Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report



  218. We were struck by the weight of opinion in favour of a clarification of the existing law at the very least. Over the thirty years since the introduction of the Firearms Act, the patterns of firearm use have substantially altered, and new threats, either actual or perceived, have arisen and been dealt with by amending legislation. It is arguable that the 1968 Act itself was intended to a measure designed to consolidate and rationalise the legislation on firearms introduced since 1920. Be that as it may, the present legislation is widely perceived as cumbersome, confusing and difficult to administer in a consistent fashion. The three police associations for England and Wales favoured a move towards a simplification of the law, as did the Scottish police associations, the British Shooting Sports Council and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.[319]

219. The case put for a reform of the legislation is in our view unanswerable. However, the more pressing question for us is not whether the legislation should be reformed, but how. Here we have found much less agreement. Some bodies have called for pure consolidation of the existing measures; others for a tightening or a loosening of the existing controls; and yet others for a radically new Firearms Act based on entirely different principles of firearms control.[320]

220. We identified at the outset of this report a number of principles which we believed should be at the core of a system of firearms control. Our recommendations have aimed to provide a simpler, more consistent system which balances the protection of public safety with the interests of all occupational and recreational users of firearms. We believe that the tightening of some controls (for instance, over the test of fitness to possess firearms) is necessary in the interests of consistency and of public safety. The controls we have proposed over the possession and use of low-powered air weapons—an immediate drive to enforce the existing law, to be followed in due course by a system of licensing—are intended to address the persistent problem of air weapon abuse and to protect public safety. In a number of areas (for instance, in the licensing of shotguns) we have recognised the legitimate concerns of the farmer and the sportsman.


  221. We received a number of representations indicating areas where the present legislation is seriously anomalous, deficient, or inconsistent with the provisions of related legislation. We briefly consider two such areas below.

  222. The British Deer Society and the St Hubert Club of Great Britain noted the inconsistency of the provisions of the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 with the Deer Act 1991[321] with regard to expanding or hollow-point ammunition. Schedule 2 of the Deer Act stipulates the use of soft-nosed or hollow-point rifle ammunition for the culling of deer. The 1997 Act effectively placed this ammunition under section 5 controls, meaning that it is extremely difficult to obtain or to practise with.[322] The effective and humane culling of deer surely requires a trained marksman to have reasonable access to, and opportunity to practice with, the ammunition which the law requires him to use for the cull. We expect any amendment of the Firearms Acts to give due consideration to rectifying this anomaly.

  223. Another inconsistency brought to our attention is in the operation of the 1997 Act is the provision made for humane slaughtering devices. We received representations from the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the British Humane Slaughter Association concerning several deficiencies in the specifications for humane killing devices and the absence of a specified level of competence or training for those involved in humane killing.[323] These are serious concerns with significant implications for animal welfare and for public safety.


224. Some of the measures we have recommended could be achieved in a relatively short space of time, by amendment of the existing legislation. However, we believe that to make further amendments to the Firearms Act 1968 would further complicate the existing law.

225. The Scottish Countryside Alliance, among others, called for a consolidation of the existing law.[324] Consolidation, in a parliamentary context, in effect entails the redrafting of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997 into one single Act, the ironing out of technical anomalies, and the retention of controls at the same level as at present. It does not provide any scope for substantive reform of the existing law.

226. A Consolidation Bill could be prepared by the Home Office: alternatively, the matter could be referred to the Law Commission. A Consolidation Bill would pass relatively swiftly through both Houses under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act 1949, which allows corrections and minor improvements to be made as long as the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills does not believe they ought to be enacted separately. To follow this option would, therefore, be effectively to maintain the status quo for the time being, although the consolidated legislation could be drafted in such a way as to allow later simplification by amendment. Alternatively, the consolidation could later be repealed in favour of a new Act. We believe that the present Firearms Acts are sufficiently complex and misleading in their practical application to require urgent consolidation. We therefore recommend that the Government prepare a Consolidation Bill for introduction at the earliest opportunity.

227. Consolidation will merely make the present system of controls easier to understand and to apply: we do not expect it to be the end of the process of reforming firearms controls. Some of the amendments to the present controls which we have recommended, such as the consolidation of the fitness requirements for owners of shotguns and section 1 firearms, can be achieved relatively easily, and would constitute a simplification. Other reform, such as the introduction of licensing for low-powered air weapons, would necessitate substantial amendment, and might have to be introduced via a fresh Act.


228. The Government has indicated that it is willing to consider reform of firearms legislation, and that it comes to the task with an open mind. We expect the Government, in the same spirit of openness, to consult as widely as possible with all interested parties, including sporting and occupational shooters, law enforcement bodies and public safety watchdogs, before it brings forward proposals.

229. Many of our recommendations here will require primary legislation in order to take effect. In common with a number of our witnesses, we believe that a new Firearms Act is long overdue. The present legislative jumble has been the result of hasty, though necessary, amending legislation which has served to complicate and obscure the principles of firearms control.

230. A thorough reform of the system, along the lines which we advocate above, will have to be managed over years rather than months. New conditions can only realistically be applied to firearm and shotgun certificates when they fall due for renewal: this process will take a minimum of five years to complete. Taking air weapons into the licensing system will also be a lengthy process involving substantial manpower commitments: the licensing system itself will have to be considerably expanded.

319   Appendix 2, 4, 5, 6, 12 and 20. Back

320   Submissions which called for a radical re-examination of firearms legislation included those from Mr Steven W Kendrick (Appendix 53) and the Office of Legislative Affairs (Appendix 39). Back

321   1991 c. 54. Back

322   Appendix 29 (British Deer Association); Appendix 42 (St Hubert Club of Great Britain). Back

323   The issue was raised by the Humane Slaughter Association (Appendix 36) and the British Veterinary Association (Appendix 30). Back

324   Appendix 33 (Scottish Countryside Alliance); Appendix 6 (Police Federation). Back

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