HC Deb 22 May 1986 vol 98 cc521-3
7. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state for each year since 1978 the number of crimes in England and Wales involving the use of (a) any firearm, (b) a shotgun and (c) a crossbow.

Mr. Giles Shaw

In 1984 a total of 8,376 notifiable offences were recorded by the police in which firearms were reported to have been used. Of these, 994 involved the use of a shotgun. Figures for earlier years are given in the criminal statistics published annually. Information on the use of crossbows in crime is not recorded centrally.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Minister accept that both the police and the public are legitimately concerned about the increase in the number of violent crimes in which weapons are used, but that the Police Federation's proposal that life sentences should be imposed for the carrying of firearms rather than, as is now the case, for their use would reduce the incentive for criminals to escape without using them and that in that sense it would be counter-productive? Would it not be far better to impose on the buying and keeping of shotguns restrictions similar to those that are currently applied to the buying and keeping of firearms?

Mr. Shaw

On the latter point, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. There is disquiet, because it is thought that there is a substantial difference between the security requirements that govern both categories of firearms. However, he will be aware that the correct policy is to balance the requirements of the legitimate users of shotguns and the requirements of safe keeping, which should not inhibit their use. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, he will be aware that substantial changes are being made to the sentencing policy for these offences. He will also be aware that in relation to the Criminal Justice Bill, which is shortly to come before the House, there is a proposal that those who carry firearms in furtherance of crime should be subject to a maximum life penalty.

Mr. Thurnham

When serious crimes are committed by children under the age of 14, will my hon. Friend consider strengthening the powers of the magistrates' courts and also lowering the age of discretion so that they can be dealt with?

Mr. Shaw

I appreciate that this is a complicated matter. My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that many crimes are now committed by young people, The average age of male criminal offenders is 15. Therefore it is important to examine what should be the correct penalty. However, I do not believe that it would be right to make the sweeping change that my hon Friend suggests.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister explain why we allow the manufacture, import or sale of crossbows in this country, particularly in view of the increasing number of crimes that are being committed with them and the number of injuries that have been caused to livestock? Surely we should simply ban crossbows, which cannot be justified.

Mr. Shaw

There is a substantial difference between the attitude towards this problem of Opposition Members and that of the Government and the Conservative party. Many people are engaged in perfectly legitimate sporting activities which could include the use of crossbows. Provided that sporting facilities are available, with proper membership of properly organised clubs, crossbows can be used in perfect safety. The law relating to the abuse of weapons in a public place is satisfactory.

Mr. Stanbrook

Should we not consider the mandatory imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for the illegal carrying of firearms, a sentence to be served consecutively in any event where another sentence has been imposed?

Mr. Shaw

I take note of my hon. Friend's request, and that matter will surely be discussed.

Mr. Soley

Is this not yet another example of the Government failing to put their money where their mouth is on crime prevention? Is it not a fact that the Minister has already turned down a suggestion from me that we set up a proper committee in the Home Office to look at the needs and duties of legitimate users and balance them with the needs of new legislation on shotguns, crossbows and pistols? Have they not turned it down without even considering it or the implications for police officers and for the public? Why will the Government not treat the matter seriously and set up a committee at the proper level in the Home Office to make recommendations for the House to consider?

Mr. Shaw

We are indeed discussing the problem of crossbows, their distribution and their sale with the trades concerned. As we did in the case of martial arts weapons I trust that we shall achieve a level of control over distribution that will prevent them falling into illicit hands. If the hon. Gentleman represents the party of freedom and fairness, I assume that when it comes to major public order offences it is the freedom to throw bricks and the fairness is that they are all regulation size.

Sir John Farr

Does my hon. Friend accept that the vast majority, if not all, of these crimes were committed with illegally held firearms? Handguns are now coming into use to an increasing extent. Will he confirm that the ordinary law-abiding firearms owner in Great Britain is in no way involved?

Mr. Shaw

I can tell my hon. Friend that there are 820,000 certificate holders of shotguns. I am confident that all those will use their weapons correctly and will seek to keep them in a safe place. I remind my hon. Friend and the House that there are a substantial number of uncertificated shotguns in circulation, many of which are imported.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Is the Minister aware that crossbows and other deadly weapons can now be bought all too easily by anybody through mail order advertisements in a magazine called "Survival Weaponry and Techniques", which disgracefully W. H. Smith is selling all over the country? What will he do about it?

Mr. Shaw

The absolute number of crossbows in circulation is extremely small. The absolute number of incidents involving injury in relation to crossbows is extremely small. I have already set in hand an investigation as to what more can be done. In relation to the law governing abuse of weapons in public places, criminal offences would be committed.

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