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Lord Ezra: I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I gained the impression that all those who spoke would have supported the amendment had I been able to move it, including the goalposts. It is very unfortunate that the Public Bill Office decided otherwise, but we must respect its views.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, whether he can give any assurance that the Government will seek a quicker means of legislating on this issue--that is, widening the scope of the NFFO--than would be assumed from the present legislative timetable. As mentioned not only by me, but also by other noble Lords, we feel that if matters take their course, new legislation would take at least two years, if not longer. Is there some other way in which this matter could be brought forward?

Lord Haskel: As I said when I responded to the noble Lord's first point, this Bill does not deal with the matter that he raises. The Bill deals with the collection of the fossil fuel levy. Any other aspects of spending the fossil fuel levy have to be dealt with in another Bill. In the same way that the noble Lord is restricted by the House authorities, so the Government also are restricted. I can only repeat what I said. If we must legislate early, we shall do so as early as parliamentary time permits.

I know that the Minister considers this to be a very important matter. We have commitments to reduce emissions by the year 2010. In itself that puts pressure on the Government to act.

Lord Ezra: I thank the noble Lord for that response. I should like to follow up with him the question of how quickly that could be done. In the meantime, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Mason of Barnsley, Lord Howie of Troon and Lord Moynihan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, for their support. I also

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thank the Minister for the support that he has given. Certainly, I do not wish to hold up any further the passage of the Bill.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

Firearms (Amendment) Bill

4.38 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Prohibition of small-calibre pistols]:

Lord Swansea had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, leave out ("the words "a small-calibre pistol" shall cease to have effect") and insert ("after the words "a small-calibre pistol" the words "which has a barrel length not less than 20.3 cm in length and which is incapable of holding more than one cartridge and is not derived from a multi-shot design" shall be inserted").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I had intended to move Amendment No. 1 coupled with Amendments Nos. 9 to 12. On reflection, I have decided not to move that amendment today but to bring it forward again on Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

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: My Lords, as the House will recall, we discussed one or two of these matters previously and had hoped that in the interim the Government would give consideration to some of the issues which concern us. I know that they have done so because I have been involved in some of the discussions. I cannot say that I am pleased with the outcome of those discussions but I am pleased with the way in which my noble friend Lord Williams and the Home Secretary accorded me the courtesy of a hearing. No doubt we shall discuss subsequently the conclusions that they reached. However, it is right to say that the points that some of us raised in the House were accorded the courtesy of consideration.

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Amendment No. 2 deals with disabled persons' exemption. I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, is present. I hope that he manages to speak in the debate because we all remember the extremely eloquent and touching speech he made when we discussed these matters previously.

I do not want to go over the ground again--I am anxious to save as much time as I can. But my noble friend Lord Williams undertook at a previous hearing on this clause to pay regard to the strong feeling expressed in the House and to give it consideration. No doubt he will tell us the result of that new thinking.

I shall simply say a few words on the substance of the amendment. Shooting is one of the few sports which can be enjoyed by both disabled and able-bodied competitors. Both rifle and pistol championships have been won by competitors shooting from wheelchairs. Any of us with a knowledge of handicap games, particularly the old paraplegic games at Stoke Mandeville, and who have seen the tremendous pleasure unfortunate and seriously disabled persons have obtained from participating in those sports from their wheelchairs, would take a great deal of convincing that those shooters in those same wheelchairs are likely to endanger public safety--the proposal put forward by the Government.

As I have said before, I do not know of a single case where a disabled shooter has ever run amok to cause the slightest concern to anyone in the country--the police or anybody else. That is a matter of some importance. There are 450 sports clubs affiliated to the British Sports Association for the Disabled, most of whom are multisports providers--I estimate around 100 provide shooting as an activity out of those 450 clubs--and it seems to me inconceivable that we should not pay special attention to their situation. Indeed, if we grossed that up with the number of clubs and the number of disabled shooters, we are approaching around 50,000 people. That is not an insignificant number of British citizens of good repute with great physical handicaps who will be assisted by the amendment.

Each year there are five national championships in which 2,000 competitors compete and 5 per cent. of those 2,000 are disabled. They may be deaf, amputees, have restricted limb movement or in wheelchairs and now, too, blind persons participate in those handicap events. Indeed, I went to see some disabled games recently in Birmingham and was particularly struck by the courage of the blind participants and the great pleasure and thrill they obtained from being able to compete in those events.

Two years ago, with the aid of modern technology, we were able to introduce shooting for the blind. In April 1996 a blind team entered the Dutch Open Disabled Championships and won a team gold, together with first, second and fourth places in individual events. That makes the point why some of us are persisting to try to safeguard that joy and that opportunity for citizens who are not as fortunate as we are. I beg to move.

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4.45 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I can offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on this amendment. The noble Lord rightly said that this is not the time to revisit all the arguments that have been exercised in the past and certainly, though this is the first time I have come to these debates, I do not want to revisit them.

As I said, I offer my support and I suspect the support of a considerable number of others on these Benches to the noble Lord should he wish to press this amendment. Having said that, I should stress that I do not see this as a party political matter, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not. He sees it as a matter of considerable importance to disabled people. I should like to underline his argument that this is one of the few, if any, sports where disabled and able-bodied people can compete as absolute equals. As regards pistol shooting, there can be no difference between those in wheelchairs and those who are not in wheelchairs. They can compete equally.

Over the years I have had the honour of serving in a number of different departments with responsibility for disability matters--the Department of Social Security, later the Department of Employment and later on still in the merged Department for Education and Employment. In those various departments I played some part in the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, an Act of which we on this side of the House are justly proud. Having gone through bringing that Act in, it would be sad if the spirit of the Act could not be recognised in relation to Amendment No.2.

I hope therefore that when the noble Lord, Lord Williams, comes to sum up this debate, having listened to the arguments--most of which I imagine will be in support of the noble Lord, Lord Howell--he will be able to give it a sympathetic hearing. However, I am grateful that both he and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary have been helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in offering a number of meetings to try to resolve the matter. I hope that this afternoon he can go further. If he is unable to go further, I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

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