HL Deb 31 October 1988 vol 501 cc12-50

3.8 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Prohibited weapons and ammunition]:

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("or which is an air weapon").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1. If your Lordships will look at Clause 1, (2) (ab) of the Bill, they will see that this exempts any: self-loading or pump-action rifle other than one which is chambered for 22 rim-fire cartridges".

I think that my amendment would fit into this clause because there are certain air weapons which employ a kind of air reservoir which is pumped up for use. The air rifle or air pistol can fire a succession of pellets one at a time, one for each pull of the trigger, without any further pumping up of the reservoir.

These air weapons do not come under the category of specially dangerous air weapons, for which a firearms certificate is required. Therefore there is no reason that I can see why they should not be included in this exemption under Clause 1. I beg to move.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, my noble friend is seeking by means of this amendment to exempt from the prohibition on self-loading and pump-action rifles in subsection (2)(ab) of Clause 1 all air weapons. The reason why no reference is made in subsection (2)(ab) to air weapons is a fairly simple one. So far as we are aware, there are no self-loading air rifles in existence at the moment. I understand my noble friend's prudent approach in looking into the future; but I find it difficult to agree with what my noble friend is proposing for a number of reasons.

First, we have done a certain amount of research into the problem which my noble friend has quite rightly highlighted. We cannot find evidence that there are any self-loading air guns on the market in this country or being manufactured. Therefore, if we were to accept my noble friend's amendment we should be legislating for something which does not at present exist.

My noble friend may say "Ah, they may exist in the future and if they did the weapons would automatically fall in the Section 5 category and become prohibited". That may happen or it may not. Either way the matter is speculative.

Secondly, one must ask what would be the legitimate use of a self-loading air rifle. Air rifles are usually used by young people for target practice. Sometimes they are used against vermin. They can be very dangerous. Your Lordships are doubtless aware of the concern which arises periodically over the misuse of air weapons. However, the House may not be aware that in 1987 there were no fewer than 5,172 incidents of criminal damage or injury to the person or animals as a result of the use of what might he termed "ordinary" air weapons. Many of those incidents involved the use of low-powered air weapons and I really cannot think that your Lordships would wish to increase the risk by making self-loading repeating rifles of that type freely available to young people. That would certainly be the consequence of my noble friend's amendment.

The third reason is more fundamental. Parliament considered that air weapons can be sufficiently dangerous that they should be controlled in the same way as a rifle: The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 determined that any rifle which is capable of discharging a kinetic energy level in excess of 12 foot lb at the point of discharge—and 6foot lb in the case of an air pistol—requires a firearms certificate for its purchase and possession.

Some of those air weapons are very powerful and as such fall into a Section 1 category. What my noble friend is suggesting is that, if there is a weapon—and there is not as yet—which falls just below that level and can be repeatedly fired, it should be available outside the controls for purchase and use by anyone over the age of 14 (and under that age provided that they are supervised—and there are no checks on who supervises an air weapon user).

For those reasons I do not believe that my noble friend's amendment would be a suitable addition to the Bill.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. He pointed out that I may be legislating for something that does not exist. However, Clause 1(4) of the Bill does that very thing; it legislates for things that do not already exist.

The dangerous use of air weapons is a matter on which the shooting interests themselves have always kept a very close eye. They would not like to see the dangerous misuse of such air weapons. However, my noble friend does not feel inclined to accept the amendment. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.15 p.m.

Clause 4 [Transfers of shot guns]::

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 35, leave out ("forty-eight") and insert ("seventy-two").

The noble Lord said, My Lords, the amendment applies to the lending of shotguns for a short period to someone who does not possess a shotgun certificate. It falls under Clause 4 (1) of the Bill which reads at present, in part: where a person—… (b) lends a shotgun for a period of more than forty-eight hours".

The person to whom the shotgun is lent may be a visitor to this country or someone who does not already possess a shotgun certificate. I invite your Lordships to consider a case in which the borrower may perhaps travel to a part of the country some distance away, for example, Scotland, in order to shoot for a weekend. The period of 48 hours allowed in the Bill for him to acquire the shotgun, travel, carry out his shooting and return the shotgun to the owner is barely sufficient. That is why I should like to see the period of 48 hours extended to 72 hours. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I much prefer Amendment No. 2 to Amendment No. 3 in my own name. Amendment No. 3 merely provides a safety net or fall back position in the—I hope—unlikely event of Amendment No. 2 being unacceptable to the Government or to the House.

Clearly the 48-hour provision currently in the Bill is almost unworkable. Anyone living in, say, Hampshire who is invited to shoot in Scotland or even Northumberland and borrows a gun in order to do so will find it almost impossible to return it within the 48-hour limit without entirely ruining his weekend. A 60-hour limit would help perhaps two-thirds of those who borrow guns for the weekend and as such would be better than nothing. However, that would still leave one-third of potential borrowers out in the cold. That being so I hope that the Government will accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea.

Lord Burton

My Lords, I sympathise with the amendment. A great deal of the administration of the Bill will be carried out by civilians who presumably will not work over the weekend. Therefore if one wants a weapon on a Saturday one would not be able to notify officials on Sunday because they would not be available. It seems very reasonable that the limit should be extended to 72 hours.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, both the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swansea (Amendment No. 2) and that of the noble Lord, Lord Monson (Amendment No. 3) seek to extend the period of loans of shotguns which do not have to be notified either to the police or included on the shotgun certificate. I understand the concern underlying both amendments.

The present 48-hour exemption was designed to cater for a weekend shooting. However, I can envisage a situation such as my noble friend Lord Swansea has suggested in which a gun is borrowed in a town on Friday afternoon for a weekend shoot in the country and is not returned to the owner until the following Monday. In those cases the present 48-hour exemption would be fairly restrictive.

I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, preferred my noble friend Lord Swansea's amendment. So do I. For those reasons I am happy to accept the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Swansea.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Statements in support of applications for certificates]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 4: Page 6, line 6, at end insert ("whether by reason of character, mental instability or otherwise").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at Report stage I suggested to the House that we bore in mind some of the unfortunate firearms incidents which had prompted this legislation. I further ventured to say that the legislation before us by no means made it clear that we were registering in our own minds some of those examples. They arose very largely out of mental instability which would have been observed and certainly should have been by anyone who had known the applicant for a licence at all well.

Accordingly I asked that an amendment should be accepted by the Government which made it clear that when considering suitability for the grant of a licence any referee should be required by legislation to have in mind such questions as character, mental instability or otherwise. Your Lordships were then treated to a dissertation upon constitutional law from very learned sources. I was therefore met with the prospect of asking the House to accept my legal interpretation of the constitution as against that of the noble and learned Lords who opposed me. It was not an easy exercise but I endeavoured to undertake it.

As a long stop I thought I would suggest to the Government that, if on reflection, it was not possible to include this in the legislation without walking into grave difficulties of interpretation and so on, we should at least have a clear provision in the application form to be signed by the referee that he should have regard to such matters as mental instability, character and nature. The Minister with his usual courtesy said that he would consider that matter carefully between the Report stage and Third Reading. He has been good enough to write to me in terms which suggest—and I must leave it to him to say this to the House—that including such a provision in the application form by way of guidance to the referee is acceptable to the Government. If I hear those words from the Minister I shall take a very obvious course in regard to the amendment.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord today is in identical terms to the one that was tabled at Report stage. He reminded your Lordships of the discourse which was then entered into between his legal self and a noble and learned Lord. At that time I did not wish to get involved in such a legal discourse. I merely undertook to look at the problem which he raised so eloquently and appropriately. I said that I would look at the matter to see whether guidance might be included in the appropriate place on application forms to remind countersignatories of the need to consider the character and mental stability of the applicant. I said at Report stage that it would be difficult for us to put such a provision on the face of the Bill and I explained why I thought that that would not be appropriate. I looked at the matter again and I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about it. I am happy to say that we shall be doing just as I indicated. In my letter I said: We shall include in the application forms brief advice to countersignatories on the factors which they ought to take into consideration". I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing the point to our attention. We shall put that in the application forms. I hope that, as usual, I have been able to satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I wish that that last remark was consistent with the noble Earl's actions. Nevertheless, it would be most ungracious of me if I did not thank him most sincerely for what he has said and done. I ask the House for leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Revocation of certificates]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 5: Page 6, line 37, after ("succeeds") insert ("and subject to any contrary order the court may make").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very short point which I raised at Report stage. When an appeal against the revocation of a licence is allowed, the Bill presently states that any ammunition of firearms that have been confiscated by the police must be immediately returned. I envisage the possibility of a case where, although for some reason the appeal is allowed, some if not all of the firearms or ammunition involved might not in the wisdom of the court be returned to the appellant. I therefore put in the safeguard—and I have used slightly different words on this occasion, and subject to any contrary order the court may make". I think it is right to leave a discretion to the court. As the Bill stands, if any appeal against revocation is allowed, quite automatically, whatever the court may think, any ammunition or firearms that have been confiscated prior to the appeal must be returned to the appellant. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's concern that the discretion of the court should not be fettered inappropriately. We should not wish to see such a thing happen. But I do not think it appropriate to give the court the discretion which the noble Lord is seeking. The question to be considered is whether a person ought to have his licence revoked. The only question which the court has to decide is whether that person is a danger to public safety. If the court concludes that the person is not a danger to public safety the weapons will be returned to the owner. If on the other hand the court concludes that he is a danger to public safety—and such a danger that he ought not to be in possession of his weapons—it is appropriate that the weapons should be removed.

The noble Lord has a vivid imagination which allows him to visualise a court saying that a man is a sufficient danger to public safety that he ought not to have one weapon but that he can have the other five weapons. The only question which the court has to decide on this occasion is whether the person is a danger to public safety. Should the court conclude that he is sufficiently dangerous to public safety to have his weapons removed, the applicant can make a fresh application for the mysterious five weapons which the noble Lord fears he might he entitled to keep. The applicant can make that application and the chief officer can consider that afresh.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the noble Earl usually shows a great breadth of vision. It has been somewhat narrowed down, in my humble estimation, by the guidance he has received on this occasion. I ask the House to treat this question very seriously indeed.

I take an example that does not appear to have been in the noble Earl's mind. A licence is revoked by virtue of the fact that a dangerous weapon is in the hands of the applicant. The applicant does not satisfy the police that that weapon was there by some accident. From his point of view it is not a blameworthy incident. The licence is revoked and the matter goes to court. The court is met with this difficulty, it having been pointed out that we, as careful legislators, have given the court no discretion. If the court decides that it believes what the applicant has said, or on taking everything into consideration thinks that the licence should not be revoked, the dangerous weapon found in the hands of the applicant must be returned to him.

That is the last thing in the world the court will have wanted to happen. It might feel that, although it would otherwise have allowed the appeal, it could not do so because it would be failing in its duty if automatically and as a mandatory matter the weapon had to be returned to the appellant. It could not even make a decision to allow the appeal on condition that the appellant delivered the weapon to the police for destruction. The weapon must be returned to him. We allow no leeway for the court to make a conditional order or for the court to say that the appeal is allowed but that the weapon is not to be restored to the owner.

We are supposed to be careful legislators, providing for all contingencies that we can reasonably foresee. I have given but one example. There are others that I am sure your Lordships can think of. I know of no reason why the Government should not agree to this amendment. It merely allows a discretion for the court in an appropriate case—which I agree may be very rare—to say, "The appeal is allowed but I have looked at the weapon that is to be confiscated and I shall say that for good reason part of this weaponry should not be returned to the appellant."

I ask the Minister to have second thoughts and, with the leave of the House if that be necessary, to express them. However, if that is not so, then—I was going to say, with great disappointment—I should find it obligatory to take the opinion of the House. Otherwise we are falling short of our duties as legislators.

The matter is not one of policy. It has nothing to do with any principle behind this Bill. But it has something to do with limiting the power of the court quite unnecessarily.

3.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall try to help the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I realise that he has put down an amendment that he feels would improve the Bill. We are concerned in this case only with the situation where a chief officer has taken the view that a certain person is in such a state that he is a danger to public safety if he has in his possession firearms for which he has a firearms certificate. Only on the occasions of public safety is the chief officer permitted to say, "You ought no longer to hold those weapons. You are a danger." On that occasion the person concerned has all the rights to appeal against this decision. He will appeal to the courts and say, "My certificate is being removed from me. I do not think that it is fair." The court has to decide whether that certificate with all the weapons on it should be revoked; or whether it should not be revoked and therefore the appellant can keep his weapons.

The only question that the court has to decide is whether or not that certificate should be revoked. If a court decides that the chief officer was wrong to revoke a person's certificate on the grounds of public safety, if it allows his appeal and returns his certificate to him, then clearly he will have returned to him all the weapons to which the certificate relates. If there were still some question over that person's fitness to hold them safely, then presumably the court would not have upheld the appeal. But on that occasion it has done so.

On the other hand, if the court accepts the view of the chief constable that this person is simply not safe to have these weapons for which he holds a valid certificate, and that certificate ought to be revoked, then the court is entitled to revoke that certificate and dismiss the appeal. That is the only question that the court has to decide.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, confuses the issue slightly if he says that the court ought to consider whether the appellant could keep some of the weapons on the certificate and not the others. That is not the question that the court has to decide. It is whether or not the chief officer was right in revoking the certificate on the grounds of public safety. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that it is the only question which the courts have to consider.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down— I have to preface my remarks with that observation, otherwise I do not have the right to speak twice—he has not in any way addressed himself to the example which I gave. I must repeat it because of the need to try to get this clause right, and not unnecessarily to impair the powers of the court. I gave an example where the police had come to the conclusion that the licence should be forfeited because a dangerous weapon, not included in the certificate, was found in his possesssion. He finds that his explanation for the possession of that dangerous firearm is not accepted by the police, but is accepted by the court. Meanwhile the firearms, including the dangerous weapon, have been confiscated. My humble submission is this—the Minister may, on advice differ from it. What harm do we do if we make a proviso of this kind for the sake of safety?

In my humble submission the court would find itself in difficulty by virtue of the mandatory way in which this clause is now worded; namely, that if the appeal is allowed then the firearms concerned, including this dangerous weapon, would have to be returned to the appellant.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I am grateful to him for giving way. This is an interesting point and quite a difficult one. However, has it occurred to the noble Lord that he is giving the courts the power to confiscate property—in other words, a weapon, or weapons in this case—even though as a result of their inquiry they have not come to any conclusion against the person concerned showing that he was in any way to blame? Is that right? It is not in accordance with our usual sense of justice.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I must be lacking, and very peculiarly so, in clarity this afternoon. I apologise to the House if that be so. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, agrees that I am lacking in clarity, then in those circumstances I must be.

For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, whose intervention I appreciate, I shall repeat the example I gave. I am sure that he also wishes to get this clause right and not wrongfully to interfere with the court's discretion. My example was this. The police had properly confiscated a weapon. The weapon in question has led the police, because of that person's possession of it, to revoke a licence. They do not accept that person's explanation for his possession of that weapon or the condition of it which has made it dangerous. It may have been covered by the licence. I wish to protect the court and the public.

If the appeal is allowed because the court finds that the explanation justifies them in allowing the appeal it could then say, "The appeal is to be allowed but we do not want that weapon which has been altered"—it may have been a weapon on the firearms certificate but it has been altered dangerously perhaps by somebody else—"you say by somebody else without your knowldge, to go back into your possession. It is to go to the police". The court cannot do it under this wording. The wording of the clause is mandatory. It states: If an appeal against the revocation of the certificate succeeds, the firearm or ammunition shall be returned". There is no question of the discretion of the court to say, "We want that altered weapon passed over to the police". That is the point that I am making—good, bad or indifferent.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can tell us what the principal Act says on this matter. I much regret that I have not read Section 31. I wonder whether it is relevant to the point. I cannot deny that there is a considerable force in what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said. I can see the situation arising but I cannot form a judgment unless I know what is in the principal Act. I wonder whether my noble friend can help us on this.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not want to find myself in contravention of all the rules of procedure, but I can answer my noble friend only if I have the leave of the House. If the House does not wish me to do so, I shall happily resume my seat, but as 1 have been invited by my noble friend Lord Selkirk to throw some light on this matter, I shall do my best to throw such light.

We are referring here to a clause which reads: Where a certificate is revoked by the chief officer of police under section 30(1)(a) or (2)". My noble friend Lord Selkirk asked what that said. Section 30(1) states that: A firearm certificate may be revoked by the chief officer of police for the area in which the holder resides if …the chief officer is satisfied that the holder is prohibited by this Act from possessing a firearm to which section 1 of this Act applies or is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm". Subsection (2) states that: A shot gun certificate may be revoked by the chief officer of police if he is satisfied that the holder is prohibited by this Act from possessing a shot gun or cannot be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to the public safety or to the peace". I tried to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Of course he is always clear. If there was doubt about his ability to be clear, my only doubt is my ability to comprehend. If the weapon is not on the firearms certificate, which I think was the point that the noble Lord was making—he shakes his head in dissent—then it is not lawfully held and therefore it cannot be part of an appeal or a revocation process.

The police already have the powers to take away unlicensed weapons, but I believe there is no need for the court to have the power to order the seizure of weapons under these provisions. The police already have the power under Section 46 of the 1968 Act to seize weapons. I fear that my ability to comprehend the noble Lord's simple point is even greater than it normally is. The question the court has to decide is whether or not the certificate has to be revoked. If it is to be revoked because the person is of unsound mind and is a danger to the peace, it would seem that all the items on that certificate ought to be discharged from the appellant. However, if the court does not decide that, then the appellant gets them back. The noble Lord shakes his head in dissent. It distresses me enormously that I have been unable to convince the noble Lord of what to me seems such an eminently simple point.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I should weary the House to the point of absolute boredom if I were to continue this argument.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Hear, hear!

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I may risk doing that to the House, but I certainly should not risk doing it to the noble and learned Lord. In the circumstances all I can do is to divide the House for the simple reason that I want it to be on record that I tried in what I believe to be an honourable cause.

3.44 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 47: Not-Contents, 144.

Blease. L. Mishcon, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Molloy, L.
Carmichacl of Kelvingrove, L. Mulley, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Nicol, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Peston, L.
David, B. Phillips, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.[Teller.]
Ennals, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Ridley, V.
Gallachcr, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.] Shannon, E.
Shepherd, L.
Hirshfield, L. Stallard, L.
Houghton of Sowcrby, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hughes, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Strabolgi, L.
Jay, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jeger, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Kilbracken, L. Underhill, L.
Leatherland, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Listowel, E. Willis, L.
Longford, E.
Addington, L. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Broadbridge, L.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Brookeborough, V.
Allerton, L. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Ampthill, L. Burton, L.
Annan, L. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Arran, E. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Attlee, E. Campbell of Croy, L.
Auckland, L. Carnock, L.
Aylestone, L. Clitheroe, L.
Banks, L. Colnbrook, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cottesloe, L.
Belstead, L. Cox, B.
Bessborough, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Blyth, L. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Bolton, L. Davidson, V.[Teller.]
Bonham-Carter, L. De Freyne, L.
Borthwick, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Dudley, B.
Dulverton, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Dundee, E.
Ellenborough, L. Merrivale, L.
Elles, B. Mersey, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Milverton, L.
Faithfull, B. Monson, L.
Falkland, V. Mostyn, L.
Ferrers, E. Mottistone, L
Fortescue, E. Mountgarret, V.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Munster, E.
Gladwyn, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Glenarthur, L. Northesk, E.
Goschen, V. Ogmore, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Orkney, E.
Grey, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Gridley, L. Oxfuird, V.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Peel, E.
Haddington, E. Pender, L.
Haig, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Rankeillour, L.
Halsbury, E. Rathcreedan, L.
Hampton, L. Reigate, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Renton, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Renwick, L.
Harvington, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Hayter, L. Rugby, L.
Hesketh, L. Sainsbury, L.
Hives, L. St. Davids, V.
Holderness, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Seear, B.
Hood, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Hooper, B. Slim, V.
Hylton-Foster, B. Somers, L.
Jessel, L. Strathclyde, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Strathspey, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Swansea, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Kinnaird, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Long, V. Tordoff, L.
Lonsdale, E. Torphichen, L.
Lovat, L. Torrington, V.
Lyell, L. Trevor, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Walston, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Westbury, L.
McNair, L. Whaddon, L.
Malmesbury, E. Whitelaw, V.
Manton, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Mar, C.
Margadale, L. Wise, L.
Marley, L. Young of Grarffham, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.52 p.m.

Clause 15 [Rifle and pistol clubs]:

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 6: Page 8, line 10, at end insert ("or competition").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6. It refers to Clause 15(1), dealing with exemptions. The subsection states: A member of a rifle club, miniature rifle club or pistol club approved by the Secretary of State, may, without holding a firearm certificate, have in his possession a firearm and ammunition when engaged as a member of the club in, or in connection with, target practice".

My amendment will add to the end of that subsection the words: or competition".

There are occasions when people who do not hold firearms certificates take part in competition as distinct from practice. The amendment is designed to clarify that position and I should like to give the House an example. A meeting takes place at the ranges of the National Rifle Association at Bisley, during which a competition is held between school teams. A large number of old boys attend the meeting to cheer on their school teams and afterwards there is a competition for the old boys. It is a competition because prizes are given. It is the only shoot of the year for many of those who attend on that day. Many do not possess firearms certificates but they turn up for that one shoot of the year to meet friends, have a fun day and perhaps a party afterwards.

I should like to give the House another example. It is the annual competition which takes place between teams representing your Lordships' House and another place. I am glad to say that the team representing your Lordships' House was successful in winning that match this year and last year. I do not know, because I have never asked members of your Lordships' team, but I suspect that some may not have firearms certificates. They attend the competition once a year and I suspect that many members of both teams do not have firearms certificates.

Your Lordships may feel that I have quoted special cases but I believe that they ought to he taken into account. I am sure that such competitions take place elsewhere in the country from time to time. There is a well-known legal axiom which is that "hard cases make bad law". The answer is that the whole of the Bill is founded on a hard case.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I should like to ask how one starts to define the competition for the old boys—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, what about the old girls?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, in deference to my noble and learned friend, a competition for old girls! Could not some of the wide boys devise another kind of competition which, under no reasonable approach, could possibly qualify for exemption? Therefore, I suggest that the concept of amending the Bill to include competition without a qualifying definition to curtail the area of exemption should not be acceptable to your Lordships' House.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. The Government have had the courage to introduce the Act. I am sure that courage was required because their supporters are mainly those interested in shooting. Surely in the long clause defining exemptions the Government have covered every possibility and it seems unreasonable to introduce such an amendment for what appears to be only a single occasion.

I hope that the Government will resist the amendment. They have been most generous; there are approximately 19 exemptions. Surely they are sufficient, even for the gun lobby.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway asked me to define a competition for old boys and a competition for old girls. I am not sure that the definition would be the same in each case and I shall not be invited to go down that path. We must keep the matter in the right perspective.

My noble friend Lord Swansea made clear the purpose of his amendment. I do not believe that it would achieve its intended effect because there are not the necessary consequential amendments to subsections (2) and (8) of the clause.

It is only fair to explain the purpose of a club approval under Clause 15. It is to allow club members to engage specifically in target practice without the need for a firearms certificate. That enables those who have just embarked on a shooting career, or who are thinking of doing so, or who cannot afford a gun of their own, to do so without having to obtain a firearms certificate. It would also, as the current memorandum of guidance makes clear, enable club members to use club firearms for target practice at ranges away from their home premises.

To use weapons for those purposes without a firearms certificate is quite a concession. We believe that those who wish to compete in serious competition should have to obtain a firearms certificate in the normal way. My noble friend Lord Swansea gave an example of the old boys' match at Bisley or the Lords and Commons rifle competition. I believe that we might be in danger of moving too far away from the basic principles if we followed those examples to their limits.

Clause 15 provides nothing more—this is important—than an exemption from the certificate requirements for any member of an approved club who wishes to carry out target practice. This is exactly the same as existing legislation. Nothing has changed. All that Clause 15 does is to change the length of the present lifetime approval of the club to one of six years. The present legislation which, as far as I know, has permitted my noble friend Lord Swansea to take part in all sorts of shooting matches, has been operating for over 20 years without, so far as I am aware, any problems. Those who were able to benefit from the existing Act will still be able to do so under Clause 15.

The effect of my noble friend's amendment would be to permit those who take part in competition to take club firearms from one range to another and keep them in their houses overnight—all without any checks or notification and without holding a firearms certificate. To be able to use a firearm for target practice without a certificate is a major concession, but to allow people to go all over the country to compete in serious competition without certification is not what the club approval system is—or I suggest should be—all about.

For those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will agree that the amendment which he suggests would not be appropriate.

4 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps he can answer one query to which I am sure I should know the answer. He referred to this permission being granted to take away a weapon for one night. Is there any limit on the number of nights for which a person may keep the weapon and are there any restrictions as to where he keeps it? Can he keep it on his dining room table or must it be kept in a secure place? If so, where are those restrictions put in writing?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House, anyone who has a weapon has to keep it in secure and safe premises. The actual wording of the Bill states that a member of a rifle club without holding a firearm certificate may have in his possession a firearm and ammunition when engaged as a member of the club or in connection with target practice. It is for the court to construe what is meant by, when engaged as a member of the club". It may be that if one moves from one place to another, one has to transport the weapons. That would he a case when a person would have them when he is, engaged as a member of the club". Quite clearly, if he had the weapons in his house for a month that would not be when he was engaged as a member of the club.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I have had the reply which I more or less expected from my noble friend. One point he raised which he has mentioned to me before in conversation is the question of taking away the rifle and ammunition. I have never mentioned that. I have only referred to a person having it in his possession on a range. I would never advise a person that he was entitled to take a rifle or ammunition home with him but only to have it in his possession on the range for the purposes of using it then and there.

It is possible that this case may be covered by Clause 16, but I am open to advice on that. It all depends on what is meant by target practice. Does that or does that not cover competition? I feel that the Bill ought to be specific in that respect because very often we have heard it said that we should leave it to the courts to decide what is this and what is that. I believe that the courts are thoroughly fed up with having to decide grey areas such as this which are not specifically spelt out in legislation.

Your Lordships will probably remember a well-known judgment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, on some particularly knotty point of law when he talked of clambering through the undergrowth of the complexities of legislation. However, I cannot remember what that case was. As regards the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway about old boys and girls, I believe that is covered by the well-known principle that man embraces woman. However, I do not believe that there is much point in pursuing this any further and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 [Borrowed rifles on private premises]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 7: Page 9, line 1, leave out ("seventeen") and insert ("fourteen").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 20, all of which are consequential on Amendment No. 7.

These are heavily modified versions of' an amendment moved on Report, which was withdrawn on the understanding that it would be brought hack at this stage in a compromise form which we hoped would be more acceptable to the Government. As the Bill is drafted at present, we are faced with a Kafkaesque situation in which boys or girls of 14, 15 or 16 will not be able to fire a single experimental shot from their parents' .22 rifle or, in very occasional circumstances, a more powerful rifle on their parents' land—private land, let it be noted—without first obtaining a full firearms certificate for three years.

This confronts chief constables with the near necessity—not the obligation but in practical terms the near necessity—to grant firearms licences to people who have never fired a gun in their lives and who may find, once they have fired four or five shots, that they have no aptitude or inclination whatever for shooting. That cannot be in the public interest and it cannot be welcome to those who want tighter controls over the issue of firearms licences.

What would be the reaction of a parent who has just paid out £33 for a firearms licence for a 14 or 15 year-old, only to be confronted with a son or daughter who complains that they do not really enjoy shooting nearly as much as they thought they would and, what is more, do not think that they have any aptitude for it? The reaction is likely to be, "Now look here, I have paid out good money for this licence. You can jolly well stick to your shooting until you get the hang of it and until you learn to like it". I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is hardly in the best interests of the public.

Of course it may be the case—I have not been able to ascertain this—that this state of affairs has its genesis not in this Bill but in legislation introduced by a Labour Government 20 years ago. However, even if that were so surely it is now the right moment to put matters right.

As your Lordships will notice, the amendment provides that the rifle in question can only be used in the presence of a responsible adult, and not an adult of 18 but an adult of 21. I should have been more than happy to stipulate an age limit of 25 or 30 had I been able to find any precedent in legislation for imposing such a relatively high age limit. However, with the limited resources at my disposal I was not able to do so, and Third Reading does not seem to be the right stage at which to experiment; hence the age limit of 21.

Your Lordships will also note that, if this amendment is agreed to, the age of 17 will still be the minimum age at which ammunition can he purchased. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is right and proper. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I have some sympathy with these amendments, as I indicated on Report. Of course, they were then in a slightly different form and were moved by one of my noble friends.

I instanced then, and I hope I may be forgiven for briefly repeating it, the case of two boys each aged, say, 15, who are in the combined cadet force at their school where they learn to shoot with rifles as members of the cadet force. We assume that one of them is invited by the parents of the other to stay with his friend for the Easter holidays. Towards the end of the holidays, especially if it is a late Easter, rook shooting will have started. It seems to me absurd that the visiting boy should not—at least under proper supervision as envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Monson—be able to borrow a rifle and shoot rooks on that occasion.

Perhaps I may interpolate at this point that Hansard accused me of wanting them to shoot starlings as well. I have never heard of such a thing and I do not know where Hansard got that unless a noble Lord added "and starlings". That has now been corrected in Hansard. However, subject to what my noble friend may say, I have a great deal of sympathy with these amendments.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I too support this amendment. There is an anomaly in that, as I understand it, persons aged 17 and above may borrow a rifle on private premises and yet we say that anybody under the age of 17 may not, although it is a schoolboy, because he has to own a firearms certificate. That seems to me to be slightly heavy-handed. I understand the concern of my noble friend on the Front Bench, but I hope that he has had an opportunity of reconsidering the position. In principle, I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has a great deal to be considered.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I too support this amendment. There has been a degree of confusion, certainly among noble Lords involved with this Bill. We were very much under the impression that when the estate rifle clause, which most of us welcomed in principle, was introduced by my noble friend on Report, it was for all age groups.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Mountgarret. It is ridiculous that people aged between 14 and 17—the precise age at which they will be learning to shoot—should have to apply for a firearms permit. They will be under instruction during that stage and as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, they may decide that they do not want to pursue the sport; in which case they will not need to apply for a firearms permit.

I appreciate that a young person can take part in target shooting as a member of a Home Office approved club without holding a certificate. I believe that my noble friend the Minister considers that to be the way in which a young person should learn target shooting. However, it is completely different from the actual process of learning to shoot and to stalk a stag on the hill. It is a completely different process and therefore not appropriate. It is illogical that one can allow someone under the age of 17 to shoot at a club without holding a permit but not on a hill in practice.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is sensible and I hope that my noble friend will give it careful consideration.

4.15 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I should like to add just one comment to those of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Not everyone lives near enough to a club to be able to be a member and learn to shoot in that way.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I add my support to this amendment. The present law under the 1968 Act, and now this Bill, can only be described as a nasty sticky mess. The law is full of anomalies and the more that can be done to tidy it up the better.

The law concerning shotguns and people under the age of 17 is already covered in the 1968 Act, Sections 22 and 23, and it seems only sensible that the Bill should be brought into line with that Act as regards firearms.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I have but one short point to make. On the premise that one has a vast tract of land for grouse shooting, or something of that nature, the logic is flawless. This clause refers to, the occupier of private premises". Private premises can be very small and anywhere. The clause as it stands is governed by "private premises". Flawless logic can, as has been pointed out, lead to absurdity. One must be absolutely certain as to the basis on which the whole clause is cast, which is, the occupier of private premises".

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene on the point he has just made? He is suggesting that the Bill should go in for a large amount of defining detail as to the kind of premises to which the clause should refer. Would that not be an excess of zeal on our part as legislators? Is it not better that the clause should be drafted as it is, in the form of "private premises"?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, am I allowed to reply?

A noble Lord

Yes; the noble Lord intervened.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Renton is not my suggestion at all and never has been. All that I had intended to make clear, which I probably did not, was that far from any redefinition of the Bill, the Bill as it stands is perfectly adequate. However, our discussions must surely take place on the basis of the clause as drafted, subject to an amendment as to private premises. No one has suggested otherwise, least of all myself.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has raised a point concerning private premises. If the chief constable has authorised the use of a firearm on private premises presumably he is satisfied as to what are those private premises and that they appertain to the users of the firearms. Therefore, my noble friend must be slightly begging the question on that.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, are we not getting into bad habits? This is the Third Reading of the Bill and we are now being asked to tidy up a position which exists under existing law. If that had to be done at all it should have been done at the Committee stage. Noble Lords are now making about five speeches on every amendment and trusting to the good will of the House to let them do so.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am in total agreement with the noble and learned Lord. This is a most inappropriate moment to start such a discussion. This is the Third Reading of the Bill and we appear to be having another Committee stage. Apart from that, I confess that I have no sympathy whatever with this amendment.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I too support the noble and learned Lord and also what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Certain noble Lords have put forward the view that boys from public school on their hols going to private estates for shooting is a fine thing. However, one must also consider the 14 year-old boys where there is no private estate. It would be wrong to allow them to use guns.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I shall make only one short speech, in deference to the noble and learned Lord. It is obscene to be discussing this subject in the week when a 14 year-old boy borrowed his father's car and killed four people. If a 14 year-old borrows a gun on one set of private premises but moves to another, presumably he will have the gun on the journey. The age of 17 is quite young enough. Therefore we must watch very carefully that we do not change the law so that there are people of early age having all the facilities which in some cases they cannot handle.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, perhaps I may make one observation. To me the most important matter here is to teach people how to handle guns with safety, particularly shotguns. I believe that people at the age of 12, 13 or 14 are much more amenable to learning than they are at the age of 17 or 18. Nothing is more frightening than seeing someone who has never learnt how to handle a gun with safety. I think that this matter should be covered, perhaps not in this clause but during the course of the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I concur with what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said and also with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I believe that we are in great danger of turning this into another Committee stage. My noble and learned friend has pointed out that a number of people have spoken more than once and that is wrong. I agree with him. Having said that, I have been invited to speak on about three occasions on one amendment, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who, in his charming way has sort of sucked me up off my seat and made me contravene the rubs of procedure of your Lordship's House. I shall try to contain myself and I know that the noble Lord will contain himself.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the noble Earl could not sufficiently contain himself to prevent him making the remark that the amendments we have presented and the speech that I tried to make upon them were appropriate Third Reading speeches. What the noble and learned Lord complained about was something quite different.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble and learned friend was complaining about people getting on their feet more than once. I have got to my feet more than once and I apologise. I shall try to rise only once as regards this amendment.

We had a very similar amendment to this at the Report stage. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has now an added safeguard that where the borrower of an estate rifle is between the ages of 14 and 17, the occupier of the premises or his servant must be aged 21 or over. I do not believe that this additional point does anything to meet the objections to lowering the age limit that I mentioned on Report. My noble friend Lord Peel said that he thought this was a very logical amendment and he hoped that we would look sympathetically at it. We introduced the provision as regards estate rifles specifically because a number of my noble friends said that they were in difficulties when they had visitors—not necessarily but usually from other countries—who did not have a firearms certificate and so could not use an estate rifle. We tried to provide a means of dealing with that problem and we produced the amendment.

Now my noble friends say, "Ah, yes but 17 years of age is too high; we want the age reduced to 14". I believe that the concession we have made which allows people who are over the age of 17, and therefore presumably are reasonably responsible, to come on to an estate and use an estate rifle without a certificate is reasonable. To lower that age to 14 so that one can bring in almost any young person from a foreign country or from America of the age of 14 or 15 and then set him up on an estate without a licence, would be going too far.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk is absolutely right in saying that we must teach people to handle shotguns with safety. However, this particular amendment has nothing to do with shotguns; it is to do with rifles. Under the law there are many ways in which people can be quite properly taught to use shotguns with safety.

This amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, should not have anything to do with training young people how to use firearms. It is an amendment to a concession which allows people to have folk on their estates who can use the estate rifles and who are of a certain maturity. My noble friend Lord Renton gave the pathetic case—and I mean that in the nicest possible way—the sympathetic case, of a young boy aged 15 who wants to shoot rooks on someone else's estate. He can do that but he has to have a certificate. I do not believe that is a good enough argument to say that from now on anyone from the age of 14 upwards can borrow an estate rifle.

If people wish to be taught how to use a rifle they can be taught perfectly reasonably at a gun club. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, objected to that because people are not necessarily near a gun club. In that case they may be taught on their own premises, provided that they have a firearms certificate. I believe that it would be wrong to have this lower age on the basis that it would help young people to learn how to use rifles. It has nothing to do with that. It is to permit people of a reasonable age to use estate rifles for the purpose of shooting, and it has nothing to do with teaching. I hope therefore that your Lordships will not agree to the amendment.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who have supported me on this amendment. In particular the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, answered more than adequately the arguments raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. If the estate in question is a small back garden about a quarter of the size of this Chamber, it is highly unlikely that the chief constable would have given the parents a firearms licence in the first place. As regards the propriety of introducing such a provision at this stage, I said specifically at Report stage that we would come back with a modified amendment at Third Reading in order to try to get the agreement of the Government.

The noble Earl has been so reasonable and accommodating during the passage of this Bill in accepting amendments for which a logical and commonsense case can be made, that his rejection of this amendment comes as a particular disappointment. One of my worries is that if the clause stays as it is, its essentially ridiculous, illogical and unworkable nature will bring the law into contempt. That is a situation devoutly to be discouraged. If the House were to agree to these amendments and to send them back to another place, there would be three choices of action. The other place could accept the amendments or reject them, or this House could be asked not to insist upon the original amendments but, in substitution to accept modifications devised by the other place.

I believe that the other place should be allowed the chance to look at these amendments, because I still maintain that the arguments I have advanced have not been adequately answered. Therefore I should like to test the opinion of the House.

4.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16: Not-Contents, 166.

Birdwood, L. Dulverton, L.
Burton, L. Goschen, V.
Hayter, L. Northesk, E.
Manton, L. Peel, E. [Teller.]
Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L. Portsmouth, E.
Renton, L.
Monson, L. [Teller.] Swansea, L.
Moran, L. Torphichen, L.
Mountgarret, V.
Addington, L. Hanworth, V.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Allerton, L. Harvington, L.
Ampthill, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Ardwick, L. Hesketh, L.
Arran, E. Hives, L.
Attlee, E. Holderness, L.
Auckland, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Aylestone, L. Hood, V.
Banks, L. Hooper, B.
Barnett, L. Hooson, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Belstead, L. Hughes, L.
Bessborough, E. Hylton-Foster, B.
Birk, B. Jay, L.
Blease, L. Jeger, B.
Blyth, L. Jessel, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Borthwick, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Kilbracken, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Brookeborough, V. Leatherland, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B
Bruce of Donington, L. Lockwood, B.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Long, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Longford, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Lonsdale, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lyell, L.
Carnock, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cathcart, E. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Malmesbury, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mar, C.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Margadale, L.
Cottesloe, L. Marley, L.
Craigavon, V. Marsh, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
David, B. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Milverton, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Mishcon, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Molloy, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mostyn, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mottistone, L.
Dundee, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Mulley, L.
Elles, B. Munster, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Ennals, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Erne, E. Ogmore, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Orkney, E.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Faithfull, B. Oxfuird, V.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Pender, L.
Ferrers, E. Peston, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Phillips, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gallacher, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Galpern, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Portland, D.
Gladwyn, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Glenarthur, L. Rankeillour, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Reigate, L.
Grey, E. Renwick, L.
Gridley, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Rodney, L.
Haddington, E. Rugby, L.
Haig, E. St. Davids, V.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Seear, B.
Selkirk, E.
Halsbury, E. Serota, B.
Shannon, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Shepherd, L. Tordoff, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Trefgarne, L.
Slim, V. Trevor, L.
Somers, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Stallard, L. Underhill, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Strabolgi, L. Walston, L.
Strathclyde, L. Whitelaw, V.
Strathspey, L. Willis, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Wise, L.
Terrington, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.37 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 10 not moved.]

Viscount Mountgarret moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 9, line 20, at end insert— (";and (c) The borrower is in possession of written authority of the owner of the borrowed firearm to purchase or acquire ammunition in accordance with paragraphs (a) and (b) above, such written authority to be valid for only one occasion and to be retained by the provider of such ammunition.").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I wonder, after that last vote, whether the bottom has not been knocked out of the barrel to some extent. But I speak in the hope of getting rid of an anomaly, as I see it. I spoke to this point at Report stage. As the Bill now stands, a person without a firearms certificate can purchase or acquire ammunition. Yet under the relevant clause of the principal Act, as I said on Report stage, a person is not permitted to purchase or acquire such ammunition.

My noble friend on the Front Bench said: this is perfectly ridiculous because if you are allowed to borrow a weapon it is rather absurd if you cannot borrow or acquire some ammunition to put into that weapon. I agree with that point. All I am trying to do by virtue of this amendment, having regard to Clause 5 of the Bill before your Lordships, which relates to shotguns and cartridges, is merely to say: all right; we accept the point that the Government wish to make on this, but surely we are going to have a situation whereby the authority of the owner is valid for borrowing or acquiring rifle ammunition for a period of time until that authority lapses. Otherwise one could have a situation in which it was perfectly possible for a person not in possession of a firearm certificate to acquire ammunition. I think it is agreed across the board that rifles are a fairly dangerous form of weapon. We seek here to curtail, up to a reasonable point, the ease with which ammunition may be acquired. That is the purport of the amendment. I shall be most interested to hear what my noble friend has to say on the matter. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mountgarret is, as always, punctilious over his requirements to ensure that people do not have ammunition when they should not. During our debate on the clause on Report, my noble friend expressed his concern at the prospect of the acquisition and possession of ammunition by people who do not hold firearms certificates under the terms of the clause. He sought to delete subsection (2) and I explained why we found that unacceptable. The amendment he has moved today represents, if I may put it this way, a slightly more refined expression of the same concern.

I am sorry to have to tell my noble friend yet again that I find myself in the position of not being able to accede to his request. My noble friend said that at the last stage of the Bill's proceedings I had said that you cannot have a weapon without having any ammunition—and my noble friend said that he quite agreed. In the majority of cases it will be the lender of the rifle who will sell or otherwise provide the ammunition to the borrower. It would obviously be absurd to require the lender, as my noble friend's amendment would suggest, to provide himself with a written authority from himself in order to do so.

Where someone other than the lender is supplying ammunition—say, the local gun dealer—the answer is for him to sell it to the certificate holder, who can then supply the borrower. But if for some reason that is not possible and ammunition is sold direct to the borrower, then the onus must be on the shopkeeper to satisfy himself that the borrower is exempt from the requirement to hold a certificate. That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable state of affairs and I hope that my noble friend will, after consideration, think that it is so.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, which is rather as I expected it would be. Nevertheless, I tested the water. I dipped my toe into it and I found it somewhat cool. The Government have had plenty of opportunity to consider this aspect. If they do not wish to take it on board, I respect their view. Therefore, if they are happy I for one am absolutely happy.

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may apologise to my noble friend for having slightly broken the rules and the convention of the House on a previous amendment by speaking twice. However, I was somewhat provoked, if I may say so, by my noble and learned friend who interjected. Further, as your Lordships will be delighted to know, I am unlikely to speak again on the Bill. I am unlikely to be present for the proceedings on the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

I should like to say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that I am extremely grateful to him for the amount of time that he has spent and the courtesy which he has shown to me on many matters about which I and many of my noble friends have been concerned. I am most grateful to him, and I am sorry if that in effect is going outside the procedures of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.].

4.45 p.m.

Clause 22 [Firearms consultative committee]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 13: Page 12, line 19, after ("above") insert (" and the regulation of the possession of and transactions relating to firearms and ammunition").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall make only a short speech on the amendment in order to receive the utmost clarification, because I think that the House would wish it so. The matter was raised on Report and quite properly arises again on Third Reading because the Minister, after saying that he had listened to what had been said on the amendment, was kind enough to say that he would consider the matter further and I would hear from him before Third Reading, if he possibly could do so. Indeed, he did so and, as I have said before, with his usual courtesy. I must now add to that: with his usual promptitude. I heard from him by letter from which I have permission to quote.

However, perhaps it would be more sensible, before I quote from the letter, to state the object of the amendment. The object is to see that the consultative committee has the clear duty, and certainly the power, to do what the Act in its purpose clause says that it is there to do: namely: to make further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to firearms and ammunition".

That is what I wanted the consultative committee to do and that is what I believe the Bill was meant to allow it to do. However, there is a difference of opinion between the Minister—whose opinion I obviously respect—and myself as to whether in fact the Bill enables the consultative committee to make recommendations for the, further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to, firearms and ammunition".

If noble Lords will kindly look at Clause 22 of the Bill, in its present state, they will see that under subsection (1) the experience of the personnel to be appointed to the consultative committee is dealt with. They are to have, knowledge and experience of one or more of the following matters". The only paragraph at which we need to look for these purposes is (c), which reads: the administration or enforcement of the provisions of the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act". And if noble Lords then look at subsection (5) it will be seen that it no longer deals with the experience which the committee is required to have, but with its functions.

Under subsection (5)(a) the function is: to keep under review the working of the provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(c)".

A reference back shows that again to be, the administration or enforcement of the provisions of the … Act as they are then. Paragraph (b) states: to make proposals for amending those provisions if it thinks fit".

I concede at once that you could interpret the words "those provisions" as meaning any of the provisions contained in the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982, and this Act; or you could be rather muddled by that wording and think that those provisions are the working provisions as mentioned in Clause 22(1)(c) relating to the administration or enforcement. In other words, all you can do as a function is to look at amendments to the way of administering or enforcing provisions of the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act; or only to amending those provisions but not indeed to adding to those provisions in the way I sought to do when I quoted the very object of the Act; namely: to make further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to, firearms and ammunition". I wanted to put forward an amendment, as I have done, quoting those words, in order to make the position abundantly clear.

I now turn to the Minister's letter, which says: You pointed out that subsection 22(1)(c) was limited to the administration and enforcement of the legislation. This is, of course, quite correct, but subsection 22(5) refers back, not to the provisions of subsection (1)(c), but to the provisions which are mentioned in that part of the clause—namely 'the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act'. So I think that your anxiety is covered".

I at once concede that there is an argument for that interpretation of the Bill. The Minister obviously shares my anxiety that the consultative committee should have the power to make recommendations to deal generally with: the regulation of the possession of and transactions relating to firearms and ammunition: The sole point is whether that function of the committee is clearly there on the wording or whether it should be spelt out. There is no divergence between the Minister and myself, as I understand it, on the principle behind the amendment. I merely ask for that clarity. I hope therefore that, on reconsideration, the Minister will think that, if we insert those words, we have it without any doubt. I should have thought it was sensible so to do. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, on this occasion I earnestly hope that my noble friend will not accept the amendments. First, I do not consider that they are necessary because the functions are already widely described; and, secondly, I am afraid that the amendments, especially Amendment No. 13, may cause confusion. The phrase: transactions relating to firearms and ammunition invokes numerous provisions of the law—the Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Protection Act, trademarks and all kinds of things. I do not think that the amendment would do other than cause doubts in the mind of the consultative committee as to where its powers were limited and where its duties lay. Apart from that point, I do not think the amendment is necessary because if we take the expression: the regulation of the possession and transactions relating to firearms and ammunition", so far as I can remember the whole of the present law relating to the regulation of the possession of firearms and ammunition is contained in the principal Act, the 1982 Act and this Act. If it is necessary to amend that branch of the law or to make recommendations for it, then subsection (1)(b) would enable the consultative committee to do just that. I hope that my noble friend will not make the Bill more detailed and confusing by accepting the amendments.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for that intervention, in contrast to the one on the previous amendment where I did not find him in such happy heart as he now is. He referred to the fact that if the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, were to be included, it would include reference to the Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Protection Acts and so forth.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, there is nothing between what he wants and what we seek to do. He feels that what is contained in the Bill will not do what he wants it to do. I shall try, with a modicum of despair, to explain to him that I believe that his concerns are met. Clause 22(5)(a) provides that it will be the committee's function: to keep under review the working of the provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(c) and then at subparagraph (c): to advise the Secretary of State on any other matter relating to those provisions". The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, would like to add to those provisions.

Clause 22(1)(c) relates to the administration and enforcement of the provisions of the principal Act. The committee may advise the Secretary of State, in the words of subsection (5)(c): on any other matter relating to those provisions". The provisions of Clause 22(1)(c) relate to the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act. So the committee can refer anything to the Secretary of State relating to those provisions and it can make proposals to amend those provisions. Amending must include adding to. So the noble Lord has conveniently removed a proportion of the speech that I had considered making because he had quoted that part of my letter which I was also going to quote. He did so with total fairness.

I am sure that the noble Lord realises that the committee may advise the Secretary of State on the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act. It can advise the Secretary of State on how it can be improved and how it might be added to. I hope, to repeat my words, that the noble Lord's anxiety is covered.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in view of the Minister's clear statement as to the intention of the clause—he and I of course appreciate that his speech, although welcome to the House, is not one that can be quoted when trying to interpret the Act in the courts of law—and the fact that the advice he has received is that the purpose of what I was trying to do is already covered (I was merely trying to act out of abundant caution), I am not prepared to divide the House on Third Reading.

I hope that the time will come when it will be possible to quote ministerial speeches when trying to interpret an Act in a court of law. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16 not moved.]

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 17: Page 12, line 33, leave out ("unless") and insert ("or at the end of any later period if").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment relates to the consultative committee and Clause 22(8). A subsequent government may not give the committee anything to do. It may lapse into atrophy and perhaps wither on the vine because it has no business to transact. As it stands, the subsection allows the committee to cease to exist at the end of five years. The effect of the amendment is to provide that, if the Secretary of State believes it to be desirable that the committee should cease to exist, he must lay an order to that effect. The amendment goes with Amendment No. 18. There is grave concern in shooting circles that, as drafted, the Bill might allow that to happen one day. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly add my plea to the Government to accept this amendment. All of us, whatever our widely varying views on the Bill as a whole, want the committee to succeed and stay in business for as long as necessary. This amendment would not fetter a future Secretary of State in any way at all. It simply ensures that, if the committee is to be wound up, it happens as a result of a conscious, positive decision by the government of the day and not by inertia or oversight.

5 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I understand the fears of my noble friend Lord Swansea, but I think that they are unfounded. We have made it perfectly clear that we see the committee as having a vital role to play. But clearly it is right that there should be regular scrutiny of the committee's effectiveness in ensuring that it executes its role properly, not least because its activities will be financed by the taxpayer. It seems right that the Home Secretary who, after all, will be advised by the committee, is the person best placed to make a judgment about its effectiveness.

My noble friend Lord Swansea said that he did not want the committee to wither on the vine. I do not think that it will wither on the vine. If there is no reason for it to continue after five years then it will not do so. If it does continue up to five years, then my right honourable friend will know whether or not it is being successful.

If noble Lords look closely at the wording of my noble friend's amendment, they will see that the committee will definitely come to an end either at the end of five years or at some time later. The Secretary of State has no other power than to introduce an order to bring it to an end. Under our proposals, the committee will not necessarily come to an end after five years; it can be kept on for further periods of up to three years at a time. Although this is dependent upon the Secretary of State making an order, it must be preferable to my noble friend's proposal under which the committee would definitely come to an end.

I think that when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, reads this he will see that that is the effect of my noble friend's amendment. If my noble friend is concerned that some wayward Secretary of State—and he was kind enough to say that it would not be my present right honourable friend—would arbitrarily bring the committee to an end after five years, I am bound to tell him that his amendment would not help to preserve it. Under his amendment the Home Secretary could still end the life of the committee at the end of five years, if he felt it appropriate, or he could let it go on till a later time. But he would have the power to end it, and if he wanted to end it after five years then he could still do so. I can assure my noble friend that my right honourable friend takes the matter of this committee very seriously indeed. He intends to make use of it. There is no intention to end its life arbitrarily, but there must clearly be provision to end it if events prove, for one reason or another, that it has not been of value. I do not think that that is very likely to happen but the proviso must be there.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. I think perhaps he has not fully taken into account the meaning of Amendments Nos. 17 and 18, read together. If both those amendments are accepted, the subsection will have the effect which I mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, I do not intend to pursue the amendment further and beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 19: Page 12, line 36, at end insert— ("(9) This section shall come into force not later than six months after the day appointed by the Secretary of State for section 1 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, again the reference is to the consultative committee. My colleagues and I think it necessary that the consultative committee should come into existence as early as possible after this Bill becomes law. Under Clause 27 of the Bill they found that certain parts of the Act may come into force at different periods, as prescribed by the Secretary of State.

The object of my amendment is to ensure that this clause comes into force in a reasonable time, say six months after the day appointed for Section 1 of the Act to come into operation. I think that is a reasonable period and should like to see the consultative committee up and running as soon as it can conveniently be arranged. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend's concern is to ensure that there is not an unreasonable delay in the appointment of members of the consultative committee and that it can get down to work as soon as possible. I am at one with my noble friend over that. The committee has a vital role to play and the sooner it gets going, the better. But I do not think it is necessary to put this sort of prescription on the face of the Bill.

Under Clause 27, the provisions of the Bill are to come into force on such a day as the Secretary of State appoints, by means of an order made by statutory instrument. Different commencement days may be appointed for different provisions or different purposes. I am bound to tell my noble friend that it is our intention that both Clause 1, to which this amendment refers, and Clause 22, at which this amendment is aimed, will be included in the first commencement order and that will come into force very early in the new year. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured by what I have said and will therefore feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am grateful once more to my noble friend for what he has said. If the relevant part of this Bill comes into effect at an early stage after the passing of the Bill, I shall be perfectly satisfied and so, I hope, will my noble friends and colleagues. On that understanding, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 [Minor and consequential amendments and repeals]:

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

I do not think that anyone who has sat through the proceedings on this Bill, still less who has been involved with them, could say anything other than that it has been a controversial Bill. By being controversial, it has upset and drawn into conflict many people who are law-abiding citizens. Behind it all has been the spectre of Hungerford and the tragedy and anxiety which that caused.

However, Hungerford was not the cause of the Bill. It was only the catalyst for it. It is 20 years since the last Firearms Act was brought on to the statute book and since then weapons, technology and practice have all changed. It was time to reappraise and readjust the law relating to firearms. Public security has been uppermost in our minds in doing this, In trying to frame the new law to safeguard the lives of the ordinary, law-abiding citizens, we have inevitably trodden on the toes of other ordinary, law-abiding citizens—the sportsmen. I do not deny that and I recognise that it is one of the controversies surrounding this Bill, However, as so often happens if one tightens the law to prevent its misuse, it is often the innocent who feel the tightest pinch.

I like to think that even if we have not managed to meet all the matters of concern which have been raised on the Bill from all sides of the House, no one can say that those interests have not been fully aired or that they have been overlooked. They have been given very full consideration.

I would like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to our discussions on the Bill. There have been many angles to consider and noble Lords have—as is customary—put their views, in some cases very strongly held, with moderation and always with courtesy. For the one who has been responsible for trying to walk through the minefield, I have, if I may say so, found this most helpful.

Perhaps I might just pay tribute especially to my noble friend Lord Swansea. He has not had an easy task. He has represented the views of a formidable body of people—what has been graphically called the shooting lobby. They have been much affected and deeply concerned about the effect of the Bill, and they have lost no opportunity, via my noble friend and by other means, of letting us know. In all this, my noble friend has been always courteous and reasonable even if—frequently—he has, as it were, been unable to "travel down the same railway line" as the Government. I realise that my noble friend would have liked us to go further. I hope that at least he appreciates why we felt unable to do so, and I hope that that applies also to other noble Lords, who might have wished that we could go further or in other directions.

But we have had some very constructive debates and very helpful contributions. I think—and I hope—that the House will agree that the Bill which we now send back to another place is a better Bill. Its central provisions remain unchanged. The prohibition on highly lethal self-loading rifles remains an essential public safety measure, and the tighter controls on shotguns will help to reduce their unlawful or irresponsible use. There will he greater accountability for firearm dealers, gun clubs and visitors to this country.

All this must be right, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that these measures to strengthen the controls are essential. The case for strengthening the law has been growing for some time. If we had failed to act on that after Hungerford, then, frankly, public confidence in the gun-licensing system in this country would have disintegrated.

But the need for balance remained throughout the passage of the Bill. We have resisted substantial pressures to introduce much more stringent firearm controls. There have been many such pressures. In one opinion survey 70 per cent. of people declared themselves in favour of a ban on all private ownership of firearms. But we resisted that.

We have sought, through numerous detailed amendments to the Bill, to accommodate the particular interests of shooters if they made out a convincing case. What we have not been able to accept is that there is, or should be, an untrammelled right to hold arms.

The ownership and the possession of a gun remains a privilege. It must be subject to a licence and to control, because the gun is intrinsically an instrument of death. The protection of the public has to take priority. But a number of important changes have been made since the Bill arrived from another place. The terms of reference of the firearms consultative committee have been refined and extended to give it an even more important advisory role.

Provision has been made for the use of estate rifles, and amendments have been made to the visitor's permit scheme to make it more flexible and amenable to the needs of visiting sportsmen. Provision has also been made for the forfeiture of guns and ammunition following the revocation of a certificate where there are clear public safety requirements. And a number of technical amendments have been made, many of which have been in response to representations from shooting interests.

I am grateful to all those who have contributed to the process of improving this Bill. I should like to mention a point raised on Report by my noble friend Lord Balfour who sought to allow non-certificate holders to borrow a shotgun from the occupier of private premises and to use it under the supervision of the occupier's servant. While I have had every sympathy with what my noble friend was seeking to achieve, I do not think that it is feasible to treat shotguns in the same way as estate rifles because, in the case of shotguns, there is no facility to impose territorial restrictions on the lender. For that reason I am afraid that we were not able to meet his concern.

Many views and suggestions have been put forward. Many of your Lordships—as I knew, and as I feared, would be the case—have shown a considerable depth of knowledge on technical matters relating to firearms and to the shooting sports. And this, combined with your Lordships' usual concern to see that legislation goes on to the statute book which is clear, straightforward and sensible, has helped us to ensure that the Bill, which we are now sending back to another place, will form an effective and coherent contribution to the problem of firearms control. I am grateful for the considerable work which your Lordships have put into this Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Ferrers.)

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, there is no Minister who could have brought a firearms Bill before your Lordships' House with less aggression. Without any doubt at all, in the course of the passage of this Bill through the House, it has almost been a pleasure to be shot at in debate by the noble Earl.

It is right, when we are almost saying farewell—some of us say good passage, while others are not quite so enthusiastic—to this Bill, that we remember, as the noble Earl indicated, that it comes before us in the shadow of that tragic occasion of Hungerford when 16 of our fellow citizens were killed, all of them innocent bystanders. Fourteen—again innocent bystanders—were injured. It is right and proper that that tragic occurrence, which has been followed by another not quite so alarming but nevertheless still sad occurrence, should have prompted us by some kind of catalyst to bring a much needed Bill to legislate on firearms before Parliament.

We owe it to another section of the community, which has not often been mentioned in the course of this Bill—I am referring to the police—to ensure that it, too, is protected as much as possible against the improper possession and use of firearms. I am glad that some of the matters we have dealt with may enable the police to have a little more protection in the very dangerous work they carry out for the benefit of us all.

Having said that, I am regretful that we did not do more. It appeared not to be practicable to ensure that medical certificates were obtained from time to time. But at least we received an assurance from the Government—which I so much welcomed personally having made the suggestion earlier—that the application form should have a clear indication to the referee as regards the kind of considerations that he should have in mind before he signs a certificate. That consideration should include the proviso that, to the best of the referee's knowledge, information and belief, there is no good reason why the applicant should not receive a firearms certificate.

I am glad that the consultative committee has had its arms strengthened, as it were. It was a very wobbly affair when it came to your Lordships' House. And some of us said so on Second Reading. It now stands a little more erect with a little more dignity and a little more ambulatory power than it did when the Bill came first to your Lordships' House from another place.

I could have wished that we had legislated for a code of practice. But the Government could not see their way clear to that being done through the consultative committee. I could have wished that compensation was fairer than it is under the Bill. I refer to the compensation to those who, quite legitimately, were in possession of firearms on one day and found that the firearms were prohibited the next day. The Government may well regret, in respect of future legislation which may come before Parliament, not necessarily on their own initiative, that they have created this precedent of unfair compensation when firearms are confiscated. Having said that, we tried our best: we did not succeed.

I come lastly to the point about mail order sales. From these Benches we moved an amendment after referring to the matter at Second Reading. We were unsuccessful in prohibiting the sale of weapons through mail order. The Government gave their reasons as to why they could not accept that series of amendments. I regret that they could not; but at least the matter was debated and we were able to hear the Government's reply, delivered with the Minister's usual courtesy.

The main principle of the Bill is one that has the support of those who sit on these Benches. Once more I should like to thank the Minister for the way in which he piloted the Bill through your Lordships' House.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Earl for the patience, good humour and courtesy with which he has considered—and in many cases refused to accept—the amendments which we have tried to make to this complicated little Bill. I should also like to thank him for the very welcome concessions that he has been able to make to meet our legitimate concerns, and particularly in relation to Clause 16 covering the estate rifle.

That this Bill leaves this House less of a "pig's breakfast" than it arrived is as much the doing of the noble Earl as it is ours. I for one am most grateful to him for what he has been able to do.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers for the way in which he has conducted this Bill through the House. He has done so singlehanded. He has shown a great grasp of the detail and has found no difficulty in answering the points which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and others, have raised which have required at least a modicum of knowledge of the law. He did not seem to be handicapped in that area.

The Bill proceeds by way of contextual amendment of the 1968 Act. In my opinion that has been done well. It will eventually be in effect consolidated when printed in Statutes in Force. However, I believe that more than that is needed. Perhaps my noble friend will stake a claim—I think that that is what he would have to do—for its consideration for consolidation in the full and proper way.

As the Minister said, it is a better Bill. In my opinion, the Government have conceded as much as they reasonably could. I am sure that law-abiding sportsmen will have no right to complain of provisions which will and should achieve greater safety for the public. The Bill will impose new obligations on those who have firearms, but I am confident that all concerned will respond to the will of Parliament by gladly observing the Bill's provisions. If they are in the know, they will do so all the more through the knowledge that the Bill has received consideration from all points of view.

Although I did not agree with him except on one matter, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, and others who disagreed with most of us have done a service by ensuring that matters which some people thought should be considered were considered. Now however, by a overwhelming opinion of your Lordships' House, the Bill has received support in general and in detail.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I hope that I shall not keep your Lordships long; I certainly have no intention of making a Second Reading speech. We now come to the final stage of what I describe as a sorry and unnecessary Bill. At the same time discussion has cut across party boundaries and led to a free exchange of comments and opinions across the Floor of the House—something at which your Lordships' House excels when it has the opportunity to do so.

The time which the Bill has taken to go through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament must indicate to the Government the great concern which it has caused among the legitimate users of firearms. This is a tremendously complex and technical subject. It is a minefield of technicalities. I suspect—as do some of my noble friends—that some of those technicalities were not fully appreciated by the Government when they framed the provisions of the Bill. One might say that the Government have invented solutions where no problem existed. They have moved the goalposts. The Bill is a knee-jerk reaction to an ill-informed outcry from the press and the public arising from the actions of one deranged person. Is that a suitable basis on which to launch a Bill such as this which will result in a whole class of legitimate shooters being put out of business?

The British Shooting Sports Council—of which I am the present chairman—offered consultation two days after the disaster at Hungerford. No action was taken and the offer of consultation was ignored. The Government went ahead and announced their intentions without any prior consultation with shooting interests. Plenty of consultation took place afterwards, but that had little or no effect on the Government. I regret to say that on certain points—what the Government call "pillars of policy"—they had closed minds.

It is hard to see why the Bill should be described as a balanced one. The only effect that it will have is to impose yet further restrictions on legitimate shooters who have at all times obeyed the law in force, whatever it may be. The Bill will not stop the illegal importation of firearms; it will not stop armed crime; it will not prevent criminals from getting hold of firearms through underground channels for their nefarious purposes. It will only cause the alienation of a large number of law-abiding citizens of this country who have followed their recreation for many years without causing any problems, and without misuse of their firearms, apart from that one incident.

One further consequence of the Bill concerns the situation if, unhappily, there should at any time in the future be a state of national emergency. The charter of the National Rifle Association, for example, which was granted by Queen Victoria, states that the object of the association is: to promote marksmanship among the volunteer forces of the Crown. Until about 25 years ago all competition shooting was done with the military rifle of the day. Therefore at all times during that period there was a nucleus of trained marksmen who were experienced in the use of the Service rifle of the day and ready to form the nucleus of the Armed Forces of the Crown should the need arise.

That will now come to an end. There will be no nucleus of marksmen trained in the Service weapon of the day. What will happen if—which God forbid—there is ever a national emergency in the future? I tremble to think what might happen. The shooting public has always been perfectly willing to uphold the law as it stands and to assist the Government in fighting crime. It will do its best to make this legislation work. I hope that the consultative committee will succeed, especially in achieving greater uniformity of practice between different police forces in administering the law.

I am grateful to my noble friends who have supported me in their opposition to the Bill. Someone said something unkind earlier today about the gun lobby. As long as there is an anti-gun lobby it will be necessary to have a gun lobby. Your Lordships will agree that any section of the population which follows a certain recreation is entitled to make its views heard. I am especially grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for his patience and great courtesy in dealing with the many points that have been raised. He has always given my suggestions and those of my noble friends full consideration. When he has not been able to accept our suggestions he has said so perfectly plainly and fairly. When he has been kind enough to agree with our suggestions, we have been grateful to him. I give him full marks for the way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House.

One question remains in my mind. I refer to the transitional provisions for putting certain clauses of the Bill into effect; for instance, the time allowed for the surrender of weapons which will become prohibited under Clause 1. We know that the Bill provides for certain clauses to come into effect when an order is laid by the Secretary of State. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us more about the time allowed for putting Clause 1 into effect. I should like to support the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Renton, of which I have already given notice to my noble friend, about the possibility of a consolidation Bill in the future. Two Acts are now in force—the 1968 Act and the 1982 Act—and this Bill will shortly become law. It would be highly desirable if the Government could see their way to producing a consolidation Bill in due course. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for the way in which he has handled the Bill.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I should like first of all to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, about the bandying about of the disparaging phrase "shooting lobby". I for one have never spoken on behalf of any shooting lobby, whatever a shooting lobby may be; individual freedom lobby perhaps, but shooting lobby, no. Secondly, I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for accepting—after careful consideration, it goes without saying—some minor but important amendments. I thank him also for the courtesy and consideration with which he has piloted through this curate's egg of a Bill—a curate's egg, what is more, of which, in the opinion of many people inside and outside the House, the edible parts form an even smaller proportion then usual.

As the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said in so many words, dramatic cases make bad law. One simple analogy, relating to that part of the Bill dealing with self-loading rifles, will suffice. It is as if there had been a particularly nasty road traffic accident in which a large number of people were killed. It involved an Aston Martin and a six cylinder BMW, both of which were, however, travelling at a mere 50 miles per hour at the time of the accident, less than 40 per cent. of their maximum speed. Following this horrific accident, the Government introduced a Bill to prevent the use and sale of all cars more powerful or more up to date than Morris Minors or Citroën Deux Chevaux. As it happens, both of those models were outstanding in their day but are hardly ideal for the 1980s or 1990s. It would be curious to encourage British motorists to switch to these models when the rest of western Europe is tolerating much more up to date and powerful machines, and when the Swiss and the Scandinavians are positively encouraging younger males thoroughly to familiarise themselves with them. I could say a lot more but I shall leave it at that.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I too should like to pay tribute to the way in which my noble friend has dealt with the Bill, not only on the Floor of the House but also in a private capacity. He has made himself available for discussion at any time of the day and I am extremely grateful for that.

The nub of the question is how the police will interpret the law. I do not think I am overstepping the mark by saying that their failure in interpreting the law caused the Hungerford crisis. We can legislate for ever and a day, but unless the police are prepared to come to terms with this basic factor we shall not solve crime involving weapons. I am specially sorry that the Government felt unable to accept the code of practice, which I firmly believe would have helped to narrow the parameters in which the police could have interpreted the law. Be that as it may, we must accept the decision of the House. That decision leaves the memorandum of guidance as the most important advice available to the police on how they are to interpret the law. The many members of the shooting fraternity who have had their rights curtailed by the Bill—people who have not broken the law and have had to knuckle under to the fact that the Government thought in their wisdom that legislation should be brought forward—will be watching carefully how the police interpret the law. We must look for consistency, and it is through the memorandum of guidance that this will come about. I urge my noble friend to ensure that this will be made public, as he has promised, as quickly as possible and that proper consultation takes place with all those with an interest in these matters.

There are other aspects of the Bill with which I am disappointed. Having said that, I think that some form of legislation had to come about as a result of Hungerford. On balance, I do not think that the Bill we have before us is quite as bad as some of us might think.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, when he moved the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, the noble Earl referred to this as a controversial Bill. It has certainly been controversial in this House and it was controversial in the House of Commons. A few moments later he reminded us what was the state of public opinion on the matter. Public opinion is quite clear. It is solidly in favour of firm action in the aftermath of Hungerford. I ask those who have spoken this evening to consider what would have happened if in the aftermath of Hungerford the Home Secretary had said that he proposed to take no action in terms of the law. He would have been attacked on all sides for gross, uncaring negligence. In my view that is the reality.

Perhaps I may make it quite clear that, unlike most of those who have spoken this evening, it is my view, which I have expressed before, that, if anything, this Bill suffers from not going far enough. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to one of those issues; namely, the question of medical certification. I believe the facts of the matter are quite clear: the man who was responsible for the murders at Hungerford was a grossly unstable individual. So was the youth in Walsall who a few weeks ago shot two young blacks and then killed himself.

It seems to me that one of the issues with which we have not dealt satisfactorily is the question of medically certifying that a person is in a proper state of mind to have a certificate. We know why the Government were unable to take action on this. They have had discussion with the British Medical Association, but I do not want to go over that ground again. However, I wish to make it clear that the Bill is weaker for not having a provision of this kind.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for the care and attention that he devoted to this matter. As he is aware, the police service is seriously concerned at the absence of any provision with regard to armour-piercing ammunition. Again, I do not wish to go over the ground. The difficulty was in agreeing to a satisfactory definition. I understand the genuine problems there are in this respect, but I have a feeling that the first time a policeman is shot through his flak jacket we shall be able to agree pretty speedily to a proper definition of armour-piercing ammunition.

Following the meeting that the Association of Chief Police Officers, my noble friend Lord Knights and I had with the Minister we were assured that this was a matter that could be discussed in the consultative committee. It certainly can be. However, I hope that the Home Office will continue to consider this matter because it causes the gravest concern in the police service. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said a few moments ago, it is perhaps desirable for this House, in considering—rightly in my view—the interests of sportsmen who wish to use firearms, also to consider the position of police officers who are constantly risking their lives when protecting the public of this country.

I wish to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said a few moments ago. It is, I believe, a gross overstatement to suggest, as he did, that the Government have been responsible for some form of knee-jerk reaction and that this Bill is "unnecessary". I believe that the Bill is clearly necessary. I believe that that is the overwhelming view of public opinion in this country. When it has been tested in this House there has been overwhelming support for the position of this Government on this legislation.

I join others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his courtesy at all stages, the great assistance that he has given us, and the good humour that he has always displayed even in the most trying circumstances.

Lord Burton

My Lords, as one who has spent a lot of time during this Bill harassing him, perhaps I may also add my thanks to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I cannot add to the compliments that have already been paid him but I should like to add my name to them.

What worries me is that this Bill would have had very little, if any, effect on the events in Hungerford. It would not have stopped them happening. My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned the code of practice. This is the biggest gap that we have left in the Bill that is departing from this House. I think it is a great pity.

No one has mentioned the apparent success of the amnesty when enormous numbers of weapons were handed in. However, this can be looked at in two ways. I wonder what percentage of illegal weapons have been handed in. I do not think that the Government have appreciated the enormous number of illegally held weapons which are, and will still be, in this country and available to criminals. This Bill affects only those who are legally abiding by the law at the present time.

We have tried to amend the 1968 Act. It was not good legislation. We have tried to amend bad legislation instead of starting afresh. Therefore I should like to add my support to my noble friend Lord Swansea when he asked for a consolidation Bill which will perhaps bring this legislation—which is on a very technical subject—into some good order with the help of the consultative committee.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the Minister. It is my personal view that those amendments that were good were accepted; and those that were not failed.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords for the kind words that they have been good enough to express about the Bill. I realise that it does not meet with the happy accord of everyone. However, I am deeply appreciative of those who have been kind enough to pass some comments about me.

When my noble friend Lord Renton said that I found no difficulty in answering the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—I believe he said that I was not handicapped—I can only tell him that I was even more conscious than usual of my inadequacies when I dealt with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, or, to put it more accurately, when he dealt with me. As usual he was sufficiently courteous not to make one realise one's inadequacies. For that I was grateful.

My noble friends Lord Renton, Lord Swansea and Lord Burton asked about the possibility of a consolidation Bill in due course. I accept what they have said about the desirability of consolidating all the existing firearms legislation within a single Act. We shall certainly be looking carefully at this once the Bill receives Royal Assent.

My noble friend Lord Swansea asked about the timescale for bringing some of these parts of the legislation into effect. It may be helpful if I explain briefly how we propose to use the provisions of the new legislation and explain its implementation. The clauses relating to the prohibition of specific weapons, de-activation, conversion, the buy-in scheme and the establishment of the firearms consultative committee, and some others, will be subject of the first commencement order bringing them into force. This will be early in the new year. Special arrangements will operate for about three months to enable existing owners of guns which are prohibited under the Bill to retain their weapons in order to apply for payments under this buy-in scheme, or, if they wish to retain them as de-activated weapons, to have the necessary work done.

A second commencement order, probably about three months later, will bring into force the remaining clauses, notably, the new shotgun provisions which come in Clauses 2, 3 and 4. There will therefore be plenty of time before then for people who wish to have their multi-capacity shotguns reduced to the maximum two-shot magazine capacity if they wish to continue to hold them on a shotgun certificate.

Transitional arrangements may also be necessary in respect of Clause 3(2) and Clause 4 which deal with the listing of shotguns on certificates and the notification of transfers of shotguns. It may be desirable to ensure that these provisions apply as and when existing shotgun certificates expire and new ones are issued. Transitional provisions may be required for this purpose.

By staggering the implementation of the procedures of the legislation, we shall greatly ease the introduction of the new controls not only for the police, who will be responsible for their enforcement, but also for the shooting community.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for his reference to the police again this evening. As he rightly said, they constantly risk their lives. If this Bill helps a little in that respect, then it will have accomplished quite a lot.

I respect the noble Lord's concern about armour-piercing ammunition. This matter has been drawn to my attention both inside this House and outside it. We shall certainly keep it under review. I realise that both he, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and some others wanted the Bill to go further in different directions. Some wanted it tighter; some of my noble friends wanted it to be what one might call looser. I was grateful to those of my noble friends behind me on the occasions when they were in agreement with my views. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for all the stout support which he gave. And indeed I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for the occasions when he found it appropriate to be in the same Lobby as myself. That was a happy position which I shall hope to see reflected in many Divisions in the future.

I am grateful to your Lordships for the care, trouble and effort that has been put into the Bill to make it better. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.