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Lord Howell: It is indeed Amendment No. 2 and I apologise to the noble Lord and to the noble Earl. I am getting carried away, as one does when one deals with the prejudice that one faces. I am reminded of an occasion in another place when Sir Charles MacAndrew was in the chair and my old friend Leslie Hale proceeded to speak on an amendment on the capital
I do not wish to make a long speech about them because the situation is self-evident. We have done extremely well and given enormous pleasure and satisfaction, particularly to paraplegics and others at Stoke Mandeville and in other centres who can follow no other sport, but they sit in their wheelchairs and follow the sport of disabled shooting. If we prevent them from doing that in the future, we shall wreak tremendous harm to their sense of pride and self-satisfaction. I know of no case of disabled shooters running amok in any sense with the weapons at their disposal. Because they are disabled, they have special supervision of their activities. Therefore, I hope that when my noble friend replies to the amendment, after other Members of the Committee more qualified than I to talk about disabled sports have spoken, he will find some consolation for them. At least perhaps he will reconsider their position if his present attempts to end their sporting activities are successful. I beg to move.
Lord Gisborough: I support the amendment, particularly one aspect. I understand that shooting is helpful for the disabled, especially for their balance. It is not just a sport, it is part of their rehabilitation and one is taking away from them something which helps them get better to whatever extent they can.
Earl Peel: I too support the amendment. It seems to me that in recent times the plight of the disabled has very much forged its way ahead in political thinking. I am sure that the Committee will agree that that is to be welcomed. Hardly any legislation today does not accommodate the needs of such people. This House has a particularly good record in accommodating all aspects of the problems that overcome the disabled. As has been said, the sport of shooting is one of the few events where people with physical disabilities can compete on equal terms with others. I am quite sure that that is an extremely important psychological consideration.
The amendment provides complete power for the Secretary of State, both in terms of the individual being vetted by him and in terms of the designated premises. So although I accept that it is an exception--and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, made it clear that the Government will not look kindly on exceptions-- I sincerely hope that they will not maintain that position throughout the Committee stage. We have a case here which is worthy of the Committee's careful consideration.
When I move my amendment, Amendment No. 7, I shall come to the question of centres of excellence. But it seems to me that if we could establish such centres--and it has to be said that it is not envisaged that there will be many--this would be a perfect example for disabled people to continue to participate in their sport.
Lord Crawshaw: I also wish to say a few words in support of the amendment. As I do not speak often in your Lordships' House, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I bore Members with my life story. I shall not take too long, but it is relevant to the amendment before the Committee.
During my time at Oxford University and before that, for physical recreation I indulged in or pursued every possible form of equestrian sport. In the summer, I played a good deal of cricket--not to a great standard, but nevertheless sufficient to derive great pleasure. At the time, the captain of Oxford was the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who was a great deal more distinguished.
I then had the fall which put me in a wheelchair. Like others in the same boat, I was left wondering what on earth I could do to replace my sporting activities with which I could no longer continue. As my noble friend Lady Darcy and others will tell the Committee, in that situation you clutch at any passing straws that come along in the hope that you can find something to replace what has gone. In my case, one of those straws was the sport of archery. It was felt to be a good rehabilitation exercise and I became reasonably proficient at it.
I see that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is here today. Perhaps he will remember it all. Eventually, I returned to Oxford and met the captain of the university golf team. By way of light entertainment, I should tell the Committee that it is well known that a match between an archer and a golfer can be fairly close. I spent many a happy evening in the centre of Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church, with a bow and arrow, trying to put an arrow over the Kilcannon building into the Mercury Pond in Tom Quad. On occasion, the golfer would win and, on occasion, I would win. Unfortunately, that had to stop when I put an arrow through the bowler hat of the head porter. Luckily, he was unhurt and bore me no ill will. From that time on he always sent me a Christmas card which was signed "To Robin Hood from the Ancient Briton".
On leaving Oxford and having fewer people around to retrieve the arrows, which is one of the disadvantages of archery, I quickly transferred to using a shotgun and, on occasion, a .22 rifle. I happen to live in the country, where there is plenty of space for the safe use of those weapons, and I have derived untold interest and satisfaction from them. It seems to me that for anyone in a similar situation who lives in a town the sport of pistol shooting is entirely appropriate. We heard today from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, of the high standards that can be achieved.
Both governments have, naturally, tried to stop any similar recurrence of the appalling incident at Dunblane. But talk of a total ban on pistols, like a total ban on anything, concerns me, when I think of the kind of people who will be badly hurt. This amendment seems to incorporate a range of safeguards. I am sure that the Government do not want inadvertently to inflict such damage and I therefore very much hope that they will accept the amendment or propose some measure which will have the desired effect.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: It will be very difficult for me to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take note of what he said both amusingly and movingly. In fact, he is a living example of a person to whom the sport of pistol shooting matters. It helps him with his disability.
Even though earlier my noble friend said that there should be no exceptions, surely he will now entertain the prospect of an exception in relation to disabled people. If we are not prepared to do that, what kind of people are we? What kind of people are we, if we are so rigid in our thinking and our policy that we cannot make an exception for disabled people, who, by their physical disability, are unable to cause mayhem either with a pistol or virtually anything else?
I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take note of what has been said and what he has observed in this debate. If a Labour Government means anything at all, it means that they have concern for all people but particularly those people who are disadvantaged. It is their job to ensure that disadvantaged people are comforted and not robbed of the pleasures that they now enjoy. I appeal to my noble friend under these circumstances to abolish rigidity and accept the amendment.
Lord Renton: I too should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. I have witnessed his skill with a shotgun and greatly admire the spirit in which he has accepted the disability that was inflicted on him in his youth. I am sure that we all do so.
But I wish to extend the theme of the new clause still further. In my former constituency of Huntingdonshire, I saw severely disabled people, mostly rather elderly, living alone in remote cottages and even down fen droves. For those noble Lords who are not acquainted with the Fens, let me say that there are very long roads, which can hardly be called farm roads but are rough roads of communication, sometimes a mile or more long and that distance from a highway. Those people are in a very vulnerable position should some aggressive person try to disturb them.
All the disabled people whom I have seen living in remote cottages and small farmhouses have had a dog with them. That is some protection. The way in which the present law has been administered in East Anglia means that those people have not been allowed to have a pistol to protect themselves. But I believe that under this new clause, if it were slightly redrafted, they could and should have that means of protection against intruders. Alas, we live in an age in which there is much aggressive intrusion upon defenceless people. It used not to be so in one's youth but it is so now. While we have this opportunity, we should legislate to protect such people. Therefore, I warmly support the clause but feel that we should give it further thought and perhaps at Report stage try to include the opportunity for such people to defend themselves by having small bore, single chamber pistols.
There will be thousands of disabled people who could obtain the benefit of what is proposed in the new clause. But the idea that the Secretary of State, or even several people to whom he delegates to give approval, should have that task is not practicable or reasonable. It is a job which should be done by the chief officer of police in each county or elsewhere. So, I hope that at a later stage we shall see the clause with that possibility borne in mind.
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