My Lords, we enter a new year with another firearms Bill. We have had 35 pieces of primary legislation dealing with firearms since the Firearms Act 1968, which I think shows the seriousness of this subject and the continuing need of every Government to take action on a fairly regular basis as criminals adapt to whatever new laws are proposed. As a result of all these pieces of legislation, let alone the secondary legislation, we have some of the toughest firearms laws in the world. I support my Government in their efforts to continue the combat against violent crime. It is good to note that firearms offences last year were actually down by 5%, and I hope my noble friend will be able to continue that trend. The problem is of course not the law-abiding citizen; it is, as noble Lords have already said, the small minority of criminals who abuse firearms, knives and corrosive substances.
Regarding the Bill, I am glad that the Government withdrew the legislation on the .50 calibre rifle and have gone for further consultation, because the position is much more complicated than was originally put forward and the Government believed. For my part, I support what was put forward in the other place by my honourable friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown when he suggested that the bolt and the firing mechanism should be kept separate from the rest of the rifle. That seems to me a totally logical position and, for what it is worth, that will be my little contribution towards the consultation.
Bump stocks, the device used in the Las Vegas shootings in 2017, have absolutely no place in a law-abiding person’s armoury. I therefore totally support the Government in their proposed prohibition of bump stocks.
We all want legislation to work, and we all want to be able to respect the police and the NHS. My noble friend on the Front Bench will guess that I am referring now to the 2016 Act and the question of the medical background checks that are needed. Sadly, that Act is not working. It is leading to dislike of the legislation because it is not working and to resentment of the police and the NHS, who are abusing the situation within the Act. I ask my noble friend whether in order to make that Act work better—if the Act works better then there will naturally be greater control of firearms, which is what we all seek—she will seek to implement, at the earliest opportunity, the suggestion put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shooting and Conservation and supported by the British Shooting Sports Council.
The package put forward by the APPG to try to make the Act work better consists of five points. The first is a compulsory and once-only medical records check by a GP in response to a police inquiry about the physical and mental health of the applicant. The second suggestion is an enduring marker to be placed by the GP on the patient’s medical record noting that he may be in possession of a firearm or shotgun, to ensure that thereafter the GP is reminded to draw to the police’s attention any future adverse change in the patient’s health that may have a bearing on his ability safely to possess a firearm or shotgun. The third is an agreed reasonable fee for the GP’s initial medical records check and placing the enduring marker. On that, the Home Office has said that there should not be a fee for the initial check but, quite clearly, there is evidence that GPs are already charging a fee. The fourth suggestion is an extension of the life of firearms and shotgun certificates from five to 10 years, which will reduce pressure on licensing departments. The fifth and very important point is that there should be a protection on the confidentiality of applicants and certificate holders’ data.
If my noble friend could encourage her department to take forward a package on those lines, she would find much more support than she has had for some of the bits of legislation. If existing laws worked better, we would all be encouraged to follow new legislation more carefully and in the same spirit.