HL Deb 27 October 1997 vol 582 cc936-48

6.37 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Prohibition of small-calibre pistols]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, after ("firearm)") insert ("after the word "weapon" the words "(which includes an air pistol to which section 1 of this Act applies and which is designed to fire .22 or smaller diameter ammunition)" shall be inserted, and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, unlike the next few amendments, this amendment does not contradict government policy in any way. On the contrary, it is wholly in conformity with it. The amendment seeks to correct an anomaly created by the 1997 Act as a result of a drafting blunder made by the previous government. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 prohibited any self-loading or pump-action rifle other than one which is chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges". During the passage of the 1997 Act the previous government in what was described at the time as a technical amendment substituted the words "rifled gun" for "rifled" in this section of the legislation. The inadvertent effect of that is that self-loading air pistols can be included as prohibited firearms.

It has been recognised by both the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers that it was not the intention of the 1997 Act to ban such air pistols. The Act creates a blanket exemption for air weapons in Section 1(2), but seemingly self-loading air pistols are caught by the reference to "rifled gun" in Section 1(3). This amendment is designed to clarify the situation.

I believe that the amendment is correctly drafted: I have taken a fair amount of trouble over it. If it is not correctly drafted I hope that nevertheless the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will accept it, because then the other place with the assistance of the Home Office can put it right. If it is not accepted now there will he no chance to rectify the blunder committed by the previous government. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I cannot support the amendment. It would allow a significant loophole in the Bill, because it would allow people to keep air pistols which fire pellets of .22 diameter or less at home on a firearm certificate. It is a greater exemption than was proposed under the 1997 Act, because under that Act these air pistols would have had to have been kept and used at a secure licensed pistol club.

These air pistols are not under the low calibre ones normally used for target shooting. These are high-powered air pistols—over six foot pounds. They can have a rapid rate of fire. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. In law there would be no check whatever on the upper limit of the power that could be developed for these pistols.

I understand that current international target shooting competitions use low power, uncertificated air weapons which will not be affected by the Bill. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have stated constantly that the Government are not disposed to agree to allow exemptions to the general ban on hand guns which the Bill seeks to introduce. In the light of my comments, I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I did not realise that it was the Government's intention to ban such weapons. I do not believe that that was general knowledge until now. In the light of what he has just said, I can only beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 2: 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 shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 which are all consequential upon this amendment.

This is the last attempt to save something from the wreck caused by two successive governments effecting firearms legislation. The object is to enable Great Britain to continue to take part in pistol competitions in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The object of the amendment is to exempt a type of pistol known as a free pistol. I shall describe in not too technical terms what is a free pistol. It is a single-shot pistol. It is cumbersome with a fairly long barrel. It has no magazine. It is capable of single-shot fire only. It is used for deliberate shooting at paper targets at 50 metres and for no other purpose. It is a recognised discipline in international competition. It is one event in the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games. This type of pistol is totally impractical for any other purpose.

One could not carry out a massacre with such a weapon. It cannot be concealed with ease, and it cannot be folded. It is like a precision instrument. It has a stock which has to be tailored for the individual using it. It is hard to imagine it being used to hold up a bank or for any other purpose. It poses no threat to public safety.

If pistols of all types were to be banned, it would have a severe effect on this country in terms of international competitions. The UK will be unable to take part in any pistol competitions even if the people trained overseas, which few competitors capable of this kind of shooting would be able to afford.

We have the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. No UK competitors will be able to take part in pistol competitions. The same will apply to the Olympic Games. UK competitors will be unable to take part in pistol competitions. We shall be the laughing stock of the world.

When they introduced the legislation, the Government and the previous government were shooting at the wrong targets. Legitimate shooters are all law-abiding citizens. They are an easily identifiable soft target. The Government ignore the vast pool of underground weapons held illegally by criminals. We have read today in the evening newspapers of the Home Secretary announcing an amnesty in Brixton. That is too little and too late. If the Government were to tackle the vast pool of underground weapons held all over the country, they would have the backing of the entire country, including the legitimate shooters.

The following amendments are all consequential. They remove references to small-calibre pistols. If your Lordships agree to this amendment, I shall move them formally. I hope noble Lords will feel able to support the amendment. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, what is important to recognise is that the highly specialised target pistols which are the subject of the amendment are as different as can be from normal .22 semi-automatic pistols or revolvers. Like the single-shot pistols which, as I think is generally known, can be bought anywhere in France by any adult without a permit of any sort, these take a long time to reload. Hence they are very much safer should they, by some unlikely mischance, fall into the wrong hands, than are conventional pistols, as Lord Cullen pointed out. What a tragedy it is that we never had a chance to debate the Cullen Report. So much misery might have been spared us if we had done so.

Unlike the simple French single-shot pistols, these target pistols, the subject of the amendment, are large. They are almost 12 inches long overall, extremely bulky, and almost as difficult to conceal as many a shotgun which is far more dangerous. They are more difficult to conceal than a knife or a mountaineer's axe which, as I pointed out on a earlier occasion, was used to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico City. They are the very last implement that a person with criminal intent would ever choose as a weapon.

If conventional .22 semi-automatic pistols are perhaps only one quarter as dangerous as full-bore ones, then in turn these target pistols are probably one-tenth as dangerous, in practical terms, as conventional .22s. It is bad enough banning ordinary .22 pistols. Over a 50-year period such a ban might save 15 or 16 lives in all, insufficient historically and in terms of precedent to justify such a Draconian ban. We would save far more lives at far less cost to liberty and to the survival prospects of reputable businesses, if owners of baseball bats were required to keep them securely locked up at sports grounds when not in legitimate use for sporting purposes; or if bull bars on motor vehicles were banned.

This lack of a sense of proportion is far greater where these specialised target pistols are concerned. I doubt whether banning them would save as much as one life in 50 years. Have such pistols ever been used in crime? I doubt it. Exemption for this small number would at least enable Britain to continue to compete successfully in some Olympic pistol shooting disciplines. I urge your Lordships to put reason before unthinking emotion. I support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as I explained in Committee on 15th July, the Government do not wish to allow exemptions to the general ban on handguns which the Bill seeks to introduce. The amendment seeks to exempt single-shot small-calibre pistols from the general ban on handguns that we propose. We do not believe that it would be justifiable to treat one group of shooters in a special way which is out of step with the general approach taken by the Bill.

The amendment is inconsistent in another way. It seeks to exempt single-shot small-calibre rimfire pistols. But a pistol of exactly the same dimension which is centre fire is already banned by the Act introduced by our predecessors earlier this year. It would be extremely difficult for police officers or anyone else to tell the difference between those types of pistol without specialist assistance. The Bill intends to ban all firearms with barrels less than 30 centimetres long. If this amendment became law, it would be a recipe for confusion.

It is said that those weapons cannot be reloaded promptly. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the Cullen inquiry. The evidence to Lord Cullen from Mr. David Penn, the chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council Technical and Research Committee said: With reasonable practice a shooter could get the reloading time down to about 5 seconds". Lord Cullen said: I am content to accept that this could be achieved". Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment. Perhaps I may indicate to your Lordships that there was a similar amendment in another place which was defeated by 333 votes to 123, a majority of 210. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am naturally disappointed by the Minister's reply. He raised the point about, for example, barrel lengths. The minimum barrel length mentioned in the amendment is merely an example. Many pistols have barrels much longer than that. That was merely an example and not intended as a firm statement of barrel length.

Small calibre rimfire is self-evident. It means .22. One of those pistols is totally unlike any other form of pistol of a larger calibre. It needs no expert to distinguish one from the other, even at first sight.

The Government are firmly committed to banning all types of pistol. I am sure that that has been a Cabinet decision. However, I hope that this amendment will be accepted and I ask your Lordships to support it.

6.52 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 81.

Division No. 1
Congleton, L. Haddington, E.
Cottesloe, L. Halsbury, E.
Cuckney, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Downshire, M. Milverton, L.
Molloy, L. Rowallan, L.
Monson, L. [Teller] Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Savile, L.
Newall, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Nickson, L. Swansea, L. [Teller]
Palmer, L. Wharton, B.
Acton, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord
Addington, L. Chancellor]
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Jay of Paddington, B
Barnett, L. Judd, L.
Blackstone, B. Kilbracken, L.
Borrie, L. Kirkhill, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Calverley, L. Lockwood, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Ludford, B.
Carter, L. [Teller] McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
Castle of Blackburn, B. McNally, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
David, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Mountevans, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Desai.L. Nelson, E.
Diamond, L. Newby, L.
Dixon, L. Nicol, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Paul, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Plant of Highfield.L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gallacher, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Ramsey of Cartvale, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Randall of Saint Budeaux, L.
Grantchester, L. Rea, L.
Gregson, L. Richard, L. (Lord Privy Seal]
Grenfell, L. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Hamwee, B. Sewel, L.
Hardie, L. Simon, V.
Hardy of Wath, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Haskel, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hayman, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hollick, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Whitty.L.
Hoyle, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hughes, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.1 p.m.

Clause 3 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 15, at end insert— ("(5) Payments made under a scheme made under subsection (1) above relating to small-calibre pistols shall be dispatched to claimants within 40 days of a valid claim being approved under the terms set out in the Firearms (Amendments Act 1997 Compensation Scheme.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. It appears that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has what I might term the "big battalions" on his side this evening. I shall have to rely on sweet reasonableness to see whether he will agree to what I hope is a very small amendment and one which I believe he should find easy to accept. It does not relate to another exemption for firearms. This is the third attempt that I and my noble friend Lady Blatch have made to try to create some sort of package whereby those receiving compensation for losing their firearms get their compensation within 40 days, or rather within 40 days, of a valid claim being approved by the relevant government agency.

I appreciate that we have made two previous attempts and that the noble Lord was not satisfied with those amendments partly for drafting reasons, if I may so put it. I hope that this third attempt has a better chance of meeting with his approval. I hope and certainly believe that the amendments are entirely workable because they are based on the provisions of the compensation scheme approved by Parliament under the 1997 Act.

In the first instance, the amendments require a shooter to submit a valid claim to the firearms compensation section (FCS), the Home Office division overseeing the compensation scheme. I hope that that deals with the noble Lord's objection to my earlier amendment when he pointed out that a 40-day deadline from the point of agreed valuation would not be practical in instances where there are perfectly innocent errors such as, incorrect bank details on a claim form"—[Official Report, 16/10/97; col. 585.] The amendments cover this possibility as the 40-day limit does not begin to operate until a valid claim, without such errors, is submitted.

The amendments also ensure that a valid claim has to be approved by the FCS before the 40-day limit begins. It makes no difference what category the claim falls under. The 1997 compensation scheme states that a flat rate or listed payment under options A and B will be approved by the FCS once a valid claim has been received. Once received, a notification of the claim is sent out by the FCS and it is from this point that the 40-day limit would begin. Valid claims under option C (individual valuations) would not be approved by the FCS until agreement was reached between the latter and the claimant. At that point a payment declaration which says that the claimant agrees with the amount to be paid in settlement of the claim must be signed by the claimant and sent back to the FCS. Again, it is only at this point that the 40 day limit begins.

I do not believe that the amendments are designed to impose unrealistic pressures on civil servants. They would simply ensure that a compensation cheque is sent, or dispatched, to a claimant within 40 days after a valid claim has already been submitted and approved by the firearms compensation section. I believe that it is entirely in line with the Prime Minister's commitment made over a year ago to introduce a requirement on all government departments and agencies to pay their bills within 30 days. We are not even asking for 30 days; we are merely suggesting 40 days as an appropriate limit. It is a very modest little amendment. As I said, we have made three attempts to persuade the Government of its virtue. I hope that the sweetly reasonable way in which I have put the issue before the noble Lord will allow him to accept it on this occasion. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I have made it clear on behalf of the Government at all stages of this Bill that compensation payments for small-calibre pistols and ancillary equipment will be made as quickly as possible. I share the sentiment that lies behind the amendment and I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for the sweet reason which he demonstrated. However, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment, although I agree that the drafting is significantly improved since it first saw the light of day.

Normally, once a claim is approved for payment by the firearms compensation section, the payment will be sent to the claimant's bank account within a few days of that approval. The problem is that the amendment would impose a statutory requirement to send payments to claimants within 40 days of the claim being approved. There are bound to be some cases where, despite our best efforts or those of the FCS, some difficulty will be encountered in making payments. I give an example of such a case. A claimant may have entered his banking details incorrectly on the claim form, but that does not make the claim invalid. The claim is valid but the details are wrong. In such a case, we would have to delay until the correct information was made available. There is no guarantee that we would receive this information in good time to dispatch the payment within 40 days of the original approval of the claim, which would be valid despite the fact that the bank details might be inaccurate. It is therefore quite possible that in some cases, for reasons beyond our control, we would simply not be able to send a payment to the claimant within a specified time-scale and would thus be in breach of the law. Quite what sanction and consequences legally follow a breach of the law is not plain to me.

There is also the question of consistency. In Committee, many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, forcefully expressed the view that the compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols should be treated in the same way as the scheme for large-calibre handguns and should, therefore, be subject to the same procedure of parliamentary approval as applied to the earlier scheme. Your Lordships will recall that I promised to consider the noble Baroness's point; and. indeed, I did so. In effect, I accepted the thrust of her amendment by introducing a government amendment. We agreed to amend the Bill accordingly, thus achieving consistency between the two schemes.

However, the noble Lord's amendment seeks to have different treatment for the two schemes. There is no similar requirement in relation to the timing of payments made under the compensation scheme for large-calibre handguns, which was the production of the predecessor government. It would be very inconsistent, very strange and, indeed, very odd to impose such a requirement for the small-calibre pistol scheme alone. It would suggest that the owners of small calibre pistols were in some way to be treated differently, perhaps more favourably, than those who owned and were handing in large-calibre handguns under the scheme introduced by the previous government. More than 26,000 small-calibre pistols have been surrendered so far under the ex gratia scheme.

Officials in the FCS are doing their best to process all claims as quickly as possible to ensure that those who have surrendered their firearms and other items because of the earlier legislation this year will not have to wait longer than necessary. There were some initial teething problems in setting up the computer system, but the payment system is now well established and working well. The FCS will tackle claims for small-calibre pistols surrendered under the new scheme with equal vigour.

I should like to make two points by way of fact which may be helpful. I understand that the noble Lord will not press this amendment. Just a few days ago I was able to tell him and your Lordships that £10.5 million had been distributed. In the space of a few days, up until last Friday, the figure had risen from £10.5 million to £16.9 million. Therefore I do not think it is fair to say that officials have been dilatory in this respect.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about persons who had not received their payments within a reasonable time. I said that if I were given any details in writing I would have such cases investigated within the department and that chief officers of police would be contacted. I have not received details of a single case. I do not make that as a forensic point; it implies that the scheme is working well. I refer to the difference between £16.9 million and £10.5 million which has been distributed in a matter of a few days. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I refer again to the lack of details of any late payment and with great respect I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am afraid that, as I expected, that reply had the sound of one of those notes with which we are all familiar which has the large word "resist" scribbled over the top of it. The noble Lord resisted and did so well. I think there is very little I can do. I see that we are in the presence of the noble Lord the Chief Whip. To save him a little time I should say that I have no intention of pressing this amendment tonight or for that matter on any other occasion. Therefore he can now send his boys and girls home, should he so wish. The noble Lord may remember that many years ago he was kind to me in allowing me to leave early. I believe that we were discussing the disability living allowance and disability working allowance Bill on Second Reading and the whole matter finished much earlier than we had originally expected and that allowed me to be present at the birth of my only daughter.

I take note of what the noble Lord has had to say on this amendment. I am grateful for the attempt he has made to deal with my points. I am also grateful that he stressed the fact that Home Office officials are working hard to make sure compensation is paid as speedily as possible. For that I thank the noble Lord and his officials within the department. I am sorry that he does not feel able to accept this amendment, or at least to go some way towards accepting it. But I at least take some hope from the Prime Minister's commitment to encourage all agencies to settle their debts within 30 days. I hope that the spirit of that at least will be recognised by the Home Office in trying to deal with this matter and that the noble Lord will make sure that the concerns that have been expressed in this House both at this stage and on earlier occasions are noted and are dealt with. Having said that I have no intention of pressing this amendment, it remains only for me to withdraw it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

The Schedule [Repeals]:

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 not moved.]

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move, That this Bill do now pass. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his courtesy.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, we must say a few words before this Bill passes to the other place. I shall not speak for too long. However, over the past few weeks thousands of decent, law-abiding people have handed in their guns to police stations without any bother and without causing any hindrance to anyone at all. Many people have suffered the consequences of this legislation through clubs closing down, through businesses closing down and through other businesses making losses which they ought not to have made. Those are the consequences of this Bill and the previous Bill. I wish to draw attention to the fact that what we have done is not to hit criminals but to hit decent, law-abiding people who have obeyed the law without let or hindrance, without question and without causing problems to anyone at all.

The guns that are in the hands of criminals are still there. It is guns in the hands of criminals that are the cause of most murders. I remind the House, before we leave this legislation, of the figures for homicides in Scotland before Dunblane and before the firearms legislation was introduced. In Scotland there were 669 homicides between 1990 and 1995; 44 of those—only 44 of those—were committed with firearms. Of those 44, only three were committed with licensed firearms. In other words, out of a total of 669 homicides in Scotland, only .04 per cent. were committed with licensed firearms. Yet, we have had this legislation. How sorry I feel for all the people who have been so disadvantaged by the legislation.

I believe that the public reaction has changed. The public have now understood better what this legislation is all about. Many people believe that it is unjust legislation and that it has penalised the innocent because of the actions of one guilty man. I have said that before and I say it again. I am quite sure that I shall repeat it on many other occasions because I believe that this has been a disgraceful episode in the history of Parliament. It has introduced collective punishment into our law which I thought had gone out with the demise of the Nazi regime in Germany. However, as I said, the public reaction has changed and the Government might yet feel a backlash.

During the passage of this Bill two reasonable amendments were accepted by the House. I sincerely hope that what I am told by the media—that is, that the House of Commons will just throw those amendments out—will prove to be wrong on this occasion and that Members of the House of Commons will read the debates that have taken place in this House and that they will feel some concern not only for the disabled but also for this country's standing in sport abroad and in this country. If the House of Commons has regard to those matters, its Members will accept our amendments. But if they do not do so and the amendments are returned here, I sincerely hope that the House of Lords will have the guts to insist on its amendments.

I shall not weary your Lordships with my views any longer except to say that I believe injustice has been done. I do not believe that this will be the end of the matter. I fear that the Government may want to take things further. On the other hand it is possible to introduce legislation to repeal other legislation. I hope that in due course we might find the opportunity to introduce a Bill to repeal what I believe has been a bad piece of legislation not only on the part of this Government but also on the part of the previous government who started it all off.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his great courtesy and patience towards those of us who oppose the Bill. On an earlier occasion he described us as libertarians. That is accurate enough in my case. However, our opposition to the Bill has nothing to do with the abstract, theoretical libertarianism propounded in university debating societies. Rather, it is motivated by anger at the great cost inflicted, without adequate justification we contend, upon respectable, law abiding citizens. I make no apology for repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. I refer to the emotional cost to those suddenly deprived after 20, 30 or perhaps 40 years of the chance to practise their favourite sport. In particular, the disabled cannot easily switch to rifle shooting, if they can switch at all. I hope that the Commons will think very hard about throwing out that specific amendment of ours.

I refer to the staggering financial cost to dealers and part owners of gun clubs, many of whom face ruination financially. All that is for what statistically is likely to be a very small saving in terms of lives. The Gun Control Network, which seems to have an extraordinary influence over this Government, can see that the saving in lives may be small, but says in effect, "To hell with statistics. We must base our actions on instincts". That is a triumph of emotion over reason, the triumph of the current, hopefully ephemeral, touchy-feely syndrome over calm, measured objectivity. Heaven help us if all future legislation is framed on that basis.

Having said that, I conclude by again thanking the noble Lord for his courtesy.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I underline what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. The Bill will do nothing to improve public safety. The criminal element will still be quite unaffected. They will be laughing their heads off right now. I shall not be at all surprised to see a continuation of crimes involving firearms held illegally. I hope that the Government will bear this in mind and will urge the police to do all they can to diminish that underground pool of illegally held weapons. They cannot wholly eliminate it, but I hope that that is what they will do.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as someone who arrived, as it were, half-way through the Bill, perhaps I may offer my thanks to my noble friend Lady Blatch who first dealt with the Bill for the Opposition and offered me help and advice during the latter stages. I give my thanks, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who has been eminently courteous the whole way through. He has taken a great deal of trouble over the amendments and to answer the letters that I have sent him as speedily as possible, bearing in mind the necessity of dealing with certain matters between the different stages.

I wish to touch on only one matter. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Two amendments to the Bill were moved by eminent Government Back-Benchers at the Report stage, supported by many on this side of the House. When I spoke to those amendments, I reminded the House that the Labour Party manifesto had promised a free vote on these matters. I very much hope that that will be borne in mind and that the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will take seriously that manifesto commitment and the advice that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, gave about reading exactly what was said in this place on those amendments. I hope that another place will consider long and hard before it overturns those two amendments. I hope that those in the Whips Office in another place, who offer advice to their colleagues, will be as restrained as they might be in the advice they give to their colleagues bearing in mind the promise that this is a matter which should be left to a free vote; and one which, being left to a free vote, one would hope was properly "unwhipped".

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful for what noble Lords have said. I reciprocate by saying that I have met with nothing but courtesy from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. This must be the only establishment in the known world where at our age we can still be called boys and girls when we are let off to go home reasonably early.

The background is well known. The noble Lord is right. We fought the last general election on a manifesto commitment for a free vote on whether the ban introduced by the last Government should be extended to all handguns. There was a free vote in another place. There was a majority of 203 in favour of the extension of the ban. I think that that view has been taken into account in the approach taken by your Lordships in speeches in this House.

We have had a full range of views expressed, many of which I do not agree with, and some of which I do agree with. Everyone has approached the matter on the basis that if one disagrees one can do so with courtesy and patience. In a moment or two, I hope that the Bill will start its journey back to another place. Whatever the views of that place about the changes your Lordships have seen fit to make to the Bill, I hope that the Bill can be introduced without delay to allow the ban on small calibre pistols to be in law by the end of the year. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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