HL Deb 15 July 1997 vol 581 cc921-82

3.40 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

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.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Prohibition of small-calibre pistols]:

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, leave out ("the words "a small-calibre pistol" shall cease to have effect") and insert ("after the words "a small-calibre pistol" the words "which has a barrel length not less than 20.3 cm in length and which is incapable of holding more than one cartridge and is not derived from a multi-shot design" shall be inserted").

The noble Lord said: I was unable to take part in the debate on Second Reading due to a long-standing engagement in South Wales. However, I read the Official Report of the debate with great interest. It is evident that many noble Lords are concerned about the effects of this Bill. I fully agree with their sentiments.

I must declare an interest as a lifelong shooter, a life member and a member of the council of the National Rifle Association and also as a former chairman, now president, of the British Shooting Sports Council. My principal weapon is a rifle and I have never used a pistol in competitions. However, I have a working knowledge of many varieties of pistol. My amendment is designed to allow the continued use of a specialised kind of pistol which is known as a free pistol. It is designed solely for deliberate shooting at paper targets at a range of 50 metres. It has no magazine and is capable only of single shot fire. It has a fairly complex mechanism. Its stock is formed to fit the firer's hand almost like a glove. For greater accuracy it has an exceptionally long barrel.

The International Shooting Union, which governs the rules of the Olympic Games, lays down that the maximum overall length of a pistol is 420 mm, which is roughly 16½ inches. The rules also stipulate that the pistol should be capable of fitting inside a three dimensional box with certain limited measurements. The Committee will appreciate that the pistol cannot be described as concealable; neither can it be folded or readily dismantled. In short, the Committee can judge from this description that this pistol is totally unsuited for use as a means of assassination, being cumbersome to carry and incapable of rapid fire.

If the Government will recognise these facts and allow the continued use of these pistols that would slightly soften the blow of this painful Bill and allow our pistol shooters to continue to take part in one branch of international shooting. Practitioners of this sport pose absolutely no threat to public safety; it is pointless to pretend that they do. Public safety will not be increased one iota as a result of this Bill. A far greater danger is posed by the vast pool of underground weapons held illegally by the criminal element. If the Government would only tackle that side of the matter, they would have the backing of the whole country.

It must be unique among civilised countries for a government not to trust their own citizens, even those judged fit to hold a firearm certificate, and to subject them to the humiliation of preventing them from taking part in an international competition in which they have hitherto excelled. Government spokesmen have previously said that they must apply consistency, yet they have already allowed exceptions in this Bill for veterinary surgeons, slaughter-house workmen, starters of athletic races and others. One more exception such as this can surely do no harm. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My noble friend Lord Swansea, with his enormous expertise and experience in these matters, has made the case for the amendment extremely well, as one would expect. Before we get to the meat of the amendment I wish to correct something which I said at Second Reading which has an important bearing on the Bill as a whole and to some extent on this amendment in particular.

Following the lead of the Home Secretary, Mr. Jack Straw, and, to be fair, to some extent, of much of the British press at the time of the incident, I acknowledged that Mr. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated with a .22 pistol. That was incorrect. I, the Home Secretary and the British press were all misled. I have it on impeccable authority that Prime Minister Rabin was shot with a much more powerful weapon, a 9 mm Beretta, which is common in Israel. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will want his officials to check that with the Israeli Embassy. That revelation makes the case for this Bill, which is already weak, much weaker still.

There are few homicides committed in this country with legally held .22 semi-automatic pistols; even fewer are committed with single shot .22 pistols. I doubt whether they average as many as one in every 10 years. But where the bulky, highly specialised target pistol—which is the subject of this amendment—is concerned, I doubt whether homicide is committed with it as often as once in every 50 years. For one thing these pistols possess a hair trigger so that anyone trying to use one for assassination or robbery who stumbles or sneezes on the way to his target will find the pistol discharging prematurely. It will take him at least a minute to reload, during which time of course he can be overpowered.

As my noble friend Lord Swansea has said, these pistols are both long and bulky and hence much more difficult to conceal than any knife, axe, iron bar or even 2 litre mineral water bottle full of petrol. Not only are the latter easier to conceal, they are also more lethal. With the exception of the petrol, they can be used for a frenzied, repeated attack as clearly they do not need to be reloaded. It is true that acceptance of this amendment would save only one Olympic and Commonwealth pistol shooting sport for Britain, but surely one is better than none. I fully support this amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I, too, wish to support this amendment, particularly as my name is added to it. This is a reasonable amendment bearing in mind that the Cullen Report, as we have heard, did not mention the .22 as being a really lethal weapon. What is more, I understood that the previous Bill and now this Bill were introduced as a result of the mass murder at Dunblane. However, the mass murder at Dunblane could not have been perpetrated with a single shot weapon because the person concerned would have been quickly overpowered before he could wreak mayhem upon 15 people. Under these circumstances—I should not say "spite" but I shall use that word—it is pure spite to include this form of weapon in the legislation. I should have thought that a new Government wishing to show how reasonable they were would accept the amendment. I sincerely hope that they will do so.

The Earl of Balfour

Because of the large number of illegally held firearms in this country, and the number of letters I have received, I am concerned about our police officers and Armed Forces having enough opportunities to practise in the use of handguns to protect their own lives and the lives of the general public. I therefore hope that the Government will put forward proposals to enable our police and Armed Forces to have sufficient practice with single shot handguns in order to become accurate shooters. I ask the Government to remember that our police may only have one chance to fire one shot to save a life.

I hope that the Government will have some sympathy regarding the amendment. Perhaps the Committee will also allow me to save time by saying that I hope the principles in Amendment No. 10 will be accepted by the Government in respect of an independent body studying firearms related crime, and the burden on police resources and police lives.

Lord Cottesloe

I agree with everything that has been said. I have only one point to make. At a time when Europe is moving towards common institutions, standards and practices, it seems to me strange that Britain is going deliberately in the opposite direction and for no valid reason.

In France any .22 single shot pistol can be bought across the counter with no permit or authority whatever. The proposed termination of all pistol shooting by refusing to make an exemption for these specialist single shot pistols brands Britons before the world as more immature and less dependable than the citizens of any other country. I cannot believe that that is what the Government wish.

I have one other small point. The very high value of these pistols of about £1,000 to £1,500 means that the insurance security obligations reinforce those required by the police. I support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

As has been explained, the amendment would exempt single shot small calibre pistols with a barrel length of not less than 20.3 centimetres. We would not wish to allow such an exemption. I accept that the pistols to which the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, referred are few in number. However, the purpose of the Bill is to seek to ban all handguns. The amendment self-evidently wishes an exemption to that ban. We believe that that would not be consistent with the general principle of the Bill. For the reasons given by noble Lords, it would treat one group of shooters in a way not consistent with the general approach written into the Bill. I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that it is not a question of spite but of the way in which the Government have approached the principle of the banning of handguns.

I am bound to say that we do not see the claim of this group of shooters as better than claims made by many other groups which we have accepted from the outset will be disadvantaged by the Bill. People will be disadvantaged by the legislation. That is an inevitable consequence of the Bill passing into law, if it does. We do not believe that we should impose a general ban on handguns and then make exceptions that undermine that ban.

It is probable that an exception as proposed in the amendment would mean an increase in the number of this type of single shot pistol. It would be difficult to justify why one group of people was subject to the ban and others not. Apart from that stance of principle, we believe that the noble Lord's amendment is defective. The Firearms (Amendment) Bill repeals the definition of a "small-calibre pistol" which was inserted by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. The amendment does not change that. If it were to be accepted the amendment would mean that there was an exception for this particular type of "small-calibre pistol" but no definition of a small-calibre pistol in the Acts.

The background—I put it forward neutrally—is that a similar amendment was considered in another place and was defeated by a substantial majority of 210. I said previously that I recognise that there is a strong feeling that people are being disadvantaged, that they are losing what had been formerly a lawful activity; and I do not overlook that concern. I believe it to be a legitimate concern just as it is legitimate for the Government to come to a different conclusion. There are consequences which will be unfortunate for individuals. I do not close my eyes to those. I believe that I have said so on every occasion when noble Lords have discussed the matter. It is unfortunate. But we believe that it is a price worth paying. I therefore invite the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Lord Gisborough

The Minister says that the objective of the legislation is to ban handguns. I thought that the objective of the legislation was to stop another Dunblane. Or is it simply to ban handguns? What good does that do? Surely it is another Dunblane that we wish to prevent, not handguns?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Perhaps I may deal with that intervention. It is well known that Dunblane focused the attention on this problem of those whose duty it is to attend to public safety. The previous government attended to it in their way. We are making proposals that attend to it in our way.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My noble friend says that we should not make exceptions; that we should not allow one class of handguns to remain while others are banned. But we consistently do that in legislation. We consistently exempt groups of people from legislation. For example, virtually everyone—except perhaps taxi drivers—has to wear a seatbelt. So there are volumes of exceptions. Because of the low lethality of single shot guns why should we not give an exemption in this case? It is perfectly reasonable.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I take the point that my noble friend makes. One has exceptions in different pieces of legislation. The conclusion to which we have come is that this is a piece of legislation where it is not appropriate to have exceptions. I do not accept that single shot handguns are of low lethality.

Lord Monson

Can the Minister say why the Government believe the British people to be more unstable and prone to violence than people on the Continent of Europe where such guns are readily available?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

That is not the belief of Her Majesty's Government. A noble Lord spoke earlier of the situation which obtains in France where .22s can be bought over the counter. They do things differently abroad. We believe that as we put our plans plainly to the electorate, not only have we a duty to bring them forward but, more than that, we have an obligation.

Earl Russell

It is possible that some noble Lords who visit France during the hunting season wish that France took an attitude rather more similar to this Bill.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Minister mentioned the Labour Party's manifesto. Does he agree that this legislation represents a rather small part of that voluminous document and might well have been overlooked by most of the people who voted for the Labour Party?

Can he perhaps go further and explain to the Committee why this legislation, in particular the turning down of this amendment, is a price worth paying? Many people in this place, indeed perhaps the majority of people in this country, now regard this legislation as vindictive and misdirected. Will the Minister therefore tell the Committee why this is a price worth paying? How many lives do the Government estimate will be saved by this legislation in general and by turning down this amendment in particular?

4 p.m.

Lord McNally

Will the Minister in replying recall that all opinion polling on this legislation has shown overwhelming approval, and that another place, which has more direct contact with the electorate than this place, also showed overwhelming approval for this legislation?

Lord Gisborough

Will the Minister also bear in mind that, while there was 75 per cent. approval immediately after the event, it then went back to 70 per cent. on the other side when people realised that the Government had overreacted?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The figure to which I believe the noble Lord referred is the figure of 83 per cent. in the recent Daily Telegraph poll for the banning of all handguns. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, indicates, rightly, that this was simply one item in the Labour Party manifesto. I respectfully dissent from his view that the public were not well-informed about the Government's proposals should they be elected. The Government set out their policy to the electorate quite plainly. We believe that we are doing the right thing. We believe it is right to ban the possession of handguns in this country. That is why we have brought forward this Bill, and that is why I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

May I press the Minister on that reply? He has not answered the question as to why he thinks this is a price worth paying. How many lives do the Government think this legislation will save?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Again, I should have thought it self-evident that no government will ever be able to say that one life will be saved; it might be two; it might be three. If the question were put to a parent who happened to have an innocent child at a primary school in Dunblane, the answer might be a good deal less moderate than the ones that I have given.

Earl Peel

If we are to consider public opinion, then perhaps we should reflect on the report in the papers today which indicated that only 15 per cent. of the population were in favour of reducing the age of consent for practising homosexuals.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I have not had the benefit of reading that report. I accept the noble Earl's remark. Governments have to pay attention to public opinion; they do not in every instance have to be ruled by public opinion. I entirely agree. It is a fact that the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in another place, the Prime Minister and the present Leader of the Conservative Party in another place, all upon a free vote, cast their vote in favour of the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual activities to 16.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My noble friend must not evade the issue. He was quite happy, as were noble Lords on the Liberal Benches opposite, to call in aid public opinion in relation to handguns. It cannot be called in aid in one respect and then be said not to matter in another respect.

Public safety, particularly that of young people, is important. Will my noble friend confirm that in 1995 no person under the age of 15 was killed by a firearm, although over 100 were killed in either suspicious circumstances or unusual circumstances?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I have never said that public opinion does not matter; it needs to be taken into account. On the noble Lord's second point as to how many young people under the age of 15 were killed in a variety of circumstances in 1995, I am sorry that I simply do not have that material to hand. It may or may not be available depending on a more precise formulation of the question.

Lord Swansea

I am naturally disappointed with the reception given by the Government to this amendment. I hope that they will take careful note of the comments made during this short debate. The shooting fraternity as a body are, by definition, law-abiding people; otherwise they would not be trusted with firearm certificates. But they are an easy target; they are a sitting target, so to speak, for the Government to shoot at. But the Government are shooting at the wrong target. They should turn their attention to the vast underground pool of illegally held weapons. If they did that, instead of oppressing law-abiding, legitimate shooters, they would have the backing of the whole country.

I shall not divide the Committee at this stage. However, I shall return to this point at a later stage, when I may not be so accommodating. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause I, insert the following new clause—


(".—(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of section 5(1)(aba) of the 1968 Act for a person to whom subsection (2) applies to have in his possession or to purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a pistol chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges if he is authorised under the Act to possess, purchase or acquire that weapon subject to a condition which complies with subsection (3) below.

(2) A person to whom this section applies shall be a registered disabled person who has a physical disability and is approved by the Secretary of State.

(3) A certificate granted under subsection (2) above shall be subject to the condition that—

  1. (a) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State; and
  2. (b) possession of the weapon outside such designated premises shall be permitted only for transfer to and use at premises at which a shooting competition is taking place on such conditions as the Secretary of State shall specify.").

The noble Lord said: First, I must apologise to the Committee. When I spoke at Second Reading I forgot to declare an interest. I should establish that I am president of a shooting club in my old constituency.

The amendments standing in my name and the names of other noble Lords are there to safeguard the sport of pistol shooting, and, incidentally, the reputation and participation of this country in international Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

My noble friend talks about "a price worth paying". While I understand what he says and totally support all that he wishes to do to safeguard lives and prevent guns falling into the wrong hands, I must say that our Olympic participation and its preservation is a price worth paying. It is being undermined by this legislation. This sport is traditional and has served Britain well. There have been great sporting festivals and national celebrations, and we have done extremely well.

In the last Commonwealth Games in 1994 we won two gold medals, one of which was won by Wales, two silver medals, and three bronze. That enables me to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, whom I had the great pleasure of seeing win a gold medal for his country in the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in circumstances which I once described in this Chamber and, with the leave of the Committee, I shall mention again. The occasion is clear in my memory. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, won his gold medal and stood on the podium, and the band played "God Save the Queen"—and he refused to get down. A message was dispatched to the far end of the stadium and the band then played some tune such as "Annie Laurie". He still refused to get down. Another message was dispatched and the band played "Land of Hope and Glory". He still refused to get down. I do not know how the devil the Jamaican band were persuaded to play "Land of My Fathers", but eventually they did; and then the noble Lord left the rostrum to greater applause from the audience, most of whom never knew what it was all about. I have to say to my noble friend—

Earl Russell

I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I wonder whether he can help the Committee. Is he speaking to Amendment No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6?

Lord Howell

I was speaking to the amendment called which is Amendment No. 2, if my memory is right, even though I am getting old.

The Government's proposal is to abolish an Olympic sport in this country. What is at risk is the sport of shooting which is an Olympic sport and the explanations that we have had have been lamentable. In fact, we have had none. As my noble friend told us today in his opening, with complete honesty as usual, the Government oppose the amendment because they have decided to abolish everything. He said that the Government have not considered sports and the sport of shooting in that context.

Hardly more can be said about my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Jack Straw, when he dealt with the subject. On Second Reading, he said that he would give reasonable consideration to any alternatives put to him. That is all I ask for today, reasonable consideration of the amendments put forward in defence of our Olympic and Commonwealth Games position. I am told—

Lord Gisborough

If I may intervene, unless I have got it wrong, we are dealing with the amendment on disabled persons and their exemption, not the Olympics.

Lord Howell

It is indeed Amendment No. 2 and I apologise to the noble Lord and to the noble Earl. I am getting carried away, as one does when one deals with the prejudice that one faces. I am reminded of an occasion in another place when Sir Charles MacAndrew was in the chair and my old friend Leslie Hale proceeded to speak on an amendment on the capital punishment Bill which had been dealt with about four hours earlier. After that, he repaired to the smokeroom. When it was drawn to his attention that he was out of bounds, he said: "In that case, I'll drop another ball". So I will now drop another ball and deal with disabled persons.

I do not wish to make a long speech about them because the situation is self-evident. We have done extremely well and given enormous pleasure and satisfaction, particularly to paraplegics and others at Stoke Mandeville and in other centres who can follow no other sport, but they sit in their wheelchairs and follow the sport of disabled shooting. If we prevent them from doing that in the future, we shall wreak tremendous harm to their sense of pride and self-satisfaction. I know of no case of disabled shooters running amok in any sense with the weapons at their disposal. Because they are disabled, they have special supervision of their activities. Therefore, I hope that when my noble friend replies to the amendment, after other Members of the Committee more qualified than I to talk about disabled sports have spoken, he will find some consolation for them. At least perhaps he will reconsider their position if his present attempts to end their sporting activities are successful. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

I support the amendment, particularly one aspect. I understand that shooting is helpful for the disabled, especially for their balance. It is not just a sport, it is part of their rehabilitation and one is taking away from them something which helps them get better to whatever extent they can.

Earl Peel

I too support the amendment. It seems to me that in recent times the plight of the disabled has very much forged its way ahead in political thinking. I am sure that the Committee will agree that that is to be welcomed. Hardly any legislation today does not accommodate the needs of such people. This House has a particularly good record in accommodating all aspects of the problems that overcome the disabled. As has been said, the sport of shooting is one of the few events where people with physical disabilities can compete on equal terms with others. I am quite sure that that is an extremely important psychological consideration.

The amendment provides complete power for the Secretary of State, both in terms of the individual being vetted by him and in terms of the designated premises. So although I accept that it is an exception—and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, made it clear that the Government will not look kindly on exceptions—I sincerely hope that they will not maintain that position throughout the Committee stage. We have a case here which is worthy of the Committee's careful consideration.

When I move my amendment, Amendment No. 7, I shall come to the question of centres of excellence. But it seems to me that if we could establish such centres—and it has to be said that it is not envisaged that there will be many—this would be a perfect example for disabled people to continue to participate in their sport. Of course they will be restricted, simply from the fact that the number of centres of excellence will be few and their disabilities will prevent them from getting to many of them. However, at least the opportunity will remain open for some. I cannot believe that the Government will not do everything in their power to accommodate such people, particularly given the proud record to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred that the disabled have had in shooting sports over the years.

Lord Crawshaw

I also wish to say a few words in support of the amendment. As I do not speak often in your Lordships' House, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I bore Members with my life story. I shall not take too long, but it is relevant to the amendment before the Committee.

During my time at Oxford University and before that, for physical recreation I indulged in or pursued every possible form of equestrian sport. In the summer, I played a good deal of cricket—not to a great standard, but nevertheless sufficient to derive great pleasure. At the time, the captain of Oxford was the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who was a great deal more distinguished.

I then had the fall which put me in a wheelchair. Like others in the same boat, I was left wondering what on earth I could do to replace my sporting activities with which I could no longer continue. As my noble friend Lady Darcy and others will tell the Committee, in that situation you clutch at any passing straws that come along in the hope that you can find something to replace what has gone. In my case, one of those straws was the sport of archery. It was felt to be a good rehabilitation exercise and I became reasonably proficient at it.

I see that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is here today. Perhaps he will remember it all. Eventually, I returned to Oxford and met the captain of the university golf team. By way of light entertainment, I should tell the Committee that it is well known that a match between an archer and a golfer can be fairly close. I spent many a happy evening in the centre of Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church, with a bow and arrow, trying to put an arrow over the Kilcannon building into the Mercury Pond in Tom Quad. On occasion, the golfer would win and, on occasion, I would win. Unfortunately, that had to stop when I put an arrow through the bowler hat of the head porter. Luckily, he was unhurt and bore me no ill will. From that time on he always sent me a Christmas card which was signed "To Robin Hood from the Ancient Briton".

On leaving Oxford and having fewer people around to retrieve the arrows, which is one of the disadvantages of archery, I quickly transferred to using a shotgun and, on occasion, a .22 rifle. I happen to live in the country, where there is plenty of space for the safe use of those weapons, and I have derived untold interest and satisfaction from them. It seems to me that for anyone in a similar situation who lives in a town the sport of pistol shooting is entirely appropriate. We heard today from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, of the high standards that can be achieved.

Both governments have, naturally, tried to stop any similar recurrence of the appalling incident at Dunblane. But talk of a total ban on pistols, like a total ban on anything, concerns me, when I think of the kind of people who will be badly hurt. This amendment seems to incorporate a range of safeguards. I am sure that the Government do not want inadvertently to inflict such damage and I therefore very much hope that they will accept the amendment or propose some measure which will have the desired effect.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

It will be very difficult for me to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take note of what he said both amusingly and movingly. In fact, he is a living example of a person to whom the sport of pistol shooting matters. It helps him with his disability.

Even though earlier my noble friend said that there should be no exceptions, surely he will now entertain the prospect of an exception in relation to disabled people. If we are not prepared to do that, what kind of people are we? What kind of people are we, if we are so rigid in our thinking and our policy that we cannot make an exception for disabled people, who, by their physical disability, are unable to cause mayhem either with a pistol or virtually anything else?

I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take note of what has been said and what he has observed in this debate. If a Labour Government means anything at all, it means that they have concern for all people but particularly those people who are disadvantaged. It is their job to ensure that disadvantaged people are comforted and not robbed of the pleasures that they now enjoy. I appeal to my noble friend under these circumstances to abolish rigidity and accept the amendment.

Lord Renton

I too should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. I have witnessed his skill with a shotgun and greatly admire the spirit in which he has accepted the disability that was inflicted on him in his youth. I am sure that we all do so.

I agree with those noble Lords who appealed on behalf of disabled people. That, by the way, means physically disabled people, as is clear from subsection (2) of the new clause: A person … who has a physical disability". I support what has been said about enabling such people to enjoy the sport of target shooting.

But I wish to extend the theme of the new clause still further. In my former constituency of Huntingdonshire, I saw severely disabled people, mostly rather elderly, living alone in remote cottages and even down fen droves. For those noble Lords who are not acquainted with the Fens, let me say that there are very long roads, which can hardly be called farm roads but are rough roads of communication, sometimes a mile or more long and that distance from a highway. Those people are in a very vulnerable position should some aggressive person try to disturb them.

All the disabled people whom I have seen living in remote cottages and small farmhouses have had a dog with them. That is some protection. The way in which the present law has been administered in East Anglia means that those people have not been allowed to have a pistol to protect themselves. But I believe that under this new clause, if it were slightly redrafted, they could and should have that means of protection against intruders. Alas, we live in an age in which there is much aggressive intrusion upon defenceless people. It used not to be so in one's youth but it is so now. While we have this opportunity, we should legislate to protect such people. Therefore, I warmly support the clause but feel that we should give it further thought and perhaps at Report stage try to include the opportunity for such people to defend themselves by having small bore, single chamber pistols.

There is just one other point I would make. Subsection (2) reads: A person to whom this section applies shall be a registered disabled person who has a physical disability and is approved by the Secretary of State". There will be thousands of disabled people who could obtain the benefit of what is proposed in the new clause. But the idea that the Secretary of State, or even several people to whom he delegates to give approval, should have that task is not practicable or reasonable. It is a job which should be done by the chief officer of police in each county or elsewhere. So, I hope that at a later stage we shall see the clause with that possibility borne in mind.

Lord Swinfen

I am afraid that I cannot follow my noble friend down the same road, as I cannot approve even of people with physical disabilities having a single shot weapon just for the purposes of defending themselves. It would be far wiser to make certain that their homes are properly secured and if necessary that there are grants available for that. My noble friend should also bear in mind that it may not be difficult for the weapon to be removed from a physically disabled person and then used on that person.

However, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, first, because pistol shooting can be a great aid to the rehabilitation of people with certain physical disabilities and, secondly, because young people with physical disabilities have the same urge to compete as able-bodied people. This is one of the few methods of competition where a person with a physical disability can compete on equal terms and on a level playing field with an able-bodied person. Also, though I specifically mentioned young physically disabled people, it is a sport that can be enjoyed and practised by people of all ages.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I rise to support specifically the amendment on the Marshalled List and not the extension of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has been involved in the world of sport for many years. He has seen at first hand the enormous satisfaction gained by disabled people competing in sport. But the one sport in which disabled people can compete on fully equal terms with able-bodied people is the sport of shooting.

This is a minority interest. The Government pride themselves on being concerned with minority interests. I do not believe that the people of Dunblane, or children or people anywhere, will be disadvantaged by the exception called for in the amendment. I rise with hope on this amendment for two reasons. The first is the Minister, who has made such an impressive start as a Minister in this House and has gained the respect of everybody in this Chamber. I know from the correspondence that flows between us at the different stages of Bills how much he listens and takes note of what is being said during debates. Secondly, his right honourable friend in another place, the Home Secretary, left a glimmer of hope that he was open-minded over suggestions that may come from debates on this issue. Given that open-mindedness, I hope that the Minister will consider carefully the points that have been made.

It has been said—I think rather glibly—by a number of people that there are viable alternatives. There are no viable alternatives, particularly for people who have honed the craft of shooting to a highly skilled level. It would be cutting off a lifeline for many of those people and we cannot therefore say that there is an alternative.

Pistol shooting is a popular sport for disabled people because it is a practical sport. We were all moved—and amused—by what my noble friend Lord Crawshaw had to say. I shall keep out of the way when he next takes to a bow and arrow. My noble friend has empathy with other people who have disabilities and knows how much any sport, but particularly the sport of shooting, means to them.

Pistol shooting provides disabled people with a quality of life. For all the reasons stated by my noble friends on this side of the Chamber, by Cross-Benchers and by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I hope that the Minister, if he is unable to accept the amendment at this stage, will consider carefully what his right honourable friend said in another place; that is, that he is open-minded and will consider good, cogent arguments to support this very special minority interest sport.

Lord McNally

The Committee widely shares the judgment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the Minister has handled this Bill with great skill thus far. I suspect that there will not be a more difficult clause to demand his skills and judgment. Anybody who listened to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, will realise that. However, anyone who listened to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, also sees the wisdom of the advice the Minister gave in discussing the other clauses; that is, that we must beware of exceptions. Exceptions are then extended and used to justify other exceptions.

Those of us who have supported the Government thus far in the passage of this Bill do so in the hope and belief that they will deliver it in its full integrity as a ban on all handguns. We look to the Minister for guidance, using as his judgment that that is still the Government's intention—to deliver this Bill in full integrity as a ban on handguns.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

I hope that my noble friend will not be tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his thinking. In particular, I hope that my noble friend will not use that argument as a means by which to distract attention from the central purpose of the proposed amendment; that is, the use of these weapons for sporting purposes.

My noble friend may tell us that the reason why he cannot accept the amendment is one of principle. What kind of principle can it be to have a law which cannot tolerate a small amendment designed to protect the proper interests of a great number of deserving people? If my noble friend is tempted to talk about principles and of the danger of precedents being set, I for my part—and I suspect other Members of the Committee—can assure him that we will not use such a precedent in order to try to extend the exceptions to the general rule and the principles embodied within the Bill.

My noble friend may suggest that he cannot accept the amendment on grounds of practicality. What kind of argument is that? Is there a serious danger that a disabled person who was given this right after careful limitation would misuse it and go on the rampage? Surely not. Is there a danger that such a weapon may fall into the wrong hands? So far as I can see, the amendment is adequate in that respect. But if those are the grounds that my noble friend feels challenge the proposal in the amendment, I would willingly accept from him further modifications designed to put beyond doubt the chance that such a weapon could fall into the wrong hands.

I share the hope that has been expressed that the Minister will look sympathetically at the amendment, both on merit and on the grounds that it can be ring-fenced in such a way that it will not give rise to wider dangers of the sort discussed in previous debates on the Bill.

The Earl of Lytton

I rise to support the amendment moved so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. It is perhaps appropriate for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murray, in this because it is clear that we have a proud heritage in this country of making certain exceptions to the normal rules for disabled people. It arises in the road traffic Acts, in connection with the use of and design of vehicles, in connection with access to buildings, and so forth. Those are all departures from what would otherwise be norms and principles that are established in the general law.

If a point of principle does arise—to follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Murray—it needs to be carefully spelt out by the Minister. I suspect that the point of principle is that there should be no exceptions—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who has battled valiantly through the principles that lie behind the broader interests and particularly the interests that the Government are trying to pursue.

The Government say that on principle they cannot have exceptions because the commitment is to remove the use of handguns from these shores. Manifesto commitment or no manifesto commitment, that is not an option open to the Minister or his Government because, as we have heard before in these debates, the number of illegal weapons vastly exceeds the number of legal weapons. All that is happening is that the tip of the iceberg is being chopped off and the remaining 90 per cent. remains lurking unseen under the water. If that is the point of principle it needs to be squared with the overriding reality of the situation in that the total removal of handguns from these shores, given the lack of border controls and the circumstances of gun availability on the Continent of Europe, needs to be looked at in some considerable detail.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

One of the privileges of sitting where I do is that one has to attend to well-put, moderate arguments. It is often a disappointment to say to people who have put their arguments in that way—often understating rather than overstating or exaggerating their case—that it is disagreeable to be unable to deliver what Members of the Committee wish. I shall confine myself to the ambit of this present amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, did, rather than go into Olympic matters. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he was looking for reasonable consideration of the case put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, urged me to take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said. The noble Baroness very gracefully asked me to understand the points that were being made. I do understand them. No one could have listened to the speeches—in particular that made by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw—without both understanding and sympathy.

The Home Secretary in another place said that he would attend to matters with an open mind. I believe that it is plain that the conclusion reached is that exemptions ought not to be allowed. Small calibre pistols are lethal. I make it absolutely plain to the Committee that disabled shooters will be able to compete using air weapons, shotguns and rifles. There is no doubt at all that their formerly lawful activities will be restricted and I am not going to pretend the opposite. I am always reluctant to do anything—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The noble Lord has just suggested that disabled people will be able to use air pistols. That is not a practical solution because the Bill will close all pistol clubs in this country. It is therefore impossible to see where disabled shooters will be able to take up air pistol shooting and practise.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I take the point that is being made. I am simply explaining the fact that air weapon shooting, rifle and shotgun shooting remain available. I understand entirely that many Members of the Committee will say that that is not a solution to the problem that has been defined. In the end it may be that the solution for which the Committee contends almost unanimously is not going to be reconciled with the principle that the Government stand for. At the end of the day, giving as much good will as one can, it may be that I shall have to disappoint what I do recognise and respect as a very significant section of opinion in the Chamber.

I am reluctant to offer anything which is going to be dust and ashes when we return. However, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, we shall give the matter reasonable consideration. But I would not wish to mislead anyone, who might be grievously disappointed, by offering any indication beyond that. Without being pompous, I believe that it is a government's duty to listen. But, equally, at the end of the day, the Government may well remain with their present conclusion that exemptions are not appropriate. So I stress that of course the matter will be thought about, but I cannot give any guarantee. If there is to be disappointment I wish it to be on the basis that the Government have stuck to their position rather than disappointment that I have misled anyone in this House.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord sits down, I thank him for his reply and for at least a glimmer of hope that thinking on this question will continue. Perhaps I may say to him that it is not the Members of this House who need concern the Minister as regards disappointment. We are no more than mouthpieces for those outside who will be affected by the Bill. It is their disappointment which we are addressing rather than that of Members of this House.

I rise simply to make this point, if there is to be more thinking. It is easy to say that there are air pistols and rifles, but it is very usual for pistol and rifle clubs to be mainly pistol clubs. They will not exist so there will not even be a club at which to practise air shooting or to seek an alternative sport. These people will lose their sport entirely. I make the point for the final time. I do not believe that the children of Dunblane or of this country will be disadvantaged by allowing this very honourable and law-abiding, respectable minority to continue their sport under the regulated conditions set out in the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Of course, I take the point that the ultimate disappointment will not be for the Members of this Committee. But I have attended as carefully as I can to the speeches that have been made. Of course we are only here to serve other persons and purposes. I take very much to heart what the noble Baroness has said, but I stress that having an understanding of, and sympathy for, the way in which points have been put is no indication at all that the Government will change what at the moment is their settled conclusion.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

Does the very guarded statement that the Minister has just made in response to the speeches put us nearer to, or further away from, what the Minister in the other place said? Where do we stand? Are we nearer to a possible exception? Or are we further away, taking into account the statement made by the Minister in the other place at the very beginning of thinking on this matter?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The Home Secretary said that he would have an open mind on all these questions. I am not going to go further than what I have said already because if one is to attend to something with consideration, that is exactly what it means. I am not prejudging anything one way or the other except to repeat—because I believe that it is honourable to do so—that I am doing nothing more than what I have said. I am quite conscious of the fact that if the Government adhere to their presently concluded position and the Committee is speaking, as I entirely accept, on behalf of a different constituency, Members of the Committee will be unhappy.

Lord Howie of Troon

I am impressed by the firmness with which my noble friend the Minister adheres to his belief that there must be no exceptions in this Bill as a point of principle. However, looking at the last line of Clause 3 of the Bill, I notice that there is an exception; namely, that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. That seems to me an exception of a quite substantial size. I believe I understand why the Government take that view although I do not believe that it is very sensible because there are more guns in Northern Ireland than there are £20 notes. That vast exception leaves a situation in which disabled shooters in Belfast will be able to continue enjoyment of their sport whereas disabled shooters in Birmingham will not. That may be sensible to the Government, but it is not really sensible to me. I believe that very serious consideration should be given to the amendment and that the Government should accept it and the fact that there ought to be exceptions on principle.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I do not know whether it is helpful if I deal with the question of Northern Ireland now. The position is that Northern Ireland has always had completely different firearms legislation.

Lord Howell

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. Perhaps I may comment first on the Northern Ireland situation. I had intended to deal with it in relation to Amendment No. 5, to which I thought I was speaking. The fact is that if this Bill is passed, we shall be in the ludicrous position of people in Northern Ireland being able to have gun clubs and take part in the Olympics. Indeed, in the context of this amendment, Northern Ireland's citizens can participate in the handicapped or paraplegic games. Do the Government really want to be in the stupid position whereby anyone from Liverpool or Birmingham can trot over to Northern Ireland, join a club there and then possibly represent our country although they would be unable to do so if they remained in their home town? This is a matter of some importance and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howie for raising it. I endorse his comments which make it unnecessary for me to have to say it all again.

We were all delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. I am sure that we were all moved by what he said. I thank him for participating.

I well remember the first time I became involved in what were then called the paraplegic games. I believe that they are now known as the handicapped games. The late Dr. Ludwig Guttman came to see me when I was first made Minister for Sport. He said that he understood the social value of using sport to help those who were handicapped and others. He was seeking money to build the sports centre at Stoke Mandeville. He wanted £40,000 to finish what has since become a magnificent success story there. He was overwhelmed when I asked my officials how much money we had left. They told me that £30,000 was available. I turned to Dr. Guttman and said, "Will you settle for £30,000?" and he did. My officials said that there would be nothing left to spend anywhere else in the country, to which I said, "The rest of the country will have to wait until 1st April when we can start again". I thought that that was the way to conduct myself as a Minister.

One must apply one's mind to social considerations and social needs, not just to economics or, as my right honourable friend Jack Straw is doing, to sheer emotional considerations, however much we may understand that, as we do in relation to Dunblane. As I have said previously, emotionalism can be met only by intellectual clarity of mind. If my noble friend on the Front Bench does not mind my saying so, none of those commodities has been applied during these deliberations. I do not blame my noble friend. He is reading out his brief and from what is agreed policy they shall not depart. Nothing shall happen. Incidentally, nobody shall be talked to either.

I am absolutely delighted that today my noble friend, whether acting on his own initiative as a sensitive and compassionate person or with the support of Jack Straw, has agreed to think again about the amendment. That is a magnificent step forward, especially given the way in which previous debates on the matter have been handled. I accept my noble friend's statement in the spirit in which I believe he made it.

Society benefits from harmonious relationships and understanding, especially between great bodies such as Stoke Mandeville with its disabled sports persons and Ministers. I took note of what my noble friend said about the Government having considered these matters previously. However, I am sure that my noble friend will accept from me that the Government have not talked to anyone during their considerations. Organisations for the disabled tell me that they have not been approached. They have not spoken to anyone at the Home Office and no one from the Home Office has asked to speak to them. That applies to me also, and, I suppose, to most noble Lords. The normal way of proceeding with regard to amendments is for there first to be a discussion between Members with an interest, organisations with an interest and the Ministers who are responsible for policy. If that process took place, even if we lost the amendment in the end, we would know that our arguments had been listened to and that our problems had been confronted. They are not being confronted at present.

I should like to raise a final point relating to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. I agree with the noble Lord opposite who disagreed with him. I refer to the point about removing power from the Secretary of State and asking the police to carry out that function. In this amendment—and in my next amendment, Amendment No. 5—we have deliberately desired to place in the Secretary of State's hands all the necessary authority. Apart from him saying, "No, I shall not consider any arguments whatsoever; on this point I am totally prejudiced" —if I may use that word, although it seems to be the position—we have said that we think that we can work out a scheme which protects the Secretary of State's public position (as we want to protect it) and stops any weapons getting into the hands of lunatics or other evil people. We believe that at the same time we can say to the Secretary of State, "With your agreement and authority and on your terms, we can produce a scheme that will satisfy us." That is what we have tried to do. I advise the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that that is why we have worded the amendment as we have. If the Secretary of State says that it is a big job and that it should be done by the chiefs of police, I would be happy with that. I am not sure of the number of disabled shooters—it cannot be many—but we are talking about 300 or 400 able-bodied shooters who are likely to represent this country, so it is perhaps not as big a task as the noble Lord thought.

It has been put to me that I should seek to divide the Committee on this amendment because we would probably win. I think that we would probably win, but I am not here to take advantage of the temporary political situation. I do not want to do that; I simply want us to think again. That seems to me much more responsible than merely gaining a temporary victory over the Government, especially when it is a government of my own party. I have no intention of trying to embarrass the Government; I am merely trying to help them. Having explained the reasons behind the amendment, and thanking again all noble Lords who have contributed, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

Clause 2 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2A: Page 2, leave out lines 15 to 21.

The noble Baroness said: I should first apologise to the Committee for bringing forward this manuscript amendment at such short notice. I found myself in a similar situation when I was a Minister because of the publication of a scrutiny committee report close to the date of the Committee. Such occasions usually gave rise to very lively debate, with the Opposition spending a good deal of energy exhorting me, as the then Minister, to heed the recommendations of the report from the scrutiny committee.

The Select Committee described the Bill as illogical. I agree. Sections 16 and 17 of the 1997 Act provide that the Secretary of State may not make a scheme unless the draft has been approved by both Houses and that those requirements apply equally to any alteration to a scheme. Therefore, the Government's argument that 80 per cent. of firearms are already covered totally ignores the fact that any alteration—minor or otherwise—to the scheme may be made under the present Bill without reference to the parliamentary procedure. Therefore, there is no parliamentary control.

Clause 2(5) of the Bill makes amendments to Section 18. In the result, it excludes the affirmative procedure from underwriting the scheme. The scheme so limited instead must be laid before Parliament after it has been made. This does not attract the negative procedure, and there is no parliamentary control over compensation schemes relating to small-calibre pistols.

The committee did not accept the argument of the Home Office. It said that it was unconvincing, and I believe that it was right. It claimed that it was anomalous and that Parliament should have no control over the making of compensation schemes under the Bill, since even minor variations of the main scheme remained subject to the affirmative procedure but the scheme under the Bill as drafted would not be subject even to the negative procedure. The committee went on to say that the scheme was virtually the same as the original scheme, which was subject to the affirmative procedure, and that the firearms, and in some cases the equipment, referred to were different in this Bill and so therefore were the sums involved in determining their values. But the basis on which these values have been calculated is the same. The committee went on to say that it saw no reason why the provision of parliamentary control or its total absence should depend on the calibre of the weapon.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne, when speaking on this subject, advocated that it was important that the Government should make a commitment to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee that the House would listen with the greatest care to the recommendations contained in the reports of that committee and seek to respond quickly and positively to the views expressed. I am proud to say that the previous Government, who set up the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, not only found the work of the committee very helpful—as indeed it was—but had a record for always responding positively to the wishes of the House that the recommendations of the committee should be addressed.

I have spent many hours in the Home Office. I know that there is always a reluctance to submit anything to the affirmative or negative procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the enemy of officials in most departments. But I always succeeded in persuading them otherwise for two reasons: first, because I believed that the parliamentary procedure was worth invoking in many cases; and, secondly, because I believed that this House had an in-built abhorrence of the use of powers without Parliament having some control. Therefore, it is important to heed what is said.

The scrutiny committee went on to say, Apart from the illogicality of the Bill as drafted, the Committee has also borne in mind the fact that this issue is a controversial one, and one which has attracted considerable debate both in and outside Parliament. In the light of these considerations, the House may wish to consider whether the Bill should be amended to make the new scheme subject to the affirmative resolution procedure".

I invite the Committee to consider that matter. I hope that the Committee will support me in believing that it should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I rise briefly to support my noble friend. This is a very important matter. I remind your Lordships not only of the valuable work of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation but also of the fact that the point to which my noble friend has referred would be the first occasion on which your Lordships had either ignored or acted contrary to the advice of that select committee. In particular, the committee's comment in paragraph 4 on page 3 is very important: It is anomalous that Parliament should have no control over the making of compensation schemes under the Bill". It would be most unfortunate if that principle were abandoned by ignoring the advice of that committee. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to this short debate will provide an undertaking that the matter will be further considered. The words in lines 15 to 21 inclusive on page 2 of the Bill are inappropriate.

Lord Burton

I also support my noble friend in this matter. I believe that pistol shooters have been very hard done by anyway, but to have what may be a considerable delay in making payment to them if this matter is not dealt with promptly will be a final and quite unnecessary imposition upon them. If there is nothing else in the amendments tabled today, perhaps this is one that the noble Lord will be able to support.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

As the noble Baroness has indicated, this amendment would require the details of a compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols to be subject to affirmative approval. That would mean that the Secretary of State could not make compensation payments to the owners of small-calibre pistols until the scheme had been approved by both Houses. Perhaps I may indicate why I do not believe that that is necessary.

When we debated the compensation scheme on 9th June I made clear (at col. 767 of Hansard) that the scheme for small-calibre pistols would be structured on entirely the same basis as that for the higher calibre weapons. I suggest to your Lordships that it is unnecessary to require both Houses to go over effectively the same material. I take the point made clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It is for that reason that we do not believe that it is necessary. It is exactly the same scheme.

The ex gratia scheme which will operate for small-calibre pistols and ancillary equipment until such time as the compensation scheme comes into force has already been placed in the Library of the House. Copies have been issued to all claimants at the same time as details of the compensation scheme already approved. If the further compensation scheme consequent upon the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 2A required approval by both Houses, there would be a delay in bringing the Act into force, which we believe would be unwelcome. We want to remove firearms from circulation as soon as possible. I believe that there is a strong public expectation that there will be no delay. I believe that claimants would welcome the introduction of the scheme sooner rather than later.

I read the report of the Select Committee on this matter. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have made plain, the language used is quite vigorous. The one point of dissent that I offer is that the report speaks about a controversial scheme. The banning of handguns is controversial, but the payment of compensation on the same model is not. That is the point of disagreement between the Government and the Select Committee. We certainly do not ignore its report; we have read it with care. It is couched in strong words.

We hope and intend that the present ex gratia scheme should become the formal compensation scheme. What we see now is what small-calibre pistol-holders can expect after enactment. This amendment would not do any favours for claimants. We have already received some claims for payment under the ex gratia scheme. Therefore, there will be some further delay.

The Government intend—I repeat it willingly—that if two individuals claim, one early ex gratia and the second for the same make and model of weapon, they will receive exactly the same amount. Your Lordships confirmed earlier the compensation scheme which accounts for 80 per cent. of the expenditure necessary to compensate the owners of handguns and related ancillary equipment. This is a further 20 per cent. on exactly the same principles as those already agreed. If one looks at the compensation scheme which has already been approved, and the ex gratia scheme which has been published, they are the same. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment. I stress again that I am not disregarding any of the constitutional points—if I may describe them in that way—made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

If it were to be of assistance, I am happy to look carefully again, in the light of what has been said (it has been said briefly but to abundant effect, which may not always be our experience) and consider—I cannot do more than give this undertaking—whether to bring an amendment on Report. We do not overlook the Select Committee's importance. It is capable of being, as it were, distinguished, but I am happy to give that undertaking if that is of assistance to the Committee and, in particular, to the noble Baroness.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend Lady Blatch replies, will the Minister bear in mind that Parliament must be assured that the compensation scheme is adequate? That can only be assured if Parliament has the chance to consider the matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I take the noble Lord's point. I am merely indicating that the proposed scheme is the same as the scheme that has already been approved for larger calibre weapons.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Minister may have overlooked the fact that one of the reasons for accepting that .22 weapons could go on being used is that many thousands of people have been most unfortunately deprived of the right to use larger calibre weapons by the previous Act. Therefore the compensation possibly needs to be larger for the small calibre weapons because people will be using them who would otherwise have been able to go on shooting in some way, whereas the previous Government, much to the regret of many of us, banned the use of larger handguns. It is not on all fours to say that the compensation scheme for these weapons should be the same as for the others—even the compensation for the others was entirely inadequate—because people are now being deprived of the sport entirely, whereas before they could have gone on to some extent.

Lord Burton

Is it not right that the small bore compensation is only £100 as opposed to £150 for large bore weapons? I understand that that is what the people have been signing for.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I repeat what I believe to be correct: the scheme is the same as the other scheme. I do not know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has ever practised at the Bar, but he has a point of philosophical ingenuity to which many lawyers would take their hat off. It is apparently attractive, and therefore on closer examination may not be perfect. When one does not go into detail, one comes to the principle, which is the principle that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, have contended for.

I repeat that I am happy to look carefully again at the committee's report in the light of everything that has been said by Members of the Committee and to consider whether to bring an amendment on Report. I hope that the Committee will think that that is an appropriate response to the concerns that have been raised.

Baroness Blatch

I shall not be pressing the amendment today, but if the Minister comes back at the next stage of the Bill with the same argument that he has used today, I shall have no hesitation in asking Members of this place to join me in the Division Lobby on the amendment. This place must be cautious about disregarding the advice of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It will be an unprecedented act if the Government refuse to accept what is unequivocal. As the Minister said, vigorous language is used to say that the Bill in its present state is unsatisfactory. We owe it to the committee, which does such valuable work, to respond positively. It will cost almost nothing to put the Bill on all fours with the previous Act.

Without any disrespect to the Minister, we have only the Minister's word that this scheme will be identical. The powers in the Bill allow the scheme to be changed. They allow changes to take place without any reference to Parliament. There is no control over the scheme that will arise from the Bill, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for the shooting fraternity.

I was almost breathless with surprise when the Minister said that the scheme is not controversial. I do not know where he has been for the past few weeks, but I can tell him that there is a great deal of disquiet about the scheme. I know, from having been at the Dispatch Box on that side of the Chamber, the difficulty of having to convince people that the scheme was fair and that we would play fair by those disadvantaged by the Bill. There is great disquiet about the scheme.

As my next amendment will show, there is a great deal of unhappiness about the way in which the scheme will be administered and the speed with which it will be administered. For all those reasons, changes in the timing, the way it will happen, and its administrative implementation could all take place without reference to Parliament. That is unacceptable. I accept that the Minister will go away and reflect on what has been said during this short exchange, but if he is not prepared to move on this I shall be inviting Members of this place to be joining me in the Division Lobby to sustain our record of always taking seriously and positively the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 21, at end insert— ("(3B) Payments made under this scheme relating to small-calibre pistols, or to equipment designed or adapted for use in connection with such pistols, shall he received within 40 days of agreement of the valuation".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment would ensure that compensation payments relating to small calibre pistols or equipment designed or adapted for use in connection with such pistols will be paid within 40 days of the agreed valuation. The amendment is in line with current government policy. Indeed, in a lecture to the City of London Corporation in September 1996, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Party: will introduce a requirement for Government Departments and public agencies to pay their bills within 30 days". That has my wholehearted support.

There is no reason why that principle should not apply to affected owners under the Bill. Indeed, the amendment offers a further 10 days above the limit specified by the Prime Minister. There was confusion during the debate in the other place on a similar amendment. The Minister said that it would be, unreasonable to include in primary legislation the requirement sought by the amendment"—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/97; col. 371.], because of the demands that it would place on police forces which collect the weapons.

If the amendment were to require payment 40 days after surrender of the weapon, that might well be a valid objection, but the amendment requires payment 40 days after agreement of the valuation of the weapon. So once claims have been sent to the Firearms Compensation Section set up under the firearms compensation scheme 1997 and agreement has already been reached, there is no reason why that payment should not be sent out by that department within 40 days. It is a question of just writing the cheque.

It does not matter whether the pistol in question is in option A or B, which is the flat-rate payment, or the listed pistol evaluation, or claims under option C (individual valuations). If there is any dispute, particularly under option C, the 40 days runs from the time of the agreed valuation. My noble friend Lord Attlee received a letter by fax from the Minister this morning as a result of points made by him on Second Reading. In that letter the Minister states: All claims will be processed as quickly as possible. Single claims submitted under Options A and B will be dealt with very quickly, as soon as they can be entered on to the Home Office computer system. Multiple claims from individuals or dealers, and those under Option C. will take longer". That is accepted, and set aside as an argument for the purposes of the amendment.

It is only at the point of full agreement between the parties that the 40-day period commences. There should be no difference if someone is covered by an A, B, or C scheme. It is not too much to invite the Government, after all the negotiations have been completed, to take within 40 days to write the cheque. As I say, we support the Prime Minister's objective. We have given a little leeway with respect to the volume of applications, but we believe it is eminently achievable and that there should be no problem for the Government in considering it favourably. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

I support the amendment. To deprive our sportsmen and women of their pistols for reasons which have more to do with public relations than with public safety is wrong and unnecessary. To make them wait for several weeks for the minimal compensation adds insult to injury.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, pointed out, prompt payment is wholly in line with the promise made by Mr. Blair 10 months ago when he was Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, for that reason if for no other, I trust that the Minister will accept the amendment.

The Earl of Lytton

I agree with the thrust of the amendment; namely, that payment should be made promptly. However, I do not believe that it goes far enough or is sufficiently comprehensive, hence my Amendment No. 11. I support the thrust of what the noble Baroness put forward and believe it right and proper that once the amount of the payment is known it should be made promptly. Anything else would be to court a dangerous situation on which I shall elaborate in connection with Amendment No. 11.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I regret to say that I cannot accept the amendment. I do not disagree with the sentiment behind it, but on Second Reading I made it plain to your Lordships that compensation payments for small calibre pistols and their ancillary equipment would be made as quickly as possible. Your Lordships will remember that I gave the same assurance for large calibre handguns.

The noble Baroness was good enough to refer to a letter which I sent to her noble friend Lord Attlee in which I made it plain that single claims under options A and B will be dealt with quickly and that multiple claims—there will be some—from individuals and dealers under option C will take longer.

It is a problem of logistics. There will be a large number of claims over a short period of time. Those which are entered and are straightforward should be dealt with if no further check is required and payment sent out in the post within a matter of days. It is not practicable to set a specific time period within which claimants will receive payment. There was a murmured question, "Why not?". The amendment requires that payments "shall be received", not "shall be dispatched", and it is not possible to have such an obligation in an Act of Parliament. It simply is not possible. I am not taking that purely as a drafting point because it is not an issue between us, but obviously the amendment is defective in any event.

I turn to matters of substance and principle. We expect that there will be more than 60,000 claimants under the scheme for large calibre handguns. It is a matter of practicability. I ask the Committee to accept my indication that simple cases ought to have payment within a matter of days. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, originally invited me to consider 60 days. The amendment asks for 40 days and other views for 30 days. The fact is that simple cases will be processed before others. Some cases may take longer than others, certainly under option C. Interestingly, in respect of the compensation scheme for large calibre weapons there is no time limit. We suggest that one is not practicable in the scheme for small calibre pistols.

As the noble Baroness indicated, the matter was considered in another place in the context of a 30-day time limit and it was rejected resoundingly. We will do what we can to make payment promptly, but we cannot accept any amendment, particularly a defective amendment, which imposes that limit. It simply is not practicable.

Lord Burton

Is there not in preparation a commercial debts Bill giving a right of payment of interest on commercial debts? If the Minister believes that his administration will be unable to pay out in time, should not interest be payable after a certain period of time? That could be 40 days, as mentioned by the noble Baroness. I believe that it is unjust that the weapons should be confiscated and that the owners should receive no redress.

Baroness Blatch

I am not sure why my amendment is defective and I shall be interested to know. These days we write many of our own amendments and seek advice wherever we can, so it would be helpful to know where the amendment is defective.

Again, the Minister has concentrated on how complicated multiple applications will be and how difficult it will be to reconcile an application under option C rather than options A and B. I have disregarded all of that. I am saying that at the point when differences have been reconciled under option C and when agreement has been reached between the parties concerned, whether it is a simple or a complex application, there should be no difference whatever. From that point onwards, it is merely a matter of writing a bank transfer or a cheque and of getting that money to the owner.

No less a person than the Prime Minister has spoken of making it a requirement for government departments to pay their bills within 30 days. He does not mention the point when the agreement has been reached, or when the work has been carried out, or after people have negotiated; he suggests that people should be paid their dues within 30 days. I have suggested 40 days at the end of the process when agreement is to be reached. I cannot accept the Minister's retort because he used the old argument which I have taken into account in my amendment.

I believe that 40 days is a reasonable time following agreement. If the Minister is going to be intractable on the matter I shall return to it at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The noble Baroness asked me to deal with a specific point. The amendment states that payments "shall be received". Any paying department or organisation cannot ensure receipt within 40 days, but it can ensure dispatch. That is the point that I am making and it is simple and straightforward. The difficulty will arise in respect of multiple claims. However, I believe that I heard the noble Baroness withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I thank the Minister for pointing out the difference and will immediately address the defect in the amendment. He also mentioned higher calibre pistols and I wish to include them when I return to the matter at the next stage of the Bill.

I was most disturbed by the Minister's final point. Am Ito believe that if a multiple application is made—in other words, a person submits small calibre weapons under options A and B, which are fairly straightforward, and other weapons under option C—not until perhaps a lengthy process under option C has been completed and agreed will even the smaller claims be settled? If that is the case the shooting fraternity will be most concerned. Each weapon is a single entity in terms of whether it falls within options A, B or C. Once the matter has been agreed, I hope that those people who will be seriously financially disadvantaged will be sent cheques. I accept that one cannot guarantee receipt of the cheques, but I hope that they will be dispatched within 40 days following agreement under options A, B or C.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I agree entirely with the thrust of what the noble Baroness is saying. We want the bills to be paid as promptly as possible, as I have said on several occasions now. But we want a degree of flexibility which 40 days does not allow.

Baroness Blatch

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No.: Page 2, line 21, at end insert— ("() At the end of section 32 (transfers of firearms etc. to he in person) there shall he inserted— () This section shall not apply to transfers of small-calibre pistols to people who are exempt from the provisions of section 5 of the 1968 Act.".").

The noble Lord said: I should declare an interest as an owner of a gun. This amendment seeks to exempt from the ban on mail order sales those people who are exempt from the prohibition in relation to smaller firearms.

Registered firearms dealers are not exempt from the prohibition. Therefore, only dealers with prohibited weapons' authority will be able to deal in small firearms. In view of the small number of such dealers, it will be extremely difficult for the vets, slaughter-house workers, race starters and so on to acquire small firearms, even though they are exempt from the prohibition as the nearest dealer may be hundreds of miles away. This amendment proposes that they should be able to acquire guns by mail order, or more particularly through a reputable carrier.

The Firearms (Amendment) Bill will increase the size of the problem created by the 1997 Act. That is because many vets and slaughterers use .22 pistols. Under the 1997 Act, ordinary registered dealers could still stock .22 pistols as Section 1 firearms and deliver them to vets and other people allowed to have them. However, if those are banned, a slaughterer who works on a farm in a remote area will potentially have to travel a vast distance to acquire a pistol from a registered dealer with a Section 5 authority.

Given that captive bolt pistols and slaughtering instruments are fairly esoteric pieces of equipment, it is quite likely that there may be only two or three dealers in them in the whole country because prohibited weapons' authority will be required. Effectively, a knackerman in scotland may well have to travel personally to Birmingham or London just to buy a captive bolt pistol. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My noble friend Lord Gisborough has moved an amendment which fills what could become a gap in the law. I think that it is something that we should not ignore and I hope that the noble Lord will give this sympathetic consideration.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I cannot accept the amendment. Section 32 of the 1997 Act was introduced in response to a case only last year in which a man obtained firearms and ammunition through the post by deception. He used a firearms certificate which he had acquired fraudulently. Having obtained the firearm in that way, he killed someone with it.

The provision applies to all firearms and shotguns and it is intended that it should apply to small calibre pistols in addition to hand guns. The amendment would allow those who are exempt—and the noble Lord gave examples of vets, slaughter-house workers and RSPCA officials—to obtain small calibre pistols by mail order. They would not be able to obtain other handguns, shotguns or rifles by mail order and would have to appear in person to complete the transaction.

I do not see a proper reason for such a distinction. Small calibre pistols are lethal and easily concealable. Last year's example is very much in our minds. In fact, there would be inconsistencies. Perhaps I may say with great respect that this amendment would open up rather than close a dangerous loophole, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gisborough

Clearly, I shall have to do so. However, the logic of the Minister's answer seems extraordinary to me. Some people steal motor cars and crash them. The logic would be that nobody should be able to own cars because some people steal them. Therefore, there is no logic in the fact that my amendment cannot be accepted because some people break the law. However, I must withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No.5: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


(".After section 7 of the Firearms Act 1968 (police permits) there shall be inserted the following section—

"Permits for competition pistols.

7A.—(1) A person who has obtained a permit in the prescribed form from the Secretary of State may, without holding a certificate under this Act, have in his possession a competition pistol in accordance with the terms of that permit.

(2) An application for the grant of a permit under this section shall be made in the prescribed form to the Secretary of State and shall state such particulars as may be required by the form.

(3) The Secretary of State shall not issue a permit under this section unless he is satisfied that the applicant—

  1. (a) is a fit and proper person who may be permitted to possess a competition pistol without danger to the public or to the peace: and
  2. (b) is, or has been invited to become, a member of the group of persons selected by a recognised sporting body from which competitors will be selected to compete in a designated international competition.

(4) A permit issued under this section shall contain conditions which provide that—

  1. (a) the permit holder may only possess the competition pistol for the purposes of training or qualifying for or competing in designated international competitions;
  2. (b) the competition pistol shall be kept and used only at designated premises;
  3. (c) the permit holder may only possess the competition pistol outside designated premises for the purpose of transferring it directly from one designated premises to another.

(5) A permit issued under this section shall be valid for a period of one year or such lesser period as the Secretary of State may determine.

(6) A copy of any permit issued under this section shall be sent to the chief officer of police for the area in which the permit holder resides.

(7) It shall be an offence for a person to make any statement which he knows to be false for the purpose of procuring, whether for himself or for another person, the grant of a permit under this section.

(8) In this section— competition pistol" means a .22 calibre pistol of a description specified by the Secretary of State constructed for use in a shooting discipline which forms part of a designated international competition, and includes ammunition for such a pistol; designated international competition" means an Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games or other international sporting competition designated for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State; designated premises" means a place designated for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State.".").

The noble Lord said: I shall resume the speech that I was making two hours ago—and I apologise again to the Committee for my difficulty.

I shall not repeat all that I was saying up to the point that I switched courses, except to say very simply that if this Bill is passed the Government, my Government, will be seen to be in opposition to the British Olympic Association and the Olympic Movement.

Some figures were given about polls earlier. One of the wonders of debate in this Chamber is that as you sit here contemplating what might happen, information reaches you. New information has reached me about the state of public opinion on the question of handguns. The National Small Bore Rifle Association tells me that it commissioned two MORI polls: one in February of this year and the other in May of this year. One question identical to both polls was: Are the target pistol shooters being unfairly treated by the firearms ban?". To that question, 55 per cent. said yes in February and 53 per cent. said yes in May. Therefore, it is quite clear that in spite of the earlier polls public opinion is moving. It is moving as people contemplate the gross injustice that we are doing to an Olympic sport and to the people who participate in it.

My judgment—and the Government would be wise to bear this in mind—is that as we move nearer to the holding of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and as we attempt to secure the Olympic Games for this country, which is the declared policy of both the previous government and this Government, public opinion will harden further against the Government's position. People will not see why the British Olympic movement should be put into such a difficult position.

I believe that starting pistols are exempt from the terms of the Bill. I hope that that is correct. If my noble friend does not know, perhaps he will kindly write to me to confirm whether that is so. As I went to Perry Barr in Birmingham at the weekend to see the international athletics there, I thought about the problem of how to start races, which must be timed on the basis of hundredths of a second, unless it can be done, as it is done now, with a gun which fires. The flame of that gun can be seen by some of the timekeepers and can also be communicated to the athletes. It is a very important point.

But in any event, I have discovered that as Olympic movements in other countries learn what is proposed by us, they think that the British are a very peculiar race. We are imposing upon ourselves great handicaps in relation to attracting the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games to this country in the future. We are giving an enormous boost to the lobbyists of other countries who not only produce their own schemes but attempt to denigrate other schemes in order to win the vote. Nobody will understand that you can hold such important sporting festivals with one of the central sports being unable to take place. Therefore, we are severely handicapped.

When we last discussed this matter my noble friend and I had a small difference of opinion as to whether, if we put in a hid for the Olympic Games, we should be required to declare that all the sports approved by the international Olympic movement would be able to take place. I said that that was the case and that I had had to do it myself on at least two occasions when I had been promoting such bids.

The British Olympic Association has now sent me a statement, which I hope it has sent to other noble Lords. It reads: A total ban on handgun shooting could adversely affect any BOA hid for a future Olympic Games. It is most unlikely, given the highly competitive nature of the bidding process, that we could mount a successful bid for a Games where three of the six target shooting events within the programme would have to be excluded. The BOA hopes that suitable exemptions will be built into the Bill to cover this eventuality. There is no doubt that a successful Olympic bid would be dependent upon the total and absolute support of the government and this will include effecting such an exemption so as to allow all necessary shooting disciplines to take place". I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will check what I have said. However, I hope that people in the Home Office and, indeed, those in the department responsible for sport—the title of which I cannot pronounce this afternoon, because I have not as yet got used to it—will consider such matters and the effect of the legislation. As I said, if we persist in it, the public will greet with growing incredulity the fact that we are handicapping ourselves not only in seeking bids but also in putting restrictions on people participating in sport.

We know that the Secretary of State has some powers in regard to the Commonwealth Games to exempt shooting at the games. The effect of what he can do under the Bill is to say, "I will allow Commonwealth countries to come to Manchester in 2002 and have a shooting competition, but I will not allow any British shooter to train for that competition". That is the position in which we now find ourselves. I do not believe that it will be acceptable to the people of this country who, by and large, like to see us do well at sport. Indeed, they regard it as rather important and they all want us to attract the Olympic and Commonwealth Games again.

I spoke earlier about my amendment in response to an interjection by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. We have taken the view that the responsible thing for us to do is to give the Home Secretary every conceivable power that he would need to control sensible gun clubs, if, as we all want to do, we seek in every other case to deprive citizens of the opportunity to have private guns. That is what we seek to achieve.

The amendments would give the Home Secretary the following powers. First, they would give the Home Secretary full authority to make the decisions as to who may hold a permit and how, where and when any authorised shooter may practise, take part in competitions and keep a .22 single shot competition weapon. All those very important and vital matters will be totally within the discretion of the Secretary of State.

Secondly, we are saying through the amendments that all such persons to whom the Secretary of State would grant such permission must be fit and proper and must have been chosen by the regulatory body, which will be the governing body in control of the sport in question. Thirdly, the amendments provide that the Secretary of State would designate where the pistol must be kept and when training at a designated range will occur.

Let us be in no doubt. We are talking about 300 or 400 dedicated pistol shooters in shooting clubs; in other words, people of excellence who are eligible to compete for their country. As I said when we discussed the situation with regard to the disabled, as far as I know no such person has ever run amok in the history of competition shooting either at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, except in Munich where evil took place during the course of an Olympic Games. That had nothing to do with the British, but it concerned other countries which will be taking part in future Olympic Games and which will, as I understand it, have no restrictions imposed upon them.

I should like to say a few words on the next amendment so as to save me making another speech, although I know that it is not included in this grouping. I refer to Amendment No. 6 which seeks to give the Government a three-year power of review. That amendment has been tabled in the same spirit as the amendment now under discussion. It is a back-up amendment—a safety-first measure. If I am right about the movement of public opinion, it could be said that the amendment is designed to save the Government's skin in three years' time if they suddenly find that the wish to keep Britain out of the Olympic arena is totally unacceptable to the majority of people in the country. In that case, I should tell my noble friend the Minister that there would be no harm in saying, "Well, even if we don't listen to you now we should at least give ourselves the opportunity to look at the matter again in three years' time to see how it is developing and how the reputation of this country in the world of sport is progressing as a result of this measure". Indeed, the Government could possibly reconsider the matter when public opinion is much more rational on the matter.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take the same attitude about the amendment as he took on the situation relating to the disabled. I understand that he cannot give any commitment at this stage. However, even allowing for the fact that he may be profoundly disappointed if the public's decision is the same, my noble friend could say, "In the spirit of what Jack Straw said on Second Reading, we will look again at the matter". I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consult with our friends when doing so to see whether some common agreement can be reached in the interests of British sport. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Peel

I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to which my name is also attached. In the process, perhaps I may speak also to Amendment No. 7 which pretty well covers the same points, although there is a slight difference between the two amendments, which I shall explain. Considerable concern was expressed in your Lordships' House on Second Reading, and elsewhere, at the extreme restrictions that this legislation is likely to put on this country's ability to hold international games and, in particular, its effect on those individuals who wish to participate in the various shooting disciplines.

I am very much aware that the Bill is part of the Government's manifesto. However, the fact that the Government allowed a free vote in another place gives a greater degree of latitude for change than might otherwise be the case. Further—and perhaps more importantly—I do not believe that either my amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, would undermine the basic principle of the legislation in any way.

No one who listened to or read the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, at Second Reading, or indeed listened to the words that he has spoken this afternoon, can fail to have been impressed by his arguments. Apart from identifying the absurdity of precluding a few people from participating in three out of the 15 shooting disciplines within international competitions, the noble Lord drew attention to another matter which I regard as being of particular note and importance. The noble Lord has great experience in these matters. He was a Minister of sport and he did his best for this country. I remember particularly that he said in his Second Reading speech how difficult it was to persuade people that Great Britain was the place to hold international games—anyone holding a similar position would no doubt experience the same difficulties—and that if we put any further barrier in their way that would be it. It seems to me that we are putting a major barrier in front of our competitors. Unless we get rid of it in a comprehensive fashion there is a danger that this country's capacity to hold international games will be severely interfered with.

The effect of my amendment is to establish national pistol shooting centres of excellence to allow competition shooters, identified by the national bodies as suitable to train for Olympic disciplines, to continue to train and compete for national and international .22 calibre pistol competitions. A certificate granted for this purpose would be subject to the most stringent conditions. Those conditions are laid out in my amendment and I do not propose to go through them, but I believe that they cover all contingencies.

Where Amendment No. 7 differs from Amendment No. 5 is that the latter does not require an individual to have a certificate in the first place, thereby eliminating initial police assessment of the candidate. Also, I believe it is not clear on what basis a Secretary of State can decide whether an applicant is a fit and proper person, as this is assessed by the police when an individual applies for a certificate. However, I fully accept that these are matters of detail. I am sure that, if necessary, they can be overcome at a later stage. If Amendment No. 7 or Amendment No. 5 are not accepted by the Committee, as I have said, Britain will be the only country banned from international pistol shooting competition. The 1997 firearms Act would at least have allowed people in this country to compete in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games in the three .22 calibre events.

There is no doubt that this country has a long and honourable tradition in the sport of pistol shooting, a sport which Britain invented and has dominated for well nigh 100 years. It is a sporting success story for this country. In the past 10 years of Commonwealth competition—the noble Lord, Lord Howell, may have made this point—our competitors have brought back 23 pistol shooting medals in the .22 calibre events alone.

At Second Reading the Minister said that the Bill affects only three out of a total of 15 shooting competitions in the Commonwealth Games. However, the vast majority of pistol shooters who reach international level are specialist competition shooters. Many will have no interest in other disciplines. It is simply not true to suggest that a competition pistol shooter could convert easily to, say, rifle shooting. In fact there is no pistol shooter who represents the British team in pistol and rifle events. They are completely different disciplines. That is an important point. It is rather like suggesting that a 100 metre sprinter could suddenly turn into a marathon runner. For that reason, and as one of the original 12 modern Olympic disciplines, this is a sport which deserves the same recognition as other more visible sports and it should not be lightly destroyed.

The men and women who represent their country in this sport have done so with tremendous personal commitment. A refusal to accept this new clause would mean that Parliament is not prepared to trust this small number of highly motivated competitors who are identified at the end of a long process not to commit an outrage such as occurred at Dunblane. This step would not only be implausible, it would also be insulting.

I have a letter which I believe a number of Members of the Committee will have already received from the British Olympic Association. I wish to quote from one paragraph which states, The legislation, as it stands, will effectively preclude representation by British athletes at future Olympic Games in the three Olympic shooting disciplines concerned. With 135 national federations competing for 20–30 places in each discipline there is a significant level of training and commitment necessary to achieve an Olympic quota place. Forcing competitive pistol shooting abroad will kill the sport and with it the necessary depth to ensure international representation at the highest level". I do not know if that is what the Government want, but if we do not heed the British Olympic Association, it looks as if that is what we shall get.

I am glad to see that the Government have declared their intention of ensuring that the Bill will not be used in a way which will preclude the United Kingdom hosting the Commonwealth or indeed the Olympic Games. As the host country is required to provide the facilities for those sports demanded by the International Olympic Committee, not just those chosen by the host country, that must mean providing facilities for all the shooting sports and allowing all foreign competitors to come and take part without hindrance. I appreciate that there are several practical issues which need to be sorted out. However, as I understand it, the Home Secretary has committed himself to overcome these. The decisions emphasise the injustice of a situation in which all these overseas competitors can take part, but not United Kingdom citizens. It is quite ridiculous. The position has only to be stated for us to understand why so many people, not only shooters, feel insulted at the injustice and the unreasonableness of this situation.

I should have thought that the next stage must be to find a way to allow British participation to continue. I do not believe that that is in any way an unreasonable objective. The Home Secretary made a distinction. He said in another place, There is a world of difference between controlling and securing the safety of the public at specific games such as the Commonwealth games in 2002 and allowing handguns to be held generally by civilians on a licensed basis.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/97: col. 1166.] We have something to build on there. I am sure we can develop that.

Under my amendment, no pistols will be held or used outside those centres of excellence. A centre of excellence would be a site which would be approved by the Secretary of State for all Section 5 weapons, including really dangerous guns. Its security is therefore of the highest level. A precedent for such a site already exists at Bisley where exempted historic firearms are to be stored and indeed fired. After the Commonwealth Games a centre which will be created at Altcar could also be used. One or two sites may develop throughout the country, geographically spread, and almost certainly based on Army facilities. There can be no fear about this proposal since the power to approve or not approve the site for this purpose lies with the Home Secretary. If he approves, the .22 will be the least of his worries compared with the other guns that will be stored in those places—machine guns and other heavy weapons. Quite frankly, .22 guns fade into insignificance.

The new clause provides that shooters can use a .22 at that place only if they have a certificate and therefore have passed the chief constable's vetting; have the special approval of the Secretary of State; and have been vetted by the shooting organisations which run the Olympic sport. I do not believe that we could devise any more stringent and more safety-conscious provision.

Even such a person would be able to fire a .22 only at a designated site. It is far fetched in the extreme to suppose that such a procedure represents any danger whatsoever to the general public. I believe that the Government have a duty—I have always said so—to legislate in this case for the best interests of this country as a whole. But it is one thing to attempt to reduce the danger of handguns getting into the wrong hands; it is quite another to discriminate against the ability of this country to participate on equal terms in international events. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord the Minister will look carefully into these matters. I do not believe that we can risk the consequences if he does not. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

I fully support every word that my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have said.

Amendment No. 9 is grouped with the two amendments as it also refers to the Olympic Games. One point has not been mentioned. The 1997 Act is draconian, but there has not been time to prove whether or not it is adequate. We are piling on legislation without even trying out the legislation which already exists.

Amendment No. 9 codifies the comments of the Home Secretary that he would allow competitors to bring pistols into Great Britain in order for people to compete at the Commonwealth Games of 2002. It is possible that a future Home Secretary could have a different view. The amendment refers to the Olympic Games in the event that Great Britain is a future venue for them.

There will no doubt be arguments from the Government that the Secretary of State will be unable to exercise adequate control over competitors' firearms if the amendment is carried. That is because Section 5(4) of the Firearms Act 1968 enables the Home Secretary to attach conditions to a Section 5 authority setting out various requirements as to the movement, possession, storage and use of firearms.

However, a chief officer of police is also empowered to attach similar conditions to any visitor's permit that may be issued governing the possession, use, and so on, of any firearm, so there is no real argument. The chief constable of Manchester is in a far better position to determine the conditions for people bringing firearms into Manchester than is the Home Secretary.

In the House of Commons, the Home Secretary stated that he would have to have been the longest serving Home Secretary in the past 200 years if he were to be the person to set the conditions. Therefore there can be no guarantee that a future Home Secretary will be similarly disposed towards allowing competitors to bring their guns into Great Britain to compete. It is one thing to stop our own people using shooters, but it is another to stop others from another country competing.

That is the reason that the amendment is necessary.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I listened carefully to the amendments moved so ably by my noble friend Lord Howell, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. It is clear that they have a great deal of expertise and that they have moved reasonable new clauses which would enable the Government to get out of the mess into which they have got themselves.

I listen carefully to what the Prime Minister says. He does not listen to anything that I say; but I listen closely to what he says. As I understand the Prime Minister's message to Britain both during and since the election, he wants Britain to succeed in everything. He wants Britain to lead other countries. He wants Britain to be a leader in Europe and throughout the world. He wants us to shine in everything we do. During the election he draped himself and the Labour Party in the Union Jack. Wherever we went, we saw the Union Jack draped around Labour. Jolly good, I say, because it indicated that the Labour Party was a great patriotic party and believed in Britain.

That is until we see this Bill. It seems that in respect of pistol shooting with .22 ammunition the Prime Minister and the Government do not want us to succeed. They will take away the opportunity from people who wish to succeed in this sport, although in the past we have excelled at it. That seems a peculiar thing to do, in particular when the opportunity exists through these amendments to ensure that that does not occur.

No wonder people think that we in this country are crazy. It will be possible for people who are denied their sport of shooting in this country to nip on Eurostar, go to France, buy a .22 pistol off the shelf, join a French club, practice the sport over a long period of time, and compete anywhere else in the world—in the Olympic Games and other events. But if the Olympic Games are held in Britain, those people will not be able to compete in Britain. That really is stupid, is it not? How can the Government have got themselves into that position? I hope that they will take advantage of the amendments to get themselves out of it.

Even so, is it not absurd that British people may not practise a sport in their own country—they have been able to do so for decades, perhaps over 100 years—but they can get on a train and practise 20 miles away across the Channel? I believe that sometimes we go over the top; and we have gone over the top in this respect, and quite unnecessarily so.

The amendments before us track a way forward. They provide the Government with the opportunity to build on them. I sincerely trust that we shall hear from my noble friend the Minister as to how he intends to take this matter forward, prevent this country from looking foolish and ensure that Britain can still excel in a sport in which it has previously excelled, not only abroad but in our own land.

The Earl of Lytton

I support this group of amendments for very much the same reasons as those enunciated so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. If the object is to ban all legally held handguns, then to be consistent the ban ought logically to apply to everyone within our territorial limits. But these proposals represent some sort of halfway house whereby foreign and Northern Ireland residents have a facility that is denied to English, Welsh and Scottish citizens. That proposition is decidedly wobbly. It makes an exception, as it were, in negative form. It is not a credible position to take. It is discriminatory, as I said at Second Reading. The message it gives out is one of national self-mutilation. I cannot hold with that. I cannot fail to stand up and say how fundamentally I disagree with that in terms of promoting this country abroad. The Minister did not answer the point when I raised it at Second Reading. I hope that he will do so, if not today, then at some later stage of the Bill. This inconsistency needs to be dealt with. It has to be answered. I support these amendments as a logical and reasonable way out of the problem.

Lord Swansea

I support these amendments, too. Anyone who aspires to be at the top-flight end of international competition must be in a high state of training. He has to practise daily and must therefore have daily access to his pistols. It has been suggested that a person may park his pistols in another country—in France, Germany, Switzerland or wherever—and get round the legislation in that way. But that would entail having a very long purse. I cannot think of anyone who would be able to afford that. It is essential that such a person has daily access to pistols in order to practise continually. If our nationals are disqualified by the Government from taking part in international competition, we shall be the laughing-stock of the world. We shall be held up to ridicule, and that will be entirely the fault of the Government.

Lord Gisborough

I wonder whether it is in order for me to ask a question regarding a point that the noble Lord raised. When an English national travels abroad to practise in another country, will he be entitled to bring in a pistol to shoot as if he were a foreigner even though he does not keep a pistol in this country?

Baroness Blatch

I rise simply to offer brief support—although that brevity does not in any way indicate the strength of my support for this amendment. I support it very strongly. The case was put most cogently by my noble friend Lord Peel, by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, in his imitable way. Certainly I support the establishment of centres of excellence to allow shooters, properly identified by the national bodies, to train and compete in national and international competitions. The amendment makes it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State will have absolute control over this measure. The amendment requires the weapons to be stored and used at premises designated by the Secretary of State, and the controls over the centres are strengthened even further by requiring that the transfer of pistols from designated centres shall be permitted only for transport to and from the premises at which a shooting competition is taking place during the Olympic Games or some other qualifying national or international games. As has already been said, the proposal has the full support of the British Olympic Association.

Perhaps I may return briefly to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. During the course of the day, the Minister has prayed in aid public support not merely for this Bill but in many other matters that he has had the onerous job of discussing since Question Time. If public opinion is to be prayed in aid, it is true that public opinion appears to be sympathetic to the needs of the minority shooting group. That would include the disabled, as recognised by the previous amendment, and, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, some 300 to 400 shooters who fall into the category of being crack shooters for the purposes of international competition. I hope that, again, the noble Lord will continue with his open-mindedness and will reflect further on the comments made today. The most powerful case has been put, and very ably put, by my noble friends.

6.15 p.m.

Lord McNally

I also hope that the Minister will continue to keep an open mind in these matters. Many powerful and passionate arguments have been put to him today. However, I hope that in keeping an open mind, he also keeps a sense of proportion. The Bill has not appeared from nowhere simply to seek out Olympians for discrimination. It is a rather belated reaction by Parliament to a truly dreadful deed. The central point of the Bill is to provide this country with—yes—draconian gun control laws.

There is a responsibility on the Minister—a responsibility that he spelt out when responding to an earlier amendment. It is to test these hard cases against whether, given all the expert advice available to him, these exceptions being pressed upon him will undermine and weaken the integrity of the Bill. If he believes that they do, and in that consideration needs support in the Lobby, I for one will give it to him.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and to others that I would not want an extra Olympic medal at the price of weaker gun control law. If we have waited 50 years since the last Olympic Games, we can wait another 50 if the price is weaker gun control. This country wants the Bill. Although the Minister may keep an open mind and listen to the hard cases, I hope he will remember that, at bottom, we want gun control.

Lord Monson

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he give a realistic estimate as to how many lives will be saved over the next 100 years if these amendments are resisted? Is it one, two, or possibly three?

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may add to the question. What dangers does the noble Lord believe are presented by disabled shooters and the very small number of top-quality athletes who have represented this country over many years, operating under the most stringent regulations, entirely under the control of the Secretary of State?

Lord McNally

What I said is that when the Minister examines this matter I will listen to his expert views. In circling the Bill looking for hard cases and exceptions, I am concerned about the whole integrity of the legislation and how these exceptions are to be policed.

It may well be that the Minister, with his open mind, will examine some of these proposals, and return saying that they can be so ring-fenced that we can accept them. But if he cannot, if he says that they open up chinks and weaknesses in the Bill which will undermine the basic thrust for gun control, then I hope he will resist them.

I believe that this country wants to set an example to the world on gun control. It is simple. Before somebody else mentions legal guns, if the Minister wants to bring forward harsher penalties for using illegal guns, he will have my support as well. It is what we do with legal guns that we are talking about here. All I am saying is that I support the integrity of the Bill as a strong, draconian gun control measure. That wish was expressed in the general election; it has been expressed in public opinion polls and, from what I can see, in general opinion in the country. If that is to be undermined by these hard cases, then I hope that the Minister will have the courage to resist them.

The Earl of Lytton

Before the noble Lord sits down, I understand that it is possible for someone in France to have a European firearms pass which enables them to travel through any two other countries in order to get to a competition. While I recognise the strength of his feeling on the matter, will the noble Lord accept that there is an anomaly in what is proposed in the Bill, given that the facility, as I understand it, already exists? In other words, it will be possible for a French pistol shooter to come to this country perfectly legally with a European firearms pass, and with the pistol, in order to travel on to Stockholm or somewhere else.

We are part of the European Community and it worries me very much, for the reasons I gave earlier, that we are putting ourselves out of sync, if I may use the vernacular, with what is happening elsewhere in Europe. That is both in terms of legally and illegally held guns. I wonder whether the noble Lord would care to comment.

Lord McNally

With the utmost respect to the noble Earl, I am not dodging the question, but those are precisely the kind of details with which he and his noble friends have been bombarding the Minister all afternoon. I am sure that, with his usual skill, the Minister will now respond.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The integrity of the Bill is important to us. I have listened with great care to the differing arguments put forward, by and large with a common theme, indeed, almost without exception. I have to say that I am not persuaded. Before introducing the Bill, the Government were well aware of the effect that it would have. The Home Secretary, in another place, made it absolutely clear that he knew what the consequences would be in terms of competitive shooting. It is a responsibility to prohibit actions that were formerly lawful. The decision to ban all handguns was not taken lightly.

On Second Reading on 30th June, at col. 11 of Hansard, it was made clear that powers available to the Secretary of State, under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, allow special dispensation to be granted to allow competitors to take part in shooting competitions in the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and in any future Olympic or Paralympic Games which may be held here. The Home Secretary announced in another place that he believed that the Section 5 powers would be used for the Commonwealth, Olympic or Paralympic Games although the final decision would be for the Secretary of State of the day. Dispensation could be granted to any competitors, whether from this country or elsewhere.

There is the consequence, which has been recognised by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State from the early stages, that for a few events involving small-calibre pistols British competitors could compete in the Games but could not train for them beforehand. I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, that if you cannot train it is virtually impossible to compete. That is not something we have dodged. The Secretary of State has made that plain throughout.

If an exception is made for international competition shooting, the next argument will be to ensure that there is a pool of people from whom the top shooters will be chosen. We will then increase the number of people who are exempt from the ban and it becomes increasingly difficult and, I believe, wrong to try to justify why some people are subject to the ban and others are not. May I make one or two points which I sought to make at Second Reading before your Lordships? The ban will not affect the ability of this country to host the Commonwealth Games in 2002, nor to stage any future Olympic or Paralympic Games. I shall come to the views of my noble friend Lord Howell about what the Olympic Association has told him, because it entirely supports the observation I made. The contract for the 2002 Games at Manchester has been signed and can only be broken because of a natural disaster or lack of proper organisation. The Home Secretary would be prepared to use his Section 5 powers to allow the shooting competitions, although any decision would have to be one for the Secretary of State of the day.

I turn to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Howell. At Second Reading he raised a question and therefore, consistent with my undertaking, I asked officials to confirm with the British Olympic Association whether any British bid would be affected by the ban on small-calibre pistols. I understand, and my understanding is fortified by the extract which my noble friend read out, that provided that all the sports could be held—and I repeat and emphasise that with the Secretary of State's special authority they could so be held—then any bid would be unaffected by the ban. Indeed, the letter read out by my noble friend Lord Howell said exactly that, if one listened carefully.

It is not true to say that Britain will be unable to participate in the shooting events because of the ban. Of 28 competitions in the Commonwealth Games, British competitors can participate in 21 disciplines for rifles, air pistols and rifles and shotguns. It is five years before the Commonwealth Games take place. I hope that some competitors will change their discipline. It is noteworthy that the .32 centre-fire event in effect has already been banned by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. I hope that competitors in that discipline will at least consider going elsewhere. I want to stress that I do not say that in any prescriptive sense. I am sure that if I were a sportsman in a particular discipline and had a Minister telling me to do something else, my response might be quite short and possibly even brutal. I repeat, and I cannot say often enough, that I am not overlooking people's legitimate feelings. I turn to Olympic shooting.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

While we are on the subject of people's legitimate feelings, does the Minister agree that the vast majority of pistol shooters who reach international level are specialist pistol competition shooters and pistol shooters only? Very few, if any, will have an interest in other disciplines. It is not true to suggest that a competition pistol shooter would convert to rifle shooting, as the Minister's recent remarks suggest. There is no pistol shooter who represents the British team in pistol and rifle events. They are completely different disciplines. The analogy which the Minister seeks to make is that perhaps a 100-yard sprinter can easily turn into a marathon runner. It is not a defence of the Bill or a reason to refuse the amendment to suggest that people can go on shooting with an entirely different weapon.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I understand that point entirely. I was not putting it forward as a defence of the Bill. I was putting it forward as possibly an alternative for individuals to consider and to come to their own conclusions. I use my word again, it is not for me to prescribe what others do, it is simply an alternative which they may find agreeable or practical or they may not. I entirely take the noble Lord's point. I do not claim that these are matters without difficulty. They are not. But sometimes a balance has to be struck between individual desires which may be entirely legitimate to certain individuals and the wider requirements of society. I know that noble Lords think that the Government have got it all wrong. What the Government are saying is that they have made their judgment, having put it plainly in the manifesto that this is what they were about.

I continue. Of the 15 Olympic shooting competitions the Bill will adversely affect just three. British sportsmen and women will still be able to compete in the 12 competitions which remain.In the Paralympic Games—which of course one ought not to overlook—out of a total of 15 events, British teams will be ruled out of just two events.

The new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, indicates that if someone obtains a permit from the Secretary of State he can hold a small calibre pistol without having a certificate. However, if the Bill is passed into law, small-calibre pistols will be prohibited and cannot be held without the Secretary of State's authority, so that the new clause would require someone to have both a permit and authority from the Secretary of State. It does not seem to require the involvement of the local chief officer of police who, in many ways, is best placed to make those important decisions.

I shall deal now with the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. Under current arrangements a visitor to our country may bring with him a firearm providing he has a visitor's firearm permit entitling him to have it for a specified period. If he wishes to bring in a firearm prohibited under Section 5 of the 1968 Act he must also have the Secretary of State's authority to do so. The Secretary of State considers very carefully any such applications, bearing in mind not least the views of the police and the strength of the case for the application. We do not think it sensible to weaken the powers of this section. Allowing weapons into the country only on a visitor's firearm permit would, we believe, limit the Secretary of State's powers in imposing such conditions as he thinks suitable in the public interest. We believe that it is sensible and safer to leave the arrangements for Section 5 authority as they are.

I have listened carefully to the arguments. A number of noble Lords indicated that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said that he had an open mind. This matter was reasonably fully discussed elsewhere on a similar new clause and was significantly defeated by, I believe, a majority of 169 or so.

I began by saying that I was not persuaded. I am afraid that remains my condition.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to address the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who referred to the European system of being allowed to travel through two countries en route to an international competition. Does the Secretary of State have the power to override that permission which might be given to European nationals travelling through two countries, one of them Britain?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for not having dealt with the point. Let me put the matter this way. I have had little opportunity to confirm that question of detail. I see that the noble Earl has the grace to smile at my unpreparedness. It was not a question, frankly, which I expected to have in such detail. My understanding—I stress that it is only a temporary piece of research—is that a European pass would not allow someone coming to our country to be in lawful possession of a weapon. But perhaps I may write to the noble Earl and, of course, copy it to the noble Baroness. I stress that I have done the best I can in limited time. I know that people read Hansard and a dot, comma or semi-colon misplaced is the subject of frequent rebuke. Therefore, I shall do further research and write within, I hope, a period of less than 60 days.

Lord Howell

My noble friend says that he listened to the arguments but is not persuaded and that that remains his condition. I am sorry to find him in such a disagreeable condition, especially as he has had a hard day. I put that condition down to the overwork to which he has been subjected today. He will understand my profound disappointment that his answer, unlike his reply about disabled persons, does not offer even a glimmer of reconsideration.

If that is the view of Mr. Jack Straw, who is also my right honourable friend, I am sorry that some of us will not have the opportunity to put our views to him. As I usually find myself sitting next to him at Wembley, I wonder whether my noble friend would mind telling him that his next supper at Wembley will not be quite so harmonious as previous suppers that we have enjoyed. I do not like Ministers who say, "I have made up my mind and will take no notice of what is said in another place or what is said by anyone who might happen to know what he is talking about." It is not a posture which should be taken up.

Let me deal with the main response of my noble friend. He says that the Home Secretary can exercise his powers to allow events to take place in the next Olympics, having already admitted that no British citizens can train for them. That means that they cannot participate in them. He goes a little further: not only can no British citizens train for them, they cannot act as judges or stewards. There will be no competitions held here between now and the next Olympics in which they can qualify as judges or stewards as they are required to do by international sporting law. My noble friend may care to contemplate from where we shall obtain foreign judges to officiate at competitions for which, apparently, we cannot provide qualified persons.

With great respect to my noble friend—this is my main point—he has misdirected himself, as have his colleagues and officials. Even though he can say technically, "We shall use our powers to allow these events to be held in an Olympic Games in this country", the fact remains that no International Olympic Committee will ever accept that explanation. My noble friend shakes his head. Perhaps he would like to have a discussion with President Samaranch about the matter. I wonder whether anyone in the Home Office has talked to President Samaranch or any other member of the International Olympic Committee. One of our representatives is Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal. Perhaps my noble friend will talk to her and ask her view as to what opinion or action her colleagues might take. The other British representative is the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Mr. Craig-Reidie. I do not have the privilege of talking often to the Princess, so I cannot quote her. But I have spoken to the British Olympic Association, which has consulted Craig-Reidie. What I say is absolutely right. Although technically agreeing with what the Government are saying, I am told that we shall have placed such a handicap upon ourselves in the bidding procedure against the rest of the world—cities and nations seeking to have the games—that it is totally unrealistic to think that we have any prospect at all of staging them. If my noble friend and my right honourable friend Jack Straw say that they accept that the likelihood of hosting the Olympic Games in the future is almost non-existent and that is the price that they are prepared to pay, so be it. I shall respect that because that is the position.

I have told the Chamber before that I have led at least two bids to bring the Olympic Gaines to this country, one from my own city of Birmingham. The bidding procedure is an extremely hazardous business. One is confronted with all kinds of activities designed to promote other people's bids and to submerge one's own bid—all kinds of tactics, which I almost dare not explain to the Committee—not only from the competitor cities but from some very powerful commercial interests which have an interest in promoting their products in other countries rather than in this country. Those are the facts of life. So, with all the authority I can command, I tell the Committee that I cannot conceive it possible that we shall ever again succeed in a bid for the Commonwealth or the Olympic Games if this Bill goes forward unamended.

I make my plea to my noble friend. Will he please ask the Home Secretary to consult some of us and give us the opportunity to take him through the whole matter? We can tell him of the difficulties we envisage. Will he also consult the International Olympic Committee, if that will help to clarify the situation? I believe that that is the least that we can demand or expect. I invite the Committee to consider the viewing figures when the Olympic Games are held. In fact, the complaint generally from the British public is that there is too much television coverage of the games, morning, noon and night. The television companies, especially the BBC which does it superbly, have to cover the games from morning to night because some great British athlete may win a gold medal. It would be inconceivable for that achievement to occur and not to be televised for the public to see, especially at the time it happens.

Those are very important factors. We wanted to go through them. I cannot think that Mr. Jack Straw is frightened of us—I have had many discussions and arguments with him over the years. We have usually been on the same side, though not always in relation to Europe. But I have always been on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in relation to Europe. The noble Lord does not realise what he is doing to European competition sport. Are we good Europeans if we say that we will hold the European championships but will impose restrictions on ourselves when we are competing in Europe? That is a subject that has not even been discussed in respect of the competitions.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, realises the difficulty in which he has placed himself and throws himself on the mercy of my noble friend. He says that whatever argument my noble friend produces, he will adopt. And if it gets him off the hook he will be very pleased.

Lord McNally

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, keeps inviting people to go and see other people—President Samaranch and others. Will he come to the primary school of my seven year-old son and talk to the mothers of children of primary school age? He can then try to put forward his argument that sport is more important than gun control. That is the kind of audience that he should be addressing.

Lord Howell

Indeed, I address that audience every week; it happens to be my daughter who works in a nursery school in Birmingham, where I have discussed this matter. For good or ill, whenever they see my name in the paper they always discuss with her what I have been up to. So they are aware of my views on the matter and they agree with me. They think that the Government are honkers. They want to do everything that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, wants to do—that is, to stop evil people having guns—as we all want. That is our purpose. That is why we support the main purpose of the Bill. But we do not go about it in an illogical and discriminatory way which upsets the whole field of sport.

So, while I am happy to talk to his seven year-old son, I shall also introduce him to my eight year-old grandson as well as my daughter. We can have a quid pro quo about the matter. The fact is, if that happened we would at least be discussing the issue. My complaint is that we are not discussing it today. The Government have not discussed it with anybody. They produced this policy—we all understand why, as did the previous government—in response to enormous outrage and emotionalism following the obscenities of Dunblane. They felt that they had to take action. We all understand that.

Nevertheless, given the passage of time and the fact that this sporting nation wants to see our sportsmen properly treated and given a fair opportunity to compete against the world—that is what we are asking—I am confident, as the two last MORI polls showed, which I quoted, that the feeling of the country will move more and more away from Dunblane and nearer to the Commonwealth Games. By the next Olympics the feeling of the country will be that we ought to accommodate reasonable, honest shooting men of integrity.

I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment in a moment. But before I do, my noble friend knows that I did not want any votes and victories today against the Government. My main purpose today was to seek to get sense out of the Government with conciliation and understanding; to persuade them to think again. But, if the Government say that they are not going to think again, that their mind is made up and that they will take not a blind bit of notice of anything that has been said in this Chamber, then when the matter comes back in October, they may well be in for a profound shock. I for one will try to administer that shock. However, I hope that it will not be necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) The Secretary of State shall carry out a review of the operation and effectiveness of this Act as soon as is practicable after the expiration of 3 years from its coming into force and, in the course of that review, shall consider and have regard to the effect which the Act has or may have on the holding of the Commonwealth Games in the United Kingdom in 2002.

(2) The Secretary of State shall prepare a report based on the review and shall lay a copy before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable after it has been prepared.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment earlier. I beg to move.

Lord Gisborough

I should perhaps speak to Amendment No. 6 as it is grouped with Amendment No. 10. The amendment requires an impact analysis of the 1997 Firearms Acts. It is necessary to determine precisely what effects the Acts have had and whether the claimed benefits have occurred.

The lead up to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 involved mass confusion as the Home Office sought for firearms statistics on a wide variety of subjects. It was not until Lord Cullen requested the information that the Home Office applied any effort to trying to determine which crimes were committed with illegal guns and which with legal guns. Another example is that it is now becoming apparent that the Home Office estimate that there were 57,000 firearms certificate holders was an underestimate, as the police ran out of claim forms for certificate holders.

A further example is that no one knows the proportion of handgun-related crimes committed with centrefire handguns and those committed with .22 rimfire handguns. One would think that that was fairly essential information given the nature of the second firearms Bill. The amendment is therefore needed to fill the vacuum created by the lack of information on the subject.

Lord Monson

When legislation which deprives law-abiding citizens of their rights on the alleged grounds of public safety is pushed through with comparative haste and without much real in-depth research—neither House of Parliament has yet had the opportunity to debate the Cullen Report—it is vital to monitor its effects. We need to establish whether it was indeed necessary at the time and whether it remains necessary for all time.

If one or other of the amendments is accepted and subsequently homicides involving .22 pistols decrease in any statistically meaningful way from the already extremely low levels, the Government will be vindicated, and that must be something to which they look forward. On the other hand, if, as I suggest, the figures remain virtually unaltered, the Firearms (Amendment) Bill will be seen as an act of folly.

Without question some analysis is needed, but any such analysis must be as comprehensive as possible not only to cover the crime statistics, but also the burdens imposed upon the police and upon the British economy, as well as our competitive position in international sporting events. For that reason I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, rather than that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Since my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lords, Lord Gisborough and Lord Monson, spoke quite briefly, I hope the Committee will not think me discourteous if I too try to be brief. The amendments essentially come down to two types of review.

I have already made the points, which remain valid, about Manchester's ability to hold the Commonwealth Games. It seems fruitless for me to repeat them. On the general issue of a report, which is really the burden of Amendments Nos. 6 and 10 in this group, we have already made it plain that we intend to take a wider look at the range of firearms controls in due course to see whether they are fully effective. If the Government conclude that there are weaknesses which may require tighter controls, we will bring them to the attention of Parliament. I respectfully suggest that that is a much more prudent and measured approach than focusing too narrowly on this particular Bill.

It is a duty of any government to keep under review all the legislation which it is necessary for them to administer. If there are unintended consequences or the evidence on which Parliament has based its decisions has changed, then Parliament should reconsider. But that is the general principle and it applies to each and every piece of legislation that Parliament passes.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, would bring this consequence. It would single out the effects of the present Bill alone—that is, the impact of banning small-calibre pistols. The consequence would then be that the analysis would not be required to take account of the effect of the banning of large-calibre handguns in the Act introduced by the previous Government, nor indeed of other firearms legislation. So we should be obliged, if the noble Lord's amendment were carried, to consider the impact of banning 40,000 small-calibre pistols and not to have regard to 160,000 large-calibre handguns already, I respectfully repeat, banned by the earlier Act introduced by the previous Government. There was no such provision in the earlier Act. The new clause requires analysis in five years' time or to be delivered at the end of that five-year period. I see no virtue or merit in doing that. If there were any unforeseen problems, they should be attended to in the usual way. I venture to suggest that a bureaucratic measure of review in primary legislation in this way is not needed or justified. I therefore invite the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Gisborough, not to press their amendments.

Lord Howell

As my noble friend understands, I did not intend to press the amendment in any event. Perhaps I may make one comment on what he has just said. He has put the argument forward that it is rather an unusual thing for Bills to have a review date read into them. I have sat on committees which have dealt with masses of Bills and many of them have had review dates built into them as a sensible procedure. I cannot understand why that should not be the case here. As my noble friend says, if any technical difficulties are found on the way they will naturally be brought to the attention of this House.

It may be a good thing to have the opportunity to sit back and undertake a general review after three years to see which way public opinion is moving, how the Act is working and what effect it has had on the pistol-shooting sports. We should do that particularly in view of the fact that we are driving our participants abroad to train, with the consequent effect that that might have on judges and the ability to produce judges. It might make matters a little clearer. I cannot see any objection to doing that. If my noble friend says that we do not want to do that, I listen to what he says with a degree of sadness. He is throwing overboard the clause which was intended to be a lifesaver for the Government. Nevertheless, in the circumstances, I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I have taken on board what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has said. I accept his contention that it would be better if Amendment No. 10 referred also to the effects of the Act passed earlier this year by the previous Government. However, I suspect—the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, will correct me if I am wrong—that that is due to the restrictions imposed by the Long Title of the Bill. I believe that an earlier draft included an analysis of the effects of the ban on high-calibre pistols as well. That is the only reason for Amendment No. 10 being as restrictive as it is.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Peel had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 7: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


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

(2) A certificate granted under subsection (1) above shall be subject to the condition that—

  1. (a) the pistol is used for training in shooting disciplines approved by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Olympic Games; and
  2. (b) the pistol is used by a person approved by the Secretary of State and on the recommendation of a recognised governing body of the sport; and
  3. (c) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State; and
  4. (d) possession of the weapon outside such designated premises shall be permitted only for transfer to and use at premises at which a shooting competition is taking place on such conditions as the Secretary of State shall specify.").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment in the debate on a previous amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Perhaps I may say a few words in response to the Minister and other Members of the Committee. I am disappointed by what the noble Lord said, but I cannot say that I am in any way surprised. But I am extremely depressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said. I sincerely hope that the Minister is also depressed by what he said. He has given this House a warning that if we do not accommodate the difficulties that we are addressing at the moment as regards the Olympic and other international games, there is a danger that this country will be precluded from participating. When that warning comes from the noble Lord who is an ex-Minister for sport, I believe that we have to take it very seriously indeed.

I cannot understand why, if suitable accommodation is to be made to allow international sport to take place in this country, with the facilities that will be required to do that, the people of this country will not be allowed to practise and ultimately to participate in those centres. That is complete nonsense. I imagine that we may have situations in which people from this country will go abroad to, let us say, France where they will, as I understand it, be able to hold certificates for .22 pistols. I imagine that they then will be applying to the Secretary of State in this country to bring the gun back to compete in international sport. Is that really what the Government are looking for and the way in which they perceive this nonsense is ultimately going to be sorted out?

I believe that I quote the noble Lord, Lord McNally, correctly and that he said that this Bill has not come from nowhere. Of course it has not and we are all very much aware of that. But I can tell him one thing: it is going nowhere. It is going nowhere at the expense of this country's ability to compete at international level without—and I am sorry to come back to this point but I believe it to be true—doing anything to prevent the real dangers of having illegal weapons in this country.

Of course I appreciate, realise and respect the role of government in listening to public opinion; but surely at the same time maintaining a degree of common sense, pragmatism and fair play is also the role of government. Therefore, I ask the Minister to bear in mind all the points that we have made, because at the end of the day his Government's decision may have a fatal effect on our ability to participate in the games, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said.

I ask the Minister one final question before not moving my amendment. I wonder what he and other members of his party really feel the public reaction would be if the Government were to announce now that secure centres of excellence were to be established to allow us to compete on even terms with others in all the competitions that make up the Olympic Games. If he were to add to that the fact that disabled people were to be allowed to practise in those same centres of excellence, I cannot believe that he would not have public opinion behind him.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]


Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 8: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) The Secretary of State shall undertake a review of the operation of the compensation scheme approved under this Act and shall report to Parliament the results of the review together with any recommendations for compensating all persons affected by this Act.

(2) The report under subsection (1) shall be presented to both Houses of Parliament within 6 months of this Act coming into force.").

The noble Lord said: Before I speak to this new clause, I should like to take up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, when he said that we must take public opinion into account. I agree very much with that. The noble Earl will know—I tell him again—that in a MORI poll in May 53 per cent. of the population polled agreed that target pistol shooters were being unfairly punished. If we are taking notice of public opinion polls, we must bear in mind that the public are not in favour of the way in which target pistol shooters are being treated under this Bill or in the previous Act.

My amendment is simple. It seeks to require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the compensation scheme under this Bill to see how it has been working and its effect on individuals, gun clubs and businesses, and to report to both Houses of Parliament within six months of the Act coming into force.

My views on this legislation and the previous Act are well known. They have not changed. I believe that the legislation is outrageous and spiteful. It unfairly treats decent, respectable, law-abiding citizens, imposing collective punishment on them for the actions of a homicidal maniac. It is a great pity that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has left the Chamber because he intervened in the speech of my noble friend Lord Howell to invite him to visit a primary school to ask about views on gun control bearing in mind what happened at Dunblane. Perhaps the Committee and the noble Lord should know that every week, week in, week out, year in, year out, 14 children are killed on our roads and 200 are seriously injured. Once in this century—perhaps in even a longer period than that—15 children are killed in a school. That is horrific. It is horrible. It is disgraceful. Nevertheless, we must keep a sense of perspective. If we are concerned about the children who were killed at Dunblane, let us also be concerned about the 14 children who are killed week in, week out, year in, year out on our roads and the 200 who are injured.

In spite of what I have said, I think that we all want to improve the Bill, particularly since the present plans would lead to gross injustice. The Bill provides for compensation on the same terms for .22 pistols as for higher calibre guns. The injustice of the scheme currently operated under the 1997 Act will also apply to this Bill but is, in fact, worse. Clubs and businesses which might have been able to continue to operate with .22s will no longer be able to do so. The point was recognised by the then Minister, Miss Widdecombe, in a debate on the 1997 Bill when she said: The Bill will make no difference to clubs which use .22 pistols."—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 20/11/96; col. 26.] That opportunity for survival is no longer available. The same is true for businesses. They will face the costs, not only of the value of the guns themselves, but all the other costs, financial obligations and loss of business from closing down.

Many of the worst hit by this Bill will be ordinary club members who have pitched together to run their club or range. Many of these individuals will remain liable for long-term mortgages and leases for clubs and ranges which will be forced to close by this Bill. Nothing could be more unjust than that.

A survey of 139 clubs showed that 71 per cent. would not reach the government requirements for security under the 1997 Act; 126 clubs gave details at that time of their expected losses, and it was possible to calculate that their losses could be over £64 million. The new Bill makes the situation even worse. All pistol clubs will now have to close. The 71 per cent. will become 100 per cent. The loss for which no compensation is being paid to clubs could be £100 million. That loss is being placed on them by the Government and Parliament. They will have to meet it.

The British Shooting Sports Council's survey of clubs drew attention to the Derby Rifle and Pistol Club which is a non-profit-making operation which will lose (even assuming a good resale price) over £100,000 on land and facilities. It recorded the Chesterfield Rifle and Pistol Club which has land and buildings unsaleable except for shooting club premises and stands to lose £128,000. The lease of the Aberdeen Full Bore Gun Club runs for 21 years at £70,000 a year.

The case of the 10th Battalion Suffolk Home Guard Rifle and Pistol Club sums up how critical it is for the Government even at this late stage to compensate at least those individuals who stand surety for their club. The 10th battalion was founded when the Government stood the Home Guard down but instructed it—"instructed it", mind you—to establish ranges on which the public were to be admitted. The 10th battalion did so on rented land. It built a clubhouse and raised money by its own efforts. In February 1996, a few weeks before Dunblane, it bought the land. It managed this with the help of money from the Sports Council, the local district council and the National Rifle Association. The land is owned subject to a covenant that it can be used only as a shooting range. The £15,900 grant from the Sports Council is subject to the condition that the club shall continue to function for 10 years. Then there is a matter of a £6,000 loan. None of this is under the control of the trustees yet each of the four will be personally liable for the quarter of any debts on winding up. What a way to treat British citizens! What a way for the Government to treat individuals!

There is also the question of what will happen to businesses. Compensation is being offered for loss of stock but not for loss of business. Many dealers will lose their livelihoods as a result of the Bill. This is not just an occupational hazard; it is a sudden imposition by law which will take away so large an amount of trade that the enterprise could become unviable. It is estimated that some 3,000 jobs will be lost as a result.

The Government say that there are plenty of precedents for this and that this is what usually happens when governments pass new Acts: some people are bound to be hurt, including financially. However, there are precedents for compensating for loss of business. I refer, for example, to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which states, in Sections 107 and 108, that compensation can, in appropriate cases, include an amount for loss of anticipated profit which could have been earned from the use of the land in a way which becomes prohibited by reason of the revocation. That is a precedent for compensating people for loss of business.

We ought also to look elsewhere for precedents, including at the Australian scheme, which is generous. The Australian scheme was established following the incident at Port Arthur. The Australian Government have willingly accepted the principle of "fair and proper compensation" for dealers, individuals and collectors—in fact, for everyone affected. Compensation in Australia is based on the value of assets one month before the Port Arthur incident not at the publication of a Bill after the incident. Obviously, that government recognise that compensation must take account of the fact that the depression in the value of such assets occurred immediately after the incident.

Dealers in Australia are being offered compensation for stock, unusable ammunition, spares, maintenance equipment and manuals relating to prohibited firearms. Importantly, this is being offered at sale price, not purchase price. There is a big difference. The dealers are also being offered compensation for loss of business; that is, the difference between the value of the business prior to the new legislation—before the incident in Port Arthur—and the value of the business following the new legislation. If the Australian Government can offer fair and proper compensation to their citizens in accordance with natural justice surely our Government—which is very much richer—can do the same. There are practical problems relating to the operation of the compensation scheme. Tonight I do not have time to go into the details. However, a review would enable the difficulties to be addressed and perhaps ironed out.

One hears a good deal from the present Ministers about individual rights and natural justice. One understands that the United Kingdom is to incorporate into law the European Convention on Human Rights. We have an opportunity here to bring about natural justice by ensuring that dealers, pistol shooters, gun club owners and gun club members are properly compensated for their losses. They deserve that. I hope that this small and, unfortunately, insignificant amendment—it is the only way to get anything at all by way of compensation because of the restriction of the Long Title of the Bill—will be accepted so that the Government must look at the matter six months after the Act, if it ever becomes law—I am sure it will—comes into force. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Zouche of Haryngworth

I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We must now live with the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. I believe that it was a rotten, rotten Bill, but that is as it may be. The noble Lord's amendment will give the Government the opportunity to rethink the issue of compensation. The previous government made excuses about precedents. That was nonsense. It was just a convenient excuse not to compensate fairly. The Australian Government looked after their citizens. Australian dealers, clubs and individuals have been paid compensation for loss of business. What is wrong with us? I am ashamed. Not only have we taken away the right of some of our citizens to partake in an honourable sport but we do not even have the decency to pay them proper compensation. I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and give the Government the chance to put right something that is so shamefully wrong. I beg the Minister to dig deeply into his conscience before rejecting this amendment.

Lord Monson

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has moved the amendment with his habitual skill and sensitivity to the injustices inflicted upon tens of thousands of law-abiding decent citizens by panic legislation both by this Government and the previous government. His exposition of those injustices is so comprehensive that there is no need for me to enlarge upon them, particularly at this relatively late hour.

However, it is worth examining the amendment in some detail to see what it provides. All it obliges the Secretary of State to do is to undertake a review of the operation of the compensation scheme and to report the results to Parliament—nothing more. It gives the Government the option of making recommendations to increase compensation in certain instances if they believe it right to do so, but they are under no obligation to make any such compensation. On the other hand, in the light of evidence revealed by the review they may decide that it is appropriate to introduce new primary legislation to provide extra compensation for the worst hit individuals and associations. There is nothing in the amendment that obliges the Government to do so. Therefore, the amendment is extremely moderate and responsible, and I hope that on that basis it will be accepted.

Earl Peel

I very strongly support this amendment. During the proceedings on the previous Bill I spoke at length on the whole question of compensation. I make no apology for speaking about it again, because it is a very serious question and there are undoubtedly clear examples where financial losses have been identified and those losses have led to real hardship. I declare an interest, as I always have, as president of the Gun Trade Association. Quite a number of these cases have been brought to my attention. At Second Reading I quoted the figure of £64 million as the estimate of the losses that had been incurred by clubs alone due directly to the previous legislation. That sum does not include businesses and those who took out mortgages or loans. I dread to think what the total figure may be. However, one can be sure that it comes to a very considerable sum of money. Those people were ignored.

The previous government maintained that no precedent had been set for such compensation, certainly to be met out of the public purse. But examples were given to show that in previous cases when government had legislated to prohibit a product for whatever reason there had in many cases been other products to which the particular businesses could turn. But that was not the case with many businesses and clubs which dealt specifically with specialist guns. One knows that clubs in particular suffered under the previous legislation. Furthermore, in previous cases where items had been prohibited, a phasing-out period was provided which gave those concerned an opportunity to look to other ways of maintaining their businesses. That opportunity was not afforded under the previous legislation. It was rushed through for reasons of political expediency and no real concern was shown for those businesses and clubs. My concern today is that exactly the same will happen again.

There will be casualties from this Bill. Whereas I accept that the Government have said that they will pay full compensation for those who hand in their .22 hand guns and accessories, there will still be businesses, clubs and those who have taken out mortgages and loans in respect of whom nothing has been done. If the Government on behalf of the electorate consider that the measures in this Bill are in the best interests of the public at large, I believe that equal consideration and courtesy must be shown to those who have taken the brunt of this legislation.

The amendment is, on the face of it, an innocuous one. That is not an adjective I like to use to describe anything with which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is involved, but what he says is right. It is only, in effect, a small amendment. I support it for one reason only. It will help concentrate the Government's mind on the whole question of compensation and could, in time, demonstrate the plight that businesses, clubs and individuals have suffered. The Government may at that time rethink the whole question of compensation and adopt a system considerably fairer and more just than that witnessed under the previous legislation.

The Earl of Lytton

I have previously expressed an interest in compensation matters, and I have an apology to make to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. A few days ago I indicated that I did not think that I could support the amendment. Having heard what he has had to say—I had no idea at the time that he was proposing to raise the whole question of compensation—I must add a few things from my experience. That will help foreshorten what I have to say in connection with an amendment in my name.

The noble Lord referred to public opinion and opinion polls. He underlined something which I have always understood; namely, that public opinion is a fickle commodity. One minute it is borne on a tide of emotion, press comment and such things; the next minute it has moved on to something different. I hope therefore that the Government will bear in mind that feature and that, perhaps in a year's time, when the first anniversary of their success in being elected into government comes around, they will consider that they are receiving the support of the country for reasons different from the ones upon which they went to the polls in the first place. That is a necessary and desirable process. They need to be alert to it.

On Second Reading, I referred to public opinion versus public interest. I pointed out that they are not the same; that there is a role for government to make a distinction. I do not see that distinction being made here.

I come now to the question of compensation. As I say, I was unaware that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, intended to raise it. However, it is something close to my heart and my amendment relates to one aspect of it. There are severe risks involved in getting this wrong. What will happen if those who stand to lose because they are not being paid the proper sum by reference to market values or are excluded by virtue of having stock in trade and business liabilities—all the matters to which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred—feel a palpable sense of abiding injustice? It is easy to see what sort of risks may be run when we talk about relying, to a large extent, on people's willingness to surrender handguns.

It may not be fashionable to say so, but I wonder whether a number of weapons will not disappear through loss, theft or export on whatever pretext and whether the effect of the proposed legislation will not fail to achieve the Government's objectives in terms of reducing the number of guns by getting rid of these legally held guns. I do not know what the answer to that is. I am extremely worried that it may not work in the way the Government have in mind, because there will be people who will feel that they have been short changed.

I said on Second Reading that two wrongs do not make a right. At this stage of the Bill, they still do not make a right. They are still two wrongs. There is still the risk of disillusionment and the tit-for-tat response. How many people will be left, as one sees in the light of Lord Cullen's report, like that embittered, disillusioned man who took his revenge on society? That may sound far fetched, but we are playing with fire if we do not get the matter right.

It is in the public interest that full and fair compensation is paid, and seen to be paid. If that is not done, the consequences are likely to lead to this country being a more dangerous rather than a less dangerous place. I want it to be a less dangerous place. I support the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. I am glad to have heard what he had to say and to have had the opportunity to contribute.

Baroness Blotch

I shall be brief. It is unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is not in his place. He has not found one Member on the Liberal Benches to support his arguments. He strongly supported the issue of compensation, and his comments would have a far greater resonance, given the situation presented by the superimposition of the Bill onto the 1997 Act.

Under the 1997 Act, it was at least possible for clubs to continue operating, albeit, I say to my noble friend Lord Peel, under strict regulation. However, the importance of the Bill is that the opportunity for survival will no longer be available. That makes the scenario different. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, set out in considerable detail the distress that will now be suffered by clubs, shooters and the sport. It is for those reasons that I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

As my noble friend clearly indicated, he wants a statutory requirement for a formal review and report of the compensation scheme under the Bill. It will not have escaped attention that the scheme under the earlier Bill introduced by the previous government restricted itself to handguns and ancillary equipment. On many occasions the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, raised the question of wider compensation, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Earls, Lord Peel and Lord Lytton; that is, compensation for loss of business, for mortgage loans taken out, and loss perhaps in circumstances where covenants have been entered into and where land and buildings have been purchased or leased—all losses which have been described and which I well understand.

A policy decision taken by the previous government, endorsed by another place and approved by this place, following considerable discussion, was that those would not be eligible for compensation. I always respect my noble friend's ingenuity. He says that it is a little amendment. Someone flashed out the red light that it was an innocuous amendment, so I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Stoddart was developing. Of course what he is doing—if I may respectfully suggest it, and I think we may be in agreement—is not asking for a formal review but for the reopening of the compensation scheme basis.

The 1997 Act had the same scheme for compensation as the Bill. I do not find it persuasive when the former Minister, now sitting opposite me, says that everything has changed because under the previous Act, which did away with so many more weapons than does the Bill, there was still the possibility of running .22 clubs. I do not find that argument persuasive in any way. Since the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and I have agreed on changing disciplines, I should be surprised if he were persuaded by it either.

We believe that there is no need for a formal statutory review. The scheme will start—and I hope that it will be efficiently run—on the basis of the present regime of compensation. I understand the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and I understand the sense of principle which other noble Lords have adopted. If the amendment were passed we would have a statutory requirement for a review in relation to compensation for small-calibre weapons but not in relation to compensation for large-calibre weapons. I respectfully suggest that that would be distinctly unworkable and inconsistent and I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

Does the Minister agree that the amendment, if passed, does not oblige the Government to pay a single penny more in compensation than is provided for at present, if they so decide?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The answer to that question is yes.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, comes to a conclusion as to whether to press the amendment, and since the Minister was good enough to refer to me, I confirm that I did not approve of the previous Government's arrangements for their Bill. Indeed, I believe that the amendment, which your Lordships' House passed by a substantial majority with all-party support, to disassemble weapons, particularly .22s, and to keep the slide mechanisms and the chambers in the clubs under suitably secure arrangements and to keep the weapons at home, was the right amendment to meet all sides of this particularly difficult argument. Of course, it was a matter of regret that the previous Government did not feel able to accept that. It was certainly a matter of regret to most of us in your Lordships' House who supported it.

I appreciate that the Minister is not having an easy time today, and I certainly admire the way in which he is holding his extremely difficult and, I would have thought, unpleasant brief. However, I cannot go so far with him as to disagree with my noble friend Lady Blatch when she said that the previous Government left us with the possibility of at least having some .22 shooting in clubs and continuing the sport. The present Government, in their lack of wisdom, have decided to prevent that.

I support the amendment because if, with the further passage of time, we were to review the compensation arrangements, or lack of them, which the Bill brings forward we might reach a more sensible conclusion than the one that we are reaching still in the aftermath of the Dunblane tragedy. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, re-entering the Chamber because he referred to the terrible tragedy at Dunblane and the children who suffered. Speaking as the father of a 12 year-old girl than whom nothing and no-one is more precious in life to me, I must say to the noble Lord that I believe that he is wrong in thinking that the Bill will do anything to prevent future tragedies of that kind or the future deaths of children. As we have said for some time, the Bill seeks to ban the instrument that was used at Dunblane, but it does nothing to alleviate the cause.

Earl Peel

Why does the Minister seem so concerned that the amendment will re-open the whole question of compensation? I understand that under the amendment there is no onus to ask the Secretary of State to do anything other than to make a report. It may initiate debate, but there is no onus on the Secretary of State or the Minister to do anything. Therefore, I do not see why he is concerned about that point.

Furthermore, do I understand that the Minister's principal reason for not paying compensation in respect of businesses, mortgages, clubs and so forth—all of which have been raised many times in your Lordships' House—other than compensation for weapons is because the previous Government did not do so? I had hoped that the new Government would take a fresh view. I am aware that the present Government are copying many of the legislative provisions which were introduced by the previous Government, whether they be fiscal, connected with privatisation or whatever. However, in this respect I hoped that the new Government would take a new and fresh look at the matter and certainly a more generous view as regards those people who were treated so badly in the past.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Of course, we are not taking this stance because of what the previous Government did. I simply pointed out as a matter of historical accuracy that the scheme introduced into your Lordships' House by the previous Government leads to the banning perhaps of 160,000 large-calibre handguns; this Bill deals with the impact of banning 40,000 small-calibre pistols. It would be surprising to me to have a compensation scheme for the 40,000 guns which was different from that for the 160,000. That is the point that I was seeking to make and I hope that I have now clarified it. That policy decision was taken and ultimately it was endorsed by Parliament, which is why we have the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 on the statute book.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I thank all noble Lords who supported my new clause. We should listen closely to what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, because there could well be people who feel a sense of injustice and who may take actions which are not conducive to good order. Of course, there is always the danger that there will be a leakage of handguns to the criminal fraternity and that must be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was right to say that the Bill will do nothing to prevent future Dunblanes. There is no guarantee whatever that this Bill or the Act which preceded it will prevent any future Dunblanes. If I could be assured that that were the case I would not have opposed the Bill, but I know that it is not the case. No guarantee can be given and under those circumstances this Bill and the previous Act are bad legislation.

My noble friend the Minister in his reply said, fairly, that the Bill follows on from the previous Bill which was brought forward by the previous Government. He made that excuse, and I say that advisedly because it is an excuse. I must tell my noble friend and other Members of the Committee that I am a member of the Labour Party because I believe that it is fairer and understands the concerns and difficulties of ordinary people better than the party opposite—

Lord Renton

Not always!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

No, but let me explain why I am a member of the Labour Party. It states that it is fairer and that it wants a fairer society. If that is so why on earth is it following the policy—the mean policy—of the previous Government? People changed the Government because they wanted something different and yet all we have is the same. So that is my answer to my noble friend. I hope that he will understand and accept it.

Of course I want to reopen the whole issue of compensation. The problem is that my Government have drawn the Bill so closely and restricted the Long Title so badly that I have to resort to this device to try to talk to my friend, my noble friend, in the hope that they will depart from the policies of the predecessor government and bring about much more fairness to the people who are adversely affected by this Bill.

Of course, because there is a huge majority, he could while he is about it bring forward an amendment Bill so that we could have the same treatment for the people who suffered under the previous Act. Therefore, there is an enormous opportunity for my noble friend to do good for people who have been badly hurt by the previous government and now by my own Government.

I should like to press this amendment but it would be churlish to do so because everybody else has been kind enough to withdraw their amendments. They have done so in the hope and in order that my noble friend can examine what the amendment says and consider further what has been said in the debate. When the Bill comes to Report stage, it is hoped that the Minister will be much more receptive and will support some of the amendments. Indeed, if they are not properly drafted, perhaps he will bring forward his own amendments which we can all support and which will improve the Bill in the way I and other Members of the Committee have suggested in relation to other matters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 11: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


(" . In any case under this Act the Secretary of State shall—

  1. (a) on notification in writing by any person surrendering weapons or ancillary equipment ranking for compensation, pay an amount equal to his estimate of the compensation payable on account of and without prejudice to the total amount of compensation agreed or determined: and
  2. (b) make any such payment within 30 days of notification or other such period as is provided for by an order made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument and approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: I shall be as brief as I can, given the hour. I apologise also to the Minister for the relatively late tabling of the amendment, which is a probing amendment. It deals with a quite narrow, technical point but I should explain that it arises through my fear that the compensation scheme under this Bill may prove more costly than has been thought hitherto.

That is partly because of my impression that the quantum of ancillary equipment which may rank for compensation is almost by definition not known and quantifiable. I have heard some rumours that whatever the cost, it may be the case that there are no additional funds to be put towards the costs of compensation under the Bill and that any additional costs may have to be met out of existing Home Office budgets. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance about that because it worries me a great deal, and I shall explain why.

It is my general observation that, whenever there is insufficient money around, a certain amount of creative administrative practice arises. The flaw in any process which requires money which is in short supply to be paid out is that there results a tendency to draw out the process of agreeing what is due to a recipient.

The effect of that is to delay the evil day when someone has to write out the cheque. I alluded to that in relation to Amendment No. 3, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when I said that I did not believe that that amendment went far enough. Of course, it is one thing to be paid when the compensation is agreed or within a certain period thereafter; it is another to have the whole thing snarled up because the matter is not agreed. Therefore, my amendment seeks to redress the potential for a certain amount of financial manipulation in that respect. I do not suggest that that will necessarily happen but I feel that it is a risk.

The effect of the amendment is to enable a person entitled to compensation to obtain in relatively short order a payment of that amount of the compensation which is not in dispute, leaving the balance to be dealt with and picked up later. There are parallels for that in the general law of compulsory purchase and compensation relating to acquisitions of land and property for public schemes where there is entitlement to a statutory advance payment without prejudice to any larger sum under discussion.

Therefore, I commend this relatively technical amendment to the Committee and look forward with interest to the Minister's reply.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

The Minister will know that I am sympathetic to any way of speeding up and making more efficient the delivery of the system and also in relation to swift payment. The Minister has declared that he wishes to see payments made as speedily as possible. But I do not believe that the Minister appreciates properly the depth of anxiety and concern about this whole scheme, how it will work and how well it will be implemented. There are already discrepancies among police authorities as to how they are dealing with the shooting fraternity who will be subject to the measures in the previous Act and in this Bill.

Therefore, I believe that the Government should place something on the face of the Bill which reassures people that these matters will be dealt with efficiently and that timely payments will be made. People will be in need of this money and it is important that they should receive it as soon as possible. Therefore, I support the principle of including a provision of this kind in the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving me early notice of his amendment and indeed, for reiterating its purpose; namely, to ensure that claimants receive at least some money relatively quickly.

I understand that desire. On a number of occasions now I have assured the Committee that claims will be paid as quickly as possible. I understand entirely the basis on which this amendment is put forward. However, it may well make the process slower. There will not be any need for payments on account in respect of options A and B because they are determined figures. That would come into play only in relation to option C. My concern is that in talking about payments on account in relation to options A and B, there may be thought to be an opportunity for not making the full payment promptly.

I understand entirely the purpose of the amendment but I suggest that it is flawed. There is an ambiguity in that the amendment refers to, notification in writing by any person surrendering weapons or ancillary equipment ranking for compensation, pay an amount equal to his estimate". It is not entirely clear whether that is the Secretary of State's estimate or the applicant's estimate. That is a very small matter which I merely point out to the noble Earl.

I agree entirely with the noble Earl about wanting prompt payment. A large number of persons are bound to make applications in the early weeks and I could not guarantee that everyone would be dealt with as soon as may reasonably be expected in that early period. But in relation to options A and B there should certainly be prompt payment because the figures are set. As regards option C, I should have thought that in the end, payment on account would slow down matters. I do not think that the analogy that the noble Earl put forward is entirely perfect although I recognise readily his expertise in compulsory purchase matters.

On the basis of what I have said, which is intended to be helpful, I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Lytton

It would be churlish to prolong matters any further than is necessary. I appreciate the support for the principle of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I confirm to the Minister that the word "his" refers to the Secretary of State. The Minister is right to say also that the amendment relates primarily to the option C process.

However, that is something that is triggered by the claimant, who notifies the Secretary of State and not the other way round. Therefore, it would be for the claimant to carry the risk of any potential delay. Of course, that would be based on his perception of how matters were going and how long drawn-out and difficult it would be.

I have to say that I am not wholly satisfied with the situation. I am concerned that the Minister twice repeated the comment that there would be many claims in the early days and that there is some thought that this may be a fairly long drawn-out process as regards the sheer volume of claims. That worries me quite a lot as to whether in fact the administrative resources, never mind the actual money for compensation, are really there. While reserving my position perhaps to return to the matter at a later stage in the Bill's proceedings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

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