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The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 81:

"(d) any air weapon which—
(i) either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length or is less than 60 centimetres in length overall, and
(ii) uses, or is designed or adapted for use with a self contained gas cartridge system, or
(iii) is readily convertible to fire ammunition capable of discharging a missile by the force of gunpowder or a like propellant.
(1ZA) In this section—
(a) a self contained gas cartridge is a single unit containing a propellant charge of air or carbon dioxide, a valve or other device for releasing the charge, and a propellant together with a projectile;
(b) the term "readily convertible" has the meaning ascribed to it in section 1(6) of the Firearms Act 1982 (c. 31) (control of imitation firearms readily convertible into firearms to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies).""

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 81 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84 to 87 and 89 to 91, particularly Amendment No. 91. Noble Lords will be aware that I declared my interest earlier.

Although the British Shooting Sports Council and the Gun Trade Association wholeheartedly support the Government's efforts to introduce legislation to target the abuse of airguns, the proposed powers that the Government intend to give themselves in Clause 45 represent a real, significant and dangerous shift of power into the hands of Ministers. That indiscriminate approach to imposing firearms controls is, to put it quite bluntly, somewhat autocratic. Ministers' attitude on the issue has been to try to solve the problem by introducing the power to ban any airgun deemed especially dangerous.

There is a real concern in the shooting community that the power proposed by the clause would eventually be used to ban a wide range of airguns, leading to the somewhat perverse situation in which controls on airguns could be far more stringent than those on Section 1 firearms. The Minister must surely agree that that arrangement would be totally illogical, and would create a considerable imbalance in the law. The risk of the powers being used in an indiscriminate way outweigh the Government's wish for the powers to be unconfined.

Amendments Nos. 81 and 89 seek to limit the order-making powers only where necessary to deal with the problem identified; namely, easily convertible air-cartridge systems. I acknowledge the Minister's comments in Committee that it would not make sense to restrict the Government to what is presently known to be the problem. However, the fact remains, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith emphasised in Committee,

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that in all likelihood criminals using a sawn-off gas-powered air rifle would be unthinkable. It would be an inefficient and useless weapon for criminal purposes. Given the proposal to license rather than ban outright Brococks, which are much more suitable for criminal use when converted to fire live ammunition, it is surely undeniable that the Government's position is unbalanced.

I am aware that my noble friend Lord Peel will address Brococks and other air-cartridge system airguns when he speaks to Amendment No. 91. However, I wonder whether the Minister has seen today's article on Brococks in the Evening Standard. If not, I draw her attention to it. It is ample and powerful evidence that the Government's plans for a partial ban will not do the trick. The only sensible way forward to protect the safety of the public in the matter is a complete ban on those weapons, and with full compensation. The argument in support of such a course of action is overwhelming.

Finally, I simply want to make two points. First, if Her Majesty's Government honestly feel that people are not responsible enough to hand their airguns in to the authorities, surely those very people are not responsible enough to hold a Section 1 firearms certificate. Secondly, if, as the Government propose, such airguns may be held by individuals on a Section 1 licence—if such persons are deemed to be responsible enough to possess the airguns—does it not follow that the shooting fraternity should be allowed their target handguns back under the very same premise? I leave the Minister with that thought. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel): My Lords, if Amendment No. 81 is agreed, I will not be able to call Amendment No. 82 because of pre-emption.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I have tabled Amendments Nos. 82, 83 and 88, but there is no need for me to detain the House for more than a few moments. My amendments run in parallel with those of my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, and I support everything that he said. There is no point in my repeating it. The provisions illustrate again what I would call the scatter-gun approach of legislation on the subject. The amendments provide considerably more precision on any effects.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I support the amendment, but I shall restrict my remarks principally to Amendment No. 91, which seeks to replace a licensing scheme for Brococks with a compensation scheme and outright ban. That highlights the willingness of the shooting community to target firearms misuse in a specific and appropriate fashion.

Very early in the negotiations between the Home Office and the gun trade on Brococks, it became manifestly clear that it would not be possible to modify that type of gun in such a way that criminals could not convert them into live firing handguns. The fact that the Government fully accept that to be true would put Ministers under an obligation to ban the weapon rather than opt for an overly bureaucratic and

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expensive licensing system. I emphasise that such a system would not only provide a financial disincentive to Brocock owners to obtain a licence, but allow those readily convertible guns to get into wider circulation and be used in a way contrary to the aims of the Bill. I do not believe that that is the intention of Ministers. However, that is what will happen if the Government do not accept these amendments, in particular Amendment No. 91.

Compensation schemes are not new. They were well used in two previous Acts on firearms prohibition. What is important is that these amendments demonstrate a genuine willingness by the shooting community to come forward with a genuine and realistic option to deal with a recognised problem. In view of the considerable sacrifice by shooters to work with the Government by dispensing with these problematic firearms, and in the same breath eliminating the need for additional bureaucratic licensing systems, which I am sure the Minister would be only too willing to welcome, I hope that she will look favourably at the sensible compromise provided in the amendment put forward by my noble friend.

6 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the noble Earls, Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Peel, have sought to support the amendment and for the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we do not have a scatter-gun approach. We have a highly focused, targeted approach but a number of noble Earls would rather our target be elsewhere. We cannot be accused of a scatter-gun approach.

It was suggested that we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut—more politely expressed in the contributions of noble Lords. I regret that there have been too many murders and attempted murders using these converted weapons to sustain that argument.

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. That is exactly why we want them banned entirely.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we understand that, but the question is: how should we deal with them? It is true to say that these conversions are currently carried out on various types of handgun and the ammunition involved uses some kind of explosive charge. I was grateful that the noble Lord has taken on board the comments I made in Committee; namely, that we cannot prevent ever-inventive criminals seeking new and different ways. But there is a great variation in the types of rifle used and it is not always easy to classify them. I hear what the noble Lord says about getting rid of all of them, but then, returning to our earlier debate, some people will say that we are penalising the responsible for the irresponsible. Your Lordships know that the Government are loath to do that.

A revolving carbine would remain legal if we were to accept this amendment but could soon be converted to look like a conventional revolver of the type we all

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agree should be banned. As for confining any future restrictions to weapons which can only be converted to discharge a missile by the force of gunpowder, again, it is important to be flexible and to have available a provision which can be used in respect of any new design which might come on to the market in the future. I hope that we have no need for further recourse to these powers, but if criminals start to cast around for alternative weapons, we must be able to respond quickly and flexibly.

Amendment No. 81 also suggests a definition of a self-contained gas cartridge. We are clear that the present wording excludes systems which use CO 2 bulbs and bears down only on those guns which are currently causing problems.

As regards Amendment No. 90, I know that there is a strong desire to use the proposed new power to relax the controls on expanding ammunition which have been causing some difficulties, but I believe that this is something for the forthcoming review of firearms legislation generally. That matter will be debated. We will certainly look at the issue carefully in the course of that review.

Finally, Amendment No. 91 seeks to introduce provision for a compensation scheme. It does not actually apply to the prohibition on guns using the air cartridge system, only to future orders. We have previously explained why compensation is not payable in respect of the air cartridge system. Also, we have sought to strike a fair balance between the interests of the individuals who own the guns—they can continue to keep them on a certificate—and the wider public interest. As for the future, no prudent government could commit themselves to a compensation scheme without knowing what circumstances applied.

Noble Lords opposite will want to know that we do not see Clause 45 as a means of attacking the legitimate use of air weapons. But we do need appropriate and flexible powers to deal with the problems of criminal misuse. We believe that this is what Clause 45 provides and I would ask the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment. I reassure noble Lords that we have listened most carefully. I acknowledge that we have learnt a great deal from those with whom we have been able to consult, as they have learnt from us as we shared some of the problems that may not have been fully understood. We believe that together we have made a better fist of what needs to happen and that this is where we rest. We have been grateful, and we will continue to be, to have these discussions with all those interested in the sporting and other issues.

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