HC Deb 06 April 1998 vol 310 cc19-21W
Mr. Robathan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many previously licensed handguns have not yet been handed in following the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. [37274]

Mr. Michael

Under the terms of the commencement of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, certificate holders were required to dispose of their handguns lawfully by 1 October 1997 unless they were covered by the specific exemptions set out in Part 1 of the Act. The majority of certificate holders chose to hand in their weapons to designated police stations, thereby becoming eligible to receive compensation from the Government. However, other certificate holders chose instead to export their weapons and store them abroad permanently, some to sell them and some to have them deactivated to the required national standard and so retain them at home. There is no central record of those weapons not surrendered to police forces.

From 1 October 1997, all chief officers were advised by the Association of Chief Police Officers to follow up their records of certificate holders and make checks on those certificate holders who had chosen not to surrender their weapons to the police. The subsequent prosecution of anyone found in possession of a prohibited weapon without lawful reason would be a matter for the police force and prosecution authorities concerned.

My officials have conducted a sample of a small number of forces and all have confirmed that they duly followed up their records of certificate holders and established that all guns recorded were accounted for.

In addition, we have asked all forces in England and Wales for a report on their success with the hand-in of 22 handguns which ended on 28 February. I will make the results available to the House once this information has been collated.

Mr. Robathan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what is the timeframe for settlement of outstanding claims for compensation made under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997; [37289]

(2) if he will make a statement on the number of claims and payments relating to compensation paid to former owners of handguns obliged to hand in their weapons under the terms of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. [37288]

Mr. Michael

Current estimates are that all remaining payments under Options A and B of the large-calibre handgun compensation scheme should be completed by about the end of May. The aim is to complete most, if not all, payments under Option C of the scheme by the end of the year. At 31 March, 38,592 claims under the large-calibre handgun scheme had been registered on the Firearms Compensation Section (FCS) computer system and 29,236 payments made. Around 2,000 claims are still to be registered, the majority of which will be under the large-calibre scheme.

The figures for claims and payments in this answer are lower than those normally quoted, as they exclude those made under the ex-gratia scheme for small-calibre pistols.

Mr. Lansley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many staff have been allocated to process claims in categories A and B under the Firearms Compensation Scheme. [37459]

Mr. Michael

The Firearms Compensation Section at present employs 62 staff, 53 of whom are working directly on the examination and authorisation of compensation claims. Currently the bulk of the effort is concentrated on processing claims under Options A and B of the compensation scheme, although a number of claims under Option C are being processed in parallel.

Mr. Lansley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average time currently taken to process claims under categories A and B of the Firearms Compensation Scheme. [37458]

Mr. Michael

The Firearms Compensation Section is currently dealing with claims received from the police on 25 September 1997, giving a current turn-round time of 27 weeks. The average processing time for claims dealt with since the start of the compensation scheme in July 1997 is just over 15 weeks.

Mr. Lansley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people under categories A, B and C of the Firearms Compensation Scheme have received full compensation for their claims. [37460]

Mr. Michael

The information at 2 April 1998 is as follows:

  • Claimants under Option A paid in full: 28,085
  • Claimants under Option B paid in full: 27,168
  • Claimants under Option C paid in full: 261.

Since an individual may claim under more than one option, the total number of payments under all the options is greater than the total number of claimants participating in the scheme. The figures include applications under the ex gratia surrender scheme for small-calibre pistols.

Dr. Tonge

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department has taken in respect of procedures relating to the revocation of gun licences following the Dunblane tragedy. [37463]

Mr. Michael

Under section 30 of the Firearms Act 1968, the chief officer of police may revoke a firearm certificate at any time if he is satisfied that the holder is prohibited by law from possessing firearms, or is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm. Following the Dunblane tragedy, the Government considered Lord Cullen's report carefully, to see how any weaknesses in the firearms licensing system might be remedied.

Lord Cullen's Report suggested that the power to revoke a certificate should be extended to allow the police to revoke partially a certificate in relation to any firearms which the owner no longer has a good reason for possessing. This recommendation was carried forward through the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and was brought into force on 1 July 1997.

The Government have also taken steps to ensure that the police receive a proper flow of information on which to base their decisions. Under the 1997 Act, those who hold firearms principally for target shooting must be a member of a shooting club approved by the Home Departments. Each club must appoint a liaison officer to keep the police informed of members' activities, and the club is obliged to inform the police if any member has not shot with the club for over a year.

Lord Cullen also recommended that the arrangements under which an individual could appeal to the courts against the revocation of his certificate should be revised and clarified. The 1997 Act now makes it clear that an appeal is to be determined on its merits (that is, as a full re-hearing rather than as a review).