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Gun Amnesty

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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If he will make a statement on the gun amnesty. [109756]

The gun amnesty has been a substantial success. By 23 April, the police had taken in 17,216 guns and 483,000 rounds of ammunition. In the west midlands and south Wales, they have taken in two rocket launchers and, in Cumbria, they have taken in hand grenades. We believe that the fact that those weapons are not available for use by criminals is a great success.

I thank the Home Secretary for his decision to grant a gun amnesty, and I congratulate him on the early success on this important issue, which concerns many of my constituents. May I draw his attention to the fact that guns have been used in my constituency and a number of people have been killed? What further steps are the Government taking to address that complex problem?

As my hon. Friend will know, the Criminal Justice Bill will be amended to provide a five-year minimum sentence for carrying a gun, the measures that we have announced on Brocock and converted guns and the new measures in relation to age and other aspects of the ownership of air weapons. Those measures, together with the consultation that we have undertaken across the country, and the work with young people, as well as appropriate communities, are already yielding fruit. The recall of the round table meeting, which will take place this Wednesday, is intended to take that further.

Despite the Home Secretary's words, it is clear that the gun amnesty has been an abject failure in parts of London. Will he make it clear that, rather than putting more statutes on to the statute book, efforts will be made to ensure that we have proper enforcement in London? That involves a vast increase in police numbers, which is what most Londoners now demand.

The two things are not coterminous. The need for additional police in London is undeniable, and we are doing something about it—such as investing more than 6 per cent. this year alone in terms of resources for London. But let me challenge the hon. Gentleman head-on: why does he say that the amnesty been a failure? In three weeks, 17,000 weapons have been handed in, compared with 23,000 immediately after the Dunblane tragedy, when the last amnesty took place. I do not think that 17,000 weapons and 483,000 rounds of ammunition being handed in is a failure; it is a substantial success.

We all welcome the success of the amnesty, but does my right hon. Friend really believe his assertion that it will affect the availability of guns to criminals who wish to use them in the furtherance of crime?

I would not have said it if I did not believe it. The 8,500 shotguns, which are stolen and used to kill other people, are significant. It is true that a percentage of deaths from gun crime, particularly in the Metropolitan London area, involve converted weapons. Converted shotguns and other weapons are included in the 17,000 that have been handed in. Let us rejoice in what we are achieving rather than continually belittling the progress that is being made.

Do the Government have any way of estimating how many guns are held illegally? Is he satisfied that the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill will be sufficient to ensure a significant downturn in the number of gun crimes, which, as the Home Secretary will know, have gone up by 80 per cent. in the last six years?

I do not believe that the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill alone will achieve the goal. As we have said all along—this was the outcome of the consultation—it requires not only a change in culture but a commitment by those communities most affected by and most likely to be the victims of gun crime. The second issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is whether I believe that the five-year sentence is likely to be successful in deterring people. I believe that it is: not on its own but in sending out a signal. If we can get those messages across, we will encourage communities and individuals to be part of that solution.