To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he intends to establish a national firearms licensing board.
§ Mr. Howard
The proposal to establish a national firearms licensing authority to take over the administration of firearms licensing from the police was the subject of a public consultation paper in 1992, following a brief feasibility study. That study indicated that it would be feasible to introduce a national civilian-operated system which could be more cost-effective and achieve greater consistency in decision making.
A comprehensive revision of the original feasibility study has now been completed and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House. It concludes that the establishment of a national licensing authority would generally improve the efficiency of the system, improve the quality of service to shooters in some areas and bring a consistency of approach to decision making. It did not address the question of how this could best be achieved but made a number of suggestions to improve the administration of the firearms licensing system.
However, the report also indicates that the original study, because of its limited remit, significantly underestimated the amount of work involved in the licensing system and that the staffing required for a national authority would be substantially higher than the levels originally proposed. The original study estimated start-up costs of £2.5 million and annual running costs of approximately £6 million. The revised study estimates that start-up costs would amount to about £4.1 million with an annual running cost in excess of £10 million. This is substantially more than the estimated cost of operating the current police system, which in 1994–95 is £7.6 million.290W
The report also identifies the need for a significant amount of continued police involvement in firearms licensing, the risk of duplication of effort and the difficulties involved in the interface of any licensing authority and the police.
After careful consideration of all the factors involved, I have decided not to proceed with the proposal to establish a separate firearms licensing authority. I accept that despite the efforts of police licensing departments there is still considerable scope for improving the efficiency and the consistency of approach of the existing firearms licensing system to the benefit of both the shooting fraternity and the police. Now that the future direction of the licensing system is settled, we must concentrate on building upon the improvements already achieved and I will be pursuing with the Association of Chief Police Officers and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary how existing "best practice" guidelines can be more consistently implemented.
Similar action will be taken on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.