Lords will be contented. However, there is one point to which I should reply. My noble friend Lord Northesk asked whether visitors to the Channel Islands would need to apply for permits, and if so why. The answer is that they will. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not part of the United Kingdom; they are dependent territories of the British Crown. Firearms and shotgun or equivalent certificates issued in those territories are not valid in Great Britain or vice versa. Visitors from the islands will have to obtain permits.
As regards shotguns, the law of the Isle of Man is even less strict than our own. A person does not require a shotgun certificate to acquire a shotgun. He merely buys the shotgun and then obtains a gun licence from another department. Therefore, the matter is not straightforward.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The many points that have been raised will be considered very carefully. Where appropriate, I shall write to noble Lords. I cannot guarantee to write to every noble Lord about every point. However, I shall write to noble Lords on the most important points.
Finally, perhaps I may repeat the purpose of the Bill. It is not wholly a reaction to Hungerford, although that was the matter that drew everyone's attention to a state of affairs in which powerful and lethal weapons were not under sufficient control. It is the purpose of the Bill to provide more control for shotguns and firearms so as to protect the public. In so far as the Bill is necessary to accomplish that, we recognise that it curtails the rights and freedoms of some people. The important point is to get the balance right. We think that it is right. We are prepared to consider any ways in which we can make it better.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.