Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I support the amendment. Teachers, police officers and nurses in my constituency have told me, “Not a penny more.” Today we paid tribute to our armed forces—those fallen heroes and heroines—but this Government have set in place a pay freeze for our armed forces. In April next year, armed forces salaries will be capped at 1% for the next

31 Oct 2012 : Column 335

two years. Is it right, and can we justify it to our constituents, that our brave armed forces, spilling their blood in Afghanistan as we speak this evening, are not going to receive the same treatment as the European Union—a wasteful, profligate and inefficient European Union?

Is it so difficult to conceive that a multiannual budget over the next six or seven years of almost €1 trillion might be able to find some efficiency savings? Our local councils are having to find them, member states are having to find them and, most importantly, our constituents are having to find them. There are increasing numbers of food banks, and people are struggling to pay their utility bills and to put shoes on their children’s feet for the new school year. It is our job to represent our constituents.

I say to Front Benchers that we do not risk doing ourselves a disservice. We are not being self-indulgent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) said. I think it is the ultimate act of self-indulgence to continue to ignore the will of the British people. The British people want us, as their representatives, to stand up to an over-bureaucratic Brussels—an obese Brussels that needs to go on a diet like everyone else, including all our constituents, this Government and member states throughout the European Union. The Prime Minister’s hand can be strengthened by a united Parliament. A disunited Parliament will weaken his negotiating hand.

The Government speak about a real-terms freeze. Let us be truthful: a freeze is not a cut. What is this real-terms freeze? It is not really a freeze as there will be increased cash—an extra £300 million a year, year on year, will be required by the European Union even if the Prime Minister is successful with the so-called real-terms freeze. That sum is the equivalent of two medium-sized district general hospitals in each of our constituencies and of a medium-sized borough council—the same councils we all represent, who are looking for 20% cuts or more. Let us stop dancing on the head of a pin, as the Conservative party so often does. Let us stop playing semantics and being disingenuous with the British people. We are talking about £300 million next year, and hundreds of millions, and billions, of pounds beyond that.

This is the decision we have to make today: are we going to continue to ask families throughout this country to stop putting new shoes on their children’s feet in order to pay for the very large Mercedes fleet in Brussels? That is the choice. This is a moment of truth, and it is no good Eurosceptics on the Government Benches speaking about things in Eurosceptic terms—it is no good our going around parading as Eurosceptics—if our actions defy what we say we believe. At the European elections in 2014, it will be no good our wrapping ourselves in the Union flag if tonight we take it off and wrap ourselves in the stars of the European Union flag.

This is a moment of truth. This is a moment of decision. We can send a united message, as a Parliament and as a nation, to Brussels. Let us make a difference. If we are not making a difference, we might as well all go home.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The time limit on Back-Bench speeches is reduced to four minutes with immediate effect.

31 Oct 2012 : Column 336

6.39 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Without indulging in some of stronger language and rhetoric of different colleagues, I say that this may be an important parliamentary moment, because the British people decided in May 2010 not to give any of us a majority. I think they wanted a different kind of Parliament to emerge, one that was a bit freer, a bit more liberal and a bit less whipped; I am a party animal myself and the Whips are necessary, but perhaps tonight some signal can be sent that we are listening.

There are technical points that can and cannot be made. I would dearly love to see, in South Yorkshire or perhaps in Northern Ireland, every public servant’s salary reduced to €100,000—about £80,000. If that salary level was applied, there would be a revolt in Whitehall, and among Cabinet Ministers and senior Ministers of State, if not perhaps among junior Ministers of State.

We have heard the language of “betrayal” used, and I think that is silly, because the country is going through a serious discussion about what its future relationship with Europe will be. The people have never elected Mr Nigel Farage or the UK Independence party to a seat in this House, although they have elected him to the European Parliament. However, his spirit has been present in much of tonight’s debate.

We are facing a fundamental divide, as there are two approaches to European politics. We heard one earlier today, when the ten-minute rule Bill was introduced. It was supported by a large number of Conservative Members and it called for the end to the free movement of people in Europe. It was a well-argued case, but of course it utterly destroys the purpose of the European Union if we are to have passport checks at every border and not allow people to live where they wish.

We are now finding that there is a big debate about the money we spend. I take all the points that have been made about cuts, but we could have the same argument about the Department for International Development’s spending, and I might argue about whether the £13 billion we spent in Afghanistan is money wisely spent. Underneath it all is this dichotomy over Europe. There is a debate about being in or out—an honest debate that we are beginning to have—and another debate among those of us who believe we should stay in the European Union about what kind of European Union there should be.

The voting of money is, of course, what determines what kind of policy we have. This budget is the wrong budget, drawn up by conservatives and cautious, complacent centre-right bureaucrats and politicians. It is inappropriate and it keeps the European budget in the same old tramlines of protectionist common agricultural spending and ineffective regional spending.

Mr Jenkin rose

Mr MacShane: I will not give way. I am very happy with the Speaker’s reduction of the time limit.

Last week, Labour MEPs voted against that budget and for a different priority that would focus on growth, on jobs and on what is needed. That is what I believe should be done, which is why I am happy to vote for the amendment tonight. I am not sure what will happen thereafter. This country will have to face a big question.

31 Oct 2012 : Column 337

Tonight it is right that Parliament asserts its authority. That does not mean the end of the debate; it is just the beginning of the debate about whether we stay in the European Union or not.

6.43 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The figures we are talking about are truly enormous. In the three options—the EU proposal, a real-terms freeze and a cash freeze—we are talking about commitments of £990 billion, £885 billion and £771 billion, so these are very important matters, affecting every man and woman in this country. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), with whom I have spent 29 years in this House, that his speech was quite inflammatory. His main line of attack appears to be that those of us who are going to support the amendment are somehow putting our Government at risk by joining with the Labour party. I have heard the argument before; it was actually the argument put by Neville Chamberlain in the Norway debate, when he said that he could rely on his friends. Over the years we have been here, many Members of Parliament have taken the view that principle is sometimes more important than partisanship. We have consistently argued about these matters through difficult times and it is quite wrong to blame us—those who have taken an entirely consistent position— for putting the Government’s political position at risk.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Given his experience in this House, does the hon. Gentleman not think that nailing one’s colours to a wholly unrealistic negotiating position will weaken the position of the British Government going into this financial negotiation and result in a worse outcome for this country, for his constituents and for Europe? He needs not to lecture us about principle but to consider the genuine reality of the situation.

Mr Leigh: Let me first make one more comment to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, who made a very important point. He represents the Anglican tendency in this House and I represent the Catholic tendency. If someone goes to confession and repents, we should accept them into our fold. We should not turn them away. If the Labour party has changed its mind, it has repented.

Sir Tony Baldry: Sadly, I do not anticipate my hon. Friend ever repenting.

Mr Leigh: Well, there we are. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) said, I do not think that this manoeuvre is entirely cynical. We have come a long way—[Interruption.] People can scoff, but the Labour party is sensing a change of mood in the country. It is entitled as an Opposition party to sense that mood and to feel that the patience of the British people is at its limit as regards giving more money to the European Union. It might be cynical—surely Labour is entitled as an Opposition party to use parliamentary tactics if it wishes—but there might also have been a sea change in attitude in the country and in the House. That sea change is also reflected elsewhere in Europe.

31 Oct 2012 : Column 338

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said that our proposal was totally unrealistic, but he should consider what is happening in our country. Every single Member of Parliament has police officers coming to all our surgeries every week whose pensions have been changed halfway through their time. They are serving shifts at all hours of the day and night, and they are coming to our surgeries because we are having to make real cuts to our police force. As has been said, we are having to make real cuts to our armed forces. Our own people are coming to us and saying that this is surely the time to make a stand. Given what is happening to the budgets in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, and given that great legions of young people in those countries are unemployed, is it so unreasonable just to ask the leaders of Europe to insist in the Council of Ministers on a real cash freeze? Is that unreasonable? I do not think so—I think it is entirely reasonable.

Our friends in Europe take the House of Commons very seriously. As is known, I am happy to be a Francophile and I watch what happens in the Assemblée Nationale. This debate could not be replicated there. It is being watched, however. This is the House of Commons. We were created to guard the nation’s finances and look after the interests of our own taxpayers. Why cannot the House of Commons, on this great occasion, make a stand on behalf of the UK taxpayers? Why can we not say to our taxpayers that we stand with them? We are having to make appallingly difficult decisions about the police, the armed forces, education and health. All we are saying is that there should be a real freeze in the EU. This is not just about EU civil servants, 40% of whom earn more than £70,000 a year.

Chris Huhne: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Leigh: There is no time, I am afraid.

This is about real people in real places. For instance, I represent a farming constituency. The UK spends £7.1 billion a year on subsidising foreign farmers, giving some £33 billion and receiving £26 billion. On average, the UK receives £188 per hectare, compared with France, Germany and Holland, which receive £236, £251 and £346 respectively. Some 42% of the EU budget is spent on subsidising farming and fishing, despite their accounting for only 2% of European gross annual value. These are real issues that affect real people. The House of Commons now has a chance to take a stand and we should put principle before partisan politics.

6.49 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): We should remind ourselves that just as there is a majority in the House, of which I am a part, in favour of a reduction in the EU budget, there is a much larger majority, of which I am also a part, that believes that our future lies at the heart of Europe and with our membership of the European Union.

We should therefore take care—more care than some Members have—with how we frame any debate on the EU budget. We should not frame it, as the Daily Express does, as if all EU spending is bad and that the only purpose of Brussels is to take money from us. I come from a region that has benefited enormously from European structural funds, and we should have spent more time in the debate considering how we can engage

31 Oct 2012 : Column 339

positively to shape negotiations on the priorities for the EU budget. I shall make several specific points about research and innovation, to which I hope that the Minister will respond.

EU research and innovation funding contributes 10% of our national science budget, and the budget negotiations give us an important opportunity to shape investment priorities for the benefit of the UK economy. The more the EU invests in research and innovation, the more the UK benefits, because the quality, breadth and depth of UK research puts us in a position whereby we gain disproportionately from European research programmes. Nearly 15% of the EU’s funding from the FP7 framework programme for research has gone to UK researchers, and the total FP7 contribution to UK research is expected to reach €7 billion over the life of the programme. The UK is involved in more successful FP7 projects than either France or Germany, accounting for 40% of all grants to date. We also benefit extensively from the collaboration and research networks that the EU facilitates. Of the 5,105 research projects that have been funded under FP7, 43% include UK partners.

Only about 8% of the proposed budget is allocated to Horizon 2020, which is the replacement for the FP7 programme. That has been presented as an increase, because there are several new projects within Horizon 2020. I think that the Government would support those projects, but on the basis of past negotiations, there is concern among businesses and universities that the research budget is especially vulnerable to cuts. We know that innovation plays an important role in producing growth in the UK, and 54% of the jobs grown between 2000 and 2005 were in innovative companies. However, such companies account for only 6% of UK businesses, and are particularly involved in pharmaceuticals and biotechnical research.

We know that future growth will rely on knowledge-based industries, so I look to the Government to make two commitments: first, that the additional projects in Horizon 2020, which I am sure they would support, will be considered outside the framework; and, secondly, that they will argue the case for protecting the research and innovation budget in the overall negotiations.

Mr Speaker: The Minister will be called at 6.55 pm, but until then we will hear from Conor Burns.

6.53 pm

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker.

At the beginning of the debate, there was an outbreak of consensus between those on the two Front Benches, when the Minister and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) agreed that the Government and the Opposition shared the objective of achieving a real reduction in the EU budget. Such a reduction would not be possible if the EU had gone through the process that all our councils are going through by squeezing out all the fat and getting rid of all unnecessary expenditure, but both Front-Bench spokesmen could cite examples—not least the two Parliaments—of where the EU could still make plenty of savings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) mentioned the experiences of Maastricht, but this is not Maastricht. The Conservative party is united

31 Oct 2012 : Column 340

on Europe. We are united in believing that it is doing too much and spending too much. We had the slogan, “We’re all in this together.” How will we be able to go back to our constituencies and look in the eye our electors who are paying hugely more for petrol, food and rail fares?

This House matters again. As a united House of Commons, we have the opportunity to back the Prime Minister by sending him emboldened to the European Council with the clear message from the British people that enough is enough. If we are taking cuts, the European Union must take them, too.

6.54 pm

Greg Clark: This has been a debate of passionate contributions, as befits such an important consideration—the next seven years’ budget of the EU. It is right, and many Members have referred to this, that the House should give consideration not just to the aspirations and the good intentions surrounding the European Union, but to the nitty-gritty—the decisions that need to be taken and which affect all our constituents. I am proud to be a Member of a House that will undertake this level of scrutiny.

It comes down to this: we want to see a real-terms cut in the budget. We all want to negotiate for that. That is the position that unites most Members of the House, but in seeking to advance that agenda the Prime Minister has done something historic, something that no Prime Minister during the history of our engagement with the European Union has managed to do, which is to secure from the most powerful allies that we have in the European Union a position that we should negotiate for the first time a cut over seven years in the EU budget, or a maximum of a real-terms freeze. That was agreed two years ago and has been scrutinised by the House in detail. Having put that to the House, it is reasonable for the Prime Minister to go into the negotiating chamber able to deliver on the commitments that he has had from his colleagues there.

It has been made clear that we on the Government Benches regard this as a red line. We will deploy a veto if our conditions are not met. That is widely understood. This debate will be watched outside the Chamber and everyone can be clear about that. We have seen total confusion on the part of the Opposition as to what is a red line. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Chancellor would not confirm that they would even deploy a veto. [Interruption.] The shadow Justice Secretary asks what our position is. Our position is that we would deploy a veto if our conditions and our red lines are not met.

Mr Burley: Can the Minister confirm the amount of extra money which, under the Government’s proposals, we will send to the EU over the next two and a half years? According to my calculations and the House of Commons Library, it is an extra £1.3 billion between now and the next general election. Can he confirm that figure or tell the House what the figure is?

Greg Clark: It is true that the increase that we are talking about would involve further contributions from the House, but the negotiation that we are entering is to avoid that, to minimise the contribution that we make and to secure the best deal for the taxpayer.

31 Oct 2012 : Column 341

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), who is not in his seat, referred to the Maastricht debates and the attitude of the official Opposition at the time. If we could have drawn from the behaviour of the Opposition their intention in government, we would have reached a wholly misleading conclusion. During their time in government, from 1998 to 2010, they presided over a 47% increase in the contributions that we made to the EU budget. They surrendered our rebate in return for no reform. The reform that we were expecting was in the common agricultural policy. Our contribution to that increased over the time that they were in power from £48 billion to £56 billion.

We have secured the agreement of member states. We have led the way by managing our national finances. If our negotiating position does not succeed, we are ready, willing and able to veto. We urge the House to stand with us as the Prime Minister goes to negotiate for us.

7 pm

The Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, 29 October).

Amendment proposed: (a), leave out from ‘stimulate economic growth’ to end and add

‘; so calls on the Government to strengthen its stance so that the next MFF is reduced in real terms.’.—(Mark Reckless.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 307, Noes 294.

Division No. 91]





Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Bridgen, Andrew

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, Conor

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dorries, Nadine

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Drax, Richard

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodman, Helen

Gray, Mr James

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kelly, Chris

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lopresti, Jack

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Karl

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

McPartland, Stephen

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, Austin

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Pritchard, Mark

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reevell, Simon

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rosindell, Andrew

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Ruffley, Mr David

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Henry

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stewart, Bob

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittingdale, Mr John

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Peter Bone


Mr Philip Hollobone


Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Edwards, Jonathan

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Long, Naomi

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Karen Bradley


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly agreed to.

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MainQuestion, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 16844/11, No. 16845/11, No. 16846/11, No. 16847/11, No. 16848/11, No. 6708/12 and Addenda 1–3, No. 9007/12, No. 12356/12, and No. 13620/12, relating to the Commission’s proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2014–2020; agrees with the Government that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe to bring deficits under control; and so calls on the Government to strengthen its stance so that the next MFF is reduced in real terms.

Mr Speaker: Order. I should be most grateful if Members who are leaving the Chamber would do so quickly and quietly, so that we can proceed with the remaining business.

Royal Assent

Mr Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Act 2012

Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012

Local Government Finance Act 2012

Mental Health (Approval Functions) Act 2012.

Business without Debate

Electoral Commission (Re-appointment of Chairman)

[Relevant document: Fourth Report 2012 from the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, Re-appointment of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, HC 611.]

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Order, 16 October, and Standing Order No. 118(6)),

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will re-appoint Jennifer Watson to the office of chairman of the Electoral Commission with effect from 1 January 2013 for the period ending on 31 December 2016.—(Greg Hands.)

Question agreed to.

Mr Speaker: Just before I call the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), may I gently reiterate my exhortation to right hon. and hon. Members who, for whatever reason and quite unaccountably, are leaving the Chamber and do not wish to hear his oration, to do so quickly and quietly, affording him the same courtesy that they would wish to be extended to them in similar circumstances?

31 Oct 2012 : Column 347

Firearms Controls

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

7.19 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue; I know that a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are interested in this subject.

In the early hours of the new year, I was greeted in my constituency by the shocking news that four people had lost their lives in a shooting in the close-knit former mining community of Horden. They were Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, as well as the gunman, Michael Atherton, 42, who turned the gun on himself.

Following the shooting, I called for a calm and measured response, but the high emotions at the time were not conducive to constructive debate. In the months that followed, I had the opportunity to meet family members on a number of occasions. They have acted in a considered and dignified manner throughout, and looked for practical improvements that will hopefully avoid such tragic circumstances, and such a tragedy, befalling another family.

A public debate on firearms licensing is still needed, and the time is right for the public and Parliament to consider whether the current level of protection is adequate. It is said that Britain has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world, but we should not be complacent. Current firearms laws consist of 34 separate pieces of legislation, which is complex and difficult to navigate for the police and the public. The Home Office’s official police guidance is more than 200 pages long. The rules are difficult to interpret, and their application can vary greatly across the 43 police forces responsible for issuing firearms licence certificates.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab) rose

Grahame M. Morris: I will give way to my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Keith Vaz: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He will know that it is two years since the Home Affairs Committee published its report on firearms control and suggested that the 34 pieces of legislation be codified. Does he agree that it is now time to bring those pieces of legislation together, and make it clearer for people who have applied for and received licences, and for those who seek to get one?

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful for that intervention; it was delivered with some authority and I completely agree. The Home Affairs Committee investigation and report into firearms control urged the Government to codify and simplify the law, introduce one licensing system to cover all firearms, and strengthen the current safeguards.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for kindly giving me leave to intervene in his Adjournment debate. I wish to raise the issue of the Olympics, and the inability of our pistol team to train in the UK. Does he agree that although we must

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consolidate the legislation and perhaps ensure that it works more effectively, we should go back to Lord Cullen’s original suggestion, which would allow gun clubs to keep disabled pistols, so that we can train Olympic athletes of the future in this country?

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point and I will come to some suggestions about how we might address that issue.

The Association of Chief Police Officers firearms and explosives licensing working group has called for a single form of certificate that

“remains desirable for safety and economic reasons”.

In terms of public safety, and in contrast to a section 1 firearm, shotgun applicants are not required to demonstrate a good reason for wanting a shotgun. I believe it important that people demonstrate that they have a need or use for a firearm, before they are granted a licence.

In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Mrs Gill Marshall-Andrews of the Gun Control Network said:

“The starting point should be that guns are lethal weapons and the onus should be on the applicant, somebody who wants to own a gun, to prove that they are”

a fit person to have one.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. The House should be concerned about firearms licences and licensees. Just after the summer, it was reported that no fewer than 3,000 legitimately owned and licensed firearms were reported lost, missing or stolen in the previous 12 months.

Grahame M. Morris: That alarming statistic is one of a number that should exercise the minds of hon. Members, and it adds weight to the need for a full public debate.

It should no longer be acceptable to have a shotgun without a good reason. A good reason would have to be demonstrated by the same criteria that current firearms certificate holders must meet. Good reasons for holding shotgun licences include dealing with vermin or game, target shooting at an approved venue or club, or for professional use in employment, but evidence is needed to justify those reasons. It is difficult for many, including me, to comprehend why someone would need access to firearms in a domestic setting when there is little need for immediate access to a weapon.

One of the greatest weaknesses identified by the shooting fraternity is the variation in standards across police forces. For that reason, a national licensing authority has been proposed to provide central oversight, and to ensure the consistent application of licensing procedures. Such an authority would also have the advantage of removing the police from the administrative aspect of firearms licensing, and will allow them instead to focus on the enforcement of gun controls. The financial burden of the licensing regime could also be removed from the police while ensuring that public safety remains paramount. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Bedfordshire police presented a cost analysis that showed that the firearms application fees in place since 2000 never represented the true cost to the forces processing applications. Rather than the current firearms certificate fee of £50, a fee of £150 has been proposed. I am not advocating that—an appropriate fee could be determined by any new central licensing authority.

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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): I perhaps should know, so my hon. Friend might have to excuse my ignorance, but does the proposed legislation cover air guns, which can be just as dangerous?

Grahame M. Morris: There are concerns across the piece. Whether air guns are covered depends on the definition of air gun, but I hope to come to that in a few moments if my hon. Friend bears with me.

Public safety must be the primary aim of gun control legislation, but it is clear that the police, in view of significant budget cuts, can no longer afford to subsidise the licensing system. We heard in the debate a few moments ago of hon. Members’ concerns about 20% cuts in police budgets in their areas.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is on an emotive point for him. Does he agree that all aspects of firearms control should be a major concern and top of the agenda for prospective police and crime commissioners?

Grahame M. Morris: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are only a few weeks away from the elections for police and crime commissioners. I have discussed the issue with Ron Hogg, who is a PCC candidate in County Durham, and who has some expertise in the matter. It is important that this is a local priority, but I also suggest that we should have a national framework laying down guidelines—something stricter than guidelines, in fact—to be applied evenly. Part of the problem is that we have a patchwork of arrangements.

We cannot do firearms licensing on the cheap at the risk of compromising public safety. There is also a strong case for strengthening the link between the licensing authority and medical professionals when considering an application for or a renewal of a firearms certificate. We need early and proactive intervention when a firearms holder’s mental and physical health deteriorates.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that public safety would be improved if a prohibition was placed on the private storage of firearms in people’s homes, if people with a firearms certificate were subject to an annual medical test to assess continually whether they were a fit and proper person to hold one, and if a public register was available so that the general public knew who had access to a firearm? The atrocities that we see are often committed by people who have been deemed a fit and proper person when originally given a firearms certificate.

Grahame M. Morris: That is a good point well made.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Grahame M. Morris: I will respond to the last intervention, and then I will take another one. I do not intend to declare war on the armed wing of the Tory party. I am not opposed to shooting per se. I am saying that people should be able to demonstrate a clear legitimate need before a firearms certificate or shotgun licence is issued.

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Karl McCartney: I commend the hon. Gentleman for some of the points he has raised, but I find the naivety of the previous intervention worrying, because producing a public register of those who own any sort of firearm might be a thief’s charter. I would like to know what experience of shooting or holding a firearm or shotgun licence he has.

Grahame M. Morris: I have no experience. I have never held or shot a gun, but I have experience of a terrible tragedy in my constituency on new year’s day. I am attempting to share my experience with Members and to advocate having a review in the interests of public safety.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for the balanced way he is approaching this subject. I am concerned that the focus seems to be on legitimate firearms holders, the majority of whom are law-abiding. Will he reassure sporting Members and others throughout our local communities who enjoy the sport that this debate is not going down the road to remove firearms from those who have a legitimate right to hold them?

Grahame M. Morris: I hope I have made that point. I am not proposing that people with a legitimate need to hold firearms, such as farmers and so on—there is a whole list of such people—not be allowed to hold them. That need should be declared as a reason for holding a certificate, and the police or the licensing authority would take it into account.

In a case in my constituency in 2008, Michael Atherton had his weapons revoked following threats to self-harm, and issues relating to mental health and gun ownership were also a factor in the case of Christopher Foster, who shot his wife, his daughter and himself after confessing suicidal thoughts to his GP.

I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Medical Association have an agreement whereby the police alert GPs to any new applications for and renewals of firearms licences. However, concerns remain where an applicant fails to disclose full and accurate medical information at the time of application or renewal. Applicants are required to provide a number of medical details, including whether they suffer from any

“medical condition or disability including alcohol and drug…conditions”.

They also have to declare whether they have ever suffered from epilepsy or been treated for

“depression or any other kind of mental or nervous disorder”.

However, that information is not routinely checked. Licensing officers approach medical professionals only when there are doubts about an applicant’s medical history, although Dr John Canning—again, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on behalf of the BMA—stated that GPs are “not very often” asked to provide medical evidence, although it happens “from time to time”.

Following the case of Christopher Foster, the Independent Police Complaints Commission proposed in 2008 that the licensing force should be required to approach the applicant’s doctor in each case, in order to obtain confirmation that the medical information provided

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in the application was correct. The omission of information from a firearms application was also an issue in the case of Mark Saunders in 2006, which ended in his being killed by the Metropolitan police. Mr Saunders failed to declare during the application process that he had been treated by a consultant for depression and for his tendency occasionally to drink more than was sensible—indeed, he had been referred by his GP. Unfortunately, on his application for a firearms licence he stated that he had no such health problems.

In my view, the solution is to ensure that each applicant knows that licensing officers will approach their GP as a matter of course to verify statements made on their application about their health, to ensure they are correct and accurate. My proposal would address failures by an applicant to disclose any medical problem that raises questions about their suitability to own and have free access to a firearm. Finally, I call for greater consultation between the licensing authority and those who are or have been a domestic partner of a potential applicant. A similar system is already in place in Canada, where all citizens applying for a firearms licence are required to have their present and past partners in the previous two years sign their application. Refusal to sign for any reason does not automatically mean that the police and licensing authorities will veto an application, but it will trigger further investigation by law enforcement officers. The Canadian requirements merit further exploration, and I would appreciate it if the Minister informed the House of any progress made on this matter.

There has been no knee-jerk reaction. These proposals are considered, practical measures that, if implemented, could allow the consistent application of firearms legislation, strengthen existing safeguards and ensure public safety while maintaining the rights of the shooting fraternity to have access to firearms where there is a good and legitimate purpose for their use.

7.38 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) both on securing the debate and on the tone in which he has addressed this issue, following the tragic events in his constituency. The shootings he talked about shocked the whole country. Obviously our thoughts remain with the family and friends of the victims. I agree with him: it is right that Government and Parliament should reflect on what lessons might be learned from these fortunately rare, but nevertheless tragic events, and how best we can protect public safety. I and the whole House—indeed, it is good to see so many people at an Adjournment debate—share his view that we need to approach the issues in a calm and measured way.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Durham constabulary has asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate the events leading to the shootings. There has not yet been a coroner’s inquest into the deaths. Because of the investigation and a future inquest, the House will appreciate the need for me to avoid saying anything that might be prejudicial in relation to the circumstances of this case.

I understand that there have been complexities with the IPCC investigation, although it is working through those matters as fast as possible and the investigation is

31 Oct 2012 : Column 352

now close to completion. The final report is now being finalised and it will be shared with the families shortly. Publication of the report will, however, depend on the time scales for the inquest and the wishes of the coroner. The Government will consider carefully the results of the inquest and of the IPCC investigation, paying careful attention to any specific recommendations that they might make and any implications for wider firearms policy, to which I will now turn as I try to address the specific points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

The Government have always made it clear that controls on firearms should be targeted fairly and proportionately, and that they should strike the right balance by securing public safety without bearing down unnecessarily on legitimate users. With this in mind, I have arranged meetings with a range of stakeholders since assuming responsibility for this work. I met Deputy Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on firearms, this week, and we discussed a number of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised today.

Following the tragic shootings in Cumbria in 2010, the Government undertook to take a fresh look at firearms law and subsequently considered the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which looked comprehensively at the whole range of issues. The Government published our response to the Committee’s report in September 2011. Our response sets out a number of commitments in response to the Committee’s recommendations. The Government will update the Committee, and the House, shortly on progress on those recommendations.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, it is generally recognised that the UK has comparatively low levels of gun crime, and some of the strictest gun laws in the world. It is true that these laws are complex, and I would therefore like to give a brief overview of the main controls that are in place. There are two main categories of firearms licensed by the police. First, there are those that are controlled under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968. They are typically target shooting rifles and rifles used for hunting or vermin control. The second category is shotguns, typically used by farmers and for clay pigeon shooting. Both are possessed by means of separate certificates that are valid for five years. There is a third category of firearm, generally referred to as prohibited weapons, and these can be possessed only with the written authority of the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) raised the issue of training for Olympic pistol shooters. In advance of the London games, the Home Secretary provided an exemption for this third category of firearms to allow the Team GB shooting team to train here. She is currently in the process of issuing new authorities to British pistol squad members to train for the 2014 Commonwealth games. This is of course subject to the usual checks on applicants and to ensuring that training is confined to suitably secure ranges. The Government will look at arrangements for the 2016 Olympic games in due course.

The hon. Member for Easington raised concerns about how the licensing process operates. I would like to say something about the processes involved—again, without making reference to the specific circumstances of this case. The procedures are similar for the issue of a shotgun certificate but there are some material differences.

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First and foremost, the police must be satisfied that the applicant can be trusted to possess shotguns without danger to public safety. Unlike with section 1 firearms, the applicant does not have to show good reason to have a shotgun, but the police may refuse to grant a certificate if they are satisfied that he has no good reason to have one. This is a different control, but it still allows the police to refuse applicants who have dubious reasons for wanting shotguns.

Ian Mearns: I raised a point with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) about the number of firearms that have been lost or stolen in the past year. I understand that the figure was about 3,000. In the light of that, would the people who have lost their firearms or had them stolen have their licences reviewed?

Damian Green: That would be a matter for the individual force concerned. It is clearly a matter that the police forces that do the licensing, who are responsible and sensitive about these things, would take serious note of.

The hon. Member for Easington mentioned national control of firearms and the proposal for a national licensing authority. There is a danger that a central authority might lose touch with the sort of local information that the police need. In his report on the Dunblane tragedy, Lord Cullen recommended that licensing functions should remain with the police. Previous suggestions to replace the current police licensing system with a central civilianised licensing authority have been rejected as more costly and less efficient than the present system.

Although the Government are not in favour of a national firearms control board, the Home Office guidance to the police on firearms legislation—the hon. Gentleman mentioned it, and it is indeed long and complex—is being revised and updated to help ensure that licensing procedures are applied consistently across forces. This is an important piece of work, responding directly to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s wish for more consistency. In particular, we will highlight the need to take full account of any incidences of domestic violence when considering applications for the

31 Oct 2012 : Column 354

grant or renewal of certificates. The comments that I have heard this evening will be particularly pertinent to that.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Does the Minister agree that cost is not an issue here? Where people use firearms for recreation, there is no excuse whatever for the process to be subsidised. It is not a matter of cost; it is purely a matter of process—and the costs should be covered by those who require a licence.

Damian Green: The ultimate driver, frankly, is safety; that is what underlies the system. On the issue of cost, the Home Office has received a detailed report from ACPO proposing new firearms fees to allow forces to recover the cost of firearms licensing. In considering the proposal, the Government will look both at the quality of service licence holders receive, which is relevant, and will discuss with ACPO the scope for making some of the current processes more efficient and effective. That will take into account the need to manage risk and ensure public protection.

As we indicated in our response to the Select Committee, we do not consider that separate licensing for shotguns and firearms is causing difficulties. Applying a good reason test in the same way for both categories could be problematic. For example, unlike target shooters, shotgun owners do not always belong to clubs that could vouch that they had shot regularly. However, I assure the House that we will keep this issue under review. As I indicated earlier, the local police must satisfy themselves that an applicant for a certificate is fit to be entrusted with a firearm, and will not present a danger to public safety. This is a particularly heavy responsibility and sits right at the heart of the licensing process. Such is the basis of my discussions with ACPO.

One of the most important points raised by the hon. Gentleman was about the need for medical checks on those who have access to firearms. I completely agree that it is important that the police are made aware of medical conditions that affect a person’s suitability to possess firearms. Both the hon. Gentleman and I will therefore—

7.48 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).