HL Deb 16 October 1997 vol 582 cc568-96

4.38 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Prohibition of small-calibre pistols]:

Lord Swansea had given notice of his intention to move 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: My Lords, I had intended to move Amendment No. 1 coupled with Amendments Nos. 9 to 12. On reflection, I have decided not to move that amendment today but to bring it forward again on Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 1, 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: My Lords, as the House will recall, we discussed one or two of these matters previously and had hoped that in the interim the Government would give consideration to some of the issues which concern us. I know that they have done so because I have been involved in some of the discussions. I cannot say that I am pleased with the outcome of those discussions but I am pleased with the way in which my noble friend Lord Williams and the Home Secretary accorded me the courtesy of a hearing. No doubt we shall discuss subsequently the conclusions that they reached. However, it is right to say that the points that some of us raised in the House were accorded the courtesy of consideration.

Amendment No. 2 deals with disabled persons' exemption. I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, is present. I hope that he manages to speak in the debate because we all remember the extremely eloquent and touching speech he made when we discussed these matters previously.

I do not want to go over the ground again—I am anxious to save as much time as I can. But my noble friend Lord Williams undertook at a previous hearing on this clause to pay regard to the strong feeling expressed in the House and to give it consideration. No doubt he will tell us the result of that new thinking.

I shall simply say a few words on the substance of the amendment. Shooting is one of the few sports which can be enjoyed by both disabled and able-bodied competitors. Both rifle and pistol championships have been won by competitors shooting from wheelchairs. Any of us with a knowledge of handicap games, particularly the old paraplegic games at Stoke Mandeville, and who have seen the tremendous pleasure unfortunate and seriously disabled persons have obtained from participating in those sports from their wheelchairs, would take a great deal of convincing that those shooters in those same wheelchairs are likely to endanger public safety—the proposal put forward by the Government.

As I have said before, I do not know of a single case where a disabled shooter has ever run amok to cause the slightest concern to anyone in the country—the police or anybody else. That is a matter of some importance. There are 450 sports clubs affiliated to the British Sports Association for the Disabled, most of whom are multisports providers—I estimate around 100 provide shooting as an activity out of those 450 clubs—and it seems to me inconceivable that we should not pay special attention to their situation. Indeed, if we grossed that up with the number of clubs and the number of disabled shooters, we are approaching around 50,000 people. That is not an insignificant number of British citizens of good repute with great physical handicaps who will be assisted by the amendment.

Each year there are five national championships in which 2,000 competitors compete and 5 per cent. of those 2,000 are disabled. They may be deaf, amputees, have restricted limb movement or in wheelchairs and now, too, blind persons participate in those handicap events. Indeed, I went to see some disabled games recently in Birmingham and was particularly struck by the courage of the blind participants and the great pleasure and thrill they obtained from being able to compete in those events.

Two years ago, with the aid of modern technology, we were able to introduce shooting for the blind. In April 1996 a blind team entered the Dutch Open Disabled Championships and won a team gold, together with first, second and fourth places in individual events. That makes the point why some of us are persisting to try to safeguard that joy and that opportunity for citizens who are not as fortunate as we are. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I can offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on this amendment. The noble Lord rightly said that this is not the time to revisit all the arguments that have been exercised in the past and certainly, though this is the first time I have come to these debates, I do not want to revisit them.

As I said, I offer my support and I suspect the support of a considerable number of others on these Benches to the noble Lord should he wish to press this amendment. Having said that, I should stress that I do not see this as a party political matter, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not. He sees it as a matter of considerable importance to disabled people. I should like to underline his argument that this is one of the few, if any, sports where disabled and able-bodied people can compete as absolute equals. As regards pistol shooting, there can be no difference between those in wheelchairs and those who are not in wheelchairs. They can compete equally.

Over the years I have had the honour of serving in a number of different departments with responsibility for disability matters—the Department of Social Security, later the Department of Employment and later on still in the merged Department for Education and Employment. In those various departments I played some part in the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, an Act of which we on this side of the House are justly proud. Having gone through bringing that Act in, it would be sad if the spirit of the Act could not be recognised in relation to Amendment No.2.

I hope therefore that when the noble Lord, Lord Williams, comes to sum up this debate, having listened to the arguments—most of which I imagine will be in support of the noble Lord, Lord Howell—he will be able to give it a sympathetic hearing. However, I am grateful that both he and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary have been helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in offering a number of meetings to try to resolve the matter. I hope that this afternoon he can go further. If he is unable to go further, I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Crawshaw

My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of Amendment No. 2. Its simple intention is to retain as much shooting for the disabled as is possible, no more and no less.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was kind enough to refer to the contribution that I made at Committee stage. Again, I do not wish to go over all that ground again. I talked rather too much about the sport of archery and I shall keep off that subject today.

I am bound to say a little about the forms of firearms shooting which are possibly the most suitable. At the top of the list one is bound to say that pistol shooting is perhaps the most appropriate. In fact, more often I use a shotgun or rifle, but there is a problem in using those from a wheelchair. It is all a question of balance. Without talking about fulcrums, cantilevers and so forth, the simple fact is that to lift a fairly heavy firearm in front of one's body and keep it in the right place is quite difficult, particularly if the muscles controlling the balance have been affected, as in many cases they have. The tendency therefore is for the end of the barrel to do a nosedive and if we are not careful the bullet or the shot will go into the ground in front. Therefore, to balance the pistol on the left arm—I am talking, of course, about a right armed shooter—or even to use the left arm as some form of brace is a good alternative, particularly when using a light calibre pistol.

The amendment mentions designated premises. I have been rereading the Committee stage debate. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is not present because on that earlier occasion he had a good deal to say on this subject. The amendment presumably means that disabled shooters would attend the mainstream places and not perform in isolation. That, again, would be very much in accordance with their wishes. According to the amendment put forward in Committee such centres would be spread around the country to include the well known shooting areas of Bisley and so on. I should like to include such areas as Stoke Mandeville near Aylesbury and Wakefield in South Yorkshire. Both of those areas are well attuned to the problems of disabled persons—those with spinal injuries and so on.

To me, the combined efforts of the Olympic movement, with its shooters and other personnel, together with those who support places such as Stoke Mandeville could produce some startling results. I have recently attended many large fund raising events for the Wheelchair Sports Association. On those occasions the events were lit up by the presence of Diana, Princess of Wales. Here we have an obvious choice or objective for some of the funds now being raised in her memory. I can foresee some startling projects. I hope that all this will be examined before we become involved in the various bans and, I am afraid to say, the destruction of some people's sport—in many cases people who do not have a wide range of choices. I am pleased to support the amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. Indeed, I have put my name to it. I shall speak briefly. The amendment in no way undermines the central purpose of the Bill which is to ban for general use handguns. We are here talking about a very specialist and narrow point. We are talking about removing a therapeutic sport from unfortunate people. Before we do that we really ought to examine not only our minds but our hearts as well.

I say this to the House and to my noble friends. If we were thinking of taking away any other facility from disabled people, there would be hell to pay, and rightly so. If we wanted to ban people from engaging in archery, there would be hell to pay. Why then is there not hell to pay when we are removing a therapeutic sport from disabled people? I hope there will be a Division on the amendment. I shall certainly be voting for it. When people are deciding whether to vote for it, I sincerely hope that they will take into account what I have just said about the central purpose of the legislation not being undermined and indeed the needs of the disabled people about which we all, I hope, care very much.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Howell. In doing so I pay tribute to him. For many years in another place the noble Lord sat opposite me. We had many lively debates on the subject of sportsmen and sportswomen and always agreed on the importance of promoting facilities and opportunities for the disabled, recognising that their excellence was just as outstanding in their given fields as that of able bodied sportsmen and women.

Everything the noble Lord said on the amendment deserves support from all sides of the House. It has been sensitively argued and has focused on the fact that as the Bill stands it discriminates against the policy of successive Governments who have sought to promote the interests of disabled sportsmen and women. It discriminates against the principles behind the work of those assisting in the development of Stoke Mandeville and in the development of shooting as a sport for disabled sportsmen and women.

In that context, and with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the work he has done in this direction, I for one will have the privilege and pleasure of standing with him in the Division Lobby should the amendment be taken to a Division. It is an important amendment. It secures and protects the rights of disabled sportsmen and women who are no threat, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out in his opening remarks, in the context of the Bill. If the amendment is not passed, deep and lasting damage will be done to the interests of a significant group of outstanding sportsmen and women who would lose the opportunity to enjoy the sport of shooting.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I wish to support the amendment. Pistol shooting is a sport that disabled people can take part in. To remove them from competition would be a severe blow to them. We have had success in shooting at the paraplegic games. We have won prizes at every shooting championship held for disabled people. The amendment deserves your Lordships' support.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, in rising to support the noble Lord, Lord Howell, perhaps I may also warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Henley to the Front Bench on this subject. It is a challenging portfolio and it is one which I know he will enjoy. I know that it is one which he will carry out with his usual consummate skill.

The arguments in support of the amendment are overwhelming. I know, from having sat on the Front Bench, that arguments in support of it have been produced from all sides of the House. I know also that the only thing standing in our way is the dogged determination of the Home Office simply not to give an inch. It sees this as a sign of strength. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Williams, well in taking the Home Office on because I know from experience that it is no mean feat when you come out as a victor against people with such dogged determination that we should not succeed.

The Government's underlying concern is that there should be no threat to the community at large, particularly with regard to the example we had at Dunblane. However, if the amendment is accepted, it will represent no threat whatever to the community. We are talking about some of the most law-abiding citizens in our land.

My final point is this. There is a deafening silence from the one person who ought to be championing the cause of disabled people today. That is the Minister for the disabled. There is a real interest here for a group of people who have always been the subject of concern on the part of noble Lords. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will exercise what I know he is extremely capable of doing: taking on the giants of the Home Office. I hope that he will say that on this occasion, in the interests of the most law-abiding group of people, we should accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

5 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I support the amendment, which is entirely right. It is very bad that disabled people who should have the possibility of healthy, therapeutic exercise and a social life should be deprived of that opportunity. I fully support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will have the courage to go against his Government and will give way and support the amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, like so many of us in the House, I was privileged to take part in the discussions on the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is a just and worthy piece of legislation which was supported by all parties and one which, like so many other laws, works best when continually reviewed.

That Bill set out to correct those who showed a misunderstanding of the needs of the disabled in matters of employment and leisure and in the very difficult and ever-present consideration of access and, of course, sport. The aim was to make those in society who are disabled congenitally, by syndrome, disease or accident, feel at home and at ease among the majority, the able-bodied in society.

Few of us have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be disabled. I do. Since the accident that impaired my sight, I tend to move furniture around involuntarily and also unfortunately—for which I apologise—individuals. Most of the disabled take life by the scruff of the neck. They achieve anything and everything that most experts and friends would believe impossible.

We in this House praise and admire those who refuse to give in. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, gave many examples of that in his speech during the Committee stage. The spirit of unquenchable and inextinguishable effort never manifests itself more than in those who compete in the Paralympics. As we are addressing a specific amendment, let us look at the gold and silver medals won in pistol shooting events and international paralympic competitions. I have spoken of unquenchable and inextinguishable efforts and there are none more so than from those who are champion disabled shooters.

If noble Lords can bear with a repetition of facts that they may have heard already, I wish to read out facts and statistics. In 1994 the world shooting championship was held in Austria. We won two gold, two silver and two bronze medals—six medals. In 1995 the European championships were in Finland. We won one gold, two silver and one bronze medal—four medals. In 1996 the championships were in Atlanta where we won one gold and one silver medal. In 1997, at Lyons, we won two medals, both bronze. In 1998 it appears not to matter. We in this House and those in another place are, by this legislation, preventing our disabled from competing in a sport which, as noble Lords have heard before, all medical opinion says plays a very important part in rehabilitation, increasing self-esteem, enhancing co-ordination between eye, mind and limb and also allowing those who are medically unable to exert themselves a chance to enjoy a sport. As noble Lords have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, it is most therapeutic for the disabled to compete in competition shooting. Are we to deny them that therapy? Noble Lords have been asked the question and I repeat it.

This is a Government who have proclaimed themselves a government of the people who would not discriminate against minorities. What is this legislation if not discrimination?

As noble Lords can see from the statistics, shooting is a sport at which the disabled of this country can excel. The disabled are on a par, totally equal with those who are able-bodied. The Palace of Westminster, within two years of approving measures in the Disability Discrimination Act, has approved and, under pressure from the other place as well as from various Members of this House, has added clauses to the Firearms (Amendment) Act which will deepen the wounds of discrimination and make a mockery of the good that we have achieved with the Disability Discrimination Act. I support the amendment.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I speak entirely for myself on this subject. Listening to the debate I have found a tone which I have not liked of special pleading for the disabled and not equal rights. Most of the legislation we have before us and most of the debates on it have concerned giving those with disabilities of various descriptions the chance to compete on a level playing field, even if it means that they need a little help getting there.

I have always been upset at the thought of an Olympic sport being banned, but probably the pros outweigh the cons on this. Handguns of any description have their origin in being a man-killing weapon. That is an historical and unarguable fact. That they are not the most efficient of weapons does not mean that they do not have that capacity. The decision is not one which I have come to lightly. When noble Lords consider the matter I hope they will bear in mind that the disabled have rights and responsibilities on equal terms with the able-bodied. If a group of able-bodied people is being deprived of a sporting activity and the majority has not gone berserk—those weapons are not ideal for going berserk; one would have to try a little harder—possibly the same responsibility also falls on those who are disabled. I do not particularly like saying that. I have probably never taken that line of approach before and will never take it again. But I ask the House to consider that it may be asking for something which is effectively tokenism.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, first I must apologise for not having been present at the beginning of the debate. I was detained. I rise partly in response to what has just been said. If I dare use the phrase, it seems to me to have been an astonishingly totalitarian attitude coming from the enlightened Benches of the Liberal Democrats. Here we are balancing responsibilities. Yes, we are asking for an exception to be made to a general rule. But surely the mark of a civilised society is that where a need is shown and where justice needs to be shown, the means by which we achieve that justice and meet that need should be provided.

What is certain is that the amendment meets the two targets: first, of being limited in its scope. It is not setting a precedent for any other extension of the right to use weapons. Secondly, there is the need not to cultivate any real or serious threat which would mean a serious breach of the aim of the legislation with which I agree as a whole. I hope that my noble friend, like me, will appeal to and remind all on these Benches who have fought so passionately and vigorously for disabled people in the past, to add their voices to those who have spoken in support of this amendment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, every speech in favour of this amendment has been both courteous and moderate, and those are historically the most difficult speeches to respond to. I am sorry that earlier in the week, when the noble Lord, Lord Henley, made contributions on home affairs matters, I had not realised that he had been translated in portfolio. I have made good my apparent discourtesy by subsequently writing to him privately. In welcoming him, perhaps I may say how fruitful the co-operation was that I always had with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We did not always agree, but I do not believe that we ever parted bad friends.

All the speeches made this afternoon have been much shorter than on the last occasion for reasons that are proper and which I hope to follow. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, on the last occasion was a moving one and I hoped to have responded to it by saying that the Government would give further reasonable consideration to the matter over the summer. I am grateful for the courteous way in which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, responded, both in correspondence and personally, and also for having the great scruple to say that he has had conversations with me and with the Home Secretary about this matter.

We are not able to accommodate what I recognise is a strong feeling in your Lordships' House. It is not because the Home Office is a juggernaut which cannot be altered. The merest scrutiny of the amendments marshalled for later this afternoon demonstrates that. In response to the reasoned arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the last occasion, I have put forward a government amendment to meet exactly the point that she was making. I am not saying that as a partisan point, but that when I undertook on behalf of the Government, and particularly the Home Office, that we would think about things through the summer, that was not simply the usual palliative which is sometimes doled out on these occasions.

We have reconsidered the position with care over the summer. Our conclusions remain the same. We do not wish to allow a situation of exemptions to the general prohibition on handguns proposed by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Benches, made courageous points because he knew perfectly well that the stream in which he was about to swim was not one which others viewed with favour. I respectfully suggest that he made legitimate points despite the fact that they are unpopular. I am not unsympathetic to the points which are being put forward. I believe that I understand as well as I can the thrust of the points made.

We have looked at the matter with great care. I have to disappoint many of your Lordships. We looked to see whether there was an exemption that could be accepted consistent with the policy that we have stood for, which is to do away, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, with small calibre handguns. We came to the conclusion that we could not do it.

Perhaps I may make this one point which is one of objective fact. There is no attempt to disadvantage disabled shooters in this Bill; there is no attempt to discriminate against disabled shooters. The fact is that they will be treated in exactly the same way as any other target shooter. It is not discriminatory, but treatment of equality under the law. Any disabled shooter—

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he accept that the aspect of discrimination is that able-bodied people who are to be denied the sport are able to go away and seek another sport? In the case of disabled people they have no alternative. It has been a sport which they have perfected over the years and they have built up their skills. They have nowhere else to go for a leisure activity which is, in effect, a right arm to them.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not accept that. I was developing my point. I shall reflect with infinite respect on what the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said both this afternoon and at greater length on an earlier occasion. The fact is that if the law stands unamended disabled shooters will still be able to compete in open competition using air weapons; they will still be able to use shotguns in open competition; they will still be able to use rifles in open, equal competition. The reason I referred to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, both today and earlier is that he said that, having practised archery at, I believe, Oxford, he had then—and he reaffirmed it this afternoon—turned to other weapons; namely, shotguns and .22 rifles. I accept that shooting may well form an important part of rehabilitation, but I do not, with the greatest respect, accept that rehabilitation means only the use of small calibre handguns.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on to the next part of his speech, I believe I heard him suggest that disabled shooters could find an alternative in air pistol shooting. That is not a practical solution at all because the Bill will close all pistol clubs in this country so it is impossible to see where disabled shooters will be able to take up air pistol shooting. In case the noble Lord is going to advance another suggestion that is going the rounds, which is that the disabled and other shooters could simply practise their sport in clubs which accommodate rifle and pistol shooting, that will not be so either. I have been given the very good example of the Ham and Petersham Rifle and Pistol Club in Surrey where, of its 800 members, only 24 are rifle shooters. So that club, like all others of its kind, will not exist in the future because its viability depends on pistol shooting. So I do not see how there will be any opportunity for disabled shooters to switch to air pistols.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not accept that those are necessary consequences in practice. I repeat, with great respect—because facts are important particularly when legitimate emotion is rightly in the background—that disabled shooters will continue to be able to shoot air weapons, shotguns or rifles.

We ought not to allow one group an exemption bearing in mind the over-arching principle of this Bill, which is a development of the Bill brought forward by the previous government in relation to larger calibre weapons. We have determined our policy and I hope to put that scrupulously. It is not intended to be dictatorial and I know that your Lordships will not take it as such. We have considered with infinite care all the arguments that have been put forward and we have to say, as governments sometimes do, that we are in the position where honourable people will honourably have to disagree. I know that will disappoint your Lordships and that in particular it will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has spent a good deal of care and time throughout the summer on this matter. I was going to ask my noble friends to withdraw their amendment, but I believe that that is probably unrealistic in all the circumstances. All I can do is say that for my part, bearing in mind that I know that this will cause hurt and distress, and may cause some disabled shooters to feel that the Government have been unthinking, we have been unable to agree.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for informing the House what I knew he would say as a result of discussions; namely, that he could make no progress with us today. One of the reasons put to me privately was that this was part of a manifesto commitment. I have revisited the manifesto. It says nothing about competition shooting, the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games, and certainly nothing about the disabled games. I have also been informed, quite rightly, that this is a Cabinet decision. I am sure that it is. But I do not believe for a moment that the Cabinet spent any time considering these aspects of the matter. It has given just blanket support to the proposals of the previous government, who also got it wrong. That is why we find ourselves in the present position.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was quite extraordinary. He accused us of trying to do some special pleading or tokenism on behalf of the disabled. Having spent many years here, I have been under the impression that the whole of Parliament has been in favour of giving special consideration to the disabled. Bill after Bill has been passed to protect the rights of the disabled. How on earth does one protect the rights of the disabled unless there is special pleading on their behalf? I do not understand how that would be possible.

Earl Russell

My Lords, perhaps I may try to assist the noble Lord. My noble friend said that noble Lords—myself among others—had spent a great deal of time trying to help disabled people to do things that able-bodied people could do, even if they required special help to do it. This amendment proposes that disabled people should be allowed to do what able-bodied people are not allowed to do.

Lord Howell

My Lords, of course it would enable disabled people to do what able-bodied people are not allowed to do. In the circumstances we are discussing—whether or not they should be allowed to enjoy their sport, which everybody else can do in this country one way or another—the only way in which to help disabled shooters is to adopt this proposal.

No amendment in which I have been involved since entering this House has been more responsibly drawn up. It gives the Secretary of State power to control everything. It provides that registered disabled people who would be able to take advantage of the amendment must be approved by the Secretary of State. Further, the latter half of the amendment provides that they must be subject to two specific and very close conditions. One could not be more responsible than that.

In conclusion, I appreciate the position in which my right honourable friend the Minister finds himself. He said that disabled gun shooters could change to rifles. I have read in the newspapers—whether or not it is true I do not know—a suggestion that there is to be another White Paper on the subject of restricting the use of rifles. If that is so, I hope that my right honourable friend will correct it so that these people can move to another sport for the time being. If that happened that would be the result. Whether or not it is true, I can only tell noble Lords that I have read it.

As far as concerns this amendment, I simply record my sadness and say that, as loyal as I am to my Government, my lifelong attempt to help the disabled in sport compels me to ask the House to declare its wisdom on this matter.

5.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

*Their Lordships divided: Contents, 120; Not-Contents, 101.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Leigh, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Liverpool, E.
Annaly, L. Lucas, L.
Astor, V. Luke, L.
Attlee, E. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Belstead, L. McNair, L.
Berners, B. Marlesford, L
Birdwood, L. Marsh, L.
Blatch, B. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mersey, V.
Bridgeman, V. Milverton, L.
Brigstocke, B. Molloy, L.
Brookes, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Monson, L.
Burton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cadman, L. Moynihan, L. [Teller. ]
Campbell of Croy, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Nathan, L
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Newall, L
Chesham, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Northesk, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. O'Cathain, B.
Congleton, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cottesloe, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Courtown, E. Prentice, L.
Cox, B. Prior, L
Cranborne, V. Rawlings, B.
Crawshaw, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Cross, V. Reading, M.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Denham, L. Renton, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Romney, E.
Derwent, L. Rotherwick, L
Dilhorne, V. Rowallan, L.
Dundee, E. Saint Albans, D.
Foley, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Gainsborough, E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gisborough, L. Sandwich, E.
Haddington, E. Shrewsbury, E.
Halsbury, E. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Strathcarron, L.
Harmsworth, L. Strathclyde, L
Hayhoe, L. Sudeley, L
Hemphill, L. Swansea, L.
Henley, L. Swinfen, L.
Holderness, L. Taverne, L.
Hood, V. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Howe, E. Tebbit, L.
Howell, L. [Teller.] Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Howie of Troon, L Tollemache, L.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Vivian, L.
Hylton, L. Weatherill, L
Hylton-Foster, B. Wharton, B.
Ilchester, E. Yarborough, E
Kilmarnock, L. Young, B.
Kintore, E. Younger of Prestwick, L.
Leicester, Bp. Zouche of Haryngworth, L
Acton, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Addington, L. Judd, L.
Alderdice, L. Kilbracken, L
Archer of Sandwell, L. Kirkhill, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Lawrence, L.
Berkeley, L Leathers, V.
Blackstone, B. Lester of Herne Hill, L
Blyth, L. Lestor of Eccles, B.
Borrie, L. Lockwood, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Longford, E.
Calverley, L. McCarthy, L
Carlisle, E. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L McNally, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Merlyn-Rees, L.
Chandos, V. Milner of Leeds, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mishcon, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Nelson, E.
Davies of Oldham, L. Newby, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Nicol, B.
Desai, L. Oxford, Bp.
Diamond, L. Paul, L.
Dixon, L. Peston, L
Donoughue, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Drogheda, E. Prys-Davies, L.
Dubs, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Eatwell, L Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Rea, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Redesdale, L.
Fitt, L. Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Gallacher, L Russell, E.
Geraint, L. Sandberg, L
Gladwin of Clee, L. Serota, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Shepherd, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Shore of Stepney, L
Gregson, L. Simon, V.
Grenfell, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Hamwee, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Hanworth, V. Strabolgi, L.
Hardy of Wath, L Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L Thomas of Gresford, L.
Haskel, L. [Teller.] Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Hayman, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Walpole, L
Hoyle, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Whitty, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
[Lord Chancellor.] Williams of Mostyn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

[*The Tellers for the Contents reported 120 names. The Clerks recorded 119.]

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.33 p.m.

Clause 2 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, leave out lines 15 to 21.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment to which I referred briefly earlier. The amendment, if it meets your Lordships' approval, will have the effect of making the compensation scheme arrangements for small calibre pistols subject to the same affirmative resolution procedure as was applied earlier this year to the compensation arrangements for large calibre handguns. It will mean that a draft scheme will be laid before both Houses for approval.

Your Lordships will recall that an amendment to that effect was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in Committee. I explained—or ventured to—why I considered it to be unnecessary but promised to consider the issue further. The noble Baroness withdrew the amendment on the basis of that undertaking.

The Government have always made it clear that the compensation scheme for small calibre pistols and ancillary equipment would be based on the same principles as those which govern the existing compensation scheme for large calibre handguns, which was brought in by the previous government.

I said that we had given careful consideration to the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation but disagreed with the committee's conclusion that the compensation scheme should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The committee came to its conclusion on the basis that the compensation arrangements were controversial. I accept that the banning of small calibre pistols may be controversial, but the payment of compensation for those pistols, on the same model as used for large calibre handguns, is not.

A requirement to seek the approval of both Houses, under the affirmative resolution procedure, of a draft compensation scheme, will inevitably delay the implementation of the provisions of this Bill and will delay the arrival of certainty for those individuals who own small calibre pistols.

We have taken note of the strength of feeling in the House on this issue, not least the views of the Select Committee, which we respect. Because of that, although I remain heretically unconvinced, the Government are prepared to accede to the request to adopt the affirmative resolution procedure. I ask your Lordships to accept the amendment.

I wrote to the noble Baroness several weeks ago to inform her of the Government's proposal, and it is probably better if I inform your Lordships of a possible late amendment. We have received a number of representations for possible exemptions for certain types of slaughtering implements used in abattoirs. They are of .22 inch rimfire calibre. We are considering that issue. If appropriate, and the amendment is within the scope of the Bill, we intend to bring forward a suitable amendment. It may be of assistance to your Lordships to know that at this stage. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the name of my noble friend Lady Blatch is down to the amendment. Where my noble friend's name appears on the Marshalled List of amendments one should read "Henley" rather than "Blatch". Perhaps I may thank the Minister for the concession he has made following the moving of the amendment in Committee by my noble friend. I thank him for giving it such careful consideration and for coming back with an identical amendment. On at least one occasion the Opposition's drafting has been as good as that of the Home Office, simple though the drafting is, it merely being a matter of deletion.

I have just one small quibble with the Minister. He said that some of the matters relating to compensation were not controversial. I believe that they are still extremely controversial, as the feelings on the Bill which have been generated in this House and elsewhere will have shown. Having said that, I am grateful to the Minister for what he said.

In relation to the final point made by the Minister about a possible further amendment, I note at this stage what he said. I should greatly welcome early sight, if possible, of any amendment that the Government might feel it necessary to put down so that I and my colleagues could take advice on it. It will be Third Reading when we come to that amendment. If the Minister feels that the amendment will be complex it might be necessary to re-commit part of the Bill for that amendment. I wonder whether he will give some consideration to that possibility.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, of course as soon as the amendment is in perfected form I shall send a copy of it to the noble Lord. It relates to captive bolt weapons used in abattoirs and I should not have thought—famous last words—that it would be difficult or controversial.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 4: 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 be dispatched within 40 days of agreement of the valuation.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a variation on an amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch in Committee. That amendment was designed to ensure that compensation would be received within 40 days of agreement of the valuation. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, objected to the amendment partly on grounds of logistics. I do not accept that because the Prime Minister himself said that he believes that all debts should be settled within 30 days and that he is considering legislation on that subject. Therefore, I should have thought that even the Home Office would be able to cope with an amendment which suggests 40 days.

But the Minister objected also to the amendment—and I think quite rightly—on the grounds that it provided that the payment "shall be received". He suggested that the words "shall be dispatched" would be a better alternative. I believe that he used those words at col. 946 in Committee on 15th July as being more appropriate. We have therefore tabled this revised version of the amendment using the noble Lord's suggested words rather than those used by my noble friend in Committee.

I appreciate that the noble Lord was, as it were, speaking without warning in Committee and I appreciate that he is not a parliamentary draftsman. But he is probably one of the most distinguished lawyers to work in the Home Office for many years. Therefore, I believe that it is quite right for us to use the words that the noble Lord suggested in Committee as being an appropriate variation to put forward on Report. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us whether, having followed the advice which he gave in Committee, we have produced an amendment which he is able to accept.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is an incredibly important point. I was present in the House yesterday when the Minister said with some pride that the response of the Home Office to MPs and the wider public is much improved and is better than it has been for a long time. That may be so. I do not wish to take issue with that except to say that there is one part of the department which is coming under very heavy criticism. If that has not been brought to the Minister's attention, perhaps I may use this opportunity to do so.

I have received a great many concerned telephone calls and letters from people who are complaining about the way in which compensation is being handled and about the delays in payment of compensation.

I telephoned the Home Office during the summer holidays. I did not say who I was and nobody asked me who I was. I telephoned on behalf of somebody who had written to me. He had handed in his gun at the beginning of the period and was extremely concerned that not only had he still not received payment but also that he found it difficult to contact the Home Office and when he did make contact, the officials there were extremely unhelpful. I cannot say that I had the most helpful telephone call with the Home Office. However, in the course of my telephone call I ascertained that the person for whom I was speaking had not been attended to, had not received his compensation but would do so within the next two weeks. That was more than a month ago and that person has still not received his compensation. He has now been waiting a good two months to receive compensation under a part of the scheme about which there is no quibble in terms of valuation.

I know that a large number of people are still waiting for compensation. In the course of my conversation with the Home Office, I eventually admitted that I was the Minister who had shepherded the previous Bill through Parliament. I told the young lady that in answering questions about payment being made as quickly as possible once a valuation has been agreed, the Minister was extremely encouraging. I told her that although the Minister did not accept that a provision should be written on the face of the Bill, nevertheless he gave every promise that the time limits for which we were asking in the amendments would, as far as possible, be adhered to. The person in the Home Office said that she had no knowledge whatever of deadlines or targets. Nevertheless, she made a promise that the person for whom I was speaking would be dealt with within two weeks.

This is a very controversial matter. It is discourteous not to deal quickly with people, particularly when there is no argument about valuation. Indeed, the amendment allows the Home Office to take as long as need be to reach a valuation and then dispatch payment within 40 days.

I have one particular question for the Minister. It is being said now that the police authorities are not parting with the money that is already agreed because they do not have it; the money is simply not there. I should like an assurance from the Minister that no payment will be delayed on the grounds of it not being met financially by the Home Office or whatever is the source of this money. The matter remains controversial. If the Minister is not aware of the situation then I think that it is important to take this opportunity to bring it to his notice.

Lord Burton

My Lords, I had a very similar case to that referred to by my noble friend Lady Blatch. The person concerned handed in his weapons early on and thought that he would be right at the front of the queue and there would be no delay in receiving payment. When, after, I think it was, six weeks, he had not received his payment he wrote to the Home Office and he was told that it was the police who were delaying matters. We have one of the most efficient firearms sections of the police force in the country. It is extremely efficient and pleasant to deal with. It is clearly not the fault of the police and it is disgraceful to suggest that it is. I do not understand why the Home Office should be blaming the police force.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I cannot accept this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was reading out the gratuitous legal advice which I had given, I was following it carefully. I read the small print. I do not believe that I was offering a solution but I was merely pointing out that as originally drafted, the amendment before the Committee was lamentably drafted. On that occasion I omitted the adverb because I was being more polite.

If there are any particular questions relating to specific instances, I am more than happy to have the details provided in writing. I have had correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Burton, and I hope that he can affirm the proposition that I wrote back to him as soon as I possibly could. I cannot deal with telephone conversations with a "girl in the office" because I have no knowledge of them at all. But if there are specifics with details that are provided to me, I shall deal with them as soon as I possibly can.

Perhaps I may tell the House that 13,000 claims have already been paid out at a cost of £10.5 million. The compensation money has been set aside by the Treasury and in answer to the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, I should tell her that there is not any problem with money. I stress that £10.5 million has been paid out.

The original amendment was defective, but I made it quite plain that that was not the reason for my objection. I pointed out the technical deficiencies but I outlined the main reasons for my objection, which I shall do again.

The majority of straightforward claims—option A or option B—will be dealt with quickly. Option C claims depend on individual valuations. They take longer for precisely that reason. There is a very large volume of claimants. There are more than 60,000 claimants under this scheme and that in operation for large calibre handguns. It is simply not practical to set a specific number of days within which payments will be sent to individual claimants. Some cases will be processed before others; others may take longer. Sometimes there are perfectly innocent errors. A claimant may give incorrect bank details on a claim form. Such a person may well believe that it is Home Office obstruction or Treasury meanness which is causing the delay when that is not the case at all. It is simply that the claimant has not made a correct claim. In such a case it is not workable to have a 40-day obligation.

It is noticeable that sensibly, there is no similar time requirements in relation to payments under the compensation scheme for large calibre handguns. That being so, I respectfully suggest that there should not be one for small calibre pistols. I repeat that I am more than willing to deal with any particulars that are properly given to me in writing so that I can look into them. I say that because anecdotal accounts are impossible to check and, therefore, impossible to put right one way or another.

The amendment remains defective because it refers to payment being made, within 40 days of agreement of the valuation". But I ask: what valuation and agreed by whom? It is not workable, apart from the fact, as I respectfully suggest once more, that it is not necessary. I should like to point out—and this was not the position as regards the earlier amendment upon which your Lordships gave a fairly robust rejection to the course which I proposed—that the proposal for a 30-day payment was considered by another place and defeated by a majority of 124. That is simply a part of the background to the discussions on the matter. As I said, it is unnecessary and, should the amendment be pressed, I invite noble Lords to reject it.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I appreciate the politeness of the noble Lord in dealing with the amendment and with a similar one on a previous occasion. However, I did not find his answer to be entirely satisfactory. On more than one occasion the noble Lord said that the amendment was defective, but I do not believe that he gave a proper explanation to the House as to why, other than to say that the words, shall be dispatched within 40 days of agreement of the valuation do not in some way make sense. I have to say that to my simple mind that seems to me about as clear as it is possible to be. We are saying that once an agreement has been obtained on the valuation, the Home Office should dispatch the money within 40 days. That does not seem to be the most onerous burden to place on the Home Office. Indeed, we are talking about 40 days and not the 30 days that many others have recommended for settlement of other debts.

Having said that and having made some small attempt, especially following what the noble Lord described as "gratuitous legal advice", to improve the amendment, I have no intention of pressing it tonight. However, I certainly reserve the right possibly to bring it back on Third Reading having reconsidered the matter and perhaps taken other legal advice—not necessarily the gratuitous legal advice of the noble Lord—to see whether the alleged defects of such an amendment can be improved. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 5: 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 Lord said: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is unfortunately unable to be here this evening to move his amendment and has asked me to do so in his stead. I am very pleased to be able to do so. The proposed new clause would establish national pistol shooting centres of excellence, to allow competition shooters identified by 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 that purpose would be subject to the most stringent conditions. In fact, the conditions are set out in the amendment and therefore I do not intend to go through them in detail.

If the proposed new clause is not accepted by the House, it will mean that Britain will be the only country banned from international pistol shooting competitions. The Firearms Act 1997 would at least have allowed our competitors to take part on the international stage in three .22 calibre events which are held in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Howell knows a good deal more about this and will no doubt say so if he speaks to the amendment.

Our country has a long and honourable tradition in the sport of pistol shooting—a sport which Britain invented and has dominated for over 100 years. It is a sporting success story for Britain. In the past 10 years of Commonwealth competition our competitors have brought home 23 pistol shooting medals in the 22 calibre events alone.

On Second Reading and in Committee my noble friend referred to the fact that the Bill affects only three out of the total of 15 shooting competitions in the Commonwealth Games. However, the vast majority of pistol shooters who reach international level are specialist pistol competition shooters. Many will have no interest in other disciplines and it is simply not true to suggest that a competition pistol shooter would or could convert to rifle shooting instead. Why should three competitions be barred to British shooters when it is perfectly possible to accommodate them through this amendment and by other means? Why should three competitions not be available to British sportsmen?

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

The Government have declared their intention to ensure that the Bill will not be used in a way which would preclude the United Kingdom from hosting the Commonwealth or Olympic Games. As the host is required to provide facilities for those sports demanded by the IOC, 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. There are several practical issues to be sorted out and the Home Secretary has committed himself to overcome them. The decisions emphasise the injustice of a situation in which all overseas competitors can take part but not UK citizens. How stupid can we get! The position has only to be stated to understand why so many people, not only shooters, feel insulted at the injustice and unreasonableness of the situation. Therefore, the next stage must be to find a way to allow British participation to continue. The proposed new clause, if accepted, would allow such participation to continue. I invite the Minister to get up and say now that he will accept it. I see a little movement but, alas, I fear it is not enough.

The provision of sites of national shooting centres would do no harm at all. No pistols will be held or used outside such designated sites. Each site would be approved by the Secretary of State for all Section 5 weapons, including dangerous guns. Therefore, the security would be of the highest level. A precedent for such a site already exists at Bisley where exempted historic firearms are to be stored and fired.

The proposed new clause provides that only those shooters can use a .22 at centres of excellence, first, if they have a certificate and therefore have passed the chief constable's vetting (and that is the difference between my amendment and that of my noble friend); secondly, if they have special approval from the Secretary of State; and thirdly, if they have been vetted by the shooting organisations that run Olympic sport. I should have thought that there were adequate safeguards in that respect. Such people 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 whatever to the public. It would permit the national bodies to look at shooters who have learnt high skills and recommend them to the Secretary of State so that they can learn and practise the Olympic pistol disciplines in such defined places.

The Japanese have something similar to what this amendment proposes. If the Japanese can do it, why on earth cannot we? Are the Japanese so superior, so much cleverer and so much more responsible than we are? Of course they are not. This amendment must be accepted to protect our position in relation to the Commonwealth Games and in relation to our engagement in the Olympic sport of pistol shooting. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, as has been pointed out on earlier occasions, if this amendment is resisted Britain with its proud and ancient tradition of success in Olympic pistol shooting will be relegated to the bottom of the table. We shall become a laughing stock internationally. There are conceivable hypothetical circumstances in which one's country has to be a laughing stock for one reason or another but this is certainly not one of them. Acceptance of this amendment would pose no statistical threat to the public whatever, as the public would undoubtedly agree if the matter had been carefully explained to them. If the amendment is resisted, it can only be for fear of what some, not all, of the tabloids, might say. Those tabloids will ironically almost certainly change their tune the closer we come to the next Olympic Games. Fairness, common sense and the reputation of Britain all dictate acceptance of this amendment.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I support this amendment. I should point out that I shall not move Amendment No. 7 when we reach it. Amendment No. 7 is different from the amendment that we are discussing, as my noble friend has just said. In addition to the reasons given by my noble friend to explain that difference I should add that my noble friend's method of dealing with this dilemma is to ask for the approval of the International Olympic Committee and to ask the Secretary of State to act, on the recommendation of a recognised governing body of the sport". In Amendment No. 7 I do not propose those steps. In that amendment I propose following a slightly different route. However, I believe that the House will not wish me to spend too long discussing these amendments and therefore I shall speak in support of my noble friend's amendment which concerns centres of excellence.

As I have said before, I am quite certain in my own mind that the reason we are in this position—I sympathise with the position of my noble friends on the Front Bench—is that a blanket manifesto commitment was given. This is not the time for us to discuss manifestos. Frankly, I do not know of many people who read manifestos. Therefore I do not have much sympathy with people who trot out the view that something that was included in a manifesto which no one read and few people understood should be viewed as the Holy Grail. I do not agree with that at all. However, my noble friend is perfectly entitled to say that the provision was in the manifesto and he is perfectly entitled to draw support from that fact. However, that provision made no reference to any effect on the Commonwealth Games, the Olympic Games or the games for the disabled that we have been discussing. If we are to accept that the commitment that was given in the manifesto should take precedence in any circumstance, I believe there is an obligation on people who write manifestos for submission to the country, to refer to the consequences of the commitments in those manifestos.

It is quite clear that unless we take the action that is proposed in this amendment the chances of this country hosting the Olympic Games in the future are zero. That is my judgment. People may disagree with it, but it is a judgment based on no little experience. The same problems arise with the Commonwealth Games which are to be held in Manchester in the year 2002. The British Olympic Association is engaged in an interesting correspondence with my noble friend. My noble friend has responded courteously to that correspondence. In its letter dated 25th September the British Olympic Association stated, no account has been made as to how British athletes will be able to train to qualify for these events or, in the event of automatic host country entries, how British competitors will be able to compete on equal terms with other nations. There would be a national outcry if the British competitors were made to appear the laughing stock in front of a home crowd on the World's largest stage—the Olympic Games". That is the situation. It is ironic that the Government are—I am delighted to say—supporting a bid to host the Olympic Games in this country. That is declared government policy. I believe it is the declared policy of the Opposition too. We are all united in that. Why, therefore, do we undermine that bid by imposing conditions which the British Olympic Association informs us will make us a laughing stock? I have made my next point before. Having been much involved in the bidding process for these events, and knowing the great difficulties that Britain has experienced in that bidding process, why are we giving our opponents a free kick at goal? Every time the bidding begins to host the Olympic Games at least five or six cities get up to all kinds of mischief not only in promoting their own candidatures but also in downgrading other people's, particularly that of the British who always play by the rules in the bidding process, as we do generally in sport. There is no doubt in my mind that if we cannot say that at an Olympic shooting event British shooters will compete on equal terms with everyone else, that will be held against us. However, we cannot say that that will be the case.

There is another important consideration. If we are not to hold any further shooting events in this country—and that will be a consideration in the judging of bids—if we bid successfully to host the Olympic Games, from where shall we obtain the 200 or so officials to judge such competitions and to marshal and steward them? That will be an important factor in the Commonwealth Games at Manchester. Those people are rapidly disappearing because gun clubs are closing down. We shall not have any qualified judges, stewards and security people. There will be real problems in Manchester. I do not know what the good people of Manchester will think, and what the people involved in the Commonwealth Games will think, if we have to pay foreigners to adjudicate our contests in this country. That is the situation that we have been put in as a result of the failure to understand the intricacies of this policy. All I am hoping is that even at this late stage the Government will at least take heed of the experiences of some of us who know what we are talking about. I say that, I hope not immodestly. It is an important factor to be taken into account.

My noble friend Lord Williams responded to the British Olympic Association, as we would expect, in a totally open, forthright, honest manner. He stated: We accepted that it would effectively end the sport of cartridge pistol shooting in this country … we concluded that a complete ban on handguns was necessary … We fully accept that this is likely to make it difficult for British shooters to reach the standard necessary to qualify for and compete in Olympic pistol shooting events". Nothing could be clearer. The Government now understand—it is of great sadness to me—the great harm that they are doing to the sport of pistol shooting and. therefore, to the Commonwealth Games which will be held in Manchester and to any future bid to host the games in this country. That is now understood by the Government; and anyone voting for the Government today can be under no illusion about the situation.

It has been suggested that those shooters can practise abroad. But at what expense? Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man will not have those restrictions placed upon them. I understand that they are not part of the United Kingdom. That adds to the ludicrous nature of the situation: shooters from those countries can train and participate but not shooters from the mainland of Great Britain.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, the noble Lord might like to add Northern Ireland to that list.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. My special remark on Northern Ireland is to this effect. How on earth can we proceed down this path? If we pass the amendment, perfectly legitimate shooters would be subject to the most stringent restrictions which are totally in the hands of the Secretary of State who can say, "That cannot happen". For many years guns in Northern Ireland have been declared unlawful but with devastating effects, as we know, where we have been unable to control the situation.

I believe that the case is overwhelming. I support the amendment. As with disabled sports, I have spent a lifetime furthering the interests of the British Olympic Association. Perhaps I should decare an interest since I am a life member of that body. We support our Olympians around the world. I want the Olympic Games to come in this country. They are the greatest show on earth. I do not wish us to do anything which prevents the games from coming here. Although I shall probably not be here to enjoy them, I like to think that in the next century others who have supported sport in all its aspects will have that opportunity.

At this late stage, I beg the Government to consider the matter again and to say that they do not wish to harm the Olympic Games movement and the possibility of having the games here; that they do not want to confront the British Olympic Association; and that they do not want to make a farce out of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. If that requires them to have a little more wisdom than perhaps they have shown and to consult people who have practical knowledge of the situation, I hope that they will do so. I have no high hopes that that will occur but I still urge it upon my noble friend.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, from these Benches, I offer our support for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

I wish to make one point, and address it to the noble friends of those two noble Lords. Much has been made of the Labour manifesto. I gained the impression from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that he did not pay quite as much attention to his own party's general election manifesto as I am sure the Chief Whip and others within his party would recommend.

Lord Howell

My Lords, that is quite right, but I pay even less attention to the manifesto of the noble Lord's party.

Lord Henley

My Lords, that is a good point. I suspect that it would be true to say that we all pay little attention to what goes into manifestos and in particular those parts which are of no great concern to us.

However, I asked one of my noble friends to take the trouble to obtain the relevant part of the manifesto. I should remind the noble Lord and his noble friends of what the manifesto says on gun control. It makes it clear that there will be legislation to allow individual Members of Parliament—I presume that that means Members of this House as well; we are Members of Parliament, after all—a free vote for a complete ban on handguns. Therefore those noble Lords in the party opposite who feel that they are under the iron hand of their Chief Whip can rest assured that they have it on good authority, from the Labour Party manifesto itself, that they can vote according to their consciences on this matter. I hope that they will do so and will consider following the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, myself and others into the Division Lobby on the amendment.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, the issue will have a serious effect on British participation in international competition. If representatives of Great Britain are not allowed to take part in British competitions, it would be a serious blow to our international standing. Even if they have the money and facilities to train overseas, it would be extremely expensive to travel backwards and forwards to train regularly.

The Commonwealth Games will come to Manchester in 2002. We have been told that competitors from other countries will be able to bring their pistols into this country but that our own nationals will be unable to take part in those competitions. The same will apply to the Olympic Games if we ever have them again in this country, which is now doubtful. We shall be made the laughing stock of the whole world. I support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is not correct to say that the prospect of this country having the Olympic Games in future is zero. That is not the view of the British Olympic Association.

As my noble friend Lord Howell said, I have discussed these matters with him during the Recess and I have not been persuaded by any arguments put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, assisted my noble friend on the Northern Ireland point. It was a point raised earlier. I make the same rejoinder, if I may. Northern Ireland has always had separate firearms legislation and considers—I dare say it will further consider—firearms control separately.

My noble friend Lord Howell correctly cited my letter. But it was not a case of the Government coming slowly, reluctantly and lately to that conclusion. At col. 960 of Hansard of 15th July, I made it quite plain in your Lordships' House that the Government accepted that the introduction of the Bill into law would effectively mean the end of cartridge pistol shooting in this country. The Home Secretary has said that time without number. It is not, therefore, right to suggest that the Government have come late to this understanding. We have always said that that was the inevitable consequence. It may well be a regrettable consequence, but the Government's view unambiguously is that a total ban on handguns is necessary in the interests of public safety. The exceptions to the ban, which are already in the 1997 Act, introduced as a Bill by the previous government, are largely occupational; and they should remain. We do not accept that any other group of shooters should be exempt from the ban.

There is room for argument. The arguments have been rehearsed until there is little left to rehearse. Some noble Lords take the view that this measure is too draconian; we take the view that it is appropriate in the interests of public safety. It is quite plain that there will never be a bridge between us.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with the Commonwealth Games and any future Olympic or Paralympic Games. It is important not to be alarmist. The contract is already signed for the games in 2002 in Manchester. The contractual arrangements can be broken only if there is a natural disaster or lack of proper organisation. The Home Secretary can use his powers under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, and they are important powers. They entitle him to grant special dispensation to competitors to take part in shooting competitions here. The Home Secretary has indicated that he will view with the utmost favour any application for a dispensation for Manchester; and I respectfully remind the Committee that it is understood that the Greater Manchester Police are content and satisfied that suitable arrangements can be put in place. These are important points to remember. Alarmist assertion, not always based on fact, is likely to do those games great harm.

We know already that the Home Secretary has used his authority under Section 5 of the 1968 Act. He was faced with an application relating to the 14th European police and pistol championships at Bisley. Overseas competitors needed the authority under Section 5. The Home Secretary, after appropriate consultation, granted that authority. It was not necessary at that time to grant authority to British competitors as the competition occurred in September, before the 1997 Act came fully into force.

It is not right to suggest that Britain can never again host an Olympic Games. There are various events in the Olympic Games in which this country does not compete. It has never been suggested that the fact that we do not compete in baseball, basketball, handball and softball will be a disincentive to a successful application for the Olympic Games in future.

We need to bear in mind that of the 28 Commonwealth shooting competitions the Bill affects only six; of the 15 Olympic shooting competitions the Bill affects three; and of the 15 Paralympic shooting competitions it affects only two.

We have reached the conclusion that a complete ban is the only safe way to deal with handguns in this country—

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he explain why this country is considered by the Government to be the only one in Europe where it is necessary to ban pistols for reasons of public safety? Are we more vicious than people in other parts of Europe?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are not more vicious than people in other parts of Europe. We have had a recent experience in a small Scottish town which may be different from experiences in other parts of Europe. We have come to the conclusion—I do not mean "we" as a Government, but overwhelmingly "we" as a nation—despite what others elsewhere may choose to do, whether on the continent of Europe, North America, South America or wherever, that this is the way in which we wish to protect the public safety.

When a similar amendment was considered in another place, the voting was 328 to 159—a majority of 169. It is not a case of suggesting that the British temperament is unduly vicious. It is a case of coming to the conclusion that this is the proper way to safeguard public safety. I readily accept that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and I will never agree on that matter, any more than the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and I will agree—although in some ways we start from similar premises. But we come to different conclusions. I respect the libertarian basis from which they begin. But the Government reach the conclusion that sometimes, when liberties clash, the liberties of some must give way.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate for the very important points that they made. My noble friend Lord Howell is an expert in this matter and ought to be listened to with the utmost respect. His view carries a lot of weight in this House, outside this House, in sporting circles at home and indeed in sporting circles abroad. He has had a lot of experience. I hope that noble Lords will listen to what he says, particularly in relation to the possibility of this country being able or not being able to host the Olympic Games in future years.

My noble friend mentioned our manifesto commitment. I remember very many Labour Party manifesto commitments. The one that I remember most is the glossy one that stated: "We believe in Britain". If we believe in Britain, we ought not to be preventing our sportsmen from competing for Britain. I hope my noble friend and other noble Lords will remember that. We do not want our country and our shooting sportsmen to be laughing-stocks, as my noble friend suggested they would be. We want them to be highly regarded, highly respected and highly successful. But they cannot be successful, because they will not be allowed to compete. How ridiculous it all is! It is possible within the context of a complete ban on handguns to accommodate the sport through this amendment or one which the noble Lord might care to bring forward himself.

As my noble friend said, British shooters will have to practise abroad, even if they are allowed to shoot—which they will not be. Many of them will be tempted to revoke their British citizenship and become French, or perhaps German, in order to be able to compete in the Olympic Games.

I was very interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. Obviously the noble Lord read the Labour Party manifesto more closely than I did. I did not realise that I was permitted, by the nation no less through the manifesto, to have a free vote. I am most obliged to the noble Lord for reminding or perhaps informing my noble friends of the manifesto commitment to give them a free vote. I note that my noble friend Lord Carter is in the Chamber. I am quite sure that he will take what was said very much to heart.

I listened very carefully to the reply of my noble friend the Minister. However, I am afraid that he did not convince me at all. Some Members of the Committee seem surprised. I am surprised that they are surprised. What I felt was so pitiful was his remark that the prospects of Britain hosting the Olympic Games were not zero. What does that mean? Are they just above zero? Finally, he said that a total ban on handguns is the only means of ensuring public safety. That is not so. The best way of ensuring public safety is to get handguns out of the hands of criminals.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, that is the priority; and that priority is being missed. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will support this amendment, which I intend to press. It is with some regret that I do so against my own party and their advice, but nevertheless I have to do so in the interests of justice and of the future of this country as a sporting nation. I ask the opinion of the House.

6.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 77.

Division No. 2
Addison, V. Howie of Troon, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hylton, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Hylton-Foster, B.
Annaly, L. Kintore, E.
Astor, V. Liverpool, E.
Attlee, E. Long, V.
Baker of Dorking, L. Luke, L.
Berners, B. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Blatch, B. McNair, L.
Bridgeman, V. Marsh, L.
Brookes, L. Mersey, V.
Burton, L. Milverton, L.
Cadman, L. Molloy, L.
Carnegy of Lour. B. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Monson, L.
Chesham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Moynihan, L. [Teller.]
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Newall, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Northesk, E
Colwyn, L. O'Cathain, B.
Congleton, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L
Cottesloe, L. Rathcavan, L.
Courtown, E. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Cranborne, V. Renton, L.
Crawshaw, L. Rowallan, L.
Cross, V. Saint Oswald, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Denham, L. Seccombe, B.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Shrewsbury, E
Dilhorne, V. Stallard, L.
Dudley, E. Stewartby, L.
Dundonald. E. Stoddart of Swindon, L [Teller. ]
Erroll, E. Strathcarron, L.
Ferrers, E. Strathclyde, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Sudeley, L
Gainsborough, E. Swansea, L
Haddington, E. Swinfen, L.
Halsbury, E. Teviot, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Tollemache, L.
Harmsworth, L. Wilberforce, L
Hayhoe, L. Wilcox, B.
Hemphill, L. Yarborough, E.
Henley, L. Young, B.
Howe, E. Young of Darlington, L.
Howell, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Acton, L. Donoughue, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Dubs, L
Banbury of Southam, L. Eatwell, L.
Berkeley, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Blackstone, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Borrie, L. Gallacher, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Gladwin of Clee.L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Gould of Potternewton, B.
Chandos, V. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Gregson, L
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Grenfell, L.
Daviesof Oldham, L. Hamwee, B.
Desai, L. Hanworth, V.
Diamond, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Dixon, L Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L. Nelson, E.
Hayman, B. Newby, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Nicol, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Paul, L.
Hoyle, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Prys-Davies, L.
Challanger] Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Rea, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Redesdale, L.
Judd, L. Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Kilbracken, L. Russell, E.
Kirkhill, L. Serota, B.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Shore of Stepney, L.
Lestor of Eccles, B. Simon, V.
Lockwood, B. Simon of Highbury, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L [Teller.] Strabolgi, L.
McNally, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Mishcon, L. Whitty, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L Windlesham, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause: