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Lord Renton: My Lords, firearms are used in the easiest, most simple and most menacing acts of international terrorism committed by individuals who move from one country to another. My noble friend's amendment is therefore very important. The Bill would be incomplete without the amendment or something like it.
The proposed new clause would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to prevent the importation of firearms into the United Kingdom by requiring the various police bodies to take steps to prevent their importation. The rather elaborate provisions in subsection (2) are not easy to define but my noble friend has gone as far as possible in the drafting. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. Indeed, I hope that noble Lords in all parts of the House will feel that it is brought forward with good intentions and that something must be done along the lines of the amendment.
We know that firearms crime has risen. The Bills have failed and we have to admit it. What do the Government hope to achieve by the amnesty they have announced? Does it foretell more legislation of the kind we have had already? The previous amnesty foretold that; I hope it is not true.
When the Minister wrote to my noble friend, he kindly sent me a letter on 18th February in which he stated that the Government could turn to Interpol to find out anything they wanted to know about weapons which had been illegally imported into this country. How successful has that arrangement been? It would be very much better if there were a deliberate attempt to find out about imported firearms in the way suggested by my noble friend's amendment.
Will the Government know what proportion of the firearms surrendered in the amnesty have been imported recently? It seems rather doubtful that they will, but there may be a way of finding out. That would be important. If the Government do not like my noble friend's amendment, perhaps they will tell us why.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, in a very brief appearance in Grand Committee I, too, supported the amendment. I do so again today. I would much rather see this amendment on the statute book than the proposed minimum sentence of five years for illegal possession of firearms. The important point is that it is a mandatory minimum sentence, which is particularly odd as the maximum sentence for the offence is seven years. It hardly gives a judge much room for manoeuvre if the minimum sentence is five years and the maximum sentence is seven years. Surely it would be better to increase the maximum sentence rather than impose a mandatory minimum sentence. But that may be for another day.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It is good that it has been brought forward again because it makes it quite clear to the Government that Parliament as a wholeor certainly this Houseis very concerned about the real problem with gun crime in this countrythat is, the importation of weapons. As I said in Grand Committee, the Government have tended to concentrate on removing weapons from the possession
I hope that the Government will take the amendment seriously. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will press it to a Division, but if she does I shall certainly vote for it. It would be valuable to have on record the view of the House.
I am concerned about the amnesty because it does not treat the subject seriously. In my viewI may be wrongthe only people who will hand in their guns under the amnesty will be those who perhaps kept them when they should have given them up previously. But they are not the kind of people who will use them. The kind of people who use weapons for intimidation, threat and murder will not give up their guns. Once again, it will be the comparatively innocent who conform to the amnesty.
I hope that the Government will turn their attention from toy guns and removing firearms from those who use them responsibly and legitimately towards cracking down with everything they have got on those people who have firearms to use in crime and, above all, to kill people. That is why I hope that the noble Baroness will press the amendment and that it will be successful.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the amendment does not add anything to what the Government are already doing. It is full of aspirations, and that is all. My noble friend is well advised at the moment in regard to doing something about international crime. When I was a Minister, we also considered the importance of dealing with international crime.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, sits down, is it his view that the matter is already dealt with and is supported by provisions already in the Bill or is he relying on legislation outside the Bill?
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, I support every word said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I hope that the Government realise that the minimum mandatory sentences that they propose will be unacceptable to many people. Far more would be achieved in the area of gun control by preventing the importing of guns into this country rather than worrying about mandatory sentences which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd said, will be unnecessary in these circumstances.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I support the intention of most noble Lords about how, as a society, we seek to make further successful efforts at eradicating the unlawful and dangerous proliferation of guns in our society. I do not differ from noble Lords who have spoken one iota on that, but I seek to illustrate, for two reasons, why I believe that this Bill is not the appropriate legislation for dealing with that issue. First, the Bill is concerned with putting into legislation the Schengen convention, which we have discussed many times. Secondly and perhaps more profoundly, either the Government have already taken action to provide adequate legislation to address these issues or we are clear as to what else we want to do in the future to do so.
We also had a wide-ranging discussion on this matter in Committee. As I said then, the Government are wholly committed to working with their international partners to prevent the unlawful importation of firearms. I am happy to repeat the assurances that I gave in Committee for the wider audience here today. We already have some of the toughest gun controls in the world. We have been working with the police to ensure good security of legally held weapons to prevent them from being stolen, and we are looking at the need to establish stricter controls on deactivation standards.
We are working very closely with our EU partners and with the various UN bodies. We are heavily engaged in ensuring that governments and law enforcement agencies work together as closely as possible within the varying systems so that any gaps are not exploited by those who are organising and profiting from criminal businesses. It is essential to tackle these problems as far upstream as possible. That is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, the Department for International Development and other agencies are assisting governments and law enforcement agencies in countries which are at the head of the chain. Assistance to countries such as Jamaica, Turkey, the Balkan states, Colombia and Pakistan includes training, funding to buy equipment and help in drawing up the right legislation in those countries.
As I said in Committee, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service play a key role in the intelligence-led approach to gun crime, in London as elsewhere. NCIS runs a national firearms tracing service, which provides intelligence on the source and use of guns used in crime.
That will be complemented by a new national computerised forensic firearms intelligence database set up with £1.4 million funding from the Home Office. It will be run within the Forensic Science Service. It will help track the provenance of guns and ammunition used in crime and will be able to identify any links with a gun which may have been used in a number of crimes. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, raised that issue and she will recognise this as a crucial element of our attack on the problem.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked whether the database would include information on guns used in crimes overseas. As I said in my subsequent letter to the noble Baroness, I confirm that this is essentially a domestic service for tracking weapons that come to the notice of a UK police force. Of course, NCIS can turn to Interpol for information on weapons that have come from abroad. I shall speak to that issue in more detail in my response.
In Committee, I referred to the changes that we intended to make in the Criminal Justice Bill. Although this is not the time to discuss them in detail, it might be helpful if I clarified our intentions. We propose to include in the Criminal Justice Bill a provision which will introduce a five-year minimum sentence for the illegal possession of prohibited weapons. We also intend as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to make it an offence to possess an air weapon or an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. We shall also be taking measures to ban the sale, manufacture and import of firearms using self-contained air cartridge systems, such as Brocock, and to license those already held.
Therefore, there are three clear illustrations of where this is quite rightly on the explicit agenda and obligations of those bodies. Amendment No. 71, while useful for provoking a debate, would repeat what is already in operation.
I turn now to the UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms adopted by the General Assembly in May 2001. It was one of three protocols signed at that time, and it was signed by the UK in 2002. The protocol is an important move towards better international regulation of small arms transfers. It creates tough international controls on the movement of firearms and increases international co-operation among police and Customs.
As I said when I responded to questions about why we were setting up our own domestic system, both domestic and international efforts to reduce illicit trafficking rest on the ability to track and trace individual firearms. The protocol will require firearms to be uniquely identified, and the marking of all newly manufactured firearms, as required by the protocol, will be a useful law enforcement tool. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, understands that and the thrust of her amendment is whether there would be a danger of a flood of importation in advance of the measure being put in place.
We are alert to that risk. We have no intelligence or other evidence so far that there is a serious risk. However, we would be foolish if we were complacentour police forces and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise are on alert. At present, our position is that while this is a possibility, there is no evidence to signal a major threat. However, we would be foolish if we did not recognise that we could be wrong, which is why HMCE are in clear recognition of the importance of tracking that and being alert to it.
Perhaps I may touch further on gun smuggling. While we are not complacent about the risks of further smuggling of firearms, currently the majority of weapons recovered from domestic crimes have been obtained domestically or are converted weapons. The evidence that the police intelligence services have is that the guns being used or displayed within Britain are here as a result of the sources I have signalled. Customs does and will work closely with NCIS and respond to any intelligence from domestic and overseas sources to seek illegal weapons sought to be brought in. In the past 10 months, Customs has made four seizures of significant assignments of weapons. That was made public in the response of my honourable friend John Healey to a question asked by Peter Kilfoyle.
The firearms amnesty is a piece of common sense. If one is looking to strengthen the laws to make the carrying of firearms, or their use, more strictly prohibited, it makes sense now to enable anyone who has a gun, whether legally or illegally acquired, to be able to get rid of it and put it into the hands of the police. One is not Pollyanna-ish about this. One does not expect that it will crack the problem. Although previous gun amnesties have made a contribution, they do not transform the situation. However, if only 1,000 guns are removed from use, it is worth doing. None of us would contradict that.
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