Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3:39 pm
Photo of Thomas Docherty

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife, Labour)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce a minimum age for holding a shotgun licence of 14 years.

The Bill is purposely rather limited in its scope and objectives. It is not about banning recreational shooting or the proper use of shotguns for legitimate rural estate management. Rather, I am seeking to close a loophole in our current firearms legislation-legislation that the Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, has identified as both complicated and confusing.

At present there is no minimum age for possessing a shotgun licence. This is at odds with the legislation covering other firearms, where there is a minimum age of 14. According to figures that I obtained from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire, almost 5,000 children in England and Wales possessed a licence to fire a shotgun. Of those 5,000 or so licences, 26 were issued to 10-year-olds, 72 to 11-year- olds, 134 to 12-year-olds and 231 to 13-year-olds. It is unfortunate that neither the Scottish Executive nor the Northern Ireland Executive keeps figures centrally for their devolved areas. However, I am sure we can assume that the figures are proportional to those elsewhere.

Currently, as the House knows, licences are issued by the chief constable of the police authority for the area in which an applicant resides, although for practical purposes the decision is often delegated to a more junior officer. For the purpose of this debate, it may be easier to refer to the chief constable. The applicant needs only to state their reason for wanting a shotgun licence, and needs to provide no evidence. If a chief constable wants to refuse a licence, the onus is on the chief constable to demonstrate their reasons against granting it. As the report from the Association of Chief Police Officers on the Cumbria shootings spelled out, an application for a licence can be refused only if the police can demonstrate that they believe that the person is a danger to the public, or that the applicant has "no good reason" to have a shotgun, or that the applicant is subject to certain statutory prohibitions.

So at present chief constables have very little, if any, scope to refuse an application from a 10 or 11-year-old. This is, I believe, a most unsatisfactory situation for our chief constables to find themselves in. As I said at the beginning, the Bill is limited. It does not necessarily preclude the young person from firing a shotgun, because the current legislation merely provides that a young person be supervised by an adult, whether or not that young person possesses a licence. However, the Bill will send a clear and straightforward message that our society is not comfortable with the principle of young children handling lethal weapons.

I am grateful to the House of Commons Library for providing information on the situation in other countries. For example, in Finland applicants have to be 18, but a 15-year-old can get a permit for hunting or shooting with consent from guardians. In Ireland, New Zealand and Lithuania 16 is the minimum age for possessing a shotgun licence. These are just a few examples to illustrate my case.

Even the United States, a country known for its liberal or even libertarian views on the control and use of firearms, has recognised there must be some limits and controls. More than half the states-32 now-have set a minimum age for the use of shotguns and other firearms. The majority of these states have set the minimum age at 18. Surely if the United States accepts the need for a minimum age, it is not unreasonable for the House to consider the case for restrictions.

I am grateful for the cross-party support that I have received for my Bill, and the fact that the Scottish Executive, although they obviously have no legislative competence on the matter, support the principle of a minimum age of 14.

In conclusion, the Bill seeks merely to tighten the existing legislation, to bring shotguns in line with other comparable legislation at home and overseas, and to ensure that access to dangerous-nay, lethal-weapons is restricted for the very youngest members of our society.

Question put and agreed to .

Ordered ,

That Thomas Docherty, Mr Michael McCann, Mr Jamie Reed, Pete Wishart and Steve Rotheram present the Bill.

Thomas Docherty accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012 and to be printed (Bill 135).