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Mr. Michael: I shall be brief, because I do not want to go over the ground that was covered on Second Reading. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I explained the case for the Bill in Wednesday's debate. That case was clearly made, and it commanded the overwhelming support of hon. Members.

I do not intend to enter into debate about the Commonwealth or Olympic games, because new clauses deal with those issues. In his opening speech, the Home Secretary accepted and set out the Bill's impact, and he was congratulated by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee on being open and honest about that rather than trying to hide it. Our stall and the reasons for the Bill have been clearly set out.

Clause 1 contains the Bill's key element, and that is why it must stand part of the Bill. That key element is the prohibition of small-calibre pistols, which was accepted so overwhelmingly on Second Reading. The clause extends to small-calibre pistols the ban that was instituted

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by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. That Act prohibited 80 per cent. of handguns from general civilian ownership, and clause 1 prohibits the remainder.

The points in the speech by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) were made by some of his hon. Friends when he was the Minister responsible for these matters. He was not convinced then, and I am not convinced now. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that we did not introduce a measure which we know will affect the sport of shooting lightly or without thought.

As I said earlier, in our original evidence to Lord Cullen, we said that we would look at the possibility of protecting the sporting use of handguns, although we felt that there was a strong case for a general ban. Our conclusion, which was thoughtful and reasoned, was that a complete ban was the right way forward. In opposition, we supported the 1997 Act, because we saw it as a vast improvement on earlier law. However, we also said, and have always said, that we did not think that it went far enough.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border accepts the principle that public safety should override the interests of sport. We think that a total ban on handguns will help public safety, but from his speech it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not. It is a matter of judgment, but I am glad that, unlike some of his hon. Friends, the right hon. Gentleman accepts the principle on which we have based the legislation. We believe that it will have the practical effect of increasing public safety, and, as I have said, we did not come to that conclusion without careful thought. We did not believe that the 1997 Act went far enough, or that the pistol clubs system proposed under the Act would guarantee the public's safety. The only way in which to do that is to remove the weapons from general circulation.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border cannot have it both ways. He says that we are not willing to listen and to allow exceptions, and then refers to the fact that we have indeed allowed and supported exceptions for veterinary purposes and for dealing with large mammals. Those are public interest exceptions rather than pure sporting exceptions, so we have been consistent, and have driven for the best possible outcome in legislation for the public's protection.

As I have said, the only way in which to achieve maximum public safety is to remove handguns from general circulation. That is the effect of the clause, and I hope that it can now stand part of the Bill.

6.30 pm

Mr. Soames: In the spirit of the speech made by the Minister of State, I shall not delay the House long.

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). For many reasons, clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill. There is no sensible, pragmatic reason why the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) should not have been accepted. The safety arguments were not answered properly. The consistency case has been lamentably badly made. It has not in any way altered the balance of feelings of any Conservative Member who opposes the clause.

The other extraordinary thing is the Home Secretary's remarkably high-handed, arrogant and cheeky response to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook),

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who knows a lot about all this, and whose views on this matter are fortified and sustained by a considerable knowledge of sporting shooting. It is a pity that his views have not been more carefully listened to.

One of the purposes of the House is to safeguard faithfully the interests of minorities. It is unfortunate that, among other things, the Olympians, who have in such a distinguished manner represented this country for so long, will no longer be able to do so. That is a sad and unhappy state of affairs, which the House should not countenance or allow to happen.

Mr. Frank Cook: I do not know whether I shall delay the Committee uselessly this evening. Certainly, it is not my intention, but the simple truth is that I have raised numerous questions and made many points of logic, and none of them has received a sensible response. The only point that has been made in response to the case that I make, which I hope is based on common sense, is that I have been against the legislation from the outset and that I have been a passionate advocate, but that I am wrong anyway. That is not the way in which to counter logic.

I was against the previous legislation that was introduced by the Conservative regime and, as Opposition Whip on the Hungerford Bill, I was against aspects of that legislation. Incidentally, that was the first time that a Government lost their sittings motion. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who was a Minister at the time, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I am proud to say that I was responsible for the then Government losing the motion. I suppose that that is one way in which to get into "Erskine May". I was happy to do it.

That is a measure of the honesty that I have applied, or sought to apply, to proposals such as this all along, because all long they have been inadequate. Clause 1 is equally inadequate, because it does not recognise the simple truths of the matter. The whole morass of firearms legislation is full of anachronisms and anomalies. Clause 1 is symptomatic of that and one example of those anomalies.

What do we have in terms of facts? We know that Thomas Watt Hamilton acquired his original handgun illegally; that is a proven fact, provable with documentation. We know that his certification was inappropriate because the police did not check the false statements that he made; that is also a proven fact and checkable. We know that he was rejected by and indeed ejected from some of the gun clubs that he sought to join. We know that he engaged in illegal gun purchases and trading and that he threatened a lady with a loaded weapon through the open window of his stationary vehicle.

If that does not constitute grounds for the removal of all certificates and of all weapons, and indeed the throwing into custody of an individual, frankly, I do not know what the law means. The police had all those opportunities and, despite Sergeant Hughes pleading with his senior officers to take that course of action, a senior officer in the shape of a deputy chief constable refused to take action on the ground that he was afraid to go to a court of law on appeal. If they were as indolent and as dilatory in that instance, how do we know that they will be any more conscientious in the light of the Bill?

I have outlined the case in relation to Thomas Watt Hamilton. There is a similar history in the case of Michael Ryan and Hungerford. He, too, did not have lawfully held

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weapons, as those weapons are frequently described by both Downing street and the Home Office. Frankly, I do not know whether I do any good by raising those points, which I have raised so many times before. The Bill is based on a false premise. We are taking punitive action against people who are law-abiding, who have conformed in every respect to this country's legal requirements, as laid down by the House, and we intend to punish them and indeed to make them pay a considerable sum; no one will convince me that the draft compensation scheme is adequate to provide for the stocks that people hold, certainly the dealers. Therefore, there seems to be a deeply entrenched determination to expunge the sport of pistol and revolver target shooting from people's leisure opportunities, regardless of whether they be young or old, black or white, able or disabled.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is a supporter of Blackburn Rovers, who I am told have been known on occasion to play football. He will have attended those meetings and will have seen at the front, by the pitch side, disabled people watching the game, which I hope was entertaining--although it rarely was when Blackburn Rovers came to Middlesbrough. I wonder whether he has thought about whether the people sitting in those wheelchairs, or people with prostheses or arthritic callipers, take part in target shooting for the sake of a sense of sporting achievement, because many of them do. It might not have gained the attention of the Home Secretary on those occasions--[Interruption.]--and it certainly is not getting his attention today. Those people, whether they support Blackburn Rovers, any other football team or, indeed, any other sport, can, in the sport of target shooting, actively engage in the activity and compete on equal terms. We shall stop that if we go ahead with the Bill.

I want to put a question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Is it his intention to do away with the sport altogether? If the answer is yes, and I fully expect it to be so, what will he do about policemen who are part of an armed team? I have news for the Home Secretary, as I had news for the previous incumbent of that post: any police officer undertaking firearms duty has an opportunity to use a shooting range, but the time on that range is limited. He has the opportunity to make several shots from a service weapon, but the number of rounds is limited. He has to stand square on at the range and shoot at a piece of cardboard, but that discipline is limited. To expect a policeman to go on active service with limited training time, limited experience loosing off rounds and with limited positional disciplines puts that officer at risk.

When I raised the matter previously, although perhaps not as comprehensively as I am doing today, the Home Secretary of the day said that police training was adequate. That is not so, but I would have great difficulty persuading a policeman to say so publicly. Why is that? It is because of questions of career development, of protection of pension rights and, sadly, because we live in a society in which the whistleblower virtually puts himself as the bull on the target at 25 m range, and has just as much chance of survival. It is indicative of the sort of nonsense surrounding the issue.

Many steps should be taken to make more stringent the legislation that applies to firearms of every sort, not just pistols and revolvers, but the Government are ignoring the

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anomalies. They are turning a blind eye, yet at the same time they are pretending to be consistent and logical. Frankly, they are neither.

This evening will not exhaust my will and my wish to continue preaching common sense, because I believe that legislation should be based on common sense and be practicable and enforceable. However, I can give my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary some comfort, because I regret that after this evening's proceedings I shall not be able to continue with my arguments because of parliamentary duties elsewhere. I want to be sure that my arguments are clearly understood tonight. All reasonable proposals, for which my right hon. Friend pleaded, have been ignored without any response or justification--[Interruption.]--indeed, they are being ignored at this very minute.

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