Documents considered by the Committee on 14 December 2016 Contents

4Control of firearms within the internal market

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Directive amending Council Directive 91/447/EEC on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons

Legal base

Article 114 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Home Office

Document Number

(37338), 14422/15, COM(15) 750

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

4.1This complex and technical proposal—a response to recent terrorist attacks in Europe—would amend the existing Firearms Directive (in force since 1 January 1993) to strengthen controls on the acquisition and possession of firearms for civilian use and their movement within the EU. The proposal reflects many of the recommendations made in an independent evaluation of the Firearms Directive which highlighted inconsistencies in its interpretation and application by Member States. The changes are intended to make it more difficult to acquire firearms (including those that have been deactivated), improve traceability, strengthen cooperation between Member States through a more systematic exchange of information, and establish common standards on the marking of firearms and on deactivation (to ensure that firearms are rendered “irreversibly inoperable”).25

4.2The Government supports the Commission’s efforts to strengthen firearms legislation, highlighting “the paramount need to prevent firearms being diverted by criminals and terrorists from licit markets”, but has identified a number of concerns with some of the detailed changes proposed by the Commission.26 It abstained during the vote in Council in June establishing the Council’s position for trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament which began at the end of September.27

4.3In July, we noted that the Council had made substantial changes to the Commission’s original proposal and expressed concern that they would add to the complexity of the proposal, make differences of interpretation and application more, rather than less, likely and undermine the objective of ensuring a more uniform application of the Directive throughout the EU. In August, the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection agreed a report setting out more than 100 amendments to the Commission proposal.28 This report is intended to inform the European Parliament’s approach to trilogue negotiations with the Council with a view to securing a First Reading agreement by the end of the year—the timetable envisaged in the Commission’s first report on implementing the Security Union.29

4.4In October, we asked the Minister for Policing and Fire Services (Brandon Lewis) to:

4.5We also asked the Minister whether the Government would wish to keep in step with EU legislation on the control of firearms once the UK leaves the EU and how great a risk there might be of lethal weaponry falling into the wrong hands if there were a significant divergence in UK and EU laws.

4.6In his response, the Minister tells us that “the aim is for negotiations to be completed by the end of this year” and invites us to consider clearing the proposed Directive from scrutiny or, if we are unable to do so, to indicate what further information we require.

4.7A press release issued by the European Parliament after the latest trilogue meeting, on 5 December, indicated that the Council and the European Parliament had reached an “agreement in principle […] on the key issues”.30 By contrast, news reports published shortly afterwards suggested that there was “no compromise in sight”31 and that the Commission was threatening to “derail gun law deal”, either by withdrawing its original proposal or insisting that any changes it opposes are agreed unanimously by the Council.32 The main sticking point appears to be the Commission’s reluctance to give ground on the inclusion of semi-automatic firearms in the list of prohibited (Category A) weapons.

4.8Given this uncertain state of affairs, we are not willing to clear the proposed Directive from scrutiny. We ask the Minister to:

4.9The Minister tells us that “at all stages where compromise text has been proposed we continue to adhere to our agreed negotiating mandate”. As the Government abstained when the Council agreed its position for negotiations with the European Parliament in June, we are unclear as to the key elements of the Government’s negotiating mandate. We ask the Minister to explain what they are and, in particular, what deal he would be willing to accept on the classification of firearms which are subject to a general prohibition (Category A weapons).

4.10Pending further information, the proposed Directive remains under scrutiny. We draw the latest developments to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Directive amending Council Directive 91/477/EEC on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons: (37338), 14422/15, COM(15) 750.

Background

4.11Our earlier Reports listed at the end of this chapter provide an overview of the proposed Directive, the Government’s position and the concerns raised by stakeholders.

4.12A recurring concern during our scrutiny of the proposed Directive has been to avoid replicating at EU level the weaknesses in domestic firearms legislation which were identified in the Law Commission report, Firearms Law—Reforms to Address Pressing Problems, published in December 2015. The Law Commission said that the current law in the UK was “so complex that even those who deal with it every day struggle to understand aspects of it” and added that it was “difficult to find”, lacked coherence, and contained loopholes which criminals were able to exploit. In February, the Government announced that it intended to take forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform. We have expressed concern that the piecemeal approach taken by the European Commission would do little to foster public understanding of the EU legal framework, make it more accessible or enhance legal certainty, since it would add a further set of amendments to an already complex law without consolidating the changes made to the Firearms Directive since its adoption in 1991. The multiple amendments proposed by the Council and the European Parliament appear to exacerbate the risk of complexity and fragmentation.

The Minister’s letter of 7 December 2016

4.13The Minister explains why the Government considers that the text agreed by the Council in June “falls short” and how it should be strengthened:

“Our main concern is that the proposals do not go as far as they might in order effectively to tackle the risks of criminal and terrorists being able to access dangerous firearms. Although there has been a strengthening of controls in respect of automatic firearms converted into semi-automatics the text did not go as far as banning these types of weapons as a number of other Member States do not want to go this far.”

4.14The Minister summarises the main changes proposed by the European Parliament and the Government’s position, while making clear that negotiations are still “ongoing”:

Deactivation—the European Parliament’s position is that the Commission Implementing Regulation on deactivation [of] firearms should be integrated within the Directive. We do not agree as we think this overcomplicates the Directive and this is a technical document that is more appropriately kept outside of the Directive. However we do think the Parliament’s focus on this issue has been helpful in pushing forward discussions and the Commission is currently reviewing the Regulation. The UK is represented on the technical expert group.

Conversion of automatic to semi-automatic firearms—the European Parliament’s position is that technical specifications for these conversions should be permitted, which would allow these firearms to be held. We do not agree as we think that if a firearm has once been in a prohibited category it should continue to be so, regardless of any subsequent conversion.

Marking—the European Parliament’s position is that it is not technically feasible to mark and record every essential component. This reflects the position we took in negotiations.

Data systems—the European Parliament’s position is to permit firearms dealers to have an electronic connection (rather than being connected) to the national databases. We think this wording is acceptable because it provides greater flexibility for those Member States, including the UK, which do not have dealers linked to the national database.

Transposition—the European Parliament’s position is for a shorter 12 month deadline. We do not agree as we favour a staged transposition which would allow sufficient time for legislation and technical changes to be brought in.”

4.15The Minister informs us that there have been three rounds of trilogue negotiation to date—on 27 September, 25 October and 15 November—with a fourth to take place on 5 December. He adds:

“At all stages where compromise text has been proposed we continue to adhere to our agreed negotiating mandate.”

4.16Commenting on the risk of regulatory gaps if UK firearms laws were to diverge significantly from EU legislation following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the Minister observes:

“The UK already has one of the most robust firearms licensing systems in the world and an excellent record on enforcement; our controls already go beyond what is proposed in the revised Directive. We have been working with European partners to tackle the threat from illegally trafficked firearms by improving intelligence, information sharing and practical cooperation, and sharing our expertise.”

Previous Committee Reports

Thirteenth Report HC 71-xi (2016–17), chapter 8 (12 October 2016), Seventh Report HC 71-v (2016–17), chapter 9 (6 July 2016), Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), chapter 13 (25 May 2016) and Fifteenth Report HC 342-xiv (2015–16), chapter 9 (16 December 2016).


25 See the Commission fact sheet.

26 See the letter of 9 May 2016 from the former Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning) to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.

27 See the negotiating mandate agreed by the Council on 10 June 2016.

28 See the Report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection dated 2 August 2016.

29 See our Eighteenth Report HC 71-xvi (2016–17), chapter 14 (16 November 2016).

30 See the press release on the outcome of the trilogue on firearms: Statement by Parliament’s lead negotiator (Vicky Ford).

31 See the Euractiv report, Firearms Directive dispute continues, no compromise in sight, published on 8 December 2016.

32 See the Politico article, Commission threatens to derail gun law deal, published on 6 December 2016.




16 December 2016