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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The noble Lord has just suggested that disabled people will be able to use air pistols. That is not a practical solution because the Bill will close all pistol clubs in this country. It is therefore impossible to see where disabled shooters will be able to take up air pistol shooting and practise.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I take the point that is being made. I am simply explaining the fact that air weapon shooting, rifle and shotgun shooting remain available. I understand entirely that many Members of the Committee will say that that is not a solution to the problem that has been defined. In the end it may be that the solution for which the Committee contends almost unanimously is not going to be reconciled with the principle that the Government stand for. At the end of
I am reluctant to offer anything which is going to be dust and ashes when we return. However, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, we shall give the matter reasonable consideration. But I would not wish to mislead anyone, who might be grievously disappointed, by offering any indication beyond that. Without being pompous, I believe that it is a government's duty to listen. But, equally, at the end of the day, the Government may well remain with their present conclusion that exemptions are not appropriate. So I stress that of course the matter will be thought about, but I cannot give any guarantee. If there is to be disappointment I wish it to be on the basis that the Government have stuck to their position rather than disappointment that I have misled anyone in this House.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Lord sits down, I thank him for his reply and for at least a glimmer of hope that thinking on this question will continue. Perhaps I may say to him that it is not the Members of this House who need concern the Minister as regards disappointment. We are no more than mouthpieces for those outside who will be affected by the Bill. It is their disappointment which we are addressing rather than that of Members of this House.
I rise simply to make this point, if there is to be more thinking. It is easy to say that there are air pistols and rifles, but it is very usual for pistol and rifle clubs to be mainly pistol clubs. They will not exist so there will not even be a club at which to practise air shooting or to seek an alternative sport. These people will lose their sport entirely. I make the point for the final time. I do not believe that the children of Dunblane or of this country will be disadvantaged by allowing this very honourable and law-abiding, respectable minority to continue their sport under the regulated conditions set out in the amendment.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course, I take the point that the ultimate disappointment will not be for the Members of this Committee. But I have attended as carefully as I can to the speeches that have been made. Of course we are only here to serve other persons and purposes. I take very much to heart what the noble Baroness has said, but I stress that having an understanding of, and sympathy for, the way in which points have been put is no indication at all that the Government will change what at the moment is their settled conclusion.
Lord Harmar-Nicholls: Does the very guarded statement that the Minister has just made in response to the speeches put us nearer to, or further away from, what the Minister in the other place said? Where do we stand? Are we nearer to a possible exception? Or are we further
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Home Secretary said that he would have an open mind on all these questions. I am not going to go further than what I have said already because if one is to attend to something with consideration, that is exactly what it means. I am not prejudging anything one way or the other except to repeat--because I believe that it is honourable to do so--that I am doing nothing more than what I have said. I am quite conscious of the fact that if the Government adhere to their presently concluded position and the Committee is speaking, as I entirely accept, on behalf of a different constituency, Members of the Committee will be unhappy.
Lord Howie of Troon: I am impressed by the firmness with which my noble friend the Minister adheres to his belief that there must be no exceptions in this Bill as a point of principle. However, looking at the last line of Clause 3 of the Bill, I notice that there is an exception; namely, that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. That seems to me an exception of a quite substantial size. I believe I understand why the Government take that view although I do not believe that it is very sensible because there are more guns in Northern Ireland than there are £20 notes. That vast exception leaves a situation in which disabled shooters in Belfast will be able to continue enjoyment of their sport whereas disabled shooters in Birmingham will not. That may be sensible to the Government, but it is not really sensible to me. I believe that very serious consideration should be given to the amendment and that the Government should accept it and the fact that there ought to be exceptions on principle.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not know whether it is helpful if I deal with the question of Northern Ireland now. The position is that Northern Ireland has always had completely different firearms legislation.
Lord Howell: I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. Perhaps I may comment first on the Northern Ireland situation. I had intended to deal with it in relation to Amendment No. 5, to which I thought I was speaking. The fact is that if this Bill is passed, we shall be in the ludicrous position of people in Northern Ireland being able to have gun clubs and take part in the Olympics. Indeed, in the context of this amendment, Northern Ireland's citizens can participate in the handicapped or paraplegic games. Do the Government really want to be in the stupid position whereby anyone from Liverpool or Birmingham can trot over to Northern Ireland, join a club there and then possibly represent our country although they would be unable to do so if they remained in their home town? This is a matter of some importance and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howie for raising it. I endorse his comments which make it unnecessary for me to have to say it all again.
I well remember the first time I became involved in what were then called the paraplegic games. I believe that they are now known as the handicapped games. The late Dr. Ludwig Guttman came to see me when I was first made Minister for Sport. He said that he understood the social value of using sport to help those who were handicapped and others. He was seeking money to build the sports centre at Stoke Mandeville. He wanted £40,000 to finish what has since become a magnificent success story there. He was overwhelmed when I asked my officials how much money we had left. They told me that £30,000 was available. I turned to Dr. Guttman and said, "Will you settle for £30,000?" and he did. My officials said that there would be nothing left to spend anywhere else in the country, to which I said, "The rest of the country will have to wait until 1st April when we can start again". I thought that that was the way to conduct myself as a Minister.
One must apply one's mind to social considerations and social needs, not just to economics or, as my right honourable friend Jack Straw is doing, to sheer emotional considerations, however much we may understand that, as we do in relation to Dunblane. As I have said previously, emotionalism can be met only by intellectual clarity of mind. If my noble friend on the Front Bench does not mind my saying so, none of those commodities has been applied during these deliberations. I do not blame my noble friend. He is reading out his brief and from what is agreed policy they shall not depart. Nothing shall happen. Incidentally, nobody shall be talked to either.
I am absolutely delighted that today my noble friend, whether acting on his own initiative as a sensitive and compassionate person or with the support of Jack Straw, has agreed to think again about the amendment. That is a magnificent step forward, especially given the way in which previous debates on the matter have been handled. I accept my noble friend's statement in the spirit in which I believe he made it.
Society benefits from harmonious relationships and understanding, especially between great bodies such as Stoke Mandeville with its disabled sports persons and Ministers. I took note of what my noble friend said about the Government having considered these matters previously. However, I am sure that my noble friend will accept from me that the Government have not talked to anyone during their considerations. Organisations for the disabled tell me that they have not been approached. They have not spoken to anyone at the Home Office and no one from the Home Office has asked to speak to them. That applies to me also, and, I suppose, to most noble Lords. The normal way of proceeding with regard to amendments is for there first to be a discussion between Members with an interest, organisations with an interest and the Ministers who are responsible for policy. If that process took place, even if we lost the amendment in the end, we would know that our arguments had been listened to and that our problems had been confronted. They are not being confronted at present.
I should like to raise a final point relating to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. I agree with the noble Lord opposite who disagreed with him. I refer to the point about removing power from the Secretary of State and asking the police to carry out that function. In this amendment--and in my next amendment, Amendment No. 5--we have deliberately desired to place in the Secretary of State's hands all the necessary authority. Apart from him saying, "No, I shall not consider any arguments whatsoever; on this point I am totally prejudiced"--if I may use that word, although it seems to be the position--we have said that we think that we can work out a scheme which protects the Secretary of State's public position (as we want to protect it) and stops any weapons getting into the hands of lunatics or other evil people. We believe that at the same time we can say to the Secretary of State, "With your agreement and authority and on your terms, we can produce a scheme that will satisfy us." That is what we have tried to do. I advise the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that that is why we have worded the amendment as we have. If the Secretary of State says that it is a big job and that it should be done by the chiefs of police, I would be happy with that. I am not sure of the number of disabled shooters--it cannot be many--but we are talking about 300 or 400 able-bodied shooters who are likely to represent this country, so it is perhaps not as big a task as the noble Lord thought.
It has been put to me that I should seek to divide the Committee on this amendment because we would probably win. I think that we would probably win, but I am not here to take advantage of the temporary political situation. I do not want to do that; I simply want us to think again. That seems to me much more responsible than merely gaining a temporary victory over the Government, especially when it is a government of my own party. I have no intention of trying to embarrass the Government; I am merely trying to help them. Having explained the reasons behind the amendment, and thanking again all noble Lords who have contributed, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.