The bill sets out particular requirements and conditions around the purchase, acquisition, ownership and possession of air weapons by young people and the types of shooting that may be undertaken by certificate holders aged 14 to 17.
Amendment 15 is a minor drafting change that simply highlights the fact that any certificate granted to a young person must include a condition prohibiting the purchase and ownership of an air weapon, as well as one or more conditions restricting the possession and use of an air weapon to certain defined purposes.
On amendment 16, while we fully accept that there are a number of legitimate reasons—as described in section 7(5)—why a young person might possess and use an air weapon, we do not believe that it is appropriate for a young person to own such a gun in their own right. Section 7(4) therefore states that, while someone who is aged 14 to 17 may apply for a young person’s certificate to use and possess an air weapon, they will not be allowed to purchase or own such a weapon until they are 18.
Amendment 16 extends the conditions in section 7(4) to make it clear that 14 to 17-year-olds will not be permitted to hire an air weapon or accept one as a gift. They will, however, be allowed to borrow an air weapon, for example from an air weapon certificate holder or at an approved club. The amendment ensures that the conditions for young persons are brought more closely into line with the provisions of the Firearms Act 1968, which make it an offence for a person under 18 to purchase or hire an air weapon, or for anyone to sell, let on hire or make a gift of an air weapon to a person under 18. It will therefore provide greater consistency for shooters.
Following representations that have been made to us by a number of the main shooting organisations and the evidence that was given to the committee in November, we have looked again at the list of purposes for which a 14 to 17-year-old may be granted a young person’s air weapon certificate.
On amendment 17, I am very conscious of the fact that, in their evidence to the committee, some organisations—including the League Against Cruel Sports—stated that they oppose all shooting of live quarry. I fully understand that view. The abuse and harm caused to domestic animals and wildlife by the inappropriate and illegal use of air weapons is completely unacceptable. The committee heard from the Scottish SPCA and others about the problems and upset that that can create. The police will investigate any such crimes that are reported to them. It is one of the issues that the licensing regime is intended to address.
However, we have considered carefully all the representations that have been made and have come to the conclusion that the initial drafting of the bill was too restrictive and does not reflect the reality of shooting for many young people, especially those who live in rural areas or those who are engaged in sport shooting. Such shooting can be appropriate in properly controlled circumstances.
I have therefore lodged amendment 17 to allow 14 to 17-year-olds to take part in shooting for sporting purposes, including shooting live quarry, on private land. Suitable quarry might include, for example, pigeons and rabbits. That change will bring the licensing of air weapons in Scotland into line with the restrictions on use that apply to young persons under UK and EU firearms legislation in relation to more powerful firearms. It should therefore ensure that there is a more consistent approach for shooters.
It is worth emphasising that it remains the responsibility of the chief constable to consider each application on its merits. If the chief constable decides that such shooting is not appropriate for a particular applicant, the certificate would not allow for sports shooting. I reassure committee members that extensive guidance is already widely available from shooting organisations and others about the types of live quarry that might properly be shot with air weapons. We will work closely with those organisations and the police to ensure that Scottish guidance reflects such advice. Any shooting of animals must take into account the power of the gun involved.
On Mr Buchanan’s amendment 19, we accept that restricting shooting for pest control to a young person who is a commercial pest controller or is employed by a pest controller is too restrictive and does not reflect the reality of shooting in many parts of Scotland. Such concerns were raised in evidence that was given to the committee by Police Scotland in particular, and I accept that the bill as introduced goes too far in that regard. The amendment will allow young people to volunteer to shoot rats at a church hall or rabbits at archaeological sites, for example. I am therefore happy to accept amendment 19. Given what I have said on these issues, I invite members to support the amendments in my name, as well as amendment 19 in Mr Buchanan’s name.
However, I am not so convinced by amendment 18, which is Mr Buchanan’s other amendment in the group. Although shooting at competitions and events is already one of the potential purposes for which a young person may use and possess an air weapon, amendment 18 broadens the condition to add “any connected activities”. That term is not defined in the amendment and, although I am interested to hear what Mr Buchanan says on the issue, I believe that “connected activities” is too broad a concept to stand on its own in this context. It might, for example, lead to a position in which a person believes that they can shoot in circumstances or at a location that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate.
The condition in section 7(5)(b) is already sufficiently broad to cover activities such as travelling to and from an event or competition. That would be considered possession for the purposes of participating in the event. Furthermore, the conditions in the menu of conditions at section 7(5) are not mutually exclusive and the police can attach any and all that they consider appropriate. For example, if a young person wanted to practise between events, and had a suitable place to do so, the target shooting condition in section 7(5)(a) could be added to their certificate. I therefore ask members to reject Mr Buchanan’s amendment 18.
Amendments 26 and 27 in my name are consequential on amendment 17. They will allow young people visiting Scotland on a group permit to shoot for sporting purposes or at targets on private land, or to shoot in competitions or at other events, and to do so under the same terms as young people in Scotland with their own certificate. As with amendments 15 to 17, I invite members to support amendments 26 and 27.
I move amendment 15.