A Labour government would make shooters pay true cost of firearms licence fees, says shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper

Shooters would have to pay “cost” price for their shotgun and firearms certificates if a Labour government is elected next year, according to shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. The shooting industry also needs to demonstrate its environmental sustainability and address public concerns over matters such as illegal raptor persecution, according to shadow DEFRA minister Angela Smith.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester this week, Miss Cooper announced the proposed licence fee increase as part of a package of measures to save up to £70million to stop cuts to police forces, saying her party would end “the absurd £17m taxpayer subsidy for gun licences that David Cameron is desperate personally to defend“.

The shadow minister did not give a precise amount for the increase, but indicated that police forces would be told to charge shooters “at cost” – something which could see fees rise to significantly more than the £88 reported to have been proposed by the current cross-party parliamentary working group.

In August, David Cameron reportedly blocked the working group’s proposed increase and Diana Johnson, shadow minister for Home Affairs with responsibility for firearms licensing, called for an inquiry into the Prime Minister’s motives for the move. At the Labour party conference, Ms Johnson praised the “strong and forthright” way members of the shooting industry such as BASC, which sits on the working group, have engaged in licensing discussions. She added that she hoped constructive communication would continue since both shooters and policy makers “have an interest in making sure that we have the most effective licensing system that we can – that it is efficient and people feel that when they pay their fees they get a good service.”

In response to the announcement on licence fees, BASC Chairman Alan Jarrett said: “The purpose of the firearms certificate fees is to fund the process of administering them. The fees are not intended to be put into a general pot to cover policing costs or spending deficits. There is a collaborative process underway through a Home Office working group to examine the level of costs and fees which involves the police and shooting organisations. This process has identified the costs of administering the licence fees and the necessary processes involved. This process has been established in line with Treasury guidelines and the principles of better regulation set out by the last Labour government.”

BASC chief executive Richard Ali said: “Certificate holders are willing to pay a fair price for a fair service and the process of examining and discussing costs and income has also involved the police identifying ways to reduce their costs and deliver a better service – for example by introducing e-commerce payments where people can pay online instead of the current requirement for payment by cheque.”

“BASC recognises that an increase in fees is due, even if just to cover inflation. The last increase was in 2001. We have fully engaged with the comprehensive review of cost and processes and we hope that an agreement will be reached in the near future. BASC also believes that introducing a ten-year certificate would be a positive move which would significantly reduce administrative costs without any impact on public safety.”

Also speaking at the BASC reception and at a Countryside Alliance fringe debate at the conference, shadow DEFRA minister Angela Smith reiterated Labour’s pledge that it would not ban shooting and acknowledged that it is a legitimate activity of value to the UK economy. However, Mrs Smith also stressed her party’s view that the industry needs to be environmentally sustainable and must address the concerns of the public. Issues of particular concern, she said, are the illegal persecution of birds of prey, heather burning and habitat degradation.

Mrs Smith added that, should a Labour government be elected, its policy on shooting would be dictated by “a robust evidence base”. Like Ms Johnson, she stressed the party’s willingness to work with the shooting industry to share best practices. At BASC’s reception, she praised the association’s conservation work and its efforts “to promote an environmentally sustainable and environmentally responsible industry”, saying that her party wished to see such examples of best practice “propagated throughout the whole shooting industry.”

At the Countryside Alliance fringe debate, titled ‘Let’s get real about wildlife’, Mrs Smith stated that a Labour Government would stand by the hunting ban and would bring a halt to the pilot badger culls. She said that fox hunting has “no place in a modern democracy” and that Labour believes that TB in cattle would be best tackled with strict biosecurity and vaccination and not by culling badgers.