§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD ELTISLEY
My Lords, I respectfully crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I move the Second Reading of the Firearms Act (1920) Amendment Bill. The purpose of this measure is to amend the Firearms Act of 1920, in regard to the age of persons who may purchase firearms and in respect of those to whom firearms may be sold. The object of this short Bill is primarily to raise the age at which young persons may purchase or hire firearms, to raise the age from fourteen years, at which it now stands, to seventeen years. Seventeen years has been selected as the age for the purpose of this Bill because under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, a person ceases to be a young person at the age of seventeen. The Bill comes to your Lordships from another place, where it has passed with general consent rapidly through all its stages. Indeed it was supported and I think welcomed by the Home Secretary when introduced into that House.
The Bill, being an Amending Bill, is a somewhat technical measure, and it may be considered confusing by reason of its cross references, because its provisions must be read in conjunction with the Firearms Act, 1924). The Bill is also somewhat difficult to follow because the definition of "firearm" given in subsection (1A) of Clause 1 is not the same as it is in subsection (1B). In order to clarify the position I would point out to the House that in subsection (1A) a firearm is held to be a large bore rifle and also includes shot gun, air rifle, small bore rifle, and, in short, any lethal weapon; but in subsection (1B), immediately following, a firearm has a different meaning. It is only held to be a large bore rifle or other specially dangerous weapon. It does not include a small bore rifle, shot gun, air rifle, or air gun. I shall not attempt to explain to your Lordships why the same word has two different meanings in two immediately adjacent subsections. I have long given up endeavouring to understand the ways of the draftsman who refuses to use stops and says things which, generally speaking, 759 I have great difficulty in understanding and which frequently have subsequently to be interpreted in the Law Courts.
This Bill is certainly confusing. It consists, as your Lordships will see, of merely two clauses, and, as I pointed out, its purpose is to amend the Firearms Act of 1920. After the War it was found desirable to take steps to regulate traffic in and use of firearms, and therefore the Firearms Act, 1920, was passed, one of its objects being to control the irresponsible use and ownership of firearms by young persons. The Act has proved satisfactory. It has stood the test of time fairly well, but it is now found as a result of the working of the Act that young persons under seventeen years have dangerous facilities for acquiring firearms. There have been several distressing cases of young persons shooting people on which severe magisterial and other comments have very properly been passed. As the law now stands, a young person between the ages of fourteen and seventeen can acquire a rifle or other lethal weapon quite easily provided he has got a firearms certificate. In future under the provisions of this Bill a young person will be prohibited from purchasing any firearm defined in this Bill, if he is under the age of seventeen.
Under Clause 1, subsection (1A), a young person under seventeen may not purchase or hire such a weapon, and no person shall sell or let for hire to him any firearm. The definition in subsection (IA) reads that a firearm is a rifle, shot gun, air rifle, small bore rifle, or dangerous lethal weapon. A young person between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, while he cannot purchase, can, however, use a shot gun, air rifle, or small More rifle, and he can use an ordinary smooth bore rifle. He can be given a shot gun or rifle, but the responsibility for the proper use of those weapons will rest with his parents or whoever he is out with. He is not permitted under any circumstances to buy any of these weapons for himself until he is over the age of seventeen. Under subsection (1B) a young person under the age of fourteen shall not use or carry a firearm or ammunition and a person shall not give, lend, or transfer a firearm or ammunition to such a young person. I must admit that at first sight this appeared to me, as no doubt it will 760 appear to your Lordships, that a young person could not go out shooting game unless he was over the age of fourteen because in terms of the Bill he might not carry or use a firearm, but in this case a firearm, as I have already pointed out, does not mean a shot gun and does not prohibit a young person shooting game with the ordinary small-bore gun. In short, a young person under the Bill can carry and use a shot-gun and the ammunition for it. He can also use an air-gun or small bore rifle, but he cannot buy a shot gun or rifle or any other weapon.
This Bill does not change the law in respect of the use of ordinary rifles. The main Act enacts that no person under the age of fourteen is allowed to use a rifle. I think this restriction under the Firearms Act, 1920, already on our Statute Book, is not so widely and generally known as it ought to be. In respect of the use of a rifle this Bill contemplates no change whatever, and its use remains prohibited to the young persons under fourteen. The Bill is not retrospective in its provisions, but in future it will not be open to any young person under seventeen to purchase a small-bore shotgun. He can use it, he can own it, if one is given to him, but he must use it under parental control or under control as far as possible of some other responsible nature. I would stress the fact, because such oppostion as there has been to the Bill has been due to this, that the Bill does not prevent a parent or guardian taking out a lad before the age of fourteen and teaching him how to shoot. In fact, in the view of the promoters of this Bill, the earlier a lad is taught the dangerous nature of a gun the better it is, and the more likely he is to have respect for it and to use it safely and properly in after life. The Bill does not in any way interfere with the use of rifles by cadet corps, rifle clubs and miniature rifle clubs. They will be continued in exactly the same way in the future, if this Bill is carried, as they have been allowed in the past. I have briefly indicated the main objects of this measure, and I would respectfully submit it to your Lordships' consideration and ask for the indulgence of a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Eltisley.)761
My Lords, my noble friends have asked me to offer our general support to the Bill. In doing so, may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, on a very clear exposition of what I venture to say is a very badly drafted Bill? May I also say, having heard his speech, that I agree with everything he said about young people and firearms. With many other noble Lords I agree that the time for a person to learn to shoot is when he is quite a young boy. My own youngest son before he was fourteen was an exceptionally good shot and a very safe one indeed. He has been out shooting with some of the best shots in the North of Scotland, and all of them congratulated him both on his marksmanship and the general confidence he showed and inspired; but the idea of his being able to go to a gunmaker's before he was fourteen just because an indulgent relation had given him money and buy a rifle or pistol or anything else is horrifying. There is all the difference in the world between a boy being taught to shoot early and going out with teachers or parents or elder brothers and having a free run of the market to buy any lethal weapon. It seems to me the Bill is in every way admirable and on behalf of my noble friends I desire to support it.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House has very clearly and concisely dealt with its provisions. As he has given so clear an exposition of the measure it is unnecessary for me to refer to any detail contained in the Bill. I would, however, say that His Majesty's Government regard the Bill as a useful measure to deal with the particular problem of safeguarding young persons from purchasing firearms and thereby running the risk of 762 doing serious bodily injury to themselves or other persons. It has already been said on behalf of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in another place, that the Government hope that this Bill will reach the Statute Book in the very near future. I think it is unanimously agreed that since the Act of 1920 some provision was necessary to safeguard young persons between the ages of fourteen and seventeen from being able to go, without the knowledge of their parents, into the premises of a gunsmith to procure a weapon that is dangerous to themselves. I can assure the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill that it has the full support and sympathy of His Majesty's Government.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.