Submission of Evidence on behalf of the
Country Landowners Association (CLA)
1. The CLA's 50,000 rural business members
own and manage 60 per cent of the rural land of England and Wales
greatly welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Home
Affairs Committee on the important issue of firearms control.
2. In order to properly consider the issues
raised by the inquiry it is important for the committee to be
aware of the essential role that firearms plan in land management
and their importance to the rural economy and conservation of
Firearms are Essential and Universal Tools for
Effective Land Management
3. Firearms, usually, but not only shotguns
and rifles, are essential tools in land management, where predator
and pest control is fundamental to the protection and management
of crops, stock and the natural environment. Taking agriculture
first, MAFF figures show that pest control remains a high priority
for farmers. The crop damage arising from rabbits and pigeons
alone is very substantial.
The use of firearms in effective pest control is the method used
by virtually every farm. Their effective use for these purposes
depends upon their being accessible on site in a state requiring
minimum preparation for use. It is submitted that if current legal
requirements are met this does address the rightful concerns of
4. In addition selective pest control is
a legal responsibility for all occupiers of land under the Agriculture
Act 1947 (and indirectly under the Prevention of Damage by Pests
Act 1949) and the Pests Act 1954. In many instances farmers will
use the services of professional pest controllers who are expert
users of firearms many of whom reside in urban areas.
5. Some licensable firearms such as slaughter
instruments have a specific use for slaughter in combined farming
and meat processing businesses. Other categories of firearms may
also be used for casualty slaughtering where the overriding concern
is the easing of suffering.
6. In dealing with effective land management
it is usually the case that a variety of guns will be needed eg
if there is a problem caused by deer damaging woodland as well
as crop damage by birds both shotguns and rifles will be needed.
Furthermore, both rifles and shotguns are specifically designed
to meet the uses for which they are required and land managers
often require more than one type of gun in each category to meet
7. Recent MAFF research into methods of
control of piscivorous birds has conclusively shown that both
lethal and non lethal shooting with shotguns (to scare birds where
they are causing damage) is one of the best means of limiting
damage to fisheries.
The Economic and Social Importance of Firearms
8. It is not just the owner or occupier
of land who has to use firearms on land others have important
reasons to do so.
Delegation of Pest Control
For many farms and rural businesses, it is often
impractical for an individual to undertake the full responsibility
for pest control. A landowner/occupier may look to a third party
to assist in essential occupational shooting. Other parties undertaking
responsibility may include family members employees, invited guns
and commercial users.
The Use of Land for other Shooting Related Sports
The importance of recreational shooting has
long been recognised. The 1979 Medway Report summarised it thus
"shooting specified edible birds and mammals is a long established,
lawful and widespread pursuit in the United Kingdom, traditional
and deeply rooted in country life". This activity has contributed
substantially to the development and maintenance of the rural
environment and landscape; such activity will remain important
for its maintenance in the future.
9. The 1997 Cobham Report commissioned by
the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports
demonstrated the crucial importance of shooting to the rural economy:
12,000 people, mostly in rural areas, are directly employed in
connection with shooting, and 14,000 FTE (Full Time Equivalent)
employees in allied trades (eg manufacture of weapons and ammunition,
game meat marketing, game stock providers, game feed manufacturers
and general accessories production and sales). The estimated total
value of shooting in Great Britain lies in the region of £400
million per annum. In some areas, the use of land and the maintenance
of employment relies mainly if not exclusively on sport with firearms.
Over 83,520 people were involved in providing shooting in England
and Wales, which was enjoyed by 641,700 participants.
10. Firearms are also important to conservation.
Not only does recreational shooting contribute directly to habitat
management, where land is managed exclusively for sport (eg the
260,000 acres managed by wildfowling clubs, many of which are
SSSIs), but shooting is also a significant influence on the wider
management of the countryside for biodiversity. A report by Professor
Graham Suggett on the contribution of Countryside Sports to the
UK Biodiversity Action Plan states "the interest in and private
funding of, field sports by land managers is one of the strongest
forces for sustainability and biodiversity in the UK", a
statement that is supported with substantial evidence in the report.
11. Firearms are an essential ingredient
in ensuring the protection of special sites. The RSPB and other
wildlife bodies use firearms to manage predators in order to protect
rare species. The control of foxes and corvids (crows) is particularly
important to ensure that ground-nesting birds, such as skylarks
and partridge can survive in the open.
12. In the CLA's view it is crucial for
the Committee to consider the issues against this background as
well as legitimate public concern regarding firearms related crimes.
It should also be remembered that UK legislation currently lays
down some of the strictest requirements in the world. Current
statistics demonstrate that the real problem remains the illegal
possession of weapons Home office figures for the number of homicides
committed during the period 1992-94 in relation to legally held
firearms show that no legally held firearms were used in relation
to homicides arising from organised crime, drugs, contract killing
etc there were 14 cases arising out of domestic incidents, and
nine arising in other circumstances out of a total number of 151
homicides 128 of which were committed using illegal weapons.
13. In 1996 the total number of shotgun
certificates was 638,000 and 141,900 firearm certificates the
small number of offences relating to legal weapons do not justify
alienating such a large number of legitimate users. The total
of all shotgun related offences has reduced from 1,234 in 1987
to 580 in 1997.
14. The CLA considers that more should be
done to address the problem of illegally held weapons. We also
note that Home Office figures show that the rate of crime committed
with handguns has not decreased since the ban on all higher calibre
handguns very significantly reduced the number of legally held
handguns in the UK. This clearly demonstrates that tighter regulation
of legal ownership of guns does not automatically have an effect
on weapons related crime.
15. The CLA does however recognise that
misuse of guns legally held is a serious matter and outlines a
number of possible solutions.
16. The CLA submits that air weapons do
not present any significant problem in rural areas. Air weapons
are useful for controlling smaller pests such as rats. The careful
and properly supervised use of air weapons provides a relatively
safe and essential introduction to young people to the skills
necessary for the safe handling of shotguns and rifles.
17. The CLA is however aware that problems
do arise from the misuse of these guns in urban areas by young
people and a number of dangerous incidents have arisen. It is
submitted that basic controls such as those recommended below
would go a long way to prevent such incidents arising in the future.
Such controls could include the following:
no use of airguns by those under
the age of 12;
no young person to use an airgun
unless accompanied by a responsible adult over the age of 18;
All air weapons to be kept within
houses or club buildings under lock and key in secure cupboards;
the police should have a right to
inspect premises where air guns are kept.
18. Although the system of gun control quite
properly distinguishes between shotguns and firearms the specific
comments made under the following paragraphs could equally apply
to the firearms used by landowners and farmers (which are mainly
rifles) and should be read together as such. Additional controls
on legally held shotguns will not directly affect the rate of
crime committed with illegally held shotguns.
19. A large number of those who participate
in occupational use eg those who assist farmers with pest control,
and recreational shooting live in urban areas. It is important
to note that the shotguns legally kept in urban areas are used
almost exclusively in rural areas. Indeed, the growth in the value
and importance of shooting sports, and the consequent increase
in private funding for habitat and biodiversity in rural areas,
has largely been as a result of growing interest in shooting sports
by urban dwellers over a number of years. This represents an important
contribution to the sustainability of the countryside.
20. Urban based sportsmen will not always
be fixed to a common rural base for shooting. Many will travel
to different parts of the countryside to take advantage of the
opportunities available to them. It is important that flexibility
is maintained in the licensing provisions to enable them to do
so. It is important that regulations do not by default exclude
particular sections of the sporting community: for instance, any
suggestions that urban shotgun owners should keep their shotguns
in rural locations or at designated places of safety such as a
gun club are wholly unworkable in practice, where a long journey
to a shoot necessitates an early start and/or late evening return.
There is also the practical reality that there will be obvious
security advantages in ensuring that all firearms are kept in
the individual's normal residence rather than a country cottage
or other temporary residence.
21. The CLA is aware that in the very small
number of cases involving the misuse of shotguns by licence holders
in rural areas the real problem lies not in the existing controls,
which provide adequate and strict regulation as to who holds such
guns and under what conditions, but in the practical enforcement
and follow up by police officers. The problem is essentially one
of resources. The police have been and remain under resourced
in rural areas. Some of those responsible for enforcing current
controls have received inadequate training and are largely unfamiliar
with, and misinformed about, the legislation and the use of firearms.
Improvements to the current system
22. The CLA submits that existing shotgun
and firearm licensing legislation are satisfactory. We see a case
for tightening up existing procedures and recommend the following:
we would recommend that references
are fully checked when applications are made for shotgun licences
and that the two referees of standing in the community who are
required to have been known to the applicant for a number of years
should be required to confirm this to the police;
the element of discretion currently
exercised by the Chief Constable should remain in the granting
of applications however the appeals procedure should be simplified
and include provision for the amendment of conditions attaching
to the licence or certificate where this is appropriate;
we consider that it may be appropriate
that no person under the age of 16 should own or use a shotgun
unless under the supervision of an adult who is possessed of a
current shotgun licence; and
that current requirements for secure
accommodation for the firearm are sufficient and that any changes
should be balanced against the requirement that guns should be
accessible to their legitimate user. The police should continue
to have the right to inspect the premises where they are kept.
This could be a mandatory requirement upon renewal of a licence
23. The ban on handguns introduced in 1997
has been totally ineffective in reducing the number of handgun
related offences. In a written reply to a Parliamentary Question
the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Boateng) confirmed
that during the period from the introduction of the ban on 1 May
1997 to the latest date on which (provisional) figures are available,
March 1998, the rate of offences started at 214 per month and
has not fallen below 200 in any month save September 1997 when
183 offences were recorded.
24. In the same written answer, it was confirmed
that the ban removed 162,198 legally held handguns from circulation.
There are no figures for changes in the number of illegally held
weapons in the possession of criminals.
25. The UK currently has one of the strictest
firearms licensing systems in the EU. The CLA is in no doubt that
existing controls are satisfactory for both management of firearms
generally and the safety of the public. On those occasions where
licensing has failed to prevent serious crimes being committed
with legally held firearms, there is no evidence to show that
these crimes were committed as a result of system failure, as
opposed to human error in the operation of the existing controls.
26. The CLA's view that what is required
is not wholesale revision of the firearms certification system,
but additional resources for police forces to properly manage
and enforce the existing controls.
27. The CLA further recommends that such
resources might be devoted to setting up a national database of
firearms certificates, this would thus aid identification of any
problems arising in one Police authority to other Police forces
who may later have applications from persons who had certificates
revoked elsewhere. If properly resourced, such a database should
enable more efficient processing of applications for changes to
firearms certificates. It may also lead to more consistency being
operated in the issue of licenses between one Police authority
area and another. It would also enable the instant identification
of illegally held weapons.
The CLA welcomes the opportunity to comment
on the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry and would be happy to
expand upon our evidence either orally or in writing should the
committee so require.
Rural Practice Surveyor
53 £40 million per annum in the case of rabbits,
FRCA, May 1998. Back
"The assessment of the effectiveness of management control
measures to control damage by fish eating birds to inland fisheries
in England and Wales", MAFF Central Science Laboratory, York
"Countryside Sports, their Economic, Social and Conservation
Significance" Cobham Resource Consultants, Standing Conference
on Countryside Sports, 1997. Back
"Contribution of Countryside Sports to the UK Biodiversity
Action Plan", Professor R H Graham. Back
15 June 1999, Hansard: Column 104. Back