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Lord Burton: Is there not in preparation a commercial debts Bill giving a right of payment of interest on commercial debts? If the Minister believes that his administration will be unable to pay out in time, should not interest be payable after a certain period of time? That could be 40 days, as mentioned by the noble Baroness. I believe that it is unjust that the weapons should be confiscated and that the owners should receive no redress.

Baroness Blatch: I am not sure why my amendment is defective and I shall be interested to know. These days we write many of our own amendments and seek advice wherever we can, so it would be helpful to know where the amendment is defective.

Again, the Minister has concentrated on how complicated multiple applications will be and how difficult it will be to reconcile an application under option C rather than options A and B. I have disregarded all of that. I am saying that at the point when differences have been reconciled under option C and when agreement has been reached between the parties concerned, whether it is a simple or a complex application, there should be no difference whatever. From that point onwards, it is merely a matter of writing a bank transfer or a cheque and of getting that money to the owner.

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No less a person than the Prime Minister has spoken of making it a requirement for government departments to pay their bills within 30 days. He does not mention the point when the agreement has been reached, or when the work has been carried out, or after people have negotiated; he suggests that people should be paid their dues within 30 days. I have suggested 40 days at the end of the process when agreement is to be reached. I cannot accept the Minister's retort because he used the old argument which I have taken into account in my amendment.

I believe that 40 days is a reasonable time following agreement. If the Minister is going to be intractable on the matter I shall return to it at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Baroness asked me to deal with a specific point. The amendment states that payments "shall be received". Any paying department or organisation cannot ensure receipt within 40 days, but it can ensure dispatch. That is the point that I am making and it is simple and straightforward. The difficulty will arise in respect of multiple claims. However, I believe that I heard the noble Baroness withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I thank the Minister for pointing out the difference and will immediately address the defect in the amendment. He also mentioned higher calibre pistols and I wish to include them when I return to the matter at the next stage of the Bill.

I was most disturbed by the Minister's final point. Am I to believe that if a multiple application is made--in other words, a person submits small calibre weapons under options A and B, which are fairly straightforward, and other weapons under option C--not until perhaps a lengthy process under option C has been completed and agreed will even the smaller claims be settled? If that is the case the shooting fraternity will be most concerned. Each weapon is a single entity in terms of whether it falls within options A, B or C. Once the matter has been agreed, I hope that those people who will be seriously financially disadvantaged will be sent cheques. I accept that one cannot guarantee receipt of the cheques, but I hope that they will be dispatched within 40 days following agreement under options A, B or C.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I agree entirely with the thrust of what the noble Baroness is saying. We want the bills to be paid as promptly as possible, as I have said on several occasions now. But we want a degree of flexibility which 40 days does not allow.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) At the end of section 32 (transfers of firearms etc. to be in person) there shall be inserted--
"( ) This section shall not apply to transfers of small-calibre pistols to people who are exempt from the provisions of section 5 of the 1968 Act.".").

The noble Lord said: I should declare an interest as an owner of a gun. This amendment seeks to exempt from the ban on mail order sales those people who are exempt from the prohibition in relation to smaller firearms.

Registered firearms dealers are not exempt from the prohibition. Therefore, only dealers with prohibited weapons' authority will be able to deal in small firearms. In view of the small number of such dealers, it will be extremely difficult for the vets, slaughter-house workers, race starters and so on to acquire small firearms, even though they are exempt from the prohibition as the nearest dealer may be hundreds of miles away. This amendment proposes that they should be able to acquire guns by mail order, or more particularly through a reputable carrier.

The Firearms (Amendment) Bill will increase the size of the problem created by the 1997 Act. That is because many vets and slaughterers use .22 pistols. Under the 1997 Act, ordinary registered dealers could still stock .22 pistols as Section 1 firearms and deliver them to vets and other people allowed to have them. However, if those are banned, a slaughterer who works on a farm in a remote area will potentially have to travel a vast distance to acquire a pistol from a registered dealer with a Section 5 authority.

Given that captive bolt pistols and slaughtering instruments are fairly esoteric pieces of equipment, it is quite likely that there may be only two or three dealers in them in the whole country because prohibited weapons' authority will be required. Effectively, a knackerman in Scotland may well have to travel personally to Birmingham or London just to buy a captive bolt pistol. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My noble friend Lord Gisborough has moved an amendment which fills what could become a gap in the law. I think that it is something that we should not ignore and I hope that the noble Lord will give this sympathetic consideration.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I cannot accept the amendment. Section 32 of the 1997 Act was introduced in response to a case only last year in which a man obtained firearms and ammunition through the post by deception. He used a firearms certificate which he had acquired fraudulently. Having obtained the firearm in that way, he killed someone with it.

The provision applies to all firearms and shotguns and it is intended that it should apply to small calibre pistols in addition to hand guns. The amendment would allow those who are exempt--and the noble Lord gave examples of vets, slaughter-house workers and RSPCA officials--to obtain small calibre pistols by mail order.

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They would not be able to obtain other handguns, shotguns or rifles by mail order and would have to appear in person to complete the transaction.

I do not see a proper reason for such a distinction. Small calibre pistols are lethal and easily concealable. Last year's example is very much in our minds. In fact, there would be inconsistencies. Perhaps I may say with great respect that this amendment would open up rather than close a dangerous loophole, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gisborough: Clearly, I shall have to do so. However, the logic of the Minister's answer seems extraordinary to me. Some people steal motor cars and crash them. The logic would be that nobody should be able to own cars because some people steal them. Therefore, there is no logic in the fact that my amendment cannot be accepted because some people break the law. However, I must withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 5:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--
Saving for competition pistols
(" . After section 7 of the Firearms Act 1968 (police permits) there shall be inserted the following section--
"Permits for competition pistols.
7A.--(1) A person who has obtained a permit in the prescribed form from the Secretary of State may, without holding a certificate under this Act, have in his possession a competition pistol in accordance with the terms of that permit.
(2) An application for the grant of a permit under this section shall be made in the prescribed form to the Secretary of State and shall state such particulars as may be required by the form.
(3) The Secretary of State shall not issue a permit under this section unless he is satisfied that the applicant--
(a) is a fit and proper person who may be permitted to possess a competition pistol without danger to the public or to the peace; and
(b) is, or has been invited to become, a member of the group of persons selected by a recognised sporting body from which competitors will be selected to compete in a designated international competition.
(4) A permit issued under this section shall contain conditions which provide that--
(a) the permit holder may only possess the competition pistol for the purposes of training or qualifying for or competing in designated international competitions;
(b) the competition pistol shall be kept and used only at designated premises;
(c) the permit holder may only possess the competition pistol outside designated premises for the purpose of transferring it directly from one designated premises to another.
(5) A permit issued under this section shall be valid for a period of one year or such lesser period as the Secretary of State may determine.
(6) A copy of any permit issued under this section shall be sent to the chief officer of police for the area in which the permit holder resides.

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(7) It shall be an offence for a person to make any statement which he knows to be false for the purpose of procuring, whether for himself or for another person, the grant of a permit under this section.
(8) In this section--
"competition pistol" means a .22 calibre pistol of a description specified by the Secretary of State constructed for use in a shooting discipline which forms part of a designated international competition, and includes ammunition for such a pistol;
"designated international competition" means an Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games or other international sporting competition designated for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State;
"designated premises" means a place designated for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State.".").

The noble Lord said: I shall resume the speech that I was making two hours ago--and I apologise again to the Committee for my difficulty.

I shall not repeat all that I was saying up to the point that I switched courses, except to say very simply that if this Bill is passed the Government, my Government, will be seen to be in opposition to the British Olympic Association and the Olympic Movement.

Some figures were given about polls earlier. One of the wonders of debate in this Chamber is that as you sit here contemplating what might happen, information reaches you. New information has reached me about the state of public opinion on the question of handguns. The National Small Bore Rifle Association tells me that it commissioned two MORI polls: one in February of this year and the other in May of this year. One question identical to both polls was:

    "Are the target pistol shooters being unfairly treated by the firearms ban?".

To that question, 55 per cent. said yes in February and 53 per cent. said yes in May. Therefore, it is quite clear that in spite of the earlier polls public opinion is moving. It is moving as people contemplate the gross injustice that we are doing to an Olympic sport and to the people who participate in it.

My judgment--and the Government would be wise to bear this in mind--is that as we move nearer to the holding of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and as we attempt to secure the Olympic Games for this country, which is the declared policy of both the previous government and this Government, public opinion will harden further against the Government's position. People will not see why the British Olympic movement should be put into such a difficult position.

I believe that starting pistols are exempt from the terms of the Bill. I hope that that is correct. If my noble friend does not know, perhaps he will kindly write to me to confirm whether that is so. As I went to Perry Barr in Birmingham at the weekend to see the international athletics there, I thought about the problem of how to start races, which must be timed on the basis of hundredths of a second, unless it can be done, as it is done now, with a gun which fires. The flame of that gun can be seen by some of the timekeepers and can also be communicated to the athletes. It is a very important point.

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But in any event, I have discovered that as Olympic movements in other countries learn what is proposed by us, they think that the British are a very peculiar race. We are imposing upon ourselves great handicaps in relation to attracting the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games to this country in the future. We are giving an enormous boost to the lobbyists of other countries who not only produce their own schemes but attempt to denigrate other schemes in order to win the vote. Nobody will understand that you can hold such important sporting festivals with one of the central sports being unable to take place. Therefore, we are severely handicapped.

When we last discussed this matter my noble friend and I had a small difference of opinion as to whether, if we put in a bid for the Olympic Games, we should be required to declare that all the sports approved by the international Olympic movement would be able to take place. I said that that was the case and that I had had to do it myself on at least two occasions when I had been promoting such bids.

The British Olympic Association has now sent me a statement, which I hope it has sent to other noble Lords. It reads:

    "A total ban on handgun shooting could adversely affect any BOA bid for a future Olympic Games. It is most unlikely, given the highly competitive nature of the bidding process, that we could mount a successful bid for a Games where three of the six target shooting events within the programme would have to be excluded. The BOA hopes that suitable exemptions will be built into the Bill to cover this eventuality. There is no doubt that a successful Olympic bid would be dependent upon the total and absolute support of the government and this will include effecting such an exemption so as to allow all necessary shooting disciplines to take place".

I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will check what I have said. However, I hope that people in the Home Office and, indeed, those in the department responsible for sport--the title of which I cannot pronounce this afternoon, because I have not as yet got used to it--will consider such matters and the effect of the legislation. As I said, if we persist in it, the public will greet with growing incredulity the fact that we are handicapping ourselves not only in seeking bids but also in putting restrictions on people participating in sport.

We know that the Secretary of State has some powers in regard to the Commonwealth Games to exempt shooting at the games. The effect of what he can do under the Bill is to say, "I will allow Commonwealth countries to come to Manchester in 2002 and have a shooting competition, but I will not allow any British shooter to train for that competition". That is the position in which we now find ourselves. I do not believe that it will be acceptable to the people of this country who, by and large, like to see us do well at sport. Indeed, they regard it as rather important and they all want us to attract the Olympic and Commonwealth Games again.

I spoke earlier about my amendment in response to an interjection by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. We have taken the view that the responsible thing for us to do is to give the Home Secretary every conceivable power that he would need to control sensible gun clubs, if, as

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we all want to do, we seek in every other case to deprive citizens of the opportunity to have private guns. That is what we seek to achieve.

The amendments would give the Home Secretary the following powers. First, they would give the Home Secretary full authority to make the decisions as to who may hold a permit and how, where and when any authorised shooter may practise, take part in competitions and keep a .22 single shot competition weapon. All those very important and vital matters will be totally within the discretion of the Secretary of State.

Secondly, we are saying through the amendments that all such persons to whom the Secretary of State would grant such permission must be fit and proper and must have been chosen by the regulatory body, which will be the governing body in control of the sport in question. Thirdly, the amendments provide that the Secretary of State would designate where the pistol must be kept and when training at a designated range will occur.

Let us be in no doubt. We are talking about 300 or 400 dedicated pistol shooters in shooting clubs; in other words, people of excellence who are eligible to compete for their country. As I said when we discussed the situation with regard to the disabled, as far as I know no such person has ever run amok in the history of competition shooting either at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, except in Munich where evil took place during the course of an Olympic Games. That had nothing to do with the British, but it concerned other countries which will be taking part in future Olympic Games and which will, as I understand it, have no restrictions imposed upon them.

I should like to say a few words on the next amendment so as to save me making another speech, although I know that it is not included in this grouping. I refer to Amendment No. 6 which seeks to give the Government a three-year power of review. That amendment has been tabled in the same spirit as the amendment now under discussion. It is a back-up amendment--a safety-first measure. If I am right about the movement of public opinion, it could be said that the amendment is designed to save the Government's skin in three years' time if they suddenly find that the wish to keep Britain out of the Olympic arena is totally unacceptable to the majority of people in the country. In that case, I should tell my noble friend the Minister that there would be no harm in saying, "Well, even if we don't listen to you now we should at least give ourselves the opportunity to look at the matter again in three years' time to see how it is developing and how the reputation of this country in the world of sport is progressing as a result of this measure". Indeed, the Government could possibly reconsider the matter when public opinion is much more rational on the matter.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take the same attitude about the amendment as he took on the situation relating to the disabled. I understand that he cannot give any commitment at this stage. However, even allowing for the fact that he may be profoundly disappointed if the public's decision is the same, my noble friend could say, "In the spirit of what Jack Straw said on Second Reading, we will look again at the

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matter". I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consult with our friends when doing so to see whether some common agreement can be reached in the interests of British sport. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Peel: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to which my name is also attached. In the process, perhaps I may speak also to Amendment No. 7 which pretty well covers the same points, although there is a slight difference between the two amendments, which I shall explain. Considerable concern was expressed in your Lordships' House on Second Reading, and elsewhere, at the extreme restrictions that this legislation is likely to put on this country's ability to hold international games and, in particular, its effect on those individuals who wish to participate in the various shooting disciplines.

I am very much aware that the Bill is part of the Government's manifesto. However, the fact that the Government allowed a free vote in another place gives a greater degree of latitude for change than might otherwise be the case. Further--and perhaps more importantly--I do not believe that either my amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, would undermine the basic principle of the legislation in any way.

No one who listened to or read the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, at Second Reading, or indeed listened to the words that he has spoken this afternoon, can fail to have been impressed by his arguments. Apart from identifying the absurdity of precluding a few people from participating in three out of the 15 shooting disciplines within international competitions, the noble Lord drew attention to another matter which I regard as being of particular note and importance. The noble Lord has great experience in these matters. He was a Minister of sport and he did his best for this country. I remember particularly that he said in his Second Reading speech how difficult it was to persuade people that Great Britain was the place to hold international games--anyone holding a similar position would no doubt experience the same difficulties--and that if we put any further barrier in their way that would be it. It seems to me that we are putting a major barrier in front of our competitors. Unless we get rid of it in a comprehensive fashion there is a danger that this country's capacity to hold international games will be severely interfered with.

The effect of my amendment is to establish national pistol shooting centres of excellence to allow competition shooters, identified by the 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 this purpose would be subject to the most stringent conditions. Those conditions are laid out in my amendment and I do not propose to go through them, but I believe that they cover all contingencies.

Where Amendment No. 7 differs from Amendment No. 5 is that the latter does not require an individual to have a certificate in the first place, thereby eliminating

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initial police assessment of the candidate. Also, I believe it is not clear on what basis a Secretary of State can decide whether an applicant is a fit and proper person, as this is assessed by the police when an individual applies for a certificate. However, I fully accept that these are matters of detail. I am sure that, if necessary, they can be overcome at a later stage. If Amendment No. 7 or Amendment No. 5 are not accepted by the Committee, as I have said, Britain will be the only country banned from international pistol shooting competition. The 1997 firearms Act would at least have allowed people in this country to compete in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games in the three .22 calibre events.

There is no doubt that this country has a long and honourable tradition in the sport of pistol shooting, a sport which Britain invented and has dominated for well nigh 100 years. It is a sporting success story for this country. In the past 10 years of Commonwealth competition--the noble Lord, Lord Howell, may have made this point--our competitors have brought back 23 pistol shooting medals in the .22 calibre events alone.

At Second Reading the Minister said that the Bill affects only three out of a total of 15 shooting competitions in the Commonwealth Games. However, the vast majority of pistol shooters who reach international level are specialist competition shooters. Many will have no interest in other disciplines. It is simply not true to suggest that a competition pistol shooter could convert easily to, say, rifle shooting. In fact there is no pistol shooter who represents the British team in pistol and rifle events. They are completely different disciplines. That is an important point. It is rather like suggesting that a 100 metre sprinter could suddenly turn into a marathon runner. For that reason, and as one of the original 12 modern Olympic disciplines, this is a sport which deserves the same recognition as other more visible sports and it should not be lightly destroyed.

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

I have a letter which I believe a number of Members of the Committee will have already received from the British Olympic Association. I wish to quote from one paragraph which states,

    "The legislation, as it stands, will effectively preclude representation by British athletes at future Olympic Games in the three Olympic shooting disciplines concerned. With 135 national federations competing for 20-30 places in each discipline there is a significant level of training and commitment necessary to achieve an Olympic quota place. Forcing competitive pistol shooting abroad will kill the sport and with it the necessary depth to ensure international representation at the highest level".

I do not know if that is what the Government want, but if we do not heed the British Olympic Association, it looks as if that is what we shall get.

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I am glad to see that the Government have declared their intention of ensuring that the Bill will not be used in a way which will preclude the United Kingdom hosting the Commonwealth or indeed the Olympic Games. As the host country is required to provide the facilities for those sports demanded by the International Olympic Committee, 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. I appreciate that there are several practical issues which need to be sorted out. However, as I understand it, the Home Secretary has committed himself to overcome these. The decisions emphasise the injustice of a situation in which all these overseas competitors can take part, but not United Kingdom citizens. It is quite ridiculous. The position has only to be stated for us to understand why so many people, not only shooters, feel insulted at the injustice and the unreasonableness of this situation.

I should have thought that the next stage must be to find a way to allow British participation to continue. I do not believe that that is in any way an unreasonable objective. The Home Secretary made a distinction. He said in another place,

    "There is a world of difference between controlling and securing the safety of the public at specific games such as the Commonwealth games in 2002 and allowing handguns to be held generally by civilians on a licensed basis".--[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/97; col. 1166.]

We have something to build on there. I am sure we can develop that.

Under my amendment, no pistols will be held or used outside those centres of excellence. A centre of excellence would be a site which would be approved by the Secretary of State for all Section 5 weapons, including really dangerous guns. Its security is therefore of the highest level. A precedent for such a site already exists at Bisley where exempted historic firearms are to be stored and indeed fired. After the Commonwealth Games a centre which will be created at Altcar could also be used. One or two sites may develop throughout the country, geographically spread, and almost certainly based on Army facilities. There can be no fear about this proposal since the power to approve or not approve the site for this purpose lies with the Home Secretary. If he approves, the .22 will be the least of his worries compared with the other guns that will be stored in those places--machine guns and other heavy weapons. Quite frankly, .22 guns fade into insignificance.

The new clause provides that shooters can use a .22 at that place only if they have a certificate and therefore have passed the chief constable's vetting; have the special approval of the Secretary of State; and have been vetted by the shooting organisations which run the Olympic sport. I do not believe that we could devise any more stringent and more safety-conscious provision.

Even such a person 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 whatsoever to the general public. I believe that the Government have a duty--I have always said so--to legislate in this case for the best interests of this country as a whole. But it is one thing to attempt to reduce the

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danger of handguns getting into the wrong hands; it is quite another to discriminate against the ability of this country to participate on equal terms in international events. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord the Minister will look carefully into these matters. I do not believe that we can risk the consequences if he does not. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Gisborough: I fully support every word that my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have said.

Amendment No. 9 is grouped with the two amendments as it also refers to the Olympic Games. One point has not been mentioned. The 1997 Act is draconian, but there has not been time to prove whether or not it is adequate. We are piling on legislation without even trying out the legislation which already exists.

Amendment No. 9 codifies the comments of the Home Secretary that he would allow competitors to bring pistols into Great Britain in order for people to compete at the Commonwealth Games of 2002. It is possible that a future Home Secretary could have a different view. The amendment refers to the Olympic Games in the event that Great Britain is a future venue for them.

There will no doubt be arguments from the Government that the Secretary of State will be unable to exercise adequate control over competitors' firearms if the amendment is carried. That is because Section 5(4) of the Firearms Act 1968 enables the Home Secretary to attach conditions to a Section 5 authority setting out various requirements as to the movement, possession, storage and use of firearms.

However, a chief officer of police is also empowered to attach similar conditions to any visitor's permit that may be issued governing the possession, use, and so on, of any firearm, so there is no real argument. The chief constable of Manchester is in a far better position to determine the conditions for people bringing firearms into Manchester than is the Home Secretary.

In the House of Commons, the Home Secretary stated that he would have to have been the longest serving Home Secretary in the past 200 years if he were to be the person to set the conditions. Therefore there can be no guarantee that a future Home Secretary will be similarly disposed towards allowing competitors to bring their guns into Great Britain to compete. It is one thing to stop our own people using shooters, but it is another to stop others from another country competing.

That is the reason that the amendment is necessary.

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