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Mr. Forsyth: As the hon. Lady knows, the firearms issues will be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. On the hon. Lady's direct question, she will know that my personal position has been that we should have the Cullen report and should consider the recommendations in that report, and that we should then decide what the way forward was.

I draw the hon. Lady's attention to the section of the report that suggests how we should consider the issues in terms of what is proportionate, where the balance of interests lies and how we address the issues of safety. My right hon. and learned Friend will shortly set out the Government's conclusions, which I fully support and which I presented to my colleagues with him.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): With regard to the penultimate paragraph of the Secretary of State's statement, on the vetting and supervising of adults who care for children, will he confirm that that would embrace adults who are representatives of Church bodies and local authorities and who are in loco parentis for children, many of whom are vulnerable and far removed from their parents?

Mr. Forsyth: Yes, I think that I can confirm that point, although I did not quite catch the first part of the hon.

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Gentleman's question. The general purpose is to provide a means whereby people can obtain information as to the bona fide nature of organisations. Clearly, if people are in loco parentis, others are entitled to information about them. I think that that was the hon. Gentleman's question. I apologise if I have not got it right, and I am happy to have a word with him afterwards about it.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): Having myself lost a child aged five--although it was in a motorway crash, which is not quite the same--I know that no one who has not been through such a tragedy can quite understand what it is like. Perhaps that gives me some right to sympathise not only with what the Dunblane parents have suffered, but with their need to campaign for a change in the law, as I felt I had to do over seat belts in cars.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite some people's entirely understandable impatience, nothing whatever has been lost by the fact that it was bound to take some months for Lord Cullen to report? We now need to pause, hesitate and study, and to make quite sure that we get the change in the law absolutely right.

Mr. Forsyth: It is certainly true that the summer recess has enabled Lord Cullen to produce his report. Of course we all sympathise with my hon. Friend. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a child, and we all sympathise with the parents. There are also wider issues involved, concerning the protection of our community and our attitude towards firearms, which my right hon. and learned Friend will address. I believe that the country will look to the House to take the necessary steps to provide legislation so that our communities are safer as quickly as can be achieved. We can achieve that if we have a united response throughout the House of Commons.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): Is not the dreadful truth that such a tragedy was bound to happen, given the total inadequacy of the Government's response to a similar shocking event in Hungerford? [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I do not believe that the people of Dunblane will forgive us for being mealy-mouthed about this. Is the Secretary of State aware that, since 1983, the Government have resisted suggestions that all police forces in the United Kingdom should use a standard inquiry form when people apply for shotgun certificates or licences? Will he now give the House an undertaking that he will raise the issue in the course of his consultation with the police throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity to read Lord Cullen's report. He will find that Lord Cullen concludes that the actions of Thomas Hamilton were unpredictable. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he reads the report and looks at the considered arguments. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be happy to discuss his concerns with him.

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Cullen Report (Firearms)

4.6 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and other hon. Members in paying tribute to the community of Dunblane for their courage and dignity. I also join them in thanking Lord Cullen for the sensitive way in which he has undertaken his difficult inquiry and for the report that he has produced.

I hope that the House will forgive me for the length of the statement that I am about to make. I am sure that the House will understand that it deals with complex and important matters.

The proposals that I am about to set out will apply to England, Wales and Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is carrying out a review of firearms law in the Province and will be issuing a statement this afternoon about the possible implications for gun control in Northern Ireland arising from Lord Cullen's report.

Among all the words that have been written since that dreadful event at Dunblane, there is one irrefutable fact. The crimes that were committed on 13 March were committed with a gun that was legally bought and legally possessed. Those facts place an extremely onerous duty on the Government to consider what controls there should be on the ownership and possession of guns.

I agree with Lord Cullen that it is right that we should concentrate on handguns, although some of my proposals will affect all gun owners. Handguns are not used for shooting game and are easily carried and concealed. Many are weapons derived from military or police models or are intended for self-defence--a purpose that is not accepted in Great Britain as a reason for possessing a gun. I agree with Lord Cullen that there are compelling grounds for imposing stringent restrictions on their use and availability.

Lord Cullen has made 23 recommendations for strengthening the regulatory controls on the ownership and licensing of all guns. We accept them all. The Government's detailed response has been placed in the Library. There are seven recommendations for improving the way in which the police handle all applications for firearms certificates, a further eight recommendations deal with the grounds for obtaining a firearms certificate, and eight recommendations are about the suitability of individuals to hold firearms.

I draw particular attention to the following recommendations: in future, anyone applying for a firearms certificate should be assessed against a checklist of criteria for suitability, a clear burden should be placed on the applicant to show that he is fit to have a gun, a new power should be created to enable the police to revoke a certificate where there is no longer a "good reason" for having a firearm, and the grounds on which an appeal against the refusal of a certificate can be made should be significantly limited. Taken together, those 23 recommendations add up to a drastic strengthening of controls on gun ownership.

In addition to Lord Cullen's proposals, we intend to introduce four further measures. First, we shall make it a requirement for all handgun shooters to obtain a

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certificate in order to fire a handgun at a gun club. Secondly, we shall make it an offence to fail to notify the police whenever a firearm or shotgun is sold, transferred, deactivated or destroyed. Thirdly, we propose to ban the sales of guns through the post. In future, it will be unlawful to transfer a gun from one person to another, except in person.

Fourthly, one of the most shocking and distressing features of the tragic events in Dunblane was the use of expanding ammunition, which is designed to cause the maximum injury. There is no possible justification at all for it to be available for people whose only authority is for target shooting. In future, therefore, it will be illegal to possess expanding ammunition except for the purposes of shooting deer, in accordance with the Deer Act 1991.

I come to the question that I know will be of greatest concern to the House and the nation: the controls on the ownership of handguns. Lord Cullen confines his suggestions to self-loading pistols and revolvers of all calibres. He does not consider that further restrictions are required for single-shot handguns, which he would allow to be kept in the home, as at present. He suggests that owners of multi-shot guns should be required to disable them when keeping them at home, and goes on to say that, if after consideration those arrangements are found not to be practicable, there should instead be a ban on the possession of multi-shot handguns by individual owners. He envisages that it would still be possible for guns to be kept by a club secretary so that target shooting could continue, using guns owned by the club.

The Government have taken advice from the Forensic Science Service on the practicability of Lord Cullen's suggestions for disabling handguns. Lord Cullen himself recognised that there were considerable practical difficulties in removing key components from handguns. The Forensic Science Service has confirmed that view. It is also not convinced that a barrel block--Lord Cullen's other suggestion--could be made that someone with sufficient determination and access to metal-working tools could not remove. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that we cannot recommend that approach to the House.

I therefore come to Lord Cullen's alternative suggestion of banning multi-shot handguns from individual ownership. I propose to go considerably further than Lord Cullen has suggested in two respects. First, we shall ban all handguns from people's homes. I do not agree with Lord Cullen that it would be safe to allow single-shot handguns to remain in the home. I believe that they should be subject to the same controls as those imposed on multi-shot handguns.

Secondly, we shall outlaw high-calibre handguns of the kind used by Thomas Hamilton. Low-calibre handguns--.22 rimfire handguns--will have to be used and kept in licensed clubs. We believe that a distinction needs to be made between high-calibre handguns, which are principally made for police and military use, and .22 rimfire handguns, which are largely intended for target shooting. Although Lord Cullen decided against making such a distinction, he sets out in paragraph 9.49 of his report a table that demonstrates that a .22 handgun is some four to six times less powerful than higher-calibre handguns.

In paragraph 9.44, Lord Cullen points out that the expansion in the use of high-calibre handguns has even made many shooters concerned about the use of such guns

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as symbols of personal power. In addition, target shooting with .22 handguns has been an Olympic sport since 1896. There will be exceptions for the very few professionals, such as vets, who need handguns outside gun clubs for the humane destruction of animals.

The proposals will mean that at least 160,000 handguns--80 per cent. of those legally held at present--will be destroyed. Appropriate compensation will be paid.

The clubs in which it will still be possible to use .22 handguns will be subject to the most stringent security standards. We shall consult as a matter of urgency chief constables and other interested parties on the details of the standards, and we shall set them out clearly in guidance. In addition, every individual club will need to be approved by the chief constable of the area in which it is situated. Handguns will be able to be removed from a club only for strictly limited purposes, which will be specified in law, and under the most stringent controls.

Few, if any, existing gun clubs will be able to meet those requirements. When the powers become law, we shall therefore require any owner of a .22 rimfire handgun to hand his gun to the police for safekeeping until he is able to find a licensed club that he can join. We shall then provide a period for clubs to improve their security, and to be inspected and licensed. Some handgun clubs may never be able to achieve an adequate level of security. If so, they will have to close.

The Government consider that those are the minimum acceptable conditions for the continuation of handgun shooting in Great Britain.

Breaches of the conditions for the safekeeping of handguns will be criminal offences. In 1994, the penalty for possession of a prohibited weapon was increased from seven to 10 years' imprisonment. Illegal possession of a higher-calibre handgun will therefore carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. We intend to create a new offence of possession of a .22 rimfire handgun outside club premises. The maximum penalty will also be 10 years.

The package of measures that I have announced today will give this country some of the toughest gun control laws in the world. We shall ban all handguns from the home. We shall outlaw completely higher-calibre handguns such as those owned and used by Thomas Hamilton. We shall require .22 rimfire handguns to be kept in gun clubs under conditions of the most stringent security. And we shall drastically strengthen the rules under which firearms certificates are granted. Those proposals will lead to the destruction of 160,000 handguns--80 per cent. of those legally held today.

I believe that the priority for Parliament should be to put the measures on the statute book at the earliest possible moment. So I intend this month to publish a Bill giving effect to them. I urge the Opposition parties to support that Bill. I am confident that if they do, it could have Royal Assent by Christmas. The country expects nothing less.

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