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If all that is left is .22 pistol shooting, many centrefire shooters will convert to that type of shooting rather than give up the sport altogether. That is an important point, which has a direct bearing on the question of compensation.

It has been said many times that, following the ban on large-calibre pistols, shooters would convert to .22 pistols. Hopefully, the Government believe that, following the banning of .22 pistols, they will convert to rifles. There are not many specialist pistol clubs in the country. I believe that there are about 2,100 rifle clubs, and, according to the information that the Home Secretary gave me last week, there are 49 clubs exclusively for pistol shooters--a small percentage of the total.

The House should consider the amendment carefully. If the Government's proposal is enacted, Britain will be the only country to be banned from international pistol shooting competitions. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, passed by the last Parliament, would at least have allowed our competitors to take part on the international stage in the three .22 calibre events in the Olympic and Commonwealth games.

This country has a long and honourable tradition in the sport of pistol shooting, a sport that Britain invented and has dominated for the past 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.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the House of Commons passed this pernicious and unjust legislation, it would affect not just the people he has rightly mentioned--who have conferred great honour on their sport--but the generations to come who will hope to succeed them? They will have no opportunity to train, and Britain, which has dominated the sport for generations, will cease to play a part in it, to the great disadvantage of our sporting reputation.

Mr. Colvin: I take my hon. Friend's point. As a former Minister for the Armed Forces, he will know that, in the forces, everyone is trained to handle firearms. The draconian measures proposed by the Government to control firearms will mean that that will be the last time many of those people will handle a firearm, and all the talent that has been so successful in the past will be wasted--unless, of course, they travel abroad and train and shoot there.

A sport that is one of the original 12 Olympic disciplines deserves the same recognition as more visible sports. It should not be lightly destroyed. That is why I hope that my hon. Friends, and the Committee as a whole, will support the amendment.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I begin by registering my disappointment at not having received from the Minister the responses to points made during last Monday's debate, which I was promised I would receive by today. I remind the Committee that in 1940 Winston Churchill commented that we were not only without an Army, but bereft of people who were able to bear arms. History teaches us that we should not repeat our mistakes.

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I remind my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that, in answer to a query from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the ability of British competitors to train for and participate in the games, he said:

The simple fact is that we have not heard much cold, clinical logic in the debate, except in my contribution. I say that with suitable modesty.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael): What was that word?

Mr. Cook: It is spelt m-o-d-e-s-t-y.

One of the points made with some validity by the anti-gun school of thought was that Thomas Watt Hamilton in Dunblane and Michael Ryan before him created a good deal of mayhem not because of their marksmanship and the accuracy with which the rounds were dispensed, but because the guns were multi-shot, and because Hamilton was able to reload. If the guns had not been multi-shot, the damage would not have been as horrendous.

The amendment is perfectly reasonable, sensible and realistic, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend to heed its proposals with care. It refers to specialised, target weapons that are meant for no purpose other than for shooting on a range where the shooter stands 25 m to 50 m away from a piece of cardboard. They are .22 calibre and, as the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) said, they have an inordinately long barrel to give the accuracy that is required in target shooting. The stock by which they are held is complex: the hand must fit into it like a glove. They cannot be pulled out of one's pocket, and they are difficult to carry--some of them are almost as long as a billiard cue. They are highly specialised weapons.

The hon. Member for Romsey said that such weapons can cost up to £1,200. Some international competitors' weapons are worth well in excess of £3,000, because they are custom-designed and built and carry counter-weights according to the strength of the individual using them. That is not the sort of weapon that someone will pick up and use to assassinate people. As I said a few days ago, an assassin will not identify the quarry, select a vantage point, calculate the field of fire, estimate the time of arrival and when to loose off a shot, and then say, "Heavens, I cannot use this because it is a .22 and it is illegal." The whole idea is preposterous.

I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to keep faith with his undertaking last week to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed by considering this realistic proposal. It relates specifically to the group of people whose rights we choose to defend--the high-grade competitors. The measure would be a stop-gap, because it would cater only for the needs of those who are accustomed to competing. It would be exceedingly difficult for young competitors, or even old ones who are just entering the sport, to gain some recognition, because they would find it difficult to acquire the kind of weapons that we are debating. The amendment would enable competitors with an international reputation and who

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strike fear into only one class of people--those who compete for other nations--to stop those of other nationalities from gaining the prestigious awards that our people are capable of winning.

Once again, I appeal to the Home Secretary to appreciate the realistic nature of the proposal. I urge him to concede even at this late stage that the amendment is reasonable and rational; it threatens no one and would preserve a corner of this sport for this country.

Mr. Soames: I warmly endorse the words of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), whose stand on this matter the Committee should admire and respect. I especially endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin). Perhaps the Home Secretary will detail his reasons for not accepting this simple change. I fear that his reasons will be unsatisfactory, not least because they will be advanced by officials on the ground that they were not invented here. The amendment is a sensible, careful, deliberate, pragmatic attempt to allow Great Britain to remain in her rightful place at the summit of an important sport.

Many years ago, some of us gave up trying to make Labour appreciate anything to do with the countryside or the importance of the cadet forces and their right to learn to bear arms and train under the most rigorous and strict conditions, in which safety and skill at arms play an important part. We know that the Home Secretary does not have a clue about that, that he does not understand it and that it means nothing to him.

Britain's shooting sports play a significant part in the life of the broad shooting community. It is quite wrong for pistol shooters to be marked out in this way. Even our sensible and realistic attempt to enable Britain to continue to compete and train people is not to be granted. These people are not madmen who have been granted gun licences simply because one police force failed to do its duty. They will be for ever denied the right to continue to take part in an honourable sport, which they love and which is part of the fabric of this country.

The Labour party cannot go round just banning things arbitrarily; I understand that a fox hunting Bill is to come before the House. There are endless examples of a high-handed, ignorant approach to such matters, and Conservative Members beg the Home Secretary to consider carefully what justice there is, what point there is in sacrificing something that many people do so well and which gives them such responsibility and respect.

4.15 pm

Mr. Colvin: The Committee must understand, and I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with this, that sacrifices are already being made by competition pistol shooters. The rapid-fire pistol competition for the Olympics has already been sacrificed--I do not think that anyone in his wildest dreams is going to try to make the case for retaining that--as has the Olympic sport pistol event for ladies, which involves an automatic .22 pistol, so two out of three .22 events are already being sacrificed to the dogma of the Labour party. We want to try to preserve only the last remaining one--the single-shot event.

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