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9.37 pm

Mr. Hancock: This debate has been interesting for a number of reasons, not least the spawning of such memorable and impressive maiden speeches. The House has been privileged to hear yet another tonight from the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), who is to be congratulated not only on talking so eloquently about her constituency and predecessors, but on the fine way in which she demonstrated her support for the Bill. I offer her my heartiest congratulations on that speech and my best wishes for her time in the House.

I thought that it was a little sad and slightly shabby of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), to talk in the way he did about the Bill. He suggested that the Bill had been steamrollered through. I have sat through most of the discussions on it. I have yet to think of a single Member on the Opposition or Government Benches who wanted to speak and was denied the opportunity on Second Reading, in Committee or indeed, I expect, on Third Reading, so to suggest that the Bill has been steamrollered through is an exaggeration.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe forgot to mention the part that he played in nursing the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 through the House, when he denied hon. Members the opportunity of a free vote, which would have brought into being the very thing that we are discussing tonight. Had there been a free vote on that occasion, we would not have sat through these proceedings in the past week or so. There would now have been a law, the compensation would have been dealt with and gun owners, clubs and everyone else would have been well aware of what was going to happen. There cannot be anyone in the country who, after the Dunblane massacre, seriously believed that there would not be significant changes.

It was also obvious to everyone--except, perhaps, some Conservative Members--that nothing short of a total ban would be acceptable to the overwhelming majority of

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British people. To satisfy the undoubted public demand for Parliament to take action, innocent people have to suffer--not innocent young children being denied the opportunity to grow up, but gun owners and sportsmen being denied the opportunity to pursue a sport. Yet it is not a sport which cannot change and adapt so that those sportsmen can fire other weapons; they are being denied the opportunity to fire specific guns.

Time and again, the Home Secretary and the Minister have demonstrated conclusively that there is an element of versatility not only among those who want to shoot, but among the organisations that stage events for shooters. The Olympic games, the Commonwealth games and the national championships have changed many times to take account of changes in gun fashion and the sort of events in which people want to participate.

The Bill is not the end of participation in shooting sports. It is not the end for those who, unfortunately, are disabled and who have chosen shooting as part of their therapy to help them gain their true potential. There will be opportunities for them to adapt and to take on other shooting pursuits, if that is what they want. It is not the end of the world. It will not stop this country staging the Commonwealth games in Manchester. It will not prevent us from making a bid for the Olympic games. Over the past couple of weeks, the Home Secretary, the Minister and many other hon. Members have demonstrated beyond refute that those events will be staged and that the United Kingdom will continue to attract them.

The House has overwhelmingly responded to what the public demanded after Dunblane, and has done so mindful of the consequences. No one has hidden behind the consequences; indeed, most of us accept the consequences. We feel desperately sorry for those who will be disadvantaged by the Bill, but it was inevitable that action would be taken and that people would suffer. I do not think that anyone who has spoken in favour of the Bill has gloated about it--most people are sad that law-abiding citizens will not be able to continue with a pursuit that many of them have followed for many years. However, it was an inevitable consequence and, from time to time, the House must accept that it is the right price to pay to provide the sort of legislation that the country needs.

There is no place to hide on this issue. Certainly, the Home Secretary has not tried to hide. The Minister has tried, to the best of his ability, to answer every intervention from those who criticise the Bill. I am delighted to say that, like the Minister, I speak on behalf of my colleagues in saying that there will be a free vote tonight--a free vote expressed by democratically elected Members of Parliament, just a few weeks after the general election.

Conservative Members showed cynical contempt for the House and the election when they suggested that the Bill would be given a rough ride and possibly overturned in the other place. I hope that that will not happen. If it did, it would be a total injustice in view of the result of the election on 1 May. It is obvious that many people who voted knew that a change of Government would mean tougher gun laws. I do not believe that there is a peer of the realm who could claim that he was not aware of that inevitability.

For Conservative Members to threaten that their colleagues in the other place might ambush and overturn the Bill shows a cynical disregard for the democratic

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processes. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members take offence at that, but at least two of them said that that would happen. I am passionately in favour of the Bill and I am disappointed that they should take that attitude. I hope that at the end of the debate we give the Bill an overwhelming vote of support and that our colleagues in the other place will take note of that and act accordingly.

9.44 pm

Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire): I am absolutely delighted that we are having the Third Reading of the Bill and that we will vote to abolish handguns. I remember, not long ago, meeting John Crozier, a father who lost a child at Dunblane, and I have met other folk from Dunblane. It was one of the saddest and most tragic experiences of my life. I remember the feeling in Scotland when the Dunblane disaster happened. The House should not forget our responsibility to those children, and we should act to abolish handguns. We should also ensure that criminals and people who have said that they will go underground and continue to shoot will be punished as severely as possible.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in his place tonight. I hope that he will dissociate himself from the remarks made by his party's candidate in my constituency during the election. The candidate said that I did not vote to ban handguns in Scotland. I voted to ban handguns in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. I say emphatically that no one can say that I am not determined in my opposition to handguns and my support for their abolition.

Since the last time I spoke on the issue, I, like many hon. Members, have been vilified for not supporting the gun lobby. I have seen an article put out by the field sports supporters that says that they should get rid of Tommy Graham, because I had a majority of only 1,700. They had a big poster saying, "Get shot of him." That is a tragic and savage thing to say about anyone in the current climate, because it almost encourages terrorism. I tell those people that I am back with an 8,000 majority and I am as determined as anyone to see the end of handguns in people's pockets.

I have heard arguments tonight about sport. Every man and woman in the country should sacrifice something to ensure that there is no repeat of what happened in Dunblane and in other parts of the world. The Bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that there are no guns in the hands of fools, vagabonds and criminals. We should take the guns out of circulation and destroy them. The Bill will achieve that.

People have talked about medals--gold, silver and bronze. What sort of medal has been given to the kids who died at Dunblane? There is no medal for them. I hope that there is a place in heaven for all of them--I am sure there will be. Folk such as Tom Hamilton have denied the pleasure of the sport to people. I am not interested in gold medals.

Do not give me the patter that I have heard tonight about the disabled. The previous Government had opportunities to support the disabled. They rejected those opportunities, so the Tories should not weep tonight. I have been a defender of the rights of the disabled for years and years and will continue to be. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) is right to say that

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disabled folk will be able to take up some other sports or some other form of shooting. The argument about the disabled does not wash with me and the rest of the country.

The nation has suffered terribly and tragically over Dunblane, but we can never suffer the way that the families involved have suffered--not in a million years. We must listen to the people of Britain who have told us that they want rid of the guns. They do not want any more Dunblanes, and they do not want the Tommy Hamiltons of this world to have access to guns. Today, I will be proud to walk into the Lobby to vote against what the Opposition are trying to force on us. The public do not want what the Opposition are proposing, because they do not want anyone to have a handgun.

I have never heard such a fine maiden speech as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). It was one of the finest maiden speeches ever made in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and I were saying that we have never heard such a beautiful speech; it was so well made. I hope that she was absolutely right and that the House will give her son, and all the other children in the United Kingdom, the biggest birthday present ever. I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart on her superb speech and its great ending. Let us pass the Bill tonight with a thumping majority.


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