HL Deb 11 February 1997 vol 578 cc123-87

3.8 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Extension of s.5 of the Firearms Act 1968 to prohibit certain small firearms etc.]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2. line 9, leave out ("small").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 10, 12, 16, 27 to 29, 39, 41 to 46, 48 to 50, 52 and 53. The amendments stand in my name and are all minor and consequential. They seek to ensure that visitors with firearm or shotgun permits are treated the same as firearm and shotgun certificate holders in respect of the provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, as Amendment No. 2 has been spoken to, I should point out that there is a mistake and that the amendment should read: Page 2, line 11, leave out ("7 below") and insert"— the words as printed on the Marshalled List.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 11, leave out ("7 below") and insert ("(Weapons and ammunition used for tranquillising animals). (7A) In sections 2 to (Weapons and ammunition used for tranquillising animals) any reference to a firearm certificate shall include a reference to a visitor's firearm permit.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Chalfont moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 13, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("subsections").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not sure whether I am in order, but, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and as I attached my name to Amendment No. 3, perhaps I may move it. I have not come prepared to do so so my remarks will be very brief. I move the amendment because it seems to me that this is the only sensible way to ensure that when this legislation is passed, as it obviously will be, those people who engage in national and international sport of a very pleasant and harmless kind are not deprived of the right to do so.

It seems to me that much about the Bill smacks of what I have called before—and have no hesitation in doing so again—the "something must be done" school of policy making. By that I mean that in reaction to some emotional or other impetus people seize upon a single measure in an attempt to solve a very complicated problem, whether it be nuclear weapons, landmines or pistols.

Whatever one's opinion of the Bill may be, it is quite clear that it has now acquired a momentum of its own and that it will, in one form or another, pass into law. However, I believe that there are certain measures which we can take to mitigate the impact of this measure on law-abiding people who seek only to pursue what I would call harmless and diverting pastimes. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, as I believe it would have been the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to speak also to Amendment No. 4, I should point out to the House that there is a printing error on the Marshalled List in that the names of those supporting the amendment should have included the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being present at the start of this debate. In fact, I was caught on the wrong foot by the speed with which the previous business progressed.

In speaking to Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4, which is the principal amendment in this group. I should tell your Lordships that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has asked me to apologise to the House for the fact that he cannot be here to support the amendment because he is chairing a Select Committee.

In our proceedings on Report a week ago, on 4th February, (Hansard col. 1543) an amendment was not debated which would have allowed the .32 wadcutter to be treated in the same way as .22 and smaller calibres. Subsequently, an amendment to allow the vital parts of .32 wadcutters to be kept in licensed premises or disassembled was lost. Therefore, for procedural reasons, the amendment cannot apply only to .32 wadcutters. Its purpose is to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain specified competition pistols from Clause 1 of the Bill. In particular, it will allow him to make special provisions for the .32 wadcutter, which is a pistol used in the Commonwealth Games.

The amendment does not restrict the Home Secretary in any way and could apply to other competition pistols. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will not suggest that it is going too far. Other calibres will only be allowed if the Secretary of State and Parliament want them. The amendment will merely allow them to be introduced without the need for primary legislation.

The amendment meets the specific concerns of my noble friend the Minister expressed during our debate a week ago. Then, my noble friend argued that the amendment, which was subsequently lost and which related only to the .32 wadcutter, was too loosely drawn. My noble friend said: My information is that the wording of this amendment is not strictly related to the wad-cutter… It is open to wider interpretation…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".— [Official Report, 4/2/97; col. 1565.] This amendment, therefore, closes any such highly unlikely loophole because the Secretary of State will be able to decide which pistols are to be permitted and which are not. For example, pistols used in the Commonwealth Games, which are chambered only for use with the .32 Smith and Wesson long wadcutter cartridge, could be permitted. There is no possibility of other types of .32 or higher calibre pistol being "freely available" unless the Home Secretary and Parliament expressly permit them.

To appreciate why the loophole was in any case improbable, one has to understand a little about the .32 wadcutter cartridge and its weapon. To start with, the Government's own adviser (Mr. Warlow) has confirmed that, the striking energy is comparable to middle-of-the road .22 rimfire loadings". Pistols which fire the .32 wadcutter are clearly designed and used to fire only that round. To do otherwise would put an individual who fired them at great risk. All the experts are agreed on this but I shall not weary your Lordships with the detail, unless pressed to do so by my noble friend or other noble Lords.

The likelihood of criminal misuse of a pistol which is only safe to use with a wadcutter cartridge is negligible. Furthermore, the Secretary of State will have the power under the amendment to ban any other type of cartridge other than the .32 wadcutter and any pistol which is not specifically used to fire that round.

During the Report stage my noble friend the Minister tried to suggest that such pistols could be converted to fire higher calibre cartridges. She said (at col. 1565 of Hansard) that, 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". It is theoretically true that with machine tools a very crude conversion of a .32 revolver chamber, although not a .32 pistol, could be achieved to enable it to fire a .32 Harrington and Richardson magnum cartridge. However, that is an entirely unlikely scenario. An individual would need to go through the licensing system to obtain a legal .32 revolver. He would then need to manipulate the revolver with machine tools in order to lengthen the chamber in some way to ensure that the longer Harrington cartridge could fire. This really is a non-starter, given the number of illegal firearms in circulation which are far easier and cheaper to acquire, as we have noted before.

Even if the criminal were prepared to go to such lengths, both the revolver used to fire the .32 Harrington and Richardson magnum cartridge and the cartridge itself are very uncommon in the United Kingdom. There are only a handful of such revolvers in existence and the cartridges are just as rare. Faced with these difficulties, it is most unlikely that any criminal would attempt to modify a rare revolver to fire a rare cartridge instead of simply buying one of the millions of illegal weapons freely available on the black market.

All the evidence confirms that competition pistols are not modified and used in crime. Indeed, my noble friend confirmed on Report that the wadcutter cartridge simply does not feature in crime. My noble friend Lord Kimball had asked whether there were any examples of wadcutters being used in crime. In reply my noble friend the Minister said The answer is, very definitely, no".—[Official Report, 4/2/97; col. 1566.] The Government's adviser, Mr. Warlow, goes even further. In his letter of 15th November 1996, he said: We have never seen this target wadcutter—or the specialist pistols used with it—in criminal casework submissions in the last 25 years or so". It would appear that the Government cannot justify banning the .32 wadcutter on its merits. It seems that their real objection is purely bureaucratic, as set out in a letter from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to a Mr. C. A. Ewing on 21st November last year: I do not believe that a distinction can be made between these guns and other .32 guns and that the only certain and logical basis on which to draw a distinction by calibre is at the point of the .22 rimfire". We should remember that the distinction drawn by Lord Cullen was not by calibre but by lethality, by killing power. On that test the .32 wadcutter is the same as the .22. The effect of banning these specialist pistols within the Bill is therefore to destroy a longstanding sport for the sole reason that the Home Office has not tried to produce a definition.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary recognises this effect of the Bill. On 18th November last year he said in another place, I have authority under section 5 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1968 to enable that event to take place in Manchester in 2002 if the organisers of the Commonwealth games wish it".—(Official Report, Commons, 18/11/96; col. 743.] We are pretty sure that they will wish it, as the .32 wadcutter event is one of the Commonwealth Games' central events. However, unbelievably, my right honourable friend went on to say, again at col. 743, British competitors will not be able to practise in this country for that event". That is the incredible situation which this amendment seeks to alleviate.

I have to repeat the question which has been put to my noble friend and not yet answered, I think. In what other sport would a Minister dare to declare that his own country's top level sportsmen were less to be trusted than sportsmen from overseas? The amendment offers the Secretary of State an opportunity to overturn this injustice by allowing competitors to practise and so take part in the .32 event in Manchester on an equal footing. The .32 centre fire event is a most popular event of the Commonwealth Games. The British team has a proud history in the event and has long excelled in it.

The amendment does not drive a coach and horses through the Bill. I hope that no noble Lord will claim that it does. It merely offers the Government an enabling provision, with the approval of Parliament, to get them and any future government off the .32 wadcutter hook upon which they have so unfortunately impaled themselves. Who knows? Pistol shooting fashions may change. Even a Labour government in some distant future may wish to avail themselves of this sensible amendment. I commend it to the House and trust that my noble friend and noble Lords opposite can accept it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord acknowledges fairly that he has used a wording device to circumvent the convention of this House that one does not introduce at Third Reading an amendment covering the same point as one rejected by the House on Report. The Government may object to that; I cannot object because I have done it myself on a number of occasions. Until dissolution I may have to do so again. However, I warn the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, against taking the amendment to a vote. First, he ought to know that a Labour Home Secretary would certainly not take advantage of an amendment of this kind to extend the definition of small calibre pistol.

Secondly, I must say in defence of the English language that if Parliament means there to be a small calibre pistol it does not mean that a future Humpty-Dumpty as Home Secretary will say, "When I say a word, it means what I want it to mean, nothing more and nothing less." The noble Lord's amendment states that a small calibre pistol will mean a small calibre pistol, but it could mean anything else he wants it to mean. That is an offence to the English language. The amendment should not be accepted.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I should very much like to know how the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would have responded to the kind of argument which he has just deployed if it had come from some other section of the House. He is skilled at these things. I think he would have treated it with the utmost derision.

I understand perfectly well that this is rather a small, narrow amendment. I cannot avoid the impression that if my noble friend cannot accept so modest a proposal she will once again allow us a rather close look at the flimsy structure of logic on which the Bill is founded.

I do not want to delay your Lordships but again I am impressed by the large number of perfectly ordinary, well behaved citizens who would not dream of using any privilege accorded them as a means, or an encouragement, to break the law. They are law abiding citizens. Gratuitously to offend, in the wake of a serious shock, the feelings of such people is something which no wise government ought to do without second thoughts. Even at this late stage I hope that my noble friend will not be disposed just to say, "I am afraid I cannot accept this".

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I support the measure. However, I wish to criticise my noble friend Lord Peyton for something he said. He suggested there is a flimsy structure of logic behind the Bill. That is a gross exaggeration; there is no logic whatever.

Lord Monson

My Lords, it is important to remember that this is an enabling amendment. Exactly a week ago at col. 1550 of Hansard the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, indicated that Labour—or, more specifically and importantly, Labour's Front Bench—was prepared to adopt a neutral line, or even a somewhat sympathetic line, towards a similar enabling amendment; that of my noble friend Lord Attlee concerning disassembly. It is surprising that apparently he is not prepared to take a similar line on this amendment, particularly bearing in mind that there would be the safeguard that the regulations, if introduced, would require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

If a new provision were subsequently taken advantage of by a Home Secretary—Labour or otherwise—it would certainly save money which could better be diverted, in the case of Labour being in power, to some of Labour's manifold social priorities. But above all it would allow British sportsmen and British sportswomen—there is a considerable number of successful women shooters in this country—to practise .32 pistol shooting in their own country without having to skulk off to the Continent to practise. If that were to happen Britain would be the laughing stock of the Commonwealth and of Europe.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is it not possible that the Government's Amendment No. 71 might, if accepted, give the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, exactly what he is asking for?

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I support the amendment. We are talking about a highly technical matter. We have had amendments where we have discussed the energy of particular rounds. A new departure in this argument has been presented to me regarding energy per square inch relating to the diameter of a bullet. It is clearly a highly technical subject. Perhaps the matter is not suitable to be incorporated on to the face of the Bill. Therefore it is better to incorporate it into secondary legislation. However, the secondary legislation would still have the benefit of full parliamentary control.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, touched on the difficulties of a .32 pistol being able to accommodate a .32 long cartridge. The Secretary of State could define a pistol which would eliminate the possibility of its being fitted with a cylinder long enough to take the .32 long. Therefore the cylinder could only take a .32 wadcutter. That would address that particular issue. We also have the problem of the use of the .32 wadcutter at the Commonwealth Games. I understand the intention of the Secretary of State is to take advantage of Section 5 of the 1968 Act.

However, I understand that Section 5 enables the defence counsel to decide whether a specific gun can be authorised. The role of the defence counsel is to decide on issues of defence, not to balance the interests of sport against those of public safety. I am not sure that Section 5 of the 1968 Act is a proper vehicle for allowing .32s at the Commonwealth Games. I believe that the amendment addresses the problem in a more appropriate way and allows a future Secretary of State, after the election, to provide a better solution to the whole ghastly problem.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the question by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, with reference to Amendment No. 71. Amendment No. 71 relates specifically—it is a rather narrow power that is being considered—to transitional arrangements only. Therefore it would not be possible for any Home Secretary to use that power to extend the calibre of guns exempt from Clause 1 of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to specify any pistol or type of pistol which would then be exempt from the general prohibition on handguns.

The pistols concerned would be treated as small calibre pistols for the purposes of the Bill. They would have to be kept in licensed pistol clubs, and could not be removed from them without a permit issued by the police under Clause 12 of the Bill.

The Government's position on small calibre pistols has been clear from the beginning. We believe that a distinction must be drawn between small calibre pistols of the type defined in the Bill—that is of .22 inch calibre or less, and rimfire—and all other types of handgun.

I am aware that there have been a number of representations to the Government saying that various other types of handgun—notably the Smith and Wesson .32 inch long target wadcutter cartridge—should be added to the list of those which are exempt from the ban. The Government have listened to and considered those very carefully.

The restriction to .22 inch rimfire draws a clear line as to what is allowed. The construction of the rimfire cartridge from a single piece of drawn metal places a finite limit upon its power.

However, the Government acknowledge that the amendment is targeted at the .32 inch wadcutter which is used in many target shooting competitions; that these handguns are no more powerful than the .22 inch rimfire pistols which will be permitted to be stored in licensed pistol clubs; and that they are technically very difficult to convert.

But the Government have had to draw a categoric line which they have chosen to do in terms of calibre size. Any handguns which exceed .22 inch rimfire will not be permitted. This has been a consistent government line in their response to Lord Cullen's report, and as set out in the Bill.

The House voted on the .32 inch calibre exemption tabled by my noble friend Lord Swansea at Report stage. That amendment was lost in this House by 158 votes to 102.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Pearson would give an open-ended power to a future Secretary of State to allow any handguns of whatever calibre, subject of course to the resolution of Parliament.

The Government have taken pains to ensure that the Bill allows target pistol shooting to continue with small calibre pistols as defined in a way which poses the minimum of risk to public safety. The inclusion of other types of pistol in the exempt category would inevitably open out that risk. The Government see no case, and foresee no case, for doing that. It follows that we consider that a provision which allowed the Secretary of State at some future date to include other types of handgun would be redundant. It would be unnecessary and, we believe, undesirable. For those reasons I am unable to accept the amendment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and my noble friend Lady Blatch made the same mistake when they implied that only the Home Secretary would be able to decide any future calibre of pistol to be used. That is not what the amendment states. It provides that the Home Secretary could suggest that a new calibre could be used, in particular the .32 wadcutter, which would allow us to compete in the Commonwealth Games, but that it would be subject to the approval of Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred to some future Home Secretary, I think as "Humpty-Dumpty". I assume that he is not thinking, therefore, of a Labour Administration in that regard.

My noble friend Lady Blatch spoke about the construction of a rimfire cartridge being in some way safer than the construction of a central fire cartridge. I am advised that there is no measurable distance between the firepower, the killing power, the lethality, of a rimfire cartridge and a wadcutter cartridge. From the very complicated table of muzzle velocities and striking powers with which I have been furnished, I have to tell noble Lords that the .32 wadcutter—at which the amendment is mostly aimed—has a muzzle energy of 115 ft/lbs. That is less than the muzzle energy of the majority of the .22 cartridges which the Bill permits.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Blatch suggested that the amendment had been lost at Report stage. That is not so. My noble friend Lord Swansea did not move this amendment; it was Amendment No. 6 at Report stage. The amendment that was lost would have allowed the wadcutter to be included within the category of disassembly. I believe that it was my Amendment No. 24. The amendment has not been debated and divided on previously.

I find my noble friend's answer every bit as unconvincing as her previous response on disassembly. I very much regret that I have to ask the opinion of the House.

3.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 171.

Division No. 1
Abinger, L. Braybrooke, L.
Ailesbury, M. Brookes, L.
Ailsa, M. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Attlee, E. [Teller.] Chalfont, L.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Chapple, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Charteris of Amisfield, L
Blake, L. Chorley, L.
Clancarty, E. Monson, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Moran, L.
Congleton, L. Mottistone, L.
Cottesloe, L. Moyne, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Onslow, E.
Cross, V. Palmer, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L. [Teller.]
Ellenborough, L. Peel, E.
Erroll, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Exmouth, V. Raglan, L.
Flowers, L. Rees, L.
Gage, V. Rennell, L.
Gisborough, L. Romney, E.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Rowallan, L.
Harmsworth, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Harris of High Cross, L. Sandford, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Sandwhich, E.
Howell, L. Savile, L.
Hylton, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Hylton-Foster, B. Simon, V.
Ilchester, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Inchyra, L. Swansea, L.
Kitchener, E. Swinfen, L.
Knollys, V. Taverne, L.
Liverpool, E. Temple of Stowe, E.
McNair, L. Teviot, L.
Manton, L. Thurso, V.
Marsh, L. Torphichen, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Merrivale, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Milverton, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V. Wynford, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Aberdare, L. Courtown, E.
Acton, L. Craigavon, V.
Addington, L. Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Addison, V. Cuckney, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Cumberlege, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. David, B.
Ampthill, L. Davidson, V.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Dean of Harptree, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Denton of Wakefield, B.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Desai, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Balfour, E. Dormand of Easington, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Downshire, M.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Dubs, L.
Beloff, L. Dundee, E.
Biddulph, L. Dundonald, E.
Blatch, B. Elibank, L.
Blease, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Elton, L.
Bridgeman, V. Erne, E.
Brigstocke, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Butterworth, L. Feldman, L.
Byford, B. Ferrers, E.
Cadman, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Calverley, L. Fitt, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Flather, B.
Carlisle, E. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Gainford, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Geraint, L.
Carter, L. Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Glenamara, L.
Chelmsford, V. Goschen, V.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Graham of Edmonton, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Gregson, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Grenfell, L.
Cockfield, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Mountevans, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Haskel, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Hayhoe, L. Nicol, B.
Hayman, B. Norrie, L.
Hayter, L. O'Cathain, B.
Henley, L. Ogmore, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Holderness, L. Paul, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Pender, L.
Home, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Hood, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Howe, E. Prentice, L.
Hughes, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Inglewood, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Ironside, L. Rawlings, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Renfrew of Kaimsthom, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Renton, L.
Kilbracken, L. Richard, L.
Kimball, L. Richardson, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Lauderdale, E. Sainsbury, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Seccombe, B.
Lindsay, E. Selborne, E.
Long, V. Serota, B.
Lucas, L. Sewel, L.
Luke, L. Shannon, E.
Lyell, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Macaulay of Bragar, L. Stallard, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Strabolgi, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor] Sudeley, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
McNally, L. Terrington, L.
Malmesbury, E. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Marlesford, L. Trumpington, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Turner of Camden. B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Varley, L.
Mersey, V. Whitelaw, V.
Methuen, L. Wigoder, L.
Middleton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Miller of Hendon, B. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.46 p.m.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Firearms of historic interest]:

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 5: Page 3, line 13, leave out ("1919") and insert ("1946").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is the Government's intention to exempt "heritage" pistols, and a government amendment provided for that. One aspect of that amendment continues to give concern; namely, the early limit on the date that allows exemption from prohibition, 1st January 1919. In the original draft of an amendment to deal with heritage pistols, the Heritage Arms Rescue Committee proposed that for the purpose of the relevant section a heritage firearm should mean "any short firearm of a type which was first made before 31st December 1918". I stress the phrase, "first made". By thus defining a heritage pistol, the difficulty that may arise in proving that a particular pistol, although clearly of pre-1919 design, was actually made prior to that date would be avoided.

The government amendment, by limiting heritage status to pistols manufactured before 1919, invites the very difficulty that the committee sought to avoid. Moreover, given that Britain—uninvaded during two world wars and long a major auction centre for historic arms—is a repository of fine European heritage arms made after 1919, the wording will inevitably cause valuable and interesting pieces to be destroyed or permanently exiled overseas.

While having recognisable significance as the end of the Great War, 1919 has less relevance to the manufacture of pistols. Variations of the Mauser of the type carried by Churchill in the Sudan, for example, continued to be manufactured up to and during the Second World War, as were variations of the Luger. The historical significance of both types is reflected in their financial values. A naval Luger pistol, for example, normally realises £1,400 to £1,800 at auction; with accessories the same pistol will fetch about £3,000.

Estimates prepared by the Heritage Arms Rescue Committee based upon confidential information from the auction houses, the trade and the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association suggest that the aggregated value of privately held heritage pistols in this country is as high as £31 million. Many of the pistols that go to make up that figure will have been made after 1919. Thus, were the terminus that defines "heritage pistols" to be brought forward, the cost of compensating owners for their losses must be reduced.

For "trophies of war", which would be exempted from prohibition, the Government propose in Clause 6 a 1st January 1946 terminus following amendment in Committee. With that date having been accepted by the Government in a context analogous to that of heritage pistols, I propose a simple but brief amendment to Clause 7 which would bring the two termini into accord. Since the Heritage Arms Rescue Committee proposes that possession of heritage pistols will be authorised by a firearm certificate with no ammunition permitted, there would be no measurable risk to public safety. That is a point which the Government appear to have accepted. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may set at rest my noble friend's mind. The previous clause, Clause 6, deals with trophies of war. It refers to any firearm, which was acquired as a trophy of war before 1 January 1946". My noble friend desires the identical date for a firearm of historic interest. I should have thought that most of the firearms he might have in mind were trophies of war, manufactured before January 1946. Therefore, frankly, those concerned will not suffer much if they find that they cannot treat firearms of historic interest made before 1946 as being covered by the Bill. I should have thought that there was no need for the amendment.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, with the leave of the House, they are two separate points. On the one hand there is the trophy of war. That could be any pistol which was captured during the war and which was a trophy. Heritage pistols may well have been bought by collectors without any link to capture on the battlefield. I mentioned the Churchill Mauser which was not captured but which is obviously a great historical weapon.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as regards the manufacture of pistols, we are talking of recent times in referring to 1946.

Lord Cottesloe

My Lords, I support the amendment. Our arms heritage is an extremely important part of our total historical heritage and within it pistols feature prominently. Although we are grateful to the Government for the exemption which extends to 1st January 1919 that date does not coincide with any considerable historical watershed or any technological one. In terms of historical context, a date around the mid to late 1940s far more closely corresponds to the end of our imperial aspirations and our fighting to consolidate and then retain the Empire. It would also embrace pistols of the Second World War, so underlining their place in world and European, as well as imperial and British, heritage.

Much of our national heritage in pistols is held in large private collections. For those who have so much financially at stake, the loss of their holdings represents a loss in some cases of a major part of their personal assets. Under existing proposals, only a proportion would qualify for the Bisley exemption. So there would be a severe, perhaps in many cases irresistible, temptation to send collections overseas. For a nation to contrive the loss of a significant part of its heritage and the heritage of the Commonwealth is surely misguided, some would even say reprehensible.

The adoption of the amendment would save many post-1919 pistols of real interest and significance at no cost whatever to public safety. They would be kept—disassembled if required—without ammunition. Moreover their age and outmoded design make them very unlikely targets for anyone seriously bent on crime. Spare parts are very difficult to locate, even at present; the task will be yet more problematic after the Bill is passed.

After all is said, the historic pistols that the amendment seeks to preserve include some which were carried in our darkest hour, our finest hour. They are as much part of the story of this country's survival as are the carefully preserved Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall; the anti-invasion pillboxes and other defences scattered across our countryside now at last being systematically listed to ensure their survival; or the Spitfires and Hurricanes so devotedly kept in flying condition by armies of enthusiasts. There is no valid reason to discriminate against historic pistols. I support the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the amendments would extend the provisions in Clause 7 to allow historic handguns to be kept at home as part of a bone fide collection. I understand the reasons behind the amendment. It would increase the number of handguns that may be kept at home, especially those that were manufactured in the inter-war years and during World War Two. I know that the police have expressed grave doubts about the greater availability of the weapons and the risk to public safety that they would create.

Under Clause 7 as at present drafted certain historic handguns manufactured since 1919 would not be destroyed but could be stored at sites designated by the Secretary of State. Such sites would have to meet similar security standards as the licensed pistol clubs. This would allow the historic guns to be safely stored, reducing the risks to the public but allowing the guns to be appreciated by their owners and others.

For all the reasons I have given as well as the point made by my noble friend, we believe that we are talking about relatively recent guns in a collection. Therefore, we find the amendment unacceptable as a compromise and are unable to accept it.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I thank my noble friends for supporting me. Clearly there is no point in going to a Division. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7: After Clause 7, insert the following new clause— ("Exemption for weapons etc. used for tranquillising animals WEAPONS AND AMMUNITION USED FOR TRANQUILLISING ANIMALS . The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1)(aba), (b) or (c) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, or to sell or transfer any firearm, weapon or ammunition designed or adapted for the purpose of tranquillising or otherwise treating any animal, if he is authorised by a firearm certificate to possess, or to purchase or acquire, the firearm, weapon or ammunition subject to a condition restricting its use to use in connection with the treatment of animals.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, under the Bill as currently drafted vets will be eligible to apply to the police for a firearm certificate allowing them to hold a high calibre handgun and expanding ammunition for use in connection with the humane destruction of animals. As part of their professional duties vets also have recourse to pistols, rifles and blowpipes for administering tranquillising darts or darts containing other medicines such as antibiotics to sick animals. Under the current legislation the Secretary of State's authority is required, under Section 5(1) of the Firearms Act 1968, for the possession, purchase, acquisition, manufacture, sale or transfer of any lethal barrelled weapon used for the discharge of any noxious substance and any ammunition which contains such noxious substances.

This gives rise to an anomaly. Under the Bill a vet will need only a Section 1 certificate, granted by the police, for a high calibre handgun used to kill animals. But for merely putting an animal to sleep or treating it with a specially adapted gun he will need the higher level authority from the Secretary of State. This amendment has the effect of allowing tranquillising guns and darts simply to be covered by a specially conditioned Section 1 firearm certificate issued by the police.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is content with the change. Both the Association of Chief Police Officers in England and Wales, and the sister association in Scotland, have been consulted and are content that the change does not pose any greater risk to the public. The tranquillising equipment would still need to be held by a vet on a firearm certificate issued by the chief officer of police. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Expanding ammunition etc.: exemptions from prohibition]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8: Page 4, line 1, leave out ("second") and insert ("first").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 8 perhaps I may say that there is a minor error on the Marshalled List of which parliamentary counsel are aware. In Amendment No. 40, the last line should include the words "Section 27" instead of "Section 26".

I apologise for the number of the amendments, which are technical and drafting. The group comprises Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 11, 13 to 15, 19, 22, 30 to 37, 40, 47, 51, 54, 59 to 67, 69, 72 to 79, and 81. They concern consistency of language and clarity and have no policy implications whatever. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, in this group of amendments I shall refer first to Amendment No. 30. There is a considerable difference between the word "surrender" and the word "deliver". Let me give your Lordships an example. When a keeper whom I employed suddenly died I found, rather to my horror, that not having the estate's .22 and .243 rifles on my certificate, I could not take those guns to my house. They had to be taken to a firearms dealer to be looked after until my certificate was altered. I surrendered the guns to the police, who then delivered the guns to an agreed firearms dealer. The police, would not permit me to drive five miles to deliver the rifles in question to the firearms dealer. So I believe that there is quite a difference.

I realise that Clause 27 deals with clubs. However, I feel that there could be some delay. I remind your Lordships that most steel gun cabinets have two locks and each lock requires a different key. If the police take away the keys, that at least makes it secure. That is my first point on my noble friend's amendment.

In Amendment No. 69 to Clause 80, unless I am mistaken, the letter (b) should not be there at all.

Those are my only comments on the amendments.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I wondered whether my noble friend Lord Balfour would raise the point. I believe that our amendment covers all my noble friend's concerns. Clause 27 of the Bill to which Amendment No. 30 refers, sets out precisely what would happen as regards the licence for a small calibre pistol club were that licence ever revoked. First, one would hope that there would be no occasion to revoke such a licence. But it is in the nature of legislation such as this that one covers all possible eventualities. My noble friend referred to one such eventuality.

The revocation would be a matter for the Secretary of State who issues the licence under Clause 27. He would send a notice to the responsible officer of the club or possibly to other members of the club if there were reason not to send it to the responsible officer. There must be provision, under the circumstances, for the small calibre pistols which are held at the club, and so the notice will require the people to whom it is sent to deliver them to the police. They would remain the property of their owners who would be able to join other clubs or sell them to firearm dealers if they prefer.

I understand my noble friend's concern. Whereas the Bill currently specifies that the pistols must be surrendered to the police, the amendment would require them to be delivered. In practice, that would mean the same thing and hence the amendment. The Government envisage that if one of the licences is revoked, the police would deliver the Secretary of State's notice to the club and they would therefore be on the premises to take delivery. The club members would deliver the guns to the police simply by handing them over, just as they would do if the Bill required them instead to surrender them.

There is also provision under Clauses 10 and 12 of the Bill for delivery to be effected by the club to the police station either by the responsible officer or by a third party, if by any chance that seemed the right thing to do. But we do not envisage that happening in practice, even if the time should come when any of the small calibre pistol licences issued under the Bill were revoked.

The point of the change from "surrender" to "deliver" in this clause is to clarify the fact that members of a licensed club do not forfeit their ownership of the pistols kept there by reason of that revocation. The clause already provides that the owners may recover those pistols from the police. So there is no change in policy in that respect.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 9: Page 4. line 9, after ("ammunition") insert ("to use").

On Question, amendment agreed to. Clause 10 [Having small-calibre pistol outside premises of licensed pistol club]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 10 to 12: Page 4, line 38, at end insert ("or a visitor's firearm permit"). Page 4, line 39, after ("by") insert ("virtue of'). Page 4, line 43, after ("certificate") insert ("or visitor's firearm permit").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 11 [Firearm certificates to be subject to special conditions]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 13 to 16: Page 5, line 34, after ("for") insert ("the grant or renewal of'). Page 5, line 37, after ("applicant") insert ("or, as the case may be, renewed"). Page 6, line 6, leave out from ("to") to end of line 7 and insert ("a condition requiring the pistol to be kept at a licensed pistol club."). Page 6, line 9, at end insert— ("(5) A holder of a visitor's firearm permit who commits an offence under section 17(10)(b) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 tin this Act referred to as "the 1988 Act") by failing to comply with any condition mentioned in subsection (1) or (3) above is punishable—

  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, with imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a tine (or both); and
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 12 [Permits to have small-calibre pistols outside licensed pistol clubs]:

Lord Harmsworth moved Amendment No. 17: Page 6, line 10, 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, in moving this amendment, with the leave of the House I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 20, 21, 23 and 26. These amendments, of which Amendment No. 26 is the substantive one, allow serving members of police and military shooting clubs to continue to practise with large calibre weapons, consisting mainly of the types used in service, while off duty. Their weapons must be stored only in police and military armouries.

On Report, I gave notice that I might resubmit the amendments to your Lordships, having had a chance to consider the reply last week of my noble friend the Minister. I had also hoped that the amendments of my noble friend Lord Pearson might help me in my cause, but I regret that his disassembly amendment, to which your Lordships agreed, does not help me much.

Off duty police and military serving officers are caught by the Bill. I firmly believe that that is very much against the public interest. The next Dunblane, as I said on Report, may be a very different kind of Dunblane from the last one, where police and military marksmanship may be utterly crucial to the outcome. In armed robbery, where innocent bystanders are involved; in hostage taking, where, heaven forbid, children might be involved; or in terrorist acts, skills with weapons may be utterly crucial. As I said on Report, one can never get enough practice.

Under the Bill, police and military personnel will be restricted to the use of .22s when shooting off duty, just like any other member of the public. I simply do not accept my noble friend's statement that there is no necessity for service training to be supplemented by practice during off duty hours. I cited the case of a firearms officer in the Dorset police force who is able to augment the amount of time spent in service training on pistols, which amounts to once every two or three months, by a factor of five or six. I believe that that is not untypical. I have since had a letter from another expert, who suggests that a typical firearms officer who is a member of a police shooting club might fire 100 rounds of ammunition a week, against possibly 400 to 500 rounds a year on training.

This is likely to be the last opportunity to turn back from taking an irreversible and deleterious step. I do not feel that we should put ourselves in the position of failing to do the very best to allow those officers' marksmanship to be as perfect as it can be.

A former Inspector General, Doctrine and Training, Sir Peter Duffell, is in no doubt about the matter. His remarks apply equally to military and police personnel. I have no hesitation in reminding your Lordships of what the general said: 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". The Government say that the training is adequate. That, to my mind, is a rather Mandy Rice-Davis type of response. Both the MoD and the Home Office would have to say that and it must surely be technically true. But there is a world of difference between a basic acceptable standard and a training regime which can be improved upon by constant practice should the serving member of the police or military club wish to do better. That is the best position. Any amount of service training will be bettered by any amount of supplementary private practice. I would have thought that that was self-evident.

A desperate gunman, or gunmen, may have taken a hostage or hostages; they may be nervous and trigger-happy. Firearms officers will have only one chance to get it right. They must pick their moment. Surely their every nerve should be strained towards doing the right thing, to getting the timing right. The accurate use of the firearm must not be a matter for concern at that point. Its accurate use must be second nature: taken for granted. The police or military must be able to handle their weapons in the way that a very experienced driver handles his car, not one who has just passed his driving test. Off duty practice is a public safeguard.

To move on to storage: a central feature of the Cullen report was ownership and storage of handguns. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has drawn attention to what one might term the "gloat factor" in the wretched Thomas Hamilton affair. In my amendments no such opportunity for gloating ownership exists for legally held full-bore weapons. My amendments place their secure storage beyond reasonable doubt. They cannot be stored at home; they must be stored exclusively in military or police armouries. What could be safer than that? I understand that some police shooting club or military club weapons are already so stored, even if not on a permanent basis. The requirement to store large calibre weapons in such tight security will often result in no change from current practice. Armoury storage is a central pillar of the amendments I seek.

If your Lordships agree these amendments it would be in the knowledge that the members of these clubs will have been very closely vetted; that they are continually monitored by their immediate supervisors. Your Lordships would also be preserving a very valuable source of recruitment. Sir Peter Duffell was in no doubt about this when he said: I feel I should also stress the benefit the Armed Services derive from recruitment as a direct or indirect result of the activities of rifle and pistol clubs".

As I said on Report, I am not going to claim that the large calibre of the weapon is a sine que non so far as recruitment is concerned, but there must be an association.

The police too are in no doubt about the recruitment aspect. A former chief inspector and chief instructor of firearms, John Warner, states, and I précis: Police who have received only in-house training are initially surprised and embarrassed by the standards displayed by civilian shooters. In consequence many Policemen become motivated to improve and during my period with the Police I encouraged officers to take up shooting as a sport. In Police Firearms Training, shooting is just one of the skills to be acquired, but from them all, shooting skills (or lack of them) continues to be a worry for many policemen. It troubles them that other demands within the service do not permit more time/training to ensure higher standards. It is here that civilian clubs can, and do, offer additional opportunities to improve skills and confidence to those Policemen who become members. Clubs do not claim to give 'Police Training', more simply the regular opportunity to handle and use a firearm. Once a policeman feels more confident and at ease with his firearm, he is able to give more attention to strategy and tactics, etc., and this must contribute to safety and security".

My amendments also cover compensation. Compensation under the amendments may be had at any time. At Report stage my noble friend the Minister suggested that it might be a problem compensating serving personnel who, in due course, surrender their large calibre handguns, either owing to a decision to discontinue or owing to ineligibility to continue to possess them through, for instance, retirement from active service. I hope I have not misinterpreted my noble friend's meaning but she said: That would be a financial obligation on the public purse that would remain in perpetuity".—[Official Report, 4/2/97: co1.1576.]

That is so but I do not see the difficulty. They would simply receive compensation as if they had surrendered the weapons immediately under the Bill. The Secretary of State has great flexibility in Clause 15. Inflation could take its toll. That is a price I am sure any serving member would agree to pay. The longer the guns are kept the less the compensation, if the Secretary of State so determines. The burden on the taxpayer would be almost negligible, particularly given the small number of shooters involved in the first place.

My amendments are very narrow in their application. They are self-contained. They leave the Bill largely untouched. The serving police and military shooters who are affected by the amendments constitute a small number. I do not think they would amount to more than five or 10 per cent. of the total 60,000 shooters there are estimated to be in the sporting world. Their weapons are securely stored in police or military armouries. They are shooters of the most vetted kind. They practise at no expense to the taxpayer. Their practice must contribute significantly to the public safety. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, he has brought this issue to us before, at Report stage. I think he does identify an important point, but not in the way that he has explained it. The important point is that the police and the military authorities will now have to devote far more time to training their personnel to the required standards. In other words, they will not be able to rely upon the efforts of individuals to do their own training.

However, I have not detected any pressure from outside in support of this amendment, even though I have looked for it—gently, I accept. Would this amendment apply to TA soldiers and special constables? Of course if it does, that would then provide a loophole which, if I were so disposed as a TA officer, I could possibly exploit. I wonder if the noble Lord has thought of that particular point?

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, it is absolutely vital that policemen should be accurate and quick on the defensive draw, and it may well be true that the official training only allows 500 rounds which, we are told, is not adequate for training. If these policemen are to have their pistols in order to shoot in off-duty periods, where are they going to shoot them? I hope they are not going to practise in their backyard. In fact, they will not because they will keep their weapons in the armoury, and if their weapons are in the armoury then presumably they will be practising on their ranges. I hope that is so. If training periods are laid on for the police, I ask whether the police cannot go along when they are off duty and practise on the same ranges they normally use for official training. In fact, a good deal of the training could be done with the .22.

As well as accuracy, what is important is anticipating the right occasion to use a pistol. There are, of course, highly technical simulators which can show a variety of scenes going on. There may be a man in the boot of a car who swings round, sometimes with a pistol and sometimes without one. The police officer has a fraction of a second to decide whether or not to shoot. He shoots with a ray gun of some kind. He has to make that split second decision which saves his own life. It is what is done on simulators. It is an important part of training for hitting the right person at the right time. I am not persuaded that the amendment is necessary.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, only a minority of police officers are trained in the use of firearms. They are intensively trained. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Harmsworth, I do not consider that the amendment is necessary. I would be very concerned indeed were we to believe that police officers should be enabled to use firearms in the circumstances described in the amendment because it was the only way in which they could demonstrate they were proficient. Have any representations been made to the Association of Chief Police Officers in favour of this proposition?

Lord Monson

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. There seem to be two salient points. First, highly respected senior police officers confirm that acceptance of the amendments would enable police officers to get in five or six times as much practice without any cost to the taxpayer than they would in the absence of the amendment. That must be good from the point of view of public safety. Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmsworth, said, the guns in question will be securely locked up in police or military armouries. That also enhances public safety.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I wish briefly to support my noble friend's amendments, particularly Amendment No. 26. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is right and police officers receive sufficient training in the use of these weapons, I do not see how one squares that with what my noble friend Lord Harmsworth described as the allowance for service training-500 rounds once every two or three months or so.

I do not shoot with a pistol but I shoot with a rifle. I know how extraordinarily difficult it is to obtain accuracy with a rifle. I also know that it is very much more difficult to reach the required standards of accuracy with a pistol. Far too many people nowadays watch films and television where the villain, the cowboy or whoever it is draws a pistol, fires it and a hundred yards away a Red Indian or someone drops stone dead. It simply does not happen like that. Pistols are extraordinarily difficult to shoot accurately with. It requires a great deal of practice. I say with some regret to my noble friend Lord Gisborough that I do not think the simulated ray gun in the television studio is adequate. It does not deal with the question of recoil. That is absolutely vital for accuracy with a pistol.

There will be a very simple proof to this pudding in two or three years' time if police officers cannot shoot as accurately as they do today when they need to save their own lives or the lives of others. Therefore, I very much hope that my noble friend will look kindly on this amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I wish to support that part of the amendment which deals with clubs. It is exceptionally important for us to understand that practice makes perfect. I am reminded of what my father said when he left this country to go to Guernsey. Someone asked him what he would miss most of all. He said, "the House". The person said what a lovely house it was. My father said, "No, no. I am not talking about my house. I am talking about the House of Lords. It is the best club in England". That is the important point. The club is a significant social institution.

Some noble Lords may know police officers who have been injured in the course of their duty and are disabled. Many noble Lords and many Members of another place are fit and able and sound of mind. However, by considering the Bill in its present form, each of us, no matter what our political persuasion, will be party to a selfish castigation of a minority. I am speaking about the disabled. How little we have heard spoken of this group in our society. How little we have heard of the Bill's effect on them. What little attention has been paid to them by those who signed the Treaty of Rome. No mention has been made of the disabled.

The 5,000 disabled pistol shots need to use a club. Those 5,000 people do not go to the firearms club just to shoot. They go to socialise. For their own good and well being they may be closeted in one of the many fine homes specifically designed to care for the disabled. Although they may get on well with the others in the home, it is good, it is fun and it is interesting to enjoy a visit to "the club" to participate in activities that are practised at the club—whether it be bingo, bowls or target shooting. They can then compare notes and socialise with others.

We donate millions of pounds to unfortunates abroad who are plagued by famine, war, disease and drought, but what are we doing—the nannies of society, whether national or international—about our disabled? We know full well that in 1995 we passed the Disability Discrimination Act. But now we are racing through a Bill which has clauses and subsections that are so costly to implement that firearms clubs will close down. There will be no more shooting for the police in their spare time or any one else. There will be no more socialising—certainly not for the disabled. Some will say that if one club closes people can always go to another. That is simple for the able bodied, who can just jump into their car after work or at the weekend and go to another club. It is not so easy for a person in a wheelchair—for the one-legged, the one-armed or the blind. Clubs are to be financially squeezed out of existence.

I hope noble Lords will understand that what I am talking about is indirect discrimination. Whether it be at Pratt's, at a pub, at White's or at a wine bar, we socialise and select the beverage of our choice. That also goes for firearms clubs. It is to do with the club. Because a particular beer is removed from a pub, that does not mean that it closes down. I hope noble Lords will understand that this relates to firearms as well.

The enabling clause about which we heard earlier is fine for the able Secretary of State, no matter which party it may be, but it does not complement the disabled. Unfortunately, enablement does not lead to the return of fingers, arms and limbs. I support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, since time immemorial, Armed Forces and police forces have had their own arrangements for training their members in the use of pistols and other firearms. They are not mentioned in this Bill and that is not necessary. In order to set our minds at rest, in view of some of the things which have been said, can my noble friend assure us that those arrangements will continue?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the amendments concern licensed pistol clubs used by police or military personnel when off duty. The amendments will allow the police and military personnel to continue to shoot higher-calibre handguns at gun clubs as an exemption to the general prohibition on the use of higher-calibre pistols for sporting purposes. I explained at Report stage that service and police personnel receive training in the use of firearms on the same basis as they receive training in the other skills which they require in order to carry out their important work. I can give my noble friend Lord Renton and the House an absolute assurance that that will continue.

There is no strong argument that police officers and servicemen and women need to practise in their spare time in order to reach a suitable level of skill. In debate last week I promised that we would expedite inquiries with the police and the Armed Services to find out their views. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, we have done that. The Ministry of Defence and the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Scotland agreed with our assessment. In each case it was confirmed that training for the requisite standards of proficiency is provided for the police and personnel of the Armed Services and that when off duty—and they all stressed this point—they should be treated as private citizens. The position remains that this Bill will not compromise at all the levels of training of our Armed Services and the police.

I know that concerns have been expressed by my noble friend and others that it would be wrong to make an allowance for police or soldiers to be allowed to shoot higher calibre handguns for sport and recreation when law-abiding members of the public cannot do so. I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Harmsworth answered the question as to whether that included members of the Territorial Army and/or special constables. I understand that technically both special constables and members of the Territorial Army could be subsumed, which would widen the provision very much and increase the numbers of people who could, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, get through this loophole.

There is another point. As my noble friend Lord Renton said, the Armed Forces and the police have their own facilities. As long as the chief officer authorises the use of those facilities, Armed Forces personnel and policemen and women can continue to use those facilities in what is technically off-duty time. As long as it is authorised by senior officers those facilities can be used. But as members of private clubs, they must be subject to their rules and shoot subject to the conditions set out in the Bill.

I am not sure that the point which was made quite passionately by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, on behalf of disabled people has much relevance to this particular amendment. Having said that, there is no discrimination against disabled people in the Bill. Disabled and able-bodied people will be able to shoot at gun clubs. They will all be subject to the limitation of .22 rimfire pistols. Membership will not be inhibited in any way. The conditions for using those clubs will not be inhibited in any way. As I say, both disabled and able-bodied people will be subject to the controls set out in the Bill.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I did explain that it is indirect discrimination. If one closes a club one makes it that much more difficult for disabled people. I have spoken to such people.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, if a club closes that is as much of a problem for an able-bodied person as it is for a disabled person. People will be disenfranchised from being able to take part in a sport where sometimes there is only a single interest. At other times, it may be just one of a number of recreations enjoyed by a number of people. I am not saying that the plight of disabled people is not serious; I am simply saying that in this Bill we are not specifically discriminating against disabled people in any way which is different from the provisions relating to able-bodied people.

The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, also made a point about funding for clubs. They will be eligible to apply for national lottery funds. I made that point at an earlier stage of the Bill. I am sure that those clubs which cater for the disabled shooter will qualify for special consideration by the Sports Council and maybe even under the charities part of National Lottery funds.

Lord Harmsworth

My Lords, I am very disappointed by my noble friend's reply. Before deciding what to do about this amendment perhaps I may address some of the points made in the debate. The first point is that the amendments apply to serving members of police and military shooting clubs. That will include anyone who is a serving member, including members of the Territorial Army. My noble friend Lord Gisborough asked where they would shoot. By and large members of police shooting clubs shoot in private police clubs, possibly on police or military ranges. As regards the military, because they are far more mobile than the police, I believe there is a tendency for them to shoot in private clubs.

I do not understand the worries over the use of large calibre guns by these people. The amendments require that they be stored in police and military armouries. Surely that is safe enough. Members of those clubs are also very heavily vetted and continuously monitored. Alas, the members of those clubs tend to keep to themselves. The police will shoot and keep themselves to themselves wherever they do so.

My noble friend Lord Pearson said that some of the weapons used on service are very difficult to use. I can certainly confirm that from yesteryear. Some of the weapons have a kick like a mule and practice with them is absolutely essential if they are going to be used in very difficult circumstances. Where innocent bystanders are about, accuracy is paramount. No end of practice can be anything but to the public advantage.

At Report stage I believe that my noble friend the Minister used the word "invidious" when referring to the scenario where a member of a military or police shooting club would be using a high calibre weapon where there are other members who are not entitled to do so. A typical police shooting club consists of members who are serving officers, ex-police officers, possibly members of the family and civilians who work for the police. I do not see how anyone in such a club would fail to recognise the importance of continuing practice by serving members with weapons which they themselves would be denied. I am quite certain that they would understand that, to the point where they would welcome their being able to do it.

If this amendment is not accepted never again will police and military personnel be able to practise in their spare time on service weapons. They will be confined to .22s. I believe that this is thoroughly deleterious, and it is too serious a matter to leave to police and military training alone.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will forgive me if I intervene. If the facility for serving policemen and Armed Forces personnel is exclusive to their use with authorisation from a senior officer it is possible for them to shoot around the clock. I have before me letters from both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, and a letter that deals with training of the Armed Forces. All say quite categorically that personnel will receive the training required to meet the proficiency levels of a serving police officer or member of the Armed Forces. All of them say unequivocally that when personnel are off duty and shooting in clubs with private members, that is, retired personnel, the families of personnel or those who are not members of serving families, they should be treated as private citizens. I repeat—it is important that noble Lords understand the position—that there is no question of compromising the training of our Armed Forces or policemen who are required to meet very high levels of proficiency in carrying out their duties.

Lord Harmsworth

My Lords, I understand exactly what my noble friend has said. Nevertheless, it is the plain fact that training can be augmented by a factor of five or six. It is not untypical for that to happen as a result of off-duty practice. Surely, that says something to the House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is nothing whatsoever to stop serving personnel, either the police or the Armed Forces, from continuing their membership of private clubs and shooting, but they will be restricted to .22 pistols on those occasions. But on all those occasions when they shoot exclusively in their own facilities they will be able to use high-calibre guns, as is consistent with their training.

Lord Harmsworth

My Lords, I did not catch the last part of my noble friend's answer. Is my noble friend saying that when not on duty police and military personnel can use ranges and high-calibre weapons?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, no.

Lord Harmsworth

My Lords, in that case my point is still good. I believe that this is too important a matter to leave. I should like to test the opinion of the House.

4.47 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, the Question is that this amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". I think the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, Tellers for the "Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Not-Contents" have it.

4.49 p.m.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon) moved Amendment No. 19: Page 6, line 20, leave out ("recognised") and insert ("designated").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 19 was spoken to with Amendment No. 8. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 22: Page 6, line 45, leave out ("the pistol") and insert ("such possession").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 22 was spoken to with Amendment No. 8. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15 [Payments in respect of prohibited small firearms and ammunition]:

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Compensation scheme for firearms dealers]:

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 24: Page 9, line 20, after ("as") insert ("manufacturers or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is designed to make it clear that manufacturers are included in the new clause which your Lordships passed on Report on 4th February. That amendment would pay compensation for loss of business to registered firearms dealers. During our debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who moved the new clause, was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, whether the definition of "registered firearms dealer" contained in the new clause covered manufacturers as well as dealers. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, replied to that question: My Lords, that is right. The definition of registered firearms dealer includes manufacturer".—[Official Report, 4/2/97; col. 1583.] It seems clear to many of us from that statement that the intention of the new clause was to cover manufacturers and that that intention was supported by your Lordships in a Division. Certainly, if I speak for myself, I thought that I was voting to include manufacturers in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. However, it now seems that the new clause does not have that desired effect. The definition of "registered firearms dealer" contained in that new clause covers some manufacturers but not all.

Some manufacturers, such as those who make pistols, will be covered by the new clause as they are required to be registered as a firearms dealer. However, there will be others who are not required to register as dealers who will be equally affected by the Bill. These include the manufacturers of, for example, holsters, targets, target holders, target patches, target systems, pistol cases, reloading equipment, lead bullets, and magazine loaders. Those manufacturers are an integral part of the pistol trade, and will be as adversely affected by the Bill as those covered by the new clause which your Lordships passed. There does not seem to be any logical reason to exclude them.

If any noble Lords are in doubt about the difficulty which some of these people will be caused, they should be aware of the typical example of an ammunition manufacturer, Roger Curtis, who has built up his own business (Hayes Manufacturing near York) supplying ammunition to shooting clubs and 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 already been forced into liquidation and has lost everything.

I am sure that other noble Lords have received letters from other such unfortunate people. I certainly have. They all tell the same sorry tale. Many other manufacturers are facing the same fate. The amendment will cover these individuals and is wholly in line with these sentiments behind the new clause which we passed on Report. Including these manufacturers is not akin to writing a blank cheque. The original new clause, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, is tightly drafted to make payments only for: Loss of business directly caused by the prohibition contained in section 1". That is, prohibition of full bore handguns.

The merits of the case for compensating those who suffer business loss as a direct result of the Bill has already been accepted by your Lordships. This amendment is simply delivering the original intention behind that new clause to cover manufacturers. If the other place wishes to disagree with it when the Bill returns to it, that is of course its prerogative, as it is with all our amendments. On that basis, it is only honourable that this amendment be accepted today. I therefore commend it to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having introduced the amendment, because it gives the House a chance to look more carefully at what arose last time. I should like briefly to explain why I very much hope that the noble Lord and the House will not accept the amendment, and that he will not pursue it.

The starting point is to work out the principle upon which compensation should be payable. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on the previous occasion rightly pointed out that if one allows an obligation to compensate to become too widespread, then it will become a clog, a real fetter, upon beneficial social and economic legislation of one kind or another. I agree with him.

The principle upon which compensation is payable can be summarised in this way: first, there must be a real and direct nexus or connection between the legislative ban and the business which is being destroyed or blighted as a result of the ban. There must be a close link. Secondly, those who carry on the business that is blighted or destroyed must have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of being permitted to carry on that business until the ban comes into force.

Those principles are the distillation of the principles in Commonwealth constitutional law on what constitutes a taking or interference of property that triggers a compensation entitlement and the case law under the European Human Rights Convention. If one has a licence to run a business—a restaurant, a butcher's shop—the licence creates a reasonable expectation that until it is terminated one can carry on with that business. Suddenly the legislator intervenes and says, "Sorry, you can no longer do so", and it is the combination of the direct link and the expectation created by the licence that, in those highly exceptional circumstances, triggers a right to some compensation—not full, but fair.

That is why Clause 17, as it stands, including the amendment that was carried on the previous occasion, limits the category of those who will be entitled to compensation to registered firearms dealers. They include manufacturers, but they include only manufacturers who have to be licensed as registered firearms dealers. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has indicated, his amendment would greatly widen the scope of the group to include any manufacturers who were wholly or mainly carrying on business as manufacturers and who suffered a loss of business as a direct result of the prohibition in Section 1 of the Act, as passed. That would widen the category far beyond what is required under the European Human Rights Convention or would be required in any system that had a constitutional guarantee of free speech.

The final thing I wish to say is a matter of politics and political judgment. We are concerned with the art of the possible, as the late Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, called his great autobiography. The art of the possible means, it seems to me, only passing amendments in this House that are likely to commend themselves to another place, especially in circumstances in which there is widespread popular support, rightly or wrongly—some might think wrongly—for an extremely wide draconian ban.

I am not an experienced politician, but it seems to me unwise, to say the least, to nibble away at the scope of the ban, as some other amendments have sought to do on the one hand, therefore losing sympathy for those who want the ban, and at the same time to seek to widen the compensation terms in a way that goes beyond precedent or principle, will add to the taxpayers' bill and so cause unnecessary opposition in another place. For those reasons I hope that the amendment will not be pursued. If it is, I for one shall not be in favour of it.

Earl Peel

My Lords, what concerns me about what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said, is that legislation should depend upon what is an acceptable level of compensation in these matters. It seems to me that what we should be talking about is a matter of fairness. In that respect, I support the amendment. I believe that my noble friend is right. I said so on Report. I did not think that one year was sufficient or fair. I still take that view.

I believe three years would be fairer. But the noble Lord, Lord Lester, talked about the art of the possible—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, if the noble Earl will permit me to intervene, I believe that he is addressing a later amendment which I support. However, the amendment with which we are now concerned deals not with the three-year period but with widening the definition to include manufacturers. That is the amendment to which I am speaking in opposition.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I was involved in a similar amendment with regard to manufacturers. Perhaps I may continue to speak because my arguments still apply. We are indeed talking about the art of the possible, but we are at Third Reading of the Bill and I hope that my noble friend will not press the amendment. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for what he says and believe that one year was not very fair in the first place, I do not believe that now is the time to pursue this matter.

5 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, the whole of the Bill is fatally flawed, exactly like the Dangerous Dogs Act. I feel deeply sorry for the splendid and noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She has conducted her defence of an impossible Bill with the utmost dignity, courage and charm. In my view, she should be in the Cabinet where they need a bit of guts which they do not always display. The noble Baroness has plenty of them.

The Bill was borne out of hysteria and from the understandable anguish of the people of Dunblane. All parties have cynically competed with each other in milking the emotions which arose out of the Dunblane affair and they all ought to be ashamed of themselves. Not a single life will be saved by the Bill. There are many ways in which serial killers can kill. Indeed, as was said by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, it can be done with a cricket bat if one can terrorise enough people. One can certainly murder with a sawn off shotgun and just as easily in many other ways. It has been done in this country and elsewhere and one does not necessarily need a gun.

Many decent people have been or will be ruined to the point of suicide by the removal of a livelihood which they had expected to conduct for a long time. Their profits have been lost well into the future and their businesses have been totally ruined. I have received letters from people saying that they will commit suicide if all this goes on much longer. Their properties have been extinguished and it is rather worse, well about on a par, with what Stalin did to the kulaks—

Lord Renton

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord realises that we are dealing with Amendment No. 24.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord does not realise that this is also Third Reading

Noble Lords


Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, all right, but my comments are still relevant because the amendment is just as flawed. The compensation is either inadequate or non-existent—

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, is keen to speak, but perhaps he is speaking on far too general a subject than the amendment. Perhaps he would save his comments for the debate on Bill do now pass.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, I shall merely conclude by saying that the whole Bill should be repealed and sanity returned, and I hope that it will be.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, we have heard a new principle enunciated today; that the House of Lords must do only what is possible—not what is right but what is possible. It is suggested that we must do what we believe the House of Commons will agree with. What kind of second Chamber is that? I had always understood that the House was here to examine legislation passed by the House of Commons and, if necessary, to revise it. If all we are going to do is to pass amendments that the House of Commons will agree to what on earth are we here for? We might just as well all go home and attend to our own business.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, that I do not accept that principle. We are here as a second Chamber to revise legislation. If the House of Commons does not like it, its duty is to say that it does not agree with the revision and to send it back. Having understood that position, perhaps I may turn to the amendment—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the matter in case there is any misunderstanding. I do not suggest that we are to be—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, on a point of order, we are on Third Reading and Amendment No. 24. I understand that three speeches are not permitted at this stage and now we have heard a fourth from the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I was going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, a question and not make a speech. Is he suggesting to the House that in its role as a revising Chamber, which is undoubtedly the role of the House, it should seek to amend the Bill in a way which does not accord with any recognised principle of legislation to compensate and which would certainly not be required by our international legal obligations? Is the noble Lord suggesting that we should in some other way legislate because we are a revising chamber?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, we received clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, but it is not satisfactory to me. I am concerned that this House should act in accordance with its role in the parliamentary process and in accordance with the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. If we followed the noble Lord's dictum those Acts would be nullified and completely useless.

Let me turn to the amendment—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Hear, hear!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, for his support. I support the amendment because I was misled on Report when I was given the answer by the noble Lord, Lord Lester—it appears in col. 1583 of Hansard—that the 1968 Act covered manufacturers as well as dealers. I went on to refer to a manufacturer who manufactured only full bore handguns. When I voted for the amendment I understood from the answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that that manufacturer would be covered by the amendment. Seemingly, he is not covered by the amendment and therefore I believe that not only was he misled but the House was misled. I do not suggest that that was done intentionally, but the House has nevertheless been misled and John Slough of London, the manufacturer to whom I referred, is bound to have been misled by what was said in this House. I believe now that that position needs to be put right. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the impression given on Report was that manufacturers such as I have described were covered and that your Lordships will therefore put the matter right beyond peradventure by voting for the amendment.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene on this amendment although I fully support it, but the noble Earl, Lord Peel, whose contributions have in general been so valuable during our proceedings on this Bill, seems totally to have misunderstood the amendment. It has nothing to do with raising the admittedly derisory level of compensation in the clause in question, but merely provides that it should be extended to gun manufacturers. That is all.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sorry, but that is one of the strangest things that I have ever heard said—even in this House. If you extend the range of people who receive compensation, you increase the level of compensation. We have just been compared to Stalin and the kulaks, but the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has made us mad as well as bad.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord is too clever to believe what he actually said. It is the individual level that counts, not the overall level.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this amendment concerns Clause 17 of the Bill and would require the Government to make compensation payments to registered firearms dealers in respect of losses of business which are ascribed to the operation of this Bill.

Amendment No. 24 would make it clear that compensation should be made to persons and companies operating as manufacturers of ancillary equipment as well as to firearms dealers. As the House knows, we are opposed to payments of compensation for business losses by dealers and manufacturers of firearms and ammunition and we do not therefore support compensation payments to manufacturers of ancillary equipment. My understanding is that for the purpose of compensation, manufacturers are dealers. Therefore, the issue is not about including manufacturers, but that the amendment considerably widens the scope of payments to manufacturers of ancillary equipment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I was a little perplexed by the reasoning of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, because I understood him to say that the principle of his amendment (which was accepted by your Lordships' House a week ago) was founded on a real and direct connection between the legislative ban and the businesses blighted. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that businesses which manufacture the holsters for pistols and pistol cases and the other items to which I referred in my opening remarks will inevitably suffer from a real and direct connection between their businesses and this deplorable legislative ban.

The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, was very encouraging in describing this as a bad and hopeless Bill. I hope that he may have more to say when we come to the question of whether the Bill should pass today. The noble Lord was right to imply that no amount of compensation is adequate to compensate the 57,000 people who will lose their hobby and the 2,000 to 3,000 licensed small businesses which, if this amendment is not passed, face ruin in various degrees of severity.

I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, shared my impression of what we were voting for a week ago when we passed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. He was quite clear that, as we stand, he was misled on Report, as indeed was I, and that the 1968 Act covered all manufacturers as well as just dealers. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and I are imputing any blame to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, but that is the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that this amendment, if passed, would increase the compensation payable and that is, of course, true, but that is only because we thought that it was included in the amendment that we passed a week ago.

I regret that my noble friend on the Front Bench has had the unpleasant duty of once again producing an entirely unreasonable, niggardly and mean reply to this amendment, but I think that if your Lordships are not in the mood to accept an amendment which would have enabled the Secretary of State to allow the wadcutter to be included in the Bill and therefore the British team to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, I hardly think that your Lordships will be in a frame of mind to accept this amendment which will cost the taxpayer more money. I therefore feel that I have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 25: Page 9, line 26, after ("years") insert (", or for the total period of trading if less than three years,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a refreshingly brief amendment and I trust that it is not controversial. It tidies up the new clause that was passed at Report stage to make payments for loss of business to dealers who are directly affected by the ban on full-bore pistols. The new clause provides for payments, 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".

The problem is that that criterion will exclude new businesses—it appears to exclude new businesses—which will have been operating for less than the three specified years because there is no average of three years to apply. Many new gun traders started their business after 1994 and have been badly affected by the Bill. Hayes Manufacturing in York, to which I referred in my opening remarks on the last amendment, is one example. I cannot believe that it was the intention of the new clause to punish those new traders simply because they have been in business for less than three years.

The amendment addresses that discrepancy and would provide for an auditor to calculate a payment for compensation for the total period of trading if that business had been operating for less than three years. I very much hope that on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, will feel able to support the amendment and that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to do likewise.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, as the architect of what became Clause 17, I am happy to confirm that I regard this amendment as coming within the logic of Clause 17 as it stands. Perhaps I may explain the reason for that. As I sought to explain on the earlier amendment, the two principles underlying Clause 17 are, first, that there must be what I call a direct nexus between the ban and the damage to the business and, secondly, that there must be a reasonable expectation on the part of the owners of the business that they would be able to continue trading but for the ban. It is that second point, which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, left out earlier, which is crucial.

It is essential to pay compensation because we are talking about licensed, registered firearms dealers—whether they be manufacturers or otherwise. That is why they come within the category that needs to be compensated. The noble Lord is right that it is illogical to exclude from the scope of the beneficiaries those new businesses which are registered, licensed firearms dealers. That is why including a three-year period in respect of them makes sense because on the date the Bill becomes law, they will have been registered firearms dealers, including manufacturers of firearms. I very much hope that this will not be regarded as a controversial matter. It is within the spirit of what the House has already approved. Therefore, I support it.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Pearson on two counts. First, I thought that he was speaking to Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 earlier. Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was right in that I assumed that the amendment sought to increase the compensation from one year to three years. I apologise to my noble friend, who is absolutely right. It is only logical that this amendment should be accepted, bearing in mind what we accepted at the last stage. I very much hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will see it in that light.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Government would agree that if there are to be arrangements under which dealers are compensated for loss of business—as in the Government's view there should not—it would make sense to include provision for dealers who have been in business for less than three years as well as for those who have been in business for three years or more. I see this amendment as being consequential upon Clause 17, which was inserted by your Lordships, and I do not intend to oppose it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, that is wonderful news. I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Clause 21 [No pistol club to operate without a licence]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 27 to 29: Page 10, line 25, after ("certificate") insert ("or visitor's firearm permit"). Page 10. line 27, after ("certificate") insert ("or permit'). Page 10, line 31, after ("certificate") insert ("or permit").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 27 [Revocation of licence]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 30 to 33: Page 13, line 5. leave out ("surrender") and insert ("deliver"). Page 13, line 13, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(1)"). Page 13, line 28, leave out from ("is") to end of line and insert ("delivered into police custody in accordance with a notice under subsection (2) above"). Page 13, line 28, at end insert—

  1. ("(5A) A small-calibre pistol delivered into police custody by virtue of a notice under section 26(2) above shall not be released to any person except on the authority of the chief officer of police into whose custody it was delivered.
  2. (5B) The holder of a firearm certificate relating to the pistol, or any other person who may lawfully have the pistol in his possession, may apply in writing to the chief officer for the release of the pistol (whether to him or to a person nominated by him).
  3. (5C) When such an application is made the chief officer of police may require such written statements, from any person, as he considers necessary for the purpose of determining the application.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 28 [Exemptions from section 1 of the 1968 Act for officers etc. of licensed pistol clubs]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments No. 34 to 37: Page 13, line 32, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) The responsible officer of a licensed pistol club may, without holding a firearm certificate, have a small-calibre pistol or ammunition in his possession on the licensed premises of that club."). Page 13, line 38, after ("pistol") insert ("or ammunition"). Page 13, line 39, after first ("premises") insert ("in any circumstances"). Page 13, line 41, after ("pistols") insert ("or ammunition").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 38: Page 13, line 41, at end insert—("(3) A member of a licensed pistol club approved by the Secretary of State may. without holding a firearm certificate, use under the supervision of an officer of the club, for a period not exceeding 60 consecutive days, a small-calibre pistol and ammunition when engaged as a member of the club in, or in connection with, target shooting.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is a re-run of one which I have moved twice before. Without it, newcomers to the sport will face discouragingly high hurdles and the sport will slowly but surely die out. A cynic might suspect a hidden agenda here. In response to government concerns, my Report stage amendment very considerably tightened up on my Committee stage amendment; and, indeed, this amendment tightens up yet further on my Report stage amendment by allowing only a 60-day rather than a 90-day trial period for probationers.

Although the Government seem to indicate considerable support in principle for my amendment, last time round the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, was worried about the very unlikely scenario of a beginner stealing a pistol from a pistol club. But, of course, a pistol/rifle club—and many clubs cater for both pistol and rifle shooters—can legitimately allow the beginner, minus a licence, to try a .22 rifle. He, too, could theoretically steal a pistol but I suggest that that would not only be difficult to do but that it would also, in practice, be extremely unlikely. It would in fact be easier and cheaper for him to acquire an illegal gun.

Another point which has not so far been mentioned is the fact that beginners who have gone to the trouble and the considerable expense of obtaining a firearm licence and who then find that they are not really keen on or suited to the sport will almost certainly feel, if the amendment is not agreed to, that they must, nonetheless, continue in order to get their money's worth. The net result would be many more firearm licences in existence than would otherwise be the case. It seems to me that that is probably contrary to public policy.

It is possible that the drafting of the amendment is not perfect but there is no problem in that respect because it can easily be put right in another place, as our amendments usually are. Indeed, although our amendments are often acceptable in principle, they are normally altered in another place. I must stress again that, without the amendment, the sport of pistol shooting in Britain will gradually die out over the years because beginners will be discouraged. I beg to move.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I am surprised at this worry about pistols being stolen. Certainly, when one fires in the military—and I would imagine that it is much the same in any other performance—the firing point discipline is very strong indeed. I cannot conceive that a club would allow someone who has never shot before to go out on his own and say, "Right, have a few shots and come back when you've finished". This is just unthinkable. Therefore, the idea that beginners could steal a weapon is really going a little too far.

We know that many clubs will close because they will not be able to modernise, either for financial or various other reasons. However, it is perfectly true to say that the publicity that the Bill has given to pistol shooting will probably encourage more people to want to shoot pistols than have ever shot before. A new complex is being built in Stockton with lottery money which will cater for what may well be a huge influx of people who have suddenly become interested in pistol shooting.

It never occurred to me to go pistol shooting; indeed, I did not even know that many people liked to do so. However, I am now certainly aware of the number of people who do so and I think that it might be rather fun. In fact, I think that I might try it. I am sure that there are many other people who feel the same way. Without the facility for a beginner to start shooting with borrowed weapons and to have a go, clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, the whole sport will fade away. There must be a facility for young people to take up the sport if they can until such time as they have decided that they like it and want to invest in it properly.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I should like to express my support for the amendment. I do so because any sport, whether it be pistol shooting, golf, archery or whatever, is dependent upon the regular intake of newcomers. The amendment would enable a new member—that is, someone who is perhaps taken by the sport and wants to have a go—to shoot under the auspices of the club without having a firearm certificate. As with any beginner. he would be under the closest supervision all the time and would not be allowed to handle a pistol unsupervised. Indeed, it is ridiculous to suggest that he would. What the amendment suggests is only for the good of the sport, which I hope the Government are prepared to encourage. I hope that the Government are not trying to get such clubs to close down and I trust, therefore, that my noble friend the Minister will be disposed to accept the amendment.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, when the Bill first came before this House there were so many issues to be looked at that one had to select which ones it was appropriate to consider individually. At a previous stage of the proceedings I recall speaking to a similar amendment. I believe I suggested then that we ought perhaps to have three classes of certificate. The lowest class with the easiest test for the police to apply would be one which would allow the person merely to use a pistol or a rifle at a club. The intermediate class would allow the person to take the pistol or shotgun from one location to another for use and then return it to the owner. That would obviously require a slightly stiffer test by the police. Finally, the toughest test would apply to a certificate which would allow a person to own and be responsible for a weapon.

If such a system were in place, the issue of probationary membership of clubs would not be so important because the police would carry out the necessary investigations before allowing a person to go to a club and use a gun. That would allow the police to carry out certain checks, especially the PNC check which would guard against criminal involvement.

The noble Lord mentioned drafting and said that it was not necessary to draft such amendments properly. I have some difficulty in that respect because I believe that we should not wilfully send the Bill to another place with incorrect drafting. That is why we should, wherever possible, force amendments through in Committee and then tidy them up on Third Reading. We do not appear to have much appetite for pressing Divisions this evening. So I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, when a similar amendment was discussed at Report stage last week it was explained that the Government had a certain degree of sympathy but, at the same time, saw some difficulties with it.

We undertook to look at the question again, and to do so with some urgency. The question is a simple but important one. It is suggested that it is difficult for would-be users of small calibre pistols for target shooting to decide whether to apply for the necessary firearm certificate before they have had a chance to carry out that activity.

They could of course make use of low-power air pistols or—under the terms of this Bill—low-power pistols powered by compressed carbon dioxide. But there are obvious differences between these and genuine small calibre target pistols. The Government accept that point and there is no need for me to go into it in any further detail.

Our concern is that there should be some form of independent verification by the police that a person is suitable before he or she is permitted to fire the first shot. We have not so far been able to find a satisfactory means of achieving that, short of the checks associated with the granting of a firearm certificate. However, I undertake that we shall explore urgently with the police whether there is a workable arrangement short of full checks that would allow a chief officer to agree to a person shooting under supervision for a limited period. If we can agree a workable arrangement with the police, we may bring forward amendments to the noble Lord's amendment in another place. Therefore I shall not seek to oppose the noble Lord's amendment.

I must make clear, of course, that if a workable arrangement cannot be evolved, the Government may have to seek to reverse the amendment when the Bill returns to another place. It is therefore without prejudice to the outcome that I suggest that the House allows this amendment to go forward in order to give some time to consider the matter further and for a workable solution to be sought. If we do not accept this amendment, the other place will of course have no opportunity whatever to consider the matter further. On that basis I shall not oppose the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for the time and the trouble she has taken to examine the amendment. I agree, I think for the first time during our entire consideration of the Bill, with every single word she said. I am pleased to accept her offer. I hope your Lordships will accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 29 [Registers to be kept by licensed pistol clubs]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 39: Page 14, line 7, after ("certificate") insert ("or visitor's firearm permit").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to the amendment earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 32 [Penalty for false statements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 40: Page 15, line 28, at end insert ("or the release of a small-calibre pistol from police custody under section 27 above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 33 [Transfers of firearms to be in person]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 41 to 43: Page 15, line 42, at end insert ("or a visitor's firearm or shot gun permit"). Page 16. line 2, after ("certificate") insert ("or permit"). Page 16, line 6, after ("certificate") insert ("or permit").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 34 [Notification to chief officer of police of transfers involving firearms]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 44 and 45: Page 16, line 17, after ("certificate") insert ("or, as the case may be, a visitor's firearm or shot gun permit"). Page 16, line 19, at end insert ("or permit").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 35 [Notification of de-activation, destruction or loss of firearms or ammunition]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 46 to 53: Page 16, line 30, after ("relates") insert ("; or (b) a firearm to which a visitor's firearm or shot gun permit relates,"). Page 16, line 33, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted"). Page 16, line 33, at end insert ("or permit"). Page 16, line 35, after ("certificate") insert ("or a visitor's firearm permit"). Page 16, line 36, after ("certificate") insert ("or permit"). Page 16, line 38, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted"). Page 16, line 38, at end insert ("or permit"). Page 17, line 5, leave out from first ("1988") to first ("be").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36 [Notification of events taking place outside Great Britain involving firearms etc.]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 54: Page 17, line 21, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Register of holders of shot gun and firearm certificates]:

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 55: Page 19, line 15, leave out from ("persons") to end of line 16 and insert ("who have applied for a firearm or shot gun certificate or to whom a firearm or shot gun certificate has been granted or whose certificate has been renewed."). The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 55 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 56 and 57. These three amendments seek to tidy up Clause 40 which noble Lords will remember they inserted in the Bill at Report. The new clause seeks to set up a central register of all persons holding a shotgun or firearm certificate and to have it recorded on a computer with a number to which the police have direct access.

I was extremely grateful to receive a message on Friday from my noble friend's office saying that the Government were now ready to accept the new clause and the purpose behind it. It was put to me that it needed small modifications with which I have no difficulty. I thank my noble friend for arranging for me to visit the police national computer and the PHOENIX project at Hendon this morning. I spent a most useful two-and-a-half hours with Mr. Ladley, the Hendon data centre manager, and Chief Inspector Twigg, the PHOENIX project manager.

Two things arose as a result of the meeting. First, it will be practical to introduce the register that I sought within a reasonable timescale and at a reasonable cost using the facilities at Hendon. It appears that in about six months' time when certain operations being added to the police national computer have been digested, it will be possible to start putting into operation the new national register we seek. That will probably take about six months and will cost something in the region of £350,000. I suggest a budget of half a million pounds, but that is small in relation to the cost of other provisions in the Bill. It would then probably take about six months for police forces to transfer the data which each holds on to the new national register. We can expect that the new national register will be up and running by, let us say, October 1998.

Secondly, I learnt how right your Lordships were to put the new clause on the face of the Bill because there is no way in which the facilities, resources or priorities which previously existed at Hendon, and those of the Treasury, would have allowed this to happen within the reasonable timescale we seek. As your Lordships will remember, the whole object of the new register is to keep a much better check on the sort of people who are given certificates or licences for any form of firearm and to make it less likely that they are granted to unsuitable people which may lead to a further Hungerford or Dunblane. In recommending these three amendments I thank warmly those of your Lordships who spoke in favour of the measure on Report and those noble Lords on all sides of the House who voted in favour of the new clause. They have made this measure possible.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Amendments Nos. 55, 56 and 57 to Clause 40 dealing with a central register of certificate holders. This now sets out a clear and achievable requirement for the establishment of a register. As my noble friend saw for himself during his visit earlier today to the site of the PHOENIX computer system, PHOENIX provides the police and other agencies with a sophisticated information system to support them in their tasks. The firearms register will form an important component of the system. I am happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Marlesford moved Amendments Nos. 56 and 57: Page 19, line 20, leave out ("provide") and insert ("be kept by means of a computer which provides"). Page 19, line 20, leave out from ("forces") to the end of line 23.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 58: After Clause 41, insert the following new clause— APPEALS (".—(1) For section 44 of the 1968 Act (appeals against police decisions) there shall be substituted the following section— "Appeals against police decisions. 44.—(1) An appeal against a decision of a chief officer of police under section 28A, 29, 30A, 30B, 30C, 34, 36, 37 or 38 of this Act lies— (a) in England and Wales, to the Crown Court; and (b) in Scotland, to the sheriff. (2) An appeal shall be determined on the merits (and not by way of review). (3) The court or sheriff hearing an appeal may consider any evidence or other matter, whether or not it was available when the decision of the chief officer was taken. (4) In relation to an appeal specified in the first column of Part I of Schedule 5 to this Act, the third column shows the sheriff having jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. (5) In Schedule 5 to this Act— (a) Part II shall have effect in relation to appeals to the Crown Court; and (a) Part III shall have affect in relation to appeals to the sheriff. (2) In Schedule 5 to the 1968 Act (provisions as to appeals), after Part II there shall be inserted— PART III APPEALS IN SCOTLAND 1. An appeal to the sheriff shall be by way of summary application. 2. An application shall be made within 21 days after the date on which the appellant has received notice of the decision of the chief officer of police in respect of which the appeal is made. 3. On the hearing of the appeal the sheriff may either dismiss the appeal or give the chief officer of police such directions as he thinks fit as respects the certificate or register which is the subject of the appeal. 4. The decision of the sheriff on an appeal may be appealed only on a point of law." "). The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 80. Both amendments deal with the important issue of appeals procedures. It is right that I should explain briefly to the House the background to the amendments which seek to lay down a procedure for appeals against various decisions by chief constables under the firearms legislation. As noble Lords will recall, Lord Cullen made a number of important observations on appeals against these decisions. I shall describe in outline what the main recommendation was and how the Government propose to respond to it.

At the outset the Government accepted Lord Cullen's recommendation that consideration be given to reform of the appeal arrangements. In the event this turned out not to be a straightforward task. Case law on appeals has developed over the years, and despite the fact that the statutory provisions for Scotland and for England and Wales are similar it has developed in different ways. Partly because of that, I suspect, Lord Cullen's report did not give a clear blueprint for action but recommended that detailed consideration be given to the matter.

The Government continued with the consideration after the announcement of their response. In December the view was reached that it was important to consult with those most knowledgeable about, and interested in, the appeals procedures, including members of the judiciary, the legal profession, the police and shooting organisations. Conscious that we were initiating consultation just before Christmas, we thought it right, despite the urgency of the matter, to give consultees approximately one month to respond. We asked for their replies by 23rd January and since then a great deal of work has gone into considering the replies and the implications arising from them for statutory change. It is a matter of regret, for which I apologise to the House, that the drafting of the amendments could not be completed in time to give your Lordships' House the normal period between the tabling of the amendments and today's debate.

Perhaps it might assist the House if I remind noble Lords that at paragraph 8.119 of his report Lord Cullen said that consideration should be given to reforming the scope for appeal against decisions of the chief officer of police, by restricting it to enumerated grounds which do not trench on the exercise of his discretion.

In the course of his inquiry, Lord Cullen looked with great care at the way in which firearms appeals are currently conducted. He highlighted uncertainty in Scotland about key questions—in particular whether the sheriff on appeal could effectively hear the case afresh or whether (as had earlier been the understanding) he could only interfere with the decision of a chief officer of police if he were persuaded that it was a capricious or arbitrary exercise of his discretion. Lord Cullen also highlighted diverging approaches between Scotland on the one hand and England and Wales on the other hand, to which I have already referred.

Lord Cullen addressed the issue as to whether an appeal should amount to a rehearing of the application that had been refused or revocation of a certificate. In his report at paragraph 8.117, he said: It is to my mind strange that, when so much importance attaches—and rightly so—to the responsibility of the police and in particular the decision-maker, that a court of law should take on the responsibility of discharging that function in deciding an application or a question of revocation…While cases may occur in which a chief officer of police proceeds on what turns out to be incorrect information or mistaken view of the law, the core of his function is the exercise of his judgment. At paragraph 8.119, Lord Cullen concluded that the appropriate approach was, to recognise the discretion of the chief officer of police, retain the courts as the avenue for appeal, and limit the scope of appeal to enumerated grounds which between them should cover the areas in which there should be room left for appeal. Lord Cullen then drew attention to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1968 and the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 which contained provisions which in his view seemed to form a model for putting that approach into practice.

The initial view of the Government was that Lord Cullen's approach seemed eminently sensible. But detailed consideration of what he recommended, both in the light of the consultation which we carried out, and, more particularly, in the light of the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, revealed that we could not safely proceed in that way without risking a violation of Article 6 of the convention. Article 6(1) requires independent judicial determination when somebody's civil rights are being affected by a decision. Our view, having considered the points made in consultation, is that the procedure for decisions by the chief constable, coupled with appeal limited to the grounds recommended by Lord Cullen, would not amount to a proper compliance with Article 6(1).

We therefore had to think long and hard about what to do in the light of the conflict between Lord Cullen's favoured approach and the terms of the European convention. We have reached the view that the best way forward is to clarify the position for appeals in both Scotland and England and Wales. We have decided essentially to include on the face of the Bill arrangements under which appeals have been made in England and Wales under the existing legislation, thus removing any uncertainty which may have affected appeals in Scotland. As Lord Cullen rightly said, that uncertainty was "clearly unsatisfactory". Accordingly, while we do not go as far as Lord Cullen favoured and to some extent recommended—indeed, we are not going as far as some noble Lords would have wished—in amending the appeals arrangements, I hope that chief constables having considered this clarification of the position will understand and respect it.

I turn briefly to the terms of the amendments themselves. Amendment No. 58 inserts a new clause into the Bill to give effect to the decisions that I have just described. The new clause replaces the existing Section 44 of the 1968 Act. It lists the various decisions by chief constables which can be subject to appeal under the Act. The list has been amended to include the new sections which the Bill seeks to insert into the 1968 Act. The new Section 44 restates the fact that in England and Wales appeals are made to the Crown Court and in Scotland to the sheriff. It provides that the court should hear a full appeal on the merits of the case. The chief constable will be able to take account of all information which is available to him in reaching his decision. The court will be able to take account of any evidence or other information then available whether or not it was available to the chief constable when the original decision was taken by him.

The amendment creates the necessary link to Schedule 5 to the 1968 Act which sets out the detailed arrangement for appeal procedures including which Scottish sheriff has jurisdiction to hear a particular appeal.

The new clause also inserts into Schedule 5 the necessary detailed arrangements for appeals in Scotland. The summary application procedure is to be used in appeals to the sheriff, as currently happens. It provides that appeals will be made within 21 days' notification of the decision appealed against. It also clarifies what the sheriff may do after hearing the appeal. He may either dismiss it or give the chief constable directions on the certificate or register which has been the subject of the appeal.

Appeals from the sheriff are allowed only on a point o law. Since the sheriff will have heard a full appeal on the merits of a specific case, it is unnecessary to have a further appeal except on points of law. Amendment No. 80 is a simple, consequential amendment which I need not go into.

I apologise for speaking at such length on the amendments. However, in view of the problems that the Government face in dealing with the detail of Lord Cullen's recommendation, and the importance of the matter to members of the shooting community and to chief constables, I thought it appropriate to set out a full explanation of what lies behind Amendment No. 58.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate can help me. I am concerned about the use of subjective criteria for determining whether someone should or should not have a firearms licence. In the case of Thomas Hamilton, the problem for the Central Scotland Police was that they had heard many what can only be described as rumours about his unsatisfactory behaviour and therefore unsuitability for a firearms licence, but they had no objective criteria. He had not committed any offences about which they knew. Therefore, they did not feel that they could refuse him a licence.

Does the amendment allow the police to refuse a firearms licence on the ground that a person is an unsavoury character? Are they able to proceed with a refusal without fear of that refusal being overturned on appeal?

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I support the noble Earl. I had similar concerns about the ability of the chief constable to take non-conviction information into consideration. That point came out in great detail in the Cullen Report.

Will the appeal procedure reflect the ability of the chief constable to consider non-conviction information?

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, on reading this Bill and, again, the 1968 and 1988 Acts, I felt that the appeals procedure in Scotland was very weak. I am glad that the amendment has been introduced.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may put a question to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. At the end of his remarks, he indicated that he hoped that chief officers of police would understand the reasons why the amendment was phrased as it is. If he will forgive my saying so, that implies that their representations to the Home Office and the Scottish Office pointed the Government in a different direction. Is that true? In other words, are the police content with the way in which the Government are proceeding?

Secondly, I wish to take up a point made a few moments ago. Let us say that the police have criminal intelligence that a man who has no previous criminal convictions has an unsatisfactory personality, or that he consorts with people so as to give rise to a belief that at some stage in the future he might behave unreasonably or irrationally. Is that enough to entitle a chief officer to turn down that person's application for a firearm licence? We should be clear on these points. There is great concern in the police service to get this matter right at this stage.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the issue of objective and subjective criteria was raised in relation to this amendment. If rumours or allegations are flying about, would it not be prudent in many cases for the police to ask for a mental health check to be carried out on an individual before they satisfy themselves that he is suitable to be awarded a firearm certificate?

Lord Annan

My Lords, I do not know any way in which this cannot be a subjective judgment. All judgments concerned with moral questions are in the end subjective. The argument of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate was perfectly valid.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I am grateful for the support that the amendment has attracted. To deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, police officers have been consulted on this matter, both in the Scottish association and the association covering England and Wales. I think that they will not be upset if I disclose that they would have preferred the approach that was clearly preferred by Lord Cullen although not specifically recommended by him. The implications of the European convention were explained to them. One of the reasons for my detailed explanation of what lies behind the amendment is so that everyone can understand why there has been this admitted change of tack.

I turn to the question of what information chief constables may take into account. It may not be helpful to look at the matter in terms of objective or subjective criteria. Chief constables are not restricted in any way in the information that they may take into account in deciding whether to grant an application or revoke a certificate. They are entitled to take into account the existence of criminal convictions; they are equally entitled to take into account evidence or information suggesting some aspect of an individual's character or behaviour which renders that person inappropriate either to obtain or retain a certificate. In other words, the information that chief constables have would not require to be necessarily admissible in law in a criminal or civil case for that information to be relevant to a chief constable's decision. His decision on an application before him has to be his own personal assessment based on information available to him, from wherever it came.

The import of the amendment, as opposed to the approach favoured by Lord Cullen, is that when the court comes to consider an appeal, the chief constable is required to lay all that information before the court to seek to justify his or her decision. Equally, the court is not limited, as in a criminal case, to receiving evidence or information that is admissible only if it complies with certain statutory provisions. Equally, the applicant or former holder of a certificate is not bound by the strict rules of admissibility of evidence. It is a full re-hearing, to be conducted by the Crown Court or sheriff court, taking into account any information, from whichever source, that any chief constable or applicant wishes to lay before it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for giving way. While he is on this point, will he say whether he would expect a chief constable to refuse a firearm certificate to someone solely on the grounds that that person had a driving conviction? I understand that a number of certificates have been refused on that ground. Perhaps my noble and learned friend will give the House some idea as to exactly where his mind is moving on this point.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I am not prepared to suggest that driving convictions would necessarily be irrelevant to an issue that a chief constable would have to decide. It would be for each chief constable to take account of a particular conviction. If it was a comparatively trivial matter, for instance a charge of careless driving, it is unlikely that it would justify action. However, I cannot exclude that possibility since something might lie behind it. For instance, a careless driving charge involving someone else which led the chief constable to believe that there was some animosity on the part of the individual and that he displayed a tendency that made him an inappropriate person to hold a firearm certificate.

It is very important that this House does not seek to limit the discretion of a chief constable as to the information and evidence of which he may take account. Parliament has laid down the decisions that have to be taken and the statutory criteria to which a chief constable must have regard. Beyond that, the matter is to be left to chief constables. I hope that those who are anxious to protect the interests of the shooting community will acknowledge that these broad appeal procedures will allow a complete and unrestricted appeal against any decision taken by a chief constable and that their interests would be adequately protected.

I should also mention the point raised by the noble Lord about medical conditions. I understand that my noble friend wrote a letter on that subject to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, dated 6th February and that a copy is in the Library or if it is not, I will ensure that a copy is placed there. The letter responds to certain points raised on Report dealing with a situation of mental illness.

Clearly it would be open to a chief constable who had a concern about that matter to ask for a medical certificate to be produced. Certain practical problems will arise in relation to that. It is no secret that some doctors have made it clear that there will be reluctance on their part to issue such certificates. However, if a doctor is prepared to do so, then no doubt such a report will be before the chief constable. If, on the other hand, the chief constable had no justification for seeking a medical report and that was the sole reason for his refusal to grant a certificate, or for revocation, then clearly the whole matter would require re-examination before the Crown Court or sheriff court. In either event I suggest that the interests of shooters would be well protected.

I am grateful for the support that these new procedures have received. I am optimistic that they will serve to promote a proper balance between the interests of public safety and of those who wish to participate in shooting.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I have one slight concern. If the police have information that was given in confidence but not anonymously, will they be able to rely upon that? Will there be any difficulty when they try to rely upon it in court?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, it is open to chief constables to rely on information which comes from any source they deem reliable and appropriate. It may be that to protect a registered informer or for some other sound operational reason a chief constable would not wish to disclose the source of that information at an appeal. A chief constable might say that he had reached the view that he was not disposed to place the information before the court. In that event it may restrict his chances of protecting the decision which he had taken and persuading the court to uphold it. But that has to be an operational matter for the chief constable.

I think that the House would be content that it should be left on that basis. We should not restrict chief constables by restricting the sources from which they can obtain information. But equally it must be for them to reach a decision as to whether they disclose the source or the information itself when the matter comes to an appeal.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6 p.m.

Clause 43 [Power of search with warrant]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 59: Page 22, line 33, after ("authority") insert ("or the Corporation of the City of London").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 [Firearm certificates relating to firearms used for target shooting]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 60 to 63: Page 23, line 6, after ("for") insert ("the grant or renewal of'). Page 23, line 7, leave out ("a"). Page 23, line 10, after ("applicant") insert ("or, as the case may be, renewed"). Page 23, line 15, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 45 [Approved rifle clubs]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 64 and 65: Page 24, line 46, leave out ("as a rifle or miniature rifle club"). Page 24, line 48, at end insert— ("(3) Any approval of a rifle or miniature rifle club or muzzle-loading pistol club under section 15 of the 1988 Act which is in force immediately before the commencement of this section shall have effect as if it were an approval under section 15 of the 1988 Act as substituted by subsection (1) above.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 46 [Coterminous pistol club licences and rifle club approvals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 66 and 67: Page 25, line 4, leave out ("an approved rifle club") and insert ("approved under section 15 above"). Page 25, line 12, leave out ("as a rifle club") and insert ("under section 15 above").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 49 [Financial provisions]:

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 50 [Interpretation and supplementary provisions]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 69: Page 26, line 19, at end insert ("or (b) an air pistol to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies and which is designed to fire .22 or smaller diameter ammunition;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 70: Page 26, line 36, at end insert— ("(7) References in the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997 to "registered post" or "recorded delivery service" shall include facsimile telecommunications transmission of which a record is kept."). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would allow the use of fax transmissions when dealers are issuing notices of transactions to customers and the police. Since some faxes do not have a system of proof of transmission, the amendment only allows the use of fax where a record is kept.

The present system is out of line with modern business practice in that it only allows dealers to use registered post or the recorded delivery service when issuing notices for transactions. That is not really appropriate nowadays, when electronic communication is such a vital part of business. The present system is also an enormous inconvenience to dealers and much less efficient than the use of a fax. For example, dealers in rural areas may have to travel miles to a post office which accepts recorded delivery. Registered post costs £3 plus postage, or £3.26 in all. But dealers normally use recorded delivery, which costs 60p plus post or 86p per notice. Dealers must also give notice to the chief officer of police who issued the certificate and so may well have to send half a dozen or more notices per day, which is unduly bureaucratic.

The use of a fax could have operational advantages because it would mean that the police would receive instant information.

For example, the use of a fax notification might well have been significant in the recent Humphrey case in which a gun was sent to an address other than that on the certificate and the police learnt of it too late.

There has been a suggestion that it is difficult adequately to define what constitutes a fax. However, BT has confirmed that "facsimile telecommunications transmission" is a proper definition. The amendment is important to the gun trade. It will save enormous cost and bureaucracy, so I commend it to your Lordships and hope that my noble friend can accept it. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend's amendment would mean that people who are required to submit notifications to the police about transactions in firearms and ammunition would be able to do so by facsimile transmission rather than by registered post or recorded delivery. Or they could if they wished continue to use these postal methods as now.

Clauses 34 and 35 of this Bill would extend and rationalise the requirement upon shooters to notify sales, transfers and disposals of firearms and ammunition to the police. There are also important requirements upon firearms dealers, set out in Sections 42 and 43 of the Firearms Act 1968, relating to notifying the police of sales and transfers.

It would clearly be of some practical value to firearms dealers, and would also be of practical value to some owners, if these notifications could be done by fax. This would echo a recommendation which was made by the Firearms Consultative Committee in its fifth annual report (1993–94).

The Government have some sympathy with this proposition. Fax messages are entirely acceptable in this day and age for routine correspondence.

But these firearms notifications do not fall into the category of routine correspondence. Failing to send them as the law requires represents a criminal offence. I fear I must report that there are important obstacles in the way of changing the law in the way my noble friend suggests.

A fax message is, of course, a copy of an original document. I regret to say that it would be quite possible for an unscrupulous individual to change the original document. They might, for instance, blank out part of the document before sending it by fax. The police, who received it, would then be quite unaware of the alteration.

The fact that a person has kept a record of having sent a particular fax would not, in law, be proof that he had sent it. Certainly there might be proof that he had sent a fax. But the important issue is what that fax contained, and there would be no proof of that.

Fax transmissions—unlike recorded delivery and registered post—are not what the law regards as provable documents. It is in the interests both of public safety—which benefits from the proper recording of firearm transactions—and of firearm owners themselves that these communications should be made in provable form, even though this might involve some minor inconvenience.

There are substantial problems standing in the way of what otherwise is a sensible idea put forward by my noble friend. I hope he will accept the difficulties and will not press his amendment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I have no intention of pressing the amendment. Inspiration has reached me from another part of your Lordships' House to the effect that police can acknowledge these documents by fax. I assume that to be so. However, it is not what the amendment was aimed at. In view of what my noble friend said, I cannot say that I am happy to withdraw the amendment; I withdraw it reluctantly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 71: After Clause 50, insert the following new clause— POWER TO MAKE TRANSITIONAL, CONSEQUENTIAL ETC. PROVISIONS.

  1. (".—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such transitional and consequential provisions and such savings as he considers necessary or expedient in preparation for, in connection with, or in consequence of—
    1. (a) the coming into force of any provision of this Act; or
    2. (b) the operation of any enactment repealed or amended by a provision of this Act during any period when the repeal or amendment is not wholly in force.
  2. (2) Regulations under this section may make modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act.
  3. 171
  4. (3) The power to make regulations under subsection (2) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the proposed new clause would give the Secretary of State power to make regulations in order to cover such transitional and consequential provisions as he considers necessary as a result of the passing of the Bill.

We believe that such a provision is necessary to ensure that the Secretary of State of the day is able to correct any unforeseen anomalies which may arise as a result of the speedy passage of the Bill. I must emphasise that this would be only a safeguarding provision and would only cover unforeseen circumstances arising from the implementation of this Bill as it relates to transitional arrangements.

The chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has been consulted about this power. He has written to confirm that he can see no reason to object to it as long as the power is confined to transitional arrangements only, which is the effect of my amendment.

It is not an unprecedented measure. For example, under the Friendly Societies Act 1992 and the Reserve Forces Act 1996, regulations made under subsection (2) must be made for the purposes authorised by subsection (1). That is in connection with or in consequence of provisions already in the Act or repealed by the Act. They cannot introduce areas of policy not addressed by the Act, nor can they be used to amend enactments unrelated to the Act. I beg to move.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, I am concerned about the clause. It seems to me to be the most blatant form of Henry VIII clause that we have had for a long time. Earlier, in reply to my noble friend Lord Pearson, the Minister said that there was no power under the clause for him to bring about a change extending the range of guns. I find it difficult because subsection (1) of the new clause says that: The Secretary of State may by regulations make such transitional and consequential provisions and such savings as he considers necessary or expedient in preparation for, in connection with, or in consequence of"— certain matters. Subsection (2) is in no way qualified and states that: Regulations under this section may make modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act". My noble friend suggested that that must be limited to those provisions which are: transitional and consequential…and such savings as he considers necessary or expedient". Even if that were so, it would give a tremendous range for bringing in amendments. There is no reason at all why the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Pearson should not be brought into that. Certainly it would be, "transitional and consequential" and could come in under that Act. But I do not accept that subsection (2), which is in no way qualified by the "transitional and consequential provisions" and so on, does not enable: modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act". I ask my noble friend to give further consideration to this clause which is extremely dangerous and is offensive in so many ways by introducing a Henry VIII measure.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am glad to see a former chairman of the National Westminster Bank rise to object to something which appears to have been approved by the current chairman.

I have concerns about the amendment as well. I consulted the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who I think would generally be known as the Icing of Henry VIII clauses—he apologises for the fact that he has had to leave the Chamber—and he shares my concerns and those of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman. In introducing the amendment, the Minister spoke about "unforeseen circumstances". The phrase "unforeseen circumstances" does not appear in the clause. As the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, said, it says: as he considers necessary or expedient in preparation for"— which is transitional— in connection with, or in consequence of … the coming into force of … this Act; or … the operation of [the Act]". Even though I understand that subsection (2) is restricted to the provisions of subsection (1) by the phrase "under this section", there is nevertheless a lot of freedom there. For example, I put to the Minister that, if a Labour Secretary of State were to conduct an inquiry which would show him or her that there was a case for banning handguns altogether rather than exempting small calibre pistols, that would be: in connection with, or in consequence or the operation of the Act and related Acts. Under this clause, could he not impose a total ban on handguns by regulation, subject only to the negative procedure? The Government should think about this amendment and consider whether it might work against their intentions as well as in support of them.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, suggested that I refer to the transitional provisions of the Child Support Act. A number of assessments were made which had statutory force and which were then overturned by transitional powers because they were unjust. There was no division against that, because it was felt that an injustice was being remedied. Nevertheless, statutory powers were being overturned by regulation in that case.

Finally, there is something very wrong about introducing a new clause to provide "transitional and consequential provisions" at Third Reading, when the Bill is in the second House. I know that the Government consulted the chairman of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. But this is a matter which ought to have been considered—I say that with due respect to its eminent chairman—by the committee as a whole and reported to the House in writing, as are all other decisions.

I suspect that the right thing to do is for the clause to be agreed so that the Government can think about it and if necessary amend it when the Bill goes back to the other place. If the clause were to be rejected, there would be no "transitional or consequential provisions". I hope that the Minister, in responding to this short debate, will acknowledge the force of what has been said and indicate a willingness to look again at the wording of the new clause when the matter goes back to the other place.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is quite right to show concern about this clause, as did my noble friend Lord Boardman. We need to look at the very wide discretion given by the clause. It is not only what the Secretary of State considers "necessary", but also what he considers "expedient", which can be dealt with. It is not only: in preparation for … or in consequence of … the coming into force … of this Act but also "in connection with" it, and that is somewhat broad.

But I wish to comfort in two ways the noble Lords who expressed anxiety. The original Henry VIII clauses were complained of in quite recent years in both Houses of Parliament because they were not subject to any parliamentary control. But this provision is subject to two forms of control in your Lordships' House. First, there has to be a statutory instrument subject to annulment by Parliament. Both Houses of Parliament have that opportunity. We hope that your Lordships' House will not follow too closely the ancient custom of simply nodding approval to statutory instruments.

Secondly, thanks to the initiative of my late friend Lord Rippon of Hexham, whose departure we all so much regret, we now have the scrutiny committee of your Lordships' House to consider these matters, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and others. That is good. It already does very important work and will no doubt be vigilant as regards any measure which came before it under this proposed new clause.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee does not scrutinise all secondary legislation. It only scrutinises delegated powers provided for in primary legislation. This Bill, once enacted, will no longer be within the remit of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Renton

My Lords, that has been its practice so far, but I understand that it does have power to draw attention to secondary legislation which seems to go too far and which seems to go beyond the powers offered by Parliament. I may be wrong about that, but such is my recollection.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord sits down again, I confirm that that is so, but only for the secondary legislation which is provided for under the deregulation Bill and not generally.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, surely secondary legislation and statutory instruments are the problems of the Joint Statutory Instruments Committee.

I am grateful for the advice of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on what we should do with this amendment; in other words, give the other place an opportunity to look at the matter. The great British public probably thought that the Government had presented to Parliament a properly drafted Bill which would not have such minefields and loopholes. The noble Baroness practically admitted that the Bill will contain them.

We have not made the Bill very much more complicated by our amendments, because not many of them were carried. My main concern is not with the little difficulties that may occur and the need for transitional and consequential provisions. The real problem will occur when we find that there is a huge loophole which can only be corrected by primary legislation.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I wish to say only a few words on this matter. My conclusion is exactly the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I believe that it would he wrong of us to reject the amendment because were that to happen the matter could not be considered by the other place when it reviews the amendments made by this House.

Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I profoundly regret the fact that the amendment was tabled for consideration only at Third Reading. I too have the highest regard for the chairman of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, but this matter should have been reviewed by the committee and could have been if the amendment had been tabled earlier. Having said that, I repeat that I am not opposed to the amendment because I think transitional provisions are necessary, but I regret the fact that it has been put down so late.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I wonder whether I can take very slight issue with something that my noble friend Lord Renton said when he suggested that your Lordships' House would be able to have a proper look at anything that the Secretary of State might dream up over the next few years under this clause. There is a very unfortunate tradition that we do not vote on instruments of that kind, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in a recent debate achieved the unanimous consent of the House that we could. I am not sure it is such a very ancient tradition. My understanding is that it is a tradition which came in for the convenience of the Whips in 1979. I think it is high time it was removed; but that is not the object of my intervention on this occasion.

Subsection (2) of this unfortunate clause says regulations under this section may make modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act", a point made by my noble friend Lord Boardman. Can I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench to concentrate on the words "in any other Act"? What other Acts do the Government have in mind?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, this is a very important amendment and I intend to say a few words about it. I am extremely suspicious of an amendment which comes before us at the end of a Bill which has been through the House of Commons and through all its stages in this House.

I am suspicious of it for two reasons. First, it seems to show that this Bill, as so many of us have said, has been drafted in haste. In other words, it has not been properly thought out. Had it been properly thought out and had this clause been necessary, then it would have been in the original Bill. But here we find, at the end of what the Government say is a well thought out Bill, a very important clause which clearly had not been thought of at the beginning nor at any stage in its passage through the House of Commons or in this House.

As has already been said by a number of people, the clause is not subject to the affirmative procedure, it is subject to annulment. Anybody who has been in the House of Commons knows perfectly well that it is very difficult to have a debate on this procedure. It is necessary either for the Opposition Front Bench to be in favour of any move to annul or for there to be a considerable number of signatures on the Order Paper. That, again, is why I am suspicious of this particular procedure.

On this occasion I will take the advice of my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I notice he is aghast at that, but it is nice to conclude the Bill on the basis that for the first time during its passage I am able to accept his advice. I hope it will prove to be very sound and will be taken by the House of Commons.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, first I apologise unreservedly for the bringing forward of this amendment so late in the Bill. Can I also say to all noble Lords who have expressed concerns—my noble friend Lord Boardman and noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and others—that I understand them, certainly in the context in which they have been expressed by the noble Lords. I hope in a few minutes to be able to allay some of those fears. I should like to accept the advice proffered by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in this instance that we pass this amendment today because I believe there are good reasons for it. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has hinted that he believes so too. I can give an assurance that we shall continue to talk with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who is the chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, and I shall ask my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to continue to give thought to this to ensure that all the concerns expressed by noble Lords in this House are addressed and, if necessary, that the wording may be changed in another place, although I believe at this moment that that will not be necessary.

A very real constraint is that subsection (2), if read as a free standing subsection is worrying, but it is limited to transitional or consequential matters because of what it says in subsection (1). It cannot be read in isolation from subsection (1). My noble friend Lord Pearson was also concerned about the use of Subsection (2). It would only refer to any other enactment in so far as it affects the transitional arrangements and consequences of implementing the measures of this Act—that would be the constraint—and the measures as set out in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Renton offered two reasons why he thought people should feel less worried about this. But I proffer to my noble friend a third reason. The constraint is that the exercise of this power must arise from transitional arrangements and consequences of implementing the measures which are determined in the Bill. I say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that the amendment would not allow the purpose of the Bill to be changed. Regulations have to be consequential and they have to be transitional. If I can give examples: transitional arrangements for establishing a new licence to pistol clubs; or the change from the old to the new requirement for a firearm certificate.

My noble friend Lord Renton was right when he made the point that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments also scrutinises all delegated legislation to ensure that very point—that the powers are not abused. Therefore, if there was any hint whatsoever of a future Secretary of State wishing to use his powers rather more widely than they are set out in this amendment, that would be considered an abuse of the Secretary of State's powers and that would be reported to both Houses. So I believe all the safeguards are there. If I could read from a section of the letter which I received, signed by Dr. Tudor on behalf of my noble friend Lord Alexander, The Chairman has, however, asked me to say that the Committee's report on the Bill (a copy of which I attach) drew attention to the absence of any transitional provision in relation to what was then Clause 17 of the Bill. (That clause has of course now been amended in a way which would meet the Committee's specific concern.) In the light of the Committee's earlier concern"— this is important— and provided that the new power is limited to transitional and consequential provisions, the Chairman sees no reason to object to the amendment which you [i.e. the Government] propose. He also considers that the negative resolution procedure is appropriate". The amendment is here. The power is there for the Secretary of State so that when the transitional arrangements are made if there is some point that has not been foreseen it would be possible for the Secretary of State to have a remedy to put it right—and the power of course would have to be consistent with transitional arrangements—rather than hold up a scheme where he would have to wait for amendment of primary legislation in order to act.

I hope with those assurances, and taking the advice of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that this House passes this measure. We will continue to look very carefully at it and at what has been said about it in this place.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Transitional arrangements for small-calibre pistols]:

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 72 to 77: Page 28, line 7, leave out ("purchased or acquired") and insert ("contracted to acquire"). Page 28, line 15, at end insert— ("( ) Sub-paragraph (1) above applies to a pistol which a person has (before the appointed day) contracted to acquire if it is delivered to any designated police station as soon as reasonably practicable after it comes into his possession."). Page 28, line 36, leave out ("at a designated police station") and insert ("in police custody"). Page 28, line 38, after ("station") insert ("to which it was delivered under paragraph 2 above"). Page 28, line 40, leave out from ("writing") to end of line 41 and insert ("for the release of the pistol to the chief officer of police for the area in which the designated police station to which it was delivered under paragraph 2 above is situated"). Page 29, line 4, leave out ("which is"). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these amendments were spoken to earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Consequential and minor amendments]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 78 to 81: Page 30, line 41, leave out ("32(2)"). Page 32, leave out line 15 and insert ("information comprised in that register in a visible and legible form)"; and"). Page 32, leave out lines 21 to 23. Page 33, line 28, at end insert— (" 21. In section 22(1)(c) (firearms consultative committee), for the words "the principal Act, the Firearms Act 1982 and this Act" there shall be substituted the words "the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997" ."). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. The first anniversary of the Dunblane tragedy will be in four weeks' time. On 13th March 1996 Thomas Hamilton entered a primary school in that town and fired 105 rounds of ammunition killing 16 children and their teacher and wounding a number of others. He had with him four high calibre handguns and 743 rounds, all of which he was legally entitled to hold. Lord Cullen's inquiry into the incident produced 23 recommendations on the control of firearms, which the Government have accepted, and one recommendation restricting the availability of self-loading handguns. Twelve of the recommendations are being implemented by administrative means; the remaining 11 are included in the Bill.

Recommendation 22 invited the Government to consult with interested groups about the proposal by the Association of Police Surgeons that a forensic medical examiner might consider the medical history of a person applying for a firearm certificate, that history having been provided by the applicant's doctor.

We have duly consulted the Association of Chief Police Officers, the BMA and the British Shooting Sports Council, but none has given any support for it. Indeed, they have drawn attention to various practical or ethical difficulties. The Association of Police Surgeons has since withdrawn its proposals in the light of the lack of support from other parts of the medical profession. In the light of those responses we do not propose to take the matter further. I am grateful to the Association of Police Surgeons for its contribution to the general concerns that Lord Cullen addressed.

Turning to the subject of disassembly which now forms the new Clause 10 of the Bill, Lord Cullen, in his recommendation 24, invited the Government to consider the separate storage of component parts of handguns. This was debated at great length in the House, and the technical arguments for and against disassembly have been well rehearsed. The Government remain unconvinced that disassembly would provide sufficient assurance against the possible misuse of a pistol by a determined individual. The issue will be re-examined in another place.

Two clauses, Clauses 17 and 19, have been added to extend the compensation arrangements beyond the Government's commitment to compensate people for their surrendered prohibited handguns and ancillary equipment. The impact of those amendments will also need to be re-examined in another place.

The Bill is an important further step in providing the public with reassurances about the presence of handguns in the community. It will ban high calibre handguns and will introduce tight controls over the procurement, ownership, storage, use and disposal of the small calibre pistols that may continue to be used for the sport of target shooting.

The Government have an onerous duty to consider the extent of the controls necessary on the ownership and possession of handguns. Taking account of Lord Cullen's findings, we have set out in the Bill the way in which the Government believe that his objective of strict control on access to handguns can most effectively be achieved. As a result of today's debates, there will be further consideration of the issue of a probationary period of membership of clubs which was raised in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

During the passage of the Bill I have been sustained and helped greatly by my noble friends, particularly my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay but also my noble friend Lord Courtown who has worn out much shoe leather to-ing and fro-ing energetically on my behalf, and by the good humour which characterises our debates. My thanks go to the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for their courtesy throughout the debates on the Bill. The Government have been guided throughout the consideration of the Bill by the need to provide the public with the necessary protection it deserves. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is customary for the principal Opposition spokesman to speak first on these occasions, but really I do not consider myself to have been the principal Opposition spokesman. As the House and the country know, we in the Labour Party have been enthusiastic supporters of the Bill. We believe that, fundamentally, the balance has to be made between everything that can possibly be done to protect public safety, not just in the light of the terrible events of Dunblane but in the light of experience over many years in many countries of the dangers of too free an availability of handguns and the dangers of homicide, with the relatively free availability of handguns. We believe that the balance has to be drawn on the side of public safety.

We disagreed on the question of a total ban on small calibre pistols but I believe that it is not a fundamental disagreement. I share the view of those who are more opposed to the Bill than I am that in practice a large number of .22 weapons will not survive because there will not be suitably secure gun clubs for them. The Minister referred to the regulations for the procurement, ownership, storage, use and disposal of small calibre pistols. That emphasises the complications into which the Government have got themselves by rejecting the total ban which we proposed.

We have had a free vote on the matter. My noble friend Lord Stoddart has been doughty in his root and branch opposition to the Bill and has had some modest support from our Benches. However, I think the Government will recognise that, on the whole, my noble friends have followed my advice—it was no more than that—and have sustained the Government, whenever possible, in the Division Lobby. It has only caused some shock to some of my noble friends that even when we vote with the Government we still lose. But perhaps that is a unique and unfortunate experience.

We wish the Bill well. We sincerely hope that if and when another place rejects the amendments which have been carried against the Government that is the last we shall hear of it and that there will be no last ditch attempt to weaken the provisions of the Bill. If there were, it would call into question the composition as well as the powers of this House.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, as someone who lives a few miles from Dunblane I came down here to represent the view that we are fed up with handguns and want no more to do with them. I came here to seek a complete ban and to ally that with fair compensation. What have we achieved? We have certainly achieved a partial ban and we appear to have achieved fair compensation, although there is a threat that it may be withdrawn.

It is important that by 13th March whatever Bill we are going to have should be on the statute book. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for their forbearance during the passage of this difficult Bill when they were being encouraged by people like me to go one way and by their noble friends to go the other way. I wish the Bill well.

Lord Renton

My Lords, many years ago I piloted through Parliament a short firearms Act. I therefore wish to say a few words on the Bill. That Act created a new offence of possessing a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. This Bill seems a very big but logical sequel. Although the Government have had to rush the Bill through and although it will cost the taxpayer a great deal of money in compensation, they deserve credit, as do those members of the Opposition who have supported it, for the broad intention behind it. I know that it goes much further than was expected, but we should remember that firearms legislation has always been difficult to enforce.

I know from my own long experience that the police and magistrates have always done their best to enforce the law, but there have always been illegally held firearms of various kinds in the hands of dangerous people. As a result, lives have been taken not only on the scale of Hungerford and Dunblane but in the course of many burglaries and other violent crimes.

By greatly reducing the total number of firearms in circulation, this Bill should substantially reduce the number of lives lost by the aggressive use of firearms. But that depends on enforcement. The police will need the co-operation of the public, especially those members of it who have written to us in such large numbers about this Bill.

I conclude by saying two things. I have no hope of finding time—I do not suppose other noble Lords will, either—to reply to the vast number of letters I have received. I hope that we will be forgiven for that. This is a difficult Bill technically and it is also controversial. My noble friend Lady Blatch deserves great credit for her achievement in piloting this Bill.

Earl Peel

My Lords, this has not been an easy Bill for any of us, least of all for the Government and in particular for my noble friend. I reiterate the words of my noble friend Lord Renton.

I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that he found that there was not a fundamental disagreement between himself and my noble friend. I find that quite astonishing. There is an enormous difference between what the noble Lord and his party have been saying about this Bill and what my noble friend and this side of the House have been saying. If the noble Lord's ideas had been implemented there would have been no .22 rimfire shooting whatsoever and a great swathe of people would have been prevented from participating in a sport which, under this Bill, at least they will still be allowed to enjoy. That is a very important point.

The next point is the question of disassembly. Noble Lords will no doubt recall that at Committee stage my noble friend Lord Swansea tabled an amendment which would have referred disassembly to a Select Committee. We debated that matter and it was suggested that that would not be an appropriate course of action. My noble friend did not divide the Committee on that amendment and accepted the advice that he had been given. My noble friend on the Front Bench said that she thought it quite appropriate that this House should discuss very carefully the question of disassembly and that we were qualified and competent to deal with the matter.

I am sure that noble Lords will recall that we discussed the issue twice, once at Committee stage and again at Report stage. Ultimately, my noble friend Lord Pearson divided the House and his amendment was carried. So I say to my noble friend that we did look very carefully at the issues, debated and voted on them. The amendment was carried. I hope that the message will go to the other place loud and clear.

I moved an amendment and divided the House on the question of a firearms control board, but I was not successful. But there was one very important point about which I expressed my concern at the time, and I am still concerned about it. It is the question of a fair and competent means by which the police will assess whether an applicant is an appropriate person to receive a licence. I was extremely disappointed by the response I received from my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate.

I say to the Government now, please ensure that we have a fairer and more competent system. I say that because we must ensure that wherever possible we reduce the possibility of another Dunblane. Unless that matter is looked at seriously there is a danger—there is always a danger. We must reduce the possibility of another Dunblane and that is one sure way of doing it.

Perhaps I may make reference to comments which have been made in this House and elsewhere on the role that hereditary Peers have played in this particular Bill. If one analyses the voting patterns, it is interesting to note that without the support of Labour Peers—in particular that of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, whose contribution has been quite extraordinary—and also the support of the Liberal Democrat Peers, the amendments on compensation would never have been carried. So it is not just a question of the involvement of hereditary Peers because the mathematics show quite clearly that Labour and Liberal Democratic Peers helped to carry those amendments. The Labour Party complains when the Government win with the help of the hereditary Peers; now they must accept the fact that the Government have lost with the help of the hereditary Peers.

I believe that this House has done itself a service. It has looked at this Bill very carefully and the strength and independence of this House have come through. We have done our job properly and I hope that that will he reflected.

I finish simply by saying to my noble friend yet again how grateful I am for all the help that she has given me personally on this Bill, difficult though it has been.

6.45 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I believe that your Lordships' House has done excellent work with this Bill. We were told that we would be damned if we did something with it and that we would be damned if we did not. Personally, I would rather be damned for doing something than to be damned for not doing anything at all.

The Bill came to us in a completely impractical and unworkable form, but our relaxed procedures have allowed us to work on it and to improve it in many ways. As I have previously observed, the Bill, as originally drafted, would have practically eliminated the sport of target pistol shooting while providing a negligible increase in public safety. I therefore take issue with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I do not believe that the Bill does very much to improve public safety. However, with our amendments, the Bill will not now be quite so draconian.

This House is blessed with many highly regarded Ministers, and the noble Baroness is no exception. We have given her a terrible time: our intellectual challenges were hard to resist and many of them were accepted by the House. However, I believe that it is extremely unfair on the noble Baroness and her department to have to pilot several very difficult Bills through this House at the same time. As a result I sometimes wonder whether Home Office Ministers generally have as good an understanding of specific issues as they might. That observation applies not only to this Bill but just as much to others.

We have successfully provided for the disassembly of .22 pistols which, as well as allowing some sport to continue, will increase public safety. However, another place has now been given the opportunity to strike a balance between the cost of compensation if it does not open up our disassembly amendment and the perceived risk to public safety if it does. I contend that the increased risk to public safety—if there is one at all—is negligible in comparison with the risks from other types of guns and illegal weapons.

We remember the excellent work of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the success that he had with his amendment concerning information technology and databases. After all, we are here because one police force totally failed to administer properly the firearms law within its area. It is unfortunate that we did not make much progress with the control board amendment, especially when the Government's argument was so weak.

We have improved the compensation arrangements which provide some comfort to those who will be penalised under the Bill. I am not sure for how long those amendments will last in another place, especially in view of the comments of the noble Baroness. Attention has been focused on pistols, but one of my concerns is that the greater danger lies with shotguns. We have not even finished all the stages of this Bill, and yet last weekend in New Zealand there was a disaster in which six people were killed with a shotgun.

Despite our best efforts the Bill has problems. For example, as part of the knee-jerk reaction expanding bullets were identified as a problem and were banned. Unfortunately, my technical advisers, who are as good as those of the Minister, tell me that this policy gives rise to a problem. An expanding bullet will not penetrate a policeman's body armour; it will first disintegrate. However, a high velocity jacketed bullet is very likely to penetrate body armour. One also knows that the legislation is full of loopholes, ambiguities and anomalies. This branch of the law has acquired a Byzantine complexity. Even worse, some of the provisions are open to challenge in Europe. The amendments agreed to at Third Reading may help to deal with minor matters, but there are big loopholes in relation to major matters and primary legislation will be required. I am sure that the Bill will encounter big problems.

We have been subjected to press comment that we represent no one but ourselves, but it is apparent from a recent MORI poll that public opinion is evenly divided. Over 1,000 people were asked whether they would still support the change in the law if each taxpayer had to pay £40 to fund it. Forty eight per cent. responded that they would support the Bill and 47 per cent. said that they would not. Five per cent. said that they did not know. It is hard to understand how the Bill's extremely poor cost benefit analysis can be justified.

As to the future of the Bill, I would be content to accept any message from the other place with one very important proviso. The other place must properly debate our amendments when they do not infringe its privilege on money matters. I do not say that because of the gentle threat that emanated from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but because we must concentrate the minds of the other place and not allow it to dodge the issue. It must decide the matter for itself.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the courtesy with which this debate has been carried out. That is true. With her patience she has been instrumental in bringing that about. I am sure that all of us who have taken part in the debate will thank her for that. It is remarkable that the debate has been so good natured. We have been talking not only about the loss of a sport enjoyed by tens of thousands of people but also the livelihoods of many thousands of people who are employed in this activity. Bearing in mind those facts, the House is to be congratulated on discussing this Bill in such a calm and good-humoured way. It says a lot for the House and its procedures that it has been able to do so.

Two thousand five hundred years ago Pericles said that the worst thing to do was to rush into action before the consequences had been properly debated. That wise dictum was ignored by Her Majesty's Government. As a result, in my view we have a thoroughly bad Bill. Why do I say that? Following Dunblane, the Government set up the Cullen Inquiry to examine what had happened and what was to be done. But they refused to allow this House, another place or the country to debate that Bill. That was where the mistake arose. For that reason the Government would have been much wiser to follow the dictum of Pericles. They could have had a widespread debate in Parliament and out in the country before action was taken to draft the Bill. The Government acted before the consequences had been properly debated without a proper opportunity for consultation with those affected, let alone to receive representations from those affected, in the light of the Cullen Report and the public and parliamentary debate that should have taken place on it. Statesmanship demands careful consideration of the effects of action, including legislative action. Failure to understand that gives rise to very baleful consequences and often grave injustice. That is precisely what has happened in the case of this Bill.

The death toll and the manner of the killings in Dunblane were dreadful. It was a dreadful tragedy. But we must return again and again to a point that has been made so often in this debate and elsewhere: it was the action of a madman that killed those poor little children and their teacher. Guns were merely the instrument. On 16th December I said that 26 children were killed and 500 injured every month on the roads. I should like to develop that. Since the 16th December when this Bill was debated on Second Reading 500 people have been killed and 8,500 people have been injured on the roads. In spite of that the Government are considering increasing the weight of lorries from 38 to 44 tonnes. That will not decrease but increase deaths on the road. The Government should consider that very seriously. What they are saying is that whereas in one instance where innocent people are killed they will take such action as they believe will prevent it, in another instance they will take action that will exacerbate it.

This is a thoroughly bad Bill. I hope that the Commons will take note of what has been done in this House, which has undoubtedly improved the Bill. But I say to those who will be affected—like other noble Lords, I have received hundreds of letters to which I cannot reply but for which I am extremely grateful—that a Bill that is passed into law can also he repealed. So when they feel, as they will feel, a continued injustice, they should not lie down under that injustice, they should continue to fight against it until they can have it put right. That is what parliamentary government is all about. They, like other people, should fight their corner; and, eventually, if they are right, they will prove their point. My confidence in democracy is such that I believe that in the end they will win.

7 p.m.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, reminded us that our House is a revising Chamber. We have done our best through the passage of the Bill to make it a bit more comfortable to live with, although we have not been able to stop the main thrust of the Bill. We are grateful to the Government for having taken note of the points that have been raised at previous stages. I must express my appreciation to my noble friend the Minister for the nice and charming way in which she has dealt with the Bill. I do not blame her for the Bill. She was only doing what she was told to do by her superiors. The advice she was given was often wrong in our eyes, but she did very well.

That does not alter the fact that this is a thoroughly bad Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. It will not improve public safety one iota. If the Government and the Opposition want to improve public safety, they had better turn their attention to the vast reservoir of weapons held illegally by the criminal element. Public safety would be improved if that were eliminated. To take these weapons out of the hands of law abiding people and to destroy them, to deprive them of their recreation, and to ruin our chances in international competition, is a different matter altogether. That is what the Government have done in the Bill. I shall end now as I ended my speech on Second Reading: when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Blatch said two rather interesting things in her opening remarks when she suggested that the Bill should now pass. First, she said that the Government remain unconvinced about the disassembly or segregation amendments that your Lordships passed. I have to say that I think she really meant that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is unconvinced. I fear that the Cabinet is guilty of giving in to his special pleading. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister to suggest to her right honourable friends in the Cabinet that when they come to consider our amendments, they must deal with the fact that the public is much safer under our disassembly amendment with guns segregated, than they will be with arsenals of weapons all over the country.

That is why I find another thing my noble friend said strange. She said that the Bill would provide the public with the reassurance that it deserves. This Bill should not provide any such reassurance. I cannot see why it is likely to save a single life; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and other noble Lords have said, it will ruin thousands of small businesses; it will deprive thousands of people of their hobby; and, worst of all, I fear that it certainly will not prevent another Dunblane. I say that because—to repeat—it penalises the instrument used in that terrible tragedy, but that instrument was not its cause.

This Bill does little new for the cause, it will merely tighten up the existing procedures which failed at Dunblane with such tragic results. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that the Labour Party supports the Bill. So I have another question for the Minister which I should be grateful if she would pass on to her right honourable friends in the Cabinet. When will they come to realise that when they carry legislation in your Lordships' House with the support of the Benches opposite, they are likely to be wrong?

Lord Mottistone


Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, certainly. In my brief six years' experience, it is certainly. Of course my sympathy goes out to my noble friend the Minister. She has done her courteous best with an extremely bad Bill. For myself, I have to confess to a feeling of shame for having had anything at all to do with it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, enlarge briefly upon a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Not only did the support of noble Lords on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches enable us to win the compensation amendment, without the support of courageous Labour Peers, Liberal Democrats, and a right reverend Prelate, we should not have won the disassembly amendment either. Perhaps I, too, may pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Minister for her patience, stamina, good humour and willingness to listen carefully to opposing points of view, even if ultimately those opposing points of view were rarely accommodated. That is not to say that we are not extremely grateful for the rare concessions made.

As the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, reminded us, it is a bad Bill. The overwhelming feeling in the House at Second Reading, and not only in the House, was that it was a bad Bill for many reasons already set out by a number of noble Lords. The amendments passed by your Lordships make it a somewhat less bad Bill. I trust that common sense and a sense of fair play will prevail in the other place when the Bill returns to it, and that our amendments will be accepted. I said common sense and a sense of fair play: common sense, because disassembly is a safer option as well as being cheaper for the taxpayer.

Mass produced repeating pistols have been around for about 140 years (five generations). From that, one can calculate that the statistical chances of being murdered by a psychopath with a legally held pistol are already thankfully extremely low at about 15 million:1. The Bill as drafted might reduce that to, let us say, 20 million:1, but disassembly, I submit, might very well reduce it substantially further to 30 million:1, given that there would then be no complete fully assembled legal pistols to steal.

Now to the question of fair play which in this context means fair compensation for clubs, associations and businesses. It has been argued that where businesses lose money because of some vital new safety consideration, compensation is not normally paid. But in reality the Bill has very little to do with public safety and everything to do with public relations. It could be compared with the slaughter, without any scientific justification, of hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy British cattle, not for genuine safety reasons but in order to appease hypochondriac German and other continental consumers. Generous compensation has rightly been granted not just to dairy farmers and those with beef herds but to others such as renderers. One trusts that the other place will agree, in logic and fairness, that the same principle should apply to gun clubs, dealers and manufacturers.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, I should like to add just one or two further points. First, whatever decision another place comes to, I hope that we, too, will agree to it. I should not like the Bill, through some disagreement between the two Houses, to fail. That would be a disaster. I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for all the courtesy that she has shown to me during the course of the Bill. I have one last request, but I do not know how it can be done. If the Bill becomes an Act, would it be possible for this Government or the next government to consider consolidating the legislation from 1968 right up to date, because there is hardly one section in any Act that has not been amended? It is extremely difficult to follow the technicalities of what the law is supposed to be.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall answer two questions. Yes, we will consider consolidation. That was an important point raised by my noble friend Lord Balfour. Secondly, I say to my noble friend Lord Pearson that all Members in another place will read with interest what has been said today. I always report back to my right honourable friend at the conclusion of the passage of any Bill with which I am involved.

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