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Mr. Colvin: I support the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) that clause 1 should not stand part. The Minister referred to clause 1 as the key element in the Bill, as it bans all .22 weapons. During the earlier debate on my amendment No. 7, which failed, the hon. Gentleman said that it was not the Government's business--and, indeed, it would be quite wrong--to talk about exemptions. However, as he admitted, there are already exemptions and exclusions. For example, he said that vets would be allowed to retain handguns. I would add the starters for athletic and swimming races. Slaughterhouse men are also entitled to retain handguns--.38 revolvers, which are much more dangerous than single-shot .22s used for competition purposes. There is also the question of black powder pistols. Exemptions and exclusions are already permitted and I see absolutely no reason to accept the Minister's argument against my amendment No. 7--that it would mean special exemptions. They exist in previous legislation and they exist in the Bill.

6.45 pm

There has been some discussion about the dangers of shooters going underground. Accepting amendment No. 7 or rejecting this clause would reduce that risk. If shooting with .22s is prohibited, there is a danger that some shooting might go underground. Of course, as other hon. Members have said, it is unlikely that any of the law-abiding community of sportsmen or women would go down that path.

I agree with the Minister on one matter--that the Conservative Members who have spoken today are generally opposed to the Bill. We have been doing our level best to try to salvage a sport at which Britain excels and which poses no security risk to the public. The Minister's arguments about safety were inadequate. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, it defies all logic.

Perhaps we should draw a comparison between .22 shooting and archery. I happen to be an honorary member of the Romsey Archers. I know that someone with a bow and arrow can fire more accurate shots, over a longer range, at greater speed and with a more lethal effect than could ever be the case with a .22 single-shot pistol. I am not trying to make a case for banning archery--[Interruption.] Obviously, the Minister does not understand the logic of my case. I am pointing out the illogicality of the Bill.

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My amendment was a narrow one and the Bill is also narrow, but nothing is as narrow as the minds of the Minister and of the Government in what they are trying to do in the Bill. That is why I have no hesitation in supporting my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border in asking the Committee to reject clause 1.

Mr. Garnier: I shall be brief, as many hon. Members want to speak. I remind the Government of the two central questions that I asked during the debate on the amendment. First, is the Bill right, and secondly, will it achieve what it is intended to achieve? The answer to both questions is no.

I also remind the Government that they are destroying an innocent pastime and I ask them to think about the sort of people who engage in it. They are nothing other than respectable, law-abiding citizens and their sport brings this country great credit. The Government are also removing from the disabled an opportunity for enjoyment and competition. I invite the Home Secretary, the Minister of State and even the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)--with whom I shared a happy time on the armed forces parliamentary scheme--to come to the gun club in my constituency and persuade those in wheelchairs who compete at pistol shooting that it is for the benefit of the public that they should have their pistols and their opportunity for enjoyment taken away from them.

The Bill tackles the horrors of Dunblane and Hungerford by asking the wrong questions. Guns, whether automatic or multi-shot pistols, are obtainable on the black market throughout the country. We could go to any number of inner-city pubs and buy a pistol, be it single-shot or multi-shot, on the black market.

If the Government want to do something useful, they should increase the police resources dedicated to tackling the problem of unlawfully purchased or stolen weapons. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) suggested, Ministers could also increase resources dedicated to allowing police to fire more often and for longer periods within police time.

The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997--which I did not vote for--went too far. This Bill and clause 1 go further, and to no good effect. I invite my hon. Friends to reject clause 1.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: In the debate on clause 1 stand part, it is appropriate to focus again on the key issue and to try to persuade Ministers--as persuasion is the only weapon that we have--to give some thought to our arguments. I realise that I shall perhaps again make some points that I have already made, in the debate on amendment No. 7.

I apologise that I could not be in the Chamber to hear the Minister's reply to the debate on amendment No. 7, but I have been told that he did not give any ground--although he said something to the effect that the Government would consider conducting some type of review. If such a review means that the Government might seriously reconsider their position before the Bill goes to another place--I should be grateful to have the Minister of State's ear on this point--and offer a possibility of modifying the Bill, it will have been a proper exercise of legislative function.

The case made by Conservative Members is that the only ground for passing such a stringent Bill is that the public interest and public safety require doing so, and

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that the passage of such a Bill is necessary only if the single-shot pistol--which cannot be adapted and must be reloaded individually between shots--is seriously likely to be used in massacres such as Hungerford or Dunblane, which rightly horrified the House and the public. However, I have not heard either the Home Secretary or the Minister of State make that specific argument. I have also not heard them say that there is a real danger that someone who was minded to carry out such a massacre--who would be an oddball, and a dangerous loner--would attempt to use a single-shot .22 pistol.

Hon. Members know that it is only too easy to obtain other types of handguns, and we stand four-square with the Government in passing proper measures to prevent the illegal holding of any type of handgun. Conservative Members believe, however, that we have made a serious argument that the type of specialised sporting weapon used for the Olympic games, for the Commonwealth games and for other bona fide sporting activities represents no real threat of causing that type of massacre.

Mr. Michael: Amendment No. 7 was not as narrow as the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making. We are now debating clause stand part, and the Bill in its generality.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful to the Minister of State for his comment, which I take not so much as a rebuke as an invitation to think that Ministers may still have an open mind on the matter. I think that I am right in believing that a clause stand part debate is exactly the moment at which to attempt to put some slightly wider ideas into the minds of Ministers, so that, before they force through the clause, they may either reflect further on those ideas or have the chance to indicate that there will be an opportunity--perhaps at a later stage in the Bill's passage, such as Report or in another place--to make sensible and perhaps tightly focused amendments.

Mr. Peter Atkinson: I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. and learned Friend, but I suspect that the review mentioned by the Minister of State will be an attempt to make the law even tougher. The Minister was concerned that black powder replica pistols, for example, might be used in a massacre similar to Dunblane. He said that Ministers were sufficiently concerned--in such an idiotic way--about such weapons that they might apply the ban to them.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am sorry to hear my hon. Friend's comments, and I can hope only that they are incorrect.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) did not listen to what I said. I said that the exemption introduced in another place to the 1997 Act had caused considerable concern to the police.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Such a matter can be fairly considered in a review. However, I am inviting the Minister to consider carefully focused amendments to the Bill, which will allow legitimate sporting activities to continue in tightly controlled circumstances, so that British citizens who are held to be responsible can train for and compete in the Commonwealth and Olympic games.

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Such people will be few in number, because the sport is comparatively focused and involves a comparatively small number of highly responsible people. Moreover--as I have already made perfectly clear--they will be members of clubs. I suggest that they should keep their weapons at their clubs, as that would provide as much safety as any hon. Member could reasonably propose. I say that with all the more force--at the risk of boring the Committee--because, as we know, a person can go across the channel, buy a single-shot .22 weapon without any licensing requirement, bring it back to the UK in the glove box of his car and know that no one is remotely likely to stop him. It would require tight intelligence--of a type that there is no reason to believe there is or should be--to prevent such activities.

We are dealing with massacres committed by people who are unbalanced, criminally minded and extremely devious. Such people are likely--because they have done so in the past--to get hold of far more dangerous weapons, and they have evaded an already complex licensing system. Conservative Members are simply asking for tightly focused exemptions so that honest people can participate in an honest sporting activity that is of real importance to the United Kingdom and to sport. I ask the Home Secretary and the Home Office to think again.


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