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Column 502

Key, Robert

King, Rt Hon Tom

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)

Knight, Greg (Derby N)

Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)

Kynoch, George (Kincardine)

Lait, Mrs Jacqui

Lang, Rt Hon Ian

Legg, Barry

Leigh, Edward

Lidington, David

Lilley, Rt Hon Peter

Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)

Lord, Michael

Luff, Peter

MacGregor, Rt Hon John

MacKay, Andrew

Maclean, David

Malone, Gerald

Mates, Michael

Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian

Merchant, Piers

Mills, Iain

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)

Monro, Sir Hector

Neubert, Sir Michael

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)

Norris, Steve

Oppenheim, Phillip

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, James

Patten, Rt Hon John

Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey

Pickles, Eric

Portillo, Rt Hon Michael

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Richards, Rod

Riddick, Graham

Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn

Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)

Robinson, Mark (Somerton)

Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)

Ryder, Rt Hon Richard

Sackville, Tom

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Stephen, Michael

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M. (Solihull)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Ward, John

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

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Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Whittingdale, John

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Willetts, David

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Wolfson, Mark

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Michael Bates.

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Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Clause 142

Increase in certain penalties

Lords amendment: No. 141, in page 114, line 9, at end insert-- ("(2A) For the maximum term of imprisonment specified in column 3 of Part III of Schedule 8 to this Act that may be imposed under the enactments specified in column 2 of that Part of that Schedule on conviction on indictment, or on conviction on indictment or summary conviction, of the offences mentioned (and broadly described) in column 1 of that Part of that Schedule there shall be substituted the maximum term of imprisonment specified in column 4 of that Part of that Schedule.")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.-- [Mr. Maclean.]

8 pm

Mr. Michael: It is necessary to point out to the House that there has been a change since we last debated this proposal during the earlier stages of the Bill. As on a number of occasions recently, we see the Government reluctantly and belatedly accepting a case that was made by the Labour party at an earlier stage of the Bill but rejected by Ministers. There was nothing in the Bill about firearms, violence, drugs, drug-related crime or many other serious issues until those matters were raised and pressed by Labour Members. Indeed, when the Government rather belatedly accepted that there was a need for action, Ministers had to tack the proposals on to the amendments to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. That shows how reluctantly and late the Government came to recognise the importance of dealing with firearms penalties.

The amendment introduces a range of increased penalties for possessing, selling, repairing and supplying firearms, as we proposed. The amendment was tabled at 2 am in the House of Lords. Perhaps it would have been embarrassing for the Government to acknowledge such a volte face on the issue which we, of course, raised in detail in this House.

In Committee on 15 March, we proposed two new clauses--one to regulate the sale of weapons by mail order and the other to increase penalties for the possession of guns. The need for action is undisputed. Between 1986 and 1992, there was a 42 per cent. increase in crimes involving firearms in England and Wales. The link between drugs and guns is increasingly evident and it is frightening. There can be no excuse for illegally carrying guns and every reason to increase the penalty for so doing.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Paul Condon, has warned us that we are being pushed by events towards the arming of the police. That was not a prediction, but a warning which, as we said in earlier debates, should be heeded by the Government who should

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do all they can to reduce the availability and use of firearms and other weapons. However, when we proposed such a measure in Committee, the Minister refused to accept our amendment.

We tried again on Report on 12 April. The Government moved an amendment that dealt just with prohibited weapons such as machine guns and machine pistols. That was far more limited than our proposals which the Minister suggested were

"not on the right lines."--[ Official Report , 12 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 96.]

The Government voted against our amendments.

In the Lords, the Government moved the amendment under discussion which incorporated almost all our original proposals. In that debate, Earl Ferrers said:

"it is important that the courts should have power to deal more severely than they do at present with illegal possession of firearms by criminals and their associates."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 12 July 1994; Vol. 556, c. 1782.]

Yet again, the Government have been forced to act after pressure from the Opposition. That is yet another climb down, but in so far as it accepts the case that we have made, I welcome it. However, the Government have still not acted to tighten the regulations in relation to mail order. I ask the Minister to give us an undertaking that he will tackle that issue in the next Session.

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