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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I carefully described the difficulties the then Home Secretary experienced in devising legislation that would meet the aspirations of the public and the shooting world. I do not accept the view that the Minister put forward.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I take it that the noble Earl, speaking for the Opposition, therefore does not support the former government's production of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. It must be one or the other. Do I take it that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, says that the compensation scheme which the former government--the present Opposition--brought in under the 1997 Act was appropriate or not appropriate?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, how is it different? It is allegedly an integral part of the scheme. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spent some time in his winding-up remarks complaining that the Government had been derelict in setting up the compensation scheme in practice. What is his attitude?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may come back on the point in relation to the compensation scheme. The compensation scheme is now set in a very different scenario. Under that Act there was at least an opportunity for gun clubs to survive, albeit in different
Earl Attlee: My Lords, under the previous Bill, as the Minister knows full well, .22 shooting could continue--in difficult circumstances, but it could continue--and therefore there would be a viable role for a shooting club. Under this Bill there will be no role whatever for any shooting club that has a range shorter than around 25 metres. The circumstances therefore are completely different.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the circumstances are not completely different. Earlier this afternoon noble Lords said that businesses have gone bankrupt; clubs have had to close down and people have had to take out mortgages because they were unable to fulfil their financial obligations. All that happened before the Second Reading of this No. 2 Bill and therefore it is entirely attributable to the legislation brought in by the former Government--the present Opposition. If I have not misremembered, I understood that the noble Earl was hotly against that. But time goes past and the memory dims.
My noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon maintained his principled objection. He is a purist upon that. I recognise his stance. He does not deviate. He does not blow with the wind and he does not change his mind as governments change. He has been consistent throughout. I admire him for that, though I happen to disagree with his approach on the principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right when she said that it is a matter of balance, and that was the approach put forward by noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Thomas of Gresford. It is a conclusion about which people can disagree.
A large number of detailed questions have been asked. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, inquired about the difference in lethality between a .22 rimfire handgun and a sawn-off shotgun. The answer is plain, so I shall offer it. A sawn-off shotgun is a prohibited weapon already. The maximum penalty for possession is 10 years' imprisonment. The mere act of shortening a shotgun is itself an offence which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment. Anyone who has had anything to do with practising in the courts knows perfectly well that if such a weapon is used--for
Other questions were asked, some of which were detailed and others of which were rather more panoramic. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, asked why the inspectorate report for Scotland on firearms licensing has not been made public. My understanding, subject to further research and correction, is that the report was in draft form at the time the events in Dunblane occurred. It was thought thereafter that the Dunblane inquiry had overtaken the report.
I was asked how those who possess handguns will be able to deliver their weapons to police stations if they do not have driving licences. I would guess that most people involved in target shooting travel to their clubs to shoot. I imagine that they have to transport their weapons to the clubs. In fact, I know that to be the case from personal experience. One should have thought that the problem of travel would not be insuperable.
Related questions were asked about the police and the time given for collection. As I said to your Lordships on the last occasion, we have agreed with ACPO and ACPO (Scotland) that three months is sufficient. We do not think it appropriate to change the arrangements at this very late stage. It ought to be possible, given goodwill, for all owners and possessors of handguns to be able to find a convenient time to hand in their weapons. It has been said that chief constables have differed. I hope that no chief constable has sent out an aggressive, harsh or impolite letter. I entirely agree with noble Lords that the tone of letters is important, particularly bearing in mind that former legal owners of property are to be dispossessed if the Bill becomes an Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Burton, asked a specific question relating to speed loaders and spare parts. I confirm, as he asked me to, that although not covered by the compensation scheme the Government have agreed to make ex gratia payments for speed loaders and speed loader pouches surrendered by certificate holders and dealers. Ex gratia payments will be made to dealers who surrender quantities of spare parts for handguns.
The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, asked a specific question relating to the device, which is what it would be, of buying old, virtually unusable guns. I am happy to deal with his question. The compensation is payable only for handguns possessed lawfully on 16th October of last year. That will be evidenced on the individual's firearm certificate. I well understand the noble Earl's question and I hope that I have been able to reassure him on that point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to a police force which I think she was suggesting had behaved unlawfully. The advice given, as I understand it, is that from 1st July it will be illegal to possess a large calibre handgun unless the person in possession is a firearm certificate holder or registered dealer. In those cases the period for surrender continues until 30th September. On the best of our information, although I am always grateful to have further detailed corrections, police forces and their chief constables understand that.
A number of noble Lords said that unnamed police officers or police forces do this, that or the other. I cannot conceivably reply to assertions of that kind. However, I stress, as I said to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, earlier today, that if there are specific questions I am more than happy to have correspondence and to deal with matters as fully as I can.
Earl Peel: My Lords, as I said to the Minister earlier, shooters who are having their guns taken away from them as a result of these various pieces of legislation have already been greatly inconvenienced. I am sure the noble Lord will accept that point. Therefore, it seems to me essential that he and his department instruct the officers of police in their various areas to make this whole process as easy as possible for the shooters to hand in their guns. I gave one example of there being only one point in south Wales where guns could be disposed of. In another instance the local police were insisting that the shooters hand in their guns on a specific day at a specific time. I do not think that is acceptable. We must make every effort to ensure that people can hand in their guns at their convenience as well as that of the police. That is all I am saying. I have received too many examples where the police have been far too stringent. Some consideration must be given to those people who have been greatly inconvenienced already by these two pieces of legislation.
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