HL Deb 16 January 1997 vol 577 cc280-340

3.36 p.m.

Lord Swansea rose to move, (a) That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they do report Clause 6 of the Bill without amendment; and (b) That, when the Bill is reported from the Committee of the Whole House, it be recommitted to a Select Committee in respect of Clause 6.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to make it clear at the start that this is not a delaying tactic and still less a wrecking tactic. I have tabled the Motion because the point is complex. Referral of Clause 6 to a Select Committee would enable detailed study to take place with expert witnesses for and against the proposal for storage of pistols as laid down in the Bill.

The proposals in the Bill provide for expensive, secure storage, which will be far beyond the means of most clubs. Many clubs will be forced to close down. There is an alternative method which is described as disassembly; in other words, the removal of certain components from the pistol, which can be separately stored. That will take up far less room. Having been removed from the pistols, they are just lumps of metal. They would be useless for any purpose except to deter people. The pistol is therefore immobilised. That has the same effect as removing the distributor arm from the distributor of a motor vehicle.

The effect of the Motion is to refer to a Select Committee consideration of whether the disassembly of pistols should be used as a means of control. The Motion does not delay the rest of the Bill, and there is therefore no reason why the Government should oppose the move. As I said, I have no wish to delay the Bill's progress. I know that the Government are worried about the time factor—about the Bill running out of time and being lost. I should be happy to accept a government Motion to fix a timetable for the Select Committee to report—let us say, four weeks or whatever period of time might seem right to the Government.

By confining the reference to Clause 6, it will be possible to consider the issue of disassembly in isolation, making any consequential amendments on Report. There are two powerful reasons why the House should proceed in that manner.

First, the issue is not a trivial one. Under the terms of the Bill handguns have to be stored and used at licensed clubs. The issue is whether they should be stored whole, or whether they should be dismantled and only their key components stored. Lord Cullen, in his report, said the option, which is open to least objection on the grounds of practicality is the temporary dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components". The dismantlement option is quicker and easier to implement and it will save money both to clubs which have to pay for increased security and to the Treasury in terms of fair compensation.

More important, it will enhance public safety. The storage of whole guns will create identified arsenals of weapons which can be a natural attraction to terrorists and criminals. Central storage of key components only, with the scattered storage in homes of the rest of the guns, will avoid that danger.

The second reason is that without the Select Committee procedure the House will not be able to make an informed judgment on which option is to be preferred. Lord Cullen acknowledged that the decision should be made on sound technical advice. This advice has not been forthcoming. The Select Committee can call expert witnesses for and against the proposals who can be examined.

In the first place, the Government acted with undue haste. They received Lord Cullen's report on 14th October 1996. They obtained a single letter from the Forensic Science Service on 16th October 1996. Their rejection of the dismantlement option was available to Parliament in printed form on 12th November 1996. It is very clear from the timetable that it was impossible for there to have been adequate consideration of so serious an issue.

Secondly, the Government began by rejecting dismantlement on the ground that it was not practical. Their response to Lord Cullen's report said: While removal of key components is feasible for certain types of gun, it is not a practical proposition for others". At Second Reading the Home Secretary said: The Government took advice from the Forensic Science Service on the practicability of disabling multi-shot guns. It concluded that the way forward was unworkable.".—[Offcial Report, Commons, 12/11/96; col. 175.] Faced with overwhelming evidence that this was not so, the Government conceded that dismantlement was practicable. At Committee stage the Home Secretary said that, we accept that there are many varieties of handgun that can readily be dismantled, but there are others for which it is a much more difficult operation".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/96; col. 784.] In fact, about 95 per cent. of handguns can be easily dismantled. The Government therefore changed their ground to suggest that it is easy to obtain illicit spares, sidestepping the fact that it is easier to obtain illicit guns. So, at last, the Government abandoned any pretence of scientific clarity. At Third Reading the Home Secretary said: I accept at the outset that it is a matter of judgment and that it is not possible to prove conclusively that one argument is right and one argument is wrong".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/96; col. 1149.] So there we are. It is a matter of judgment after all. But on what evidence are we to make the judgment? On the one hand we have the unanimous advice from experts outside the Home Office that dismantlement is practicable and safe. We have also the stated preference of Lord Cullen. On the other hand we have two letters from Mr. Warlow, of the Forensic Science Service, made available by the Home Office. The first of the letters, dated 16th October, has already been abandoned by the Government as an adequate explanation. The second, dated 18th November, contains Mr. Warlow's personal opinion quoted by Ministers: This procedure [dismantlement] would not provide a guaranteed measure of assurance against the possible misuse of a pistol by a determined and motivated individual". There is no evidence in the letter to substantiate that opinion other than the self-evident point that no measure of any kind can be a guarantee against possible misuse.

The Bill has been rushed through the Commons with no opportunity to get to the bottom of the matter. The only correct procedure for the House is therefore to interrogate Mr. Warlow and the other experts and make its own conclusion on the basis of the evidence. That is what the Select Committee procedure will provide.

Moved, (a) That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they do report Clause 6 of the Bill without amendment; and (b) That, when the Bill is reported from the Committee of the Whole House, it be recommitted to a Select Committee in respect of Clause 6.—(Lord Swansea.)

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dean of Harptree

My Lords, I dislike certain aspects of the Bill, but, with respect to my noble friend, I dislike even more his proposition in the Motion. I say that for two main reasons. First, I believe that a Bill of this character is best dealt with in its entirety on the Floor of the House in a Committee of the Whole House. Secondly, the proposed procedure could put in jeopardy the whole Bill, in view of the very short time which may well be available between now and the dissolution of this Parliament. I suggest that if that happened we should be in a position which was contrary to the spirit of the Salisbury Convention, which is well established and is long standing.

Whether we like it or not, the Bill was in the gracious Speech and it passed all its stages in another place with substantial majorities. To risk ditching it now would be very unwise. Indeed, I would go further and say that it would be sheer folly, in view of the policy of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, to interfere with the composition of this House. In saying that, I am not opposed to amending the Bill if your Lordships believe that to be appropriate. Indeed, we as a Chamber pride ourselves in revising Bills. We frequently amend Bills and send amendments to another place which it accepts as improvements. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will accept amendments dealing with certain aspects of the Bill which are causing most concern in particular to the law abiding shooting community.

My conclusion is amend the Bill, if your Lordships believe that to be appropriate, but do not risk ditching it through lack of time. That I say firmly now.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, might be persuaded to withdraw his Motion. He is inviting the House to defer its opinion to a Select Committee in respect of a matter on which the House, in terms of its total membership, is probably well qualified to make a judgment. In any event, he is promoting an amendment to the clause in respect of which he is trying to invite us to indulge in this procedure.

It is clear from the amendments that have been tabled that all sections of opinion in this House have varied views on the merits of the Bill. However, I hope that we shall get on with discussing those amendments and that that will be expedited if this Motion is withdrawn.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, before speaking to the Motion, I wish to declare an interest. I am a member of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club, but I have no firearm or shotgun certificate of my own.

The purpose of the amendment is not to create delay. Indeed, I had hoped that we could have the report of the Select Committee in seven days on an emergency basis. However, I was told that that was completely impracticable but that perhaps two weeks might be possible. If the Select Committee determines that disassembly is satisfactory, small bore shooting might be viable, even full bore shooting could be all right, and that would save the country £150 million of public money.

The Government quote from papers from the Forensic Science Service, but they are only inter-office notes which appear to be an argument not for dismantling but rather for maintaining the status quo. What was the context of those papers?

Furthermore, those papers were not subject to peer review. They were certainly not considered advice to the Minister. They were definitely not sufficiently comprehensive to justify the expenditure of £150 million, which is £2.50 for every man, woman and child within the United Kingdom.

I repeat that this is not a Motion for time delay. I would not support any Motion made by the Leader of the House if it did not have upon it a severe time limit. We all understand that the Bill must be on the statute book well before Easter. The Government want that so that they can be seen to have done something about the tragedy at Dunblane. The Opposition say that they are pushing the legislation in order to improve public safety. I support the Motion and I hope that the noble Lord will take it to a Division.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I support the Motion and I declare an interest as president of the Gun Trade Association. As I said on Second Reading, all those involved with handgun shooting, whether through sport or business, feel very let down by the rushed nature of this Bill. Many feel that Lord Cullen's report should have been considered in much greater detail than it has been. As I said also on Second Reading, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Government's position. Although I have grave doubts about the Bill, I supported it then and I still do.

However, the question of dismantlement is very important indeed. The outcome of your Lordships' deliberations on this matter will mean a great deal to all those involved with handgun shooting. Clearly, should we decide that dismantlement is the correct course of action and that is accepted in another place, that would have considerable cost savings not just for clubs through the reduction in security costs but also for members through their membership fees and for the Government in relation to compensation.

I have no intention of going into the pros and cons of dismantlement as an effective method of security; but having read the evidence, as I am sure have other noble Lords, it seems clear that the question is far from answered and needs very careful scrutiny. It would appear that the Government are basing their objection to dismantlement on one man's evidence—that of Mr. Warlow.

I do not suggest for one moment that his evidence is not of the very highest quality; but whether we like it or not, the fact remains that several others are also regarded as experts who take a contrary view. I do not believe that, as yet, their evidence has been taken fully into account. Therefore, I believe that the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Swansea to refer that issue to a Select Committee is the right course of action and would overcome that vital omission.

As I have said already, many people feel very badly let down by the rushed nature of this legislation and are looking to your Lordships to take a more balanced and rational approach. The issue of dismantlement is far too important not to be considered in great detail with the benefit of the advice of expert witnesses. The consequences of such a decision will be vital to many people.

The dismantlement argument is crucial and deserves special treatment. Furthermore, I hope that the Opposition parties, despite their general opposition to the ownership of all handguns, will acknowledge that if some guns are to remain in private hands—and if the Bill goes through as it stands at the moment, that will happen—the need for security remains paramount but that those needs must be considered along with the practical needs of those who enjoy their sport.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make two procedural suggestions. They both lead in the direction of not agreeing to this Motion. The first is perhaps a small objection but I do not believe that the Motion achieves its purpose. It does not say that the Committee of the Whole House should not consider Clause 6. It says that the Bill should be reported to the House as amended but without Clause 6.

That does not make sense because it has not taken into account the consideration in Committee. What are we to do, if the Motion is agreed to, when we reach Clause 6? Is the Lord Chairman not to put the question that Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill and are amendments to Clause 6 not to be moved? The Motion does not deal with that.

The second point is that I agree entirely with the view expressed across the Floor of the House that it is much the most appropriate procedure for the Bill to be considered in Committee before it goes to a Select Committee. I say that not merely because of procedural reasons but because in that event, the Select Committee will not have the huge benefit of the expression of opinion in this House on that clause when it comes to consider it. I consider that that clinches the matter. I very much hope that the Motion will be withdrawn and that we can get on with consideration of the Bill in Committee in the usual fashion.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, personally, I am generally in agreement with my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree; but is he right to say that the Bill was included in the gracious Speech? I read the gracious Speech with some care with that particular point in mind. I could be wrong but I could not find mention of it. If I am wrong, so be it. But if I am right, whether the Motion is desirable is a matter for your Lordships to determine, but it would not be a contravention of the Salisbury convention.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, opinion in Scotland is clear. There is a determined wish for control and greater control. The Motion that we are debating now, despite what may have been said, clearly has as its objective to put the Bill at risk.

Noble Lords

No, no.

Lord Sewel

Oh, yes it does. Those of us who are perhaps aware of the processes and procedures of this House know full well that this is a device, a mechanism, to imperil the legislation.

I ask your Lordships' House to reflect and reflect deeply on the way that support for this Motion would be interpreted in Scotland. The people of Scotland would rightly not forget and would wish to take the first opportunity to pass judgment on this House and its future.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I believe that the House would be extremely unwise to agree to the Motion. It seems to me that the noble Lord who has just spoken is right. This will be interpreted as a delaying mechanism. I believe that I am right to say that this device has not been used since before the war. I cannot believe that in the past 60 years matters more complicated than the question of disabling a gun have not arisen for consideration and they have not needed to be referred to a Select Committee. I believe that this device was last used and acceded to by the House for the Coal Act 1937.

If your Lordships agree to the Motion, the matter would be referred to a Select Committee. No real time limits could be imposed. We do not know what evidence would be called. We all know that a general election is pending in the next few months. How on earth would the public and Members of the other place interpret the accession of your Lordships to this Motion? It would be widely seen as a means of either delaying or destroying this measure. Of all the matters that have come before Parliament in recent times, this surely is a matter for the elected Members eventually to decide. They have to face the constituents.

4 p.m.

Lord Cottesloe

My Lords, I should like to reassure previous speakers that, whatever impression may have been given, it is not the intention to delay or kill the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, have made that clear. I can only reiterate what they said.

I shall try to be brief, but I should like to make a general statement. On the wall of our village church there is a fine stone memorial to my grandfather who died in 1956. It refers to his long life of dedicated public service and concludes as follows: Lord Cottesloe was chairman of the National Rifle Association the most distinguished Rifleman and the foremost Authority on Firearms of his generation. (Do what is right—come what may)". My father died in 1994 and was in his time an equally, if not perhaps more distinguished rifleman than his father. As some noble Lords will know, he too led a life of distinguished public service and was awarded the GBE for services to the arts. So he, too, was hardly an ignorant or irresponsible philistine.

The purpose of that rather tedious' piece of family history is to try to counter the anti-gun lobby and its public perception that anyone who enjoys shooting with a pistol, a rifle or a shotgun (as I do myself) is an ignorant, heartless, irresponsible—I understand that I am not allowed to use the word "yob", although it is much used outside this House—person.

I suggest that all the shooting community must speak with one voice and support each other, whether we use pistols, rifles or shotguns. After Hungerford, the people who were hardest hit by the 1988 amendment Act were the holders of shotgun certificates, although the principal weapon used by Michael Ryan in his dreadful crime was a Kalashnikov self-loading rifle. Believe me, there is a very strong lobby, containing many otherwise sensible and well-informed people, which wishes to put an end to the legal ownership of any firearms by any private citizen in this country. Indeed, when I was on holiday in Wensleydale last summer, prayers were said in church to exactly that effect.

I shall not talk about points of detail, but perhaps I may mention one specific point. I have a long-standing, if somewhat tenuous, connection with the Wheel Chair Games which are held at Stoke Mandeville, not far from my home. I believe that pistol shooting is the only sport, with the possible exception of archery, in which able and disabled people and people of either sex can compete on absolutely equal terms. Unfortunately, it is not really a major spectator sport. Nevertheless, disabled people will be deprived of a sport—in many cases their only sport—by this Bill.

Can we plead, please, for less emotion and more objectivity? Nobody, but nobody, wants to see innocent little children slaughtered. But it is arguable, as I understand it, that if the speed limit in towns was reduced from 30 mph to 20 mph then the lives of 100 children would be saved each year. Of course, that cannot be proved beyond doubt and may be dismissed as speculative, but it is no more speculative than many of the arguments of the anti-gun lobby.

After Hillsborough there was really general agreement that the arrangements for the safety of spectators in sports stadiums needed radical revision—and this was done. An innocent, so to speak, victim of this legislation was the grandstand of the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire where the Royal Show is held each year, which was technically classified as a sports stadium. Although we had never had any trouble, and none was anticipated, the Royal Agricultural Society of England had to spend very large sums of money to comply. This seemed to be a case of an individual injustice in the interests of the common good. People who use guns are in general equally responsible and the recent hard weather wildfowl ban was generally accepted by sportsmen. But the current public vilification and wholesale legal victimisation of a responsible, law-abiding minority, albeit numbering many thousands, with the consequent destruction, inter alia, of livelihoods, leisure activities and heritage items is a gross infringement of civil liberty, in my view, and quite another matter.

I have to say that I believe this Bill to be ill-prepared and hastily drafted: as it stands it will be bad law. I support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I hope that we will not hear any more belated Second Reading speeches like that in the House today. Of course the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, is not a breach of the procedure of the House; indeed, it would not have been allowed by the Clerks at the Table if it had been. But it is seriously an abuse of the spirit in which those procedures are conducted and it is seriously dangerous to the wish not only of the elected Chamber but also of a very large number of people in this country to see this legislation concluded before the general election.

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the detailed arguments about disabling or not disabling guns made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, and others. If those arguments had had any validity, they should have been put on Second Reading and a procedural Motion should have been tabled to attempt to achieve some other procedure other than a Committee of the Whole House. As it was, the House decided without dissent that the Bill should be read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, which is what has happened. Therefore, to attempt at this stage, when the gap between Second Reading and Committee has elapsed, to defer one part of the Bill to a special Select Committee procedure—though it may be technically correct—is profoundly wrong.

I took careful note of what the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said. He said that the suggested procedure would not delay the rest of the Bill. However, we cannot delay one part of the Bill without delaying the rest of the legislation. If we were to accede to the Motion and delay even one part of the Bill—or, indeed, one clause or even one line of it—rather than dealing with it in Committee as is proper, the whole of the Bill would be delayed. It is clearly inconceivable that we should then reach a Report stage on 4th February (as is now planned) and, given the situation regarding the numbers in the House of Commons, it is highly likely that the Bill would then fail to obtain Royal Assent before a general election.

On this Bill, as noble Lords know, my noble friends have freedom of conscience and they can vote as they wish. But my own intention would be to urge them most strongly to vote against this procedural Motion and to vote for the Bill to proceed in its entirety into Committee. I give the House the following warning. If as a result of this debate the Motion is carried and the Bill is delayed in such a way that it does not achieve Royal Assent before the general election and it subsequently comes before Parliament with a Labour Government, not only will this legislation be put through with the greatest urgency but the argument for the exclusion of the hereditary peerage from Parliament will be strongly increased. This Motion should be voted down.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, it has been stated that the Bill is relevant to all those involved in handgun shooting; namely, 60,000 people in this country. But this Bill is much more relevant to the rest of the country, despite what we may think from the contents of the huge postbags that we have all received. I believe that the legislation is far too important to be delayed. The Bill is very important to the population and we cannot legislate solely for 60,000 people and ignore the very widespread fear of handguns which has not only been brought about by the Dunblane and Hungerford incidents but is also an inherent factor.

I should like to make just two points. First, the inevitable procrastination will show us to be "out of touch" to an even greater extent than is currently believed. Secondly, even if it is not the intention of the Motion to delay the Bill, that is exactly how it will be perceived.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I have no complaint at all about any of the speeches made in this short debate in support of the Motion of the noble Lord. Views are strongly felt in your Lordships' House. They are legitimately held. Sharply conflicting views were expressed on Second Reading and will be expressed again. I have no objection to this debate taking place, even if it were legitimate for me to have one. I regret very much any threats which appear to have been made about the consequences that might follow from any action the House might take.

I think we all recognise that this is a complex issue which deserves careful scrutiny. We can all be wise after the event. On reflection I, for one, believe that it might have been better to have had a Green Paper following Lord Cullen's report or, if it were possible, a pre-legislative committee to discuss many aspects of this complex question. However, that is a view I hold in retrospect. I do not blame anyone else for proceeding in the way that the Government chose to do in the light of public pressure at the time.

We now have a Bill before us. As noble Lords have said, it has passed through another place. We have a continuing duty of scrutiny but we certainly ought not to delay the Bill unreasonably. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, to discover whether there were any aspects of Clause 6 which were so fundamentally unusual to justify his singling it out as a clause which might go to a Select Committee. I did not hear those arguments. I do not see why, if that clause were to go to a Select Committee, the whole Bill might not also be sent to a Select Committee, However, that time is past. We have a Bill and we have the opportunity to discuss it today, and on at least one other occasion in Committee. I strongly urge your Lordships to conclude this debate and to proceed with the formal scrutiny of the Bill.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I hope I may put it to the Government that it is very much in their own interests to accept this Motion, which is not, of course, a wrecking Motion. As my noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out, if it is accepted it need not delay the Bill by more than 14 days at most. If the proposed Select Committee were to find that the Home Office firearms expert was right about disassembly, and that almost every other firearms expert was wrong, the Government would have won a significant victory, and much of the opposition to Part I of the Bill would collapse. If, on the other hand, the Select Committee should find that almost all the other experts were right, and by extension that Lord Cullen was right, the Government need not lose face. They could legitimately maintain that they were right to err on the side of extreme caution when making their initial speedy decision but that now that there had been time to investigate the disassembly question thoroughly it had become evident that the proposed draconian restrictions were not after all necessary and that Lord Cullen's recommendations on disassembly could, after all, be adopted.

The prizes—assuming that the Select Committee were to find for Lord Cullen, so to speak—would be enormous all round. Tens of thousands of law abiding men and women would be able to continue practising their sport and their clubs would not go bankrupt in consequence of extremely expensive security precautions which would otherwise be necessary. Tens of thousands of natural Conservative supporters would return to the fold. Tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money could be better spent elsewhere and, above all, the general public would be much safer in that a dismantled gun has almost no value to a thief. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, replying to a supplementary question on the first Starred Question today, said, if I heard him right, that complicated scientific investigation should be left to scientists, or words to that effect. I believe it is sensible to follow that principle on the extremely important and complicated question of disassembly. I therefore urge your Lordships to support the Motion.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate, but having listened to it I have become a little concerned about some of the things that have been said. We need to appreciate that, as the second Chamber is constituted at the moment, and as it operates at the moment, there is a distinction between ourselves and the other House. Two problems that exist in the other House can be overcome in this House. First, amendments to Bills in the other House are selected. Not all amendments that are tabled are debated. The other problem the other House has is that quite often Bills are committed to Select Committees of the other House and not all Members of the other place can contribute to those committees. One of the glories of this House is that all amendments are considered and, in general, Committee stages are conducted before the whole House and every Member of your Lordships' House can contribute.

Bearing in mind the topic of the Bill, we can recognise that we have a significant number of experts in this field. We can also recognise that a whole range of Members of your Lordships' House right across the Chamber can express themselves articulately on this matter. I argue that in the situation we are now in it will not help the House and the consideration of the Bill if this Motion were agreed to. I hope that Clause 6, along with the rest of the Bill, will be considered by a Committee of the whole House, as this House has established a strong reputation for providing something that is different from the other place.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I did not intend to speak on this Motion until I heard the uncharacteristically immoderate speech of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I shall not speak for long, but I believe that we have been extremely unkind to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, who has tried to be helpful. He, like myself, understands—as does every other Member of this House—that the Government set up the Cullen inquiry which reported and recommended that disassembly was a possible way of dealing with this matter. The Government chose not to accept that report and indeed announced their intentions before the report had been published or properly assimilated. Therefore we have not had the opportunity we should have had to discuss properly in this House the course of action recommended in the report. In my view therefore there is a good reason why a less than normal procedure should be adopted to ensure that the experts give their views. After all, we in this House are not experts, nor can we act as an expert body when the House is in full Committee. There is a case for subjecting the matter to a quick examination—which was reported on by Lord Cullen—by experts, and for having a considered view, or perhaps more than one considered view, put before the House.

There is a great deal of feeling in the country on this matter. The Bill has come to this House after a guillotine procedure was introduced and enforced in the House of Commons. Therefore, as my noble friend has just said, it is right and proper that this House does its duty and ensures that the Bill is given proper consideration for as long as that takes.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to all the points advanced during this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Swansea for spending time discussing his concerns about Clause 6 with me and I wish to put on record that I accept that my noble friend has no wish to delay the Bill unduly nor to thwart the passing of the Bill. As my noble friend has said it is his intention that by remitting Clause 6 to a Select Committee the House would have a greater opportunity to consider the issue of disassembly. I have naturally given serious thought to this proposal and discussed it at length with colleagues and officials. Therefore I hope that the House will recognise that what I have to say represents a careful and considered response.

This is an unusual Motion. Indeed it was as long ago as the 1930s that such a Motion was last put to this House. Not only is this Motion unusual; it also has a number of awkward, and perhaps unforeseen, consequences. I mention just one example. If this Motion were passed, the House during this Committee stage could debate amendments to Clause 6 but not in fact make any amendments to the clause. That would indeed be unusual.

Whatever effect my noble friend wishes this Motion to have, I have to tell the House that it would place this Bill in real peril and I am sure that I do not have to remind the House that this would be a most serious matter. One has only to consider the time that has to be set aside to establish a committee and for it to complete its work. Time would be needed to give public notice of the committee's intention to take evidence and to give interested parties the time to prepare to make their submissions. My noble friend has suggested that this process could be completed within one month from today but it may well take longer than that for an effective Select Committee to be selected, appointed, and to complete its work. The whole House would then have to consider the report and resume the remaining stages of the Bill including the additional stage required after the Select Committee, namely recommittal of Clause 6. One does not need to dwell for long on the arithmetic of this particular equation to be clear that it delays the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. I am sure I do not need to remind the House that your Lordships' consideration must be followed by consideration in another place of Lords amendments. There is no doubt that this Motion would seriously jeopardise the completion of this Bill in this Parliament.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in his statement in another place, the facts of the dreadful event at Dunblane committed with a gun that was legally bought and legally possessed, place an extremely onerous duty on the Government to consider what controls there should be on the ownership and possession of guns."—[Official Report, Commons, 16/10/96; col. 831.] This Bill seeks to give the public the protection they require by removing all handguns from circulation but recognising the legitimate interests of sportsmen by allowing the use and storage of lower calibre handguns—subject to stringent security requirements—in gun clubs.

Concern about Clause 6 is the subject of the Motion before the House. But there is only one amendment down to Clause 6. And neither my noble friend nor any other noble Lord has given notice of an intention to debate the question that the clause stand part of the Bill. This House has given consideration to matters of much greater complexity, with comparable concern and sensitivity of subject in many Bills, but has not needed to resort to such a procedure. I am therefore rather puzzled as to why my noble friend intends to vary our normal procedures in this way in respect of a clause that has generated so little interest by way of amendment.

The House has every opportunity to consider the question of disassembly, together with every other issue, in the normal way. This Bill was debated at great length during Second Reading. Noble Lords have now had a number of weeks to consider it further and we are about to embark upon two days of Committee. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree with me that your Lordships' procedure for consideration in Committee of the whole House is one of the great strengths of your Lordships' procedures allowing as it does all noble Lords to play a part in revising and scrutinising legislation.

I should add that there has been no attempt to truncate or curtail the timetable for this Bill in this House and that all the time needed to discuss any amendment before the House is provided for. It is of course possible for the House to come back to any part of the Bill for further consideration during Report and again at Third Reading. I see no reason for departing from our normal procedures.

I do not intend at this time to discuss the relative merits or demerits of disassembly. I wish merely to point out to the House the consequences of accepting this Motion on Clause 6, and to invite your Lordships to accept that the usual procedures of this House are more than adequate for further consideration of this Bill; and that any departure from those procedures could have the most serious consequences for this Bill. I must therefore ask you to reject this Motion.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I hope that I made it sufficiently clear at the start that my Motion was in no way a wrecking or delaying tactic. However, one or two noble Lords seem to have had doubts about that. The Motion has to do with the rights of minorities which in a democracy like ours are important. There are many thousands of shooters. A small proportion of the population see their sport in danger of being killed altogether.

As I said at Second Reading, this is a bad Bill. I am trying to improve it by making it more able to be lived with. The general feeling of your Lordships is contrary to my suggestion and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

On Question, Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Extension of s.5 of the Firearms Act 1968 to prohibit certain small firearms]:

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 15, after ("weapon,") insert ("a single shot weapon,").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 3, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I spoke also to my Amendment No. 7 and, with the leave of the Committee, refer to Amendment No. 19.

The Minister's Amendment No. 19 is very useful to the agricultural community as it will allow the continued use of a shot pistol. I believe that they are similar to a garden gun. They will be used for dispatching vermin such as rats. Ordinary 12 or 20 bore shotguns have the disadvantage that they can damage farm buildings with their power and they are not so convenient for use in confined spaces. However, I wonder whether the Minister is aware of a technique that can be used to alter a shotgun cartridge including the .410 inches applicable to the shot pistol. If molten candlewax or some similar substance is poured into the shot it acquires the ballistic characteristics similar to that of a solid slug or bullet. Thus a shot pistol, merely by a simple technique, can be made nearly as powerful as a full-bore single shot pistol.

My amendment would permit the use of a single-shot full-bore target pistol. These are used only by very serious target shooters. They are not attractive to those who don the trappings of combat. These guns are also unattractive to criminals for two reasons: first, they have very sensitive trigger actions, which could cause a criminal inadvertently to fire his gun; secondly, as the gun would fire only a single shot, he could be vulnerable until he could reload. Most of them can be dismantled, a point that we shall debate later.

There is one further point to be made about criminal use of single-shot weapons. I, as do many others, have modest engineering facilities. I could easily make a smooth bore single-shot pistol by the end of this weekend. It could be made to fire a solid bullet or shot, and it could be devastatingly powerful. There is therefore no point whatsoever in imposing draconian restrictions on shot pistols or single-shot target pistols as it would penalise legitimate users while not impeding criminals at all.

I think I have briefly shown that the shot pistol could be very similar in terms of power. However, there is one extra difference. The shot pistol can be double-barrelled: two shots can be fired with a shot pistol, whereas only one can be fired with a target pistol.

I am grateful to the Minister for her amendment. I hope that she is able to accept mine. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, if the noble Earl will forgive me, I shall refer only to Amendments Nos. 3 and 7. No Member of the House was warned that Amendment No. 19 was to be coupled with these amendments. Therefore I accept with some comfort the words of the noble Earl but will present Amendment No. 19 in its proper order.

The Bill will allow .22 rimfire or other small-calibre handguns to be kept in clubs licensed by the Home Office or Scottish Office, regardless of whether they are single-shot or multi-shot. However, handguns of higher calibre will be prohibited by the Bill.

The question posed by Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 is whether it would be right to make an exception to this prohibition in the case of higher calibre handguns which cannot fire more than one shot without being reloaded. The Government take the view that it would not.

Single-shot higher calibre handguns are uncommon. So an exemption would not benefit very many existing shooters. But by exempting them from the prohibition the Government might encourage their development and sale.

Single-shot higher calibre handguns are just as deadly as multi-shot ones and are as easily concealable. Many might well be models converted from original multi-shot designs. That would open up the possibility that some people might take the opportunity to convert them back to multi-shot, no doubt illicitly.

Lord Cullen concluded, on the basis of the expert technical evidence that he heard, that when a pistol has been converted from multi-shot to single-shot, there was no method which would prevent a pistol from being re-converted with relative ease". That statement appears in paragraph 9.77 of his report. The Government agree with that assessment.

What is proposed would significantly weaken the force of the prohibition and I urge the Committee to reject it.

Lord Monson

Can the Minister say how often single-shot larger calibre handguns have been used in crime over the past 25 years or so?

Baroness Blatch

No, and I do not even think that I can promise to write to the noble Lord. I do not think that that kind of detail is recorded.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's comments. I fully accept her comment regarding her Amendment No. 19.

She mentioned the danger of encouraging the development and sale of a particular type of weapon. I accept that argument. However, this particular gun is not dangerous in that sense. I quite accept the dangers of the shot pistol that she will debate later.

The Minister also mentioned the danger of conversion to multi-shot. That is a valid complaint in relation to my amendment. I shall read her words carefully and possibly redraft the amendment for a later stage so as to consider a weapon specially designed, originally constructed to be single-shot, which would therefore make it extremely difficult to convert to multi-shot use. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1. line 15, leave out ("a small-calibre pistol,").

The noble Lord said: This amendment represents the only major difference between ourselves—or rather between myself and those of my colleagues who agree with me—and the Government on this Bill. We have a free vote, and it is to be taken seriously. It is important that at every stage when there is a free vote—I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Stoddart back in his place—nobody should accuse us of trying to browbeat colleagues into a position that they do not wish to take up. I repeat, within the context of a free vote this amendment represents the only major issue on which we are in dispute with the Government.

I pay tribute to the way in which the Government and the Opposition throughout the period, not only since the drafting and progress of this Bill but since Dunblane, have worked together to secure greater gun control. The sight of Mr. Forsyth and Mr. Robertson in their first visit to Dunblane, followed by the sight of the Prime Minister and Mr. Blair, should be enough to convince all noble Lords that there is no party animosity between us on this issue.

There is, however, a difference of judgment in this case. The judgment we make is that the exclusion from the complete prohibition on handguns of .22 small-calibre pistols is a mistake. I do not say that it is a wicked plot or anything of that sort; I merely say that it is a mistake.

What are the Government's arguments for excluding .22s from the full rigour of the Bill? First, they say that these are used in Olympic sport and that to ban .22s would damage that part of Olympic sport.

All those who listened to the Second Reading debate will acknowledge that those who are opposed to gun control have expressed the opinion very forcibly that Olympic sport is already damaged by the provisions of the Bill as it stands. The exclusion now of small-calibre pistols from Olympic sport would not make a very great deal of difference.

I acknowledge and respect the views of those who wish to find some way of retaining the ability of this country to participate in Olympic sport. However, that has to be within the confines of public safety, as I am sure all sportsmen will acknowledge. I put it to those to whom this is a very important and respectable consideration that there is comparatively little difference between a complete ban and the 80 per cent. ban proposed by the Government in this respect.

The second argument put by the Home Secretary in another place was that, were there to be a complete ban on small-calibre pistols, somehow gun clubs would become more attractive targets for criminals. Again in a non-partisan spirit, I pay tribute to the way in which the Bill has been drafted to tighten up on the security arrangements of gun clubs. I believe that in so far as anything can be effective, those arrangements will be effective and therefore they will apply as much without .22s as they would if .22s were excluded from a ban.

After all, what is the difference between small calibre pistols and other handguns so far as concerns public safety? Small calibre pistols are the preferred weapon of the Special Air Service; they are the preferred weapon of Mossad, the Israeli Security Service, which is probably the most effective, and without fear of international incident I would say the most ruthless, security service in the world.

It was a .22 which killed Yitzhak Rabin; it was a .22 which killed Robert Kennedy; and it was .22s which killed at Hungerford and Dunblane. If a .22 can be used as Thomas Hamilton used it to fire 743 rounds to kill 17 people, seriously injure 15 people and then to kill himself in a matter of minutes, can there be any doubt that from the point of view of public safety there is no significant difference between a small calibre pistol and any other kind of handgun?

I realise that the Committee will be referring back to Lord Cullen's report on a number of occasions in the course of this debate. But we must remind ourselves that Lord Cullen said that no system of certification or regulation could be foolproof. That must apply, surely, as much to .22s as to any other form of handgun.

This is a loophole in the Bill that the Government have provided. It is not necessary. There is no consistency in the Government's approach to this particular part of the Bill. The Bill would not only provide a safer environment but would also be easier to administer from the point of view of certification and regulation if this amendment were carried. I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Gisborough

I oppose this amendment. It is important that the pistol should be available for Olympic sport, and I understand that the Manchester Olympics in 2002 were agreed virtually on condition that there would be firing pistols available. The British would not be able to partake fully. As it is, the British will not be able to partake in most events, but at least they will be able to partake in the events involving .22s.

One has to remember throughout the whole debate is that of all the massacres that have taken place, the pistol came into it only once. There was Monkseaton with a shotgun; there was Sullivan with a fire extinguisher used as a flame gun; and there are still things like explosions, chain saws and poison, and many other ways of massacring. Pistols represent just one single method that has been used. There is no justification for singling out pistols, when the only safe way of dealing with this is to leave everybody with a wooden spoon and nothing else, because that is about the only thing that is safe.

Lord Monson

I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has so little faith in his fellow countrymen and countrywomen. Almost every other civilised country in the world has more liberal gun laws than the Government propose, and far, far more liberal gun laws than the Opposition propose, and yet their inhabitants seem perfectly happy and safe, and indeed they are statistically safe. I see no sign of British tourists avoiding those countries where, in the majority of them, guns are more freely available. I believe that this amendment is quite unnecessary and goes much too far.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I do not wish to rehearse the arguments for the amendment which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and myself because I believe that they are very largely familiar to the Committee. We discussed them at Second Reading, when your Lordships appreciated that there were really four options.

One option was to concentrate on the regulation of the ownership and use of weapons and on that alone, which is the view which has already been expressed in the House today and no doubt will be expressed again. The second was the option of Lord Cullen, for which there is some support. The third option was the one adopted by the Government. The fourth option was the banning of all weapons because of a lack of distinction, pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, between .22 and heavier weapons.

I recognise the legitimacy of views on all sides of the House for all four of these options, and I do not take the view that those who opt for the better regulation of ownership and use are not themselves deeply concerned about the terrible tragedy of Dunblane. However, what we have to do is apply our minds to the possibility of legislation, and the legislation most likely—we cannot say more than that—to avoid a tragedy of this kind occurring again.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to there being no significant difference in the capacity of a .22 and any heavier weapons to kill. Of course, that is the central question. When we were discussing on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, Clause 6 earlier this afternoon, I reflected on the fact that Clause 6 is in the Bill as prepared by the Government and put before another place because it recognises—Ministers do recognise—that there are dangers inherent in the ownership and use of .22 weapons. Clause 6 therefore is a compromise between a ban of such weapons and leaving them outside the purview of the Bill. The point has already been conceded by Ministers that .22 weapons are dangerous and they could indeed be responsible for a repeat of the terrible offence of Dunblane. In those circumstances, we have to ask ourselves, among other things, whether the Bill as drafted is more likely to be effective in its administration than a Bill which contains a ban on all handguns of whatever kind.

I have to say to the Minister and to the Committee that I believe that if we carry the Bill as at present drafted there will be very serious problems of definition and of administration in applying Clause 6, allowing the use and ownership of handguns but restricting where they are held and not in fact banning them altogether. I have said this once and I say it again: we cannot be sure that whatever measures we take or do not take in this Bill will avoid another Dunblane. However, what we can do—and this is what this Bill is all about—is minimise the risk to human life through the ownership of handguns of every kind. If we learn the lessons of Dunblane and we are bold enough we may save others from the same fate. Nobody has a natural right to own or to use a handgun, but we all have a natural right to life.

In those circumstances, among others, I believe that a total ban on handguns, as embodied in the amendment put before the Committee at this time, is the right course to follow.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

I have a very small point I wish to raise. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and I was under the impression that in the course of the argument he was advancing he suggested that Thomas Hamilton had used a .22 weapon and that indeed he shot himself with such a weapon. Is that what he did suggest? I believe that he said that.

In paragraph 3.37 of the Cullen report it is made clear that the weapons he had with him were two 9 mm Browning self-loading pistols and two .357 Smith & Wesson revolvers. It would appear from the earlier paragraphs, such as paragraph 3.5, that he used the 9 mm pistols to kill the children. In paragraph 3.8 of the report it says quite clearly: He then released the pistol and drew a revolver. He placed the muzzle of the revolver in his mouth, pointing upwards and pulled the trigger. His death followed quickly". I mention this because I may be wrong, in which case I apologise, but I believe that the noble Lord was using something which was not totally accurate to support his case.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for correcting me. Clearly, from what he read, I was wrong. I did say what he thought I said and I was wrong. I withdraw the statement.

Lord Addington

Perhaps I may say very briefly that the fact about .22s is that when they hit something they displace less tissue. But with a smaller capacity handgun and shells with a magazine, there is the option of putting in another bullet. That effectively is what we are dealing with here. It may be slightly more difficult with a .22 but it is still possible to kill. That is the issue behind this matter.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Of course, all handguns—all weapons—are dangerous. But we should remind ourselves that the danger arises when they are wrongly used by a human being. We should not lose sight of that fact. In every case, as in Hungerford and Dunblane, we find that the individual concerned was a madman. We must always keep that in mind.

If I thought that this amendment would guarantee that there would never be another Dunblane or Hungerford, I would vote for it. But, of course, there can be no such guarantee. I have to say that if this amendment is agreed, Thomas Hamilton will have won. He will have revenged himself upon the people of Dunblane. In addition he will have had a great bonus: he will have revenged himself upon perfectly innocent shooting people—people who care to shoot for a sport. He will have had his revenge on them as well because they will be wiped from the face of the earth in exactly the same way as he wiped from the face of the earth 14 young lives and one adult. Is that what we want? Should we say that because of the actions of that one madman we should take away the rights that many decent, respectable people who are not criminals have enjoyed? Do we believe that we should take away those rights completely? I believe not.

My noble friend spoke about systems of control. I must remind the Committee that if the existing controls had been properly carried out, Thomas Hamilton would not have had the weapons with which he killed those people. It was not a failure of the present control system. It happened not because there were .22 pistols available, but because Thomas Hamilton was allowed to have those guns when he should not have been allowed to have them. The policeman in charge of the investigation of his position had recommended that he should not have them, but he was overruled by the deputy chief constable.

When we talk about taking away people's rights, we must take into account the facts of the situation. I have looked at the evidence and can see no real correlation between the ownership of guns and the homicides carried out. For example, I was struck by the fact that in Switzerland and Norway, where gun ownership is high, the incidence of homicide by guns is very low.

But in Holland, where the incidence of gun ownership is low, the incidence of homicide by guns is quite high. We must be extremely careful about what we should do.

I want to make two other points. First, what will be the additional cost of this particular measure? I do not wish to put cost against lives, but we should have some estimate of the cost of destroying a further tranche of weapons. We are entitled to have that information before we finally vote. It may be large or small—I do not know.

I come to my final point. If this amendment is agreed to, what will be the next step? Rifles and shotguns are just as lethal, if not more so, than a .22 pistol. With heavy calibre shot, one can cause mayhem with a double barrelled shotgun. So where do we go from here, if we are to ban the .22 and leave untouched even more lethal weapons?

I ask the Committee to consider this matter very seriously. We have all the sympathy in the world for the people of Dunblane and the little children who were murdered. Nevertheless, in this Chamber we have to consider the realities and the fairness of the matter. We must not impose upon ordinary, decent, law-abiding people a system which is completely wrong and has nothing to do with the matter.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he would just confirm that when he refers to "cost" what he means is the additional compensation which would have to be paid and which would run into millions of pounds?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I can confirm that that is precisely what I meant.

Earl Attlee

The noble Lord who moved this amendment is quite right. The .22 pistol is a powerful and deadly weapon in the wrong hands. It is capable of rapid fire and in skilled hands it is reasonably accurate at close range.

However, the noble Lord does not seem to understand one simple concept; namely, that if someone is minded to commit an outrage against society, he can do it at will and he will use the most effective weapon or means available to him. So if he does not have a legal full bore pistol or a .22 pistol or shotgun, he can go to the Continent, particularly toward the East, and buy an illegal one. If he does not want to use guns, there are other options, which are too ghastly even to mention. That is why the noble Lord's amendment in particular and the Bill in general leave a little to be desired.

If we do not adopt dismantling, small calibre shooting may be unviable. For that reason I prefer to delay my decision until a later stage. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hooson

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that the Bill cannot provide a guarantee that there will not be another Dunblane or another incident such as we have been concerned about and he is absolutely right. But Lord Cullen, the judge who investigated that matter, had most if not all the arguments put before the Chamber today put before him and adumbrated at much greater length than they have been today.

Members from all sides of the Chamber have referred to Lord Cullen's report. It is just as well if I quote two of its findings. It said that one cannot guarantee that a gun does not fall into improper hands. When Lord Cullen was considering the assessment of risk, he said about licensing—I quote his exact words from paragraph 9.57 on page 119: I have already indicated that there are significant limitations in the extent to which the certification system can be relied upon to exclude persons who are unsuitable". The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, virtually implied that the police were to blame that Hamilton got through the net. But Lord Cullen, who had heard all the evidence, concluded that whatever precautions were taken, one could not depend on certification for prevention.

Having heard all the evidence and the arguments regarding the calibre of guns, their use in sport, and so forth, Lord Cullen came to this conclusion at page 120, paragraph 9.61: In the light of the evidence I see no good reason for making an exception in the case of any particular calibre of multi-shot handguns". We have been told from all sides of the Chamber today that we should pay specific attention to the findings of Lord Cullen who, in my view, produced an excellent and carefully considered report. I see no reason why one should not accept his opinion on these two matters.

5 p.m.

Lord Braybrooke

I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, because, in my view, he put the situation in a nutshell. This is vexatious legislation. Many Members of your Lordships' Committee and my fellow Lord Lieutenants have received large numbers of letters. In my case not one of them was in favour of the legislation. Many people have written against it and I received one letter this morning which said that no amount of legal circumnavigation around the sizes of barrels and so forth will alter the situation one whit.

The means of stopping the killings is to control illegally-held handguns. My informant told me that 2,000 such guns are imported every week and that there are around 2 million in circulation in the country. This legislation banning specific forms of gun, sadly, will not affect the situation one iota. I have full sympathy with Dunblane. I had a daughter who was killed on the roads in 1980 while riding her horse. It is terribly distressing. But we do not then assume that cars or horses are to blame. It is not guns that are to blame; it is the people who use them.

Earl Peel

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, raised an interesting point. I believe I am right in saying that Lord Cullen did not distinguish between the two types of handgun. But surely the most important point is that Lord Cullen did not recommend the banning of handguns and it is therefore the Government who have made the decision to distinguish between the two types.

I should like to make again a point I made at Second Reading and one about which I feel strongly. I am convinced that if 1 million or 1.5 million people in this country participated in handgun shooting, we would not be discussing at Committee stage today the banning of any form of handgun; we would be discussing means of increasing the security and control of those guns within private hands.

We must accept that point. It is one made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. A number of people in this country—it may be a small minority—have enjoyed their sport for many years. We must bear their position in mind while deliberating these matters. An additional point in relation to illegal guns is that there are around 2 million illegal handguns drifting around this country at the moment. The police should be making a determined effort to contain them.

Security is a point that is well covered in the Bill. Another essential point is the question of the issuing of licences. It is a point we shall be discussing later in Committee and is a point we must look at most carefully. Clearly the present system has not worked and we must improve it where we can. To say that the banning of handguns will have the desired effect suggested by both noble Lords, I fear is not the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, if we believed it would be effective, more of us would be supportive of the objectives; that simply will not happen. I say again that we must have consideration for and bear in mind those people who have enjoyed their sport and behaved impeccably over the years.

Lord Hooson

Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I can make a point. He mentioned Lord Cullen. Lord Cullen's recommendation 24 states that the availability of guns should be restricted in one of two ways; either dismantling, or, if such a system is not adopted, by the banning of the possession of such handguns".

Earl Peel

Dismantling is something we will be coming onto at a later stage.

Lord Hooson

My point was in relation to the banning of such guns.

Earl Peel

I accept that.

Lord Marlesford

Further to the point the noble Lord has just made. In paragraph 9.113 Lord Cullen says clearly, I do not consider that the banning of handguns for target shooting or the banning of shooting clubs would be justified". That is relevant to the point being made. It is a spurious distinction. My noble friend said that Lord Cullen did not distinguish between different calibres of guns. He did not; but equally he did not recommend that any be banned for the purpose I quoted.

Earl Russell

I am familiar with the argument that guns do not kill people; people do. As far as it goes that argument is perfectly true. On the other hand, it must be conceded that people can kill people much more easily than they can with most other methods; they can also do it a great deal quicker.

I should like to tell the Committee about one incident that was reported in the Evening Standard, I believe in November 1994, which did a great deal more to persuade me of the virtues of the case for gun control than anything that happened at Dunblane. It does not concern a madman; it concerns a respectable American householder. He and his wife went out to dinner to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. They left their daughter, aged 14, at home. During the evening she became somewhat bored and when her parents came back, around midnight—very happy and perhaps just a little merry—the daughter retired into a cupboard and leapt out at them exclaiming "Boo!". The householder, hearing an interruption, believed he was being ambushed by a burglar. He drew his gun out of his pocket and shot. Before he knew what had happened, his daughter was dead. If he had used any other weapon—even a knife or a glass bottle—he would, before the fatal moment, have realised what he was doing. That to me in a nutshell is the case for gun control.

I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said about people who, for many years, have enjoyed their sport. What he says is true. I am happy to concede that the overwhelming majority of them are innocent, decent, law abiding citizens who have been enjoying what has always been a lawful and innocent recreation. But it does not follow that we should not legislate against their interests if we believe, as I do, that by reducing a culture in which it is acceptable to have guns, we may save a considerable number of lives.

There is precedent for that line of argument. In 1626, in another place, a Member dealing with expiring laws continuance pointed out that a whole profession had been wiped out by the Reformation—the profession of running what he described a little discourteously as "holy water shops"; what are now called in North London, "Catholic repositories". Clearly, that was economic ruin to a group of innocent people. But it seems to me to be reasonable that the country could not decide on its religion on the grounds of the economic interest of this one particular group. Where these people have a very strong claim to be heard and where we on these Benches have heard them very strongly, is on the issue of compensation and on that we intend to press very strongly indeed.

Essentially, the case of those who are now arguing for guns is that they are doing something which is culturally acceptable and so, hitherto, they have been. But cultures change. It used to be culturally acceptable for every gentleman to carry a sword. It used to be acceptable to come into this House wearing a sword. The House decided that that was unacceptable in 1621 in the face of great protest. I believe that there are very few of us now who believe that that decision was mistaken. There are very few of us now who would go back to a world where every gentleman wears a sword. The cultural change that we are now considering is of equivalent magnitude. With regret for those who will suffer from it, I nevertheless hope that it will go forward.

Earl Attlee

It is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, but does he agree that the tragic story from the United States which he has just related is a particularly good argument in favour of dismantling?

Earl Russell

I understand that dismantling is to he discussed at considerable length later on. The questions here are about feasibility, security and practicality. On those questions I am willing to listen to argument and I look forward to doing so.

Lord Torphichen

There is a point that worries me about the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the gentleman who unfortunately shot his daughter. In the story that he related, the man was not carrying a sporting pistol. I am sure that he was not using the gun for sporting purposes but for personal protection. Has it not occurred to the noble Earl that there would still be many thousands of guns—

Earl Russell

I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but I am unable to hear what he is saying.

Lord Torphichen

Is the noble Earl aware that if this Bill is passed in the form the noble Earl wishes, there will still be many guns in use in this country for the same purpose as that mistaken citizen was carrying his gun? This law does not ban all handguns.

Earl Russell

I am well aware that this law does not ban all handguns. If it comes into force I believe that it will be the most stringent gun control law in the West, which I would welcome. I am also aware that there will still be guns which are possessed illegally. However, from the police point of view it is a great advantage to be able to prove the offence of illegal possession. Just as with the law against offensive weapons, we would now use it against anyone who went about the West End wearing a sword. The cases seem to me to be analogous.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am very interested in what the noble Earl has said about the carrying of swords. Until 1920 people could carry pistols legally if they wished to do so. But is it not the fact that fencing—in other words, sword play—still goes on in sports clubs and other venues quite legally and that in fact it is an Olympic sport? That is all that the shooting fraternity want to do.

Earl Russell

I am well aware of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, makes. We have a question here about security. I fenced when I was a young man. The foil is a pretty supple instrument. I do not see it as being particularly suitable for use by a gang of bandits or robbers. In a world where there is a security risk arising from a great many people with terrorist inclinations, I do not believe that there is a real prospect of raiding stores for foils used for fencing. However, there appears to be such a risk with guns, so I do not believe that the cases are on all fours.

Lord Milverton

I shall be unable to support this amendment. I am not one who does pistol shooting or anything like that, but I have great sympathy for those who do. We ought to show them that we have some feeling that they have integrity and honour in their sport. I have not been persuaded by the argument here or by any reading that I have done, about the need to have this complete ban for which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is asking. Therefore, I shall not support the amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Burton

Perhaps I may go back to the amendment for just a moment. I am at a loss to understand why the Opposition are so keen on this amendment because, surely, if this legislation comes into operation there will be very few clubs left, if any. I have heard a policeman say that all the clubs would be shut down. If that happens there will be no legal .22 pistols.

Lord Stallard

I must be one among many in the Committee at the moment who is considering how to vote or how one should consider the whole issue. Our natural instinct is to do everything that we can to prevent any further incidents or even the use of firearms. Once or twice I have been bemused by references to Lord Cullen's report because we did not debate it. I believe that there has been a great error in the programme since Dunblane in that we have not debated that report. If we had done so we would not be in the position that we are in now where people are picking from the report the parts which suit them and quoting them for and against the arguments.

Perhaps I may give an example. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned Lord Cullen's report. But he could also have mentioned paragraph 6.64, which concluded that the chief constable of Central Scotland Police should have revoked Hamilton's firearm certificate and he went on to say that had he done so, it was unlikely that Hamilton would have carried out the massacre. That appears in paragraph 6.69, which could have been mentioned as well. In mixing up the Cullen Report with this Bill we can get into a situation where we are vying with each other as to which paragraph we consult.

I have never had a more professional lobby than I have had on this gun Bill. I have received a number of letters about it which were well thought out and professional. I started by saying to myself that I was opposed to all guns and that was an end to it, but having read all these letters and having replied to them, and having had some replies to my replies, I am a wee bit worried now that I may be going over the top a bit and that I should be looking further into Lord Cullen's report. I would have liked to have had a debate on that report to justify it.

He is quite rightly saying that had the acting chief constable listened to the people in his own police service then Hamilton would never have had a licence. Through my correspondence quite a number of people have linked the acting chief constable and Hamilton with another organisation who may well have influenced the decision of the acting chief constable. The fact that he left is an aspect of the matter which has not been discussed and it means we have missed out through not discussing the Cullen Report. If we had done so, we would have discussed the actions of the acting chief constable. Therefore we are in a wee bit of trouble in constantly referring to specific and chosen passages in a report that we have not discussed.

Lord Hooson

Does the noble Lord appreciate that when he refers to paragraph 6.64 of the Cullen Report he is referring to what Lord Cullen found while considering the evidence? But I have been quoting Lord Cullen's conclusions and recommendations. Having made all his findings about the Chief Constable and the others, he has come to certain conclusions and made certain recommendations to the Government. Those are the important matters that the learned judge has concluded after hearing all the evidence.

Lord Stallard

That is exactly what I said. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that I should have looked at paragraph 6.64. I say to him that he should go a further five paragraphs and look at paragraph 6.69 where Lord Cullen said that if the matters he mentioned in paragraph 6.64 had been listened to, it was unlikely that Hamilton would have carried out the massacre. Why was that not repeated? The danger of not discussing the Cullen Report is fast becoming obvious in this debate.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

I believe that this amendment aims to diminish the number of crimes in which firearms are used. Since 1988 the number of applications for firearms certificates has reduced by 25 per cent., but the number of crimes in which firearms are used has risen.

Lord Vinson

The point that I wish to make is fairly small and has already been broadly raised. If the amendment were passed, it would effectively put an end to the existence of gun clubs in this country. We need to remind ourselves that in past years many of those gun clubs were encouraged and developed in order to create a cadre of people who understood weaponry for the defence of the realm. Although, thank God, after 50 years of peace, that may no longer be necessary, that was what lay behind the foundation of many of those clubs which are full of some of the finest and nicest citizens in this country.

We should also bear in mind the lesson that I was taught at school: that the democracy in which we live is not only for the enforcement of majority will but also for the protection of minority rights.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I rise to support the amendment and, in doing so, to call for a total ban on the legal private ownership of handguns on the British mainland. I did not move my amendments relating to such a ban in Scotland earlier because I am in greater support of this amendment. My "Scotland-only" amendments might be a valid fallback position if this amendment is not accepted.

I believe that there has been a significant cultural change in Scotland and probably in England and Wales also with regard to the legal private ownership of handguns. I believe that that was latent until 13th March last year, but that it has become vested since then. I freely admit that on 12th March last year only a few committed people spoke about the abolition of the private ownership of handguns. Clearly, the terrible events at Dunblane Primary School have brought about a desire to remove or excise handguns from Scottish and British culture and community. I assert that the silent majority—certainly in Scotland—favours a total ban. I wish that I had the referendum figures to prove it.

The Dunblane Snowdrop petition was widely supported by several hundred thousand people and I hope that noble Lords will weigh that against the many letters that we have received from pistol shooters. I have 55 such letters on my desk at present. The Dunblane Snowdrop petition expressed a revulsion against handgun ownership and the associated gun culture, together with the desire for a handgun-free society. I conclude by expressing my belief that a future Scottish Parliament will enact a total ban on handguns.

Baroness Blotch

As has been clear all the way through the passage of this Bill, both here and in another place, there are a very wide range of views on the fundamental question of where the line should be drawn on the banning of handguns.

As I said during the Second Reading of this Bill, the dreadful tragedy of Dunblane placed on the Government an inescapable duty to consider what controls there should be on the ownership and possession of handguns. We have undertaken that duty and introduced a Bill which we believe will protect the public but still allow some legitimate use of pistols. I believe that a complete ban is unnecessary and inappropriate.

It is important to recognise that target shooting has had a long history in this country and although we propose to ban high calibre handguns, we believe there is a way for target shooting to continue safely in this country, albeit with lower calibre pistols.

The shooting of .22 pistols has had an honourable place in Olympic competition since 1896. Tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens of this country enjoy this activity perfectly legitimately. I am reminded at this point of what the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, said earlier when he spoke to the Motion and of his reference to disabled people who enjoy shooting as a sport. But by allowing this sport to continue, we intend that it should be able to continue only under the strictest possible conditions and shooters will not be able to keep their pistols at home. Pistols will have to be kept under stringent conditions in licensed pistol clubs. The clubs will have to meet rigorous security standards and satisfy the police that they are run properly and are secure. Shooters will not be allowed to shoot with a .22 pistol until they have obtained a firearm certificate from the police.

No pistol would be allowed to be removed from the club except for certain very limited circumstances which are set out in the Bill. When they are removed the owner will have to get a special permit from the police and, when in transit outside the club, pistols would have to be transported by a third party whom the police had approved. I believe the pistol club system can work safely and securely.

I also think that if handguns were banned altogether there is a real danger of driving target shooting underground. That would not help to protect the public. I believe that that is a very real possibility and consider that it is much better that target shooting should be allowed to continue under very strict control.

The Bill which we have introduced will reduce the number of handguns in this country by up to 80 per cent. and remove them from people's homes altogether. It will give Britain some of the toughest gun controls in the world. I believe it will give the public the protection they need and deserve, while still allowing some limited target shooting to continue.

I welcome the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about the co-operative working between Members of this House and another place and between the parties on this issue. I have every confidence that that will continue until the passing of this Bill into legislation. I was also pleased that the noble Lord withdrew his comments about the use of .22 pistols at Dunblane. Not only were .22s not used at Dunblane; they were not used at Hungerford. The self-loading 9 mm. pistols used at both Dunblane and Hungerford were concealable yet they were able to produce high fire.

Again, I stand corrected if I am wrong, but I have been reminded that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to Hamilton firing 743 rounds. Hamilton had 743 rounds but fired 106 rounds-105 at the children and the young teacher and one at himself. I make no point about that other than to put the matter right for the purpose of the record.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked particularly about cost. My understanding is that it would cost between £180 million and £190 million to include the other 20 per cent. of guns, given that the 80 per cent. costs £150 million.

I turn now to the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and my noble friend Lord Peel about Lord Cullen's conclusions. It is perhaps worth quoting rather more fully from paragraph 9.113 than did my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The paragraph states: If for any reason that course is not to be followed"— that refers to the issue of disassembly. Those of us who have read the report know that Lord Cullen had some reservations about the practicability of disassembly. Lord Cullen continued: I see no alternative to considering the more draconian alternative of a ban on multi-shot handguns. However, in such circumstances I would suggest that the ban should be directed to the possession of such handguns by individual owners rather than the possession of handguns by shooting clubs, since it is through possession by individuals that the risk, in so far as there is a risk, of homicide or serious injury arises. Thus I do not consider that the banning of handguns for target shooting or the banning of shooting clubs would be justified. I have no particular recommendation as to the legislative means by which effect would be given to such a ban". There is very little difference between what Lord Cullen recommended and the conclusion reached by the Government. However, unlike Lord Cullen, we believe that possession of handguns is very important to shooters. The way in which a shooter uses a weapon for target shooting is very personal and relates to the shooter's handling of that gun, the shape of the gun and the moulding of the handle to that shooter. We have come to a compromise under which the shooter owns the gun but it is held securely in the premises of a gun club. That was the conclusion reached by Lord Cullen.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but my noble friend says that there is very little difference. Surely there is a big difference. Lord Cullen proposes in the paragraph that has been quoted that handguns should be held only in clubs and not by individuals, but he does not propose that calibres above .22 should be banned. That is a significant difference. I suspect that had the Government followed that recommendation there would have been much less objection from the shooting lobby. I still do not fully understand why the Government did not follow the logic of Lord Cullen in that paragraph which my noble friend has read so articulately.

Baroness Blatch

At the beginning of my response to this amendment I said that the question was where the line should be drawn in the sand. The debate today is about where that line should be drawn. The Government have come to a particular conclusion and they will defend it in the course of this debate. The amendment before the Committee is much more akin to a total ban on handguns, and for that reason I hope that noble Lords will reject it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The difference between my noble friends and me and the Government, as I hoped I made clear at the beginning, is relatively small. I accept that the direct effect of the Bill as drafted is to remove 80 per cent. of legal handguns not only from circulation but from existence. I also accept that the very tight restrictions on gun clubs mean that a considerable proportion—no one knows quite how many—of the remaining 20 per cent. will disappear. That may be an advantage to the Government. They will disappear because there may be nowhere where they can be kept legally and no compensation will be payable. I am always conscious of that slightly cynical point.

However, the debate in the main has not been about that but has returned to the more atavistic dislike by many noble Lords of the Government's proposal. That is a pity. I would have hoped that the Committee could have restricted itself to my narrower point of disagreement with the Government. Having listened to some of the contributions to the debate, I rather suspect that my noble friend Lord Stoddart, had he been around in 1621, would have been opposed to the rule of order that disallowed the carrying of swords in this chamber. To put it as neutrally as I can, he is a traditionalist.

Be that as it may, the difference between myself and the Minister is relatively small. It is, however, significant in the sense that the effectiveness and public understanding of the law will be very much greater if there is a total ban on handguns. If every time we see a handgun we know that it must be illegal because the law does not allow a handgun to be carried or used in this country, that recognition must be of assistance to the police in carrying out their duties. I appreciate that the carrying of handguns in the street will not be allowed, and never has been allowed. But if no one is trained to use handguns or has the experience of shooting at targets with handguns, the possibility of an individual using small calibre pistols to kill people will be ever so marginally reduced.

I refer to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. There is no guarantee that legislation can prevent a Dunblane or a Hungerford. No one denies that the legislation proposed by the Government is very stringent, but it could be that much better if the amendment were carried. I put the Question to the Committee.

5.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 215.

Division No. 1
Acton, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Addington, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Hollick, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hooson, L.
Berkeley, L. Hughes, L.
Blackstone, B. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Broadbridge, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Calverley, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Carlisle, E. Judd, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Kennet, L.
Carter, L. Kilbracken. L.
Castle of Blackbum, B. Kirkwood, L.
Clancarty, E. Layton, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Lester of Heme Hill, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Lockwood, B.
David, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Donoughue, L. McNally, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mar and Kellie, E. [Teller.]
Dubs, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Eatwell, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Falkender, B. Mishcon, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Morris of Castle Moms, L.
Gallacher, L. Newall, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.] Peston, L.
Halsbury, E. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hamwee, B. Rea, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Richard, L.
Haskel, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E. Tordoff, L.
Sainsbury, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Serota, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Simon, V. Whitty, L.
Strabolgi, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Symons of Vemharn Dean, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Thomson of Monitieth, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Winston, L.
Abinger, L. Digby, L.
Addison, V. Dilhome, V.
Ailsa, M. Dixon-Smith. L.
Aldenham, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Alderdice, L. Donaldson of Lymington, L.
Aldington, L. Donegall, M.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Downshirc, M.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Eden of Winton, L.
Annaly, L. Ellenborough, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Elles, B.
Attlee, E. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Balfour, E. Elton, L.
Belhaven and Stenton. L. Eme, E.
Belstead, L. Erroll, E.
Blaker, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Blatch, B. Falkland, V.
Blyth, L. Feldman, L.
Bowness, L. Feners, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Feversham, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Brain, L. Gainsborough, E.
Braille of Wheatley, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Braybrooke, L. Gibson, L.
Brightman, L. Gisborough, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Goschen, V.
Bumham, L. Habgood, L.
Burton, L. Haddington, E.
Byford. B. Haig, E.
Cadman, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Harlech, L.
Camarvon, E. Harris of High Cross, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Harris of Peckham, L.
Camock, L. Hayhoe, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Hemphill, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Henley, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Hertford, M.
Clanwilliam, E. Hogg, B.
Clark of Kempston, L. Holdemess, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. HomPatrick, L.
Clinton, L. Home, E.
Cobbold, L. Hothfield, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Howe, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Howie of Tryon, L.
Coleridge, L. Hylton, L.
Colwyn, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Congleton, L. Iddesleigh, E.
Cottesloe, L. Inglewood, L.
Courtown, E. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Cowley, E. Kimball, L.
Cox, B. Kintore, E.
Craig of Radley, L. Kitchener, E.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Knutsford, V.
Crawshaw, L. Lauderdale, E.
Cross, V. Lawrence, L.
Cumberlege, B. Lindsay, E.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Liverpool, E.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Long, V.
Daventry, V. Lucas, L.
Davidson, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
De Saumarez, L. Luke, L.
Denbigh, E. Lyell, L.
Denham, L. Lytton, E.
Denton of Wakefield, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L. Rochester, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecicnish, L. Rotherwick, L.
Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.] St. Davids, V.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Sandwich, E.
Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Selborne, E.
Marlesford, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Marsh, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Massereene and Fen-ard, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Merrivale, L. Spens, L.
Mersey, V. Stallard, L.
Methuen, L. Stockton, E.
Miller of Hendon, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Milverton, L. Strathcarron, L.
Minto, E. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Monk Bretton, L. Sudeley, L.
Monson, L. Suffield, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Swansea, L.
Monteagle of Brandon, L. Swinfen, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Taverne, L.
Mountevans, L. Tebbit, L.
Munster, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Murton of Lindisfame, L. Thurlow, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Tollemache, L.
Nelson, E. Torphichen, L.
Nelson of Stafford, L. Trefgame, L.
Noel-Buxton, L. Trumpington, B.
Norfolk, D. Tryon, L.
Norrie, L. Tugendhat, L.
Northesk, E. Ullswater, V.
Norton, L. Vemon, L.
O'Cathain, B. Vinson, L.
Oliver of Aylmerton, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Oxfuird, V. Waterford, M.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Weatherill, L.
Peel, E. Westmorland, E.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Wharton, B.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Wigram, L.
Prior, L. Wilberforce, L.
Rathcavan, L. Wilcox, B.
Rathcreedan, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Reay, L. Wynford, L.
Redesdale, L. Yarborough, E.
Renton, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.46 p.m.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 21, at end insert (", for the words "24 inches" there shall be substituted the words "60.96 centimetres" and for the words "40 inches" there shall be substituted the words "101.6 centimetres"."). The noble Earl said: When the 1968 and 1988 Acts were passed we were still using imperial measure. Amendments Nos. 6, 83 and 92 are designed merely to incorporate into the legislation the exact measurements in centimetres. It is important that these measurements should be exact because it is illegal under the legislation as it stands for any barrel of any gun to be reduced to less than 24 inches.

With this group of amendments is Amendment No. 8 in the name of my noble friend the Minister. I should like to take the opportunity to ask her whether she is aware of any air pistols with barrels bigger than .22. If they are only compressed air, they would be weak. I beg to move.

Lord Burton

I wonder whether I might make one comment to my noble friend. I am not sure that it is right to suggest that the barrel lengths should be 60.96 centimetres or 101.6 centimetres. If one has that definition of the various weapons in the Bill it will ban various weapons which it is not intended to prohibit.

Some Members of the Committee may well have started to shoot with a folding 410. Those would be prohibited. Certain larger calibre rifles such as the double-barrelled weapons used for boar shooting or bear shooting on the Continent would be banned. A number of people in this country may well have those in their houses. Of course I do not expect a reply from the Government today, but it is yet another point which has reared its ugly head, which many Members of the Committee may feel should be looked at again.

Lord Monson

I declare an interest as a patron of the British Weights and Measures Association. I oppose the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, may remember that, graciously, our lords and masters in Brussels allow us to use the mile as well as the pint, that airline pilots the world over measure the height of their aircraft in feet and not in metres and that we talk about 12, 16, 20 and 28 bore guns. Therefore, there is no reason why we should use metrication for the purposes of the Bill and I oppose the amendment.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I am confused about a matter relating to measurements and perhaps the Minister can help me. The .22 pistols are to be allowed but the. 32 pistols are to be banned. However, .32 pistols have a great deal less power than .22 pistols. If necessary, I have documents from Birmingham proof house which illustrate that.

Baroness Blatch

I intend to address the amendments before the Committee and I hope that we shall not get into an argument about metrication versus imperial measures. Nor do I wish to return to the debate about the difference between .32 and .22 firearms, except that the Cullen Report refers to the distinction in terms of firepower.

Perhaps I may first address my noble friend's three amendments which deal with the vexed question of metrication and imperial measurement in the firearms legislation. I believe that the three amendments are unnecessary. The effect of the Units of Measurement Regulations 1995 is that references to imperial measures in legislation prior to 1995 shall be construed as though the indication of quantity in imperial were expressed in metric terms. I believe that it would be far simpler to convert these firearms references in the course of a consolidation of all the firearms legislation rather than in a Bill of this kind. The Government will consider the need for such consolidations after this Bill. Therefore, I urge the Committee to reject the amendments.

My Amendment No. 8 ensures that currently certificatable air weapons which fire pellets of 5.5 millimetre (.22 inch) or smaller can be treated in the same way as other small calibre pistols and be kept and used in licensed pistol clubs. These air weapons, although required to be held on a firearms certificate, are lower in power than .22 rimfire pistols and we believe that it is appropriate for them to be treated the same as small calibre pistols. Those air pistols which fire pellets of a higher diameter will become prohibited.

I therefore hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment and await consolidation. I invite the Committee to accept the Government's Amendment No. 8.

The Earl of Balfour

I am happy with my noble friend's explanation but I am intrigued that page 1 of the Bill refers to 30 centimetres and 60 centimetres instead of to 12 inches and 24 inches. That is the only matter than I am surprised about because we are muddling up the two measures.

Baroness Blatch

I am no expert but I understand that legislation made after 1995 must refer to metric measurements. There is a great deal of legislation on the statute book and there is a case for consolidation. That will be considered after the passing of this Bill.

The Earl of Balfour

I am grateful for that answer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I shall not move the other amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 15, at end insert ("; or

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 15, at end insert ("; or

The noble Lord said: The Bill prohibits all calibres of pistol above .22. However, there is an important calibre which is used in international competitions, not in the Olympics but in the Commonwealth Games and other international events. It is the .32 wadcutter, which is a centre-fire cartridge fired from a semi-automatic pistol. The wadcutter bullet is square ended and punches a clean-cut hole in the paper target. That cartridge is fairly low powered being fractionally more than that of the .22 rimfire. The cartridge is generally loaded by the owner to a low velocity in order to produce the minimum recoil. The energy is just sufficient to operate the mechanism of the pistol. It is a very popular calibre and is used in international competitions.

If the cartridge is loaded with a round-ended bullet, that would project beyond the mouth of the case. However, the wadcutter bullet is seated so that the whole bullet is within the case and does not project beyond the end. A round-nosed bullet would project beyond the end and would exceed the dimensional limits laid down in the amendment. Furthermore, it would not function effectively in a semi-automatic target pistol for which it is designed. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

While I am reluctantly prepared to accept that .22 pistols are primarily for target shooting purposes, does the noble Lord agree that as regards larger calibre weapons their stopping power rather than their accuracy is the attraction?

Lord Gisborough

I understand that the .32 Smith and Wesson long target wadcutter cannot, without blowing up, be given the power to produce the same effect as a .32 Harrison and Richard magnum, which is a different weapon altogether. The Smith and Wesson can not be upgraded. I understand that the muzzle velocity energy is 115 pounds FP—whatever that is—whereas the .22 is 105 pounds and 140 pounds. The velocity is 710 pounds, which is less than any of them. There is a distinction between the wadcutter and the magnum, but the wadcutter pistol cannot be made to fire the larger charge without blowing up, and therefore it is quite safe.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

The Winchester .22 magnum rimfire has a muzzle energy of 194 foot pounds and the .32 wadcutter has a muzzle energy of 130 pounds. The noble Lord mentioned stopping power, so that the actual penetrative power of the wadcutter is considerably less than the .22, which will be legal.

6 p.m.

Lord Kimball

Will my noble friend the Minister consider holding out some hope to the shooting community? I suspect that one of the problems of the amendment is that it deals with a centre-fire bullet. My suggestion would mean adapting all pistols, but perhaps it may be possible for it to be a rimfire cartridge rather than a centre-fire cartridge. In that way, we may hold out some hope to the pistol shooting community. A rimfire version of the .32 wadcutter would and might be acceptable because that is the calibre that is needed for most international competitions. When you come to measure the bullet hole by tenths of a centimetre, you realise how important it is to have a really accurate hole. I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to give us some hope on that front.

Lord Monson

There are three important points about this amendment to which I have put my name. First, the muzzle velocity and range of a .32 pistol chambered in that way is no greater than that of the average .22 pistol. Other Members of the Committee have mentioned that and I believe that that answers the concerns raised legitimately by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. It is as dangerous as a .22, but no more so.

The second point is that the Government's own expert advisers confirm that there have been no recorded crimes of any sort committed with this weapon for at least 25 years and probably longer, although records do not stretch back any further. That is a very important point.

Thirdly, acceptance of the amendment would permit United Kingdom competitors in that discipline to take part in the Commonwealth and similar games. The idea that uniquely in the Commonwealth and Europe, British competitors cannot be trusted with those pistols is insulting in the extreme as well as being contrary to logic and common sense. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.

Lord Torpichen

If this amendment is not accepted, will my noble friend give an assurance that if people in this country are not allowed to use that particular type of pistol, it will not be possible for anybody from overseas to come to this country and compete with a pistol in any future games or be allowed simply to bring the weapons into the country because he believes that it is legal?

Lord Brain

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, about the possibility of having rimfire cartridges. Is not one of the advantages of a centrefire cartridge that it can be reloaded by the individual whereas a rimfire cartridge must be specially prepared and then, if it is to be loaded by the individual, which I believe is very much the point of some of the pistol shooting experts, it is already primed? You do not load it when it is in an inert state.

I support the amendment. I realise there are difficulties. The Minister may be able to give us sufficient assurance to enable the amendment to be withdrawn and the matter to be reconsidered at the next stage.

Baroness Blatch

Amendments Nos. 9 and 78 in the name of my noble friend Lord Swansea and supported by my noble friend Lord Kimball and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and other noble Lords, would exempt .32 calibre centre-fire handguns from the general prohibition on handguns. The Government have given great consideration to the distinction between the lower .22 rimfire calibre and higher calibre handguns.

Under the Government's proposals, British competitors will still be able to compete in all the Olympic shooting events and four out of the five Commonwealth shooting events. As the Home Secretary said in another place, the holder of his office of the day would have the power to grant special permission for the .32 event to take place at the Commonwealth Games, if the games authorities decide to include that event.

I understand that there are serious target shooting competitions outside of the Commonwealth Games which use this higher calibre of weapon. I also understand that when they are used for competition shooting they shoot low powered ammunition for the purpose of accuracy. However, the guns remain capable of using much more powerful ammunition without modification. It is a fact that handguns chambered for .32 rounds, such as pocket pistols, are frequently used in crime.

By contrast, as the table in paragraph 9.49 of Lord Cullen's report shows, a .22 rimfire calibre round is some four to six times less powerful than a high calibre round. And the power is limited by the nature of the ammunition it uses.

I am afraid that the noble Lord has borne out my noble friend Lord Kimball's prediction at Second Reading of this Bill when he said: I do not think that the arguments will prove very convincing about centre-fire ammunition".—[Official Report, 16/12/96; col. 1316.1 The Government remain of the view that there is no good reason to exempt anything other than pistols chambered for .22 or smaller rimfire cartridges.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Kimball that I always consider very carefully what has been said in Committee between now and the next stage of the Bill. Without prejudice to the outcome, I shall re-read what my noble friend said and respond either before Report stage or on the Floor of the House at the next stage.

As I understand it, the amendment would allow pistols of between .22 and .32, small .32 inch revolvers and other similarly calibred weapons which regularly feature in crime, as I have already said. I hope that Members of the Committee will not support the amendment.

Lord Torpichen

It sounds as though at the next Olympic Games in this country, if that ever happens, or Commonwealth Games, there could be two people travelling on a train from the Channel Tunnel to wherever the games are held. One is a resident of this country who thinks he is perfectly entitled legally to carry his gun to the competition but has unfortunately slipped up as regards the paperwork in a very small way and therefore could be turfed off the train and put into gaol. Alongside him is a foreigner with a piece of paper, which may or may not be authentic, for his use of the gun and reason for carrying it and presumably it will be a foreign piece of paper which will not be verifiable by the police in this country. However, the piece of paper held by the home countryman will be verifiable.

Baroness Blatch

I regret that I cannot give my noble friend an answer in relation to the person from another country coming to this country, but I shall write to him about that.

However, it would not be a minor slip if somebody was carrying his own gun in this country, having been given special permission to compete in the Olympic Games by the then Secretary of State of the day. It would be quite an important slip if he were carrying his own gun because the movement of a gun from one place to another must be done by a special permit and by an authorised person, and that person must be a third person, not the person who actually owns the gun.

Lord Monson

The Government's adviser, Mr. Warlow, has stated that the striking energy of the bullet fired from the specific type of .32 pistol as provided in the amendment is comparable with the striking energy of a middle of the road .22 rimfire loading.

Is it also not the case that a pistol chambered in that way can be used only with relatively low velocity ammunition and cannot be adapted for use with higher powered .32 cartridges?

Lord Torpichen

At the risk of pushing my luck, perhaps I may ask that if special permits are given to foreigners to bring guns into this country which citizens of this country would not normally be given, that the foreigners who wish to carry those guns must, by some means or other, obtain exactly the same permission or certificate as a resident of this country.

Baroness Blatch

I remind my noble friend that I said that I should have to delay answering about the particular criteria which would apply to someone from another country coming to this country for the purpose of competitive shooting. However, I said that it would not be possible, without breaching the criteria, for the owner of a gun, having received special permission to compete in a .32 event in this country, to be carrying his gun, regardless of the authority that he has, because he should not be carrying that gun himself. It should be moved from one part of the country to another by a third person who is authorised by means of receiving a permit to do so.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I believe it was mentioned that people were wondering whether it was possible to reload a .32 to make it more powerful. I should just like to quote a few words from the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House which was asked such a question: It was found not to be possible with either round nose or wadcutter bullets, to produce muzzle energies which exceeded the .22" LR rim fire in the .32" … long centre-fire with loadings that did not exceed the highest mean service pressure for that cartridge". Those words come from the actual proof house.

Baroness Blatch

I did not respond to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and I apologise for that omission. However, perhaps I may take the noble Lord's point and that just made by my noble friend and couple them with the other promises that I made. I promised to take such matters away because they are technical issues upon which I need to take expert advice. I shall either address those points by letter in the course of the next few days or, if not, I shall certainly refer to them during the next stage of this Committee.

Lord Brain

I should like to ask the Minister a rather similar question before she sits down. When a pistol is proved there are specific limitations put on its proved strengths and on the sort of cartridge that can be fired from it. This could be put on the certificate authorising the use of the weapon so that specific ammunition, and only specific ammunition, could be purchased or used for that weapon.

I get a message from the wording of the amendment which refers to, not more than .32 inches in diameter". That could be amended to read, weapons up to .22 and .32 only", with certain specific conditions. It is not necessary for the Minister to respond at this stage and say that she will consider the matter. I accept what she has already said in that respect.

Baroness Blatch

I have but one further point to make. One of the things that we have to consider as a Government is the scope for circumvention. Of course, one can write almost anything on a certificate as a limitation on the use of a weapon. But if it is easily convertible and if, illicitly, other ammunition can be used, my understanding is that one of the risks to consider is the scope for circumvention. If the scope is relatively easy, that would be one of the reasons why we should not go down that road. But again I should like to couple the noble Lord's points with others that have been made and return later to such matters.

Lord Swansea

I believe that we have had our money's worth with this amendment. I am very grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken. I shall not press this amendment but will return to it at a later stage. In the meantime, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consult all the authorities that she can because I should like her to know that the point I made about the power of the cartridge is a perfectly valid one. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Races at athletic meetings]:

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Earl Attlee

In opposing the question that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 10 which is tabled in my name. On Second Reading I drew the attention of noble Lords to the so-called "starting pistols" used at athletic meetings. In due course I received a letter from the Minister designed to reassure me. It did not. We need to remember that we are here today as the result of a tragedy which occurred at a school, yet the Minister intends to allow what she calls starting pistols to be used at athletics meetings. Obviously such meetings involve young people.

We are not talking about blank firing pistols, as no licence is needed for them, or for the ammunition, provided that the diameter of the ammunition does not exceed 1 inch. What we are talking about are items such as fully serviceable Webley .455s which will fire live rounds. The dangers are obvious. No matter how careful and responsible the officials are, the guns could be stolen by skilful criminals. The officials, and indeed competitors, could become vulnerable to attack.

As I pointed out on Second Reading, you can kill someone with a blank if the muzzle is pressed against the head. That could easily happen with horseplay among youngsters. I accept that that has not happened yet, but it could happen and it is unnecessary. The Minister will tell us, in the way that she does so well, why it is necessary. She will explain that a large flash, a loud bang and plenty of smoke are necessary so that the back-up timekeepers can see when the race starts. But it is the blank ammunition that does that and I have no problem in that respect. You can get all those effects by using a proper blank firing gun which cannot fire a projectile and, therefore, is outside the scope of the Firearms Act.

I believe that I can anticipate the Minister's response to my amendment, but what about that of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh? My amendment would strengthen the Bill and remove handguns from close proximity to youngsters when they have no choice in the matter. Presumably the noble Lord's aim with this Bill is to improve the safety of the public. If that is so, the noble Lord will support me and urge me to pursue the matter at a later stage.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has opposed that Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill. If Clause 4 were not part of the Bill this would prohibit the use of handguns for starting races at athletics meetings.

The noble Earl raised the matter on 16th December during the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill; but, unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to respond at the time and, as he has already said, I wrote to him on the subject and placed a copy of that letter in the Library for the notice of other noble Lords.

However, it may be helpful if I explain to the Committee, for the sake of the record, the Government's reasoning for allowing this exemption from the general prohibition on handguns. Clause 4 provides that a person does not need the Secretary of State's authority under Section 5(1)(aba) of the Firearms Act 1968, as inserted by Clause 1 of the Bill, to possess, purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a firearm that is held on a firearm certificate with a condition that it is only to be used for starting races at athletics meetings. The clause also provides that a person such as a race official other than a certificate holder may possess a firearm at an athletics meeting in order to start races.

Most starting pistols—the ones used at most schools sports days—do not have an open barrel and are simply designed to make a bang. They are not classed as firearms and the legislation would not affect them anyway.

We understand from the British Athletics Federation that major athletics events require starting guns which are classed as firearms. For technical reasons, BAF starters require a gun which can produce a very loud bang and a highly visible flash from the muzzle end of the gun. Special blank ammunition is used for this purpose. The visible flash is required to notify the manual timekeepers who are required to act as a back-up in case the electronic systems fail. Such accurate timekeeping is only essential for races where international, national or regional records will be set and such records are only recognised when a BAF starter is present. We understand that a .22 pistol would not be suitable for that task. It would not produce either a bright enough flash or a loud enough bang.

A firearm certificate for a starting gun will not allow possession of bulleted ammunition. Race starters, of course, only require blank rounds, as the noble Earl said.

In these particular cases, we believe it right that the chief officer of police should have the discretion to grant Section 1 certificates to these people. The chief officer will be able to assess each case on its merits. We consider that it would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to require these people to obtain the Secretary of State's separate authority. Starting pistols are generally blank-firing handguns and their construction determines whether or not they are subject to firearm certificate control.

The Forensic Science Service conducts examinations of production models of blank-firers to determine how easily they can be converted. Those which are so designed or adapted that they could readily be converted to firing live ammunition with ordinary tools—for example, by drilling out any obstruction in the barrel—must be held on a firearm certificate. Most starting pistols of the type encountered at school sports days, as I have said, are not readily convertible. Neither the proposed nor existing legislation bites on these.

Some athletics race starters use conventional revolvers of the type which the Government intend to ban. Long before Dunblane we had been in correspondence with the British Athletics Federation about the continued use of those guns. The BAF has made a plausible case, we believe, for the retention by some of its starters.

Any concern that such an exemption would be open to abuse is countered by the fact that firearm certificates for these handguns will not allow the possession of bulleted ammunition. In addition, the only individuals who will be able to make a case for retaining a handgun will be those approved by the BAF as starters. The BAF has indicated that it has only around 300 starters in the United Kingdom, and that not all of these require firearms. I hope that reply is slightly more reassuring, but I am not sure that I have added a great deal to the letter that I wrote to the noble Earl before the Committee stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl challenged me in his opening speech to respond to him on the grounds that this measure represents a strengthening of the Bill. Of course he is quite right, but I thought it better to wait for the Minister's reply before responding directly to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I must confess that I was unconvinced by what the Minister said. With modern technology it cannot be beyond the wits of those who design electronic instruments to produce something which produces a loud bang and makes a vivid flash without being in the form of a pistol of some kind. That seems to me to be very old fashioned in technological terms. I was not convinced that the noble Earl had an adequate answer to the case that he made. I would rather see as few exceptions as possible. I doubt whether the noble Earl will press this matter to a vote, but I confirm to him that what he says sounds reasonable.

Lord Hooson

Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the requirement of a firearm for starting national races is an international requirement? If it is an international requirement, it seems to me we should go along with it. However, if it is simply a British requirement, surely it could be modified.

Baroness Blatch

I do not know the definitive answer to that question, but my understanding is that the British Athletics Federation operates to national and international standards. I need to take advice on whether there is a comparable standard for the starting pistol, and report back to the noble Lord.

Lord Torphichen

If I am to understand that Thomas Hamilton was already involved with boys' clubs, and could have gained the weapons he needed by becoming interested in athletics and becoming a starter, please let us have this measure.

Earl Attlee

I appreciate that my provision would cause inconvenience as regards sport. However, the general principle of the Bill will cause much inconvenience to people who compete in shooting matches at international level. Is the Minister aware that in the aftermath of the Dunblane disaster the Amateur Swimming Association decided that blank firing pistols were inappropriate and that it would stop using them? If the Minister is aware of that, what conclusions does she draw from that decision? Can she confirm my assertion that firing a revolver using blank ammunition can kill someone?

Baroness Blatch

I do not believe that firing blanks would kill someone, but I am no expert on the matter and therefore I do not know. However, a good case was put to us by the British Athletics Federation. It needs to maintain a high standard of accuracy, and it has convinced us that this clause is needed. It has also convinced us that it has rigorous standards as regards accepting people to become starters. I would say to my noble friend that if Thomas Hamilton had become a starter, if he had used a gun with bulleted ammunition he would still have been in breach of the law. We have accepted the federation's case. We believe this is a highly controlled activity and that the British Athletics Federation has made a good case. We have decided to support the federation. However, I shall read what has been said in this debate, and we shall no doubt continue to debate the matter until we reach the end of the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

This sounds like the case of early cars or early steam engines being designed to look like horses as that was a more familiar sight to people. The form of a pistol has nothing to do with making a loud noise or making a flash. That is quite illogical.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's comments on this measure. I may return at a later stage with a more tightly worded provision, perhaps referring to applicants having to be BAF starters.

Baroness Blatch

For the record, I should say that I have said the measure is confined absolutely to BAF starters. That was the whole point of the exemption.

Clause 4 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 11:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause EQUIPMENT FOR SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT (" . The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1)(aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have a firearm or ammunition in his possession if he is otherwise entitled to do so under section 13 of the 1968 Act."). The noble Earl said: This amendment covers a small but important point. We are a trading nation and ships come from all over the world to our ports to trade and use our facilities. The master, in order to defend his ship from attack by pirates on the high seas, will often have a small armoury. Under Section 13 of the 1968 Act, that is no problem. However, a police permit is required if the guns are to leave the ship for maintenance, repair or transfer. Handguns will be involved in this and they would be caught by the Bill. If my amendment were accepted, the status quo would be maintained. Clause 13 of the 1968 Act is perhaps a little loosely drafted. However, I cannot envisage people rushing out to buy a merchant ship in order to keep their handguns. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I take this opportunity to mention a point which is just within the scope of the amendment. The rubric of the amendment refers to, Equipment for ships and aircraft". I refer in this connection to small boats and canoes. At present there are available some desirable mini flare guns which can be used to attract rescue when one is in distress. At the moment canoeists and dingy sailors are debarred from using such useful distress signals. Certainly those in the canoeing fraternity believe that one requires a firearm licence to own such a device. I believe that is a breach of common sense, albeit perhaps not a breach of the law. Perhaps the Minister can help me on that point. I accept that as the matter is wide of the amendment the Minister may choose to write to me.

Baroness Blatch

The Bill does nothing to prevent the use of signalling apparatus on ships or at aerodromes. As for the use of high calibre guns on ships, the Government have consulted with the shipping industry and there were no calls to exempt persons on board ships from the general ban. Even if we had been faced with such calls, we could not envisage that such a blanket exemption for those people who are affected by Section 13 of the 1968 Act could be in the best interests of public safety. Therefore I do not wish to accept this amendment.

Earl Attlee

I thank the Minister for her reply. I shall have to study it and consider the matter more closely. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Clause 5 [Trophies of war]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

I call Amendment No. 12. If the amendment is carried I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos. 13 and 15 owing to pre-emption.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 12: Page 2, line 43, leave out from ("which") to ("before") and insert ("was acquired as a trophy of war").

The noble Baroness said: As the Committee will know, this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough. My ministerial colleague the right honourable Ann Widdecombe undertook to table a government amendment on this point at Committee stage of the Bill in another place on 19th November 1996, reported at col. 866.

Clause 5 as currently drafted does not allow for handguns being passed as valuable sentimental mementoes to a widow or other heir of someone who acquired a trophy of war before 1946. This amendment would make it possible for the trophy to remain in the family. The heir, like his parent or ancestor, will have to hold a valid firearm certificate. Therefore I invite the Committee to accept this amendment.

As noble Lords will see, the other amendments put forward on this clause would achieve broadly the same effect as the government amendment. My noble friend Lord Gisborough may be pleased to see that the government amendment will allow spouses and other family members to inherit, not simply close blood relatives as my noble friend proposes. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will accept that the government amendment is preferable. I invite the House to accept it.

Lord Gisborough

I am grateful to the Minister for activating what was promised as an amendment. I shall not wish to move my amendment.

Lord Monson

I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness. Her amendment achieves in a much simpler form what I set out to do. I welcome her amendment.

Lord Renton

There seems to be a mistake on the Marshalled List. Page 2 does not have a line 43. Presumably the amendment refers to line 33 or 35.

Baroness Blatch

There are 45 lines on page 2.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 17 not moved.]

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 18:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause— FIREARMS OF HISTORIC INTEREST (" .—(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1)(aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, or to sell or transfer a firearm which—

  1. (a) was manufactured before 1st January 1919; and
  2. (b) is of a description specified under subsection (2) below,
if he is authorised by a firearm certificate to have the firearm in his possession, or to purchase or acquire it, subject to a condition that he does so only for the purpose of its being kept or exhibited as part of a collection. (2) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument specify a description of firearm for the purposes of subsection (1) above if it appears to him that—
  1. (a) firearms of that description were manufactured before 1st January 1919; and
  2. (b) ammunition for firearms of that type is not readily available.
(3) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1)(aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, or to sell or transfer a firearm which—
  1. (a) is of particular rarity, aesthetic quality or technical interest, or
  2. (b) is of historical importance,
if he is authorised by a firearm certificate to have the firearm in his possession subject to a condition requiring it to be kept and used only at a place designated for the purposes of this subsection by the Secretary of State. (4) This section has effect without prejudice to section 58(2) of the 1968 Act (antique firearms).").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 19:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause— SHOT PISTOLS USED FOR SHOOTING VERMIN (" .—(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of subsection (1)(aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a person to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, or to sell or transfer, a shot pistol if he is authorised by a firearm certificate to have in his possession. or to purchase or acquire, a shot pistol subject to a condition that it is only for use in connection with the shooting of vermin. (2) For the purposes of this section, "shot pistol" means a smooth-bored gun which is chambered for .410 cartridges or 9111111 rim fire cartridges."). The noble Baroness said: This amendment would exempt shot pistols from the general prohibition on handguns in certain limited circumstances. It has been tabled in response to a commitment given by the right honourable Ann Widdecombe in another place on 19th November 1996 reported at cols. 871–872. A shot pistol is a smooth bore pistol which is chambered for .410 cartridges and specifically designed for vermin control inside barns and outbuildings. The relatively low power of the small shot cartridges minimises the damage to the fabric of the building.

There are times when a shot pistol is the most humane and effective way of destroying vermin. If a good reason can be produced for possession of such a weapon then we believe that it should be left to the discretion of the chief officer of police to grant a specially conditioned firearm certificate for that purpose, rather than requiring someone to obtain the Secretary of State's authority.

Of course, anyone applying for a certificate for this purpose will be subject to the new more stringent regime for firearm certificates which is introduced by the Bill, such as having to provide two referees.

Again perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for his comments on the amendment earlier in the afternoon.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 20:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause— LIMITED EXEMPTION FOR DEALERS (" The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of section 5 of the 1968 Act for a registered firearms dealer to have in his possession, purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a firearm or ammunition which is prohibited by section 1 or section 25 of this Act for the purpose of selling or transferring that firearm or ammunition to a person who may by the provisions of this Act lawfully possess, purchase or acquire it."). The noble Earl said: This is a small but, we hope, important amendment. It attempts to achieve a simpler process for those individuals referred to as special exemptions under the Bill to acquire the necessary weapons for their various activities. There is a real possibility that dealers faced with the requirement to apply for a Section 5 licence may decide not to bother because of the additional bureaucracy combined with the fact that they may be unlikely to sell many of those weapons due to a low demand. There may be large areas of the country—I think in particular of rural areas—where, for example, vets need special weapons to destroy animals where necessary. They would have great difficulty in finding a dealer to supply them with the various weapons that they need.

Bearing in mind that anyone termed as a special exemption under the Bill would have to apply for a licence, I do not think that this provision would be regarded as a breach of security. I very much hope that my noble friend can accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I am afraid that I may disappoint my noble friend. I believe that the amendment would create a huge loophole in the general requirement for dealers to have the Secretary of State's authority to deal in prohibited weapons.

We are not prepared to make any concessions for dealers who deal in prohibited handguns. Dealers who wish to sell prohibited weapons of any sort must apply for the Home Secretary's authority to do so under Section 5(1) of the Firearms Act 1968.

I appreciate that it may cause some inconvenience for people who will have to find a dealer with Section 5 authority. But we are not aware that the current requirements cause particular problems. For example, vets are able to get hold of tranquillising weapons.

However, we accept that the position is a little different for dealers who sell expanding ammunition, the ban on which will be extended by the Bill. The current Firearms Acts already allow dealers to sell expanding pistol ammunition to those who are authorised to possess it on a specially conditioned firearm certificate. The Bill does not change that. However, we have received representations from dealers who need to use expanding ammunition because they manufacture, test or repair firearms which use expanding ammunition. We are therefore prepared to allow firearms dealers who need to use expanding ammunition for this purpose to have it without the Secretary of State's authority and, again, I promise to bring forward an amendment to this effect on Report.

Earl Peel

I am grateful to my noble friend for what she is doing as regards expanding ammunition. It was causing a great deal of concern. I understand the position that she takes. I believe that there is a real likelihood that difficulties will be caused. I understand the Government's position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Having small-calibre pistol outside premises of licensed pistol club]:

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 21: Page 3, line 18, at end insert ("or

  1. (d) the slide assembly or cylinder has been removed and stored according to the conditions specified in subsection (2A) below.
(2A) Except as permitted by virtue of any provision of this Act, a small-calibre pistol shall be held under the following conditions—
  1. (a) the slide assembly or cylinder shall be held on the premises of a licensed pistol club, and
  2. (b) the remainder of the weapon shall be stored at different premises which shall be specified on the certificate granted for that pistol.").

The noble Lord said: My name is on the Marshalled List and I wish to move Amendment No. 21. This amendment is the so-called disabling or disassembling amendment. It proposes that permitted handguns should be dismantled with only the slide assembly or cylinder being stored at licensed premises. The remainder of the weapon could be kept at home. This would obviously make first-class security at gun clubs very much cheaper, allowing most of them, perhaps all of them, to survive. So the Treasury, or the taxpayer, would save a lot of money that it would otherwise have to pay in compensation. Security would in fact be improved because there would be no arsenals of complete weapons all over the country with their attendant security risk however much is done to protect them.

Since Clause 6 is now not to be considered by a Committee of this House, I trust that your Lordships will forgive me if I deal with the desirability of disassembly in some detail.

The Bill prohibits handguns except those provided for in Clause 1(2) and Clauses 2 to 5. One of the categories included in Clause 1(2) and defined in Clause 1(8) is called a small-calibre pistol. This gun is a sort of half-way house. It is not prohibited, but it is subject to extra controls of a draconian kind. In particular, Clause 6 makes it an offence to possess it outside the licensed premises of a licensed club. It cannot be stored at home or carried from club to club; it will be the only permitted gun not allowed to be kept at home. The purpose of the amendment is to change that offence so that the owner may possess the gun outside the licensed premises provided that its key component is stored there. That is what we mean by "dismantlement". The key component, the slide assembly or cylinder, will be kept at the club and the remainder of the gun at home. That was the option preferred by Lord Cullen.

It should be made clear that this amendment makes no commitment on the desirability or otherwise of permitting only .22 rimfire pistols. There are those who remain opposed to this limitation, believing that there is no justification for the ban on higher calibres. But this amendment does not contribute to that debate. The amendment says that whatever calibre the House decides, whether .22 or higher, dismantlement is the best way of control. There is no reason, therefore, why noble Lords who wish to ban pistols above .22 should oppose this proposal.

Let us look at the Cullen Report and the Government's response to it so far. Lord Cullen states, at paragraph 9.106: [The option] which is open to the least objection on the ground of practicability is the temporary dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components". The recommendation has a number of obvious advantages. It is quicker and easier to implement. It will save expenditure by clubs on increased security and prevent many from closing down. It saves the Treasury money by way of proper compensation. It will diminish the risk of terrorist and criminal attacks on arsenals of weapons. So it is safer than what is proposed in the Bill. The recommendation continues to fulfil the central purpose of the Bill: to separate the owner from his pistol or revolver, except within a club, as a safeguard against another terrible tragedy such as Dunblane.

It is worth remembering the present law on component parts. Buying spares without authority is already illegal. The two parts to which Lord Cullen referred, the slide assembly or cylinder, are already controlled by law. They are pressure bearing component parts of the gun which it is impossible to buy or possess without entering it on your firearms certificate. Any additional slide assembly or cylinder requires the consent of the chief officer of police because it requires him to grant a variation of the original certificate. From the point of view of the present law, there is no difference between buying another gun and buying a replacement slide assembly or cylinder.

I submit that the Government have so far failed to show the impracticality of that suggestion. They began indeed by suggesting that dismantlement was impracticable. Their response to Lord Cullen's report said (at paragraph 24, page 5, on 16th October): While removal of key components is feasible for certain types of gun, it is not a practical proposition for others",

At Second Reading in another place, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said: The Government took advice from the Forensic Science Service on the practicability of disabling multi-shot handguns. It concluded that that way forward was unworkable".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/96; col. (001-009).] The evidence on which the Government's statement relied consisted of a letter from a Mr. Warlow of the Forensic Science Service. This letter has become somewhat notorious, and is generally referred to as Mr. Warlow's first letter. It was dated 16th October and was made available to the other place on the 18th. Mr. Warlow wrote a second letter, dated 18th November, to which I shall refer later. That is now known as Mr. Warlow's second letter. Both letters are now in the Library of this House.

Mr. Warlow's first letter included the following statements: first, The majority of self-loading pistols are designed so as to allow them to be stripped down to their major components without the use of tools"; second, In the case of most self-loading pistols the slide can be removed relatively easily"; and, third, In the case of the most common design of revolver it would be a most unusual operation to remove the cylinder", with the small risk that, the retaining screw in a sideplate could be easily lost". Mr. Warlow wrote that the handicaps to disassembly were: first, With some fine tuned target weapons care is necessary to avoid damaging their accuracy"; second, Some people are better at dismantling and re-assembling than others"; third, The removal of the revolver cylinder can lead to the loss of the small screw or to a scratching of the polished sideplate if the right screwdriver is not used". So in what the Government said earlier, as I quoted, they were not being exactly fair to Mr. Warlow. His first letter does not bear the interpretation they sought to put on it. Nowhere does he say that dismantling is impracticable—a nuisance perhaps; hitherto unusual because unnecessary; at worst, the loss of a 10p screw or a scratch on the polish. Everyone outside the Home Office knows that it is simply not true that this is an impracticable proposal, since, in the words of Mr. Warlow: self-loading pistols are designed so as to allow them to be stripped down without the need for tools". Faced with this overwhelming evidence, the Government conceded that dismantlement was practicable. At Committee stage in the other place, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said: we accept that there are many varieties of handgun that can readily be dismantled, but there are others for which it is a much more difficult operation".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/96; col. 784.] About 95 per cent. of handguns can be easily dismantled. The vast majority of centre fire multi-shot pistols can be dismantled. Under this amendment, those guns which cannot be dismantled cannot be retained. But they are a tiny number compared with the many thousands that can be dismantled. I understand that all new models already meet the criterion of dismantlement; and if any manufacturers in future were tempted to market a gun which did not disassemble as required by law, they would not make many legal sales.

Faced with the collapse of their argument on practicality, the Government have retreated to new ground. They raised the non-existent spectre of illicit spares being kept at home. Thus my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said in the other place on 18th December: it would not be difficult for a gun owner to keep an illicit spare at home. That would enable him to reactivate the gun at any time. It is perfectly true that, in doing so, he would be breaking the law, but he would be unlikely to be discovered until it was too late".—[Col. 784.] It seems to be common ground that the number of illegal guns in this country exceeds the number of legal guns, perhaps greatly so. But that does not prevent the Government from maintaining a system of legal gun ownership. That, of course, is quite right.

There are any number of ways in which the new law, like the old, can be broken. A gun may, for example, be stolen from a club, taken away surreptitiously, bought illegally or stolen from some other source. The identical questions arise for a component part as arise for the whole gun. In fact, in so far as a part is a less attractive target for theft than a whole gun, the risk of illegality is less for the part than it is for the whole.

So the statement of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was simply incorrect if he meant that it is somehow easier to break the law with a part than with a whole gun. It is not true because the legal control on the part is as strong as the control on the whole. A legal spare part cannot be obtained without police permission. Getting the system off to a secure start will rely on exactly the same information; that is, the current certificates, whether we are dealing with dismantled guns or whole guns. All components, as well as all whole guns, which do not conform to the Bill's requirements will have to be surrendered. Illegal components are more difficult to obtain than illegal guns and are probably more expensive. There is also the problem that an illegal spare part may not fit a gun even if it is of the same model.

Finally, it is very difficult to see why anyone willing and able to buy an illegal gun should bother to buy an illegal part.

Faced with those facts, the last refuge of the Government has been to quote a sentence from the second letter of Mr. Warlow, dated 18th November 1996. The obvious inadequacy of Mr. Warlow's first letter was exposed in the debate in the other place on 18th November. The Government had to describe it as: a summary of careful consideration by the service. [But] That letter … was not meant to be a definitive answer to every point raised".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 20/11/96: col. 7.] On 18th November, the same day as the debate on the Floor of the other place, Mr. Warlow wrote his second letter to the Home Office. His letter was described by the Government as: as much advice as we are able to release". Again, that comes from the same standing committee as I have just quoted. I believe that we can therefore regard it as the Government's definitive evidence, unless my noble friend on the Front Bench has anything startlingly new to put before us this evening.

Against Mr. Warlow's opinions, there is a letter which I have also put in your Lordship's Library from a Mr. Colin Greenwood of the Firearms Research and Advisory Service. It is a comprehensive demolition job of both of Mr. Warlow's letters. As far as I can see, Mr. Greenwood is every bit as qualified as Mr. Warlow.

Be that as it may, in his second letter of 18th November Mr. Warlow said, This procedure, (i.e. dismantlement) would not provide a guaranteed measure of assurance against the possible misuse of a pistol by a determined and motivated individual". That is the phrase quoted by my noble friend on the Front Bench at our Second Reading, but the letter provides no supporting evidence for it. My noble friend did not answer the point I put to her at Second Reading that a determined and motivated individual will find it far easier and cheaper to acquire a whole weapon illegally than a spare part. I would invite her to see if she can answer that point this evening.

All Mr. Warlow's objections are met once it is recognised that at the commencement of the Act all pistols will be subject to assessment by the police. A complete inventory of pistols and component parts exists today on firearms certificates. All pistols not conforming to the Act will have to be surrendered and removed from the certificate. Exactly the same applies to component parts. Thereafter, all that is required is for the police to notify the club of any changes in a member's certificate.

There are at least seven other statements in Mr. Warlow's second letter which can easily be shown to be irrelevant or plainly wrong, but at this late hour I will not weary the Committee with them. I may, I suppose, be forced to debate them if my noble friend prays them in her aid when she comes to reply. I have to say that I hope she will not do so.

I very much hope that what I have said will convince the Committee that this amendment would produce a safer, cheaper, more reasonable solution than is proposed in the Bill. It would allow many thousands of people to continue with their sport; it would do nothing to frustrate the purpose of the Bill. I very much hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench can therefore accept it.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I wish to make two points. First, I would prefer that the slide assembly be taken home and the rest of the weapon be retained at the club. Secondly, I believe that this is unduly onerous on club officials who will have to supervise these operations at the end of every single session.

Lord Burton

Perhaps I may support my noble friend on this amendment. On this question of disassembly which, after all, is a highly technical one, I feel that it is a pity that it did not go to a Select Committee so that experts could have been questioned on it. However, that has not happened, so once again I draw your attention to Lord Cullen's conclusions. He gave great thought to the matter and there are several pages on it. I do not think this passage has been quoted yet from his report, although there have been many others. On page 129, paragraph 9.106 he stated: I am satisfied that of all the measures which stop short of a ban the one which is open to the least objection on the ground of practicability is the temporary dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components. It has the merit that it does not require clubs to accommodate the handguns, with the various accommodation and security problems which I have already mentioned". In the course of the evidence given to Lord Cullen, ACPO Scotland—the top Scottish policemen—disagreed with ACPO England and Wales on this point.

Mr. Warlow has said one thing, but other eminent experts, both mentioned by my noble friend, and also Colonel Meade, who is the top expert on this kind of thing, all categorically disagree with Mr. Warlow. This is a technical matter for technical experts, but one outstanding objection for keeping weapons in an arsenal is security. However strong the store may be, nothing would be really impregnable, and the stores would be most tempting targets for any wrongdoer. As the secretary, keyholder or whoever it may be who has methods of getting in left the building, there could well be very little problem in robbing him or her. There are any number of illegal weapons in this country and, as my noble friend said, it would be very much easier to get an illegal weapon rather than an illegal part.

Last week a Welshman drove from Wales to Liverpool, collected a pistol, drove back to Wales and shot himself. He had no difficulty in getting a weapon. This morning I made the point when I went to get my hair cut of asking the barber if he knew where I could get a pistol and he told me of two places, no problem. I tried the taxi driver. He asked what I wanted it for, but he thought that he could probably find one. There is no difficulty in getting an illegal weapon. Indeed, the police know where many of these illegal weapons can be bought. My noble friend Lord Peel said earlier on that he thought there were 2 million illegal weapons.

Who would be the club officials who hold the keys? I cannot envisage any club existing on that basis alone, because no one in their right mind would be the person responsible. His family could be threatened, apart from the enormous risk that he would take himself. I am certain that the answer is to have disassembly so that one does not put all the weapons in the one place.

Lord Monson

This is an extremely important amendment. It might well be described as the Lord Cullen amendment. Earlier this afternoon the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised the perennial question of whether guns kill or people kill. Actually, neither guns nor people kill in a literal sense. It is the bullet propelled from the cartridge case which actually does the killing. Without loaded cartridges, without ammunition, a gun is no more than a rather clumsy and inefficient blunt instrument, much less lethal than a cricket bat, to say nothing of a baseball bat.

Ideally, guns and ammunition should be kept totally separate, except when the former is being used for target practice. However, there are a number of disadvantages to that. The alternative is dismantlement or disassembly—however one wishes to put it—which is almost totally foolproof.

I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I briefly repeat what I said approximately three hours ago about the advantages of disassembly. The prizes would be enormous for everybody concerned. There would be no losers. Tens of thousands of respectable, law-abiding men and women would be able to continue with the sport. Tens of thousands of the Government's natural supporters would no longer be alienated. The taxpayer would save tens of millions of pounds and, above all, the public would be much safer because as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has said, disassembled guns provide no attraction to thieves. There are many burglaries and thefts of guns throughout the world even from the best guarded places. When guns are disassembled, I repeat, they have very little value. So, far from weakening the safeguards for the public, acceptance of this amendment would strengthen the safeguards for the public. I urge the Committee to accept the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

totally agree with this amendment. The discussion will be a repeat to a degree of what has been said with regard to the Forensic Science Service evidence given to the Cullen Report, which the Committee has heard read out. Much of the evidence given to Lord Cullen has been described by a gentleman who works at Fulton's in Bisley as "absolute rubbish" and an embarrassment to anybody who knows anything about firearms.

If anybody in the Chamber has a shotgun—I am sure many Members of the Committee have one—or small arms, he will understand that one has to dismantle guns regularly for cleaning purposes, whenever they are used. So it becomes very easy to take the pieces apart and put them together again, contrary to what is said in the report.

The noble Earl, Lord Marand Kellie, was absolutely right. Instead of the barrel staying at the firearms club, it is the frame which should be there. What use are several different barrels, if the frame is absent? Absolutely no use at all.

Let me return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. We give our children pistols and rifles which we can obtain from shops and which look very realistic; and no matter what firearm we may have, it is the bullet which is the most important part. We have debated items to do with shooting being allocated to separate places. It is vitally important that we have ammunition and storage places. Having been in the Armed Forces for quite some time, I know about the armoury and where ammunition is stored. When ammunition is drawn out, it is signed out, and any excess unfired ammunition is signed back in. One knew very well that before leaving the range one had to confirm that one had no live rounds or empty cases in one's possession. Exactly the same should apply to all firearms clubs. Every single empty case should be collected and destroyed. That will be a disappointment to those people who can fill their own empty cases but it reduces the risk of exactly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The risk is that the bullet can be fired out of a weapon. If we eliminate that risk, the chances of any further damage are vastly reduced. I support the amendment.

Lord Zouche of Haryngworth

I should like to support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Pearson. The problem for many of the shooting clubs is that there are no current facilities for adequate safe storage of handguns. There are literally thousands of clubs, small clubs particularly, which are not in a financial position to find the funds to upgrade their storage facilities.

Unless this amendment is agreed to, many of those clubs will have to close down. I do not believe that that is what my noble friend the Minister wishes. If clubs are forced to close down, the compensation payable by the Government could escalate. Therefore, by accepting the principle of disassembly, tens of millions of pounds could be saved in compensation payments.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

We debated the amendment to Clause 6 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, before we entered on Committee stage. I had rather expected that the noble Baroness and the Government would have accepted that amendment. It would have given them the opportunity to get off this particular hook.

As we have seen this afternoon in this debate so far, there is disagreement. We were told during the earlier debate that in Committee we could sort out such disagreements. We were told that we did not need experts to tell us what to do and that this Chamber could do it very well. But in fact it seems that there is some conflict between the experts. That is why I supported the amendment earlier. I thought that perhaps a little delay in a Select Committee would make it possible to resolve those problems.

In his excellent address when moving the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, raised many matters indeed. It seems to me that the objections to dismantlement raised by the Government—by the Home Secretary—could be described as trivial. There is no question but that the suggested system of dismantlement could work to very good effect. But what are we told? We are told that the Government are concerned about illicit spares. But, as has already been explained, the fact is that those spares would indeed be illicit and would have to have been illicitly obtained. Therefore, there would be two people breaking the law. I am not at all sure that gunsmiths would want to do that.

The other area, of course, is the handmaking of spares. But that is an extremely expensive matter which very few shooters would be able to afford, if indeed any shooters would wish to do it anyway. So far as I can see or know, the shooting fraternity is one of the most law-abiding sections of the community. It consists of policemen, retired policemen, army officers, retired army officers and professional people such as solicitors and accountants, for example, as well as ordinary factory workers. Indeed, one of the most poignant letters I have received came from an AEEU shop steward who was very much concerned that his sport was to be destroyed, not only by the Government but by Her Majesty's Opposition. There are many such people who are very concerned that their sport will be destroyed in that way. They are not the kind of people who are likely to disobey the law. Indeed, they are the most likely people to obey the law. In any event, the penalties could be set so high as to be a very strong deterrent.

It seems to me that this is a way forward which would satisfy the recommendations of the Dunblane inquiry. I believe that it would satisfy most people up and down the country. It would be very much fairer to the shooting fraternity, which, after all, has a point. They are innocent people. They have enjoyed this sport over a very long period of time.

Let me warn the Committee that we are not just talking about 57,000 people. There are probably another million people who enjoy shooting of one kind or another. They are watching what is going on and may be afraid that they will be the next in line. So, for their sake, for the sake of the sport, for the sake of fairness to 57,000 shooters who will be involved in this matter, I urge the Government very seriously to consider accepting this amendment; or, if they will not accept the amendment, to consider it very carefully and take it away to see whether something can be done with it that can satisfy everybody.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I make only a short intervention. I find myself in some difficulty because I consider the whole conceptual basis of the Bill to be flawed. I do not agree with it. I take the view that these guns are freely available and any lunatic can obtain one. The Bill is a bad Bill.

Having said that, on the merits of what has been said by Members of the Committee I suppose it is honourable, notwithstanding my views, to support the amendment as the best that can be done in these sad circumstances.

Lord Marlesford

I do not intend to become involved in the technical aspects of the amendment; I am not an expert. I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Pearson and found his arguments to be convincing. Also, I read the correspondence dealing with these matters that many of us received.

I support the amendment on a different aspect of the Bill. It is my deep regret that the Government, in not following Cullen, have committed themselves to public spending of, we are told, at least £150 million in compensation. That is public spending the details of which I suspect they had not worked out at the time they took the line that they took of rejecting Cullen. It is expenditure which could rise considerably because we are aware that many in this Chamber—I have some sympathy with them—will be introducing amendments to increase the terms of compensation.

I hope my noble friend, when she tells us why the amendment is to be rejected, will tell us how much money would be saved if it were accepted. The opportunity cost of these enormous sums cannot be justified by the marginal, if any, increase in risk that may result from accepting the amendment. It is therefore on a purely pragmatic, financial basis that I urge the Committee to accept it.

I almost wonder whether Mr. Gordon Brown, who I know has hopes of having some responsibility for the public finances of this country himself in a few weeks, would not, if he were here in spirit, be hoping to use those millions of pounds for a better purpose than is proposed under the Bill as drafted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Ernest Bevin, when told that Herbert Morrison was his worst enemy, said, "Not while I am alive, he ain't". I can assure the noble Lord that while I am here, Gordon Brown is here is spirit.

Lord Brain

I disagree with two points made earlier in the debate. But I wholeheartedly support the amendment. If the main part of the pistol is stored in an individual's home, that individual is then able to keep the other parts, if he wishes, in two separate clubs. I believe that side by side pistol shooting is one of the aspects of competitive sport and he can therefore shoot against two different groups of people.

If the amendment should be adopted in any form at a later stage, I hope the fact that storing the weapons in one specific way will not necessarily inhibit their use at more than one club when, if they were stored in a different way, that would be prohibited.

Lord Swansea

I support the amendment. The principle involved—the principle of dispersal—is one I fully advocate—I practice it myself with rifles. I do not shoot pistols, but I own a number of rifles. They are stored with their bolts removed and the bolts kept elsewhere. It is a sensible idea which many people follow and I recommend it.

The amendment states that, the slide assembly or cylinder shall be held on the premises of a licensed pistol club, and … the remainder of the weapon shall be stored at different premises which shall be specified on the certificate granted for that pistol". One could easily do that the other way around and have the slide assembly or cylinder remain in the possession of the owner and the remainder of the weapon stored in a safe place on some club premises.

The proposal to impel pistols to be stored assembled in a central store is ludicrous. The cost to a club would be enormous and it would not be able to afford it. It may well have to close down. The amendment provides an infinitely preferable way and, as I said, one that I practise myself. I hope that the Government will accept it one way or the other.

If one removes the slide or cylinder from a pistol, one is left with two lumps of metal which are useless individually. The only way one could hurt somebody with them is to throw them at them. On their own, disassembled, they are harmless and I therefore support the amendment.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

First, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to the full discussion of this issue being heard on the Floor of the House. In this very debate there are experts in the Chamber and some of us who are not experts but who have taken expert advice before coming to this stage of the Bill and, indeed, I continue to take expert advice. We will all go away and read what has been said today and will continue to do that throughout the course of the Bill. It will not be the first time that experts have disagreed about a single subject. Taking the debate off the Floor of the House and inviting a variety of experts to come in and debate it will not necessarily guarantee that they will come to different conclusions.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford referred to costs. I do not have a precise answer for him because we have not produced a costing of the option put forward to me by my noble friend except to say that, unless we were to reduce the security of the gun clubs considerably—in other words, make them easy targets to walk into and obtain disassembled barrels or sliding parts of a gun or to obtain the deactivated gun—we would invalidate the purpose of the amendment. If the gun clubs were sufficiently secure to carry parts of the gun, there would have to be set up a considerable bureaucracy to police on a daily basis the management of parts of guns being outside the club and other parts being inside the club and the people with multi-membership of clubs. That would be at considerable cost. However, I take the point being made by my noble friend. He believes that there would be considerable savings; I do not.

We do not deny that many pistols can be disassembled by removing some essential component such as the slide or cylinder. However, as Lord Cullen said himself at paragraph 9.86 of his report: in the case particularly of many high precision .22 pistols the removal of the slide was not recommended unless the gun malfunctioned and required disassembly for cleaning. Repeated disassembly involved disruption of carefully tuned components and would very quickly impair the accuracy for which they were designed. Such pistols were not developed for military service and the ease of dismantling played little if any part as a consideration in their design. Under the Government's proposals it would be the high precision .22 pistols which were stored at clubs.

However, it was not primarily for that reason that we rejected the option of storing component parts of pistols at clubs. The main reason for rejecting this option was that we do not believe that any form of disassembly would provide a guaranteed measure of assurance against the possible misuse of the pistol by a determined and motivated individual.

As the Committee will be aware, we have received advice from the Forensic Science Service on the subject of disassembly and copies of two letters of advice have been placed in the Library of the House. I have noted what a number of noble Lords have said about that advice, but I would like to quote again from the second of those letters for the benefit of those Members of the Committee who have not had the opportunity to read it. It says: Some individuals will possess more than one set of barrel and slide components for their pistol, or will possess components which will allow the calibre of the weapon to be converted by the simple substitution of components. Unless the [pistol] club employs a qualified armourer to confirm the bona fide of items at the time of transfer for storage who is also fully aware of the extent of ownership of such accessories by their membership, a person could still possess a complete weapon at home even after complying with the regulations. A pistol owner intent upon misusing his pistol for a criminal act could obtain major components which would pass general inspection standards prior to secure club storage. The purchase of an officially deactivated firearm of the same make and model as that held on his certificate could be done without the need for police authorisation and would provide outwardly convincing components to be substituted at the time of purchase. The frames of some pistols are specifically fabricated so that the owner can purchase a comprehensive range of barrels of different lengths and cartridge chamberings, which can be simply substituted and fitted at the will of the user. This again could lead to the situation where a person would be in the possession of a complete fireann after appearing to comply with club regulations". The Government believe therefore that disassembly does not provide an adequate safeguard for the public. It is interesting to note that in his speech at Second Reading my noble friend Lord Kimball, while being initially attracted to the idea of disassembly, no longer supported it. I refer to the Official Report of 16th December at col. 1317.

Allowing this amendment for .22 pistols, my noble friend has suggested, is bound to lead to calls for disassembly for high calibre guns as well. Because of the arguments set out I believe that that would be an unacceptable escalation towards what I regard as an even more dangerous position for the public. For these reasons, we are unable to accept the amendment.

I repeat what I have said throughout the course of this debate. I shall continue reading the pages of Hansard and what has been said throughout this debate. I shall continue to take advice and talk with colleagues, officials and experts on these matters. I hope that that will be a continuing process until the Bill passes into statute.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken, all of whom, except for the very brief and somewhat perplexing contribution of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and possibly that of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, supported this amendment. The noble Earl said that he feared that this amendment might produce an unduly onerous situation for club officials. He would have preferred to see a part of the pistol kept at the club and the weapon kept at home. No doubt that is something that one could consider. But I put it to the noble Earl that the inconvenience of enforcing the kind of security arrangements which the clubs are facing when forced to look after a whole arsenal of arms would be very much more onerous than the situation which this amendment provides. There would also be the inconvenience of having to close the clubs down because they simply could not afford the security arrangements which appear to be required.

I believe that I was encouraged to hear my noble friend Lady Blatch say that she would go away and read what has been said. I need to press her a little further on that. Will she go away and read what has been said with a view, possibly before Report stage—which I believe is to be on 4th February—to meeting me and others in the meantime to move some way towards accepting this very sensible amendment? For instance, will she have the Warlow versus Greenwood correspondence referred to the Firearms Consultative Committee in the meantime, which I understand is the independent advisory body to the Home Secretary?

If my noble friend cannot move some way in the direction that I have mentioned, in view of the unanimous support which I have received from Members of the Committee, for which I am extremely grateful, I can only say to her that this amendment is far cheaper, far safer and allows thousands of people to go on shooting. Will she reply to the points that I have made?

Baroness Blatch

I have to say to my noble friend that I cannot go as far as he wishes. I will do all that I have promised between this and the next stage of the Bill. I will meet anyone who wishes to discuss matters with me, as I have always done on Bills. I shall do all this without prejudice to the next stage of the Bill. That is all I can promise.

Noble Lords

That is fair enough.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

A number of noble Lords have said "That's fair" and I very much hope that it is. I shall certainly return to this matter at Report stage. In the meantime, I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

The Earl of Courtown

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, may I suggest that the Committee meets again at twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.