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Mr. Soames rose--

Mr. Michael: I think that I have had enough of the hon. Gentleman's interventions: they do not contribute much to the debate.

Mr. Soames: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He talks about consistency. If a man is sufficiently skilled to be able to reload a single-shot handgun in five seconds, why does that not apply also to an ordinary single-shot .22 rifle? Where is the consistency in that regard?

Mr. Michael: I do not see the hon. Gentleman's point. We are discussing a Bill that deals entirely with banning handguns. The amendment proposes an exemption in relation to single-shot .22 calibre handguns. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not used to taking part in general debate in this place since transferring to the other side. We are addressing very specific points about a very specific amendment to a very narrow Bill.

Mr. Peter Atkinson: I thank the Minister for giving way again. The Bill does not ban 100 per cent. of handguns, as it already makes exceptions for trophies of war, black powder weapons and other antique weapons. We are asking that one further category be exempted: the weapons used by Olympic shooters.

Mr. Michael: The exemptions that the hon. Gentleman mentioned were made by the 1997 Act, which is already in place. We seek not to address all gun licensing deficiencies, but to deal with only one element: the exemption of 20 per cent. of handguns allowed by the 1997 Act. That is what this legislation deals with; it is attempting to exempt a narrower group than was exempted by the 1997 Act.

I point out once again that, if we introduce the exemption proposed by amendment No. 7, legally held weapons may still be used illegally. We cited the figures last week: one incident of gun theft--which may involve the theft of several weapons--occurs in England and

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Wales every day. That may pose a danger to the public. The exemption proposed by amendment No. 7 would undermine the principle embodied in the Act that there should be a complete ban on handguns.

Mr. Chope: Will the hon. Gentleman warn all people contemplating travelling to France for their holidays that they will face a grave risk in so doing as it is possible to purchase a single-shot .22 handgun over the counter in that country?

Mr. Michael: There is a high incidence of accidents involving firearms in France. The point is that we deal with legislation for this country--I thought Opposition Members were generally in favour of that. We are trying to ensure public safety through a total ban on handguns rather than a partial ban, which would be difficult to enforce. However, that is a Second Reading point. We are now considering the narrow proposition that single-shot .22 weapons should be exempt from the ban. I would like to respond in detail to several smaller points raised by hon. Members, but that is the big picture. If we were to accept this amendment, it would undermine the consistency of our legislation, which aims to deal consistently with banning handguns. We believe that the 1997 Act, which is already in place, is defective. The Bill will put matters right. Acceptance of the amendment would undermine the consistency that we are trying to introduce.

Mr. Colvin: With the leave of the Committee, if that is necessary, I shall respond to some of the remarks that have been made during the debate. I am not satisfied with the Minister's summing up and, at the end of my response, I shall press my amendment to a Division.

We heard a powerful speech, as we are accustomed to in this place, from the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). The hon. Gentleman always speaks robustly on whatever subject is before us. He speaks with immense knowledge of shooting, especially pistol shooting, and he is always sincere. That being so, it is significant that he failed to win any proper answers from the Minister of State. Nor did he receive any satisfactory answers on Second Reading.

I am pleased that so many Conservative Members have been able to participate in the debate and to have been in their places throughout it, especially as a beauty contest is taking place in Committee Room 10 for the leadership of the Tory party. I was pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) found time to enter the Chamber and join us in the debate. I have no doubt that he will give us his robust support. I hope that that does not mean that he has already been eliminated from the beauty contest. Perhaps the contest is one reason why more hon. Members have not been present. However, Conservative Members have consistently outnumbered Labour Members throughout the afternoon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) made, as one would expect, a powerful response in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), on legislation that might be pending to strengthen control of shotguns. I put the same question to the Minister of State on Second Reading. I asked him then how many draft Bills were in preparation, including those bringing shotguns and air rifles

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within section 1 certification. I did not receive an answer on Second Reading and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex did not receive one this afternoon.

Mr. Michael: If we followed every rabbit that the hon. Gentleman seeks to set running round the field, we would be denying things left, right and centre. There are no draft Bills.

Mr. Colvin: I am pleased to hear that. That is the response that we could well have heard on Second Reading.

5.45 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made the important point that neither the Hungerford massacre nor the Dunblane massacre could have taken place if the Bill, as it would be if the amendment were accepted, were enacted. Such a massacre could not be carried out with a single-shot .22. It is wrong to suggest that the public will be endangered if the amendment is incorporated in the Bill.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) made a significant point, which was echoed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Home Secretary. My amendment, as drafted, implies that single-shot .22 pistols could be kept at home, and that is intentional. If the argument is accepted that such pistols pose no danger to the general public because they are specifically constructed match pistols and impractical for use in crime or, indeed, for any other illegal purpose, there is no reason why they should not be kept at home.

If we had sought to exclude .22 pistols from the home and had insisted in the amendment that they should be retained in gun clubs in secure conditions, would the Minister have accepted such an amendment? It is a matter to which he might give further thought between the debates in this place and those in another place that are to follow it.

Mr. Connarty: The amendment refers to single-shot pistols, not specifically designed Olympic single-shot specially crafted pistols. If everyone who now holds a .22 pistol wishes to transfer to ownership of a single-shot .22, 40,000 .22 pistols will still be in circulation. That is the worry. What would happen if someone such as Hamilton were to have two or three single-shot guns? Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that three deaths are just as bad as 16? At the beginning of the day of Dunblane, we were told that only one child had been killed. Does the hon. Gentleman not remember the shock of the nation?

Mr. Colvin: The hon. Gentleman is obviously the Minister of State's messenger boy as his parliamentary private secretary. He has displayed his ignorance of what the sport of shooting is all about. We are talking about single-shot sporting .22s that cannot be adapted for any other purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) made the sort of intervention that would be expected from an hon. Member with a strong constituency interest, in that he has Bisley, the home of the National Rifle Association, in his constituency.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) argued that .22 pistol shooting was the creme de la creme of competition shooting. He expressed the hope that, in accepting the amendment, the Government would save face. We on the Conservative Benches are not normally in the business of suggesting ways in which the Government might save face, but in this instance they have it wrong and we have it right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold asked specifically how many fatalities there have been as a result of crimes involving .22 rimfire handguns. We have not had an answer to that question.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) asked three specific questions. He wanted to know whether the amendment would help, whether it is right and whether it could cause harm. We have not had satisfactory answers.

Mr. Chope: Is my hon. Friend able to surmise why we have not had answers to the pertinent questions to which he has referred, when the Prime Minister has said that he wants there to be maximum public scrutiny of all proposed legislation passing through the House of Commons? Why have Ministers not been prepared to answer pertinent questions?

Mr. Colvin: I thank my hon. Friend--

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