House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Column Number: 1

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Sir John Butterfill

†Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
†Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
†Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Dowd, Jim (Lewisham, West) (Lab)
†Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
†Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
†Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
†Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
†Luff, Peter (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)
†Milton, Anne (Guildford) (Con)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
†Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Robinson, Mr. Peter (Belfast, East) (DUP)
Selous, Andrew (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)
†Woodward, Mr. Shaun (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Column Number: 3

Thursday 23 June 2005

[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]

Draft Firearms (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Firearms (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

I welcome you, Sir John, to the Chair and look forward to your guiding our deliberations.

I know that some Members who would have liked to be present cannot attend our sitting, and I am grateful to the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for courteously advising me that, unfortunately, they are unable to be with us this afternoon.

Crime is abhorrent to all right-thinking members of society, and it is all the more so when firearms are involved. Therefore, it is vital that we have adequate controls in place to deal with those who misuse firearms.

The order contains important law and order provisions that will enable the police to deal much more effectively with airgun and imitation firearms-related crime. It does that by prohibiting airguns that use a self-contained gas cartridge system, and by making it an offence to possess an unloaded airgun or imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

These measures have already been implemented in Great Britain in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The order seeks to replicate sections 37 and 39 of that Act, and I shall comment briefly on its provisions. Article 3 adds to the list of prohibited weapons in article 45(1) of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 any airgun that uses, or is adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system. It will therefore be an offence to possess, purchase, manufacture, sell or transfer such a firearm without the Secretary of State’s authority. The reason for prohibiting those firearms is the ease with which they can be adapted to fire live ammunition.

Controls already apply to those firearms in Northern Ireland, and existing holders will be allowed to retain them, as is the case in Great Britain. Arrangements will be made for the Secretary of State’s authority to issue to the very small number of people involved. The offence is punishable on indictment with a maximum sentence of 10 years and a minimum sentence of five years.

Column Number: 4

Article 4 will allow the Secretary of State to make any necessary consequential amendments to the 2004 order, or to any other statutory provision, arising from any addition he may make to the list of prohibited weapons by virtue of the order-making power contained in article 45(10) of the 2004 order. He may also make saving or transitional provisions in accordance with article 81(3) of that order.

With regard to the 2005 order, concern was expressed in another place that the Secretary of State’s order-making power provided by article 4(1) appeared to be wide ranging. Therefore, I should like to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Rooker said in his response, which is that the provision is limited to amendments that the Secretary of State may need to make to the firearms order or any other statutory provision as a consequence of his adding to the list of prohibited weapons by virtue of the order-making power in article 45 of the 2004 order. The power is limited to making technical changes that are necessary to reflect changes made in other legislation. That will prevent it from having to return to this House for mere technical adjustments. It could not be used, for example, to create new offences.

Article 5(1) adds unloaded airguns and imitation firearms to the list of firearms covered by the offence in article 61(1) of the 2004 order of carrying a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. The offence currently applies to the possession of loaded shotguns, loaded airguns or any other firearm, whether loaded or not when possessed along with ammunition suitable for that firearm.

Article 5(3) adds the offence to the list of offences to which powers of summary arrest apply that are set out in article 26(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. There are already controls on the misuse of imitation firearms, but unless the police catch someone in the act there is little they can do. This new provision will allow the police to arrest and charge someone who is in possession of an imitation firearm, or an airgun, in a public place, if that person is unable to show that he has it for a lawful purpose or that he has a reasonable excuse.

As I have said, these are important law and order measures that are already in place in Great Britain, and I am sure that Members will agree that they should be replicated in Northern Ireland.

2.35 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Sir John. It is not the first time I have served under your expert guidance and I am sure that today’s proceedings will be an equally pleasurable experience. I also welcome the Minister to his position. I wish him well in the difficult work—not particularly in relation to this measure—that he has to do in Northern Ireland; I understand that he has various responsibilities for security matters, and we all know how difficult that area is.

You will recall, Sir John, that on several occasions in Committees such as this I have forensically analysed Ministers’ remarks. You will also be aware that I am
Column Number: 5
not one to drag a Committee out for the sake of it. I am sure that this one will fall into the latter category. I have some brief questions to ask.

I recognise that this statutory instrument seeks to replicate a law that already exists in Great Britain. What assessment has the Minister made of the extent of the problem in Northern Ireland? In particular, is there any evidence that it causes problems in a paramilitary context?

What is the Government’s line of thinking in allowing legal owners of airguns to continue to keep them? It seems a little strange that, if there is a problem, some people can continue to keep the guns whereas others cannot. There might be a valid explanation for that, but I want to press the Minister on the matter. The least I can do is to ask him some simple questions; otherwise, we shall all go home too early. I am struggling for much more to say on the order, other than that the Opposition welcome what appears to be a sensible extension of the current law that applies to Great Britain.

2.37 pm

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his position. Many of us got a great deal of happiness from his promotion.

The issue I want to raise relates slightly to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson). Will the Minister give us some view of what constitutes lawful use? I presume that it would be clay pigeon shooting or permission to use airguns for some kind of sport or target practice. Many of us are intrigued about what the lawful use of airguns would be and how it would be policed. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that that might be done through registration of the airguns or a database of who is allowed lawfully to possess them.

The Committee will be interested to see how the switch from the current situation to the new one that this laudable statutory instrument would enact will be accomplished in practice. It also wants to see how the police intend to move from a situation where there is
Column Number: 6
currently no control on these weapons to one where there is. The penalties for unlawful ownership are steep. Labour Members would also like to hear from the Minister what the law allows the guns to be used for.

2.39 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I thank the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) for his kind remarks. The question of how many self-contained gas cartridge airguns are in Northern Ireland and whether they might already be being used for paramilitary purposes has been asked. The Chief Constable has advised us that he is aware of the small number of eight self-contained gas cartridge airguns held on firearms certificates at the moment. He has no evidence of any illegal holdings at this time. I understand that no stocks of that airgun are held by firearms dealers in Northern Ireland. On paramilitary organisations, there is no evidence of any problem.

I am grateful for the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) and I can tell her that controls do exist. I have said that there are probably a maximum of eight guns out there. As somebody who does not take part in shooting of any kind, I cannot say why on earth anyone would want one of these things in the first place.

As a result of human rights considerations, it was felt that the right thing to do was to control the guns in the way that we are doing. It is important to recognise that the best thing we can do in Northern Ireland is take guns in any shape or form off the streets. In view of the ease with which these guns could be converted, even though there are only eight out there, it is right to introduce this order.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Firearms (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Three o’clock.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 24 June 2005