Offensive Weapons Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 7th January 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative 5:25 pm, 7th January 2019

It is my belief that, as my noble friend Lord Robathan said—he served for a long while in Northern Ireland—that was a one-off case of an imported, illegal .50 calibre used. That is the only time, to my knowledge and to the knowledge of the shooting sports associations, that a .50 calibre has been used in criminal activity. That was for material use as well as human destruction.

Surely if the police have issued certificates which also control the amount of ammunition that can be possessed, they have done so because the good reason test for possession has been justified. Therefore, the Government must review the original consultation and bring forward a proposal which is better worded to meet the needs of public safety. If this were done and further evidence offered to support the need for a ban, in the event of MARS and lever release becoming subject to Section 5 prohibition, I would strongly support the view of the British Shooting Sports Council and support an amendment by which the possessor of such rifles could have them converted to a straight-pull or bolt action function and thus retain them on a Section 1 certificate. In the view of the BSSC experts, which I wholeheartedly support, surrender and the cost involved in either conversion or deactivation would attract compensation. This compensation was mentioned in the policy statement, as I said. I should be happy to table such an amendment in due course, unless HMG wish to table their own.

I turn to air rifles and air weapons in general. I am aware that the Government have stated that they will consider what action or actions might be appropriate with regard to air weapons. That is fair enough, but there must be a thorough consultative process—a process which would have the support of the BSSC. A while back, on a Starred Question concerning air weapons, a noble Lord opposite from Scotland mentioned that we should follow the Scottish Parliament’s lead in legislating for the licensing of air rifles. Heaven forbid. That process north of the border has been an unmitigated disaster which has achieved absolutely zero benefit to the safety of the public.

I turn to medical issues relating to firearms licensing. I can do no better than quote the BSSC’s view on this matter. This issue affects every firearms certificate and shotgun certificate holder in England and Wales. The EU firearms directive mandates in Article 5.2 a medical assessment of every applicant for a certificate. In England and Wales, there is no consistency of practice between police forces, nor is there any consistency of the fee charged to the applicant by his or her GP for a medical assessment.

What is required is, first, a compulsory and once-only medical records check by the GP in response to a police inquiry about the physical and mental health of the applicant; secondly, an enduring marker to be placed by the GP on the patient’s medical record, noting that he or she may be in possession of firearms or shotguns, to ensure that thereafter the GP is reminded to draw to police attention any future adverse change in the patient’s health which may have a bearing on their abilities safely to possess a firearm or shotgun; thirdly, an agreed reasonable fee for the GP’s original medical records check and placing of the enduring marker; fourthly, an extension of the life of firearm and shotgun certificates from five to 10 years, which would reduce pressure on licensing departments and police forces; and, finally, protection of the confidentiality of applicants’ and certificate holders’ data. Despite warm words from my honourable friend Nick Hurd, there appears to be inaction by the Government to bring that forward, although it has the backing of both the BSSC and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shooting and Conservation.

In conclusion, I agree with suggestions that a firearms advisory committee should be established, provided that it is statutory. My experience as a former chairman of the then FCC was first class. On that committee, we had representatives at most senior levels of the police, forensic scientists, shooting organisations and those who supported gun control. That committee demonstrated a true ability to work well to address complex technical and legal issues. Further, we developed a rapport and an excellent working relationship with the police, instead of the usual perceived combative attitude so often held by some elements of both sides.

I rest my case and look forward to hearing my noble friend’s comment on the issues I have raised when she winds up.