§ 4. Mr. Chapman
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to seek to amend the laws and regulations relating to the ownership and use of air weapons; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)
We have no plans to do so at present. The controls on air weapons are already strict, and most owners use them safely and responsibly. Nevertheless, we will keep the situation under review.
§ Mr. Chapman
Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of notifiable offences recorded by the police concerning air weapons has increased year after year, and that there is plenty of evidence of increasing misuse of air weapons, especially by young people? Is it not time that the Government reviewed the complicated legislation on the matter, which relates to four age groups, and at least considered raising the age limit for the possession or ownership of such weapons? Will they require people to notify their local police station that they have such weapons, thus avoiding the bureaucracy of the certification system?
§ Mr. Shaw
I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about any increase in crime involving weapons that can cause serious injury, if not fatality. I hope, however, that he will be modestly encouraged by the fact that the rate of notifiable offences involving air weapons increased by 1.2 per cent. in 1984 as compared with 1983. I am not satisfied with that, but the problem is not so much lack of legislation as making greater efforts to enforce existing legislation. I accept the need for greater effort in the areas of greater need.
§ Mr. Michie
Does the Minister agree that there are responsible clubs which could control the use of air weapons, and any other weapons, but that some recorded incidents are not necessarily criminal? Bus drivers are sometimes sniped at. That happens in many cities and could be extremely dangerous. The Minister said that the number of offences increased by only 1.2 per cent., but there is much evidence, if the Government are prepared to seek it out, to show that there is a growing tendency towards the misuse of air rifles in such a way as could cause serious injury. Will the Minister institute a survey?
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me. I quite accept the need to control and reduce the number of recorded offences involving air weapons. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that many sections of the population are at risk. We must increase information and training available through clubs to ensure that young people, many of whom acquire these weapons through their parents, are correctly instructed in their use.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
Does my hon. Friend agree that what I have drawn to his attention in correspondence and have had drawn to my attention by a constitutent—the possibility of buying air guns, crossbows and revolvers through catalogues available to the general public without restriction—is clearly wrong and should be considered with the greatest possible urgency in the interests of doing something about this increasing problem?
§ Mr. Soley
Is the Minister really surprised that the Opposition and his Back Benchers, some of whom went to see him about the matter more than a year ago, believe that the Government's policy on law and order has failed? Crimes of violence and other offences of that type are increasing faster under this Government than they did under any other. The Government have done nothing to clamp down on the availability of weapons such as crossbows, air weapons, guns and others. Will the Minister now act on our recommendations to him a year ago and set up some form of committee to consider the availability of guns and the corresponding availability of guns that are then required by the police? The matter is far too serious to be left any longer.
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Gentleman will recall that offences involving firearms were increasing at the rate of 49 per cent. in the year that Labour left office, while 20 per cent. is the current figure. Substantial actions have been taken to restrain the availability and the misuse of firearms. The question relates to air weapons. I accept that more must be done to restrict the availability of air weapons and to ensure that persons can be trained in handling them.
§ Mr. John Browne
Does my hon. Friend accept that the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher aroused strong feelings, which overwhelmingly—