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Lord Addington: My Lords, when I put my name down to speak in the debate I did so in order to speak about a subject that I thought would be brought in under the miscellaneous provisions of the Bill. I was going to speak about legislation that has had unforeseen consequences—the Private Security Industry Act 2001. I now become the third in a hat-trick of Peers to speak on the issue. I do not think that conspiracies are common or efficient. I believe that we are looking at a good old-fashioned cock-up. What has happened is that legislation designed to deal with a real problem has accidentally caught something else. The only part of the sports industry that, because of a history of disturbances, should have had any concern—football—got its act together, and as other legislation already existed, it was not caught by the 2001 Act. The sports that are blessed by not having acquired the idiot-fan/yob element, or have had very few such incidents, now have to fork out a lot of money, either directly or via employees, to make sure that these people are licensed.

Yesterday, I had a long conversation—a rather scruffy one over a mobile phone—with the authority. I got a firm, polite response: "This is the law. It's our job. We're going to do it". To be perfectly honest, I was slightly irritated, but I had to take off my hat to the authority. It was doing its job—enforcing legislation. If we expect it to enforce the law, that is what it will do. We therefore have to change the law. We have to do something here and now and this is a good opportunity to do it.

During my discussions on this matter I was informed that talk is going on within Whitehall. People are discussing it. It has been realised that mistakes have been made and there have been unintended consequences. The Government are thinking about how to get round this. If the Minister can give us some guidance about where the talks are going, I will be very glad to hear it. I do not think that anyone should think this is worth going to the stake for. It is simply a mistake. If one looks at the paper trail and at statements, one finds Ministers, sounding slightly embarrassed, saying, "Oh, it does that?". That is the interpretation I have got from various meetings. This is something that we should change. We can change it. I do not think anyone will say that if we do it quickly, no one will pay any attention—"We can get it done and the Government needn't worry about it". We may try and crow about it, but everyone will say,
 
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"That happened quickly". The Government can head us off at the pass here. They should take the opportunity.

I turn briefly to the rest of the Bill. I was interested in the issue of re-enactment societies that use weapons from after 1870, I think. I have been a Member of this House just long enough to have heard the debate on the original firearms restrictions inspired by the Hungerford massacre. I believe that the date of 1870 was chosen because those designs included a breech that can use a modern cartridge and the technology has not moved on. It will be interesting to see how this works out with groups that do re-enactments. I believe that initially there was panic about it, but I notice that the Minister has sensibly removed groups such as the Sealed Knot. Whatever the statistics on firearms, everybody realises that matchlock muskets are not a favoured weapon for stick-ups. It will be interesting to see how they deal with it.

Noble Lords should remember that although jokes can be made about anoraks, these people help in the study of history and to bring history to life for groups. Some form of supportive action would be helpful to these groups. We must ensure that these weapons are made safe, or as safe as possible, while maintaining the authenticity of that historical experience.

7.15 pm

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I rise because I was lobbied about some aspects of the measure. Now that I have read the Explanatory Notes I am slightly more concerned. We are yet again trying to deal with a problem by trying to control the "tools" that cause the problem rather than the behaviour and the way in which they are used. Part of the problem is that we no longer have punishments or effective rehabilitation, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester was saying earlier. The problem lies at that end. Simply trying to control access to all those things will not alter the situation very much. It is actually illegal to be drunk in a public place, as it is to threaten or attack someone. Simply trying to remove the means of doing those things will not solve the problem. You cannot remove all the toy guns. You cannot remove all the things that boys carve to look like toy guns when they are playing cowboys and Indians or modern versions of the same game. You cannot stop all use of knives in the household, in business and everywhere else. You cannot prohibit people carrying items that could be dangerous in everyday life. All you will do is move from one weapon to another.

We must stop focusing on trying to make more rules to make people's lives more difficult and start focusing on trying to do something about behaviour for which people reckon they will get hauled up in court, get a rapped knuckle and then walk out and commit the same offence. That is where the problem lies.

I was interested to find that the problems are not as great as I thought. I know that everyone says these things are absolutely appalling. However, if one-third of all firearms crimes are committed with imitation
 
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guns, and knowing what bad shots most people are, I think that I will probably be okay if I tackle someone who waves a gun at me—imitation or otherwise, because an awful lot of them are imitation. If there are 3,333 imitation gun crimes, then there are only about 10,000 firearms crimes altogether. That is not a huge number when you consider the population and everyday life. Your actual chances of running into one are fairly low.

That does not mean that we should be complacent and do nothing about it. I simply wonder whether sometimes we do not overact. The Minister said that there was a 38 per cent reduction—but from what base did it occur? I hate relative statistics. If only 10 crimes were committed, then the number has been reduced to six. You need absolute statistics to get a feel for the size of the problem.

It is very difficult to explain all my feelings about this. I suppose I take the attitude that if you are stupid enough to wave an imitation firearm around the place and pretend to perpetrate a crime with it and you get shot, it is your fault. It is not the fault of the police for overreacting. I do not think they are overreacting at all. How can you tell an imitation firearm when it is being waved at you? You have to be quite an expert for that. A very crude imitation can be passed off as genuine to someone who does not know a hell of a lot about firearms. I am not sure that all these rules will achieve the aim that we desire. I think that we will simply be stopping boys having a bit of fun playing the modern version of cowboys and Indians. That would be very sad as it is a natural part of growing up.

The next point is whether 17-year olds commit a huge number of these offences. Will increasing the age for purchasing dangerous items such as knives and airguns to 18 make any difference at all? I should imagine that young people can get hold of all those things quite happily at 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 or whatever age you like. I cannot believe that raising the age by one year will make much difference. It is a great anomaly that we are increasing a range of age limits to 18 when there is talk of reducing the age for voting to 16. At what age do we think people are grown up? We should not be doing things in both directions. We need to decide when people are grown up and when they are not.

I am a bit worried by some of these rules about alcohol disorder zones, and so on, because they have been tried before. In fact, they have a long history: you can go back 100 years or so and find that those things were being tried then and did not work then either. I am worried that they may give power to either police or local inspectors to bully people. You can threaten people. I have met this problem before. You will always get the petty official who tries to exceed his powers and does not always behave reasonably. We in Parliament, standing here debating, always seem to assume that all inspectors are reasonable. They are not always and we must look out for that.

What I am really worried about is whether this will really be effective, or whether it is just cosmetic. Is it because someone said, "Something must be done", so
 
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we make some more rules? What happens? We make some more rules. We ban the sale. Actually, nothing changes. There are millions of air guns out there already. There are tens or hundreds of millions of knives out there already. We need to teach safety to the young. We need to bring people up with an awareness that those things are around them. I do not think that banning their sale will make any difference at all. It is a cosmetic reaction to a problem put around by the media to which the Government feel that they must react.

If we go back to the issue of alcohol, what good will licensing and all these other extra things do? I suspect that they will mean a lot more paperwork in a lot of cases—all the disorder zones and everything like that.

I think that the review of air guns is being tackled in the wrong place. That should be done under a general review of firearms. There is the whole business of the Conservatives' knee-jerk reaction after an appalling incident, which should never have happened—in some cases, people should never have been on the loose to do what they did. It is not the legally held firearms that are the problem, on the whole. That should be acknowledged. We should therefore wrap up serious pistol shooting with legally held firearms. The whole thing should be properly reviewed. At that stage, we can start to consider what we do with air guns, if we want to classify them as a firearm.

The Bill's provisions will not control them. There is a control at point of sale, but that is it. After that, they disappear into a great void and can be traded, handed over, lent, borrowed or otherwise moved around the place. So I do not think that that will make any difference at all. That should really be tackled by a proper review—which was promised and is supposed to be happening—of legally held firearms. We should not be tightening up on legally held firearms; the whole thing must be thought about from a much more sensible point of view.

It worries me that the Bill uses a different definition from that in the Firearms Act 1968 of what is an old or antique weapon. Those definitions should be logical and the same; otherwise it causes confusion. I was thinking of the old saying that hard cases make bad laws. We must be very careful that we are not just doing something cosmetic that will make little difference and will be laughed at. We must worry about changing people's behaviour, not just trying to control their access to things to which they will have access anyway, regardless of what rules we pass here.

7.23 pm


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