FIREARMS (AMDT) BILL

Standing Committee B

FIREARMS (AMDT) BILL

13th February 1992

1991–1992

PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Standing Committee B

FIREARMS (AMDT.) BILL

Thursday 13 February 1992

CONTENTS

CLAUSES 1 to 3 agreed to.

Bill to be reported without amendment.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Patrick Cormack

Campbell, Mr. Ronnie (Blyth Valley)

Cook, Mr. Frank (Stockton, North)

Cummings, Mr. John (Easington)

Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)

Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)

Jones, Mr. Martyn (Clwyd, South-West)

Livsey, Mr. Richard (Brecon and Radnor)

Lloyd, Mr. Peter (Fareham) (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)

Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Croydon, North-West)

Marek, Dr. John (Wrexham)

Page, Mr. Richard (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Powell, Mr. William (Corby)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Taylor, Mr. Ian (Esher)

Thompson, Mr. Patrick (Norwich, North)

R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk

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3 Standing Committee B Thursday 13 February 1992

[MR. PATRICK CORMACK in the Chair]

Firearms (Amendment) Bill

10.30 am

The Chairman: Because the Bill did not have a debate on Second Reading and because its substance is contained in clause 1, I am prepared to allow an omnibus debate—not too great, I hope—on clause 1. Then I shall put formally the remaining two clauses without debate. That can be done at the Chairman's discretion and I think that it will be for the convenience of the Committee.

Clause 1
DURATION OF FIREARM AND SHOT CUN CERTIFICATES

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central): I am grateful to you, Mr. Cormack, and to the rest of the Committee for attending at this relatively short notice and I am grateful also to the officers involved. Getting a private Member's Bill through the House is not easy at the best of times and given the time that we have in this Session, even a modest and useful Bill such as this needs all the help that it can get. The main purposes of the Bill is to extend the period for which firearm and shotgun certificates are granted or renewed. At present the period is three years and it is hoped that that will be extended initially to five years and then we shall see how it proceeds. I must declare an interest: I possess a gun and although I shoot rarely and have not done so for some time now, much formal, rough, rifle and target shooting takes place in my constituency. Therefore, I know what is involved in possessing a shotgun and in obtaining a certificate for it. The process is detailed, careful, accurate and time consuming, as it shouldbe because it is essential that the closest possible control be maintained on the possession of guns. However, the general view is that it is not necessary to repeat the process every three years. That is wasteful of police time and public money and involves much extra administration. The changes recommended in the Bill are supported by the police, the Home Office and the shooting fraternity. The Association of Chief Police Officers says that an extension to five years would involve no risk to public safety and would reduce the cost of administration. I am as worried as everyone else about the rising crime rate and should not have dreamed of introducing the Bill if I thought that it would alter the present position on the criminal use of guns by one iota or affect public safety. I am certain that it will not. The Bill gives the Home Secretary the power to extend the life of shotgun and firearm certificates and retains the Home Secretary's present powers to reduce the period if need be. Under the present law, the Home Secretary can reduce the life of certificates by statutory instrument without consulting Parliament. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary will be able to lengthen or reduce the life of certificates by 4 statutory instrument, subject to the negative resolution procedure. Some sections of the shooting fraternity are worried that the Home Secretary might want to use the Bill simply to reduce the period for which certificates are held. That cannot be right; the Home Secretary does not need the Bill for that purpose as he has already that power without having to come before Parliament. The Home Secretary has never used the power to reduce the life of certificates and I understand that he has no plans to do so. Some people are worried that that represents a loosening of the law regarding guns. That is not the case. The scrutiny of people, premises and guns and all the checking will be just as thorough as it is now. Clause 1(1)(a) is a paving amendment to the existing legislation. New subsection (3A) means that instead of three years, the period will be specified by the Home Secretary. New subsection (3B) means simply that the Bill, if enacted, would not be retrospective. New subsection (3C) means that measures will be taken by order made by statutory instrument using the negative resolution procedure. Both Houses of Parliament will be involved, which provides an extra safeguard. Finally, clause 1(2) is a consequential amendment which means that present licence holders may hold their licences for a shorter period, as they are able to do at present. Mr. Cormack, you said that I could briefly mention the other clauses. Clause 2 merely shows that the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland and clause 3 deals with the name of the Bill. The Bill is designed to save unnecessary costs and administration without affecting public safety or firearms security. The Bill has the full support of the police, the Home Office and the shooting fraternity. I hope that the Committee will support it.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) for introducing this measure and I thank you, Mr. Cormack, for allowing a forum for logical debate. I declare an interest: I have a shotgun and I am a member of a clay pigeon club, which provides people with endless hours of entertainment and sporting interest. I declare, too, that I am against the principle and philosophy of licences, whether they be for television, car tax or anything else. We lead a cluttered life and I would support anything to reduce the number of licences and the accompanying bureaucracy in our society. However, I recognise that there should be some form of control or certification for firearms. That might be reassuring to the public, but the criminal fraternities—we are most anxious about them because of the danger of weapons getting into the wrong hands—are unlikely to queue up to obtain licences and have their weapons certificated and approved. They are in a murky pool and will slide beneath the surface to avoid any record of their activities. However, shotgun and other firearm certificates perhaps help to stop the free trade between the two sections of society. Having said that, I am convinced that the criminal fraternity will find umpteen ways to circumvent the regulations. It has been argued that certification every three years places an immense strain on police resources. That would not be a valid argument if it was believed that certification prevented crime and stopped shotguns and other firearms 5 falling into the wrong hands. However, that is not the case and it is a logical extension to change the period to five years. In 1982, Lord Whitelaw said that he wanted to double the life of a shotgun certificate and I agree with that. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central in seeking to fulfil that promise, albeit 10 years later.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West): I declare an interest as a target shooter, who will benefit from an extension of the firearm certificate. However, I know that the rules are very stringent, as they should be, and that responsible shooters with no criminal tendencies meet the requirements willingly. The extension of the certificate will not delay the administration procedure; rather, it will be of benefit in the use of police time. I commend the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) on bringing forward his small but useful Bill, and hope that it gets through in the truncated time available for private Members' legislation.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North): I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) one question Clause 1 states that the reference to three years may be regarded as references to "such other period as is specified by the order." That means that the period could be one or two years, which would be unreasonable. However, the general nature of the Bill is sound. The British Shooting Sports Council has written to me to suggest that an applicant who has had a licence for three years should be able to get a general renewal for a much longer period. That would remove much of the bureaucracy involved with certificates, and I should be interested in my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Lord: Before I respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), I should clarify my earlier remarks. I said that the Bill would extend the life of firearm and shotgun certificates. I meant to say that the Bill would enable the Home Secretary to make that extension. In addition, no decision has yet been taken on the recommendation of the Association of Chief Police Officers to extend the certificates. That recommendation is simply part of the backgroud to the Bill. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North. I hope that the Bill is sensible and practical, but the whole issue of firearms is extremely complicated. We must move forward gently and ensure that each step is correct. I am sure that the shooting fraternity would like to make life simpler, but the first step is to increase the certification period by a sensible amount and to monitor the results.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham): May I say quickly and expeditiously that I support the Bill, which seeks to reduce administration and enjoys the favour of the police. It does not interfere with the need for careful scrutiny of the use and possession of firearms. Indeed, the Bill would give the police more time for such scrutiny where necessary. The hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) has produced a good little Bill. I hope that it gets through, although it will need to do so quickly, before the general election.

6

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd): I have no interest to declare, possessing neither firearm certificate nor gun. However, I speak in my capacity as a Minister in the Home Office, which has general responsibility for legislation in this area. I confirm that the Home Office is happy with the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) for getting it so speedily and skilfully into this Committee. My hon. Friend has described it as a modest measure. I think that he is being modest. All those who have contributed to the debate agree that it is a helpful measure. The Secretary of State has the power at present to shorten the life of firearm certificates. It is right and fair that he should have the balancing power to lengthen them, and that is what the Bill would provide. As has been mentioned, in its review of the efficiency with which firearm certificates have been issued the Association of Chief Police Officers has suggested that there will be no diminution of public safety if the period for which certificates are issued is increased to up to five years. The saving in police overheads would be reflected in the licence fee, which is designed to cover police costs. That is timely, because when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary makes up his mind on the submission from the Association of Chief Police Officers and takes into account other comments made, his options will be opened up and he can adopt the recommendation if he is so minded. 10.45 am It is also worth saying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central put so clearly, that at present if the Secretary of State decided to reduce the life of a firearm certificate, it would not be a matter for the House. The Bill, rightly, introduces the negative resolution procedure so that if there are strong feelings, the House will have an opportunity to discuss them. I welcome that. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central and give the Government's complete support to the Bill. Like the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), I, too, hope that it will speed its way to the statute book.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor): I wish to add my voice in support of this Bill, which is sensible, especially for administration. It will identify more clearly the holder of licences and shotgun certificates and make the job of the police easier. The decreased turnover of licences will mean that the police will know the situation more precisely. I am not clear why the Home Secretary should need to lengthen the period of a licence, but, as someone who shoots occasionally, I support and welcome the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

7

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Cormack, Mr. Patrick (Chairman)

Campbell, Mr. Ronnie

Cummings, Mr.

Howells, Dr. Kim

Hunter, Mr.

Jones, Mr. Martyn

Livsey, Mr.

Lloyd, Mr. Peter

Lord, Mr.

Malins, Mr.

Marek, Dr.

Page, Mr.

Skeet, Mr. Trevor

Thompson, Mr. Patrick

8