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Firearms Bill

Debated on Wednesday 15 March 2023

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir Gary Streeter

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)

† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)

Chamberlain, Wendy (North East Fife) (LD)

† Davies-Jones, Alex (Pontypridd) (Lab)

† Dhesi, Mr Tanmanjeet Singh (Slough) (Lab)

† Dines, Miss Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)

† Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)

† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)

† Smith, Greg (Buckingham) (Con)

† Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)

† Sunderland, James (Bracknell) (Con)

† Webbe, Claudia (Leicester East) (Ind)

Dominic Stockbridge, Liam Laurence Smyth, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Wednesday 15 March 2023

[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Firearms Bill

Welcome, colleagues, to this important Committee. My selection and grouping list for today’s sitting is available online and in the room. We will have just one debate, on the selected amendments and on clauses 1, 2 and 3 stand part of the Bill. I will first call Holly Lynch to move amendment 1. At the completion of the debate, I will ask her whether she wishes to withdraw her amendments or press them to a Division. As Shaun Bailey, who introduced the Bill, is now a Home Office Parliamentary Private Secretary—congratulations, Shaun, I think—I will call Simon Baynes to speak to the Bill, and other Members will then be able to catch my eye and be called to speak. It is a narrow, two-purpose Bill, and the amendments are very narrow. I have a reputation for being very fierce on Second Reading speeches in Committee, when we should be focusing on amendments.

Clause 1

Miniature rifle ranges and shooting galleries

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert —

“(4B) Before a firearm certificate may be issued or renewed for an operator of a range or gallery under this section, the chief officer of police must be satisfied that there is nothing in the social media profile of the applicant for an operator’s licence to indicate that the applicant is not fit to be entrusted with a miniature rifle or ammunition for a miniature rifle.”

The intention of this amendment is to ensure that social media profiles are taken into account in the granting of the firearms licences which will be required under this Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert—

“(4C) Before a firearm certificate may be issued or renewed for an operator of a range or gallery under this section, the chief officer of police must meet privately with members of the applicant’s family or household before deciding whether the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm under section 27 of this Act.”

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“In section 32ZA (Fees in connection with authority under section 5), after subsection (3) insert—

‘(3A) Any regulations relating to fees for licences issued under section 11 of this Act relating to miniature rifle ranges must require payment equal to the expected cost of issuing such licences.’”

Clause stand part.

Clauses 2 and 3 stand part.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, in these important proceedings. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich West on the progression of his private Member’s Bill and the hon. Member for Clwyd South, who is the custodian of the legislation this afternoon. I will speak to amendments 1 to 3, which are in my name, and clauses 1 to 3.

We very much welcome the fact that the Bill will clamp down on loopholes related to miniature rifles. Clause 1 is fundamental to that; it makes limited changes to the Firearms Act 1968 by introducing a requirement for the operators of miniature rifle ranges to obtain a firearm certificate and by restricting such ranges to .22 rimfire weapons only. Clause 2 will introduce a new offence of possessing component parts of ammunition with intent to manufacture, and provides clear definitions and sentences. We recognise that the Bill follows the publication of the firearms safety consultation, which sought views on improving the controls on miniature rifle ranges. Some 73% of those who responded to the consultation agreed or strongly agreed that the operator of a miniature rifle range should be required to have a firearm certificate.

We support the legislation, but there is concern that it is very limited in scope and misses an opportunity to deliver a significant and long-sought-after tightening up of the firearms licensing regime more broadly. I have spoken to police officers involved in firearms licensing, who tell me that there are examples of miniature rifles being adapted into more dangerous weapons and used to facilitate criminality. It was felt that the requirement for someone who is operating a miniature rifle range to apply for a firearms licence should be accompanied by further conditions, in recognition of the fact that they are running such an establishment, rather than simply possessing a firearm. It was also felt that the running of the range itself should be subject to routine checks on compliance, but that is missing from clauses 1 and 2.

Generally speaking, we rightly have robust firearms laws in the UK, which have broad and enduring support. Firearms incidents are rare, but all Members will be deeply troubled by recent examples of the fatal use of firearms by licensed firearms holders. We have tabled amendments 1 to 3, while recognising the scope of the legislation, in the hope that they could be rolled out to firearms licensing more broadly. They seek to introduce sensible and proportionate changes to the licensing regime, taking into consideration the learning from recent atrocities.

Amendment 1 would ensure that a person’s social media presence was taken into account when an application for a firearms licence under clause 1 was being considered. Members will be aware of the report summarising the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation into the prior contact between Devon and Cornwall police and Jake Davison, who committed the Plymouth mass shooting, which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will go into in more detail. The report stated that Davison

“posted prolifically on Reddit… about incels and incel ideology”.

Although he did not express an overt wish to harm anyone, he was involved in the heavily misogynistic and violent incel online community, and

“He also discussed his poor mental health, disillusionment with life and relationships, and dislike of his mother on Reddit and YouTube.”

The report did not identify any individual instance of misconduct or poor performance from Devon and Cornwall police in relation to the vetting of Davison’s social media during the licensing process, as at that time the statutory guidance on firearms licensing included limited advice on conducting social media checks.

In its six recommendations, the Independence Office for Police Conduct stated that statutory guidance on firearms licensing should be amended

“to require that open-source research is conducted for all applications, with more intrusive checks for high risk applicants.”

Amendment 1 reflects that recommendation. Again, it is within the scope of the Bill; I hope that the Government will recognise that and adopt he amendment.

Amendment 2 states:

“Before a firearm certificate may be issued or renewed for an operator of a range or gallery under this section, the…police must meet privately with members of the applicant’s family or household before deciding whether the applicant is fit to be entrusted with”

a firearms licence. In its December 2022 report, “Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland”, following the Skye shootings, the Scottish Affairs Committee recommended that

“the UK Government change the statutory guidance on firearms licensing to more strongly recommend that police forces involve present and former conjugal partners in the application and renewal process. Echoing the system used in Canada”.

In the most recent instances of unlawful and fatal use of licensed firearms, family members of the perpetrators faced the greatest risks. Amendment 2 would place a duty on police forces to discuss the applicant’s suitability for a licence with their family members in private meetings. That would significantly enhance the referee system. The Scottish Affairs Committee report stated that it had significant concerns about the process,

“which must be addressed before it is fit for purpose.”

It noted

“concerns about applicants canvassing for referees, and lack of mandatory consultation with people close to firearms licence applicants.”

Amendment 3 is almost consequential to amendments 1 and 2, but provides for a long overdue rebalancing. It is the first ask of any police force when we raise firearms licensing with it. The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire said on Second Reading that the Government

“have committed to consulting this year—probably in the summer or early autumn—about increasing…fees to make sure that the full costs are recovered by police forces.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2023; Vol. 728, c. 1076.]

I very much welcome that. I hope hon. Members will agree that the proposals are entirely appropriate, and that the proposals for additional checks are grounded in clear recommendations born out of painful lessons learned.

The financial implications of licensing are addressed in amendment 3. On Second Reading, the Minister revealed that as of 2 March, four constabularies in England and Wales had unacceptably high backlogs for firearms licences, including temporary licences. I suspect that resourcing is part of the challenge for forces, but do any of us constituency MPs want officers to come off the frontline, and step away from neighbourhood policing, in order to bring down the backlog in firearms licensing?

Under the amendment, only the costs of the process would be recouped, but even that would be a significant rebalancing for police forces. I hope the Government will accept the amendment. They could run a pilot scheme covering miniature rifles, with a view to considering its merit, and then extend it to all firearms. I hope the Government and the Minister are listening. We certainly welcome this Bill; we just wish there was a little more in it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and to take the Bill forward on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West. As the hon. Member for Halifax said, I am the custodian of the Bill, which is a big responsibility, and I greatly appreciate the role. I also took the Bill through its Second Reading in the Chamber on 3 March.

It is widely acknowledged that the UK has some of the toughest gun controls in the world, but it is important that the Government keep those controls under review and take action to strengthen them further when evidence suggests that that is necessary. I thank the hon. Member for Halifax for her comments. Before I speak about the clauses, I will address her proposed amendments. I value her comments, and she made some valid points, specifically about social media profiles, the chief officer meeting applicants’ families and households, and ensuring that payment equals the cost of issuing licences. I trust that the Minister has heard and taken on board those points, but given the narrow, very specific scope ofthe Bill, I question whether this is the correct place for the discussions brought about by the amendments. Amendments 1 and 2 pose wider, valid questions to explore. Amendment 3 could perhaps be covered by secondary legislation. As the hon. Lady said, these points need broader discussion, but that is not possible within the scope of the Bill and given what we hope to achieve today. However, I appreciate her bringing the amendments forward.

The clauses will further strengthen firearms controls by addressing two vulnerabilities that could be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and those with malicious intent. Clause 1 removes the exemption in firearms controls that allows a person to operate a miniature rifle range without first obtaining a firearm certificate from the local police. The Bill will place a requirement on them to obtain a firearm certificate, and they will therefore be subject to the important police checks that are done before a certificate is issued. Those checks cover the suitability of a person’s having access to firearms for a legitimate purpose—in this case, to operate a miniature rifle range—and ensure that the firearms and associated ammunition will be handled and stored safely. The firearms used in miniature rifle ranges, which are rifles chambered for .22 rimfire cartridges, must in all other circumstances be held on a certificate issued by the police. Clause 1 will helpfully clarify in law that these are the firearms used at the rifle ranges, and will bring their control in line with controls on those firearms in all other circumstances.

Clause 2 gives the police the power that they need to prevent criminals from manufacturing unlawful ammunition. The key components of ammunition are the propellant, which helps to propel a projectile from a firearm by burning rapidly, and the primer, which is an explosive chemical compound that ignites the propellant. Both are already controlled, and there are offences relating to the unlawful possession of complete ammunition. However, the police have expressed concern that these controls are not sufficient to prevent criminals from acquiring the components and going on to unlawfully manufacture ammunition. The clause will close that gap by making it an offence to possess the components of ammunition with the intent to manufacture unlawful ammunition.

I am advised that there will be law-abiding shooters who may have components of ammunition that they use lawfully, for such purposes as reloading ammunition, which they are legally able to possess by virtue of their firearms certificate. The offence in clause 2 has therefore been drafted in a way that will not criminalise such lawful activities. It requires first that the person committing the new offence has any of the components in their possession; secondly, that the person has the intent of manufacturing ammunition; and thirdly and critically, that the person would have no lawful basis for having the ammunition once it was assembled and complete. In that way, the clause ensures that those who are able to hold ammunition by virtue of a firearm certificate issued under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968, or who are registered firearms dealers under the Act and permitted to possess or manufacture such ammunition, will not be caught by the new offence when going about their lawful activities.

This is a small but important Bill. Events such as those in Plymouth in August 2021, or more recently at Epsom College, are clear reminders that we cannot afford to be complacent about the risks that firearms can present. The Bill will seek to address two identified vulnerabilities in this country’s robust firearms controls, and it is right to take action to address those vulnerabilities. I have pleasure in presenting the Bill to the Committee.

Thank you, Sir Gary. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I thank the hon. Members for West Bromwich West, and for Clwyd South, for promoting and sponsoring the Bill. It is a welcome change to the gun laws.

As alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, in my constituency we suffered a tragedy in August 2021, when five members of our community were shot by someone with a pump-action rifle. That experience will inform my comments on the amendments. I hope that the Minister will pass them on to the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, who will, towards the end of the month, meet face to face members of the Keyham and Ford communities affected by the tragedy, to look at what came out of the prevention of future deaths report.

The Bill will make a welcome change to the Firearms Act 1968, which is outdated. As we can see from the amendments that the Bill will make to the Act, it needs further improvement. There is a case for not only passing the Bill, but using it to further review not just the 1968 Act but all our firearms legislation, to ensure that it is fit and proper for the 21st century. Ad hoc updates are welcome, but they prove that, overall, the collective body of gun laws needs to be examined prudently to ensure that it is fit for purpose. A full review of gun laws and licensing should be an important part of that.

The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax are useful, and are informed by our experience in Plymouth. There is a big distinction between police forces when it comes to looking at social media profiles. There is a clear need for national training and standards on the assessment of social media profiles. It seems logical that when someone is applying for a gun certificate for a miniature rifle range or for any other firearm, their social media should be assessed properly. That is not easy. As you might know, Sir Gary, I tweet fairly regularly—you might tweet slightly less—and there is a lot of content out there. The question of how that is assessed is important. Is it done by a human or an algorithm? If by an algorithm, what key words are we looking for? How often does someone have to say a word for it to be a concern? Does that ultimately go to a human being to look at? The House needs to debate the details of social media checking to ensure that it is appropriate.

The principle, however, is that everyone who applies for a gun certificate or its renewal, be it for a pump-action firearm or a miniature rifle, should be able to pass rigorous, basic qualifications—not infringing on freedom of speech—as to their suitability to hold a weapon. That seems to be an important principle. Amendment 1 is reasonable, although I suspect that the Government are not too keen on it. I would like the Minister to consider the principle further, however. Some changes in this direction have already been implemented, which I welcome, but more can be done.

Amendment 2 on household checks is also welcome. It does not necessarily apply to our experience in Plymouth, but there is a correlation between domestic violence and gun incidents. Applicants’ suitability to hold or keep a firearm—they may eventually get other firearms on the basis of that certificate—should be based not just on their social media or whether they have legitimate use for a firearm, but on the experiences of those around them, and whether they can be vouched for. That raises the question of the number of referees required; the topic is out of scope of this Bill, but if we ask a household member for their views, how robust a reference will they be? The system of review could benefit from this amendment.

Finally, on full cost recovery, the principle that the cost of a firearm certificate should be borne by the applicant is important. I welcome what the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire said in the House recently on the Plymouth shootings. In effect, he said that a consultation will be forthcoming, and the Government are likely to consult on full cost recovery. Applying for a firearms licence costs only £79, and a renewal is only £49. That in no way covers the policing resources required to look at the suitability of an individual adequately. Full cost recovery is a really important bar. It would ensure that when someone applies for a firearm or shotgun certificate, whether for a miniature rifle or any other firearm, the police force had adequate resources to deal with that. Devon and Cornwall has the most guns of any part of the country. The gap between the cost to the police of licensing firearms and the income from those certificates is huge, which means that resources that should be spent on frontline policing are being diverted to reviews of people’s suitability to hold a licence.

There is a case for responsible gun ownership. I spoke to members of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation recently, who feel strongly about that. If we are to have a system in which a responsible gun owner can possess a weapon, there should be adequate checks, so that a gun owner has certainty that whoever they are shooting next to, however they shoot, is as qualified as they are, and as fit and proper a person as they are, to possess a weapon. I imagine that views on who those people should be, and what the criteria should be, will vary across the House, but cross-party support for the principle of full cost recovery is growing fast. Amendment 3 on this subject, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, is a good one.

Clause 2 is about possessing component parts of ammunition. As I mentioned, I want firearms laws to be fit for the 21st century, which means addressing the impact of 3D printing on the availability of firearms and some components of ammunition. At the moment, 3D printing is used mainly for handguns. A design can be downloaded from the internet, and someone with a 3D printer can print a handgun and other kinds of weaponry. It is also possible for them to print elements of ammunition that fit the gun. On my reading, the clause does not cover 3D printing; I would be grateful if the Minister had a look at whether it should be covered, and whether providing a 3D printer for the purpose of illegally manufacturing ammunition should be included in the Bill, perhaps when it reaches the House of Lords. Through the clause, we want to prevent people who should not have ammunition from getting it, but modern technologies may be a route through which they can get it. They need not have a 3D printer; it could be that they are provided with one for that purpose. Although this is a technical issue, it is worth looking at, so that we can future-proof the legislation.

There is cross-party support for the community in Plymouth, after what it has been through. I am grateful for all the support that has been offered to my community. The most important thing that we can do in Plymouth is prevent another tragedy from ever happening. The best way of doing that is to review gun laws calmly and coolly, cross-party and non-politically, so that we improve them, and so that any faults can be removed. That is why I welcome the Bill, but I hope that it is the start of a much larger, cross-party review of legislation, to make sure that we have gun laws that are fit for the 21st century.

I declare my interest as chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council. I have to start by saying that I was somewhat surprised to see the measures presented in a private Member’s Bill, rather than Government legislation. There was a full Government consultation on the issue, with a very large number of responses. It came to a consensus—I think that has been generally recognised this afternoon—but one does still wonder: why a private Member’s Bill? Having said that, the Bill is good, including from the BSSC’s perspective. I congratulate the Bill’s promoter—or should I say promoters? We need to thank the very large number of people who contributed to the consultation, and to the drafting of the clauses, not least the National Small-bore Rifle Association, which created the framework of clause 1 on miniature rifle ranges.

On clause 1, target shooting with small-bore rifles is a challenging sport that is open to men and women of all ages, and accessible to competitors with a wide range of disabilities. British shooters regularly achieve international success, and since 2000, the home nations competing at the Commonwealth games have won seven gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals in small-bore rifle shooting. The law allows people to use small-calibre rifles at miniature rifle ranges without holding a firearm certificate. That exemption has provided an opportunity to introduce scouts, cadets, youth organisations, schools, colleges, universities and the wider public to the sport of shooting. I welcome the fact that the Government recognise the value of that exemption and are retaining it.

The BSSC agrees that the operator of a miniature rifle range should hold a firearm certificate in order to purchase, acquire and possess firearms and ammunition. That will ensure that they are subject to the same checks as other firearm owners and that they are responsible for the security of the firearms and ammunition. Miniature rifle ranges have traditionally used .22 rim-fire rifles. I agree that that should remain the case. I am pleased that the Government have clarified the point, and that it has appeared in the Bill.

Firearms law is administered by the police, in accordance with guidance issued by the Home Office, and no doubt the Minister will explain that the guidance is to be amended to recognise the new legislation. The non-statutory guidance sets out the “good reason” that is required to justify possession of a firearm. I will be grateful if the Minister confirms that the operation of a miniature rifle range will be regarded as a good reason for possessing suitable firearms and ammunition.

Large numbers of law-abiding shooters reload their own cartridges. They do so to save costs, to improve accuracy and to provide them with ammunition that is not commercially available—for example, for vintage or historical firearms. Viable ammunition requires a primer and a propellant, and there are already controls on those components. Some elements of the drafting of clause 2 on ammunition components—specifically, bullets and cartridge cases—mean that those are not controlled. That may need some review for clarity. I hope that the Minister and the Bill’s promoter can engage on that as the Bill proceeds.

Completed cartridges, to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies, may be possessed only with a suitably conditioned firearm certificate. Any ammunition loaded must conform to the calibre and quantity specified on the firearm certificate, and cartridges must be stored securely to prevent access to them by unauthorised people. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South recognised that in his remarks. Shooters who hold the relevant, valid certificates, permits and licences, and who load section 1 cartridges authorised by their certificates, do not commit an offence.

The BSSC was consulted on the changes proposed by the Government and discussed those matters with them. It will no doubt remain a matter for the police and the courts as to how intent to manufacture ammunition unlawfully is to be proven. However, I am satisfied that in the case of lawful shooters, reloading ammunition that they have authority to possess, no offence is committed under the proposed legislation.

On the Opposition amendments, I note that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Halifax, referred to recent incidents. I understand her wishing to debate such issues—I do not in any way discount them, or indeed the comments of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport in that regard, because they are important—but I hope that the Minister believes that we need to stand back, review the facts, the coroners’ reports and other evidence, and consult, rather than legislating immediately in a private Member’s Bill.

I am delighted to speak in the Bill Committee, not least because I was for a decade a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ firearms committee, working alongside NABIS, the National Ballistics Intelligence Service. I therefore welcome the Bill, which is much needed.

For more than 25 years, we have prided ourselves in the UK on having the best firearms legislation in the world. We only have to look to places such as America to see how good the UK is, and we cannot deny the strength of our firearms legislation. However, there is a clear need, 25 years on, to address some problems with it.

We need new legislation partly because the internet has grown, and there is now 3D printing, which can produce 3D guns. The internet also allows people to order ammunition, leading to the disruption we have seen. People receive parcels of ammunition just through using the internet.

Guns are being manufactured to exploit loopholes in the law. We should address that and the growth of the internet in relation to weapons that were not legislated against 25 years ago. I therefore welcome the actions of the hon. Member for West Bromwich West in promoting the Bill. I also welcome the important amendments that the hon. Member for Halifax tabled.

We have an opportunity to address aged legislation, and it is important to deal with all the loopholes. I will not say much more because many have campaigned long and hard on the issue. When I sat on the ACPO firearms committee, it was as an independent, but we sat with all parties that were interested in firearms—those who supported the growth in firearms as well as those who opposed them.

We know the deep damage that firearms can do. That damage affects whole communities and neighbourhoods, not just single lives. We need to move further to tackle the loopholes and it is therefore important to address people’s suitability to hold a licence, and to have the ability to look at their online behaviour.

I tabled a new clause—I will not go into it because it was not selected—to address air weapons. That is a big loophole, which should be tackled. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said, I hope that the Bill is the start of trying to address the loopholes in firearms legislation. That is vital for significant communities.

I came to the ACPO firearms committee because of the disproportionate effect of gun murders on black communities in London. I spent a significant amount of time working with the police to address the disproportionate impact of gun violence and gun murders on specific communities. The fact that the number of firearms has not grown exponentially, as it has in other countries, particularly the US, is partly because of our legislation, but also because of the activism of groups on the ground. When groups such as the Gun Control Network highlight the loopholes, we should listen to them and give the important issues that they raise a greater airing.

We can do much more through extending the Bill’s provisions. I hope that we all support the Bill, but I believe that we can do much more to tackle the loopholes so that we do not have the sort of incidents that we have seen. They may be small in number, but they have a massive impact. We must never forget that.

Sir Gary, it is a pleasure to appear in front of you. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West for promoting this modest-in-size, but very important Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South for being its custodian. I thank Opposition Members for the consensual way in which they have worked, and for the eloquence shown today. I thank all those who have contributed. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has a lot to contribute in this area, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon has a lot of expertise, and I thank the hon. Member for Leicester East for her interest in this subject.

At the outset, I should declare that I may be one of the few members of this Committee who had a hobby as a keen handgun shooter. It might be a matter of interest to the Committee that I left it until the very last day to hand my Browning in—it was a wonderful present that I treasured and looked after—and that was the same day as my second son was born. That was an interesting day for me. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That was the second of my four sons, who are now all grown up.

I will speak briefly about the amendments and clauses. Amendment 1 would have the effect of mandating in law that the police must check the social media profile of any person applying for a firearm certificate for the purposes of operating a miniature rifle range before issuing such a certificate, and to be satisfied that the checks do not reveal anything that suggests that the person should not have access to a miniature rifle or ammunition for such a rifle.

Clause 1, to which the amendment relates, removes the existing exemption in firearms controls that allows a person to operate a miniature rifle range without first obtaining a firearm certificate from the local police. That means that, in future, any person who wishes to operate such a rifle range will first need to apply to the police to obtain a firearm certificate, issued under the Firearms Act 1968. The applicant will therefore be subject to all the checks relating to suitability that the police conduct on all applicants who seek to obtain a firearm licence. Those checks are set out in the statutory guidance to the police on firearms licensing that came into effect in November 2021 and which was refreshed and strengthened on 14 February this year—there is no relevance to Valentine’s day.

The statutory guidance requires the police to consider conducting an open source check of social media presence and the activity of the person who applies for the firearm certificate to establish whether he or she has openly or repeatedly expressed or sympathises with views that may suggest that their access to firearms would be inappropriate. The checks that are sought by the amendment would be considered when a person applies for a licence to operate a miniature rifle range, or indeed for any other purpose, and not just for those seeking to operate a miniature rifle range, which would be the effect of the amendment.

The police have a legal obligation to have regard to the statutory guidance, which will be reviewed, in exercising their firearms licensing functions. The Government have said that we will keep the guidance under review and will not hesitate to refresh it and to strengthen it further whenever the evidence suggests that that is required.

The Government will consider such further changes to the guidance now, and possibly further changes in the law, following the outcomes of the recent inquests into those who were tragically shot dead by Jake Davison in Plymouth on 12 August 2021, and the expansive recommendations made by the coroner. Those recommendations sit alongside the outcomes and recommendations made by the Independent Office for Police Conduct following the investigation into the issue of a firearm licence to Jake Davison, and also recommendations made by the Scottish Affairs Committee, following its review of firearms licensing. It is clear that the Government will further strengthen the checks and controls on firearms licensing in the coming weeks and months.

Specifically in relation to social media checks, the Government have noted in the statutory guidance that the National Police Chiefs’ Council will develop a new national model, which I am sure will be helpful. When ready, it will assist all police forces in conducting social media checks in cases, to help them meet the requirements of the statutory guidance. It will be very useful to have a national scheme so that we do not have pockets or silos of good or bad practice, which is very important. Against that background, I would be grateful if the amendment were withdrawn.

I move briefly to amendment 2, which would have the effect of mandating that the police must meet privately with members of the family or household of a person seeking a firearm certificate in order to operate a miniature rifle range before they make a decision on whether to grant such a certificate. The underlying purpose of the amendment is clear and sensible. Those who know the applicant best and those who have a unique insight into the applicant’s temperament or behaviour may be particularly well placed to provide information about suitability. It may of course be difficult in some circumstances for an applicant’s partner or close family member to provide information that directly results in the application being refused. That person could be subjected to reprisals if the applicant considers that that person is to blame for the refusal. The statutory guidance for the police on their firearms licensing functions, which was refreshed by the Government on 14 February, covers that point explicitly in relation to partners where domestic abuse may be an issue.

I recognise that the scope of the amendment is not restricted to domestic abuse, but has rather more general applicability. In that context, it is worth noting that the statutory guidance to which I have referred invites the police to consider whether to interview individuals other than the applicant or their referees. It mentions the applicant’s partner specifically, where the police consider that contact to be necessary to assess suitability. Again, we are looking to good practice throughout, which is very important. The guidance does not mandate that contact in all cases, which may be the purpose of the amendment, but it draws attention to the fact that the amendment as it stands would have the effect of mandating an interview with members of the applicant’s family or household only in the cases of those wishing to operate miniature rifle ranges rather than in the generality of firearms applications. I know that perhaps that is not the amendment’s intention, but that is what it would do.

The Government feel that that the distinction is unhelpful, however they are keeping the statutory guidance as a whole under review and will consider further changes which may or may not include the terms of the amendment following the outcomes of the recent inquests. I am certain that the Government will consider whether it would be appropriate to amend the guidance to address the specific points addressed by the amendment.

A further review of referees will be undertaken and its results will be incorporated in the statutory guidance, resulting in stronger and more robust checks. I know that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will be happy that that is the way forward.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South said, the Government take the subject very seriously. The UK Government have some of the toughest gun controls in the world, but, as the hon. Member for Leicester East said, it is important that we keep all controls under review and take action when necessary to strengthen the laws further where the evidence suggests that that must be the way forward.

I have been impressed by the nature of the debate and the sincerity with which all speakers have contributed. I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to debate the Bill and ask that it be allowed to proceed.

I thank the Minister for her thoughtful contribution to the consideration of the Bill. She has put to me that scope is the reason why our amendments will not have the desired impact. She is entirely right, and I put to her that scope is exactly why the amendments will not have the desired impact. That does not mean that there is no merit in the amendments, and it is clear from today’s contributions that there is broad consensus that the amendments have been born out of the important lessons learned, having had a good look at recent tragedies.

I hope that there is progress on this matter, and a commitment particularly on amendment 3 to consult on the cost of firearms licensing. I hope that the Minister takes back to her Home Office colleagues the sense of consensus and the urgency with which we would like to see that work progressed.

I thank again my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, who spoke so powerfully with the weight of the experiences of his constituents; his was a powerful contribution to the debate. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, but I hope that the Minister holds true to her word that there is a commitment to continue to move in the right direction on the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.