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Gun Barrel Proof Bill Hl

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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Second Reading debate resumed.

4.32 p.m.

My Lords, it now becomes my pleasant duty to reply to the short debate that we have had on the Gun Barrel Proof Bill. First, may I thank the House in general for the very positive welcome and support they have given to this small but very useful measure? It is because the Government recognise its use that they have found time for it now in your Lordships' House. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, for his support in what I thought was an outstanding maiden speech. It was clear, audible and based on a knowledge of the subject. I know that all noble Lords hope to hear him speak again soon on the same or other subjects. Also, it will be appropriate if I answer his questions first before I turn to the others.

The noble Lord's first question related to the Clause 3 metrication, the degree to which it is to be limited to shotguns, and its effect if metrication ultimately overrules the Imperial system of measurement. The noble Lord's noble cousin answered that question: that, on cartridges, we at present get both Imperial and metric measurements. Presumably that system will continue until such time as metrication is to us what Imperial measurements were to us when we were younger.

The very interesting description by the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, of how the use of the words "gauge" and "bore" came about was helpful to us in understanding the problem. I had never before heard this explanation. As the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, pointed out, "gauge" is common throughout Europe. Therefore, the change to metrication should not cause confusion or danger. The clause enables both systems to be used. When the noble Lord mentioned the Title, I believe he was correct in saying that it might mislead people who did not know the whole background to the Bill. If we had had more time I might have suggested to the noble Lord that he should amend the Title at the Committee stage of the Bill, but time is short and we want the Bill. Anybody who knows what the Bill is about will not be misled, because the Long Title of the 1868 Act, and the 1950 Act which amended it, said that its purpose was
"for better ensuring the due proof of gun-barrels and for other purposes".
I should like to make it clear that the proofing tests not only the barrel but the mechanism of the gun as a whole.

May I now turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell? I must admit that he caught me out with some legal knowledge which had nothing, so far as I could make out, to do with the proofing of guns. Am I right in thinking that the noble Lord was referring to paragraph 2 of Schedule 3?

Paragraph 2 states:

"After section 6 of the Act of 1868 there shall be inserted the following section— … For the purpose of acquiring land by agreement in Scotland …"
and the two relevant Acts are then mentioned. It is a matter of convenience. Obviously we do not want a Gun Barrel Proof Bill (Scotland) to go through your Lordships' House. We have extended the power of the proof houses to set up subsidiaries in Scotland. Therefore, it is right that we should give them the power to acquire land if they require it, should it be found that Scotland needs a woof house of its own. That is the reason for that paragraph. I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord.

My Lords, the noble Lord has been kind enough to attempt to satisfy me and he may have fired one barrel of his newly-proofed shotgun at me. The proof houses may need to acquire land to set up another proof office, but I should be most interested to know what the Railway Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act has to do with this matter. Whether there is a ban on establishing proof houses on railway property as opposed to on other land in Scotland, I do not know. Certainly we could do with the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, to deal with that point, but perhaps we may ask that question another day. The noble Lord has partially satisfied me on one half of my question but not on the railways Act.

My Lords, I shall bear the point in mind and will hope to satisfy the noble Lord with both barrels at the Committee stage of the Bill. I should also very much like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, for his extremely interesting and erudite speech. Obviously, the various improvements of measurement and the recording of measurement which he enunciated are highly desirable, though I am not quite certain that this kind of thing can be written into a Bill. However, since the British gun industry is entering into full union with the CIP, there will obviously be an exchange of technical information and, presumably, harmonisation whereby the best experience of all the members will be applied to all the weapons which they proof in common. I cannot say whether that will happen. If, however, the noble Lord applies pressure through the sporting gun channels, I imagine that in due course this type of improved recording of the strength of barrels, the bore of barrels and their weight may become standard practice here as, apparently, it is elsewhere. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his informed opinion. Perhaps the fact that we are now entering into a new phase of the work of the CIP, namely the study of ammunition and the explosives within ammunition, will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Braye, regarding his suggestion that high velocity charged ammunition presumably implies a different kind of explosive charge. Presumably, this will come under the general supervision of the CIP under the new arrangement.

I am grateful for the interest taken in this Bill. I am glad that it has received a general welcome on Second Reading. When we come to the Committee stage before the House rises I hope to be able to clear up any unanswered points. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the whole House.