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Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate the politeness of the noble Lord in dealing with the amendment and with a similar one on a previous occasion. However, I did not find his answer to be entirely satisfactory. On more than one occasion the noble Lord said that the amendment was defective, but I do not believe that he gave a proper explanation to the House as to why, other than to say that the words,

do not in some way make sense. I have to say that to my simple mind that seems to me about as clear as it is possible to be. We are saying that once an agreement has been obtained on the valuation, the Home Office should dispatch the money within 40 days. That does not seem to be the most onerous burden to place on the Home Office. Indeed, we are talking about 40 days and not the 30 days that many others have recommended for settlement of other debts.

Having said that and having made some small attempt, especially following what the noble Lord described as "gratuitous legal advice", to improve the amendment, I have no intention of pressing it tonight. However, I certainly reserve the right possibly to bring it back on Third Reading having reconsidered the matter

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and perhaps taken other legal advice--not necessarily the gratuitous legal advice of the noble Lord--to see whether the alleged defects of such an amendment can be improved. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 5:

After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause:

Competition pistols

(" .--(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 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 (2) below.
(2) A certificate granted under subsection (1) above shall be subject to the condition that--
(a) the pistol is used for training in shooting disciplines approved by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Olympic Games; and
(b) the pistol is used by a person approved by the Secretary of State and on the recommendation of a recognised governing body of the sport; and
(c) the weapon is stored and used only at premises designated by the Secretary of State; and
(d) 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, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is unfortunately unable to be here this evening to move his amendment and has asked me to do so in his stead. I am very pleased to be able to do so. The proposed new clause would establish national pistol shooting centres of excellence, to allow competition shooters identified by national bodies as suitable to train for Olympic disciplines to continue to train and compete for national and international .22 calibre pistol competitions. A certificate granted for that purpose would be subject to the most stringent conditions. In fact, the conditions are set out in the amendment and therefore I do not intend to go through them in detail.

If the proposed new clause is not accepted by the House, it will mean that Britain will be the only country banned from international pistol shooting competitions. The Firearms Act 1997 would at least have allowed our competitors to take part on the international stage in three .22 calibre events which are held in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Howell knows a good deal more about this and will no doubt say so if he speaks to the amendment.

Our country has a long and honourable tradition in the sport of pistol shooting--a sport which Britain invented and has dominated for over 100 years. It is a sporting success story for Britain. In the past 10 years of Commonwealth competition our competitors have brought home 23 pistol shooting medals in the .22 calibre events alone.

On Second Reading and in Committee my noble friend referred to the fact that the Bill affects only three out of the total of 15 shooting competitions in the

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Commonwealth Games. However, the vast majority of pistol shooters who reach international level are specialist pistol competition shooters. Many will have no interest in other disciplines and it is simply not true to suggest that a competition pistol shooter would or could convert to rifle shooting instead. Why should three competitions be barred to British shooters when it is perfectly possible to accommodate them through this amendment and by other means? Why should three competitions not be available to British sportsmen?

The men and women who represent their country in this sport do so with great personal commitment. A refusal to accept the proposed new clause would mean that Parliament is not prepared to trust this small number of highly motivated competitors who are identified as such at the end of a long process. They will not commit an outrage such as Dunblane. Indeed, a refusal would not only be implausible; it would be insulting.

The Government have declared their intention to ensure that the Bill will not be used in a way which would preclude the United Kingdom from hosting the Commonwealth or Olympic Games. As the host is required to provide facilities for those sports demanded by the IOC, not just those chosen by the host country, that must mean providing facilities for all the shooting sports and allowing all foreign competitors to come and take part without hindrance. There are several practical issues to be sorted out and the Home Secretary has committed himself to overcome them. The decisions emphasise the injustice of a situation in which all overseas competitors can take part but not UK citizens. How stupid can we get! The position has only to be stated to understand why so many people, not only shooters, feel insulted at the injustice and unreasonableness of the situation. Therefore, the next stage must be to find a way to allow British participation to continue. The proposed new clause, if accepted, would allow such participation to continue. I invite the Minister to get up and say now that he will accept it. I see a little movement but, alas, I fear it is not enough.

The provision of sites of national shooting centres would do no harm at all. No pistols will be held or used outside such designated sites. Each site would be approved by the Secretary of State for all Section 5 weapons, including dangerous guns. Therefore, the security would be of the highest level. A precedent for such a site already exists at Bisley where exempted historic firearms are to be stored and fired.

The proposed new clause provides that only those shooters can use a .22 at centres of excellence, first, if they have a certificate and therefore have passed the chief constable's vetting (and that is the difference between my amendment and that of my noble friend); secondly, if they have special approval from the Secretary of State; and thirdly, if they have been vetted by the shooting organisations that run Olympic sport. I should have thought that there were adequate safeguards in that respect. Such people would be able to fire a .22 only at a designated site. It is far fetched in the extreme to suppose that such a procedure represents any danger whatever to the public. It would permit the

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national bodies to look at shooters who have learnt high skills and recommend them to the Secretary of State so that they can learn and practise the Olympic pistol disciplines in such defined places.

The Japanese have something similar to what this amendment proposes. If the Japanese can do it, why on earth cannot we? Are the Japanese so superior, so much cleverer and so much more responsible than we are? Of course they are not. This amendment must be accepted to protect our position in relation to the Commonwealth Games and in relation to our engagement in the Olympic sport of pistol shooting. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, as has been pointed out on earlier occasions, if this amendment is resisted Britain with its proud and ancient tradition of success in Olympic pistol shooting will be relegated to the bottom of the table. We shall become a laughing stock internationally. There are conceivable hypothetical circumstances in which one's country has to be a laughing stock for one reason or another but this is certainly not one of them. Acceptance of this amendment would pose no statistical threat to the public whatever, as the public would undoubtedly agree if the matter had been carefully explained to them. If the amendment is resisted, it can only be for fear of what some, not all, of the tabloids, might say. Those tabloids will ironically almost certainly change their tune the closer we come to the next Olympic Games. Fairness, common sense and the reputation of Britain all dictate acceptance of this amendment.

Lord Howell: My Lords, I support this amendment. I should point out that I shall not move Amendment No. 7 when we reach it. Amendment No. 7 is different from the amendment that we are discussing, as my noble friend has just said. In addition to the reasons given by my noble friend to explain that difference I should add that my noble friend's method of dealing with this dilemma is to ask for the approval of the International Olympic Committee and to ask the Secretary of State to act,

    "on the recommendation of a recognised governing body of the sport".
In Amendment No. 7 I do not propose those steps. In that amendment I propose following a slightly different route. However, I believe that the House will not wish me to spend too long discussing these amendments and therefore I shall speak in support of my noble friend's amendment which concerns centres of excellence.

As I have said before, I am quite certain in my own mind that the reason we are in this position-- I sympathise with the position of my noble friends on the Front Bench--is that a blanket manifesto commitment was given. This is not the time for us to discuss manifestos. Frankly, I do not know of many people who read manifestos. Therefore I do not have much sympathy with people who trot out the view that something that was included in a manifesto which no one read and few people understood should be viewed as the Holy Grail. I do not agree with that at all. However, my noble friend is perfectly entitled to say

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that the provision was in the manifesto and he is perfectly entitled to draw support from that fact. However, that provision made no reference to any effect on the Commonwealth Games, the Olympic Games or the games for the disabled that we have been discussing. If we are to accept that the commitment that was given in the manifesto should take precedence in any circumstance, I believe there is an obligation on people who write manifestos for submission to the country, to refer to the consequences of the commitments in those manifestos.

It is quite clear that unless we take the action that is proposed in this amendment the chances of this country hosting the Olympic Games in the future are zero. That is my judgment. People may disagree with it, but it is a judgment based on no little experience. The same problems arise with the Commonwealth Games which are to be held in Manchester in the year 2002. The British Olympic Association is engaged in an interesting correspondence with my noble friend. My noble friend has responded courteously to that correspondence. In its letter dated 25th September the British Olympic Association stated,

    "no account has been made as to how British athletes will be able to train to qualify for these events or, in the event of automatic host country entries, how British competitors will be able to compete on equal terms with other nations. There would be a national outcry if the British competitors were made to appear the laughing stock in front of a home crowd on the World's largest stage--the Olympic Games".

That is the situation. It is ironic that the Government are--I am delighted to say--supporting a bid to host the Olympic Games in this country. That is declared government policy. I believe it is the declared policy of the Opposition too. We are all united in that. Why, therefore, do we undermine that bid by imposing conditions which the British Olympic Association informs us will make us a laughing stock? I have made my next point before. Having been much involved in the bidding process for these events, and knowing the great difficulties that Britain has experienced in that bidding process, why are we giving our opponents a free kick at goal? Every time the bidding begins to host the Olympic Games at least five or six cities get up to all kinds of mischief not only in promoting their own candidatures but also in downgrading other people's, particularly that of the British who always play by the rules in the bidding process, as we do generally in sport. There is no doubt in my mind that if we cannot say that at an Olympic shooting event British shooters will compete on equal terms with everyone else, that will be held against us. However, we cannot say that that will be the case.

There is another important consideration. If we are not to hold any further shooting events in this country--and that will be a consideration in the judging of bids--if we bid successfully to host the Olympic Games, from where shall we obtain the 200 or so officials to judge such competitions and to marshal and steward them? That will be an important factor in the Commonwealth Games at Manchester. Those people are rapidly disappearing because gun clubs are closing down. We shall not have any qualified judges, stewards and security people. There will be real problems in

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Manchester. I do not know what the good people of Manchester will think, and what the people involved in the Commonwealth Games will think, if we have to pay foreigners to adjudicate our contests in this country. That is the situation that we have been put in as a result of the failure to understand the intricacies of this policy. All I am hoping is that even at this late stage the Government will at least take heed of the experiences of some of us who know what we are talking about. I say that, I hope not immodestly. It is an important factor to be taken into account.

My noble friend Lord Williams responded to the British Olympic Association, as we would expect, in a totally open, forthright, honest manner. He stated:

    "We accepted that it would effectively end the sport of cartridge pistol shooting in this country ... we concluded that a complete ban on handguns was necessary ... We fully accept that this is likely to make it difficult for British shooters to reach the standard necessary to qualify for and compete in Olympic pistol shooting events".
Nothing could be clearer. The Government now understand--it is of great sadness to me--the great harm that they are doing to the sport of pistol shooting and, therefore, to the Commonwealth Games which will be held in Manchester and to any future bid to host the games in this country. That is now understood by the Government; and anyone voting for the Government today can be under no illusion about the situation.

It has been suggested that those shooters can practise abroad. But at what expense? Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man will not have those restrictions placed upon them. I understand that they are not part of the United Kingdom. That adds to the ludicrous nature of the situation: shooters from those countries can train and participate but not shooters from the mainland of Great Britain.

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