Firearms Controls

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:38 pm on 31st October 2012.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 7:38 pm, 31st October 2012

I congratulate Grahame M. Morris both on securing the debate and on the tone in which he has addressed this issue, following the tragic events in his constituency. The shootings he talked about shocked the whole country. Obviously our thoughts remain with the family and friends of the victims. I agree with him: it is right that Government and Parliament should reflect on what lessons might be learned from these fortunately rare, but nevertheless tragic events, and how best we can protect public safety. I and the whole House—indeed, it is good to see so many people at an Adjournment debate—share his view that we need to approach the issues in a calm and measured way.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Durham constabulary has asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate the events leading to the shootings. There has not yet been a coroner’s inquest into the deaths. Because of the investigation and a future inquest, the House will appreciate the need for me to avoid saying anything that might be prejudicial in relation to the circumstances of this case.

I understand that there have been complexities with the IPCC investigation, although it is working through those matters as fast as possible and the investigation is now close to completion. The final report is now being finalised and it will be shared with the families shortly. Publication of the report will, however, depend on the time scales for the inquest and the wishes of the coroner. The Government will consider carefully the results of the inquest and of the IPCC investigation, paying careful attention to any specific recommendations that they might make and any implications for wider firearms policy, to which I will now turn as I try to address the specific points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

The Government have always made it clear that controls on firearms should be targeted fairly and proportionately, and that they should strike the right balance by securing public safety without bearing down unnecessarily on legitimate users. With this in mind, I have arranged meetings with a range of stakeholders since assuming responsibility for this work. I met Deputy Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on firearms, this week, and we discussed a number of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised today.

Following the tragic shootings in Cumbria in 2010, the Government undertook to take a fresh look at firearms law and subsequently considered the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which looked comprehensively at the whole range of issues. The Government published our response to the Committee’s report in September 2011. Our response sets out a number of commitments in response to the Committee’s recommendations. The Government will update the Committee, and the House, shortly on progress on those recommendations.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, it is generally recognised that the UK has comparatively low levels of gun crime, and some of the strictest gun laws in the world. It is true that these laws are complex, and I would therefore like to give a brief overview of the main controls that are in place. There are two main categories of firearms licensed by the police. First, there are those that are controlled under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968. They are typically target shooting rifles and rifles used for hunting or vermin control. The second category is shotguns, typically used by farmers and for clay pigeon shooting. Both are possessed by means of separate certificates that are valid for five years. There is a third category of firearm, generally referred to as prohibited weapons, and these can be possessed only with the written authority of the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend David Tredinnick raised the issue of training for Olympic pistol shooters. In advance of the London games, the Home Secretary provided an exemption for this third category of firearms to allow the Team GB shooting team to train here. She is currently in the process of issuing new authorities to British pistol squad members to train for the 2014 Commonwealth games. This is of course subject to the usual checks on applicants and to ensuring that training is confined to suitably secure ranges. The Government will look at arrangements for the 2016 Olympic games in due course.

The hon. Member for Easington raised concerns about how the licensing process operates. I would like to say something about the processes involved—again, without making reference to the specific circumstances of this case. The procedures are similar for the issue of a shotgun certificate but there are some material differences.

First and foremost, the police must be satisfied that the applicant can be trusted to possess shotguns without danger to public safety. Unlike with section 1 firearms, the applicant does not have to show good reason to have a shotgun, but the police may refuse to grant a certificate if they are satisfied that he has no good reason to have one. This is a different control, but it still allows the police to refuse applicants who have dubious reasons for wanting shotguns.