Report on the use of air weapons

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 3:15 pm, 28th November 2018

I thank all Members across the House for their passionate and heartfelt views on these important topics. I welcome the indication from the shadow Minister that the Bill continues to have the support of the Opposition.

The first duty of Government is to keep the public safe. That is why we have brought the Bill forward, to give the police and other agencies the powers they need to tackle serious violence and crime. But it is the definition of democracy that Government must meet that duty in ways that are effective but also proportionate. We have some of the strongest gun laws in the world, particularly for rapid-fire rifles. My hon. Friend Mr Baker has indicated that his amendment is intended to be probing. However, those rifles remain in the Bill because we are concerned that they can discharge rounds at a rate that brings them much closer to self-loading rifles, which are already prohibited for civilian ownership under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. Indeed, that appears to be one of the selling points for such rifles. We have therefore included them in the Bill, because we are of the view that the indiscriminate use of rapid-firing rifles, including lever action rifles, is such that they should be prohibited in the same way as other full-bore, self-loading rifles. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe has raised the interests of disabled shooters. Of course that is part of our assessment, but we are satisfied that there are other rifles that those with disabilities can use if they are prevented from using these rifles.

Let me move on to air rifles. I know that Karin Smyth and David Hanson have run long campaigns on air rifles. I hope that they both know that we have conducted this review following the coroner’s report into the terrible and very sad death of Benjamin Wragge, a 13-year-old boy who was shot accidentally with an air weapon in 2016. As I said in Committee, we received more than 50,000 representations from members of the public, and the issues raised by the new clauses tabled by the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman will be considered in that specialist review, which will be published shortly. I therefore ask them not to press their new clauses to a vote.

I want to make a small point that might assist the right hon. Member for Delyn in deciding whether to press new clause 19 to a vote. The new clause refers to trigger guards, rather than trigger locks. I understand that he wants to look at locks. At the moment, air weapons are fitted with trigger guards. But I am happy to have a conversation with him, and with any other Member, about the applicability of locks as part of the review process.

On Government amendments 26 to 55, I recognise the very, very strong feelings across the House. I spoke at the beginning about the balancing act—indeed, it is a discussion we had constantly in Committee—between effectiveness and proportionality. We saw that today, let alone on Second Reading and in Committee, in relation to clauses 30 and 31. The clauses were included in the Bill to strengthen the controls on high muzzle energy rifles. They are currently controlled under general licensing arrangements. The effect of the clauses would be to subject those rifles to the more rigorous controls provided by section 5 of the 1968 Act. This was because our law enforcement colleagues have concerns as to the potential effect if these rifles fall into the wrong hands. Our strong gun laws mean that those who shoot in the countryside or at ranges have met the standards expected in firearms licensing and by their local police force.