HC Deb 21 April 1961 vol 638 cc1623-43

2.52 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not propose to select any of the Amendments to Clause 1, because it is proposed to call a new Clause in the name of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), and in that case on the debate on Clause 1 stand part I think it would be convenient to discuss the principle of the new Clause proposed by the hon. Gentleman. The Question I propose to put is that Clause 1 stand part.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

With respect, Sir William, Clause 1 is considered by myself and many of my hon. Friends more adequately to meet our purpose than does the new Clause, which is restrictive in the sense that it deals only with airguns. We are concerned with guns, including airguns, but we thought the original intentions of the sponsors of this Bill were to deal with guns generally. It was because we considered that the Bill, as drafted, was not adequate to deal with guns generally that we tabled the Amendments to this Clause which, in our opinion, would have made Clause 1 more adequate. This, apparently, is not to be the case, and I would have thought that it was the right of hon. Members who object to the withdrawing of Amendments to have their objections sustained by you, Sir William.

The Deputy-Chairman

I appreciate the hon. Member's point. The hon. Member will have an opportunity, in the discussion on Clause 1, to raise any objection he has to that Clause as it stands, and again when the new Clause is proposed he will have an opportunity of moving any Amendments to the new Clause. It is because the promoters themselves are moving to delete this Clause 1 that I propose to take merely the question of Clause 1 stand part.

Mr. Lawson

If I may further point out, with respect, Sir William, that this Bill has been given a Second Reading and the principle of this Bill has been accepted by the House. Since the Bill has been accepted in principle, surely we should have ample opportunity of discussing every topic contained in it. It would seem that the principle has been abandoned and that there is only one type of gun being considered, namely, the airgun.

I also suggest, Sir William, that leave of the House should have been sought before such a considerable change was proposed. Although we may be able to discuss the question on this Clause, we shall not be able to table an Amendment to deal with the Bill as it was originally accepted by this House. Is not this situation quite wrong? We wish to deal with this matter in the way proposed by our Amendments to Clause 1, and if we are to be allowed only to propose Amendments to the new Clause it would seem that we are being diverted into discussing an altogether different issue. As I say, we wish to consider the whole question of guns, but if we are not to be allowed to deal with the matter in the way I have described we might as well not discuss the matter at all.

I put it to you, Sir William, that we should have the right to move our Amendments, especially since this is not the Report stage but the Committee stage of what is, of course, a Private Member's Bill which has been submitted to a Committee of the whole House. If the interests of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are to be safeguarded, we should be permitted not only to discuss the matter but to move and, if necessary, to vote on the Amendments that stand in my name and in the name of my hon. Friends.

The Deputy-Chairman

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but the duty is imposed on the Chair of selecting Amendments, and I think that the course I am adopting is fair to the Committee and that I must abide by it. I shall put the Question of Clause 1 standing part, when full debate can take place on that Clause. Subsequently, an alternative to Clause 1 will be proposed and then opportunity will be given to put Amendments that are in order to that alternative Clause.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Sir William, this seems to raise an important point of procedure. Even hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who opposed the subsequent sections of the Bill were entirely in favour of Clause 1. My hon. Friends and I have tabled certain Amendments to Clause 1 in order to make modifications to that Clause. Since then, a most extraordinary thing has happened. The promoter of the Bill has put down an Amendment to leave out Clause 1—the only Clause which we wanted. I had some doubt on Second Reading whether there was some ulterior motive in tacking several objectionable Clauses on to Clause 1, and my suspicions are increased when I find that the promoter wishes to leave out Clause 1. It is true that a new Clause has been put down in a different form and that the promoter has put his name to it, but it will be a long time before we reach it and, for all I know, before we reach it the hon. Member may put down another Amendment, this time to leave out his new Clause.

3.0 p.m.

Whether he does or not, we are in a difficulty. I hope that the Amendment to leave out this most important Clause will be defeated, that the Clause will stand part of the Bill and that we shall be able to discuss the Amendments to it which we wish to make. If the new Clause is ever reached, which I doubt, it may be defeated and there may therefore be no opportunity of discussing the Amendments which we have put on the Notice Paper. Surely my hon. Friends are right and we should have an opportunity of discussing Amendments to Clause 1.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is correct in saying that it is an unusual state of affairs when a Promoter seeks to delete a Clause from his own Bill. But that is the position. Furthermore, the Minister has added his name to the Amendment to leave out Clause 1. On a basis of probability, therefore, the Clause will not stand part of the Bill. The Committee will have a full opportunity to debate whether it should stand part of the Bill, and in the event of the promoter's Amendment being defeated, and the Government being defeated in their wishes, and in the event of the Clause being approved and standing part of the Bill, an opportunity will arise on Report to move Amendments to it. I thought that on the basis of probability I was right not to select the Amendments but to proceed to the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I understand, Sir William, that you do not intend to select Amendments to this Clause because there is an alternative Clause 1 on the Order Paper. But that alternative may never become Clause 1. It might be defeated. Even if the Amendment to delete Clause 1 is carried, there is no guarantee that the new Clause 1 will be incorporated in the Bill, and we may be left with no Clause 1. I submit that it was clear from Second Reading proceedings that Clause I was the only Clause which received the general support of the House.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

You were good enough to indicate, Sir William, that if the Amendment to delete Clause 1 is defeated, and if the Clause remains part of the Bill, hon. Members will have an opportunity on Report of moving Amendments to it. Normally Mr. Speaker is in the Chair on Report, and he selects Amendments. It is entirely within his discretion whether Amendments are selected and he need not, and does not, give any reason for selecting them. What guarantee is there that on Report he will select the Amendments which some of my hon. Friends think are important? What guarantee is there that those Amendments will be discussed on Report? Can you give an assurance on behalf of Mr. Speaker that if such a situation arises we shall be able to debate on Report many of the Amendments which some hon. Members think are important?

The Deputy-Chairman

No. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. The occupant of this Chair can give no assurance binding on Mr. Speaker when he is occupying the Chair of the House. But it is common experience that Amendments are often selected on Report, and I think it not impossible that that might be the case on this occasion if we reach that state of affairs—a state of affairs which seems to me manifestly unlikely to arise in view of the action taken by the promoter in seeking to withdraw the Clause and the action taken by the Government in supporting his attempt to withdraw it.

Mr. Lawson

We are mainly concerned with Clause 1. You have agreed, Sir William, that it is an exceedingly unusual practice for a Committee of the House to be presented with such a position which means that we have no opportunity to discuss, with a view to Amendment, the matter which we are most concerned to discuss. A wrecking Amendment is one which seeks to destroy a principle which has already been accepted. Such an Amendment is not normally carried. We are not concerned with wrecking Amendments. If there is any wrecking Amendment, it comes from the sponsor of the Bill. I submit to you. Sir William, that the Amendment to leave out Clause 1, which is a Clause with which we are all agreed, is a wrecking Amendment. I am at a loss to understand why this position has been adopted and not the position which conforms with the practices of the House of Commons.

The Deputy-Chairman

I had hoped that the interests of both sides of the Committee would be met by the course I was taking, because full opportunity will be given to the hon. Member to discuss the present Clause on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". If the Motion of the promoter that it should not stand part fails and it does stand part, an opportunity will certainly arise to table Amendments on Report. Though I can in no way bind anyone on whether they will be selected, I believe it to be fair that I should allow it to proceed in that way.

Mr. Lawson

Sir William, you have said that you thought that this way of dealing with the subject would be acceptable to all Members of the Committee. You said that you thought that this would be the fairest way. It must be evident that all hon. Members do not think that this is the fairest way. If the Clause as I and my hon. Friends propose to amendment it were carried, the Bill would be a better proposition. If we can deal only with the new Clause, a quite different position has been raised which compels us to argue on quite different grounds.

I therefore appeal to you, Sir William. You said that you approached this in the belief that what you were proposing was the fairest way to deal with it. The evidence is that it is not considered to be the fairest way. I do not suggest that you thought that it would have this effect, but it stifles hon. Members who feel that they have a legitimate point of view to put forward and, if necessary, to vote on.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

Further to that point of order. It may help if I give a little explanation following these points of order. I am sure that hon. Members understand the difficulties which a private Member has in drafting a Bill without having a Government Department behind him. The removal of Clause 1 was not meant as any discourtesy to the Committee, but merely to arrive at something practicable. It is for this reason that we have suggested that Clause 1 be withdrawn. I very much hope that we shall be able to get on to the debate on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", to that we can give a more detailed explanation of our intentions.

Mr. Willis

Further to that point of order, Sir William. If we follow your suggestion and debate the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" and the Motion is carried and the Clause remains in the Bill, we shall not get an opportunity to table Amendments to the Clause until Report stage. That will deprive hon. Members of the advantages they enjoy when they table Amendments in Committee. In Committee they have a greater freedom to discuss Amendments than they have on Report, when they are limited to one contribution. If they make their contribution before the Minister has spoken, they have no opportunity of answering any point made by the Minister or the promoter of the Bill. Hon. Members are being denied the fullest opportunity of discussing the important points which the Clause raises in the manner in which they should be discussed. In other words, their freedom to discuss it is being curtailed by this procedure.

The Deputy-Chairman

I appreciate what the hon. Member says, but I took the view, and it was carefully considered, that it would be less fair to the Committee to allow so much time to be spent discussing all these Amendments, when, at the end of the discussion, the probability was that, in view of the fact that the promoter was opposed to the Clause, the Clause would fall and much of the Committee's time would have been spent to no purpose at all. Having taken that view, I invite the Committee to accept it from me and allow me to proceed in the way that I have decided.

Mr. Lawson

Further to that point of order, Sir William. This puts me in a difficult position. If the new Clause were very much the same, or it sought to do almost the same in a more efficient way, or in a way likely to be more effective or easier to carry out, it would have been all right. But the new Clause does something very different. It leaves the shotgun almost without control but puts prohibitive control on airguns. It may be that this will be the best way of dealing with airguns, I do not know. The Amendments were put down only this week—I think on Tuesday or Wednesday—and there has been no opportunity of going thoroughly into this question or of considering whether or not the best way to deal with airguns, for example, is to prohibit them, but at the same time the same Clause, in a Measure which chiefly prohibits the use of airguns, more or less for youngsters under 17 years of age, leaves the question of shotguns comparatively untouched.

I am not an expert on this subject. But I am putting it to you. Sir William, that this is a genuine problem. If we agree to the proposals put forward and Clause 1 is taken out, which is likely to happen if this becomes a Government Measure, as would seem to be the case because the Government have taken over this point and are presenting the new Clause, I shall be placed when we come to deal with the new Clause in a very invidious position. If, for example, I do not think that this Measure for dealing with airguns is adequate, or that it goes too far, I am put in the position of having to oppose the Measure when I want to see control over weapons.

I may be presented with a version of the Bill from the Government in which they are prepared to eliminate airguns but are not prepared to do anything about shotguns for some years to come. If I oppose this, I am put in the position of the person who is not prepared to control airguns. It is very unfair that I should be put in that position. Taking the Bill as put, it is clear that the original intention was that we should deal adequately with airguns as well as shotguns. If you adopt the procedure now proposed, Sir William, I am put in the impossible position, taking the stand I do, of not being able to consider all these matters equitably.

I ask you, Sir William, to say whether it is the case or not that I shall be put in the position of being presented with a kind of fait accompli. We have either to accept the new Clause more or less as it is or, if we oppose it, we are opposing a Measure to control airguns. I am not prepared to say at this stage, without this question having been considered and the people concerned having been consulted, and without myself having had an opportunity to look at some of the evidence behind it, that there is any fairness at all in my being put in this position. I appeal to you, Sir William, that if we are to deal with this in a way which does not put hon. Members in an invidious position, you should deal with the Bill as it is here, Clause by Clause.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am most anxious that hon. Members should have every opportunity to do what they think right. It seems to me that there is, in the first place, such opportunity on the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, if that is taken first. Secondly, if Clause 1 does not stand part, there will be opportunity on the new Clause 1 which the promoter proposes to move. Thirdly—I say this particularly to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson)—an hon. Member taking his view of the matter will have an opportunity, if he so desires, to put down another new Clause of his own. Fourthly, there are the opportunities on Report, about which I cannot, of course, say anything binding at this stage.

It seems to me that there is adequate opportunity afforded to hon. Members to put their points of view, and I invite the Committee to allow me to proceed as I have decided and discuss the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. B. Harrison

I agree that it is probably an unusual course for the promoter of a Bill to try in Committee to remove Clause I. I endeavoured to explain that this is due, very largely, to the advice which I and my hon. Friends have had and taken, some of it coming from the other side of the Committee, after the Bill was published and given a Second Reading. I tried to make clear on Second Reading that my supporters and I would pay attention to such representations as were made during the debate and that it might be necessary to alter slightly the form of the Bill, in consultation with the Home Office, but that the general objectives would be maintained.

I know that both the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), who are so concerned about the Bill, have only one object, that is to say, that the monstrous number of casualties caused by airguns and the smaller number by other guns should be abated. I know that they are in full support of any action taken to stop the wounding of people with various weapons. Since the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) referred to the matter on Second Reading, I think it might be worth while giving again the number of cases reported to the police in England and Wales of personal injury as a result of airguns fired by persons under 17 years of age: in 1956, 501. In 1957, 648. In 1958, 719. In 1959, 738. I know that it is the desire of those two hon. Members to help us to reduce the number of these unnecessary casualties.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Islington, East suggested that this was a hybrid Bill. He even accused me—I found it hard to understand—of being very naive when I said that it was a Bill to protect human beings, birds and animals. He suggested that Clause 2 and those following were irrelevant to the object of the Bill. My hon. Friends and I are always prepared to bow to good advice and we would give an undertaking that, were we to get the new Clause I, we should be prepared to accept the hon. Member's Amendments to remove the other Clauses from the Bill.

This new Clause has been drafted with the help of the Government, which, as I said earlier, makes the task easier for a private Member in view of the difficulty which one has in finding the right terminology so that the Measure is capable of enforcement by the police and in the courts. We have decided that the original Clause 1 is not practical for achieving what we want from the Bill.

Recently there have been discussions concerning the control of shotguns, the damage and danger resulting from their use and the harm caused to animals. I understand that the investigations into the wounding and damage caused by these weapons and the ensuing recommendations will take some time to complete. For that reason, I feel that where a case is made out—and I think the figures that were mentioned make out a case—for controlling the use of airguns, we should take a small though important step at the moment—I admit it is only a small step but it is better than no step—if we are to reduce the number of 700 or 800 casualties, mostly to young people, in the course of a year. If we are prepared to do that, I think we can achieve it by introducing a new Clause 1 in place of the present one and limiting the effect of the Bill primarily to airguns.

As I have said, I am prepared to give an undertaking to accept the Amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Islington, East on the other Clauses if we are able to delete the present Clause and substitute the new one referring to airguns. My reason for seeking to remove Clause 1 is that there would be some difficulty in enforcing it, and it was thought that the provisions relating to the carrying of weapons in certain places—which are referred to in the new Clause—would be a better way of enabling the police to enforce the restrictions that we require.

I think it would probably be out of order to refer to the new clause in too much detail at this stage. I ask hon. Members, however, to compare Clause 1 with the proposed new Clause, which is infinitely stricter in trying to make sure that we do not have so many casualties each year. Having achieved that, and having obtained information later about other weapons, we should be able to consider action relating to them.

Earlier today we debated the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act, 1959 (Amendment) Bill. That is a useful step, and we are trying to achieve the same object, in another direction, by this Bill, following advice given to both sides of the House. We want this Bill on the Statute Book, but in order to make it effective I ask hon. Members to oppose the Motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willis

I agree that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) has met difficulties in drafting this Bill, but they arose because he does not seem to have known what he wanted to do. Clause 1 was aimed at obtaining greater security for the public, but then the Bill went on to include a miscellaneous collection of Clauses, some of which were most highly controversial. That this was so was made evident during the Second Reading debate.

Having found that he had made a mistake, the hon. Member then decided to restrict his Bill virtually to one Clause—not the Clause he started off with but a new Clause. The Title of the Bill, in view of the various amendments being made to it, should be not Game Licences and Gun Licences (Miscellaneous Provisions), etc. Bill but "Airgun Control Bill". The way in which the passage of the Bill has been conducted is highly regrettable. We are now faced with considering something that was not in the hon. Member's mind when he introduced the Bill.

Mr. B. Harrison

This was very much in my mind, and in the minds of my hon. Friends. It was made clear during the Second Reading that one of the things we wished to control was the indiscriminate use of airguns. The hon. Member will find that I quoted the number of casualties from airguns in my speech on that occasion.

Mr. Willis

I agree that the hon. Member devoted part of his speech to that subject, but only part of Clause 1 was devoted to it. Now, however, that part of the Clause has become the main part of the Bill—at least, that is the intention of the hon. Member. The proceedings concerned with the Bill seem to me to be highly undesirable. We should know where we stand. The result has been, as I pointed out to you, Sir William, that hon. Members have been denied some of their rights of discussion. Perhaps the hon. Member for Maldon did not understand that, but it is nevertheless deplorable.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) will not take it amiss if I remind the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that, during the Second Reading debate, several Members opposite said that they were in favour of Clause 1 but against the rest of the Bill, and that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made a plea to us to drop all of the Bill except Clause 1. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon is proposing to do.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I intended to deal with that later. I am aware of what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary said about this and what other hon. Members said on Second Reading, when they supported the Clause. All the arguments and the pleas that something should be done along the lines of Clause 1 were made in respect of shotguns as well as of airguns. I do not want to weary the House by reading long extracts from the Second Reading debate, but the hon. and learned Member will find constant references not only to accidents by airguns but also to accidents by shotguns.

The hon. Member for Maldon drew attention to this aspect when he said: With shotguns included, the number of persons injured and killed in the period ending December, 1958, was 610 and in the period ending February, 1934, 439. There again, there has been a very considerable rise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 856.]

Mr. Lawson

The Under-Secretary has just referred to the offer of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to support a one-Clause Bill. I refer him to column 910 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Second Reading, when my right hon. Friend associated himself with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), who spoke about shotguns and the terrible accidents that they have caused. It is perfectly clear that my right hon. Friend had in mind a Bill dealing with shotguns as well as with airguns.

Mr. Willis

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) has forestalled what I intended to say. My right hon. Friend said: I regard the matters raised by Clause I as being of very serious concern and I would go all the way with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) in the views which he has pressed on the hon. and learned Gentleman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 910.] The views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman contain a long recital of accidents with shotguns, deplorable accidents, and his criticism of the fact that a child of three can get a gun licence. He denounced the ease with which a gun licence can be obtained and he quoted the instance of the child of three getting such a licence. He quoted several accidents all concerned with shotguns.

Mr. Fletcher

I hope that, in fairness to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) will say that it is significant that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not put his name to the Amendment to omit Clause 1 and that there is no reason to suppose other than that he would have wished Clause 1 to stand in its present form.

Mr. Willis

I have noted that and the fact that the right hon. and learned Member has not put his name to the new Clause. I do not know what his reasons are. They may be good reasons. What I was saying was that throughout his speech he referred to accidents arising with shotguns.

While the numbers may be smaller than in the case of accidents with air-guns, of course, we have to remember that they are, in the main, much more serious accidents, and that a great number of them result in loss of life. This is the great tragedy of this business, and it is being deliberately omitted by the Government. What we are complaining about is not that the Government want to deal with accidents from airguns, but that they should have limited this Clause simply and solely to this purpose, when everybody in the House had expressed general support for a Clause which would have had a much wider and more beneficial effect. The original Clause was so worded as to provide that a person under the age of 15 shall not use or carry a gun, and I had an Amendment down which I thought might have made it even wider, but that is by the way.

Why has the Clause been reduced to this very small area? I listened to the hon. Gentleman when he moved that this Clause should not stand part of the Bill. What were his reasons? I did not get his exact words, but he made two points. He said that discussions are going on about shotguns. He did not tell us why these discussions should be prevented from covering what was intended in Clause 1. What is the character of the discussions, and with what are they concerned?

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I think that if the hon. Gentleman had had the time, and if his Parliamentary duties had not prevented him, if he had gone upstairs to a meeting sponsored by several of his hon. Friends, he would have found that the University Federation for Animal Welfare, the Wild Fowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, the Council for Nature, and the Nature Conservancy had put forward several prospective pilot schemes for encouraging people to shoot, and several constructive schemes for better information and better education in schools.

The general feeling of people who are really interested in this matter is that these various schemes should have an opportunity of coming to fruition, and that there should also be an opportunity for further study of the recommendations of the Scott-Henderson Committee on Shooting and on the proper loads to be used for various guns and targets.

Time should be given for all that work to be considered, so that legislation can be passed on the basis of this experience and the experiments now in progress. In two or three years' time, the information would be available, so that hon. Members could give it consideration along with everything else. We should deal with airguns now, and in three years' time, when we have got all this information, deal with shotguns.

Mr. Willis

I am sorry I was not at the meeting which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I understand that it was concerned with teaching people the proper use of shotguns. That may be highly desirable, and I am not suggesting that it is not, but it does not mean that it would necessarily obviate the high rate of accidents. I cannot help thinking that the reason why we are showing this general leniency in not being prepared to deal with shotguns is quite a different one altogether. We are dealing with a different category of people, and that is what suggests the difference to me. That is rather deplorable, because I should like to have seen something done about both.

We are told, in respect of shotgun accidents, which are much more serious, that we must wait for three or four years, but why? Must people go on being killed so that we can gain a little experience about a scheme for training and giving experience in shotguns? In other words, we are to continue the killing of people from accidents by shotguns because we are trying to teach people to use them correctly, but, when we come to the case of airguns and a much larger number of people, because these are different weapons and different accidents, and frequently of a quite different nature to those in which shotguns are involved—and I agree—we say that something ought to be done about it.

Everyone knows that something ought to be done about it, because of the increasing number of accidents, but what I cannot understand is why, after having drafted a Clause to cover both, we should now suddenly decide not to proceed with it as far as it affects shotguns, but to proceed with it in connection with airguns. That is a deplorable decision.

I would have liked to see the hon. Member sticking to his original intention in Clause 1, namely, to try to prevent accidents both in regard to airguns and shotguns. The present course does not seem to be very useful, especially in view of the opinions expressed in the Second Reading debate. It is bound to raise a number of suspicions in the minds of certain people.

I still believe that if we could keep the Clause as it is, and accept the hon. Member's offer to drop the remaining Clauses, it would be much better than deleting the present Clause 1 and putting in its place the one that is suggested. The original one would deal with a much greater evil, and would have much better results. The hon. Member has not told us why the existing Clause should not apply to shotguns. Are there administrative or drafting reasons? Is there any reason, apart from the fact that we are trying to train people to use shotguns properly?

Mr. B. Harrison

The hon. Member may have noticed that the proposed new Clause contains a reference to the use of shotguns, although it does not go as far as the original Clause, for various reasons, Which have been referred to.

Mr. Willis

I agree that there is a reference to shotguns, but it is a different reference from that relating to airguns. The two are treated quite differently.

Mr. Harrison

That is true—because the weapons are different. A shotgun is more difficult to conceal; it has a much louder report, and it is not universally available in towns.

Mr. Willis

I appreciate that, and we can discuss it when we deal with the new Clause. Nevertheless, what I have been saying is true. No good reasons have been advanced why the dangers of using shotguns should not be dealt with at the same time as we are dealing with the problem of airguns. We have not been told why the existing Clause will not deal satisfactorily with the position. In what respect is the present Clause deficient? We have been told that the shotgun is a different kind of weapon, and that training schemes are proceeding. I do not argue about that, but I want to know in what respect the present Clause fails to tackle the problem of the increasing number of accidents with shotguns, which is just as important as the question of accidents from airguns.

For these reasons I find it very difficult to accept the Amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Kimball

As I understand, we are discussing why the original Clause 1 should or should not be left out of the Bill and that we should consider the new Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), the promoter of the Bill, has made a very important concession to all the requests made to him by hon. Members opposite. He has said that he is prepared to reduce this rather ambitious Measure—and, I dare say, too ambitious for a Private Member's Bill—to a straight control of airguns Bill. My hon. Friend has only done that because of the tremendous pressure brought to bear on him on this point.

It is quite obvious, looking at the Notice Paper and at the speeches made on Second Reading, that a more comprehensive Measure, much as it is needed in view of the various anomalies in the game law and of the many things that worry people in the countryside today, would not be acceptable to the House. It would be a great tragedy if, having got as far as this, we were not able to proceed with the consideration of the new Clause.

I cannot go the whole way with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon on his new Clause. I know that it has been designed by the Government to meet a very large number of the points in the original Clause 1 of the Bill. I cannot help feeling that perhaps this Clause is reflecting too unfairly on the manufacturers of airguns. I do not think that sufficient credit has been given to them for the very responsible attitude which they adopted towards the Bill in the first instance and to the co-operation which we received from them in drafting the original Bill.

I think it was unfortunate that my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State should have been forced to describe airguns as nothing more than dangerous toys. I would point out that they provide the cheapest and very first weapons of many people in the country with which to learn to shoot. The important thing in this matter is that there should be a measure of parental supervision and responsibility. I should not be entirely happy to make it illegal for anyone under the age of 14 to possess an airgun. Let us have the necessary control and responsibility and the education facilities for the use of airguns without going the whole hog and saying, "No airguns at all".

Subject to this and the chance which we shall surely have of amending the new Clause, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to allow my hon. Friend to drop the original Clause 1 and to give us the chance to consider and amend the new Clause which my hon. Friend and the Government have put down.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has been very forthright, and I appreciate the attitude which he adopts. I, too, have been favourably impressed by the approach of airgun manufacturers to the matter. They approached me and I gave them advice, though they are not in my constituency but in a place in Lanarkshire. I told them that I could not be associated with any effort not to control airguns. I asked them what reasonable controls they proposed. I was very concerned that there should be no question of simply taking no steps for control at all. The manufacturers, I thought, proposed reasonable control. I was a bit shocked when I heard the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) propose almost a complete eradication of the airgun.

Mr. B. Harrison

That is not so.

Mr. Lawson

May I describe my own reactions and why I feel so strongly about the matter? Under the Bill, if passed, I should be prohibited from giving an airgun to my son if he were under 14 years of age. I would be prohibited from giving my son an air- gun even if I stood over him and watched him when he used it. If I were to present him with such a gun, it would constitute a serious offence punishable by imprisonment, and the same would apply if the gun came into his possession by any other means. On the other hand, if I were to give my son a 410 shotgun, a much more deadly weapon—

Mr. Kimball

And more expensive.

Mr. Lawson

—and more expensive, I would not be committing an offence. We are entitled to more information than we have so far been given for the proposed change.

If I were a reasonably wealthy member of the landed gentry, and wanted my son to take up blood sports—but let me make it clear that I am not a member of the landed gentry and do not think as they do—I would want him to be taught to use a gun at an early age. I would probably see to it that he received a 410 shotgun, a gun which is suitable for youngsters and ladies, and I would be permitted to do that. In fact, if the Bill became an Act, the Prince of Wales would be denied the possession of an air-gun, but he would be entitled to possess a shotgun.

I suggest to the hon. Member for Maldon that the explanation for the proposed change is that it would never do to prohibit the youngster who is destined to enjoy blood sports from possessing a shotgun at an early age. The 410 shotgun is the most suitable weapon for him, and its possession would be legal.

The hon. Member for Maldon referred to the increase in the number of accidents caused by airguns. I deplore this increase, but when the hon. Gentleman compares the number of accidents caused by airguns with the number of accidents caused by shotguns, he ought to make it clear that there are many more airguns in use than shotguns. I do not know the figure, but there must be about a million airguns in use in this country. The figure I was given was that in 1959 more than 150,000 airguns, air rifles and air pistols were sold on the home market, and that, in addition, about 12,000 were brought into the country.

Therefore, when reference is made to the accident rate, we must consider it in relation to the total number of guns in use. The hon. Gentleman gave us only the gross figure of the increase in accidents without mentioning the increase in the number of guns since before the war. It is also wrong to compare the accident rate before the war with the accident rate today because the methods of assessing and recording accidents are more accurate now than they used to be.

I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough that we ought to spend some time looking at this problem to enable us to devise the best means of controlling the number of accidents. The hon. Member for Maldon says that air-guns must be prohibited, and that the position with regard to the possession of shotguns must be considered every three or four years. It may be that what we are doing is inadequate, and, if so, I am prepared to consider this matter further to see how we can improve what the hon. Member for Maldon originally proposed. I say that no youngster under the age of 15 should be allowed to carry or use an airgun or, in fact, any gun, except when he is in company, and presumably under the supervision, of an adult; we say of 20 years of age. The sponsors of the Bill wish to introduce control at the age of 21 and I should be prepared to accept the age of 21 rather than 20. This is evidence of our concern to see that there is suitable and adequate control. I am not a "gun man" and I should not want my child to learn to fire a gun. I should be reluctant to have him shoot even a starling, because I should feel that it would be brutalising the child. But if we want to control guns, let us be fair. If we wish to eradicate the airgun, let us prohibit the making of it. Do not let us have discriminatory control, against one kind of gun and in favour of another. That is unworthy of this House.

There is another point. I understand that it costs 40s. for 100 cartridges for a 410 shotgun, but costs only 9d. or 1s. for 100 slugs for an airgun. Hon. Members will note the difference. The son of a well-to-do man would use a 410 shotgun and the son of a poor man would use an airgun. Here is a form of discrimination which I consider regrettable. We thought that Clause 1 of the Bill did not go far enough. I have been reading of cases where "trigger-happy" boys have gone about the countryside ready to shoot at the first thing they saw. The makers of airguns consider that a suitable control would be to make it illegal for any youngster under 17 years of age to have such a gun in a public place in an uncovered condition.

We have been trying to write that into the Bill; that no gun should be carried in a suitably defined public place, except when securely covered by means of a cover which would not permit the gun to be operated unless it was taken out of the cover. I consider that a reasonable control and we should have been happy had hon. Gentlemen opposite accepted it. That, however, is not the position. The position is that we are legislating for a restricted form of control. It will be imposed on the airgun and, though the shotgun will not be let off completely, it will get off very lightly.

I do not wish to spend a lot of time quoting long passages from the OFFICIAL REPORT, but it is important we should bear in mind that illustrations of the kind of accidents which occur were given only in relation to the shotgun. During the Second Reading debate the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) quoted four examples. He prefaced them by saying that for over two years he had collected cuttings from newspapers of accounts of accidents caused by guns. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said: One of the reports says that a boy came in for his tea and left his 12-bore gun on the baby's pram. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quotes the boy as saying: I picked up my gun. I had my back to him and someone mentioned my name. I turned round, the gun went off and it went straight at him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 902.] The second illustration relates to a girl aged two, who died on the way to hospital—

It being Four o'clock The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Friday, 5th May.