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Gun Barrel Proof Bill Hl

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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3.17 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The main purpose of the Gun Barrel Proof Bill is to amend the Gun Barrel Proof Act 1868 to enable the United Kingdom to accede to the Convention of the Permanent International Commission for the Proof of Small Arms, known for short as the CIP. As this is a technical matter, your Lordships may find it helpful if I explain briefly some of the background. Proofing is the process of testing a gun to ensure, so far as is practicable, it is safe in the hands of the user. The process involves firing through the barrel a considerably heavier charge than the gun is designed for in normal use, thereby setting up pressure and stress on the barrel. Such pressure should, and indeed is intended to, disclose any weaknesses.

Proof in the United Kingdom is the responsibility under Statute of two private companies. It dates back to 1637 when the Worshipful Company of Gun Makers of London was granted its Royal Charter. They are justifiably proud of the fact that theirs is the oldest proof house in the world. The Birmingham Proof House was established in 1813 by Private Act of Parliament. Since that date it has been an offence to sell or to offer for sale an unproofed firearm anywhere in the United Kingdom.

The present law on proof is contained in the Gun Barrel Proof Acts of 1868 and 1950 and in the various Rules of Proof, the most recent dating from 1955. The detailed operations of the two proof houses are governed by the provisions of the 1868 Act, which gave responsibilities for the standard of proof to the Secretary of State for War. These responsibilities were extended by the 1950 Act to cover fees for proof. Sections 129 to 137 of the 1868 Act require that imported small arms, regardless of whether they have been proved by the manufacturing country, should be re-proved in the United Kingdom prior to sale, unless there is a specific bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and the other country. Such bilateral agreements exist at present with eight other countries. At this point I should make it clear that firearms manufactured or used by the Crown are proved by the Crown Proof Authority, which forms part of the Ministry of Defence. The provisions of the existing Act do not apply and it is not included in our proposal to join the CIP. Its activities will be entirely unaffected by the Bill.

Before explaining why we wish to join, I shall say a little about what the CIP is. It was established by Convention in 1969 and is based in Belgium. The text of the Convention was presented to Parliament by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in March 1975, in Cmnd. 5942; and we then expressed the intention of joining. The rôle of the CIP is to establish a common standard among Member States for the proof of small arms for civil use, though Member States can, of course, set their own higher standards if they wish. If a country's methods of proof meet the CIP's standards, and if that country is accepted as a member of the Convention, then its proof marks will be recognised as acceptable by all other members, who will waive the requirements for re-proof when small arms are imported from that State. There are currently 11 members of the CIP. It is primarily a European body, with members from both Western and Eastern Europe. A number of other countries, for example Sweden and Finland, have shown an interest in joining. The unanimous agreement of existing members is required for the admission of new members. In recent years the CIP has become the principal international forum for the exchange of technical information on civil small arms, gun safety and, more recently, ammunition.

Both the United Kingdom proof houses and the United Kingdom gun trade generally support our intention to apply to join the CIP. The Commission, too, has made it clear that it would welcome our membership. Our guns and ammunition are of a high quality and our standards of proof are respected worldwide; they would easily meet CIP standards. The Commission has been generous in allowing the United Kingdom proof houses to participate unofficially in its proceedings and to have access to its technical information in the belief that a United Kingdom application to join was imminent. But we cannot expect this free unofficial help to continue forever.

The advantages of joining will be apparent from what I have already said. First, our exports to CIP members would be exempted from the requirement for re-proof. This can be expected to facilitate trade. Exports to CIP members in 1976 accounted for about one-quarter of the total volume of small arms exports and one-fifth of their total value. As more countries join, the volume and value of our exports is likely to grow. Secondly, CIP membership would give the United Kingdom proof houses access to CIP technical information. This would be of considerable benefit as our proof houses are relatively small establishments and do not have the resources to undertake the full range of research and development. Thirdly, we believe we have a contribution to make in improving CIP proof and safety standards; and it is appropriate to join the CIP now, just before it moves into new fields such as cartridge testing and setting standards for ammunition. One consequence of joining will be that the bilateral arrangements under the 1868 Act will cease; but all but one of the countries with whom we have such arrangements are already members of CIP and the remaining country's proof houses no longer function, so there is no disadvantage.

Turning to the Bill itself, it is a short measure consisting of seven clauses and four Schedules. The first clause amends the 1868 Act in order to enable the United Kingdom to accede to the Convention by substituting the new Sections 129, 130 and 131, which are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, for Sections 129 to 137 of the 1868 Act, and makes transitional arrangements, in Schedule 2, for the registers of foreign proof marks presently kept by the proof houses. The new sections set out in Schedule 1 provide for the recognition of CIP proof marks, require the two proof houses to keep a copy of the CIP's register, exempt barrels bearing Convention proof marks from the proof requirements of the 1868 Act and modify the offence-creating provisions of that Act, which I understand are mainly about forgery, so as to apply them to Convention proof marks. The transitional provisions contained in Schedule 2 relate to the register of foreign proof marks currently kept by the two proof houses in connection with the existing bilateral arrangements.

The second clause removes the geographical limitation in Section 89 of the 1868 Act, which presently restricts the siting of a branch proof house to within 10 miles of the City of London or Birmingham. This will enable the proof houses to set up branches wherever sufficient demand exists, perhaps temporarily at a manufacturer's or dealer's premises, where a particularly large batch of firearms needs proving. This would be quicker and safer and would result in taking large quantities of firearms off the roads.

The third clause provides for the metrication of the Rules of Proof in line with CIP practice as well as our general policy on metrication. The fourth clause extends the 1868 and 1950 Acts to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although there are no plans to establish proof houses in either of these areas, this clause is a logical consequence of the removal of the 10-mile limit in Clause 2, and it removes certain ambiguities under the existing Acts. The remaining clauses, together with Schedules 3 and 4, provide for minor and consequential amendments and repeals, interpretation and so on.

This Bill will enable the United Kingdom to join the international forum concerned with commercial gun proofing. Our membership will simplify international proofing arrangements, facilitate trade and enable the United Kingdom industry to participate fully in this growing international body. It is a useful measure which I commend to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .— ( Lord Winterbottom.)

3.27 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for explaining what to me is a rather complicated Bill. All the objectives of the Bill which appear in the Long Title are indeed laudable and desirable, especially the wish of the Government to accede to the Convention of Brussels, which the noble Lord explained. Noble Lords will be looking forward to the maiden speech, in which I am sure he will make some expert comments, of the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. Speaking personally, I am not a member of the gun makers' trade nor am I classified under any of the professions set out in Schedule 1, the new Section 131(3), which refers to—

"… a gun maker or gun barrel maker, or a maker of or dealer in small arms or barrels, or in any parts for small arms or barrels".
I have no interest to declare in that line. However, I am a gun user and a frequent visitor to certain areas where shotguns are used. The Bill makes exemptions from our proof regulations for foreigners or visitors and for the guns of proof makers of a Convention type. It seems that the gun makers of Britain are very much in favour of the Bill and of the Convention's acceptance; indeed, I understand that the trade has been pressing for just such a Bill for a number of years. Thus, we are doubly glad that the Government have found time to present the Bill.

Lord Winterbottom explained the Bill admirably but there is one provision which I hope he will be able to analyse. He said that Schedule 3 contained some minor and consequential amendments—indeed, that is the title of the Schedule—but he will have noted the new paragraph which has to be inserted, which, according to the Bill, deals with the acquisition of land in Scotland. I am at a loss to comprehend that because it begins:
"For the purpose of acquiring land by agreement in Scotland …".
That is most interesting.

The new provision goes on to deal with the Land Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act and, additionally, the Railways Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act. But certainly from my experience in Scotland, land is not often acquired pace the Gun Barrel Proof Act 1868, nor indeed is the proof mark of the greatest relevance to rail travellers north of Carlisle or Berwick. Therefore, I wonder how the Act of 1868 applies to these two fairly minor Acts of fairly ancient date. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, speaks for the Government on defence matters, but I think that even he would agree that the 1868 Act is covering a matter which seems to be rather outside the immediate area of safe gun barrels; but perhaps he may be able to assist me on this point now or later.

None of us, especially those of us in this House, should forget the tremendous efforts made by British gun makers to improve our export earnings, nor indeed the reputation of our sporting guns all over the world. I was very concerned before I studied the Bill in detail, lest it might dilute the very high standards to which our gunmakers adhere. I thought that the Bill may at least allow other nations' gun makers to sell in the United Kingdom guns which could be of a lesser standard than is now permitted here. But happily my fears and worries have been totally removed on studying the Bill and by the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom.

I am also given to understand that the members of the two proof houses in Birmingham and in London are much in favour of the passage of the Bill. Certainly all of us await the speeches of other noble Lords, whose knowledge of this subject is far greater than mine and possibly that of the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom. I am sure that the whole House will be very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, can enlighten me on the little legal point concerning Scotland. This is a desirable Bill. We wish it well, and we hope that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

3.32 p.m.

My Lords, we also welcome this Bill introduced by the Government this afternoon, and I am particularly looking forward, as I know your Lordships are, to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Tryon. I was hoping that I would be speaking after him so that I could speak about him, rather than about shotgun proofing. I have one or two points about which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. I am concerned about when we finally become members of the CIP,which I believe to be a very good thing, and which at the moment involves 11 countries scattered throughout the world. Five of those countries, including us, are Members of the Common Market. I wonder whether future policy might be to try to include the other four countries which are not in the CIP: Ireland, Holland, Denmark and Luxembourg.

The Bill will enable us to share in any advance there is in proofing methods and technology. Should any noble Lord consider that we should not join the CIP, I feel that the other members of the CIP may then believe that we had a fear that our methods were outdated and that we did not want to lay our cards on the table. That would spell disaster for the English gun trade. We must bear in mind that, although for a number of years we have been invited to attend CIP conferences, up to now we have never had a chance to voice our opinions at any of those meetings. I very much welcome the Second Reading of the Bill.

3.34 p.m.

My Lords, I rise with great diffidence to address your Lordships for the first time. This is probably made rather more so by the build-up I have been given by the two previous speakers. I have been very lucky in my life to have had a very varied career in a number of different fields, but one in which I have virtually no experience whatever is that of public speaking, and your Lordships' normal tolerance to first-timers may be somewhat tested this afternoon. However, I hope that I shall have the opportunity of improving my speeches to your Lordships over a great many years to come.

At this stage I must declare an interest, although I hope that your Lordships will see it more as a qualification for speaking on this somewhat obscure topic, than as anything more sinister. I am a non-executive director, and a small shareholder, in what I am advised to describe, in order to spare your Lordships a break for the commercial, as a leading firm of London gunmakers. I am also the non-executive chairman of a company which makes accessories for the gun trade, whose existence and prosperity are vitally tied to the prosperity of the United Kingdom gun trade both here and overseas.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said some very kind things about the gunmaking industry, and I believe them to be true. I think that demonstrably the United Kingdom gun trade continues to lead the world, particularly at the high quality end, and as evidence of this I should say that the second-hand value of any top-class English-made gun commands a very large premium over any second-hand gun of any foreign make anywhere in the world. We have now reached a stage where a really good quality second-hand gun is probably worth about £5,000 anywhere in the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, also referred to exports, and if my experience is typical—and I believe it is—I should say that the United Kingdom gun trade plays a major part in the export activities of this country. A very high proportion of its present output is exported. I believe that the quality of United Kingdom guns is second to none in the world, and international proof standards today hold no fears whatever for the United Kingdom gun industry, or for anyone in it to whom I have spoken.

As a general point I would draw your Lordships' attention to the slightly strange feature of guns, as opposed to other consumer durables or products of any kind. I refer to their tremendous longevity, and in any legislation account must be taken of the fact that there are in use today guns made a hundred years ago, which are still working perfectly well. My own guns, I believe, were made in 1887, which I think was before the motorcar was even invented, or at least before it was working properly. On the analogy of the motorcar, I should say that the products of the leading London firms of gunmakers, and indeed some of the Birmingham firms in the past and today, are as well-known and respected throughout the world by those who shoot, as Rolls-Royce motorcars are among anyone who drives a motorcar.

I believe that the gun trade really welcomes the United Kingdom being able to accede to the 1969 Convention for the Reciprocal Recognition of Proof Marks. I had hoped to get away with saying CIP instead, but I saw the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, here earlier, and even as a beginner I know what would happen if I used merely the initials.

The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, has referred already to the advance in technology which the United Kingdom will be able to share, and I think it is fair to say that the gun trade was beginning to be very worried that, if this Bill had not come forward in the near future, there could have been a withdrawal of reciprocal arrangements with other countries. This would have been an absolute disaster for the United Kingdom gun trade. Therefore, thanks are due to the Government for introducing the Bill earlier than many people had feared would be the case. I should like to add that when I went to the proof house a few days ago to refresh my knowledge of this somewhat obscure subject, I was very glad to hear that those at the Home Office who have been responsible for drafting the Bill had taken considerable trouble to visit the proof house to learn at first-hand what it was all about. That, I think, is very praiseworthy.

I would make two points on the content of the Bill. The first may be thought flippant, but I think it should be made nevertheless. Clause 3 refers to metrication and provides for detailed metrication of gun barrel bores and what-have-you. I should like some re-assurance—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, could give this at the end of the debate—that this is not the beginning of any idea to apply metrication to the bores of shotguns, in particular. I think that in the case of rifles metrication is already well used and well established—I expect that my cousin, the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, will refer to this later; he knows more about rifles than I do—but to bring in any requirement for people to order 18·3 mm. ammunition, which is the same as the 12-bore, would, I think, cause nothing but unnecessary confusion. The present gauges of shotguns-12-bore, 16-bore, et cetera—have been well known throughout the world for many years and are well established in countries which have been metrified (if that is the right word) for a great many years. Such a proposal, I think, would lead to nothing but endless and possibly dangerous confusion.

Secondly—this may be a contentious point and completely out of order—I am not sure that we have the Title of this Bill right. I appreciate that it is a successor to a number of other Bills—now Gun Barrel Proof Acts—but it is, in a way, a misnomer, and we may be perpetuating a somewhat dangerous misunderstanding which I think exists in the minds of some of the public. When a gun is proofed, the entire structure that comes under pressure is tested, and this means the action in the case of a shotgun, the bolt in the case of a rifle, just as much as the barrel. I am told by the London Proof House that for every three barrels that fail proof there is probably one action that fails proof, and I fear that in some people's minds there may be a misapprehension that if the barrel of a gun is okay then that gun is safe. That is not so, and failure in the action of a gun—that is the bit that holds the cartridge in place while it is fired—is more likely to end in the death of the shooter, the firer, than is a failure in the barrel, where the most likely effect is the loss of the left hand. This is a point that perhaps your Lordships might like to consider in Committee. I thank your Lordships for your indulgence.

3.44 p.m.

My Lords, this is the first occasion on which it has fallen to my lot to congratulate a maiden speaker, and I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity today to congratulate my noble cousin Lord Tryon on his excellent maiden speech. Of course, this House has a great reputation for producing those who can speak with authority on practically any subject you like to mention, and my noble cousin has nobly upheld this tradition. His speech was most informative, brief, to the point and certainly authoritative. We have all greatly enjoyed listening to him, and I hope we shall have many opportunities in the future to hear his contributions to our discussions.

My Lords, like previous speakers, will be very brief. I, too, have an interest of a sort to declare, since I am a member of the Livery of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, which is one of the two companies, the other being the Guardians of the Birmingham Proof House, mentioned in this Bill. I can confirm that this Bill is welcomed with open arms by the Gunmakers' Company and by the Guardians of the Birmingham Proof House. For several years they have been waiting rather anxiously for it to appear, but they are very pleased now that it has at last broken the surface in your Lordships' House, and they hope it will have a speedy and easy passage here and through the other place.

The accession of the United Kingdom to the CIP will be a valuable one for the gunmaking trade in the United Kingdom, because both our proof houses have such a great store of experience behind them—particularly the London Proof House, having operated for 340 yeas—that I am sure that the other countries will find that they have something to learn from our experience. I am sure, too, that we will also profit considerably from the exchange of information which will then become possible between all the participant countries.

It will also help greatly, I think, the promotion of trade in the export of rifles and shotguns of our own manufacture, which one could say quite reasonably is a field in which we lead the world because we have some wonderful craftsmen working in this trade. They produce weapons—shotguns, rifles—which are marvels of engineering, and marvels of workmanship in the way the parts are fitted together and in the finish and decoration of the arms. English-made weapons have a reputation which is worldwide; and, of course, the proof marks of the London and Birmingham Proof Houses, too, have a worldwide reputation and are accepted in many parts of the world as standards of really high quality. The CIP sets certain standards of proof among member countries, but let it be realised that those are of course minimum standards and, if it so wishes, any country is entirely free to use higher standards in its own proof houses.

My noble cousin Lord Tryon mentioned the question of shotgun gauges and the possible change-over to metric measurements. I am speaking entirely off-the-cuff on this, but I am not aware of any intention in any country to give the bore diameters of shotguns in metric units, because the old gauges—12-bore, 16-bore, 20-bore and so on—have been in use all over the world for a great many years and are fully understood, even in those countries which otherwise use the metric system. If you go to France or Germany and buy a box of 12-bore cartridges, you know exactly what you are going to get and they know exactly what you mean when you ask for them. So I do not think the noble Lord need worry on that score.

The question of chamber lengths, however, is another matter, and those of your Lordships who shoot will have noticed that on the box of shotgun cartridges the case length is given both in inches and in millimetres. That is obviously something which has come to stay, and from the point of view of safety it is very important to know that the cartridges you intend to use do not exceed the length of the chamber of your gun.

The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, also mentioned the question of the Title of the Bill. I see his point quite clearly because at one time, when the original Act was passed in 1868, breech loaders had only just begun to appear in the world and nearly all the weapons in use were muzzle loaders. Therefore, all that the proof was required to do was to test the strength of the barrel of the muzzle loader. Now we have breech loaders with various types of actions to support the base of the cartridge case; and the strength of the action is every bit as important as the strength of the barrel.

I should imagine that this Bill carries the Title that it does simply to tie it in with the earlier Act. I think that possibly this point might be borne in mind by the Government to make it clear, if they think necessary, that the process of proof does test the strength of the action as well as that of the barrel. That is all I have to say. Like other noble Lords, I commend the Bill to the House and wish it an easy passage.

My Lords, I believe that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, say something about ammunition. It is possible on the Continent now to purchase very high-velocity ammunition which could damage the proof of English guns if it were continuously used. Can the noble Lord make any comment on that?

3.53 p.m.

My Lords, I would add my congratulations also to the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, on a most well-informed and excellent speech. There is just one minor point to which I shall refer, the metrication of British gun proofs; but I will come to that later. The noble Lord has done his homework well and his knowledge is excellent. I would congratulate him wholeheartedly. This Bill is welcomed by the majority of people who are connected with firearms, particularly by gunsmiths and dealers; but, unfortunately, they do not find the Bill quite as clear as I am sure your Lordships found it when you glanced through it for the first time. For example, the Explanatory Memorandum reads:

"Nearly all of the principal nations who manufacture and export sporting weapons and other small arms are now signatories to the Convention …".
I think that we have forgotten the United States of America, who are not signatories to it. In fact, in America, the manufacturers are not bound to proof their weapons. The American system and others are protected by a penal dollar fine on any American manufacturer of small arms who puts on the market a weapon which explodes and does damage. We have also forgotten, I think, the Czechs, who are very large exporters of sporting weapons; the Japanese, who are rising; and the Russians.

Schedule 2 to the Bill provides for certain transitional provisions as to the exemption of certain foreign barrels from proof under the 1968 Act. I have carefully read Schedule 2 in conjunction with a leading gunsmith and neither of us finds it clear which foreign barrels are exempt from proofing. Perhaps the noble Lord could enlighten the House on that matter. Also in the Explanatory Memorandum it says:
"Clause 3 provides for metrication of the Rules of Proof".
But Clause 3 states:
"… may be expressed in imperial units or in metric units".
I am not quite sure whether in the future we are to express them in imperial units or in metric units.

Clause 4 extends the Gun Barrel Proof Acts 1868 and 1950 to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I hardly think that a member of Her Majesty's Forces stationed in Northern Ireland, or one of Her Majesty's subjects living there, will be very much interested in whether or not the gun which shoots them is proofed. On the other hand, I see the Government's point. We must do the best we can.

This leads me to remind your Lordships that there are basically three types of people who use firearms. First, the reasonable sportsman who is a knowledgeable person who has his gun in safe keeping. He keeps it clean and in repair and there are very few problems with him. The only difficulty lies in the fact that most accidents concerning arms involve a tremendous amount of work by the police Forces and the person who legitimately and properly uses and keeps firearms.

There is a second type of person whom I think I shall describe as "irresponsible" —and, in fact, a fool. I will here state the obvious to your Lordships: a gun barrel blows only once. The person who does not keep his guns property and does not have them proofed and allows them to pit and come off the face, finds it out too late.

My Lords, there is a third type of person who uses guns; that is, the criminal. I regret to tell your Lordships that mostly they have easy access to the guns of one sort or another that they require. Anybody can walk into a gunsmith's and buy ammunition for shotguns, particularly buckshot, which is deadly. The type of gun produced in America and in various other countries, the pump gun or automatic, also deadly, is as available as the single-barrel, the side-by-side or the over-and-under. While on the subject of American guns, our proof houses may not be quite up to the work which is necessary. I know that the firm of Winchester, in America, which probably everybody has heard of, ship their guns via West Germany into England for proofing in West Germany because they find it difficult for them to be proofed in this country.

There is one other matter on the question of finance. To the United Kingdom, as has been pointed out, the gun trade is worth a great deal of money; in fact, it is worth millions. From this automatically follows on (shall we say?) police action from Home Office rulings. In the 1950s, there was an amnesty granted to people who handed in firearms of various sorts. These were sold and were not destroyed. But, at the present moment, any gun handed in to the police under the present amnesty or under any amnesty which the police practically invariably grant to someone who finds a gun in the attic, goes under the steam hammer and is crushed. In many cases, the gun is worth nothing; but in other cases it may be worth a very great deal of money.

Your Lordships may remember that a year or two ago an officer in a famous cavalry regiment sawed off the barrels of a pair of Purdey's which, at a conservative estimate, were probably worth £10,000 and robbed a bank of £2,000 or £3,000. I knew him quite well; he was not a very sensible chap. I wonder what happened to that pair of Purdey's. Having robbed several banks, he is obviously not a person who should be allowed to keep a pair of shotguns. Although I have never seen them, the action of these guns is worth from between £5,000 and £10,000, probably about £8,000. Were they put under the steam hammer? Did we sell them? What did we do with them? What do we do with all the other guns that are handed in? I am told that they amount to millions a year.

As to the proofing of rifles, rifles very seldom blow. Occasionally the action of a rifle goes, and very occasionally the barrel goes. Normally the rifling in a barrel will wear out long before the actual action has gone or the barrel becomes unsafe. There are certain problems regarding shotguns, and we should look to the future there. The gun trade is now experimenting with fibre glass with fine inner linings of steel, and the proofing of those guns will be exceptionally difficult.

There is one other point. This Bill provides for the proofing of guns, but it does not safeguard the person who has an old gun with black powder proofing only, from using it. I have had paper-thin Damascus barrels. I have seen people using them. I say, "For goodness' sake do not use that! I will lend you one". The reply is, "It's all right. I only use it to shoot a few crows in the garden". But it will blow hint up just the same.

Regarding metrication, this is a slightly technical matter. It has been explained to me, and I hope I understand it enough to explain it to your Lordships. Before the days of proofing, when a shotgun was made, the gunsmith took a lead ball, a sphere, and he dropped down the end of the barrel the largest one that would go to the end and roll out. He then found out how many of these spheres there were to the pound. If it was 12, then the gun was 12 bore; if it was 14, it was a 14 bore; if it was 20, it was a 20 bore. We have not improved very much on it from that date. Today if you go to a gunmaker and buy a box of cartridges for a 12 bore you will find that you will be firing a lead charge which, if multiplied by 12, weighs a pound. We have not progressed very much further. It might be a good idea if this Bill were to take in a bit more.

Today when a gun is proofed it is stamped and the measurement of the bore is taken 9 in. from the breech. This is measured very accurately. In English marking it is in thousandths of an inch. It is measured normally between 728 and 739 thousandths of an inch. Between those two numbers it is always marked 729 thousandths of an inch. If the gun is marked 729 thousandths of an inch and is 729 thousandths of an inch, it will not be out of proof until the internal diameter of the bore measures 740 thousandths of an inch, by which time there will have been over 10 thousandths of an inch of wear and the weapon, towards the end of its life, is becoming slightly dangerous.

Many great gunmakers used to make their weapons somewhere around the 735 or 736 thousandths of an inch mark. There has to be only three or four thousandths of an inch of wear for the gun to be out of proof. It we are going to retain imperial measurement it would be a good idea to mark the internal diameter of the bore 9 in. from the breech at the actual figure at the time of proofing. It is then possible to give it 10 thousandths of an inch of wear before it wears out.

The continentals mark weapons in millimetres. There is a marking of about 18·3 m.m. There could still be something in the region of 10 thousandths of an inch wear before the gun comes out of proof. Also they do something else which is very useful: they weigh the barrel and stamp the weight on the barrel. That means that the gunmaker or purchaser of a new gun or a second-hand gun has only to weigh the barrel to find out how much metal has been worn away. At the moment, under the English proof marking system, the gunsmith cannot tell the amount of wear inside the barrel, because, between 728 and 739 thousandths of an inch, all are marked at 729 thousandths of art inch. I apologise for bringing forward this technical point but it is a fairly important one. It is a matter which I feel your Lordships might care to consider further.