Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: It is possible that some noble Lords who visit France during the hunting season wish that France took an attitude rather more similar to this Bill.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The Minister mentioned the Labour Party's manifesto. Does he agree that this legislation represents a rather small part of that voluminous document and might well have been overlooked by most of the people who voted for the Labour Party?

Can he perhaps go further and explain to the Committee why this legislation, in particular the turning down of this amendment, is a price worth paying? Many people in this place, indeed perhaps the majority of people in this country, now regard this legislation as vindictive and misdirected. Will the Minister therefore tell the Committee why this is a price worth paying? How many lives do the Government estimate will be saved by this legislation in general and by turning down this amendment in particular?

4 p.m.

Lord McNally: Will the Minister in replying recall that all opinion polling on this legislation has shown overwhelming approval, and that another place, which has more direct contact with the electorate than this place, also showed overwhelming approval for this legislation?

Lord Gisborough: Will the Minister also bear in mind that, while there was 75 per cent. approval

15 Jul 1997 : Column 926

immediately after the event, it then went back to 70 per cent. on the other side when people realised that the Government had overreacted?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The figure to which I believe the noble Lord referred is the figure of 83 per cent. in the recent Daily Telegraph poll for the banning of all handguns. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, indicates, rightly, that this was simply one item in the Labour Party manifesto. I respectfully dissent from his view that the public were not well-informed about the Government's proposals should they be elected. The Government set out their policy to the electorate quite plainly. We believe that we are doing the right thing. We believe it is right to ban the possession of handguns in this country. That is why we have brought forward this Bill, and that is why I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: May I press the Minister on that reply? He has not answered the question as to why he thinks this is a price worth paying. How many lives do the Government think this legislation will save?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Again, I should have thought it self-evident that no government will ever be able to say that one life will be saved; it might be two; it might be three. If the question were put to a parent who happened to have an innocent child at a primary school in Dunblane, the answer might be a good deal less moderate than the ones that I have given.

Earl Peel: If we are to consider public opinion, then perhaps we should reflect on the report in the papers today which indicated that only 15 per cent. of the population were in favour of reducing the age of consent for practising homosexuals.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have not had the benefit of reading that report. I accept the noble Earl's remark. Governments have to pay attention to public opinion; they do not in every instance have to be ruled by public opinion. I entirely agree. It is a fact that the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in another place, the Prime Minister and the present Leader of the Conservative Party in another place, all upon a free vote, cast their vote in favour of the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual activities to 16.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My noble friend must not evade the issue. He was quite happy, as were noble Lords on the Liberal Benches opposite, to call in aid public opinion in relation to handguns. It cannot be called in aid in one respect and then be said not to matter in another respect.

Public safety, particularly that of young people, is important. Will my noble friend confirm that in 1995 no person under the age of 15 was killed by a firearm, although over 100 were killed in either suspicious circumstances or unusual circumstances?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have never said that public opinion does not matter; it needs to be taken into

15 Jul 1997 : Column 927

account. On the noble Lord's second point as to how many young people under the age of 15 were killed in a variety of circumstances in 1995, I am sorry that I simply do not have that material to hand. It may or may not be available depending on a more precise formulation of the question.

Lord Swansea: I am naturally disappointed with the reception given by the Government to this amendment. I hope that they will take careful note of the comments made during this short debate. The shooting fraternity as a body are, by definition, law-abiding people; otherwise they would not be trusted with firearm certificates. But they are an easy target; they are a sitting target, so to speak, for the Government to shoot at. But the Government are shooting at the wrong target. They should turn their attention to the vast underground pool of illegally held weapons. If they did that, instead of oppressing law-abiding, legitimate shooters, they would have the backing of the whole country.

I shall not divide the Committee at this stage. However, I shall return to this point at a later stage, when I may not be so accommodating. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Disabled persons: exemption

(" .--(1) The authority of the Secretary of State is not required by virtue of section 5(1)(aba) of the 1968 Act for a person to whom subsection (2) applies to have in his possession or to purchase, acquire, sell or transfer a pistol chambered for .22 or smaller rim-fire cartridges if he is authorised under the Act to possess, purchase or acquire that weapon subject to a condition which complies with subsection (3) below.
(2) A person to whom this section applies shall be a registered disabled person who has a physical disability and is approved by the Secretary of State.
(3) A certificate granted under subsection (2) above shall be subject to the condition that--
(a) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State; and
(b) possession of the weapon outside such designated premises shall be permitted only for transfer to and use at premises at which a shooting competition is taking place on such conditions as the Secretary of State shall specify.").

The noble Lord said: First, I must apologise to the Committee. When I spoke at Second Reading I forgot to declare an interest. I should establish that I am president of a shooting club in my old constituency.

The amendments standing in my name and the names of other noble Lords are there to safeguard the sport of pistol shooting, and, incidentally, the reputation and participation of this country in international Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

My noble friend talks about "a price worth paying". While I understand what he says and totally support all that he wishes to do to safeguard lives and prevent guns falling into the wrong hands, I must say that our Olympic participation and its preservation is a price worth paying. It is being undermined by this legislation.

15 Jul 1997 : Column 928

This sport is traditional and has served Britain well. There have been great sporting festivals and national celebrations, and we have done extremely well.

In the last Commonwealth Games in 1994 we won two gold medals, one of which was won by Wales, two silver medals, and three bronze. That enables me to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, whom I had the great pleasure of seeing win a gold medal for his country in the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in circumstances which I once described in this Chamber and, with the leave of the Committee, I shall mention again. The occasion is clear in my memory. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, won his gold medal and stood on the podium, and the band played "God Save the Queen"--and he refused to get down. A message was dispatched to the far end of the stadium and the band then played some tune such as "Annie Laurie". He still refused to get down. Another message was dispatched and the band played "Land of Hope and Glory". He still refused to get down. I do not know how the devil the Jamaican band were persuaded to play "Land of My Fathers", but eventually they did; and then the noble Lord left the rostrum to greater applause from the audience, most of whom never knew what it was all about. I have to say to my noble friend--

Earl Russell: I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I wonder whether he can help the Committee. Is he speaking to Amendment No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6?

Lord Howell: I was speaking to the amendment called which is Amendment No. 2, if my memory is right, even though I am getting old.

The Government's proposal is to abolish an Olympic sport in this country. What is at risk is the sport of shooting which is an Olympic sport and the explanations that we have had have been lamentable. In fact, we have had none. As my noble friend told us today in his opening, with complete honesty as usual, the Government oppose the amendment because they have decided to abolish everything. He said that the Government have not considered sports and the sport of shooting in that context.

Hardly more can be said about my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Jack Straw, when he dealt with the subject. On Second Reading, he said that he would give reasonable consideration to any alternatives put to him. That is all I ask for today, reasonable consideration of the amendments put forward in defence of our Olympic and Commonwealth Games position. I am told--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page