HL Deb 23 February 1972 vol 328 cc514-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the alarming increase in armed robbery, they will consider restricting the ownership of air rifles and pistols to persons in possession of firearm certificates.]


My Lords, it has not hitherto been thought appropriate to restrict the possession of air weapons to persons with firearm certificates. But, as your Lordships are aware, the present controls of all kinds of firearms are under review. The question of additional controls on air weapons is being considered as part of that review.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would he not agree that even small-bore air pistols and air rifles are powerful and in the wrong hands, very dangerous weapons?


My Lords, the more powerful weapons are now subject to firearm certificate procedures, and have been since regulations were introduced in 1969. I would agree with my noble friend that air pistols, if used irresponsibly, can of course cause injury; but the experience of the police has been that, in the main, the incidents are more of hooliganism than of organised crime.


My Lords, does not the more serious problem arise in the case of shot-guns which are used for criminal purposes? Is the noble Lord aware of the recent resolution of the Magistrates' Association? May I ask what steps are going to be taken in that regard?


My Lords, the control of shot-guns clearly does not arise on this Question.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that there are considerable practical difficulties in the registration of air weapons as a great many of them do not bear any serial number? Secondly, does he not agree that the Report to the Home Office, Firearms in Crime, shows that the use of air weapons in crimes of violence is very small indeed?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to draw the attention of the House to the Report, Firearms in Crime, published in 1970. That contains a great deal of useful information. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who is carrying out the review, is bearing in mind considerations of the kind mentioned by my noble friend in the first Dart of his supplementary question.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give some reconsideration to the answer that he gave to my noble friend Lord Wade, when he said that the question about shot-guns did not arise on this particular Question? What my noble friend asked in his original Question was "whether, in view of the alarming increase in armed robbery", he would take certain action. If the noble Lord finds from his study of the statistics that the use or threatened use of shot-guns is the prevailing method adopted by criminals, then it does arise on this Question. Would not the noble Lord therefore give serious consideration to the resolution passed at the annual meeting of the Magistrates' Association last year, that the procedure for regulation of shot-guns should be assimilated with that applying to pistols and rifles and provided for under the 1967 Firearms Act?


My Lords, the noble Lord's supplementary question was long enough to enable me to re-read the Question on the Order Paper, and I am afraid it is still my view that this Question refers to the registration of air rifles and air pistols, and not to shot-guns.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the National Farmers' Union in the County of Devon have already put forward a motion on the lines of Lord Allerton's Question, not only from the point of view he takes but from the fact of the damage that can be done by these weapons in the way of poaching?


My Lords, I am aware of the representations which have been made by the National Farmers' Union, and, as I said in my original Answer, there is a review in progress at the moment by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales. I do not think we want to anticipate the outcome of his review at this stage.