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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 William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 7:25 pm, 23rd May 1988

If the Bill had contained a reference to Northern Ireland when it went into Committee, the consideration that we gave to it would have been somewhat different. In those circumstances, and in view of the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland, the effect of the Bill on the supply of weapons to terrorists would have been carefully considered. There will now have to be references to Northern Ireland in every part of the Bill because, despite the amendments, the ramifications will go much further.

A number of questions relating to the two new clauses have not been fully considered. I wish to point out to the Minister that we do not have a proof house in Northern Ireland. If the guns, or weapons of whatever kind, have to be brought across to Britain for the work to be carried out, the cost will be greatly increased. If we then have to look for gunsmiths to do the work in Northern Ireland and the work has to be done in a rush, rather too many weapons will be in the hands of individual gunsmiths for at least some time and no one wishes that to happen.

Above all, we shall have the problem of ·410 conversions. For many years, it was possible to buy the old ·303 ex-Army rifle, converted to a ·410 bolt action. There are many such weapons throughout the United Kingdom. Although it is not the most popular sporting weapon, there are many ·410s and converted ·410s lying around in farms all over the country. As I understand it, those weapons are caught by the legislation, as any ex-bullet firing weapons will be.

It is my understanding—I have consulted people who know and give evidence in court cases about such matters—that the weapon normally used by a criminal is a clapped-out sawn-off shotgun, if only for the good reason that a good quality shotgun is worth far more on the black market as a shotgun than it would ever be to a criminal. If a weapon looks capable of being fired, it is sufficient for the criminal's purposes.

However, there is a real problem when one considers new clause 2(b), which relates to the expertise available to the Home Secretary. I have not been as impressed by that expertise as I would like to be, because it appears to fall short of what is required for the purposes of the Bill, even before it was amended. If the Home Office is to advise on what sort of work must be carried out, that advice will have to be based on detailed knowledge of the most intricate type of weapons. Has the Home Office such a person on its staff? I believe that it has not, and, therefore, I wonder where it will go for that information and advice and what it will cost.

We shall be dealing with hundreds of different types of weapons, not one, and many of them will be mechanically different from others. The methods of deactivation that apply in some instances will not apply in others. We shall reach the stage when there will be one-off operations. I do not understand how this system will be carried through into practical effect, unless the Minister is prepared to allow the gunsmith to determine whether the work that he has carried out is sufficient. If the police decide subsequently that the work is not sufficient, who will end up in court—the gun owner or the chap who carried out the work?

The Government are entering an area that they would have been well advised to avoid. No evidence was produced on Second Reading or in Committee—nor will there be any such evidence on Report—that the weapons that we are discussing pose a serious problem in criminal activity. Anyone who knows anything about the subject is aware of that.