More than 80 children have been issued with shotgun certificates by Sussex Police, it has been revealed.

Figures released to The Argus show 88 shotgun certificate holders in the county are under 16.

One licence has been issued to a nineyear- old, while 87 other children aged 15 or under hold licences.

Hastings and Rye MP Michael Foster described the figures as "surprising"

and said gun laws must be tightened up.

He said: "I understand that in farming and rural communities there is a valid reason for young people owning a gun but I would not like to see this sort of thing in urban areas.

"The problem is the guns get into the w r o n g hands and that is when we see them being used for crime.

"I would like to see far tougher laws on guns.

" T h e r e are too many in use at the moment." There is no minimum age for shotgun certificate holders.

Police will issue a certificate to youngsters unless: They are prohibited from possessing a gun under the Firearms Act; they are a danger to public safety or to the peace; or they do not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring a weapon.

Once issued with a shotgun certificate, children can only fire their weapons on private land and must be supervised by someone over 21.

In 2002, a campaign was launched in the Commons for a minimum age limit to be introduced.

The campaign won the support of 71 MPs, including former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe.

Labour MP Steve McCabe, who tabled a motion on the issue, said no child under the age of 14 should be granted a shotgun licence and guidance should be provided on exactly what constituted supervision.

When he launched his campaign Mr McCabe said: "I was very surprised to discover that children of any age could be granted a shotgun licence."

It is thought most of the youngsters in possession of a shotgun licence in the region will be members of shooting syndicates after a surge in the popularity of game shooting.

A spokesman for the British Shooting Sports Council said young people were perfectly capable of using shotguns safely and backed their right to continue using them for legitimate purposes.

He said: "As long as shotguns are in the hands of trained and responsible people there is not a problem.

"It would be highly unusual, and I would imagine extremely rare, for a young person to handle a shotgun unsupervised."

Rodney Ash, Sussex Police firearms and explosives manager, said: "Sussex Police is no different to any other police force in the region and complies with Home Office firearms law guidance and the various firearm acts and regulations when issuing shotgun certificates.

"All applications for the granting and renewal of shotgun certificates require a home visit by a firearms inquiry officer and in the case of a young person the parent or guardian must be present during the interview."