Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report


211. The Firearms Consultative Committee was established by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 to advise the Secretary of State on matters relating to the implementation of the Firearms Acts, and to keep the working of the provisions of those Acts under review. Membership is by annual invitation from the Home Secretary: the Act provides for the appointment to the Committee ad hominem of persons who "have knowledge and experience" of firearms matters.[312] These are normally representatives of shooting organisations and law enforcement bodies, although in 1998 two members of the Gun Control Network were appointed to the Committee. The Committee was initially appointed for five years, renewable by order of the Secretary of State. Its life was prolonged by a further three years in 1994 and 1997. Mr Clarke announced in evidence to us on 11 January that the Committee was to have its life extended until January 2002.[313]

212. The work programme of the Committee is determined by the Secretary of State, to whom the Committee reports annually.[314] The Committee has in the past delegated various elements of its programme to sub-groups which may in turn co-opt experts to assist in the consideration of a particular technical issue. Mr Penn, Chairman of the Committee since June 1999, believed that the Committee's statutory nature was beneficial in two respects: its annual report was published and made widely available, and it was easily able to call upon evidence.[315]

213. The FCC has, over the ten years of its existence, made a number of detailed recommendations for changes to the substance or to the administration of the Firearms Acts. These have been in response to the work programme set annually by the Secretary of State. Mr Penn told us, however, that of the many recommendations made for changes to primary legislation, only two had been implemented; the record of Governments in implementing recommendations for secondary legislation was better.[316]

214. The FCC's Tenth Report shows that the Gun Control Network was at variance with the rest of the membership on two of the key issues considered— the licensing of low-powered air weapons and the possession of firearms by young people—though on other issues (such as the discipline of practical shooting) the Committee was more evenly divided. The GCN believed that the FCC should be "abolished or radically reconstituted": the ideal constitution of the Committee would be one-third representatives of shooting organisations, one-third representatives of law enforcement bodies and one-third representatives of groups with "an interest in violence in society", such as victim organisations, community organisations and the medical profession.[317] Professor Taylor, for the GCN, believed that similar consultative committees in the United States and Canada had far more representation from interest groups representing "the social, individual . . . psychic . . . [and] economic consequences of gun violence".[318]

215. The Minister appeared to favour a broader composition to future committees: not to create a "quasi-ideological division" between the pro- and anti-shooting lobby, but to attract the interests and the views of all interested parties. He believed it was important to include a strong representation from the shooting organisations. He also believed that a future committee should be given a slightly broader remit.

216. We believe that the Firearms Consultative Committee has operated effectively to its remit of reviewing the operation of the Firearms Acts, and has provided a valuable forum for contact and discussion between representatives of shooting organisations, the police and other interested parties. We regret that successive Governments have not found it possible to implement some of the Committee's more detailed recommendations for the operation of firearms legislation, and we hope that this Government will, in reviewing the Firearms Acts, keep the full range of those recommendations in mind.

217. While we respect the technical expertise of the Firearms Consultative Committee, we conclude that there is merit in constituting a consultative forum with a broader remit, and including representatives of organisations with interests in the safe use of firearms in society. We recommend a two-tier structure:

      (i)  a smaller consultative committee, constituted on a statutory basis and along similar lines to the present model, with a remit to consider the technical aspects of the operation of firearms legislation and to report directly to the Secretary of State;

      (ii)  a broader, non-statutory body, which may include ex officio the membership of (i), composed to reflect the interests of shooting organisations, law enforcement agencies, public safety bodies and other organisations with an interest in shooting issues, with a remit to consider the operation of firearms legislation in the round, with a particular emphasis on public safety.

312   Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, s. 22. Back

313   Q 375. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1998 (Firearms Consultative Committee) Order 2000 (S. I., 2000, No. 177) was made on 27 January 2000. Back

314   The Committee's Tenth Report, 1998-99 (HC 88) was published in December 1999. The FCC submission to the inquiry was made in October 1999 (Appendix 19). Back

315   Q 338. Back

316   Q 341: "where legislative change is required it is a significant problem." Back

317   Q 330. Back

318   Q 331. Back

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