§ 7. Mr. Redmond
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is yet in a position to make a policy announcement with regard to the import and sale of replica firearms.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr): I hope to include provisional proposals on this matter in the consultative document on firearms control which I expect to publish in the near future; but the House should not underestimate the difficulties involved.
§ Mr. Redmond
Has my hon. Friend seen these replica firearms, which are very vicious and are certainly not toys? Does he realise what offence has been given by the display of these ridiculous things in the Arndale shopping centre in Bolton, and is he aware of the number of letters that I have received on the subject?
Will he comment on the fact that the sale of these objects is illegal in Japan, where they are made, but that they can be sold freely here? Has he any idea who would buy one of these expensive things unless he had some dark and dirty deed in mind?
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
It seems that fairly large quantities of these replica weapons are being imported now. Does the Home Secretary recall having a letter from a 1509 docker in my constituency expressing great horror at what he was unloading from the ships and sending forward?
§ 8. Mr. Farr
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the average sentence imposed for summary convictions under Section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968 for the offence of carrying a loaded firearm in a public place.
§ Mr. Carlisle
In the years 1969 to 1971, 11 of those found guilty by magistrates' courts in England and Wales of offences under Section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968 were sentenced to imprisonment for terms ranging from two to six months, and 2,102 were fined. The average fine was £7.91.
§ Mr. Farr
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Did my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary get in touch with the Lord Chancellor in another place as a result of comments made in this House a month ago on the question of sentencing? Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that it appears to a number of hon. Members that some of the judiciary are totally unaware of the stringent maximum level of penalties which Parliament laid down years ago? What did the Lord Chancellor say?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I assure my hon. Friend that the views expressed by hon. Members were brought to the attention of the Lord Chancellor by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as he promised to do, but I must reiterate that it is Parliament's duty to lay down penalties and it is the duty of the courts to determine the appropriate penalties, within those limits, in different cases. Offences of carrying firearms in public places, which include the carrying of air pistols, vary considerably in gravity.
§ Mr. Fidler
Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that in order to deal with the problems to which he has referred it would be as well to increase the 1510 penalties to a minimum of five years for carrying a firearm, 10 years for using it, and the death penalty for causing death by using it?
§ Mr. Carlisle
All the matters which my hon. Friend has raised are slightly outside Section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968, but I assure my hon. Friend that I have heard what he has said.
§ 18. Mr. Thomas Cox
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will announce an amnesty for illegally held firearms.
§ Mr. R. Carr
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will seek the views of chief officers of police on whether it would be desirable to arrange a general firearms amnesty as soon as practicable or whether it would be preferable to consider the possibility of an amnesty in connection with any legislation that may follow the provisional proposals which will be published in the near future.
§ Mr. Madel
Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that there is a case for tougher penalties for those illegally possessing firearms but that more stringent conditions should apply for the annual re-licensing of firearms? Given that the Government are considering making alterations to the law, is there not a case for, for example, a three- to four-weeks' amnesty as a last chance for people to hand in that which they illegally possess?
§ Mr. Carr
I certainly think that there is a case for an amnesty. The question on which I am seeking advice is its timing —namely, whether it is better to have an amnesty now or as soon as we possibly can, or whether we should tie it up with the new law, if that is the conclusion to which my consultative proposals lead.
§ Mr. Cox
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Surely the reply he gave to me in answer to a Question on Tuesday indicates the urgency of this matter. In the last three years there 1511 have been nearly 1,000 extra prosecutions of people holding illegal firearms. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House and the general public do not want our police armed. Surely we have a duty to stop the use and the circulation of illegal arms. That is what the urgency is about.
§ Mr. Carr
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the urgency of the matter. However, we cannot have amnesties every year, or they will lose their effect. The only matter which I am considering is the question of the best time for an amnesty. I am properly considering that —with the Secretary of State for Scotland —by consulting chief constables.
§ Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler
In considering an amnesty will my right hon. Friend also consider the possibility of allowing, in conjunction with that amnesty, the sale of currently illegal arms to authorised arms dealers? Does he agree that such a policy might result in more currently illegal arms being withdrawn from circulation than would be the case with a simple amnesty?
§ Mr. Ewing
May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to remember, in the event of an amnesty, that it is very important for action in Scotland to take place simultaneously with action in England and Wales? It is important that action in Scotland should not be delayed. Will the Secretary of State impress that point upon the Secretary of State for Scotland?
17. Mr. Edward Taylor
asked the Secretary of Stale for the Home Department whether he has completed his review of the law relating to the use of firearms.
§ Mr. R. Carr
My review of firearms law is nearly completed and I expect shortly to publish a consultative document setting out my provisional proposals for changes.
Have the Home Secretary's inquiries revealed why no statistics are available on the number of crimes involving the use of firearms for any year before 1967? Secondly, have they identified any reason why the number of crimes involving the use of firearms has increased by more than 150 per cent. in five years?
§ Mr. Carr
I should require notice of those two questions. I do not see much merit in trying to ascertain why figures were not collected for a period which ended six years ago. I have already made it clear in the House and in public speeches outside that in the Home Office I am undertaking new inquiries to try to discover something more about the basic causes of violence.