HL Deb 03 December 1992 vol 540 cc1455-6

3.21 p.m.

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What decision they have reached on the Home Office proposal to establish a national firearms control board.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in the process of consulting ministerial colleagues about this matter and he will make an announcement as soon as possible.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging if somewhat circumscribed reply. Is he aware that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation estimates there are somewhere between 450,000 and half a million shooters in the United Kingdom who should have game licences? Does he agree that those figures, when compared with the figure he gave me on 10th November last of 46,700 game licences issued, fully justify one agency administering both shotgun and game licences, thereby increasing revenue to the Treasury by over £2 million per annum? Does he not therefore agree that such £2 million per annum extra revenue, plus the £1.5 million per annum savings indicated in the Home Office proposal to establish a national firearms control board—a total figure of £3.5 million per annum—warrant urgent consideration of that decision, particularly bearing in mind that even ignoring the revenue from the issue of firearms certificates, such a board would be self-financing?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I was not aware of the figures gathered by the body to which my noble friend refers. However, I am perfectly prepared to accept that my noble friend's figures are correct. I tried to follow the other figures my noble friend gave but I became a trifle lost, and I shall have to read them to make certain that my calculations are correct. I quite see my noble friend's point. The difficulty, as I have explained to him previously, is that the firearms certificate is a method of controlling firearms and the licence is supposed to cover that. The game licence is an excise duty. That is, of course, collected by the Post Office. If there were to be a change, it would require legislation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister said that his right honourable friend was consulting ministerial colleagues. Will he confirm that his right honourable friend is also continuing to consult the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation who, I understand, have expressed opposition to the proposal of a national firearms control board? Will he confirm that any such body would have to rely on the police for information about the criminal records of those who apply for permission to own firearms? Would not that rather remove some of the savings suggested in the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there has been a great deal of consultation and my right honourable friend therefore has to make up his mind in consultation with his colleagues. If that should come about, as I explained in my original reply, my right honourable friend will make a statement. I cannot say what the statement will contain. There may be possibilities for further consultation or there may be possibilities for action. There has been plenty of consultation but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that it is desirable to have the police co-operate in the matter.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, will my noble friend give an assurance that if and when this firearms control board is set up the members of it will be sufficiently familiar with the technicalities of firearms? That is noticeably lacking in many police forces at present.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the whole point of a firearms board is that it would be a specialist board which, we hope, would achieve greater consistency. It would release police officers from administrative tasks. However, I agree with my noble friend that the members of that board would obviously have to be specialists.