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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I listened carefully to the amendments moved so ably by my noble friend Lord Howell, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. It is clear that they have a great deal of expertise and that they have moved reasonable new clauses which would enable the Government to get out of the mess into which they have got themselves.

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I listen carefully to what the Prime Minister says. He does not listen to anything that I say; but I listen closely to what he says. As I understand the Prime Minister's message to Britain both during and since the election, he wants Britain to succeed in everything. He wants Britain to lead other countries. He wants Britain to be a leader in Europe and throughout the world. He wants us to shine in everything we do. During the election he draped himself and the Labour Party in the Union Jack. Wherever we went, we saw the Union Jack draped around Labour. Jolly good, I say, because it indicated that the Labour Party was a great patriotic party and believed in Britain.

That is until we see this Bill. It seems that in respect of pistol shooting with .22 ammunition the Prime Minister and the Government do not want us to succeed. They will take away the opportunity from people who wish to succeed in this sport, although in the past we have excelled at it. That seems a peculiar thing to do, in particular when the opportunity exists through these amendments to ensure that that does not occur.

No wonder people think that we in this country are crazy. It will be possible for people who are denied their sport of shooting in this country to nip on Eurostar, go to France, buy a .22 pistol off the shelf, join a French club, practice the sport over a long period of time, and compete anywhere else in the world--in the Olympic Games and other events. But if the Olympic Games are held in Britain, those people will not be able to compete in Britain. That really is stupid, is it not? How can the Government have got themselves into that position? I hope that they will take advantage of the amendments to get themselves out of it.

Even so, is it not absurd that British people may not practise a sport in their own country--they have been able to do so for decades, perhaps over 100 years--but they can get on a train and practise 20 miles away across the Channel? I believe that sometimes we go over the top; and we have gone over the top in this respect, and quite unnecessarily so.

The amendments before us track a way forward. They provide the Government with the opportunity to build on them. I sincerely trust that we shall hear from my noble friend the Minister as to how he intends to take this matter forward, prevent this country from looking foolish and ensure that Britain can still excel in a sport in which it has previously excelled, not only abroad but in our own land.

The Earl of Lytton: I support this group of amendments for very much the same reasons as those enunciated so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. If the object is to ban all legally held handguns, then to be consistent the ban ought logically to apply to everyone within our territorial limits. But these proposals represent some sort of halfway house whereby foreign and Northern Ireland residents have a facility that is denied to English, Welsh and Scottish citizens. That proposition is decidedly wobbly. It makes an exception, as it were, in negative form. It is not a credible position to take. It is discriminatory, as I said

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at Second Reading. The message it gives out is one of national self-mutilation. I cannot hold with that. I cannot fail to stand up and say how fundamentally I disagree with that in terms of promoting this country abroad. The Minister did not answer the point when I raised it at Second Reading. I hope that he will do so, if not today, then at some later stage of the Bill. This inconsistency needs to be dealt with. It has to be answered. I support these amendments as a logical and reasonable way out of the problem.

Lord Swansea: I support these amendments, too. Anyone who aspires to be at the top-flight end of international competition must be in a high state of training. He has to practise daily and must therefore have daily access to his pistols. It has been suggested that a person may park his pistols in another country--in France, Germany, Switzerland or wherever--and get round the legislation in that way. But that would entail having a very long purse. I cannot think of anyone who would be able to afford that. It is essential that such a person has daily access to pistols in order to practise continually. If our nationals are disqualified by the Government from taking part in international competition, we shall be the laughing-stock of the world. We shall be held up to ridicule, and that will be entirely the fault of the Government.

Lord Gisborough: I wonder whether it is in order for me to ask a question regarding a point that the noble Lord raised. When an English national travels abroad to practise in another country, will he be entitled to bring in a pistol to shoot as if he were a foreigner even though he does not keep a pistol in this country?

Baroness Blatch: I rise simply to offer brief support--although that brevity does not in any way indicate the strength of my support for this amendment. I support it very strongly. The case was put most cogently by my noble friend Lord Peel, by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, in his imitable way. Certainly I support the establishment of centres of excellence to allow shooters, properly identified by the national bodies, to train and compete in national and international competitions. The amendment makes it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State will have absolute control over this measure. The amendment requires the weapons to be stored and used at premises designated by the Secretary of State, and the controls over the centres are strengthened even further by requiring that the transfer of pistols from designated centres shall be permitted only for transport to and from the premises at which a shooting competition is taking place during the Olympic Games or some other qualifying national or international games. As has already been said, the proposal has the full support of the British Olympic Association.

Perhaps I may return briefly to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. During the course of the day, the Minister has prayed in aid public support not merely for this Bill but in many other matters that he has had the onerous job of discussing since Question Time. If

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public opinion is to be prayed in aid, it is true that public opinion appears to be sympathetic to the needs of the minority shooting group. That would include the disabled, as recognised by the previous amendment, and, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, some 300 to 400 shooters who fall into the category of being crack shooters for the purposes of international competition. I hope that, again, the noble Lord will continue with his open-mindedness and will reflect further on the comments made today. The most powerful case has been put, and very ably put, by my noble friends.

6.15 p.m.

Lord McNally: I also hope that the Minister will continue to keep an open mind in these matters. Many powerful and passionate arguments have been put to him today. However, I hope that in keeping an open mind, he also keeps a sense of proportion. The Bill has not appeared from nowhere simply to seek out Olympians for discrimination. It is a rather belated reaction by Parliament to a truly dreadful deed. The central point of the Bill is to provide this country with--yes--draconian gun control laws.

There is a responsibility on the Minister--a responsibility that he spelt out when responding to an earlier amendment. It is to test these hard cases against whether, given all the expert advice available to him, these exceptions being pressed upon him will undermine and weaken the integrity of the Bill. If he believes that they do, and in that consideration needs support in the Lobby, I for one will give it to him.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and to others that I would not want an extra Olympic medal at the price of weaker gun control law. If we have waited 50 years since the last Olympic Games, we can wait another 50 if the price is weaker gun control. This country wants the Bill. Although the Minister may keep an open mind and listen to the hard cases, I hope he will remember that, at bottom, we want gun control.

Lord Monson: Before the noble Lord sits down, can he give a realistic estimate as to how many lives will be saved over the next 100 years if these amendments are resisted? Is it one, two, or possibly three?

Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may add to the question. What dangers does the noble Lord believe are presented by disabled shooters and the very small number of top-quality athletes who have represented this country over many years, operating under the most stringent regulations, entirely under the control of the Secretary of State?

Lord McNally: What I said is that when the Minister examines this matter I will listen to his expert views. In circling the Bill looking for hard cases and exceptions, I am concerned about the whole integrity of the legislation and how these exceptions are to be policed.

It may well be that the Minister, with his open mind, will examine some of these proposals, and return saying that they can be so ring-fenced that we can accept them.

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But if he cannot, if he says that they open up chinks and weaknesses in the Bill which will undermine the basic thrust for gun control, then I hope he will resist them.

I believe that this country wants to set an example to the world on gun control. It is simple. Before somebody else mentions legal guns, if the Minister wants to bring forward harsher penalties for using illegal guns, he will have my support as well. It is what we do with legal guns that we are talking about here. All I am saying is that I support the integrity of the Bill as a strong, draconian gun control measure. That wish was expressed in the general election; it has been expressed in public opinion polls and, from what I can see, in general opinion in the country. If that is to be undermined by these hard cases, then I hope that the Minister will have the courage to resist them.

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