I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am especially pleased to introduce my Bill, just as I was when I heard my name drawn in Committee Room 10 by the Chairman of Ways and Means on 20 November. I must take this opportunity to thank my right hon. and hon. Friends, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and Opposition Members for sponsoring the Bill. It is a short and, I am sure the House agrees, non-controversial Bill which is designed to outlaw the sale of crossbows to people under the age of 17.
I am indebted to a treatise on the crossbow which was published in 1903, called "The Crossbow Medieval and Modern: Military and Sporting, its Construction History and Management." It was written by Sir Ralph PayneGallwey, Baronet. I know from that treatise that crossbows were first brought into England by the Normans in 1066. As far as I can gather, they were well received, although William 11 was accidently killed by one in 1100 when hunting deer in the New Forest. The bolt came from the crossbow of Sir Walter Tirel.
William II, Henry I, Stephen and Henry II all employed crossbowmen, who were chiefly foreign mercenaries, in their armies. Crossbowmen were much encouraged by Richard I, who to a considerable extent reintroduced the crossbow and caused it to be a common arm of warfare.
After the death of Richard I, John and Henry III used considerable numbers of crossbowmen in their armies, whether mounted or on foot. At the second battle of Lincoln in 1217, during the civil war, the relieving force consisted of 317 crossbowmen. It is clear that crossbows were a powerful and useful weapon in those days. They were successful and commonly used in warfare.
Crossbowmen were finally discarded in open warfare by all continental armies between 1522 and 1525. They were still used on foreign ships and in the defence or attack of a besieged town or castle. The Church also had problems with the crossbow. That seems to be true of many things. In 1621 the crossbow was the subject of a commission formed by 12 bishops who, at the request of James I, inquired into the death of Peter Hawkins, a park keeper at Bramshill in Hampshire, who was accidentally slain by Archbishop Abbot of Canterbury while the prelate was out hunting. He was aiming at a stag.
Crossbow laws are among the oldest in the country and were repealed not long ago. Crossbows were commonly used in the 15th century for shooting deer and bucks. Those in authority greatly feared that if people practised with them they would become easily manipulated weapons, whereas longbows required skill and guaranteed a far better use, especially in times of national danger. Therefore, at length it was enacted — with certain reservations, as in the case of nobles and persons of wealth—that the possession of a crossbow among the people of England, even for sporting purposes, should be forbidden by law. One can see in the Royal Gallery a copy of "An Act regulating shooting with crossbows" which was published in 1512. That Act restricted the right to use a crossbow to lords and to owners of land of a yearly value of 300 marks, that is £200. Its object was, as I have said, to encourage others to use the longbow, which was still regarded as very important for the defence of the kingdom. Indeed, when crossbows were again allowed in 1536, they were still not allowed in the King's parks and in the forests.
There were many statutes dealing with the crossbow. The last one was passed by Parliament in 1542 and imposed a heavy fine. People were very concerned at that time about the need to suppress this weapon. It was stated that:
Divers murders had been perpetrated by means of crossbows, and that malicious and evil-minded people carried them ready bent and charged with bolts, to the great annoyance and risk of passengers on the highways.
Certainly, the introduction of statutes against crossbows and hand guns to prevent the yeomen and peasantry of England from practising with, or even handling, a weapon of any sort — other than the cherished longbow — suggested that it was feared that even a hand gun might cause people to put less trust in the longbow and that the longbow was considered the more sophisticated weapon.
Those are years gone by. Since then—I bring it right up to the present day — there have been many tragic incidents involving crossbows. I am grateful to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which has presented me with a useful list of statistics showing that, although animals have certainly suffered the most, even humans have been severely injured by crossbows.
In October 1986, there was a human casualty, resulting in a prosecution and conviction in Newcastle. In April 1986, a duck was severely injured with a bolt in Bristol. In March 1986 there were reports of calves and ducks shot in the Nottingham area. Also in 1986, calves were shot on a farm at Eton, Windsor. In January 1986, a duck was shot at Whitley Bay, Northumberland. In July 1985, a dog was killed. There was no prosecution, but the bow was destroyed. In February 1986, a cat was killed. There was no trace of the attacker. In January 1986, a duck was shot in Cumbria. Again, there was no trace of the attacker. In September 1984, sheep were killed in the Swansea area. There have been many other incidents. Indeed, since 1979, 161 animals have either been severely injured or tragically killed. The statistics go right across from swans to deer, to geese, to ducks, to cattle, to wild birds and to cats.
The cats lobby especially supports my Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), who has been at the forefront in representing the interests of the cat world. Dogs, sheep, horses and rabbits have been killed. It is a tragedy that so many of these innocent animals have been killed, purely because of the ease with which certain people can get hold of crossbows.
I have some awful pictures, which I cannot show to the House, of cats and swans which have literally gone away to die after being fatally injured with a bolt. There is a callousness in the inability of our young people to respect animals. The ease with which they can get a crossbow and then go out on to common land and shoot at a duck or at a calf seems inhumane. The punishment my Bill would bring in will, I hope, deter that sort of wanton destruction of humans and animals, both of which are defenceless.
I shall not go into the particular cases, but move on to the human injuries. One must appreciate that the statistics I have concern only the cases we have heard about. Many animals go away to die, and no one hears a word about them. However, there are many cases of misuse of crossbows as well. I have a report from the police which shows that, on the figures available to them, there have been five domestic incidents involving crossbows. One was a misuse of a crossbow, two were suicides and two were attempted suicides. The maniacs who tried to commit suicide with a crossbow must have been off their heads. That seems totally irresponsible. I am amazed that they did not die at the end of it. Ten people have been injured by crossbows. The police have on their files details of 25 animal deaths or injuries, 10 burglaries or thefts, and 54 incidents of criminal damage. There are three poaching and trespass cases and eight offensive weapons cases. That gives a total for 1986 of 115 specific cases.
The crossbow lobby is particularly worried. It fears that I might be having a big go at it. Crossbow supporters have said in a newspaper article, "We are not thugs."
I appreciate that, but there is no doubt in my mind that some of the Rambo exploits in Vietnam are being emulated by young people in Britain today. Certainly, Rambo's exploits in publicising the firing power of a crossbow have come over strongly and have been highlighted and glamourised. We are talking about a lethal weapon—a silent weapon of death that is tarnishing the sport's image. It is a sport, but photographs of animals and birds with crossbow bolts through their necks and reports of crossbows being used to commit the crimes that I have just mentioned have resulted in these weapons being seen as sinister. It is correct to say, as certain people of the Centaura Field Bowman Club feel, that, if one has a crossbow, one will immediately be tarnished as a thug. That is not true, of course, but nevertheless a ban for those under 17 is essential. The British Crossbow Association's secretary, Mr. Keith Reynolds, feels that the horror stories have been blown up out of proportion. The association welcomes my Bill. Its members feel that crossbows are far too easily obtainable by the wrong people, and that there is a need to restrict them. Mr. Reynolds has said,on behalf of the British Crossbow Association, that no one in the sport would argue with my Bill.
The aim of the sport is to fire at traditional circular-faced targets, and to take part in field shooting practices where the participants take to wooded areas and fire at drawings of wildlife. It is a sport which is growing in popularity, and one which many people believe will expand when it is given the added respectability that I hope that it will get with my Bill. Many people find it totally relaxing. It will need new members. We can talk in Committee, assuming my Bill gets a Second Reading, about the role of supervision of those under 17.
My hon. Friend made a reference to me. He will recall that exactly three years ago I presented a petition to the House which asked for stricter regulations for crossbows and other lethal weapons, not least air weapons. Will my hon. Friend say why he has picked the age of 17 as one of the provisions in his Bill? Is it because there are provisions relating to air weapons at the age of 17? Would he not agree that perhaps even a higher age, and certainly a minimum age of 18, might be more appropriate?
The aim of my Bill, which I will develop, is to keep it in line with the legislation for air weapons. The incidents of crime at the moment occur with those under the age of 17. If we can get them at a young enough age, we will prevent them from becoming tomorrow's hoodlums. I am doing nothing that is different from the airgun legislation.
There has been a growing increase in cases of crossbows being taken to scenes of crime. On 4 December 1986 the Daily Telegraph reported that a manor house murderer had been gaoled for life. The article mentioned the young, armed, masked men breaking into the manor house. It stated
They were armed with crossbows to silence the woman's Great Dane, Prince, and her two boxer dogs. Clark carried a home-made ·22 rifle and shot the gardener after kicking open the back door.
They shot the great dane between the eyes when the dog tried to bar the way to his mistress's bedroom. That is the problem that we have today.
On 26 January 1987, The Sun reported that the owner of a doberman pincher dog is offering £50 to trace a crossbow thug who shot and nearly killed that dog in Dartford, Kent. The Today newspaper of 27 November revealed a lethal armoury that the law does not stop children from buying, including a Barnett Trident crossbow that is accurate up to 50 yards and costs only £48.
Another example of an attack by someone using a crossbow was a pigeon found in a shopping centre with a six-inch steel tipped crossbow bolt through its breast. We must ponder on how it lodged there, bearing in mind the size of the average pigeon. The Times carried an article on 12 March 1985 about a girl who was injured by a crossbow. The article sated:
A girl aged 18 was taken off the critical list in North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary yesterday after being shot in the stomach with a crossbow, in… Stoke on Trent, on Sunday.
It is currently so easy to buy a crossbow. For example, the Fire Dragon catalogue lists some exotic and glamorous titles that have been given to crossbows, including the Panzer II, which costs £92, the Wildcat II and two Thunderbolts, one of which costs £265. The catalogue also lists a Trident that is accurate up to 50 yards. Other models include the Devastator and the Fox Fire. The cheapest one of all is called the Bandit Bow, which apparently is designed for "family fun". That one is described as being safe and is supplied with rubber sucker tipped bolts that can be used to fire at targets that are also supplied. The advertisement reads:
Shoot at your favourite political 'friend' on TV.
It is described as being "remarkably accurate". The Bill is not directed to toy crossbows, but it seems incredible that at one end of the market there is the Thunderbolt, which costs £265, and at the other the Bandit fun bow.
I had intended to bring a Thunderbolt crossbow into the Chamber, and I do not break any confidence by saying that I raised the matter with the Serjeant at Arms. I wanted to show right hon. and hon. Members what one looked like. I received a letter from the Serjeant at Arms telling me that it has always been the position that Members may not enter the Chamber with weapons and that he felt that this practice could not be varied. May I say that I agree with that decision?
There are some crossbows that carry up to six bolts. They are lined up on the bow ready for use. If the user misses his target the first time he can use further bolts until he hits it. It is frightening. We are talking about bolts that are tungsten-tipped that can kill at 25 yards. The bolts cost about £2 each and they will inflict the most terrible damage on any target living or dead. I am horrified that it is so easy to obtain bolts such as I have in my hand.
The campaign has been building up to a crescendo since early-day motion 638 was tabled last year, which was supported by 162 Members. It called for an unrestricted ban on the sale of crossbows. It is the fact that crossbows in good condition and set up properly would enable any competent rifleman rapidly to acquire the skill to fire on target. I appreciate that there is a difference between a rifle and a crossbow, but the primary difference is that of missile speed, as target-hitting reliability is virtually the same. Both types of missile, however, can travel at 250 ft per second. That shows that we are talking about lethal weapons.
I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who introduced the Crossbows (Restrictions) Bill during the previous Session. The hon. Gentleman's Bill had all-party support, and it was his early-day motion, which had the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), which led to the Government's decision to move on this issue. The hon. Gentleman sought to restrict and control the sale of crossbows and to make their sale to minors a punishable offence. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), the current leader of the Social Democratic party, made a major speech on the crossbow's contribution to violence and the ease with which young people can buy and carry weapons which was well reported in the Daily Mail on Wednesday 26 November. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that there was a need to end Britain's slide into brutality. The crossbow is one of the weapons which features in the slide and it needs to be done away with as a matter of urgency.
I do not deny that there are other significant and lethal weapons apart from the crossbow, but the crossbow is a weapon of death and of horror. It is a weapon that can be carried easily and taken to football matches, for example. There is a small crossbow on the market that I could have brought into the Chamber easily. I could have carried it on my person and no one would have noticed my possession of it. It is a weapon that is effective up to 50 yards. This type of crossbow is generally lethal at 25 yards, although its range extends beyond that distance. It has been reported that this type of crossbow has been taken to football grounds to be aimed and fired at so-cabled supporters.
We must stop that sort of use of the crossbow. We must protect our young from themselves. National newspapers have been supportive of the crossbow campaign, including the Daily Mail, Today, the Daily Express and The Sun. These newspapers have recognised that crossbows are highly accurate, powerful and deadly weapons. I believe that the crossbow bolt is more dangerous than the 9 mm bullet, yet crossbows are subject to even less legal control than airguns. As I have said, they can be bought freely over the counter at any sports shop.
The critics of the crossbow are urging the Government to introduce legislation to restrict sales. Surely that is right when one reflects on the various incidents to which I have referred. People have been injured and animals have been maimed or killed by crossbow bolts. I want to see a reduction of violence as a matter of urgency.
In a parliamentary answer on 3 December 1986 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced that in
consultation with the police and other interested parties I have been considering whether any steps can usefully be taken to prevent the misuse of crossbows.
He stated that crossbows
are …dangerous weapons in the wrong hands, and I do not consider that they are suitable to be in the possession of unsupervised young people.
He went further and said that he proposed
to issue a guidance notice to traders urging them not to sell crossbows to persons under 17."—[Official Report, 3 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 634.]
I know that my right hon. Friend's answer was welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It was considered to be an announcement that would lead to a statutory prohibition on the sale of crossbows to those under 17 years and on their purchase and possession by unsupervised young people. In the absence of an early opportunity for the Government to introduce legislation, my right hon. Friend said that the Government would look favourably on a Bill that was introduced by a Back Bench Member to introduce restrictions on the sale and use of the crossbow. I am that Member.
I have introduced a short Bill. Clause 1 makes it clear that it will be an offence to sell a crossbow, or part of it, of the sort to which the Bill is directed, to a person under the age of 17 years. An offence will not be committed, however, if the seller believes the purchaser to be 17 years of age or older and has reasonable grounds for his belief. This is in line with the minimum age of 17 years that is a requirement of section 24(1) of the Firearms Act 1968. I know that that will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet.
Clause 2 is directed to the sale of crossbows. It makes it an offence for a person under 17 years of age to purchase a crossbow or part of one of the sort to which the Bill is directed. Again, the age restriction is in line with section 22(1) of the 1968 Act.
Clause 3 is directed to the possession of crossbows by persons under the age of 17 years, unless supervised by a person aged 21 years or over. It will be an offence under paragraph (a) for a person under the age of 17 years to have with him a crossbow that is
capable of discharging a missile".
The clause applies to the possession of a complete crossbow, one in kit form or one that has been dismantled. Most importantly, this offence can be committed in any place whether public or private.
Clause 4 sets out powers of search and seizure.
Does the Bill cover the use of a crossbow by someone under the age of 17 years who is unsupervised? The Bill covers purchase and possession, but a youngster may borrow someone else's crossbow and use it temporarily. If the use of crossbows is not envisaged in the Bill, does the hon. Gentleman intend in Committee to introduce a provision to prevent their use by persons under the age of 17 years? Clause 3 does not seem to cover the use of crossbows by young persons.
Yes. I confirm that no part of the Bill deals with the manufacture of crossbows by people under the age of 17. I imagine that the materials and expertise needed would require someone much older than 17 to make a crossbow. Bearing in mind that I shall speak about the draw power later, there is no possibility that a young person can manufacture such a crossbow.
That is correct. The penalties will be the greatest possible deterrent from making such a weapon.
Clause 4 refers to the powers of search and seizure. Obviously, it is essential to empower a constable to detain and search a person or vehicle in connection with a suspected offence relating to under—age possession of a crossbow or part of a crossbow. The clause goes on to refer to the power to seize and detain a crossbow or part of a crossbow found in a search. As hon. Members will notice, there is a power of entry for a constable to exercise the powers conferred on him by clause 4. Subsection (1) (a) enables a constable, if he suspects with reasonable cause that a person is committing or has committed an offence under clause 3 — that is the unsupervised possession of a crossbow or part of a crossbow—to search that person for the offending item.
Various other provisions under these subsections relate to detaining a person or a vehicle to undertake a search to enable a constable to
seize and detain for the purpose of proceedings for an offence under this Act anything discovered by him in the course of a search under subsection (1) which appears to him to be a crossbow or part of a crossbow.
It is easy to purchase crossbows in kit form, and that is particularly important. Obviously, certain crossbow parts may be hidden around one's body. The police would have difficulties but certainly would be able to find them with a full search. Subsection (4) states:
For the purpose of exercising the powers conferred by this section a constable may enter any land other than a dwelling-house.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) mentioned crossbows being manufactured by people under the age of 17. Apart from it obviously being an offence to manufacture and possess a crossbow, there is also the draw weight. It would be difficult, without proper professional guidance and the proper materials, to manufacture a crossbow with a draw weight of 1·4 kg or more. The purpose of clause 5 is to exclude the toy crossbow to which I referred a few moments ago. The Bandit Bow for family fun crossbow has a rubber sucker. There is no possibility that that crossbow will do any damage, so it will still be allowed to be sold and used.
As the House knows, I have always been fond of supporting any kind of Home Office toughening-up of the law. We have become much the weaker and we suffer because our laws are not always totally respected and punishments are not always given out to fit the crime. The punishments that I propose in clause 6 will empower the courts to deal with crossbows involved in offences against these provisions. Subsection (1) provides a maximum penalty, on summary conviction of an offence under clause 1 of the Bill, of six months' imprisonment. Obviously, that refers to the sale of a crossbow to someone under the age of 17. A fine set at level five of the standard scale, which is currently £2,000, is available. I know that these penalties were last looked at in 1984, but I hope that they will be examined again. The bigger the punishment, the greater the deterrent wantonly to sell—if one can prove it, of course—a crossbow to someone under the age of 17. To reassure those hon. Members who wonder about the firearms legislation, I point out that these penalties are totally in line with those provided by the Firearms Act 1968 for someone who sells a firearm to somebody else under the age of 17.
The maximum penalty, on summary conviction of an offence against clauses 2 or 3, is up to level 3 on the standard scale, which is £400. That is a deterrent. Children should not purchase crossbows. They know that they will break the law if they do so, and to them that fine represents a lot of money.
Subsection (3) gives the courts the power, when a person is convicted of any offence under the Bill, to order the forfeiture or disposal of any crossbow or part of a crossbow which forms the basis of the offence. Naturally, that must he done.
Clause 7 relates to corresponding provisions for Northern Ireland. Riding in tandem with the Bill will be Order in Council provisions that will bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the United Kingdom at, I hope, exactly the same time. I know that hon. Members understand the short title of the Bill. That is the basic premise of the Bill as I see it.
We must continue to bring in any kind of legislation to protect animals. Animals have suffered the most. They are the cheap victims of crossbow vandalism. With various Acts already in situ to help to stamp out wanton attacks on animals, the opportunity exists to tighten up the law to protect them. Juveniles are the main offenders in the misuse of crossbows. They are tempted because crossbows are potentially lethal weapons. It is obvious that the purchase and possession of crossbows should be controlled as a matter of urgency.
At present, 200,000 crossbows are in circulation. The majority are used for sporting purposes. However, only about 3,000 crossbow users belong to clubs. Obviously, many people do not belong to any club. Crossbows are used to shoot at targets on private land, and some are kept at home as wall decorations. Crossbow shooting is developing at such a fast rate that it will not be long before it is an Olympic sport. Many crossbow shooters make their own bolts and bows. That worries me because some bolts are even more lethal than the one that I showed the House.
With 17,000 crossbows being sold each year, there must be some control to ensure that those who use them are capable of using them properly. People under the age of 17 will be able to use crossbows only when they are supervised by an adult. That adult will have a great responsibility. Under clause 3, no child under the age of 17 may use a crossbow unless he is under the supervision of a 21-year-old adult or someone older. It is important that we look after our young people and do not tempt them to buy crossbows.
Another worry is that there has been a growth in crossbow misuse in the past year. Crossbows were not misused so much in the 1970s, as far as we can tell from the offences known to the police. Recently there have been 54 cases of criminal damage and 25 cases of attacks on animals. Something has to be done to stop the horrific and brutal injuries which, unfortunately, are becoming regular occurrences.
Action to prevent young people from having these crossbows must be welcome, and we must ensure that they are no longer tempted to buy these weapons. I understand that guidance notices are already available and are acting as a warning to all traders. It is important that tradesmen and mail order companies keep an eye on the problem. If it can be shown that someone under the age of 17 has a crossbow, the trader is very much at fault. Therefore, I want the measure to be as strong as possible. I also want to ensure that the temptation to buy is removed. Unless there are controls over the sale of crossbows, persons arid property are at risk. People have laughed and said that the crossbow is not a worry, but it is a lethal, vicious and dangerous weapon.
Sir Robin Day in "Question Time" seemed to feel that crossbows were an outsize bow and arrow of the Robin Hood days, but Robin Hood was responsible in the use of his bow. These weapons are not necessarily bows of bamboo cane and a length of string. Crossbows are a dangerous and powerful weapon. The draw weight of the crossbows shows the serious damage that they can do. It is easy to penetrate substantially into timber, brick arid human and animal flesh. Therefore, I bring my Bill to the House in a serious attempt to solve this problem.
The RSPCA's statistics are a roll of shame of the abuse that has occurred. Police statistics tell part of the story. It is up to us to ensure that the misuse is calmed and quelled as quickly as possible. The crossbow offences show that this is not always a nice sport. I know that the National Field Crossbow Federation, and the British Crossbow Society, which has 50 clubs, will co-operate. I know that the match crossbow shooting and field crossbow shooting will continue. I am not trying to stop the sport, but I am trying to ensure that crossbows are properly used arid looked after and that the countryside and our animals are protected.
We will no doubt have to discuss other Acts in Committee, and there will be necessary amendments arid discussions on the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. There will need to be general monitoring of the use of offensive weapons in public places. The Bill will enable people to show criminal intent, with resulting conviction. The short range of some of these crossbows must not be seen as an easy option. They are still lethal weapons and should be handled with care. They are barrelled weapons, and the speed with which some of them emit the bolt is a matter of great concern not just to hon. Members but to those outside the House.
I have received many letters of support from those who are concerned and I shall take the time of the House to highlight some of them. The National Farmers Union has said that farm livestock is vulnerable to crossbow misuse. It wants to see positive action to combat the growing menace of this silent but lethal weapon, and it welcomes the Bill. It acknowledges the lethal capacity of crossbows and points out that bolts have been known to pierce concrete walls. It gives a worrying statistic about crossbows. In 1965, 1,000 were sold, while in 1985 17,000 were sold. There are now 250,000 in circulation arid something must be done.
The RSPB also shares my concern. It welcomes the Bill and says that the damage that has been done to wildlife is shattering. The St. Andrews Animal Fund has been in touch with me and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). It says that it has great concern about the Bill.
Crossbows are here to stay, but they must remain under proper controls. My Bill is a small contribution to ensuring that crossbow misuse is curtailed. It will take a while to get the Bill through the House, but the fact that crossbows are so lethal and cause misery and injury to so many animals and humans shows that the time is running out for those who dare to misuse them. I hope that the Bill will have the support of the House because it will do something to protect defenceless animals and help humans. Crossbow shooting is a countryside sport. I am attacking not countryside sports but those who attack innocent animals and humans. I am pleased to commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), first, on his success in coming so high in the ballot for private Members Bills, and, secondly, on choosing the subject of crossbows for his Bill. Although the Bill does not go as far as I and many others would like, it goes a long way towards dealing with the incidents that have brought this subject so vividly to my attention. It deals with the restriction on the sale of crossbows to children.
In August 1985 a constituent of mine, Mr. Roger Docherty, brought into my office in Jarrow a crossbow that had been bought by his 15-year-old brother Adrian in a hobby shop in South Shields. On seeing his brother with the crossbow, Mr. Docherty took it from him. He took it into the garden to try it out, and from 15 yards the arrow penetrated a piece of wood to the depth of I in, enough to kill a person. This lethal weapon had been sold across the counter in a hobby shop to a 15-year-old boy, with no questions asked. Anybody who had seen him would have easily recognised his age.
The weapon was manufactured by Barnett International of Wolverhampton, and it claimed on the package to be the most powerful crossbow manufactured in the world. There was a foot adjustment with it to help those who were not strong enough to do whatever they call cocking a crossbow to fire. On 5 September 1985 I wrote to the Home Secretary drawing his attention to this alarming and dangerous practice. In that letter I pointed out that this crossbow had been sold across the counter to a young boy. At that time the American film "Rambo", referred to by the hon. Member for Leicester, East, was on release in all the cinemas and was being widely advertised. I had an idea that the sales campaign at Barnett International coincided with the showing of the film.
I received a reply from the Minister of State, Home Office, on 30 September 1985, in which he said:
The Prevention of Crime Act 1953, for example, makes it an offence to possess any offensive weapon, including a bow or crossbow without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. … Our view, which is one shared by the Association of Chief Police Officers, is that bows and crossbows do not present the same danger to the public safety as firearms and that, given the extensive restrictions there already are on their use, we would not be justified in imposing on the police the substantial extra workload that further controls … would entail.
My constituent was so concerned that he contacted the Sunday Sun newspaper, which has a circulation in the north. It is part of the Thomson Press, and at that time it was spearheading a campaign to get something done about the sale and misuse of crossbows. That campaign had been prompted by the many incidents that had taken place in the north.
After the article appeared in the Sunday Sun I received letters from all over the country, as Mr. Docherty had said in the article that he had contacted me and that I had written to the Home Secretary. The letters that I received described incidents that had occurred with the misuse of crossbows. One letter was from S. M. Wakelin of Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He described how two policemen had been attacked as they got out of their patrol car outside Bracknell police station. He said:
One of the two bolts they dodged was fired with such force that it penetrated the station's concrete wall.
The letter continued:
A bolt was fired at an airliner. It happened at Leeds airport when a two-engined Dan Air plane with 44 passengers was about 100 ft off the ground. The bolt penetrated a wing and ripped part of the fuselage.
I admit that there is no evidence to show that what that person said was true, but it is typical of the letters that I received after the article appeared in the Sunday Sun.
During Home Office Question Time on 20 February 1986 I raised the matter again with the Home Secretary, I asked:
Does the Secretary of State recall that I wrote to him last September about a 15-year-old constituent of mine who went into a shop and bought a lethal crossbow? His hon. Friend the Minister of State answered the letter saying that it was an important matter that they would keep under review. Has anything been done about that incident? Do the Government intend to introduce legislation to prohibit the sale of crossbows or at least to extend licensing, bearing in mind recent incidents?
The Secretary of State replied:
We are considering the matter carefully and urgently to see whether anything sensible can be done." — [Official Report. 20 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 467.]
In March 1986 early-day motion 638 was tabled by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), and that was signed by many right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Member for Leicester, East also referred to that.
I consulted my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and gave him copies of my correspondence and also the minutes of a committee meeting of the Northumbria police authority which had discussed the use and misuse of crossbows as a result of the many incidents that were occurring in the Northumbria police area. My right hon. Friend wrote to the Home Secretary, and on 16 April he received a reply which stated:
Particular concern has been expressed recently about the misuse of crossbows and I accept that we should look again to see if anything further can sensibly be done to try to prevent these weapons falling into the wrong hands. My officials will therefore be consulting the police, the crossbow manufacturers and the crossbow sporting interests to see how we can best go forward.
During April the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wrote to the Home Office giving information on crossbow injuries and deaths to animals. It pointed out that in the past five years there had been 100 deaths and injuries to animals by the use of crossbows.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East mentioned various newspapers which took up a campaign on crossbows because of the serious incidents that were
occurring all over the country. On 6 May 1986 the Daily Mirror had a full-page article on crossbows. It spoke of the menace of weekend Rambos and went on to describe the various kinds of crossbows that could easily be purchased by mail order or over the counter at hobby shops and so on. The article continued:
Already, crossbows are taking a terrible toll. They can kill a man at 100 yards and arc being used by thugs to inflict shocking injury and death on people, domestic animals and wildlife … Police admit that under the present law they are powerless to curb private combat training and the spread of legally-held weapons.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if a person takes a crossbow into a public place he is already covered by legislation on the possession of an offensive weapon? It is an offensive weapon per se and not one that has been adapted for the purpose.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and that has been drawn to my attention in Home Office correspondence.
The Bill will prohibit the sale of crossbows to youngsters under the age of 17. One of the dangers is that when youngsters buy these crossbows unbeknown to their parents, they will use them unbeknown to their parents, and thus they will not be subject to supervision or control. Although the Bill does not go as far as I should like, it is a step forward.
On 11 June 1986 I introduced a ten-minute Bill asking for the introduction of a licence and various other things for crossbows, and received a tremendous amount of support. I do not lay any blame on the Home Office for delay, as I understand that this is a difficult subject to approach and progress must be made step by step.
The first step taken by the hon. Member for Leicester, East will go some way towards solving those problems. I believe that during discussions certain amendments may be introduced. Indeed, that point was made by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), who asked why the prohibition on the sale of crossbows was restricted to those under 17, rather than to those under 18. This morning I received a briefing from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which made the same point:
The Association, therefore, welcomes the provisions of the Bill in principle, but believes that the age limit should be raised to eighteen years.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East gave the reason for the proposed age limit.
I support the Bill. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Leicester, East has chosen this subject and I hope that the House will give unanimous support to the Bill's Second Reading so that it can go to Committee. We would therefore be one step further towards dealing with a problem that affects every part of the country. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, East on introducing the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) is a fortunate hon. Member. He is fortunate in drawing lucky in the ballot, and fortunate for being parliamentary representative for Leicester, but Leicester is fortunate to have my hon. Friend as its Member of Parliament. In the time that he has been in the House my hon. Friend has shown himself to be a diligent and humane Member. The Bill is evidence of that, and I am proud to be one of its sponsors. My hon. Friend explained the Bill in a clear and agreeable manner and I hope that the House will respond by giving it a speedy passage to another place so that it can be brought on to the statute book as quickly as possible.
I am rather surprised that my hon. Friend should even have contemplated bringing a crossbow anywhere near the Chamber. Surely he knows that he can sling his arbalest from the red tape on his peg in the cloakroom. But, more seriously, as the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) has just illustrated, a crossbow is a weapon capable of the most deadly purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East is a member of the National Synod of the Reformed Church of England and he quoted some ancient Anglican associations with venery arid the crossbow. But the crossbow goes back centuries before the Reformation. The history of warfare and armament is the history of one fearful dominant weapon being answered and downed by another.
In the Crusades the arbalest proved superior to the bows used by the mounted Saracen archers. But in 1139, the second Lateran council, held under Pope Innocent II and attended by about 1,000 prelates, besides various suspensions and excommunications, passed canons on simony, incontinence and clerical attire, and another canon forbade breaking the peace of God and contests dangerous to life. I mention in passing that the peace of God was not so very peaceful. The idea was to have peace in Christendom for better war against Islam.
This universal council also considered and condemned the crossbow, which was then widely used, notably by the Genoese, Pisans and Venetians. In England, its use was forbidden by King Henry VII. The motive, as my hon. Friend has said, was not so much humanitarian as to encourage the craft of the longbow, which had given England her triumphs at Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt.
By the 17th century the crossbow was dying out. However, as today, in the calendar of my hon. Friend's communion, is the feast of King Charles the Martyr, perhaps I can mention that it was used in the Great Rebellion. Speaking of regicide, one of the kings whose names are much associated with the building of Westminster Hall was assassinated by means of a crossbow.
In later times the crossbow has been revived, partly for sport, but partly, alas, for vicious cruel crime. My hon. Friend is no spoilsport, nor are any of his supporters. The sportsmen who use the crossbow today are eager to put out of business, and, if appropriate, into gaol, the poachers and robbers and those who inflict death or injury by means of a crossbow upon birds and animals.
My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—no, he is not learned, but he will be one day—is on the Treasury Bench arid he looks benign today, and I believe that the Home Office is benign towards the measure. I have been reminded by a column in the Police Review of 9 January that that was not always the case. In 1979 a Labour Home Secretary, in a written answer, told me that he had no evidence that legislation on crossbows would be justified. The Home Office is making a little progress under the Conservative stewardship. I hope that the presence of my hon. Friend means that we shall have full Government support for the speedy passage of this necessary Bill.
My last point relates to clause 7 and to Northern Ireland. It is not clear to me why the Bill could not simply have been applied to Northern Ireland. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East will refer to that if he obtains the leave of the House to intervene again. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will also refer to this point. It may be that the present state of the law in Northern Ireland requires the treatment proposed in clause 7. Otherwise, surely it would have been easy for us to provide that the Bill should apply to Northern Ireland. If we are to have a separate order, some hon. Members will be required to sit, probably late at night, in order to pass it. Is that necessary? It is simply part of the bureaucracy's general obsession with the separate statute book of Northern Ireland and its perverse opposition to the full integration of the Province into the United Kingdom.
But that said, I do not wish to end on a sour note. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and I wish him all success — indeed, I wish the country all success—in the speedy passage of the Bill.
I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvel) on bringing the Bill before the House and giving us the opportunity of taking what has been already described as that much needed first step forward.
I, like the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), am proud to be a sponsor of the Bill. It will be an enormous benefit to Britain and will undoubtedly set the scene for further legislation in coming years to tighten even further the controls over what can only be described as a very dangerous weapon indeed.
I have been amazed, to say the least, at some of the bizarre documents that I have been sent urging me to rebut the Bill. The research project funded by the Crossbow Archery Development Association went into detail about what the crossbow can and cannot do. The hon. Member for Leicester, East dispelled many of the myths that it has tried to create in defence of something with which it is obviously extremely proud to be associated. But some of its suggestions about the abuse of crossbows and the effectiveness or otherwise of the weapon are dispelled in other reports, not least from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. To suggest, as the association does, that the weapon is not often used to abuse animals and is not a lethal weapon in the sense that it loses its strength quickly is a bizarre contradiction of what the association's members would use the weapon for and of what it would be seen to be used as.
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that point out. Those hon. Members who have received that research should look carefully at who financed it. It deserves to be put in the dustbin when compared with the real evidence that has been put forward by bodies that have been affected by the use of these weapons.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East mentioned the National Farmers Union. It has sent me a copy of the letter that it sent to him. Its examples of the use of the weapon on livestock are legion. The many examples should draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that something must be done.
I do not believe for one minute that all the incidents are caused by youngsters under the age of 17 with crossbows. Many, if not the vast majority, were caused by irresponsible, vicious, nasty people who find it funny or nice to injure, maim or kill an animal. The hideousness of that act needs to be exposed. It would be folly for any hon. Member to suggest that that was the province only of the young—far from it. It appeals to all cross-sections of the population and we should be wary of it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, (Dr. Owen) has sent me a copy of a catalogue that he used in making a speech. After reading that catalogue, I got hold of another that described many weapons, including the close-killing commando battle knife, "which every home should have". I do not know why everybody should have a close-killing commando battle knife, but the suggestion is that we are not complete in our homeliness unless we have one. The catalogue went on to say that, at long last, we have the ultimate killing weapon and described the high-powered deadly crossbow, as if we had all been waiting with bated breath for that ultimate killing weapon to be on the market. Sadly, that weapon is readily available in high streets in virtually every city and town.
Sadly, many of the dealers who stock that long-awaited killing weapon are only to willing to sell it to youngsters, many of whom not only look young but are under the age of 17. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) described a serious incident in his constituency that involved youngsters. We should be wary of the hard-sell tactics of those who deal in such weapons, which are depicted in words that would encourage many people to believe that they should have one, because they possess some special power that would give them an ability to kill, maim or inflict injuries on animals. We should be wary of such publicity, and I hope that the Minister will advise us that his Department will seek to take action against the way in which those weapons are advertised, the descriptions that are given of them so as to make them appeal to a certain section of the community that seems to delight in such material.
The weapons are undoubtedly powerful and extremely dangerous. Many of them, with steel and tungsten tips, are capable of shattering a house brick at some considerable distance. There have been instances of crossbows that have embedded themselves in concrete walls and ripped through metal. As we have heard from the statistics, crossbows are used in crimes against people as well as against animals. In various statements that have been circulated to hon. Members, the police have expressed their concern about the way in which those weapons have been allowed to proliferate. About 250,000 such weapons are available at the moment and that warrants real control and ultimate licensing.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East made great play of the fact that there are clubs of responsible people who are interested in crossbows. That is true, but there are also many grossly irresponsible people who possess those weapons and who will not only use them for poaching and other activities, but will allow young people to use them. We must be ever vigilant in trying to safeguard against that mentality.
I welcome the proposals, but I hope that the House will regard them as only the first step. Other weapons are illustrated in gaily coloured books and catalogues depicting the martial arts, for example, the throwing stars that have become so popular at football matches. I know that from my experience when standing on the terraces at Fratton park at Portsmouth. I have seen those things being thrown around and the hideous injuries that can be caused by them. The mace, with its ball and chain, is also something that people are told they should own, if one reads those catalogues. The sub-aqua diver's high powered speargun is as lethal in many instances as a crossbow, but it is readily available across the counters of sporting shops up and down the country.
Therefore, the Bill must be welcomed, but it should be regarded as being only the first of many steps that we must take. The House should have the courage to say, "Enough is enough," and should have enough backbone to bring in the legislation and resist the glossy booklets and members of the sporting lobby, who tell us that those weapons are essential if they are continue to perform their activities. I do not believe that any weapon can reasonably be used against any animal. However, I accept, as do the hon. Member for Leicester, East and many of the other sponsors of the Bill, that many in the sporting fraternity see the crossbow as a legitimate field weapon. I do not share that belief.
I support the Bill and am proud to be a sponsor of it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, East on having the courage to present the Bill. I am sure that he was inundated with offers of help and support for bringing other Bills to the House. I believe that he chose the right Bill. He showed his personal courage in resisting the temptation to present a more glamorous Bill to the House. I welcome the opportunity to support his Bill, but I urge the House to remember that this is the first step and that we need to take many more before we shall be able to rid ourselves of the hideous results that such weapons can bring to society.
I am delighted to be able to speak in support of the Bill that has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) and to follow the comments of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). I am especially pleased to be a sponsor of a Bill that has received all-party support, because that is something which, regrettably, is all too rare these days.
I share the concern of many of my constituents about the increasing violence in our society and the increasing incidence of avoidable accidents involving young people. I realise, as we all do, that the media give wide coverage to the more extreme or spectacular incidents, so it is all too easy to believe that death or injury lurks around every corner. As a parent of two young boys, I am obviously concerned about the increase of violence in our society and naturally want to see improvements that will protect our future citizens. We must keep things in perspective but, in some cases, death and injury do lurk around the corner. For that reason, some sections of the community are afraid to venture out because of their fear of the criminal element. I am not suggesting for one moment that the use of crossbows for criminal purposes is a major problem, because it is not, but any injury that is avoidable is regrettable and I believe that the House has a duty to legislate to minimise or eliminate the risk of injury wherever possible. Therefore., I welcome the Bill, which sets out to deal with a minor but real problem in a society that is complex and ever changing. There is undoubtedly a real gap in the law if it allows the unsupervised use of crossbows by young people.
I must admit to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East that before the problem of the misuse of crossbows by young people was brought to my attention by constituents I had never thought of, fired or even held a crossbow. Indeed, I still have not held or fired one, but at least I am now better informed about the different types, sizes and styles of crossbows and their usage. I am also well aware of their power and of the fact that so many of those potential weapons are in circulation.
I supported the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South when he said that we have been bombarded with literature on this subject. When the matter was first raised with me, I, too, began to think in terms of our history and of the time when the longbow was the standard weapon of our armd forces and the crossbow was considered foreign and somewhat sinister. We all remember our childhood legends and our history—1066 and all that, the battle of Hastings and the Middle Ages of which we have already heard much today. In England, we have always been keener on Robin Hood than on William Tell. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s were addicted to the television series about Robin Hood which showed the longbow and which was very good. However, we are not here to discuss romantic tales of the longbow or the even more romantic tales of apples perched on heads, although I have visited Altdorf in Switzerland and the statue of William Tell and his son is most impressive. Today we are concernd with the abuse of powerful weapons which can inflict grievous injury, damage property, maim wildlife, kill livestock and injure human beings.
I have been especially concerned at the number of offences involving crossbows that have surfaced in the press, and I have raised the issue with the Home Office. Numerically, the offences are few and might not appear to be much of a problem, but not only were one quarter of them sadistic attacks on animals, causing the most sickening and brutal injuries, but it is felt that many offences could have been prevented if crossbows had been subject to the controls proposed in the Bill. Constituents who have raised the issue with me have expressed amazement at the availability of such weapons to young people and the fact that they are subject to no controls at present, and I must confess to sharing their amazement. We are talking not about toys but about silently operated and potentially lethal weapons.
As we have heard today, crossbows are available quite easily across shop counters and sometimes by mail order. No person in his right mind would suggest that firearms should be so freely available. The Firearms Act 1968 ensures that they are not by imposing stringent controls on their sale. Of course, firearms are generally more lethal and regrettably are used in more serious criminal acts, but crossbows — some of which must be as lethal as a handgun—are available without any restriction, even to minors. That cannot be right. I would not advocate the introduction of a licensing system of the type that applies to firearms at this stage as the present situation does not warrant such a complex method of controlling crossbows. This situation is quite different. I support a restriction on the sale of crossbows to young people and a restriction on the purchase and possession of crossbows by young people. Those are controls that the Bill would provide admirably.
The Bill is both simple and straightforward. In an age in which so much of our legislation becomes more complex, it is refreshing to see a Bill that is easily comprehensible to ordinary people and to Members of the House who, like myself, are not lawyers. It makes a pleasant change to read a Bill and understand it the first time. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East is a lawyer, but I congratulate him on presenting a short and understandable Bill. It proves that lawyers can speak in intelligible English when they want, need or have to, and those of us who are not lawyers are grateful.
As I said, the criminal misuse of crossbows is not a major problem and in consequence this is not a major change in the law. The Bill would make it illegal for anyone to sell a crossbow to a person who is under 17. Similarly, it would be an offence for a person under 17 to buy a crossbow. In addition, any person under 17 who had a crossbow in his possession would be committing an offence unless he was supervised by a person over 21. I am confident and entirely convinced that the changes will have popular support and that the provisions will eliminate a great deal of potential danger and harm. In Committee, we might like to table one or two amendments, but I am sure that the Bill will find considerable favour in my constituency and in the constituencies of other hon. Members. The Bill comes not before time and the controls that it introduces are long overdue.
My only reservation about the Bill is one of which I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East is aware. It is that there is no provision for the imposition of custodial sentences for the purchase and possession offences that the Bill would create. As a non-lawyer, that appears to me to be an oversight—
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. It seems that there is a weakness in the Bill if we have limited punishment for youngsters under 17 who purchase potentially lethal weapons and are convicted more than once. We might elaborate on that in Committee. As a non-lawyer, I shall take advice on the matter. It is regrettable that there is not a stronger punishment for constant offenders.
I do not wish to dwell too long on this small Bill as I know that other Members want to debate other measures today, but I warmly commend the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East on his good fortune in the ballot and on his good sense in introducing the measure, which is necessary and welcome. I hope very much that it will have an easy passage in Committee, but that some amendments will be made, which we can discuss. I hope that the Bill will reach the statute book later this year and achieve the aim that we wish.
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and to speak briefly in this Second Reading debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on introducing the Bill, as well as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and the 10 others who supported him, which shows the depth of all-party support for the measure. I also pay tribute to many organisations that have brought the abuse of those weapons to our attention, and not least to the Cats magazine and Mr. Brian Doyle, its editor, for the campaign in which it has been engaged over the years.
I should like to make three specific points. First, there is a need to rationalise the age limits in relation to such legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East reminded me, and thus was acting with impeccable parliamentary propriety, that he was linking the age limit of 17 to present legislation for other offences in this area. However, there are far too many age limits — there is legislation for under 14-year-olds, 14 to 17-year-olds, 17 to 21-year-olds and over 21-year-olds. The age limits should be simplifed. I share the view of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. This point was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). I should like the age limit to be 18 for the purchase and possession of crossbows.
My second point has been highlighted by other hon. Members. The problem of abuse is not confined to crossbows, but arises from many other lethal weapons. I understand that we cannot do it under this legislation, but in time we must tackle the increasing abuse and misuse of air weapons, air rifles, air guns and so on. I hope that the Government will give attention to that.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary can comment on my third point. However stringent the regulations and laws are for these lethal weapons, they should be tightened and simplified. There is a continuing need also for a publicity campaign to remind parents and children of their responsibilities and duties. Whatever the legislation is, we must continually mount campaigns to raise awareness about misuse.
I warmly welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage on to the statute book. Again, I congratulate all the hon. Members who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East in introducing the measure.
I join other hon. Members in warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on introducing this piece of legislation. He knows that I shall support it on Second Reading. He and I have known each other for a long time; we knew each other before we came to the House. We have not always agreed on everything, but this is something on which we can agree. I also reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) about other matters that could properly be brought within such legislation and I am particularly thinking of martial arts to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I appreciate the constraints upon my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. He wants to bring forward legislation which will reach the statute book and he can be assured that the Bill will reach the statute book. To extend the Bill too widely might jeopardise that. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has concentrated exclusively on crossbows for that reason.
The House will have to consider martial arts equipment in due course, not withstanding the attitude—