HL Deb 05 July 1962 vol 241 cc1367-84

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a Private Member's Bill which has already been through another place, where in general it was accepted with enthusiasm. It was introduced by my honourable friend the Member for Maldon, Mr. Brian Harrison, and having passed all its stages there is comes to your Lordships' House, where I trust it will be received with equal enthusiasm. It has, to my mind, three fairly obvious virtues: first, it is a short Bill; secondly, it is a modest Bill; and, thirdly, it is a sensible Bill. It is primarily designed to bring some kind of order and regulation of the use of air guns and shot guns by young people, and at the outset I should like to state what the Bill does.

Under this Bill no person under the age of 14 may receive an air weapon or ammunition for it, and no one may give a person under that age an air weapon or ammunition for it. No one under 14 may be in possession of an air weapon unless he is under the supervision of a person who is over the age of 21 or is the licensee of a shooting gallery or club. No one under 17 may have an air weapon in a public place unless it is securely fastened with a gun cover, and no person under 15 may have an assembled shot gun in his possession unless he is under the supervision of somebody over the age of 21 or unless it is securely fastened by a gun cover. Those are the basic provisions of the Bill. I think if your Lordships will study this Bill you will find that what at first sight might appear to be infringement of one's existing liberties is in fact a reasonable and sensible regulation of these weapons when they are in the hands of young people.

I should like to refer first, if I may, to air weapons as opposed to shot guns. The air weapon may be either an air gun or an air rifle, which is a rifled air gun or an air pistol. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and, as your Lordships well know, are fired with very inexpensive ammunition, in most cases the slug or the dart, which is a hideous piece of ammunition; but this weapon can be bought even for as little as 25s. 6d. One sometimes forgets that these things, though fundamentally what one might describe as toys, are, nevertheless, lethal and highly dangerous, and yet there are no restrictions whatever upon their use.

I am bound to call to mind my own experience with these things. Having reached the age of ten when the war broke out, I found that my major contribution to the war effort for the first few days was to draw an effigy of the Fuehrer on a piece of paper, place it on a tin and endeavour to puncture it in as many places as possible with slugs from my air gun. In retrospect, I fear that neither the Fuehrer nor my marksmanship was particularly talented. But the point was that those shots might well have found a different target from that at which they were aimed. Under this Bill that kind of practice will become unlawful unless the boy is supervised by a person older than himself. I am not for a moment suggesting that it is bad for young boys to handle these weapons or to have any fun which they may derive from them. What I am suggesting and what this Bill suggests is that if young boys wish to handle these things, then they should do so in the company of older and more responsible people.

I have deliberately taken one example that will endear itself least to your Lordships as a situation deserving of Parliamentary action; but if we may look a Little further, I think that your Lordships will appreciate that there are other cases more serious. As I have said, an air gun or an air weapon may be used by a child of any age, and although he is restricted by the Firearms Act from purchasing one, he is not restricted from using one; and the fact is that a great number of these weapons are being used by young people, quite ruthlessly. Young townsmen go into the country at week-ends and fire off at anything they may see, whether it moves or is stationary, whether it is an animal or human, or even of neuter origin. Frequently, birds are found maimed, with their legs or their wings broken, and cows are particularly favourite targets. If one is possibly to be a little less sympathetic and more mundane, one will at least appreciate that a cowhide when it has been punctured with slugs is virtually spoiled as a hide.

But the danger and the damage does not stop with animals. People are frequently being shot at, and if not being deliberately shot at, at least hit by youths who use these weapons. If I may quote from two letters, I think that the point will be fairly adequately made. The first letter was written to Colonel Wigg on February 23, and the writer said: Within the last few days two shocking cases have come to my notice in our own vicinity. In one, a man digging harmlessly in his allotment right behind my house, was shot between his eyes and had to be rushed to Corbett Hospital to have the bullet dug out. In the other, a school friend of one of my children was shot in the eye while walking with her father in Sutton Park. The other letter which I should have liked to refer to your Lordships, unfortunately has disappeared below the Bench, but it merely expanded on what had happened to the child who was walking in Sutton Park with her parent on a Sunday afternoon and received a shot wound in the head and was sent to hospital.

I am aware of the danger of quoting individual letters as an argument for supporting one's case, but I think your Lordships will agree that those two cases, if they do not prove anything, at least give an indication of what is going on and how dangerous these weapons are. These are not isolated cases. They indicate what is happening, and reinforce the evidence which your Lordships will find if you look at the statistics. In 1957 there were no fewer than 973 injuries from air weapons, of which 120 were serious. Two years later, the number had increased to 1,079, of which 169 were serious. That is an increase of 10 per cent. in total injuries and of 40 per cent. in serious injuries—a marked increase, and a figure which I suggest is too large. In each case, children under 14 accounted for almost exactly one-third of the figures.

In the case of shot guns the figures are different. In 1957 there was a total of 170 injuries compared with the 970 for air weapons; there were 64 which were serious and 48 which were fatal. In 1959, two years later, the total of injuries had risen from 170 to 246, which is an increase of 45 per cent., of which 96 were serious and 56 fatal. If one may generalise, I think one can say that more accidents, nearly four times as many, are caused by air weapons as by shot guns; but those that are caused by shot guns are much more serious. Nearly 20 per cent. of all reported accidents by shot guns are fatal.

It is in order to protect the countryside and those who dwell in it, both human and livestock, that this Bill has been brought forward. It recognises that these weapons, be they air weapons or shot guns, are potentially dangerous, and, used by the wrong hands and in the wrong place, can inflict serious bodily damage. It seeks to control, and not to prevent, their use by young people. If a young person wishes to use one of these weapons, then he must do so in the company of older people. The Bill also states that, for reasons of public safety, no one under the age of 17 may carry an air weapon in a public place unless it is securely fastened by a gun cover.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention particularly to this clause in the Bill. Clause 1 (3) of the Bill says: subject to subsection (5) of this section, no person under the age of seventeen shall have an air weapon in his possession in any public place, except an air gun or air rifle which is so covered with a securely fastened gun cover. It does not say an air pistol. In other words, no person under the age of seventeen may have an air pistol in his possession in a public place, be it covered or uncovered. The reason for that is obvious. These weapons are small. They are easily concealed, either in a pocket or in a jacket. They can be easily produced and just as easily concealed again.

In Clause 2, the age limit for having an assembled shot gun in one's possession is fifteen. The reason for this is that, in some respects, a shot gun is a tool in many people's trades. Farmers, gamekeepers and pest control officers use shot guns as part of the tools of their trade. This is not so with am air gun, which is primarily a toy. That is why a person of 15 is much more likely to be (with malicious intent when the is going around with an air gun than if he has a shot gun in his possession. Some people may consider that this Bill goes too far. Equally, others may consider that it does not go far enough. I would merely suggest to your Lordships that it is a fair and a just compromise with sometimes quite conflicting interests, and at least it makes a start on the control of these weapons in regard to young people. The gun-makers themselves are in favour of the Bill because, whilst obviously they wish to see their sales increase, like so many people they detest the thought of these weapons being used by people irresponsibly.

I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Netherthorpe, is not here because he has strong views on this particular Bill. He wrote to me a short while ago saying that he was wholly behind the Air Guns and Shot Guns Bill, and wished he could have been here to-day to support it. Perhaps I might quote to your Lordships what he said. I think it is of importance, because his views are so widely respected in the agricultural industry: I do not know in what way I can help other than empowering you to say that I have been long convinced that a more effective control of the use of air guns and shot guns is imperative in order to curb the activities of rural vandals and dangerous trespassers whose ignorance of country lore and abuse of privilege make them not only objectionable, but dangerous. During my 15 years as President of the National Farmers' Union I was constantly being furnished with evidence that renders the provisions of this Bill the minimum safeguards that ought to be secured by legislation. My Lords, it is with that thought in mind that I commend this Bill to your Lordships. I trust that you will treat it favourably and will consider it a wise and sensible Bill to be passed by this House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Ferrers.)

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to detain the House long. I do not want to vote against the Bill at this moment, but I am glad the noble Lord mentioned that there will be people looking at this Bill who would not be against it in principle, but who would think that it does not go far enough. I am one of those people. It seems to me an extraordinary thing when you begin to talk about "a reasonable compromise" as to the age at which to allow youths to have these lethal weapons when youngsters of fifteen are allowed to possess 12-bore shot guns. This is a most extraordinary situation in view of the accidents that have happened. It is perfectly true, of course, that the accident figures in the case of air weapons are higher, but when accidents happen with shot guns they very often have far more serious results. I think the age here is too low. However, the noble Lord has been very good in his explanation, and I do not propose to vote against the Second Reading. But if it is possible for me to be here on Committee, I may possibly move an Amendment.

4.54 p.m.


I, too, should like to say a few words in support of this Bill which my noble friend Lord Ferrers has introduced to us in such a clear and informative speech. It is very seldom indeed that I find myself in wholehearted agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, but on this occasion I must record my agreement with him. My support of this Bill is qualified only because I agree that it does not go anything like far enough. I have held this view for some time, and have wearied your Lordships on more than one occasion with my views on this subject. I feel that the whole of our approach to firearms, including the law governing them, is too casual. We allow people to have firearms too easily; we do not inquire nearly carefully enough into the reasons why they want them, their qualifications for holding them and whether they have the necessary skill to use them. There are far too many accidents, in my opinion, arising out of the use of firearms; there are far too many crimes resulting from the use of firearms; and they are still far too easily acquired, both legally and illegally. Firearms have to-day become the status symbol of the crook, and I think it is our duty to reduce that status and to withhold that symbol.

This subject was debated in your Lordships' House on November 14 last. In my Motion I was much more concerned with revolvers and pistols than I was with the use of shot guns and air guns. Since that debate there has been a considerable improvement administratively. I have noticed with approval that the police are becoming much more fussy and detailed in their inquiries; they are asking much stricter questions as to why anybody needs to have a revolver at all.

What I should have liked to do would be to put down Amendments of a fairly stringent nature in order to strengthen this Bill a great deal and to widen its scope. But, having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 20 years now, I know that attempts to put down controversial Amendments on Private Members' Bills in the middle of July are not likely to endear one to the Chief Whip. There is enough heavy breathing going on in the Chief Whip's office to-day, without my adding to it. I should not wish to do anything to imperil the Bill by putting down Amendments. As I have indicated, I regard it as a good Bill, so far as it goes, but it does not go anything like far enough.

As my noble friend has pointed out, we are creating new offences, and one is always a little careful about creating new offences. This Bill has been accused in some columns of the Press as being yet one more of those examples of grandmotherly legislation against which we should be on our guard. I think that my noble friend, in his speech, has given us adequate reason for thinking that this legislation is necessary. Although I Should be out of order in quoting from speeches in another place during this debate, your Lordships have only to read the examples given in those cases to see how very necessary this measure is. We all know that boys will be boys, but far too often nowadays boys seem to behave like lunatics.

The very day after our debate last November there was a case in a North Country police court of a boy, aged fifteen, who had gone with a 38 revolver to the pond in front of the town hall and amused himself by shooting the heads off the swans. He was taken to the Magistrates' Court, where he was remanded for a medical report, and in due course was found unfit to plead. I share my noble friend's view that it is dangerous to build up a case on one example. What I should like to know is how it is possible for a half-witted boy of fifteen to have possession of a .38 revolver. That is what I think underlies the argument I am advancing: that the whole of our attitude towards the possession of firearms is too casual. I see that a Mr. Davidson, addressing the Methodist Conference on Tuesday, said: Instead of railing at Teddy boys, sneering at teenage fashions, mocking art and shuddering at pop music, let us realise that these young people are at the budding point of a new age."— a point hardly likely to be appreciated by the swans outside the town hall!

I want to ask the noble Earl who is to reply on behalf of the Home Office, Lord Bathurst, one question, and perhaps he will be good enough to consider it. If, as I hope, we pass this Bill, will it be enforced? It will be a difficult Bill to enforce, particularly Clause 2. Nothing is worse than passing legislation which people do not take seriously and which is not enforced. Look at the very sensible Bill we passed a short while ago to try to prevent louts from leaving litter all over the place. How often do we ever see a prosecution under that Bill? Look at what happens when a certain age group tries to get in to see a certain film which is considered to be unsuitable for them. They just pick up anybody passing by and ask him to pose as a parent or responsible person. I hope that we are not going to have that sort of farcical situation with this Bill. We know the difficulty the police have in enforcing legislation which does not have popular support behind it, and which is not treated with serious respect by the magistrate who has to try the case. That is the point upon which I hope the noble Earl, with his great experience of this problem of the law, will give us some satisfaction.

One final point. When this Bill finds its way on to the Statute Book, as I hope it will do, would the Home Office be good enough to review the whole law relating to firearms, with this Bill included, and put out some simple compendium or guide to the whole of the firearms law, so that there may be complete clarity in everybody's mind as to how the matter now stands? That will have the additional advantage of saving me a lot of "homework" when I have to return to the charge on a future occasion.

4.59 p.m.


I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill, which has been so ably presented by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I support it for three reasons. The first is that in my opinion it does not interfere with the legitimate training of young people in the proper use of firearms, whether they be rifles, air guns or shot guns. The proper time to learn to shoot is when you are young and impressionable, and under supervision; and the whole purport of this Bill is to make it obligatory that supervision is there for the young. In my opinion, it does not interfere with the legitimate desire of young people to learn properly the art of shooting, whether for target practice, for game killing or for any other reason.

Secondly, and I think most important, I feel very strongly that it will go a long way to stop these gangs of eight ten, twelve—and more—small boys, and, indeed, larger boys, who roam the countryside in the vicinities of large towns, as well as the open spaces in the towns themselves, as the noble Earl has said, indiscriminately firing at any form of target, moving or not: mostly dogs or cats, and, in the country, cattle. The quietly-munching cow is an object which you can hardly miss, however bad a shot you are, and it does neither the cow nor the farmer who owns it any good. The gangs, which generally between them possess possibly one or two air rifles, or an air pistol, do incalculable damage. The fundamental fault is that of the parents, and therefore I support this Bill, which in subsection (1) of Clause 1 makes it an offence for a person to give an air gun as a present to a child under the age of fourteen. I welcome that provision wholeheartedly.

I will not enlarge on the small gangs with which I am primarily concerned. I live all too near one of the new towns, and these gangs are a menace. The horrible mutilation of some of the small birds that I have seen, as a result of their attempted marksmanship, is terrible; and, in the absence of any animal target, they turn round and quite without any compunction fire upon the smaller members of the gang, or on any other small child in the vicinity. We have read in the papers all too often of tragedies and near-tragedies—of an eye being lost when a child, perfectly innocently playing with others, has received one of these slugs.

My Lords, I support the Bill, because it is supported by the Gunmakers' Association. They honoured me by asking me to come and see them some time ago, and they gave me their views on this Bill. I am happy to say that they support it wholeheartedly. Naturally, they were concerned as to whether the implications of the Bill might affect their trade in any way, particularly in air rifles. But, although they feel it might very slightly affect their trade, they waive that consideration without any comment at all, because they support the principles of this Bill; that it will control young people in the possession of air weapons.

I should like to take up one point which my noble friend Lord Mancroft made. He said that this Bill was creating new offences. I cannot quite agree with him there. I do not think this Bill creates any new offences. It merely gives power to punish as an offence acts which are already being committed, and which under the present state of the law are not offences. On that, however, my noble friend will probably not agree with me. But, my Lords, I wholeheartedly hope that all of your Lordships will give your support to the Second Reading of this Bill.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support this Bill very warmly. It seems to me that for a long while there has been a gap in the control of these air weapons, and I have never understood how that could be. They are all potentially lethal weapons, and it is high time that there was such a Bill. In the early part of my fairly long life I was brought up very strictly. My family have shot all our lives, and we have always been very strict about the control of guns—shot guns and the rest. I have never understood why and how there was this gap in regard to the adequate control of air weapons. I warmly support the Bill; I am sure that your Lordships will all do the same, and I hope that it has a Second Reading.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ferrers for his admirable moving of this very vital Bill. Like many of your Lordships, I have for much of life indulged in the pastime of shooting. I first used a 0.410 shot gun at the age of eight, but I was very nearly double that age before I was allowed to go shooting unaccompanied, which I think was a very wise thing. The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition said that this Bill does not go far enough, and to some extent I agree with him. But I think, as my noble friend Lord Mancroft has rightly said, that if one tries to amend a Private Bill at this stage of Parliamentary proceedings one runs into considerable difficulties. I think that the importance of this Bill's becoming law is absolutely paramount. But I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Bathurst, who is to reply for the Government, whether, later at least, the Government could bring in some kind of legislation qualifying the ability of a person over 21 accompanying a young person who is to go shooting.

The law of the land at present is that anyone can obtain a gun licence for 10s. I conferred with my noble friend Lord Ferrers a short time ago. There is a possibility that a young person who has no clue as to how to use a firearm can accompany a lad of 14 on a pigeon shoot or on a vermin shoot, and can perhaps increase rather than decrease the danger. But, as I say, this is really a point for further legislation, and I would be the last person to try to prejudice this very good Bill.

Mention has been made of air rifles, and I should like to bring to the attention of the House the menace which passengers on trains and other forms of transport suffer from these. A short time ago at Worcester Park in Surrey, quite near my home, a window of a train compartment was smashed by some mysterious pellet or something from a firearm. At least two people in that train could have been very seriously injured. My Lords, this is not an isolated case. I mention it only because it is a local case. These cases are all too frequent.

I was talking to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents only this morning, and the figure they gave me for the number of cases of their own hearing in 1960 was of 26 people fatally injured by firearms in that year. The total is probably much higher than that, but that figure, I think, covers primarily people in the vicinity of their own homes. It is very easy for a youngster to go into a gunroom and pick up a loaded shot gun, examine it and meet with a tragic accident. There was a case in Essex only a short while ago where a young boy's brother had been shooting. He left his gun, presumably ready for cleaning, on a table in a room in the house. His younger brother got hold of the gun, which was loaded; it went off, and a fatal accident ensued. This is by no means a rare kind of accident, and I think that the provisions of this Bill will help, if not to eradicate completely at least to diminish these tragedies.

Mention has been made by my noble friend Lord Northesk of the cruel damage done to wild life by these marauding gangs of youngsters. I live near a common in Surrey, and often on a Sunday one hears quite indiscriminate shooting, and I myself have seen wounded birds on the common as a result of it. Nobody quite knows who these people are, whether they are youngsters, or whether they come from a nearby town or city, but the fact is that wild life is cruelly destroyed, and I am certain that all civilised people will deplore that. Again, this Bill will help to counteract that kind of thing.

Certain criticisms have been directed against this Bill: that it is an interference with the liberty of the subject. I submit it is just the opposite. It is a Bill—an admirable Bill—which will save life and preserve it. Whilst I think that in certain parts it does not go far enough, I realise that it is a Private Member's Bill. It has been very carefully thought out and moved by the honourable Member for Maldon and by my noble friend Lord Ferrers in this House, and the sooner it gets on the Statute Book the better for society at large.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, may I just say one very brief word about enforcement, which was the question raised by my noble friend Lord Man-croft? What will be the position in towns I do not know, but I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that in rural areas this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be a great help to village constables, not only in dealing with offences under it but in helping them to deal with offences under certain other Acts. The village constable will certainly be anxious himself to enforce this Bill. I thought that as soon as I read the Bill, and I have had it confirmed, indeed, by a village constable.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to support this Bill. I am not, perhaps, quite so concerned with the gaps in the law as with the gaps I find in my greenhouse when I go home at week-ends—to a large extent as a result of the use of air guns. I find that a very great nuisance indeed. But I did not rise so much to talk about the Bill as to appeal to those who have talked in terms of amending the Bill not to proceed unless they are absolutely convinced of the necessity to do so. The fact is that our Parliamentary timetable is very full. We are getting towards the end of the Session; and it seems to me that if an Amendment is moved in this House and is carried, and if it is of a highly controversial nature, when it goes back to the other place there is a distinct possibility that the Bill may be lost altogether. I think that that would be a tragedy. I believe we want this Bill, and I should like to see any little gaps that are left in it deal! with later rather than to have to go again through the procedure that has been gone through up to now, and to lose the Bill. So I appeal to those who are thinking in terms of an Amendment not to proceed at this stage.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his very clear exposition of the contents of his modest Bill. We have heard expert views put forward from both sides of your Lordships' House this evening, and from what I can make out there is a general welcome to this measure from both sides. I am sure that all Mem- bers of your Lordships' House will appreciate the noble Earl's motives in putting this Bill forward and will join with him in deploring the damage and injury caused by irresponsible and, in many cases, malicious use of air guns and shot guns, particularly air guns, by children and young persons, whom the noble Lord and others of your Lordships have called no less than hooligans.

How far it might be possible to eradicate this kind of mischief entirely by means of further legislation is, as your Lordships will no doubt appreciate, largely a matter of conjecture. It was hoped that the existing prohibition on the sale of firearms—and that includes air guns and shot guns—to young persons under 17 might have ensured that such weapons were used only with the knowledge of parents or guardians, who would have exercised proper control over the circumstances in which they were used. Unhappily, as we have heard confirmed this evening, this is not so. There is, moreover, the practical problem of catching the offender, to which my noble friends Lord Mancroft and Lord Derwent have referred. If a person who causes wilful injury or damage can be caught, there is usually some provision of the law under which he can be dealt with, and I fancy that would have a particular reference to the sort of nuisance from which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, suffers, as he explained to us a moment ago.

Now the noble Earl's Bill is not going to make it easier to prove that any damage was caused by a particular individual, but it is clear that if it were possible to prevent the carriage of air guns, and to a lesser extent shot guns, in public places, the mischief, in so far as it consists of damage done in public places, would also be prevented—and there will be the assistance to the local policeman that my noble friend Lord Derwent mentioned. I would accept, too, that it is easier to prove that a person was in possession of a particular weapon at a particular time and place than it is to prove that a person caused particular damage—again the sort of damage from which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, suffers. This point has been brought out by both my noble friends, Lord Mancroft and Lord Derwent.

Here we come, my Lords, to enforcement. I most heartily endorse the view that the general public could play a very large part in assisting in the enforcement of the measure of my noble friend. We come, too, to penalties, which were particularly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I would draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Ferrers to Clause 3 (1), where he will see that the heavy penalty of £20 is also coupled with a term of three months' imprisonment. That, my Lords, makes it that much more serious a type of penalty, which no doubt the magistrates would consider. Of course, imprisonment does not apply to children, who are probably the targets of this Bill; nevertheless, technically it means that the penalty is that much more serious, and those penalties would apply to them.

I noted a request that a guide might be published at some time, when all these provisions with regard to weapons, shot guns, and now air weapons, might be consolidated. I will certainly bring that suggestion to the notice of my right honourable friend, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for his idea. Your Lordships may therefore think that the Bill, thus limited in its scope, would assist the police and the authorities to some extent in preventing the wanton damage that occurs in public places from the misuse of air guns and shot guns in the hands of irresponsible people. I should like also to draw your Lordships' attention, as did my noble friend, to subsection (3), which makes it illegal for anyone under 17 to have an air pistol, covered or uncovered, in a public place.

In considering how far it is necessary or desirable to impose further restrictions on the possession and use of weapons of the kind with which the Bill deals, we begin to find ourselves faced with a conflict of views, although I think that in your Lordships' House there is no conflict of views this evening. On the one hand, there were those who considered that the possession of all weapons by children and young persons should be forbidden, and in that class of thought is the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition, and also my noble friend Lord Mancroft. On the other hand, there are those who take the view that persons who are likely to have a legitimate use for a gun later in life should be trained to use it from an early age. There is a long argument either way, and I am not going to "argue the toss", because I can see that your Lordships' minds are already made up, However, even if it is accepted that there is a case for further restrictions on the possession and use of air guns and shot guns by young persons—and, as your Lordships know, possession of weapons other than air guns and shot guns is already rigidly controlled by the Firearms Act, 1937—there is room for considerable argument about the extent to which controls should be made absolute and about the precise ages at which the controls should operate.

We come to the point of the qualification of an adult, which my noble friend Lord Auckland mentioned. This point raises a great many issues, including that of the licensing of an adult; and again we come back to the problem of enforcement. I know that my right honourable friend will bear all those points in mind; and I note, as indeed we all in the Home Office have noted, what he has said. The question of legislation to deal with the mischief to which the noble Lord referred in introducing the Bill is by no means as simple and as straightforward as might be supposed, and the fact that this Bill has progressed thus far is a tribute to the efforts of those who introduced it in another place to reach such a reasonable compromise between the many conflicting views. But since there are these conflicting views (though not in your Lordships' House), Her Majesty's Government feel that the appropriate course at this stage would be to leave the matter to the judgment of your Lordships.

I ask the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition—and, my Lords, he did send me an apology; he has had to leave to attend to other business this evening because of a previous engagement—to bear in mind the kind and helpful advice of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on his side of the House, and of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, with regard to Amendments to this modest Bill. I hope that the noble Viscount's Whip will be able to take that humble advice from me also this evening. My Lords, if your Lordships are content that this Bill should be read a second time, then we will, of course, give the matter such further consideration as may be necessary in the light of the proceedings in its later stages.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, because it has shown quite clearly that everyone who has taken part in the debate is of one mind, and that is that the Bill basically is one that should go forward. It has also shown that the need to curb the irresponsibilities of some younger members of the country is a great one. It is basically an uncontroversial Bill, but if there is any controversy at all it is over the age at which this restriction should take effect. I was particularly grateful for the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, and also for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Champion; because this Bill is a Private Member's Bill, and one must remember that it is merely a question of precisely how far down the line the axe is to drop; there will always be arguments that it ought to be higher or that it ought to be lower. I draw to the attention of your Lordships the fact that, although the age for using a shot gun when the person using it is unattended by anybody else is 14, in fact that person may not have an air weapon in his possession in a public place where it could be used until he is 17. Although technically the age is 14, in practice the age where the danger is most likely to occur is governed by the fact that the person may not use this uncovered weapon till he is 17.

But I would echo very much the plea that this matter should be taken on its merits. This is a Private Member's Bill which has been very successful, in my opinion, in coming thus far. We are all basically agreed that it is a good Bill, and it would be a very great pity to throw away a half loaf of bread in the vague hope of trying to get a whole one. So, with that thought in mind, I should like to express once against my gratitude to noble Lords for having taken part in this debate.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.