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Illegal Firearms

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

Mr. Speaker, I associate myself—and, I am sure, all Members of the House—with your comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich was an inspiring and powerful parliamentarian. Parliament, her constituents and her family, with whom our thoughts are at this time, will miss her very much.

In September 2007, I set up the tackling gangs action programme to develop multi-agency action in inner-city areas of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. The £1.5 million programme included a day of action, which resulted in 124 arrests and the seizure of 10 real and more than 1,000 imitation firearms. We will build on the work of that programme and continue to work with partners to reduce further the supply of firearms.

I associate myself, Mr. Speaker, with your observations and those of the Home Secretary about the loss of our friend Gwyneth Dunwoody.

I thank the Home Secretary personally for her strong commitment to the agenda on guns and gangs; there is no doubt that what she is trying to do is making a real difference. However, although it is vital that we consider technical solutions for taking the gun physically out of circulation when that is possible, in the end the only way to resolve and drive against the problem of guns in our inner cities is by changing hearts and minds and the culture that says that the gun is acceptable. That means working with young people and finding them beneficial activities that they want to do and that the rest of society wants them to be involved in.

I met my hon. Friend and representatives of community organisations and the police in his constituency, and that demonstrated to me what a difference can be made on the issue when the community stands by the police. When I visited his constituency, I was particularly pleased to see the work done by local police officers in Plymouth Grove primary school, for example. They were getting in early, alongside teachers, and not only talking to children and young people about the dangers of guns, but giving them the strength to resist some of the pressures, from their peers and others, that might well have led them into trouble later in life. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. What he has mentioned has been an important part of the programme.

I also associate myself with the Home Secretary’s remarks about the late Gwyneth Dunwoody. She was indeed a remarkable parliamentarian who will be much missed and long remembered.

I revert to the question. If the day of action was so splendidly successful, can we not have at least a week of action?

The day of action is part of an ongoing programme of work in which police forces, particularly in areas that face the most gun crime, are involved all the time. It was followed up in some areas by a week of action and in others by a month of action. That work certainly focuses activity, and it will continue.

A number of employees of the House have mentioned to me their sadness at the loss of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, and I should like to pass those messages on.

I am pleased by my right hon. Friend’s response to the first question. Shortly after we were elected in 1997, a lot of people from Dunblane, whose children had been killed, came to sit in the Gallery. We were promised, among other things, that there would be a national register of people who held handguns. How far have we gone down that road?

My hon. Friend is right that we have strengthened our legislation in a whole range of areas; it is now among the strongest gun legislation in the world. I reassure her that the roll-out of the national firearms licensing management system to all forces in England and Wales is now complete. The system is fully operational.

As someone who was brought up in Dunblane and lives near Hungerford, I feel very strongly about the subject of gun crime in inner cities and elsewhere. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is not about £1.5 million-worth of one-day actions collecting 10 guns, or about working with children in schools, both of which are perfectly legitimate things, and that the only thing that the little neds who carry guns illegally will understand is tough sentencing? If these guys know that they are going to go to prison, they will not carry the guns.

That is why I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that in bringing forward the proposals for a minimum sentence for gun possession we have increased the average length of time that criminals serve for gun possession from about an average of 18 months in 2002 to well over 50 months now.

Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members fully associate ourselves with the remarks made about Gwyneth Dunwoody. She was a truly formidable politician.

The Secretary of State knows that in Scotland we have a particular problem with airguns, which have resulted in three deaths and more than 1,000 injuries in the past few years. It is of such a scale that the Scottish Government have organised a gun summit that will be attended by the police, gun control campaigners and shooting groups—everybody other than herself and Home Office Ministers. Surely she could take a couple of hours out of her diary to come to the summit to explain what the UK Government are going to do about the issue, because if she does not, the impression will be that she could not care less about it and is prepared to do absolutely nothing.

It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman’s party is using the very good initiative of the summit and a whole range of actions to make cheap party political points. I have discussed gun control with his colleagues in the Scottish Executive, and I discussed the issue of airguns. They, like me, will therefore be pleased that the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 ensures that it is now necessary to have a licence to sell an air weapon and has increased to 18 the age limit for acquiring or possessing an air weapon. It is probably better if we work together to implement that legislation and to review what more we need to do, instead of making cheap political points that have more to do with the campaign for independence than with a campaign against gun crime.