HL Deb 21 January 1997 vol 577 cc643-68

8.41 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Marlesford had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 66: Before Clause 34, insert the following new clause—


("—(1) There shall be established a central register of all persons to whom a shot gun or firearm certificate has been issued.

(2) The register shall—

  1. (a) record the National Insurance number of the person to whom the certificate is issued; and
  2. (b) provide access on-line to all police forces and other agencies with access to the National Police Computer including, for those persons convicted of an offence for which a custodial sentence has been imposed, the prison authorities.

(3) The Secretary of State may direct that those persons who apply for a shot gun or firearm certificate before they are eligible to be issued with a National Insurance number shall be issued with such a number for the purposes of subsection (2).").

The noble Lord said: I shall not move the amendment but I wish to give notice that I shall retable it at Report.

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

Clause 34 [Power of search with warrant]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 67: Page 17, line 42, leave out ("a") and insert ("an immediate").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 68. Yesterday this House voted overwhelmingly for civil liberties. This evening, albeit in a very much more minor way, it has the chance to do the same, although I hope and trust that no Division will be needed.

I ask the Committee to consider how draconian and sweeping the powers given by Clause 34 are. It gives a constable or a civilian officer the right to enter someone's house at any time—at four o'clock in the morning, if they choose—if necessary by force, and to search the premises and every person found there—the householder, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his aged parents, and anyone who happens to be staying at the time—and to seize not only firearms, which most Members of the Committee would consider reasonable enough, but imitation firearms, any firearm certificate or even shotgun certificate, and any other document authorising the possession, purchase, acquisition, manufacture, sale or transfer of any firearms or ammunition. Such draconian powers can no doubt be justified where the danger is immediate, but not, I submit, where the danger is long-term. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There is a difference between what is proposed in the Bill and the civil liberties we debated yesterday. There we were concerned with the fact that the police had power to authorise themselves to engage in intrusive surveillance of people's homes. Here, it is, as with most search warrants, a warrant signed by a justice of the peace or the equivalent in Scotland. I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is wrong, but it is not quite the same kind of issue about civil liberties.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his contribution, which has made the first point I seek to make. It is not that the police, at their own hand, can act. They require a duly applied for and granted warrant, as both Clause 46(1) and (2) make clear.

The noble Lord's amendments would seek to restrict such warrants to a situation where there is reason to suspect an immediate danger. I believe that this would be too limited a provision. There may be occasions where, by obtaining a warrant and removing firearms, the police are able to prevent an incident from occurring. If the police had to demonstrate to the justice of the peace or the sheriff that the danger is immediate they might be unable to do so and thus be unable to prevent a tragedy occurring. It is very difficult to define what is an immediate as opposed to a non immediate danger. It is a question of semantics, of which the Committee would do well to steer clear. The individual's interests will be perfectly well safeguarded. The police will have to give sufficient information on oath to the justice of the peace or sheriff to convince him that a warrant is justified. With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 67.

Lord Monson

First, the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh, is entirely correct. The wrong that I am seeking to right is not at all in the same league as the wrong that was righted yesterday. I never pretended that it was. Nevertheless, I still submit that it is unjustifiable to give the police or civilian officers the power to raid people's houses at three or four o'clock in the morning and search infant children for imitation weapons unless the danger happens to be immediate.

I acknowledge the Minister's contention that there are grey areas here. I suppose that if the law is applied with a light hand, so to speak, and the kind of situation I have described where people are raided in the small hours of the morning happens only where it is genuinely justified, one could perhaps accept the Bill as it is. On the assumption—I hope my optimism is justified—that the law will not be applied in a heavy-handed manner, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 69: After Clause 34, insert the following new clause—


("The chief officer of police for the area in which the holder of a firearm certificate resides may authorise random spot checks to take place as to the satisfaction of the conditions of storage contained in the certificate.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment has the merits of ensuring that licensed weapons of all types are kept in the secure storage cabinets that the owners have to provide. This secure storage is an integral part of the weapon licensing system. The acceptance of the amendment would render all firearms holders liable to impromptu visits by the police for the inspection of their weapon storage arrangements. These spot checks would not require warrants as they would be no more than unannounced visits, with the normal courtesies observed.

The amendment was suggested to me on the grounds that some weapon owners, especially in the countryside, keep their weapons to hand and in their living quarters and not in the approved cabinets. The risk of accident thereby increases. The current arrangements for visiting by appointment clearly lead only to a guarantee that the weapons are being stored properly for the duration of the planned visit. The acceptance of this amendment will create a climate in which weapon owners and their storage arrangements were liable to inspection at any time thereby improving the prospects for domestic and public safety. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

Without the assistance on this occasion of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I oppose this amendment. I consider that it would represent a quite unwarranted extension of police powers to enter a person's home without achieving any significant addition to public safety. If all that is intended is that the police should turn up unannounced at a house and ask permission to carry out a check, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so, but the amendment carries with it the implication that, irrespective of consent, a random check should be carried out. That is why the amendment, as tabled, is objectionable.

If the police have reason to suspect that a certificate holder may be breaching the conditions for secure storage which are part of his licence—for example, if they receive reports from neighbours or visitors that guns are being left lying around in the house—there is power to act under Section 46 of the Firearms Act 1968, which was discussed with the last amendment.

As I have indicated, this amendment would entitle the officers to act without warrant. In our view it is unjustified, and in those circumstances I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

On hearing the noble and learned Lord's response to that, I agree with him that the amendment is more unpleasant than I had intended it to be. In that case, I am extremely keen to withdraw it. There is a requirement to meet the needs that I mentioned earlier. We need some device to make certain that weapons are stored in the correct cabinets. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Approved rifle clubs]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 71: Page 19, line 28, leave out ("in, or").

The noble Baroness said: The amendments tabled in my name are Amendments No. 71, 86, 89, 91, 93 and 94. They are grouped with Amendment No. 89 which will be spoken to by my noble friend Lord Balfour.

These are technical amendments which bring existing references in the Firearms Act 1968 and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 into line with the equivalent terms in this Bill. The existing legislation uses the term, "in, or in connection with" when speaking of certain activities. The effect of the amendment is to replace that with the simpler term in connection with when speaking of certain activities. The effect of the amendment is to replace that with the simpler term "in connection with" which already occurs in Clauses 3, 4 and 26.

The others are minor amendments which change the corresponding references in the previous legislation. There are no policy implications from these amendments and I hope that the Committee will accept them. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

As my amendment is grouped with these amendments, I believe it appropriate to speak to it now. On page 1 of the Bill, Clause 1(3), in their wisdom the Government propose that for the word "rifle" there shall be substituted the words "rifled gun". Therefore, I am suggesting to the Committee that in the interpretation section, Section 57, that for the word "rifle" we substitute the words, 'rifled gun' includes "carbine'". I shall move that amendment when we come to it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 72 not moved.]

Clause 37 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 73: After Clause 37, insert the following new clause—


("In the Schedule to the 1988 Act (firearms and ammunition in museums to which the Schedule applies)—

  1. (a) the existing provisions of paragraph 5 shall be numbered as sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph;
  2. (b) after that sub-paragraph there shall be inserted the following sub-paragraphs—
(2) This Schedule also applies to any museum or similar institution in Great Britain which is of a description specified in an order made for the purposes of this sub-paragraph by the Secretary of State and whose collection includes or is to include firearms. (3) An order under sub-paragraph (2) above may specify any description of museum or similar institution which appears to the Secretary of State to have as its purpose, or one of its purposes, the preservation for the public benefit of a collection of historical, artistic or scientific interest. (4) The power to make an order under sub-paragraph (2) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument.").

The noble Baroness said: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave a commitment to table an amendment on museums during the debate at Second Reading in another place on 12th November (at col. 186 of Hansard). The new clause in my name will extend the scope of the power to grant a museum firearms licence under the Schedule to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. Museum firearms licences are currently only issued to museums which satisfy certain criteria and are maintained wholly or mainly out of money provided by Parliament or by a local authority.

The new clause will give my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the power to designate other museums and institutions which satisfy the same criteria but are not funded out of money provided by Parliament or by a local authority. In practice this is likely to be by reference to such bodies if they are currently registered with the Museums and Galleries Commission. It will mean that it will be possible for these museums, which include many regimental museums, to apply for a museum firearms licence allowing them to continue to keep handguns in their collections after these become generally prohibited, without the need for a separate authority from the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

In Clause 17 of the Bill, the duration of a licence for clubs is now six years. In the Schedule to the 1988 Act, paragraph 5, the period is stated as five years. I wonder whether between now and Report stage my noble friend the Minister will consider that it should be changed to six years.

Baroness Blatch

I can give my noble friend an assurance that I shall think about that between now and Report stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 74: After Clause 37, insert the following new clause— ("At the end of section 8(1) of the 1968 Act (authorised dealing in firearms) there is added "in any part of the United Kingdom, whether or not on specified premises".").

The noble Earl said: Section 8 of the Firearms Act 1968 kindly provides that, A person carrying on the business of a firearms dealer and registered as such under this Act, or a [servant] of such a person may, without holding a certificate, have in his possession, or purchase or acquire, a firearm or ammunition in the ordinary course of that business".

In the ordinary course of business a firearms dealer will be in possession of firearms at his place of business and must also be in possession of them when transporting them; for example, to or from a client, when having repaired a firearm or otherwise testing it and so on. At all times the relevant conditions relating to security apply and this provision, which has existed since 1920, has caused no known difficulties of enforcement or security. If a dealer establishes a new place of business he must notify the police under Section 37 of the 1968 Act.

However, a conviction was obtained in R v. Evans when a dealer agreed the sale of a firearm to a client and delivered it to him at Bisley during a shooting competition. It was held by the Crown Court that since Bisley was not the dealer's registered place of business he was unlawfully in possession of a firearm. The situation created by that case has raised a great deal of uncertainty among the trade and those who have to administer the Act. Extensive correspondence between representatives of the gun trade and the Home Office over a period of years has failed to resolve this uncertainty about the meaning of Section 8. This amendment is designed to make the situation clear and to permit proper transactions in the ordinary course of a dealer's business subject to the very extensive restrictions which already exist. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

I find this amendment rather complicated. Although I have great sympathy for what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Peel, the 1968 Act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Had my noble friend used the words "any part of Great Britain", I would have been happy to support the amendment. However, I do not believe that I can support it if it applies to the United Kingdom because of the extant clause in the 1968 Act.

Lord Kimball

I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peel. The amendment clears up a genuine mistake which has resulted in considerable unhappiness. More and more people will want to purchase firearms and take them to a range to try them out. That was exactly what happened in the unfortunate case involving Bisley. Of course, Bisley was the property of the National Rifle Association and it was not the dealer's property. But there is every reason to agree that within a 72-hour period a firearms dealer should be empowered to take a weapon to a place where the purchaser can try it out.

Earl Attlee

Having glanced through Section 8, I am surprised that there is a problem. However, I accept that a problem exists. Another problem may occur. If the holder of a firearms certificate dies, his wife or children may want to call in a gunsmith or firearms dealer to take away the weapon for safe keeping. Presumably he will fall foul of the provisions of Section 8 as currently proposed. The amendment of the noble Earl will also cover that. I believe that the amendment is very helpful, and I support it.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

The practical difficulties that lie behind Amendment No. 74 arise not only out of the case to which my noble friends have referred but another case which has come to the attention of the Government. The Government fully accept that there is a problem that requires to be addressed. It may assist if I remind the Committee that Section 3 of the Firearms Act 1968 requires that a firearms dealer must be registered with the police. Reference has already been made to Section 8 of the Act under the terms of which a firearms dealer who has been registered may possess firearms and ammunition without holding a police firearms certificate that would usually be needed for them as long as he has them in the ordinary course of his business.

The next sections to which I refer are the important ones. Sections 33 and 37 of the 1968 Act require every registered dealer to ensure that all of his places of business are also registered with the police. As the case referred to in the discussion makes clear, a dealer may quite legitimately want to convey a firearm from one place to another. While the Government have sympathy with the reasons that lie behind the present amendment, they believe that it would pose two major difficulties. The first is that in the amendment reference is made to "specified premises". For the technical reason I have referred to, these should be registered premises under Sections 33 and 37. Secondly—and perhaps more importantly—the amendment would contradict the requirement that all places of business be registered with the police. What is required here—which both the amendment and the current legislation lack—is a full definition of the place of business that should be registered with the police.

The criminal case of which I am aware involved a dealer storing firearms in a barn which was not registered with the police. That makes it clear that it is wrong to assume that the places that should be registered are only those at which a dealer carries on business, in the sense of dealing with members of the public. Other premises may be required to be covered as well. That is one aspect of the practical problem that a change in the law will require to address.

I assure the Committee that, in the light of this amendment and the cases to which reference has been made, the Government will give further thought to this matter. I hope that it will prove possible to table a suitably comprehensive amendment at a later stage of the proceedings on this Bill. If that does not prove possible, legislation in a separate Bill will be brought forward as soon as that can be done. There has been some discussion with the Gun Trade Association. I undertake that such discussions will continue not only with that association but others with a legitimate interest, including of course the police. I hope that, having recognised the problem, it is possible for my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Peel

I am extremely grateful to my noble and learned friend for having acknowledged the existence of this difficulty. Both he and I have identified this as a matter which causes great difficulty in the trade. My noble friend has said that he will go away and think about it, for which I am grateful. On the grounds that we will come back to it and sort it out at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 75: After Clause 37, insert the following new clause—


("—(1) The Secretary of State shall make rules for the establishment of a Firearms Appeals Tribunal to consider appeals from persons aggrieved by the decision of a chief officer of police under powers granted to him by the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1996.

(2) Evidence submitted to the Tribunal may at the discretion of the Tribunal be in writing only.

(3) The Secretary of State shall consult the Firearms Consultative Committee in choosing the membership of the Tribunal.

(4) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) above, the Secretary of State shall make rules governing the membership of the Tribunal and the conduct of its proceedings.

(5) The right of appeal created by section 44(1) of the 1968 Act is not affected by this section.

(6) In the event of an appeal under section 44(1) of the 1968 Act, the decision of the Tribunal shall be conclusive evidence of the facts which it contains and the Court shall be entitled to take account of the Tribunal's finding in making its own decision.").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 75. The effect of the amendment is to establish a firearms appeals tribunal. I believe this to be a very important amendment. It is a recommendation of the FCC which is supported by the vast majority of people connected with the shooting community.

At present on the revocation of a certificate or licence, or the refusal of a chief officer of police to grant such an authority, the aggrieved party's only recourse to appeal is through the courts. It is time-consuming, slow and prohibitively expensive. If established, such an appeals tribunal would take a further look at the reasons for the revocation or refusal in an independent light. The information would be considered on a confidential basis. The tribunal would then further advise the chief officer of police of its recommendations. Those would not be binding upon the chief officer. Notwithstanding that, both the appellant and the chief officer of police would still have final recourse to the courts.

Such a tribunal would provide a much cheaper option for the majority of appellants. It would save greatly on court time and therefore cost to Her Majesty's Government, the police and the appellant. At present, the latter may have to drop his or her appeal for financial reasons.

I believe that the establishment of such an appeals tribunal would provide a much more reasonable and fair system than exists at present and would improve the principles of natural justice in this context. I commend the amendment to the Committee and hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Kimball

Such a tribunal was one of the main recommendations of the third report of the Firearms Consultative Committee. It is particularly appropriate that we should consider it now, bearing in mind that one of the worst aspects of the whole Dunblane tragedy was the argument put forward by the Central Scotland Police that it was cheaper to grant Hamilton a renewal of his certificate than to face Hamilton's appeal to the sheriff court. That is a serious situation.

The tribunal that the FCC in its third annual report had in mind was a tribunal in line with the Employment Protection Act—something that was simple, practical and prompt. I hope that we shall receive a sympathetic reply to this amendment.

Earl Peel

I, too, support the amendment. I do so for three reasons: one on cost, one on efficiency, and one on fairness. One of the most important parts of the amendment is the fact that the tribunal's decision would not be binding on either party. So it would not impinge on the existing procedure of going to the courts if either party wished to do so. I appreciate that that would always remain an essential part of the proceedings, particularly from the point of view of the police. I understand that point.

Such a tribunal would surely reduce the number of cases that end up in court. It is very much in line with the present trend. There are other examples where such tribunals are now in operation. I believe that it is the Government's policy to try to encourage them. I found it disturbing to read that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary reported that some police forces impose arbitrary requirements on applicants with, some bordering on the discriminatory without justification". I find that worrying.

The appeals system must be fair. Seeking redress through the courts can be a daunting and expensive procedure, particularly for the applicant. I have no doubt that such a tribunal would help ease the process. I am sure that it would lead to a greater degree of consistency. Everyone who knows anything on the subject feels that that is something that the present system lacks. It would overcome a major criticism that exists at the moment. Finally, the very fact that the FCC is so much in favour of it, and has been recommending it for so long, is a good reason why we should accept the amendment.

Lord Marlesford

I strongly support the amendment. It is, as I see it, a most important aspect of improving the licensing procedure for firearms. I was especially struck by the comments made by my noble friend Lord Kimball because when I was speaking earlier to my Amendment No. 66 for a central computer system for licensing I was somewhat critical of the Home Office. That criticism was, in effect, echoed by my noble friend Lord Kimball when he pointed out that that recommendation had been made a considerable time ago and never implemented and that, as a result of reading Cullen, in the Dunblane case it was possibly because of the uncertain and unsatisfactory procedures for appeal that there was an inhibition in denying that wholly unsuitable man a certificate for the firearms with which he later slaughtered those people.

I must strongly support what has been put forward. I see it as an essential component of ensuring a much tougher, more accurate and fairer licensing system for firearms.

Earl Attlee

I support the amendment on the basis that it will not merely make it easier for the police initially to refuse an application; it will improve applicants' confidence that their licensing application will be treated fairly. They will be more confident that their licences will not be refused arbitrarily. The amendment should be accepted.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

I am grateful to my noble friend for having raised this subject which relates to appeals in the area of firearm certificates. Lord Cullen recommended in his report that, consideration should be given to the reform of 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". As they did with others, the Government accepted that recommendation and we are currently consulting on what should be done about appeals under the Firearms Act. Following preliminary discussions the Government had with interested parties the Home Secretary wrote to the Lord Chief Justice in England. The Minister of State for Scotland has written in similar terms to the Lord President of the Court of Session about a consultation paper. That consultation paper has also been circulated to the Bar Council, the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society, the Law Society in Scotland, all sheriffs principal, the Sheriffs' Association, the Temporary Sheriffs' Association, the British Shooting Sports Council, the Firearms Consultative Committee and various police staff associations. A copy of the paper has been placed in the Library of the House.

That consultation paper requests comments by 23rd January. One of the questions which the paper addresses and seeks comments upon is whether a tribunal would be a suitable substitute to a right of appeal to the courts. The amendment raises a different but not unconnected question of whether a tribunal should be a supplement to the appeal procedures.

I believe that until we have the results of the consultation exercise it would be a mistake to reach a concluded view as to the correct way forward in relation to appeals and as to the role which a tribunal may have to play in the area. Clearly, the views which all Members of the Committee have expressed in connection with the amendment are cogent arguments in support of having a tribunal as a supplement to the appeals procedure. However, there may be arguments against such a course of action which other consultees will wish to advance.

I assure the Committee that the Government regard this as a matter of importance because a concluded view must be reached by government and by Parliament before the Bill becomes law. Accordingly, once the consultation period ends on 23rd January, a view will be formed and that will be announced to the House when the Bill reaches its Report stage.

I hope that with that assurance my noble friend will withdraw the amendment and await the result of a consultation exercise.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for explaining the matter further. I believe that there is a problem. The proposal was brought forward after very serious thought in the third report of the Firearms Consultative Committee, which is the independent advisory body which, with a panel of experts, advises the Home Secretary. This matter has been running for a long time.

I am not satisfied that the body is a substitute for the courts. It is a stand-alone body which gives an extra fillip to people who cannot afford to go to the courts. I honestly believe that the Government should look very carefully at the proposal. I am sorry, but I must be difficult and I wish to press the amendment.

9.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 75) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 72.

Division No. 4
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Kimball, L. [Teller.]
Annaly, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Attlee, E. Marlesford, L.
Balfour, E. Masham of Ilton, B.
Biddulph, L. Monson, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Brain, L. Montrose, D.
Burton, L. Nickson, L.
Clancarty, E. Northesk, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Onslow, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Palmer, L.
Congleton, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Peel, E.
Cross, V. Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.]
Dacre of Glanton, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Dundonald, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Feversham, L. Swansea, L.
Gisborough, L. Tollemache, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Wharton, B.
HolmPatrick, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Hylton, L. Wynford, L.
Addington, L. Hayhoe, L.
Addison, V. Hemphill, L.
Anelay of St. Jonas, B. Henley, L.
Belstead, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Blaker, L. Hooper, B.
Blatch, B. Howe, E.
Bowness, L. Inchcape, E.
Byford, B. Judd, L.
Caithness, E. Kilbracken, L.
Calverley, L. Long, V.
Carlisle, E. Lucas, L.
Carnock, L. Luke, L.
Carter, L. Lyell, L.
Chadlington, L. McCarthy, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Courtown, E. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Cumberlege, B. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
De Ramsey, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Dean of Beswick, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Dean of Harptree, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. O'Cathain, B.
Downshire, M. Park of Monmouth, B.
Dubs, L. Renton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rotherwick, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Seccombe, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Goschen, V. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Grantchester, L. Torrington, V.
Hacking, L. Trumpington, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Wilcox, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Harris of Peckham, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.24 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 76: After Clause 37, insert the following new clause—


(" The register of transactions required by section 40 of the 1968 Act to be kept by persons registered as a firearms dealer may be kept by electronic means on a computer or otherwise and the power under section 53 of the 1968 Act for the Secretary of State to make rules prescribing the form of registers to be kept under this section shall be extended to allow the prescribing of the form and manner in which such electronic records shall be maintained.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment is very simple and very easy, and I am sure that the Government would very much like to support it. In the 1968 Act dealers were enabled to keep their register of firearms and transactions only in longhand. Coming up to the millennium, that seems rather ridiculous when we all use computers. Again, that is a recommendation of the FCC which was accepted by the Government and returned from the Home Secretary with an undertaking that at the first opportunity for primary legislation, that would be dealt with. This is the first opportunity for primary legislation. I believe that the Government ought to stand by their word of the past and accept my amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I understand that my noble friend will not be moving Amendment No. 79 which is grouped with this amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue of the computerisation of firearms dealers' registers in Amendment No. 76. I know that that is an issue on which the Firearms Consultative Committee has made recommendations in the past. We have long recognised the need in principle to bring the law in line with new technology. In the early part of last year we were consulting the police on the matter, but we naturally put the matter to one side when the Dunblane tragedy occurred. We have no difficulty with the principle of the amendment and, of course, the precise implementation is important. The accuracy and security of dealers' registers are key safeguards in preventing guns being sold on to the criminal market.

I hope that my noble friend is sitting comfortably. I will endeavour to come back on Report, either with proposals as to how computerisation might be achieved by changes in the firearms rules and, if that is not possible, with an amendment to the Bill. I trust that my noble friend will accept that assurance.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

That was the most wonderful statement that I have heard tonight. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 77: After Clause 37, insert the following new clause—


("—(1) The Secretary of State may by order establish a Firearms Control Board.

(2) The Firearms Control Board shall have responsibility for advising the chief officer of police on the grant, renewal or revocation of any certificate under Part II of the 1968 Act in respect of a person residing in his area.

(3) The chief officer of police shall satisfy himself, on the advice of the Firearms Control Board, that applicants for certificates have complied with the requirements necessary for the grant of certificates under the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1996.

(4) The order made under subsection (1) above shall make such provision for the composition of the Board and for its procedures as the Secretary of State shall deem necessary.

(5) Fees for licences shall be payable to the Board.

(6) The Secretary of State shall have authority to give instructions to the Board in the exercise of its powers.

(7) An order under subsection (1) above shall be made by statutory instrument and any statutory instrument containing such an order shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: I am afraid that this is not quite so short an amendment. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me because the history behind the establishment of a national firearms control board is quite a long one. With the leave of the Committee, I should like to explain some of the background.

In March 1992, the Home Office issued a consultation document setting forward the proposal to create a civilian body to take over the firearms licensing function from the police service. It was proposed that a non-departmental public body should be set up, to be known as the "Firearms Control Board", which would have complete responsibility for the administration of the licensing provisions contained within the firearms Acts.

The Home Office identified two main areas of concern which arose from the current system. The first was the quality of service provided by the police—a lack of consistency and a lack of expertise by those police personnel who undertook firearms licensing and administrative tasks; and, secondly, value for money. In terms of the lack of expertise, it was pointed out that many police officers who made inquiries were neither skilled in the handling of firearms nor experienced in the use of sporting weapons. That often caused friction between the police and firearms certificate holders; namely, that, experienced shooters are sometimes irritated by inexpert officers and more generally by a system which they perceive to be inefficient and inconsistent".

In terms of the lack of consistency within the administration of firearms licensing, it was noted that this occurred not only with individual police forces but also between the 51 police forces within the United Kingdom. In terms of value for money, it was further identified that the use of police officers in firearms licensing work was not cost effective. Additionally, those costs had probably been added to by the inconsistencies of practice throughout the police service in England, Wales and Scotland. The Home Office concluded: Using police officers for such work is expensive in direct terms but also fails to capitalise on their valuable specialist police training and experience".

It is envisaged that a firearms control board should also carry out a range of additional functions currently handled by various organisations, thus streamlining responsibility for firearms issues. Examples of such functions include the safety inspection of ranges, the administration of the control of explosives regulations and the co-ordination of the exchange of information concerning movement of firearms between EC member states.

In 1993 Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary published its own report entitled The Administration of Firearms Licensing. The report was generally critical of the 12 police forces that had been the subject of the inspection. HMIC concluded that the inspection showed that the service provided varied between excellent and very inefficient".

Additionally, licence applicants were subject to differing local requirements, some of which bordered on the discriminatory, without apparent justification. It noted that the use of properly trained civilian personnel was very much in the minority and that untrained police staff were still common".

Out of the 12 police forces inspected only one had developed a system which positively and effectively checked the names of offenders against its firearms and shotgun certificate holder database. That point may interest the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. For the information of the Committee, the police force was South Yorkshire.

The Home Affairs Committee, in its third report, also considered the idea of a civilian firearms licensing body in its inquiry into the possession of handguns. In its report of July 1996 it recommended that the concept should be revisited by the Government. It accepted that there was evidence to suggest that the police had still not achieved the necessary standards of training in relation to firearms licensing.

I am well aware that Lord Cullen did not recommend the removal from the police of any firearm licensing function. However, I need hardly remind the Committee that neither did he recommend the outlawing of heavy calibre pistols. It should be remembered, however, that Lord Cullen's comments must be read in conjunction with the terms of reference of his inquiry. Furthermore, he makes no reference to expense as a reason for not having such a board. No suggestion is made that the board's officials would not communicate with the police in exactly the same way as do, for example, Customs and Excise, traffic wardens or DVLC at Swansea. The police would be able to input criminal records and evidence of unreliability, just as information from other outside agencies can be added to an applicant's file. There is no difference in that sense.

The key issues are, first, whether the chief officer could rely on the board to present him with a proper assessment of the applicant's background and whether he or she was suitable to be in possession of a firearm, and, secondly, whether it delivered the service in a more efficient, consistent and reliable fashion. I believe that the evidence to date suggests that that would not be too difficult.

In addition to the comments from the Home Office in 1992—to which I have already referred—and from the Home Affairs Committee, I can add that the British Shooting Sports Council, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation and the Gun Trade Association are in favour of such a move. It is most important to respect their views as they witness at first hand how the present legislation is operating. Furthermore, the Firearms Consultative Committee, chaired—as we all know by now—by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury is in favour of the recommendation.

I wish to mention briefly the question of costs, which I appreciate is a key issue. It has proved extremely difficult to get hold of any meaningful figures either to establish the cost of administering the present system of licensing, or what the alternative costings would be of both establishing and running a firearms control board. As I understand it, the Home Office produced some figures from a report undertaken by Ernst & Young but it seems to be quite difficult to get hold of those figures for reasons which I cannot quite understand. However, I have some figures based on 1989 which show interesting and perhaps somewhat alarming variations in costs between the different regions. These figures were produced from ACPO's multi-force firearms scrutiny study. That seems a somewhat unusual term, but it is the one used. For example, in Cambridge the average costs of granting a firearm certificate is £12.61—a precise figure. The average cost of renewal is £13.55. That does not make much sense to me for obvious reasons. However, conversely in North Wales the average cost of granting a firearm certificate is £29.29. It is a rural area and a little larger to administer. I can understand that. But the cost of renewal is £5.52. I believe that that demonstrates the wide inconsistencies within the regions. The ACPO multiforce firearms scrutiny study indicates that certificates could be issued for considerably less than the fee charged at that time.

With regard to firearms and shotguns the overall figure for 1989 is as follows: administrative costs, £8.5 million; revenue £4.7 million; and a shortfall of £3.8 million. However, if such tasks were to be carried out by a firearm control board it is generally acknowledged that there will be a saving in costs, first, by not using the police but civilians. That has been demonstrated by other examples. Approximately 1, 500 police will be freed to concentrate on other tasks for which they have been trained and are more suitable to deal with.

However, even if the final costs were in excess of the present system, I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will take note of this point. I am informed that shooters would be prepared to pay more if they knew that there was to be a fairer system in place which was not subject to the arbitrary decisions which seem to prevail under the present system, but would best serve the interests of everyone in minimising the risks of firearms getting into the wrong hands. At the end of the day that is surely what we seek to achieve above all else.

It should be stressed that within the Home Office proposal chief constables would not have had the final say in administrative decision making. The police would have input only in terms of information concerning past convictions of applicants together with relevant intelligent information concerning individuals. However, in the amendment chief officers would not be asked to surrender the ultimate sanction as to who has or does not have guns in their area. That is an important point. They would be required to exercise such a decision on the advice of the new board. The officers of the board, based on regional centres, would take on the administration, assessment of licences, and inspection of security. Although the provision involves the cost of the board, the system releases police officers who are usually untrained in firearms matters. I believe that many of us have seen examples of that. They often have no interest in the subject through no fault of their own. It is imposed on them. They have not had proper training. It allows the police to concentrate their efforts on matters to which they are better suited. It would be more cost effective.

The effect of the amendment is to provide a framework around which the Government can construct a firearm control board. It is deliberately drafted so as not to describe exactly what form the board should take—that would be left to the Secretary of State—but would be set up by an order requiring a positive procedure.

Experience dictates that changes are necessary if we are to achieve a greater level of consistency in the issuing of firearm licences throughout the land. We need a body of experts with proper training and with a full knowledge of firearms and their use. Above all—I return to this point because I believe it to be very important—we must establish the most efficient system to ensure as best we can (and that is all we can do) that the horrors of Hungerford and Dunblane are prevented from happening again. I beg to move.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

I support the excellent proposal of my noble friend Lord Peel. I would in any case support it as, yet again, it is a recommendation of the FCC—a body which is not listened to enough by Her Majesty's Government over matters of great importance.

I wish to add nothing to my noble friend's most eloquent remarks, apart from one small point. It seems to me very much the case that, given the results of Options for Change, with people coming out of the Army, there are excellent NCOs of very good standing with excellent firearms training. They are firearms experts and they have man-management skills. They would be the ideal people to take the place of the police, to go round and inspect premises, perhaps on a county constabulary basis, to see whether people have the proposed security arrangements in place, whether they are people who are capable of using these weapons and indeed are licensed to do so, and whether they are capable of holding down a licence responsibly. One of my noble friend's most important points was that there would be no diminution in the power of chief officers of police in these matters. As he said, the shooting fraternity is quite happy to support the cost of the establishment of such a body. I support the amendment.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I rise to speak very briefly in support of my noble friend's amendment, which is a sensible one. During the Cullen inquiry the point was made that there is a tension between a police force seeking to regulate the shooting community and a police force under pressure to provide a good service to those very same people. The events of Dunblane and Hungerford inevitably raise questions as to how effectively the police discharged their responsibilities.

An independent national licensing authority such as that proposed in my noble friend's amendment would remove that tension and relieve the police of a responsibility which I am not sure they particularly relish. I very much hope that this amendment will find favour with the Government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I rather hope that the noble Earl will press this amendment to a Division, if only because I want to see the Division List. I want to compare it with yesterday's Division List. Noble Lords who took part in that debate on the Police Bill will recall that when we proposed, and the Committee agreed, that there should be a senior judge responsible for giving authorisation for something under 2, 000 acts of intrusive surveillance by the police, we were accused by the Government of second-guessing the police—something under 2,000!

What is proposed here is a firearms control panel which will advise on "any"—I assume that means "every", otherwise it does not mean anything at all— application for the grant, renewal or revocation of a certificate. If ever there were a new bureaucracy being set up to second-guess the police, this is it.

Lord Swansea

I speak as president of the BSSC and a former chairman of that body, which has long advocated this particular proposal. There is wide variation in the administration of the legislation as it relates to England and Wales, and also Scotland. It all depends on the whim of the chief constable. Some chief constables are very strict in their administration of the firearms Acts; others are very liberal. That has been a constant thorn in the flesh of many shooters. The firearms control board would iron all that out because all applications would go to that body. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

I could regale your Lordships with examples of the ignorance of many policemen on firearms but at this time of night I will not detain your Lordships any longer. I support the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh, slightly misses the point on this matter. The firearms control board would not take any operational responsibilities or decisions away from chief officers of police; it would be purely advisory to chief officers. I understand that the position is not quite what the noble Lord said it was.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is exactly my point about second-guessing. There would be a whole body of people—all of these ex-NCOs—who would have to look at every single application for the grant or revocation of a licence, but they still would not take the decision; the decision would be taken by the police. I repeat: if that is not second-guessing, what is?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I was unfortunately not able to be here yesterday to help the Government in their predicament, but it seems to me that yesterday's vote was about a body being set up to second-guess the police when they were being over-active and not acting in the interests of the individual. The body proposed by this amendment is a body to be set up for a situation when the police are not very interested in what they are doing and where, on the record of Dunblane, they have not served the interests of the individual or the society which they are supposed to be protecting.

My noble friend Lord Peel said that many of us had seen examples of police being untrained and disinterested in firearms certification matters. I have to confess to being among those people. I have had the police come to see me both in Scotland, where I have a number of rifles, and in London, where I keep shotguns. Although the interview that I have with the police is always entirely friendly and professional, they make it clear that they do not know what they are on about and they resent the waste of time that they are put to in this matter. They ask how the weapons work, and so on, but they are plainly not interested in their duty on this occasion. I therefore support this amendment. I think this body would free the police to do more useful tasks in other areas. I do not accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

I totally agree with what is proposed in this amendment. It is wise for us to consider that the police are the prime movers on this matter. It is vitally important that we have this body. I totally support what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. It is important for us to have people with experience. Options for Change was mentioned. These people know what they are talking about. There is no point in asking a toddler to swim the Channel. These people understand entirely what is meant when it comes to firearms safety.

Perhaps I may suggest that this board is not just for individuals; it also concerns the shooting clubs. This board would ensure that a shooting club, because of its staff, would be absolutely sound and secure.

As to second-guessing, is that not what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was promoting in the amendment which he proposed on 16th January? Is not this second-guessing and double-checking exactly what we need to ensure safety for the public? I support the amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

Surely what my noble friend Lord Peel is asking for is consistency. There is a lack of consistency. I have very little to criticise in regard to the Surrey constabulary which protects me very well. But on one occasion, two police constables were sent round to check my shotgun certificate and when I was not there another two were sent around. That is an extremely expensive way to operate and a waste of police power.

One asks for consistency between one case and the next in the same police area and also all over the country. We cannot accept that the police have done a very good job in this matter; otherwise, Mr. Hamilton would not have had a firearm certificate. We should always bear that in mind.

Just for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, let me say that I am very unhappy that I could not come to vote for his amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, yesterday. I like the idea of warrants for people. But I shall still vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peel if he presses it. If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, thinks that I am inconsistent, so be it.

Lord Burton

Among documents shown by police to Lord Cullen was a report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland on the subject of the administration of the firearms licensing system in 1995. The Scottish Office press office called a meeting to present it to the press. It was cancelled at the last minute. It seemed that someone or other had tried to hide the document. It has been asked for by Members of the other place and by me. It was part of Lord Cullen's evidence. So why is it not now available? I should have thought that it was very relevant indeed to the need for a control board.

Lord Marlesford

In rising to support the amendment, I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, whose amendment I supported last night. Quite frankly, what I voted for last night, as I understood it, was the imposition of safeguards against abuse of police powers in bugging and other forms of entry into people's premises. That is what I thought I had voted for. Frankly, that is totally different from what I understand this amendment to be about. This amendment is about creating a greater level of efficiency in the administration of a licensing system.

It is rather sad that this is yet another recommendation to the Home Office previously made by the committee set up by the Home Office itself which has not been implemented. Inevitably, I am reminded of a letter written to The Times some years ago by A.P. Herbert, when yet another committee of which he had been a member had had its advice ignored. He said that the Government was like an elderly hypochondriac—always asking for a second opinion and never taking it. I hope very much that the tragedy of Dunblane will at least focus into a little action by the Home Office.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

After the sitting of the House last night, I myself am beginning to feel like an elderly hypochondriac. Notwithstanding any weakness of body, my spirit is quite resolved in opposing the amendment. The Government firmly believe that it would be the wrong route to follow.

It may be instructive to inform the Committee of the history of the matter. In March 1992, the Home Office published a consultation paper on the proposal to set up a single national licensing authority for firearms, to be known as a firearms control board. The proposal was that the board would be run by civilians and take over from the police the task of issuing firearm and shotgun certificates, registering firearms dealers and carrying out other licensing work under the firearms Acts.

After examining the responses to that consultation document, the Government undertook a detailed feasibility study into the advantages and disadvantages of a firearms control board. That study found that, although a national licensing authority might generally improve the quality of service to shooters and bring about what shooters sought and still seek—namely, consistency of approach to decision-making—the running costs of such an authority would be considerably higher than under the then current police system. There would also have been considerable start-up costs involved. I understand that a summary of the report was placed in the Library of the House and that the figures contained in it formed the basis of the revision of firearms fees brought into effect in January 1995.

The study also threw up the point that there would be a continuing need to involve the police in firearms licensing and a continuing need for liaison between the licensing authority, which was responsible for granting the licences and certificates, and the police, who had certain responsibilities, of course, for the enforcement of the law. This, so the Government's advice ran, would lead to a duplication of effort. It was for those reasons—the question of cost, the duplication of effort and the need to have a continuing police involvement in firearms work—that the Government announced in July 1994 that they would not be proceeding with the proposal.

During the hearing conducted by Lord Cullen the issue of setting up a firearms control board was raised again. Lord Cullen records in paragraph 8.4 of his report: The BSSC maintained that there was a case for taking the administration of licensing procedure, if not also decision making, away from the police, leaving them to be involved in the supply and interpretation of intelligence about applicants and holders. The Shooters' Rights Association maintained that the Home Office had misrepresented the cost. The Association's proposals were intended to simplify and streamline the licensing system so that it could be used as an intelligence-gathering system. The police would carry out the inspection processes in rural areas; and the work would be put out to tender in urban areas". Lord Cullen concluded that he was not in favour of the removal from the police of any of the functions concerned with the operation of the present system. In paragraph 8.5 of his report he said: This is not for any reason concerned with cost but on the view that there should be an integration of the carrying out of enquiries and the taking of decisions within a single organisation; that the police are in the best position to collect and assess information bearing on the suitability of applicants or holders, which is at the heart of the certification system; and that there is inevitably a close link between the certification system and questions of enforcement". In that paragraph of his report Lord Cullen fully supported the view which the Government had announced back in 1994.

The Government are aware that the Firearms Consultative Committee has a different view, a view which it has continued to express. But, for the very reasons we were discussing earlier, it is a body independent of government, and the Government are perfectly entitled to reject that advice if they consider it right to do so. That remains the Government's position, having re-assessed the position in the light of the amendment.

The Government are satisfied that the advantages of such a body would be outweighed by its drawbacks. In assessing whether a person is suitable to hold a firearm certificate, local knowledge is essential. It is not clear to us why officials in a central location could make judgments requiring local knowledge in a more effective and sensible way than could be done by local police officers or civilians. I understand that throughout the country those involved in licensing work for police forces, whether they be serving police officers or civilian personnel, receive training. That training enables them, with their local knowledge of the community in which they work, to go about the duties which they perform prior to the granting or refusal of the necessary certificates.

A civilian licensing authority would not have that access to local knowledge; it would not have the informal contacts, the informal sources, which inform so much of police work. Furthermore, it would be difficult for an independent body such as the one proposed to have access to police records and police reports to the Crown Prosecution Service and to the Procurator Fiscal.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the amendment proposes that the decision should remain with the chief officer of police. It is upon him that will rest the duty to decide whether or not a certificate should be granted or refused. It would be quite wrong to restrict the chief officer to any advice he might receive from a firearms control board, no matter how experienced in firearms work its personnel might be. He would be failing in his duty to ignore the opportunity of taking account of local knowledge and intelligence; and if he did so, and he reached the wrong decision, it would be he, not the firearms control board, who would be responsible for it.

My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury made it clear that the board did not wish to take over operational decisions. That is clear from the terms of his amendment. But that fact makes it clear that, as the chief officer is responsible for taking the decision, it is he, working with his officers and civilian staff, who should set about getting the information he requires. And, no doubt following the events of Dunblane, chief officers throughout the country will be reviewing the procedures they follow to see how and in what manner they can be improved.

Mention has been made of the question of cost. It was said quite fairly on behalf of the movers of the amendment that shooters would be prepared to pay additional costs if that brought about the consistency which they seek. But if the fees are to be payable in terms of this amendment to the board, that makes no contribution to the costs which chief officers may incur through instructing their police officers and staff to carry out additional inquiries. So it may be that the amendment is defective in that way also.

I fully accept that the amendment is put forward with the best of intentions and with a genuine wish to improve the procedures for licensing in order to bring about consistency. I personally feel that the fact that decisions will rest with chief constables admits the possibility that one chief constable in a certain situation make take a different view from another. That is what decision-taking is all about. If they are to be responsible for their decisions, they must be free to take the decision they believe to be correct on the information before them. To impose consistency upon them would be wrongly to restrict their discretion and bring about inevitably the taking of wrong decisions from time to time.

At the end of the day I am not sure that cost is important one way or another. The important thing is that the decision taker has the information he deems to be appropriate. With the greatest respect to those who have moved and supported the amendment, I do not believe it would achieve that aim.

Before I sit down I wish to refer to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Burton about a certain report prepared by the Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland not having been made publicly available. As I think the noble Lord has been informed, the report was in draft form at the time the Dunblane tragedy occurred. Together with certain other documents it was made available by the Government to Lord Cullen. He took the view that it was not appropriate to make that document public. The Government agree with that view for the reason that the report was in draft form and has clearly been overtaken by events. There is no suggestion of concealing anything. The way in which the Government seek to proceed is on the basis of the facts as we now know them. The view that we take about the report is the one that Lord Cullen took that it would not assist a sensible discussion of the problems that require to be addressed to look at a draft report, which is now some time out of date. I say again that I accept this amendment is put forward in a very sensitive and sensible manner. Nevertheless, I believe that the proposals are fatally flawed. If the matter is pressed to a vote, I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.

Lord Monson

The noble and learned Lord believes that we should follow Lord Cullen's recommendations so far as concerns this amendment. Would it not have been better for all concerned if we had followed them in their entirety?

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

It requires to be said again, as has been said many times in this House and in another place, both from these Benches and acknowledged on the Benches opposite, that all of Lord Cullen's recommendations were followed. We have come forward with legislation which takes his recommendations forward. If one looks at the detail of his report, it is impossible to point to a recommendation which the Government have not implemented. Therefore, I demur to the suggestion that lies behind the noble Lord's question.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Will the noble and learned Lord refer to Lord Cullen's summary of recommendations, at paragraph 24: Consideration should be given to restricting the availability of self-loading pistols and revolvers of any calibre which are held by individuals for use in target shooting, preferably by their disablement"? How can the noble and learned Lord say that we have followed that statement?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

I believe that that was explained very fully by my noble friend Lady Blatch. The Government did consider the issue of disassembly. They have rejected it for reasons which have been made clear and which have found support in many quarters. They may not find support from every Member of the Committee, but the fact of the matter is that the issue of disassembly was addressed and rejected. The issue of fitting a locked barrel block was also addressed and was also rejected. The Government also considered the alternative to paragraph 24, if such a system is not adopted, by the banning of the possession of such handguns by individual owners". It is important to remember the opening words of this recommendation, "consideration should be given". That is what the Government were invited to do and that is what they did. I believe that the Committee will be right to acknowledge that if one looks at the detail of this recommendation it and all the others have been followed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I do not want to waste the time of the Committee. My noble and learned friend has not got over the words, "preferably by their disablement".

Earl Attlee

The noble and learned Lord told us that in 1994 it was decided that we would not proceed with a firearms control board. Reading the papers one would have assumed at that time that we would actually see an improvement in the administration of firearms licensing, etc. We have found that we have not had an improvement but a disaster in Dunblane. The subject of the thematic report would tell us exactly what was going on with the various Scottish constabularies. It is very disappointing that the Government have not let us see that report because I am sure that it would be most interesting.

Earl Peel

I need hardly say that I am extremely disappointed by what I have heard. I take heart from the fact that, with the exception of two Members of the Committee, everybody has supported me. I realise that two have not. One is the noble Lord opposite on the Opposition Front Bench, and the other is the noble and learned Lord on my Front Bench. No doubt that has great significance. I am thankful and grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken and to all those who have supported me.

My noble friend said that this amendment was fatally flawed. That is an odd comment in view of the fact that it was only in 1992 that the Home Office recommended that there should be a firearms control board. It was the Government's prerogative to change their mind, but I am surprised that they have done so in such a dramatic way. That is as may be.

There has been discussion about Lord Cullen. The term "cherry picking" is almost designed for Lord Cullen. We pick those items that we like or those that we do not like. No doubt that applies as much to my noble friends on the Front Bench as my noble friends on the Back- Benches, but there we are. My noble friend Lord Onslow referred to consistency. He is right. That is one of the fundamental reasons why there is a need to revise the present system which is not working. My noble friend Lord Marlesford referred to efficiency. He was quite right to point out the difference between yesterday's vote and today's non-vote, as it will be. I know that that will disappoint the noble Lord opposite because he wants to see who will go through the Division Lobbies. I am afraid that will not happen.

I cannot understand the argument about duplication of effort. I thought I made it perfectly clear that the firearms control board would not duplicate the work of the police but would be reporting to the police and taking the place of police officers who at the moment do this work. I do not believe that point stacks up in any shape or form. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, implied a second bureaucracy. They are not a substitute for the police; they are complementary to it, and that is the whole point of the amendment.

I shall not divide the Committee on this matter. I am extremely disappointed by what I have heard. I will look at the matter most carefully and reserve the right to return to it at the next stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 38 and 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 [Interpretation and supplementary provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 78 and 79 not moved.]

Clauses 40 and 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 [Short Title, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

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

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Consequential and minor amendments]:

[Amendments Nos. 83 to 85 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 86: Page 26, line 39, at end insert— (" .In section 32A(4)(b) and 32C(7), for the words "section 4(2) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (formalities on transfer of shot guns)" there shall be substituted the words "section 27(2)(b) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (requirements relating to transfers of firearms)".").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to Amendment No. 86 with Amendment No. 71.1 beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 87 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 88: Page 26, line 46, at end insert— ("In section 54(2)(b), for the words "section 26" there shall be substituted the words "section 26A".").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to Amendment No. 88 with Amendment No. 71. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 89: Page 26, line 46, at end insert— (" . In section 57 (interpretation), in subsection (4) for the definition of "rifle" there shall be substituted— "rifled gun" includes carbine;".").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to Amendment No. 89 along with the Government's amendments, Amendments Nos. 71, 88, and so on. I never had a reply from my noble friend the Minister. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I apologise to my noble friend, but I believe that it had more to do with the procedures of the House at that time. I appreciate the sentiment behind my noble friend's amendment. I am happy to tell him that it is unnecessary. All carbines are rifled and so will automatically be caught by the slight change in words that have been included in Clause 1(3). It is not necessary to state specifically that they are included.

The Earl of Balfour

I am grateful for that information. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 91: Page 26, line 48, after first ("words") insert (""26(4), ").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 71. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 93 and 94:

Page 28, line 14, column 3, at end insert—
("In section 23(2)(a),
the words "in, or".")
Page 28, line 18, column 3, at end insert—
("In section 54(5)(b),
the words "in, or".")

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 71.1 beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.