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Labour repeats pledges to raise gun licence fees to tackle deficit

Shadow minister repeats pledge to use gun licence fee increase to fund the national deficit

gun licence

Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury, Chris Leslie, has repeated his party’s plans to increase gun licence fees to deal with the national deficit.

He was challenged during an opposition day debate on 4 March on the economy by Conservative treasury minister David Gauke about his previous statement that Labour would raise £17m to plug the deficit from gun licences. Mr Leslie said: “It is a small amount of money but it is still worth doing. Is [Mr Gauke] saying that we should not raise gun licence fees? Is he ruling that out because he thinks it is the wrong idea?”

Commenting on the exchange, Countryside Alliance director of campaigns Tim Bonner said: “The Countryside Alliance accepts that costs for shotgun and firearms licences need to increase and agreement on a suitable rise was reached between the police, the Government and shooting organisations last year. Labour’s obsession with gun licensing fees as a way of raising revenue is farcical and shows its prejudice and lack of understanding about the shooting industry.

“Any increase to licence fees needs to be fair and proportionate. At least 600,000 people in UK shoot — live quarry, clays and targets — and many people in the countryside rely on using a shotgun for their day-to-day work. They are not a cash cow for the Labour Party.”

Previous pledges

Increasing gun licence fees to bring in more cash rose to the top of the Labour Party’s agenda earlier this year, but the party has not confirmed that its planned changes to fees will be fair to shooters.

In January, Chris Leslie MP, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said that his party plans to use the money raised from a licence fee increase to tackle the budget deficit. This did not tally with previous statements by senior members of the shadow cabinet, who promised that funds raised would be used to bolster police force finances.

Mr Leslie made the statement on BBC 2’s Daily Politics show on 13 January. When asked what measures his party would take to reduce the gap between government spending and income, Mr Leslie said Labour would look to use higher gun licence fees, and the 50p tax rate. Presenter Andrew Neil was not impressed with the answer, commenting that the amount raised from gun licences would amount to “tuppence” in the context of the multi-billion-pound deficit.

At last September’s Labour Party Conference, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that a Labour government would increase gun licence fees to end “the absurd £17m taxpayer subsidy for gun licences that David Cameron is desperate personally to defend”. Ms Cooper did not give a specific figure for the increases, but indicated that police forces would be told to charge shooters “at cost”. In a recent interview, shadow chancellor Ed Balls also referred to using income from an increase in gun licence fees to fund police forces. Neither Ms Cooper nor Mr Balls explained how increases would be calculated.

BASC seeks clarification

BASC, which wrote to Mr Balls on the same subject, also wrote to Mr Leslie, asking him to clarify his comments and stating that any increases to gun licence must not be punitive and should be based on a fair and accurate assessment of the costs of administering the system. The organisation outlined the results of a rigourous costing review carried out in 2014 by a Home Office working group, which included representatives of the police, BASC itself and other stakeholders. The review found that full cost recovery for firearms licensing under e-commerce would be £79.50. This is significantly lower than the £196 that the police claimed two years ago – but could not support with accurate costings – on which BASC believes Labour has based its figures.

Proposals put to Parliament

Proposals for increases to gun licence fees based on the results of the working group analysis were issued by the Home Office later last year and formed the basis of a public consultation that closed on 29 December. The Home Office has now worked through the responses and put the increases to Parliament for approval today (12 March).

BASC chief executive Richard Ali said: “It is important that certificate fees are decided by a process which is based on evidence and which conforms with government guidelines. The new fees proposed by the Home Office in November, which would see the cost of a five-year shotgun certificate rise from £50 to £79.50, have been arrived at after a rigorous process of examining police costs and processes. They are the outcome of a collaborative process involving the police and shooting organisations such as BASC and the British Shooting Sports Council. BASC believes in a fair price for a fair service and this evidence-led review of licensing costs and fees is what should be driving future fee levels.”