§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA rose to call attention to the Consultative Document on the Control of Firearms in Great Britain (Cmnd. 5297); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I feel I ought to declare an interest of a sort, although not a financial one. For as long as I can remember I have had an abiding interest in shooting in all its forms, and in particular in game shooting with a shot gun and target shooting with a rifle. So I have a practical interest in the legitimate possession and use of firearms and shot guns.
§ This is a subject which has aroused strong emotions among the public and in the Press, not all of it well-informed. Perhaps a suitable sub-title for this debate might be, "How Green was My Paper". The fact that the Government have chosen to put forward their proposals in this form has been welcomed by all shooting interests in the country as it has given 529 them the opportunity of making their views known to the Government on specific proposals in advance of legislation. My Lords, I wish this happened more often. I think the Government have been surprised, to say the least, at the volume and strength of the reaction from all quarters, much of it strongly opposed to some of the proposals in the Green Paper.
§ Why is it that the Green Paper has provoked such strong reactions from the shooting community? One reason is, I think, the lamentable lack of understanding by the Home Office Working Party of the point of view of the shooting public. The cause of this is that the Working Party was composed entirely of Home Office officials and policemen, and that no representative of shooting interests was included. I want to make it quite clear that I do not intend in any way to cast doubts on the integrity of the members of the Working Party, but rather one should criticise the Government themselves for not keeping this point in mind when setting up the Working Party. At any rate, however experienced its members may have been in the administration of the Firearms Act, the point of view of those at the sharp end of the legislation, the users, which should have provided a balanced appraisal of the situation, was completely lacking. The result, as we have seen, was a document which has been described, perhaps unkindly, as being written for non-shooters, by non-shooters, advised by non-shooters. Indeed, on some points the Government seem to have been badly misinformed: for example, concerning self-loading rifles and pump action and repeating shot guns. The less said about that unfortunate proposal, the better. Shooters all over the country were very relieved when the Government announced their intention to abandon it. However, it is an example of the muddled thinking which pervades the Green Paper and which could have been avoided if the Working Party had included someone with practical experience of firearms and shot guns from the users' side.
§ Even more extraordinary, although the Working Party took written and oral evidence from many organisations and individuals, they completely ignored the one man in the country who has made a serious study in depth of firearms and 530 crime and whose advice would have been invaluable. I refer to Chief Inspector Colin Greenwood, who as a result of research done during a short-term Fellowship at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, wrote a book entitled Firearms Control, which so far as I know, is the first detailed study ever to have been made of this subject in this country. I can only guess at the reasons why Chief Inspector Greenwood was not invited to give evidence to the Working Party, or why his book was not even consulted. Perhaps it was felt that as a serving police officer he was letting the side down by casting doubt on the efficacy, or even the desirability, of firearms legislation, even at the risk of incurring the displeasure of his superiors. Whatever the reason, here was a classic example of valuable advice being ignored when it was most needed.
§ Another reason for the strength of the reactions from the shooting public is their sense of resentment at being treated by successive Governments as whipping boys for the misdeeds of others. The great majority of shooters—and, if one takes all classes together, they run literally into millions—are responsible, law-abiding citizens. Indeed, they are such almost by definition; otherwise, they would not be deemed by the police to be suitable persons to hold firearms certificates or shot-gun certificates. They ask nothing more than that which is the right of any citizen: to be allowed to follow the recreation of their choice without undue harassment, provided always that they can do so without danger to the public safety or to the peace.
§ Due to the very nature of firearms and shot guns due care must of course be exercised in their use, and safety is the consideration which must be paramount above all others. It is the first lesson which is, or should be, impressed on every beginner, whether he be a newcomer to a rifle club or a boy with his first shot gun. Nearly all the shooting accidents one hears about arise from weapons in the hands of people unskilled in their use, and those who are properly instructed and accustomed to handling firearms, being well aware of their lethal potentialities, are the least likely to be involved in accidents. It is a case of familiarity breeding respect.531
§ Yet what do we see now in this country'? We have had firearms legislation of one kind or another for the past 53 years which has borne more and more heavily on the law-abiding shooter, and at the same time has not made it any more difficult for the criminal to obtain firearms through underground channels for his own purposes. I am told that there are pubs and cafés in certain quarters where it is possible to obtain a pistol and ammunition of any desired type if one has the money to pay for it; and no amount of restrictive legislation is going to put a stop to that traffic. From time to time something happens to inspire the popular Press, whose ignorance of shooting is generally deplorable, to raise an outcry and the Government of the day are goaded into action simply to appease popular opinion and to create an impression that something is being done about it. An example of this occurred in 1967, when the then Government included in their Criminal Justice Bill the provision introducing shot gun certificates. This was nothing more or less than panic legislation as a result of an outcry in the Press following the murder of three policemen—and that not with shot guns but with pistols. As a result, we are now saddled with a system of licensing owners of shot guns which has achieved little beyond proving irksome to the legitimate shooter and an administrative burden to an already overworked police force.
§ To-day we are faced with proposals for yet further restrictions on the legitimate possession of firearms and shot guns, and yet further administrative work for the police, with little or no prospect of making life any more difficult for the criminal. The Government have sought to justify these proposals with statistics purporting to show an alarming increase in recent years in offences in which firearms were used or involved. It is a truism that figures can be used to prove anything. Indeed, it is possible to produce an apparently convincing mathematical proof that one equals two. But that has little bearing on reality. And I cannot help feeling that some similar process of reasoning, or lack of reasoning, has been applied to the figures published in the Green Paper. The classifications of offences are so wide as to cover anything, from a murder committed 532 in the course of robbery to the most trivial assault by a boy with an air gun. To mix together under a single heading the very serious and the very trivial, the domestic argument and the armed robbery, the irresponsible child and the dangerous, hardened criminal, cannot produce a sound basis for action of any kind. The figures used paint the blackest possible picture of the situation, but they refer to many problems which require quite different solutions. To mix them all together simply to produce the largest possible total is to misrepresent the problem.
§ The basis of the Government's case is the increasing use of firearms in serious crime. In the book Firearms Control, which I have already mentioned, there was a careful examination of the increase in robberies, and of those robberies in which weapons have been used. This shows that there has been a serious rise in the incidence of robbery, an offence which in itself requires threats or violence. Within that rise in robberies there has been a serious increase in the numbers of criminals willing to use weapons of all kinds. But the proportion of those weapons which are firearms remains remarkably constant at only about 1.5 per cent. in all violent crime, and that proportion, if anything, is decreasing. The problem therefore is not simply the increase in the criminal use of firearms. The real problem lies in the increasing willingness of criminals to use a high degree of violence. The use of firearms is simply a relatively constant part of this. In other words it is a symptom and not a disease in itself, and no doctor would try to cure a disease simply by treating one of the symptoms.
§ Another Home Office argument is that if it were possible to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms, the safety of the community would be enhanced. This is attractive on the face of it. But will the criminal who finds that he cannot obtain a firearm be deterred by that fact from committing a robbery or will he simply turn to some other weapon—the ammonia spray, acid, an iron bar, or some other instrument? If he uses something other than a firearm, will the risk to the victim be any less?
§ One fact set out in the Green Paper and established by other research is that in terms of actual injuries firearms are 533 very far from being the most dangerous weapons. Serious injuries in robberies involving firearms are relatively rare. Far more injuries (of equal severity) are caused by blunt instruments or other weapons. A rather surprising fact is that the risk to the victim is higher in cases which do not involve firearms. It is pointless to deprive a criminal of his firearm if he then uses other weapons.
So far as murders are concerned, the Government Paper, Extracts from Criminal Statistics, 1972, for England and Wales shows that shooting is the last choice as a method for carrying out murders. In addition, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Mr. Mark Carlisle, in his speech at the Conservative Conference recently, produced some encouraging figures showing that the overall crime rate for the first six months of this year is down by about 5.4 per cent. on the same period last year. Although crimes of violence showed an increase over the same period, they are still only 4 per cent. of the overall crime rate. He also said that,
the number of murders in relation to the size of the population in this country has remained practically constant throughout this century.
Bearing in mind that cases involving firearms are only a small percentage of crimes of violence generally, the question of the control of firearms therefore needs to be looked at in proportion to the whole picture of crime of which it is only a very small part. I have no wish to minimise the seriousness of the situation concerning violent crime generally and there appears to be a distinct statistical connection between the rise in crimes of violence in recent years and the abolition of capital punishment. However, the part played by firearms in relation to other weapons is much smaller than one is generally led to believe.
What, then, is to be done? Is there any alternative to further restrictive legislation? A few months ago I went with a deputation from the Long Room Committee to the Home Office, where we were received in the most cordial manner and spent most of the day in talks with officials. Halfway through we adjourned to another room for lunch and on the wall of that room was a paper which ought to be displayed prominently in every Gov-
ernment office and business office in the country. It read:
We should treat sanctified formulae with judicious irreverence, and start by deciding precisely what is the end in view".
One of the sanctified formulae which has long outlived its usefulness is the belief that restrictive legislation will make it more difficult for the criminal to obtain firearms. I have already tried to show your Lordships that this is not so. It is a tremendously difficult problem with which we are faced and one to which there is no single solution. We must bring it home forcibly to the criminal that any use of firearms in crimes of violence will be punished with the utmost rigours of the law. It is only by imposing exemplary sentences that the evil-doer will be deterred.
§ The Criminal Justice Bill which came before Parliament last year increased the penalties under the 1968 Firearms Act and I took the opportunity during the Report stage of that Bill in this House to draw attention to the low level of sentences imposed by magistrates' courts. Averages can often be misleading, but at that time the average penalty imposed in the lower courts for firearms offences was only about 4 per cent. of the Permitted maximum; so that the courts did not appear to be making anything like the full use of their powers under the Firearms Act.
§ This is capable of more than one interpretation. The first is that magistrates do not fully appreciate the seriousness of these offences and err too much on the side of leniency; but it is hard to believe that so many magistrates are as tenderhearted as that. Again, it could be that magistrates, for reasons of their own, are wilfully disregarding the express wishes of Parliament, but again I doubt whether many magistrates are as stubborn as that. I prefer a third explanation, which is that the great majority of firearms offences tried in the magistrates' courts are of a purely trivial or technical nature; and if that is so, it makes one all the more inclined to view Home Office statistics of firearms offences with the gravest suspicion, as of course these offences, whether serious or trivial, all go into the same statistical stockpot. I have a feeling that that is precisely what has happened in this case: that the Home 535 Office has seized on the figures of these minor offences in order to bolster up the statistics which they have produced in this Green Paper.
§ One remedy which is within the capabilities of all of us who own firearms or shot guns is that of security—of taking reasonable precautions to prevent those weapons falling into the hands of the criminal, the irresponsible, or of children. Stolen weapons figure in crime to a very small degree and a shot gun, for instance, is more likely to be stolen for its intrinsic value than for use in violent crime. Still, the risk is there, and it is in the interests of every prudent individual to safeguard his valuables, of whatever kind. It is not always necessary to have an elaborate alarm system—although in the case of a large collection that is obviously desirable —but certain commonsense precautions can and should be taken by every owner. For instance, firearms or shot guns, and their ammunition, should always be stored separately, in different rooms if possible. Secondly, it is a very simple matter to render a weapon harmless by removing some essential component—the fore-end in the case of a shot gun or the bolt in the case of a rifle—and storing that separately. If the Government wished to impose such measures as a statutory condition for the grant of a certificate, few reasonable persons would object.
§ Thirdly, there is the question of education in the safe use of firearms and shot guns. Some of us have had it instilled into us from boyhood, and the governing bodies of the various national shooting organisations can, and do, play an important part in training their members, and they are only too willing to co-operate in that direction. In some countries an applicant for a firearm permit or a gun licence is required to pass a proficiency test before this can he granted, and it is worth considering whether such a test should be applied in this country. If it were, it would surely go a long way towards reducing the careless and irresponsible use of firearms and shot guns.
§ Now, with your Lordships' forbearance I should like to take a closer look at some of the proposals in the Green Paper, although time will not allow me to cover them all. The proposal in the Green Paper which has probably aroused the greatest controversy is that relating to the control of shot guns. It is proposed to 536 bring shot guns under the same procedure as Section 1 of the Firearms Act; that is, rifles and pistols, so that anyone who owns a shot gun will have to have them entered on a firearms certificate or some similar document, and anyone wishing to acquire an additional shot gun will have to apply to the police for a variation in the same way that he does now for a rifled weapon. If this proposal is put into effect, I cannot see that it will achieve anything beyond imposing an impossible and intolerable administrative burden on the police and straining the good will of the law-abiding citizen to breaking point.
§ I doubt whether anyone knows how many shot guns there are in the country. Various estimates, or should I say guesstimates;, have been made, running as high as 5 million. With the best will in the world, and given the co-operation of the law-abiding owners, this proposal cannot really be a practical proposition, nor can it achieve a result worthy of the effort involved. No amount of restrictive legislation is going to prevent the criminal from getting hold of the firearms or shot guns through his own illegal underground channels. I cannot believe that any criminal contemplating a crime of violence would apply for a certificate to enable him to acquire a firearm or a shot gun with which to hold up a bank or post office. It is asking a bit much to expect one to believe that. The only useful purpose served by the registration of shot guns is that there would then be a record of the serial numbers in police records; this would be of great assistance in tracing stolen guns. I wonder how many of your Lordships who own shot guns know or have a record of the serial numbers of those guns. If your Lordships are prudent, the numbers will he recorded on an insurance policy; otherwise I think that not many people have any record or knowledge of the serial numbers of guns which are not subject to registration. For this reason alone I would support a proposal for a modified form of shot gun certificate on which the serial number of the guns held would be recorded. But please, my Lords, let us not have any additional restrictions on the buying or selling of guns, or on the number which a person may hold.
§ The proposal for a common numbering system is superficially attractive, but I 537 think it is really a non-starter. All registered rifles and pistols, and nearly all shot guns, already have serial numbers. Modern methods of data storage are surely perfectly adequate to provide a central register of firearms and guns classified under calibre, make and serial number, and any other characteristics. A multiplicity of numbers on a weapon could easily lead to confusion, and in the case of a weapon which is of historic value could even disfigure it and detract from its value. If any such system is adopted its use should be confined to the small number of shot guns, generally the cheapest of foreign manufacture, which do not already bear any serial number.
§ The next point I would mention is that of collections. It is proposed in paragraph 47 that no new collections should be allowed to be started and no existing collections should be allowed to be increased. I fail to understand the reasoning behind this proposal. It seems completely illogical to say that one person may keep his collection, but his neighbour may not start a new one. If this proposal comes into operation, will it apply only to private collections, or will it apply also to those in museums and institutions? To the serious student the history and development of firearms is a study as fascinating as that of vintage cars, stamps, cigarette cards, or any other object which people may collect. The effect of the proposal would be the eventual loss through dispersal, perhaps overseas, of a priceless heritage of historical and technical interest. Provided the collector can satisfy the authorities of the security of his collection, and it will be in his own interests to take proper measures in that line, I can see no reason why collections should not be allowed to continue.
§ My Lords, this brings one almost naturally to the question of antiques. This is a difficult nut to crack as it is not easy to define what is an antique and what is not. At one time, a convenient yardstick for an antique firearm was one which was over 100 years old, which used to take us beyond the beginning of the breech-loading era. We have now reached a stage in time where that no longer applies, when there are weapons, breechloaders, for which the ammunition is still sometimes available. However, generally speaking, the ammunition for 538 breech-loaders of that period is either no longer made or, if there are any stocks, they will now be unusable. In spite of the statement in paragraph 71 of the Green Paper I cannot imagine any criminal going to the length of having pin-fire or teat-fire cartridges made to special order, even if that were possible, when, with far less trouble, he probably can get hold of a modern weapon with ammunition. On the whole, I think that the 100-year-old criterion is still as good a yardstick as any other.
§ My Lords, the proposal in paragraph 94 concerning mail order is another example of muddled thinking. There are two points in the paragraph which have become confused. The first is that of security of guns in transit, which is surely a matter for normal prudence on the part of the dealer and not a matter for legislation; the second is the difficulty of establishing the bona fides of a buyer who may conceivably be in possession of a stolen firearms certificate. But would the dealer in fact be any the wiser if a stranger came into his shop with a firearms certificate in his hand? The Kynoch factory of I.M.I., which consigns millions of sporting cartridges each year, has lost only an infinitesimal amount in transit. In any case, a criminal needs only a few cartridges in his pocket to hold up a bank or post office; he does not need to steal the whole consignment or to break into a bulk store. The effect of this proposal would be to ban all sales except those over the counter, which is so impractical as to be absurd.
§ One of the continuing sources of complaint in shooting circles is the wide disparity in the administration of the Firearms Act in different parts of the country. Surely it is a basic principle of our society that an individual should have the same benefit of law no matter where he lives in the United Kingdom. Yet we find chief constables in different areas who cover the whole spectrum of opinion from the tolerant and co-operative to the out-and-out prohibitionist. Far too much discretion is given to them at present to put their own interpretation on the Act, to make their own rules as to what does or does not constitute good reason for the granting of a certificate, and to impose arbitrary territorial restrictions on the use of firearms and shot guns. For this reason, the proposal 539 in paragraph 44 that clearer guidelines should be laid down from above is generally to be commended, although I think that any directives which may be given should not be too rigid but should allow a little elasticity here and there, especially where the case may he the subject of an appeal to the courts. If an application for a certificate is refused, the chief constable concerned should be required to state his reasons in writing.
§ My Lords, there are a great many other anomalies in the law as it stands. I will not go into them all. One of the worst sections of the Act is that relating to young persons: it is a nasty, sticky mess. I am glad that the Government have proposals for tidying it up. Before I conclude I would put forward a suggestion to the Government which does not arise directly from the Green Paper, not from the contents of it. but rather from the manner in which it has been produced. It is that a Standing Advisory Committee should be set up to examine any future proposals and to advise the Home Secretary. Its members should be drawn not only from the Home Office establishment and the police but also from the national bodies covering shooting in all its forms, and from the trade—in other words, those immediately affected by firearms legislation—so that a comprehensive and representative body of balanced, informed opinion can take a close look at the whole question of firearms legislation in the future. I feel sure that such a committee would prove of real benefit to the country in this specialised field, and I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to this suggestion. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend Lord Colville has to say, and I hope he will be able to tell us something of the Government's intentions. The fact that he has chosen to speak early in the debate is itself encouraging and leads me to hope that he is going to announce some modifications of the proposals in the Green Paper.
§ Shooting as a recreation, whether with a gun, rifle or pistol, is a healthy pastime, harmless when directed into the proper channels. It provides employment for a large number of people. It produces craftsmanship of the highest order, equal 540 to, if not superior to, anything else in the world, and it brings into the country a valuable amount in foreign exchange each year. The shooting public, a very large section of the community, is on the side of the Government in seeking to preserve law and order; let there be no mistake about that. Let us not destroy that goodwill by stifling it out of existence. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.2 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Swansea invited us to see how green was my Paper, and therefore it may be helpful, as he suggested just now, if I intervene at the beginning of this debate —and perhaps I may be given leave to say a few words later on at the end—not, of course, at this stage to curtail or forestall the discussion, but rather, I hope, to assist it. Your Lordships might like to have an account of the Government's present thinking on the subject of the Motion and of the progress that we have made in the review of the provisional proposals which the Green Paper contains. I do not think I can cover the whole field that has been mentioned by Lord Swansea at this stage. I will try to come back to some of the points perhaps at the end. But I assure noble Lords who will be speaking after me that I shall continue to listen carefully, and if I cannot answer directly I will make sure that their views are conveyed to my right honourable friends and that this further stage in the consultative process is fully taken into account before any final decisions are reached.
I think it is just worth while, since the principle has been mentioned by my noble friend, to look a little at the background. The decision to put in hand an examination of the state of our firearms law was taken by this Government early in our term of office and it was one of a variety of measures directed towards the maintenance of law and order in face of a continuing rise in the volume of crime. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Swansea reinforce that determination to uphold law and order. I am glad to say that now, three years later, there are welcome signs of a change in the trend. In the first half of the current year there 541 has been the first fall in the total number of crimes known to the police, as compared with that in the corresponding half of last year, since quarterly figures were first published. This does not, however, apply equally to all categories of crime, and in particular there has been a continuing increase in crimes of violence against the person which must cause all of us concern; but overall this trend is very encouraging.
In the context of this debate I should like specially to mention the decline in the number of bank robberies and burglaries in the Metropolitan area. Nevertheless, robberies and other violent crimes are still being committed with the aid of firearms, in London and elsewhere. Noble Lords may remember the armed robbery committed in the City only last week, and an incident in North London recently in which, following a raid on a post office, a police officer received a shot-gun wound. Such events, which most of us know about, thank goodness!, through the newspapers and the television, must be in our minds as we debate the use of firearms, no less than the everyday use of rifles and shot-guns for sport which some of us know about more directly—some of us use these things day by day. We must not forget the other, illegal side, when people get hurt and great damage can be done.
I wish to make it clear at the outset that the Government have found no reason to depart from the view set out in the Green Paper that the present controls are not in all respects as effective as they could be and that they need to be strengthened. We have recognised throughout that there is room for differences of opinion over the effectiveness of any particular measure which might be taken to strengthen the control, and over the extent to which any restrictions entailed for the ordinary law-abiding gun user are justified by the contribution made towards preventing the criminal and irresponsible use of firearms. There is plenty of room for differences of opinion on that. It was precisely because of this aspect that instead of bringing amendments of the law in the shape of a Bill immediately before Parliament we proceeded by way of putting forward provisional proposals, so that we could have consultation with various interests affected and take 542 account of their views before finally deciding what changes in the law to recommend. This debate is part of the process.
I speak with hesitation, but I think that unfortunately the provisional status of our proposals may not have been fully understood by everyone concerned. If this was because of obscurity in the way they were set out, I apologise in advance. The impression which many people seem to have gained is that the Government have from the start been committed to the proposals which were presented in the Green Paper and have intended throughout to force them through quite relentlessly. In fact the Green Paper was precisely what its title and colour indicated, a consultative document; all the proposals in it were provisional and tentative, and still are, and some of them were more tentative than others.
We expected some of these proposals, at least, to be controversial and to evoke a substantial volume of comment. Because people—and this applies generally in every field—are more easily moved to action by what they disagree with than by what they support, the great majority of the comments we received were critical in a greater or lesser degree, and it is the criticisms which have also received the greatest volume of publicity. I think it right, therefore, to emphasise the considerable amount of support which the proposals in the Green Paper received when they appeared. For instance, all the representative bodies in the police service, representing all ranks from police constable to chief officer—and this despite the amount of extra work which these proposals might have involved, as my noble friend mentioned—have supported the proposals as a whole; they have supported them firmly, because they believe that the additional work involved in administering stricter controls will be repaid in making it more difficult in the long run for criminals to obtain arms.
The Magistrates' Association, too, the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations generally endorsed our proposals; and so did bodies concerned with the protection of animals and birds. I suppose that the creatures in which those bodies are interested are as concerned with the use of shot guns as many people may be. 543 Then there is the National Farmers' Union, who agree with the Government both on the general principle that stricter controls are needed and on a specific issue of importance that I shall refer to particularly in a moment. The National Farmers' Union is, after all, an organisation whose members make lawful use of firearms not only for sport and recreation but as part of their everyday work, and their views are entitled to carry a certain amount of weight. There are others who have supported us, and I will not go right through the list.
The great majority of those who commented did so because they considered that our proposals were in some way misguided, defective or capable of improvement. It was the main purpose of the process of consultation to get people to give us those comments, and we are grateful to the individuals and organisations who have contributed to this process. Quite a few of the criticisms were, however, as I have already indicated, based perhaps on mistakes or misunderstandings about the effect, or the intention, of our proposals. I hope that as a result of the correspondence and discussions that we have had with a wide range of representative bodies most of those misunderstandings have now been removed, and I shall continue the process to-day.
Our consultations have been of very great value. They have brought to the notice of the Government not only occasional misunderstandings but also genuine fears and anxieties and a fair number of constructive suggestions. We have given careful consideration to all the representations that have been made, and in the rest of this part of my contribution to the debate I want to deal with some of the main issues that have been raised and to indicate in what direction the Government's mind is moving on each of them. I think I need say no more about paragraph 35(a) of the Green Paper on repeater and pump action shot guns. As my noble friend Lord Swansea mentioned, we have already announced that that is a proposal we no longer wish to pursue. First of all, shot guns. In paragraph 64 of the Green Paper we put forward the proposal that shot guns should he subject to the same controls as rifles and pistols are now. This has, 544 not unexpectedly, proved to be the most contentious of all our provisional proposals, as my noble friend has just told us. The main criticisms of it related to three specific consequences of the proposal, which it would be better if I were to take in turn.
First, there are the grounds of personal suitability on which an application for a certificate may be refused under the current law. These are wider in relation to rifles and pistols at the moment than in relation to shot guns: they include the grounds that the applicant is "of intemperate habits or unsound mind" or "for any reason unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm". That is the present legislation on rifles and pistols, firearms. The Government appreciate that there is some reluctance among gun users to see any extension of the discretion which chief officers of police have to refuse applications from people who want to have shot guns. Nevertheless, we believe that the safeguards against possession of shot guns by those unsuitable to hold them on grounds of that sort should be no less stringent than those applying to other weapons subject to certificate control. On this point we found no reason to depart from the proposals made in the Green Paper.
There is then the second point relating to "good reasons". Our provisional proposals would require everyone seeking to possess a shot gun to show a good reason for having it. There has, I know, been widespread apprehension that this requirement might be used in practice to limit severely the number of guns which any one person might hold, and might make it difficult for newcomers to shooting to obtain a certificate. It has even been suggested that the proposal means only one gun per certificate—a suggestion for which there is no basis at all in the Green Paper. In view of the fears and anxieties that have been aroused, we have been considering how we might make it clearer that no unreasonable numerical restrictions are intended and demonstrate our recognition of the fact that a person may have a legitimate use for several weapons in the same or in different forms of shooting. One possibility would be to provide that every shotgun certificate authorises the possession of up to, say, four or five guns, or, in 545 addition to that, such larger number as the chief officer of police may allow subject to his being satisfied that the security precautions that are taken are adequate for a larger number. In that way one could avoid any dispute between the applicant and the police over whether his shooting activities were such as to justify possession of three or four guns rather than one or two.
We have taken note of the fears expressed that the "good reason" requirement would be operated too rigidly and without enough allowance being made for the character of the shot gun as a general purpose weapon. We made clear in paragraph 63 of the Green Paper that it was not our intention that shotgun certificates should be refused to persons of good character with legitimate opportunities, even if fairly infrequent, to use guns for sport. Perhaps I could go a little further to-day and say Mat we recognise the need for the list of good reasons relating to shot guns to be different from, and more flexible than, those which apply to rifles and pistols. The proposal in paragraph 44 of the Green Paper for the Secretaries of State to prescribe lists of reasons which should and should not be accepted as good reasons should provide those who wish to shoot with protection against arbitrary application of the good reason requirement, if indeed such protection is needed, and I noticed that my noble friend Lord Swansea seemed to think that it was. Indeed, to go on with what he said at the end of his speech, a very helpful suggestion indeed has emerged from the consultations that we have been having, and that is that in deciding what good reasons might in practice be prescribed, and indeed in exercising a number of other important powers to make statutory instruments under firearms legislation, my right honourable friends might have the assistance of such an advisory committee as my noble friend was talking about, on which all the interests concerned would be represented. We think that this is an attractive idea.
But, while we accept that a case has been made for a different and more flexible list of good reasons in relation to shot guns, we remain in no doubt that the "good reason" requirement must still be applied, even if the prescription list that I have just been talking about 546 is not necessarily itself exclusive. There might be a prescribed list, but there might still be other good reasons, even, if they did not appear in the Statutory Instrument, that could be counted as a reason for holding a shot gun. On this point—and this is where I said that I would mention their views—we are fortified by the support of the National Farmers' Union. Their members at one and the same time form a sizeable section of the shooting community in their own right, but, on the other hand, have all too often been victims of criminal or irresponsible use of shot guns by people who have no use for such weapons of their own except in armed trespass over other people's land. Therefore we think that the "good reasons" point is still necessary, but modified in the way that I have said.
The third point on which our provisional proposals about shot guns have given rise to apprehension is in regard to territorial limitations on the use of such weapons. In paragraph 77 of the Green Paper we indicated our view that such limitations might be unduly restrictive when applied to shot guns. I think that my noble friend was suggesting that different chief constables might apply the rules differently. I think that I could go further than we did originally and say to-day that we are now satisfied that in relation to shot guns there is no need for territorial limitations at all and that no power to impose them should be conferred.
My Lords, a word about shot gun ammunition. Some concern has been expressed over the proposal h paragraph 87 of the Green Paper that people who hold shot gun ammunition in bulk should have a permit from the chief officer of police as such for that purpose. The Paper itself indicates that we did not think it appropriate to subject shot gun ammunition to the same controls as ammunition for rifles and pistols, and it is not our intention to impose any undue restrictions on the possession of and trade in shot gun ammunition, which we recognise sometimes needs to be held in quite large quantities. But the need remains for some check on the personal suitability of those who hold it, and on their security arrangements. In the case of someone who has a certificate enabling him to hold guns, or somebody who has 547 a certificate as a registered dealer, these checks on security and suitability will already apply, either in future or now. Therefore, those people need no further check. It would therefore be only in the other cases, where people hold a certificate in neither of those categories—and I think these would be fairly rare—that we think the specific permit requirements for ammunition proposed in the Green Paper need apply. This would simply be to ensure reasonable security precautions and personal suitability. No additional or separate permit would be required for those holding ammunition in bulk as such.
My noble friend Lord Swansea mentioned collectors, and this again, I know, has been a most controversial subject. I think the controversy starts from paragraph 47 of the Green Paper, which my noble friend says would preclude the starting of new collections of firearms and the extension of existing ones. I must frankly tell the House that on reconsideration we believe that this proposal was indeed too sweeping, and it is no longer our intention to implement it in its original form. I am glad to say that our consultations, and in particular our discussions with the Ad Hoc Committee on Historical Firearms, have produced some constructive alternative suggestions, to which we are now giving close attention. The basis of this alternative proposal is that collecting should be admissible as a good reason for the grant of a firearms certificate if, but only if, the applicant shows—for example, by membership of relevant learned societies or similar bodies, or by other means—that he has a genuine historical or technical interest in firearms. Security arrangements would have to be adequate in relation to the number and type of weapons, but we have good reason to hope that a satisfactory compromise can be worked out on this sort of line in view of what we have heard in the course of our consultations.
I ought to say a word about imitation firearms, because although that subject has not been mentioned so far in the debate it has caused a great deal of trouble in the trade. I should like to refer to paragraph 121 of the Green Paper, where we invited comment on the proposition that there should be a com- 548 plete ban on the manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms which have been proscribed by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of a vetting committee. It has never been the Government's intention to recommend the banning of a great majority of toy guns. Goodness knows what our children would all say if that were to occur! But I am bound to say that after closer examination of the implications of our proposal in the Green Paper and discussion with representatives of the trade. we are still finding it extremely difficult to devise a series of satisfactory or appropriate criteria for choosing to ban particular makes of imitation firearms as being especially likely to be mistaken for the genuine article. Any toy gun, except perhaps for the brightly coloured variety which is acceptable to only the smallest of our children, could, in a situation of stress, be taken for the real thing; and therefore, although we can go a certain distance along the road to say that we are not enforcing this in full, we have not yet succeeded in coming to any sort of satisfactory compromise solution about how we might deal with it. I mention it at this stage because, unlike the other points I have mentioned, this has not been fully thought through, but I know it is an area where certain people who make imitation guns are very worried, and perhaps they might be slightly relieved by what I have said.
My Lords, there are various other matters arising from the Green Paper proposals and the public reaction to them which we are still considering; and perhaps noble Lords will want to talk about others, too. Some of them are really questions of considerable difficulty, and it is not yet clear what the best solution would be. I have no doubt that in the course of this debate we shall receive yet more valuable ideas and suggestions which will be of great help to us in our further consideration of these problems; because what we have really got to do—I think my noble friend Lord Swansea will agree with this, as I think will all other right-thinking Members of this House, and others outside, too—is to try to strike the right balance between the needs of the law-abiding, legitimate user of a gun and the interests of the whole community in a fully-effective system of 549 firearms control. My Lords, I make those comments and give those indications of change, indeed, in the Government's approach at this stage in order to set the framework for further and I hope constructive debate on this subject, and I look forward to hearing what your Lordships have to say. Perhaps I may be allowed to comment quite briefly again at the end of the debate on further speeches which are made.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, I should begin by declaring an interest. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, I suppose I am a professional. I lost my amateur status at the age of 13 by agreeing to compete in a clay pigeon shooting competition at the Halkirk Highland Games, and accepting the second prize of five shillings. Since then I have never been able to repeat my success, largely owing to the fact that I have never been allowed to stand half-way between the other competitors and the clay pigeon trap. But I do have other interests in the use of guns and rifles for legitimate purposes: for instance, in farming; in offering sport to visitors from overseas, and also in offering sport to all manner of people from all over the country through an hotel and sporting organisation of that kind. I think that in mentioning this I can claim to have some experience of some of the difficulties which together surround the holding and use of firearms of all sorts —rifles and shot guns.
It is very easy to get a little hysterical on this subject. In fact, I have even heard it said that this Green Paper is an hysterical document. "Are we going to have a Consultative Document on ropes, lead piping and candlesticks?", ask the aficionados of Cleudo. I think we must avoid this kind of hysteria as much as we avoid the hysteria of thinking that by merely controlling the possession of weapons and ammunition we are in any way going to control the rate of serious crime—because, my Lords, serious crime is a serious matter. I am therefore glad that the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, quoted from Chief Inspector Colin Greenwood, who I think is a cool-headed student, and probably one of the few students in this country, of the role which firearms play in crime and criminal activities. I would refer to some of the 550 points which he put forward in an article in the magazine New Society on May 31 of this year, when he claimed that three of the principal propositions on which, according to the Consultative Document, Her Majesty's Government were thinking of taking action, were based on fallacious arguments.
In the first place he questioned the statistics and in great measure proved, to my satisfaction, at least, that the proportion of firearms used in serious crimes has not increased. The total of serious crimes has increased; but what interested him was the percentage involving guns; and that, he maintains, has largely remained the same. In his article he said that the figures used paint the blackest possible picture but that doubts are cast on these figures by the manner in which they have been collected. For example, his own researches show that in relation to all indictable offences in which firearms were involved almost the entire difference between the figures for 1967 and those for 1968 was accounted for by a misunderstanding in the statistical department of a single police force. He goes on to refer to the foreword to the Green Paper which referred to the rise in the number of crimes in which shot guns were used or robberies which involved the use of firearms. These are claimed to have doubled while the use of shot guns has trebled. But if one uses the statistics in the Green Paper it can be seen that as a simple matter of fact the number of shot guns used in robberies did not treble and, more to the point, that the figure for shot guns as a proportion of firearms which are shot guns, remained remarkably constant at around the 20 per cent. mark. This figure has not changed in any significant way since the time when these weapons were subject to no controls. So he shows to my satisfaction that one has to go further to prove that one helps in any way to solve the problem of the use of firearms in crime by simply restricting their control and possession.
Secondly, he shows that the more stringent control will not make it significantly more difficult for a criminal to obtain firearms. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, has already referred to this. He points out that the truth is that in serious crimes like robbery the preferred weapon is the pistol: and the pistol has been the 551 subject of the strictest control for 50 years. So the very strictness of the control is not necessarily going to solve the problem of the use of firearms in serious crime. Thirdly, he denies that if criminals are prevented from getting access to firearms the risk to society will be reduced. The criminal does not commit a crime because he has a gun "burning a hole" in his pocket. He uses other means if he intends to commit a crime and if the gun is not available.
I am glad the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has given us some indication of the Government's intentions to modify the proposals in the Green Paper. I feel that he has behaved towards some of us rather like Imperial Metal Industries by making obsolete the ammunition that we intend to use before we get our rifles rebarrelled. Nevertheless, I am glad that he has been able to listen to many of the representations already put to him. This I find extremely encouraging because the whole object of this exercise must be to allow the people who have a legitimate reason for possessing firearms—be they shot guns, rifles, or pistols; whether it be for sport, for recreation, for vermin control or for whatever legitimate purpose—to use their weapons, provided they use them in a sensible manner and submit themselves to sensible restrictions. I say at once that I find no objection which can be put forward against a tidying up of our firearms regulations, particularly in relation to shot guns, provided that, as I say, they allow the honest user the right to possess a suitable firearm or firearms in suitable quantities.
I have always thought that our present system of shot gun licensing had been devised by someone from the far side of Alice's "Looking Glass". Some of the questions one is asked to answer in order to obtain a shot gun certificate seem to me, apart from being absolutely useless in the control of weapons, to be irrelevant. I hope therefore that we shall not merely get stricter controls but more sensible controls. With this in mind, may I comment on some of the specific questions which have been posed by the Green Paper? On Section 5, I am glad to say that we have been told that the dislike of pump action guns has been removed.
552 On Section 6, the question of "good reason" I feel poses a matter of principle. "Good reason" should be decided ultimately by the courts. By all means let us lay down guidelines in any Act or in any Amendments to any existing Act or in any new Acts or Statutory Instruments. But the interpretation of Parliament's wishes should be a matter for the courts. I do not like to see the interpretation of Parliament's wishes left to a chief officer. But, my Lords, this can happen. For instance, sobriety is a test of whether a person is a suitable person. This is laid down as a condition of holding a firearms certificate. I know of a case involving a gamekeeper who, in relation to his firearms, was a man who regarded them as the tools of his trade, as sacrosanct, as things which have to be looked after carefully, handled properly and not to be allowed out of his possession. He had not quite the same rectitude with regard to his behaviour at the weekends. He was, unfortunately, convicted of being drunk in charge of a motor car. He lost his driving licence, and at the same time lost his firearms certificate. This is perfectly all right for the period in which he was under ban for his vehicle offence; for probably he would have been in breach of conditions to have held a firearms certificate at that time. Later he got back his driving licence; but the particular chief constable who dealt with his case did not feel that he should get back his firearms certificate. Yet the local constable who dealt with his case had recommended that the man should have got back his firearms certificate.
My Lords, one can see that the laying down of regulations and restrictions on the possession of firearms can be subject to different interpretations if this matter is left to individuals. It is much better, in my view, always to have this matter tested by the courts and left in the hands of the courts. I would prefer that chief constables had to go to the courts to prove that someone was not a right person, or had not a good reason, to hold a certificate rather than that it should be the other way round.
I am pleased to see that the Government intend to relax the restrictions suggested in the Green Paper regarding collectors of guns and ammunition. I feel that the case for restricting the collector, a man who holds an interesting, 553 historical or even sentimental firearm, and preventing him from doing so, is thin. I cannot imagine that a great many antique firearms are used in crimes of violence, or that there is a risk that they may be used, provided that the collections are kept properly. I see no reason why a chief officer, for example, should be able to revoke a certificate if he thinks that the holder no longer has a reason for possessing a firearm. In such circumstances the officer ought to go to the courts to obtain their agreement that there is no further good reason for the person concerned to hold a firearm which he has hitherto proved himself capable of holding. I think it wrong that the officer should be allowed to take away the weapon from the owner just because he thinks that the use has ceased to be regular.
Section 7 of the Green Paper relates to shot guns, and this is the "meat" of the Green Paper. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, I do not object to shot guns being controlled weapon by weapon. To my mind that has always been the logical thing to do. It is the weapon that counts, and one should know how many weapons a person possesses. I would have no objection to giving the serial numbers of any weapons which I may own for a legal and legitimate purpose, and I do not see why anyone else should object to doing so. It has always struck me as curious that rifles and pistols are licensed weapon by weapon but that in respect of shot guns it is the owner who is licensed and not the weapons. It would be much more sensible to treat all the weapons in the same manner. I hope that it will be recognised, as has been hinted it will, that there is a much greater variety of reasons for holding shot guns than for possessing rifles and pistols, and that this fact will be taken into account.
I agree, as is stated in the Green Paper, that the present arrangements for visitors to bring weapons to this country are ridiculously lax. If someone is coming to this country for a certain period he can bring in any number of smooth bore guns without any restriction. He may not necessarily want to do so, and usually a person is perfectly happy to take out some form of firearm certificate. Many visitors from overseas write to me enclosing long lists of the serial numbers, make and calibre of their weapons, and so 554 forth, and they tend to bring rather a lot of weapons with them because they never know which weapon they are going to use. They are apt to turn to one in the morning and say, "Shall I use my 16-bore with full choke and modified, or shall I use my 12-bore with half choke or threequarter choke?"—or whatever it may be. I think that perhaps they may find a need to reach a decision about this before they come. But they are perfectly willing to submit themselves to reason, able restrictions, and I am sure they would be perfectly happy to agree to obtaining a certificate similar to the certificate which people hold in this country. I like the idea that this certificate should be sponsored by some responsible person in this country.
My Lords, the question of ammunition must be looked at very carefully, particularly in relation to organisations like my own where one often has to hold large quantities of ammunition for people who come from overseas to shoot in this country. One has to plan ahead and lay in stocks of ammunition for various different calibres of gun. It may happen that these stocks are not used in the quantities forecast and then one has to carry spare stock over to the next year There has to be some sensible way worked out for holding the stock. I see no objection to stocks being held in proper and safe keeping which is the normal precaution that anyone should take when holding ammunition.
Even after listening to the debate thus far I am not clear about what is meant by mail orders. What I think is meant is the fly-by-night type of shot gun dealer who buys in a job lot of weapons and "flogs them off" through the small advertisement columns of the newspapers. If this is true, I am very much against mail orders. But if it means the imposition of difficulties, and restrictions on the sending of weapons and ammunition about the country, I should like the matter carefully examined, because often the gunsmith or the firearms dealer with whom one deals is a long distance away. It may be necessary to send a gun from the far North of Scotland to Birmingham to be repaired, and therefore we must have some acceptable method of doing that. So I ask that this matter be carefully examined and I tend to welcome the suggestion that there might be some sort 555 of working party that would continually examine these problems. I find it hard to disagree with the final sections of the Green Paper. I find it extraordinarily difficult to make up my mind about the matter of toy guns. I am sure that the Government find it equally difficult. Everyone who takes part in this debate will find it difficult to know at what point one draws the line about toy guns. This is a matter which has to be discussed and thought about: whether to ban or restrict their use and manufacture will be in any way helpful is a matter of conjecture.
At this stage we have come back to what underlies the whole subject of the debate and that is the serious increase in crime, particularly crimes of violence, and of violence of all kinds within our society. I am afraid that in this debate we shall not be able to deal with the subject. I will do no more than say that it is what is underlying our thoughts. I do not think we shall solve these problems simply by making restrictions. On the other hand, I do not think that we want to refuse to impose reasonable restrictions which may be helpful to the people who are trying to curb crime and enforce the law. Therefore I think we should be willing to go along with the imposition of sensible and reasonable restrictions, provided that the final arbiters in this matter are the courts rather than individuals. If this is the thinking of the Government I am sure that this Green Paper will do a great deal of good for those who have legitimate uses for firearms.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, because he struck a note which I hope that this debate will maintain, It is important that this should not turn into a shooters' rights defence debate, There is clearly a danger that a debate of this kind might become so. The important thing about the Green Paper and about firearms is not whether people's hobbies or sports are made easier or more difficult, but whether anything can be done to assist the police in their appalling task of dealing with the rising wave of crime, which nobody ha, the slightest idea how to tackle. 556 Whenever the police make a suggestion, some sectional interest shoots it down. Do not let us do that to-day. Let us treat this matter seriously. I rang the metropolitan police this morning and discussed this Green Paper with them. They are fully behind it. They have no holds barred. They are prepared for modifications here and there, but generally speaking they are quite clear that their task of trying to deal with the vicious organised crime which exists to-day will he made easier by the most important measure discussed in this Green Paper, which is bringing 24-inch shot guns, long shot guns, under Section 1. The Minister has slightly modified that by saying that they will not be treated exactly under the terms of Section 1—personally, I am a little sorry about that—but one has to make concessions, and I am pleased that he has gone as far as he has.
My Lords, that is the crux of the thing. Nothing else really matters very much. Collections one can deal with. It is not necessary to ban collections in order to see that they are secure. There are many ways of dealing with this. Mail order is a particular form of trade which is not the same as writing a letter to Purdeys and asking them for a quotation for a double-barrelled shot gun and when it can be delivered. Mail order is something quite different, and it would hurt nobody in the whole of Europe if it was stopped, as I hope it will be, simply because the police have asked for it.
My Lords, there is always an intelligent maverick who is against the general public: I have often been in that position myself, as no doubt have many of your Lordships. I think Chief Inspector Greenwood is in this position. I think his arguments are respectable and forceful, but on the whole I am more convinced by Sir John McKay than I am by the Chief Inspector. So one does not want to quote a single policeman who does not agree with all his colleagues about this.
I cannot quote any figures, but we have all read in the newspapers about crime in America. We know how easy it is to get a gun there: we know how the law and order people, the police and the Attorney General's Department, and many others, have been trying for years to get some control over firearms and how they 557 have been absolutely ditched by the shooting lobby. I ask that we should not get into that situation. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, has set a decent tone to the debate and has not cried hysterically. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I thought took a moderate and sensible view about this matter. I am asking that we should take this point of view. Above everything else, we all of us want to back the police in dealing with violent crime. If there is anybody who does not let him stand up: but it is not possible that there is anybody. Therefore the first thing to do is to listen to the police and what they think. When the police, under their own chief constable, with Home Office officials, sit for a long time examining this, and then the Government produce a Green Paper embodying their findings, surely the first thing to do is not to say how much of this should be scrapped, but to see how it is possible, with slight modifications, to make the imposition of the necessary things slightly easier for those people whose sport or recreation is involved. If we can do that we shall have a most instructive debate.
I have had, as I expect have many others of your Lordships, various comments from various shooters. And good luck to them. I do not mind them circularising Members of Parliament; it keeps us on our toes. But there was one in particular, which I think came from Aintree, which made me gasp. It spoke ofthe inalienable right of a free person in a free society to possess arms for the defence of himself, his country and his liberty".I do not remember when people were forbidden to carry swords, but it was in history some years ago and the practice then stopped. This is the absolute negative of law and order: do not let us have any rot about that.
My Lords, I do not want to say much more. I am passionately concerned to provide a non-availability of arms. I know it is difficult. There are three things that the Green Paper says to which I think it is worth making reference. First, it says:Society should make this"—that is, the acquisition of arms by criminals—as difficult as possible.558 Of course we all agree about that. Secondly, it says:We should eliminate avoidable opportunity to acquire arms for criminal purposes.Clearly a chap who has a shot gun, who stops shooting, becomes ill and lives in a cottage in the country is a perfect opportunity. Whether the opportunity is ever taken, I do not know, but it is an obvious opportunity, and I can give your Lordships 100,000 of them any day of the week. Obviously it is desirable that shot guns should be issued under the closest scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said that it would be irksome to the sportsmen and burdensome to the police, but I must point out that the police are unswerving in their willingness to accept this burden because they believe it will make their general work better and easier. I feel that one must let them do that.
The third thing in the Green Paper to which I would refer is:Firearms are used in a significant number of cases because they happen to be available.That is the old argument. The best way to stop crime is to keep all doors locked, because the majority of criminals are inadequate people who take advantage of what they see. I think that in many cases firearms are used by people who would never have thought of using them unless they were at hand. The number of robberies in 1971—I am speaking of serious crimes—carried out with a shot gun exceed those carried out with a pistol. It is now a serious form of violence and one which it is necessary to prevent. So I think any suggestion that a shot gun, which anybody with a hacksaw can make into a sawn-off shot gun, should not be treated under Section 1 is absolutely wrong.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, made various comments which I think will be helpful to us all, and although I am sorry he is easing off a little on Section 1 for shot guns, generally speaking I agree with what he said. I think the question of clubs and shooting galleries, referred to in the Green Paper, is most important, and I do not think we can make things too strict. If people want to enjoy themselves in this way, I believe they are prepared to put up with quite a bit of red tape, and I think they may have to be asked to. I would not budge on that at all. I think 559 the idea of getting an amnesty is rather cheerful, and I am all for that.
My Lords, I should like to end with a most humble apology. I now have to go to a meeting I ought to have been at for the last half an hour. But I thought it was so important that this point of view should be expressed in the House, in case the debate should turn into a shooters' defence organisation, Also, my opportunities of supporting the noble Viscount are so few in this House —so often, reluctantly, I have to oppose him—that I hope he will forgive me if, having said my brief piece, I leave the Chamber. I believe the Green Paper to be most useful. I agree about everything being done in support of the police, and I hope the Government will not give way too far as a result of the blandishments of their own side.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD COTTESLOE
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Swansea has raised this matter, following the assurance that was given in the House in July that we should be given an opportunity to discuss the Consultative Document before legislation was introduced. I am sure that the House is very much indebted to him for his thoughtful and comprehensive introduction of the subject.
The whole matter, which is one of widespread public concern, affecting as it does many hundreds of thousands of peaceful citizens who use firearms of one sort or another for wholly legitimate purposes—for pest control and sport—was initially handled by the Government in a somewhat unfortunate manner. The Green Paper was issued, and comments were invited on it; but the time limit was far too short, having regard to the complexity of the subject and the great number of individuals and organisations which were involved. Too few copies were printed (I believe there was a strike at the time, and no doubt that had something to do with it), and many people could not get a copy of the Green Paper at all, and the Government had to extend the time limit. There was evidence of too little consideration and too much haste, and all of us must welcome most warmly what the noble Viscount has told us, which makes it plain that the Government have had further thoughts, 560 following the number of informed comments and representations received from various quarters, and now intend to go forward on a somewhat more limited and less draconian basis.
Everyone must be anxious to take every reasonable step to stop gangsterism: that is common ground. But having regard to the special activities of the I.R.A., this is an emotive subject and we need to be careful not to let it get out of proportion or to allow ourselves to be stampeded into measures that will not in fact help to stamp out gangsterism. Emotion, my Lords, is not a good basis for legislation. What do we really want this legislation to do? We want to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands, into dangerous or irresponsible hands; and, more precisely, we want to ensure first. so far as is possible, that firearms are only in the hands of responsible citizens and, secondly, that those citizens keep them in conditions of reasonable security. If we can do that, there is no need to do anything else. Any legislation that is not directed to those two limited purposes is unnecessary, and indeed harmful. It is an irritant to law-abiding citizens and represents a waste of time and energy on the part of our much overburdened police force.
The effect of the Green Paper proposals in toto would undoubtedly have been to divert a vast amount of police time and attention away from the prevention of crime and direct it to needless interference with law-abiding citizens, without preventing criminals who are determined to obtain firearms for their illegal purposes from doing so. For if one thing in this matter is quite certain, it is that firearms used by criminals are not drawn, or are hardly ever drawn, from among those held on firearms certificates or licences. Experience elsewhere makes it plain that excessive legal restriction on the holding of firearms is not an effective answer to gangsterism. In the United States of America, if I am correctly informed, the highest incidence of firearms crime is in New York, where the control is so strict that it is virtually impossible to possess a gun lawfully. The lowest is in Arizona, or possibly some other of the Western States, where the control is lightest. In Switzerland, where there is no control except for known criminals, minors and the mentally unstable, there is no 561 gangsterism. I do not suggest that if there were no control here there would be no gangsterism, but these facts and others of the same kind make it plain that excessive restriction is not the answer.
Before we embark on the sort of irritant restrictions envisaged in the Green Paper, or even under the more limited proposals that are now envisaged, I think we should consider carefully the rather wider picture of crime and casualties. Apart from suicide, in this country an average of 74 people are killed each year by firearms, and 30 of those are the victims of accident. Less than 50-45, in fact, on average—are killed as a result of criminal violence. That is a serious figure; of course it is. But when we consider it we must remember that it compares with a total of 7,000 people who are killed each year in motor accidents and more than 8,000 killed by accidents of other kinds. I certainly would not suggest that there should be no firearms control at all, but it is arguable that if there were none and if the whole of the police time and effort now devoted to firearms control—almost entirely to administrative and statistical work—were applied instead to preventing traffic accidents, the number of deaths would be less.
We must not lose our sense of proportion. my Lords. There has indeed been a steep increase in the incidence of violent crime—robbery, assault and homicide—in the last five years: an increase of 65 per cent. Such an increase must he alarming but, even so, violent crime accounts for only 4 per cent. of all crime; and while firearms crime follows the general trend, such crime accounts for only 2.74 per cent. of the 4 per cent.— I think that is a rather higher figure than the one used by my noble friend Lord Swansea, who spoke of 1.5 per cent. Crime involving the use of rifles, pistols and shot guns accounts for no more than 1.32 per cent. of the 4 per cent. The problem of firearms crime is indeed important, but in the whole picture of violent crime its importance can be exaggerated.
Perhaps I may now turn to the part played in crime by firearms drawn among those legally held under the present regulations. The figures are not easy to ascertain hut, so far as it is possible to judge, not more than about 5½ per 562 cent. of all firearms crime (and possibly much less) involves firearms which previously were lawfully owned. At the very least, 94½ per cent. involve firearms that are not on any certificate or licence register. The important question, it seems to me—and I think many of your Lordships will agree—is not so much how the 5½ per cent. can be reduced but where the 94½ per cent. come from and how that figure can be eliminated or reduced. So far as the security of lawfully held firearms is concerned, it appears that, on average, only 0.1 per cent.—that is one in a thousand—of legitimately owned firearms are stolen every year; and that figure compares with 3 per cent., or one in thirty of members of the public generally who may expect to have something stolen from them every year. Security of firearms lawfully held under the present regulations does not therefore seem to give any good ground for alarm.
In the light of this, the profound scepticism of those who are actively concerned with firearms, scepticism about the Green Paper statistics and their interpretation in the Paper, and about the Green Paper proposals, can be readily understood. This scepticism is strengthened by the perfectly astonishing fact to which the noble Lords, Lord Swansea and Lord Thurso, have referred: that those who framed the Green Paper and its proposals entirely ignored the only piece of systematic research into firearms control carried out in recent years. As we have been told, Chief Inspector Greenwood of the West Riding Constabulary, last year undertook a study of the whole subject on a short-term fellowship at the Institute of Criminology in the University of Cambridge. It is a subject of which he has made a particular study for some years. His conclusions and the statistics and other evidence leading to them are embodied in a volume of great interest and importance which was published last year. Virtually the whole of the important evidence he collected and the whole of his conclusions have been totally ignored in the Green Paper. I hope that the noble Viscount, when he comes to reply, will tell us why they were thrown overboard, to be sunk, so far as the Green Paper is concerned, without trace under proposals put forward by a Working Party who have, 563 though no one questions their good faith, quite evidently a far more superficial and inadequate knowledge of the whole subject.
On the detailed proposals of the Green Paper, I will content myself with remarking on only two or three. The proposal for a new and consecutive numbering of all firearms registered is so entirely impracticable that I take it for granted it will not be pursued; it could only have been framed by someone quite ignorant of what would be involved. The proposal about collections of firearms in private hands, to which previous speakers have referred, has aroused deep feeling. Many such collections—and there are very many of them in this country, certainly more than one thousand—are of great interest and importance, both historical and technical, illustrating the development of firearms over the centuries. Most of them consist in the main of obsolete or obsolescent weapons and they are of considerable monetary value. There is no reason whatever to suppose that they have been, or are in the least likely to he, a source of firearms for criminal purposes, and it would be utterly unreasonable, as well as most undesirable, that they should be dispersed on the death of the existing owners, as would be the effect of the Green Paper's proposals. Most collectors have dealers' licences simply for the convenience of the police—I have one myself—and there is no good reason why this practice should not be allowed to continue. I hope that the Government will consider this matter and will continue the issue of dealers' licences to collectors. It is the simplest and, in so far as I can see, an unobjectionable way of enabling collections to go on.
Equally unreasonable and undesirable is the proposal that dealers' licences, used not only by dealers who carry on business from shops but by many reputable gunsmiths and armourers carrying on part-time business from private houses, should not be issued to such part-time dealers. The criteria should be not whether they carry on business from home or part-time but whether they are responsible people and whether they keep their firearms with due regard to security. Their elimination from trade by a draconian order would do a grave disservice not only to them but to the marks- 564 men they serve, and that would not prevent a single firearm from getting into the hands of criminals. Of course some of the less reputable of the large firms of firearms dealers would like to see their smaller part-time competitors eliminated, but I hope the Government will resist any pressures of that kind.
I could raise matters of detail on many other points, but they are well covered in the representations made by the National Rifle Association, the National Smallbore Rifle Association, the Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, the British Field Sports Society and many other organisations and individuals. In the light of what the noble Viscount has said. I do not think I need weary your Lordships with them. The Green Paper proposals are for the most part misconceived and mischievous. It is good that they are to be reconsidered and modified, though, from what the noble Viscount said, not nearly so far as many of us would wish, and I welcome most warmly the Minister's statement, if I understood him correctly, that a standing advisory committee will be set up.
My Lords, the legislation should be directed only to the reasonably safe custody (and it must not be so rigid as to prevent the farmer who reaches for his gun when a cloud of pigeons descend on his crop of beans, from getting at them before the damage is done) of firearms in responsible hands, and to no other purpose whatever. Only so will it be of any value in fighting the gangsterism that we are all most anxious to see eliminated from this country.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those of others who have welcomed this opportunity to discuss the Green Paper. We thank my noble friend Lord Swansea for presenting this opportunity to us. I thought that I was going to be able to say that I agreed with everybody who had spoken previously—and it would be by no means inconsistent to do so—until I heard the last few sentences of the speech of my noble friend Lord Cottesloe. If I heard him correctly, he said that some of the suggestions of the Green Paper were ill-considered and mischievous. But he was almost wholly in support of it, as were at least three of your Lordships who have spoken this afternoon.
565 The Government have made the case for stricter controls very clear. I believe that Section 4 of the Green Paper is closely drafted and I was interested to hear what was said by the noble Viscount. Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who has unfortunately now been obliged to leave the Chamber, on the question of measures necessary. If I may be allowed to quote one sentence from Section 4 on page 9 it is this:Two kinds of measure are required for the prevention of crime—measures to reduce the opportunities open to the criminal, as well as those which provide for his punishment".When I read those words my mind immediately went back to a debate on violence that we had on February 12, 1969. Lord Stonham then occupied the Office now occupied by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. Lord Stonham said these words:The roots of violence and aggression go deep—deeper, I believe than the spades of punishment can penetrate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12/2/69; col. 447.]My Lords, I believe that the background to this Green Paper is the considerable volume of violence, and anything that can be done to abate it and to support the forces of law and order must be most heartily welcomed. My noble friend Lord Swansea made this most emphatically clear at every turn in his speech. The sportsmen are behind the forces of law and order, and I felt that the whole tone of his speech was so reasonable and so constructive as to commend itself most heartily to your Lordships.
If we turn to the sources of weapons used for criminal purposes, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Cottesloe said about the 94 per cent. in the illegal pool of weapons acquired either by theft or by other means. I think it is very convincing—at least, it convinced me, and it may have convinced others—to look at the statistics in Table 20 which has been provided to us on burglaries and theft in which stolen firearms had been used. For this reason, my Lords, I would support what has been said on the system of unique numbering, and I feel sure that it will be possible, without damaging weapons and without inconveniencing the owners, for a system to be devised whereby a unique numbering code is developed, a code which 566 adopts perhaps the maker's name on the side of the barrel incorporated into an index which need never be stamped on the weapon itself but is by this means known to the police and recorded in their computer records. I am quite sure that it is not beyond the present technological expertise of those who manage these affairs to provide us with a convenient and valuable method that would not be difficult to manage or waste a large amount of police time.
The question of storage of weapons does give me some anxiety. Like others of your Lordships I own a number of shot guns and I have always felt it desirable to keep them under lock and key. To make this mandatory is perhaps a small step, but we must remember that there are those who legitimately depend on the immediate availability of a shot gun for part of their livelihood—for instance, a shot gun kept ready to hand to scare the crows off the beans, as my noble friend Lord Cottesloe mentioned. It seems that the application of conditions of storage should be subject to the investigation of the Committee suggested by my noble friend Lord Swansea. So far as ammunition is concerned, this seems to be a much more difficult area, and it would appear that as over 70 million rounds of cartridges are distributed through approximately 2,000 dealers in the course of a year the question of control is very difficult and will also, perhaps, involve a great deal of management. I would question whether it is as desirable to control the ammunition as to control the guns. It is surely the gun which threatens the unfortunate victim and not the question of whether there is a cartridge in it or not. Most of us would not be prepared to take the risk.
My Lords, I feel that the question of interpretation is of great significance on the matter of good reason and Section 27 of the Firearms Act 1968. The reassurances which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross gave in this connection were very heartening, as indeed were his other remarks in this connection. I must say that the tables in the Green Paper provided us with a number of statistics. I am not going to dwell on them, but we have been provided with material to examine. We may agree with the figures, or we may not; but a case for control 567 has been made paramount. It was said, I think by my noble friend Lord Swansea. that the Working Party consisted largely of Home Office officials and was devised for non-shooters and by non-shooters; and he mentioned the feeling of resentment which can very reasonably be felt by those concerned with guns generally. I understand this feeling—perhaps I share it to a limited extent. I am not myself a regular or keen shot, but I feel that stolen weapons do feature substantially in the course of the study. My noble friend claimed that in 1.5 per cent. of crimes reported the use of firearms was involved. I do not suggest that that figure is necessarily right or wrong. It suggests that a very high proportion of crimes of violence take place without the use of a shot gun, rifle or pistol, but I feel that there is a strong case for the controls which are suggested.
So far as collections are concerned, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross gave us an encouraging assurance that there are no longer proposals to ban further collections and that, so far as the trade is concerned, this question of the imitation of model weapons would no longer be subject to a total ban. It has always struck me—and I have no interest to declare here—that the presence of such very realistic model weapons which are immediately available is naturally a possible source of threat of violence. But, my Lords, what is not, if one considers the number of things that can be purchased so easily across an ironmonger's counter, from oven spray to ammonia, without any form of licence or restriction on availability? Inevitably it makes the situation extremely complicated. I believe that the measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government are right, and I wholeheartedly support the proposals so far as they have been laid before us in regard to the measure on shot guns. I feel that the establishment of shot guns within Section 1 is to be supported.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD ASTOR OF HEVER
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Government on the initiative they have taken in attempting to curb the increase in violent crime. Of course, like everyone else in this House, I share the concern of the Government, and like every one else 568 I would support in every way possible the steps which are being taken to effect this. I also am much encouraged by the approach to the problems which the Government have displayed and for the opportunity they have given to so many organisations and individuals to make their comments, criticisms and protestations on the basis of this Green Paper. It is encouraging to hear this afternoon from my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross that many of the anxieties which we feared and the threats which have been exposed, perhaps at first not apparent to the rural recreational activities of the country, have to a great extent been met.
May I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Swansea for the admirable way in which he opened this debate. I realise that the police in general are in favour of the substance of the Green Paper—it would be surprising if they were not, since they were represented on the drafting committee. Of course the most common firearm in private use to-day is the shot gun and as one who is very fond of shooting it is from that point of view that I should like to speak to your Lordships, because no legislation, or no anticipated legislation, of this kind can not give consideration to the way of life of the average shooting man. In this connection, significant changes have recently taken place which are, I believe, wholly relevant to the control of firearms in general and of shot guns in particular.
First, the average shooting man is a different being from what he was at the turn of the century or even before the last war. Game shooting is no longer the exclusive province of any particular section of society. It is enjoyed by people from every walk of life, whether they are townsmen or countrymen. And shooting is now recognised as an important companion to good husbandry and the farming economy. These are the days of the shooting syndicate, often a commercial enterprise and frequently a useful dollar-earner. It follows that the lawful needs, activities and aspirations of today's average shooting man must be taken into full account in any legislation which directly affects him: and this is of course despite the fears which the noble Lord. Lord Donaldson, may have had.
569 Secondly, it has only recently become widely accepted that shooting is an integral part of wildlife conservation, not only of any particular species but equally of its habitat. So it can fairly be argued that shooting is of substantial benefit to our environment. Some people cannot understand the apparent anomaly that those of us in Britain who go out to kill game are in fact conserving game. It sounds ambiguous but in fact it is true. The equitable control of wildlife is known to be necessary for the preservation, it not for the increase, of breeding stocks. Crop protection and vermin control benefit the farmer and the forester. In addition to the forester gamekeeper we have seen the advent of the sportsman naturalist and of the wildfowler ornithologist. As conservationists, we in Britain can claim to lead the world and for this we have to thank, among others, the highly responsible, disciplined and active voluntary societies and associations which organise, instruct and care for the proper conduct of the average shooting man.
One such organisation, the largest of its kind in Western Europe, has already been mentioned this afternoon. It is the Wild-fowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland—commonly known as WAGBI. The majority of its 30,000 members are not only wildfowlers but pigeon shooters, rough shooters and game shooters; above all, they are conservationists and are largely responsible for the increasing numbers of bird species, especially wildfowl, enjoyed by all country lovers. This Association, like other similar ones, insists upon the strictest code of conduct and discipline. It teaches safety, respect of firearms and their maintenance and security. Its activities are wholly to be encouraged.
At the 1972 Nature Conservation Council of Europe, held in Strasbourg, the head of the European Information Centre wrote:I believe that you should regard Great Britain as really the leading country in the field of understanding between sportsmen and conservationists. There is, too, the unparalleled example of WAGBI to which our Centre has on several occasions paid tribute. I believe that this organisation is doing a vital job and I cannot but hope that its example will be followed by many other countries.Thirdly, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to another recent change, which is the value of sporting 570 firearms to-day. The British gunsmith's best gun might cost £3,000; that is to say, £6,000 for a pair of new guns. As the demand for new guns exceeds the supply, the value of second-hand weapons increases proportionately. Such weapons are rare and of course costly, and I believe that they are attractive to the criminal more for their black-market value that for use in pursuit of violent crime. So when the provisional proposals relative to collections of firearms and their acquisition and retention, as inherited mementos or as antiques, appear in their final form, I hope that enforced sales of these weapons will not result. If it should happen, of course they will go to foreign buyers from countries subject to less stringent regulations than our own and many of the exquisite examples of our gun and rifle makers' art will be lost to this country for ever.
I feel most strongly that shot guns must not be turned into Section 1 firearms and subject to the same control as rifles and pistols, but I agree that control of all weapons held on certificate should be made more effective and that stricter security should be enforced. Many of us in the country, many of the 800,000 certificate holders, possibly do not have rooms which they can set aside as gunrooms. I think we all know the number of farms we go to where we see guns propped up against the barn, or up against the fireplace in the living-room. In my humble view it would be sufficient for the existing shot gun certificate, as issued after the 1968 Act, to be modified and extended so as to act as a sort of passport for every smooth-bore weapon of whatever bore which the holder possesses; and it should, I submit, be used in connection with normal transactions, sales, changes of ownership, repairs, purchases and storage of cartridges, et cetera, and should oblige the certificate holder to notify the police at any time of the exact whereabouts of all his guns, including those of his teenage children.
I referred to the influential and responsible societies and associations which represent the views of shooting man, and we are I think all extremely grateful for the help and advice which they have given to the Government in this respect. But 571 I believe that they still have a constructive contribution to make and that what they say should still be taken very seriously. Much hinges on the precise definition of certain words and phrases used in the Paper to allay doubts and fears about the severity of proposed restrictions, but these should be interpreted on a statutory basis and thus be commonly applicable to every police district with a consistent nationwide policy.
Where the Paper refers to an applicant providing a good reason why he should be issued with a shot gun certificate, I think that the emphasis should be the other way round and that the onus should be on the police to show that a man does not have good reason to take out a shotgun certificate. I am glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Colville that there is to be no limit on the number of guns that any individual may retain. I was also relieved to hear that there were not to be any further territorial restriction, because it would obviously have been quite impossible for any shooting man to know exactly where he was going to be shooting this time next year. let alone three years hence. My feeling is that it would be entirely intolerable interference to ration the stock of shot gun cartridges. I had a friend before the war who used to fire off between 20,000 and 30,000 cartridges a year. It may be said he must have been a rotten bad shot. In fact, he was one of the best shots in the country. But even if he had been a rotten bad shot, there is nothing to stop him, so far as I can see, from firing off 20,000 or 30,000 cartridges into the air if he wants to. I do not think it behoves the police to tell him that he must not do so. So I feel that this question of rationing of shot gun cartridges, or the bulk purchase of shot gun cartridges, should be treated with reason; and I personally can see nothing, in the face of inflation and other reasons, why one should not have 10,000 cartridges in stock, or 20,000 or 30,000, if one so desires.
I would expect strong opposition to the raising of the age from 16 to 18 at which a young person can legally learn to shoot. Despite the investigations of the McKay Working Party of 1970, I feel it extremely important that much wider scrutiny and consultation should still be given. I was 572 going to suggest that some ad hoc committee or consultative body should be formed to advise the Government before legislation is placed before Parliament. But, again, I was relieved to hear from my noble friend Lord Colville that the recommendation is that a standing advisory committee should be formed and that they will fulfil the same purpose on advising in any way in which the Bill could be strengthened—of course, with the ultimate object of defeating armed crime.
So, in conclusion, I should like to express the hope that this proposed legislation will not impose unduly heavy administrative burdens upon an already overstretched police force, no matter how willing the police force may be to undertake these additional burdens. I have travelled extensively all round the world, and in my humble view our police force comes second to none in courtesy, efficiency and the unobtrusive way in which they go about their business. There is none of this suggestion of bullying; there is none of this suggestion of interference or intrusion in our private lives. We are apt to take it for granted, but the police in this country are our friends and it is up to us to do everything we possibly can to help them to preserve law and order and the democratic processes that we all hold so precious. I therefore feel that all law-abiding people must eagerly look forward to a new Firearms Act which imposes heavily on the unlawful without needlessly restricting the lawful—an Act which is seen to be fair, effective and enduring.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, first let me attempt to lower the fever that seems to have been engendered about firearms in the United Kingdom by the Consultative Document. There is no need for panic by the Government over the use of weapons used for crime. If criminals want guns they seem to be able to acquire them without much difficulty, despite the present very severe firearms restrictions. Pistols and revolvers, however, are a different matter. Here the police, to date, make quite sure that they know who has them, and why, when and where they are used by accredited people, and no amount of legislation is going to stop criminals arming themselves. In the case of countrymen, we and the police are 573 put to a lot of chasing about to check on licences and certificates at various times of the year. It is not a very dignified performance and it is laced with mild menace.
I am bound to say that in my view the Green Paper and proposed Bill weaken the authority of Government because of their panicky and unnecessarily harsh attitude to legal handlers of guns, quite apart from gun-toting criminals. The present restrictions are quite sufficient for the authority in my part of the world, the West Highlands, where the use and possession of rifles and shot guns often provide the bread-and-butter incomes of the men involved. Enough is enough, my Lords. My local J.P. tells me that any further restrictions and the issue of endless paperwork will only cause more trouble for the overworked police and will highly antagonise the peaceful owners of legal firearms. It is not 1984 yet, my Lords. I feel quite sure that the great majority of firearms holders are law-abiding and are only too ready to settle for the endless rules already set down; but unnecessary additions to this top-heavy affair will not endear them to Parliament— and there will be just cause for this feeling.
My Lords, let sleeping dogs lie, else you will spring a hornets' nest—and then where will it all end? The grimmer side of Pandora's box will be let loose—and for what purpose? None, my Lords. So be wise and withdraw this Document. Forget it, and try to pretend that the Government never raised the idea, for it was from the outset too futuristic and very likely to boomerang, to the detriment of its inceptors.
If, however, Her Majesty's Government do not withdraw the Document they should consider first whether their brief is fair. It is said that the Working Party seem to have lost sight of the principal reason for their appointment—namely, the growth control of the use of firearms, with crime in mind—and have turned their attention to further harassing the gun-owning, law-abiding individual. If this is so in the minds of my noble friends around me here, then the case for this Consultative Document is not valid. If, however, I am being too fierce I see reason only for a tidying-up move, in a low key, to existing legislation. By all means let the criminals 574 be trounced for their misuse of guns, but the British legitimate gun-owning people are heartily tired of suffering penalties for the criminal minority's misdeeds. Firearms are our heritage. We make the best, we export the best and we use the best. But, above all, we have taught the world that guns and violence do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are exceptions to every rule, but in this case it should not be the reason for cracking a problem with the proverbial machine gun.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, following what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, I think it is fair to recognise that, particularly in the urban areas of this country, there is a real sense of alarm—and I believe quite unfounded alarm—at the risks that it is believed are run from shot guns and weapons under Section 1 which are held by people in the country. For that reason, we are particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Swansea for introducing this Motion in the way that he did, emphasising that the shooting fraternity are on the whole desperately keen that law and order shall be maintained and that they themselves are law-abiding people. In his speech my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross poured a good deal of oil on the troubled waters which arose from the difficulties mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, about the difficulties when the Green Paper was published—the fact that the personnel were all civil servants, that copies were not available and that only a short time was given for replies to be received. The speeches which have so far been made have dealt with nearly every point which I had picked out and therefore there are only a few to which I now wish to refer.
Speaking of the Green Paper as a consultative document makes me think of something that was said from the Front Bench opposite last week, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who rather deplored the description of a Green Paper as a consultative document lest it implied that the White Paper was not a consultative document. I think it is a point which should be made, that the Houses of Parliament will get an opportunity to debate this matter again when the White Paper comes along, and, as the noble Viscount said, it is a good thing that the 575 Green Paper has been published and, as he also said, this debate is part of the process which was envisaged at the time when the Government established the original inquiry. To my mind, Part I of the Green Paper is absolutely unobjectionable and the case is made for improved controls. I use the expression "improved controls" because the wording in the Green Paper is "stricter control". I use that phrase with deliberation, because I criticise the inadequacy of the sentences on offenders under the existing law and I believe that the situation would not be as serious as it is (if indeed it is serious) if more rigorous punishment had been meted out for breaches of the existing laws, and, as other noble Lords have said, had the existing controls on pistols and rifles really been entirely effective. If they have not been entirely effective then is lot reasonable to suggest that similar registration should be applied to shot guns?
The noble Viscount said that in Section 5, paragraph 35 is going to be reviewed, which I think is thoroughly satisfactory, but again in paragraph 52 in Section 6, the provision that notification should be given when a firearm is transferred to a dealer seems to me to be excessively restrictive and troublesome to the police, particularly when the dealers are, as we all know, mainly most reputable, careful people and they have to comply very rigidly with laws which apply to them, and to them only. Paragraph 64 I feel is unnecessarily burdensome, but that has been referred to before in the debate by the noble Viscount, and will be tackled by the proposed Standing Advisory Committee. I was interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, had to say about large quantities of ammunition.
I come now to paragraph 87 which deals with the question of the licensing of shot-gun ammunition in bulk, a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. The paragraph also refers to the purchasing of ammunition in bulk for syndicates and the like. It occurs to me that, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever said, people should be allowed to hold large quantities, but it seems to me that consideration of the matter must be related to time. For instance, a syndicate may purchase, say, 10,000 rounds which 576 may be delivered on August 1 and distributed on August 12, so I believe that the bulk quantity required to be covered by any sort of licence should be in relation to the time that that maximum quantity is likely to be held. Paragraphs 88 and 89, about nitrate powder and special air-gun ammunition are sound.
My Lords, I had an amusing experience the other day. For a curious reason I wanted to buy recently 100 rounds of ammunition and went to the saddler who sold the ammunition, taking with me my shot-gun certificate. I said to him, "Do you want to see it?", and he said, "No" —that is an indication that shooting people are law-abiding. I could not believe that he was going to sell me 100 rounds of 12-bore ammunition without seeing my certificate, but he said it was not necessary.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? This bothered me, the first time the noble Lord used the phrase, "the shooting fraternity are a law-abiding people". It ought to get him into "This Week" in the New Statesman. Now he says his saddler knows they are law-abiding people because he does not even ask to see their shot-gun certificates. Is he not really saying that so long as you live outside a big city and carry some guns, you can get away with murder?
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has misunderstood me. I am a shooting man and buy large quantities of ammunition through the syndicate, and that is why I said "for a curious reason" I wanted to buy this ammunition. The saddler knows me well. But I am just saying that I thought it was reasonable that in purchasing ammution the buyer should produce a shot-gun certificate. I imagine that that will be one of the things that will come in any legislation which takes place.
My Lords, on the question of young people shooting, I am not quite sure what is meant by paragraph 113(b) on page 36. Does it mean that nobody is allowed to be taught to shoot unless he is 16 years old or over? If so, I am all against that. A boy should be taught to handle firearms at a lesser age than that. I think it is right to say that the most dangerous shots are people who 577 were never taught as boys. Certainly as a father and a grandfather, I have made it a rule that when I first start teaching a brat to use an air gun, before I allow him to hold the air gun I make him say aloud,Never, never let your gunPointed be at anyone".I think that is the way young ones are brought up. Indeed, I am sometimes horrified by the little tots going around with imitation machine guns. I do not let them do that on my premises at all.
To come to the point on discretion and amnesty, I think this is a good idea, but we could go further and suggest that there might be a reward. I remember in India surrendering my 45 Webley because it was wanted for the police force under the new régime, and I greatly regretted saying goodbye to the old weapon. This is so with a number of people who have an old weapon. and I think they might well be paid a sum at least in token of the value of the gun to them.
My Lords, on the subject of amnesties and severity of sentences, I should like to emphasise that the mere possession of a sawn-off shot gun should be regarded as a heinous offence. Even as from now, the sentencing in respect of that crime should be as severe as possible. The point has been made by my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever that the art of venery—and by that I mean in its definition the practice or sport of hunting beasts for game or chase—is a crop to-day. It is a crop, and particularly so in Scotland. Quite apart from the recreational value of such sport, it is an encouragement to the ancient association between a man and his dog. I say that because in terms of money capital invested and involved in shooting and the chase, one must remember the enormous sums of money, the huge amount of energy, the intelligence and the application which are given to the breeding, training and handling of the dogs. I began by mentioning the anxieties of the many urban people who wonder about shooting. I imagine they do not realise that the people who are involved set great store by the training and handling of the dogs. Speaking for myself, I think it is a most enthralling skill and one that is merciful to game. It is well to remem- 578 ber the importance of the sporting gun dog and the hound investment.
My Lords, there is one other thing I should like to mention and that is that I am rather inclined to agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that there should be some element of appeal to the courts, and the chief constable should not be inevitably the absolutely final arbiter as to what is to be done with regard to the issue of firearms certificates.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, with those remarks I would only commend the attention of all concerned to the Hansard of this debate and look forward to an eventual White Paper which will meet the difficulties which have appeared in the course of these considerations and will provide, for the maintenance of law and order absolutely according to the satisfaction of the police, that arms do not find their way into the wrong hands, and, at the same time, that the lawful carrying of firearms by sporting people should not be impaired.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD HEWLETT
My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, and other noble Lords who have expressed their thanks to my noble friend Lord Swansea for initiating this debate. Indeed I submit that the thanks of all the law-abiding British public are due to him too. In my brief experience as a Member of your Lordships' House I have observed how valuable a function we can and frequently do perform when handling matters for which there appears to be so little time for discussion in another place. Perhaps when speaking upon such matters as this in your Lordships' House one should state one's pedigree: in shooting terms, Captain of Clifton, in the Royal Marines and then Secretary of the Cambridge University Rifle Association, and, more recently and indeed pleasantly, in shooting for your Lordships' House under the captaincy of Lord Swansea and the vice-captaincy of Lord Burnham against the House of Commons in a contest which this year we won for the first time in nine years. This is the Vizianagram Trophy. I would have your Lordships know that it was, and always is, a very acceptable and 579 enjoyable occasion, and we would welcome many more visitors from this House to support the team.
The only other activity I have is in shooting vermin, such as wood pigeon and grey squirrel. I am not a field sports pursuer; I have neither hunting, shooting nor fishing, but I recognise that gun and rifle shooting too is not solely for recreational purposes. It is indeed needed very seriously in farming for pest and vermin control, and, as I have illustrated, outside for smaller control of wood pigeon and grey squirrel. In the countryside it is a tool of management generally and I think it is an essential for satisfactory husbandry. So I do not wish us to get too over-concerned at any one aspect of rifles and guns, but particularly to try and look at the global position in respect of these weapons.
It is a valuable foreign currency earner, both rifles and guns and the pursuit of hunting and the like, and it might interest noble Lords if, with permission, I quote very briefly from Mr. K. J. Evans' study —he is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Birmingham—on the economics of shooting in the United Kingdom. He states that the manufacturing activity in millions of pounds ranges between £12 and £14½ million per annum; purchases from other industries £4½, million to £5¾ million; retailing activities between £l8¼ million and £23¾ million; licences and club membership, a turnover of about £l½ million; game rearing activity up to £2 millions; value of game shot nearly £10 million, publications and so forth a turnover of about £1¼ million. So the total we are talking about ranges between £48½ and £57¾ million, with a contribution to the balance of payments of £7.75 million and a contribution to the Revenue of between £42 and £51 million. I think your Lordships will realise, therefore, that it is very much more considerable than many of your Lordships might have expected.
But I submit that those who are lawfully indulging in the use of guns or rifles are citizens first and sportsmen second. If I may change the phrase, law and order, which has been used a good deal in this debate. I much prefer to see freedom under the law, because I think that really is what we are speaking about. 580 My concern, and I am sure your Lordships' concern, is that the whole matter should be faced in two ways; first, to endeavour to ensure that crimes of violence have cause to be diminished in incidence; and, secondly, that the liberties of the law-abiding individual are maintained and indeed protected, not least by this our House. I submit that this is an age for stopping people from doing things, sometimes quite unwarrantably, and I believe on this occasion on a fallacious premise.
The thought behind this particular Green Paper seems to be that if one brings stricter controls on all firearms crimes of violence will be reduced. But, with respect, I do not believe that would be a sequitur, and I have listened carefully to all the speeches made so far in this debate. If we took that argument any further we should find ourselves at the point of saying that if you ban firearms altogether then armed robbery will be a thing of the past. No, my Lords. No weapon in Britain has been more closely controlled than the pistol, and yet crimes of violence in which a pistol has been used as against any other firearm, have been more common consistently annually up to the year 1971. I will refer to that matter in a little time, if I may.
May I again say that I welcome Lord Cottesloe's comments in realising that the number of firearms incidents in this country is remarkably small compared with many other countries in the world. I am not suggesting for a moment that we or Her Majesty's Government should be in any way complacent about this matter. But I do not think we should follow Lord Donaldson's argument, which was really that if the police said that they thought this or that was the thing to do it is necessarily right and efficacious. With respect, I do not believe it likely to be so. Thefts from military establishments and rifle clubs are shown in the statistics in the Green Paper. Much the most frequent form of theft, and obviously the weapons are likely to get into the hands of criminals of an even more serious type than burglars, are from residences, shops and factories.
I cannot over-emphasise to your Lordships the need for far greater security—not necessarily bureaucracy but physical security over the holding of weapons. To tighten control over those persons already 581 conforming to the law is, I suggest with respect, to miss the point and to miss the target. It is ex hypothesi the criminals themselves who do not obey the law, who will not pay any attention to the increased controls and, judging from the statistic of 94 per cent. quoted in the debate several times, clearly they are not dependent for their armoury on those weapons which are under close control. I would therefore suggest that great care be taken to see that those who require weapons in the pursuit of their work, pastime or pleasure receive very favourable consideration in this whole argument, and may I say how much I welcome the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in the second speech in this debate. I would echo the sentiment of many noble Lords, that better detection of criminals and stiffer penalties is the answer to the criminal situation, and not more form-filling and greater control over private individuals and proper associations.
Firearms in Britain, I submit, represent virtually no risk within this country, whether they are owned legally, or perhaps I may say "unofficially", by which I mean the farmer with his shot gun, however casual his behaviour may be. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, referred to that aspect. Rifles, pistols and shot guns are used in less than 11 per cent. of all violent crime, and that in itself is only 4 per cent. of all crime in this country. So only a tiny proportion of legally owned firearms are stolen and are actually used in criminal offences, 6 per cent. of firearms crimes, which takes us down to a figure of 0.073 per cent. of all violent crime. As we heard the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe say, over 94½ per cent. are obtained from wholly illegal sources; and presumably we should reflect very carefully in this debate upon many of the statistics on this aspect, and the fact that tighter control of firearms in the way outlined in the Green Paper is unlikely to have any material or beneficial effect in the whole affair.
Lord Derwent, who was, unfortunately, prevented from taking part in this debate, has just received a reply to a Question for Written Answer from the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. With his permission, and that of the House, may I refer to the Question and the reply, as I think it might be helpful if they were 582 seen, particularly in Hansard, in the context of this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, put the Question:To ask Her Majesty's Government how many times during the last five years armed robbery has been carried out by criminals using (1) pistols, (2) shot guns and (3) other weapons".The noble Viscount replied, under the heading "Offences of robbery in England and Wales in which firearms were used." as follows: I am giving the figures for 1967 to 1971 in sequence, and first for pistols: 125, 135, 168, 163, 203. For shot guns: 63, 131, 140, 160, 207. That is the first occasion on which shot guns exceeded pistols in this connection. Other firearms, from 1967 to 1971: 77, 106, 155, 152, 162. Shot guns included both long-barrelled and sawn-off shot guns as defined on page 46 of the Green Paper that we are discussing.
May I refer to my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and say how much I welcomed his suggestion that we ought to ban instantly the possession of sawn-off shot guns? They cannot possibly be used for sensible sporting purposes, and can only be considered a menace to society. I may not understand the finer points about some other purpose for which they may be used—it escapes me at the moment. If no other Peer has heard of it, it is unlikely that it is a very reputable activity. My suggestion is to support what has already been suggested, and that is the banning of them on the prima facie situation already outlined.
If the Government will forgive my suggestion, may I say that I think it not an exaggeration to put forward the idea that there should be more time, and a better composition, in future for any body set up to study this most important and complex matter. I believe that a much better future can be obtained by having that more balanced view, and a more generally acceptable Green Paper brought forward. Notwithstanding what the noble Viscount said concerning the composition. the support of all the police is not for the Green Paper. The Police Federation do not think that it provides the right answer towards the diminution of armed violence and crime. It is unfortunate that the most important volume, to which reference has already been made, was apparently discounted by the Committee. I 583 cannot understand why, because I found it an absorbing document and one well worth the most serious study. May 1 suggest also that it would be a very good thing if more time could be allowed to the public at large to consider the Green Paper. and that allowance should be made for the fact that copies were not readily available, or available by post, for some considerable time from Government offices. These authorities, to be really adequate, should be wholly consultative, and not partially so on a very short-term run.
To deal very briefly with the proposals, one has already been dropped before to-day. Listening to my noble friend Lord Colville, one realises that the museum and private collections recommendation has been severely amended, if not dropped. Those proposals dealing with replicas are causing people deep concern and the Government a great deal of detailed study. I will not comment. Of the remaining four, one asks for the central control of firearms, another would ban the part-time dealers and mail order companies, of whom we have already heard quite a lot; and I can see many sides to that case. A third seeks much closer control of pistol and rifle clubs, and frankly, I do not think the case is made in that direction. The last recommends the close control of shot guns within uniform standards for rifles and pistols. I question whether this is practicable even if it is desirable. I should welcome having a complete register of all weapons, but since the total weaponry is probably between l3 million and 6 million weapons, we are setting ourselves an enormous task, not least if every weapon and certificate must be produced when further supplies of ammunition are required. It would seem to me that the Government should have a much closer look at what this involves: for remember it is the outside weapon, and often the imported weapon, which has been used in many of these criminal activities.
The good will of the British public is a necessary prerequisite to the successfully carrying into effect of legislation. We should never forget that we must try to get an understanding among all those who are not in close association with rifle clubs or sporting associations those individual farmers and others who, on 584 the ground, must have that weapon for good husbandry. I am sorry to be at odds with the noble Viscount the Minister, but when he tells me that the Association of Municipal Corporations and Magistrates' Association are in favour, I am not greatly impressed because I do not think they have much detailed knowledge of firearms, rifle shooting, or sporting activities in this field. The police are not wholly in favour, and the Federation is not. The Farmers' Union are said to be in favour. May I ask whether this information is based on polling or on asking the opinion of the individual farmers? I wonder. With respect, I think about the C.B.I. I am only in a small way in industry, but I find the C.B.I. speaking for me; and no doubt the T.U.C. speak for small unions, and many a time when they have not had the opportunity, or the inclination, to seek the individual view. They consider that they are the representatives of the individuals and therefore should speak for them and express an opinion, perhaps without due consultation. I should be interested to know, when the noble Viscount replies, how many farmers the National Farmers' Union have contacted on this matter, or whether it is just the opinion of the officers that is quoted.
I submit that the Green Paper is a package which is not particularly valuable in terms of combating crime. It is an interesting study document. In view of what has already been said in this debate, I would urge the noble Viscount to take it back and have another very good look at it and then to come back with a somewhat more balanced document after far deeper consultation has been held, particularly on the part of the outside public, who should have a much better opportunity of expressing their views. Our aims are identical. We want practical and effective control that really will minimise armed violence. I do not think that the Green Paper is the answer. I should like it to be much more directly connected with crime, and especially violent crime. I would urge upon the Government deep consideration of the Long Room Committee's proposals, and that outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, and echoed by many other noble Lords in the debate, that there should be a Standing Committee. I am sure this could be most helpful in helping to frame the legislation and keeping it up to date, and in 585 advising the Government generally on the whole future of this aspect of pastimes and pursuits, as well as the combating of crimes of violence.
I think that the Working Party have lost many of their objectives, as has been stressed by many speakers here to-day. For my part, I cannot see any justification in recommending that we should follow them further away from the main objective which they lost in the Green Paper, which was to study and recommend solutions to the problem of extended use of firearms in crime. I believe that that should have been the basis of the findings, and I do not find it so to be. A Standing Advisory Committee, representing all appropriate lawful interests, could make a detailed study and come back to this House, through Her Majesty's Government, with a really excellent White Paper that would commend itself nationally, and particularly to the Members of both Houses. May L in conclusion, urge no harsher treatment upon the law-abiding citizen, or the person in proper pursuit of his work, pastime, or pleasure? What I should like to see is much more effective measures taken to combat crimes of violence. I am sure that every Member of this House would echo those sentiments, and I again reiterate our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, for the great service he has done your Lordships' House by introducing this debate.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD WESTWOOD
My Lords, as is the usual custom in your Lordships' House, I have to declare an interest in this debate by informing you that I am a director of a group of companies, one of whose subsidiary companies manufactures toy guns and pistols. After listening to the ten marvellous speeches which have preceded me, I seem to be the lone voice in the wilderness when I draw my interest to Section 14 of the Consultative Document, which relates to imitation firearms. In paragraph 117 of Section 14 specific mention is made by the Working Party of toy pistols, and it is suggested that it would be desirable to ban their general sale if some way could be found to do so without interfering with the sale of children's toys. It then goes on to say:… it would be difficult to devise a definition which avoided such interference.…".586 My Lords, in my opinion it would not be difficult: it would be absolutely impossible.
In paragraph 119 the Report considers the possibility of a ban on toy guns and states that three difficulties would arise. The first problem would be in the design of children's toys, and the second one would be that it would not be practicable to ban the possession, the manufacture, the import and the sale of many realistic imitations, asThere are many thousands of these imitations … in circulation, and a legal requirement to hand them in or destroy them would be unenforceable.Perhaps I may inform this House that there are not many thousands of these in circulation: there are many millions of them. The third difficulty which the Report foresees is the fact that air guns and starting pistols are not imitations as they have a legitimate use and would have to be excluded from the ban. The Report then adds the very significant words:… and would remain available for use by criminals so inclined.My Lords, I just cannot understand this at all: ban children's toys and pistols if it can be done, but do not ban air guns which can fire pellets or darts and which can be used by criminals. It just does not make sense to me.
In paragraph 120 of Section 14 it is suggested that a vetting committee should be set up for imitation firearms which would recommend to the Secretary of State whether or not a particular imitation submitted to the committee should be banned. In my considered opinion—and I have many years of experience—if this suggestion were adopted it would cause more problems and difficulties than it would solve, apart from the expense of operating such a committee. The suggestion is well-intended but ill-founded. I am not a great lover of having to listen to statistics, but the matter is so serious to the toy industry in this country that I took the trouble to obtain information from the three largest makers of toy guns. Last year 11,600,000 toy guns and pistols were sold: I repeat, 11,600,000. And 60 per cent. of those were exported. One company alone had export sales of over £1 million. These three companies alone (there are many other companies, but the three big ones) 587 employ 1,170 people in the manufacture of toy guns. Two of the companies from which I obtained information are situated in South Wales, in a special development area, and I can tell your Lordships that local Members of Parliament, trade union officials and the factory workers are getting very worried and anxious at the possibility of legislation being introduced which would cause the contraction or the shutdown of toy gun manufacture.
Toy guns were high-lighted in the India House affair, when three men armed with a dagger, a sword, an acid spray and two toy pistols took part, resulting in the death of two of the men. The police fired on them because they thought the guns were real guns. My Lords, was it not a blessing that they were toy guns and not real ones? I am informed that despite many attempts to recover them in these past years there are many thousands of real guns still in the hands of quite innocent people in this country; and if the men who carried out that raid had wanted real guns, do you think for one minute that they could not have obtained them? I should imagine that every male Member of this House has at one time or another played with toy guns, either as cowboys and Indians or as "cops" and robbers. My first gun was whittled out of a piece of wood, and when I grew to the mature age of 10 I was given a sophisticated toy gun which looked like a real one. Prisoners in a recent escape attempt from Brixton Gaol did not bother to use a toy gun: they carved one out of a bar of soap. Can we now expect Parliament to ban the manufacture of soap? Have stocking manufacturers to stop producing silk and nylon stockings because they are used by bank robbers? My Lords, so far as the toy industry is concerned the whole thing is sheer panic.
There is a comprehensive statistical appendix in the Green Paper, and in Table 6 on page 51 it states that in the year 1969 there were two offences in which imitation firearms were used and people were slightly—slightly, my Lords—injured; in 1970 there were no offences of this nature; and in 1971 only three cases, in which three people were slightly injured. During the three years which I have quoted there was a total of 2,311 offences in which firearms or imitation 588 firearms were used and persons were injured, and out of those 2,311 cases only 5 people were injured, and they only slightly injured, as a result of the use of imitation firearms. These are the figures supplied by the Working Party, and surely they prove without any doubt whatsoever that the Government should not for one moment consider the setting up of a vetting committee for toy guns and pistols. The Consultative Document, the Green Paper which we have discussed, has 68 pages dealing with the whole question of firearms, and there are only 2 pages in it which deal with toy guns.
My Lords, I have tried to show logical reasons why toy firearms make no significant contribution to crime and I have used the figures in the Green Paper solely for that purpose. I submit that there is no need for legislation of any kind restricting the manufacture, the importation or the sale in this country of toy firearms of the type which are on general sale in all our toy shops to-day. It is quite unnecessary, and I am glad to learn from the noble Viscount that the Government have had second thoughts on Section 14 of the Green Paper.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, if one sets up a Working Party of distinguished and industrious civil servants and invites them to study a problem and make recommendations, it is not surprising that they make recommendations. In fact, it would not surprise me if a notional member of that Working Party had said, "If we stop one crime we have achieved our object". But the question we have to look at is whether they have established a size of problem to justify all the restrictions imposed in this Green Paper. One might imagine a similar Working Party, asked to look at the increase in traffic accidents, making a recommendation that every citizen of this country should show good reason for requiring to possess a motor car. It might be a good thing if they did; but to my mind we have not seen established a problem of violent crime resulting from the legitimate ownership of firearms.
There is one point that I should like to see taken out of the whole question of firearms. That is the question of air guns. As the Green Paper says, although injuries can be caused, although control 589 of some sort is required, the injuries are not generally serious and air guns are not used in serious crime. It would be possible, I suppose, to kill someone with an air rifle; but I think that even the most determined murderer would find it a long and tedious process. I believe that air guns should not be connected with firearms. Indeed, to a lay mind the air gun is almost, by definition, not a firearm. They could be included, perhaps, with the more dangerous weapons like bows and arrows and half bricks in a "Miscellaneous Missiles Act" and thus avoid, to my mind, confusing the issue of violent crime.
If we do not want to impose undue restrictions on honest citizens I should like a general principle accepted (and I am sure it would be accepted by all those of us who are interested in shooting in any form): that the Government should be entitled to know who owns a firearm, what the firearm is, what its number is and where both the owner and the firearm can be found. But after that, I believe restrictions should be kept to a minimum until a nuisance is caused. There is no reason to take drastic action against a nuisance that may never arise. I believe that there is advantage in keeping the firearms certificate and the shotgun permit separate, because the number of shot guns is so much greater and the risk, if they present one, presumably less. At present the police spend a great deal of time checking firearms certificates. Perhaps it is right that they should do so. If they had to devote the same or a proportionate amount of time checking on shot gun permits then they would have very little time to—but I exaggerate. Let me say instead that they lose time better devoted to other things.
Therefore I should like to ask that the two firearms should be kept of a separate nature, for they are of a separate nature. The shot gun is a short-range weapon and without being adapted, as noble Lords have mentioned, by being sawn off, it is not very well adapted to violent crime. The rifle, I would say, is equally ill-adapted to violent crime; but I suppose that it could be adapted to a revolutionary situation if that is what the Government fear. There is a difference in measure between a weapon that can kill at 600 or 700 yards and a weapon which is unlikely to kill over about 40 590 yards at the outside. If the Government really wish to have more control over shot guns, I cannot see any objection to recording the numbers of shot guns on a permit. I suppose they would become rather like car registration books, hopelessly inaccurate over a period, but it would be some check. I see no objection to that. Let us keep them separate and concentrate police effort on checking pistols, weapons which might suit the criminals well, and leave the shot gun which is used by the vast majority of firearms users in this country relatively untouched.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, anyone who listens to this debate cannot fail to appreciate what a really complicated subject this is. There are many detailed difficulties. My noble friend on the Front Bench will be pleased to hear that my proposals this afternoon are designed to answer, if not all, at least most of his problems on this subject. First, however, I should like to mention one or two points. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross said that the Green Paper had the support of the Magistrates' Association. This is technically correct, but he is obviously unaware of the furore within the Association. Their executive committee had little or no consultation on this important matter. My noble friend Lord Hewlett also queried the statement of the noble Viscount.
Then there is the question of "good reason" for holding a shot gun. As I understand it, there are many people who shoot wildfowl on the foreshore and they are entitled to do so. It seems to me that anyone would only have to say that he is going to shoot ducks on the foreshore to have given good reason for securing a shot gun. I may be wrong, but it is a point that will have to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, said that this should not become a shooters' rights debate and that we should decide how to help the police. I am sure that we all agree with this sentiment, but I am not certain that we could agree with some of his further statements. My noble friend Lord Hewlett made the point of firearms offences in relation to the general crime wave in an excellent manner. I hope that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross and the Ministers in another place will regard carefully what he said.
591 There is also the question of mail order. I am also not clear—and a number of noble Lords have mentioned this point—what is meant by this. At the moment, in my part of the country small quantities of rifle ammunition are sent either through the post or by bus. Otherwise it means that someone must travel a considerable distance to the gun-maker to get ammunition, presumably with a firearms certificate. It could mean a man being off work for a day and he may even have to cross the sea to get to the gun-maker. One must look at this matter. It is complicated, and a few city policemen are not going to be the answer to the problem. Then there is the question of the support, allegedly, by the National Farmers' Union; but I wonder whether my noble friend has had any word from the Scottish N.F.U. and, if so, what view they gave. Then there is the question of antiques. How does a weapon become an antique after 100 years if one cannot keep a fifty-year-old weapon? I have two muzzle-loading cannon with rifled barrels on my lawn. They are about 100 years old, but I wonder whether I shall find that a firearms certificate is necessary for these.
My Lords, in order to sketch in the background to the problem it is necessary to look a little at the history. Until recently, the inhabitants of this country were not only permitted to hold weapons but were commanded to do so by the Establishment of the day for the defence of the realm. This may well have led to some armed robberies, for instance by Robin Hood with a long bow. The remedy, however, is not to attempt to confiscate the weapon but to deal appropriately with the villain. Now, of course, it is not fashionable to punish the child and we are told not to put temptation in someone's way however much inconvenience it may cause to other people.
In 1903, the rot started with the totally ineffective Pistols Act and, contrary to what Lord Donaldson has said, as recently as the 1914–18 war officers were still required to arm themselves with their own pistols. In the last war the L.D.V. used many sporting weapons. Inevitably, there were many weapons about the country in 1918 and the Blackwell Committee was set up. Unfortunately, they did not take evidence from outside invidi- 592 duals or bodies except from the chief constable of Birmingham. Inevitably, this Report was wanting; for this is a highly complex matter. In 1920 a Bill came before your Lordships' House based on the Blackwell Report. Again it resulted in an imperfect Act. If only there had been full consultation before introducing this legislation there might have been fewer difficulties to-day.
In 1934, the Bodkin Committee took infinite trouble to produce an excellent Report so far as their terms of reference permitted, but they were asked only to look at the "definition and classification of firearms". In particular, there was no examination of the effectiveness of existing legislation. In 1936 we had the Firearms (Amendment) Act which, with information from the Bodkin Committee, set out to improve the 1920 Act. Thus we have further poor legislation leaving an unsatisfactory state of affairs and resulting in the 1937 Consolidation Act. This Act also left much to be desired, even though it survived for twenty-five years. During the Second World War there were many households in which there were weapons lying about. They belonged to soldiers home on leave, members of the L.D.V., later the Home Guard. I well remember that before I was old enough to enlist as a proper soldier I was a lance-corporal in the Home Guard, and we were armed with 300 rook rifles. Probably I was under age to hold a weapon but this was done. My Lords, the Swiss have a part-time Army and there are weapons in many Swiss houses. Is the amount of armed crime in Switzerland greater than in this country?
In the autumn of 1965 came the fateful abolition of the death penalty—and more panic measures. The 1965 Firearms Act was rushed through Parliament. In June, 1966, Mr. Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary felt that to restrict the use of shot guns would place too great a burden on police administration. But in the following August three police officers were shot with a pistol, a weapon already supposedly under control, and the Home Secretary changed his mind. In September, only seven weeks after his June statement, the Home Secretary completely changed his view and decided to legislate on shot guns. In December, 1966, hidden away among other important but quite different 593 matters, was legislation about shot guns. Once more there was hurried legislation which was ill-conceived. In this House we were told that it would help to trace criminals, but what in fact has it done? It has infringed the liberty of the subject and got the police bogged down in a welter of useless paper.
Now, my Lords, we have this Green Paper—fortunately it is consultative—prepared by the Home Department and based on information produced by some of their own officials and some policemen. Apart from Sir John McKay the Green Paper does not even tell us who these faceless men were. In the Green Paper they are complacently patted on the back. We are now assured that the Government already have had to abandon very important recommendations in Section 35, which deals with repeater weapons. To-day we have heard that various other recommendations have been abandoned. Perhaps we should ask how many more should go or be altered. Statistics are freely used in the Green Paper but in many cases they are misleading and incomplete. They have been compiled by different forces and have been given different interpretations.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, so that I may pick up one point instantly, may I intervene to say that the membership of the Working Party was published on Tuesday, June 19, in a Written Answer in another place.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that information. I said that the names were not in the Green Paper, and I think that such an important document should contain the names of those who compiled it. I was criticising the Green Paper.
The statistics which have been used are inaccurate, incomplete and compiled from different sources, and have been given different interpretations. I wonder why there was no proper consultation made by this Committee. My brother appeared before the Committee to give evidence on behalf of the British Deer Society. He had no idea of what information the Committee wanted and could only attempt to read the thinking of the Committee. Presumably other witnesses were in the same position. But, my Lords, 594 recrimination will not help. There are many items in the existing legislation which could be improved to the advantage of everyone concerned. We must get the best answers and try to prevent armed crime. But we must cause as little inconvenience as possible to those who try to abide by the law.
Last week I went to Sweden and took a weapon with me. Going through security was quite laughable. We were told that we had to immobilise our weapons, which is the normal procedure, and I had to carry the bolt of my weapon separately. The poor little man on security had not, I think, ever seen a rifle bolt before, and when I produced it he wondered what on earth it was. He fingered it gingerly and started to twist it a bit. When I said, "For goodness' sake! don't turn it, or I shall have an awful job to get it back in the gun". I think he thought it was a bomb, and he dropped it. This shows the difficulties we are up against. On my way home T had to produce my firearms certificate before I could bring the weapon back into this country. I was the only person who had something to declare. The customs officers put themselves in a huddle and had a discussion. I thought that there was some difficulty, and as we were to have this debate I said that if there were difficulties it would be useful to ventilate them. One of the officers said, "Your document is invalid" I was rather surprised, having recently obtained it from the police who issued it. But apparently I had not signed it. So I asked the customs officers to turn their backs, and then I signed it.
There was another complication, my Lords, which was perhaps more serious. I had been authorised by the police to purchase this weapon, but the police could not give me a number because a weapon had not been purchased and I could not give them a number. But I was authorised to carry a weapon. The customs officers rightly said, "How can we be sure that this weapon is the one referred to on the certificate?" I was able to solve this complication by producing a document, albeit in Swedish, authorising me to take that weapon into Sweden. These are complicated matters and they should be considered in detail before we start trying to legislate.
595 My Lords, I promised my noble friend a solution. I suggest that he learns a lesson from the past and does not perpetrate the mistakes then created. He should not adopt panic measures. I suggest that first we should ensure that the present law is enforced properly and that proper penalties are imposed. A well-known prostitute, Norma Levy, was found to be in possession of a pistol and ammunition. When she appeared before the magistrates what sort of penalty was imposed? She was fined £2.50 on each charge. I think that is quite ridiculous. If this is the way the law is enforced by the Judiciary, no wonder there is armed crime. I suggest that this is something which should he put right as a first measure.
I was delighted to hear the noble Viscount say that he intended to set up an Advisory Committee. I suggest that this committee be set up right away and that he should not wait until after some legislation has been enacted. It should be used to prepare legislation for the Government. If we have a proper consultative body, including the police, Customs and Excise, the Home Department, dealers, sporting organisations, and I do not know how many others who may well be involved, we shall get some proper legislation. We shall obtain the right answers and not have the hotchpotch that has been produced in the Green Paper. After full consideration of all the problems, legislation could be prepared. This is a matter which cuts right across Party lines and time must be taken now to get things right. If my noble friend adopts these proposals, there will be no need to provide answers to the problems which I put to him at the start of my speech.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
My Lords, I play cricket for the Lords and Commons; usually I bat at eleventh place and I am not much of a bowler. So, as your Lordships will have gathered, my prowess is not great. I go into bat either when we have made so few runs that the score is beyond redemption or when we have made so many that my score is of no relevance. In either case I go in, hit out, and get out. I hope that tonight I shall score better than I do at Vincent Square. I shall do my best. Undoubtedly 596 the Green Paper has the laudable aim of reducing violence and crime by making it more difficult to keep and obtain weapons, and by requiring more to be put on the certificates and increasing restrictions. But, as has been pointed out over and over again, one must remember that all these restrictions and certificates are totally ignored by criminals. Why should the imposition of further restrictions succeed while there is an inability to enforce the present law, which probably is quite adequate were it enforced with proper effect and proper penalties imposed? The imposition of further restrictions cannot affect the criminals. An obvious example is provided by the pistol, on which there have been restrictions for 50 years, but as many are now available to criminals as ever there were. The restrictions apply only to the law-abiding citizens.
If the restrictions were to become effective there would be a scarcity of weapons and they would become more desirable. If they were made more valuable, people would be less likely to hand them in on the occasion of an amnesty. So that it would be a case of Ferrer's law which, as your Lordships will remember, is that every law has the exact opposite effect to that which is intended. There would probably be an increase in the use of acid sprays and blunt instruments, which would cause more damage than shot. We have seen since 1968 the gun certificate, and I seriously wonder whether it has had any effect whatever in reducing the availability of guns to criminals. I would ask: have the criminals registered their guns? Anyhow, the certificates do not show the serial numbers of guns, so that if one is stolen there is still no means of tracing it back to its original owner. The gun certificate simply harasses the godly at the expense of their time and money and has no effect on the ungodly. If the Home Office are wedded to this certificate and insist on keeping it, then I think they must prove that it is of some value.
Perhaps some good may be made of it. It must contain the details of the guns, with their serial numbers. There was a suggestion that it should be necessary to state where you were going to shoot, but I gather that that has been dropped. That would have been totally 597 unenforceable, and in any event redress is already available under Section 20 of the Firearms Act 1968. Many accidents occur with weapons. We have all heard of the gun left in the corder and of the child coming along and picking it up and the gun going off. There are also thefts of weapons. So perhaps these certificates should specify the safety and security arrangements which should be applied to guns. But I do not think this would be a good thing, because I think that few people would read all the small print. However, in view of the number of accidents and thefts, I think there is room for progress in the safety and security of guns and weapons.
I was going down a small lane in Hertfordshire, in one of these rather open villages with lanes all round, and I heard a ping. I thought no more of it and I went on up the road, when I heard another ping and realised that an air gun was being fired. About 100 yards further on I saw a chap lying down and firing an air gun. He had bought the gun for his child and was trying it out, and no doubt was scoring many bulls-eyes. But what he did not realise was that all his shots were going through the target and down the road 100 yards further on. Those who have shot will know that almost every time you go shooting you see people shooting through the line, which is dangerous, and many people, as we know, have lost their eyesight. The proverbial rabbit shoot by farmers, when they all get round in a circle and shoot towards each other, must involve a certain amount of danger. I was once walking along a moor in front of some chaps and one fellow had his gun at the trail. I turned to him and asked him how he had got on, and he said he had not killed anything, but he had at least wounded a few, a matter of which he seemed very proud. I said to him: "You are about to get me" He said: "No; it's all right; I always have the safety catch on between drives" We have all come across lots of these little stories of incidents.
What happens, my Lords, is that people are suddenly able to buy a gun and buy a shoot, and they often have little knowledge of shooting or of the range of power of their ammunition; they do not know much of bird identification and probably do not know protected species; 598 they may not know the game seasons or safe handling rules or of security; and they may consistently wound birds. It is perhaps rather soft to consider what the birds think about it. "O.K" so I am getting soft in my old age, but I do consider them. If any of your Lordships are reincarnated as a rabbit, you may feel the same way.
Certain booklets are published. I have here Firearms. I wonder how many people who shoot have even heard of this booklet. Then there is Know Your Law. I wonder how many people even know that that exists. I have shot for goodness knows how long, and I did not know of the existence of the booklet The Gun Code. They are available, but people do not know about them. All shooters should be aware of this information. A car driver has to pass a test before he may drive a car, and a car has to be tested at a Ministry of Transport testing station. Why should not shooters who have lethal weapons be given a test to show that they are responsible to carry the weapon? I would put forward the thought that any new shooter—I would not include people who shoot already because it would be too difficult —anybody coming on the scene for the first time, should need to pass a test before he gets his game licence or gun licence or whatever. This test could be taken at one of the 300 gun clubs, most of which could be authorised to take the tests. He would have to show basic knowledge to the satisfaction of the Minister, just as a driver has to; and he would have to know the power and limitation of the ammunition; the necessity for keeping guns and ammunition in a secure place; the law as it applies to him; the gun code; etiquette; rules of safety, ability to shoot with reasonable accuracy and knowledge and consideration for wildlife. I believe that over a period this greater awareness, which many of us already have, would contribute towards safety; would reduce accidents; would reduce the number of people blinded and maimed every year; would reduce the number of guns left in corners. It would increase security and reduce theft of guns and ammunition; it would increase responsibility towards wildlife and reduce any unduly callous attitude towards wildlife. I believe that this would be a better approach than tightening up laws which are adequate, but are totally disregarded 599 by the very class of people at whom they are exclusively aimed and which cause expense and annoyance to those to whom the law is not aimed in any way.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hewlett, said that we all ought to give our pedigree before we speak. I think that perhaps I should state that I have only in my life shot at clay pigeons.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
If the noble Lord wants to know, I did hit two and I find now that the noble Lord is going to protect my kind of shooting. So I am precisely the person that the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, to whom we are all grateful for initiating the debate, referred when he said that the Consultative Document was written by non-shooters for non-shooters. There are 52 million of us non-shooters, and we have a very big interest in this whole question. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swansea. This is an important question and, as he knows, we have had a great deal of documentary information given to us of great value, which I have read with great interest.
I thought, my Lords, that before I actually begin on the substance of my speech, the House might like to recall that my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger started to question the House nearly three years ago. I should like to explain that my noble friend is not with us to-night because she is doing a tour of Ethiopia. It is an enormous credit to the stamina of your Lordships' House that one of our Deputy Speakers at the splendid age of 76 should have spent her last vacation doing an exhaustive study of China and part of this one in Ethiopia. We miss her very much to-day.
My Lords, we have had some extremely well-argued and, indeed, passionate speeches, mostly against this Consultative Document and mostly from behind the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. My heart does not bleed for him because he is so tough, but it might have done otherwise. Nevertheless, the facts are as stated by his right honourable friend the 600 Home Secretary. Armed crime is rising. Shot guns are at the moment increasingly the preferred weapon of the serious criminals. Thefts of firearms are increasing. The chief officers of police throughout the country support the view that stricter controls are necessary and are worth while. I am not one of those people who take the statements of chief officers of police as ex cathedra, but never-the less on this subject I think they know what they are talking about. I should very much like to echo the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that what we need are stricter controls and more sensible ones.
This is the background against which we are considering this whole question. We on this side support the Government's attempts to make it as difficult as reasonably practicable for criminals to obtain firearms. We know the arguments that many crimes are committed with firearms obtained illegally, probably from abroad. Nevertheless, we approve of the efforts being made to make it as difficult as possible to obtain them. In particular, we approve of putting shot guns into almost the same category as Section 1 for firearms. This we feel is absolutely basic. If I may again quote the words of the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, he said:… nothing in these proposals goes beyond the reasonable duty of the good citizen to contribute to the safety of the whole community; they are aimed at the irresponsible, the careless, the thief and the criminal.No noble Lords opposite would consider themselves thieves or criminals, and when it comes to guns they are obviously the very opposite of irresponsible, because the knowledge which has been revealed to-day has been quite fantastic—indeed it makes me quite nervous. But this is what we are discussing. We are not discussing whether it is inconvenient or whether it will be more difficult for a fair number of our citizens. We are discussing a basic serious social question.
I thought perhaps it was a pity that Mr. Greenwood, who is a chief superintendent, was not asked to sit on the committee or asked to give evidence. His book is absolutely fascinating, and I agree in this opinion with noble Lords opposite who have quoted from it. However, I think, if I may say so, that it would be advantageous if when the noble 601 Viscount replies he could do something about rationalising the total divergence of the Home Office figures and those put forward by Chief Superintendent Greenwood, after two years of considerable research. I think that is important.
May I say—again, I hope, without embarrassing the noble Viscount—that we approve of many other of the proposals in the Green Paper, and in particular of the mail order proposals contained in it. I cannot quote the paragraph, but he will know which one I mean. None of us can possibly forget the tragedy of President Kennedy, who was killed by a gun which was ordered by Lee Harvey Oswald from a mail order catalogue. This is a perfectly easy situation. I know that many comments have been made such as, "How could they do it?" and, "How could you possibly deal with such a complicated situation?". I think that my noble friend Lord Donaldson put it perfectly clearly when he said that it can be absolutely clearly defined and he thought that this particular proposal must go through. I believe it must.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the penalties to be imposed. Either they are inadequate or inadequately imposed. Indeed, in the Sunday Times it was revealed that of 7,000 case histories checked by the committee, convicted persons had received only 4 per cent. of the maximum possible punishment. For instance, where the maximum fine for an offence was £200, most were being fined only £8. Again, without a lot of argument about the inconvenience and all the rest of it, this is the basic stuff with which we are dealing, and I should like to urge the noble Viscount to issue guidance (if that is the right word) to the courts on this particular problem.
We also approve of the proposals about young people—not that it is easy. If a rule is made that people under 18 should not be able to carry shot guns unless they were under the supervision of an adult there could be the case of a young man marrying at 16 and who could probably have two children by the time he was 18; yet he cannot carry a shot gun unless his father is with him. This is the kind of society we live in. We on this side think that it is a good rule that there should not be indiscriminate licensing for young people.
602 Then there is the fascinating question of the replicas. The noble Lord, Lord Westwood, spoke very movingly and with great knowledge about the toy industry. We all know that it is extremely good for small boys to gallop up and down on their imaginary ponies, being one of the sheriff's posse, shooting the "baddies" dead, or even the other way round. It is very good for them to get rid of their aggression. But what we are talking about are these replicas, and they are not toys at all. They are enormously expensive to start with. There is an extremely handsome brochure available which I am quite sure many of your Lordships will have seen. These replica producers are obviously doing very well, judging by the quality of their brochures. What I found particularly fascinating was the questionnaire to their customers at the end, Which showed that of the age groups 56 per cent. was between 18 and 34; and as to their occupations, the top lot were white collar and the second blue collar. There was also a really splendid category representing 15 per cent. who were called "frustrated firearms collectors". It is all very well for us to think of small boys saying, "Bang, you're dead, you're dead!" But it is not so agreeable to think of middle-aged men actually paying £55 for a Thomson sub-machine gun or £30 for a Broom-handled Mauser (whatever that may be). Mr. Pickering—he was the gentleman who sent us this brochure—whom I saw on a television programme which was probably also seen by others of your Lordships and which must have been enjoyed by many last week, himself said that this was a "Walter Mitty" attitude. There is something faintly distasteful about this.
I think that the proposals in the consultative document about replicas are good ones. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said in his speech earlier that he was reconsidering this point. We accept that this is a consultative document and I am all for Governments reconsidering their proposals—and, if I may say so, particularly this present Government—but I very much hope that he will remember that those deaths at India House occurred. They involved the use of replicas, imitation weapons, and I do not want him to wilt before the barrage, and go back too far.
603 My Lords, this has been a very good-tempered debate, with perhaps the exception of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, who threatened the noble Viscount (in one sentence almost) with sleeping dogs, hornets' nests, Pandora's box and, finally, a boomerang. He hardly needed a shot gun! Apart from that, it has been a very serious and good debate, and I should like to remind the House that Mr. Fred Winfield, who is the secretary of the Gun Trades Association, was quoted in The Times last month as saying:The gun trade has never been in such a happy, flourishing situationThat is very nice for them.
I think, if I may say so, that the opposition to the Green Paper, if I might describe it in that way, protested too much about the administrative problems which the police would find if the proposals as a whole went through. The police themselves, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge said, will not feel that they have too much administrative bother, because they believe that these proposals are necessary; and we on this side feel the same. It is irksome, as one noble Lord said, to have safer controls, but if it really does diminish the danger, we believe it is worth it. Last month the Criminal Law Review said:If human life and public order are endangered by the shot gun or any other firearm, are the sporting pleasures of a small minority really good reasons against their control?The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said that doctors cannot cure a disease by treating one of the symptoms. No; but easing a symptom does relieve the patient. People do not like the thought of being shot at; people quite rightly sleep better in their beds at night by knowing that there are severe controls on firearms. I beg the noble Viscount, if it is not too pejorative a phrase, to stick to his guns.
§ LORD BROUGHAM AND VAUX
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness for a moment, earlier on she was saying that our laws should be such that the noble Viscount should give guidance to magistrates. She was talking about the figure of 4 per cent., and was saying that if the laws were used to their full advantage newer, more stringent laws 604 should not be needed. Now she is saying the opposite, if I have understood her correctly.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, the noble Lord has misunderstood me. I was saying that I thought that this was one of the most helpful things that could be done. I also think that the proposals originally made —and, indeed, the proposals now modified by the noble Viscount—will go a long way towards helping with this problem, though none of us believes that it will cure it. We do not think it is a simple problem. Therefore, I should like to say to the noble Viscount from this side of the House: keep to it, do what you can and do not be pushed too far off your really rather good Green Paper.
§ 7.12 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, with that speech from the noble Baroness I find myself greatly encouraged, in particular the passage at the beginning of it in which she so rightly set the background against which we are discussing this whole problem. I can safely promise her that the Government are sticking to their guns; but, on the other hand, she also welcomed the fact that we were consulting and were prepared to take account of the real, practical difficulties as they are demonstrated to us, if we are convinced that these are true difficulties. It is this exercise that is going on, and I was glad that in the course of the debate—to mention two of my noble friends—Lord Astor of Hever and Lord Ferrier welcomed this Green Paper exercise, and both of them believed that it has been worth while.
All noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have rightly considered that we must do everything that we can to combat crimes of violence. There is no disagreement on any side of the House with this. I find myself greatly encouraged by the way the debate has passed. I have, inevitably, in the fashion that occurs in the winding up speech, a number of points to deal with which have been raised by various members of the House. I am sorry, my Lords; I ought to have asked leave to make this speech. Perhaps I may have leave to continue. I shall be "dotting about" among the various subject matters raised. If I do not deal with points made by any 605 noble Lord, that does not mean that they have not registered; every word that has been spoken will be looked at, because I promise that this debate is a genuine part of the consultative process and it is as important to get the views of Parliament as it is of anybody else—perhaps more important.
Of the various matters that have been discussed, perhaps I may be forgiven for not going over again any of the things I touched on in my first speech. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Westwood will read what I said about imitations, and the noble Baroness will find that what we are saying is that we are finding it difficult to pick out the criterion upon which one can draw a line and say that a particular toy gun, imitation, or replica is something that should be discouraged or banned and another would be all right. It is that problem which is facing us. Equally, I want to give some assurance to those who make toys that there is not going to be a complete veto for the purposes of their trade. I am afraid that is as far as we can go on that issue.
There are one or two other matters which have been raised on which we have even more tentative views than the matters that I dealt with in my first speech. As it happens, they have all been dealt with in the course of the debate. There is one other matter which goes back to a point in my original speech which was raised by my noble friend Lord Burton. We are differentiating between Section 1 firearms and shot guns and air guns, although, as the noble Baroness grasped, we are differentiating now rather more than we set out in the Green Paper. Nevertheless, there will be a difference between the "good reasons" which will allow one to have a shot gun from the "good reasons" which will allow one to have a Section 1 firearm. Therefore my noble friend need not be afraid that we are amalgamating everything together. Again I would ask him to read very carefully that part of my first speech.
My noble friends Lord Swansea and Lord Cottesloe mentioned the question of unique numbering, and my noble friend Lord Cottesloe thought it would be impossible. It is perfectly true that this suggestion has been opposed on the 606 grounds that most weapons have numbers on them and also that valuable firearms might be disfigured. We have taken note of these arguments. We may still in due course wish to seek enabling powers to put numbers on the firearms themselves as well as the certificate, because, as my noble friend Lord Gisborough pointed out, at the moment a shot gun certificate carries no numbers at all. We should like to proceed gradually and cautiously in full consultation with the trade so that we can get over the practical difficulties that they have raised in this field.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and my noble friend Lord Ferrier mentioned overseas visitors. The proposals in paragraps 69 have met with some opposition from organisations chiefly concerned with the use of shot guns in sport although perhaps rifle shooting and pistols are also involved. The difficulty for visitors is to take part at short notice in competitions. We accept now that the Green Paper proposal is not satisfactory as it stands, but we shall have to try and work out some alternative scheme. One cannot have guns coming freely into the country with these visitors without some form of control. This is something with which we are not satisfied, but I cannot put forward a positive alternative at the moment.
The noble Baroness mentioned mail order, a point also touched upon by my noble friend Lord Swansea and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, also spoke about mail order. He was in favour of it, as was my noble friend Lord Burton. We need to be careful what we are talking about here. Some people were talking about purchasing a rifle in the same way as Mr. Lee Harvey Oswald did, from answering an advertisement. I think my noble friend Lord Burton was talking about buying shot gun cartridges somewhere in the more remote parts of the Highlands, where it was only practicable to do it by post.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? The Green Paper says that the Government would welcome comment on the proposal that mail order sales of firearms and ammunition should be banned, which is what I meant.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
That is why, my Lords, these two subjects were mentioned. It is not a single issue; it may be there is a difference between buying the gun and buying the ammunition. We are aware of the concern felt by not only the gun trade but by the customers who have to rely on the post for their ammunition because they cannot get to a shop where it is sold. The trade have told us that as much as 80 per cent. of their business is done by some form of order by post. They say that the risk of misuse of another person's certificate is no greater when the order is made by mail than when the transaction is across the counter where the buyer is unknown to the dealer. We have come to the conclusion that a total ban on mail order sales would seriously interfere with the established ways of the shooting community, and we are now giving careful thought to whether such a measure is justified or whether the right answer is to strengthen the legal safeguards applying to such sales—the issue of certificates or something of that sort—to make sure that if material of this type is posted it is to somebody who is entitled to have it. Again there have been practical difficulties raised in this connection which we should like to look at. At the moment we cannot say which solution we would prefer.
My noble friend Lord Cottesloe and my noble friend Lord Hewlett mentioned part-time dealers. That is really a reference to paragraph 95, with the suggestion that they were to be prohibited in their registration. It has been pointed out that some people who are now registered for this purpose are in fact collectors of firearms, and that others are skilled armourers who perform such tasks as the regulation and repair of target rifles and the restoration of antique or historic weapons. I have already said something about collectors and we want to do out best to see that the skilled armourers are able to continue to provide their specialised services; but I think in this context of part-time dealers probably the House would agree that we need to curb the activities of those who have not got any specialised skill or experience and treat the selling of weapons and ammunition as a profitable side-line—the type of people who, I am afraid, have even been seem occasionally conducting their trade 608 from the boot of a car. Again we have narrowed down the area where part-time dealers need to be dealt with in the legislation that will in due course be introduced.
My Lords, finally my noble friends Lord Swansea and Lord Astor of Hever mentioned young persons—a reference to paragraphs 111 to 113. I personally tend to agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrier that this is not so clear a matter as it might be. This is purely a personal view; I am sure everybody else understands it fully. We were trying to tighten up and simplify restrictions on the use of firearms by young people. The view has been expressed that we are going rather further than is reasonable in preventing young people under the age of 18 from using rifles even under adult supervision. We have taken note of this criticism and will see whether some slightly more flexible provisions can be made.
I have noted what the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Burton said about penalties. I think the House is aware that the Government have to be extremely careful when they suggest to courts how they might exercise their sentencing policy. My right honourable friend is very sensitive about this matter, I think rightly so, and the Lord Chancellor similarly. I suppose the best thing to do is to remember that in the Criminal Justice Act of last year Parliament said that these were very much more serious offences and we passed clauses in the Criminal Justice Act which very substantially increased the maxima for firearm offences. I just hope that people go on saying, as everybody has this afternoon, that these are very serious offences. I agree that they are serious offences and I hope the courts will use the powers which Parliament has given to them—but perhaps I had better not go too far into that question.
I was challenged on the question of the representations that have been made to us. My noble friend Lord Hewlett said that the Police Federation do not support the Green Paper. I am afraid, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, he is just plain wrong. All the police organisations support the Green Paper. What I cannot do is answer my noble friend Lord Burton about the 609 Scottish N.F.U. The reaction we have had is from the English and Welsh National Farmers' Union. I do not think that at the moment either we or the Scottish Home Health Department have had a reaction from the Scottish N.F.U. Perhaps my noble friend could stir them up to make one. We should be very interested to know what they have to say.
My noble friend Lord Cottesloe produced a fascinating statistic, that 94½ per cent. of the crimes involving firearms were not carried out by firearms that were on a register. I think I worked out how the noble Lord reached that figure; if I am right then I wholly and totally disassociate myself from it, because I consider it completely fallacious and based on what I hope he will accept from me is not intended to be an unpleasant criticism—it is based on a complete misunderstanding of some statistics in the Green Paper. This, of course, is the trouble about statistics. The noble Baroness asked me about Superintendent Greenwood's book. This is an extremely complicated subject and statistics on this sort of thing are something that one can argue about for ever. What that hook attempts to show, particularly by an analysis of statistical information, is that the present pattern of controls is ineffective and that to tighten them up would not help. That sort of argument cuts both ways: do those statistics show that the existing controls are ineffective and should be tightened, or do they show that they are ineffective and should be abolished? The statistics themselves are not helpful, and one must add some further judgment; and I am afraid to say that in adding further judgment all but a very small number of senior police officers totally disagree with the superintendent, and the Superintendents' Association expressly dissociate themselves from Superintendent Greenwood's book. That is one of the reasons why we have not made more of it. I am afraid that the statistics he produced seemed to us to cut both ways, and we have had to approach the matter with the added quality of judgment. Of course I appreciate that the judgment may be right or may be wrong, but at least I think the noble Baroness will agree that our ideas and our intentions are correct; and if the 610 statistics are inconclusive in the way I have suggested, then perhaps we have not done any harm by not specifically drawing attention to them in the Green Paper.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, may I say to the noble Viscount that I think my noble friend Lord Donaldson put it beautifully when he said that this is the work of an intelligent maverick, which chief constables in particular are not likely to appreciate. It might have been better for the Government's case if they could have said that these statistics had been considered and the noble Viscount had said rather earlier on more or less what he has said now. I think it would have carried further conviction.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I am obliged to the noble Baroness. I think really this is the first occasion when we have had an official chance to make a speech about this subject so I have taken the opportunity of dealing with it this afternoon.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned the question of revocation, and I should like to study what he said. But it may be that the point is much simpler than he thought. The question is only whether a chief constable should have power, because good reason has ceased to exist, to remove or revoke a certificate in the middle of a three-year period, rather than wait and refuse to renew it at the end of a three-year period. I do not think there need be any difference between the power of appeal to a court in those two circumstances. If we took away the power to revoke altogether all the chief constable would have to do would be to wait until the end of the three-year period and then refuse to renew the certificate. But I will see that the noble Viscount's point is looked at.
My Lords, encouraged as I am by this general approach from all parts of the House—the noble Viscount on the Liberal benches, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, the noble Baroness from the Opposition, my noble friend Lord Sandys and others behind me: not all were against me—I think I am going to conclude in this way. It is understandable that discussion in this debate has been concerned largely with the criticisms that have been made of 611 the Government's proposals, for the reason, as I say, that people usually complain about things they do not like. But it is right that I should remind the House once more, and from this Despatch Box, of the very real and widespread concern which prompts the Government to propose new and tighter controls of firearms—very much along the lines referred to by the noble Baroness.
The incidence of armed crimes proportionately is a relatively small aspect of the wider problem of general violent crime, but nobody would argue, I think, and nobody has argued this afternoon, that it is an unimportant part of it. In my earlier speech I referred with deliberate caution to some encouraging trends in the crime figures, but this trend does not extend to violent crime, which continues to increase. There are certainly no grounds here for complacency. I suggest to the House that it would be irresponsible for any Government in these circumstances not to consider, among other things, whether there are not weaknesses—and this is what we are talking about; it is really what the noble Viscount was saying, a sensible tightening up—in the existing controls over firearms which make them less effective than they might otherwise be in keeping out of the hands of criminals and irresponsible people guns which they ought not to have.
We are not making extravagant claims, and even if we had (to use the word of my noble friend Lord Cottesloe) the most draconian controls we could not hope to prevent armed crime completely. Having said that, I think I have the answer to the basic premise that my noble friend Lord Swansea was working on in his speech. We do not claim that we would prevent armed crime, but we claim that we would make it much more difficult—or even a bit more difficult; and this in itself is well worth while. On the other hand, we have not the slightest intention of preventing the use of firearms for sporting and similar purposes by the sort of people about whom my noble friend Lord Astor was speaking—the over-whelming majority of firearms users who are responsible, law-abiding people; or, indeed, of upsetting the vast turnover mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hewlett. We are not after 612 people of that kind at all. But if, as is the case, we can see clear weaknesses in these controls, we think it is our plain duty, in the interests of public safety, and also in the particular case of our unarmed police force, which we are so proud of maintaining, to consider how these weaknesses can be remedied.
We invited comments on the Green Paper about the best way of achieving that. We have had many constructive criticisms. We have had more this afternoon. They are all being considered. Earlier on in the debate I indicated some of the ways in which our minds are moving on specific points. In this second speech I have again pointed out some further areas of difficulty which we feel, as a result of this consultation, need further thought and further resolution.
Some of the critics of the Green Paper (I wondered whether my noble friend Lord Hewlett had not almost got into this category) have sought to argue that preventive controls on the lines of the existing law are valueless. I hope that he did not take that line. I must say very firmly to anybody who takes that view that critics of that sort have not convinced the Government, or I think the public generally, that the tighter control of firearms we are talking about is not justified; and certainly they have made no case whatever for relaxing controls in any way. My Lords, that is the current state of play; that is where the Government have reached in their thinking. All I can do, in conclusion, is to thank very much indeed those who have contributed to this debate because they really have given us more useful points to think about, and everything they have said will be very carefully studied.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships long, but I should like to take up one or two points which other speakers have made. First of all, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness opposite, I think she was barking slightly up the wrong tree when she referred to the assassination of President Kennedy. It is not comparing like with like. In the United States there were few, if any, restrictions on the purchase of rifles or firearms, at least at that time. In 1963 it was perfectly possible to write to a mail order house—Sears Roebuck is a typical example—and to 613 buy practically any type of firearm and have it sent by mail across the United States. But in this country we have the firearms certificate procedure, and it has never been suggested that that procedure does not apply equally to orders for firearms, shot guns or ammunition purchased by post in this country. So it is not fair to bring up that tragic affair as a basis for comparison with matters in this country.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, I thoroughly understand the noble Lord's deep consideration and concern in this matter. I would not for one minute wish to hurt him by suggesting that anything the noble Lord opposite proposes could lead to precisely a situation of that kind. But the Government are sufficiently worried by the mail order of firearms and ammunition in this country in their Green Paper to propose the total banning. It is absolutely right that it should be considered, and carried à l'outrance we reach the kind of situation I have mentioned. But I do not want to labour that.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Of course, it all hinges on what one means by "mail order". That has been a source of considerable discussion in the various shooting organisations ever since the Green Paper was published. We know what the term "mail order" conjures up in the mind of the general public, but I do not think that is quite what the Government had in mind in this particular paragraph of the Green Paper.
My noble friend Lord Colville said when he first spoke that a good many of the proposals in this Green Paper have been floated as flies on the water just to see what kind of reaction they would receive. In other words, this Paper, as I suspected, is very green indeed. At the same time, would the Government have made all these proposals if they had not had some expectation that they would prove practicable? Some of them, I think, are downright impracticable. There seems to be a difference of opinion over the attitude of the police. I myself am advised that the Police Federation (this is going back to the point my noble friend Lord Hewlett raised, which seemed diametrically opposed to my noble friend 614 on the Front Bench) has advised its members:that the Government's proposals contained in the Green Paper will be no answer in themselves to the problems of the armed criminal. The Federation states 'it will he relatively easy for the criminal who really wants a gun to get one'I am told that on a B.B.C. television programme last week (which I unfortunately missed, because I had been told earlier in the day that it had been cancelled) an anonymous alleged criminal was interviewed and asked what difference the proposals in the Green Paper would make. His reply was, "Don't be silly, chum!", or words to that effect.
It is evident from what my noble friend Lord Colville has said that the sanctified formulæ which I mentioned earlier are still alive, well and living in Whitehall. We are still up against the same point of view, that strict controls are going to reduce crime, or at least make it more difficult for criminals to get hold of firearms. On that point I am afraid we are diametrically opposed. The legislation we have at present—the increasingly severe legislation we have had ever since 1920—has not made it any more difficult for the criminal to get hold of firearms. It has only made things more difficult for the citizen who seeks to acquire a firearm or shot gun for a legitimate purpose.
One could quote the examples of other countries. One could quote the State of New York, where they have extremely strict controls, as we have heard earlier, and a very high crime rate. At the other extreme we could quote Switzerland, which has no restrictions on the purchase of firearms and most men of military age keep a military weapon of some sort in their homes. There they have a low crime rate. One can be as selective as one likes in picking out statistics from one country or another and proving exactly what one wants to prove. But what is the truth? No one knows exactly what the effects would have been if we had had no firearms legislation of any sort. What would have happened to the crime rate? Would it have been worse or better than it is now? Conversely, if we had total prohibition of all firearms, all weapons, if no one were allowed to possess a rifle or a pistol (in New Zealand now no one is allowed to possess 615 a pistol, but there are pistols around for those who know where to find them), what effect would that have on the crime rate? I submit that the case for stricter controls has not been made out this afternoon and if any stricter controls are introduced now they will make things no more difficult for the criminal to acquire weapons.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, referred to Chief Inspector Greenwood as "an intelligent maverick" Well, call him a maverick if you like. He has chosen not to run with the herd, He has had the courage to go out on a limb against all the preconceived opinions of the establishment and of his superiors. As I said before, possibly at some risk to his own prospects he has written this book and caused it to be published; and he is undoubtedly sincere in his beliefs. He has put a great deal of work into the compilation of this book and it is a crying shame that better use has not been made by the Government of this specialised knowledge.
The crux of the matter is: who holds the weapon? Whose finger is on the trigger? An unloaded pistol—a lump of iron—is harmless except as a blunt instrument; loaded, it is potentially dangerous. It is safe in the right hands; it is safe in the hands of someone who has been trained in its use, who will aim it and fire it at a target. But put it in the hands of a criminal and it becomes a public danger. Firearms themselves are only the instruments by which criminals commit their crimes. It is not the firearms themselves that should be judged to be responsible for the crimes but rather the people who hold them. The shooting public shares the concern of my noble friend in regard to the crime situation and I am quite sure the Government will have their backing in any sensible measures which they may bring in to enforce more sensible controls, but the patience of some of us is wearing a little thin.
I should like to close by thanking all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I, too, missed the contribution which we should undoubtedly have had from the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, if she had been here: I hope that she is enjoying herself in Ethiopia. I hope that the Govern- 616 ment will take careful note of what has been said this afternoon, and I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.