Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.13 pm

Mr. Anthony Colman (Putney): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I should like to start by congratulating hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Angela Smith), for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) and for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight). I also commend the tremendous work done by those in the Gun Control Network, particularly Mrs. Marshall-Andrews. As a local government leader, I led the movement within London borough councils to pass resolutions proposing a total handgun ban, which were adopted by UK local government associations.

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1231

My hon. Friend the Member for Medway mentioned a previous Conservative Member for Harrow, West, but, of course, another former Conservative Member broke with his party on the issue of handguns--David Mellor. I have before me a copy of the speech he made on 18 November 1996. It makes good reading and I agree with every word he spoke that evening.

Hon. Members may not know that, at the general election, there was a Sportsmen's Alliance candidate, Mr. Mike Yardley, standing against David Mellor and me in Putney. His sole manifesto pledge was to oppose what David Mellor and I both wanted--a total ban on handguns. Mr. Yardley called for a national march down Putney high street to show the strength of feeling on the issue; there were signs all along the A3 and 10,000 people were expected. I have to inform the House that, in fact, 75 people turned up. They were outnumbered by the police, of whom there were 78. A further 140 police officers were standing by as back-up, but they were obviously not needed.

I remind the House of the deplorable scenes at the Putney count, which were led by the Sportsmen's Alliance candidate along with Sir James Goldsmith. I know that Sir James is now seriously ill, but I would hope that Mr. Yardley has reconsidered his actions and realised that they were not that which is expected in this country. Hon. Members might ask how many votes Mr. Yardley got--the answer is 90, out of an electorate of 60,000. There are some 150 shooters in Putney, who between them own about 350 handguns, of which 50 are .22 calibre. As the Putney police remarked to me this morning, the public are clearly in favour of a total ban on handguns as proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Gray: As the hon. Gentleman is making such extensive use of statistics on shooters, does he recall the rally in Trafalgar square, at which tens of thousands of people turned up to support the shooters' cause? How does that fit in with his use of minute statistics on rallies?

Mr. Colman: All I can suggest is that the debate that followed in the press and in the House convinced the other 9,925 that their cause was not one to back. I confirm that only 75 people turned up in Putney high street.

Mr. Robathan: Does the hon. Gentleman not believe that the role of this House, among others, is to defend the rights of minorities?

Mr. Colman: I do indeed. The minority exercised their right to hold their march in Putney and those 75 people were extremely well protected by the 78 police officers.

I am against the alternative of storing handguns at gun clubs, as are the police. I have a personal reason for that. Some years ago, my brother Ronald Colman, a police constable in King's Lynn, was called out after a break-in at a local gun club armoury and he cornered the criminals in the local sports pavilion. He did not call for back-up, although he should have done, and found himself looking down the barrel of a .22 gun. I remind hon. Members that a .22 can kill at a range of more than two miles and he was staring at the gun from a distance of 10 ft. He nevertheless went in unarmed and disarmed the two criminals. He was subsequently awarded the British Empire Medal and I am proud of my brother for what he did that day.

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1232

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)--we must not hang on; we must go forward with this Bill.

9.18 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly tonight--all the more so because I am conscious of the fact that it is only a couple of weeks since I made my maiden speech. In the short time available to me, I wish to pick up on three points that I thought were of some importance while listening to the debate. I shall run through them in explaining why I oppose the Bill.

Leaving aside the earlier legislation--which I would not have been able to support--and focusing only on the ban, the first point that struck me about the Bill was the Home Secretary's inability to provide any rational or valid argument for why .22 weapons should be included in the ban. I listened to him carefully and asked him at the outset whether he could produce some Home Office statistics to back up the use of .22 weapons in the commission of crime. No such statistics exist. Anecdotal evidence, some of which I derived from my experience as a barrister doing criminal cases, is that their use by organised criminals is virtually non-existent.

I accept that .22s may have been used on occasion in cases of domestic violence, but a range of weapons is available, from the kitchen knife downwards, all of which weapons are impossible to legislate against. Anyone who applied a moment's thought to the matter would realise that it would be impossible to do so.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman is being so dismissive of the logic of others that I wonder whether he would examine his own logic. Will he explain how his collection of information and analysis was derived during his practice in the courts?

Mr. Grieve: The Minister has been unable to produce any Home Office statistics--

Mr. Michael: Answer the question.

Mr. Grieve: I will come to it. I can talk with my colleagues--[Interruption.] Yes, I can. It is one of the advantages of people coming to this House from a wide range of professional backgrounds. The Minister is flippant to dismiss that. We, at least, have the opportunity to talk among ourselves and we hear about whether and what weapons have been used. In my early years of practice going around the courts in London and the south-east, and whether I was having breakfast in the Bar mess or sitting in a court, I never came across an instance of a .22 used in the way suggested. That is all that I can say to the Minister and the House. As the Minister cannot come up with any better information, he should not gainsay my point of view.

Secondly, I do not understand how the exception under the section 5 licence will work. I very much hope that the Minister will explain whether the exemption will apply only to foreigners coming to this country to participate in games, or whether it will also apply to any British citizen wishing to participate in those games and wishing to have access to a .22 pistol, if necessary, by bringing it in from abroad. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary and

11 Jun 1997 : Column 1233

detected a note of hesitation on that point. I should be grateful if the matter could be clarified before the end of the debate.

We will be left with one of two positions. The first is that an exception is made to allow a British--or English, Scottish or Welsh--team to participate in games in this country, notwithstanding the fact that they have been refused access to pistols for training purposes, in which case the ludicrous nature of the Bill will become apparent. Alternatively, the Home Secretary does not intend to allow the aborigines the rights that he will grant to people coming into this country, in which case--and leaving aside the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights--he will find that his susceptibility to judicial review will make the life of his predecessor in that respect pale into insignificance. I hope that those points will be dealt with before the debate is concluded.

I want to make a final point. It has been touched on occasionally, but generally hon. Members have skated away from it. Gun clubs and shooting clubs were mainly set up in the late 19th century and they had a civic role. That may no longer be a popular theme, but people who learned to shoot--initially mainly men--regarded it as a civic virtue. It was thought that people should learn how to shoot. Before the days of sex equality, it was regarded as a manly accomplishment.

It was also thought--this point has not been touched on, but should be--that people should learn how to shoot because that accomplishment might one day be used in the service of this country. We touched on that matter a little. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out that police officers make frequent use of the opportunities presented by shooting clubs to perfect their skills. Over the past 20 or 30 years, those virtues, as they used to be perceived, have been consistently denigrated by individuals who, for their own moral reasons--which I understand--regard such attitudes as archaic, militaristic and undesirable.

I have listened carefully to tonight's debate and much of the theme that I have picked up, particularly from the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), is that, leaving aside the practicalities of the matter, the House is being asked to make a moral statement. That moral statement requires us to say, "We do not like handguns; they must go."

Next Section

IndexHome Page