Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Colvin: The noble Lord Monson recently asked a parliamentary question about the number of deaths of children in road accidents. The last year for which figures are available is 1994; I forget the precise figure, but it was more than 400.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention, which reinforces my point.

I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Basildon, who made her excellent maiden speech before I spoke, and some of her hon. Friends, to some further interesting statistics that were presented in an article in the Police Review last autumn. The comparison of rates of armed crime and firearms ownership over the past 40 years reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend.

In the whole of 1954, there were only four armed robberies in London in which firearms were used. Between April 1994 and April 1995, there were 1,338 recorded crimes of a similar type in the Metropolitan area--nearly four a day. However, during the same period, from 1954 to 1994, the number of firearms certificate holders in London dropped dramatically. It was estimated in the article that there were roughly half as many certificate holders in London now as there were in the 1950s. There is no simple relationship between conventional armed crime and the lawful possession of firearms.

There is even more striking support for the view that lawfully owned firearms and armed crime are effectively unrelated. That comes from a study of firearms used in armed robberies in the Metropolitan area, which was

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1212

conducted by Metropolitan Detective Inspector Adrian Maybanks. He discovered that of 657 weapons used in armed robberies in the Metropolitan area from January 1988 to 30 June 1991--a period of three and a half years--about half turned out on investigation to be imitation firearms. Of the remaining 328 firearms, only one had ever been within the lawful licensing system. Detective Inspector Maybanks concluded that a simplistic ban on one category of gun or on all legally owned guns was likely to be counterproductive, not least because it was bound to drive more guns underground.

I practised at the Bar for a number of years, and senior police officers have told me that guns used to commit crimes are normally held illegally. This legislation is an attempt to destroy the legitimate interest of law-abiding people in a sport that has always been lawful, in a totally vain attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, and to prevent maniacs from committing crimes. However, I am afraid that maniacs and other criminals will procure weapons illegally if they are determined to do so. That is the nature of the society in which we live.

If hon. Members believe that by supporting the Bill they will stop crime and maniacs, they are very much mistaken. They will simply destroy a legitimate sport which is enjoyed by literally thousands of our citizens. This is an example of hard cases making bad law, and the legislation is misconceived.

7.50 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): I shall also make my maiden speech this evening. So many hon. Members have made maiden speeches tonight describing so many parts of the United Kingdom that it occurs to me that visitors from abroad who are in the Strangers Gallery might have saved themselves the cost of a guide book.

I represent Medway and the historic cities of Rochester and Chatham. My immediate predecessor, Dame Peggy Fenner, represented Medway for 18 years and served for a time as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On 1 May, she came to the end of a long and distinguished career in public life as a local councillor and Member of Parliament. She was a formidable opponent and a politician of total integrity. In defeat, she was charm and graciousness itself. I pay tribute to her and wish her well. I know that all hon. Members would do the same.

Before Dame Peggy, Medway was represented by three equally formidable Labour Members: Bob Bean, whose tragic early death robbed us of a great parliamentarian; before him, the formidable Ann Kerr; and, before her, the equally formidable Arthur Bottomley. I treasure a letter sent to me by an octogenarian constituent immediately following the 1 May election. It says simply, "If you're half as good as Arthur, you will be all right". I shall do my best. One is entering an awesome pantheon and must bear an awesome weight, but it is made much lighter by the nature of one's constituency.

The historic towns of Rochester and Chatham are surrounded by beautiful and eccentric countryside. To the west, are the woods and hills of Kent and, to the east, the flat and daunting lands of the Hoo peninsula, with its sites of scientific interest and its teeming wildlife set against the industrial landscape of north Kent. We have the finest mediaeval castle in the country: discuss. We also own what is almost certainly the most dignified and perfectly formed cathedral.

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1213

In the middle of my constituency is the historic dockyard of Chatham, which, until comparatively recently, employed 17,000 of my constituents and those from neighbouring constituencies. If one seeks to discover the unique character of those who live in the Medway towns, one need look no further than the dockyard and the surrounding barracks and the industries that supported them.

We are a tough lot. We have been in the front line of conflict for 400 years against just about every European country. That has produced a breed of people in the Medway towns who are resilient and full of humour, but who are without prejudice or xenophobia. They do not, and would not, subscribe to the small-mindedness of view and the smallness of vision that sometimes masquerades as Euro-scepticism. Rochester is proud to be a European city. It lies at the gateway to Europe and, with a new council and unitary authority in place, we look forward to addressing some of the problems that have beset the Medway towns in the past 20 years.

We lost no less than 70 per cent. of our manufacturing base in that time and we are the largest conurbation in Europe without its own university. During my stewardship, one of my principal aims will be to see the laying of the foundation stone of a new academic institution--possibly the first university of Europe--in that area. We deserve it because we have not only a long tradition of science, technology and engineering, but an unrivalled cultural tradition in the arts and literature. We are the spiritual home of the greatest novelist ever to write in the English language. I could take you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Hoo peninsula to visit the graveyard where the infant Pip met his eventual benefactor, the convict Magwitch, who--if my memory serves me aright--was being pursued by hounds. That is another pastime that I hope we shall see the end of during this Administration.

I turn to the debate in hand. I shall be brief because hon. Members have rehearsed accurately and succinctly--save in one or two cases--the arguments with which we must deal. I immediately declare an interest in the debate and it has been mentioned already. This morning I received a telephone call from someone who described himself as the agent of the parliamentary rifle club. The agent asked me whether I was related to the chair of the Gun Control Network. I do not know why an agent had to ask me that question--I would have answered just as readily if I had been asked in the Members Lobby. The answer is yes. I am not ashamed of that fact and, what is more, I declare a further interest in that I have played some small--and I mean a very small--part in the workings of that organisation, which is the principal campaigner for the total abolition of handguns in the United Kingdom.

In the course of that work, I have had the rare privilege of working with a number of those who were bereaved as a result of the Hungerford and Dunblane tragedies. I take issue immediately on their behalf with one of the comments by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I assure him and the House, with all the force that I can command, that those people do not seek revenge on society for the horror inflicted upon them. I have never worked with a more rational group of people whose only interest is to ensure that that horror is not visited upon others. They understand better than anyone

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1214

that legislation of this sort will create casualties and that it will cut across the civil liberties of others. I assure the House that those who work towards this aim take no pleasure from that fact and do not seek revenge. This organisation and this legislation has only one aim: to ensure that the children of Dunblane, of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom grow up in a safer place.

There is only one predication: will the legislation work? If it does not, there is no point in enacting it, and on that basis I make common cause with those who have spoken against the Bill. There is no right inherent in the House or anywhere else to remove people's civil liberties, or their pleasures or fun, in the interests of something that is simply vanity. In considering whether the Bill will work if it is enacted, however, let me adopt the legal metaphor that was used by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath; the burden of proof comes into play, and the burden of proof changed after Dunblane. We do not ask ourselves whether the Bill will work. Instead, we ask, "If there is any chance whatsoever of this proposed legislation helping at all in any circumstances to stop a Dunblane happening again, should we pass it?"

I say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and to others who have spoken articulately against the Bill that when the issue is put to the acid test there is only one choice, and that is to go into the Lobby in support of the Bill.

I, too, have some facts and statistics. It is incontrovertible in terms of international statistics that the countries that are the most liberal in their gun laws also have the largest gun ownership. Those countries that have the largest gun ownership have also the largest illegitimate use of guns, mainly in the commission of homicide.

It is perfectly possible to say that America is a special case. It is a frontier society with a culture of violence. It is a new society. The same cannot be argued for law-abiding, clock-making Switzerland. There, after centuries of liberalisation of gun control, where 13 times more people hold guns than are held in this country legitimately, there are 10 times more homicides caused by firearms than in the UK. The list continues and reaches Japan, which is not known for its law-abiding behaviour. It should be recognised, however, that Japan has had the courage to ban handguns. It is at the bottom of the international league for crimes committed with illegally held weapons.

Another statistic cannot be ignored. In the United States there is by head of population, amazingly enough, only three times the number of murders that take place in the UK that are not committed with handguns. If handguns are included in the equation, however, the United States have 150 times more murders than us. If we want to step down that road even a short way, we shall continue to license and keep within our culture the legitimate use of handguns.

That brings me to my next point, which has been largely ignored during the debate. Why is there a direct equation between the legitimate ownership of handguns and their illegitimate use? I suggest that there are two reasons for that. The first is the crude question of opportunity. The more guns that are available the more they will be used, and the more that they will find their way into illicit hands. Secondly, the more liberal that we are in our gun legislation the more we are seen tacitly to

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1215

condone and support a gun culture. The more that we tacitly support that culture the easier it will be for people to obtain guns and commit crimes with them.

I do not suppose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have seen some of the films the names of which I could reel off, having made a study of these matters. In our youth, Mr. Deputy Speaker, together perhaps, we used to see films such as "High Noon" or the romances based on that film, during which people were shot and fell over. That happened five or six times during the film, normally at the end. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I could take you to see current films during which there is a death or a maiming by handguns every 17 seconds. The victims do not merely fall over. There are the most graphic details that the cinema of today can produce.

There is a gun culture and we live in unhappy and violent times. We cannot control that. In a free society it is difficult to produce such controls. But let us send a collective message from the House, in representing the people of the United Kingdom, that we shall not tolerate as part of a gun culture the legitimate use and handling of firearms. Let us make it clear that they will be outlawed despite the fact that there will be casualties. Those of us who feel strongly about these matters take no joy in that consequence, including those with whom I work. To use an unparliamentary expression, all this stuff about the Olympics being put in jeopardy by the banning of handguns is pure bunkum. The argument has been cooked up to produce a smokescreen.

It is perfectly possible to organise the Olympics on the basis that we do not participate in one sport. We do not participate in some canoeing events that involve three or four people with paddles. That has done has no harm in the Olympic games and we can still stage them in Manchester. It is unlikely that the canoes of which I speak will appear on the Manchester waterways. At the same time, as a sportsman, I feel considerable compassion for the sportsmen and women who will be involved. Undoubtedly, however, the greater good must prevail.

I can say as a lawyer that the licensing and regulation of handguns is, in reality, impossible. We shall never devise a system that will stop someone like Thomas Hamilton getting possession of a legal firearm. Those who are charged with licensing guns adopt a discretion. My lawyer friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), nods and he knows well what I am about to say, which is that that discretion must be judicial. The use of prescience or the concept that someone is unpleasant and therefore should not have a handgun would not be a way of depriving individuals of ownership. That is exactly the Thomas Hamilton case. There were many people who felt that he should not have had a gun, but an advised decision was taken that he had to have it. That will happen again. There is only one way out of the conundrum and that is a total ban.

I urge right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill to accept that the honourable course is to impose a total ban. I pay tribute to Bob Hughes, who is no longer a Member--he was a casualty at Harrow, West--but who had the courage to break his own Whip when this issue was last debated. There were many good reasons for the Tories losing Harrow, West, but Bob Hughes's espousal of the cause that I have presented was certainly not one of them. He worked closely with the Gun Control Network and with its chairman, my wife.

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1216

That resulted in her having the perhaps unsavoury distinction of appearing in two election addresses in a general election, one Tory and one Labour.

I commend the Bill to the House. I have been proud to play some part in the efforts of the campaigning teams that, I hope, have assisted Members in the preparation of the Bill. For the reasons that I have set out, I urge Members to accept that the Government's proposal, regrettable though it might be, is the only way in which safety can be ensured.

Next Section

IndexHome Page