Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 374 - 379)




  374. Good morning, Mr Clarke, and welcome to our humble Committee. We are very pleased to see you. Would you like to tell us who is with you, please?
  (Mr Clarke) Graham Widdecombe is my colleague, who is an official in the Department. He is responsible for Firearms Policy in the Department.

  375. Thank you very much indeed. Given the fact that we have just had the Chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee with us, would you like to tell us how you see, if you see, the future for that committee?
  (Mr Clarke) Thank you for the question, Mr Chairman. I appreciate it very much. I would like to make a short statement about the future of the Firearms Consultative Committee. Over the years the committee has looked at a whole range of often difficult and complex issues. Although its recommendations have not always been accepted in their entirety it has proved a valuable forum for discussion, bringing together as it does a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience of firearms matters. Bearing in mind that your Committee, Mr Chairman, will no doubt be recommending further areas for consideration, I am satisfied that there is a continuing need for some kind of consultative body with the capacity to take a detailed look at any topics referred to it and to maintain an overview to the recent changes to existing controls. There are arguments both ways as to whether such a body should operate on a statutory or a non-statutory basis. This is something we wish to reflect upon in the longer term in the light of any views your Committee might have following this set of hearings—or, indeed, otherwise. We are clear that whatever its precise nature such a body should, firstly, always makes its findings public; secondly, report to Parliament annually and, thirdly, influence public debate upon these issues. My own current inclination is to think that in the long term this would be better done through non-statutory rather than statutory arrangements. However, I want to ensure that a final decision is taken on a considered basis which takes account of the views of this Select Committee and others. For this reason, I am minded later this month to make a further order to extend the statutory life of the Firearms Consultative Committee for a period of two years. We believe there is much useful work it can undertake during this period. We will, of course, be taking this opportunity to review the present membership of the FCC, but we do not intend to make radical changes to its broad composition. We think it would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome as between statutory and non-statutory, which we will effectively do if we did not continue the existence of the FCC before 31 January this year, which is why we intend to extend it for a further two years. Before proceeding with this Order, I would be very happy to reflect further on any thoughts which you or your Committee may have on the way forward. We think the continuing role of such a body is very important.

  376. Thank you, Minister. I am sure that will be of interest well beyond the walls of this room. Do feel free to make copies of that statement available to the members of the press that are here.
  (Mr Clarke) Thank you very much indeed. I will do that.

  377. I am sure it will be of assistance to them. Do you have an open mind about some wider—what we call—non-shooting representation on the FCC—possibly from those organisations principally concerned with the leisure and recreational use of the countryside? I am thinking about, perhaps, the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
  (Mr Clarke) We are very much mindful of that. I think one of the criticisms that could be made of the way the FCC worked from its inception was that it was not able, for a variety of reasons—perfectly understandably—to bring a range of different interests together. One of the reasons why I am convinced that to have a body of this kind is important is to ensure that it can help in bringing the various interests together in various ways—whether it is local government, organisations, as you say, such as the National Trust, or particular organisations concerned with the implications of shooting. One of the reasons why I am slightly concerned about a strict statutory framework for the indefinite future is that such a statutory framework can sometimes be over-rigid, and it is important to acknowledge that different interests can move forward. However, the answer is yes, there is very much an open mind.

  378. Presumably you will bear in mind the provisions of the Countryside Bill which is due to be published next month, because what that intends to do in terms of opening up the countryside will have an effect on those who shoot, both for pleasure and in the course of their work.
  (Mr Clarke) Absolutely. Interestingly, I had a meeting with the Health & Safety Executive the other day about these issues because the implications of open access to the countryside for the way in which shooting is regulated in those areas is very significant, and that is one of the reasons for ensuring that we have a framework within which the best way of achieving that can be properly developed.

Mr Winnick

  379. Just briefly: I do not know if you have the membership of the Firearms Consultative Committee before you, as I have, which has been supplied by the organisation? Not to worry, Minister.
  (Mr Clarke) I have it in mind but not in precise terms.

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