HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 cc387-430 '.—(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of section 5(1)(aba) of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession or to purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a pistol chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges if he is authorised under the Act to possess, purchase or acquire that weapon subject to a condition which complies with subsection (2) below. (2) A certificate granted under subsection (1) above shall be subject to the condition that—
  1. (a) the pistol is used for training in shooting disciplines approved by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Olympic Games; and
  2. (b) the pistol is used by a person approved of by the Secretary of State and who is certified by the recognised governing body of the sport to be a person who has been invited to be a member of the group from which national competitors at international competitions will be selected; and
  3. (c) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State as approved for the storage and use of weapons to which section 5 of the 1968 Act applies; and
  4. (d) possession of the weapon outside such designated premises shall be permitted only for transfer to and use at premises at which shooting competition is taking place during an Olympic Games, or qualifying competitions.'.—[Mr. Maclean.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Maclean

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 4—Exemption for registered disabled national competition shooters

`—(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of section 5(1)(aba) of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession or to purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a pistol chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges if he is authorised under the Act to possess, purchase or acquire that weapon subject to a condition which complies with subsection (2) below. (2) A certificate granted under subsection (1) above shall be subject to the condition that—

  1. (a) the pistol is used by a person approved of by the Secretary of State and who has a physical disability and is a registered disabled person; and
  2. (b) the pistol is used for training in shooting disciplines approved by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Olympic Games; and
  3. (c) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State as approved for the storage and use of weapons to which section 5 of the 1968 Act applies; and
  4. (d) possession of the weapon outside such designated premises shall be permitted only for transfer to and use at premises at which shooting competition is taking place during an Olympic Games, or qualifying competitions.'

Mr. Maclean

The Opposition support tough and rigorous gun controls. In office, we gave Britain some of the toughest firearms laws in the world. However, unlike this Bill, our Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 was tough and rigorous, but would have allowed continued controlled use of 22 lower calibre handguns for target pistol shooting. It would have allowed British citizens to continue to compete in .22 calibre pistol events that are recognised in Olympic competition—free pistol, sport pistol and rapid-fire pistol events.

This country has a long-established tradition of target pistol shooting, which is one of the first of the modern Olympic events; it was introduced in the 1870s. Britain does well at the sport. Over the past 10 years, we have won 23 medals in .22 target pistol events at Commonwealth competitions. The instant effect of the Bill will be to kill off that sport, just like that, for all those law-abiding and decent people who enjoy it and do well at it. British citizens, unlike those of any other major sporting nation, will be prohibited from competing in national and international events.

We recognise that the Government want to ban all handguns, but we urge Ministers and the Home Secretary to reconsider the position of national competition shooters. The new clause would allow those existing national competition shooters who represent national pistol shooting squads and those identified by the national bodies as suitable to train for Olympic disciplines to continue to train for and compete in national and international .22 calibre pistol competitions.

The number of competition shooters is small. They are drawn from the national squad, of which there are around 100 members. Before qualifying for the national squad, most shooters will have worked their way up through the 13 squads in the regions covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are around 350 members of those squads.

The new clause would give the Home Secretary the power to designate specific centers—or, if it comes to it, the Opposition would accept even one specific centre such as Bisley, if he is minded to say that two, three, half a dozen or a large number of centres are too many. He could have complete say over how many centres there are. As I say, we would happily accept allowing one national centre of excellence to survive, so that pistol shooting for those few people could continue in strictly controlled conditions. The new clause, therefore, would give the Home Secretary the power to designate specific centres where those competition shooters would be able to train.

At the moment, such a site would obviously be Bisley and, after the Commonwealth games, could also include Altcar. I presume that something will have to be built for the Commonwealth games at Manchester. One or two more sites could be developed around the country, perhaps based on Army facilities.

The new clause is not an attempt to subvert the Bill. It is clear that clauses 1, 2 and 3 have gone through. The Government have made absolutely clear—and they won by large majorities in Committee tonight and on Monday night—the main, central purpose of their Bill: to all intents and purposes, no more .22 calibre weapons will be left in the hands of ordinary people in gun clubs. We have lost the vote on allowing gun clubs to continue in this country, even under the most rigorous and strictly controlled conditions. We are suggesting that the Government should allow one or two international centres of excellence. The Home Secretary could impose strict conditions and they would be the only places in the country where .22 weapons could be stored and fired.

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Under the new clause, a certificate to shoot at a designated centre would be granted to those chosen for the national squad. People could not just wander in off the street and say, "I fancy a bit of pistol shooting—can I fire that gun?" The people in the national squad are chosen by the governing bodies of competitive target shooting in the United Kingdom—the National Rifle Association and the National Small-Bore Rifle Association, fulfilling the criteria set out by the Sports Council.

We have included in the new clause a provision giving the Home Secretary, or people designated by him, extra discretion to approve the squad members. Therefore, I do not think that the Home Secretary can claim that it would mean a glaring loophole.

We want the sport to survive, in a highly limited way, in Britain. All we are asking for is one or two national centres of excellence, under strict Government control. People using the centres would have to be authorised and licensed to shoot there, and also nominated by the professional associations. They could use only .22 weapons that could not leave the centre, except under strict conditions when shooters are competing at Olympic or Commonwealth competitions.

The new clause is practical. I accept that drafting amendments may be necessary and perhaps it could be tidied up in another place. I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the principle behind what we are trying to achieve.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot claim that it would put the public at risk. No pistols would be held or used outside a designated site. That site would have been approved by the Home Secretary for all section 5 weapons, including the most dangerous, so security would be at the highest possible level.

In addition, competition shooters certified to shoot .22s at a designated site would need a valid firearms certificate, which means that they would have had to pass the chief constable's vetting. They would also have had to be approved by the Secretary of State and approved and vetted by the shooting organisations that govern the Olympic sport of target pistol shooting.

The new clause would allow Britain to continue to compete in target pistol shooting competitions recognised by the Olympic committee. As such, it has been welcomed by Simon Clegg, the general secretary of the British Olympic Association. If the Government do not accept the new clause, for whatever reason, the sport will be destroyed. Then Britain could face absurd and practical difficulties in hosting international sporting events.

Manchester won its bid to host the Commonwealth games because of its commitment to hold target pistol shooting events. The original proposal was to leave those events out of the games, but that provoked such hostility from the other Commonwealth nations that Manchester relented and included .22 target pistol shooting. That is not a shocking fact, given that shooting is the third most popular sport in the Commonwealth games.

If there is to be a blanket ban, and no provision is made for our national competition shooters to continue their sport at a top security designated site, in 2002 foreign competitors will participate and win events that are not only illegal under British law, but in which there will be no contestants from the host country. British teams, which are among the strongest, would be relegated to the terraces.

The Bill as it stands is a Bill too far. We have said repeatedly that it is unfair. We tabled the new clause in an attempt to introduce an element of fairness. I hope that the Government will accept it.

We are also discussing new clause 4, which relates to disabled shooters. I have already said that thousands of law-abiding, decent, upstanding people will lose their sport. The Government have not produced any justification for their draconian provisions.

One group that would suffer from a total ban is disabled shooters. Pistol shooting is one of the few sports in which everyone competes on an equal footing—whether young, old, male, female, able-bodied or disabled. There are scores of disabled shooters in Britain. For many of them, target pistol shooting is more than a pastime—it is an activity which helps substantially to improve their quality of life. Pistol shooting can also help them to cope more effectively with their disability.

The British Paraplegic Shooting Association says that many disabled people are encouraged to take up pistol shooting as a rehabilitation means to help with balance and confidence, primarily in the use of a wheelchair and sport. This provides them with a better quality of life and respect for themselves as disabled people in an able-bodied world. British disabled target pistol shooters have achieved staggering success in international competitions. They use .22 calibre pistols for six events in the Paralympics. At the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, disabled shooters won silver and gold medals and set a new record. At the European championships in 1995, disabled shooters won one gold medal, two silver and one bronze. In the World games in 1994, they won two gold medals, two silver and two bronze.

I understand that there are about 375 clubs with facilities for the disabled. I think that about 100 disabled people will compete at the fifth annual national championships organised by the National Small-Bore Rifle Association. Those figures are the best analysis I can make of the probable numbers of disabled people. I am working on the assumption of 375 clubs, each having, perhaps, one disabled member, with about 100 of those wanting to compete. It is obvious, therefore, that our proposal would not drive a coach and horses through the Bill.

The Government want to remove the remaining 20 per cent. of handguns from the general population. I have already made a plea for a specially designated top security site where a national shooting squad could train for the Olympics. The new clause deals with registered disabled people and would benefit at most a few hundred people. They would be subject to the most rigorous controls, would have to hold firearms certificates and, if necessary, could keep their weapons only in specially designated and secure sites.

At this stage in the proceedings, having lost the votes on clauses 1, 2 and 3, we must accept that the Government's main provisions will stand. They will drive them through. Our simple new clause would allow an exemption for registered disabled people so that they could continue shooting lower-calibre pistols at sites designated by the Secretary of State. To ensure that public safety was not jeopardised, the new clause requires each physically disabled shooter to obtain approval from the Secretary of State to shoot at that designated site. They would also have to keep their weapons at that site.

We tabled the new clause to try to make the Bill fairer in some small respects. We have failed to persuade the Government to make it fairer in all respects for the thousands of innocent, honest shooters who will be severely disadvantaged, and the gun clubs that will receive inadequate compensation. We are giving the Government an opportunity to say that, although they intend to stick to the main thrust of the Bill, they accept that, if they impose the most draconian security precautions on a designated site, they will make it possible for a few hundred people—approved by the Secretary of State, licensed and given a certificate by chief constables and approved of by specialist shooting organizations—to continue to represent Great Britain at shooting events.

With similarly strict criteria, they could permit a few hundred disabled people, most of whom would be in wheelchairs, to go to a pistol club and fire pistols under strictly controlled conditions to help their rehabilitation.

If the Home Secretary says tonight that he cannot allow a new clause that would help the disabled, because he believes that it would increase risk and because he wants to prevent massacres such as Dunblane from happening again, in effect he would be saying that he can envisage circumstances in which a disabled shooter would get access to a club, smuggle out a .22 calibre pistol and then, from his wheelchair, carry out the sort of massacre that happened in Hungerford and Dunblane.

That would be the effect if the Home Secretary said, "I am sorry, I cannot allow the new clause, because it would be too big a risk and would undermine the principles of safety behind the Bill." That is what a disabled person would have to do if, as the Government claim, another massacre could be caused by accepting the new clauses.

I urge the Government to think carefully about the new clauses. I expect that the Home Secretary will not be able to accept them tonight, but I urge him—in all sincerity and, after all, he has won all the other votes tonight—to accept these two simple new clauses. I hope that he will at least come back with similar proposals—no matter how draconian the security measures included—that would, at the last ditch, allow the British national shooting squad to continue and a few hundred disabled people to continue with their rehabilitation.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I welcome the fact that the Conservatives have tabled new clauses 3 and 4. However, a form of exemption for both categories could have been included in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, in which case I am not sure that the new Government would have been keen to overturn the exemptions in the Bill before us today.

As someone who is opposed to the ban, I have to say that the Bill, even with the new clauses, severely threatens British participation in shooting sports. I do not see where the new generation of people who are trained and experienced for many years will come from; that is an unhappy state of affairs. I wish to address the position of those who might be sympathetic to a ban, but who should consider what we will do with these two categories of people—those who might represent us at the Olympics or in the Commonwealth games, including those taking place in this country, and paraplegic and other disabled shooters.

I asked the Home Secretary on Second Reading whether he had completely ruled out using powers that he already has

to enable British competitors to participate in the games"— the Manchester games—

and to have a period of training before doing so? He replied:

I have not ruled that out altogether and if realistic representations are made to me, I shall think about the proposal. But I should require a high degree of convincing before going ahead with it."—[Official Report, 11 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 1167.] I cannot understand the logic of holding games in Manchester with participants in .22 shooting from every country in the Commonwealth, who will have trained beforehand, yet not allowing British competitors—the pool from which they will be drawn can already be identified—to train for that contest, even for a few days, unless the Home Secretary exercises his power.

When the time comes, Ministers will find it difficult to defend their position. The press clamour will no longer be for a ban as it was after Dunblane; it will be about what the Government are doing to our British sportsmen. The very newspapers that made such a fuss of saying that the Bill was the answer to Dunblane; which is a controversial contention, will scream at Ministers and ask why they are not giving our boys a fair chance. Ministers should prepare themselves for that. Most ordinary people would think that there was something illogical about the Government's position, even if they were mostly sympathetic to a ban.

I hope that the Home Secretary will consider further what he said to me on Second Reading and consider the new clauses, which set out sensible conditions that would make it reasonable for him to accept them, and find a way for our competitors to prepare for that competition in Manchester. It will take place within a few miles of his constituency, so he must be aware of the feelings that it will arouse. Clearly it would be illogical to make some provision for British competitors taking part in other international competitions, whether held in this country or abroad. The illogicality will be so apparent when the Manchester games take place.

8.15 pm

I also hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider the position of disabled competitors, who may be covered by new clause 3 if they take part in paraplegic games such as the Paralympics. We have a superb record in those competitions. I quote from a letter that I have received from the British Paraplegic Shooting Association: Shooting for the disabled was initiated in this country and is now recognised world wide. It would be ironic if Great Britain was the only country to be eliminated from International competitions because of the pressure of media coverage. The letter requests that we consider a special dispensation for our disabled pistol shooters to allow them to train at bona-fide clubs as unlike their able-bodied counterparts it is not simple…to go abroad for training purposes. The physical and financial difficulties which disabled people would encounter would 'sound the death knell' for shooters with a disability and end a long and highly successful tradition. I ask the Home Secretary to consider that request.

I do not think that anyone seriously imagines that a disabled shooter in a wheelchair would be the cause of some future massacre. The arrangements would have to be secure enough to reassure everyone, including disabled shooters themselves, that provisions made for them were so well controlled that their facility could not be abused by someone else.

The Bill provides for exceptions and some people—in specific categories, such as veterinary surgeons and other people using guns for animal welfare—would be able to keep a handgun at home, so it would not be beyond the wit of Ministers and their advisers to find a way to help disabled people to continue to participate in a sport that does them so much good and brings this country so much honour.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in seeking to persuade the Home Secretary to accept our arguments. We have been round the course several times and the Home Secretary accepts that the only reason for a complete ban is public safety. Therefore, as we narrow the focus, it is incumbent on any Government who seek to impose such a ban to be satisfied at each point that the stringency of the ban remains necessary in the public interest.

The new clauses have focused the debate on two small and highly responsible groups under stringent conditions. The burden on the police to monitor handguns will be massively reduced by the 1997 Act and the blanket ban in the Bill. We are now down to suggestions that a small number of disabled shooters and our national competition shooters, including 100 in the national squad and 350 in the regional squads—let us say, 450 in all—who are all highly responsible people and traceable, should be able to use guns in designated areas.

I do not believe that the Home Secretary can claim that such a small number of handguns under such tightly controlled conditions represents a sufficient threat to justify extending the blanket ban to the categories in the new clauses. If he is still minded to make that argument, I shall expand my case. After the Bill is enacted, a few, comparatively wealthy, shooters will go to train in France or Ireland. They may go further afield, but they will probably cross the Channel or the Irish sea to train. The Government seek to make a virtue of the principle of assisting the many, not the few, but the Bill will go against that principle.

We are talking only about a small number of disabled people and people who wish to train for high-quality, international competition. Those who wish to become really expert will be banished from our shores. The risk of their continuing to use handguns under highly restrictive conditions has to be balanced against the risks of an evilly intentioned person obtaining a handgun—we are only talking about .22 pistols—from some other source.

Earlier, I mentioned France because, as I have said in earlier debates, .22 pistols are freely available there. When I spoke in Monday's debate, I was aware that such weapons were generally freely available, but I had not yet spoken to someone who had walked around Calais or Le Touquet and seen just how remarkably easy it is to buy them.

I have been reprimanded by the Minister of State—who is rather apt to reprimand Conservative Members when we do not agree with him—although I hasten to add that I have not been reprimanded by the Home Secretary, who is always courteous and charming. Conservative Members are attempting to penetrate the Home Secretary's charm and get to his mind, thereby persuading him of our case. I must not go on too long, however, or I shall be counter-productive in that exercise.

The fact, however, is that an evilly intentioned person can obtain a .22 pistol by going to France and bringing one back. The Home Secretary cannot tell me that such a person is likely to be caught by customs at Folkestone, Portsmouth or any other port of entry, because it is not likely.

We are balancing a risk that we cannot protect against—because we have no power over the French, not that I should like to exercise power over the French on this matter, because I believe that the Bill goes too far—against a very minute risk in allowing highly responsible national competitors and disabled people, for whom the sport is very important, not only for their sense of sport but for their rehabilitation, to have limited access to .22 pistols.

I want simply to reinforce the argument that was carefully and cogently made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, and invite the Home Secretary to think again carefully on the subject.

Mr. Colvin

I, too, should like to support new clause 3 and—like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell)—I am also guilty of having been reprimanded by the Minister of State.

I was reprimanded for criticising the cynicism of the Home Secretary in applauding Manchester's winning the Commonwealth games. I said that it seemed a bit unfair to applaud that victory, because, whereas overseas shooting teams will be welcomed in Manchester, our own shooters will be denied an opportunity to participate. I refused to withdraw that specific criticism of the Home Secretary. I am glad to say, however, that the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity today to enable me to withdraw that criticism unreservedly—simply by agreeing to new clause 3.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire has pointed out that new clause 3 is narrow and would be a minor change to the Bill. It is even more narrow, however, than hon. Members—other than the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—have described. He asked where shooters will come from to qualify for the 13 regional squads—comprising 350 pistol shooters—from which the national squad of 100 members is drawn. His question puts into much sharper focus the difficulty in which United Kingdom pistol shooters will find themselves.

As the Home Secretary has already admitted, the Bill will sound the death knell of a sport in which the United Kingdom excels and has been very successful. We may as well draw down the curtains on it. New clause 3 would merely provide a stay of sentence for people who have already qualified for the national squad and for those who are in the qualification pipeline.

It is worth noting that people who qualify for the national squad have already been in competition shooting for a very long time. Some of them entered the sport as young as 14 years old and worked their way up through the junior ranks of pistol shooters, to age 21, and eventually on to the national team.

New clause 3 would merely give the Home Secretary the power to enable such people to continue the progress that they are already making towards the national squad and, eventually and hopefully, continue the noble tradition of winning for the United Kingdom more gold, silver and bronze medals in competition shooting. I hope that the Home Secretary will give me a reason to withdraw my remarks about his cynicism.

New clause 4 applies all the arguments that we have already heard to an even narrower bunch of shooters: disabled shooters. I take very much to heart—as I hope the Committee will—the remarks made on behalf of British Paraplegic Shooting Association.

There is no doubt that pistol shooting is one of the very few sports in which everyone competes on equal terms—young and old, male and female, the able-bodied and the disabled. Disabled shooters often beat able-bodied shooters because they frequently shoot from a wheelchair, which gives them a degree of stability that may be denied to someone shooting from a standing position. The British Paraplegic Shooting Association has explained very clearly to the Secretary of State why their shooting should be preserved.

As hon. Members have already said, the sport commences at grassroots level and proceeds to Paralympic level. Paralympians train extremely hard at least four times a week, and every day in the run-up to the Paralympics, and shooting is very much their special sport. After the 1996 Paralympics, in Atlanta, the Paralympic committee removed two air weapons events and increased the number of live ammunition events, because competition in air weapons has reached such a high standard, and more competitive participants are needed.

Ministers would be very wise to grant special dispensation to that group of people. Moreover, even if Ministers are minded to refuse new clause 3, I hope that they will accept new clause 4.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

On 11 June 1997, I spoke at some length in the House about the specific needs of disabled shooters. I also intervened in the speech of the Home Secretary to ask him about the special position of Bisley, which is a village in my constituency. The Home Secretary said:

I shall look at the subject again".—[Official Report, 11 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 1167.] I speak in this debate to ask the Home Secretary whether he will accept the new clauses and, before the Bill goes to another place, re-examine the subject. I ask also whether he may be able to introduce a modified version of new clause 4 in another place.

As my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have stressed, we are speaking about a relatively small group of people—disabled shooters and those involved in the highest levels of competition—about whom the Labour party has always been particularly concerned. Labour has always been very proud, as they should be, of their support for sport and for the disabled.

It would therefore be somewhat surprising for Labour Members, in one of their very first acts in government, to hamper the disabled and damage a very important and successful sport. I ask the Home Secretary to reflect very carefully before he decides on legislation that would be so draconian that it would prevent any effective competition at the highest levels by British sportspeople and by disabled British sportspeople in the Paralympic, Commonwealth and Olympic games.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have already stressed that these are sports which Britain gave the world and at which we have done conspicuously well. Especially in respect of the Paralympics, it is extraordinary that the Home Secretary should say that it is beyond his ability to help the disabled.

On 11 June, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) sought to suggest that I and my colleagues who were talking about the disabled were in some way hiding our support for various amendments—support that we had always made quite clear—behind the cause of the disabled. I resent that suggestion. The hon. Gentleman is not in his place at the moment, but he was here earlier.

I stress that many of us have been working hard for disabled sportspeople—not only those involved in shooting—for many years. We have every right to champion the cause of disabled shooters and the cause of those who have practised for many years.

8.30 pm

Many people in my constituency have been involved in shooting at the very highest level. They have cabinets full of trophies which they have won representing their country. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, many months and years of practice go into winning those trophies, and I suggest that the Home Secretary seriously reconsiders the matter. I hope that he will accept the new clauses, but, if he cannot go that far, I hope that he will at least confirm that he is prepared to reconsider before the Bill goes to another place.

In pursuance of his promise to me on 11 June, I hope that the Home Secretary will consider the position of Bisley. Sadly, Britain has lost its historic standing in many sports, although we hope that we are regaining it in, for example, cricket at the moment. However, there is no doubt that Bisley is regarded worldwide as the pre-eminent centre of shooting, a sport in which we have an extremely successful record. It is not impossible for the Government to make exceptions, either by accepting the new clauses now or by accepting similar proposals in another place, and to allow competitive pistol shooting, and shooting for the disabled, to continue.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have high hopes that as the Home Secretary is answering this debate it means that the Government are taking the two new clauses seriously.

Mr. Maclean

He is a reasonable man.

Mr. Chope

He has proved on a number of occasions that he is a reasonable man, as my right hon. Friend says.

On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that it would be possible for pistol shooting competitions to be held within the confines of the Commonwealth games. If public safety can be secured by arrangements that enable pistol shooters from more than 50 Commonwealth countries to come to Manchester and use their pistols in competition, why cannot arrangements be made for British pistol shooters to practise their sport in a centre of excellence with public safety being secured at the same time?

To get to the bottom of the Government's argument, I tabled a question to find out what detailed arrangements were being planned by the Government in connection with the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. I asked the Home Secretary to place in the Library a draft of the authority and the conditions attached thereto which he intends to grant under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 in respect of competitors in pistol shooting events at the Commonwealth Games". I am sorry to have to tell the House that the Minister of State declined to do so. In so doing, he said:

Any authority to be issued to competitors for the pistol shooting events…will be a matter for the Secretary of State", which we know. He continued: the Secretary of State can attach any conditions which he considers necessary to ensure that public safety or the peace is not endangered. It is … for the Secretary of State to decide the appropriate drafting and conditions". We understand that, but if the Home Secretary can be so sure that it will be possible to make those necessary arrangements for the Manchester games, why can he not place in the Library a draft of those arrangements? I am not asking for the final version—only for a draft of how he thinks the arrangements will work in practice.

Fifty nations will be represented at the Commonwealth games, at which pistol shooting is the third most popular sport. People will attend from the UK, but also from parts within the UK, such as Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. What arrangements will be made to ensure public safety, given that that is the absolute which the Home Secretary is holding up to us? Has he thought through how pubic safety will be secured in those circumstances? If so—I hope that he has—why will he not let us know what those detailed arrangements are? We could then compare the practicalities of arrangements proposed for the Commonwealth games with the proposals in new clauses 3 and 4.

I also received a disappointing reply from the Minister of State when I asked whether competitors from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be able to use pistols in their ownership which are lawfully held overseas so that they can participate in the games on equal terms with nationals from other countries. Again, it is a straightforward question, but the Minister of State responded: The Government appreciate the need for the planning of the games to take place well in advance and we intend to discuss the matter with all interested parties. It is too early to grant section 5 authority at this stage. However, all competitors from the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, will be eligible to be considered nearer the time."—[Official Report, 16 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 3–4.] I hope that they are not intended to be the weasel words that they might seem to those of a more sceptical disposition than I.

I hope that the Minister of State and the Home Secretary will make it possible for British competitors, who use and practise with pistols that are lawfully held overseas, to bring those pistols here and participate in the games on equal terms with nationals from other countries. If not, I despair. It raises the serious problem of whether this country will ever be able to command the support of other countries on the Olympic games or Commonwealth games committee if we are not able to guarantee the future of pistol shooting events.

Originally, we were not going to have pistol shooting in Manchester, but, after pressure was put on the Manchester organisers, it was agreed that there would be. It is such a popular sport in the Commonwealth games that any country that has no proper arrangements for it is unlikely to enjoy the support of other Commonwealth countries in seeking designation to host the Commonwealth games.

Mr. Colvin

Unlike me, my hon. Friend is a lawyer. We have been discussing the rights of minorities and I know that my hon. Friend has made a study of the European convention on human rights. I ask him, as I asked the Home Secretary on Second Reading, whether in his view people deprived of the liberty to shoot have the right to appeal to the European Court against this infringement of their civil rights.

Mr. Chope

I do not give any advice as a lawyer these days. Like me, the Home Secretary is a proud member of the Inner Temple, but we certainly do not give advice—at least not for free—in this House. However, I do know that members of the Christchurch gun club have high expectations of being able to take some of these arguments to the European Court of Human Rights. I do not know whether they will be successful, but it is an indication of their despair that they feel that they will be forced down that path.

New clause 4 deals with shooting for the disabled, which is a sport that was developed by our country and something of which we should be proud. I hope that the Government's sensitivity towards those least able to help themselves will lead them to accept the new clause. What the disabled can achieve by pistol shooting differs greatly from what others can achieve. It is said by the Government, with some justification, that ordinary people involved in pistol shooting can transfer their activities to rifle, shotgun or clay pigeon shooting; for a disabled person, however, such a transfer is not possible because of the recoil and power of those larger guns. That is why pistol shooting for people in wheelchairs has become such a popular sport. Mr. Holdaway, who is a prominent member of the Christchurch gun club, writes that pistol shooting is a sport almost anybody can compete in on equal terms. This is particularly true of pistol shooting as rifles and shotguns can have intimidating levels of recoil. Women can compete against men as can youngsters. A few disabled people with limited upper body strength may be unable to shoot, but being in a wheelchair is no disadvantage in many disciplines. .22 calibre events are especially suitable. I hope that the Government will take the new clauses seriously. If they fail to do so, I have every confidence that the debate in another place will ensure that the new clauses are eventually put on the statute book.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

First, I say to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and to other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken this evening that I take this matter very seriously indeed. It may be that we have come to different conclusions—I shall try to explain why that may be inevitable in this case—but I do not regard what we are doing here as a light matter. On Second Reading, I said that the House has to be very careful before we use our power to prohibit actions that were previously lawful and involved no criminal intent. Simple disapproval can never be a ground alone for prohibition."—[Official Report, 11 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 1164.] I have repeated that statement, because it is applicable to today's debate and will be applicable to future debates. It is a principle to which I and the Government of which I am a member seek to work whenever we address the difficult questions of balancing the personal liberty of law-abiding people against wider issues of public safety.

My second preliminary remark is in answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) about the European convention on human rights, which is a matter that we have considered both in opposition and in government. It was raised initially—and somewhat ironically—by the former hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, Nicholas Budgen, who could not normally get the word "European" out of his mouth without spitting about it. He had worked out that the European convention on human rights had a different—and in his view far more honourable—provenance than the treaty of Rome. It was, after all, a convention which had been developed by distinguished British lawyers, including the distinguished British lawyer who went on to become a Conservative Lord Chancellor. Mr. Budgen kept asking me during the course of the last Parliament whether shooters would be able to exercise their rights under the convention. The best advice that I have received is that neither the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 nor the Bill in any way conflicts with individuals' rights under the convention, but it is open to any British citizen to petition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Later this year, we shall introduce a Bill to incorporate the European convention into British law and I look forward to receiving support for that measure, not least from those who have spoken today about their rights under that convention.

I have thought carefully about this matter and I shall explain why I am not persuaded to grant the exception that is asked for. While listening to the arguments, I was struck by the fact that the main argument in favour of the exception—which would extend a right to carry on practising to the existing national squad and the 13 regional squads mentioned by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—was based on another exception that I have already granted. That is my difficulty. I have listened carefully to the arguments and it is for that reason that I announced on Second Reading that we would be ready to use the section 5 powers under the Firearms Act 1968 to ensure that the shooting competitions at the Commonwealth games could go ahead. I believe that we were right to do so, even though it creates a patent anomaly, as was said on Second Reading. It is an anomaly, but we should be able to arrive at conditions which assure public safety and ensure that those games can go ahead.

That exception having been made, it is now suggested that I must make another exception—that British shooters should be allowed to train before that competition so that they can compete. The problem with new clause 3 is that it does not properly define which members would be members of national squads.

The competition will be in five years' time. If there were to be a real prospect of British shooters being able to participate in that competition, the next argument would be, logically, that we should ensure that there is a through-put of people who would be available in five years' time to compete. The next question would be why we are excluding some people and not others. That is one reason why I am not persuaded of the case for the new clause.

8.45 pm

Given the shooting competitions that will take place at the Commonwealth games and under the aegis of the Olympic games and the Paralympic games, it is striking—and I think not properly appreciated by hon. Members or the public—that, even after the Bill is passed, British residents will be able to train and compete in the vast majority of Commonwealth games and Olympic shooting disciplines.

To listen to the debate and the remarks of, for example, the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border, one might be forgiven for believing that, in his words, the sport "will be destroyed." Yes, the sport of target shooting with pistols will end as a result of the Bill's passage. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman meant, he is right, but the implication of some of the less precise remarks that have been made is that shooting as a sport will be destroyed by the Bill. It will not.

Quite a lot of British people, and many Labour Members, are worried about public safety. The Bill and the 1997 Act will have the effect of removing 200,000 handguns from circulation, but that will leave at least another 200,000 rifles and high-powered air weapons. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may say that that means that there remains a public safety issue.

In any case, those 200,000 rifles and high-powered air weapons will exist and most of them are held not to carry out any occupational function, such as in agriculture, but for sporting purposes. I well understand that some weapons are held for occupational reasons, but most are held for sporting purposes. In addition, there are certificates relating to 1.3 million shotguns. So although the Bill will eliminate the holding of pistols in general civilian use, it will not eliminate firearms.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is really addressing the argument, but it must be apparent to—or at least dawning on—him that the argument is a question not of an anomaly, but of a judgment. It is a question of deciding where to draw the line and what is necessary for the protection of public safety.

We are discussing a very small number of pistols. We had a debate about single-shot pistols, which I invite the right hon. Gentleman to keep in mind, because one appreciates that a multi-shot pistol is more dangerous, but we are trying to find a way of keeping open a sport practised by legitimate sportsmen under highly controlled conditions. He is making the case against his existing judgment, by pointing out that there are 200,000 rifles and 1.3 million shotguns, which are as lethal as—probably rather more lethal than—these pistols, quite apart from the ease of getting them from France and the existence of illegal ones. I am fascinated to know how the right hon. Gentleman convinces himself.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that it comes down to a judgment of where to draw the line. A rifle may be more powerful than a pistol. Lord Cullen and the former Government were of the view that a pistol is more dangerous because it is more easily concealed; and a multi-shot pistol can be fired more rapidly than the rifles which, these days, are lawfully certified. To those who say that we have some sort of ideological fixation against the use of firearms, I say: look at the facts. There will still be 1.5 million lawfully licensed firearms in this country after the passage of the Bill. Some of my hon. Friends might want to criticise me for allowing that to continue, but it hardly argues for a fixation on our part.

I want to set out the facts about the number of competitions in which British residents will still be able to compete even after the passage of the Bill. There are 15 shooting competitions in the Olympics. British participation will be adversely affected by the Bill in respect of just three of them. British sportsmen and women will still be able to compete in 12 competitions, involving air rifles and pistols, ordinary rifles and shotguns for clay pigeon shooting.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred to the fact that shooting was one of the original disciplines in the Olympics, and he was right about that. But it is also interesting to note that of all the Olympic sports, shooting is the only one for which the number of events that have been discontinued greatly outnumbers the ones currently held. The history of these events is a history of changing perceptions of public safety.

There was a time when there was a competition in the Olympics with duelling pistols. I suspect that as duelling went out of fashion so it was felt by the organisers of the Olympics that such a competition might offend some more sensitive members of the public. There was also a competition for miniature rifles—highly dangerous weapons. I know that animal rights are much on the minds of my hon. Friends at the moment. There used to be a competition of live pigeon shooting. That, too, has been abandoned by the Olympics. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border may have some experience of trying to shoot live pigeons; he suggests that trying to obtain a score at all may have been problematic.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

One of the themes of this interesting debate has been that it is not about the moral high ground: it is about the practical consequences for public safety. Yet here is the right hon. Gentleman lecturing the Committee—I fully understand his point—on the very moral issues which we have been told time and again are not the motivating force behind the legislation. Is there not some confusion here?

Mr. Straw

The word "moral" has not passed my lips. Where to draw the line is a practical, not a moral issue. For me, the only moral issue is securing the right balance between people's right to engage in a sport and the need for public safety.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that under the arrangements that he proposes there will be no legal bar to British competitors taking part in the Manchester Commonwealth games? If so, will he make some allowance for those competitors to arrive at the competition in a reasonable state of preparedness—even if only gained over the few weeks before the games?

Mr. Straw

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's points. I hope that he will accept my arguments. I have thought about this a great deal, especially since it was raised in the House last week. In my judgment it will not be possible to allow an exemption which starts now and runs until 2002. As I said, because the exemption would have to run to 2002, I or any holder of my office would be under pressure to increase the number of people who might funnel their way through to become members of a national squad. If the games were to be held tomorrow, it would be a different matter, but we are speaking about an event five years away.

If there is a British team that wishes to participate in the Commonwealth games in 2002, despite the fact that there will be no possibility of practice between now and then, it will be a matter for the holder of my office to ensure that the same arrangements for training apply to them as apply to any other team participating in the Commonwealth games. I noted what the right hon. Gentleman said. Should I still hold this fine office in 2002—I will almost have beaten the record for any holder over the past 200 years—I shall bear his comments in mind.

I know that time is pressing, but important points have been raised and I want to answer them. With regard to the Paralympics, before the hon. Member for Romsey raised the matter, I was briefed to the effect that of a total of 15 events, British teams will be ruled out of just two events. The hon. Gentleman gave more up-to-date information. I understand that the Paralympic committee has removed two air weapon events and replaced them with live firing events.

That makes my point as much as the hon. Gentleman's, and shows that within the ambit of shooting competitions it is possible for the kind of events to be changed, sometimes in response to public fashion and public pressure. I suggest that if participation by British residents in .22 live-firing competition were banned it might be possible to persuade the Paralympics to move into other events.

On the Commonwealth games, the news is even better than that in respect of the Olympics and the Paralympics. There are 28 separate shooting competitions in the Commonwealth games. Of those, British residents will be able to train and compete in 21 disciplines for rifles, air rifles, pistols and shotguns. It is five years before the Commonwealth games take place. I expect that several of the people who have represented this country so finely in pistol competitions will shift their discipline to one of the other four disciplines—rifles, air rifles, pistols and shotguns.

The passage of the Bill will mean that British participants are unable to compete in six pistol competitions. As the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is aware, the 1997 Act for which he was responsible had the effect of rendering British participation in one Commonwealth games event impossible—that was for .32 centrefire pistols.

I have dealt with one of the claims made about the Bill, which is that it would lead to British residents being unable to train and compete in shooting disciplines. I think that I have shown that, notwithstanding the Bill, British residents will still be able to train and compete in the vast majority of events in the Olympic and Commonwealth games.

The second charge that has been made is that we would be unable to host the Commonwealth games in 2002, or the Olympics or Paralympics at some time in the future. I dealt with the matter of the Commonwealth games when I spoke in the House on Second Reading last Wednesday. I or my successor will be able to make an authorisation, subject to detailed practical conditions, under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

The hon. Member for Christchurch asked why my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has not been able to put in the Library of the House the detailed conditions. That is because we have not got them, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out as far as possible the criteria that we would take into account.

With regard to the Olympics and the Paralympics, I am assured that the passage of the Bill would not prevent our hosting either of those games at some time in the future, if we were able to win that competition.

Either of the new clauses is capable of producing loopholes in the control of firearms. I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been advanced. Hon. Members who argued in favour of the new clauses will accept that I have taken their case seriously and have tried to deal with it. I am sorry to tell them, however, that, having weighed the arguments in the balance, I must ask the House to reject both new clauses.

Mr. Maclean

We have listened carefully to the Home Secretary tonight, and the difference between him and the Minister of State is obvious. When the Minister does not have a logical argument, he reverts to attacking the Opposition and to much bluff and bluster. When the Home Secretary does not have a logical argument, he reverts to ladling out the charm. The Home Secretary dispensed charm by the bucketful in his reply tonight, which leads me to conclude that he does not have a very strong argument.

9 pm

The Home Secretary is correct to say that there is a delicate balance to be struck between public safety and individual liberty. We all accept that fact. The Committee may be under the impression—perhaps Labour Back Benchers believe it—that the Home Secretary has decided that, in the interests of public safety, pistol shooting will never occur again in this country.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is wrong. The Home Secretary has exercised his judgment and decided that pistol shooting will be allowed, under strictly controlled conditions, in this country at the Commonwealth games and that competitors from 60 foreign countries will participate. British shooters will not be able to train and shall not participate. It is not a matter of public safety. The Home Secretary cannot base his opposition to the new clause on concern about public safety. He cannot claim that public safety is paramount and absolute and say—in the nicest possible way—that he therefore cannot accept the new clause.

The Home Secretary has decided to exercise his judgment—which I think is correct—to permit shooting events to be held at the Commonwealth games. The Opposition are asking the Home Secretary not to make another exception and depart from his judgment, but to follow the same principles that he has applied in deciding to permit shooting at the Commonwealth games and allow it to take place at a designated site, such as Bisley. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) put the argument beautifully and succinctly. He said that if public safety can be secured for the shooters from 60 countries at Manchester, why can it not be allowed at a designated, secure, national site, such as Bisley, where the Home Secretary could apply the same strict section 5 guidelines? I expect the criteria that he will publish in due course to be quite draconian in order to ensure public safety, and the Opposition will accept it.

The Opposition have no option but to press new clause 3 to a Division today. The Home Secretary has been hoist by his own petard—no wonder he wants to shoot some pigeons, because they have dropped some nasty things on him—in the logic that he has tried to apply today. The Home Secretary has exercised his judgment and he will allow pistol shooting to take place in Britain in a few years. In this new clause, we ask him to exercise the same judgment and permit it to take place under the same secure conditions for British as for foreign shooters.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 159, Noes 328.

Division No. 35] [9.2 pm
Allan, Richard (jShef'ld Hallam) Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, David Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Baldry, Tony
Arbuthnot, James Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin Key, Robert
Body, Sir Richard Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Kirkwood, Archy
Brady, Graham Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Brazier, Julian Lansley, Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Letwin, Oliver
Browning, Mrs Angela Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Lidington, David
Burnett, John Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Burstow, Paul Loughton, Tim
Butterfill, John Luff, Peter
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cash, William McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Chope, Christopher Mactaggart, Fiona
Clappison, James Madel, Sir David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Malins, Humfrey
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Maples, John
Marek, Dr John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Mates, Michael
Collins, Tim Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Colvin, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Cormack, Sir Patrick Merchant, Piers
Cotter, Brian Moore, Michael
Cran, James Moss, Malcolm
Curry, Rt Hon David Norman, Archie
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Opik, Lembit
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford) Page, Richard
Paice, James
Day, Stephen Paterson, Owen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Pickles, Eric
Duncan, Alan Prior, David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Rendel, David
Evans, Nigel Robathan, Andrew
Faber, David Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fabricant, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fallon, Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Flight, Howard Ruffley, David
Forth, Eric Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Foster, Don (Bath) Sanders, Adrian
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Sayeed, Jonathan
Fox, Dr Liam Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fraser, Christopher Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Gale, Roger Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Garnier, Edward Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Gibb, Nick Soames, Nicholas
Gill, Christopher Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Spicer, Sir Michael
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Spring, Richard
Gorrie, Donald Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gray, James Steen, Anthony
Green, Damian Stunell, Andrew
Grieve, Dominic Swayne, Desmond
Gummer, Rt Hon John Syms, Robert
Hague, Rt Hon William Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hammond, Philip Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Harris, Dr Evan Taylor, Matthew (Truro & St Austell)
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hayes, John Townend, John
Heald, Oliver Tredinnick, David
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Trend, Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Tyler, Paul
Horam, John Tyrie, Andrew
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Viggers, Peter
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wallace, James
Hunter, Andrew Walter, Robert
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Wardle, Charles
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Waterson, Nigel
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Willis, Phil
Woodward, Shaun Tellers for the Ayes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. Simon Burns and
Mr. Tim Boswell.
Abbott, Ms Diane Corston, Ms Jean
Ainger, Nick Cousins, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Crausby, David
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Atherton, Ms Candy Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)
Austin, John
Banks, Tony Curtis—Thomas, Ms Clare
Barron, Kevin Dafis, Cynog
Bayley, Hugh Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Beard, Nigel Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dean, Ms Janet
Bennett, Andrew F Denham, John
Benton, Joe Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Bermingham, Gerald Dismore, Andrew
Best, Harold Dobbin, Jim
Betts, Clive Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Blackman, Mrs Liz Donohoe, Brian H
Blears, Ms Hazel Doran, Frank
Blizzard, Robert Dowd, Jim
Borrow, David Drew, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Edwards, Huw
Bradshaw, Ben Efford, Clive
Brand, Dr Peter Ellman, Ms LouiseEtherington. Bill
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fearn, Ronnie
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E & Wallsend) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Flint, Ms Caroline
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock) Flynn, Paul
Buck, Ms Karen Follett, Ms Barbara
Burgon, Colin Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Butler, Christine Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Byers, Stephen Foster. Michael John (Worcester)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Galbraith, Sam
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Galloway, George
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gapes, Mike
Canavan, Dennis Gardiner, Barry
Caplin, Ivor George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Casale, Roger Gerrard, Neil
Caton, Martin Gibson, Dr Ian
Cawsey, Ian Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Godman, Dr Norman A
Chaytor, David Godsiff, Roger
Chisholm, Malcolm Goggins, Paul
Clapham, Michael Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Graham, Thomas
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Grant, Bernie
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Grogan, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Gunnell, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Tony Northampton S) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coaker, Vernon Hancock, Mike
Coffey, Ms Ann Hanson, David
Cohen, Harry Healey, John
Coleman, Iain (Hammersmith & Fulham) Heath, David (Somerton)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Colman, Anthony (Putney) Hepburn, Stephen
Connarty, Michael Heppell, John
Cooper, Ms Yvette Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Corbett, Robin
Hill, Keith Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hinchliffe, David Mallaber, Ms Judy
Hodge, Ms Margaret Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Home Robertson, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hood, Jimmy Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hoon, Geoffrey Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hope, Philip Martlew, Eric
Hopkins, Kelvin Maxton, John
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Meale, Alan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Merron, Ms Gillian
Howells, Dr Kim Michael, Alun
Hoyle, Lindsay Milburn, Alan
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford & Urmston) Miller, Andrew
Moran, Ms Margaret
Humble, Mrs Joan Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Hurst, Alan Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Iddon, Brian Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Illsley, Eric Morley, Elliot
Ingram, Adam Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd) Mountford, Ms Kali
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough) Mudie, George
Jamieson, David Mullin, Chris
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Johnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Olner, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Perham, Ms Linda
Jowell, Ms Tessa Pickthall, Colin
Keeble, Ms Sally Pike, Peter L
Keen, Alan (Feltham) Plaskitt, James
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford) Pollard, Kerry
Kemp, Fraser Pond, Chris
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pope, Greg
Kidney, David Pound, Stephen
Kilfoyle, Peter Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
King, Andy (Rugby) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green) Primarolo, Dawn
Kingham, Tessa Prosser, Gwyn
Kumar, Dr Ashok Purchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Quinn, Lawrie
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rammell, Bill
Laxton, Bob Rapson, Syd
Lepper, David Raynsford, Nick
Leslie, Christopher Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Levitt, Tom Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rogers, Allan
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Roy, Frank
Llwyd, Elfyn Ruane, Chris
Lock, David Ruddock, Ms Joan
Love, Andy Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McAllion, John Ryan, Ms Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Salmond, Alex
McCabe, Stephen Savidge, Malcolm
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sawford, Phil
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Sedgemore, Brian
McDonagh, Ms Siobhain Shaw, Jonathan
Macdonald, Calum Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McFall, John Shipley, Ms Debra
McGuire, Mrs Anne Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McIsaac, Ms Shona Singh, Marsha
McKenna, Ms Rosemary Skinner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
McWalter, Tony Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McWilliam, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Southworth, Ms Helen Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Spellar, John Vis, Dr Rudi
Squire, Ms Rachel Ward, Ms Claire
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Watts, David
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Webb, Steven
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) White, Brian
Stinchcombe, Paul Whitehead, Alan
Stoate, Dr Howard Wicks, Malcolm
Stott, Roger Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston) Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Swinney, John Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wise, Audrey
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Wood, Mike
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Woolas, Phil
Tipping, Paddy Wray, James
Todd, Mark Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Touhig, Don Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Trickett, Jon Wyatt, Derek
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Tellers for the Noes:
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown) Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Maclean

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. As you know, and as the Government know, we could force new clause 4 to a vote. The Opposition wish to make it absolutely clear that we support the principle and the intention behind the new clause, but, as it is clear that the Government are unwilling to listen, and as they have voted down new clause 3, we shall not take up the time of the House with an unnecessary Division—[Interruption.] Unless Government Members tempt us, and make us wish to do so, we shall not take time away from Third Reading. However, the Opposition will return to the important content of new clause 4 in another place.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.18 pm
Mr. Michael

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

My party's manifesto made a clear commitment to a free vote on a total ban on handguns. We have delivered on that commitment, and a free vote on Second Reading produced a resounding majority of 203 in favour of an extension to the ban. That is a crystal clear message from the House. We want the ban on small-calibre pistols to be introduced well before the end of the year and I hope that that will prove possible.

No point of principle or of detail on this short Bill has not been given a full airing on Second Reading and in subsequent debates on amendments and new clauses. We have made the case, we have won the argument and there can be no doubt of our intensions. We have dealt with the unfinished business that remained after the previous Government failed to allow a free vote on a complete ban on handguns. The Bill should now go to the other place for a swift passage into law. I believe that that is not only the will of the vast majority of hon. Members, but it has the public's support as shown in the general election and through expressions of public opinion before and since. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.20 pm
Mr. Howard

We made our attitude to the Bill clear on Second Reading, and nothing that the Government said then or in Committee has led us to revise it. The Bill is a petty and vindictive measure, and its proposals are unnecessary, unfair and expensive.

As I said on 11 June, we believe that the Government must always present a clear justification whenever they propose to intervene in the otherwise lawful habits of law-abiding citizens. The principle of individual liberties should dictate that Governments should always take into account the views of minorities and minority interests. As the Bill has gone through its stages in the House, the Government have done neither. Indeed, Ministers have applied a steamroller approach to any reasoned arguments or suggestions put by right hon. and hon. Members.

The case put by my right hon. and hon. Friends and others that provision should be made to enable Olympic and Commonwealth competitors to compete has gone unanswered. The case put by my right hon. and hon. Friends and others that due consideration should be given to disabled shooters has gone unanswered. The Government's only response has been that the Bill is in the interests of public safety, but they have not produced any conclusive evidence to justify that view.

The proposal to ban the controlled and limited use of .22 target pistols is unnecessary. The controls that we put in place earlier this year and which have yet to be implemented would have ensured that the public were protected. They would allow not unrestricted use of .22 calibre pistols but only limited use in clubs that police were satisfied met the highest security criteria. The owners of those weapons would even be prohibited from taking them out of a club. The police would have to be alerted as a matter of routine whenever a .22 pistol was removed from a club, be it for competition or repair.

The Government want to go further. They argue that a total ban is a logical extension of the 1997 Act. The Minister of State said that the difference is not one of principle. But the fact is that the principle and motivation for a total ban are different from our proposals. Our guiding principle was to protect the public. We felt that we could do that without obliterating a long-established sport invented by Britain, enjoyed by many and at which we do well. The Government do not share that principle. That is why the Bill is unfair.

The 1997 Act would have allowed British citizens to continue to represent their country on the international stage in .22 target pistol events recognised by the Olympic committee. Over the past 10 years, Britain has won 23 medals in Commonwealth .22 competitions. The Bill will make us virtually unique, as our citizens will no longer be able to take part in international competitions.

The 1997 Act would also have allowed disabled people to continue to participate in a sport which they not only enjoy, but which the British Paraplegic Shooting Association has said is useful as a rehabilitation means to help with balance and confidence, primarily in the use of a wheelchair and sport. It believes that it provides disabled people with a better quality of life and respect for themselves as disabled people in an able-bodied world. We tried to introduce an element of fairness into the Bill in new clauses 3 and 4. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) explained, the new clauses would have allowed national competition shooters recognised by the national bodies that select for international competitions to continue to train at centres designated by the Home Secretary. Our proposal for designated centres would have enabled Britain to continue to compete in a major Olympic sport.

We also proposed, in new clause 4, that physically disabled shooters be exempt from the total ban and be allowed to continue their sport at centres designated by the Home Secretary, and, indeed, to continue to represent their country at international competitions. The Government's decision to oppose the new clause will be greeted with much sadness by law-abiding disabled shooters who pose no threat to the public.

The Bill is also expensive. I said on Second Reading that Opposition Members would not begrudge the money if the consequences would really lead to increased protection for the public and if the Government could provide a clear justification for a total ban on handguns. They have not even begun to do so. They have calculated that the cost of compensating the owners of .22 handguns for the loss of their weapons and accessories would run to more than £30 million. Ministers have refused to tell us where the Government intend to find the money. Which Home Office budget will suffer? Will spending on closed circuit television or the police be sacrificed to compensate law-abiding owners of low-calibre handguns? Moreover, as we have heard today, the Government's estimates do not tell the whole story. The Bill goes much further than the 1997 Act: as has already been acknowledged, it would kill off pistol shooting.

During the passage of the Bill that became the 1997 Act, we decided against compensating gun clubs for the impact of the ban on higher-calibre guns. An important justification for that view was the fact that shooters of high-calibre pistols could convert to .22s and continue to enjoy their sport. Under this Bill, that option would be denied to them, and many gun clubs would be made unviable. Associations that are—in the main—non profit-making would have to close and their owners or trustees could he faced with heavy liabilities.

I give the example of the 10th battalion of the Suffolk Home Guard rifle and pistol club, founded when the Government stood the home guard down but instructed it to establish ranges to which the public were to be admitted. The battalion did so, on rented land. It built a clubhouse and raised money by its own efforts. In February 1996, just a few weeks before the tragedy of Dunblane, it bought the land. It managed that with the help of money from the Sports Council, the local district council and the National Rifle Association. The land is owned subject to covenant, so it can be used only as a shooting range. A £15,900 grant from the Sports Council is subject to the condition that the club should continue to function for 10 years. Then there is the matter of a loan of £6,000. None of that is under the control of the trustees of the club, yet each of the four trustees will be held personally liable for a quarter of any debts on the winding up of the club.

The Opposition believe that, given the extent of the Bill and its departure from the principles of the 1997 Act, the issue of compensation should be revisited. Naturally, we hope that as many clubs as possible will be able to survive, but clubs that are forced to close as a result of the circumstances created by the total ban on handguns should be compensated.

The Government have completely failed to justify the need for the Bill, which clearly interferes with the liberty of thousands of law-abiding individuals. In their attempts to give reasons for the Bill, Ministers have rarely ventured beyond soundbites. The Bill is an example of the Government's weakness for gesture politics. It is unnecessary and unfair, and that is why we will oppose it.

9.28 pm
Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this important debate.

It is a tradition of the House that maiden speeches should be fairly uncontroversial, and I respect that tradition, although I am not sure that it is possible to abide by it completely in a debate such as this. Not only is the tradition of argument and debate in the House honourable in itself, but I follow a long line of Warrington Members who were certainly not afraid to speak their minds.

The House will know that I have the honour of succeeding Doug Hoyle. Doug was an excellent Member of Parliament, first for Warrington and then for the new seat of Warrington, North. He was extremely active, extremely able and very well liked by his constituents, to whom he was universally known by his first name long before such things became fashionable at Cabinet level. He was also a great supporter of Warrington rugby league football club and ended his career with the supporters singing "There is only one Dougie Hoyle" around the ground.

Doug Hoyle was robust in the defence of his constituency. In his first speech in the House as the Member for Warrington, North, he was involved in what I think in these days of uncontroversial politics would be described as an interesting exchange of views with the then Secretary of State for Employment, now Lord Tebbit. No doubt they will continue the conversation elsewhere.

As I have said, Doug Hoyle followed a long Warrington tradition. I have looked at the maiden speeches of my predecessors and they make it clear that they certainly did not shy away from saying what they thought. My predecessors included Tom Williams and, of course, Edith Summerskill who was the first woman to represent a Warrington constituency and whom no one could describe as a shrinking violet.

To read those speeches is to realise how much has changed—and how little. The language may be different, but the preoccupations of my predecessors are shared by many of us today. They spoke of a need for better housing, for more national health service beds and, in one case, even of the need to preserve water supplies. Perhaps that is a salutary reminder to us all and especially to my hon. Friends of how much work still needs to be done. What comes through most of all from those speeches is a burning hatred of injustice and a desire to represent the constituency well. It is a privilege to follow in their footsteps.

I confess that I speak with some relief because for my first few weeks in the House I became uncertain about whether I would ever be able to speak in the House at all. I did not receive copies of the Labour whip and I began to wonder what dreadful breach of the disciplinary code I had managed to commit before I got here. I carefully scrutinised my election address and reviewed my whole campaign, and I can honestly say, unlike some hon. Members, that the word "socialism" did not get past my agent's eagle eye.

After consulting the Millbank computer, I think that it was probably a mistake to allow in my office a poster that stated, "Join dangly earrings for Labour" after a certain dress code appeared in The Guardian. My most heinous offence was probably committed on a very wet day in Warrington when my campaign team, having been soaked to the skin four times, ended the evening completely drenched and with their umbrellas turned inside out, walking along a Warrington street and singing, "Always look on the bright side of life." Therefore, I plead guilty to enjoying the election campaign. I can only say in mitigation that what seems to outsiders to be frivolity is to Warringtonians a demonstration of resistance.

In my constituency, people have demonstrated time and again their ability to bounce back and even to recover from tragedy. The people of Warrington are among the friendliest, most welcoming people that one could encounter. We brew excellent beer at Burtonwood, and people take part in a wide range of charitable and leisure pursuits, which include the little-known feat of recently breaking the world line dancing record.

Although many of our traditional industries have disappeared, people have fought back to attract new jobs based on the excellent skills of our work force, our superb industrial sites and our communications facilities, which are second to none. Most of all, when Warrington was visited by the appalling tragedy of the Warrington bombing its people responded not with hatred and bitterness but with a movement to promote peace and reconciliation. There is no better measure of the character of my constituents than that. They are people whom any hon. Member would be proud to represent.

Pride in one's constituency is not enough. The people of Warrington, North sent me here not just to say nice things about them, pleasurable though that may be, but to make changes. Time and again during the election campaign, people said to me that one of the things that most worried them was the gun culture and the private ownership of handguns. I appreciate the points that have been made by hon. Members who say that, in passing the Bill, we are restricting the rights of many law-abiding gun owners and are interfering with their liberty to practise their sport. Of course we are, but we restrict people's individual liberties on many occasions when we believe that it is for the greater public good. We do not allow people to drive on whichever side of the road they like or to build wherever they like. How much more important, then, is it to consider that possibility when we deal with guns?

I am convinced by the arguments, particularly that relating to .22 pistols, because those weapons are small, lethal and deadly. They are the weapons that killed Robert Kennedy and Yitzhak Rabin. I am convinced also because no system of regulation and control, however draconian, can ever be 100 per cent. foolproof and if we allow these weapons to remain in private hands, it will be only a matter of time before somehow, somewhere they fall into the wrong hands. As has been said many times in the House, but it bears repeating, the massacres at Hungerford and at Dunblane were carried out with legally held weapons. I am convinced, too, by the correlation shown in the Home Office statistics between the legal ownership of handguns and the number of firearm homicides. That has led me to believe sincerely that the more of these weapons we take out of circulation, the better it will be.

I said earlier that I represent a constituency which knows about senseless and random violence. It is because of that that we sympathise with the people who have suffered elsewhere from our failure to control firearms. The time has come to take another step. The onus is on the people who would keep these weapons to make their case. I do not believe that I have heard that case made convincingly tonight because the right to practise a sport always has to come second to the right to protect life. I say that sincerely not just as an hon. Member, but as the mother of a young child, and I believe that I speak for many more mothers of young children. My son was eight years old this week. The best present that we could give him and his generation is to start to control the gun culture in which they are growing up. The Bill is a step on the road to that and I commend it to the House.

9.37 pm
Mr. Hancock

This debate has been interesting for a number of reasons, not least the spawning of such memorable and impressive maiden speeches. The House has been privileged to hear yet another tonight from the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), who is to be congratulated not only on talking so eloquently about her constituency and predecessors, but on the fine way in which she demonstrated her support for the Bill. I offer her my heartiest congratulations on that speech and my best wishes for her time in the House.

I thought that it was a little sad and slightly shabby of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), to talk in the way he did about the Bill. He suggested that the Bill had been steamrollered through. I have sat through most of the discussions on it. I have yet to think of a single Member on the Opposition or Government Benches who wanted to speak and was denied the opportunity on Second Reading, in Committee or indeed, I expect, on Third Reading, so to suggest that the Bill has been steamrollered through is an exaggeration.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe forgot to mention the part that he played in nursing the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 through the House, when he denied hon. Members the opportunity of a free vote, which would have brought into being the very thing that we are discussing tonight. Had there been a free vote on that occasion, we would not have sat through these proceedings in the past week or so. There would now have been a law, the compensation would have been dealt with and gun owners, clubs and everyone else would have been well aware of what was going to happen. There cannot be anyone in the country who, after the Dunblane massacre, seriously believed that there would not be significant changes.

It was also obvious to everyone—except, perhaps, some Conservative Members—that nothing short of a total ban would be acceptable to the overwhelming majority of British people. To satisfy the undoubted public demand for Parliament to take action, innocent people have to suffer—not innocent young children being denied the opportunity to grow up, but gun owners and sportsmen being denied the opportunity to pursue a sport. Yet it is not a sport which cannot change and adapt so that those sportsmen can fire other weapons; they are being denied the opportunity to fire specific guns.

Time and again, the Home Secretary and the Minister have demonstrated conclusively that there is an element of versatility not only among those who want to shoot, but among the organisations that stage events for shooters. The Olympic games, the Commonwealth games and the national championships have changed many times to take account of changes in gun fashion and the sort of events in which people want to participate.

The Bill is not the end of participation in shooting sports. It is not the end for those who, unfortunately, are disabled and who have chosen shooting as part of their therapy to help them gain their true potential. There will be opportunities for them to adapt and to take on other shooting pursuits, if that is what they want. It is not the end of the world. It will not stop this country staging the Commonwealth games in Manchester. It will not prevent us from making a bid for the Olympic games. Over the past couple of weeks, the Home Secretary, the Minister and many other hon. Members have demonstrated beyond refute that those events will be staged and that the United Kingdom will continue to attract them.

The House has overwhelmingly responded to what the public demanded after Dunblane, and has done so mindful of the consequences. No one has hidden behind the consequences; indeed, most of us accept the consequences. We feel desperately sorry for those who will be disadvantaged by the Bill, but it was inevitable that action would be taken and that people would suffer. I do not think that anyone who has spoken in favour of the Bill has gloated about it—most people are sad that law-abiding citizens will not be able to continue with a pursuit that many of them have followed for many years. However, it was an inevitable consequence and, from time to time, the House must accept that it is the right price to pay to provide the sort of legislation that the country needs.

There is no place to hide on this issue. Certainly, the Home Secretary has not tried to hide. The Minister has tried, to the best of his ability, to answer every intervention from those who criticise the Bill. I am delighted to say that, like the Minister, I speak on behalf of my colleagues in saying that there will be a free vote tonight—a free vote expressed by democratically elected Members of Parliament, just a few weeks after the general election.

Conservative Members showed cynical contempt for the House and the election when they suggested that the Bill would be given a rough ride and possibly overturned in the other place. I hope that that will not happen. If it did, it would be a total injustice in view of the result of the election on 1 May. It is obvious that many people who voted knew that a change of Government would mean tougher gun laws. I do not believe that there is a peer of the realm who could claim that he was not aware of that inevitability.

For Conservative Members to threaten that their colleagues in the other place might ambush and overturn the Bill shows a cynical disregard for the democratic processes. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members take offence at that, but at least two of them said that that would happen. I am passionately in favour of the Bill and I am disappointed that they should take that attitude. I hope that at the end of the debate we give the Bill an overwhelming vote of support and that our colleagues in the other place will take note of that and act accordingly.

9.44 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire)

I am absolutely delighted that we are having the Third Reading of the Bill and that we will vote to abolish handguns. I remember, not long ago, meeting John Crozier, a father who lost a child at Dunblane, and I have met other folk from Dunblane. It was one of the saddest and most tragic experiences of my life. I remember the feeling in Scotland when the Dunblane disaster happened. The House should not forget our responsibility to those children, and we should act to abolish handguns. We should also ensure that criminals and people who have said that they will go underground and continue to shoot will be punished as severely as possible.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in his place tonight. I hope that he will dissociate himself from the remarks made by his party's candidate in my constituency during the election. The candidate said that I did not vote to ban handguns in Scotland. I voted to ban handguns in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. I say emphatically that no one can say that I am not determined in my opposition to handguns and my support for their abolition.

Since the last time I spoke on the issue, I, like many hon. Members, have been vilified for not supporting the gun lobby. I have seen an article put out by the field sports supporters that says that they should get rid of Tommy Graham, because I had a majority of only 1,700. They had a big poster saying, "Get shot of him." That is a tragic and savage thing to say about anyone in the current climate, because it almost encourages terrorism. I tell those people that I am back with an 8,000 majority and I am as determined as anyone to see the end of handguns in people's pockets.

I have heard arguments tonight about sport. Every man and woman in the country should sacrifice something to ensure that there is no repeat of what happened in Dunblane and in other parts of the world. The Bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that there are no guns in the hands of fools, vagabonds and criminals. We should take the guns out of circulation and destroy them. The Bill will achieve that.

People have talked about medals—gold, silver and bronze. What sort of medal has been given to the kids who died at Dunblane? There is no medal for them. I hope that there is a place in heaven for all of them—I am sure there will be. Folk such as Tom Hamilton have denied the pleasure of the sport to people. I am not interested in gold medals.

Do not give me the patter that I have heard tonight about the disabled. The previous Government had opportunities to support the disabled. They rejected those opportunities, so the Tories should not weep tonight. I have been a defender of the rights of the disabled for years and years and will continue to be. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) is right to say that disabled folk will be able to take up some other sports or some other form of shooting. The argument about the disabled does not wash with me and the rest of the country.

The nation has suffered terribly and tragically over Dunblane, but we can never suffer the way that the families involved have suffered—not in a million years. We must listen to the people of Britain who have told us that they want rid of the guns. They do not want any more Dunblanes, and they do not want the Tommy Hamiltons of this world to have access to guns. Today, I will be proud to walk into the Lobby to vote against what the Opposition are trying to force on us. The public do not want what the Opposition are proposing, because they do not want anyone to have a handgun.

I have never heard such a fine maiden speech as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). It was one of the finest maiden speeches ever made in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and I were saying that we have never heard such a beautiful speech; it was so well made. I hope that she was absolutely right and that the House will give her son, and all the other children in the United Kingdom, the biggest birthday present ever. I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart on her superb speech and its great ending. Let us pass the Bill tonight with a thumping majority.

9.50 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I welcome the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), who has been elected to the House with a hard act to follow, because Doug Hoyle was a very effective and popular hon. Member. He was also the winner of a celebrated by-election, in which Lord Jenkins had difficulties not only of pronunciation but with Doug Hoyle. She obviously follows very much in the Doug Hoyle tradition.

The hon. Lady also has courage, because she told a joke about the Millbank computer. She was fortunate that the Minister without Portfolio had left the Chamber by that time. None the less, I applaud her courage in telling such a joke. More to the point, she spoke very effectively and with great knowledge and commitment to her constituency. She also spoke without notes. In our own maiden speeches, many hon. Members probably relied on the notes that we had copiously copied down. She had the poise and confidence not to do so. It was a very effective speech, and I look forward to hearing many more speeches by her.

The shadow Home Secretary described the Bill as petty and vindictive, and he said that it had been steamrollered through the House. He was wrong on all counts. The Bill is not petty, because it deals with a subject of great and substantial importance. It is also not vindictive, and I do not think that anyone could argue that it has been proposed in a vindictive manner. The attitude of Ministers has been one of more in sorrow than in anger, and one of deep responsibility and regret that such action must be taken. They have shown public responsibility in the manner in which the Bill was introduced.

As for steamrollering the Bill through the House, the shadow Home Secretary seems to be suffering from a short memory as well as a deficiency of votes in the Tory leadership contest. He was well known for steamrollering legislation, particularly earlier in the year, when he imposed a three-line Whip on the previous Government's Bill dealing with the very same issue and refused to allow a free vote—a vote of conscience—on a total ban on handguns. He now seems to be in a particularly poor position to complain about anyone else steamrollering.

As hon. Members have said, the time allowed for debate has been adequate. I do not think that any hon. Member has felt constrained in their remarks, and the shadow Home Secretary's charge is unfair. Given that I do not have many complimentary remarks to make about the Government's entire range of legislation, I should say that I very much welcome their move to fulfil an election commitment that was shared both by the new Labour party and by the Scottish National party.

The Bill is much more logical and complete than the earlier legislation proposed by the Conservative Administration. The loophole, illogicality and irrationality of allowing .22 weapons to continue to be used, albeit in gun clubs, but banning every other type of handgun was never satisfactorily dealt with. As hon. Members have said, on many occasions .22 weapons have proved themselves as dangerous and deadly as handguns of a higher calibre. That was the type of weapon used to kill Bobby Kennedy and in the attempt on the life of President Reagan. In the United States, such weapons are often referred to as "Saturday night specials".

The Cullen report stated: In terms of pure precision the .22 calibre was capable of inherent accuracy beyond the skill of the shooter. Whether high accuracy is obtained depends on the quality of the particular gun, the quality of the ammunition and the skills of the shooter. The .22 rimfire represented the highest precision cartridge which was available. It was highly evolved. Lord Cullen could not see the case for separating the .22 from higher-calibre weapons; nor has anyone effectively made that case throughout the controversy surrounding the banning of handguns. It was on that illogicality that the previous legislation failed the test and failed the challenge of Dunblane and, indeed, of Hungerford.

I remind the House of the gun lobby's own judgment on the weaknesses of the storage proposal in the previous legislation. In its evidence to Lord Cullen, the British Shooting Sports Council said: No matter what system of checks and paperwork is maintained in such circumstances, it would be a simple matter indeed for a shooter intent on recovering his gun to enter a competition, provide evidence to his club secretary that he had done so, recover possession of the complete gun together with ammunition for it, and perpetrate an outrage. The BSSC was arguing against club storage at that stage. It felt that that was what it had to resist because it believed that Cullen would move to club storage. However, the logic of the argument does not depend on the circumstances in which it is being argued, and the argument against building caches of guns in gun clubs is the same, regardless of the legislation before us. That is the reason why we should move forward and should ask. the many decent, law-abiding gun owners to sacrifice one part of their leisure time activities for the greater good of society as a whole.

We have heard a great deal about the Commonwealth and Olympic games. I know that the Home Secretary has in all good faith said that those games can still take place in the United Kingdom, but I would rather see deployed the argument that it is perhaps time—or past time—that we should be telling the Olympic Games Committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation that handgun competitions do not have a place in an international athletic and sporting competition, that many tens of millions of children across the world look to these competitions and their participants, and that such competitions perhaps reinforce the gun culture about which many of complain so often. Perhaps the argument against such events taking place at the Commonwealth and Olympic games should now be articulated—we should move on.

I will be supporting the Bill, as will the Scottish National party. I wish it well in the remainder of its proceedings in another place. It would be incredible if it were ambushed and bushwhacked there. That would be a rank defiance of the clearly expressed public opinion. To use a phrase from another debate, it is the "settled will" of the people that effective action should be taken against handguns. A popular decision has been taken to move against the gun culture. While neither this nor the previous legislation can be said to render impossible another outrage like Hungerford or Dunblane, I think that the Bill reduces the chances of another outrage and represents a move in favour of public safety. For that reason, the Bill should certainly be supported.

The Bill deserves the support of all parties. It might not get it, but I am sure that it will receive a Third Reading with a substantial majority. I hope that it proceeds quickly onto the statute book.

9.57 pm
Mr. Colvin

I join those hon. Members who have congratulated the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) on her maiden speech which she made with great confidence and fluency and, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, without notes. That is always impressive, and I look forward to hearing many more contributions from her in due course.

I also strongly endorse what the hon. Lady said about her predecessor, Mr. Doug Hoyle. On my arrival in this place, I had been told that, as a new Member, the first thing that I should do was find myself a pair. I approached three hon. Members who to me looked and sounded like Labour Members, only to discover that they were Tories. I then tried two more people who turned out to be members of the press lobby. It was only at the sixth attempt that I discovered Mr. Hoyle. On looking him up in the good book which contains hon. Members' curricula vitae, I discovered that he was the president of the trade union to which I then belonged and which was known as the Association of Secretarial, Technical and Managerial Staffs. It was a vain attempt to get the president of my union to pair with a lowly Member of Parliament, because he was already paired with someone else. I nevertheless endorse the hon. Lady's remarks about Doug, who is a great loss to the House. We always enjoyed his company and listened attentively to anything he had to say.

When the Minister of State in moving Third Reading said that the Government have won the argument and the vote, he was half right. The Government have certainly won the vote, but they have again lost the argument. There were many sensible points advanced by opponents of the Bill that should have been more carefully considered.

I would endorse what the—

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the Firearms (Amendment) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Jane Kennedy.]

Question agreed to.

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Colvin

As I was saying, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan drew attention to the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) about the Government steamrollering this Bill through. I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend, but he is the last person who should accuse the Government of steamrollering a Bill, because when sitting on the Government Benches during the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, he was equally guilty of steamrollering through his measure. At that time, he, too, was opposed with similar vigour by some of us who knew something about shooting.

I fully understand the passion with which the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) made his speech and the sentiments he expressed. Those feelings were shared by a great many people following the tragedy of Dunblane, which is entirely understandable. The Snowdrop campaign, which reinforced that feeling and did so much to galvanise public opinion, was certainly responsible for the way in which the public reacted to the issue of handguns.

However, the initial hostility to handguns was then tempered by the common sense of Lord Cullen's report into the tragedy. It was significant that after the report had been made public, the press had commented on it and there had been debate in both Houses of Parliament about firearms legislation, some of the opinion polls and press comments started to be tempered by a modicum of common sense. For example, in October 1996, a poll in The Sunday Times, while supporting the proposals in what became the 1997 Act, showed only 54 per cent. in favour of a complete ban on all handguns. By December 1996, polls conducted in response to remarks by the Duke of Edinburgh showed that a majority of the public felt that a complete ban was an overreaction which unfairly penalised law-abiding citizens. Three telephone polls published at that time showed that between 68 and 75 per cent. of people were against a complete ban. By February this year, even in Scotland, where the tragedy took place, Market Research Scotland found that 39 per cent. of Scots believed that responsible gun users were being treated unfairly because of the action of one man. We, too, must temper our passionate feelings about Dunblane with an element of common sense

The Home Secretary has said clearly that, although he will use his section 5 powers to enable the Commonwealth games to go ahead in Manchester, one exception is enough. However, I would point out that there are already other exceptions. Athletics clubs use .32 and .38 calibre guns for starting races. Vets use such guns, as do slaughterhouses.

It was not unreasonable, therefore, to expect special exception to be made for single-shot .22 guns to be used for competition purposes. They cannot be concealed on a person, as .22s were concealed in the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy.

I believe that the House was especially interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) about dismantling firearms so that they may be kept in the home, avoiding the imposition of an enormous burden of financial investment on gun club security. If and when the Bill reaches the other place, the whole issue of dismantling .22 calibre weapons should be considered once more.

If the Government want suggestions as to amendments that they might introduce in the other place, I suggest that they consider including in the Bill a clause requiring that, after three years, a review be held of its provisions, including a review of the impact that they might have had on international competition shooting.

The other great injustice of the Bill, on which much has been said, is the issue of compensation. I very much hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider that matter, because, although there are provisions in the Bill for compensating people for loss of their handguns and loss of equipment, the clubs, many of which are heavily in debt as a result of the investment that they have made, and the people who have lost their busines, should be compensated as well.

There are plenty of precedents in this country for such compensation, but the Home Secretary should also consider the precedent of the Australian experience—which teaches us that, although draconian measures may be necessary, people should not be deprived of their livelihood, investment, money and jobs as a result. The Government should seriously reconsider that before proceeding with the Bill.

10.6 pm

Mr. Grieve

This has been an interesting debate and I have tried to listen carefully to the Ministers' arguments. In a way, I am grateful to the Home Secretary for saying at the outset that the Bill was introduced on its merits because it dealt with the practical. I believe that he explained that the only morality in the issue was that of trying to ensure that people were not harmed by handguns.

As we have examined more and more minute applications of the rule to individual instances, it has been interesting to note how woefully deficient the Government have been in coming up with a concrete explanation or reason justifying the outlawing—if I may use that word—of categories of handgun use. Most notably, a strange ambiguity has crept in. Ministers have argued that these are practical considerations, whereas Labour Back Benchers have come up with far more powerful arguments, on a much higher moral plane, saying why handguns must go.

The extremely powerful maiden speech by the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) introduced reasons for handgun legislation, and its specific application to .22 rounds, that have been wholly absent from the reasons that the Home Secretary and the Minister of State have advanced.

The Home Secretary has made a series of repetitions, maintaining that the .22 would introduce loopholes that might lead to risks. It has never been explained to the House how the restricted categories that we have discussed would produce those loopholes, when the mere fact that we shall also allow handguns into the country at the time of the Olympic games and Commonwealth games shows that exceptions can be created and tolerated. In that regard, the contribution of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to tonight's debate was far more philosophically and intellectually coherent than those of Ministers.

Instead, we have heard a whole series of arguments being wheeled out, dealing mainly with emotion—one of which, from the Home Secretary on Second Reading, greatly surprised me. We were to go along with his suggestion, he said, because it was endorsed by the Police Federation. I have spent time as a barrister prosecuting for the police, as a lay visitor to police stations, and as chairman of committees of police community consultative groups, and my admiration for the police is great. But if the Home Secretary is going to spend his time telling us to go along with things because the Police Federation want them, he will be the first Home Secretary gently to preside over leading us inexorably into a police state.

The issue before the House may ultimately be the moral issue for which the hon. Member for Warrington, North argued, but in the meantime I should point out that we live in a pluralist society—an idea to which the Home Secretary, in his civil liberties days, would often have adhered. It is certainly the view to which I adhere. Removing people's rights without good reason or cogent arguments makes for bad law—

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a child's right to life is far more important than any adult's right to use a gun, even for so-called sporting purposes?

Mr. Grieve

If the hon. Gentleman could persuade me of any linkage between the two, I would respect his argument—but I have heard nothing to persuade me of it. Instead, throughout the debate Ministers have obfuscated, trying to conceal the fact that shooters in gun clubs are a law-abiding group indulging in a recreational pursuit. Labour Back Benchers, meanwhile, tell us that for moral reasons guns must go. These are the foundations of bad law, and I am sorry that the Minister of State does not see it that way.

10.11 pm
Mr. Maclean

The House has been privileged over the week between Second and Third Readings to hear a number of excellent maiden speeches. I heartily congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) on her fluent and confident speech. It was made, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, without notes—very impressive for a maiden speaker. We look forward to more, valuable contributions from her in due course.

I hope that one day the hon. Lady will develop the splendid accent of her predecessor, whom we all thought of with great affection. The story that comes to mind about him concerns the hapless Conservative candidate from the southern counties who, a few years ago, thought he would try his hand as a candidate in Warrington. Unfortunately, he had not done all his homework. When asked by the local Conservative chairman, "What do you know about `oyle?", he went on to give a wonderful dissertation on the benefits of North sea oil, and wondered afterwards why he was not selected for the seat. If his successor picks up his accent in due course, that will be a bonus.

We approached the Bill with deep scepticism and we are still sceptical about it. We felt that it was unnecessary, unfair and costly. As the Bill has gone through all its stages, our initial attitudes have been confirmed and hardened.

Not only is the Bill unnecessary: it is petty and vindictive. Whenever the state considers limiting the activities of its law-abiding citizens, it must have a compelling justification. The Government have come up with no such justification at any stage of the Bill's progress. They claim that a total ban on handguns would increase public safety. If that were true, we would vote for it—just as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and many other colleagues voted for the 1997 Act. That was the Act which brought about public safety and dealt with the Hamilton-Dunblane evil.

We challenged the Government to come up with evidence or valid research to back up their view that this Bill adds something in terms of public safety to what the 1997 Act achieved. They have not done so and they will not, because they cannot come up with evidence that the Bill is essential for additional public safety, following the draconian provisions in the 1997 Act.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Maclean

No, I want to conclude. I know that the Home Secretary wants to speak and the whole House is waiting. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech.

Both on Second Reading and in Committee, reasoned proposals to introduce an element of fairness—by allowing our top national competitors to continue to train and compete, or by allowing the disabled to be exempted from the ban—have been dismissed by Ministers, admittedly graciously dismissed by the Home Secretary, but dismissed all the same. The Government have closed their ears to positive suggestions that try to introduce an element of fairness. They are confident that they can deploy their army of Back-Bench Lobby fodder to ram through any proposals.

The Bill is unnecessary. The controls that we recently put in place are rigorous. Indeed, the provisions of the 1997 Act were regarded by many people as excessive when they went through. However, they would still have allowed British sportsmen to represent their country in international .22 target pistol competitions and they would still have allowed controlled and limited use of .22 handguns in clubs that met the highest security criteria.

The hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham), whom I respect immensely for a variety of reasons with which I shall not burden the House, made a wonderful, impassioned speech tonight. All his remarks were relevant to the 1997 Act. That is why we put the 1997 Act through: we did not put medals in front of children's lives. If the Bill were a matter of choice between medals and children's lives, the medals would never come into the equation. Children's lives come first.

However, we believe that the 1997 Act has ensured that the likes of Hamilton and Dunblane will not happen again. The Bill does not add to the public safety imperative that we enshrined in the 1997 Act. [Interruption.] When the hon. Members for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke on Second Reading or on Monday this week, they exposed the sham of the Labour free vote. It was a free vote in the Lobbies, but a three-line Whip on attendance. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North said, we could all read the semaphore signals by the Whips on the door, so we will take no lessons from the Government on bogus free votes in the House for them.

Regardless of the fact that the 1997 Act has not yet been implemented, the Government are determined to institute a total ban. We acknowledge that. For that reason, we tabled two new clauses in Committee. They were designed to introduce an element of fairness into an otherwise draconian and unjust Bill.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, a total ban will kill off .22 target pistol shooting as a sport. The Government should not say that it is all right for the disabled—they can move on to other forms of shooting instead. Most of them will not be able to do so. They are able to use pistols; in many cases, they would not be able to use rifles.

We believe that it is still possible to allow our national competitors to continue to train and compete, and to ensure the highest standards of public safety. Indeed, the Home Secretary believes that it is possible to allow people to shoot pistols in this country and he believes that in future they will be able to do so safely and securely. He told the House that he will use his powers under section 5 to allow pistol shooting in this country. The only trouble is that British sportsmen will not be doing it, unless they go abroad for a few years to keep up the practice. Then they can come back and benefit from the powers that the Secretary of State will use to allow such competitions in the Commonwealth games.

All that we have suggested in the new clauses is allowing the Home Secretary to use the same powers to permit British sportsmen, in the same tightly controlled conditions, to have the same rights to shoot pistols as he will allow those foreign competitors, but the Government rule that out. There was no logic behind their argument.

The Government have refused to contemplate the reasonable new clauses that we tabled. That is another reason why we will vote against the Third Reading of the Bill tonight.

The Government have been hazy about compensation. Where will they find the £30 million-plus? My right hon. and learned Friend asked whether it would come out of the CCTV camera scheme. I have a deep suspicion that it will. Will the Government find that sum in the police budget or will it come from some other source? If the Home Secretary is not prepared to cut any other Home Office budget, he will have to go cap in hand to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which will add another £30 million to the Government's £12 billion expenditure black hole.

The Government have also dodged the question of compensating gun clubs as a result of the total ban on handguns. The total ban will force some clubs to close. The vast majority of gun clubs are non-profit making and pay for facilities with members' subscriptions. Club trustees will face enormous liabilities when those clubs are forced to close. As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we opted against compensating gun clubs during the passage of the 1997 legislation because clubs could remain open for shooters with lower-calibre pistols. Although it would be harder for them, the clubs could still survive.

The blanket ban imposed by the Bill will force gun clubs to close immediately—they cannot do anything else. Many clubs that cater to rifle and pistol shooting could follow suit. The Government's refusal to revisit the compensation issue is a further sign that they are hell bent on pushing ahead with a fundamentally unfair and harsh measure. That is why we oppose it. If this is the way in which Labour intends to govern, countless lawful groups and legitimate minorities will be the new victims of new Labour.

People's rights will be protected if they are flavour of the month in the opinion polls or the focus groups, but I send a warning to the country tonight: unless people fit the image created by our politically correct masters of new Labour, they will not have rights in future. It will not matter if their cause is just, because new Labour is not interested in that. Government policy is now driven by appealing to the gallery. We will oppose the Bill not just because it is unnecessary and unjust, but because it is the first in a potentially long list of measures on which the Government will not listen to reasonable arguments and will be determined to get their way, even when there is not the slightest justification for them.

10.21 pm
Mr. Straw

As we have just heard, the debate has produced some sharp exchanges. However, the whole House is united on one issue this evening: we join in praising my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) for one of the finest maiden speeches that I have heard in 18 years in this place. I commend her speech to the House—particularly in view of the fact that she delivered it without the assistance of notes and with great poise and fluency.

Doug Hoyle was well known to many hon. Members. I had the privilege of serving with Doug in the shadow Cabinet for many years and of canvassing for him in the dreary 1982 by-election. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) mentioned Lord Jenkins. It always rains in Warrington whenever I am there—and I travel through the town at least once a week while on my way to Blackburn, where it also rains a lot. That dismal experience of canvassing in Warrington, North in 1982 is fixed in my brain because Mr. Jenkins—as he then was—was the Social Democratic party candidate and I was canvassing in Jenkins road. It was a long time before I found a voter who was willing to support the Labour candidate. Despite my lack of persuasive powers on that occasion, Doug won the seat and he served the House and the Labour party very well. I am sure that my hon. Friend will prove a fine replacement.

We have been treated to a string of hyperbolic adjectives in support of the Opposition's position, which is that there is a huge gulf between the stance that they adopted in government in respect of the case for banning handguns above .22 calibre and the case that we are making for banning handguns of .22 calibre and below. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) went right over the top as he wound up his speech by suggesting that if we were to pass the Bill, it would somehow mean the end of civilisation as we know it.

I should just like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of two things. First, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan pointed out, had there been a free vote on the Conservative Benches before the general election, this Bill would not have been necessary. The simple truth was, and remains, that there was an unwhipped majority in the House in favour of a total ban on handguns in general civilian use. Secondly, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border both asked me what is the case for the Bill. Let me remind them that it is one of public safety.

Under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's measure, 160,000 handguns were taken out of circulation right away; the remaining 40,000—the .22s—could be stored and used in what were described as secure gun clubs.

Before the general election, the House had to decide on the logical argument that if there were to be secure gun clubs safe enough for guns of .22 calibre and below, why would those gun clubs not also be safe enough for the storage and use of guns above .22 calibre? After all, guns below or above .22 calibre have the common characteristic that each can quickly kill a large number of people. In answer, the right hon. and learned Gentleman argued that those gun clubs could not be secure enough for the storage and use of guns above .22 calibre. He said: higher calibre guns are particularly attractive to criminals and their storage in gun clubs in large numbers, whether dismantled or in one piece, would make gun clubs more attractive targets for theft."—[Official Report, 18 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 787.] One of the reasons why the right hon. and learned Gentleman lost that argument before the general election, if he did not quite lose the vote, was that he asked the House to accept that there was something intrinsically less safe in a .32 multi-shot handgun than in a .22 multi-shot handgun, but that is palpably not the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North said, .22 handguns have been the weapon of choice of assassins and criminals across the world. Robert Kennedy and Yitzhak Rabin were killed with .22 handguns. Had Thomas Hamilton been in possession of .22 handguns rather than .357 magnums he could have achieved exactly the same carnage as he tragically and sadly did on 13 March last year.

The debate has understandably concentrated on where we draw the line and on the people who will be adversely affected by the Bill if, as I hope, it is passed. We are talking about up to 40,000 people who currently hold handgun certificates for .22 weapons and below. Although their interests are important, we should remember that the Bill was introduced out of the deepest shock and revulsion that was experienced across the country when, on 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton ran amok in Dunblane primary and in the space of three minutes killed 16 children and one adult and injured many more children. In the course of that, he traumatised the families and friends of those children and the town of Dunblane.

Thomas Hamilton shocked the nation. Questions were asked about how we had allowed the situation to develop where there were 200,000 handguns in general circulation, not for occupational use, but for the pursuit of a sport. That terrible tragedy brought us up sharp and brought home to us the question whether this country should ever again allow such a large number of handguns to be in general civilian use and pose such a potential danger as that which tragically occurred at Dunblane on 13 March.

Mr. Colvin


Mr. Straw

I am sorry, but I am about to conclude.

The House was almost united in supporting the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to take out of circulation 160,000 of those 200,000 weapons. But it allowed 40,000 lethal handguns to remain available for use.

I regret that there are perfectly law-abiding shooters who will be disadvantaged both by the 1997 Act and by the Bill when it is enacted. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, we and he have approached this matter much more in sorrow than in anger. It is the Government's view, however, endorsed by the House, that the right to life must come before the right to practise a sport.

I believe that we owe the Bill to the parents and the children of Dunblane. It will bring into place tighter controls than those introduced by the 1997 Act. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that the levels of control of handguns are commensurate with public safety. The Bill fulfils that responsibility and I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 350, Noes 164.

Division No. 36] [10.30 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Butler, Christine
Ainger, Nick Byers, Stephen
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Allan, Richard (Shedd Hallam) Campbell, Anne (C'bridge)
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N) Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale) Canavan, Dennis
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Caplin, lvor
Atherton, Ms Candy Casale, Roger
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Caton, Martin
Austin, John Cawset, Ian
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Champman, Ben (Wirral S)
Banks, Tony Chaytor, David
Barron, Kevin Chisholm, Malcolm
Bayley, Hugh Clapham, Michael
Beard, Nigel Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh pentlands)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Berry, Roger Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Betts, Clive Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Blackman, Mrs Liz Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Blizzard, Robert Coaker, Vernon
Borrow, David Coffey, Ms Ann
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cohen, Harry
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Coleman, Iain (Hammersmith & Fulham)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brand. Dr Peter Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Connarty, Michael
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E & Wallsend) Cooper, Ms Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Corston, MS Jean
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock) Cousins, Jim
Buck, Ms Karen Crausby, David
Burgon, Colin Cryer. Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Burstow, Paul Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hope, Philip
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hopkins, Kelvin
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth) Howells, Dr Kim
Curtis-Thomas, Ms Clare Hoyle, Lindsay
Dafis, Cynog Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Humble, Mrs Joan
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hurst, Alan
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hutton, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Iddon, Brian
Dean, Ms Janet Illsley, Eric
Denham, John Ingram, Adam
Dismore, Andrew Jackson, Glenda (Hampst'd)
Dobbin, Jim Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jamieson, David
Donohoe, Brian H Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Doran, Frank Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Dowd, Jim Johnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Barry (Deeside)
Efford. Clive Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Ellman, Ms Louise Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Etherington, Bill Jones, Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Fearn, Ronnie
Fisher, Mark Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Flint, Ms Caroline Jowell, Tessa
Flynn, Paul Keeble, Ms Sally
Follett, Ms Barbara Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Keen, Mrs Ann (Brenfford)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kemp, Fraser
Foster, Michael John (Worcester) Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Fyfe, Maria
Galbraith, Sam Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Galloway, George Kidney, David
Gapes, Mike Kilfoyle, Peter
Gardiner, Barry King, Andy (Rugby)
George, Andrew (St Ives) King, Oona (Bethnal Green)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Kingham, Tessa
Gerrard, Neil Kirkwood, Archy
Gibson, Dr. Ian Kumar, Dr Ashok
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Godman, Dr. Norman A Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Godsiff, Roger Laxton, Bob
Goggins, Paul Lepper, David
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Leslie, Christopher
Gorrie, Donald Levitt, Tom
Graham, Thomas Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Grant, Bernie Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Linton, Martin
Grocott, Bruce Livingstone, Ken
Grogan, John Livsey, Richard
Gunnell, John Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Llwyd, Elfyn
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Lock, David
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Love. Andy
Hancock, Mike McAllion, John
Hanson, David McAvoy, Thomas
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McCabe, Stephen
Healey, John McCafferty, Ms Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Hepburn, Stephen McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Heppell, John Macdonald, Calum
Hesford, Stephen McFall, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hill, Keith McIsaac, Ms Shona
Hinchliffe, David McKenna, Ms Rosemary
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mackinlay, Andrew
Home Robertson, John McMaster, Gordon
Hood, Jimmy McNamara, Kevin
Hoon, Geoffrey McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
McWalter, Tony Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McWilliam, John Shipley, Ms Debra
Mahon, Alice Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mallaber, Ms Judy Singh, Marsha
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Skinner, Dennis
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
Maxton, John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Meale, Alan Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Merron, Ms Gillian Soley, Clive
Michael, Alun Southworth, Ms Helen
Milburn, Alan Squire, Ms Rachel
Miller, Andrew Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moran, Ms Margaret Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stinchcombe, Paul
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Stoate, Dr Howard
Morley, Elliot Stott, Roger
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Mountford, Ms Kali Stunell, Andrew
Mudie, George Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Swinney, John
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs. Ann (Dewsbury)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris Dan Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
O'Brien, Mike (Warks) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Hara, Edward Thomas, Gareth R. (Harrow W)
Olner, Bill Tipping, Paddy
O'Neill, Martin Todd, Mark
Organ, Mrs Diana Tonge, Dr Jenny
Osborne, Mrs Sandra Touhig, Don
Pearson, Ian Trickett, Jon
Perham, Ms Linda Truswell, Paul
Pickthall, Colin Turner, Dennis (Wolverhampton SE)
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pond, Chris Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pope, Greg Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pound, Stephen Vis, Dr Rudi
Powell, Sir Raymond Wallace, James
Prentice, Bridget (Lewisham) Ward, Ms Claire
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Watts, David
Primarolo, Dawn Webb, Steven
Prosser, Gwyn Welsh, Andrew
Purchase, Ken White, Brian
Quinn, Lawrie Whitehead, Alan
Rammell, Bill Wicks, Malcolm
Rapson, Syd Wigley, Dafydd
Raynsford, Nick Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Rogers, Allan Winnick, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Roy, Frank Wise, Audrey
Ruane, Chris Wood, Mike
Ruddock, Ms Joan Woolas, Phil
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wray, James
Ryan, Ms Joan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Salmond, Alex Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Savidge, Malcolm Wyatt, Derek
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian Tellers for the Ayes:
Shaw, Jonathan David Clelland and
Kevin Hughes
Amess, David Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Baldry, Tony
Arbuthnot, James Barnes, Harry
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beresford, Sir Paul Fox, Dr Liam
Blunt, Crispin Fraser, Christopher
Body, Sir Richard Gale, Roger
Boswell, Tim Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Gibb, Nick
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Gill, Christopher
Brady, Graham Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brazier, Julian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Browning, Mrs Angela Gray, James
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Green, Damian
Burnett, John Greenway, John
Burns, Simon Grieve, Dominic
Butterfill, John Gummer, Rt Hon John
Cash, William Hague, Rt Hon William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Chope, Christopher Harris, Dr. Evan
Clappison, James Harvey, Nick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Hawkins, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hayes, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Rushcliffe) Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Collins, Tim Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Cormack, Sir Patrick Horam, John
Cran, James Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, Rt Hon David Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford) Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Day, Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)
Duncan, Alan Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Duncan Smith, Iain Key, Robert
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Evans, Nigel Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Faber, David Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Fabricant, Michael Lansley, Andrew
Fallon, Michael Leigh, Edward
Flight, Howard Letwin, Oliver
Forth, Eric Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Foster, Don Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Loughton, Tim Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Luff, Peter Soames, Nicholas
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spelman, Mrs Caroline
McIntosh, Miss Anne Spicer, Sir Michael
MacKay, Andrew Spring, Richard
Maclean, Rt Hon David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McLoughlin, Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, Sir David Streeter, Gary
Major, Rt Hon John Syms, Robert
Malins, Humfrey Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maples, John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Mates, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
May, Mrs Theresa Taylor, Sir Teddy
Merchant, Piers Temple—Morris, Peter
Moore, Michael Thompson, William
Moss, Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Norman, Archie Trend, Michael
Opik, Lembit Tyler, Paul
Ottaway, Richard Tyrie, Andrew
Page, Richard Viggers, Peter
Paice, James Walter, Robert
Paterson, Owen Wardle, Charles
Pickles, Eric Waterson, Nigel
Prior, David Whitney, Sir Raymond
Redwood, Rt Hon John Whittingdale, John
Robathan, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Wilkinson, John
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Willetts, David
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Willis, Phil
Ruffley, David Woodward, Shaun
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Yeo, Tim
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan Tellers for the Noes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Bowen Wells and
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Peter Ainsworth

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.