HC Deb 02 April 1998 vol 309 c608W
Mr. Jim Murphy

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans she has for reforming the firearms legislation in Northern Ireland for the control of handguns. [37889]

Marjorie Mowlam

I have recently concluded a review of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 which was instigated by the previous Government in November 1995.

The purpose of the review was to take a fresh look at the law to see whether it was relevant, effective and proportionate to today's conditions. It has been a wide-ranging examination with no topic excluded. The principal objectives were to maintain rigorous safety standards and sustain public confidence in the authorities' ability to enforce the law effectively while recognising the reasonable expectations of the responsible shooting community and firearms trade. I believe that the proposals for legislative reform which I am publishing today for wider consultation will meet those objectives. Copies of the Consultation Paper have been made available in the libraries of both Houses.

On the particular issue of handgun controls, I have studied carefully the various recommendations made by Lord Cullen in his report into the terrible events at Dunblane, published in 1996. Although his Tribunal did not inquire into the control of firearms in Northern Ireland, it was only right that I should consider whether his Report contained any important lessons for the Province. I believe it does and my findings are explained at length in the Consultation Paper.

After much thought, I am not persuaded of the need to prohibit the possession and use of target handguns in Northern Ireland. Nor do I believe it would be appropriate to prohibit the possession of handguns licensed by the Chief Constable, for the personal protection of those individuals under threat of attack and their families. I realise that my decision may disappoint some people who feel strongly, as do I, about firearms control and safeguarding the public. But I would ask them and others to consider carefully the far-reaching proposals for improving firearms safety and making the law more effective which I am publishing today, and let me have their views thereon.