Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the National Farmers' Union


  The National Farmers' Union (NFU), representing the interests of members involved in commercial agriculture and horticulture, farmer controlled businesses and those interested in all countryside matters, is grateful for the opportunity to comment on these matters.


  Shotguns and rifles are essential for the control of vermin (eg rabbits, pigeons, grey squirrels, foxes, corvids) and deer.

  Perhaps the most useful way to illustrate this is damage caused by rabbits and pigeons. The rabbit population level is increasing at about 2 per cent per annum. Farmers lose, on cereals alone, an estimated £40 million per annum (FRCA report, May 1998).

  Damage caused by pigeons is well documented especially to crops such as peas and oil seed rape. There is almost a direct correlation between the increase in acreage of oil seed rape and the increase in the pigeon population. As a result of that level of damage, some farmers no longer are able to grow Oil Seed Rape. While there are a number of control/scaring methods available, shooting being one of them, they are only really effective when used in combination with each other. A joint survey carried out by the NFU with BASC revealed that among farmers troubled by pigeons, shooting was used by 97 per cent as a method of control.

  Not only are firearms/shotguns an essential tool, they are instrumental in creating additional revenue through the necessary control of deer and other shooting activities (see Annex I). With declining farm incomes, additional revenue from formal shoots or contract vermin control is vital. Individuals who participate in such activities do not live solely in rural areas, but in urban areas as well.


  A study by the Home Office in 1996 found that only about 11 per cent of the firearm related murders, stemmed from legally held firearms. Legally held guns are very rarely used in criminal activities. That said we do not underestimate the importance of firearm related incidents, however we ask the Committee to pay particular attention to illegal possession and use, and in particular, ways of improving the current situation. Problems will occur in further tightening an already outdated system. For any review to be successful, the basis of the control system should be reviewed. During that process, the adequacy of the controls to minimise "other misuses" can be evaluated.

  We have the following comments in answer to the questions from the Committee,


    —  Incidents involving air weapons tend to receive high publicity giving a misleading picture of their frequency. Probably the greatest risk is that they may be mistaken for firearms.

    —  The use of air weapons by young persons is an essential first step to responsible handling of shotguns/rifles. We note, however, that the rules, which govern their acquisition and use, are complicated and difficult to understand.

    —  If air weapons are included within the current licensing system, the system is likely to fail through administrative overload.


    —  We believe that legally held shotguns should continue to be licensed without further restrictions on their use. There is little evidence that they are causing a problem in either urban or rural areas.


  The evidence suggests that the ban on handguns has had no effect whatsoever on their use in gun related crime (see Annex II). Again we would ask the Committee to address the more pressing problem of illegal possession and use. Current procedures, which appear irrelevant to the matter of public safety, merely impose an unacceptably high level of bureaucracy on farmers.


  The need for comprehensive review of all firearms legislation is long overdue. The current legislation, developed from the 1920 model (Firearms Act 1920) does not address today's requirements. By way of example:

3.1  Process

    —  There is no national database; this makes the acquisition and dissemination of information about weapons at any stage in the process slower than is desirable. Despite the employment of more civilian experts, there is still a disparity of standard between police force firearms departments. This leads to inconsistencies, which brings the licensing system into disrepute. By way of an example the Suffolk police force may issue a certificate to a farmer allowing him to use a .32 handgun for humanely dispatching pigs, while the same application may be refused in Gloucestershire.

    —  Illegal use continues to be a problem.

3.2  Certificates

  The current certification process is outdated. Certificates run for five years, when driving licences automatically run until a person is seventy. If the current certificates were replaced by a card system, this could provide access to details of all firearms/shotguns or even air weapons in the possession of a cardholder. In addition, if a national computerised database were set up as part of a national organisation there would not only be many advantages but also savings.

3.3  Security

  An important component of the decision, whether an applicant should own a firearm/shotgun, should remain the opinion of Chief Constables.

  The NFU believes that tightening further already inflexible requirements for security would be unnecessary. For example if a bolt is removed from a rifle, that rifle is inoperable. We strongly believe that security obligations should be reviewed.

3.4  Carriage of arms

  Under the current system, certificates have to be carried by the owner when weapons and ammunition are being transported. Given these rules, public safety is not enhanced. Thus, and for reasons outlined at 3.1, we believe the current system is overdue for review.

3.5  Safety

  Safety is a matter for the individual using the firearm. Thus, any licensing process should give greater consideration to the person licensed than the weapons to be licensed. This is particularly true where territorial restrictions are imposed; it is best decided by the user on the ground. It is also fact that the professional who deals with an application can make informed judgements as to the applicant's knowledge and motive.

  Currently there is some sensitivity that refusals will lead to an appeal. This must be avoided. A method of assessing suitability should be addressed as part of the review process.

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