HL Deb 09 April 2003 vol 647 cc218-9

2.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What amnesty arrangements they are making for the handing in of unauthorised firearms held by members of the public.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, from 31st March to 30th April of this year, anyone can hand in to the police any unauthorised firearms or ammunition in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted for having them. We are also encouraging the handing in of unwanted guns, particularly imitations and airguns that are being held for criminal purposes. The amnesty provides people with an opportunity to get rid of guns that they should not have in advance of tough new gun laws.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. Will any amnesty such as the one now being planned be followed by severe, previously publicised penalties for possessing unauthorised weapons—for example, at least a five-year prison sentence?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Yes, my Lords, it will. We have already announced that there will be a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of prohibited weapons. That will be introduced by legislation in the middle of this year and will follow the amnesty that is now taking place. We encourage people to hand in illegal weapons as soon as possible.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that imitation firearms can be just as dangerous as real ones? In fact. for obvious reasons, they can be lethal when brandished by people in the streets. Has any thought been given to the practice in some other European countries whereby toy and imitation firearms must be coloured very brightly to make it clear that they are just toys and imitations as opposed to the real thing?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. In some circumstances, imitation firearms can be just as dangerous as the real thing, partly because they can be adapted to become lethal and partly because they can be used in the commission of crime. That is why we are introducing a new offence of possessing imitation firearms or airguns in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. We should consider my noble friend's idea about painting imitations in a particular way and perhaps take it up with manufacturers.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should be tough not only on guns but on the causes of guns and that the illegal drug business is the main reason why so many illegal firearms are held in society? He is no doubt aware of the Trident programme, run by the Metropolitan Police, which is so successfully targeting some of the drugs gangs that carry so many of the firearms. Are similar programmes being implemented by other urban police forces in other parts of the country? If so, are they ongoing? Are the Government supportive of such programmes?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with that proposition. As the noble Baroness said, Operation Trident is run by the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police would be the first to say that if you do not get in among the community and get it committed to turning its back on guns, then you will not make the progress that should be made. The work that the Metropolitan Police have done in that respect is incredibly impressive. I have been to many meetings with the community where it was perfectly plain that the Metropolitan Police have been making efforts to gain the community's confidence, so that people will, for example, actually give evidence against those who have committed the gun crime. There is a terrifying statistic. In the year to the end of 2000, 140 offences in Manchester involved firearms, but only one witness came forward. If we cannot persuade people to speak out against crime, we will not be able to fight crime effectively. Are other police forces engaged as well? Yes, they are. Do we support them? Yes, we do.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether he has issued a circular to chief officers of police in connection with the operation of this amnesty? If so, will he further confirm whether the circular requires that in cases where it is believed that a serious offence involving a surrendered weapon has taken place, normal procedures will be followed and urgent inquiries made?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the amnesty has been prepared and developed in association with the Association of Chief Police Officers. I pay tribute to the association and the work it has done with us in making the arrangements. Everything that has been done has been done between the two organisations, the Home Office and ACPO. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord on the details of the circular.

Lord Renton

My Lords, what happens to real firearms that have been handed in?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, they are handed in to a police station and then examined by the police. If there is no reason to keep them, for example in relation to the investigation of crime, they are destroyed. If it is considered that they might have an historic or other value, they are kept and looked at.