HL Deb 16 January 2003 vol 643 cc353-5

3.23 p.m.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many prosecutions have been made under legislation banning hand guns of all calibres.

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

My Lords, it is not possible to identify from central records those prosecutions that have arisen directly as a result of the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Acts. The legislation included hand guns in the category of weapons subject to general prohibition, as set out in Section 5(1) of the main Firearms Act 1968. The only figures available relate to proceedings for possessing or distributing any prohibited weapon covered by Section 5(1). They show that in 1997 there were 960 cases proceeded against and in 1998—the year after the hand gun ban was introduced—there were 1,245 cases. In 2001 the total was 979. These figures all relate to the principal offences for which persons are dealt with.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, as the figures published recently by the Government show that gun crime has doubled since their legislation banning hand guns and introducing tougher sentences, why does the Minister think that introducing mandatory sentences will make our country a safer place? Surely we need measures to enforce the law on the illegal use of weapons and to secure the arrest and imprisonment of those criminals who are apparently now firing guns in pursuit of their criminal ends on average seven times a day, seven days a week, in England and Wales alone.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that there is no one measure that will combat the increase in gun crime, which noble Lords on all sides of the House have referred to. We propose to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence because that sends the strongest possible message that the possession of such a gun is not acceptable and will be met with severe punishment by the courts. Of course enforcing existing law is an important part of our approach as well.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, in the context of getting hand guns off the street, will the noble and learned Lord pay particular regard to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford yesterday?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we had a debate yesterday about sentencing across the board, but focusing in particular on burglary and guns, in which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford delivered a powerful speech. Of course we will pay regard to it, as we will pay regard to all the speeches that were made during that debate.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I invite the Minister to renew the pledge that the Government gave in 1999 to introduce swiftly a national database of those who apply for and are granted shotgun licences. It is now five years since that was made possible by the 1997 legislation.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to that. Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 requires the establishment of a central register of all persons who have applied for a firearm or shotgun certificate or persons to whom such a certificate has been granted. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, raised that in yesterday's debate. My noble friend Lord Corbett and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, have raised the issue with some effect over a number of months. Planning to deliver the register as part of PHOENIX has been badly delayed for a number of reasons, most recently because the procurement exercise did not succeed. A re-tender is currently being considered. In yesterday's debate, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, chided me for describing that process in a Written Answer. It is an important issue. It has been badly delayed. We are getting on with it.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, from what evidence of our criminal law or that of other jurisdictions do the Government draw their belief that mandatory minimum sentences have the deterrent effect that the noble and learned Lord claims?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, there is a debate in practically every jurisdiction in the world about the effect of sentencing. The importance and the reasoning behind the minimum mandatory sentence for gun crime is that it sends out the clearest possible message with a view to deterring and with a view to punishing.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, what action do the Government propose to take to counter what I understand to be the large number of so-called deactivated weapons? That number should be included in the firearms statistics.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, when the noble Lord refers to deactivated firearms, I am not sure whether he is referring to those that are not replicas but cannot be used. We need to look closely at whether they are illegal under existing law. It is part of enforcing existing law, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned, and looking to see whether further law changes are required.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recently published figures emphasise the importance of the police being encouraged to continue to exercise their lawful powers of stop and search?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the police can focus on a range of issues, including using the power of stop and search, to address the problems of gun crime. The police are doing that in many areas, particularly in the Metropolitan Police area. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, has made clear the importance that he attaches to fighting gun crime.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord say what percentage of gun crime is committed by owners of current firearms or shotgun licences? Does he have to wait until the register is complete to give those statistics?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not have the specific figure in relation to those with a certificate under Sections 1 or 2 of the relevant legislation. Can I come back to the noble Lord on that?