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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I did not hear any mention of my resistance to the proposal by affirmative resolution to lower the possible age of imposing such fines to children as young as 10. However, that aside, I fully appreciate that the courts have the opportunity and the power to impose fines. Therefore why an additional fixed penalty scheme in this context and as set out in the Bill will have any further effect on the prevention of anti-social behaviour than have the current procedures is not at all something of which I am convinced. While I understand that it is of course proper for parents to take responsibility in the way mentioned by the Minister, we are talking here about stopping young people on the spot in regard to their offending behaviour. I am not sure that the connection is clear.

I am glad that the Minister has confirmed that there is to be careful monitoring and evaluation of the pilot schemes, and that sufficient discretion will be given to

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the police. However, I still think it is important to seek the assurance I asked for; that is, that the PACE safeguards should be in place for 16 and 17 year-olds. The fact that it is quite difficult to see that through is not necessarily a convincing argument.

Having listened to those remarks, I hope that the Minister will have one or two further reassuring comments to make when we finally consider the matter at Third Reading. I do not intend to divide the House at this point and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 69:

    After Clause 42, insert the following new clause—

(1) This section applies to proceedings in which a local authority is a party by virtue of section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 (power of local authority to bring, defend or appear in proceedings for the promotion or protection of the interests of inhabitants of their area).
(2) If the court grants an injunction which prohibits conduct which is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person it may, if subsection (3) below applies, attach a power of arrest to any provision of the injunction.
(3) This subsection applies if the local authority applies to the court to attach the power of arrest and the court thinks that either—
(a) the conduct mentioned in subsection (2) consists of or includes the use or threatened use of violence, or
(b) there is a significant risk of harm to the person mentioned in that subsection.
(4) Harm includes serious ill-treatment or abuse (whether physical or not).
(5) Local authority has the same meaning as in section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 [Air weapons: age limits]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 70:

    Page 36, line 22, leave out ""seventeen"" and insert ""sixteen""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, anyone who has used a machine gun knows that, if you are lucky, you will hit the target with your first shot. After that, the bullets simply spray around the countryside. That is the purpose of a machine gun. The only reason for mentioning the weapon in this Chamber today is that it pretty closely describes the approach over the past few years of governments of both persuasions to legislation in the matter of guns and firearms. The target is and always should have been illegal guns being improperly used by criminals for criminal purposes. The process we have gone through has hit many legitimate users of guns and firearms, very often to their disadvantage.

This group of amendments is designed to ease the problem slightly. The Bill seeks to raise the age at which air guns may be owned and carried from 14 to 17 years.

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Earlier I sought to have the provision removed, but I received no encouragement from the Government, so I now propose the age of 16 as a possible compromise.

It is surprising how many totally adult things someone may do at the age of 16. It is possible to buy a scooter and get a licence to ride it on the roads; one can smoke, drink alcohol and indulge in sexual intercourse. Someone can join the Army as a young soldier and receive full weapons training. While a 16 year-old will not be sent to the front line to fight, he might be sent at 17—although that is neither here nor there. The Electoral Commission is considering proposals that the voting age should be lowered to 16. These are all adult qualifications—but you cannot carry around an air rifle until you are 17. That is petty and silly. The amendments in the group therefore seek that, wherever in the Bill the Government consider 17 to be the appropriate age limit, it should be changed to 16.

I have argued before that if you treat someone as responsible they will, on the whole, behave responsibly. I accept that there are always a few people who insist on misbehaving but in my general experience there is plenty of law to deal with people who misbehave and break the law, even in relation to the misuse of air rifles and airguns. The Government should have no problem in accepting the amendments. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I support the extremely modest amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Is there any evidence from police records to suggest that 16 year-olds are more likely to misbehave with air rifles or air pistols than 17 or 18 year-olds?

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I support the amendment even though I much prefer the next group of amendments which would place us in a more satisfactory position in regard to 14 to 17 year-olds. However, these amendments would be better than nothing and provide a good start. They would show that the Government are willing to fulfil their manifesto commitment to not in any way affect shooting. I shall reserve my detailed remarks for the next group of amendments, but surely we can start moving in the right direction by accepting these.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for moving the amendment even though, if I may say so gently, its introduction was extravagantly expressed.

The purpose of Clause 44 is to tackle air weapons misuse by ensuring that young people do not have access to them without adult supervision. Noble Lords will know that many people believe that the Government have not gone far enough to keep the public safe and urge us with some vigour to go even further. We believe that the provisions in the Bill are very balanced. They raise the age limit from 14 to 17.

I know that shooting organisations are concerned about the effect the Bill may have on shooting sports—a concern also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Monson, Lord Monro and Lord Dixon-Smith—but the Government have already responded to those concerns

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by allowing an exception for young people to use their air weapons unsupervised on private premises. The amendments would remove a further category of young person—all 16 year-olds—from the need for supervision.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says about moving the age limit to 16. I remind the House that there are others who say that the voting age should be moved to 21 and some who believe that there should be a gender difference between the ages when women are allowed to vote and when men are allowed to vote.

It is important that we should remain proportionate and realistic. The current age limit is 14. We have chosen 17 as the new age limit in order to catch the age group that we believe is most likely to be involved in the misuse of air weapons. It is also consistent with other age limits in firearms law. An age limit of 16 would mean that far fewer young people would have to be supervised when handling air weapons, but this would mean less protection for the public and undermine efforts to tackle air weapon misuse. We firmly believe that 17 is the right age at which to draw the line for unsupervised access to air weapons.

I ask the noble Lord not to press the amendment. I know that we shall speak with even greater energy on this issue during the debate on the next group of amendments.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, there will be dissension for a very long time between the noble Baroness and myself over the question of when a child is grown up and when, whether and how they are capable of making responsible judgments and so on. I do not intend to prolong matters. The Minister has given me no encouragement whatever. I have become used to having buckets of cold water poured down my neck—it is not an unfamiliar sensation—and I accept it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Moynihan moved Amendment No. 71:

    Page 36, line 34, at end insert—

"(5) It is not an offence under section 22(4) of this Act for a person of or over the age of fourteen to have with him an air weapon or ammunition while making the journey between his home and any premises falling within subsection (2), provided that the conditions in subsection (6) are satisfied.
(6) The conditions are that—
(a) the weapon is carried in a securely locked case;
(b) the key to the case is kept separately from the weapon;
(c) the person may not transport the gun and ammunition in the same journey;
(d) any journey falling within subsection (5) must be a direct journey.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may start by stating what I hope is obvious: all law-abiding citizens support the Government's proposals for a new offence of possessing an airgun or a replica gun in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Everyone agrees that the misuse of firearms is a genuine, deeply felt concern of the general public and that there is widespread support for measures to tackle

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this problem. But there is no history—not one case—where legitimate shooting sports have been the subject of the misuse of firearms. We must not allow, as my noble friend said when addressing the previous group of amendments, legitimate shooting sports to be swept into ill-considered, all-embracing legislation. I hope that as a result of our deliberations the Government will now realise that, as the legislation is currently drafted, the world of sport will be seriously damaged by the Government's proposals.

Sadly, this is not the first blow that the Government have landed on the face of British sport in the Bill. At the beginning of our considerations on Report, the Government landed a further blow on the battered body of British sport—pace Tim Henman and our rugby players—by refusing here and now to reinforce the stature of our anti-doping strategy by giving a commitment to grant independent status to UK Sport's anti-doping directorate.

Now, in a further blow to the solar plexus, the Government are in danger of landing a body blow to the world of Britain's young sporting shooters. Once again the Minister for Sport in another place is silent, as he was on the first issue, his voice not to be heard defending the interests of sportsmen and women. Only the characteristic, knowledgeable voice of the former Minister, Kate Hoey, was to be heard at Second Reading. She asked:

    "will my right hon. Friend ensure that the guidance notes make it clear that the Bill will not prevent legitimate young shooters going to legitimate places to shoot? Will those people be covered by the reasonable exemptions and will that be clearly stated?".

The Home Secretary was clear in his reply. He said:

    "We are seeking good and lawful reasons for carrying weapons, and we need to ensure that the guidance is positive and helpful in that way".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/4/03; col. 149.]

So we look to the Minister—as highly respected as she is hard working and popular—to broaden the remit of her portfolio and support the conciliatory amendment tabled in my name which will satisfy the Home Secretary's reply to Kate Hoey.

But, first, a little background. Without exception, the world of sport, coupled with those organisations representing the countryside, have railed and rallied against the Government's misguided new restriction set out in the clause. It is some feat for the Government to have alienated in one clause the Association of Professional Clay Target Shooting Grounds, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, the Countryside Alliance, the Gun Trade Association, the Muzzle Loaders Association, the National Rifle Association, the National Small-bore Rifle Association, the Shooting Sports Trust, the Sportsman's Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association, the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors and the Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors—all of which make up the British Shooting Sports Council—yet they have achieved that feat. They have done so by, for the first time, making it illegal for young responsible shooters between the ages of 14 and 17 to carry air guns in public places without supervision including, of course, our 16-year-old Commonwealth gold medallist, Charlotte Kerwood.

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The issue is of extreme concern to the sporting shooting community, as it could seriously impede the participation of young people in a wide range of shooting sports, something the shooting community has, for many years, worked hard to encourage. Once again, the much publicised Game Plan, the Government's supposed blueprint for sport, is blotted. For in that document the DCMS has set a target to initiate,

    "a major increase in participation in sport and physical activity, primarily because of the significant health benefits and to reduce the growing costs of inactivity".

Shooting sports often require significant physical exertion and provide a wide variety of health benefits for those who participate in them. How does the restriction of young people's ability to practise these sports fit with Game Plan? The Bill will bear down disproportionately on any young responsible sportsman or woman who has permission to shoot on local farmland or who, as a trainee gamekeeper, is required to travel to an estate as their place of work.

To summarise, the legislation carries two main categories of legitimate shooters who will be affected. The first is the sports shooters who, if Labour Party manifestos are worth the paper they are written on, have an undertaking that they will not be the subject of discriminatory legislation further to restrict the enjoyment of their sport. Sadly, as currently drafted, the Bill revokes that undertaking and so affects this category of young shooters. The second category is the farmhands who frequently assist the local farmer by, for example, killing rats in barns.

Worse, the clause contradicts the Government's manifesto commitment not to place further restrictions on the sport of shooting. Moreover, if the Bill does not receive further amendment, young shooters will be allowed to use their guns on private land without supervision but will be in the conflicting position of having to be supervised when carrying these same guns in public.

The Government will of course turn to the series of statistics for crime involving air guns and replica weapons, which the Minister in another place published in response to questions from Mike Hancock, MP. Careful analysis of these statistics is important for the work of a revising Chamber, so I believe it is important to note that on the basis of government statistics, a person is more likely to be hospitalised by a tea cosy or a cotton bud than by the misuse of an air gun. Nevertheless, we should seek ways of improving enforcement and introducing further offences which allow the police to challenge any person of any age who is carrying an air gun in a public place. Both these proposals in the Bill have our support.

With the Minister's support, and accompanied by senior representatives of the British Shooting Sports Council and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, I recently met with her officials to consider ways of reaching agreement with the Government to ensure that Clause 44 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill does not bear down disproportionately on young sporting shooters, while ensuring that the legislation remains effective and practical in targeting the abuse of

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guns. The Government have yet to signal their agreement with the proposals we put to officials, so it is with great regret that I seek agreement on a compromise amendment, which I nevertheless hope achieves that objective.

This amendment would allow young shots to carry air guns in public places without supervision, but under very restrictive and clearly defined conditions. The many organisations to which I have referred, including the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, believe that those conditions are unnecessarily draconian, but I believe and hope they will carry the support of your Lordships across the political divide.

The amendments tabled in my name show the extent to which both I and the shooting community have strived to seek a reasoned and reasonable way to identify middle ground between the Bill as it stands and the law in its current form. Amendments Nos. 71, 72, 73, 74 and 75 are evidence of this process, and Amendment No. 76 is the culmination of these efforts. It seeks first to allow young people to carry air guns in public without supervision, provided the gun is carried in a securely fastened case.

In the end, I have not sought to add over-complex and burdensome bureaucracy to the work of the police by requiring more than the provisions of reasonable excuse for carrying a gun, since by requesting evidence of purpose—for example, a signed letter from the parents or evidence of a place of destination and the place of residence—we would be going beyond good reason, lawful authority and the new conditions laid out in the Bill. Nevertheless, by recognising the need to carry the gun in a securely fastened case, the risk, though remote, is minimised that our 17-year-old Commonwealth gold medallist has her air gun stolen from her for criminal purposes.

Yet to make this possibility even more remote—and I remind the House that expert commentators from the police and the shooting community have not been able to identify a single offence recorded of a young 14 to 17-year-old sport shooter arrested for abusing the current freedom to carry his or her air gun to a shooting club—I propose to go further and amend the Bill to allow young people to carry air guns in public without supervision if, and only if, the guns are carried in a securely fastened case, with the new requirement for the case to be securely locked and the key kept separate from the gun.

Your Lordships will note that even the most determined criminal now has a problem. He or she can break with precedent in terms of criminal activity in this country, grab the gun case—unaware of whether there is a gun inside—knowing in advance that the law-abiding young sporting shooter will not have a key to the securely fastened case. However, I recommend going even further by introducing the provision that the air gun pellets must always be carried separately from the gun. That is an exceptionally important additional proposal which I hope will meet with the Minister's support.

In seeking consensus, I propose to go even further. The young person wishing to carry an air gun unsupervised in public must be able to prove—here I emphasise that the burden is very much on the individual—that they are travelling directly to the place where they will be practising their sport.

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Amendment No. 76 seeks to protect young responsible shooters. It is regrettable that it is left to these Benches, with, I hope, support from those genuinely committed to sport on the Liberal Democrat and, indeed, the Labour Benches, to rally together on an all-party basis to address this issue. However, I hope the Minister will respond positively, support my amendment and avoid the necessity to test the will of the House. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Pendry: My Lords, I take part in this debate wearing my sporting hat. As chairman of the All-Party Sports Group, I declare an interest in this matter. I accept, of course, the main tenets of the Bill, but I think it is flawed in respect of the provision in Clause 44 which, if passed, would exclude many young people from the sport of shooting.

Although I support the sporting community, I am far from a shooter. I must confess that it is probably the last sport I would put my hand to. As a national serviceman in the Royal Air Force in the 1950s, doing my square bashing at West Kirby RAF station, I, together with some 70 conscripts, marched on orders to a rifle range, as it was deemed necessary for us to have a basic knowledge of using rifles. I failed to hit one shot anywhere near the target range, and, with 69 of my colleagues lined up to go to lunch, I was accosted by the sergeant in charge who made me sign a piece of paper stating that I was blind so that the rest could go to lunch. So you see, my Lords, shooting is hardly a sport I could have excelled in. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has said, others do. He referred to young Charlotte Kerwood, a 16-year-old gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games, and there have been many more before her.

It is a fact that many people participate in this sport across the UK—rather more than those who participate in rugby, hockey, athletics or motor sports. I recognise that the Bill has an important intention; namely, to prevent the misuse of air guns. Any changes to the Government's proposals should certainly be thought through thoroughly, and I hope the Minister will do that. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as well as the British Association of Shooting and Conservation and the British Shooting Sports Council, have tried hard to meet the Government's concerns. They all recognise that, if the clause is passed without amendment, it will pose a significant impediment to the participation of young people in a whole range of shooting sports, from informal target practice to competitive shooting.

Shooting sports are often practised in rural areas where it is often preferable for young people to walk or cycle to the place where they shoot. Requiring young people to be supervised in those situations—or even supervised walking down the street—would surely put off the majority of youngsters who were thinking of taking up the sport. Caroline Flint MP, a Home Office Minister in the other place, argued that:

    "There is no 'strong reason' why young shooters should not be supervised. It is no different to the support given to young people by parents and coaches in relation to many other sports".

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That is a very important point. Perhaps we should be looking at it in another way: it is not a legal requirement for adults to accompany young people to practice sessions in other sporting disciplines. As with other sports, it is currently left up to parents to judge whether it would be appropriate to allow young people to travel unsupervised to the location where they practise shooting sports. Surely, young shooters should be given the same opportunities as sportsmen and women from other backgrounds.

As the author of Labour's Sporting Nation manifesto in 1997, I can assure noble Lords that it commended the sports of shooting and fishing. I hope that that will be underlined for many years to come on the Benches opposite. In the context of the Government's grass roots sports policy, surely the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, must be accepted. The DCMS has a key target to initiate,

    "a major increase in participation in sport and physical activity, primarily because of the significant health benefits and to reduce the growing costs of inactivity".

Shooting sports often require significant physical exertion and provide a wide variety of health benefits for those who participate in them. If the clause is left unamended, I am concerned that it could undermine the Government's clear achievements on grass roots sport and prevent the sporting community from upholding these targets. As a result, I call on noble Lords to support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, which would allow sporting shooters a reasonable degree of freedom to practise their sport while ensuring that the Government's attempts to tackle gun crime retain their effectiveness.

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