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Lord Denham: My Lords, I believe that hereditary Peers who are here by descent and who have inherited from fairly close relations will have learnt from them and by sitting on the steps of the Throne, as many of us do before we come here, the traditions of this House. They have been indoctrinated in those traditions. If I had been given the opportunity to go through the ceremony I would have leapt at it.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I hope that the Procedure Committee takes account of what the noble Lord has just said. Perhaps we can have two or three days of induction for all the hereditary Peers who are here so that they can go through the ceremony and thereby plant the imprint of total credibility upon their presence. I hear what the noble Lord has said. To say that somehow in the course of the upbringing of a Peer by succession he has acquired that which it is necessary for a life Peer to acquire by sitting on the Back Bench and doffing his hat three times does not strike me as a very convincing argument.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. It is not the doffing of the hat that is important but the bowing. The hat must be doffed so that it does not fall off when the Peer bows.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am floored by the noble Lady's remarks. I listened to the noble Lady's speech, in which she was almost totally in favour of preserving the existing ceremony. She now suggests that we can remove the hats. If we removed the hats to bow that would be an improvement. As my noble friend Lord Evans pointed out, at least we would not have to go through the strange ritual of removing the hat and putting it back on again. It is a hat that I had never seen before coming into the House. I know of no one who wears it. The only time that it is produced is on ceremonial occasions.

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I do not want to venture into another area, but I inform the House that the most difficult ceremony of which I have experience is that which takes place at the proroguing of Parliament. A group of five or six of us sit there and do nothing except take our hats off seven times. We file in; we sit down; we take the hat off seven times and then turn round and go out. I find it difficult to convince myself, let alone any of my friends, relations or the country outside, that anything is added to the prorogation ceremony of Parliament by my sitting there and taking off a strange article of headwear.

If it is now proposed that we should abolish the hats but preserve that part of the ceremony without the hats it is at least a step forward. It is only a millimetre but I recognise it for what it is.

I do not propose to go into all of the details that have emerged in the course of this debate. I shall read them with very great interest. I merely observe that no one has said that the House should not pass the Motion standing in my name. I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for what he said about that. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, I went through the old Silk ceremony. My anitiquity is not as great as his. I remember spending a day moving from court to court and bench to bench. It is true that one bowed to both sides, to the rear and then to the judge. Mr. Richard was asked if he moved. I got up, bowed and then walked to the next court and did it all over again.

I am very glad that the inevitability of gradualness, at least as far as concerns the law, has produced a more sensible approach to that ceremony--I have no complaints about having a ceremony--than we appear to have had so far in this House. I hope that I made it clear at the outset that I was in favour of a dignified ceremony. I also hope that I made it clear that I was in favour of a ceremony which was consonant with the traditions of this House. But, with respect, it is not good enough for noble Lords to say that this ceremony has withstood the test of time. For centuries the ceremony did not have to withstand the test of time. It was only with the introduction of life Peers to this House in 1958 that the repetition of the ceremony became apparent. Before that the only time that the ceremony was used was when a new hereditary peerage was created. Then, on the first occasion that the holder of that peerage came to this House he (as it was in those days) went through that particular ceremony. With the advent of the Life Peerages Act the door has opened. It is not true to say that the ceremony has withstood the test of centuries. It has been in existence for some 40 years. With great respect, far from standing the test of time it is audibly creaking. I believe that the time has come when we should take a serious look at it. I commend this Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Firearms (Amendment) Bill

6.37 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Prohibition of small-calibre pistols]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, after ("firearm)") insert ("after the word "weapon" the words "(which includes an air pistol to which section 1 of this Act applies and which is designed to fire .22 or smaller diameter ammunition)" shall be inserted, and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, unlike the next few amendments, this amendment does not contradict government policy in any way. On the contrary, it is wholly in conformity with it. The amendment seeks to correct an anomaly created by the 1997 Act as a result of a drafting blunder made by the previous government. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 prohibited

    "any self-loading or pump-action rifle other than one which is chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges".
During the passage of the 1997 Act the previous government in what was described at the time as a technical amendment substituted the words "rifled gun" for "rifled" in this section of the legislation. The inadvertent effect of that is that self-loading air pistols can be included as prohibited firearms.

It has been recognised by both the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers that it was not the intention of the 1997 Act to ban such air pistols. The Act creates a blanket exemption for air weapons in Section 1(2), but seemingly self-loading air pistols are caught by the reference to "rifled gun" in Section 1(3). This amendment is designed to clarify the situation.

I believe that the amendment is correctly drafted: I have taken a fair amount of trouble over it. If it is not correctly drafted I hope that nevertheless the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will accept it, because then the other place with the assistance of the Home Office can put it right. If it is not accepted now there will be no chance to rectify the blunder committed by the previous government. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I cannot support the amendment. It would allow a significant loophole in the Bill, because it would allow people to keep air pistols which fire pellets of .22 diameter or less at home on a firearm certificate. It is a greater exemption than was proposed under the 1997 Act, because under that Act these air pistols would have had to have been kept and used at a secure licensed pistol club.

These air pistols are not under the low calibre ones normally used for target shooting. These are high-powered air pistols--over six foot pounds. They can have a rapid rate of fire. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. In law there would be no check whatever on the upper limit of the power that could be developed for these pistols.

I understand that current international target shooting competitions use low power, uncertificated air weapons which will not be affected by the Bill. Throughout the

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passage of the Bill, we have stated constantly that the Government are not disposed to agree to allow exemptions to the general ban on hand guns which the Bill seeks to introduce. In the light of my comments, I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I did not realise that it was the Government's intention to ban such weapons. I do not believe that that was general knowledge until now. In the light of what he has just said, I can only beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swansea moved Amendment No. 2:

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 shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 which are all consequential upon this amendment.

This is the last attempt to save something from the wreck caused by two successive governments effecting firearms legislation. The object is to enable Great Britain to continue to take part in pistol competitions in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The object of the amendment is to exempt a type of pistol known as a free pistol. I shall describe in not too technical terms what is a free pistol. It is a single-shot pistol. It is cumbersome with a fairly long barrel. It has no magazine. It is capable of single-shot fire only. It is used for deliberate shooting at paper targets at 50 metres and for no other purpose. It is a recognised discipline in international competition. It is one event in the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games. This type of pistol is totally impractical for any other purpose.

One could not carry out a massacre with such a weapon. It cannot be concealed with ease, and it cannot be folded. It is like a precision instrument. It has a stock which has to be tailored for the individual using it. It is hard to imagine it being used to hold up a bank or for any other purpose. It poses no threat to public safety.

If pistols of all types were to be banned, it would have a severe effect on this country in terms of international competitions. The UK will be unable to take part in any pistol competitions even if the people trained overseas, which few competitors capable of this kind of shooting would be able to afford.

We have the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. No UK competitors will be able to take part in pistol competitions. The same will apply to the Olympic Games. UK competitors will be unable to take part in pistol competitions. We shall be the laughing stock of the world.

When they introduced the legislation, the Government and the previous government were shooting at the wrong targets. Legitimate shooters are all law-abiding citizens. They are an easily identifiable soft target. The Government ignore the vast pool of underground

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weapons held illegally by criminals. We have read today in the evening newspapers of the Home Secretary announcing an amnesty in Brixton. That is too little and too late. If the Government were to tackle the vast pool of underground weapons held all over the country, they would have the backing of the entire country, including the legitimate shooters.

The following amendments are all consequential. They remove references to small-calibre pistols. If your Lordships agree to this amendment, I shall move them formally. I hope noble Lords will feel able to support the amendment. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, what is important to recognise is that the highly specialised target pistols which are the subject of the amendment are as different as can be from normal .22 semi-automatic pistols or revolvers. Like the single-shot pistols which, as I think is generally known, can be bought anywhere in France by any adult without a permit of any sort, these take a long time to reload. Hence they are very much safer should they, by some unlikely mischance, fall into the wrong hands, than are conventional pistols, as Lord Cullen pointed out. What a tragedy it is that we never had a chance to debate the Cullen Report. So much misery might have been spared us if we had done so.

Unlike the simple French single-shot pistols, these target pistols, the subject of the amendment, are large. They are almost 12 inches long overall, extremely bulky, and almost as difficult to conceal as many a shotgun which is far more dangerous. They are more difficult to conceal than a knife or a mountaineer's axe which, as I pointed out on a earlier occasion, was used to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico City. They are the very last implement that a person with criminal intent would ever choose as a weapon.

If conventional .22 semi-automatic pistols are perhaps only one quarter as dangerous as full-bore ones, then in turn these target pistols are probably one-tenth as dangerous, in practical terms, as conventional .22s. It is bad enough banning ordinary .22 pistols. Over a 50-year period such a ban might save 15 or 16 lives in all, insufficient historically and in terms of precedent to justify such a Draconian ban. We would save far more lives at far less cost to liberty and to the survival prospects of reputable businesses, if owners of baseball bats were required to keep them securely locked up at sports grounds when not in legitimate use for sporting purposes; or if bull bars on motor vehicles were banned.

This lack of a sense of proportion is far greater where these specialised target pistols are concerned. I doubt whether banning them would save as much as one life in 50 years. Have such pistols ever been used in crime? I doubt it. Exemption for this small number would at least enable Britain to continue to compete successfully in some Olympic pistol shooting disciplines. I urge your Lordships to put reason before unthinking emotion. I support the amendment.

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