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Firearms Smuggling: Customs Seizures

Volume 589: debated on Monday 11 May 1998

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer by Sir John Cope on 7 June 1993 (HC

WA 39–40), what measures Customs and Excise officers are taking to stop the flow of illegal weapons imports from Europe, and particularly eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, into the United Kingdom; and whether they will publish a table in the Official Report stating, since 1984, the year, number of handguns, rifles, shotguns, CS gas canisters, stun guns and other categories of firearms, which have been intercepted. [HL1629]

All UK Customs anti-smuggling staff receive enhanced training in the recognition of firearms and their component parts as well as in anti-smuggling search techniques. Customs also use dogs specially trained to detect firearms and explosives. Customs are very much aware of the threat of firearms being smuggled from Europe and in particular from central and eastern European countries. Customs checks at internal EU frontiers are focused on protecting society by enforcing import prohibitions and restrictions, which include firearms. There is a continuous Customs presence at high risk ports and airports. Sharply focused checks based on risk profiles are carried out by specialist anti-smuggling teams who operate flexibly both in time and location to provide a highly visible and unpredictable deterrence nation-wide. The effectiveness in intercepting suspect travellers and consignments relies heavily on intelligence provided from a variety of local, national and international sources.

To this end under the UK Presidency of the EU the UK hosted a seminar on 9–10 February (The European Seminar on Trafficking in Arms—ECTA '98), organised by the Security Service, HM Customs and the police service. The principal objective of the seminar was to effect a signficant reduction in the supply of arms to organised crime and terrorists in the EU through enhancement of co-operation and information exchange between member states' competent authorities. Some 130 people from 30 countries, including 11 EU accession countries and representatives from the European Commission, Europol and Interpol attended the seminar.

The following table sets out the number of firearms seized by Customs since 1994.

Year ended 31 March

Hand Guns


Shot Guns

Self Defence Sprays

Stun Guns


*The large number of hand guns seized was due to a single seizure of 13,260 flares incorporating barrels which are regarded as firearms within the meaning of the Firearms Acts.