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De-Activated Weapons

Part of Orders of the Day — Firearms (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:25 pm, 23rd May 1988

One of the hallmarks, or perhaps one of the proofs, of the Bill is the sloppiness with which it has been drafted. Because of the earlier vote, we shall now have to discuss 177 amendments and new clauses, 63 of which have been tabled by the Government—a fine example of making legislation on the hoof. This is not the best way to do it, especially with such an important subject. These new clauses illustrate this point.

Yet again we are being invited to give the Secretary of State a blank cheque. I doubt whether the details that lie behind new clause 2 exist on paper. They are probably a thought in the head of somebody in that grey area of the Home Office. Perhaps the Minister will tell us something about these details because he did not do so when he moved the new clause. Over what period is this expected to happen? Is it unlimited? Is it over a fortnight, six months, a year, three years, six years, 10 years, or as quickly as possible?

What kind of mark is envisaged? Is it to be a red dot, a yellow dot or a blue dot? What is to be its size? Is it to be a scoring on the barrel? Clearly, it must be something that cannot easily be removed if this is to be of any value with either deactivated or converted guns. This is a serious point, and I am not treating it lightly. What discussions has the Minister, or his officials, had about the kind of mark that will be permanently attached to the weapons? Have the fine proof houses in Birmingham and London been consulted? Has there been consultation about the adhesion or the engraving of the mark and of the effect that that may have on valuable weapons? I am thinking in particular of antique, vintage weapons or classic weapons that have a high market value.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) asked the Minister who he has in mind to carry out the work, and on what basis. The geography is important. Pleased as I am to see more work going to the Birmingham proof house, it will make problems if only proof houses are used. If, as I suspect, some gunsmiths will be allowed to put these marks on the weapons, on what basis will they be selected? Is it every gunsmith who applies, one per county, or two per county? These are the factors about which we need to know.

What about the cost of the exercise? Has anybody taken advice on the likely charges that either the proof houses or the authorised gun dealers or gunsmiths will impose for carrying out this work? Will there be a difference in the level of charges between the proof houses and the gunsmiths? Has anybody thought about this? These are the questions that the holders of these weapons not just want answered but have a right to have answered. These points could well have been settled in Committee if the Minister had not been so bone-headed as to oppose the earlier motion for recommittal.

Unless the Minister is going to say that every gunsmith in the kingdom will be able to apply to carry out this work of deactivating and converting weapons, there will be a great deal of unfairness because choices will have to be made. I do not object if we say to every gunsmith, "If you want to do it, spend 13p or 18p on a stamp and we will grant the necessary authorisation." I suspect that it will not be like that. Instead, qualifications will be laid down. I hope that, before we get much further in the debate on the new clause, the Minister will give us, and those beyond the walls of the House, the answer to these questions.

I understand that Bills are drafted in this way, but new clause 2(b) is confusing. It says: that company or person has certified in writing that work has been carried out on the firearm in a manner approved by the Secretary of State for rendering it incapable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile. I am not sure what in a manner approved by the Secretary of State means. Does it mean that the mark put on the weapon will be approved by the Secretary of State; or—this is another legitimate reading of these words—that it has to be put on, let alone that it is a proof authorised by the Secretary of State, in a manner of which the Secretary of State approves?

This is an important issue. It would be for the convenience of the House if the Minister had been more forthcoming at the start of the debate on these new clauses. and told us in a little more detail what they propose. I hope that he will now do so.