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LORDS AMENDMENT

3

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 Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason:
3A

Because they do not consider it appropriate for the Bill to provide for any special exemptions to apply to the prohibition of small-calibre pistols.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: Hear, hear!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Thank you very much. My Lords, I am sorry to have delayed your Lordships, but I was a Teller in the last Division and it took me a little time to return to my place.

I beg to move that the House do insist on their Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3A. This Motion, like my previous Motion on disabled pistol shooters, is tabled to enable further debate on the provision of centres of excellence to enable British competitors to continue to take part in, and to train for, international pistol shooting competitions and to give your Lordships the opportunity to insist on your amendment. I do not think that that will happen, but your Lordships must have the opportunity.

Although the Commons disagreed with your Lordships' amendment, the debate, like that on the amendment relating to disabled pistol shooters, was

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spirited, sensible and cross-party. However, in my opinion, the balance of argument was on the side of your Lordships' amendment while the Government's attitude remained rigid and unrelenting.

Again, I shall simply summarise the arguments in favour of your Lordships' amendment. First, it seeks to establish a few national shooting centres of excellence to allow competition shooters, identified by national bodies, to train and compete in national and international .22 calibre pistol competitions. Only a relatively few highly motivated and responsible pistol shooters would be involved. Pistols would be kept at centres under safe and secure conditions. The whole system would be under the control of the Secretary of State. Failure to allow British competitors to train and compete not only precludes Britain from pistol shooting events and international competitions but also puts at risk the possibility of hosting international events in this country, including the Olympic Games. We shall have the ridiculous situation where foreign competitors can train and compete in Britain while Britons are debarred.

Opposing your Lordships' amendment, the Minister argued that keeping .22 pistols at safe and secure sites would not give sufficient protection to the public. That is not a convincing argument. The centres would be much more secure than such centres have ever been, and we would all be far more secure than if more lethal weapons continued to be held in private hands. Is it really suggested that MoD arsenals or police weapons stocks are a danger to the public? In any event, would criminals raid secure weapons stores when they can easily buy a gun on the black market? The whole thing is absurd. The argument simply will not wash and, in my view, should be rejected.

During the Commons debate Mr. Frank Cook produced the results of the recent public opinion surveys I mentioned on the previous amendment showing that 54 per cent. of those polled are now in favour of retaining pistol competition shooting. Therefore, your Lordships' amendment is in tune with majority public opinion--not with minority opinion but, I repeat, with majority public opinion. The public take the sensible view that competitions can and should continue, especially since our Prime Minister wishes to improve Britain's presence and influence in the world in every sphere. They see it as a strange paradox that he supports the unnecessary withdrawal of Britain from worldwide competition pistol shooting. The public also see that this may be the thin end of the wedge which will ban all firearms and lead to the complete withdrawal of Britain from international shooting competitions.

In such circumstances I believe it to be incumbent upon your Lordships to insist upon your amendment. To do so would gain support and applause from the public. As I pointed out with regard to the previous Motion, insistence on your Lordships' amendment is perfectly proper in parliamentary terms, retaining the correct balance between both Houses of Parliament yet establishing that the House of Lords is a real and vibrant second Chamber performing its function responsibly and effectively. I did, of course, write that before the last Division. I commend the Motion to the House.

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Moved, That this House do insist on their amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3A.--(Lord Stoddart of Swindon.)

Lord Monson: My Lords, in replying to the first Motion, the Minister revealed that there were 374,000 individuals registered as disabled. Although I do not think that he was arguing that all, or even most, of them were going to take up, or continue, pistol shooting, it is nevertheless true that a few thousand might well wish to do so. However, in this amendment we are speaking only of between 300 and 400 extremely talented top-ranking sportsmen and sportswomen who can be, and will be, assuming the amendment is agreed to, rigorously vetted. Such rigorous vetting is possible when one is dealing with hundreds rather than thousands of people.

Japan is frequently held up to us by the anti-gun lobby as a shining beacon, despite the widespread corruption and gangsterism in that country. It is true that Japan has very strict anti-gun laws, but even Japan allows the sort of scheme which the amendment proposes for its Olympic and potential Olympic pistol shooters.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, MORI carried out a poll which revealed that 61 per cent. of the population would like provisions such as these to be accepted. That is no wonder, because we will be the laughing stock of the world if we, alone among civilised countries, do not allow our sportsmen to practise Olympic pistol shooting in this country. I warmly support the Motion.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I rise to support this amendment briefly. The Minister in another place opined that it would not be safe to keep the weapons involved in secure premises, such as Ministry of Defence establishments and so on. In case the noble Lord on the Front Bench advances the same theory this evening, perhaps I may remind him in his predicament of the disassembly amendment passed by your Lordships in February of last year to the previous Government's unfortunate and misguided Bill. Your Lordships will recall that that amendment would have insisted that the vital parts of a pistol, the slide mechanism or chambers, would be kept in secure premises while the weapon itself would be kept at home. If there were any doubt about the safety of what is proposed by this amendment I believe that that system, wisely approved by your Lordships by a substantial majority, should precisely answer the point.

In support of what I have said, I quote the Cullen Report. On the whole issue of whether or not pistols should be banned, that report concluded that on the whole they should not be. Lord Cullen said he believed that pistol shooting should be made safer "preferably by disassembly". I commend that to your Lordships and support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the arguments on this amendment are substantially those that I addressed to your Lordships earlier. I shall therefore accept the advice not to be repetitive or lengthy. We do not want to see any exemptions to the ban on handguns other than those already agreed. This amendment was

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rejected by another place last week by a majority of 132 on a free vote. When it was debated by your Lordships it succeeded by a majority of only 13. We believe that this amendment will prove unworkable and create a significant loophole.

This amendment is not necessary for the purpose of hosting any future Olympic or Paralympic Games in this country. That proposition is simply not correct. The Home Secretary has ample powers under Section 5 of the 1968 Act to give special dispensations to competitors who intend to take part in competitions. As recently as the end of August of this year the Secretary of State for Home Affairs successfully used those powers to allow visiting overseas competitors to participate in the 14th European Police Pistol Championship at Bisley. Very few events will be directly affected by the Bill: six out of 28 Commonwealth Games competitions; only three out of 15 Olympic competitions; and only two out of 15 Paralympic competitions.

A number of your Lordships have dealt briefly with the issue of illegal guns. Of course that is a menace and a vice. This is not the appropriate time for me to address the dangers of those guns, except to remind noble Lords that the penalties for the illegal possession of firearms in this country are very severe: up to 10 years' imprisonment for possession of prohibited firearms. The police and customs rightly continue to attach the very highest priority to tracing and recovering these weapons.

We have considered this matter with care. Without any intended disrespect, we have come to the adamant conclusion that this amendment is not acceptable in the light of the recent history which has brought us to this pass. We believe that a complete ban is the only safe option. I invite your Lordships to concur with that view.


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