Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 480 - 487)



  480. And that is the essential difference we are talking about, is it not?
  (Mr Clarke) Yes.

  481. The Scottish police force have concerns about the use of carbines and muzzle-loaded weapons. I do not know what they are. Apparently the Home Office is dismissing their concerns about proliferation of those weapons. Do you accept that there are different circumstances and sensitivities surrounding the issue of controls of firearms in Scotland, for instance, regarding those weapons?
  (Mr Clarke) I am not aware of that being said by the Scottish Executive, but I will listen to that. It is not a devolved matter, as you know. Certainly, we should look carefully at what the Scottish Executive has to say about its concerns in relation to these or other categories of weapons, but I am not aware of any specific dismissal by us of the Scottish Executive position. I would say generally that I gather there is not a track record of criminal use of these weapons in Scotland or elsewhere. I am not sure I would accept there is a qualitatively different position of sensitivity in Scotland to elsewhere in the UK. I am sure people living around Hungerford would feel equal concerns to those living around Dunblane. I am not sure there is a qualitatively different position, but the answer is yes, we will certainly take seriously the representations of the Scottish Executive.

  482. How does the Government seek to ensure that firearms licensing is enforced in England, Wales and Scotland in the same way?
  (Mr Clarke) The real issue here is the different law enforcement structures which are different in England and Wales to Northern Ireland and to Scotland, and the different legal regime which applies. The process that I have described about Her Majesty's Inspectorate looking at the situation, the ACPO guidance and so on does not apply in quite the same way in Scotland because of the different legal framework, but it is the case that the chief police officers in Scotland are on the FCC and they are also represented on the ACPO Committees dealing with this, so there is a consistent level of dialogue between the police forces in Scotland and in England and Wales on this issue.

  483. Having said that, there may be different approaches.
  (Mr Clarke) Indeed. One of the issues which I think is difficult for us to deal with in relation to all of this is that, of course, even within the 43 police forces in England there are different approaches and I talked in my answer to the Chairman earlier on about why we are trying to develop a better approach on this and we wish to have a reasonably consistent approach in Scotland as well, but of course the legal situation is different in Scotland.

  484. Firearms legislation in Northern Ireland diverges quite considerably from the legislation in Great Britain. Will the reform of firearms legislation in Northern Ireland have any effect on firearms legislation in Great Britain and is there any prospect of these two different regimes converging?
  (Mr Clarke) We have maintained contact with the Northern Ireland Office throughout their review of firearms controls and have sought to offer our experience to them as well as to draw on their experience. It is obvious that Northern Ireland has always had different and generally stricter controls on firearms for all the obvious reasons and we respect that. The process of whether there could be convergence and how it would move forward and how that would relate to firearms legislation in the Republic of Ireland is a matter that will need to evolve over time and of course the issues around it fail into insignificance in comparison with the very major issue of arms availability across the north, which is obviously a subject of large scale discussion. We maintain contact with them. We discuss it with them. I gather the law in Northern Ireland is not the same as the law in Scotland. We simply remain in dialogue about the situation.

  485. And an even bigger issue is obviously Europe. I understand there is an on-going review of the European Weapons Directive. Does that have any implications for the present controls in Great Britain?
  (Mr Clarke) It may do. The European Union Weapons Directive has generally sought to set a minimum standard for controls on firearms in Europe and to help citizens of the Member States move more freely between states with their firearms, which is a non-trivial point and which the shooting organisations mentioned generally. I know there are some members of the Committee who think that freedom of movement within Europe is a difficult thing to address. There are serious issues there. Our controls on firearms are stricter than those of most EU countries and there is no question of us weakening our controls or making harmful changes as a result of the EU situation. The Directive does allow Member States to set their own level of control on firearms but with a common understanding of other systems of control. We are working closely with the European secretariat on its review of the Directive along with other interested parties in the UK. The difficulty for us in all of this is we are keen to ensure that unnecessary bureaucracy between the European states is reduced. I thought other colleagues on the Committee would agree with that. However, we do not want to see any diminution of our rigid system of controls and I think that we would prefer to see stricter controls in other EU countries and to go down that line. There is the standard trade-off in European Union issues about how we deal with that relationship.

  486. In evidence given to us on a previous occasion our controls were described as a gold standard in the world.
  (Mr Clarke) Yes, indeed.

  487. Is it not the case that the EU has more to learn from our controls than maybe we have to learn from the European Union?
  (Mr Clarke) I believe that is absolutely the case. I believe there is every case for saying we want to extend our system more widely rather than to see things move in another direction.

  Mr Singh: Thank you, Minister.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Clarke. You must come and see us again because we have finished with five minutes in hand. You have been refreshingly helpful, you and Mr Widdecombe, and given us a great deal to ponder. Thank you very much indeed.

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