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Lord Swinfen: I am afraid that I cannot follow my noble friend down the same road, as I cannot approve even of people with physical disabilities having a single shot weapon just for the purposes of defending themselves. It would be far wiser to make certain that their homes are properly secured and if necessary that there are grants available for that. My noble friend should also bear in mind that it may not be difficult for the weapon to be removed from a physically disabled person and then used on that person.
However, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, first, because pistol shooting can be a great aid to the rehabilitation of people with certain physical disabilities and, secondly, because young people with physical disabilities have the same urge to compete as able-bodied people. This is one of the few methods of competition where a person with a physical disability can compete on equal terms and on a level playing field with an able-bodied person. Also, though I specifically mentioned young physically disabled people, it is a sport that can be enjoyed and practised by people of all ages.
This is a minority interest. The Government pride themselves on being concerned with minority interests. I do not believe that the people of Dunblane, or children or people anywhere, will be disadvantaged by the exception called for in the amendment. I rise with hope on this amendment for two reasons. The first is the Minister, who has made such an impressive start as a Minister in this House and has gained the respect of everybody in this Chamber. I know from the correspondence that flows between us at the different stages of Bills how much he listens and takes note of what is being said during debates. Secondly, his right honourable friend in another place, the Home Secretary, left a glimmer of hope that he was open-minded over suggestions that may come from debates on this issue. Given that open-mindedness, I hope that the Minister will consider carefully the points that have been made.
It has been said--I think rather glibly--by a number of people that there are viable alternatives. There are no viable alternatives, particularly for people who have honed the craft of shooting to a highly skilled level. It would be cutting off a lifeline for many of those people and we cannot therefore say that there is an alternative.
Pistol shooting is a popular sport for disabled people because it is a practical sport. We were all moved--and amused--by what my noble friend Lord Crawshaw had to say. I shall keep out of the way when he next takes to a bow and arrow. My noble friend has empathy with other people who have disabilities and knows how much any sport, but particularly the sport of shooting, means to them.
Pistol shooting provides disabled people with a quality of life. For all the reasons stated by my noble friends on this side of the Chamber, by Cross-Benchers and by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I hope that the Minister, if he is unable to accept the amendment at this stage, will consider carefully what his right honourable friend said in another place; that is, that he is open-minded and will consider good, cogent arguments to support this very special minority interest sport.
Lord McNally: The Committee widely shares the judgment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the Minister has handled this Bill with great skill thus far. I suspect that there will not be a more difficult clause to demand his skills and judgment. Anybody who listened to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, will realise that. However, anyone who listened to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, also sees the wisdom of the advice the Minister gave in discussing the other clauses; that is, that we must beware of exceptions. Exceptions are then extended and used to justify other exceptions.
Those of us who have supported the Government thus far in the passage of this Bill do so in the hope and belief that they will deliver it in its full integrity as a ban on all handguns. We look to the Minister for
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: I hope that my noble friend will not be tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his thinking. In particular, I hope that my noble friend will not use that argument as a means by which to distract attention from the central purpose of the proposed amendment; that is, the use of these weapons for sporting purposes.
My noble friend may tell us that the reason why he cannot accept the amendment is one of principle. What kind of principle can it be to have a law which cannot tolerate a small amendment designed to protect the proper interests of a great number of deserving people? If my noble friend is tempted to talk about principles and of the danger of precedents being set, I for my part--and I suspect other Members of the Committee--can assure him that we will not use such a precedent in order to try to extend the exceptions to the general rule and the principles embodied within the Bill.
My noble friend may suggest that he cannot accept the amendment on grounds of practicality. What kind of argument is that? Is there a serious danger that a disabled person who was given this right after careful limitation would misuse it and go on the rampage? Surely not. Is there a danger that such a weapon may fall into the wrong hands? So far as I can see, the amendment is adequate in that respect. But if those are the grounds that my noble friend feels challenge the proposal in the amendment, I would willingly accept from him further modifications designed to put beyond doubt the chance that such a weapon could fall into the wrong hands.
I share the hope that has been expressed that the Minister will look sympathetically at the amendment, both on merit and on the grounds that it can be ring-fenced in such a way that it will not give rise to wider dangers of the sort discussed in previous debates on the Bill.
The Earl of Lytton: I rise to support the amendment moved so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. It is perhaps appropriate for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murray, in this because it is clear that we have a proud heritage in this country of making certain exceptions to the normal rules for disabled people. It arises in the road traffic Acts, in connection with the use of and design of vehicles, in connection with access to buildings, and so forth. Those are all departures from what would otherwise be norms and principles that are established in the general law.
If a point of principle does arise--to follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Murray--it needs to be carefully spelt out by the Minister. I suspect that the point of principle is that there should be no exceptions--a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who has battled valiantly through the principles that lie behind the broader interests and particularly the interests that the Government are trying to pursue.
The Government say that on principle they cannot have exceptions because the commitment is to remove the use of handguns from these shores. Manifesto commitment or no manifesto commitment, that is not an option open to the Minister or his Government because, as we have heard before in these debates, the number of illegal weapons vastly exceeds the number of legal weapons. All that is happening is that the tip of the iceberg is being chopped off and the remaining 90 per cent. remains lurking unseen under the water. If that is the point of principle it needs to be squared with the overriding reality of the situation in that the total removal of handguns from these shores, given the lack of border controls and the circumstances of gun availability on the Continent of Europe, needs to be looked at in some considerable detail.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: One of the privileges of sitting where I do is that one has to attend to well-put, moderate arguments. It is often a disappointment to say to people who have put their arguments in that way--often understating rather than overstating or exaggerating their case--that it is disagreeable to be unable to deliver what Members of the Committee wish. I shall confine myself to the ambit of this present amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, did, rather than go into Olympic matters. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he was looking for reasonable consideration of the case put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, urged me to take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said. The noble Baroness very gracefully asked me to understand the points that were being made. I do understand them. No one could have listened to the speeches--in particular that made by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw--without both understanding and sympathy.
The Home Secretary in another place said that he would attend to matters with an open mind. I believe that it is plain that the conclusion reached is that exemptions ought not to be allowed. Small calibre pistols are lethal. I make it absolutely plain to the Committee that disabled shooters will be able to compete using air weapons, shotguns and rifles. There is no doubt at all that their formerly lawful activities will be restricted and I am not going to pretend the opposite. I am always reluctant to do anything--
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