HL Deb 10 November 1992 vol 540 cc83-5

2.45 p.m.

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many shot-guns are estimated to exist in the United Kingdom and how many (a) shot-gun licences and (b) game licences there are presently issued.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, about 1.5 million shot-guns are held with certificates. We do not know how many shot-guns are held illegally.

At the end of 1991, there were 724,556 valid shot-gun certificates on issue in England and Wales and 75,529 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the possession of any firearm, including a shot-gun, requires a firearm certificate. At the end of September 1992 there were 87,302 firearm certificates on issue there. About 46,700 game licences were issued in the United Kingdom in 1991–92.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that very informative Answer. I acknowledge that there are many shot-gun owners who do not require gun licences—for instance, clay pigeon shooters—but does he not agree that there still appears to exist a very wide deficiency in the number of game licences issued? Given that at present a game shooter has to apply both to the police and to the post office separately, would it not save a great deal of administration and cost, and almost certainly increase revenue through more game licences being issued, if shot-gun licence application forms contained an additional section whereby the applicant could apply and pay for a three-year game licence at the same time?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that sounds an ingenious and attractive idea but there are very good reasons why that is not possible. First, it would place some additional work on the police which is not of a policing nature. It would need a change in the law because the power to issue game licences rests with local authorities. The game laws would also need to be amended to allow a game licence to run for three years. Shot-gun and firearm certificates are a method of controlling dangerous weapons for which a fee is charged. Game laws and game licensing date back to the Game Act 1831 and the Game Licences Act 1860. The game licence is an excise duty.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, is it not a fact that the Home Office recently refused to give details of the number of people under 16 holding shot-gun licences because it claimed that that information was too expensive to collect? Can the noble Earl give the House an estimate of what it would cost to collect?

Earl Ferrers

More than would be justifiable, my Lords.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, if the game licence is subscribed to by so few, is it really worth collecting? If it is worth collecting, should not the Government do something more about it?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend can decide not to get any licence which he desires not to get. If he does not get such a licence, and he is found out, he will be committing a criminal offence. The game licence was introduced as a method of controlling poaching and of controlling those who kill game and deal in it. That is an entirely suitable matter for licensing. If my noble friend does not have a licence, I advise him to get one.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he made the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Geddes sound very intricate? In point of fact it could be brought about with a reasonably modest Bill. Is it not a fact that if the intention were there it would not be quite as intricate and difficult as my noble friend appeared to suggest in his answer?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I did not mean to make it more intricate or difficult than in fact it is. I was trying to explain to my noble friend that shot-gun and firearm certificates are a method of controlling dangerous weapons, which it is quite right for the police to do. The operation of a game licence has nothing to do with the police. It is an excise duty. Of course it is perfectly possible to change the law on anything, but your Lordships are aware of the number of problems requiring legislation and I am bound to tell my noble friend that this is not of the highest priority.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how much revenue has been raised by the game licence, how many people have been prosecuted for not having one and how much poaching has been stopped by game licences?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as to the last question, my noble friend will know perfectly well that I cannot possibly answer it—and neither could he if he were standing here. With regard to the first, local authorities receive a revenue of about £240,000. In 1990, 1,600 game-law offences went through the courts.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, the noble Earl was asked a legitimate question about the cost incurred in providing information. In my view, it is quite unfair simply to say that the cost would be greater than is justifiable. Cannot the Minister do better than that? Can he give my noble friend some idea of the cost and then let the House judge whether the cost is justifiable?

Earl Ferrers

No, my Lords; I cannot give the noble Lord the answer because I do not know what it is. Had I known, I would have told your Lordships. However, I shall certainly try to find out. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, will know that there are limits to the amount of expenditure to which government departments can go in order to find out the answers to certain questions. Some statistics are easily available, while others are not.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that answer. I await his letter with great interest.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the control of guns and game applies only to people who are shooting legitimately and that no poachers, or people who should not have guns, apply for either?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is one of the reasons why we have the laws and the licences.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree, as a generality, that "where there's a will there's a way"? Further, does he have sympathy with me when I say that his answer to my supplementary question was frankly very disappointing? I understand that there are two laws and that they would have to be changed. I was endeavouring to save administration and cost, and also increase revenue to the Exchequer.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sorry if my reply was disappointing to my noble friend. Of course, I realised he was pursuing a perfectly legitimate point and trying to be helpful. However, I was merely trying to point to him in turn that there are certain difficulties. One need only consider the amount of legislation which passes through your Lordships' House. It would mean having to put extra burdens on the police and altering other sections of the law, which would in fact give the police an obligation to carry out an excise duty. I do not think that the chances of that are likely to be forthcoming. I did not want to mislead my noble friend.