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Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, as I did in Committee. He is very much opposed to a licensing scheme, and I know that he was very much opposed to a personal purchaser licensing scheme. In the light of that, can he explain why the Conservative group on Dundee city council, along with the Labour and Liberal group, voted tonight for such a licensing scheme?
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Mr. Djanogly: I have no idea why the Conservative group voted for such a scheme. The policy of this Conservative group is that the scheme as proposed by the Government is unworkable and impractical. If we are to have any scheme at all, that which is offered tonight is not the correct one.

Amendment No. 190 relates to clause 28, which requires the sale of air weapons by way of trade or business to be face-to-face. Once again, we find ourselves asking where exactly the evidence is to support this draconian measure. It is appreciated that the clause is intended to outlaw all sales via the internet or mail order, but in Committee the Minister raised more questions than she answered. We tabled the amendment to draw attention to that. Under the amendment, the clause would be restricted to apply only to air weapons with a muzzle energy in excess of 1 J. As we discussed in Committee, that is not regarded as a lethal barrelled weapon, and is the kind commonly used in airsoft and other legitimate activities. To recap on our little Committee chat on muzzle energies, which Members will remember, 1 J is the equivalent impact to a tennis ball being bounced against the floor.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the sport of airsoft. I have been contacted by Mr. Christie from my constituency, on behalf of 100 airsofters in Kettering who are very worried about the implications of the Bill. I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution on that subject.

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes a valid intervention, not least because, as a result of timetabling, unfortunately, we will not reach the relevant amendments on airsoft, which, he will be pleased to know, we defended in Committee, and I would have done so again today if I had had the opportunity.

The point about the muzzle velocity is that it is very low impact—that is the sort of air weapon that I suspect would be involved in the majority of mail order sales. Precisely for those reasons, we believe that air weapons with a muzzle energy of 1 J or less should be exempted from this unnecessary red tape. We raised legitimate concerns about internet sales from outside the United Kingdom, and the Minister assured us that she was doing all that she could in relation to internet sales and ensuring international co-operation on that front. Will she tell us how she plans to achieve that international co-operation, and what plans are in place to facilitate that?

In relation to internet sales, a major source of concern is sales originating outside the United Kingdom, where guns are more readily available and often cheaper. About 2,500 registered firearms dealers are spread across Great Britain, of which between 1,000 and 1,200 sell airguns by retail. The remainder are specialist dealers or those who do not sell by retail. There are between 1,000 and 1,200 retailers of airguns that are not registered firearms dealers. Thus there are some 2,400 retail outlets for airguns spread across England, Wales and Scotland. It follows that in many areas, particularly rural ones, direct access to a retailer of airguns would involve considerable time and expense without mail order.

As we well know, clause 29, to which amendment No. 110 relates, raises the age from 17 to 18 at which a person may purchase or hire an airgun or ammunition for an
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airgun. The clause also raises the minimum age from 17 to 18 at which a person may have with him an airgun or ammunition for that airgun. We remain totally unconvinced as to the justification for raising the age limit for buying an air weapon from 17 to 18. The Minister has repeatedly avoided giving any evidence to show that 17-year-olds are heavily involved in air weapon misuse.

The fact is that the evidence needed to justify the clause has not been forthcoming. Airguns are the gateway to other shooting sports and unjustified diminution in airgun sales will therefore have a knock-on effect on all shooting sports. Furthermore if a reduction in the number of retail outlets is coupled with a requirement for face-to-face sales, people in rural areas will be hit especially hard, and many will be deterred from acquiring airguns.

8.45 pm

Jim Sheridan: So far the hon. Gentleman has concentrated on sports clubs and rural communities. Has he anything to say about the Bill's effect on urban communities, particularly in inner city areas such as those in London where gun crime is rife and people have been killed and maimed daily?

Mr. Djanogly: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that restricting airgun sales to those aged 17 or 18 will have any material impact on violent crime by youths in our inner cities, he has another think coming.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I ask a question that is relevant to what was said by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan)? Surely the effects of airgun use on an inner city estate are very different from the effects on a constituency such as mine or that of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), where most people who use airguns will use them responsibly as part of their sport. Should we not be extremely careful about imposing unnecessary restrictions on the sporting use of guns—a road down which we have gone before—if it will not have the practical effect for which we all hope, which is the reduction of illegal gun use in cities?

Mr. Djanogly: That is a fair point. The truth is that the measures that we are discussing now will not have the effect that the Government want. Of course, we are discussing elements of a much larger Bill. Along with other Conservative Members and, indeed, Liberal Democrats, I made it clear in Committee that we wanted to reduce gun crime. We have a problem with specific issues, and this is one of them.

As I have said, changes in firearms legislation should be soundly based on consultation and evidence, not just on a perceived need to be seen to be doing something for the sake of it. According to the regulatory impact assessment, the vast majority of the 4,000-odd responses to the consultation paper that commented on air weapons—incidentally, we have not had access to those responses: they were received by the Government, but not by us—favoured tackling misuse, but suggested that that should not be achieved through further restrictions on possession or sale.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 tried to deal with airgun abuse—for instance, by raising the age at which airguns could be purchased to 17—but it is less than two
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years old, and there has not been time for its effects to be properly monitored and evaluated. Having consulted widely, we maintain that it would be wrong to impose further restrictions in the absence of alternative evidence.

Tightening the restrictions will penalise the shooting community, and there is no evidence that it will have any benefit in reducing airgun misuse. It will merely deprive 17-year-olds of the opportunity to be taught safely and responsibly how to handle firearms. Training young people to shoot can be valuable in teaching skills, discipline and responsibility. Introducing them to safe, responsible firearms use makes it far less likely that they will ever misuse guns. If young people were prevented from having reasonable access to airguns, all shooting sports would suffer, with little or no effect on crime figures. This attack on airgun ownership constitutes a veiled attack on shooting and on entry to the sport.

Bizarrely, on page 11 of its consultation paper of May 2004 relating to specifically to age limits, the Home Office categorically recommends that there should be no further restrictions on the sale of airguns because of the disproportionate enforcement effort.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that when we last tried to restrict the sale of handguns for sporting use, there was no increase in illegal gun use, and that it has gone through the roof since this Labour Government took office?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I would have brought up myself if we had enough time, but we will need to move on to other groups of amendments. I agree with what my hon. Friend said.

It is obvious that all improper use of airguns should be an offence, irrespective of the age of the perpetrator, but existing legislation provides for that. The way to crack down on weapon misuse is through better enforcement of existing legislation. That is what will impact on gun crime. Tinkering with age limits in respect of air weapons will do little but anger and upset people who use guns safely and responsibly. The Minister has simply failed to explain how the clause is likely to reduce crime, never mind violent crime, so we believe that clause 29 should be removed entirely from the Bill. I intend to divide the House on amendment No. 110.

Finally, I want to say that in respect of Government amendments Nos. 46 to 48, we are very pleased to see that the Minister has listened to our legitimate concerns about shooting beyond premises with consent. We want to thank the Minister for acting on our concerns in that regard, even though once again, she has unfortunately provided a defence rather than an exemption.

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