Violent Crime Reduction Bill
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
This clause is an important part of the whole package of measures that aims to tackle the problem of air weapon misuse and I have given statistics on the significance and the scale of the problem. The Government have already introduced measures to address air weapon misuse, which have been welcomed. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 made it an offence to carry an unloaded air weapon in public without reasonable excuse. That power was welcomed by the police as it allows them to act without having to wait for an air weapon to be actively misused. The same Act raised from 14 to 17 the minimum age for buying or possessing an air weapon. There was similar opposition when we made that important change. It has to be acknowledged that much air weapon misuse is attributed to young people, and this measure restricted their access to the guns.
But despite these measures, air weapon misuse remains a serious problem and we believe that more must be done to tackle it. We make no apology for that. Clause 28 further restricts young people's access to air weapons by increasing from 17 to 18 the minimum age for buying, hiring or possessing one. This will further reduce the opportunity for irresponsible young people to obtain and misuse an air weapon. This clause will not stop responsible young people using air weapons under controlled conditions. They will still be able to shoot at approved clubs, under adult supervision or, if they are 14 or over, on private premises with the occupier's consent.
Air weapon misuse is a considerable problem. It upsets the lives of many people. It is vitally important that we do all we can to safeguard people. We believe that this clause will make a useful contribution to reducing the level of misuse. We do not believe that it is perverse for airgun age limits to be higher than those for other weapons that are controlled through certification. On the contrary, it could be argued that the lack of a certificate necessitates a higher age limit. We are attempting to achieve a degree of harmonisation on age limits, but I do accept that the harmonisation is not perfect. This clause is important. I understand the noble Earl's objection to it, but we think that we have the policy right, that it is going in the right direction and that this will help to raise the threshold at which gun misuse becomes a problem.