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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One of the important issues, as the noble Lord will know, is that regrettably those who misuse firearms tend to transfer from one source to another if one source is cut off. The noble Lord will know that it is relatively easy to adapt a shotgun with a shortened barrel to have exactly the same effect. The mechanism is identical, so it can be adapted to be as lethal as a handgun.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised another issue. We had thought that air guns were a little safer than others. Regrettably, we are learning that they are an increasing problem with which we must now deal.
Viscount Goschen: The Minister gave statistics about the increasing number of offences concerning air weapons. However, the argument is about young people and air guns. Can she separate the statistics that she provided to indicate those above 17 and those below 17?
Much anti-social behaviour involving air weapons is caused by unsupervised young people. As a further tool to tackle this problem, we believe that it is right to raise the age limit for owning or possessing air weapons. At present, anyone aged 14 or over can own an air weapon. Clause 44 will increase this age limit to 17.
For the purposes of completeness, I am informed that the statistics do not split the figure of 12,340 into handguns and rifles or by age. They are collected in terms of species of offence and are not broken down.
One effect of raising the age limit is that no one under 17 will be able to have an air gun in his possession unless supervised by someone aged 21 or over. We have listened to concerns from shooting organisations about how this would create difficulties for responsible young shooters who use their air weapons unsupervised for target shooting and for pest control on farms. The Government responded on Report in the other place by amending the clause to allow young people aged 14 to 16 to have air weapons unsupervised, provided they are on private premises and have the consent of the occupier.
As an extra safeguard, particularly with urban areas in mind, we have introduced an offence, punishable with a fine of up to £1,000, of firing a pellet beyond the premises. Amendment No. 180 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggests an alternative form of this exception. However, it does not contain the safeguards of a minimum age and the offence of shooting beyond the boundary.
Amendment No. 179A in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Dixon-Smith, would provide a further relaxation of the requirement for supervision. It would allow 14 to 16 year-olds to carry their air weapons unsupervised, provided they were secured in a gun cover and provided the young person was travelling directly to or from his club or another place where he could lawfully use the gun.
I fully understand why Amendment No. 179A has been tabled. I know that shooting organisations are concerned that requiring all young people under 17 to be supervised when travelling with their guns would be impractical and would unduly hinder legitimate shooters. The Government have considered very carefully their concerns, but we are not persuaded that we should make this further exception. The greatest risk of air weapons being misused is likely to occur when they are being carried in public by young people. A gun cover would not prevent the weapon being
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said about the activities of children. But many of those children are properly transported by and with their parents and/or other adults. We believe that Clause 44 provides a balanced control against the misuse of air weapons. It ensures that young people generally do not have unsupervised access to air weapons, while allowing a specific exception for responsible shooters. We believe that the balance is about right and that this would be the appropriate point to come to a proper rest.
Lord Moynihan: Sadly, I fundamentally disagree with the Government on this issue. However, this is not the hour to cover all the points and respond to them in depth, save to say that there has never been a single incident of an offence involving a member of a registered sports shooting club. In the light of that, and with the Minister's agreement, I ask her whether I may discuss the subject in detail with her officials with the intention of seeking common ground in advance of Report stage to see whether we can make progress on this issue.
Lord Dixon-Smith: This has been a very good debate. I am bound to say that the response of the Minister is disappointing. But we shall consider whether we can draft these amendments in a different form which might satisfy some of the concerns that she exposed. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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