HC Deb 07 December 1999 vol 340 cc502-3W
Ms Atherton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) how many(a) illegal and (b) legally-held handguns have been handed in since the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 came into force; [101156]

(2) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the ban on privately-held handguns in reducing the level of gun-related crime in the United Kingdom; [101165]

(3) how much has been paid in compensation to gun-owners for the surrender of handguns to the police since the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 came into force. [101199]

Mr. Charles Clarke

Just over 162,000 handguns were surrendered to the police under the terms of the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997. Records are not held centrally of those illegally or legally held firearms, including any handguns, which might have been handed in to the police for other reasons.

The ban on handguns was a direct response to the tragic shootings at Dunblane Primary School in March 1996, which were carried out with legally held handguns. It did not purport to solve the more general problem of armed crime, the vast majority of which is carried out using illegally held firearms. Nevertheless, the ban has removed one potential source of handguns for criminal use: in 1997, 305 handguns were stolen or otherwise misappropriated, mostly from private homes.

As at 30 November, a total of just over £89 million had been paid in compensation to those individuals who surrendered firearms and ancillary equipment under the terms of the 1997 Acts. The final figure is currently forecast to be approximately £90.2 million.

Ms Atherton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action is being taken to(a) detect and (b) confiscate illegally held handguns. [101157]

Mr. Charles Clarke

The decision of smuggled handguns is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Customs, and the recovery of those in criminal use is the individual responsibility of every Constabulary. Intelligence led operations are used by the police to recover firearms from criminals, and Firearms Inquiry Units operated by the police concentrate on the licensing and administration of legitimate firearms to prevent legally held firearms being diverted into the criminal market. Additionally, the National Crime Squad and metropolitan forces run proactive operations against criminal sources that supply illegal handguns. The Association of Chief Police Officers two sub-committees, Criminal Use of Firearms and the Administration of Firearms and Explosives Licensing are also revising strategies to enhance the detection of illegally held firearms in criminal use.

In addition to these measures, the Government are pursuing a number of initiatives aimed at supporting police and Customs target and detect illegal activity as and when it occurs. These include: The creation of a strategic threat assessment of the firearm situation in England and Wales by the National Criminal Intelligence Service; a request by the Home Office for the Firearms Consultative Committee to look into the criminal misuse of firearms; and the negotiation by the Home Office, internationally, a draft United Nations Protocol against the illicit manufacture of and trafficking in firearms and, within the European Union, action to review the European Union Firearms Directive with the emphasis on preventing illicit trafficking.

Once detected, all illegally held handguns are confiscated by police and Customs and, to ensure they never re-enter the market, the weapons are smelted. In 1998, Customs detected less than 200 firearms being smuggled into the United Kingdom, and collectively the police submitted to the Forensic Science Service fewer than 1,000 illegally held firearms recovered used in crime.