Report on the use of air weapons

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 2:22 pm, 28th November 2018

I hope that this is third time lucky. I understand the difficulties that the Government are in, but our constituents, on whose behalf we speak, watch these proceedings with great interest and concern, often because it is their loved ones who have lost their lives or been injured. The postponement of this debate on Report has been unacceptable for them.

Having said that, I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the importance of new clause 2, with which I simply seek to establish in law the requirement for the Department to publish a report on the safety of air weapons. Such a report is necessary because the statistics on air weapons offences are not routinely recorded and official data is difficult to find. The report would require the Department to assess the strength of existing legislation on the use of air weapons. An important aspect of the debate is licensing, to which I shall return in a moment. The report would also require consideration of the existing guidelines on safe storage, about which my right hon. Friend David Hanson will speak in more detail later. I thank him for his support and for the work that he has done on this issue previously.

The report would also force an assessment on the current age limits for the possession and use of air weapons, which we discussed in Committee. This is important, because young people are disproportionately victims of air weapons offences. I managed to obtain via the Library information that shows that a disproportionate number of 10 to 19-year-olds were victims of air weapons offences in 2017, considering their share of the population, but we need more detail.

The subject of licensing has come up in a number of debates over the years, including in this place and in Select Committee hearings, but there seems to have been a reluctance to push collectively for real change. The dangers posed by air weapons cannot be ignored: their misuse is a matter of public safety. That was the argument put forward by Members of the Scottish Parliament in 2015, when they voted to license air weapons. While others were perhaps doing other things during the conference recess, I went to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood to hear the arguments for and against licensing and about the experience of it.

The logic for the system in Scotland seems straightforward: as a matter of public safety, only those who have good reason for using, acquiring, purchasing or possessing an air weapon ought legally to be able to obtain one. The Scottish police believe that the scheme has been a success thus far, with more than 21,000 weapons having been surrendered by owners. Some 24,000 licences were issued up to February this year. There is a cost of £72 per licence to cover the administration fee. The Scottish Government's position is clear: those who have a legitimate use for an air weapon—including for sports and pest control—are not prevented from obtaining one. That gives important clarity to a subject that can be confusing. It sends a clear message that these weapons are not toys and capable of causing serious injury or even death. I simply ask the Minister whether he can demonstrate to me that my constituents in Bristol South are as safe from the misuse of air weapons as people in Scotland, where the guns are licensed.