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Mr. Soames: I agree with my hon. Friend and am grateful to him for pointing that out so powerfully.

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In my constituency, I am a keen shooter, and a number of gun clubs are deeply unhappy at what the Home Secretary is doing. Many Conservative Members had to swallow hard to support what my old Government did in going further than Cullen, but we did swallow it. However, this is a step too far and I beg the Home Secretary to consider with great care whether it is really worth while, having gone the distance already, to lock out from international sport something that confers great honour on this country's sporting achievement.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I support the amendment, so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), and the comments of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and--until he mentioned fox hunting--of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I wonder whether the Labour party has completely lost sight of the original causes of the desire, which was felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House, to control the use of handguns. The massacre at Dunblane could not have been carried out with a single-shot .22 pistol--if such a massacre had been started using such a weapon, the murderer could have been stopped and overpowered. When the Labour party opposed our more modest measure, its rhetoric was that it wanted to stop Dunblane happening again so far as it was able to do so. Even Labour Members admitted that no measure was absolutely going to guarantee that there would not be another massacre.

It is odd, therefore, that the Labour party has not taken that logic into account in proposing its total ban. The extremely small concession that is being sought through the amendment--and it is extremely small--would make it possible to prevent, as far as it is possible ever to prevent, the sort of thing that happened at Dunblane. It would give the public much greater protection and, at the same time, preserve, to a very limited extent, but at least to some extent, a perfectly legitimate sport, which is not only for entertainment, but which tests ability, which maintains our international reputation and which does no harm when lawfully and responsibly practised.

The inclusion of the words:

obviates the only real practical objection to the amendment, which is that it could be open to abuse. I cannot envisage someone going to such lengths as having a gun converted and then reconverted deliberately to evade the law. If such a person were wholly intent on evading the law, there would be no difficulty in his doing so illegally, rather than going to great lengths to get round a legal provision.

The amendment asks for only a small concession, but it would bring modest comfort to those who practise a perfectly legitimate sport. The Government's line is authoritarian, similar to their line in many of their other dealings since they came to power. They appear to take no account of law-abiding minorities. They certainly seem to take no account of public opinion, which has substantially shifted since the initial horror of Dunblane.

I ask the Home Secretary to consider accepting the amendment, even at this late hour. If he will not, will he explain to the Committee what on earth could be the

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danger of creating another Dunblane or Hungerford with a single-shot .22 weapon that cannot be derived from a multi-shot design? The amendment is so very carefully restricted and prescribed that I cannot imagine that any of the dangers that we are seeking to prevent would arise. I ask the right hon. Gentleman carefully to consider the amendment.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has, extremely succinctly, posed the key question in the debate, so I shall try not to labour it too much, but rather enhance it a little.

The Home Secretary has been perfectly straightforward in saying that he does not wish to interfere with the rights of minorities further than is necessary in the interests of public safety. We are conscious that we cannot win the votes. However, we can put forward arguments which--and I put this in a non-contentious way--we can share with the Government and hope to persuade them to accept. The amendments that have been tabled contain arguments that deserve the most careful consideration. I believe that the Government could feel able to accept them and so avoid the victory to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) referred--of which I am happy to acquit the Home Secretary, but which is a danger from some of those who sit behind him. I hope that he will not think that over-offensive to his party; I believe that it is a genuine danger.

The principle that we are discussing focuses on the question of the single-shot handgun. We have to be careful not to pick around in Lord Cullen's report. Indeed, one could argue almost anything from the report. I think that there was some support for that view in the winding-up arguments on Second Reading.

The single-shot pistol, which cannot be mechanically changed to become a multi-shot pistol, and which is used for highly specialised competitions, is about as unsuitable for use in a massacre as anything that one could devise. The question--and I am sure that the Secretary of State and the Minister will focus on this--is not whether a single-shot pistol is lethal, as any pistol, shotgun or rifle is lethal; it is whether there is sufficient danger to the public in permitting the use of single-shot pistols under confined circumstances that they must be banned together with all other pistols.

The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and my hon. Friends--including my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), who tabled amendment No. 7 in a manner that has been carefully argued and proposed by the British Shooting Sports Council and those involved in Olympic and Commonwealth sports--made the case for allowing an exemption for the weapons that we are debating under the amendment. I appreciate, however, that Ministers may wish to consider more carefully one aspect of the amendment, which would allow single-shot pistols to be kept at home.

There is an argument for saying that such weapons should be confined to clubs, although Lord Cullen's report--which I mentioned earlier in my speech--states that keeping weapons in clubs will not provide absolute security. In this debate, however, we are not questioning whether we can provide absolute security, but considering how to strike a balance. Ministers would be doing everything that they could reasonably be expected to do in

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providing for public safety--I believe that they are going further than is necessary, but in this debate, we are focusing on a specific aspect of the issue--even if they were to permit use of single-shot pistols for purposes of competition and training before competition.

As my hon. Friends have already eloquently stated, many Olympic and Commonwealth competitions depend on the use of some type of pistol, and those competitions would be facilitated by allowing the use of specialised single-shot pistols. If we passed the amendment, at least .22 calibre competitions could continue, and that is a highly desirable objective. The Government should allow those competitions to continue.

In urging a balance of argument on the issue, I revert to the point about the ease with which such pistols can be brought into the United Kingdom, because we should not blind ourselves to that part of the argument. Conservative Members are urging that British citizens who are properly licensed and in very closely confined conditions should be able to hold and use specialised single-shot pistols.

The fact remains, however, that .22 single-shot pistols--which are not particularly suitable for competitions, but perfectly capable of killing people--can be bought across the counter in France. Anyone can drive in and out of the United Kingdom--whether at Dover, Folkestone, Le Havre or Portsmouth--on any of the ordinary sea ferries with such weapons.

It is no criticism of customs officers--I ask the Minister to prick up his ears--to say that they do not go through cars with a fine-toothed comb. Customs officers allow ordinary English citizens to pass through with nothing more than what was once described as a "Bangemann wave" of a passport. Consequently, if an evil-minded loner were minded to use a .22 pistol--which is unlikely; he would be much more likely to go for one of the many thousands of illegally held heavy-calibre pistols--he could bring it into the United Kingdom with absolute impunity and virtually no prospect of being caught.

There is a strong argument in principle for passing the amendment, and no significant danger to the public in practice. Conservative Members very much hope that Ministers will sympathetically examine the aspect of the issue dealt with in the amendment.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I should like to reinforce some of the comments made by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). I should also like to draw attention to the specific consequences for the Olympic movement if the Bill is passed without amendment No. 7.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) rightly talked about the great significance of shooting in the Olympics. Today, however--like many other hon. Members--I received a letter from Mr. Simon Clegg, the general secretary of the British Olympic Association. It states:

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    an Olympic quota place. Forcing competitive pistol shooting abroad will kill the sport and with it the necessary depth to ensure international representation at the highest level."

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) rightly stressed the distinguished record of British competitors.

The amendment--

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