§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Report received.
Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 15, after ("weapon,") insert ("a single shot weapon,").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I remind the House that I have an interest, which I have declared on several previous occasions. I first raised this issue in Committee when I explained that a single shot handgun was not suitable for use as a weapon as the user would have only one shot whereafter he would be vulnerable to attack. I also demonstrated that a single shot pistol was no more powerful than a shot pistol which was exempted from the general ban on handguns by virtue of a Government amendment.
§ My technical advisers, who have forgotten far more about these matters than I will ever know, have given me a terrible wigging. It is apparent that a .410 shot pistol is far more powerful than a 9 mm pistol. At Committee stage the Minister raised several points that I had not considered when tabling my original amendment. It would be possible to modify a self-loading pistol so that it became a single shot weapon. After it was approved it could relatively easily be modified so that it could again be a multi-shot pistol. Furthermore, I was not really thinking of a single shot Browning-type pistol but a pure target pistol.
§ The amendment I have tabled deals only with a pistol designed and constructed to be single shot. It would also have to be designed and maintained for target shooting. This stops imaginative owners converting such weapons from target pistols to combat-type pistols. My motivation is to develop a new full bore single shot shooting discipline. It would be a discipline that concentrated on high accuracy and very low rates of fire. I do not believe that such a discipline exists at present, but we could start one and lead the world in it.
§ The Minister pointed out that there were not many single shot pistols in existence and that the proposal would not help many people. However, my objective was not to help anyone in particular; it was to create a new opportunity for safe shooting.
§ We have some very big and interesting fish to fry today. Unless another noble Lord is desperate to make a contribution, I believe that we should move on. I have no intention of pursuing this matter. I simply ask the Minister, without any obligation on her part, to consider tabling an amendment at a later stage. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Baroness has to say. I beg to move.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, this amendment would permit, as the noble Earl said, single shot handguns of whatever calibre to be exempted from the general prohibition on handguns and to be allowed to be held at home. This runs counter to the proposals set out in the Bill that all multi-shot and single shot handguns other than small calibre pistols should be prohibited, apart from a very few narrowly defined exceptions. There are also the exemptions set out in Clauses 2 to 5 of the Bill covering those working in slaughterhouses, the humane killing of animals, those using starting pistols at athletic meetings and trophies of war. Those handguns may be held according to the conditions on the owner's firearms certificate. Apart from such cases, I see no grounds for 1537 allowing any single shot handguns to be exempted from the ban. Keeping such handguns at home would pose a great risk to the public.
I shall reflect on everything that is said in the course of today's proceedings, but I cannot promise the noble Earl that I will go away and table an amendment at the next stage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on my amendment. The situation is perfectly satisfactory. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh moved Amendment
Page 1, line 15, leave out ("small-calibre pistol") and insert ("pistol using low power cartridges").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 5. The amendments are related. It is wise to understand that no matter what clauses may be agreed at any stage there are 2,500 weapons illegally imported into this country. That figure was referred to in the other place by Mr. Frank Cook. It had been supplied to him by two senior officers of different constabularies.
§ Throughout the debate on the Bill in this House and in the other place there have been quotes, and misquotes, from Lord Cullen's recommendations. Some of us are qualified to talk on the subject; others are less qualified. However, we have a duty in this House to the public at large to return the Bill to the other place amended so that it is acceptable both to those who wish to continue the sport of target shooting and those who wish to tighten the law to make the handling of firearms safer. It is important that we make the Bill as practical and policeable as we can, thus ensuring public safety.
The Government have accepted that the sport of target shooting will continue by allowing within the Bill the ability of clubs to use firearms that use .22 rimfire cartridges. I quote the standard Home Office statement:
In the Bill, therefore, we seek to preserve competitive handgun shooting, while providing at least the same degree of public safety as Lord Cullen recommended. We propose to continue to permit .22 rimfire handguns".
§ The amendment enables us to preserve target pistols and cartridges of no greater muzzle energy than the .22 rimfire in a great number of competitions that would otherwise be eliminated. It will allow our national and international shooting team to practise with these pistols and, as a result, no doubt win in competitive shoots—a view that I know is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, made the point most succinctly to the Minister during the first day of the Committee stage. He said that we simply could not turn up in Manchester and beat the world. He was appalled by the thought that our national teams at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, should be allowed to compete in this country but not to practise here.
§ The amendment is simple, practical, possible and policeable. The Bill sets a power threshold for legally held .22 rimfire pistols. These are to be kept at shooting 1538 clubs under the most stringent security. Whether disassembly or segregation of parts is to be allowed I leave to amendments, which I shall support, to be moved by other noble Lords. If one accepts, as do most experts, that the benchmark or datum for such power measurement is muzzle energy one sees a very interesting correlation. Certain .22 rimfire cartridges generate more muzzle energy than the .32 and .38 wadcutter cartridge. For example, the .22 WRF cartridge with a competition load of 40 grains has a muzzle energy of 185. The long range .22 has exactly the same muzzle energy—165—as the .38 special wadcutter.
§ There are three types of .22 cartridge that exceed the muzzle energy of the .38 wadcutter. I can assure your Lordships that the figures have been verified by Fultons of Bisley and by Richard Munday and his co-author Jan Stevenson who wrote the authoritative book Guns and Violence: The Debate Before Lord Cullen. The essential point is that all these .22 rimfires will remain legal under the present Bill while, at huge cost to taxpayers in compensation, we will be prohibiting pistols generating weaker muzzle energy. It is the .38 wadcutter that is the firearm used by most target shooters. There is no logic in that.
§ With this amendment we accept what the Minister calls "The line in the sand" precisely where the Government have drawn it, but we seek simply to ensure that it is drawn consistently. It is not how fat a bullet might be, but the power with which it is fired. Prior to today's Report stage of the Bill, I canvassed the opinion of a number of noble Lords. One critique was, how do you stop people who self-load their cartridges from overloading, that is to say, putting a larger charge of powder in the cartridge during the loading process? That is a very relevant point. I believe it would be very simple to police, in one or two ways.
§ First, portable chronographs are available and are widely used already by clubs and ranges to verify the loads of cartridges during match competitions. Fullbore ranges are sufficiently few that it would not be difficult for the police, with chronographs, to run random muzzle energy checks. Moreover, the matches that could be legally shot with low power cartridges would offer no incentive to load higher, indeed quite the reverse, for lower recoil, as a result of a low power cartridge, offers a competitive edge. The Firearms Act already employs muzzle energy limits to define the licensing of airguns and there is no reason why this system should not be extended to cartridge firearms. There are 43 constabularies in the UK and, as each of these chronographs costs £100, the outlay is insignificant. One might add that should a club member be found to have illegal cartridges, then draconian measures could be taken, not only against the member but also the club. This would, I am sure, make the club doubly vigilant in its own policing.
§ The second means of policing would be for clubs to use only legally manufactured cartridges. All ammunition would have to be kept in a secure arsenal segregated from the club. On the range all cartridges to be fired would be signed for in a club or police register. All spent cartridges would be collected and signed off 1539 against the initial entry. The spent cartridges would be destroyed. The scrap casings would then be sent to the manufacturers for recycling. The clubs would be able to defray some of the cost on the scrap value. This method would be expensive for the clubs, but I suggest that most clubs would be prepared to pay the extra cost to keep this honourable sport from dying. Of course, if amendments relating to the segregation of pistol parts were accepted, then there is no reason why self-loading should not continue.
§ Some of your Lordships are aware that I am a disabled shooter. Luckily, I am not totally blind but, as a result of an accident some years ago, I do have difficulty in seeing things immediately around me. Bumping into furniture and sometimes people is a forte of mine, for which I apologise. I am, although I say it myself, a reasonable shot with a shotgun, at times. I do not target shoot with a pistol, but hundreds of truly disabled people do, some of them to great effect. We in this country can boast the only disabled shooter in the world who has won three gold medals in three consecutive games. There are 50,000 disabled shooters in this country and they will be listening to us while we speak this afternoon and in further debates on this Bill.
§ This amendment, with your Lordships' support, would allow the disabled shooters to continue with their sport which is in many cases a lifeline to their enjoyment of life. They can compete with their able-bodied friends on level terms in the full knowledge that nobody is giving them an advantage.
§ Finally, there is the question of cost. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has tabled an amendment which is specific to this issue. We have heard during the passage of this Bill horrific figures bandied about in relation to compensation. The Minister has, when questioned, been unable to give accurate figures for the final bill to the taxpayer. We have heard sums of £150 million, £300 million, £500 million and even £1 billion to £1.5 billion as a possible final cost. When one hears of the shooting organisations and the manufacturers both here and abroad that are engaging counsel to challenge the Government in the European Court, I fear that the final figure may exceed the latter end of the scale. There is no doubt in my mind, and I am sure in many others, that the taxpayer will not be amused at such a spend by the government, of whatever political persuasion. This amendment will drastically reduce the bill for compensation, by allowing for the retention of the .38 wadcutter, which, as I have said, has a lower muzzle energy than the .22 rimfire.
I started my speech with the words,
the amendment … is simple, practical, possible and policeable".
§ The Minister herself has indicated that if other ways can be found to make exemptions which do not threaten public safety the Government will give serious consideration to them. I believe that this amendment should be given serious consideration. I beg to move.1540
My Lords, I supported the Government throughout the Committee stage of this Bill but, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, move this amendment, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will give it very careful consideration and perhaps undertake to consider it between now and Third Reading. He has made a very important point.
We are dealing here with those weapons which are to be exempt from the prohibitive provisions of the Bill. Among those provisions is the small-calibre pistol, which is defined as not exceeding .22. If I may just add to what the noble Lord said, I remind your Lordships that a powerful .22 pistol can be more destructive—perhaps one should say even more destructive—than a pistol using a low-powered cartridge of greater calibre, such as the .38, as the noble Lord mentioned. Therefore, I believe that he has made out a case for the inclusion of the low-powered cartridge pistol.
The only extent to which I disagree with him is in cutting out the exemption of the .22 pistol. That is unthinkable. After all that we have gone through I believe that we should keep that exemption in the Bill and not leave it out as he has proposed, but that we should add this new exemption. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will give an undertaking to consider this very carefully.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh does, of course, have logic on his side. The kind of guns he specifies are indeed no more dangerous than .22 pistols; indeed, in some cases, they are probably less dangerous. However, politics, as I am sure he will appreciate, is the art of the possible. It is rather late in the day to introduce an amendment which exempts guns larger than the .32 wadcutter, to which we shall come in a moment.
Subject to what he thinks about the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I wonder whether my noble friend might think about withdrawing his amendment and coming back on Third Reading with an enabling amendment which would empower a future Secretary of State to introduce, by order, provisions allowing for the exemption of those guns after taking expert advice, subject to affirmative resolution.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, it is extraordinary that foreigners will be allowed to come in with their larger calibre pistols and to shoot at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. They will of course have to come in under the same safety and security conditions. Then they will meet the British, who will never have been allowed to have them in their hands, who will score zero. What a lot of Herberts we will all look! We will have to compete with a pistol that we are not allowed to have. They will come in and say, "We are allowed to shoot, but you poor chaps are not to be trusted with them". Can you beat that?
I am glad that the noble Lord talked about the disabled gold medallists. It is the one sport in which they can compete on equal terms. We hear about public 1541 opinion. All my information is that public opinion has swung away from wanting to do away with pistols. I have talked to many people, but I have met no one who wants to get rid of pistols. Every man and woman I have met in various walks of life feels that the Bill is absolute nonsense. I have met no one who supports it. There is no public opinion behind it. It has just been pushed forward by a lot of political activists on the strength of emotion. I support the amendment, and I hope my noble friend takes it to a Division.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, Amendment No. 2 includes in the definition of a small-calibre pistol those which fire cartridges of low power equivalent to .22 rim-fired cartridges. I am grateful to the noble Lord because he discussed the amendment with me before the proceedings on the Bill. I appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment, but it would allow—this is the difficulty—pistols to be stored which were capable of firing much higher powered cartridges as well as .22s.
The Government have made their position clear. Only small calibre pistols chambered for .22 rimfired cartridges should be permitted to be stored and used in the secure conditions of a pistol club licensed by the Secretary of State. The proposals in the Bill have been prepared carefully to allow for those circumstances, thus providing a safety valve to allow the sport of target shooting to continue in safe surroundings.
It is not right at this late stage of the Bill to change that position in such a drastic way as to introduce handguns which might also be capable of firing much more powerful cartridges. I know the noble Lord's intention, but my advice is that that would be the case. The Government's duty is to address public safety. The amendment, although restricting muzzle energy no greater than .22 rimfired cartridges, would nevertheless allow clubs to possess higher calibre guns which are capable of firing more powerful cartridges and would undermine that protection. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, what is the difference in terms of legality between a legitimate weapon and a legitimate piece of ammunition, because, as she rightly says, those weapons are capable of firing more powerful ammunition, but that is in itself illegal?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, in considering the issue of public safety, one is considering also the scope for circumvention. We are just saying that with a single gun, albeit restricted in law to a particular muzzle energy, nevertheless the scope for circumvention, for using the same weapon for higher muzzle energy, is considerable. It is that risk that we have taken into account when saying that we cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The advice that I have been given by experts in this field does not accord entirely with the advice that the Minister has received. The very 1542 point of Amendment No. 5, which I linked with Amendment No. 2, is that it would enable the Government—to use that phrase—to look more favourably on the amendments. I do not believe, and I have been so advised, that if one considered this as part of the legislation, and policed it as such, no matter what size the gun, the waddage, the energy, because it is restricted to .22, it will not mean that one can adapt a larger weapon into being that much more powerful. Would the Minister like to consider that before I press the amendment?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, my understanding is that the gun itself would be capable of firing higher muzzle energy. It is because the same weapon is capable of firing higher muzzle energy that it would be restricted, of course, in legislation. The words on the page would restrict it, but the scope for practical circumvention is too great when considering public safety.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, we must consider what was said before the Minister replied. There are certain types of ammunition which are illegal. They would illegal under the Bill. Later we shall be discussing an amendment relating to segregation. "Disassembly" is a term which has been used previously. Disassembly is where you just put something in front of you. Segregation is where you have one part in one place and one part in another place. I agree with and will support that amendment.
I hope that the Government will understand that if you segregate the weapon—as I said when I moved the amendment—you also segregate the ammunition. You will then be protecting the public. It does not matter if we have larger guns; they will be segregated. The ammunition that they can fire will be restricted. As the Minister said, the line has been drawn and assigned and cannot go any further. The waddage is of a particular size. No matter what size gun, it will not go any harder or faster. It will not damage anybody or anything except for a target at 25 yards. That is the way I am trying to put the matter forward for the benefit of every target shooter in this country and abroad and every member of the public.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ [Amendment No. 3 not moved.]
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 2, line 11, leave out ("5") and insert ("7").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 10, 11, 21, 23, 39, 43 and 50. These are minor and technical amendments. They have the sole purpose of clarifying the existing wording of the Bill. There are no policy implications, and so I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1543
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 2, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—
(""(1A) In this Act "a pistol using low power cartridges" means—
(a) a pistol using cartridges which generate no greater muzzle energy than .22 rim-fire cartridges; or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
§ Clause 4 [Races at athletic meetings]:
Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 7:
Leave out Clause 4.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, we return briefly to the issue of Clause 4 of the Bill, the exemption of handguns used by race officials to start races at athletic meetings. I cannot understand why this exemption has been made. It is absolute madness and inappropriate. These handguns are not what I understand to be starting or blank-firing pistols and do not come under any form of control under the 1968 Act; they are fully serviceable, full bore handguns. For technical reasons they are of the largest calibre, typically .455—almost half an inch in bore diameter. There are many other ways of obtaining the bang, the flash and the smoke that are apparently necessary for starting races. I am not concerned about the use of blanks, but the gun is a real firearm, nearly always a revolver because a blank will not easily make a self-loading pistol reload automatically.
§ A number of disasters can and have occurred even with pistols firing blanks. I give one example, a suicide reported in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology in 1990, reference 11(4), pages 285 to 290. Put simply, a young woman who was depressed committed suicide by discharging an 8 mm blank directly above her heart. The autopsy revealed no metallic particles from the cartridge but her heart was still destroyed. That would suggest that blanks are not harmless.
§ Army requirements are that blanks should not be fired at less than 25 metres range: other military personnel should be at least 50 metres away and civilians 100 metres away. The rules also state that directing staff should wear ear defenders. I wonder why?
§ I invite the House to consider what could go wrong at an athletic meeting. Noble Lords will recall the vicious, unprovoked knife attack on the tennis player Monica Seles which caused her serious physical and mental injuries. A madman with similar incomprehensible motives to those of Hamilton goes to a prestigious athletic meeting with 12 rounds of .455 ammunition, overpowers the race official, takes his handgun away and slips in the first six rounds. I leave the rest to your Lordships' imagination. I beg to move.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, you can be dangerous with anything. The only safe object to allow people is a wooden spoon—and that must not be too long because it could go down someone's throat. You can make 1544 anything dangerous. You cannot argue that you have to do away with every type of gun, knife or anything else because it is dangerous if used the wrong way. It has been suggested that a hand rail should be put around the British Isles to ensure that nobody falls off. That is what we are trying to do here.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I have had to do some strange things but I have not yet had to defend putting a handrail around the British Isles.
The noble Earl raised this matter in Committee. I explained that Section 11(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 allows the starter of an athletics race to have a pistol in his possession without a police firearms certificate in order to start the race. Under the Act a person who wishes to buy or own a pistol for that purpose or to keep at home requires a firearms certificate in the usual way.
Clause 4 of the Bill ensures that athletics starters can continue to keep and use starting pistols in that way. Starters use blank rounds, but I understand that it is important to have a working pistol so that there is both a report and a flash. Every major championship, including the last three Olympic Games and the last Commonwealth Games, has made use of starting guns. The only major exception of recent years was the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg where an alternative starting apparatus was used. There were, I understand, difficulties in the sprint events when the apparatus proved unreliable. Anyone who takes sport seriously will know that if the starting gun is unreliable it creates enormous problems for the competitors, particularly at that level.
We are discussing the issue with the British Athletics Federation. I recall the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, saying that it cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise another method. We are talking with the BAF about that and the federation itself is addressing the issue. It is considering alternatives to pistols for starting races. If an alternative practical method can be found we will reconsider the position.
The Government are not aware of any case where the concession in the law for starting pistols has caused danger to the public. I hope that the noble Earl will not press the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I welcome too the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. The Minister is obviously content with the clause and I do not wish to weary the House. I hope that there are no serious incidents this summer. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 8 not moved.]
§ Clause 7 [Shot pistols used for shooting vermin]:
Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 9 to 11:
Page 3, line 28, after ("have") insert ("the shot pistol").
Page 3, line 29, leave out ("a shot pistol") and insert ("it").
§ Transpose Clause 7 to after Clause 3.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.1545
§ Clause 8 [Having small-calibre pistol outside premises of licensed pistol club]:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 3, line 38, at end insert ("unless the pistol complies with subsection (2A) below.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14 and touch on Amendment No. 15, in the name of my noble friend Lord Swansea, which is an amendment to my amendment. I shall speak mainly to Amendment No. 14, the disassembly or segregation amendment.
§ Amendment No. 14 is very similar to the amendment which I and other noble Lords supported in Committee on 16th January, at cols. 327 to 337 of the Official Report. We have made two changes to the amendment since the Committee proceedings. First, we have limited its scope to pistols chambered to .22 or smaller rimfire cartridges. That is in response to fears voiced by my noble friend the Minister, at col. 338, that our original amendment would have led to calls to allow high calibre pistols also to be disassembled. My noble friend was not necessarily correct in that assumption but the new wording should meet her fears.
§ As an amendment to the amendment, my noble friend Lord Swansea proposes Amendment No. 15 which would extend the calibres covered by disassembly to .32 wadcutters as well as to .22. The object of that exercise is to include calibres used in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games in the disassembly amendment.
§ The second change made to our earlier amendment allows the Secretary of State discretion to specify another component part, instead of or in addition to the slide assembly or cylinder, which will be kept in the licensed premises. This is to meet the practical requirements of disassembly of the very few makes of pistols not covered by the other arrangements. It is a refinement which meets the fears my noble friend the Minister expressed on 16th January.
§ Your Lordships would not wish me to repeat all the arguments used in Committee in favour of disassembly. We showed how the Government, in the face of overwhelming evidence, had shifted from their original stance, which was that disassembly was not practical, to the equally unreal spectre of illicit spares being kept at the homes of law-abiding citizens in flagrant contradiction of the conditions set out in their firearm certificates. So far, the Government have not attempted to dispute the fact that it is far easier for what they call a "determined and motivated individual"—presumably one bent on criminal activity—to acquire a whole pistol in the underworld than it is for him to go through the unnecessary procedure of acquiring a spare part which might not even fit his weapon.
§ In her speech resisting our amendment in Committee, my noble friend the Minister said that she was worried that regular dismantlement might impair the accuracy of many .22s. I can assure your Lordships that the weight of expert evidence, as supplied, for example, by Mr. Colin Greenwood of the Firearms Research 1546 Advisory Service, is that that is not so. Mr. Greenwood feels that the lone gentleman who advises the Home Office in that respect is wrong.
§ Be that as it may, if for any reason owners do not want to disassemble their pistols or cannot do so, they will not be able to benefit from this amendment. They will have to keep them as whole weapons in accordance with the rest of the Bill. So my noble friend's remarks on that occasion display her usual and admirable concern, but they are not a relevant objection to this amendment, especially in its redrafted form.
§ In her remarks on 16th January my noble friend the Minister went on to raise the objection that it would be difficult to police a dismantlement system in clubs. She gave three examples of such difficulty: first, that a qualified armourer would need to check the bona fides of a component part at the time of storage and would need to know what components the owner was entitled to have. However, there is no greater difficulty in identifying a bona fide component part than a whole gun. The extent of ownership will also be known as it will be declared on a firearm certificate.
§ It may be that an additional but unnecessary safeguard in this respect could be added to the Bill on Third Reading. This could be to require both the frame and its spare parts to bear the weapon's number. I gather that that is usually what happens anyway, but it might give the Government extra comfort if it were to be made mandatory. Perhaps the Government would care to come back with a suitable amendment on Third Reading or, alternatively, I would be happy to do so. Anyway, I hope that we can discuss it.
§ My noble friend's second fear about policing dismantlement in clubs was that an owner could deceive a club official at the time of storage by depositing a deactivated component part instead of a working part of the same make and model. But that is based on a highly contentious idea that deactivated weapons are not easily identified. In fact, deactivated weapons undergo a stringent process in order to render them incapable of firing a bullet. All component parts are deactivated, for instance, by cutting away two-thirds of the slide rail and all require a distinctive proof mark issued by the Birmingham or London proof houses. I have photographs which illustrate these points. Anyone used to handling guns will easily be able to spot the difference.
§ My noble friend's third objection was that there would have to be a considerable bureaucracy in managing the system inside clubs. But it is not clear why a dismantlement system should be any more bureaucratic than the system envisaged under the Bill. Depositing component parts will work in exactly the same way as depositing whole guns. The Bill already requires a club to keep a pistol register which would record details of the pistols stored at the club, its owner and any removal from the premises. The same details would be required of component parts.
My noble friend raised one more defence of her position against the disabling amendment during our Committee proceedings. In mentioning it I have to say that, with the obvious inadequacies of all their
arguments exposed, the Government have now moved away from scientific clarity and appear to rest their case on unsubstantiated opinion. I quote my noble friend the Minister yet again:
The main reason for rejecting this option"—
that is, disassembly—
was that we do not believe that any form of disassembly would provide a guaranteed measure of assurance against the possible misuse of the pistol by a determined and motivated individual".—[Official Report, 16/1/97; col. 338.]
§ There is no supporting evidence to back up this opinion, other than the self-evident point that no measure of any kind can be an absolute guarantee against possible misuse. All the Government's objections are met once it is recognised that at the commencement of the Act all pistols will be subject to assessment by the police. A complete inventory of pistols and component parts exists today on firearm certificates. All pistols not conforming to the Act will have to be surrendered and removed from the certificate. Exactly the same applies to component parts. Thereafter, all that is required is for the police to notify the club of any changes in the member's certificate.
§ I trust it is now clear that none of the Government's objections to dismantlement stand up to scrutiny. Before concluding, perhaps I could be permitted a very brief comment on Amendment No. 13 which follows this group of amendments on the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 14 would create a right under the Bill and there would be no offence if its conditions were complied with. Under Amendment No. 13 the rules, when they emerge from the Secretary of State, might be delayed or be so stringent as to negate the effect of the proposal.
§ Amendment No. 14 is less bureaucratic. It provides for the generality and leaves the Secretary of State a residual power in case of difficulty. If he does nothing, the clause would still operate, but Amendment No. 13 would require the rules to be made and they could be very complex, including perhaps storage in more than two parts. If Amendment No. 14 were not to find favour with my noble friend on the Front Bench or eventually with your Lordships, of course I would support Amendment No. 13. However, I fear that it is not as helpful as Amendment No. 14.
§ Disassembled pistols all over the country will be far safer than arsenals of weapons waiting to be burgled. That is where the "determined and motivated individual" so promoted by Her Majesty's Government will strike, not in Alice in Wonderland procurement of unreliable and non-existent spare parts in the underworld.
§ Disassembly will allow thousands of clubs to continue to operate. It will save their sport for thousands of people, both able-bodied and disabled, and it will save the taxpayer a huge but unquantifiable sum. It was the preferred option of Lord Cullen and it meets the central purpose of the Bill, which is to separate the owner from his pistol except within licensed premises and thus to do what can be done to prevent another terrible tragedy such as occurred at Dunblane. I very 1548 much hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench can accept our amendment today. If she cannot, I hope that your Lordships will support it in the Division Lobby. I beg to move.
§ 4 p.m.
My Lords, we have two very similar amendments on the Marshalled List. They are both designed to have largely the same effect. I am anxious to avoid two debates so I shall speak in this debate. If necessary, I shall move my amendment, speak to it, explain its advantages and then seek the opinion of the House.
The time has now come for the House to decide what we are going to do with the Bill which, as drafted, will practically eliminate the sporting use of pistols while providing a negligible increase in public safety. The other problem with the Bill is that it is unaffordable as not only will compensation have to be paid for the actual guns to be melted down, but also—and quite rightly—compensation will have to be paid to the clubs that will be destroyed and to certain individuals who would otherwise be bankrupted.
We believe that a system of disassembly, dismantling, segregation—call it what you will—provides the solution. Both our amendments—that is my Amendment No. 13 and the noble Lord's Amendment No. 14—concern only small calibre, that is to say, .22 pistols, although the case that will be presented is equally valid for full bore pistols.
In Committee the Chamber has already shown that it can compromise on this Bill. The Committee divided at least twice and decided upon compensation for clubs but not businesses. It may be helpful if I first remind the House of the problems connected with handguns. I suggest that there are four problems. First, although there is little concrete evidence, the police fear that people are acquiring handguns as a means of personal protection. Rightly or wrongly, that is contrary to public policy. With certain exceptions the public are not supposed to use firearms to protect themselves as that is the province of the police. With good reason the police are apprehensive of further increases in the number of people having their own guns available for immediate use but having some lawful pretext to obtain them such as target shooting.
Secondly, to obtain a licence people will join a shooting club, which is, after all, a pleasant activity. After a period they will qualify for their own certificate. Their motivation is not immediately apparent, especially if they occasionally turn up at the club. That is not unlikely as the clubs have a pleasant social environment. The only problem is that their motivation is contrary to public policy but nothing illegal is happening.
Thirdly, there is the problem of theft of legally held handguns. While there is a vast number of guns with no history of legal ownership, there is a tiny minority which were stolen from legal owners. Having a sporting gun of any kind creates some increased security risk, but perversely the very qualities of a pistol—concealability and transportability—which make it attractive to further criminal acts also contribute to its security.
1549 Fourthly, there is the problem of suicides and accidental or even deliberate shootings either by the owner, a relative or a friend. The system of disassembly that we shall describe can overcome all these problems, as nowhere will there be a complete privately owned pistol except when in use at a club and for certain exemptions specified elsewhere in the Bill. The Bill, as drafted, seeks to solve the problem in a different way to that specified in our amendment. No handguns will be privately held but .22 pistols will be held in a few arsenal type clubs, with possibly several hundred complete guns in one place. The Government have admitted that few, if any, clubs will be able to afford the necessary security arrangements, thus causing there to be fewer clubs but with a huge concentration of firearms, making them even more attractive to criminals.
At this stage I wish to explain how our amendment works and how it meets the difficulties identified with previous amendments debated in this House and in another place. The amendment gives the power to the Secretary of State to make rules as to which parts of a small calibre pistol, that is, a .22, will be left at the club and which parts will be stored elsewhere. It is an extremely flexible provision. My provisions are almost identical in effect to those in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. Under my amendment the Secretary of State would be able to provide that a particular model or type is not suitable for dismantling and that provision is not qualified in any way, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, explained. This is practically the only way in which my amendment differs from that of the noble Lord.
I can and will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. He has made an excellent job of moving it. However, I doubt whether the House will accept it, if he chooses to test the opinion of the House. If the House does not accept the noble Lord's amendment, I shall move my amendment and briefly explain its advantages. I shall then seek the opinion of the House.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has made an excellent case for Amendments Nos. 12 and 14. I have added my name to Amendment No. 14. A formidable body of my noble friends on these Benches have put their names to Amendment No. 13 which has already been effectively spoken to by my noble friend Lord Attlee. As he has pointed out, it also relates to disassembly. However, as has also been pointed out, it is an enabling amendment. The problem with that is that it might be many months, or indeed many years, if ever, before a future Secretary of State took advantage of its provisions. In the meantime perhaps 70 or even 75 per cent. of .22 pistol clubs would have collapsed because of not being able to afford the cripplingly heavy security provisions that storage of fully assembled pistols would necessitate. Therefore any action by a future government would be too late.
It is worth recalling once again the overwhelming advantages of accepting one or other disassembly amendment, preferably the first, of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. It would enable many more sportsmen and 1550 sportswomen to continue with their sport. It would save the taxpayer huge sums of money and above all it would be much safer for the public.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I do not wish to rehearse the arguments that were made at the Committee stage. As we have a free vote on this matter those of my noble friends who might wish to hear my advice can do so now. I feel strongly that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, would greatly extend the use and availability of handguns. I ask my noble friends to support the Government in opposing that amendment.
I feel much less strongly about the amendment spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which allows the Secretary of State to make rules. Those rules can relate to where the different parts of the weapon are kept and to the make, model and fire power—if that is the right word—of the weapon. If my noble friends wish to abstain or support the noble Earl, I have no objection to that.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, some Members of your Lordships' House may remember a famous American baseball coach who had an imperfect grasp of the English language, or indeed any other language, and who once said that in watching his team lose yet another game he had a sense of déjà vu all over again. I have had a similar sense listening to the exchange so far. It seems to me that the arguments for and against this policy of disassembly, or dismantlement, or segregation—as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, put it—have been made over and over again. We have heard the arguments and we are now in a position to make up our minds about them.
I must, however, confess also that I have a certain amount of confusion in my mind at the way in which this matter is being handled. We have had one amendment tabled and proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. We have heard speeches in favour of that amendment which seemed to be criticising it. However, that is the way that the grouping has been drawn up and we have to abide by that. I wish to say only that it seems to me there must be a measure of agreement with what Lord Cullen said in his report; namely,The option—that is to say the option of disassembly—which is open to the least objection on the grounds of practicality is the temporary dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components".We have heard some powerful arguments to support the view of Lord Cullen.
I wish to make two brief points before resuming my seat. They have already been made but they should be considered carefully. This dismantlement option would allow people to continue to practise a harmless and absorbing sport without potential danger to the public. If the Bill remains in its present form, thousands of people will be deprived of that harmless recreation.
There is a further aspect. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, made the point eloquently. I refer to the impact of this legislation on the disabled. Pistol shooting is one of the few sports in which the disabled 1551 can compete on the same footing as the able-bodied. Shooting for the disabled began in this country; we were the initiators of it. It is now a worldwide sport at paraplegic and other games all over the world. It would be a final irony if the legislation meant that we were now the only country to be eliminated from international competition in this field.
Although I am slightly confused by the procedures today, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, if he presses his amendment to a Division. If he is defeated, I shall hope to support my noble friend Lord Attlee when he moves his amendment.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I support both amendments. Originally I had intended to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Pearson. However, I understand the merits of both although I comprehend the confusions that have been discussed.
It is with a little suspicion that I support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was more persuaded towards Amendment No. 13 than Amendment No. 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord Pearson. Knowing the noble Lord's attitude to guns in general, I suspect that his reasons for supporting that amendment are not quite the right ones, and not those of many who support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I have no attitude to handguns. I have only an attitude to public safety.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, on several occasions during discussion of the Bill he has expressed his opposition to anyone holding handguns. I do not think that he can get away with that kind of remark.
I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Pearson. We had a lengthy and comprehensive discussion in Committee. I believe that I am right in saying that virtually every person who spoke at that stage supported the concept of disassembly.
As the Bill stands at present, if handguns are kept as one assembly in clubs, with the necessary and stringent controls, there is always the danger that any criminal or terrorist will be able to have access to large arsenals. The one great advantage of the amendment is that we split the gun into its various parts. That makes a great deal of sense.
On a more general point, a great number of people will be affected seriously by the Bill and feel hard done by through what I can only describe as the intransigent attitude of the Government. I should have thought that this was a good opportunity for my noble friend to display to those people that she has given the matter considerable thought. The arguments put forward about safety are real and proper. The outcome of my noble friend's amendment for those people would be considerable.
1552 I very much hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. If it comes to a Division, I hope that noble Lords will support my noble friend. Amendment No. 12 is a well thought out, comprehensive and good amendment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I much regret that I was unable to be present in your Lordships' House during the earlier stages of the Bill. I shall speak only briefly now. First, I believe that one of the symptoms of indifferent legislation is when the government of the day find it almost impossible to make any important concessions for fear that the whole edifice will fall apart.
Secondly, shock and horror, deep and profound as they were following Dunblane, are not the best of counsellors when it comes to solving problems. I believe that the Government's proposals in the Bill should be judged by the yardstick of how far they are likely to protect young children or other vulnerable people from the actions of people who are either wicked or mad.
If a measure makes a modest contribution, if any, to such an end then I believe that interfering with other people's perfectly peaceful pastimes is not justified. In having to devise a measure which would protect, safeguard and prevent such events ever happening again, and at the same time satisfy public opinion, I believe that the Government were wise to appoint Lord Cullen, and to ask him to look at the matter in depth, quietly, and to report. I have never been able to understand why, having received a perfectly sensible and lucid report from Lord Cullen, they did not follow that advice.
Before my noble friend the Minister finally rejects either Amendment No. 12 or Amendment No. 13, I hope that the noble Baroness will reflect seriously upon how far anything in the Bill will be effective in securing the purpose which everyone must deeply desire. I conclude on this note. There are other, more effective and far more devastating ways of doing harm to vulnerable people in schools or elsewhere than could be done with the minor weapons with which she is now dealing.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I support the Cullen option. I am sorely disappointed that the Government were unable to bring forward some provision along those lines since Committee stage. Such was quite clearly the preponderant view of your Lordships' House and the gravamen of the mass of correspondence that your Lordships received from perfectly ordinary, law-abiding people from all walks of life.
I shall vote for both amendments. I have no compunction in doing so. I feel that it is a matter of one's duty. When another place makes a hash of legislation, the country comes to us. At least we should do what we can without wrecking the principle of the Bill.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I, too, regret that I have been unable to attend previous stages of the Bill. However, I wish to say a few words on the two amendments. I support them as a result of practical experience in Northern Ireland.
1553 In Northern Ireland we have just as many weapons throughout the community. Over the past years the security forces have had many weapons of the type referred to in the provision, and of the type required by terrorists. However, those weapons have to be dismantled within the home and disassembled. Because the parts are separated there has been no case, so far as I am aware, of a planned attack to obtain a partly disassembled weapon without knowledge of where the second part was hidden. If these amendments are passed, one part would be held in a safe place well away from the location of the disassembled part. However, there have been occasions over the years when weapons were taken from a central place in a fully assembled state. I therefore support the amendments. I believe that they would give the greatest feeling of protection to a well-informed public. If they are not well informed they will be sceptical of such a measure.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, at Second Reading I drew my noble friend's attention to the view of the small clubs in the area where I live which will have to close because they have no premises in which to keep their weapons. My noble friend's amendment would very much improve the situation for those clubs. Members would be able to keep their weapons at home but absolutely safely because parts would be disassembled and kept elsewhere. That would help shooters enormously. Under my noble friend's amendment any weapons would still be small bore but could be kept at home. I believe such a measure to be absolutely safe. I have in mind the anxieties of many people in the area where I live. This is a good solution. I am comforted by the fact that it is Lord Cullen's preferred option.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, there are two voices from this side of the House. My noble friend gave his powerful opinion; mine is very much less powerful, indeed a very weak opinion so far as numbers are concerned. Nevertheless, I believe that it should be expressed. I have heard the arguments; I am impressed by them. I do not need to rehearse them further. My point is that if the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, were passed, it would help to take some of the heat out of the severe arguments that are taking place. If the Government accepted the amendment, it would make pistol shooters feel that their views were being heeded and that the Government now recognise that they are not the monsters so often depicted but perfectly respectable, hard-working members of the community, innocent of any crime that would justify the draconian measures now being taken against them. That is worth repeating several times over, although that is not my intention.
It has been shown beyond doubt that dismantlement is workable. We have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. If anybody should know, he should. He knows that dismantlement is workable and that it is safe when coupled with proper enforcement of the law. We must always remember that it was failure to enforce the existing law which led to Thomas Hamilton 1554 possessing guns. Dismantlement would provide a regime that was safe; and the Bill would still provide the most rigorous gun control regime in the world.
I want to emphasise the savings in cost that would arise if dismantlement were to be agreed. I put it to my noble friends in particular, since it is likely that a Labour government will pick up the tab for compensation and that the amount could turn out much higher than presently estimated, that it is in their interests to support the amendment. Indeed if the Government had any sense, they would welcome it with open arms. It would get them off the hook. I do not want to be unkind to them; I am not an unkind person. However, I fear that they have the closed minds and moribund senses that afflict those who are too long in office.
Nevertheless, I have a dream that a glimmering of understanding of the issues and consideration for those who will be so badly affected by the Bill will penetrate the fog of confusion that surrounds Her Majesty's Government and that they will see the light and accept the amendment. If not, I trust that this House, as it so often does, will pass an amendment which brings justice to pistol shooters and those connected with the sport and, in doing so, enhance public safety.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the crucial issue in the Bill is framed in these two amendments. In his report Lord Cullen undoubtedly gave as his first option the dismantling of guns. In their response the Government said that they had received advice from forensic science advisers to the Home Office that that option was totally impracticable. That is the great issue in relation to the two amendments.
If such a measure is impracticable from a safety point of view, then the Government are right. On the other hand, there are the expert comments in so many letters received by Members of this House regarding the option which Lord Cullen believed to be a practical answer to the problem—or at least the most satisfactory answer. Having pointed out how totally impossible it was to prevent the madman or evil-doer getting through the net, he chose the other option; namely, dealing with the weapon. That, he believed, was the correct way to deal with the problem. However, as I understand it, he had not heard the evidence from the forensic science advisers to the Government. It is very important for the Minister to deal with the disadvantages and adumbrate exactly what they are.
This is a matter which eventually the elected House should and will decide. The issue for this House is whether we give Members in the other place an opportunity and a reason to reconsider Lord Cullen's advice and that received by the Government from forensic science advisers whom they are bound to turn to. If the advice is as strong as has been suggested, it cannot easily be discarded.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, when the Government proposed the Bill they reached some general conclusions which noble Lords may feel were rather expensive. Some may agree; some may disagree. The amendments under discussion, particularly the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, do not seek to counter those general 1555 conclusions. All they say is: let the policies that the Government have decided to adopt be implemented in a way that is less expensive, which must be desirable for everyone, and in a way that is less intrusive and burdensome. It would be very sad if my noble friend were to say not only that the Government will insist on their general principles as set out in the Bill but that they will also insist on the Home Office having its own way as to exactly how the legislation is carried out. Frankly, I suspect that the collective knowledge and expertise in your Lordships' House is every bit as great as in the Home Office.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I should like to ask a question, the answer to which may materially assist me in deciding how to vote. My general questions are very much like those of my noble friend Lord Hooson.
Once a weapon has been disassembled, is it possible to take a disassembled piece from one weapon and fit it together with the body of another weapon to make one composite new weapon or do the disassembled pieces have to be fitted together in the original combination?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 12 and 14 in the name of my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch propose that pistols and other handguns would be disassembled for storage. The owner would retain the larger part of the gun—the carcass or frame—to keep safely at home and leave a vital working part, most usually the barrel in the case of a pistol, or the cylinder in the case of a revolver, for secure storage at their club.
The Government have given much consideration to this issue and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for coming to see me recently, together with an independent expert, to offer advice on this subject.
We, of course, understand the importance of disassembly, certainly as far as individual shooters are concerned. However, the Government remain of the view that, as we said when this issue was debated before in this House, it would be wrong to take this approach. The Government have in this House and in another place explained the dangers to the public of allowing handguns to be held at home, even when disassembled.
This is not a technical argument. Experts may differ on this subject but the Government entirely accept that most handguns can be disassembled by removing the barrel, slide or cylinder and that the average owner can then put them back together so that they are safe to use.
A few guns, as Lord Cullen acknowledged at paragraph 9.86 of his report, cannot be treated in this way. But the Government's main argument against disassembly is that it does not provide a sufficient measure of assurance to the public against the possible misuse of a pistol by a determined individual.
Under a disassembly scheme it would have to be the responsibility of the club to ensure that the detached component parts were lodged safely and securely and that they were always handed in when they ought to be.
1556 I would expect that clubs would strive to meet their responsibilities under these new arrangements, and that would have to be reflected in the terms of their licence. But, if they were not acting responsibly, it might be difficult for the police to detect that until something went seriously wrong, by which time it could be too late.
Another difficulty is the fact that detachable component parts such as pistol barrels and slides and revolver cylinders are small and easily concealable. There would inevitably be scope for an owner who had a mind to do so to remove one illicitly. He might or might not attempt to substitute a lookalike instead; if he did, he might or might not succeed in doing that.
Some owners will of course have more than one component part for their pistol; or it would be possible for others, intent on doing so, to adapt a component part taken from a deactivated gun so as to deceive their club, however briefly, into believing that it was the genuine component of the original gun.
Any scheme of this sort would open up a range of possibilities for abuse by somebody who was minded—and one might say even wicked enough—to do so. The Government have taken advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers in England and Wales. Its letter concludes that,disassembly is thought to be incapable of being policed".The Government have always accepted that the majority of firearm certificate holders are honest and law abiding; but we must not forget that Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan both held their guns lawfully on certificate. Either could have been capable of obtaining or concealing component parts had the disassembly approach been in force.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, my noble friend is talking about people who cheat. People who want to obtain pistols by cheating can perfectly well obtain them by going into Glasgow or London. Surely we are here talking about genuine firearms people who wish to keep their firearms certificates and have no intention of cheating.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, in a way my noble friend almost makes the case. There are many different views about this matter. The Government simply stand on their case that not disassembling but having the gun and the moving parts in one place reduces the risk of the whole variety of ways of circumvention that I have referred to.
A number of points were raised during the course of this important but relatively short debate. The first was the risk of burglary. Clubs with large supplies of gun parts could still be targeted by criminals and one cannot rule out the possibility that the underworld would be interested in or attracted by such supplies.
The key argument used here for disassembly is that one can thereby reduce the level of security at a gun club which would enable it to survive after this Bill is on the statute book. But it is inconceivable that one could have very large quantities of moving parts of guns held in the community that would not be attractive to burglars, just as supplies in any commercial venture would be attractive to burglars, wherever there is a market.
1557 As to security at the clubs, there would still be the need to have a sophisticated method of keeping component parts of handguns safely stored. Clubs would also need to be extremely vigilant about an individual—just one individual—bent on removing a small component part which would allow reassembly of the gun at home.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, perhaps I may reiterate a small point which I have already mentioned. So many guns come into this country every week. Most people who read the newspapers will know that a trial is taking place at present of a road rage case where the man concerned telephoned for a gun, obtained a gun within an hour and shot the people who had bumped the back of his car. There is no point in talking about disassembly and putting guns into firearms clubs when there are those 2,000 illegal weapons. It is far better to have things segregated than to have a position whereby a terrorist or a bandit could go into a gun club and take a weapon as one piece.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we shall have to agree to differ on this point. The noble Lord makes an important point about the number of illegal weapons in this country. We do not know how many there are; it can be at best a guess. However many there are, it is our view that, if guns are taken out of circulation—it is the Government's proposal that the whole of the gun, parts and all, should be taken out of circulation—those guns that are in circulation become much more conspicuous, which makes it easier for the police to identify illegal weapons in the community. That is a point either agreed or not agreed between us, but it is a point which the Government have taken seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, raised an important matter. The degree to which disassembly is a practical proposition is a matter that was raised by Lord Cullen. He was equivocal on this. I do not deny the point made by noble friend Lady Carnegy that Lord Cullen said that that would be a preferable option, but he went on to say, "if it is a workable proposition".
In paragraph 9.111 of his report Lord Cullen said that it must be a matter for Parliament to decide what the ultimate solution should be. In his recommendation 24 he specifically invited the Government to consider the practicability of disassembly as an option. We have given thought to that and we have considered the practicability of it as an option. Not all noble Lords will agree with the Government's conclusion to that consideration, but we considered that it was not a practical proposition and rejected it.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Peyton spoke as he did. The Government have given a good deal of thought to the issue, as they were invited to do by Lord Cullen. As the Minister responsible for this Bill, I continue to discuss the passage of each stage of the Bill; I have continued to listen to noble Lords; I have dealt with all the correspondence and made most of the correspondence available to all other noble Lords; I continue to play devil's advocate with many of the points raised during the debate; and in addition I personally sought expert advice from a person nominated by my noble friend Lord Pearson—it was his choice—and found that meeting most 1558 valuable on this point. I return to the point that we did what Lord Cullen asked us to do—that is, give serious consideration to these matters—and we came to the conclusion that is well known to noble Lords.
Perhaps I may turn to Amendment No. 13 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The arguments in principle against disassembly are the same. The noble Earl suggests that his amendment would be better and more effective. But it would require complicated rules about which guns could or could not be dismantled. It would also be a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. The task of those such as the police who would have to distinguish between those guns which could be disassembled under the rules and those which could not, would be even more difficult. I refer again to the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers: disassembly is incapable of being policed.
The version of the noble Earl in relation to disassembly would make policing of the system impossible, with different rules applying to different makes or models. I cannot see how that offers a practical way forward.
My Lords, my amendment is designed to provide maximum flexibility for the Secretary of State, who will, in a few months, have to implement the legislation. He can make exactly what rules he wants.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Earl is right. However complicated the solution may be, the Government can find a way to produce guidelines for it. I am suggesting that the noble Earl's solution would be complex. We discussed the matter with the police and the police took the view that it would be difficult—in fact, they do not believe it to be a manageable proposition. I am putting that forward as a counter argument.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked a straight question about the interchangeability of parts—not for the gun to which the parts belong, but for another gun. That is technically possible. I am prepared to accept expert opinion—it does vary on this matter—that it would be with some difficulty. The parts would not fit easily, but that it is technically possible is absolutely right, and parts can be interchanged.
The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, I should bring to the attention of the House that this is the Report stage of the Bill. All noble Lords have had the opportunity of speaking. It is time that my noble friend the Minister was able to finish her reply to all the points made.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The Government have taken the view that the protection of the public should be the priority. I do not have to remind noble Lords why we are here and why this Bill is before the House: it is because of the massacre of young people in Dunblane. The Government have a duty to address this issue and have done so. We are now discussing means to ends rather than whether or not the Government should do anything at all.
The safest position must be to ensure that the entire gun is stored in secure, licensed pistol clubs and to take them out of general circulation. I must therefore urge my noble friend not to press the amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment and am gratified to hear that nearly all of your Lordships support it.
I was also gratified to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, say that the Labour Benches will be given a free vote on the matter. However, I take issue with one point that he made; that is, that the adoption of Amendment No. 14—I believe I heard him right—would extend greatly the number and use of handguns as opposed to what might happen under Amendment No. 13. I have to put it to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that what we are talking about is not extending the number of handguns that would be in use under my Amendment No. 14; it is more that we would leave fewer people deprived of their legitimate sport and more able to continue with it if we accept the amendment.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, it is not the same thing. The noble Lord is suggesting that fewer people would be able to continue shooting under Amendment No. 13; otherwise, I do not see the point of his intervention.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to the experts in this matter. I can confirm that my noble friend Lady Blatch was good enough to interview Mr. Greenwood of the Firearms Research and Advisory Services yesterday. I believe she found his evidence helpful. We all agreed that it was a pity that the Government had not heard Mr. Greenwood's evidence in person before.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and my noble friend Lady Blatch referred to the other place; that is, that the elected House should decide this matter. That is true. But your Lordships may be aware that in the other place the issue of segregation was raised but not put to the vote. It was always deferred to the next stage. It was raised in the Committee stage of the Whole House of the other place on 18th November but was then left to the standing committee. It was then deflected with a promise of further information. At Report stage in the other place it was raised again but was deemed—this is the important point—to be more suitable to be considered in greater depth when the Bill entered your Lordships' House, as it has now done. There were at least eight honourable Members from all sides of the House who supported it and took that view.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lady Blatch in reply, said that most guns can be disassembled, as suggested by the amendment. Mr. Greenwood was extremely convincing yesterday and said that the figure is that at least 98 per cent. of the guns that we seek to cover can be disassembled. The idea of an owner hiding a small part of a pistol about his person is not very realistic. The pistol itself is not very big; that is why it is being separated from the 1560 rest of the firearms. And I must repeat to your Lordships that my noble friend did not answer the point that it is easier to obtain another weapon in the underworld than it is to find difficult spare parts which cannot fit one's weapon.
My noble friend finally prayed in aid the police. I am advised that only the Superintendents' Association agreed with the idea that central storage can be effective. I am reliably advised that it offered no evidence for that view. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in the other place and the Association of Chief Police Officers, having set out the pros and cons of central storage, concluded that the risks from central storage were far greater than the risk of keeping firearms at home and they preferred the latter option, subject to suitable provisions. They did not even ask for the amendment.
I should conclude with what my noble friend said in relation to the report of Lord Cullen. Lord Cullen wisely goes this way and that in the body of his excellent document. But his conclusion is inescapable. In recommendation 24 he said that,Consideration should be given to restricting the availability of self-loading pistols and revolvers of any calibre which are held by individuals for use in target shooting preferably, by their disablement".Those are the words which the Government have ignored, "preferably by disablement". I hope that your Lordships will support Lord Cullen's view. My noble friend knows that it is not easy for me to ask for the opinion of the House against the position that she is taking. But on this occasion I have to do so.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 153; Not-Contents, 139.1562
|Division No. 1|
|Abinger, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Ackner, L.||Carlisle, Bp.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Carnarvon, E.|
|Alderdice, L.||Camegy of Lour, B.|
|Aldington, L.||Camock, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Chalfont, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Charteris of Amisfield, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Clancarty, E.|
|Arran, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh,L.|
|Attlee, E.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Congleton, L.|
|Blake, L.||Comwallis, L.|
|Blease, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Craig of Radley, L.|
|Brain, L.||Crathome, L.|
|Braybrooke, L.||Crickhowell, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Croham, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Crook, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Cross, V.|
|Burnham, L.||De Saumarez, L.|
|Burton, L.||Denham, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Derwent, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Calverley, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L|
|Downshire, M.||Norfolk, D.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Elles, B.||Northboume, L.|
|Elton, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Erroll, E.||Northumberland, D.|
|Exmouth, V.||Ogmore, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Fitt, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Gage, V.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Pearson of Rannoch, L. [Teller.]|
|Geddes. L.||Peel, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Reay, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L||Rennell, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Hertford, M.||St John of Bletso, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.|
|Howell, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Hussey of North Bradley, L.||Simon, V.|
|Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Spens, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Stallard, L.|
|Dchester, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Inchyra, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kimball, L. [Teller.]||Swansea, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Swinfen, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Swinton, E.|
|Kitchener, E.||Taveme, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Thurlow, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Tollemache, L.|
|McNair, L.||Vemon, L.|
|Mallalieu, B.||Vinson, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Wade of Chorlton,L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Warnock, B.|
|Mersey, V.||Weatherill, L.|
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Wharton, B.|
|Monson, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Monteagle of Brandon, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Moran, L.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wyatt of Weeford,L.|
|Moyne, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Munster, E.||Yarborough, E.|
|Newall, L.||Zouche of Haryngwortn, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Carlisle, E.|
|Acton, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Addington, L.||Carter, L.|
|Addison, V.||Chadlington, L.|
|AiIsa,M.||Chalker of WaIlasey,B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Chelmsford, V.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Chesham, L. [Teller.]|
|Astor, V.||Clinton-Davis, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Cockfield, L.|
|Balfour. E.||Courtown, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Cowley, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal.j|
|Beloff, L.||Cuckney, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Cumberlege, B.|
|Blatch, B.||Davidson, V.|
|Bowness, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Dean of Harptree, L.|
|Byford, B.||Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.|
|Cadman, L.||Denbigh, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Demon of Wakefield,B.|
|Digby, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Dubs,L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||McNally, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Geraint, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee,L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Murton of Lindisfame, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Nicol, B.|
|Gould of Pottemewton, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Paul, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Pender, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Peston, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Harris of Peckham, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Haskel, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Hayter, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Russell, E.|
|Home, E.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Hooper, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hooson, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Hope of Craighead, L.||Serota, B.|
|Howe, E.||Sewel, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean. B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Taylor of Warwick. L.|
|Judd, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Long, V.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Wallace of Saltaire,L.|
|Lucas, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Luke, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|McConnell, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Wise, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 4, line 4, at end insert—
("(2A) A pistol shall not be a small-calibre pistol for the purposes of this section provided—
- (a) the slide assembly or cylinder or other component part specified under subsection (2B) below has been removed and stored on the premises of a licensed pistol club; and
- (b) the firearms certificate for the pistol specifies premises other than the licensed pistol club specified in paragraph (a) above at which the remainder of the firearm shall be stored.
(2B) If he is satisfied that it is necessary in the interest of public safety, the Secretary of State may by order specify a component part other than the slide assembly or cylinder to be stored at a licensed club, and may do so in respect of a particular model or type of pistol to which this section applies.
(2C) This section applies to pistols chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I now call Amendment No. 15 as an amendment to Amendment No. 14.
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 15 as an amendment to Amendment No. 14:
Line 16, at end insert ("or a pistol, chambered for use with a centre-fire cartridge which is not more than 1.1 inches in length inclusive of the missile and which uses a missile not more than .32 inches in diameter, which is of a description prescribed in rules made by the Secretary of State.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment extends the scope of the calibres to the .32 wad-cutter cartridge, which is a very low-powered cartridge. It is widely used in international competitions—not in the Olympic Games, but in the Commonwealth Games, and in other international events. It is a very low-powered cartridge. It employs what is referred to as a wad-cutter bullet. That is a bullet with a flat nose and punches a clean-cut hole in a paper target. The bullet is seated entirely within the case so it does not project beyond its mouth.
§ It has been stated by the Birmingham Proof House that this cartridge cannot be loaded above a certain velocity without exceeding safe pressures, which are very important points for target practice. There is no reason to exclude this type of pistol and to confine ourselves to .22 rimfire pistols. This would be the only centre-fire cartridge which I envisage being employed and it is very low-powered.
§ It has been stated by Mr. Warlow, who is the foremost scientific adviser, that he has no knowledge of a cartridge of this calibre being used in any crime in the past 25 years. It is comparable in velocity and in its striking energy to the .22 long rifle cartridge. There is a fractional difference between the two. It is a very effective weapon indeed and very popular for target shooting. I beg to move.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I support Amendment No. 15 in the name of my noble friend Lord Swansea. Your Lordships will see that this amendment merely extends subsection (2C) of my amendment, which confined it,to pistols chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges".As regards the general effect of my noble friend's amendment, it is to extend that to .32 wad-cutter cartridges, thus extending it to those calibres which are used in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. This is an amendment which lies easily with Amendment No. 14, which we have just agreed. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to accept it.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Swansea, when my noble friend comes to wind up, will she confirm to the House that in the past 40 years there has been no single instance of a .32 wad-cutter being used in crime? Will she also confirm to the House that the muzzle velocity of the .32 wad-cutter pistol is exactly half that of a .22 rim-fire? The .32 wad-cutter has a muzzle velocity of 700 feet per second as against 1,200 feet per second of a .22 rim-fire. It is purely and simply a very accurate, low-velocity target-shooting weapon, which is favoured and used in the Commonwealth Games and at all major international shooting competitions.
I hope that your Lordships will look with sympathy on my noble friend's amendment. As my noble friend Lord Pearson said, in fairness to our competition shooters we should pass this amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, used unfortunate words. He said that the amendment now before us "merely extends" the application of his Amendment No. 14. For those of us who believe that the Bill has already been weakened by Amendment No. 14, to "merely extend" it, as proposed, would be even worse.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, perhaps we may extend just a modicum of reason. We cannot allow reason to go totally out of the window. Here is something which is less than the .22. Surely there is an argument for getting rid of the .22 and allowing the wad-cutter to remain.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that this amendment extended the Bill. But as the Government's own firearms advisor, Mr. Warlow, has already admitted, the power of the .32 wad-cutter is no more than that of a .22. If this amendment is not agreed, British competitors in the Commonwealth Games will be the only people in the entire Commonwealth who are not allowed to practise for the games on their own home ground. They will have to go to France, Belgium or somewhere else to practise and that would be absolutely shameful. I hope that your Lordships will support this amendment.
The Earl of Errol
My Lords, I should like to ask one question. If this calibre of weapon is banned, can we host the Commonwealth Games again?
§ Lord Brain
My Lords, perhaps to prevent a reply that the Minister may make, I shall make it clear that the wad-cutter cartridge is totally different from any pointed bullet cartridge used in other forms of pistol shooting. It should be very easy for any police officer to be instructed in the total difference. It was demonstrated to me yesterday that a wad-cutter cartridge would not load into another form of 1565 .32 pistol. Equally, a normal cartridge does not load and operate effectively in a wad-cutter and would be a great danger to the user of the wad-cutter. I support this amendment.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I believe that it is necessary to specify specifically ".32 S & W Long" for the simple reason that in both cases the length referred to is that of the cartridge case of one inch, but with the bullet in it it is a little bit more than that.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the aim of Amendment No. 15, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Swansea, would permit centre-fire pistols chambered for .32 cartridges to be held at licensed clubs in addition to .22 rimfire pistols. The Government's position is well known. It is that all handguns are to be banned except for small calibre pistols. That is because there is a case for allowing only a limited number of handguns to be held in secure conditions. Without that outlet some target shooters might be inclined to go underground, thus increasing the risk to public safety.
There are concerns that by exempting one type of .32 calibre handgun, loopholes will be created so that all guns of such calibre will be freely available. Other .32 calibre pistols capable of firing high velocity rounds several times more powerful than the .22 rimfire and wad-cutter cartridges could be allowed through. Many .32 calibre automatic and pocket pistols are used in crime. But there is also the possibility of handguns already chambered for this particular cartridge being technically modified to fire the more dangerous round. That would constitute a very serious risk to public safety.
I say to my noble friend Lord Kimball, that he is absolutely right on both points when one refers strictly to the wad-cutter. My information is that the wording of this amendment is not strictly related to the wad-cutter. It is open to wider interpretation. That is the difficulty in reconciling what has been said in support of this amendment and what the amendment actually provides. It is for those reasons that I believe we should maintain the strict stance that the Government have maintained throughout this Bill. Therefore I ask that the amendment is not pressed.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the Minister said that the .32 wad-cutter can be illegally modified to take a more powerful type of .32 cartridge. Does she not agree that if that were to happen it would endanger the life—certainly the limbs or the right hand—of the person who had illegally modified and fired the gun?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am not sure. Did the noble Lord say that it would endanger the limbs of the person doing the modification?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. It came up in one of the discussions that I have had on these matters with an expert. I do not think that the issue is whether the wadcutter can be modified. I believe that an interpretation of the wording could include other .32s, which links in with the point made by the noble Lord earlier. The interpretation of the amendment would go wider than the wadcutter. Other .32s are capable of firing at a velocity several times higher than that of the wadcutter.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I believe that my noble friend agreed with everything that was said by my noble friend Lord Kimball, but she went on to say that she thought that the amendment was faulty in some way. That being the case, is my noble friend suggesting that she might be prepared to come back with another amendment at Third Reading to overcome the difficulty? Therefore, might we not expect something to be brought forward?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I can never give an answer to the question which my noble friend invites me to consider, unless it is "without prejudice". My answer to my noble friend Lord Kimball was in response to the words that he used. He asked whether there were any examples of wadcutters being used in crime. The answer is, very definitely, no. However, the amendment goes rather wider than the description of a wadcutter.
The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, I have already come to the Dispatch Box once this afternoon to remind noble Lords that this is Report stage. This amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Swansea and it is probably time that he made a decision on what to do with it.
§ Lord Swansea
My Lords, I am somewhat disappointed by the reply given by my noble friend 1567 on the Front Bench because it has been shown quite conclusively that the wadcutter in .32 calibre is of very low power. Indeed, it is only fractionally more than that of the .22 long rifle cartridge. I am not able to accept my noble friend's reply, so I seek the opinion of the House.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Amendment No. 15, as an amendment to Amendment No. 14, shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 158.1569
|Division No. 2|
|Abinger, L.||Kimball, L. [Teller.]|
|Ailesbury, M.||Kintore, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Annaly, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Arran, E.||Leigh, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Brain, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Braybrooke, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Monson, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Burton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Munster, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Newall, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Northumberland, D.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Cocks of Hartdiffe, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Congleton, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Peel, E.|
|Craig of Radley, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L|
|Crook, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Rathcavan, L.|
|De Saumarez, L.||Reay, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Rennell, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Simon, V.|
|Elles, B.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Feversham. L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Swansea, L. [Teller.]|
|Glasgow, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Granard, E.||Swinton, E.|
|Gray, L.||Taveme, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Tollemache, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Vinson, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Wharton, B.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Yarborough, E.|
|Inchyra, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Hayman, B.|
|Acton, L.||Henley, L.|
|Addington, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Addison, V.||Hollis of Heigham. B.|
|Ailsa, M.||Home, E.|
|Alderdice, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Aldington, L.||Howe, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hughes, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Hussey of North Bradley, L.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Ashboume, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Astor, V.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Jenkins of Putney. L.|
|Attlee, E.||Judd, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Kennet, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Beloff, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Berkeley, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Birdwood, L.||Lester of Herne Hill, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Lindsay, E.|
|Blease, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bowness, L.||Long, V.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Lovell-Davis. L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Luke, L.|
|Byford, B.||Lyell, L.|
|Cadman, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Chadlington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||McNally, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Mar and Kellie. E.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Marlesford, L.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Mason of Bamsley, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Mersey. V.|
|Cowley, E.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Cuckney, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Murton of lindisfame, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Denham, L.||Paul, L.|
|Demon of Wakefield, B.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Peston, L.|
|Digby, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Downshire, M.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Rees, L.|
|Feldman, L.||Renton, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Renwick, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Russell, E.|
|Glenamara, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Goschen, V.||Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.|
|Gould of Pottemewton, B.||Seccombe, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Serota, B.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L||Sudeley, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Taylor of Warwick, L.|
|Harris of Peckham, L.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Haskel, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Thomson of Monifieth. L.|
|Tope, L.||Wallace of Saltaire, L|
|Trumpington, B.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Williams of Elvel,L.|
|Turner of Camden, B.||Winston, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment No. 15 disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 14 agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [Firearm certificates to be subject to special conditions]:
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 4, line 42, at end insert—
("(4) Subsections (1) and (3) above apply in relation to a visitor's firearm permit as they apply to a firearm certificate.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 16 and 24 in my name close a loophole in respect of visitors to this country from overseas.
§ The Bill provides that anybody who has a firearm certificate for a small-calibre pistol for target shooting must keep it in a licensed pistol club and cannot have access to it outside club premises. If he wishes to have it elsewhere, for instance because he is taking part in a competition at another club, he must obtain a police permit under Clause 10 of the Bill allowing him to give the pistol to somebody else to move it on his behalf. As the Bill stands these arrangements do not apply to a person who has obtained a visitor's permit under Section 17 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 to allow him to visit this country from overseas with a small-calibre pistol. The amendments correct that anomaly.
§ Section 17 of the 1988 Act requires that visitors' permits for firearms must be applied for not by the putative visitor himself but by somebody resident in this country acting on his behalf. The chief officer of police must then satisfy himself that the visitor has a good reason for possessing the firearm in this country and that there will be no danger to public safety.
§ The amendments will make it clear that where the visitor seeks permission to bring a small-calibre pistol with him into this country he is not entitled to have it in his possession at any place other than a licensed pistol club specified on his permit. The visitor would not necessarily have to be a member of that club. But the amendment should make sure that visitors from overseas are treated in the same way as firearm certificate holders in every other respect.
§ Carriage of the pistol into and out of this country, and between clubs in this country if need be, will have to be undertaken by a third party under police permit, as would be the case with any other target shooter's small-calibre handgun.
§ A visitor coming to this country will need to have a sponsor already here who will arrange with the police for a permit to be issued. Any visitor who had not made appropriate arrangements in advance and who attempted to bring a firearm into the country would be committing an offence. The firearm would be subject to seizure by HM Customs.1570
§ In the light of these arrangements I urge the House to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Brain
My Lords, I ask the Minister to clarify one point. Clause 9(1) provides that the holder must be a member of a licensed pistol club specified in the certificate and that the pistol must be used only at licensed premises. I understand "used only at licensed premises", but does it mean that the visitor must go through all of the complications of being proposed and seconded to be made a member of a club? Does he have to be on the register of the club before the application is made by the sponsor to the police for permission for the firearm to be brought into the country? Further, someone who is officially allowed to transport firearms may have them available for inspection when he meets someone at a port. I find it difficult to understand how the transportation arrangements will be made. Does he need a full certificate because he is carrying, but does not own, the firearm? What is the certification position on the transportation of firearms, in particular foreign firearms? The same question may arise in relation to British-owned firearms.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, many of the arrangements to which the noble Lord refers must be made in advance. If someone comes to this country, perhaps to shoot in competitions, he must abide by all the rules as he reaches the shores of this country. It will be necessary for a third party to make the arrangements. For example, if a team is coming to shoot it will be necessary in advance for a third party to be authorised to pick up the firearms and deliver them to a safe place for the purposes of the competition. All of that will be subject to the conditions of the licence in advance of their arrival. They simply cannot arrive in this country with firearms and board a train, bus, car or plane. The noble Lord appears to be shaking his head. I do not know whether I have failed to answer his question.
§ Lord Brain
My Lords, with the leave of the House and no disrespect to the Minister, I believe that she has missed my point. I fully accept what she says about the need to have all of this arranged. But I am trying to probe the arrangements that have to be made; that is, whether the individual has to be made a fully elected member of the club, as her amendment implies. How can the person who is responsible for the transportation have the correct authorisation when he does not necessarily know the person concerned possibly because the matter is being arranged between club secretary and club secretary? In particular, how will he be allowed to transport a firearm that belongs to a person overseas? Will he have to hold a full certificate for that firearm in this country because he is carrying that firearm? One has the ambiguous situation that if he needs a full certificate he is not a third person.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I return to my original answer. The noble Lord specifically asked what transportation arrangements could be made. First, reasons would have to be given as to why a person was 1571 coming to this country with a firearm. Secondly, the police would have to satisfy themselves that there was a sponsor receiver in this country.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we are at Report stage. Perhaps I may finish my answer. If the receiving sponsor is a club we will make it possible for someone who is not a registered member legitimately to shoot in that club. The arrangements can be made in advance of that person coming to this country. But all of the arrangements for transporting the firearms to the receiving club once they have arrived at the shores of this country will be third party arrangements. The situation would be exactly the same as it would be for a registered member of a club. The details of how one would arrange for the sponsor to grant temporary membership to a visitor to this country would be dealt with under the administrative arrangements following the passing of this Bill.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Clause 10 [Permits to have small-calibre pistols outside licensed pistol clubs]:
Lord Harmsworth moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 4, line 43, after ("pistol") insert ("or for a pistol of a specified calibre under section (Police and military shooting clubs: specified exemptions)(1)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 to 20, 26 and 32. The substantive amendment is Amendment No. 32. The other amendments are consequential. First, I should like to apologise to my noble friend the Minister for introducing this amendment at this stage of the Bill. I would have preferred to move it at Committee stage, but the Bill has proceeded at a fast pace and the spur to action on my part arrived on my desk only on the first day of the two Committee days. It was then too late to do anything about it, especially as I had not anticipated speaking on this subject.
§ The last time that I was involved in gunnery and shooting, including pistol shooting with weapons that would be prohibited under the Bill, was in 1958. However, I believe that these amendments are of the utmost importance.
§ Since Amendment No. 14, the amendment on disassembly, has been agreed by your Lordships, it may well be that what I want in terms of my own amendments has been satisfied by that amendment. I shall look carefully tomorrow at the position, but it is always possible that that amendment may be substantially modified or overturned in another place. I must therefore press on with my amendments, with the leave of your Lordships. I do not want these amendments of mine to be left high and dry.1572
§ The Bill has been prompted and overshadowed by the tragedy at Dunblane. Dunblane has indeed focused everybody's mind on some method of limiting future similar occurrences. I wonder whether, in concentrating almost exclusively on that dreadful scenario, we have not to a certain extent lost sight of other possible future equally dreadful scenarios and whether we are ensuring through this legislation that we will not be as prepared to deal with them as we might have been. What I have in mind are incidents where police or military marksmanship may be of the utmost importance, possibly in the case of hostage taking, kidnaps or armed robbery, where members of the public are in danger—even, heaven forbid, children, as in the case of Dunblane. It would be foolish and irresponsible of us to do anything now in the heat of the moment that would prejudice a successful outcome in situations where skilful gun handling in the worst possible circumstances might be absolutely crucial. I truly believe that without these amendments we are risking just that.
§ The Bill places serving police officers and serving military personnel, when off duty, in exactly the same position as every other member of the public. That means that a policeman, soldier, sailor or airman who shoots in his spare time in his police or military shooting club or elsewhere would be confined to using .22 weapons, despite the fact that he may use large-calibre weapons when on duty.
§ These amendments are designed to allow serving police and military personnel to continue to be able to practise their skills when shooting at their own expense in their leisure time with full bore pistols, just as they do when serving. Some of your Lordships may consider it palpably absurd that officers and others who use or might in due course use large-calibre handguns as firearms officers or recruits to such squads and their military counterparts should not be trusted with these weapons while practising in their leisure time.
I believe that there are considerations much more compelling than that. My noble friend the Minister has had the courtesy to send me the Government's reactions to my proposals that police and serving military personnel should be effectively exempted from the Section 5 provisions of the Bill, which relate back to the original Act. I am told:
Off-duty police officers and members of the Armed Forces are private citizens and should be subject to the same obligations as other citizens. Police firearms officers, and members of the Armed Forces receive a high standard of training while on duty and there is no necessity for that training to be supplemented by practice during off duty hours".
§ I simply do not believe that is either right or represents a realistic approach to problems which, with the leave of the House, I shall explore.
§ Any shooter will tell the same story. One never gets enough practice. That was certainly the case in my Army days as a national serviceman. I hesitate to think what would have happened if I had been asked to fire the service revolvers or Browning pistols with which we were issued accurately in anger, possibly in crowd scenes with innocent bystanders, on the limited amount of training that the Army was able to give us. In those days ammunition was expensive and was therefore 1573 rationed in training. It still is. Large calibre pistols were particularly difficult to handle, and my advice from the police has done nothing to dent that opinion; they still are.
§ I was told recently of a particular exercise by one police constable who is a firearms officer in my county of Dorset: he only got the double-tap technique right after extensive practice in his police shooting club in his leisure time and at his own expense. This officer is a much commended public servant whose skill, courage, commitment to duty, professionalism and outstanding teamwork in dealing with extremely violent offenders have led to successful prosecutions for serious armed robberies. Some of your Lordships will recognise that wording. He tells me that practising with a .22 as an aid to using a 9mm. pistol in operational work provides useful basic training but it is no substitute for the full-bore pistol of the type used in service.
§ The Government's view is that training is adequate. The firearms training on pistols for this officer might amount to once every two or three months. In his own time at his police shooting club he would be able to practise on a 9mm. handgun once a week. Here is a man, not wholly untypical, who augments his service training by a factor of five or six times, at a conservative estimate.
§ It is recognised that serving members of the Armed Forces and police who have their own firearm certificates and their own handguns are among the most proficient in their service shooting. The ability of instructors especially to practise off-duty with a variety of weapons is particularly worth while.
§ What numbers are we dealing with? We are dealing with a very small percentage of the 60,000 shooters there are estimated to be. It is very difficult to arrive at a figure because of cross-pollination but I do not believe we are talking about more than 5 or 10 per cent. of the total leisure shooting population, taking the police and the armed services together. The figure does not matter; the message does. One is talking about very few.
§ The case for allowing serving members of police and military shooting clubs to continue as before is overwhelming. Such people will have been closely vetted. Furthermore, they are continually monitored by their immediate supervisors. But perhaps most important of all, these clubs are fertile recruiting grounds for, in the case of the police, firearms officers. There is a shortage of firearms officers. In the case of the Dorset police I know for a fact that it is sometimes difficult to recruit a sufficient number. I believe that position may be the same in some other forces.
§ I do not suggest that the large calibre of the weapon shot in police or military shooting clubs is a sine qua non so far as recruitment is concerned, but there must inevitably be an association. Any possible recruit to the firearms squad in a police force may well prefer to know, first, what capabilities he or she may have on the full-bore weapon before committing themselves to going down that road.1574
§ Extensive discussion with many police and military referees who have been good enough to go over the ground with me show that the status quo after the Bill in certain respects will not be tenable. There are areas where my amendments reflect change.
§ So far as the storage of weapons is concerned, I am forced to the view that these weapons must be stored, unless the amendment of my noble friend Lord Pearson remains on the statute, in police or military armouries. The normal rules relating to storage would apply for these weapons as though they were service weapons. The transfer from one location to another of large and/or small-calibre service-member-owned pistols would be by authorised club officials and with the permission of the chief officer of police, as in the Bill. These amendments determine that police and military serving shooting club members who at any time wish to surrender large-calibre pistols should be compensated as if they had surrendered the weapons under the terms of the 1997 Act.
§ I am not sure whether that provision is more than merely declaratory. It may be that it is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. The Secretary of State may already have the powers in the Bill that I seek, which are to cater for a policeman, say, owning his own large calibre handgun at the age of 21 and shooting with it until he retires. He would then automatically become ineligible to continue to possess it, but he would nevertheless receive compensation for it under the amendment. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will advise whether those extra powers are necessary.
§ If police or military serving shooters presently shooting a range of weapons now wish to confine themselves to .22s, they would receive compensation for large calibre weapons surrendered, just as would anyone else under the terms of the Bill.
§ I regard this group of amendments to be narrow in their application. They leave untouched the great majority of the Bill's provisions. I am concerned by other aspects of the Bill, as indeed are many other noble Lords, but I confine myself to what I regard as an imperative safeguard against a dreadful and different type of Dunblane, where police marksmanship might make all the difference between disaster and a better outcome.
§ My amendments affect a small percentage of the shooting population who will be practising their skills under the enhanced safety requirements provided by the new legislation. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that conditions of weapons storage and transfer provide complete safety, or as much as man can devise, and that those serving personnel, vetted and continually monitored as they are, are of a trustworthiness that should give one few qualms, and that the effects of allowing police and military club members to continue to use large calibre pistols when shooting off duty can only be to the advantage of the public, not just so far as concerns costs but also public safety.1575
§ We must not jeopardise the shooting ability of marksmen who may be called upon successfully to protect the public, be they children or adults, in a totally different type of Dunblane in the future.
My Lords, I support the amendment, and declare an interest as I am a serving TA officer, although the difficulties described by the noble Lord do not present me with a problem. He made an important point. I do not know whether the amendment is effective because I have not studied it. I would like to know whether the Minister has consulted the MoD and what it thinks about it. The noble Lord raised an important point. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say. My advice to the noble Lord is not to push the amendment.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I should like the Government to think carefully about this amendment. It is essential that members of the Armed Forces and police officers who possess guns to defend this country or to deal with criminals should be real marksmen who can hit the target that they want to hit, be it the tyre of a car so as to bring it to a halt or, at worst, be able to wound, not necessarily kill, a violent criminal. That can be achieved only by a tremendous amount of practice. Military and police personnel must be able to have that practice so as to become proficient.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, the amendment is important. It is another example of the unintended consequences flowing from the Bill. No one can argue against the necessity that those who have to use guns in the way described, whether police or service marksmen, should be as trained and as accurate in their use as they possibly can be.
The point at issue is whether the amount of training they receive in service time does or does not meet that essential requirement. No doubt the Minister will be able to advise us on that. It is important that when such people are required to carry out those responsibilities they are as completely and fully trained and as competent in marksmanship as they can possibly be made to be.
§ Lord Brain
My Lords, I support the amendment from a different angle. I was talking to the owner of a pistol range yesterday who told me that the Devon police force had its own range under its headquarters. The problem is that at the moment it is not available for those officers to use in their off-duty hours. In the past they have been able to use his range and his similar pistols to acquire the proficiency and expertise that they feel are lacking.
I realise that the provision is not an extension to use a private range, but it draws attention to the need for police ranges to be available in off-duty hours to those officers who want to improve their efficiency.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20, 26 and 32 tabled in the name of my noble 1576 friend Lord Harmsworth concern licensed pistol clubs used by police or military personnel. I, too, consider that it is of the utmost importance—it cannot be overstated—that serving members of the police and Armed Forces should be sufficiently well practised to ensure their proficiency whenever they are called upon to operate under the conditions for which they are trained in firearms. I agree with what my noble friend and all other noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, said, when they spoke about the importance of having operational proficiency for serving members of the Armed Forces and the police. What we are talking about here are means to ends. There is no way that the Government would contemplate any compromising of the operational practice that is needed to provide that level of proficiency for members of the police and the Armed Forces.
Serving members of the police and the Armed Forces will receive training in firearms use on the same basis as they receive training in other skills needed to carry out their work effectively. The level of training required to achieve an acceptable standard is, and must be, a matter for the police and the Armed Services. In the case of the police, that is decided by an ACPO Joint Standing Committee on the Police Use of Firearms which takes advice both from police firearms officers and experts in the training field.
At present, police and military personnel can also form private target-shooting clubs on the same basis as any other group of shooting enthusiasts. It is to those clubs that the amendments refer. Although such clubs are composed of serving and retired service personnel, they are subject to approval by the Home Office departments in the same manner as civilian clubs. Many members may also handle pistols in their professional capacity, but many do not. Likewise, those who shoot as part of their work are not obliged to shoot at a club in their spare time.
Under the provisions of this Bill, clubs for higher calibre pistol shooting will be abolished. The arguments on that issue have been discussed extensively and I need not repeat them here.
The amendments would permit private sporting pistol clubs based around police and military personnel to continue as at present when other such private clubs are abolished. The amendments would also permit their members to claim compensation at any time in respect of higher calibre handguns which they had continued to use at those clubs after the general prohibition on them had come into force. That would be a financial obligation on the public purse which would remain in perpetuity.
The Government believe that it is right and proper to distinguish between those who need prohibited weapons to carry out their work and those who use them for sport and pleasure. The police and the armed services would clearly fall into the former category. However, neither police officers nor service personnel have ever been allowed to shoot for sport in a private capacity with prohibited weapons. It would be wrong in principle to make such a distinction for pistol shooting.
1577 The Government decision to restrict the possession of higher-calibre handguns by civilians was made on the clear understanding that the vast majority of gun club members are honest, law-abiding and reliable. Many of them are themselves retired service personnel or police officers. It would be invidious to suggest that any serving soldier or police officer should be allowed to shoot higher-calibre pistols for pleasure but civilians of impeccable character should be forbidden to do so.
The Government are aware of the argument that police firearms officers might need to practice shooting skills in their spare time in order to reach a proper level of skill for their work, and therefore disbanding police shooting clubs would pose a risk to public safety. This argument is not sustainable.
It is clearly essential that police officers should receive an appropriate level of training in the skills needed to carry out their work effectively. This is especially true of firearms training, where any weaknesses might pose a grave risk to the public and to the police officers concerned. I take very seriously the point made by my noble friend Lord Harmsworth when he said that sometimes that craftsmanship and accuracy can prevent a much greater tragedy. If weaknesses are identified in existing arrangements for formal training then the obvious solution is to improve that training.
It would clearly be wrong to accept a level of formal training which is inadequate and rely on any deficiencies being remedied by each officer having the spare time, skill and judgment to deal with this on an ad hoc basis.
For those reasons I hope that my noble friend will not press the amendment. I give him the assurance that the provisions of this Bill will not compromise the levels of training which are appropriate to ensure that our service personnel and policemen are adequately trained.
It will of course be for the police and service personnel to determine the operational use of such clubs and there may need to be some adjustment because there may be a blurring as regards when a policeman is or is not on duty. It will be very important that the line managers of policemen and servicemen ensure that they are provided for and that their training is adequate for the job.
I am not sure who asked me whether we had discussed these matters with the Ministry of Defence and the police. We have been discussing all aspects of the Bill with the police but we have not spoken to them on this particular point. I assure the House that we will take note of your Lordships' views on this matter before the next stage of the Bill. We have had no representations from the Association of Chief Police Officers or the military to say that they will not be able to continue training after the Bill is passed. We have assumed that they are well aware of this Bill and that if it presented difficulties in providing operational training for serving personnel they would have made the point. I will make sure we are proactive in obtaining the views of both military chiefs and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
§ Lord Harmsworth
My Lords, I am very disappointed by my noble friend's reply. It may help 1578 her if I quote a statement made not very long ago by Lieutenant-General Sir Peter Duffell, the former Inspector General of Doctrine and Training. He wrote—and I précis:Precision is all important—whether it be in making sure that the enemy is hit with the first shot (in modern warfare you seldom get a second chance) or in ensuring that innocent bystanders are not hit … Not only do many members of the Armed Forces benefit from being able to join civilian clubs to practise on ranges with which they are familiar but the civilian clubs … provide us with training in coaching techniques. In recent years these techniques have been developed largely in the civilian sector as the clubs have been able to devote considerable time and effort to the subject which we have been unable to match with the pressure of our limited resources".I am far from satisfied that it is not wholly to the benefit of the public that this additional large-calibre shooting practice experience for serving members is catered for. Nevertheless, my noble friend Lord Pearson's amendment on disassembly would meet what I require if it remains in an acceptable form. I reserve the right to bring this matter back at Third Reading after I have had a chance to look at it in the context of the overall new picture. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 18 to 20 not moved.]
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 5, line 18, leave out ("recognised") and insert ("designated").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 6, line 10, after ("order") insert ("on the advice of the recognised governing body of the sport").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 22 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 86 on the same subject.
This clause deals with police permits for gun owners to take part in competitions. The Bill states that competitions should be recognised and this is an opportunity to insert in the Bill the wording in the amendment,
on the advice of the recognised governing bodies of the sport".
§ The National Pistol Association, the National Rifle Association and the National Small-bore Rifle Association could all have their detailed calendars for the season wiped out. They are in the best position to provide the Government with details of what competitions should be recognised. They have been organising shooting competitions for generations, and it is not clear why the Home Secretary should now wish to decide which competitions are recognised and which are not. The shooting world is extremely concerned that although the Bill will allow some form of pistol shooting to continue, the number of competitions in which one may shoot will become severely restricted. Like any other sport, our best shooters rely on regular competition to reach the necessary standards to represent this country at international level.
§ There will be a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy. A number of competitions are held throughout the year for the various tiers of competitors. The national squad 1579 meets about six to eight times per year; it is drawn from the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish squads which meet regularly for training sessions. There are regular county meetings and competitions and at club level there can be more than 30 meetings per month. The Home Secretary would have to approve each competition before permits could be issued. This seems unnecessary since the Bill already provides the power for the police to refuse permits for attending competitions. If the competition is not properly organised the police will simply not grant a permit.
§ My noble friend Lady Blatch indicated during Committee stage that the Home Office was sympathetic to the intentions of this amendment but could not be bound by any advice received. This amendment would require the Home Secretary to consult the people who organise such competitions year in and year out. Thus, there is no reason why it should not be accepted on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the aims behind Amendments Nos. 22 and 86 tabled by my noble friend Lord Swansea and I believe that we are able to meet my noble friend's concerns without the need for such amendments. The target shooting competitions that may be designated by the Secretary of State as a "proper purpose" for applying for a permit that would allow a small calibre pistol to be taken outside a licensed club will need to be carefully considered.
Before reaching his decision the Secretary of State would consult the appropriate authorities for their views. The difficulty with the amendment, however, is that the "governing bodies" are not defined, and it would therefore be difficult to say at what point the appropriate advice can be said to have been obtained. Nor am I sure whether it is quite right to think in terms of a single recognised body. There may be several bodies covering different competitions or events such as the Home Countries Association (the respective Smallbore Shooting Unions in England, Scotland and Wales) and the National Smallbore Rifle Association, as well as other bodies, including those that may arise in the future.
In the light of this possibly ambiguous situation, I hope that my noble friend will accept my assurances that we will meet his concerns and that we shall contact the most appropriate bodies for their advice before designating specific shooting competitions and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Swansea
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's reply, but if she reads in Hansard my opening remarks, she will realise that I did mention three national governing bodies. Those are the very bodies which I hope the Government will consult. Indeed, I very much hope that they will do so. However, given my noble friend's assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 23 and 24:
Page 6, line 10, leave out from ("such") to end of line 11 and insert ("target shooting competitions as he thinks fit").
Page 6, line 12, at end insert—
("(10) This section applies to a person holding a visitor's firearm permit relating to a small-calibre pistol as it applies to a person holding a firearm certificate, except that any application for a permit under this section by the holder of a visitor's firearm permit shall be made to the chief officer of police who granted the visitor's firearm permit.").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 6, line 12, at end insert—
("(10) A person aggrieved by the refusal of a chief officer of police to grant a permit under this section or by any condition imposed on such a permit may, in accordance with section 44 of the 1968 Act, appeal against such refusal or condition.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the right of appeal against the refusal by a chief officer of police to grant a permit for a pistol to be removed from storage for whatever purpose. The powers given to the police under Clause 10 are very extensive. Without a permit, the owner of a small calibre pistol is effectively confined to its use in one named club where it is stored. If he wishes to repair it, take it to a competition on other premises, sell it or have it for any purpose outside the club he needs a permit. The permit can be subject to any conditions that the police care to impose, including limits of time. The police can impose conditions as to the person other than the owner who is to take possession of it. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances where unreasonable costs may be incurred by a requirement to use certain security forces for transport.
§ This is an important amendment particularly with regard to our best shooters who need to compete shoulder to shoulder with other shooters around the country on a regular basis. It is quite outside the principles of natural justice that there should be no right of appeal. I beg to move.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, as the right of appeal exists under the 1968 Act, there would seem to be no reason in justice or logic why it should not also be granted under this Act. I trust that the Government will accept the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, my noble friend's amendment would have the effect of giving any applicant for a permit to take his pistol out of a licensed pistol club the right of appeal to the Crown Court or the sheriff's court. This would be to treat those applying for permits in the same way as applicants who have their firearm certificates refused or revoked.
The criteria for the issue of these permits are given in Part I of the Bill. These include having the pistol repaired or maintained by a registered firearms dealer; enabling it to be used in certain competitions; and, of course, selling it. We shall be covering the control and issue of permits in some detail in the Home Office guidance document that will be issued to the police.
1581 I am not sure how many permits would be issued by chief officers, nor the most common reasons for their issue, but it is clear that in most cases they will need to be issued for a specific occasion or time. If for good reason the chief officer refuses the permit, the original point of the permit application is likely to have been lost because of the time that it would take.
Permits will not be like firearm applications, as the owner will continue to have access to his gun inside the licensed pistol club of which he is a member. I do not think that it is right that every person whose permit is refused should have the automatic right of an appeal to the Crown Court or sheriff's court. We believe that such decisions should be left to the judgment of the police. Therefore, I cannot agree to my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Swansea
My Lords, I am extremely disappointed by my noble friend's reply. I say that because, in every other circumstance that your Lordships can envisage, there is the right of appeal against a refusal by the police to grant a permit. My noble friend's reply is most unsatisfactory and I may, therefore, return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 13 [Payments in respect of prohibited small firearms and ammunition]:
§ [Amendment No. 26 not moved.]
Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 27:
After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
COMPENSATION SCHEME FOR FIREARMS DEALERS
(" .—(1) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to persons who on 16th October 1996, were wholly or mainly carrying on business as registered firearms dealers under the 1968 Act, in respect of any loss of business directly caused by the prohibition contained in section 1.
(2) A scheme under subsection (1) above shall provide for payments to be equivalent to one year of after-tax profits of the business, based on the average after-tax profits from the audited financial statements of the business for the three financial years before the passing of this Act as calculated by a qualified person.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) above—
- "business" means only the business or that part of the business directly affected by the prohibition contained in section 1; and
- "qualified person" means a person eligible for appointment as a company auditor in accordance with section 25 of the Companies Act 1989.
(4) A scheme under subsection (1) above may—
- (a) restrict eligibility for receipt of payments to claims made within a period specified in the scheme;
- (b) provide for the procedure to be followed (including any time within which claims must be made and the provision of information) in respect of claims under the scheme and for the determination of such claims.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 28. Our reasons for tabling the amendments are that on these Benches we believe that an important principle of fairness is at stake. When Parliament enacts legislation to prohibit the sale or use of a product, with the 1582 inevitable result that those engaged in the licensed economic activity of manufacturing or dealing in the product will have their business destroyed or substantially impaired, we believe that there should be fair compensation for those whose licences have become worthless and whose businesses have been ruined or severely blighted. In the memorable words of the eminent American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, we believe that we are in danger of forgetting that a strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way of paying for the change.
§ Under the Bill as it stands, the owner of a prohibited firearm will receive compensation at market value for the handgun and its ammunition and for any ancillary equipment which has been rendered obsolete by this measure. The operator of a target shooting club, forced to close because of the Act, can apply for compensation to cover any loss arising out of debt, mortgage, lease or other liability. So the gun owner and the gun enthusiast who run the shooting range will suffer no appreciable financial loss. They will lose only the very real pleasure that they derive from a pastime which is now to be outlawed.
§ By contrast, the manufacturer or dealer whose service they support will lose a livelihood built up over many years and will receive nothing except the market value of his current stock. There is no reason in principle or logic to justify differentiating so starkly between compensating for the loss of the right to own a firearm and compensating for the loss of the right to carry on a licensed business as a firearms dealer. Indeed, the firearm dealer's loss of livelihood is much more severe in its impact than is the loss of the right to use a handgun. The loss of a livelihood in a licensed business is as much of an interference with the peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions and property as is the loss of the right to use land, to own shares or to use a firearm.
§ It would be a matter for reproach, I suggest, if Parliament were to appear to be more concerned with the fair treatment of the gun enthusiast than of the firearms dealer, yet that is the position under the Bill as it now stands. Our amendment seeks to redress the balance and to entitle firearms dealers to a modest—some might say parsimonious—level of compensation. The amendment aims to achieve a fair balance between concern for public safety and the general interest of the community and concern that this section of the business community should not have to bear an excessive and unfair burden.
§ The amendment provides for compensation to be paid to registered firearms dealers. Under the 1968 Firearms Act any person who sells, transfers, repairs, tests or approves firearms as a trade or business is a firearms dealer and must be registered as such. A registered firearms dealer receives a certificate of registration renewable every year. If a person goes out of business, his name must be immediately removed from the register. The 1968 Act provides the categories of commercial activity in firearms that are permitted. All these constitute the class of owners of business concerns who stand to lose their livelihood as a direct result of the 1583 ban imposed by this Bill. There is a range of different occupations that this amendment will assist: the specialist dealer in the retail market, the secondhand dealer, the wholesaler or importer, the person whose business it is to convert or customise imported guns to a customer's specification, and the manufacturer of handguns. Under the 1968 Act the chief officer of police may refuse to register an applicant unless he is satisfied that he will engage in business to a substantial effect or as an essential part of another trade or business.
§ Nevertheless, there are some dealers whose trade in prohibited firearms constitutes only a small portion of the business. In the case of these traders, clearly the prohibition will involve a correspondingly smaller loss relative to their total profits. We do not consider that these dealers need to be included in the scheme. The effect of the law on such dealers is akin to the normal loss sustained by businesses when the state interferes to regulate their trade. They are not in the exceptional class which needs to be compensated by the state. That is why the words "wholly or mainly" are included in the amendment so as to delimit the class of firearms dealers who deserve in fairness to be compensated. The words "wholly or mainly" will give the Secretary of State the necessary degree of latitude in drawing up the scheme.
§ I now turn to the basis of compensation. Compensation under this amendment—
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, did I hear the noble Lord say that the 1968 Act covers manufacturers as well as dealers?
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, that is right. The definition of registered firearms dealer includes manufacturer. I now turn to the basis of compensation. I do not apologise to your Lordships for taking this carefully because it is important to see how carefully modulated this amendment is and what it does and does not do.
Compensation under this amendment is deliberately put at a modest level sufficient to cushion the effects of the ban on firearms dealers while, hopefully, they find other means of gainful economic activity. The Australian scheme referred to in Committee two weeks ago is far more onerous to the taxpayer and far more generous to the firearms dealer. Compensation is assessed in Australia by valuing the business prior to the coming into force of the legislation based on the audited accounts of the past three financial years and by valuing the business after the coming into force of the legislation by estimating what future profits there would have been had the legislation not been introduced. This is a complex, technical and costly exercise because it seeks to assess what would have been the future profitability of the business taking into account a whole variety of variables. The final figure of compensation under the Australian method can be as much as between six and nine times the annual earnings of the business.
By contrast, our amendment chooses a much simpler and much less costly method than does the Australian scheme and is designed to provide some recompense for the hardship suffered as a result of the speedy and totally 1584 unexpected demise of a licensed means of livelihood. The amendment provides that firearms dealers are to be paid at the rate of one year's after tax profits based on an average of the past three years of audited financial accounts. The lump sum should not be in itself subject to tax. This amendment is also narrowly restrictive in another sense. It does not date the loss from before the Dunblane tragedy in March 1996, nor even from the time at which the Government responded to the Cullen Report on 16th October 1996. It dates the loss for which compensation is payable from the time of the passing of the Act.
I am of course aware that the business has declined significantly since March 1996, but I have taken into account the fact that current stock will be valued at market price, not at cost price, so there is already an element of loss of profit in the compensation payable under the Bill as it stands. The scheme sets compensation at one year's after tax profits. This should provide a breathing space for those who may in time be able to diversify and rebuild their business. It will provide some fairly meagre relief for those unfortunate enough to have to close down.
If I may say so, we as legislators need to take account of the exceptional circumstances surrounding the passing of this law. Had it not been for the Dunblane tragedy, the Bill would not have been so quickly conceived. Indeed it might well not have come about at all if Dunblane had not dramatically focused public concern about violent crimes involving the misuse of firearms. Registered firearms dealers lawfully carrying on their business with certificates issued by the police should surely not be treated unfairly as scapegoats for Thomas Hamilton's madness.
Our amendment will doubtless be criticised for its parsimony. The scheme is deliberately devised, as I have tried to explain, to be the minimum necessary to achieve a fair balance and avoid an excessive burden either on firearms dealers or on the general body of taxpayers. I gather there may be some 650 registered firearms dealers whose business will be severely prejudiced by this legislation. They estimate that 2,180 jobs will be lost and as many as 350 businesses will be totally wiped out. Most of these are small or medium-sized businesses. Staff have already been laid off and in some cases business is at a standstill. One manufacturer wrote that having built up a business over 30 years he had £300,000 worth of equipment that is now valueless and had to pay rent to store the guns that he will have in due course to surrender. There is little prospect of his developing an export market.
These are not trivial matters that we can simply shrug our shoulders as utilitarians and say, "It is a price worth paying for the greater public good". For a small group of people the law will involve terrible hardship. It is not accurate to claim that there are no precedents for paying compensation to businesses adversely impacted by government legislation. There is a national compensation code which applies where local authorities and government acquire land, property or businesses. It is currently being applied to businesses forced to relocate or to extinguish as a result of the Channel Tunnel rail link legislation. Since 1993 the 1585 Government have had in place a European Community decommissioning scheme for registered fishing vessels and estimate that by the end of this year they will have paid a total of £50 million in grants to fishermen whose vessels have been decommissioned. The Government are offering the rendering industry £118 million for the loss of its market.
The Government have accepted that the Bill does not merely regulate the use of arms. That is why the Bill provides compensation to the owners of prohibited handguns, ammunition and ancillary equipment. But the Government have argued that there is a difference of principle between the loss of the right to use handguns and the loss of the right to make or sell them. Neither the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, nor of senior Commonwealth constitutional courts, including the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, supports such an arbitrary distinction.
Much of the point of the government argument derives from the distinction they seek to draw between regulation of an industry in the interest of public safety and compulsory acquisition or nationalisation of an industry. The imposition of higher standards of health and safety may indeed impose new costs on industry which it may find financially burdensome. No one would sensibly argue for the state to be required to give compensation on each such occasion. But when a dealer is prohibited from selling the product which forms the core of his business and, what is more, his licensed business, he loses his customers and his business, and the legislation can no longer be called mere regulation.
In the words again of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,When protection is qualified the natural tendency of human nature is to extend it more. While property may be regulated to a certain extent if regulation goes too far it will be recognised as taking. This is a question of degree and therefore cannot be disposed of by general propositions".The European Court of Human Rights has consistently interpreted Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention as normally implying a right to compensation, not only for the outright taking or compulsory acquisition but for coercive measures interfering with the enjoyment of one's property or controlling its use in the general interest. The European Court has also interpreted the scope of protection given by Article 1 broadly to include not only land and chattels but also the economic interests connected with the running of a licensed business. The Privy Council has adopted a similarly realistic and generous approach to what is meant by "property" and an "interference".
Parliament has a wide margin of appreciation in meeting the obligations imposed on the UK by the guarantee of the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions under Article 1 of the first protocol. If the amendment is passed, I believe that it will pass muster under the convention as providing fair though not full compensation. If the amendment is rejected, I believe that there is a serious risk that the European Court of Human Rights will in due course decide that the legislation is unfair in its effect and lacking in a sense of proportion in this important respect. I beg to move.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, my original instinct was to support Amendment No. 31 in the name of the noble 1586 Earl, Lord Peel, which provides for the possibility of proper compensation. However, I am not convinced that subsection (2) of the noble Earl's amendment is correctly drafted, although admittedly that could always be rectified at Third Reading.
More importantly, as I ventured to remind noble Lords earlier today, politics is the art of the possible. I suspect that the other place would for a variety of reasons reject the idea of full compensation, immoral though that rejection would be, in my opinion. A quarter of a loaf is surely better than no bread. I think that Amendment No. 27, cleverly drafted with great expertise by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, as one would expect, provides an admittedly disappointing quarter of a loaf. The noble Lord used the word "parsimonious".
In parenthesis, perhaps I may express surprise that the European Convention on Human Rights, on which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, bases his amendment, apparently holds that one year's post-tax profits equals fair compensation. But if that is the case, so be it.
If the amendment is resisted by the Government and by the Labour Party, it is likely, as the noble Lord said, that the European Court of Human Rights will eventually force the government of the day—of whichever political party that may be composed—to produce a similar or possibly better answer. The difference is that it will be too late for many people who stand to go bankrupt and even lose their homes through no fault of their own. I hope that at the very least the House will support this extremely modest amendment, and, ideally, the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said. I believe that his amendment is far too modest. Aggrieved people should go to Europe where there are strict rules on the matter: compensation is not only for a year but covers the loss of the business and the future profits that would have been made. I advise all those concerned to go to Europe where the Government will get a horrible caning, and serve them right.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I fully support that idea. I also support the noble Lord's amendment. I put forward an amendment in Committee which unfortunately was not accepted. As well as those who make pistols, there are those who make targets, gun cases, sights, holsters, gun cabinets, ranges, and so on. They, too, have to be looked after.
I wish to read a paragraph from two letters. One person says,We are in government owned property and are now unable to pay the rent. We cannot sell off much of the machinery because of its specialised nature and we cannot move out of the secure premises because we are storing firearms and component parts until they have to be surrendered".Another letter states:As soon as the Bill comes into force I will lose my business at a stroke as it involves full bore hand gun equipment. 1 have been in the gun trade for 16 years and have no possibility of modifying my business to the .22 part of the trade. This will die anyway, whether 1587 it is legislated against or not. With my business I will also lose my house as it is collateral for the business overdraft. I feel at the age of 50 I will never work again. I always thought that small businesses like mine were the backbone of Britain".
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I too support the amendment so far as it goes. There is no need to rehearse the arguments on compensation. We had a thorough look at the issue in Committee. In declaring an interest, I repeat briefly that I am president of the Gun Trade Association.
I say again how moved and surprised I was to hear the very strong feelings expressed at a meeting I attended of the Gun Trade Association shortly before the Bill came before your Lordships' House. Feelings are immensely strong. People have paid their taxes and rates but suddenly find that their businesses—many of them generations old—will be wiped out at the stroke of one Bill.
As the noble Lord rightly said, we have an obligation to do something. I think his amendment mean, but I understand the reasons, which he explained carefully. I should have thought that a five-year period would have been more satisfactory and more in keeping with compensation of this type. However, I agree that there are difficulties. The noble Lord gave examples where precedents have been set. I do not think that there is any doubt about that.
The noble Lord said that he thought one year would be sufficient time—I hope that I understood him correctly—for businesses to find other activities. I believe that the noble Lord is being extremely optimistic. I fear that most businesses will go because of the way the Bill is designed. Cost alone, I suspect, will prohibit businesses being able to trade in a successful and meaningful way. I do not believe that a year is sufficient time.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, was asked specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, whether his amendment covered manufacturers. I believe that the reply was yes. My information is that the amendment would cover makers of pistols but not necessarily makers of parts, ammunition or cases. They may be a relatively small part of the compensation package; nonetheless they are important. Any guidance that the noble Lord can give on that point would be greatly appreciated. I support his amendment although I believe that it is far too narrow for the purposes for which it is designed.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, is a very skilled advocate. He did not spare the House any part of his argument for the amendment. It is also fair to say that, given its purpose, the amendment is modest. It could be described as providing, as he described it, relatively parsimonious compensation to licensed gun dealers.
I have practical objections to the amendment and objections of principle. My practical objection comes from my lifetime's experience of running a small business. I should certainly have had huge difficulty in my business in defining the after-tax profits of one part 1588 of it. If I were, for example, in the business of handguns and rifles, I should have great difficulty in saying what part of my profits came from handguns as opposed to rifles. It is a matter of allocation of overheads. That is always a question of dispute between accountants. Most small businesses simply do not have the kind of functional accounts that would be necessary in order to make that calculation. So I very much doubt whether the amendment would work in that sense. However, that is a relatively minor criticism and one that could be corrected.
Much more seriously, as the noble Lord acknowledged, we are talking about a spectrum. He used the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: there is no general proposition to be made. So clearly it is proper, in terms of public policy, for some types of loss of business to be compensated for and some not. The noble Lord gave the examples of the fishing industry and the rendering industry affected by BSE. But for every one example on that side, there are hundreds, indeed thousands of examples on other sides. Every time there is a change in health and safety regulations, the businesses of manufacturers or dealers in some products which become unacceptable in health and safety terms are affected. Every time there is environmental legislation, manufacturers or dealers in products or equipment no longer deemed acceptable lose business, again without compensation. Every time there is a change in, for example, the food or drug regulations and the drug safety or food safety administration outlaws a particular product and says that it should no longer be placed on the market, somebody—a manufacturer, dealer or retailer—loses business. If we were to have compensation in all such cases, we should never make any changes in health and safety or environmental protection. We simply could not afford it. I gladly give way to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord knows the difference between affecting prices—I am a farmer and I am affected when sheep prices go down—and destroying a business completely.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I know exactly how it is. But if the noble Countess, Lady Mar, wins her case and organophosphates are banned, are we seriously saying that the manufacturers of organophosphate sheep dips should be compensated for the loss of their business? Surely not.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, people can change their businesses. Those who deal in handguns can deal in rifles. I am sorry, but I find this special pleading unacceptable. There is no special difference between handgun dealers and the hundreds and thousands of businesses that have to suffer changes in regulatory policy and in legislation both in this country and in Europe. If we were to compensate in all those cases, we should never make any change at all. These 1589 amendments, just like that passed earlier, now Clause 16, are deeply unacceptable. I ask my noble friends to oppose them.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, in rising to support this amendment, I wonder if I might suggest to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that he invests in a copy of the book, The Castle of Lies, by Mr. Christopher Booker and Mr. Richard North, where he will see literally hundreds of examples of businesses that have been sent to the wall by over-regulation, too much bureaucracy and knee-jerk legislation.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I find it very difficult to take this. Here are spokesmen for a party which has accepted the closing down of businesses all over the country and the decline in this country's manufacturing industry and is not in the least concerned about those who lose their jobs; at the same time they are prepared to be concerned with the interests of 650 dealers. I find it quite unacceptable that people who spend the rest of their time opposing the European Community, namely, the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Pearson, should now be relying on the European Court of Human Rights to defend their arguments.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, if the noble Lord had had a little patience, he would have heard me move on to condemn the destruction of those businesses as chronicled in The Castle of Lies.
As I say, I support the amendment. I agree with all noble Lords who spoke, including the mover, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that it is far too parsimonious.
I take a different view about the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Personally, I am ashamed that the British Parliament has to rely on what the European Court of Human Rights might or might not decide. Personally 1 think that we should not have to go anywhere near it. I am further ashamed to hear that this amendment, which many of us will be forced to accept this evening will be six or nine times meaner to these wretched people than what would have happened in Australia. I support the amendment; but I do so in the hope that we may be able to return to it at a later stage and make it more generous.
Finally, I do not want to nit-pick with the wording of the amendment, but what happens if a small business has just started up and does not have three years' financial accounts to be averaged to produce this measly average of one year of after-tax profits of the business? That may be a technical difficulty to which we may also need to return at Third Reading. But in the meantime, with great reluctance and with considerable shame, I feel bound to support the amendment.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I suppose I am guilty of special pleading. My noble friend made that accusation against those who were speaking in favour of the amendment, and since I am one of them I must be guilty. But, frankly, I thought that special pleading was what Parliament was about. I thought that 1590 Parliament was available to people to make their pleas against what they consider to be injustice and in favour of themselves.
I support the amendment and I shall vote for it, even though it is much more modest than that debated in Committee. We must take what we can get and be thankful for small mercies in relation to this Bill. But undoubtedly, as so many noble Lords made clear, great hardship will be caused to a number of people. Whether it is a large number or a small number is irrelevant. If there is an injustice, it does not matter whether it is against 10,000 people, a million people, or one person. They are all entitled to redress. This modest amendment attempts to give them some redress. It is therefore worthy of the support of this House.
I do not want to repeat the speech that I made on this matter in Committee. However, we have to recognise that we are dealing with people who have built up businesses, often by sheer hard graft, over a long period of time. They are entitled to be considered.
It is ridiculous for the Government to say that there is precedent for their meanness. There cannot be any precedent for Dunblane. There is no precedent. So do not call into account precedent! In fact, many precedents have been cited which contradict the Government's view.
To those who say that other businesses have been adversely affected by legislation but do other things, I would say that we are not talking here of garages or houses affected by a road widening scheme. If you own a garage, you are compensated to the extent of the market value of your property and resettlement. In many cases the local or national authority will also try to find alternative premises for you. The fact is that there are still motorists who will want to buy petrol. Under the Bill many gun manufacturers will not be able to sell their guns because they are forbidden to do so. That is the difference. That is why the amendment deserves support.
I received a letter from a small manufacturer of guns, part of which I think I should read to the House. I sent a copy to the noble Baroness. John Slough, of London, sets out the problem:I would like to draw your attention to our factory which contains drawings, machinery and fixtures made specifically for the manufacture of full-bore handguns and spare parts. Also a purpose built testing range, strong-room and security system … We are in government owned property and are now unable to pay the rent. We cannot sell off much of the machinery because of its specialised nature and we cannot move out of the secure premises because we are storing firearms and component parts until they have to be surrendered.What does one do about that? I sincerely hope that the noble Baroness can assure me that this poor man will be assisted out of the dilemma and difficulty in which he finds himself.
The other problem he faces is that his house is now at risk because it is mortgaged to support his business. He is not only going to be put out of business; he will 1591 be put out of his home as well. Is that what the Government want? Is that what noble Lords in this House are going to allow? I sincerely hope not.
§ Lord Zouche of Haryngworth
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, within its limits. My concern lies with the thousands of individuals and small businesses which will lose their livelihoods as a result of this unjust Bill. To make matters worse, there is no provision to pay them fair and proper compensation.
In Committee my noble friend Lord Vinson summed up the feelings of many of us. He said:We should also bear in mind the lesson that I was taught at school; that the democracy in which we live is not only for the enforcement of majority will but also for the protection of minority rights".My noble friend the Minister indicated at the time that there was no precedent for paying compensation for loss of business. Other arguments have been made on that point. Even if that were the case, surely it is not a good enough reason for not playing fair?
The Federal Government of Australia have passed new laws banning certain types of firearms. They are playing fair. Most importantly, dealers have been offered compensation for loss of business. The Australian Government are looking after their citizens; we are not looking after ours. What is wrong with us? We are taking away the livelihoods of good people and are not prepared to pay them fair and proper compensation. This House has an enormous responsibility to protect the rights of the minority. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, when the Government decided upon the path they took, a big obligation was immediately imposed on what my noble friend the Minister described as the public purse but what I prefer to describe as the taxpayer's pocket. Given the Government's decision, I find it a little difficult to follow what they say about where compensation in principle begins and where it ends.
I listened intently to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I do not understand why it is reasonable to compensate the individual who has to hand in a gun, which arguably is a very small part of his or her financial life, and not compensate a dealer or manufacturer for whom in certain cases it will be a very significant part of his or her financial life. It is finance that we are talking about.
I am therefore very inclined towards the amendment proposed by the Liberal Democrat Party. I wonder whether the savings to the taxpayer's pocket which will follow from the passing of the amendment on disassembly may perhaps pay for it.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I agree totally with the amendment. I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised the European angle. As 1592 the noble Lord pointed out, the BSE and fishing crises have already dragged heavily on the purse which has been filled by the taxpayer and will continue to be filled to a certain extent. When it will break, I do not know.
The gun manufacturers Hekler & Kock, Beretta, Glock and Browning have already taken legal advice on action to be taken in the European Court against the British Government, of whatever party. I suggest that whatever the party to which we belong we should think very hard and consider the money that is needed for mental health institutions and the National Health Service generally. We should also consider the money that the police authorities will need for monitoring everything that the Bill is intended to achieve.
If the Minister and others on the Benches opposite had listened to what I proposed in my amendment, the necessity for compensation would have been avoided because it would have been paid for.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, Amendment No. 27 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, together with Amendment No. 28, concern compensation for business losses by firearms dealers as a result of the Bill. In Committee I responded to a similar amendment, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Gisborough and others, which would have made the Government liable for business losses ascribed to the prohibition of higher calibre handguns in the Bill.
The Government entirely recognise the strength of feeling on the issue, but the fact remains that for the Government to accept liability for business losses said to result from the introduction of legislation aimed at improving public safety would be unprecedented and would in our view set a seriously damaging and inhibiting example for the future.
Noble Lords have suggested that there are parallels here to the paying of compensation in relation to compulsory purchase orders. We accept that where the effect of government legislation is to deprive people of property or of the use of that property, then it is right that taxpayers collectively should pay those property owners for the value of that property. This principle has been a part of English law for many years. It also arises from our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and is the principle which informs our compensation scheme.
However, the analogy cannot be extended to include compensation for business losses and other liabilities. Dealers' and clubs' premises and other assets remain theirs. There are no proposals to interfere physically with any property belonging to dealers and clubs beyond those items catered for by our compensation plans.
Noble Lords will know that the Government are committed to paying compensation at a fair market value as at before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's announcement, repeated in this House, on 16th October, to people who hold firearm certificates for the higher calibre handguns which the Bill will prohibit.
1593 The Government will also pay compensation to owners for ammunition, including expanding ammunition which the Bill would prevent them from owning, and for other accessories and other ancillary equipment which they own and which have no use other than in connection with prohibited higher calibre handguns. Our discussions continue with the British Shooting Sports Council as to what those accessories will be and their values.
The Government will pay compensation to firearms dealers on the same basis as owners in respect of prohibited handguns and ancillary equipment which they owned or were contracted to acquire on or before 16th October 1996, which was the day when the Government announced that they intended to bring the prohibition into force. The scheme would be laid in draft form before this House and another place. The scheme could not be made until approved by a resolution of both Houses.
We intend to pay fair compensation to dealers for their lost stock. But the Government cannot go any further than that in relation to firearms dealers. The Government have taken their position on the possession and ownership of handguns and have done that in the interests of public safety and in the light of the dreadful incident in Dunblane and of the report of Lord Cullen's inquiry into it.
Firearms control is only one area in which the Government may be obliged to legislate from time to time in the interests of public safety. I cited during discussion of this issue in Committee the fields of transport, medicines, chemicals and pollution. The Government do not pay compensation for business losses in those areas, however severe they may be.
I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment, but perhaps I can refer to one or two points that were made. Much was made in regard to the issue of precedent. We do not accept that this undermines our argument. Each case is a special case. For example, renderers were referred to. They were paid grants because they are an essential part of the food chain. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is aware of that because we discussed the matter at the last stage of the Bill.
Fishing boats were mentioned. But fishing boats had to be destroyed and we do not compensate fishermen for business losses. In relation to the position of the property Acts, a special case is when legislation goes back to the last century. It is a complex area and we do not believe that it bears on the present case. Reference was made to Europe. The Government are entirely satisfied that their proposals for compensation meet the requirements of European law and are in accordance with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough referred to, and read a paragraph from, a letter which was brought to my attention also by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Both referred to different parts of the same letter. In the case of a manufacturer of prohibited handguns—the case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—the terms of the compensation scheme will 1594 not cover equipment in the area of the manufacturing of firearms. Ancillary equipment is defined in Clause 14(2) as equipment,for use in connection with firearms prohibited … and has no practicable use in connection with any firearm which is not a prohibited weapon".That allows individual owners and dealers who hand in their ancillary equipment—a list will be drawn up and published after our consultation with the British Shooting Sports Council—to receive fair compensation. However, the scheme will not go as far as including the case mentioned in the noble Lord's correspondence; that is, it will not cover machinery and so forth for manufacturers as set out in the letter.
My noble friend Lord Peel referred to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. The amendment would cover the component parts of firearms or ammunition but not manufacturers of gun cases, targets or other ancillary equipment.
We were invited by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, to take account, as legislators, of the way in which the Bill came about. I should like to think, whatever side of the debate we are on, we are in no doubt as to the reason why we are discussing the Bill. Perhaps I may say that we, as legislators, should take account also of precedents and of the likely cost of such amendments which will not fall on the Government but on the taxpayers.
It was argued that the taxpayer will bear some cost for many of those concerned—those who are out of work and those who have difficulty with rents, their council tax and other things. The taxpayer at large will bear those costs. However, to take that burden yet further for the taxpayer and make this a special case when there are many cases, sadly, of people whose businesses have been affected by legislation in the past, is not acceptable.
I repeat a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. No government should be inhibited from addressing an issue of public safety by having to take into account the precedents that would be set by the passing of the amendment. I do not believe that we are in contravention of human rights; I certainly do not underestimate the pain, grief and anguish that is caused by the passing of this Bill. But we should never set our face against having to address the balancing issue of public safety.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships, not only those who supported the amendment, but also those who spoke against it. It has been an important and interesting debate and I have learnt a great deal. I am also grateful to the Minister for the careful way in which she replied. Perhaps I can make a number of points.
First, I am struck by the fact that neither the Minister nor the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, sought to say that there should not be a principle of fair treatment of those whose businesses will be destroyed or blighted as a direct result of legislation. If they say that there is no such principle, then I must respectfully suggest that that is contrary to the whole range of constitutional decisions 1595 across the Commonwealth in those countries with the benefit and burdens of written constitutional guarantees of human rights. The reason why Australia is compensating as it is is that Australia has a constitutional guarantee of peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions and a right to compensation. That has been part of our system since Magna Carta.
Secondly, I am satisfied that the European Court of Human Rights requires compensation to be paid not only when there is an outright taking of property under what is called the deprivation rule in Article 1 but also under the "control of use" rule or the general rule at the beginning of Article 1. The court has made it clear that in all three situations, if regulation becomes so extensive and draconian, there must normally be a right to fair compensation as part of the balance to stop anyone bearing an excessive burden.
My third point is that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the Minister that one must not allow the need to compensate to slow the steady march of progress whether it relates to environmental benefits, medicine or other legislation. The key point is that in the rare case where regulation is as excessive as it is here Commonwealth constitution case law and European human rights case law speak with one voice; that is, that there should be fair compensation.
I do not say that anything as mean as my amendment would satisfy the convention, but I hoped that it would. I believe that the European Court has shown itself to be realistic, indicating that where one's nationals are concerned full compensation is not required in quite the same way as with regard to aliens. That precedent was established by a Conservative government in the Lithgow case in defending Labour's nationalisation. That is how I see the situation. I do not follow the distinction sought to be drawn by the Government and by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, between different kinds of property. The question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, remains unanswered. In those circumstances, I think the best thing I can do is to seek the opinion of the House.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 27) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 121; Not-Contents, 110.1597
|Division No. 3|
|Ackner, L.||Burton, L.|
|Addington, L.||Calverley, L.|
|Addison, V.||Carlisle, E.|
|Alderdice, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Clancarty, E.|
|Attlee, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh,L|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Congleton, L.|
|Brain, L.||Comwallis, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Craig of Radley,L.|
|Crathome, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Munster, E.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|De Saumarez, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Northesk, E.|
|Denham, L.||Northumberland, D.|
|Devonport, V.||Ogmore, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Dunrossil, V.||Palmer, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Peel, E.|
|Gainsborough, E||Rees, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Harmsworth, L.||Russell, E.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L. [Teller.]||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.|
|Holdemess, L.||Sandwich, E.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Hooson, L.||Simon, V.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Ilchester, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Inchyra, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Jeffreys, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|King of Wartnaby, L.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Tope, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L. [Teller.]||Weatherill, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Whaddon, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Mallalieu, B.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Marlesford, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Methuen, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Yarborough, E.|
|Monson, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Acton, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Dean of Harptree, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Denton of Wakefield, B.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Downshire, M.|
|Belstead, L.||Dubs, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Elis-Thomas, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Elles, B.|
|Borrie, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Feldman, L.|
|Byford, B.||Ferrers, E.|
|Cadman, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Gladwin of Clee, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Goschen, V.|
|Chalker of Wallasey,B.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Haskel, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Hayhoe, L.|
|David, B.||Hemphill, L.|
|Henley, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham. B.||Murton of Lindisfame, L.|
|Home, E.||Nicol, B.|
|Hughes, L.||Parkinson, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Pender, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Peston, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Platt of WritfJe, B.|
|Judd, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Knutsford, V.||Rea, L.|
|Lane of Horsell.L.||Renton, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Lindsay, E. Lockwood, B.||St. John of Fawsley, L. Seccombe, B.|
|Long, V.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Lucas, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]||Luke, L.|
|Sudeley, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Macaulay of Bragar, L.||McConnell, L.|
|Taylor of Warwick, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Tollemache, L.||Mclnlosh of Haringey, L.|
|Trefgame, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Turner of Camden, B.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Mersey, V.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Miller of Hendon, B.||Wise, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Clause 15 [Parliamentary control of compensation schemes]:
§ [Amendment No. 28 not moved.]
Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 8, line 8, at end insert ("or 16 below").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am in something of a quandary here. I was surprised when I arrived at half-past two this afternoon to find that the important amendments of the noble Earl Lord Peel, Amendments Nos. 30 and 31, had for some reason been grouped with the basically technical amendments in the grouping which starts with Amendment No. 29. It may be that the noble Earl will ask for his important amendments to be decoupled and speak to them separately. On the other hand, he may not. I cannot tell what he is going to do. So this gives me the only opportunity I may have to reply to the charge of inconsistency levelled against me by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when speaking to the previous amendment. The noble Lord forgets that the European Court of Human Rights has nothing whatever to do with the EU. Having made that point rather belatedly, because the procedures of the House did not allow me to make it before, perhaps I may start with Amendment No. 29.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I of course acknowledge that, but he is against them both.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, we can continue the argument at some other time.
1598 Amendment No. 29 is a technical amendment which is not likely to cause any problems. It is purely a minor and technical amendment, the purpose of which is to ensure that compensation for clubs and associations is included in the compensation scheme to be laid down by the Secretary of State under Part I of the Bill.
This is probably the right moment for me to speak to Amendment No. 79, with which Amendment No. 29 is perhaps slightly incongruously grouped. It is slightly more than technical. Amendment No. 79 seeks to clarify the valuation procedures for .22 pistols which are voluntarily surrendered under the Bill. Paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 gives the chief officer of police the power to refuse to make any .22 pistols delivered to him available for inspection,either by the certificate holder or by any other person".A stubborn police chief could therefore refuse access to the surrendered pistol for the purpose of valuation. It is important to note that most of these small calibre pistols are the highly tuned competition weapons which are used in the Olympics and can be worth thousands of pounds each. The value of the gun depends on its condition, and it is vital for the purpose of fair valuation that it should be open to inspection. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am in a difficulty. We spent a good deal of this morning speaking to every single Member who has tabled amendments today. My understanding was that there was full agreement for the grouping of these amendments and to de-couple them literally at the point of discussing them makes it very difficult for me because I treated them as a group of amendments and that is how I prefer to deal with them.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I quite accept what my noble friend has said. Therefore, I shall speak to the substantive amendment in my name, which is Amendment No. 31, along with the consequential amendments, Nos. 30 and 77. Amendment No. 31 seeks to make payment to those individuals,who have responsibility for any debt, mortgage, lease or other liability in connection with",a business which has been forced to close as a result of this Bill. It is in line with an amendment passed by the House at Committee stage in the name of my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury which related to individuals who run clubs and associations. This amendment refers to businesses. It should be made clear that this amendment specifically deals with an individual's liabilities on the closure of a business and not compensation for loss of trade, which is an amendment that we have already dealt with. Therefore, it is not an open-ended commitment, it is very specific.
As an example, the London Armoury estimates that, of 2,600 registered firearms dealers, 500 deal in handguns only. The second-hand firearm market has also collapsed since Dunblane and the announcement of this Bill—not 1599 surprisingly. The effect of the Bill on some of these businesses will be devastating, which is a point that has been made many times before.
This Bill affects ordinary people who have conducted what has been up to this point a proper, lawful and well-regulated business activity. A number of examples have been given. I have two which I have extrapolated which sum up the situation. One ammunition manufacture, Roger Curtis, built up his business supplying ammunition to shooting clubs and to the police. He took out a £30,000 bank loan and sold his home to raise a further £36,000 to start his business, which had a projected annual turnover of £75,000. He has been forced into liquidation and has lost everything. This amendment would refer specifically to the bank loan of £30,000.
Another example is that of Mr. Rainford, the joint owner of the Nottingham Shooting Centre. He built up his business to the value of £400,000. It is now worth £1,000. Mr. Rainford explained:We are responsible for 17 years' remaining lease, which is currently £12,000 a year, plus £7.000 in rates".These are considerable figures.
These people and many others will be left high and dry, liable for losses for a business which no longer exists. Quite rightly, your Lordships rectified the situation as regards individuals who run clubs and associations during the Committee stage of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the House will take the same moral high ground and do the same for individuals who have debts hanging over them and their families because their businesses have been forced to close by this Bill. I remind your Lordships that we are talking specifically here about debt, mortgage, lease or other liability and not open-ended businesses.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, my difficulty with this amendment is in trying to piece it together to fit it into the jigsaw of the other provisions of the Bill, including Amendment No. 27, as amended.
As I understand it, the amendment seeks to compensate,a registered firearms dealer [or persons] engaged in the manufacture of firearms or ammunition which as a result of the provisions of this Act will be unable to continue to operate".But subsection (2) refers to a "club or association". I assume that the intention of the amendment is to provide for compensation for dealers, as in subsection (1). If that is right, it can supplement Amendment No. 27, as the noble Earl has indicated, because the firearms dealers associations are calling for that kind of compensation. What the amendment does not do is to cover loss of business for those who are not forced to close down, so it is not an alternative to the amendment which has just been passed: it supplements it.
For what it is worth, my view is that it is time for the Government to take stock of the most rational way of securing compensation across the board. It is rather like the situation which has arisen with the 1600 Police Bill and the amendments that have been included in it by your Lordships' House. One needs to find a coherent principle and to ensure on a fair principle that no one is over-compensated or under-compensated. On that basis I support the amendment, but I hope that we can sort out any inconsistencies of approach as between firearms, loss of business, closing down and the effect under this amendment and try to produce a more coherent total scheme.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord. As I explained, this amendment is a mirror image of an amendment that your Lordships accepted at Committee stage which dealt specifically with clubs and associations. This amendment extends the provision to businesses. I do not believe that there is any problem about the direction in which the noble Lord was trying to persuade the House.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I support this amendment. All the arguments have been gone over before. I hope that the noble Earl moves it and, if necessary, divides the House on it.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I also support this amendment. When my noble friend on the Front Bench replies, I imagine that she will say yet again that the Government do not give compensation for businesses and so on that are disadvantaged by government legislation which is brought forward in the interests of hygiene, public health or, as in this case, public safety. Could I ask my noble friend to bear in mind that this Bill does nothing for public safety? Everyone knows that it is a rotten Bill. Opinion is moving fast in the country. Indeed, we have it on the word of the chairman of the 1922 Committee that the other place very much regrets legislating in such haste, leaving the rest of us and the people who are affected by this Bill to repent at leisure.
§ Lord Zouche of Haryngworth
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Peel in this amendment. I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, other than that a lot of us are merely looking for natural justice for a minority group. I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I deal first with Amendment No. 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The terms of the compensation scheme in Clause 13, which deals with prohibited handguns and ammunition, or Clause 14, which deals with prohibited handguns and ammunition, or Clause 14, which deals with ancillary equipment, are of an entirely different nature to the type of payments for losses incurred by target shooting clubs or associations which are now part of the new Clause 16. In the case of handguns, ammunition and ancillary equipment, the compensatory payments will be in respect of material objects on which a value can be put. In some cases, it may be necessary to get more than one valuation, 1601 but eventually an objective value can be reached. The objects in question can then be taken away and disposed of as appropriate.
However, in the case of Clause 16 losses, which are defined in subsection (2) as anydebt, mortgage, lease or other liability",the work of identifying and validating individual losses would be enormous. Each case would have to be assessed on an ad hoc basis, with all financial details and supporting documentation having to be produced by the claimant. There is also doubt about what becomes of the capital assets involved. Are these to be kept by the claimant or given over to the state? If a mortgage is redeemed, who would take possession of the property involved?
Therefore, I cannot see that it would be possible to set out such a scheme for parliamentary approval. If this clause is to remain unamended as part of the Bill, there would be greater practical advantage in allowing the Secretary of State simply to deal with each claim under Clause 16 on an individual basis.
For some of those practical reasons, I am unable to accept the amendment. There is, however, an interesting anomaly. If somebody invested their own money—say, £100,000—in the business and lost it all, that person would receive absolutely nothing, but somebody with losses due to,debt, mortgage, lease or other liability",would be compensated. I am sure that that is not meant to be a consequence of the amendment.
I now turn to Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel. I set out at some length in response to the previous group of amendments the reasons why the Government do not intend to pay compensation to dealers for loss of business. I recall that that amendment has been lost to this House, but I do not propose to repeat those arguments.
I am now at a loss because I do not believe that Amendments Nos. 75 to 77 and Amendment No. 79 have been spoken to in this group. I was told this morning that those amendments were grouped with Amendment No. 29. They stand in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Lester, Lord Rodgers and Lord Monson, with Amendment No. 77 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel. Are those amendments meant to be grouped with Amendment No. 29 or not?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I shall first address Amendment No. 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. This would affect the arrangements for small-calibre pistols which are handed to the police when the Bill comes into effect because their owners 1602 cannot immediately find a licensed small-calibre pistol club which they can join and in which they can keep their gun.
Schedule 1 has the effect that such pistols are treated as having been surrendered to the police if they remain in police custody after a transitional period. They may also be surrendered to the police before that. The Secretary of State will then make payments to their owners on an ex-gratia basis.
The schedule requires that while these pistols are with the police there is no obligation on the police to make them available for inspection. The police will keep the guns in proper conditions and there is no intention to deny owners access where they need it for valuation or other purposes. But a statutory requirement that the police make guns available whenever required could cause a considerable distraction for forces.
The same difficulty would, I am afraid, apply to a right of inspection for purposes of valuation for ex-gratia payment, as the noble Lord's amendment envisages, since owners who signify that they want to surrender their guns would be eligible for a payment at any time. There is, as I say, no wish to deny inspection for these purposes. Home Office guidance to the police will make that clear.
Finally, I would like to turn to the three amendments, Amendments Nos. 75, 76 and 77 which have been tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers, Lord Lester and Lord Monson, and by my noble friend Lord Peel in similar terms. The Government have some sympathy with intentions behind these amendments, since there would be a clear understanding that all the compensation payments due to be made under the Bill—of whatever sort—would be met by money provided by Parliament. That is only as it should be.
I hope that noble Lords will understand when I say that the Government have some trouble with the precise terms in which these amendments have been cast. We shall however give further consideration to how what currently stands as Clause 45 of the Bill might best be worded, and will, if we think it right, submit a further amendment when the Bill next appears before your Lordships' House. Therefore, I hope that Amendment No. 29 will not be pressed.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, first, I am sorry that the noble Baroness thought that the groupings for today had been discussed and agreed this morning with everybody who had tabled amendments. Obviously, something went wrong, as invariably and inevitably happens from time to time. Nobody sought my opinion in advance, which explains why I suggested the decoupling which would obviously have been too difficult for the noble Baroness. I quite appreciate why she was opposed to it. I should also apologise for not having said anything about Amendment No. 76. I did not speak to it because it is purely a drafting amendment and I had supposed that it would be acceptable to the House. Obviously, we shall have to wait until later to see whether that is the case.
1603 As for Amendment No. 79, the Minister's reassurance is all right as far as it goes, but it is wholly dependent on the supposition that police chiefs will always be reasonable. I hope that they will always be reasonable, but it is does not invariably happen that way. Therefore, I may have to look again at that amendment and I may return to it at a later stage.
Amendment No. 29 is clearly not a purely technical amendment, as I had imagined it to be. I shall study the Minister's reply carefully but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 8, line 8, at end insert ("or (Compensation scheme for firearms businesses) below").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I must confess that I did not quite appreciate what my noble friend the Minister said. Was she saying that she would take away my Amendment No. 31, the substantive amendment, and the consequential amendments, Amendments Nos. 30 and 77, to reconsider them with a view to tabling her own amendments? Could she clarify that point?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, with the leave of the House, no. I was saying that I was not accepting the amendment.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, that is what I suspected. Clearly, there is no point rerunning these arguments—we have done so enough times. In view of the fact that a similar amendment relating to clubs and associations was accepted by your Lordships in Committee, I feel that it is only right and proper that your Lordships should have the opportunity of expressing a view on these three amendments. I beg to move.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 30) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 85.1604
|Division No. 4|
|Ackner, L.||Feversham, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Gage, V.|
|Annaly, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Harding of Petherton, L|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Brain, L.||Hertford, M.|
|Burton, L.||HolmPatrick, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||lddesleigh, E.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh,L.||Inchyra, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Congleton, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Cross, V.||Marlesford, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Monson, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Norrie, L.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Northumberland, D.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Palmer, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L. [Teller.]||Swinton, E.|
|Peel, E. [Teller.]||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Reay, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Rodney, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Saint Oswald, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.||Yarborough, E.|
|Sandwich, E.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Hemphill, L.|
|Acton, L.||Henley, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Home, E.|
|Anelay of St.Johns,B.||Inglewood, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Belstead, L.||King of Wartnaby, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Lindsay, E.|
|Blatch, B.||Long, V.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Lucas, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Luke, L.|
|Bumham, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Byford, B.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey,B.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Colwyn, L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|David, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dean of Beswick,L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Denham, L.||Parkinson, L.|
|Demon of Wakefield, B.||Pender, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Platt of Writtle,B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Rea, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Rees, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Elton, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Selbome, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||Shepherd, L.|
|Fraser of Carmy llie, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee,L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Goschen, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Gray of Contin,L.||Tollemache, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Trefgame, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Haskel, L.||Wise, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 31 not moved.]
The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before twenty-five minutes before nine o'clock.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.