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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I wish that the former Lord Chancellor would control his emotions. I am just as entitled to express my views in this House as he is. I have kept my counsel on this issue for 20 months now. I deeply resent the interventions from a seated position of a legal luminary who should know much better than to interrupt in that way. I knew this man well; I knew many of the parents of those children well. It ill becomes the noble and learned Lord to interrupt in such an ill-mannered way. I am emotionally involved in this issue.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, what position does that bring me to in the debate? I am naturally tempted to support my noble friend Lord Stoddart. However, I have seen all the publicity; I have listened to the parents; I have watched the agony through which those parents, grandparents and all the relatives have gone. I have come to the firm conclusion that, despite my own deeply held personal views, it would be a major mistake if this House were to divide on the proposition put by my noble friend. Despite what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, I do not believe that we should run the risk of losing the Bill.
The people of Dunblane and the gun clubs in Callander and around Dunblane believe that the Bill is the answer to the Dunblane massacre. I am not sure about that. I recall the comment of Benjamin Jowett that Parliament by legislation cannot make men moral. I am not sure that legislation makes men moral. I am sure that it would be an unmitigated mistake if the House were to divide today, the Government were to be defeated and the Bill lost. My initial reaction was to abstain. As is my wont, I have changed my mind. I appeal to my noble friend not to divide the House; but, if there is a Division, I shall support the Government.
I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was commendable and I find myself in considerable agreement with much, if not all, of it. It is one that will bear close study and I recommend that noble Lords should read it in Hansard tomorrow.
I believe the noble Lord was right to refer to the balance of argument in another place, where even one of those who spoke against the amendments described himself as being in a very small minority. Most of the argument in another place, from both sides of the House, was in favour of the amendments.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that it would kill the Bill if this House were to agree to the amendments. That would obviously not be the case: it would give the other place a chance to think again. There is any amount of time between now and the end of the Session.
Nevertheless, I do not think that this is an occasion on which this House should press its views on another place. There was a debate in another place. Despite what I feel about the balance of argument, there was a free vote and it was decided by fairly large majorities--quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris--not to agree with this House. I do not believe it would serve any purpose for us to ask the other place to consider these matters yet again, even though we are still not satisfied with the arguments that have been put before us. I shall recommend to those on these Benches that we should not support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, should he press the amendments to a Division.
To the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, may I point out that the second amendment covers only 300 to 400 highly talented sportsmen and sportswomen who would have to go through the most rigorous selection procedure before they were allowed to handle pistols. I therefore do not believe that Lord Cullen's cautionary words apply to them.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, it is not the case that the Government propose to ban all .22 pistols. There are already many exemptions, so the amendments do not introduce a new principle into the argument.
I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that people should not be deprived of freedoms which they have enjoyed for 150 years or more unless there are solid, practical reasons--as opposed to emotional reasons--for doing so. Bearing in mind the cast-iron safeguards incorporated into the amendments, I submit that there is no solid, practical case for a ban where these two limited and deserving categories are concerned. I therefore fully support the Motion.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to listen to some balanced speeches in your Lordships' House. On 16th October this year the late Lord Crawshaw, who has already been mentioned, spoke of his ability to use a shotgun or a rifle. He said that there was a problem in doing so when wheelchair bound; it was all a question of balance. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was somewhat dismissive and almost derisory when he said that even Lord Crawshaw admitted that he could use a rifle and a shotgun. He failed to tell the House that Lord Crawshaw had said that there was an imbalance to the extent that the rifle or shotgun nosedived. That is very uncomfortable and awkward for someone in a wheelchair. It is a dangerous situation which is not experienced with a pistol. With a pistol, the wheelchair-bound and the able-bodied can compete on equal terms, which is not the case with a rifle or a shotgun.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on being an honest man. At Third Reading he said that, if the other place refused to accept our amendments, he would present them once again to this House. I fear that there are certain people in a senior position in the other place who are not as honest as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who sits on the Labour Benches.
Noble Lords may recall that another sport has been in the newspapers recently: Formula One racing. That sport is associated with smoking cigarettes. As far as the Government are concerned, cigarette advertising is legally acceptable, in the best interests of the public. I wonder how many Formula One racing drivers there are--10, 50? No, there are four in this country. I wonder how many people die from smoking cigarettes each year? According to the Department of Health 121,000 people died in 1995-1996. I admire the Government for sticking up for the minority, but what about the 5,000 disabled pistol-shooters who, as we have heard before, have won many medals? We should bear in mind that cigarettes kill; disabled people do not.
The Labour Party Manifesto promised a free vote on the Bill. In common decency, and in the light of our belief that we represent a civilised society which cares for minorities and their feelings, let us not give the disabled the opportunity to name Westminster not the Houses of Parliament but the Houses of hypocrisy. I support the Motion.
The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, I wonder whether this Chamber has seen a more abject group of hypocrites than the two Front Benches of your Lordships' House for many a year? It is well known, as was said by the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Howell, that the pistol shooters of this country are responsible people. That is why those noble Lords tabled the amendments they did at an earlier stage of the passage of this Bill in your Lordships' House. Those shooters are responsible people, taking part in a responsible sport, to which they address themselves responsibly and, I might add, represent this country. How is it therefore that suddenly they are billed as the villains of the piece?
In the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House and another place how much have we heard about the illegal firearms that are in the possession of people in this country? The most conservative figure that I have come up with, presented to me by the Superintendents' Association, is that there are 2.5 million illegally owned firearms in this country, of which 600,000 are automatic or semi-automatic weapons. Why therefore do the present Government and the past government spend their time chasing responsible, sensible people who use pistols--no doubt in due time they will chase responsible people who use rifles and shotguns--while accepting that they can do nothing to stem the tide of illegal firearms and automatic weapons? Can the Minister say how many people were killed in London in the past six months by the use of legally owned firearms and how many by the use of illegally owned firearms? Your Lordships will find his answer a very convincing reply.
Lord Swansea: My Lords, I shall be brief. I want to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The Government are trying to work a colossal con-trick with this Bill. They are trying to make out that they are improving public safety, but they are doing nothing of the kind, as the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, pointed out.
The Bill is an insult to the integrity of legitimate shooters; it is an insult to the intelligence of Parliament and of the British press; it is an insult to the intelligence of the British people. The Government are deluding themselves, Parliament and the British people that they are improving public safety. They are not. Legitimate shooters pose no threat. They indulge themselves in a harmless recreation of punching holes in paper targets. But there is a vast, unknown number of weapons held illegally by the criminal classes. If the Government really want to improve public safety, they should go after them and not penalise legitimate shooters.
We heard only yesterday about a murder committed in north London, no doubt by an illegally held pistol. That will continue, so the sooner this abominable Bill is repealed, along with its equally abominable predecessor, the better.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, of course I support the amendments moved so lucidly by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I should like to press the Government on one point that they made at the last stage of our debate on this unfortunate Bill. They said that their legislation for the disabled is designed only to allow the disabled to draw level with those of us who are fortunate enough not to be disabled. That is one of the reasons they gave for not allowing this amendment when we last debated it.
I feel that that philosophy is at the least a little shaky. However much we wish it were otherwise, and however much we legislate to make it otherwise, the disabled can never enjoy all the activities which we take for granted. The new, caring Labour Government therefore are guilty of a degree of hypocrisy in not allowing your Lordships' amendments to stand when instead they remove from the disabled one of the few activities which allows them to compete equally with the rest of us and in fact "draw level with us" in the broadest sense of that expression.
Nor can the amendment be called a wrecking amendment. Both this Bill and its predecessor from the previous government were supposed to be about improving public safety. But as other noble Lords have said, we have it on the word of the Minister himself in the other place--I quote again because it is important--
All the Government have to do to meet the spirit of their Bill and their commitment to disabled people generally is to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
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