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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On 11 June 1997, I spoke at some length in the House about the specific needs of disabled shooters. I also intervened in the speech of the Home Secretary to ask him about the special position of Bisley, which is a village in my constituency. The Home Secretary said:

I speak in this debate to ask the Home Secretary whether he will accept the new clauses and, before the Bill goes to another place, re-examine the subject. I ask also whether he may be able to introduce a modified version of new clause 4 in another place.

As my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have stressed, we are speaking about a relatively small group of people--disabled shooters and those involved in the highest levels of competition--about whom the Labour party has always been particularly concerned. Labour has always been very proud, as they should be, of their support for sport and for the disabled.

It would therefore be somewhat surprising for Labour Members, in one of their very first acts in government, to hamper the disabled and damage a very important and successful sport. I ask the Home Secretary to reflect very carefully before he decides on legislation that would be so draconian that it would prevent any effective competition at the highest levels by British sportspeople and by disabled British sportspeople in the Paralympic, Commonwealth and Olympic games.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have already stressed that these are sports which Britain gave the world and at which we have done conspicuously well. Especially in respect of the Paralympics, it is extraordinary that the Home Secretary should say that it is beyond his ability to help the disabled.

On 11 June, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) sought to suggest that I and my colleagues who were talking about the disabled were in some way hiding our support for various amendments--support that we had always made quite clear--behind the cause of the disabled. I resent that suggestion. The hon. Gentleman is not in his place at the moment, but he was here earlier.

I stress that many of us have been working hard for disabled sportspeople--not only those involved in shooting--for many years. We have every right to champion the cause of disabled shooters and the cause of those who have practised for many years.

8.30 pm

Many people in my constituency have been involved in shooting at the very highest level. They have cabinets full of trophies which they have won representing their country. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, many months and years of practice go into winning those trophies, and I suggest that the Home Secretary seriously reconsiders the matter. I hope that he will accept the new clauses, but, if he cannot go that far, I hope that he will at least confirm that he is prepared to reconsider before the Bill goes to another place.

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In pursuance of his promise to me on 11 June, I hope that the Home Secretary will consider the position of Bisley. Sadly, Britain has lost its historic standing in many sports, although we hope that we are regaining it in, for example, cricket at the moment. However, there is no doubt that Bisley is regarded worldwide as the pre-eminent centre of shooting, a sport in which we have an extremely successful record. It is not impossible for the Government to make exceptions, either by accepting the new clauses now or by accepting similar proposals in another place, and to allow competitive pistol shooting, and shooting for the disabled, to continue.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have high hopes that as the Home Secretary is answering this debate it means that the Government are taking the two new clauses seriously.

Mr. Maclean: He is a reasonable man.

Mr. Chope: He has proved on a number of occasions that he is a reasonable man, as my right hon. Friend says.

On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that it would be possible for pistol shooting competitions to be held within the confines of the Commonwealth games. If public safety can be secured by arrangements that enable pistol shooters from more than 50 Commonwealth countries to come to Manchester and use their pistols in competition, why cannot arrangements be made for British pistol shooters to practise their sport in a centre of excellence with public safety being secured at the same time?

To get to the bottom of the Government's argument, I tabled a question to find out what detailed arrangements were being planned by the Government in connection with the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. I asked the Home Secretary

I am sorry to have to tell the House that the Minister of State declined to do so. In so doing, he said:

    "Any authority to be issued to competitors for the pistol shooting events . . . will be a matter for the Secretary of State",

which we know. He continued:

    "the Secretary of State can attach any conditions which he considers necessary to ensure that public safety or the peace is not endangered. It is . . . for the Secretary of State to decide the appropriate drafting and conditions".

We understand that, but if the Home Secretary can be so sure that it will be possible to make those necessary arrangements for the Manchester games, why can he not place in the Library a draft of those arrangements? I am not asking for the final version--only for a draft of how he thinks the arrangements will work in practice.

Fifty nations will be represented at the Commonwealth games, at which pistol shooting is the third most popular sport. People will attend from the UK, but also from parts within the UK, such as Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. What arrangements will be made to ensure public safety, given that that is the absolute which the Home Secretary is holding up to us? Has he thought through

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how pubic safety will be secured in those circumstances? If so--I hope that he has--why will he not let us know what those detailed arrangements are? We could then compare the practicalities of arrangements proposed for the Commonwealth games with the proposals in new clauses 3 and 4.

I also received a disappointing reply from the Minister of State when I asked whether competitors from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be able to use pistols

Again, it is a straightforward question, but the Minister of State responded:

    "The Government appreciate the need for the planning of the games to take place well in advance and we intend to discuss the matter with all interested parties. It is too early to grant section 5 authority at this stage. However, all competitors from the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, will be eligible to be considered nearer the time."--[Official Report, 16 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 3-4.]

I hope that they are not intended to be the weasel words that they might seem to those of a more sceptical disposition than I.

I hope that the Minister of State and the Home Secretary will make it possible for British competitors, who use and practise with pistols that are lawfully held overseas, to bring those pistols here and participate in the games on equal terms with nationals from other countries. If not, I despair. It raises the serious problem of whether this country will ever be able to command the support of other countries on the Olympic games or Commonwealth games committee if we are not able to guarantee the future of pistol shooting events.

Originally, we were not going to have pistol shooting in Manchester, but, after pressure was put on the Manchester organisers, it was agreed that there would be. It is such a popular sport in the Commonwealth games that any country that has no proper arrangements for it is unlikely to enjoy the support of other Commonwealth countries in seeking designation to host the Commonwealth games.

Mr. Colvin: Unlike me, my hon. Friend is a lawyer. We have been discussing the rights of minorities and I know that my hon. Friend has made a study of the European convention on human rights. I ask him, as I asked the Home Secretary on Second Reading, whether in his view people deprived of the liberty to shoot have the right to appeal to the European Court against this infringement of their civil rights.

Mr. Chope: I do not give any advice as a lawyer these days. Like me, the Home Secretary is a proud member of the Inner Temple, but we certainly do not give advice--at least not for free--in this House. However, I do know that members of the Christchurch gun club have high expectations of being able to take some of these arguments to the European Court of Human Rights. I do not know whether they will be successful, but it is an indication of their despair that they feel that they will be forced down that path.

New clause 4 deals with shooting for the disabled, which is a sport that was developed by our country and something of which we should be proud. I hope that the Government's sensitivity towards those least able to help

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themselves will lead them to accept the new clause. What the disabled can achieve by pistol shooting differs greatly from what others can achieve. It is said by the Government, with some justification, that ordinary people involved in pistol shooting can transfer their activities to rifle, shotgun or clay pigeon shooting; for a disabled person, however, such a transfer is not possible because of the recoil and power of those larger guns. That is why pistol shooting for people in wheelchairs has become such a popular sport. Mr. Holdaway, who is a prominent member of the Christchurch gun club, writes that pistol shooting

    "is a sport almost anybody can compete in on equal terms. This is particularly true of pistol shooting as rifles and shotguns can have intimidating levels of recoil. Women can compete against men as can youngsters. A few disabled people with limited upper body strength may be unable to shoot, but being in a wheelchair is no disadvantage in many disciplines. .22 calibre events are especially suitable."

I hope that the Government will take the new clauses seriously. If they fail to do so, I have every confidence that the debate in another place will ensure that the new clauses are eventually put on the statute book.

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