Firearms (Amendment) Bill
§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 7 [Firearm certificates to be subject to special conditions]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 3, line 45, leave out subsection (2).
The noble Lord said: This amendment is a very simple one because the Bill as framed states that a breach of the conditions relating to pistols should be
treated as having been committed in "an aggravated form"; in other words, the penalty is doubled. Compared with penalties for breaches of other regulations, that seems most unfair and quite out of proportion. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
the Government have made it an aggravated offence to break any of the mandatory conditions of a firearm certificate issued for a small calibre pistol for target shooting only. That increases the level of penalties which may be applied by the courts for this offence. The amendment would reduce the level of penalty available.
If a person were found guilty of breaking any of the mandatory conditions set out, we propose that the maximum sentence on conviction or indictment should be seven years and a fine. If the amendment were passed, the maximum sentence would be six months' imprisonment on summary conviction.
It is one of the primary objectives of the Bill that all handguns should be banned from private possession. Higher calibre handguns will be banned altogether and small calibre pistols will only be able to be kept under the strictest conditions at a licensed pistol club. As the Government have made clear, the measures announced and contained in the Bill are the minimum conditions which will allow pistol target shooting to continue in Britain. To underline the seriousness with which we view the need to keep pistols out of the public domain, we believe that an aggravated offence for breach of the conditions of a firearm certificate for a small calibre pistol is appropriate. It is important that severe penalties are available to the courts for those who breach the conditions. Of course, it will be for the courts to decide in each individual case what level of penalty should be imposed. I should remind Members of the Committee that they are, of course, maximum penalties and, therefore, a sentence could be anything within that range.
However, the level of penalties which the Government are providing for those offences show that we regard breach of the statutory controls as a serious matter. I would, therefore, urge Members of the Committee to support that approach and I ask my noble friend not to press his amendment.
§ Lord Swansea
That is more or less the answer that I expected. Nevertheless, it seems very unfair to have a double penalty in such circumstances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.30 p.m.
The Earl of Balfour
I have a question on this matter. I understand that the issuing of firearm certificates is decided by the local chief constable. That is fair enough, but what happens if a person's club is in a different police area to the one he lives in? In which place should his certificate be held?
§ Baroness Blatch
That is an interesting question. I am trying to think of someone who lives on the border 358 of a county area, and who may belong to a club in one area but live in another. My understanding is that the relevant criterion is where the person lives. However, the certificate is sent to the owner of the gun and not to the club. My understanding is that the relevant authority is the authority where the owner of the weapon lives.
I believe the Minister is right on that. I have an amendment that addresses a similar concern which we shall debate at a later stage in the Committee.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Permits to have small-calibre pistols outside licensed pistol clubs]:
§ Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 25:
§ Page 4, line 10, leave out ("apply") and insert ("make an application in the prescribed form"). The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 25, which stands in my name, is grouped with Amendments Nos. 26, 27, 28, 29 and 87, which stand in the names of noble Lords too numerous to mention. I shall first discuss Amendment No. 25.
§ This amendment will ensure that an application for a permit to remove a small calibre pistol from a licensed pistol club is made in a prescribed form. The information which the police will require before granting a permit will be the same in each case. It is therefore sensible to have the permit in a standard form which will be prescribed by the firearms rules.
§ If the Committee will allow me, I hope I may venture an initial comment on the other amendments in the group in advance of noble Lords speaking to them, as I think that may save time. There seems to be no objection to that and therefore I shall continue.
§ We considered carefully whether a pistol outside a club on permit should be transmitted by its owner or by a third party. We concluded that unless there were wholly exceptional circumstances, transport should be by a third party. In most cases, therefore, pistol and owner will be quite separate when in public. One of the primary objectives of the Bill is that handguns and pistols are banned from the public domain. This is something which underpins the whole Bill. I do not believe we can make any exceptions to this requirement, even for members of the national squad.
§ I have some sympathy with Amendment No. 28 put forward by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. It is our intention that the Government should consult with the governing bodies concerned. However, I believe it is proper that the final decision on such matters in the interests of public safety should lie with the Secretary of State, and that he should not be bound by the advice of other parties.
§ Amendment No. 29 would introduce a right of appeal against a refusal by the chief officer to grant a permit. The criteria surrounding the granting of permits under Clause 8 are clear. If a case is made which falls within the proper purposes in subsection (3), then, providing the chief officer of police is satisfied, he would issue a 359 permit. At the same time, the chief officer must retain the discretion to refuse to grant the permit. Unlike the grant or refusal of the certificate itself, the refusal to grant a permit will not deprive the firearm certificate holder of his ability to shoot a small calibre pistol in the club at which he is licensed to keep it.
§ It is also worth pointing out that such an appeal would probably not be heard before the occasion for which a permit has been requested. This would make it of little practical use. If concerns about the chief officer's decision were sufficiently serious, the possibility of judicial review would still exist. I have no reason to believe that chief officers will exercise their discretion in anything other than a sensible manner.
§ For those reasons I invite the Committee to reject the amendments. However, I am conscious that I have spoken to those amendments ahead of those who are proposing them. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 27 lies within the grouping we are discussing. I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, might have spoken on this first, but in order that we do not allow the matter to go by default I shall take up the cudgels. My name is added to the amendment. I take up the cudgels because there has been a total paucity of debate on the effect of these measures on the sport of shooting, on our Olympic Games participation and on our Commonwealth Games participation. The Minister for Sport has not said one word on any of these vital matters. I compliment the noble Baroness on being the only person who replied to an interjection of mine on Second Reading. I am grateful to her for the courteous manner in which she replied. However, I think even she would agree that she was not on that occasion attempting to involve herself in the major principle of whether shooting as a legitimate sporting activity in the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games should concern this Chamber.
I must declare an interest, in that I am the president of the 49th Rifle Club, which I helped to establish in my former constituency in some disused swimming baths. It has been a splendid club. It is situated in a basement in the middle of Birmingham. The police make extensive use of it for the lawful purpose of shooting practice. There has not been the slightest bit of trouble and the club has produced for the country some shooters of great distinction.
I hope I may have the tolerance of the Committee for a few minutes. If I may say so, I do not see why I should not, in view of the speeches everyone else has made. I wish to recall two vibrant memories in the field of shooting. The first concerns the noble Lord, Lord Swansea. I was present at the Commonwealth Games of, I believe, 1966, which were held in Jamaica, when the noble Lord won a gold medal for Wales. I can still picture him now on the rostrum as the band tried to play the Welsh National anthem. Having played Land of Hope and Glory, God Save the Queen and other anthems, the noble Lord stood erect and motionless and refused to move from the rostrum, in spite of all the attempts of the Jamaicans to remove him, until Land of my Fathers was played. That is a wonderful memory 360 for me. I can still picture him in my mind. Therefore I understand the passionate belief in his sport held by the noble Lord.
The second memory is of the first Olympic gold medal that I ever saw someone from Great Britain win. That was in the Mexican Olympics. I went to watch the shooting event with Sir Walter Winterbottom as the shooters had complained that no government Minister ever took any notice of them. That was the Olympics of 1968. A referee from Staffordshire named Bob Braithwaite invited us to watch the clay pigeon shooting. The competitors shot at 25 clay pigeons at a time. We reached the event after the first round of 25 clay pigeons had been shot at. The competitor had missed three of them. We still thought that was pretty good. The competitor said, "I am so glad that you have come. Now that my sport is recognised by the Government, I shall not miss any more". He hit the next 175 and won a gold medal. So my experiences in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games lead me to believe that the sport is being short changed.
The Government have to make a hideous decision. We all recognise that. My criticisms apply equally to views expressed by my noble friends on this Front Bench. I have not voted against any provision that the Government or my noble friends have put forward. I have abstained because I understand their motives. Thanks to the fact that we have annunciators in our offices, I was able to hear my noble friend speaking about the sport. I know that he recognises the position that I take, as I recognise the position that others take. However, we should be in no doubt that these are matters of great importance.
The Commonwealth Games venue has been awarded to Manchester. We nearly lost it. The Government and the Sports Council made some concessions to seek to retrieve the situation, but they now are in a ludicrous and illogical situation. In this country .32 shooting will be totally unlawful. But for the purpose of the Commonwealth Games the Home Secretary indicated in Hansard of 18th November 1996 at col. 745 that he will make an exception to allow that event to be held. The Manchester Commonwealth Games would not take place unless he made that exception.
However, the extraordinary situation now is that no British marksman can practise for those games. Fifty countries will take part in the shooting events at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Britons allowed to take part are in very difficult circumstances as regards the .22 sport and in impossible circumstances with regard to .32s. Because it is unlawful for them to exercise their skills in training and practice, they are being allowed to take part in an event for which the Government say they cannot practise. Can there be a more ludicrous proposition to put before the nation? But that is where we are now.
As regards the Olympic Games—we on this side of the Chamber support the Government; we want to attract the Olympic Games here—there are more nations taking part with even more shooters; and we shall have to go through this ludicrous pantomime once more. It will make us the laughing stock of the world.
361 I wish to ask the Minister to consider this one point. Can those shooters coming from the nations involved in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games be said to be more responsible than British shooters? Alternatively, can British shooters be said to be more irresponsible than other shooters? It is not a proposition that can be sustained for five minutes. But that is what the Government put before us.
In Amendment No. 27 the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, seeks a way out by providing that we should have regard to the squad system. If people are selected for a squad, the Home Secretary should make exceptional arrangements. That does not get us over the problem of how people qualify for a squad. Nevertheless, it is a half-way house. I shall not put this matter to a vote tonight, but I was much encouraged by what the noble Baroness said earlier. She said that she would consider carefully everything that has been said and see whether she could meet the point. The Government should not set out to try to destroy a perfectly legitimate and noble sport which has served this country well for many years. That is the effect of the situation at present.
I hope that the noble Baroness will give us the same undertaking. I believe that she will because I know that she tries genuinely to meet the will of the Chamber. I hope that she will consider the problems of British sport, will take further advice and will consider in consultation whether it is possible to protect British dignity and common sense. In that spirit I rest the case that I put before the Committee.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. He said that his club was in Birmingham. I believe that I had a letter from one of the members saying that he was frightened that the club was likely to close. Does the noble Lord believe that it will close?
He said that policemen used to practise at that club. Where will they practise in future?
I am advised that the club will be in great danger. They will try to keep it open because that is the sort of people they are. But there is the danger that it will close.
As regards the police, unless they take on board all the costs of running the club—the police gain a good deal from it at present because the club effectively arranges the finance for it in conjunction with the city council, which leases the premises—they will have to practise elsewhere. I do not know where because there is no similar range that I can suggest.
§ Lord Monson
I fully share the indignation of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, over the position of our competitors in the Commonwealth Games and allied matters. I shall speak to Amendment No. 26. However, first, I wish to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for not having been present to move Amendments Nos. 22 and 23. I was under the impression that we would be granted an hour's rest from 362 our labours. In fact we were given 57 minutes and I missed the deadline. The Committee rose at 7.28, or something like that.
To incorporate into the Bill subsection (2) of Clause 8 as it stands will be disastrous for competitive pistol shooting. Subsection (2) decrees that a permit will not be given to the owner of a gun other than in exceptional circumstances. That means that every shooter who in the normal course of the sport wishes to shoot in another club or range for competition purposes must have a third party to take the gun for him. That third party must have a permit from the police. As I understand it, the kind of third party envisaged is Securicor or even Group 4, an organisation not always noted for optimum efficiency.
This modest amendment removes that obligation on the part of the police but still allows them to impose whatever conditions they think appropriate for the safe carrying of a pistol. Indeed, they will have an obligation so to do. Since the police will have that discretion, it is unnecessary and damaging to restrict the grant of a permit to a law-abiding owner. The amendment allows for the permit to be given to the owner, to the secretary of the club or to the organiser of the competition, who can transport the guns to the competition on behalf of the participants. If the Government are serious about wishing the sport of .22 shooting to continue—there have been forecasts today that it may not be able to continue if disassembly is not allowed—they have to take account of the practicalities. The amendment provides one way in which that could be done.
The noble Baroness's amendment is perfectly acceptable. I do not intend to delay the Committee long at this late hour. However, within this group my amendment addresses a simple point concerning the right of appeal against a decision by the chief officer of police. The right of appeal under Section 44 of the 1968 Act appears in many places in legislation. Police policy with regard to the administration of firearms law is not consistent across the country, as we well know. Perhaps more importantly, the intention of the Government to allow competitive .22 shooting could be thwarted by local police policy. If there is a right of appeal, it may not need to be used very often but it would be in place as a deterrent against arbitrary action. The point does not very much matter, as the system for competitions and the like is so impractical that in fact the situation will not occur.
I wish to make a brief point about transport by third parties. The people transporting weapons to a range will be extremely vulnerable to attack by criminals: when a TNT or Securicor vehicle turns up at a range it will be obvious what it is carrying.
The noble Lord's point about Group 4 security seems a little unfair. As I understand it, the Prison Service used to lose more prisoners than Group 4.
Finally, I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, regarding qualification for the national squad. I believe that this point applies generally in relation to whether someone needs, or does not need, to have his or her own firearm. It is a matter of the skill 363 that the shooter can demonstrate. If it can be shown that he or she can achieve a certain grouping and get into the national squad, that person can be qualified. That can quite easily be measured: can the shooter get six rounds in a 50 millimetre circle at a certain range?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I support the remarks made in relation to these amendments. I welcome the intervention of my noble friend Lord Howell. He quite rightly said that we have not previously discussed the sporting aspect. Perhaps many of us were waiting for him to enter the debate. I mean that very sincerely. My noble friend has great expertise and experience in these matters. If he tells me that the sport of shooting is in danger, then I know that that is his belief. I also believe that he must be correct because of his background, his contacts and his expertise. If, as he believes, the restrictions being put in place under the Bill will impair the opportunity of sportsmen to practise and to move their weapons to places where they can practise and compete, it is a very serious matter—particularly since, as I understand it, the British do extremely well in this sport.
We talked quite a lot about expertise earlier in the debate. I sincerely hope that the noble Baroness will take very seriously the points that my noble friend made. He knows the sport; indeed, he knows sport generally. I believe that what he says is absolutely right and to the point. I hope that the Minister will accede to his suggestion in order that our sport of shooting can continue, at least to some degree, unimpaired.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am absolutely delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has spoken in the debate. I should like to think that he has recognised that one of the tensions being addressed in the course of today's deliberations has to do with the Government's recognition that we want to do something to preserve the right of sportsmen to practise their art of shooting. We have not gone as far as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, would like; we have gone much too far according to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh; and we have certainly not gone as far as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, would like. That is the stuff of the debate. Shooting is an honourable sport. It has been going for a hundred years and it is our intention that it should continue. I do not deny that it will be something of a challenge to envisage how it will continue when the Bill passes into law. The challenge is to make sure that the clubs survive, and in a way that allows our sportsmen and women to continue to take part in the sport.
The Commonwealth Games pistol competition to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred comprises four .22 rimfire events and one higher calibre centre fire event. It is for the city hosting the games to decide precisely which of those events shall be included in the competition. The Government are prepared to discuss with Manchester which disciplines it wishes to include. It would, if necessary, be possible to give special authority to participants in the centre fire competition if that was Manchester's wish, and if it were capable of guaranteeing that the guns would be handled with the necessary security measures in place. I can go no further than that on the detail since discussions are continuing. However, 364 I give the noble Lord, Lord Howell, an absolute assurance of the same promises I made earlier in the day. I will continue to read all that is said; I will continue to discuss the Bill in my department and with experts; and I will continue, without prejudice to the outcome, to be as open-minded as I possibly can while all these matters are being discussed.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Before my noble friend proceeds, when she comes to consider these matters will she be so good as to consider the question of practice, and how the British Olympic team will be able to practise in clubs up and down the country, which will have been closed if she continues to refuse what was my Amendment No. 21? You cannot simply turn up in Manchester and beat the world.
§ Baroness Blatch
That is precisely what I just said. That is the challenge. It is for clubs to find a way of existing under the new arrangements in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was kind enough to say that the decision has not been at all easy. The lines in the sand have been drawn in different places by different people. But the Government have the present responsibility to respond to the situation. We have chosen where to draw the line. However, I gave an indication that we want to be flexible, and we will continue to discuss matters with Manchester.
Perhaps I may finish my point on a third party carrier. It could be an accredited member of a pistol club; it could be an individual whom the police would be content to trust with the safe carriage of a pistol being moved from one place to another. It is customary practice for that to be contracted out if a number of pistols are being moved. The only example that springs to mind is where one club is competing against another and therefore a number of weapons need to be moved. The police allocating the permit would need to be convinced of good reason for pistols to be moved from A to B in the first instance, and then of the suitability and fitness for the purpose of the third person who would be permitted to do the carrying of the weapons from A to B.
I am very much obliged to the Minister for confirming that she will examine all that has been said. I express my appreciation. Perhaps I may make one small point in relation to her remark about consulting Manchester. It is not a matter for Manchester. Manchester had to give undertakings to the British Commonwealth Games Association. The association had to give undertakings to the Commonwealth Games Federation before the vote that shooting would be included. So everybody is committed. Whatever Manchester may want to do at the behest of the Government or anybody else, we are committed to holding all those events in Manchester. A question therefore arises regarding the conditions that British shooters need in order to take part and to practise. I hope the Minister will bear the matter in mind. I thank her very much indeed for the generous spirit in which she responded to this amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 26 not moved.]365
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 4, line 19, at end insert—
("( ) A person who is certified by the recognised governing body of the sport to be a person who has been invited to be a member of the group from which national competitors at international competitions will be selected may be granted a permit under subsection (1) to which subsection (2) shall not apply; and such permit shall be granted for one year and be renewable while membership of the group continues to be certified.").
The noble Lord said: This amendment is extremely important. It deals with competitors or potential competitors in international competitions—for example, in the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, and so on. The Committee has seen the wording of the amendment. The effect is to permit the chief officer of police to grant a year's permit to people chosen to be members of the national squad (and who live in his area) in order to represent the country in international competition. The permit would only be granted while they were members of the squad. The effect of the permit is to give the shooter the right to possess his or her gun at home and outside the confines of a specific licensed pistol club.
§ For international competitions of this kind, daily access to a pistol is essential. A competitor has to be able to get at it every day for tuning and maintenance, for dry firing and for live firing when needed. That may require access for anything up to five or six days a week. It is essential for the competitor to keep himself and his pistol in top trim building up to a competition.
§ These men and women represent their country with great personal commitment. A refusal to accept this amendment would mean that Parliament is prepared to accept that sacrifice and enjoy the national benefit of them winning international competitions, but is not prepared to trust this small number of highly motivated competitors, who are identified at the end of a long process, not to commit an outrage such as Dunblane. This would not only be implausible, it would also be insulting. These people work very hard to represent their country. They have to keep themselves in top trim.
§ The Government's commitment to sport was attested to by its White Paper Raising the Game, which announced the creation of a new British Academy of Sport. Complementing that, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, announced on 14th November last that £50 million of National Lottery funds are to be made available to fund individual sportsmen and women. The Government are providing the facilities and the finance needed by competitors at an elite level in order to allow them to become champions. The least they can do in this case is to make it as easy as possible for our top competitors in target shooting—a sport which was invented in this country and which the British have dominated in international competition for many years.
§ For Britain to secure a place at the Olympic Games in Sydney it must succeed in the preceding national games. To compete in Sydney, a British shooter must gain one of only 20 quota places. Not every country is allowed to compete, however good their competitors. The quota places are allocated on the basis of the results 366 in the six World Cup UIT Championships, European and World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
§ Like every other sport, the medal winners develop through a network of competition and coaching. This begins at club level. Competitions for the national squad are held throughout the country and from the national squad only those who reach further levels of excellence are chosen to compete overseas.
§ The margin between a medal and no medal is no less fine than in any other sport, requiring years of exacting, disciplined training and equipment equal to that of any competitor of rival nations. Serious competitors need to practise four hours' dry firing, six hours' live firing and at least six hours' physical and mental training per week. All UK squad shooters work full time and train in their spare time. The present restrictions on taking guns out of clubs make it impossible for effective training at international level. We should be in no doubt that if the Committee permits the Bill to go forward unamended we shall be destroying British participation in Olympic and other international shooting. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
We covered much of this amendment in the main debate on the group of amendments, so I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not come back in any great detail on the points that he made. I would invite him to read Hansard. Perhaps we may discuss some of these points at the next stage of the Bill.
I wish to pick up two points. My noble friend introduced the notion of the lottery, and lottery money being made available. In principle the lottery money is available. The lottery has a sports section, and shooting is not exempt or excluded from an application to the lottery. In fact, I said that at Second Reading, but it is worth putting it on record again.
Secondly, just to remind my noble friend, all the sports events in the Olympic Games will be supported (because shooting clubs will be allowed to continue) and four out of the five events in the Commonwealth Games, as I have mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, with particular attention to two matters that we are discussing today, one of which is the higher calibre event and the other is the practising for that event and the pool from which the future talent will come for the squads. I would ask my noble friend to read what has been said in Hansard, because much of this was covered in the earlier debate.
§ Lord Swansea
I can hardly describe my noble friend's reply as encouraging. In any event, I do not propose to press this amendment, but I hope that my noble friend will take it away and give it deep consideration. I may return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.367
Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 5, line 24, after ("order") insert ("on the advice of a recognised governing body of the sport").
The noble Lord said: I regret to say that I feel that this amendment should be taken outside the grouping. I was telephoned this morning by the most charming sounding young lady from the office of my noble friend on the Front Bench to see whether I agreed with this amendment being grouped with the rest of the amendments. At the time I thought that I might, but when we come to it, I am afraid I cannot.
§ The Bill provides that the chief of police may issue a permit to take guns away from the club where they are licensed to be stored so that they may be used in a recognised target shooting competition. Subsection (9) then gives the Secretary of State power to designate such competitions as he thinks fit as recognised target shooting competitions. But these competitions have been organised and developed for some 150 years without the dread interference of the state.
§ I submit that it is really not appropriate that the Home Secretary should now distinguish between competitions he approves of and those he does not. If people apply to attend tin-pot competitions of no standing, the police will not grant permits. There is, therefore, no need at all for this subsection and that should be the preferred option. Indeed, one could say the same for the whole of this wretched Bill.
§ But this amendment does not go that far. It requires the Home Secretary to take the advice of the shooting organisations which know about these competitions before designating or not designating any competition. This is, therefore, another entirely reasonable little amendment which will do much to help the sport without damaging the very doubtful aims of this flawed and unnecessary Bill. So I hope that my noble friend can accept it. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am in some embarrassment at this point. I responded quite specifically to Amendment No. 28 before my noble friend re-entered the Chamber after his supper. But he might be warmed by what I had to say in his absence; namely, that I had a lot of sympathy with the amendment and with what he said.
It is our intention that the Government should consult with governing bodies concerned. It is important that the Secretary of State makes a decision. By all means he should be advised and listen to that advice, but at the end of the day he should not in fact be bound by that advice. But we are entirely happy with the idea that he will take it into account in coming to a decision.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am warmed by what my noble friend said from the Front Bench. I apologise if I was two minutes late for the start of proceedings after the dinner break but by my calculation they started three minutes early.
All I can say to my noble friend is that I very much hope that she will be able to consider what was Amendment No. 21 tonight in the same spirit with which she has received this amendment. Obviously, 368 I shall read in Hansard what she said and if it goes far enough I shall not bring back the amendment at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 5, line 26, at end insert—
("( ) A person aggrieved by the refusal of a chief officer of police to grant a permit under this section or by any condition imposed on such a permit may, in accordance with section 44 of the 1968 Act, appeal against such refusal or condition.").
The noble Lord said: This amendment provides for a right of appeal against the decision by a chief officer of police not to grant a permit. It is against the principle of natural justice. It is something that should be put right. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
Again, I invite my noble friend to read the account in Hansard. This is another amendment to which I referred when discussing this group of amendments. I hope that he will read Hansard and if perhaps he remains concerned will come back at a later stage of the Bill.
§ Lord Swansea
I am grateful to my noble friend for that answer. I shall certainly study her comments in Hansard. I may come back to this matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Surrender of prohibited small firearms and ammunition]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 5, line 31, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").
The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 31 and 32. This is rather a different issue from that debated in the past few hours. It is a practical concern and I hope that it can be dealt with reasonably speedily.
§ The concern has been expressed by those who are worried about the international gun trade and in particular about the possibility that the enforced disposal/illegality of handguns in this country could lead to increased exports of handguns, particularly to countries where they might be misused. I am not quite sure what misuse of a handgun is for these purposes, but so be it.
Amendment No. 30 provides that the Secretary of State "shall" make arrangements:
to secure the orderly surrender … of firearms or ammunition".
I am sure that that is the intention of the Government and I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that.
Amendment No. 31 provides that in addition to securing the orderly surrender of firearms or ammunition, the Secretary of State shall make arrangements:
for the secure disposal of such firearms and ammunition".
Again, I am sure that that is the intention of the Secretary of State and the Government and I hope it will be confirmed in an answer.
§ Amendment No. 32 adds to Clause 10 the provision that there shall be no export licences granted after this Bill receives Royal Assent. The Minister will be aware that there has already been concern that the number of applications for licences has been increasing since the Bill was published and could continue to increase unless action is taken—I do not ask for retrospective action—to ensure that there is no increase in exports of handguns.
§ I am aware of course under existing procedures—this was confirmed by a Minister in another place in a Written Answer—that all of those exports require licences. But at the same time there is a provision for, for example, dealer to dealer licences which can continue for as long as three years. There is therefore a risk that instead of being securely disposed of, exports of handguns may take place which, while possibly reducing the crime rate in this country, may increase crime rates or civil disturbance in other countries.
§ The question was raised briefly in Committee in another place. However, I would be grateful for assurances from the Government that they are aware of the problem and will do everything in their power to deal with it. I beg to move.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
I cannot support Amendment No. 32. In introducing the amendment the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that he did not know what "misuse" was. He was quite right to be dubious. Indeed, what misuse could there be?
Other countries do not have hang-ups about handguns—or pistols, as I prefer to call them. Other countries do not have the same strict controls for the most part, and therefore why should not guns be exported if they are no longer to be allowed here? Target shooting weapons are not suitable for crime on the whole because they have too long a barrel or are too heavy. They are not generally the sort of weapons in which criminals are interested. I would have thought it was desirable that, instead of being bought by the Government at large expense to the taxpayer, they should be exported whenever possible.
My Amendment No. 41, which I had understood would be grouped with Amendment No. 30 and to which we shall no doubt come on Tuesday, provides for that situation. I therefore oppose Amendment No. 32.
Both Members of the Committee are wrong. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is wrong to try to stop us from saving as much money as possible by restricting the export of weapons that we no longer 370 require and my noble friend Lord Monson is also wrong. Most of the handguns about which we are talking are not target pistols; they are ordinary revolvers—.38 Smith and Wessons—which are perfectly saleable overseas.
The Earl of Balfour
I am afraid that I must go back a little in history to when we were taking the 1988 Bill through this House. At that time a firearms dealer lived very close to me. He showed me some of the amazing catalogues of firearms sales that took place—many of them in Birmingham—around four or five times a year at which people seemed to sell machine guns and all sorts of other weapons which under any previous firearms legislation none of us would have been allowed to hold. I have no reason to believe that those sales do not still go on.
Many of the sales were between firearms dealers of different countries. I feel that where the necessary export licence exists, the sales should be permitted to continue. It is big business in this country. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, seeks to restrict private sales. But I have the impression that the inclusion of the words,No export licence shall be granted",will be detrimental to the big firearms dealers who deal in all kinds of weapons. I feel that firearms dealers with export licences already should be allowed to continue in the future.
§ Baroness Blatch
Perhaps I can respond to my noble friend Lord Balfour first. The specific weapons he mentioned are not the subject of the amendments addressed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The concern of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—if I may be permitted to put words into his mouth—relates to those people who will be disenfranchised of the ownership of the guns and who choose not to surrender them to the state in this country but wish to sell them abroad. My noble friend refers to rather larger and more dangerous weapons.
If my noble friend looks at Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, he will see that anybody trading in the weapons about which he is talking requires a Section 5 certificate. There is no question of inhibiting exports abroad if it is a bona fide dealer with a Section 5 certificate. But there would have to be an export licence for the approval of any transaction abroad.
I come back to the particular amendments in the Marshalled List. There have been firearms amnesties in the past when firearms have been prohibited and they have been required to be surrendered. But the Government fully take the point that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is making that the compulsory surrender of handguns which is envisaged by the Bill is on a different scale from previous exercises of this kind which have been conducted. I can assure the noble Lord, 371 Lord McIntosh, that we are very much aware of all the possible difficulties and that we are actively working on the detail of what will happen with the police.
It is not the Government's intention that guns and ammunition which are surrendered will be sold or exported. In previous amnesties and surrender exercises, such as the one we organised last year, the guns involved have invariably been melted down, except for a few of particular interest which were taken into museum collections or, very occasionally, retained for police armouries. Ammunition was disposed of safely and that is what will happen this time, too.
We recognise that some of those who currently possess higher calibre handguns may want to sell them to someone in another country where such handguns will remain lawful rather than surrendering their weapons to the police and receiving compensation under the scheme, which will be made under Clause 11. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is absolutely right. There will be a great variety of these weapons. Many of them will fall into the category mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and others will fall into the category mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee.
Those who want to export their firearms will need to obtain an export licence from the Department of Trade and Industry. So we envisage that the practice will continue, but under licence. Obtaining such a licence takes a little time for obvious reasons because the application must be checked for accuracy and omissions. Checks may be made, if necessary, to determine that the intended recipient of the firearm in another country has whatever authorities are required in that country to receive and to possess the firearm. Checks may also have to be made to make sure that there is no other reason why it would not be in the public interest for the firearm to be exported to the intended destination.
Clause 10 of the Bill enables the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make the arrangements that they think fit to ensure that the handing in is conducted properly. There is no need to amend the Bill as envisaged by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to require them to do so or to require them to ensure that guns and ammunition which are surrendered for compensation are disposed of safely and are not exported.
These amendments have allowed us to put on record important aspects of a practical nature of receiving this quantity of ammunition and disposing of it safely and securely and also in making absolutely clear that there will be no objection in principle to weapons being sold abroad as long as they are subject to export licence.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am most grateful for that response. In particular I am grateful for the assurances given as regards Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 that the Secretary of State will take the action which is permissive in Clause 10 and which I was proposing should be mandatory. I am grateful for the assurance 372 about Amendment No. 31—my first reference was to Amendment No. 30 and I correct that—that there will be proper arrangements for secure disposal.
As regards the third amendment, Amendment No. 32, I suppose that, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I should learn not to be untypically tactful. When I said that I did not understand what was meant by "misuse", to be honest what I really meant was that I do not understand what is meant by "lawful use". It seems to me that very few handguns which are to be exported will be used for sporting purposes. Most will be used to kill people, which is what they were designed for. I do not in any way retract from what I said about the undesirability of our gun control legislation contributing to the international gun trade.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
May I ask the noble Lord whether he sees any similarity between what he has just said about the guns which are to be exported being used to kill people and the vast number of illegally held guns in this country and the purpose for which they are held?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If, by passing laws, we could control the holding of, or trading in, illegal guns, we should be a remarkable legislature. We clearly are not. We have to do what we can within the confines and the possibilities of the law to restrict opportunities for crimes using guns. That is what the Government are doing in this Bill with the support of some of us. Nobody is claiming that we are going to remove the problem of illegal guns, but we are saying—
Has the noble Lord considered another problem on which the Minister may be able to help us? If a UK citizen is able to obtain a permit from the authorities in France or Germany, where the regulations are much weaker than ours, will that person be able to own a handgun on the Continent? How will this Bill affect the ability of someone to take their currently legally held weapon from here and then to join a gun club or to take the necessary action to have a permit in France?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I do not think that that point is covered by the amendment. However, as one who has a house in France, perhaps I should say that it has never occurred to me that, if I had any weapons, I would take them over to France because of their weaker controls. That is not least because I assume that I would be stopped by airport security or by some other security at the port of exit. I hope that at least there would be some means of stopping me moving weapons around by air or by ship or train, which is what I actually use.
The issue of the export arms trade is qualified by the fact that I recognise that, although the Minister did not say so, one consideration in the granting of an export licence is the conditions in the country to which it is proposed that 373 the gun should go. If it were proposed to send guns to, for example, Rwanda or Burundi rather than to France, there might be considerable objections to an export licence being granted. On that basis, I certainly do not want to pursue Amendment No. 32 to a vote.
The Minister said that it has been valuable to have such matters discussed. I agree that this has been a valuable discussion and I have found it helpful to have the assurances that the Minister has given. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 30.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.374
§ [Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 not moved.]
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ House resumed.