Amendment 103

Offensive Weapons Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 4th March 2019.

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Moved by The Earl of Shrewsbury

103: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—“Statutory firearms licensing guidance(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish a policy statement setting out proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance under section 55A of the Firearms Act 1968.(2) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, open a public consultation on the proposals set out in subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public consultation on proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of the passing of this Act.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register. The purpose of Amendment 103 is to place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public discussion on proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of the Bill becoming an Act. I spoke about this matter at length at Second Reading and in Grand Committee, where I found considerable sympathy with my proposals, in particular the medical aspects of firearms licensing guidance. I do not intend to repeat those arguments, save to say that my proposals have widespread support from the police, the British Shooting Sports Council and the APPG for Shooting and Conservation. I understand that the suggestions agreed with the Home Office by these bodies some two years ago also have the Home Office’s support.

However noble its intentions, the Home Office is the cause of much frustration in the ranks of various stakeholders through its constant delaying—the answer to the introduction of the promised consultation varying between “soon”, “shortly”, and, indeed, “as soon as possible”, as stated in my noble friend’s response to me in Grand Committee:

“I have a partial answer for my noble friend. The consultation will be launched after Royal Assent, but I am sure that the spirit of that undertaking is as soon as possible after Royal Assent”.—[Official Report, 6/2/19; col. GC 418.]

I and many in the shooting organisations believe that the continuing delay is because the Home Office simply has yet to get its ducks in a row. Further delay is neither fair nor good enough. The amendment serves to enhance the safety of the public. I believe I have cross-party support on it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I put my name to this amendment in Committee, but when I came to put my name to it on Report I found that three others had already done so. I hope my noble friend is impressed that support for the amendment is from not only the Cross Benches but the Back Benches of the Labour Party.

This is a hugely important amendment. I will not repeat what I said in Grand Committee, but I hope my noble friend will understand that the amendment is designed to enhance public safety. If it had been enacted before Dunblane I think some of the problems there would not have happened. Anybody who has access to the shotgun or rifle cabinet must be properly scrutinised. As my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury said, the Home Office is dragging its feet on this. We want it to hurry up. I hope my noble friend will ensure that my former department gets a move on and does this consultation extremely quickly.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, while I support my noble friend’s amendment, which I am sure is a good idea, I return to the issue of the old Firearms Consultative Committee, which fell into disuse. If that was still in operation, we would not have had the MARS lever action release problem and we would have saved £15 million in compensation, because I am sure that that committee would have nipped its development in the bud and saved an awful lot of money.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue and for the opportunity to discuss it with him at a meeting last week. As he explained, his amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public consultation on statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of Royal Assent.

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a power, contained in Section 55A of the Firearms Act 1968, for the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to chief officers that will apply to issues such as background checks, medical suitability, and other criteria to protect public safety. This will help ensure high standards and consistency of approach for police firearms licensing. We have said that there will be a public consultation on the draft guidance before it is promulgated.

My noble friend has indicated that he is particularly interested in the medical aspects of the guidance, for understandable reasons. He and other noble Lords wish to see the consultation launched as soon as possible, as a further step towards improving the operation of the medical arrangements. There is a need for strong information-sharing arrangements between GPs and police, to ensure that those in possession of a firearm or shotgun certificate are medically fit and do not pose a risk to themselves or others. But the Government recognise that there is variation in how GPs are responding to police requests for information, and in the fees being charged to applicants, and that following this, the police are not always responding in a consistent way if they do not receive the medical information they require. In addition to holding a public consultation on the introduction of the statutory guidance, the Government will continue to engage with shooting representatives, the police and the medical profession to ensure that the system operates as effectively as possible.

As to the timing of the consultation, my noble friend’s amendment seeks to have the consultation go live within three months of Royal Assent. This is not an unreasonable timetable. My only hesitation is the unknown date of Royal Assent. To allow for this variable, the Government are ready to give a commitment to open the consultation by the Summer Recess. This could even be ahead of the timetable proposed by my noble friend. I hope that in the light of this clear undertaking, my noble friend is content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative 6:00 pm, 4th March 2019

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his words. I am quite happy to withdraw the amendment, on his undertaking. Would he be prepared to put that in a letter in the Library?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I would hope that, on reflection, my noble friend will accept that as my words will be printed in large letters in Hansard, the undertaking very definitely stands.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

Ten points for trying again, my Lords. With that, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 103 withdrawn.