Orders of the Day — Firearms (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 12th November 1996.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons 4:28 pm, 12th November 1996

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Biffen). With the exception of speeches by Front Benchers, I am afraid that speeches wil be limited to 10 minutes.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you help the House with regard to motion No. 2 on the Order Paper? It is not exactly a wholly new precedent, but I believe that it is the first time that such procedure has been challenged in the House.

I read motion No. 2 under the heading "Business of the House" and like, I suspect, many of my colleagues I said to myself, "That's a guillotine motion." I made inquiries and was told that it was not a guillotine motion in the form that we have come to know and use over the 32 years that I have been in the House.

Apparently, the motion—I do not know how many hon. Members can read it and argue that it is not a guillotine motion—is not debatable, and a decision will be taken forthwith. In contrast, a normal guillotine motion can be debated for three hours, or—if my memory serves correctly—an hour and a half if it is a supplementary motion.

There are two issues, the first of which is whether the motion is suitable for dealing with clauses 1 to 5 of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, although I shall not attempt to deal with it now.

My second concern is about the procedure, which has been used once before, in the summer, when no one spotted it and the motion went through on the nod. The matter has been drawn to my attention principally by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J.Wiggin), who asked me what I thought the second item on the Order Paper meant. I said, "It's a guillotine motion."

You, Madam Speaker, will know that many decades ago, and with great reluctance, the House had to adopt the guillotine procedure. By its very nature, the procedure removes the rights of the Opposition and of minorities by truncating debate. The safeguard, as I have always understood it, was a three-hour debate on guillotine motions or a one-and-a-half-hour debate on amendments to those motions. We are now being presented with the first new procedure, in my memory, allowing a guillotine motion to be moved and passed without debate. It is a deplorable and thoroughly retrograde step for the House to be landed with this procedure, without any warning, discussion or decision being made by it.

I am appalled that the Government should have decided to introduce a guillotine in such a back-door manner. I hope that Ministers will tell us that they will not move motion No. 2, that we will have no more of the new procedure and that we shall proceed with the established guillotine procedure to which we have become so accustomed.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I think that I require no further instruction on this matter. I am sure that the House is quite aware of the sentiments—[Interruption.] No; there will be no further points of order on this matter. I can see that hon. Members are concerned about the matter, but they do not have to continue expressing their concern. The Government have placed the motion on the Order Paper, and hon. Members can interpret it as they wish.

A precedent was set during the passage of the Family Law Act 1996. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) realises that, today, the motion will fall if the voice of only one hon. Member is raised in objection. At the appropriate time, hon. Members will merely have to say "object", unless the Government withdraw the motion. When the time comes, I am sure that at least one hon. Member will say "object", which will meet the right hon. Gentleman's concern. Perhaps we can now proceed.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:32 pm, 12th November 1996

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Nine months ago, Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane primary school carrying four high-calibre handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition. Within minutes, he had killed 16 young children and their teacher. The dreadful crimes committed that day were committed with weapons that were legally bought and legally held. Those facts placed an onerous duty on the Government to consider what controls there should be on the ownership and possession of guns.

Lord Cullen was asked to conduct an inquiry. His report, and the Government's response to it, were published last month. The Government intend to implement all 23 of the recommendations on firearms made by Lord Cullen. The nine recommendations that require legislation are taken forward in the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, and the remainder will be taken forward administratively.

Lord Cullen made no recommendations on the central question of access to handguns, but he considered that access to handguns should be strictly controlled because of the special dangers that they pose. He made two alternative suggestions to achieve that objective. The Government agree with Lord Cullen's objective, but propose to achieve it in a somewhat different manner. Let me explain why.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

When dealing with what Lord Cullen said—or, rather, what he did not say—I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will add that Lord Cullen did not consider that the banning of handguns for target shooting or the banning of shooting clubs would be justified. As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, that is the crux of the Bill. Why, then, has he gone beyond what Lord Cullen recommended?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My last words before giving way to my hon. Friend were "Let me explain why." I am about to explain why the Government have chosen the course of action that we are putting before the House.

Lord Cullen would have allowed single-shot handguns to continue to be kept at home. The Government do not believe that handguns, whatever their calibre, should be kept at home. Handguns are not used to shoot game and, as Lord Cullen observed and Thomas Hamilton demonstrated, they are extremely easy to carry and to conceal. Of course it is true that most gun-related crimes are committed with illegally held weapons. That is why we have increased the maximum penalties for illegal possession of a firearm and for going to a crime equipped with a gun. It would be difficult to argue that the public would get no extra protection from a ban on handguns in the home.

Lord Cullen suggested that multi-shot handguns, too, should—

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like to complete my explanation.

Lord Cullen suggested that multi-shot handguns, too, should be kept at home if—and only if—they could be safely disabled. He suggested that that could be done by removing the slide assembly or the cylinder, which would then be left in a gun club, or by fitting a locked barrel block to the gun. He suggested that the individual ownership of multi-shot handguns should be banned if that option proved unworkable. Instead, licensed gun clubs would own and keep them for use by their members.

The Government took advice from the Forensic Science Service on the practicability of disabling multi-shot handguns. It concluded that that way forward was unworkable. Existing barrel blocks are currently commercially available only for certain types of shotgun; they are not suitable for handguns. Even if such blocks became more widely available, it would be impossible to guarantee that they could not be removed by someone with enough determination.

As to removing parts from handguns to disable them, it would be impossible to ensure that someone did not keep illicit spares at home. While it is true that the slide or cylinder can be removed from many handguns easily, it is not universally the case. As Lord Cullen conceded in the case of many high-precision .22 handguns: Repeated disassembly involved disruption of carefully tuned components and would very quickly impair the accuracy for which they were designed".

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the forensic evidence that he has been given is in total contrast to that which Lord Cullen accepted? The report says: In the light of the evidence of Mr. Paton and Mr. Penn I am satisfied that the dismantling of self-loading pistols and revolvers would in general be practicable. Referring later to fitting barrel blocks, Lord Cullen said: There was little doubt that it would be possible for them to be manufactured. Such blocks were already available for shot guns to prevent third parties using the gun. Mr. Paton was in no doubt that it would be simple for them to be made. Why did not my right hon. and learned Friend accept that evidence rather than that of the Forensic Science Service?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The fact remains that those blocks have not been manufactured for handguns. Lord Cullen reached his conclusion on the basis of the evidence of two experts at his inquiry. We have consulted the Forensic Science Service and have reached a different conclusion on the practicability of the way forward.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that the vast majority of crimes carried out with weapons involve those that are not to be banned or illegally held weapons. He will be aware that the people whom we are seeking to protect the public from will continue to get their weapons illegally. Politics is about priorities. Will my right hon. and learned Friend say how many lives he thinks that his measures will save, what they will cost and how many lives could be saved if that money were spent on the health service?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not suppose that my hon. Friend seriously expected me to give a quantified estimate along those lines. However, the Government cannot abdicate their responsibility or shirk the duty that the dreadful events of Dunblane placed upon them. Therefore, it is right that the Government should face up to that duty, examine the issues involved and reach their conclusions on how the objectives that Lord Cullen set out can best be achieved. That is the basis of the proposals in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

Is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared to put in the Library of the House a copy of the response that he received from the Forensic Science Service on the important issue of dismantling?

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is considerable concern about the Bill in my constituency? First, will he confirm for clarification that, as a result of the Bill, the 57,000 law-abiding full-bore pistol shots will be denied their sport for ever? Secondly, if .22 handguns can be kept safely in gun clubs, why is it impossible to keep full-bore pistols in the same manner?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall return to that point later. It is an important point that merits a reply, and I shall certainly provide one in due course.

I now turn to Lord Cullen's alternative suggestion. Despite the evidence that was placed before him, he recognised that his preferred way forward might not prove practicable. His alternative suggestion was that the individual ownership of all multi-shot handguns should be banned. If we accept the case for allowing some handguns to be kept in licensed clubs, as Lord Cullen did, individual target shooters should be free to continue to own them. Indeed, competitive target shooting would not be viable unless those taking part could use their own guns.

The Government therefore decided to adopt a different approach that draws a distinction between low-calibre and high-calibre handguns.

Photo of Mr Martin O'Neill Mr Martin O'Neill Chair, Trade & Industry Committee, Chair, Trade & Industry Committee

Does the Home Secretary accept that the serious elements within the gun lobby—those competing at the highest level—insist that it will be impossible to achieve the level of accomplishment necessary to compete in the Olympics if they can no longer take their guns back to their homes? Therefore, the argument that the Home Secretary chooses to advance, which suggests that, somehow, the Bill will accommodate the highest standards of gunshooting, is fallacious He is offering an empty gesture to serious shooters. I oppose the possession of handguns, but my constituents who have reached the highest levels of accomplishment and have participated in Olympic tournaments tell me that they will be unable to continue to compete if they cannot carry their guns home with them to calibrate them, cosset them and do whatever else they do with them. If the Home Secretary cannot provide for that, the Bill is sheer hypocrisy as it does not protect serious shooters.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. The Bill may make it more difficult for the competitive shooters to whom the hon. Gentleman refers to continue their activities in precisely the way in which they have until now. There will be differences. The ban on handguns in the home means that, inevitably, there will be differences, but I believe that competitive shooters will adapt to the regime for which the Bill provides and will continue to practise their sporting activity.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The Home Secretary realises that the issue raises strong feelings. Therefore, will he answer the question that the Prime Minister failed to answer this afternoon and say why the Government adopt contrasting attitudes to corporal punishment in English schools and the possession of handguns? How can they consider corporal punishment in schools to be a matter of individual conscience, but adopt a different approach to the possession of handguns?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's assertion, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister replied to that question this afternoon. He made it quite clear that the Government have reached a considered view on the matter. As is normal practice, and as occurred in 1988 after the massacre at Hungerford, the Government present their considered conclusions to the House and expect members of the Conservative parliamentary party to support those conclusions.

As Lord Cullen said, higher-calibre handguns are not target guns in the true and original sense. Many have been developed by the police and the military for self-defence. Their wider use has encouraged some shooters to don the trappings of combat, such as camouflage clothing. In Lord Cullen's words, that has caused others to feel uneasy about what appears to be the use of guns as symbols of personal power". Indeed, target shooting with high-calibre handguns has been removed as a sport from the Olympic games precisely because, as I understand it, those guns are recognised to be more dangerous.

In addition, the power of a .22 rimfire cartridge is limited by a special design. It is constructed of thin metal to enable the rim to be crushed when hit by the firing pin. A .22 rimfire handgun is between four and six times less powerful than a typical full-calibre handgun.

Clause 1 will therefore outlaw all higher-calibre handguns of the sort used by Thomas Hamilton. The ownership and use of lower-calibre handguns will be allowed provided that they are kept under safe lock and key in secure gun clubs at all times.

I know that some hon. Members believe that the Bill should go further and ban all handguns completely. However, I believe that we can give the public the protection that they deserve and allow target shooting with lower-calibre handguns—which has always been an Olympic sport—to continue. Indeed, I believe that banning all handguns could drive some target shooters underground. That might mean that the public would have less protection than would be available under the Bill.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) shakes his head, but only last week the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) acknowledged the importance of that argument.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

Has my right hon. and learned Friend considered the fact that .32 centrefire handguns are used for competitions in the Commonwealth games? Will guns of that calibre continue to be used in the Commonwealth games under his proposal?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is true that .32 calibre guns are used in competitions in the Commonwealth games, but not in the Olympic games. It will be for the Government and the city of Manchester, which decides which events will be part of the Commonwealth games in 2002, to discuss whether that higher-calibre event should be permitted. Should that event be permitted, it will be possible under the Bill to allow the event to take place.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Cambridge South West

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a word about vintage arms? He will be aware that there is a highly respectable vintage arms society, of which I am a member. It caters for muzzle-loading weapons, which could not conceivably be used to commit an appalling crime but which do not appear to be exempted from the Bill.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend and many others. I shall turn to that point in a moment and I may have some modestly encouraging news for him.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

A moment ago, the Home Secretary said that I had acknowledged the argument that a complete ban on handguns would drive underground an activity that could then be conducted without safeguards for security. I did indeed acknowledge that argument, but he should also accept that I said that the more I consider the case for allowing .22 pistols to continue to be licensed, the flimsier I find it."—[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 348.] I understand the argument about which he is concerned, but is not the point that there will still be every opportunity for shooting enthusiasts to take part in lawful, licensed shooting activities, either with rifles or shotguns? There is no question of driving such people underground.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was not claiming the hon. Gentleman as a convert to my cause. Indeed, I am not certain how much good it would have done my cause had I done so. I was merely making the strictly limited point that, in a radio broadcast with me last week, he acknowledged the importance of the point that I have been making: that a total ban on the use of handguns might drive some target shooters underground, which might mean that the public had less protection than would be available under the Bill. That is an important point and the hon. Gentleman shared that view last week.

The Bill will take out of circulation entirely the most dangerous high-calibre weapons that were lawfully held by Thomas Hamilton. As a result, 160,000 high-calibre handguns will be destroyed—80 per cent. of those legally held in England and Wales. The Association of Chief Police Officers has welcomed the proposals. It said: The proposed ban on high calibre handguns and the tightening up on firearms controls generally will provide significant improvement … in public protection. ACPO's measured view suggested retaining a strictly controlled ability for handgun competition, limited to .22 weapons, and we very much support both that proposal and the proposed requirements for comprehensive security measures over weapons stored at gun clubs".

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

Is it not a fact that Thomas Hamilton should never have been allowed access to handguns? Is it not a fact that the police failed in their job? Is it not a fact that, far from supporting a total ban, Lord Cullen suggests that the police should regularise their own arrangements for scrutiny of applicants and that the law should have been looked at to ensure that the weight of evidence lay in favour of police objections to Hamilton's case rather than in favour of the applicant? Would not that be simpler?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend will be aware that many of the 23 recommendations made by Lord Cullen in his report—all of which we accept—go to precisely the point that he has just made. Of course it is true that there is room for reform of the procedures. The Bill proposes the implementation of the recommendations that will achieve that objective. Lord Cullen went on to say, however, that that in itself was not enough and that consideration had to be given to controlling access to handguns, which has given rise to the proposals in the Bill in addition to those dealing with certification.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

Did it not become apparent in the Cullen inquiry that part of the problem over Hamilton's possession of weapons was that police forces throughout England, Wales and Scotland were not using a common inquiry form? The law was not being equally applied in separate parts of the United Kingdom by various police forces. Is the Home Secretary able to assure the House that as a result of the Bill the police will use a common inquiry form that will range wider and uniformly collect all the information that they require to make a sensible judgment on applications for licences?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree that consistency of approach along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested would be desirable. That will indeed occur in future.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have not yet given way to anyone from the hon. Gentleman's party, so it is right that I should do so before I make further progress.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

Did I understand the Home Secretary correctly a few minutes ago when he was quoting from advice that he was given by the chief constables to the effect that, if the number of legal firearms were reduced, there would be a considerable reduction in armed crime? Surely that implies that chief constables believe that licensed guns are used in armed crime. That is manifestly untrue. Only illegal weapons are used in armed crime.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. ACPO is, perhaps, in a better position than—dare I say it?—either the hon. Gentleman or I to know what weapons are used in the commission of armed crime. I am certainly prepared to accept that the vast majority of armed crimes are committed with illegally held weapons, but in the face of such opinions I for one would not exclude the possibility—perhaps the probability—that some legally held weapons are also so used.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

What evidence does my right hon. and learned Friend have in respect of his reply to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross)? What figures does he have at his disposal to show that legally held weapons have been used in the commission of armed crime? What are the statistics? Furthermore, bearing in mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who own firearms legally are upright, respected members of the community, by what right are the Government and the House about to dispossess them of their property without full compensation not only for the firearm but for all the equipment that goes with it? Many such firearm owners will be severely out of pocket.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall come to compensation in a moment. I cannot give my hon. Friend precise figures along the lines that he requests, but I remind the House—it is important that we do not lose sight of this—that the genesis of this legislation was one appalling incident in which 17 murders were committed with lawfully held weapons. When we consider the use of legally held weapons in the commission of crime, it is not possible to overlook that dreadful event.

Clauses 2 to 5 provide for a number of essential but strictly limited exemptions. Certain professionals, such as vets, hunt servants and those working in slaughterhouses, need high-calibre handguns to destroy animals humanely, and they will be exempt. Equally, some types of pistol need to be exempt. They will include starting pistols, flare pistols and trophies of war acquired before 1946.

As I made clear to the House in my statement on Lord Cullen's report, the Government want to put these measures on the statute book at the earliest possible opportunity. I propose, therefore, that clauses 1 to 5 be taken on the Floor of the House next week in order to make immediate progress. The remaining clauses will be taken in Standing Committee in the usual way.

Clauses 6 and 7 will require the owners of low-calibre handguns to be members of a licensed pistol club. They will have to keep their pistol at that club and will be able to use it only for target shooting. It will be an offence to possess a low-calibre handgun outside a licensed pistol club. The maximum penalty will be 10 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. Transitional arrangements will require those who have a low-calibre handgun to surrender it until they are able to find a licensed handgun club in which to store it.

I accept that there will be circumstances in which low-calibre handguns have to be moved from licensed pistol clubs—for example. when a gun needs mending or its owner is competing in a national target shooting competition at a different club. Clause 8 contains the provisions governing such moves. Before a gun can be removed, a permit will be required from the police and the gun will need to be carried by a third party whom the police are satisfied is a fit and proper person to discharge that responsibility.

Since the Bill was published on 1 November, the Government have been reflecting on the question of compensation that should be paid to those who are affected adversely by its provisions. I have met parliamentary colleagues on a number of occasions. have also met representatives of various organisations and received letters from individuals who will be affected by the legislation.

It has always been the Government's position that they must pay compensation to those to whom they have a legal obligation. Since the Bill was published, the Government have received further legal advice from the Law Officers, which makes it clear that not only do we have an obligation to those whose guns will be made unlawful by the Bill but that our obligations also extend to those who own accessories that can be used only in connection with those guns. In those circumstances, I intend to enter into discussions with the British Shooting Sports Council to identify the accessories that fall within the terms of the further legal advice that we have received. The Government will introduce proposals to implement that legal advice. That clearly means that a revised money resolution will be necessary and the Government intend to table one shortly. In considering the precise scope of that resolution, we shall take into account the points that will no doubt be made in today's debate.

Photo of Mr Terence Higgins Mr Terence Higgins , Worthing

Obviously, the change will be some improvement, although the fact that it is necessary to make a change reflects the rush with which the legislation has been introduced. Whatever view one may take about complete or revised bans, is it not clear that it would be grossly unjust if the money resolution did not cover people who have businesses—for example, shooting ranges with long leases—that will no longer receive any revenue? They are likely to go bankrupt, as are many other businesses associated with the sport. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the money resolution will cover such people so that the House can debate the point? Otherwise the amended resolution will also be, in common justice, unacceptable.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend is unaware of the precise terms of the revised resolution. I cannot give him the total assurance that he requests, but I have said—I hope that he will take comfort from it—that in deciding the precise scope of the revised money resolution we shall take full account of points made in the debate today, including the point that he has just made.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we to understand from the Home Secretary's statement that the money resolution currently before the House is being withdrawn? Otherwise we could be in a state of some confusion.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. Decisions on that are not a matter for the Chair, but I imagine that the Home Secretary will clarify that point.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The money resolution before the House will not be moved and I have indicated that a revised money resolution will be introduced shortly.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

When my right hon. and learned Friend considers businesses of the sort mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), will he also pay special attention to businesses that are legitimately involved in selling arms—for example, Helston Gunsmiths in my constituency, which has written to almost every hon. Member? Will he take fully into account compensation for the stock of weapons and accessories that such businesses hold and for loss of trade?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is a distinction between the two categories that my hon. Friend has identified and it is important that that distinction is clarified. Stocks of weapons that will become unlawful as a result of the legislation will be the subject of valid compensation. The position of a dealer in firearms or a manufacturer of firearms will be no different from that of an individual holder of firearms. Holders of firearms that will be made unlawful by this legislation will all be entitled to compensation for the weapons they own, but that is different—I would be wrong not to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) to the distinction—from claims for compensation for loss of trade and business. So far as I am aware, there is no precedent for such claims and I would arouse false hopes and expectations if I were to give my right hon. and hon. Friends any comfort on that point. There is a clear distinction between the two.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

When my right hon. and learned Friend reconsiders the money resolution, I hope that he will consult clubs. He must acknowledge that the banning of large-calibre pistols will result in many clubs folding. They will not be viable if large-calibre guns cannot be used. Therefore, will he consider carefully the possibility of compensation for clubs? I am told that 90 per cent. of clubs are likely to close and that they will lose, on average, about £8,000 or £9,000 each. If he reconsiders the money resolution, he should bear those facts in mind.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that the same points apply to that category as to the category that I was just describing, but—as I said earlier—all the points made in today's debate will be taken into account in framing the revised money resolution and deciding on its precise scale.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

I understand that compensation of about £150 per handgun was contemplated by the Government. I visited my local gun club last Friday and the first estimate, with documentation, that was produced by one of my constituents was for compensation of £2,000. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give his best estimate now of the amount of compensation that will be required, and is that the best use of public money?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The financial memorandum deals with that point. On the basis of the present money resolution, the best estimate that we could make of the compensation bill was between £25 million and £50 million. Clearly, if we revise the money resolution and extend the categories of compensation, the bill will be greater.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who was on his feet first, after which I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk (Mr. Lord). I must then make progress.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

My right hon. and learned Friend quotes precedent, which I accept, for a Government not compensating businesses that fold as a result of Government decisions. He has set his mind against that, but did I understand him rightly when he said, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), that he has not ruled out compensating the members of gun clubs? As I understand it, there is no precedent that requires the Government to ignore the plight of ordinary members of the public who come together, with limited means, to create clubs—most of which will now have to close. The cost to the public purse, unlike that of compensating businesses, would be limited and may be about £8,000 or £9,000, as we have heard. Will my right hon. and learned Friend at least consider that point and not rule it out today?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that that point comes into the same category as those to which I have previously responded. Depending on the scope of the money resolution—I know that my hon. Friend will have taken careful note of what I said on that—those matters may be able to be considered in greater detail at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord , Suffolk Central

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is taking note of the feeling of the House on the question of compensation. If people undertake a legal activity, it is wrong to take away their legally held property without adequately compensating them. Like many other hon. Members, I discussed the subject with constituents at the weekend. One gentleman showed me documented evidence that his handguns and accessories were worth just under £4,000. I asked him how many members of his club had similar handguns and he said that there were 100, so there are handguns worth nearly £500,000 in one club in Suffolk. I trust that when my right hon. and learned Friend is doing his sums on compensation, he will ensure that he allows enough to compensate everybody adequately.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have repeatedly made it clear that the owners of weapons rendered unlawful by the Bill will be compensated at market value for their guns.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sorry, but I must make a little more progress.

Part II of the Bill deals with the arrangements for the new pistol clubs that must be licensed by the Secretary of State before target handgun shooting may be allowed. Before being granted a licence, clubs will need to demonstrate that they meet detailed criteria, especially in relation to security. We shall publish those criteria. The police and other interested parties are currently being consulted on the details.

The new clubs will have to conform to the published criteria during the term of their licences. They will need to keep registers of the guns that are stored there, and to record when the guns are removed from and returned to the club on a permit. Police officers and police civilian staff will have the power to enter and inspect a club's premises to ensure that the provisions of the legislation, and conditions on the licence, are being met. If the conditions are not met, or if there are other concerns about public safety, I, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, will have the power to revoke a club's licence.

Part III introduces new regulatory requirements and prohibits both mail order sales and expanding ammunition, except for the purposes of lawfully shooting deer and of vermin control.

Certificate holders will be required to notify the police about the destruction of firearms listed on their certificates, or of transactions involving those firearms. Those arrangements will apply equally to rifles and shotguns, and will enable the police to keep a closer watch on the destination of legally held firearms.

The Bill implements Lord Cullen's recommendation that applications for firearm certificates should be accompanied by the names and addresses of two referees. The referees may be required to provide details of the applicant in a structured questionnaire, as prescribed in rules.

For an applicant seeking to renew his firearm certificate, one referee must be from an official of a licensed gun club. Firearm certificates granted for rifles for target shooting will be subject to a condition that the holder must belong to at least one approved club. That implements another of Lord Cullen's recommendations. Those steps will provide the police with more background evidence about the applicant than is currently available from the present single counter-signatory.

The procedures for obtaining and granting firearm certificates will be strengthened. Lord Cullen drew attention to an apparent mismatch in the present legislation between the granting of firearms certificates and their revocation. The emphasis of the present legislation will be altered, so that the police will need to be satisfied about the fitness of applicants before granting or renewing firearm certificates. The chief officer will be able to revoke certificates, or partially to revoke them, if the holder no longer has a good reason for possessing the firearm. In line with Lord Cullen's recommendations the Bill seeks to amend the current legislation to make that clearer.

Police constables' powers of entry, search and inspection, with warrants, will be extended to police civilian officers. That will apply to the premises of registered dealers and licensed clubs, and will cover firearms, ammunition and certificates.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the granting and revocation of firearm and shotgun certificates is arbitrary at the moment, and depends on the views of the chief of police in the area in which one is applying for a certificate? That is unfair to the average citizen, because in some areas it is almost impossible to get a firearm certificate. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider national guidelines, so that a national standard will apply to such matters?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall consider my hon. Friend's request, although I am not sure that I share the premise on which his question was based. He has asked whether we would consider national guidelines on such matters, and although I cannot give him any kind of assurance, I shall certainly consider his point.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, and then I must get on.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

May I take my right hon. and learned Friend back to clause 8? Ammunition is not mentioned in connection with the transfer of pistols between one location and another. Is there a case for building in a separation factor, so that ammunition and pistols are never on the streets together?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I take my hon. Friend's point—an important one, which we shall consider. I am not entirely certain that what he suggests is necessary, but we shall certainly consider the idea.

There will be some changes to the present way in which target rifle shooting clubs are run. The approval criteria will be given a statutory basis and will be revised to include other recommendations made by Lord Cullen, including keeping a register of members' attendance, appointing a club officer to liaise with the police, and requiring clubs to notify the police when someone leaves the club.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill that I published two weeks ago. The Government recognise that there are real concerns about the historical tradition of firearms in this country. I can give a categorical assurance that the proposals in the Bill will not change the present arrangements exempting antique pistols from firearms legislation.

In addition, I intend to exempt certain other narrowly defined categories of historic weapons. I intend to exempt from the controls in the Bill muzzle-loading firearms that are fired. Such firearms—both historic weapons and modern replicas—are used by historic enactment societies. The Government believe that they can safely be kept at home so long as their owners obtain certificates for them.

Secondly, there is a category of handguns that I shall describe as historic handguns, but not antiques. The Government have received proposals from owners of such weapons for a scheme that would apply to any pistol manufactured before 1919, except for those of 9 mm calibre, for which ammunition is commonly available. In addition, rare handguns, and those with strong historic associations manufactured before 1939, could be brought within the scheme provided that they were authorised by the relevant chief constable.

Under those proposals, pistols in the relevant categories would be subject to stringent restrictions. Their owners would have a choice. They could keep their guns securely at home on the condition that they were never fired, or they could keep and fire them at the national shooting centre at Bisley. The Government see merit in that approach, and will give it careful consideration in discussion with the authorities at Bisley.

Thirdly, we will table an amendment to the existing legislation to allow museums registered with the Museums and Galleries Commission to apply for a museum firearms license. That will exempt from the general ban regimental museums and other similar institutions that are not publicly funded.

The dreadful tragedy of Dunblane placed on the Government an inescapable duty to consider what controls there should be on the ownership and possession of guns. We have not shirked that duty. We have derived great assistance from Lord Cullen's report. We shall implement all 23 of his recommendations. The Bill sets out the way in which the Government believe that his objective of strict control on access to handguns can mostly effectively be achieved.

The Bill will provide the public with the protection that they need and deserve, while allowing a limited amount of pistol shooting to continue in secure conditions. It puts the safety of the public first. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 5:17 pm, 12th November 1996

As the House knows, the Labour party believes that there should be a complete ban on the general civilian ownership and possession of all handguns of any calibre. We also want other parts of the Bill to be strengthened. None the less, the Bill as it comes before the House represents a considerable advance on the current arrangements for gun control. We therefore support it.

Members of the parliamentary Labour party will have a free vote on the Bill. If there is a Division, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and 1 will vote for the Bill, and we invite our right hon. and hon. Friends to join us in the Aye Lobby.

The Government have done the strength of their case no good by imposing a Whip on all Conservative Members. Such a matter should not be an issue for party politics.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Has the hon. Gentleman entirely forgotten his party conference?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Mrs. Ann Pearston is a Conservative, and if the Conservative party had any sense it would have invited her to speak to its conference too.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was referring not to Mrs. Pearston's contribution but to that of the Leader of the Opposition who, having repeatedly said that he would wait for Lord Cullen's report before coming to a conclusion on the issue, declared at his party conference that he favoured a total ban on handguns. Moreover, that declaration was made after the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), had specifically asked the Government to postpone publication of the report so that the matter would not be dragged through the party conferences.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

If the Secretary of State has any complaints about Members of Parliament who sought to make party political capital out of the tragedy, he should look behind him and admonish the six members of the Home Affairs Committee—Conservative Members—who refused to accept motions from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and other Labour Members stating that the issue should not be one of partisan concern until Lord Cullen had produced his report. Nothing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said differed from the evidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton and I gave to Lord Cullen in May.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Does my hon. Friend agree that this sort of argument will be received with some dismay outside the House? The crucial question is how is it that a debate and decision on the administration of a smack on the hand or another part of the body can be a matter of individual conscience for Members of Parliament, but the possibility of the shooting of a gun taking a young life is not? That is what the people of this country will not and cannot understand.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. When trying to distinguish between the Government's positions on firearms and on caning, the Secretary of State said that the former was the Government's considered position. I can only assume that that confirms that their position on caning is their unconsidered position—in fact, they appear to have no position at all on that matter. As my hon. Friend said, if caning is to be the subject of a free vote, I fail to understand why the same logic does not apply to gun control—a matter of far greater importance and one that touches the conscience of hon. Members far more. The Secretary of State must recognise that he will have resolved very little if he wins next week's vote as the result of having dragooned his colleagues into the Lobbies against their better judgment and their consciences.

It is the essence of a democratic society that people should have the right to undertake activities of which a majority might disapprove. Indeed, the test of a democracy is not the freedom that we allow those with whom we agree, but the freedom that we allow those with whom we profoundly disagree. As the trustees of people's democratic rights, Members of Parliament must always be careful about removing or restricting the freedoms of others.

I have never used a firearm in my life, but many decent, responsible citizens do. Some people, such as veterinary surgeons, casualty slaughterers and farmers who have to keep down vermin, need guns for their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of people take part in field and country sports and certain individuals, who between them hold around 200,000 handguns, are involved in various target sports. Although I do not share his conclusions, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) was right to say, in the debate on the Loyal Address on 28 October: We are assembled here to weigh carefully the rights and liberties of every section of the community, and gun club members have as much right as anybody else to have their views carefully considered when they are unpopular."—[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 385.] Everyone's freedom to do anything must, however, be balanced against the consequences that exercising that freedom poses to others. On any scale, the right to life—especially the right of a child to life—must come higher than the right to practise a sport. Where two sets of rights appear to collide, it is for Parliament to establish a new balance; that is what the Bill and this debate are about.

Following the establishment of the inquiry chaired by Lord Cullen, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton and I drafted evidence on behalf of the Labour party, which was submitted after considerable discussion in both the home affairs and the Scottish groups of the parliamentary Labour party. In that evidence, we sought to distinguish—as the law presently does—between shotguns and other firearms. We recognise that shotguns can kill human beings, but they are not designed for that purpose. Their size and the time it takes to reload them mean that they are far less likely to be used to effect a massacre than a pistol or other handgun. However, we said that there should a tightening of the licensing procedures, to which point I shall return later in my speech.

Handguns are different from, and inherently more dangerous than, shotguns. I know that that view is not recognised by the British Shooting Sports Council. In its "Public Relations Guide for Shooters", it made the astonishing statement that "guns are not dangerous". That assertion received short shrift from Lord Cullen, who said: No doubt a gun cannot kill if someone does not pull the trigger, but it is right to regard a gun as dangerous and to treat some guns as more dangerous than others. Handguns can be fired with greater speed and accuracy than shotguns, and can be far more easily concealed. Unlike shotguns, handguns have been developed for the purpose of killing other human beings. That puts them in a category by themselves.

Much of the sport of handgun shooting developed from that principal purpose.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

In a moment.

In many gun clubs, there is a constant reminder of the main killing purpose of handguns. The target shot at is not some abstract design of concentric coloured circles, but the representation of a human being—the so-called humanoid target.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the weapon most often used in armed crime is the sawn-off shotgun, yet he proposes to ban other weapons such as matchlock and flintlock pistols, which were last used in armed crime during the time of Dick Turpin?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Secretary of State gave a powerful answer to that sort of intervention when he pointed out that the reason why Lord Cullen's inquiry was established and the reason for this debate is that 17 people were murdered by the use of a lawfully held handgun. That is the issue before the House.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

If a person were to lose control of the coach he was driving and 17 passengers were killed, would the hon. Gentleman advocate a limit on the size of coach engines to two litres or a complete ban on coaches?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

That almost comes into the same category as the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed in the South Wales Echo on 30 October—I doubt they will be echoed in the House. The article stated: Now he wants people to be allowed to use guns to defend themselves and their property against intruders. Far from wanting restrictions on guns—a feeling that is widely shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—the hon. Member wants there to be a vast extension of the use of guns.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's point about coaches, when crashes have occurred and people have been killed, the House has been greatly concerned to ensure that effective safety measures are introduced with the aim of preventing such accidents from happening again.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

When referring to the weapons used by Thomas Hamilton as being legally held, my hon. Friend has repeated on at least three occasions this afternoon the form of words used by the Home Secretary. Indeed, the same was said in respect of Michael Ryan at Hungerford. Will my hon. Friend explain how, when the applications for certificates for the weapons were falsified, and when the police failed to exercise due diligence in checking the details on those applications, those weapons can be classified as legally held or lawful? How can that be?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I understand that my hon. Friend's views on the need for gun control differ from mine, but he must accept that there was no evidence in the Cullen report that due diligence was not exercised in respect of the granting of that licence. There was an argument about the judgment of individual police officers, but the issue most forcefully raised by the granting of the certificate to Thomas Hamilton is the defect in current procedures—in particular, the appeal mechanism that places the onus on the police to show why an applicant should not have a certificate, instead of the onus being on the applicant to show why he should have one. I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that we cannot avoid the fact that Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan were lawfully licensed holders of the weapons they used to effect a massacre.

Taking all those considerations into account, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton and I said in our evidence to Cullen: in general, given the lethal nature of handguns, we see a strong case for banning them altogether". We held out the possibility that an exception could be made for .22 single-shot weapons. We went on to say: the shooting fraternity must make a case for possession and if they can, they must suggest and accept restrictions and costs necessary to prevent such guns from being used for anything other than target practice".

At the conclusion of our evidence, we said that we should await the recommendations of Lord Cullen before coming to final conclusions". Lord Cullen rightly recognised the inevitable limitations on his inquiry. He confined himself, he said, to what I recommend should be considered". The question of banning certain types of firearms was, he said, peculiarly within the province of the Government and Parliament to decide. So, we have come to our own conclusions. Yes, they are based on Lord Cullen's expert considerations, but we do not substitute his judgment for our own.

First, we considered proportionality. Ever since the atrocity in Dunblane, those opposed to any serious extension of gun control have urged that what happened there should be put into perspective and that we should not get the matter out of proportion. I agree. In Scotland, in the whole of 1993, eight people were killed by the use of a firearm; in 1994, the figure was nine—17 people in Scotland were killed with a firearm in a two-year period. On 13 March this year, 17 people were murdered in just three minutes. In the whole of Scotland in the same two-year period, 15 children were murdered by any means—one fewer than were murdered in just three minutes at Dunblane. Those figures provide the perspective that the gun lobby seeks.

Then there is the argument that, in seeking much tighter control, we are simply being wise after the event. Indeed, it is a dismal commentary that, too often, it takes a single, terrible event to bring into sharp focus the need for action that, if taken before, might have averted the event or greatly reduced its risk. Much—perhaps most—of our safety legislation has been born of disaster.

The history of railway safety in the last century is essentially a history of fatal railway accidents. In this century, Aberfan, Piper Alpha, Zeebrugge, Hillsborough and many other fatal disasters might have been avoided if improved safety had been put in place in advance. In every case, the problem has been not a lack of proposals for improved safety, but the huge pressure in favour of the status quo unless and until disaster strikes or some terrible atrocity occurs.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk

I am slightly confused about the development of Labour party policy. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) wrote a letter to his constituents in September saying that he had no intention of banning innocent members of the public from owning guns. He went on to say: It is Labour party policy that people such as yourself will be able to go on owning handguns, but they must be kept safely under lock and key. I am well aware that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) says that there will be a free vote on the Opposition side, but at what point in time did Labour party policy change on the matter, given the supreme importance to the hon. Member for Hartlepool of the fact that he is obviously senior to the hon. Gentleman?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman should pay more attention to debates in the House. I answered that question on 28 October.

I claim no special foresight on gun control, but there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who can. In March 1987, four months before Hungerford, my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pressed the case on the then Home Secretary for tighter gun control. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) has consistently campaigned for tighter gun control. In May 1995, 10 months before Dunblane, he said: As legally held weapons easily fall into criminal hands, new gun controls are necessary."—[Official Report, 3 May 1995; Vol. 259, c. 281.] The right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) has long believed in tighter control—a lot longer than since the day in March when Dunblane occurred—and so have many people outside the House. The week before Dunblane, the Moss Side, Manchester, community association called for further restrictions on the availability of guns.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

The hon. Gentleman quoted some statistics about fatalities in Scotland. Can he make it clear whether those fatalities were the result of weapons that were held legally and whether those weapons were handguns, shotguns or a mixture of both? What exactly are the figures related to?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I will happily send the hon. Gentleman the full table that I was sent by the Library. Even if they were all held illegally, however, it would not help the hon. Gentleman's case because more people were murdered in three minutes by legally held weapons on 13 March than were murdered with firearms in Scotland throughout 1993 and 1994.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of people have been killed with legally held guns? Mr. Tony Hall, the father of one of the victims at Hungerford, has provided me with a list of 178 cases which he has picked at random from newspapers since the Hungerford tragedy.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to the public's attention. There is no doubt that legally held weapons are used by their licensed owners to commit crimes of murder and violence and that such weapons leap across into the criminal underworld.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from the subject of safety legislation having resulted from disaster and of what some of his colleagues suggested would happen if we did not have more controls, will he say whether he sees a distinction between improving the safety of an aircraft, ferry or some other such thing and banning the aircraft or ferry? Can he see the difference between doing more by way of control and banning handguns?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

That is a pretty far-fetched analogy, but I can certainly see the case for banning a particularly dangerous aircraft. Neither side of the House is proposing to ban all firearms. Shotguns and rifles will still be readily available for licensed use. We are discussing whether we should ban particularly dangerous firearms—handguns.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

To return to the intervention of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), is it not the case that if the police had been doing their job properly, Hamilton would never have obtained the licence? Does not Lord Cullen's report make it clear that at one point there was a conflict between two police officers, and he had to decide which of the two was lying in their evidence?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there was conflict between the advice of a junior officer and the judgment made by a senior officer—it is well known. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all see that the advice of the junior officer should have been followed. Before the hon. Gentleman continues his odious attacks on the way in which the police try to operate a difficult procedure, he should bear in mind the wholly unsatisfactory state of the law. Hamilton had no convictions and had not been to see a general practitioner for 20 years. There was no medical evidence to show that he was in the mental state that he patently was in, so the judgments were difficult. We also ought to recognise that police officers have to make such judgments every day and sometimes to stand by them five, 10 or 20 years later. That is difficult, and there is no suggestion in Cullen that the due process that is required by the unsatisfactory state of the law was not followed.

In 1970, the Home Office established a review of firearms control under the chief inspector of constabulary.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

Before my hon. Friend moves on, will he agree that it is pointless to argue about the failure of the police in this case because public safety and the safety of children must not rely on every policeman for ever more always getting it right? That is nonsensical.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I entirely agree. That is why we have to change the way in which the system operates. I was saying that, back in 1970, the Home Office established a review of firearms controls under the chief inspector of constabulary, but the fate of that review starkly illustrates the huge obstacles placed in the way of action to improve public safety where there has been no atrocity to focus public opinion. The findings of that review, contained in a Green Paper on firearms control, were published by the then Government in May 1973. It recommended highly restrictive controls on firearms, a ban on all semi-automatic rifles, a considerable tightening of the licensing procedure, and higher age limits.

Had that Green Paper's recommendations been implemented, Michael Ryan could not have lawfully possessed the AK47 rifle with which he killed eight of his 17 victims in Hungerford; and the police in Scotland would have found it much easier to refuse Thomas Hamilton his licence for the 9 mm Browning with which he killed his 17 victims. But such was the opposition to the Green Paper that the then Government abandoned it, and no proposals for action were forthcoming until after Ryan had committed his murders in 1987, and even then the proposals did not go far enough.

We must recognise that we failed after Hungetford to put in place the controls necessary significantly to reduce the risk of such an event ever happening again. The then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), said that the arrangements put in place must be robust enough to last, perhaps, another 20 years. Unfortunately, they were not, because they were watered down by pressure from the shooting interests.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake again. The 1973 Green Paper put forward cogent arguments for tighter controls. It made the point—we all acknowledge it—that no system of legal controls, however stringent, is likely to be wholly successful in preventing criminals from obtaining firearms, but it demolished the argument that there is no connection between the extent of lawful controls and the criminal use of firearms: If dangerous firearms and their ammunition had been easier to obtain within the law, if the requirements on legal holders to keep their firearms in safe custody had been less strict, is it plausible to suggest that the extent of criminal and irresponsible uses of firearms would have been less? … In its present form the law in some circumstances allows unsuitable persons to possess firearms, or persons to possess firearms without having a legitimate use for them, or to possess more firearms than are required for such uses, or to take inadequate precautions against theft or misuse.

Although controls were tightened somewhat in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, Lord Cullen reflected that view in his report. He endorsed research showing that there is a relationship between firearm ownership and firearm use. He explicitly rejected the contention that legally held firearms are of no significance to the commission of crime". Lord Cullen also reported that, during the past 20 years, there has been a considerable expansion of the use of larger-calibre and high-calibre handguns. That has led to the growth of combat shooting. It has also led some shooters to don the trappings of combat, such as holsters and camouflage clothing. It has also caused others to feel uneasy about what appears to be the use of guns as symbols of personal power.

I am one of the millions who feel uneasy about that, and who believe that we must now take effective measures to deal with the growth of an unpleasant gun culture. I know that the Bill, as well as the additional measures that we propose, will inconvenience many innocent and responsible people who happen to have gained enjoyment from the pursuit of target shooting sports, but I would address three points to them. First, as between participation in a sport and the preservation of life, the balance must fall firmly in favour of the right to life, not the right to a sport.

Secondly, even under our proposals, there will still be plenty of opportunities for enthusiasts to engage in shooting sports with rifles or shotguns.

Mr. Gallic:

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman must excuse me. Many hon. Members want to speak and I have already given way a dozen times.

Thirdly, the quality of representations that we have all received from the shooting lobby shows, I think, that responsible shooters have been ill served by their representatives, whose arguments have often been tendentious and highly personalised. Those arguments reached their nadir when Mr. Marcus Harrison, of the Sportsman's Association, recommended that shooters in pursuit of their case should distort information and manipulate facts". Mr. Harrison went on, disgracefully, to suggest: It is important for us to dig up any facts that can be used to question the integrity of those who run, organise, front and contribute to the Snowdrop campaign.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

No, I shall not give way.

It is of course the parents of Dunblane who are in the forefront of that campaign—bereaved parents described by Mr. Harrison, astonishingly, as "our enemies". Ever since Dunblane, the lobbyists for shooting organisations have adopted a complacent but in the end wholly self-defeating approach—one which clearly exasperated Lord Cullen, who said: Throughout the Inquiry the British Shooting Sports Council… were opposed in principle to any restriction on the availability of handguns; and objected not merely to the suggestion of one kind of ban or another but also … to various measures which stopped short of a ban. This entrenched attitude meant that as each measure was supposedly discredited what was at stake became the greater.

I said in the House on 16 October that we welcomed almost everything in the Secretary of State's statement and hence, by implication, in this Bill. The Secretary of State has made the case for going further than Lord Cullen recommended, so there is no need for me to detain the House by repeating what he said. The disagreement between us concerns whether there should be a complete ban on handguns in general civilian use. We believe that there should be.

The Secretary of State quoted the Association of Chief Police Officers in his support, but we strongly support the view of the Police Federation, which represents more than 100,000 police officers on the ground who argue for a complete ban on the compelling ground that the .22 calibre handgun is just as capable of killing as a larger calibre weapon. Indeed, if anything, the Police Federation understates the case. Some multi-shot .22s are quicker firing than larger calibre weapons, and easier to conceal. The August edition of the magazine Target Gun contained an article extolling the virtues of the .22 Black Mamba multi-shot pistol which, the article said, is virtually concealed in the firer's clenched fist.

Of the 40,000 .22 weapons already in circulation, at least 20,000—perhaps more—are of the multi-shot variety. There must be considerable anxiety that this number will grow as those who receive compensation for higher calibre weapons purchase .22 weapons.

The Home Secretary says that weapons will be kept in secure clubs, but the Bill provides for them to be transported under permit to and from competitions, of which many hundreds are held each year. Ironically, it was the British Shooting Sports Council which demolished the argument that such transportation outside clubs would be inherently safe, for it said in evidence to Lord Cullen: no matter what system of checks and paperwork is maintained in such circumstances, it would be a simple matter indeed for a shooter intent on recovering his guns to enter a competition, provide evidence to his club secretary that he had done so, recover possession of the complete gun together with the ammunition for it, and perpetrate an outrage. The BSSC itself thus predicted that, under such arrangements, its members may end up perpetrating an outrage.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood our proposal. The Bill will enable third parties, authorised by the police, to transport firearms from one club to another for the purpose of use in a competition—not the owner of the firearm but an authorised third party. The criticism that the hon. Gentleman has just read out is wide of the mark.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I do not think I have misunderstood the proposal at all. The Bill's proposals are not as tight as those in the Republic of Ireland, where I am advised there has been a complete ban on handguns since 1972, and the transportation of any such weapon must be undertaken by the Garda. The Bill does not allow for that. We take the evidence given by the shooters' council to Cullen very seriously.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Republic of Ireland is, to put it mildly, widely believed to be the repository of the largest collection of illegal weapons in Europe?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Of course I am aware of that, but it does not alter the fact that, to try to control the supply of weapons, there is a complete ban on lawfully held weapons in the Republic.

The other argument advanced by the Secretary of State was that a complete ban would drive underground an activity that could then be conducted without any safeguards for security."—[Official Report, 16 October 1996; Vol. 282, c. 835.] As I told the Secretary of State, I take that argument seriously, but I do not believe that that would happen. By definition, all the weapons under consideration are clearly identified, with the owner known to the police. Severe penalties would apply for any evasion. In any event, rather than going underground, there would be plenty of lawful opportunities for people to engage in shooting shotguns or rifles.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

No, I am sorry.

When the issue of compensation first arose—during consideration of the 1988 Firearms (Amendment) Bill—the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney, resisted the idea, saying that there were serious objections to compensation. Indeed, the White Paper published by him stated that the Government had concluded that, as a matter of principle, it was undesirable and unjust to require the taxpayer to pay for the removal from the public domain of weapons that were an acknowledged threat to life.

In the end, compensation was conceded, but the Minister of State at the time, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), went out of his way to say that the compensation scheme agreed cannot be regarded as any sort of precedent".—[Official Report, 17 May 1988; Vol. 133, c. 376.]

Parliament has long accepted that where a particular private interest is affected by legislation or by Government decision, proper compensation should be paid. The most usual cases are those in which homes or businesses are adversely affected—for example by road schemes. Different considerations surely apply where a general class of people is adversely affected by legislation—for example to improve public safety. The manufacturers of asbestos, flammable furniture foam and certain drugs have all found that their businesses have been undermined by changes in public safety regulations. As far as I am aware, no compensation has ever been paid to them. They have had to accept the risk.

When industries have been directly and seriously damaged by changes in tariffs, no compensation has generally been paid. Even in cases where compensation arises—for example in road schemes—the rules are tight. Many home owners in my constituency are to receive no compensation whatever for the serious loss of value to their homes caused by the construction of a motorway nearby.

In the present case we think it appropriate that compensation should be paid, not least to ease the process of compliance. However, like the right hon. Member for Witney and the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham, I do not believe that that should be seen as a wider precedent.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Those of us who follow the debate on Europe inside the Tory party have been greatly entertained by the sudden faith in European judicial institutions shown by former sceptics such as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). Last Thursday, he asked the Secretary of State whether there was a serious possibility that the judges of the European Court of Human Rights may oblige the British taxpayer to provide compensation on a much wider basis"—[Official Report, 7 November 1996; Vol. 284, c. 1350.]

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

We welcome with open arms hon. Members who, like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, have suddenly shown such faith in the European convention on human rights, and we look forward to his support for our plans to incorporate the European convention into British law.

I must tell the hon. Gentleman and others who are tempted down that path that it will take about seven years and tens of thousands of pounds to get a case to judgment, and that our best advice is that such a case has no chance of success. After all, article 1 of the European convention on human rights provides that everyone's right to life shall be protected by law". That seems to argue for total gun control. The convention is silent on compensation for gun owners. I will take three interventions, then I must make progress.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

The hon. Gentleman has made clear his view, as have the Government, that there is no precedent for compensating businesses. He has also made it clear that he supports compensation for individuals. Will he comment on compensation for groups of individuals who join to form a rifle club or, in this case, a pistol club, which will necessarily be closed by the Bill?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

These are complicated matters. If the hon. Gentleman has detailed proposals, I should be happy to consider them, as I know the Secretary of State would be.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Does not the hon. Gentleman know that the European Court of Human Rights is an organ of the 27-nation Council of Europe, which is a voluntary body, and has nothing whatever to do with the European Union?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I know that. If only other Conservative Members knew it, it would greatly assist the debate.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. For a while I had the feeling that he had something against Scots. He has repeatedly said that shooters will still be able to use rifles in pursuit of their sport. He is usually a great champion of the disabled. The disabled can use handguns, but cannot use rifles, especially from wheelchairs. Has the hon. Gentleman thought of that?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

As I said, I accept that many innocent people who are responsible shooters will suffer as a result of the changes. I regret that, but it is a matter of balance between the right of people to participate in a sport and the dreadful atrocities that have occurred and could occur in the future if handguns remain available. The hon. Gentleman and I come to different conclusions.

There are other issues that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will pursue in more detail in Committee. I shall mention two now. The first is the issue of age limits. Young people may not marry until they are 16; they may not hold a driving licence until they are 17; they may not drink in a public house or watch a violent film until they are 18; but they may possess a firearm, including a handgun or pistol, from the age of 14. I find that extraordinary. The minimum age of 14 is only a matter of police practice. As the Home Office evidence to Lord Cullen put it, the law does not set a minimum age for the issue of a firearm certificate". We believe that the law must be changed. There must be a minimum age of 18 on the civilian possession or ownership of rifles and any remaining licensed handguns, and tighter restrictions on the use of shotguns by minors.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I apologise to the hon. Gentlemen. I have given way a great deal and I must conclude my speech.

The second issue concerns airguns, which are not lethal in the way that shotguns or firearms are, but which can cause severe injury. They remain outside any licensing system. Only yesterday, the Press Association reported that someone had been blinded in one eye by an air rifle. I know from my hon. Friends that thousands of our constituents are harassed and intimidated by the use of air rifles. Because they are wholly outside regulations, no one knows how many there are in circulation. Lord Cullen raised concerns about the dangers posed by air weapons and drew them to the attention of the Home Office in his report. We believe that the time has come for a serious review to establish whether more effective regulation of airguns should be introduced.

My final point concerns the licensing system. Neither Ryan nor Hamilton should have received a licence, but both did. So, if newspaper reports are accurate, do many other unsavoury characters. The Times reported on 5 October that a disturbed gun enthusiast who drew up plans for a Hungerford style massacre… [had] succeeded in becoming the armourer at his local gun club". The Daily Express reported on 11 September how a man who shot his wife dead had been licensed to keep 18 weapons despite being in the grip of depression for six years".

Some say, as we have heard this afternoon, that that is all the fault of the police—that the regulations are satisfactory, but that the police have failed to do their job. Many of the most odious comments by members of the gun lobby have been their attacks on the police. In one of their published documents, they have accused the police of having an anti-gun agenda. That is bad enough, but I was astonished to learn that the shooting lobby has been encouraged in its attacks on the police by some hon. Members who should know better. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) launched an extraordinary attack on the police last week, saying: We have got to make absolutely sure that the police get a good kick in the pants for this"— their failure to implement proper firearms controls— and take their jobs more seriously where weapons are concerned". I believe that such intemperate assaults on the professionalism of the police are utterly irresponsible.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I stand by my remarks. He does not have to rely simply on my opinion. A recent edition of The Scotsman newspaper contained an exposé of Hamilton and described how he deluded the police time and again. It concluded that the police were lax and negligent in their actions and it drew disturbing parallels with Ryan and Hungerford. It was an in-depth newspaper article that demonstrated great veracity.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the Cullen report rather than The Scotsman. The newspaper article was completely wrong and at variance with Lord Cullen's conclusions. I am interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman—I gave him notice of my intention to raise the matter—does not resile from his attack on the police. In time, we shall remind him and some of his colleagues of their irresponsible behaviour in that regard.

Such attacks on the police demonstrate a significant ignorance of how the present controls work. The police do an excellent job controlling firearms, but they are severely hampered by a licensing system that, in practice, is stacked in favour of the applicant. The hon. Gentleman must consider that point. The changes in the Bill are welcome, but they do not go far enough and we shall seek to strengthen them in Committee.

No system of controls, however tough, can guarantee that there will never again be a Dunblane or a Hungerford. However, we know now that more effective controls would almost certainly have saved the lives of 34 innocent children and adults who were massacred in those two peaceful towns—and perhaps the lives of many others also. We owe it to those who were killed at the hands of those lawfully licensed gunmen to put effective controls in place. We must stop the creeping gun culture that is scarring our society.

This Bill is a welcome beginning, but I fervently hope that it will be greatly strengthened before it emerges from Committee and, above all, that the House will decide that handguns for general civilian use have no place in our society.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

All Back-Bench speeches are now restricted to 10 minutes, with the exception of the contribution by the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 6:02 pm, 12th November 1996

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which includes provisions outlawing the possession of handguns which, without evidence, go beyond the recommendations of the public inquiry conducted by Lord Cullen into the shootings at the Dunblane primary school on 13th March 1996.

I am pleased to move the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Biffen). He apologises for his absence this afternoon, which I attribute to the rapid progress of the legislation and an important previous engagement.

I am vice chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council and member of the council of the National Rifle Association—sadly, neither post is paid. I assure the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who quoted the views of the Sportsman's Association, that we dissociate ourselves from that statement and those of other organisations which lie outside our curtilage. We have sought to behave entirely responsibly and have employed professional advisers of the highest standard. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's accusations will not be levelled at the British Shooting Sports Council, which does not relish the description "gun lobby". We represent shooting rights in the same way as other legal and above-board organisations represent their members' rights.

I recognise the difficulties facing my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in many areas, not least as a result of the difficult events that have transpired since Dunblane. I believe that an acceptable solution would have been to adopt Lord Cullen's recommendations. Therefore, I have no difficulty with the amendment which states that that is how the Government should proceed. The Government appointed Lord Cullen to do more than simply investigate the events at Dunblane school: they spread wide his remit to include advice on firearms and firearms regulation and licensing. Those who are interested in the sport of shooting took a great deal of trouble to place our evidence before Lord Cullen. He was receptive to our views and asked us to return to clarify detailed points. I believe that it is an error not to adopt his recommendations, as he considered the matter so very carefully.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the report of the Forensic Science Service. Although I was assured that the report would be put in the Library last Thursday, owing to some confusion within the Department it arrived only this morning. When I have studied it, I may raise further points about that advice.

It is clear that in rejecting Lord Cullen's main recommendations the Government have their own agenda. I share the view that the Bill's objective should be to prevent an incident such as that at Dunblane from occurring again. I am sorry to inform the House, however, that I am far from convinced that the Bill will have that effect. Those of us who witnessed the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 said at the time that it would not prevent another disaster. It is almost impossible to legislate against lunatics. That problem is not confined to this country—someone tried to gas people on the Japanese underground recently and there was a flamethrower attack on a school in Northern Ireland. There are an endless number of maniacs who seek to kill people by one means or another.

In our case, the press—as is their wont—decided that someone or something must be to blame. A concerted campaign was organised in several national newspapers the day after the Dunblane incident. It grew in depth and intensity and stirred up emotions, not just in Scotland but across the length and breadth of the land, in a manner which did not reflect the views in my postbag. I have talked to many colleagues who do not see evidence of the supposed wave of public opinion: it is a case of the press feeding off the press, and of the media constantly giving interviews to one side of the argument.

It was not long before Labour Members pricked up their ears. It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Blackburn should urge us not to play party politics with such emotional matters when he produced lengthy evidence for the Cullen inquiry completely out of the blue. How is the Labour party expert on any aspect of the events at Dunblane?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of it, but the Home Secretary invited me and Labour representatives to submit evidence to the Cullen inquiry.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

That does not make such evidence any more relevant. I do not agree that there was consultation on the issue within the Labour party, as I know that those Labour Members who are sympathetic to shooting interests were not invited to give their views. Events progressed to the point where, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the Leader of the Opposition announced—long before Lord Cullen reported—that it was Labour policy to ban all handguns.

Unfortunately, the Government followed suit. There was no consultation with the Firearms Consultative Committee, which is now a marginalised organisation. It has been told that other recommendations which might have assisted in improving gun safety will not be included in the Bill.

I had hoped that the Opposition would adopt a sensible view regarding compensation. There is no precedent for legislation of this sort, which wipes out a section of a sporting community, affecting equipment, ranges and manufacturers. It is a new concept, so it is no wonder that there is no precedent for compensation. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will listen with a sympathetic ear. Although the small improvement in compensation that he announced today is very welcome, it does not go far enough in compensating the hundreds of people who will lose their jobs, for the many thousands of pounds in personal investments that will be lost, or for the misery that will be caused to law-abiding, innocent people who today operate a sensible business which will be outlawed tomorrow. I should add that there is no apparent appeals procedure, where the quantum or nature of compensation could be taken to a higher authority. I hope that that, too, will be part of my right hon. and learned Friend's consideration.

I agree with the comments made about the way in which 50-plus police forces all have a different method of administration. Of course they cannot work together, and for that reason, several years ago we suggested that there should be a national firearms administrative board, staffed by firearms experts, on a national basis, which would produce a national standard and a national register. Those were sensible, commonsense suggestions, but they were turned down by the Home Office.

There are many Committee points that I would like to make, but there is little time today. We were very pleased to learn that muzzle-loaders are to be exempt. I cannot understand why it was even considered that they should be included. The concession on heritage firearms is welcome. There are many other matters: for example, how long will it take to alter club security? What standards will be required?

The hon. Member for Blackburn mentioned a gun culture. I do not recall having seen sporting shooting on television, nor have I heard it reported. Only one newspaper even puts the Bisley results in. The gun culture in this country comes from television, video, the media—day after day, night after night. It should come as no surprise then that, if a madman gets loose, he should look to guns as his way of operating.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will remember very strongly that, since the 1988 Act, the number of legally held firearms has gone down and the number of illegally held firearms has gone up. It is the role of the House to protect minorities against oppressive legislation. I believe the Bill to be ill thought-out, illogical and unfair. I am happy to move the amendment, and I shall certainly not support the Bill's Second Reading.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith , Strathkelvin and Bearsden 6:11 pm, 12th November 1996

I have a particular interest in the Bill in that Thomas Hamilton ran a boys club in my constituency, which met on the Monday night before the massacre on the Wednesday. As a result, I was one of only two Members of Parliament who gave evidence to the Cullen inquiry. In addition, I have a professional interest in airguns which, if there is time, I shall mention briefly at the end.

Lord Cullen's inquiry was an analysis of what happened. He teased out events and then accepted various bits of evidence, from which he came to opinions and conclusions. They are just that. They are not absolute truths. There is nothing inherent in the report that the House must accept absolutely. The final judgment on the matter must be made by the House after assessing all the information. We are helped by Lord Cullen's inquiry, but we are not bound by it.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said that it is impossible to legislate against lunatics. I accept that. We can never absolutely rule out a recurrence of such an event, but we can try to reduce the possibility and potential of such events recurring. That is the basis of the matter.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare also suggested that somehow or other this is all a press campaign. That is not my impression. I come from Scotland and perhaps the mood there is very different, but I do not believe that. The slaughter of innocents is not a matter which stops at national boundaries. There is an aghast perception against it throughout the country. It is certainly my belief that this matter touches all of us throughout the country, no matter where we come from.

When discussing firearms, we have to realise that the evidence one way or another is not absolute. We should be careful how we handle the information. I think that the argument has been made that it is all about legally and illegally held handguns and that most crime is related to illegally held handguns. There are two separate issues here. There is the normal day-to-day crime, which is committed with or without illegally held handguns, but we are concerned with the one-off, occasional massacres, the mass murders, which are a different issue. The relationship of legal handguns to illegal handguns is therefore not necessarily relevant. I should point out, however, that there is no evidence whatever that crime is committed solely, or even in the majority of cases, with illegally held handguns. The Select Committee examined that matter, and the glaring fact is that there is no statistical basis for that.

Another argument is the comparison between various countries and the relationship between guns and crime: more guns in the United States, more crime; fewer guns in this country, less crime. I caution everyone against such comparisons. We all know that various countries do not fit into this picture. The factors involved in different countries can vary in terms of density of population. climate, or whatever, so it is difficult to draw conclusions. We have to conclude that, so far as the evidence and statistical facts are concerned, positive proof one way or another is not within our grasp and never will be. We simply have to make a judgment on what we have before us.

Another point that is regularly made is that if the regulations were tightened and new ones applied we could prevent a recurrence of these events. There is some force and judgment in that. The regulations could be improved. I should like to see the Select Committee's recommendation implemented—that a person applying for a licence for a firearm should have the medical information that he or she supplies verified by his or her general practitioner. That does not mean that the GP should say whether the person is suitable for a firearms certificate, just that the evidence given is correct. That would be a step forward. I also support the proposal that the onus should be on the individual to give good reason why he or she should continue.

Even if all those regulations were in place, at the end of the day we still could not guarantee that it would prevent a recurrence of these events. The regulations are implemented by individuals, who are fallible. No matter how tight we make them, these are individual judgments, and mistakes will always be made. I have therefore reached the conclusion that the only way to deal with the issue is to reduce the number of handguns and weapons in our society.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) who asked the Home Secretary how many lives would be saved. That information will never be available to us. The numbers are small, but we could never reach a conclusion on that. All that we can say is that, by reducing the number of guns, it is likely that the number of such events in future will be reduced. I accept that going the whole hog and even removing .22 calibre rifles is an infringement of the civil liberties and rights of some individuals. The House should not remove those liberties lightly. It is important to remember that, as was expressed by the Home Secretary and by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), from time to time the House has to make a balanced judgment and decision. That is our job. Finally, we shall have to do it. That is one of the duties of the House. Sometimes, in the national interest and in the interests of the majority of people, we have to remove rights from others. I make the judgment, which I stand by, that in this case it is necessary to do that.

I am disappointed that airguns are not mentioned in the Bill. I hope that we shall be able to discuss airguns in Committee. I have professional experience of looking after patients who have been injured by airguns: two of them died as a result of their injuries. I have seen the devastation that an airgun pellet causes when fired through the eye socket into the brain. We have no information about the number of airguns held, and the police take the view that airguns would be difficult to regulate, but they must be regulated. We should use this opportunity to consider that problem and bring airguns within the Firearms Act 1968.

Events in Dunblane are seared on the memories of all hon. Members on both sides of the House, without exception. We owe it to those who died at Dunblane and to their parents to ensure that the legislation is right. I and others have been accused of being too emotional. I do not know how a person can be too emotional on this matter. Emotions play a part in our relationships with others. The well accepted philosophical view is that moral relationships are, in part, bound by emotions, and our emotions decide what is right and what is wrong. My view is that it is right for us to ban all handguns and I ask the House to accept that view.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the crucial argument in the debate is whether handguns should be banned or whether, as an alternative, they should be dismantled. The Cullen report came down heavily in favour of their being dismantled: one part going to the owner, the other part to a gun club. The Forensic Science Service, to which the Home Secretary referred—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. I hope that the hon. Member is going to ask me to rule on this matter in my role as Deputy Speaker and not from my knowledge of firearms.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

When the Home Secretary gave his reasons for making his decision, he undertook to ensure that the evidence was available in the Library. I have just been to the Library and the evidence is not there. We are therefore undertaking a debate without the evidence relating to the core of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. That is a matter for debate. I imagine that the Government Front Bench heard the hon. Member.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agreed to a suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) that the document should be placed in the Library. I was given to understand that it was now in the Library. If that is not an accurate understanding, I shall ensure that it is placed there without further delay.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale 6:22 pm, 12th November 1996

I hope that those interventions will not come out of my 10 minutes.

I shall begin by making two points. First, I have been the holder of a firearms certificate for many years. I have two handguns: they are first world war trophies which belonged to my father. They were dismantled at the police's request, and the parts are kept in separate places. I have never fired them: I cannot remember firing a pistol in my life. I am not a member of a gun club, and I cannot remember visiting one. Secondly, I yield to no one in my absolute horror at the tragedy in Dunblane. There will not be anyone in the House who does not share that view.

1 am always concerned when a media-led campaign produces yet again an over-hasty, knee-jerk reaction from the Government. We have seen that too often over the years on both sides of the House. I thought that the Government had learnt their lesson. I hope that the Home Secretary has seriously taken on board Conservative Members' less than supportive reaction to the proposals.

It is right to have strict gun controls. The House knows about my interest in the United States. I have publicly criticised its gun laws, which are hopelessly lax. If anyone wants an argument against having a written constitution, that is one of the strong cases to use. I would not argue for a moment that we must not call in many of the handguns in circulation.

I welcome the relaxation proposals for heritage weapons which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced earlier. We shall hear more details later. I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to explain the position of museums of historic weaponry. I spent Saturday afternoon in the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, which is one of the world' s great exhibitions of armoury. I hope that there is nothing in the Bill that will reduce that wonderful museum.

My main concern is about the effect of the Bill on gun clubs. I have great sympathy with early-day motion 136 in the name of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), which is very much on the lines that I want to pursue. I am especially concerned about the effect of the Bill on the perfectly legitimate sport of pistol shooting.

The Government have resisted pressure to ban all gun club sports—I commend them for that. I could not disagree more with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who spoke in favour of a total ban. No adequate reasons have been given for an upper .22 limit on handguns that are properly controlled, and that are used by responsible people in shooting clubs.

The message that comes from the Conservative Benches is that shooting sport is not disreputable. It is pursued almost entirely by thoroughly admirable people. Many people learn to use pistols during their professional lives in the armed services or in the police. When people retire from those services, there is no good reason why they should not be allowed to continue to improve their skills and to pursue a sport that, after all, as many hon. Members have said, is an Olympic sport. I cannot understand why those people should be treated as pariahs under this legislation.

It is hard to imagine a more sensible and responsible group of people than those of my constituents who approached me on this matter. They are thoroughly decent people. I guess that all hon. Members would find it difficult to argue with that view, because almost everyone in the House has been approached by members of gun clubs. I do not believe that they should be deprived of their sport of firing higher-calibre handguns just because of an isolated, appalling incident.

The police force was grossly negligent. I heard what the hon. Member for Blackburn said, but he cannot let the police off the hook. A senior police officer had to resign as a consequence of their failure to prevent the dreadful man Hamilton from obtaining a licence. I should have thought that that resignation was sufficient condemnation of the police in Scotland who were involved in this case.

I am especially concerned about people who run gun clubs. I want to read a letter that I did not expect to receive from people whom I cannot remember meeting—I shall not give their names. They live in Sedbergh in my constituency, and their case is probably typical of others up and down the country. My husband and myself are hard working, law abiding citizens who have never been a drain on the NHS or DSS or out of work. Although not well paid we are self sufficient—do not cause a nuisance to anyone and respect other people's rights.Several years ago the opportunity arose to convert a remote quarry to a shooting range for full bore pistol. After several years of physical and financial labour the range met all required specifications laid down and a club was formed and since that date the membership has grown steadily with a wide range of people harmlessly enjoying their sport. Members include police, professional, business, working class—with a fair proportion of family memberships—parents and juniors who have learned to respect the gun and use it safely.Now all our hard work and years of pleasure are to cease. Tens of thousands of innocent, law abiding citizens are being persecuted although they have committed no crime.

I believe that that sums up what is in the minds of many hon. Members. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's announcement of an extension to cover equipment in the money motion, but it does not go far enough. If we are determined to clobber the shooting fraternity—I hope that we are not—we really must compensate them properly.

I strongly support what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), who is now here with us. I do not care about the precedents, of which there are a good many. I am thinking particularly of compensation for those involved in the fishing industry: for many years, decommissioning grants have been awarded to people whose businesses have been clobbered by other policies. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will think again, and compensate people who, through no fault of their own, are being deprived of their livelihood and a large part of their assets.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 6:31 pm, 12th November 1996

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) has expressed a view that is echoed by many Conservative Back Benchers. It is important for many views to be expressed in a debate such as this, but I think that we shall remember that, referring to the banning of guns, Lord Cullen said in paragraph 9.111 of his report: proposals such as a ban on the possession of a certain type of firearm raise questions which are peculiarly within the province of the Government and Parliament to decide. Ultimately, the buck stops with us: it is for us to make that decision—a decision that I think Parliament will want to address very seriously.

As we are too painfully aware, the origins of the Bill lie in the tragic events that took place at Dunblane primary school on 13 March this year, when Thomas Hamilton—with what can only be described as evil intent—opened fire on a class of innocent children. We should not pretend that passing the Bill will somehow draw a line under the tragedy of Dunblane, but I hope that, by producing legislation, the Government have acknowledged what the vast majority of our fellow citizens believe to be true: that, despite the reforms prompted by the Hungerford killings, our firearms legislation requires further strengthening. We hope that, at the very least, Parliament will try to make our country a safer place for our citizens.

My right hon. and hon. Friends start from the position that the protection of the public is a paramount duty of Parliament. It must be admitted that, in an imperfect world, we do not always get it right; but, after the tragedy of Dunblane, we recognise the need to address the issue again. In this context, we do not believe that the ownership or use of a gun can be considered a right. It is a privilege, and a privilege that can be granted only within a framework of regulation that provides the highest degree of public safety. An important part of that regulatory framework must be control over who is issued with a firearms certificate. I doubt that we shall ever be able to construct a foolproof system, but any system that licenses people like Michael Ryan or Thomas Hamilton requires significant review and amendment.

My colleagues and I feel that perhaps too often the existing regime has been tilted towards the applicant. In today's debate, Central Scotland police have already been the object of some criticism, but, having talked to senior police officers in Scotland—not members of Central Scotland police—I have been left with the clear impression that they have been dealing with firearms certificate applications in a climate in which refusal has been regularly and readily appealed against, often with financial backing from the shooting lobby. Unless the case for refusal was watertight, the police hesitated before refusing. Whereas the law does not stipulate or express presumption in favour of a certificate being granted, it appears that practice was very much to that effect.

We welcome the provisions in part III of the Bill which tighten up on the granting of firearms certificates. The provision to extend the powers for revocation of firearms and shotgun certificates is particularly welcome. In their submission to Lord Cullen's inquiry, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland noted: Unless a certificate holder sustains a criminal conviction during the currency of his certificate, the conditions for revocation may not apply in practice. Indeed, in his report, Lord Cullen draws attention to the fact that section 30 of the current Act makes no provision for the revocation of a firearms certificate owing to the loss of a good reason. It is right that the Bill rectifies that anomaly.

Another clause in part III relates to ammunition. I note the prohibition on expanding ammunition, and the appropriate exemptions for the lawful shooting of deer or control of vermin. Let me draw to the Minister's attention a letter passed on to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). It is from a constituent who is a firearms expert, and raises doubts about what is intended—or not intended—by the clauses on ammunition. I do not wish to make what would essentially be a Committee point; I shall pass the closely argued text of the letter to the Minister. It makes the following point, however: Sporting bullets are designed to expand and if possible dissipate energy within the body of the animal. Is the Home Secretary suggesting that sportsmen use solid, full patch bullets? These are specifically designed not to expand and intended for human targets … they would pass through the body of an animal with little loss of velocity, hit the ground and ricochet in all directions. not good for public safety one might think. I simply ask for such arguments to be considered in detail, so that we can ensure that we pass sensible legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the Bill."] I think that the Minister takes my point. I said that the vermin exemption was in the Bill.

As a general rule, we should be particularly careful in passing any legislation when there is a degree of bipartisanship in the approach. We must make sure that we get it right. As is obvious, however, this Bill does not command support across the Floor of the House in every respect. That is particularly the case in regard to how far the ban on handguns should go. I agree with hon. Members who have said today that the House should think hard and deeply before banning an activity that has hitherto been legitimate. As Lord Cullen rightly pointed out, this is ultimately a matter for Parliament.

The Bill proposes some exemptions. I imagine that those who are drafting amendments in favour of a complete ban would allow exemptions for veterinary surgeons, for instance. I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement today that some heritage and antique weapons are also to be included. We look forward to seeing the detail of those proposals. As far as I am aware, there is no history of misuse of such weapons.

Clearly, the key issue is whether we should go beyond what the Government propose, limiting legally held handguns to those of .22 calibre. By banning some handguns—by going further down the road than Lord Cullen recommended—the Home Secretary has made clear his belief that fewer handguns will lead to safer communities and a reduced chance of another Hungerford or Dunblane. I believe that the majority of Members of Parliament, the public and the police would support that. Why, then, should smaller guns be exempt from that logical conclusion? As the Police Federation of England and Wales has concluded, handguns are particularly lethal. A person skilled in their use can murder a large number of victims in an incredibly short time.

If we fail to extend the ban to all handguns, we leave open the possibility of development of smaller handguns. By the very nature of the market, if a commodity is limited the natural consequence will be greater investment in similar goods that are left. That is why it is perhaps misleading, although not deliberately so, to assume that, if what is currently proposed would affect 80 per cent. of handguns, that 80 per cent. will always be the figure. Many of those who give up what will become illegal handguns could well then buy what will subsequently be legal.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) mentioned the number of homicides involving handguns. In paragraph 9.11 of his report, Lord Cullen points out: in 12.5 per cent. of the firearms-homicides in Scotland in the years 1990–94 … the firearm was lawfully held by the perpetrator. He goes on to say that the use of legally held firearms in crime was "significant", although small. That evidence cannot be lightly ignored.

Another consequence of the partial ban under the Bill is the obligation of smaller handgun owners to keep their weapons in a licensed club, a measure that could lead to the creation of larger arsenals. Initially, my colleagues and I were willing to consider support for a partial ban, coupled with an assessment of the feasibility of ensuring that firearms for sporting purposes are kept inside a suitable armoury, subject to nationally agreed standards. Ironically, the Government's response on that aspect of secure storage and the scepticism with which it was met by police persuaded many of my colleagues that that was not a viable option.

The Government's White Paper in response to Lord Cullen's report states that few, if any, existing clubs will meet the criteria. Enforcement of such a partial ban, with such strict club security arrangements, will be complex and costly, certainly compared with, as it were, the clean way of approaching the matter—an outright ban. The hon. Member for Blackburn read out the comments of the British Shooting Sports Council on transport. In clause 8(8), the Secretary of State is given power to designate, by order, the competitions to which people are allowed to take weapons. I am not sure whether he would intend to exercise that power, whether all competitions would be allowed or whether he has in mind some competitions, but that underlines the considerable bureaucracy and cost that will be associated with trying to police and enforce the partial ban.

Moreover, it has been claimed that the security requirements will further reduce the number of legally held handguns in circulation to well below the 20 per cent. shown in the Government's response. If the intended effect is to achieve a near complete ban by the back door, it would be far better for Parliament's credibility if we were to do it by the front door. I hope that, even at this late stage, this will be an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to exercise their individual conscience and judgment.

On compensation, it is the duty of the House not to punish the innocent. Clearly, a vast majority of firearms enthusiasts are not criminals. I agree with the comments of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). Those of us who have met firearms enthusiasts at our surgeries will recognise the integrity of many of those people, who are going to lose out not only by an outright ban, but even by a partial ban. When it deprives many people of their hitherto legal sport, the House must face up to the consequences with regard to compensation.

As it stands, what the Bill proposes is inadequate. It was therefore welcome news to hear the Home Secretary announce that he is willing to hear further debate before closing the door on compensation, which would have been the effect if the money resolution were passed this evening. He accepts that, as well as the weapons, there are the accompanying accessories, ammunition and specialist equipment. We said that there was no precedent for small businesses being covered, but perhaps it would be interesting to know whether there is any precedent in such circumstances for small businesses not to be covered.

I ask the Minister to deal with the fact that many people will have what will be, technically, legal handguns—if the Bill is passed as it stands—but will not find an outlet for using them if all clubs in their region cannot meet security requirements. If, in effect, they have to give up their weapons—because they cannot use them anywhere—it would be only fair if they were entitled to compensation.

If gun owners are not adequately compensated, that not only would be unfair but would potentially lead to the Bill not working effectively. If compensation is inadequate, many gun owners may be less likely to part with their weapons. They may find overseas markets with a higher price and thereafter those guns may find their way back illegally into Britain. That could lead to the legislation's aims being defeated. I hope that there will be a proper opportunity for the Government to listen to the legitimate demands for much wider compensation.

Let us not pretend that, by passing the legislation, even amended to extend to a full handgun ban, we can guarantee that somewhere, sometime, some wicked or deranged person will not cause a further outrage. Constant effort, for example, will be needed to combat the illegal use of guns. We can legislate to make such outrages less likely by restricting the guns legally available and by restricting those to whom certificates may be granted.

The Bill goes some significant way towards achieving that. It should be supported, but it can be made better still by the amendments that we will debate next week.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 6:44 pm, 12th November 1996

The headquarters of target shooting in Britain are at Bisley in my constituency. I have been involved with shooting ever since I was elected to the House. I have been a co-opted member of the National Rifle Association council for 30 years. I do not own—and it is a long time since I have shot with—either a revolver or a pistol, but I have many friends and constituents who do. Many of them will be adversely affected by the Bill.

Having said that, I still assert that every member of the shooting community in Britain was just as appalled and shocked by the Dunblane tragedy as the rest of nation. I resent the implication that sometimes arises in discussion that that is not so.

What happened at Dunblane exposed serious deficiencies in the present law and in its enforcement, and the need for fresh legislation, but we all need to recognise that, if we are to legislate, we should not do so under any illusions. No Bill can undo what happened at Dunblane, wreak revenge on the man Hamilton or guarantee that mass murder will not occur again by some other means. One has to consider only the Oklahoma tragedy to recognise what can be done with materials that are easily available for public purchase.

Any Bill that we consider must be thought through properly and framed carefully. I am sorry to have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that the Home Office does not seem to have persuaded Britain as a whole that the legislation is as carefully framed as it should be. Certainly, it has not persuaded the shooting community, which generally supports the recommendations of Lord Cullen's excellent report, but which in many cases is not persuaded that the Government's solution of going beyond Cullen is justified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) has just handed me the letter from the Forensic Science Service, on which the Government appear to rely in going beyond Cullen. Although the limitations of time do not make it possible for me to read it out, I hope that hon. Members will read it. I should be surprised if they thought that it is very adequate in what it says.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary upset people in the way that he handled the matter. I do not understand why he did not keep his undertaking to consult the Firearms Consultative Committee before coming to the House with legislation, particularly in relation to Lord Cullen's preferred option not to ban larger-calibre pistols and revolvers, but to require them to be dismantled when stored. That refusal has led to much suspicion, which was not necessary and which needs to be ironed out in full debate. There has been no proper test of the practicality of Lord Cullen's option and many people remain convinced that it is a workable solution that would save bureaucracy and public expense.

I hope that the Home Secretary will understand that he does not carry full conviction on his decision and that the owners of guns that are to be banned have some justification in thinking that they are being used as scapegoats, which is unfortunate. They are overwhelmingly decent, law-abiding citizens, as many hon. Members have said. Their sport has been legitimate and is internationally recognised as such. If they are to be deprived of it, after the Bill has had full consideration in the House, it is obviously equitable that they should have full and proper compensation.

I welcome the Government's decision to withdraw the money resolution that they originally tabled. I shall reserve judgment on compensation until I see what form the fresh money resolution takes. Although we have been encouraged to believe that it might deal with the vexed questions of historic guns and antique guns and weapons, what is to be the position with regard to collections of guns? How are they to be valued? How, in particular, is the very important matter of loss of livelihood to be treated under the new money resolution?

I received a letter today from a constituent who works as a gunsmith. He started 20 years ago as an apprentice and is now a partner in the business, which stands to be ruined by the Bill. Surely he must be entitled to proper compensation, as must all others in the same position. It is monstrous that, simply because there are restrictions on public expenditure, the House should consider allowing such people to be victimised and penalised in the way that is likely to happen under the Bill. After all, it was not the owners of pistols and revolvers who allowed Hamilton to hold and use his guns, so they should not bear the brunt of the penalty.

I am satisfied to some extent by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said. He has undertaken to produce amendments and his concession on compensation is something that the House should welcome. However, matters have not yet reached the position where I would feel disposed to support the Bill. Indeed, if the money resolution had not been withdrawn for amendment, I should most certainly have voted against it.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell , Great Grimsby 6:50 pm, 12th November 1996

I welcome the Bill as a further strengthening of the firearms legislation. However, we could achieve the objective that we all have in common—to control access to handguns, to ensure that a repetition of Dunblane is not possible and to make it impossible for people to have complete handguns outside licensed and controlled premises—by the much simpler proposal of requiring dismantling of guns.

I tabled an amendment that was not selected. My early-day motion 136 fits in with the reasoned amendment moved by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), which is a more bland and statesmanlike version of my proposal. Everybody has in common the aim of taking guns off the streets, preventing them from being available outside licensed premises and making another Dunblane impossible. We can make it impossible to have complete guns outside licensed premises by requiring guns to be dismantled. In other words, part of the gun—presumably the heavier part—would be kept at the gun club under security, while the other, lighter and more portable part could be taken home by the gun owner. If that were to be the basic approach in our legislation, it would be cheaper, safer and less draconian than a ban, whether complete or partial, such as the Government are proposing.

I am making my suggestion out of rational motives. I am not a gun enthusiast; indeed, I do not like guns. I am not persuaded by the arguments that the gun lobby has put before us. I am not part of the gun lobby. I do not like speaking for anyone else. That is a problem I often have in politics because I rather like to put my own point of view. I have reached my point of view by reading the evidence, reading the Cullen report and reading the Government's reply. I hope that I am suggesting a rational approach. I believe that it is the most direct and effective route to securing what we all want.

This is an emotive issue. We pass the worst legislation when we rush into it under the influence of strong emotion. We must stop and think. So far, the Government have taken a rational approach by appointing Lord Cullen to carry out a full inquiry. That was very sensible. Indeed, if there had been such an approach after Hungerford, Dunblane might never have happened. There are the beginnings of a rational approach and we must see where that takes us.

In paragraph 9.106 of his report, Lord Cullen said: I am satisfied that of all the measures which stop short of a ban the one that is open to the least objection on the ground of practicability is the temporary dismantling of the self-loading pistols and revolvers by the removal of major components … It has the merit that it does not require clubs to accommodate the handguns, with the various accommodation and security problems which I have already mentioned. In each case the component which is removed could be kept by a club official or on the club premises, where there was adequate space and security for the purpose, while the remainder of the handgun would be kept by the shooter at home. Lord Cullen repeats that recommendation in paragraph 9.112.

The Government should consider that approach to see whether it would fulfil their objective. However, there is no evidence that the Government have considered that approach with the same open-mindedness shown by Lord Cullen. Instead, they have concentrated on refuting another of Lord Cullen's suggestions—that there should be barrel blocks. They said that that would be impossible and it probably would be. However, they have ignored the most serious and important recommendation of dismantling.

The Government said in their reply that dismantling was not a practical proposition for some types of handgun. I am no expert; I do not know guns. However, people who do know guns tell me that it is possible to dismantle 95 per cent. of handguns. Indeed, handguns must be dismantled for cleaning. The Government could then ban any handguns that could not be dismantled. That would be an easy way round the problem. I do not understand why the Government did not adequately consider that proposal.

The Home Secretary said this afternoon that frequent dismantling could affect weapons through wear and tear, making them less reliable and less accurate. People interested in shooting would not buy guns that became less accurate over a period. The guns must be dismantled for cleaning. It is not a complicated, technical operation requiring the attendance of a specialist.

The advantages of dismantling are enormous. For example, currently the costs of compensation are unknown and unpredictable. We do not know how much it will cost to compensate people fairly and reasonably, as we must do. That problem would not exist under the dismantling proposal. The dangers of theft raids on licensed premises and the massive security required if clubs are to keep .22s would not exist, because any raider would get only incomplete weapons. That is equally true of a raid on the home of a gun owner.

An extremely important point is that the proposal is less draeonian than the Government's proposals and would allow the sport to continue. I have had intermittent discussions on the issue with the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). He appears to be more inclined to talk about it on radio and television than in the Chamber. He is not here at the moment. He evinces—as many do—a great distaste for gun clubs and their members. I do not share that distaste. Some of my constituents are members of gun clubs and they have a right to enjoy their sport. I would not get any pleasure out of it. The only shooting equipment I want to handle is an old camera. Being a Yorkshireman, that is much better, because a gun can cost about £1,000 while a 1938 Retina costs £25 and gives me much greater pleasure than handling guns.

If people can be enabled to carry on their sport in controlled and licensed premises, why not? We must draw a balance between freedom and control, and we can achieve that through the dismantling proposal. I discussed the matter this morning with some of the parents of children killed at Dunblane. I am grateful to them for being prepared to talk to me. I did not convince them in any way. Indeed, they were far more effective in convincing me than I was in convincing them. They raised objections saying, for example, that in 1989 one man killed somebody in a gun club in Stockport. No proposal could stop that happening—certainly not either mine or the Government's.

The parents asked about illegal weapons. The Bill does not increase penalties and sanctions for possession of illegal weapons, as it should. They also asked about the problem of people using spare parts to replace parts left at clubs—a problem that could easily be dealt with through licensing conditions. A police representative at the meeting said that a dismantling requirement would be more difficult to enforce. It probably would, but it would be less expensive than the current proposals. Moreover, we must put effort into enforcement if we are to make control effective.

At the end of my discussions with the people from Dunblane—I am grateful to them for seeing me and discussing the issue with me—I came to the conclusion that they want, first, to end the gun culture. They are right in wanting to reach that goal, but it will achieved through a long-term process of education and controlling violence on television, which we should support.

Secondly, the parents want a complete handgun ban. From their viewpoint, they are right to want that, and in similar circumstances I, too, would want it. But the Bill does not provide a complete ban. My proposal, which echoes the Cullen report, will provide much more effective control.

Ultimately—after the parties have imposed three-line whips or allowed free votes, and hon. Members have expressed their views—there is no guarantee of the type of ban that will emerge. Will the ban be partial or complete? To approach the issue through dismantling would obviate that problem, because it would provide the enormous advantage—

7 pm

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I warmly welcome the Bill and the extent to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has acted on the issue of handgun control. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for the part that he has played in ensuring that the Government have come as far as they have. We should be quite clear about the fact that the Bill is not a knee-jerk reaction by the Government. The Cullen inquiry was conducted over many months, and now, after considered reflection, the Bill has been introduced and we are debating it, after which hon. Members will have to decide what will happen.

Although I welcome the Bill and the Government's actions, I firmly believe—from some of the noises that have been made on the Conservative Benches, some hon. Members believe differently—that there is no distinction between .22 calibre weapons and other handguns. I plan to table an amendment to the Bill in Committee which, if selected, would propose to ban all handguns.

The question that we must ask is: what will be the effect of legislation on .22 shooting and gun ownership? Is it safe to allow .22s to be kept in the manner proposed in the Bill? I have heard two versions—both from Ministers, so at least one version must be right—of what will happen. The first possibility is that compensation will be used by target shooters to buy a .22, and therefore the number of people with .22s will increase greatly.

The second possibility is that .22 target shooting will not prove popular with target shooters—as my local target shooters have told me—and the restrictions will be so rigorous that the sport will disappear. Both outcomes cannot happen.

It would be unacceptable if the first possibility were to happen, and we ended up with more .22s and a return to the gun culture that many of us would like to be abolished in the United Kingdom. If the second possibility is more likely, perhaps we should—as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said—be a bit more honest and say at the outset that we will ban .22s.

The issue is not simply a matter of licensing. I have heard Conservative Members in this debate say—from a sedentary position or by intervening—that Dunblane was the fault of Central Scotland police and an example of the licensing system not being operated properly. Of course there were faults in the licensing system, but the Cullen report states, time and again, that no licensing system could stop another Thomas Hamilton. Very helpfully, the British Shooting Sports Council made it clear that it agrees with that statement. It said: no matter what system of checks and paperwork is maintained in such circumstances, it would be a simple matter indeed for a shooter intent in recovering his guns to enter a competition, provide evidence to his club secretary that he had done so, recover possession of his complete gun together with ammunition for it, and perpetrate an outrage". So everyone is agreed that it is not merely a matter of licensing, and that we must go further.

If we are to consider allowing .22s to be kept under the conditions set out by the Government, we should, first, consider those weapons. We must be clear that the .22 is the chosen weapon of Mossad, the Special Air Services and, allegedly, of professional assassins. Moreover, the shooters' lobby—to which I am again grateful—praised .22s as being better, easier to use and equally lethal.

Page 117 of the Cullen report states: It should not be supposed that .22 rimfire cannot be as lethal as other ammunition. The BSSC pointed out that at point-blank range and aimed at vital parts of the body .22 cartridges would be as lethal as 9 mm. At the bottom of the page, it states: The BSSC pointed out that due to the lower recoil forces involved in .22 rimfire it was possible to fire a greater number of controlled and carefully aimed shoots in a given space of time than was possible with centrefire. So we cannot rely on the fact that those weapons are safe.

Those weapons were not safe for Mr. Duncan Allman, a father of three who was shot at his gun club, where he was acting as the range officer. Not one proposal in the Bill would have done anything to save him. Perhaps someone should explain to the families of Robert Kennedy, Yitzhak Rabin or Ronald Reagan—who was nearly killed with a .22—that .22s are safe. Perhaps someone should explain it to James Brady, who was disabled and nearly killed by a .22. In my judgment, and in the judgment of the shooting fraternity, .22s are equally lethal, and they should be banned.

I share the view expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that, in general, target shooters are reasonable people who simply want to go about their law-abiding activity of shooting at targets. I have spoken to many shooters in my constituency and have visited the gun clubs that some of them use. I pay tribute to their reasonable approach in their discussions with me, even after I came to the view that we should ban their sport. I must agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn, however, that the BSSC has done nothing to help the case of shooters; in fact, shooters have been let down very badly by the BSSC. At paragraph 9.110 of his report, Lord Cullen states: throughout the Inquiry the BSSC who acted as the umbrella body representing the interests of the shooting community at large were opposed in principle to any restriction on the availability of handguns; and objected not merely to the suggestion of one kind of ban or another but also … to various measures which stopped short of a ban. We have seen that type of belligerence and negative attitude in this debate.

Some aspects of the campaign by shooting organisations should be rejected by the House, and hon. Members who support shooting organisations in this debate should make it clear that they distance themselves from those aspects. The action against Ann Pearston, from the Snowdrop campaign, has been an absolute disgrace. She became involved in that campaign, although she had never been involved in politics before. In a whispering campaign by shooters, she has been accused of being a poll tax evader, of being at Greenham common and of raising money for the IRA. All those allegations are false, but no apology has ever been given or statement withdrawn by the shooters. The Dunblane parents—my God, one would have thought that they had suffered enough losing children who were barely more than babies—have been described by the National Pistol Association as "the enemy". What a disgrace. They have received hate mail from shooters for a long time.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

I shall be happy to take an intervention when I have finished this point.

Is it not a disgrace that the people who lost their children have had to have their mail diverted so that others can sift it before they see it?

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

Perhaps my hon. Friend ought to know that after the comments that I made—I hope to catch your eye later and refer to them, Madam Deputy Speaker—I received hate mail and death threats. I have received some extraordinary letters from people threatening my life. The traffic is not all one way. We should not be trading emotions, but my hon. Friend ought to know the facts from the other side.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Harrow West

Naturally, I deplore what has happened to my hon. Friend as well, but Mr. Marcus Harrison, who has already been mentioned in the debate, clearly does not deplore what has happened and regards such behaviour as merely part of the rough and tumble of the campaign.

The Dunblane parents have been accused of coercing children to sign the petition and have been libelled as having misused council facilities. On the day on which they first saw the Cullen report, they received a picture of all of them cut out of a newspaper with the word "Bastard" written across it. What sort of people are we dealing with?

We are dealing with public policy in the proper way. This way of legislating has a longer history than the hon. Member for Blackburn suggested. There are historical precedents after incidents such as the Peterloo riots for the House deciding to change public policy because of what has happened. We have that responsibility and I hope that we shall exercise it by banning all handguns.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South 7:11 pm, 12th November 1996

It is not hard to understand why there has to be a three-line Whip for Conservatives tonight. With the exceptions of the hon. Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and one or two others, the Conservatives are clearly opposed to the Bill.

I welcome the Bill as a first step, albeit an inadequate one, towards limiting the enormous growth of weapons in private hands. The ban on handguns, however, does not go far enough—it should be total. I particularly welcome the ban on mail order weapons.

Some have argued that the Bill is a panic response to a single event and is therefore bound to be botched. I agree that it is a panic response to a single event, but the event that caused the panic that gave rise to the Bill was not the tragic massacre at Dunblane; it was the public reaction to the report produced at the beginning of August by the Home Secretary's hon. Friends on the Home Affairs Select Committee. I strongly suspect that, until that time, the Home Secretary had hoped to get away with no more than a little tinkering. He had hoped that his hon. Friends on the Select Committee would provide cover for that minimalist approach. Only when he saw the public reaction to the report did he decide to act. Within a few hours of the publication of the majority report, anonymous Home Office briefers were already trying to draw a little distance between the Government and Conservative members of the Select Committee.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

I shall give way briefly, because I have only a short time.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he is not suggesting that the Home Secretary had any input into the majority report of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It was completely independent. I should like the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that he accepts that.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

The thought never passed through my mind. However, I am afraid that the Home Secretary has not done enough. The distinction that he seeks to make in the Bill between weapons over .22 calibre and those under is, as others have pointed out, hopelessly impractical. As the hon. Member for Harrow, West said a moment ago, it will merely create a surge in demand for lower-calibre weapons. Many shooters will use their compensation to buy other weapons. Indeed, I received a letter this week from someone who promised to spend every last penny of his compensation on new weapons. As others have argued, a .22 weapon in the wrong hands can also inflict considerable damage.

I could have been convinced—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) wants to say that out loud, I shall gladly give way to him.

I could have been convinced that the use of handguns for sporting purposes should continue to be permitted if they could be safely stored at a central location rather than at home. However, the shooting lobby—as others have said, what an inept lot they are—argued forcefully that that was not possible. No doubt they were hoping to convince us that there was no alternative to home storage, but they succeeded in convincing me that a total ban on handguns was the only practical solution.

As I have said, the Bill does not go far enough. A reduction in the total number of guns of all types in circulation is a desirable objective. In its evidence to the Select Committee, the British Shooting Sports Council talked approvingly of the vast explosion in recent years in the number of weapons for sporting purposes. I believe that the time has come to turn the tide and that the Bill ought to be the opportunity to do so.

I want a total ban on handguns. No doubt an amendment will be tabled to that effect and I shall vote for it. I want a large reduction in the number of shotguns in private hands, starting with those in urban areas. Shotguns, licensed and unlicensed, feature all too frequently in crime, in suicides and in accidents. They have featured in several recent incidents in and around my constituency.

A few months ago, a Sunderland councillor had a shotgun placed against his living room window and fired at him. In September, a 14-year-old boy in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, was accused by two workmen of stealing tools. The boy ran off, returning a few minutes later with a shotgun belonging to his grandfather—another legally held weapon—to threaten the workmen with it.

Most incredible of all was the case in Scotland, not long after the Dunblane tragedy, when a 12-year-old boy prised open his father's gun case, took out the shotgun, sawed off both barrels, took the cartridges, wrote on them the names of the children at school whom he was going to kill and set off to school with the sawn-off shotgun, where, thank goodness, he was overpowered before he could do any damage. That is yet another example of a legally held weapon falling into the wrong hands.

There are said to be some 2 million legally owned shotguns in circulation. Once again, those of us who favour drastic action are indebted to the shooting lobby for making our case for us. Mr. Yardley, one of the gun lobby's most vociferous spokesmen, said the other day that there was no point in doing anything about handguns unless we also did something about shotguns. I agree.

Everyone understands that farmers need shotguns to deal with pests. It is more difficult to understand why someone living on a housing estate in the middle of Sunderland needs a shotgun in his home. I favour a big reduction in the number of shotgun licences, starting with those in urban areas.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am limited for time.

The age at which someone may use a shotgun should be raised to 18.

I also want a reduction in the number of air weapons, many of which are in the hands of children. Lord Cullen drew attention to the problem in paragraph 9.119 of his report. I am sorry that the Government are taking no notice of him on that. As most of my hon. Friends can testify, air weapons in urban areas are the source of a great deal of low-level mayhem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) made clear, they can inflict some pretty terrible, and sometimes fatal, injuries.

A little while ago, a neighbour of mine came within a fraction of an inch of being paralysed for life by a pellet from an air rifle that lodged close to his spine. A woman who used to work for me had her windows shot out by youths who were driving down her street shooting out windows at random. A man stopped me in the street the other day and said that his neighbour's son had already slaughtered most of the wildlife in his garden and was now firing randomly across a road used by traffic and pedestrians. I want air weapons to be brought within the licensing system. No one under 18 should be given a licence and there should be a presumption against granting licences to those who live in urban areas.

Like many hon. Members, I have received hundreds of letters from irate shooters. Most, but not all of them, are courteously worded and advance a number of reasons—several of which we have heard this evening—for leaving things as they are. They argue that most crime is carried out with illegally held weapons and that the Bill will not stop criminals getting their hands on guns. That is not entirely true. Many weapons that fall into the wrong hands initially have licensed owners and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, it is an irrefutable fact that no amount of bluster can get around that the massacres in Dunblane, Hungerford and Tasmania were carried out with legally held weapons.

As I mentioned in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, Tony Hall, the father of one of those killed at Hungerford, has compiled a list of 178 people who have been shot dead with legally held weapons since 1988. In some cases, whole families have been wiped out when one member—not necessarily the one with the gun licence—has gone berserk with a licensed weapon.

Although a ban on handguns will not prevent further tragedies, it will at least reduce the likelihood of them happening. It is argued that the overwhelming majority of shooters pose no threat to society and that an entire sport should not be jeopardised by the actions of one madman. I agree that, thank goodness, there are not many Thomas Hamiltons about and most shooters are upright citizens. However, unstable personalities are attracted to guns. Let me draw the attention of the House to an article—

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston 7:21 pm, 12th November 1996

Let there be no doubt whatsoever of the universal horror and condemnation felt in every part of the House for the depth of wickedness shown by Thomas Hamilton at Dunblane last March. Those of us who oppose the banning of a long-established sport are not blood-thirsty savages: we too have wept for the innocent children and their teacher who died.

I have never owned a pistol, let alone shot one. I am not a member of the so-called gun lobby and I came to the matter with a totally open mind. If anything, I was rather inclined to support the idea of banning guns. However, I am a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. After Dunblane, we spent many weeks studying evidence and listening to witnesses, and I became increasingly convinced that the way forward is to impose stringent new licensing procedures and to take a number of other measures to stop guns falling into the wrong hands.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) quoted members of the gun lobby saying that the Bill would not stop people killing. Nothing will stop madmen going on the rampage. If they do not have guns, they will use something else, so we cannot pretend that we can magically end danger to all people in the country.

The six Conservative Members on the Select Committee expressed that opinion, and in so doing ran headlong into a campaign of hate and vilification such as I have never seen. The Sunnewspaper and a rag called The Daily Record gave out our addresses and telephone numbers and urged their readers to write or telephone and condemn us.

As a result, I received a number of death threats. I was sent photographs of myself with a bullet hole through the centre of my forehead. I received parcels of excreta and, worst of all, threats that people intended to wait outside the schools that my grandchildren attend and shoot them.

I received about 40 letters of condemnation, only five of which were calm and sensible and inquired why I voted as I did. Since then, I have received nearly 1,000 letters from those who support the sport. Two themes run through them. First, there was a great sadness and sympathy about the horror of Dunblane and, secondly, there was a disbelieving outrage among the writers of those letters that they would have to pay for Hamilton's crime. They are not criminals; they are among the most responsible, disciplined and law-abiding people in the land.

A number of women shoot as a sport, and there are disabled shooters. Women and disabled people can participate in the sport without being disadvantaged by size or disability. I must confess that I never thought that I would see the day when a Conservative Government would rush to deprive such people of the opportunity to pursue their chosen sport—and rushing they are. There has been no chance for a proper debate in the country or for proper consultation. To my mind, there has never been a clearer example of hard cases making bad laws.

Why did the Government set up the Cullen inquiry and then fail to accept its recommendations? Why did they ignore the deliberations of the Home Affairs Committee? However much shock and horror we feel, it is wrong to make judgments on the basis of emotion, even though those emotions are fully justified and understandable.

At first I thought that the Bill would permit the sport to continue, but now I have no doubt that it will bring an end to the legal sport of target shooting. If we are not careful, the Bill will impose great injustice in failing to pay proper compensation, not only for guns, but for property. I do not believe that the Government have counted accurately the cost of compensation, which could well be as much as £1 billion—certainly more than half a billion pounds. I would prefer that money to be spent on hospitals, housing or schools.

The Bill will turn any remaining gun clubs into fortresses. They will certainly be desirable targets for criminals who wish to acquire guns. It would be far more sensible to pursue the idea of dismantling guns, with one part being kept at the home of the shooter and the other at the gun club. I agree with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), and would add to what he said. It would much safer if one part of the gun were in one place and the rest were in another because any criminal who attacked the gun club would not know where the rest of the gun was kept.

There are many other issues. Members of The Sealed Knot, a well-known and respected historical group, use replica guns that fire blank ammunition. They also use smooth-bore muskets and cannons firing black powder. Will they have to stop? Olympic events use only .22 guns, but other world and regional pistol contests do not. Will there be compensation to firearms dealers and manufacturers?

I am aware that others wish to contribute to the debate and I have no wish to prolong my speech. I believe absolutely fundamentally that we owe our constituents and the country calm judgment on a highly emotional matter. We must carefully consider all points of view, ask ourselves whether the Bill will do what we intend it to do and, above all, make just and fair decisions. Those are the duties that we owe the people of Britain, and I do not believe that we are carrying them out by supporting the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 7:29 pm, 12th November 1996

I hope that no one in the House will accuse me of ignorance about the destruction that firearms can cause. I have seen much of it and attended enough funerals to know exactly what the consequences of illegal firearms are in this country of ours.

As usual, the Bill's purpose is set out in the long title. It is A Bill to amend the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1992; to make provision in relation to the licensing and regulation of pistol clubs; to make further provision for regulating the possession of, and transactions relating to, firearms and ammunition; and for connected purposes. That, in itself, is a considerable exercise in misdirection. We all know perfectly well that the Bill's real purpose is to try to prevent another atrocity like the one that occurred at Dunblane primary school. The question to be asked, therefore, is simply whether it will accomplish that objective. Have the Opposition and the Government reasoned their way through the matter? The Home Secretary's comments today about the money resolution left me yet again with a clear impression that something had been cobbled together hurriedly without the slightest thought about its implications or what it was intended to accomplish.

If the Bill has not been reasoned through, one is forced to conclude that the House, the Government and the Opposition are being driven by the tabloid press and emotion, which is the late 20th century equivalent to the 18th century mob and its agitators. When we are sent here, we are charged to look after the best interests of our constituents. We need, therefore, to think a problem through and apply reason to it. If we do not, we betray those best interests and end up with the poll tax or legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. With this Bill, we are going down exactly the same route to exactly the same evil consequences. The Government are yet again thinking through what is to be done about knives, and are—to some extent, I believe—bringing back the old sus law, which is widely welcomed on the Opposition Benches—to the surprise of those who take an interest in such matters.

We had perfectly workable legislation on dangerous dogs in Northern Ireland before the enactment of the Dangerous Dogs Act. We on this Bench advised the Government simply to apply it to the whole of the United Kingdom. They declined, making the excuse that it did not work. Nobody in Northern Ireland thought that. We all thought that it worked quite successfully. We have not managed to improve matters in Great Britain from that day to this.

The law governing firearms in Northern Ireland is perhaps the strictest in Europe. There is, therefore, a ready-made body of legislation that could be lifted in its entirety and applied to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government have failed to do that, and I think that they will live to regret it. We have a very tight system governing the application and revocation of licences, and an appeals system which is cheap and effective. Of course, since the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has to take the final decision in the appeals system, it is not very welcome to Ministers in this place.

As has already been pointed out, the proposals in the Bill will have widespread effects on persons who make their living from shooting sports and have many ramifications that have not yet surfaced. The letters that we have all received tell part of the story.

Given the impact of the Bill, why has no greater thought—no detailed consideration—been given to who was responsible for what happened? In the final analysis, responsibility lay with Hamilton, but was the granting of his application and the subsequent renewals of firearms certificates done in such a fashion as to inspire confidence in police procedures? Anyone who has read the Cullen report—I hope that all hon. Members have—is forced to conclude that the procedures were plainly not conducted in a way that inspires confidence.

Given police responsibility and the effect on clubs, why did the police take into their possession the records of many shooting clubs in Scotland, and why have they not yet been given back? I do not know how many records they took. I think that we would all like to know. Without such records, clubs are deprived of information that they might need. Why was no receipt given? When will the documents be returned to the clubs? Will the Minister assure the House that copies of standing orders on firearms administration for police forces throughout the United Kingdom, but especially in Scotland, will be deposited in the Library with a copy of the report made by the chief constable of Thames Valley police to the Home Secretary and the police authority after the tragedy in his jurisdiction some years ago? Can copies of various letters on firearms that the Home Office sent to chief constables and the minutes of meetings of the Association of Chief Police Officers and ACPO Scotland on firearms matters be made available? Such information would be of interest to many hon. Members.

I note that the police made the excuse—and Cullen accepted it—that there was no good reason for rescinding Hamilton's firearms certificate. The councils that had certain responsibilities in those matters did not take very much action either over the years whenever Hamilton was in their purview. Nor was action taken—apparently—by welfare authorities, children's officers of councils and various other folk. I wonder why, given the man's history, only the boy scouts spotted him—20 years ago—and got rid of him. They at least got it right while everyone else was getting it wrong. The man had a strange personality and character, and his action at the school was one of unmitigated horror.

I believe that everyone in the House and far beyond understands the murder that is a consequence of violent rage, very often in a domestic situation. One wonders about the statistics on firearms and deaths. How many were the result of such incidents? We can also understand the murder that flows from attempts to get money—the ordinary criminal act, no matter how horrific—which nowadays is very much allied to drugs and the control of drugs sales. Hamilton did not have such reasons. His motive was entirely different. I believe that his motive was vengeance on society and the parents who protected their children from his evil intentions and attentions. His crime was carefully calculated to inflict the maximum hurt not only on the parents but on the society and community in which he lived. Even if he had not had guns, I believe that he would have found some other way of killing those children and himself. Anyone who studies such horrors across the world will know how that could be done.

I conclude, therefore, that although the Bill will accomplish what is described in the long title—at least to some extent—it cannot accomplish its real purpose because the evil that Thomas Hamilton perpetrated had its source in a very wicked heart and brain. Christianity and other great religions have spent many thousands of years trying to deal with that problem without success.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne 7:37 pm, 12th November 1996

I should explain at the outset that although I do not shoot, own a gun or have any sort of relevant declarable interest, I have some very worried constituents.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary moved the Second Reading, he said that it was impossible to overlook that "dreadful event" in Dunblane. One aspect of that dreadful event is the response to those who were bereaved and affected. I judge that that raises two very sensitive issues. First, how should we respond to 16 pairs of bereaved parents in Dunblane? Secondly, how should we in the House respond to the 700,000 or more people who have signed the Snowdrop petition? I fully realise that both questions raise very difficult and emotive issues that most of us would rather not address, but they cannot be ducked if we are to do our parliamentary duty. It follows from that that somebody has to swallow hard and comment. I have a nasty feeling that I am better placed than most to do just that because I, too, have lost a child.

The circumstances of Sarah's death are not really relevant, except to enable me to acknowledge that some hon. Members may see a great difference between a 12-year-old choking to death after her school sports and a five-year-old being dismembered by a madman's gun. Talking to many bereaved parents has convinced me that it is the death rather than the circumstances that matters most, and that leads me to want to make two points from my own experience.

The first is that disagreeing with the instinctive reactions of bereaved parents, their families and their friends is not necessarily heartless. It can be helpful. The second is that it is possible and, I believe, essential to reason constructively with all those who feel closely involved in such a tragedy. I readily admit that disagreeing and reasoning with those who have been touched by tragedy can appear heartless, but—as we are now being asked to legislate because of what happened in Dunblane—we have a duty to consider all of the issues raised, however uncomfortable they make us feel. That is surely why we asked Lord Cullen to investigate on our behalf. I know that some hon. Members believe that backing Lord Cullen's recommendations alone will be unpopular, but I have found that it is possible to convince those with whom it would be unpopular that we care just as deeply while disagreeing with them and some of their proposals.

Let me try to explain, if I can, why we sometimes need to disagree with the instinctive reactions of bereaved parents. When one of your children dies, everything you say and everything you do has but one instinctive objective—to bring your child back. When you finally accept that you cannot bring your child back, you instinctively try to make some positive sense out of an apparently meaningless tragedy. That regularly results in campaigning to establish blame or to change things. All too easily, those campaigns can become obsessive and unreasonable. When they do, the people who are doing the campaigning damage themselves and, in the end, they undermine the legitimate interests of others. We can all think of examples, such as the campaign that followed the death of a nurse who fell from a balcony in Saudi Arabia or the campaign on airport and airline security after the Lockerbie disaster. We can think of many such examples.

Let me make it clear that I am not necessarily arguing that the campaigning post-Dunblane falls into the category of doing harm, but we need to ask the question if only to satisfy ourselves that it does not. Let me also try to explain why we need to ask those who signed the Snowdrop petition to pause for a moment and to reflect. When a child of a friend of yours dies, you too react instinctively. You are desperate to support your friend and you have a sense of guilt for not anticipating the tragedy and doing something to try to prevent it. Because of the awfulness of Dunblane, that sense of involvement, of wanting to help and to support a demand for action spreads far and wide. I rejoice that it does, but we need to ask why. Was it because Dunblane was so mercifully unique? Perhaps we have become hardened to a child a week being killed by a motor vehicle, but we have not become hardened to Dunblane.

As with the bereaved themselves, the instinctive reaction of those who feel involved also needs to be supplemented by quiet thought and discussion with other people. The purpose of intervention needs to be to assist the bereaved to come to terms with what has happened and to help them avoid a downward slide into obsession. Before we vote, therefore, we need to satisfy ourselves that our response to the tragedy in Dunblane and to the bereaved and the petitioners is both supportive and helpful. That usually means, from my experience, warning people against overreaction.

We need to think through our response. Respect for the bereaved and disgust at the crime naturally makes all of us sympathetic to whatever it is that the bereaved want, but our uncomfortable task tonight is to work out what to do in a way that is most likely to help those people in the long term and to avoid overreaction that unreasonably harms others.

When my daughter died, I could easily have campaigned to ban school sports and I suspect, if I had asked them, my friends would have supported me. Fourteen years on, I am certain that I would have been wrong. That campaigning would have destroyed me and prevented some children from enjoying themselves. Is it possible—perhaps we should stop and think—that the same might be true for banning some or all handguns? I have no doubt that some will dismiss the comparison that I seek to make between school sports and handguns. Perhaps the lack of a ban on minibuses after 12 children were killed in a crash in 1994 is a better comparison, because that too makes my point.

All that leads me to reach three conclusions. First, neither sympathy for the bereaved nor guilt at our previous inaction should ever be our yardstick for deciding what to do. Secondly, instinctive reaction is not the only way to help the grieving and those who feel involved. Thirdly, action based on instinct alone is all too often wrong, especially when that response is rushed.

Over the past 14 years I have learnt the hard way that it helps if we allow our heads to guide us as well as our hearts. My heart goes out to the bereaved parents of Dunblane. I know of no words that are adequate to explain how I feel, but my head tells me that we owe it to the memory of those slaughtered innocents to stop and think and to vote against overreaction. However we vote at 10 o'clock, each of us must have more than sympathy with the bereaved and more than support for the petitioners to back whatever decision it is that we make.

Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley 7:46 pm, 12th November 1996

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and I share some of his emotions—I, too, am a parent who has lost a child—but I depart from many of his arguments because I do not believe that the debate is all about Dunblane: it is also about the control of guns in society in general.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to my Adjournment debate on 3 May 1995, in which I raised the issue of gun control and the keeping of weapons on domestic premises. What my hon. Friend did not know is that for some time before that I had made representations to successive Home Secretaries, through correspondence and orally, on the same issue. I came to the conclusion that gun control was needed because of local incidents. On many occasions over the past two years in and around my constituency, people have lost their lives at the end of legally held firearms. Some irresponsible shooters in my area have advertised the fact that they kept weapons on domestic premises. On more than one occasion, those weapons have been stolen by the criminal fraternity and good people have died.

In May 1995, I made four simple demands. One was that the storage of handguns of any kind on domestic premises should be banned. I also argued that there was a need for a national firearms index, which would track every firearm wherever it was moved legally within the country. I said that details would have to be kept on the police computer. I also demanded strict psychological testing. I must again mention the people who claim to be responsible shooters, yet who cannot keep their mouths shut about where and why they have weapons and what they are supposed to do with them. I further suggested exemplary sentences for people who merely possess illegal weapons, let alone those who use them.

I believe that that debate was fairly constructive, but the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who was the responsible Minister at the time and who is in his place today, argued vociferously against my suggestions. I do not want to score points in such a debate, but I wish that the Government had moved then, rather than 16 young lives—and the lives of many adults throughout the country—later. They are several lives too late.

The Dunblane tragedy moved us all. It moved many Members of Parliament on from having zero interest in weapons control, firearms et alia, and it moved me on from my four basic demands. I now support a complete ban on the ownership of handguns.

I have spoken to shooters and non-shooters alike, and in my opinion there is no reason not to include .22 rimfire pistols. That seems to be the division between the Government Front Bench and the rest of us. I do not believe that the handgun ban will drive the shooters to buy .22s. Many shooters are saying that it will signal the demise of .22 pistols in any event.

The Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), used the word "dishonesty" to describe the Government's approach to that part of the ban, and he was right. It would be dishonest to ban handguns but leave .22s in the possession of shooters, knowing full well—or at least having a good idea—that the final result was likely to be a de facto ban on .22s with no compensation payable. I should like the Minister to dwell on that thought.

We must now turn our attention to replica guns and deactivated weapons. Many of my contacts in the police tell me that the deactivated weapons market is growing all the time. Weapons are obtained legally in a deactivated form, but I understand that no very detailed expertise is required to reactivate them. There are many people with service experience who can easily do the job.

We cannot leave the debate without talking about shotguns. As one or two Members have already said, we must make a serious attempt to remove shotguns—at least from urban areas, for a start. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) emphasised that. I recognise the utility of shotguns for certain categories of people, but I do not believe that there should be multiple ownership of shotguns on one licence. The position should be strictly controlled, with one shotgun to one licence.

As for the shooters who have lobbied us, many arguments have been advanced by Conservative Members about what law-abiding and upright citizens they are. No doubt some are. I have seen shooters at my advice bureau and received letters and phone calls from shooters. I even met some who were lobbying Parliament today. Many of them conduct themselves with respect and dignity and argue their case sensibly and without rancour, but there is a vituperative majority—and to say that they are fit to own even a pea-shooter would stretch my generosity.

Finally, I shall address the canard that most of the responsible shooters use: that guns do not kill people—people kill people. The truth is that people too often use guns to kill people. Fewer guns in society will result in fewer tragedies.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North 7:55 pm, 12th November 1996

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is still in his place as I have listened to his speeches over many years and I thought that his contribution this evening was admirable, sensible, calm and reasoned. It touched the emotions and hearts of many people here, and I think that it will do the same for those outside. I shall say a few words about the Dunblane parents later, but I must say at the outset that my hon. Friend spoke with great sense and reason. The whole House should be grateful to him.

I feel that on this subject my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have got it wrong. Their intentions have encountered an enormous amount of opposition both outside this place and, as they will have heard, from the Conservative Benches—although a muted response from the Opposition.

The description "knee-jerk legislation" must be applied. When Cullen finally reported, the Home Secretary said that the response would be held back until after the party conferences—a deal that was undone by the Labour party. Then there was a knee-jerk response. At 3.30 there were statements, which were not available to Members until that moment, and by 3.31 the Home Secretary had announced that there would be legislation.

One of the tragedies is that there has been no time to discuss legislation in a reasoned and honest way—almost until today, although the subject was touched on in the debate on the Queen's Speech. Had my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government not only heard what our colleagues have said this evening, and will presumably continue to say, but seen the welter of correspondence and realised the good sense of those who have written, they might have changed their ideas.

The problem was that the Government gave the impression that all would be well, but that nothing should be said until Cullen had reported. Many of the shooting lobbies took the same view. Yet as soon as Cullen reported, legislation was bounced upon the House. I regret that, because if the intended legislation is passed we shall all have become victims of the sins of one awful man, which will affect many thousands of innocent citizens.

Perhaps the Bill should be renamed the Firearms (Confiscation) Bill, because of the remarkable fact that the Government intend to confiscate legitimately held private property—property that in many cases has been held for scores of years. Their action will risk the livelihoods of many thousands of people and put many legitimate business people out of business and into poverty.

The tragedy of the legislation is, I regret to say, that it will do nothing to prevent a similar event from occurring again. During his visit to Dunblane, the Prime Minister said: You cannot legislate against this sort of incident. He was absolutely right. That is why we must ask the questions.

Why have the Government chosen to go beyond Cullen? Cullen sat for six weeks, heard comprehensive evidence and spent about £1 million collecting that evidence. No one begrudges that money, but having established some sensible reasoned arguments, the Government then abandoned the crux of the argument—regrettably, for some kind of political reason. Why have we not accepted the lessons of the past? Why do we not remember what a farce the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has become because, like the measures passed in 1988 following Hungerford, it was rushed legislation? Why have this Government, of all Governments, given in to the various pressures of blackmail and emotion that have been heaped on all of us who are involved in this argument, and why have they listened to those arguments instead of the arguments of reason?

Obviously, most of us support Lord Cullen's very sensible recommendations.

Photo of John Cummings John Cummings , Easington

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

The hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot do so.

Lord Cullen called, rightly, for stricter scrutiny, the need for which everyone would acknowledge. He called for a greater number of referees for firearm certificates—again, people acknowledge and accept that recommendation. I agree with the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), who said that GPs should be involved in some way in determining the fitness of certificate holders. Lord Cullen also called for greater police involvement, which we would all support, provided that the police behave somewhat more sensibly than the Central Scotland police behaved in respect of Mr. Hamilton.

At no point in his report does Lord Cullen advocate the banning of all guns. He says: I do not consider that the banning of handguns … or … of shooting clubs would be justified.

Her Majesty's Government have effectively destroyed pistol shooting. Many of us who have visited shooting clubs either prior to Dunblane or in the past few weeks will be aware of the devastating effect that the Bill will have on those clubs. The Government themselves admit that the majority of clubs will close because there will be no point in their continuing to exist.

My own party has shattered the faith of many who believe in Conservative policies, and we have alienated thousands upon thousands of voters. I will not say that the Labour party has gained electoral favour by its antics, but many Conservatives cannot understand why their Government have acted in this way.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) and many others, I have received a massive postbag—the biggest that I have ever had in my 17 years in this place—and the letters come from a great variety of people. Approximately a fifth come from Scotland, and many are from Labour supporters. In addition, my correspondents include people who are disabled and people who are not involved in the sport of shooting. They watch our debates with incredulity.

To an extent, emotion has dominated the argument. That is why I felt it necessary to say to the parents of Dunblane that by trying to be judge and jury in this case they almost put themselves beyond the argument. That is not as it should be, because they are crucial to the argument and everyone sympathises with the suffering that they have endured. I suggest to them that their accusations—such as calling some members of the shooting lobby "murderers" and, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), calling shooting people "perverts"—do not help in the arguments arising from the Dunblane tragedy. Similarly, in announcing that they were to put up a candidate against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland they did not endear themselves to many who wanted to keep the issue out of the political arena.

The Labour party, described as "graverobbers" by one of my correspondents, has—with one or two honourable exceptions—jumped on the bandwagon. It has been interesting tonight to see that the arguments of those who oppose shotguns—especially for youngsters—are now gathering pace in that party. The people should be warned.

The Bill will have a devastating effect on pistol shooters everywhere, including those in my constituency, and on gun dealers—not only those who deal only in pistols and rifles, but shotgun dealers, who say that their business is already suffering because of the sentiment engendered by Dunblane and the Cullen inquiry. Of course shotgun dealers will not qualify for any form of compensation, but it must be acknowledged that they are feeling the cold draught of this legislation. The extraordinary thing is that many shooters will now say that holding .22 guns is hardly worth it. I do not entirely support their argument, but I can understand it.

We have to do two things tonight. First, the Government should go back to Cullen's recommendations and stick at them. We can then pass legislation with virtually no dissension by those who believe in logic and reason. I do not believe that the Government will do that, but I shall continue to fight for it. Secondly, the Government should make absolutely sure that the scope of the compensation is much wider than has been offered so far.

The legislation is illogical, unfair and ill thought-out and if some Members go into the Lobby to vote against the Government tonight, it will be the Government's own fault.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 8:05 pm, 12th November 1996

I was hoping that, when talking about the Dunblane parents, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) might have found it within himself to apologise for some of the remarks that he made several weeks ago. For his information, the Dunblane parents are not "hysterical"—given the circumstances, I have never meet a group of calmer and more rational people and their arguments have been commendable for their reasoned approach. The hon. Gentleman's remarks this evening were more moderate than those of a few weeks ago, but they were, none the less, offensive.

It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman started by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who made an emotional speech which touched many of us. I know the hon. Member for Spelthorne and he would never have expressed himself in the clumsy and offensive way that the hon. Member for Luton, North did a few weeks ago.

The impact of this debate will be felt strongly in Scotland and, indeed, in other parts of the country. People were, rightly, touched by the Dunblane tragedy and that feeling has hardened into a determination to try to prevent that sort of tragedy from happening again. Everyone who argues that case realises that there can be no absolute guarantees, but we can move the boundary somewhat and make it less likely that such a tragedy will happen again. That makes the case for a complete ban on handguns.

I have listened to Conservative Members relate in the debate some of the things that have been said to them. They should remember that a highly personalised campaign of slurs and innuendo was waged against the key Snowdrop campaigners by some elements in the gun lobby. There is no doubt about that—their actions and words are on the record. Equally, some members of the gun lobby have expressed themselves fairly while still putting their arguments with vigour—many of my constituents have done so. It does not help—especially when calm and reasoned debate is called for—to have those accusations flowing back and forth across the Chamber, instead of hon. Members trying to identify the case on its merits.

No system of checking, however rigorous, can prevent every unsuitable person from gaining access to guns. It has been said in the debate that the police made mistakes, as if that were an argument against a complete ban on the civilian use of handguns. The fact that the police make mistakes is one of the arguments for such a ban. No system of checking is foolproof and any system that depends on people is essentially flawed in that human beings, including the police, make mistakes.

Hon. Members have spoken about sports and I hope that alternatives can be devised so that people can continue to practise their sport. Some of my constituents have said that they could not understand why some pistol shooters have to use extremely powerful weapons—they ask why the same skill and precision cannot be expressed through new technology, perhaps laser technology. I hope that such possibilities will be investigated. At the end of the day, however, people's pursuit of a sport must be a lesser point than the issue of public safety.

Our job, as representatives of the people, is to square our actions with our conscience. That is why it would be wrong were the House to allow the substantial loophole in respect of handguns as proposed by the Government. We should start from the principle that no one should own a handgun and only then should we discuss the exceptions. The position adopted by the Japanese in this respect is enlightening. In that whole country, there are 58 handgun licences. Hon. Members will be aware of the Home Office statistics, which point to some correlation between the number of legal firearms in circulation and the incidence of firearm homicide.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), in an interesting speech, made the reasonable point that one cannot prove anything absolutely through international comparisons. One comparison should, however, be introduced into the debate. In the United States, which has some of the most lax gun legislation, there are 27 times as many firearm killings per million than in the United Kingdom. In Japan, where the basic principle is no handguns, the killings number one eighth of the UK total. For all the differences in culture and experience in the international comparisons, those figures are very compelling.

I am angry that the Government have decided to whip their Back Benchers on this issue. It is fair to contrast their position on this issue with the decision to allow a free vote on corporal punishment in schools. It is an insult to the intelligence of voters to say that using the cane in England is a matter of conscience, but using a handgun is not.

This debate has shown up the real reason why the Government intend to whip Members through the Lobby during the next week. There have been many speeches—mainly from the Opposition Benches, but some from the Government side—arguing for the complete ban of handguns. Many Conservative Members have argued that the Government have gone too far. However, support for the Government position from the Back Benches has been noticeable by its absence. That is why the Government feel that they can sustain their position only by the use of the Whips on this, an issue that, above all others, should be one of conscience. The Government's position is a fraud—an uneasy compromise, which has been patched together with no intellectual coherence and which depends on the Whips Office to hold it together.

As has been said, the clearest evidence was presented to Cullen—in some cases, by the gun lobby itself—to show that the option of gun club storage was unsound and unsafe. The quotations are there for all to see in the Cullen report. I was convinced by those representations, because they were widespread and they were backed up by the police.

The logic of the Government's central proposals is impossible to fathom. They have drawn a line at .22 calibre weapons in the full knowledge that such an arbitrary decision and division have been generally discredited. As has been said, a .22 handgun is as deadly as a high-calibre weapon. In some cases, it is the weapon of choice for killers. It was the weapon used to assassinate Bobby Kennedy, it was used in the attempt on President Reagan's life and it is the weapon responsible for the largest number of killings in the United States. Indeed, it is favoured for its size, ease of carrying and concealment and efficiency. The common term for some .22s in the United States is the "Saturday night special". Lord Cullen emphasised that point in his report, saying: In terms of pure precision the .22 calibre was capable of inherent accuracy beyond the skill of the shooter. Whether high accuracy is obtained depends on the quality of the particular gun, the quality of the ammunition and the skills of the shooter. The .22 rimfire represented the highest precision cartridge which was available. It was highly evolved.

People will not accept the continued existence of 40,000 legally held handguns or the bizarre decision to allow multi-fire handguns to continue to be in this legal group. Let the House be under no illusion: some .22 weapons can fire even more rapidly than the 9 mm Browning that Hamilton used. If any lesson is to be learnt from Thomas Hamilton's actions, it is surely that rapid-fire weapons are the most deadly. Hamilton fired a hail of 106 bullets in a matter of seconds—that damage from a handgun should surely never be allowed again. Of course hon. Members have a point when they say that a madman could take a machete or another weapon and try to inflict damage, but few other weapons can inflict the carnage of a rapid-fire handgun.

The Secretary of State for Scotland suggests that the measures in the Bill amount to a virtual ban and that gun clubs will be forced out of existence. If that is so, would it not be better to face the issue honestly, rather than by back door prohibition? The Home Secretary is singing a different tune. He has spoken of the possibility of new gun clubs coming into existence to meet the new regulations. We are entitled to ask, what is the Government view—is it effective prohibition, or the rejuvenation of gun clubs?

There is to be compensation and, like many hon. Members, I accept that point on principle. There should be compensation, but I would think it ill if compensation were used so that people could trade into new .22 weapons. The Government cannot have it both ways. The only effective handgun control is a handgun ban and they should know that public opinion will not tolerate money being used to bring new .22 handguns into people's possession.

I hope that hon. Members will find the strength to do what is right by their constituents and by the people of Dunblane.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay 8:15 pm, 12th November 1996

After the appalling tragedy of Hungerford, the House was determined to rush to legislate. I regret having supported that legislation at the behest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who was then the Home Secretary. I did support it, however, and it banned a type of weapon. That was what I believed that I was legislating for. The reality was that that legislation placed an enormous and expensive burden on entirely legitimate shotgun certificate holders.

This is another occasion on which the House is being invited to rush through ill-prepared legislation. The fact that the money resolution was withdrawn this afternoon, shows the lack of proper preparation and consultation. This is not a choice between the right to life and the right to sport; it is a measure that penalises and stigmatises a wholly law-abiding section of the community.

I must now turn to the horrendous tragedy of Dunblane. My criticism of the present law is the built-in bias in favour of the applicant, to which hon. Members have referred, and the weight against revocation on appeal to the court. That crucial issue is key to the administration of a proper and effective control regime, which is what all responsible shooters desire.

The description given by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) of the police procedures examined by Lord Cullen is comprehensively contradicted by the report. I must remind the House of precisely what Lord Cullen said. Thomas Hamilton was regarded as a scheming, devious and deceitful person who was not to be trusted. It is true that Hamilton first acquired a firearms certificate in 1977, but he had deliberately and consistently deceived the police since then, as is clear from paragraph 6.30 of the report. As for ammunition, Lord Cullen considered it "strange" that Hamilton was ever allowed to buy large quantities of bullets or, indeed, additional weapons of the same calibre. Lord Cullen said that that does not inspire me with confidence".

If anyone believes that the Cullen report absolves the police, let him take another look. The report is a damning indictment. In paragraph 6.42, the author refers to the Holden memorandum, saying that it should have been placed in the firearms file … but this was not done. Detective Sergeant Hughes said that Hamilton was an unsavoury character and unstable personality", that he had an extremely unhealthy interest in young boys", and that he was an unsuitable person to possess a firearm certificate". Paragraph 6.45 of the report states: Detective Constable Taylor believed that Thomas Hamilton had been guilty of criminal conduct", but that did not give him any concern about his fitness to hold a firearm certificate. Paragraph 6.47, relating to the 1995 renewal signed by the deputy chief constable, states that the latter, in his evidence to Lord Cullen, said that he spent "only a few moments" on the renewal: Only the certificate was before him. He said he did not apply his mind to the question of whether Hamilton was a fit and proper person". No wonder he resigned!

Consider the criticism in paragraph 6.62 of the way in which the deputy chief constable gave evidence, which differed over two days, on whether Hamilton was fit to hold a firearms certificate.

The entire system administered by Scottish Central police was flawed. Lord Cullen talks of a glaring deficiency in the operation of the force's information system"— that is found in paragraph 6.72. In paragraph 6.73, Lord Cullen refers to the criminal intelligence check that should have been conducted in February 1992 on the renewal—it was never executed. In paragraph 6.78, he cites a disturbing picture of the operation of the decision-making process. The senior officer who had the responsibility of determining the outcome of Thomas Hamilton's application had nothing put before him but the new firearms certificate to be signed. In the absence of any indication to the contrary he assumed that it was appropriate for him to sign. The left hand clearly did not know what the right hand was doing.

The whole report is a damning indictment of the way in which the police exercise their powers under current legislation. I recognise that there was confusion about how the law operated in Scotland. I recognise, too, that there was great anxiety about the benefit of the doubt always being given to the applicant. The solution is to reverse the balance, leaving it in favour of any police objection.

In paragraph 7.17, Lord Cullen concluded: I do not recommend that such a wholesale prohibition should be considered. I tend to agree.

I welcome the Home Secretary's concession this afternoon to extending compensation to auxiliary equipment. Over the weekend, I met more of my constituents who are firearms certificate holders. They certainly do not conform to the image portrayed in the smears that have been aimed at the gun lobby. Those people have held certificates for 20 or 30 years and have been obliged to show responsible police officers that they are indeed fit and proper persons.

What am I to say to one of my constituents who has £3,000 worth of reloading equipment for making the ammunition for his weapons? There is also a gun dealer in my constituency, operating from home, who has invested thousands of pounds in security precautions for his house. Will he be compensated? Absolutely not.

The only equitable approach, if we are to legislate on this issue, is to make certain that everyone adversely affected, including the clubs, is compensated in full. No such proposals are in the Bill, nor are they in prospect. In my judgment, therefore, the Bill is unjust; furthermore, it is un-Conservative. Accordingly, I commend the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) to the House.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones , Clwyd South West 8:23 pm, 12th November 1996

Like other hon. Members, I have read the Cullen report. Reading the account of how Hamilton committed his atrocious act, I was moved to tears—as, I am sure, were other hon. Members. I am not ashamed to admit that. They were tears of anger, disbelief, horror and pity for those poor children.

Against whom should the natural human reaction of anger be directed? The anger of the children's parents and others has been directed against the means that Hamilton used to commit the atrocity—the handgun; more specifically, the repeating full-bore weapon. The motive must be anger; otherwise logic would dictate banning all guns, especially shotguns, which are the firearms most often used in crime and murder.

Taken to its logical extreme, however, this natural reaction is unworkable. Some firearms are used as legitimate tools. Many categories of firearm that would be encompassed by such a reaction are plainly harmless to public safety, such as antiques and even the nail guns used in construction work.

This time, unlike the aftermath of the Hungerford tragedy, we had a public inquiry conducted by an erudite judge who had the advantage of having all the information to hand and the time to consider every aspect, including school safety and control of firearms.

Back in 1988, we debated the response to the dreadful events in Hungerford perpetrated by Michael Ryan, who supposedly possessed legally held firearms—but in dubious circumstances. In that debate, I suggested three measures that were not taken up by the Government. First, I asked for controls on the shooting gallery style of club which exercised no control over its members. That at least was implemented about two years later, although I was not given the credit for it—not that that worries me.

My second suggestion was for a statutory examination of a firearm applicant's health and social security records. Thirdly, I suggested a reduction in an applicant's grounds for appeal against a police decision to refuse an application.

Taken together, those measures might—might—have prevented Thomas Hamilton from possessing legal firearms. Of course he could still have tried to obtain one of the estimated 1.5 million illegal firearms in this country. I take no pleasure in saying, "I told you so," but I did.

There followed the even more horrendous incident at Dunblane in March this year; yet, despite an inquiry costing more than £1 million, the Government are entering on the same course of action as they did after Hungerford. At least this time they are tightening up on the ownership of firearms by agreeing to Cullen's 23 well-considered recommendations in that regard, but they should not ignore the 24th, to which I shall come later.

The Firearms Consultative Committee, which was set up in 1988 and of which I recently became a lay member, has recommended at least 38 minor changes to the law; it has also recommended creating a national body to co-ordinate the issuing and monitoring of firearms certification. That idea was turned down flat, while the other proposals were held in abeyance until the time came for primary legislation. We have that opportunity today, but the committee's submissions are still being ignored.

What is needed is not a hasty amendment to the—already much amended—1968 Act but a root-and-branch review of the whole issue; otherwise, we are in grave danger of another equivalent of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, now widely acknowledged as unworkable.

At least this time an in-depth inquiry was held and Lord Cullen recommended 24 worthwhile ways of improving the system—23 of them are rightly being implemented, but why are we not considering setting up a national licensing board that would be party to all the information that the police could obtain, co-ordinating inquiries on a standardised basis? If such a body had existed, it would have taken away the onerous responsibility on the police to check up on the membership of the clubs of which Hamilton claimed to be a member. It seems that there is evidence that those clubs were not appropriate to the sort of firearms which he was granted permission to obtain.

Going back to Lord Cullen's 24 recommendations, in paragraph 9.112 he recommended that firearms should not be kept in one place as workable firearms. The Government suggested that that was not a feasible option. I strongly suggest that it is. Virtually all firearms can be stripped down to their component parts. In the case of self-loading pistols, the slide mechanism could be taken home. It is not possible to obtain a duplicate slide without a firearms certificate endorsement. There is therefore no possibility of circumvention of that rule. The same applies to revolvers; the cylinder could be taken home.

The cause of public safety would be much better served. The sport of full-bore target shooting could continue, but if that is not the Government's wish, the proposal could be applied to .22 pistols. That has many merits, not the least of which is that the tiny minority of shooters who are driven by some kind of American-style macho image would have nothing to posture with at home. Equally, criminals and terrorists would have nothing to steal from target clubs.

The Government again insist on legislating against one type of firearm. They must compensate not only those people who will lose their often valuable firearms, but dealers who will lose their hobby and their livelihood.

If the Government are determined to legislate against one type of firearm, they should go further in the cause of public safety and insist that .22 pistols are disabled in the way that Lord Cullen recommended. Shooters do not want people like Hamilton to have workable firearms. There is one genuine way in which the Bill could prevent a repeat of Dunblane or Hungerford: through the disablement of firearms.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside 8:31 pm, 12th November 1996

The House will, I am sure, acknowledge the expertise of the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones). When it comes to firearms, he knows what he is talking about, unlike some hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was the first person speaking today to say that the use and ownership of firearms was a privilege, not a right. That is important. We all have the right to apply for a firearms certificate, but it is a privilege to be granted one.

I have experienced that privilege for most of my adult life. It is also a privilege of mine to be a co-opted member on the executive council of the National Rifle Association and to be the president of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club, which includes a pistol range. The range has three .22 pistols, which will continue to be legal if the Bill is passed as drafted, and one .32 revolver, which will have to be surrendered. I hope that the club will comply with the clause 16 provisions for licensing, which may be too onerous for some other clubs to meet. To hon. Members who would like to know more about firearms and their use, let me say that the club is always open for those who want to visit it.

We all reacted in much the same way to the horrible events in Dunblane on 13 March: horror at the shooting of 17 innocent people; incredulity that a man like Hamilton could possess and use firearms, apparently legally; immediate and continuing heartfelt sympathy for the families bereaved at the school and in the community of Dunblane; and lastly, a determination to do everything possible to reduce the chances of such a thing ever happening again.

I join in commending Lord Cullen for his inquiry and his report. I find little fault with his conclusions and recommendations.

Initially, after Dunblane, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rightly said that he would resist a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy, unlike some people. He said that the Government would wait for Lord Cullen's report and give serious consideration to his proposals for changes in the law. Unfortunately, having resisted the initial knee-jerk, he has knee-jerked to the Cullen report. He would have done better to enact the Cullen recommendations, as he is doing, and to publish a consultation paper on anything further that he might do, rather than being caught up in the continuing tidal wave of emotion whipped up by the media.

Why did Hamilton possess weapons and ammunition, apparently legally? Had he lived in my county, Hampshire, there is no way that he would ever have been granted a firearms certificate, or, if he had, it certainly would not have been renewed. There might even have been a civil case to revoke it. I am glad that the Bill provides for the revocation of certificates.

Hamilton was investigated by the police seven times and no action was taken against him. He obtained his firearms certificate by deception. He did not belong to or attend a gun club.

Following the Hungerford shootings and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, the United Kingdom has had some of the toughest gun laws in the world. Some may say that they are still not tough enough, but I say that they are not enforced adequately to prevent a psychopath like Hamilton from slipping through the net. Those shortcomings have been addressed by Lord Cullen, and my right hon. and learned Friend is right to seek to implement almost all his recommendations, but I think that my right hon. and learned Friend goes too far, too soon in the Bill.

It is unnecessary to ban all large-calibre pistols, leaving only the .22 rimfire, which is to be stored and used at club premises. The way that the provisions will be implemented is unjust. They will result in 57,000 law-abiding citizens being made to look guilty and being wrongly deprived of the privilege of continuing their sport of pistol target shooting.

Our postbags are a litmus test of public opinion. In my bag, the proportion of letters opposing the Bill is 5:1. We have all been impressed over the past few weeks by the lobby of Parliament and visits to our constituency surgeries. We have seen the admirable people whom we will deprive of their sport.

Last week, when the gun lobby came to Parliament, I wondered whether the Royal British Legion, rather than shooting sportsmen, had come to see us. Those people were decent, patriotic and well turned out. They were wearing their blazers, badges and regimental ties. There were young and old among them. They were the sort of people whom we saw on parade on Remembrance day and who observed the two-minute silence yesterday.

If the Bill proceeds, the compensation proposals will compound the injustice. If law-abiding citizens are to be deprived by Parliament of lawfully held assets, they must be properly and fully compensated: anything less would be legalised robbery. The fact that the Home Office believes that only £25 million to £50 million is required for compensation shows that it is either hopelessly ill advised or determined to act unjustly.

The realistic figure, with weapons valued at about £500 each, is closer to £150 million. If, as is now proposed, dedicated accessories are added—including holsters, ammunition-loading equipment, spare magazines and other pieces of equipment—the total compensation figure could approach £500 million. That money could be far better spent on the police and enforcement of the firearms laws. That figure allows nothing at all for the 100 or so pistol clubs, which will almost all have to close, or for the 2,000 dealers and gunsmiths who may be put out of business by loss of assets, if not by clause 16.

Unless the Bill is radically amended, it will do nothing to enhance the reputation of Parliament. It seems as if my right hon. and learned Friend has considered only one side of the debate. As John Stuart Mill said: There is always hope—when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one, that errors harden into prejudice. The quiet suppression of half the truth is the formidable evil.

Perhaps the House will decide that 57,000 law-abiding citizens are a small enough minority to be used as a scapegoat and sacrificed to the god of populist opinion. I was not elected to Parliament to sacrifice my judgment to the opinion of the majority. We are here to defend the rights and privileges of individuals and minorities, which is why we should support the reasoned amendment.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East 8:39 pm, 12th November 1996

There are two separate issues before the House this evening: first, the appropriate rules for gun ownership in response to the massacre of innocents at Dunblane—I, with some hesitation, am prepared to accept a complete ban—and, secondly, the issue of compensation. I shall devote my speech to the latter issue.

I shall use a constituency example to illustrate the hardship that the Bill is likely to cause unless there is a more generous financial resolution. I shall then set out the principles of law that I believe are applicable in this case and argue that Parliament must be seen to respond in a fair and a democratic manner.

Obviously, shooting centres are likely to be affected most by the legislation. The largest commercial shooting range in Wales, Shooters of Swansea, is located in my constituency. It opened five years ago and is owned by Mr. Adrian Morris and his family. The range was built with the encouragement of the local authority, Swansea city council, which provided the site and the infrastructure, and it was supported by the Sports Council for Wales.

It is a family-run business, with personal guarantees from the family, who invested substantial sums. The family have no other business interests and there is no alternative use for the building. The Government's proposals would remove more than 80 per cent. of turnover, making the business not commercially viable—in effect, the family would face certain ruin. All machinery and special equipment would be made redundant and their livelihood destroyed. In pursuing a deemed public interest, does the Home Office see no obligation to protect people such as the Morris family in my constituency? They are the innocent victims of a measure that has been advanced for the public good.

I hope that the Home Office will consider seriously certain propositions of law when determining the extent of the compensation proposals. If it adopts a minimalist position, it will certainly face legal challenge. A state must ensure that its domestic law conforms with accepted legal obligations; so what key principles are relevant and should guide legislation in this case? The first is the principle of equality.

Where possible, our legislation should comply with the principle of equal treatment under the law. That principle finds expression in several cases, both domestic and European— notably in the skimmed milk powder case that was reported in 1977 in European Court Report 1311. The argument, if applied to the Bill, is that to compensate only the owners of firearms would offend the principle of equality of treatment in circumstances where others who suffered a direct loss from the ban were not so compensated also.

In terms of human rights, it may be argued that not to compensate certain categories of those who suffer loss would be a violation of their fundamental human rights, partly because it deprives them of a property right and partly because it infringes the right to free pursuit of an economic activity. The 1974 case of Nold v. Commission, European Court Reports 491, is relevant here. It would be a violation of those principles if vested rights were interfered with without compensation—although I accept that the damage alleged must be "a sufficiently direct consequence" of the act.

There is a close analogy between this case and the acquisition and expropriation of property cases. I refer the Home Office to the 1986 case of Lithgow v. United Kingdom, which appeared in European Human Rights Reports 335. The judgment states at paragraph 120: not only must a measure depriving a person of his property pursue, on the facts as well as in principle, a legitimate aim 'in the public interest' but there must be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised …the notion of the 'fair balance' that must be struck between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual's fundamental rights. The requisite balance will not be found if the person concerned has had to bear 'an unconditional and excessive burden'.Clearly compensation terms are material to the assessment as to whether a fair balance has been struck between the various interests at stake and notably, whether or not a disproportionate burden has been imposed on the person who has been deprived of his possessions.The Court further accepts that the taking of property without payment of an amount reasonably related to its value would normally constitute a disproportionate interference which could not be considered justifiable under Article 1.

Those principles are essentially enshrined in European Community law and in human rights legislation and conventions, but many of them owe their origins to related common law principles. I hope that the Home Office will consider those principles seriously, as they should be a guide to the compensation provisions in the Bill. I do not suggest that ignoring such principles would necessarily provide a remedy in law, but I hope that Ministers will examine them and be sufficiently troubled by them to modify their response.

In this case, principles of law coincide with the principles of justice and fairness valued by ordinary citizens. People accept that gun regulations should be tightened in this legislation, but most do not believe that others should as a result be deprived of their livelihoods without compensation in the way that the Government have proposed. Taxpayers expect the Government to be hard-nosed in assessing compensation and to insist upon normal principles of remoteness and mitigation of damages. However, it would be wrong to deprive people of their livelihoods without adequate compensation.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate 8:46 pm, 12th November 1996

There are occasions when legislation comes before the House and I am uncertain about whether it will achieve its stated objectives. On other occasions— such as this—I have a gut feeling that we are dealing with a problem in entirely the wrong way.

All hon. Members are united in their grief over the tragedy at Dunblane. We also recognise that, whatever measures are implemented, no one can guarantee 100 per cent. that the Dunblane tragedy will not be repeated in one form or another, involving guns or other deadly methods. We are dealing with maniacs—they are always lurking somewhere in society—but we must do what we can to tighten the regulations and avoid a recurrence of the Thomas Hamilton episode.

We all recognise that gun clubs throughout the country are run responsibly; their members are responsible people. A great strength of this country is the way in which those with common interests band together to form organisations and committees, with a chairman, perhaps a president, a secretary and a treasurer. Such groups are the backbone of this country: they are well organised and they take their responsibilities very seriously. The same is true of gun clubs, and we should acknowledge that fact.

This country's marksmen and their achievements often go unrecognised. League tables showing the total number of medals won in shooting events at the Olympic games since 1896 place Britain fourth in the world. Many of our gun clubs provide those marksmen who win those successes for this country, and they get very little credit for it.

The core debate in this afternoon's deliberations is whether a ban or dismantlement of weapons would be the best and the right thing to do. The Cullen report takes some seven pages to express the advice that Lord Cullen took from firearms experts, dealers and people involved in the industry. He concluded that, short of a ban, he would recommend the dismantlement of weapons, and for those that cannot be dismantled he would recommend the fitting of a barrel blocking device. That goes without question. It is comprehensively explained and understood in the report.

The Government's response was that they were not convinced that a barrel block or similar device could not be removed by a determined individual and the Government does not therefore believe that it could rely on such a measure. It is also not certain that the removal of key components for the types of weapons where this is appropriate would be practical.

That flies entirely in the face of the Cullen report. It is based on the evidence of the Forensic Science Service. Its report is a letter, of about a page and a quarter in length. It deals with a number of issues about shotguns that are not relevant to the issue, and it is signed by one person, Mr. Warlow. That is the only evidence that the Government have taken on board to contravene the evidence that the Cullen report has provided. I do not think that that is satisfactory. The amendment speaks of the lack of evidence. The evidence from which I have just quoted became available only during the course of the debate, although it was issued on 16 October.

I am convinced that the Bill has been prepared, in a sense, as a response to press comment and to the emotion that has been stoked up by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and it is unwise to proceed down the road that has been determined. The 40,000 weapons that would be left in the hands of individuals would have to be stored in clubs, which are primarily in areas away from habitation, in isolated parts of the countryside, by and large, in old gravel pits or wherever. In order for the weapons to be stored in a gun club, the gun clubs would have to ensure that they have reinforced walls, safes, strong perimeter fences, burglar alarms, access control, including metal detectors, and regular and stringent inspection arrangements. The cost would be so prohibitive that I do not believe that gun clubs could survive.

I do not believe that it would be sensible to provide for a great arsenal of stored weapons, however secure they may appear to be, when the club is probably used only once or twice a week or at the weekends. Such arsenals would be an open invitation to burglars, if they were inclined to obtain weapons in that way.

Many of Lord Cullen's suggestions that the Government have accepted are indeed sensible. They rely on common sense and reasoned judgment. One of the areas that we should look at is referees for licence applicants. Two referees are now accepted as being desirable, but it would be sensible if a doctor were one of the referees. I do not think that it would be practical for doctors to give a mental report on the applicant, but at least if they had any doubts about his stability that would be reflected in their reference. I would rather that were included.

The costs of this exercise are escalating. This has been a very expensive afternoon for the Home Secretary. I agree that the people who will lose their livelihoods and weapons as a result of the Bill must be properly compensated, but the costs may reach £200 million if we stay with what is proposed in the Bill. I believe that that will be the wrong thing to do. We can spend that money in a different way to help to ensure that all the regulations are complied with. We can ensure that weapons are dismantled so that they cannot be used until the two parts are put together at a gun club. That is a thoroughly sensible proposal, and we can embrace a whole range of weapons—all the weapons—under that umbrella That will be a much safer and much better way to go about things.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire 8:55 pm, 12th November 1996

After listening to the debate, I have a problem as I am greatly attracted to the argument, analysis and tone of the speeches of hon. Members who have spoken in favour of a total ban, including my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) and for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I do not, however, accept their conclusion.

I often do not like the argument, analysis and tone of the speeches made by Conservative Members who are close to the gun lobby, but I am reaching the same conclusion as them— but not because of their arguments. There are often better arguments than the ones made by people in the gun lobby, who are pursuing their present direction because they cannot take another. At one stage, they did not want any legislation to be introduced, but that game is now up so they must deal with Cullen's recommendations on the dismantling of guns and their separation, whereby one part will be stored in gun clubs and another in a person's home.

I shall not vote with the gun lobby, as I call it, by voting for their reasoned amendment or against the Second Reading, but in Committee I will support amendments that are in line with early-day motion 136, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who expressed the position quite carefully and sensibly.

We all owe a considerable debt to Lord Cullen, and it is unfortunate that we have never had a full discussion of his report, but have merely moved into the White Paper and the Bill and have therefore changed the ground considerably.

The Government have accepted 23 of Lord Cullen's recommendations—all but the key recommendation about what should be done with handguns. He asks only for consideration. He has two major positions: the dismantling of guns, which has been explained by other hon. Members, and the fall-back position of a total ban. I am attracted to Cullen's position in connection with this. If we do not achieve the dismantling of guns, that might make the case for a total ban. It is unfortunate that the Government have dealt with Cullen's key proposal merely by a one-line response in the White Paper. We have had little more than that from the Home Secretary today.

What I say is bound to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. I am anti-gun: I was on the media's list of people who would provide an anti-gun comment. However, I am for an amendment that might come from early-day motion 136, because the anti-gun position has moved too far with its absolutist notions about a total ban. I do not think that it is incompatible to be anti-gun and to be in favour of dismantling.

I am for tackling and seeking effectively to overcome the gun culture. I am referring not only to the gun culture in the media—television violence and so on—but to the culture in which people are hooked on this activity. We cannot suddenly stop that culture. We must detach people by putting forward alternative views. Legislation can help, but it is not the sole solution.

I have fears about a total ban, although I know that that was the second option proposed in the Cullen report, and I may be obliged to accept that view in certain circumstances. Those who advocate a total ban are arguing for prohibition—that term has been used by hon. Members. We should closely consider the lessons of prohibition and the fears created by it. We would destroy people's pastimes and activities in a stroke. We should have tried to prevent those pastimes through education, but it has occurred, and to change that in one fell swoop would cause problems.

We have discussed compensation for people who would have to hand in their guns and for those in the trade, who are reasonable and respectable people who need to be able to plan for the future and move out of that area if it is no longer likely to sustain them.

The Government want a partial ban. That would leave stocks at gun clubs, which would create many problems. The position taken by Cullen could be used by the Government, because .22 calibre guns could be dismantled and the parts held separately. That could be the subject of another amendment for us to consider in Committee.

How have we moved to a position in which we are in favour of a total ban? In June, the Dunblane Snowdrop petition asked for guns to be held at clubs, and for firing mechanisms to be held separately. I sent press releases to local newspapers in support of that position. In July, the Labour minority on the Select Committee on Home Affairs were in favour of the banning of handguns with a qualification. Its report says: However, it may be that particular gun clubs at particular locations might be able to demonstrate that guns for use at the club could be securely kept, at a central point, in such a way as to preserve the safety of the public. Where this is so, we consider that exceptions to the general ban might be made.

Conservative Members referred to the famous letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). I sent similar letters, because the Labour party's position at that time was that there should be a ban on handguns being kept at home, not that there should be a total ban.

The alternative position should be considered not only by people associated with gun clubs and with the gun culture, but by the rest of us who are concerned about general developments in society.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 9:03 pm, 12th November 1996

It is an oft quoted maxim that sensational cases make bad law. We are elected to this House to weigh carefully the arguments on difficult issues and come up with objective and reasoned legislation. Many Conservative Members have spoken against the Government's proposals in the Bill. I want to deal with those proposals carefully, consider where they fall short and support them when they are correct.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) mentioned that his constituency postbag on this issue was five to one in favour of gun-using folk. My postbag is running at about 10 to one in favour of the gun-using folk. They have been to see me in my surgery, and I have had many letters from them. They are ordinary people—thoroughly decent, law-abiding people—and I think that their case should be heard this evening.

I am pleased that the Government set up the Cullen committee so that it could examine the issue objectively. I have read Lord Cullen's report. It is well reasoned, well written and well argued, and he has examined a range of witnesses very carefully. I shall return to the report later. First, however, let me warmly welcome the concession that the Government made this evening in withdrawing the money resolution and having a rethink.

The original money resolution allowed expenditure of between £25 million and £50 million. Approximately 160,000 guns are to be taken out of circulation. If the average price of a gun is £300—the amount that I calculated when I was writing my speech —that means £48 million to start with. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside says that the average price is £500, which would mean a total bill of £80 million. That does not include the accessories involved in shooting sports. I think it wholly reasonable for people to be properly compensated for all the accessories that they have had to purchase in order to obtain shotgun and firearms certificates.

Perhaps I should declare an interest at this point. I hold a firearms certificate and a shotgun certificate, I own firearms and shotguns and I have shot all my life, so I can claim to know a little about the issue.

In order to obtain a firearms certificate, people have been obliged to have expensive steel cabinets installed to satisfy police requirements for safe keeping of the weapons. I think it entirely reasonable for compensation to be provided in that regard, and I think that my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledged the need for such compensation this evening. Much more difficult issues are at stake, however, and the Home Office will have to deal with them. For example, there must be some compensation for gun clubs. If a group of law-abiding people have got together and installed their own gun safe or, indeed, armoury and the gun club is now to be closed because there is no raison d'être for its membership, it is surely incumbent on the Government to compensate the club to some extent.

I return to Lord Cullen's proposals and what the Government intend to do about them. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will examine the proposals very carefully. My right hon. and learned Friend made great play of a letter—which has appeared in the Library—from the Forensic Science Service signed by a Mr. Warlow.

As other hon. Members have said, the letter runs to one and a quarter pages; half of it relates to shotguns, which are irrelevant to the issue that we are discussing. We are going to deprive 57,000 people of their guns on the basis of a flimsy letter like that. I have to say that it is incumbent on the Government whom I support to come up with better reasons for taking large-bore handguns away from those people.

I submit that it would be perfectly possible to oblige the gun trade to design guns in a way that permits them to be easily dismantled and reassembled. As Lord Cullen stated, different parts could be kept in the gun club and elsewhere, which would make it much more difficult to steal them. I do not think that it is good enough simply to say that, because most guns today are designed in a way that makes it difficult to take them apart, we should ban large-bore pistols. I do not think that that argument holds water.

Although I support the Government's proposals, I ask them, even at this late stage, to consider allowing some larger-bore pistols to be kept centrally in gun clubs, under proper control—in armouries, perhaps—fitted with burglar alarms and constantly inspected by the police, who would also constantly inspect the official registers. The range of controls could be enormous, and it would be virtually impossible for the guns to be stolen.

We must put the issue into context. In Britain, barring the horrific incidents at Dunblane and Hungerford, in a normal year there are approximately 40 deaths by firearms. That is 40 too many, but there are 20,000 in the United States of America. I have listened with dismay to the ignorant comments of Opposition Members. If they tighten gun law and ban all guns, they will still get a Dunblane. They will not be able to legislate madmen such as Thomas Hamilton or Michael Ryan out of existence. If Opposition Members give me enough money, I can go to the black market and purchase any semi-automatic or automatic rifle that they care to name. The more they legislate against guns, the more they drive them underground. We must, therefore, be logical and calm on the issue.

There are some sensible proposals in the Bill. I intervened on my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the issue of the granting of shotgun licences. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made crystal clear the police's mistakes in granting licences. I support the Government 100 per cent. in their wanting to tighten the granting of licences, but I urge them, as I said in my intervention, to make it less arbitrary.

Let us have a national register of guns and of gun users so that every police force can quickly check who is applying for guns and whether they have any criminal record or any suspected medical history that might lead another force to refuse or to revoke a licence. That seems eminently sensible. Let the gun-using lobby pay for such a register. I know that gun applications would cost more as a result, but it is reasonable that the gun-using lobby should be responsible in this respect.

I warmly welcome other proposals in the Bill. It is right that, when applying for a gun licence, people should have to have two referees. It has been suggested that a medical practitioner should be one of them. I wholeheartedly support that, but it would be unreasonable to expect the medical profession to detect every psychopath at every stage. Anyone who knows anything about the subject knows that psychopaths can arise quickly, but applications need to be vetted closely in the first instance so that such people, if they have any history, are rooted out and not granted an application.

I hope that my hon. Friends will be able to clarify other provisions in the Bill on Report. One concerns the necessity for all firearm holders to be a gun club member. The relevant clause makes it clear that people who are granted firearms certificates for vermin destruction will not have to be gun club members—at least I hope that my interpretation is correct—but most police will grant firearms certificates on the basis that they are for vermin destruction and for target shooting, thereby obliging all firearms certificate holders to become a member of a registered gun club.

Such people will not only have to become a member of a club, but attend that gun club regularly. That is too onerous a hurdle for people who genuinely use firearms for vermin and deer destruction. I hope that my hon. Friends will be able to clarify that matter.

Much has been said tonight about the issue. I hope that we will consider it in Committee in a cool, calm manner. I warmly support the major thrust of the Government's proposals.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North 9:13 pm, 12th November 1996

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Spell home (Mr. Wilshire) on his well-measured, compassionate and sensible speech? I commend it to the House.

On a point of order, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) referred to motion No. 2 on today's Order Paper, which he described as effectively a guillotine motion. I had responsibility for whipping proceedings on the 1988 Firearms (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced after the Hungerford incident. It too was guillotined in its final stages— after the Government had introduced a whole raft of 60-plus clauses, despite having given a commitment to do no such thing. That was legislation in haste and we have since repented at leisure. There is a great danger that we will do the same with this Bill.

Much has been said tonight, and I will not repeat most of the points that have been made. I am the honorary pistol captain of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club. I will return to that matter later if there is time.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) earlier, I said that the certificates possessed by Thomas Hamilton were obtained on the basis of false information. My hon. Friend countered, quite correctly, by saying that there was no evidence of that in the Cullen report. A great deal of evidence that was not included in that report has since come to light. It is now an undisputed fact that Mr. Hamilton—as with Michael Ryan before him—obtained his firearms certificates on the basis of false information and that the police failed to exercise due diligence.

Hon. Members have said that even if the police had exercised diligence, that would not have stopped Thomas Hamilton. That is probably true, but no matter what legislation we pass, if the police are not there to enforce it or are unable to enforce it, it does not mean a thing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said that there are 240,000 illegally held guns. Some people say that there are twice as many, others say there are 14 times as many and some agencies even say that there are 16 times as many. If the police cannot enforce the law on illegal firearms, what is the point of asking them to enforce it on legally held guns that the Bill will make illegal? It is unenforceable. As responsible politicians, we have a bounden duty ensure that whatever we consign to law must be enforceable. To do anything less would be dishonest.

I have not consulted only shooters on this matter; I have consulted the police. A fortnight last Friday, I spoke to a very senior policeman who had read in the press all the comments that I am supposed to have made. His reaction was, "Frank, you are saying the right things at the wrong time." I said that if he really thought that, he should be repeating those same statements.

If the Bill passes into law, when the next foul deed is done—and as surely as night follows day it will happen at some time—people will look not to Parliament but to the police for failing to enforce the legislation that they had been led to believe would resolve the problem, but cannot. The police officer was somewhat embarrassed by that observation.

I spoke to a second policeman only yesterday. He is even more senior—I suppose I could say that he is staff rank. I put the same arguments to him. His reaction was, "Frank, if I had my way I would do away with every bloody firearm in the country." He followed that by saying, "But given the circumstances that apply at the moment, I know you are right."

What are we about this evening? Are we thinking of passing some sop to convince the people on the streets that their protection is assured? If that is the game, once again we are being dishonest. I was every bit as distressed as anyone by what happened at Dunblane, just as I was distressed by what happened at Hungerford long ago. I would support the most stringent application of Lord Cullen's proposals, and go even further.

Instead of accepting illogical proposals to pay various amounts of compensation, which is bound to prove inadequate, will not work and is unnecessary if we opt for the dismantling of weapons, we should give the money to the police to improve their manning levels, equipment and means of dealing with the problem—as they should have dealt with it before Dunblane and before Hungerford. The money resolution has had to be withdrawn, which shows how much careful preparation has gone into it. What a farce.

On the five or six occasions over the past four or five years when my constituents have called me to comp that Cleveland constabulary was being too stringent with their applications, my reaction has always been: damn good show; that is how it should be done. Time and again, I have told shooters, "If you have any belief in the respectability of your sport, you should welcome that stringency," and they agreed with me.

I have already talked about our responsibility as hon. Members. Before we cast our votes today, we must remember that we cannot con the public. We must enact achievable, enforceable, reasonable and necessary legislation—but the Bill meets none of those criteria.

I am unfortunately unable to take part in the Bill's Committee stage on Monday because, as Rapporteur of the Defence and Security Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly, I must present my report on the partnership for peace at the plenary session in Paris, but I shall be hoping to God that hon. Members see sense before it is too late. There is a danger that we will enact legislation which, in future years, will be recognised for what it is: simply silly.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South 9:21 pm, 12th November 1996

I am not a gun owner or a licence holder, although I have shot one or two pistols. I am a legislator, and I come to the House as a representative of the people of Stockton, South, who hold differing views on this issue. Some people want a complete ban on firearms; others own firearms and do not want them to be banned. My duty is to represent all those views.

Above all, however, my duty is to use my judgment. I have been in the House long enough to know that when it acts in hast, it repents at leisure, that undoing bad laws is considerably harder than passing them initially, and that when fashionable causes drive us to legislate it demonstrates the power not of the House but of the media.

I call to mind immediately the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was passed after Hungerford and intended to ensure that no other such massacre occurred. I call to mind the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was supposed to stop dogs savaging children. I find that just as many dogs are savaging small children as ever before, and that the legislation that we passed was unenforceable, ineffective and useless.

Like the vast majority of my constituents, I share the grief of parents whose children were killed at Dunblane. Indeed, my wife was a personal friend of some of them. Nothing can bring back those children. It was a tragedy, the like of which has never been seen before in this country. I can well understand the subconscious feeling that those parents must have of being cheated out of their chance to get even with Thomas Hamilton as a result of his killing himself.

We should do all that we can to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy. However, I cannot understand the revanchist quest to ban all pistols to "prevent" such a tragedy from ever happening again. What Hamilton did at Dunblane was and is illegal. There is already a law against it. I deplore the illusion being put forward that something like that can be prevented by law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said, we cannot legislate for the actions of a lunatic. Banning all guns will no more prevent the next massacre than the present law on murder has prevented previous ones.

Do any of us—right, left or centre—want to stand for election on this issue alone? Does anyone here really think that this issue should be the sole determinant of whether either party is fit to govern the country? Of course not. We all stand for office on the basis of the principles that we set out to the public at a general election. We are then trusted to decide these matters in accordance with those principles. One of the principles that I stood for at the general election was the public safety of my constituents. Another was the protection of individual liberties. Those two need to be balanced.

Looking back over my nine years' experience in the House, I think that three features make for good law. First, an Act should be an effective and enforceable measure to deal with the mischief in question. Secondly, it must be comprehensible. Thirdly, it must be fair.

If we examine the Bill with those criteria in mind, we find that, first, it will probably not be effective. Only 0.2 per cent. of legally held firearms currently figure in homicides. They do not figure at all in other major crimes. It is a fallacy to suggest that banning pistols will cut off the supply of illegal weapons.

Four years ago I went to Czechoslovakia. I went to a market place in a small town where the Czechoslovak army, as it then was, was selling off its weapons to anyone from the West who wanted to buy them. I could have put a weapon in my car boot. I then drove through Austria, Germany and France on my way back to the United Kingdom. Nobody looked in the car at the various borders that I crossed. Many criminals in this country know that that is possible.

The leading criminologist in the United States, Professor Don Kates, who teaches constitutional and criminal law at St. Louis university, considered the issue of restricting handguns. Coming from a liberal tradition, he concluded: Banning guns … defies criminological scholarship. Indeed, the consensus in criminology today is that no form of gun control has much value.

Mr. Colin Greenwood has produced the most extensive study on the subject in this country, entitled "Firearms Control: A Study of Armed Crimes and Firearms Control in England and Wales". He concluded: No matter how one approaches the figures, one is forced to the rather startling conclusion that the use of firearms in crime was very much less when there were no controls of any sort and when anyone, convicted criminal or lunatic, could buy any type of firearm without restriction. Half a century of strict controls on pistols has ended. perversely, with a far greater use of this class of weapon in crime than ever before. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), shotguns are more powerful than pistols. They are easily sawn off and are more often used in crime.

If criminals do not have access to weapons, they will find other means. Nikki Conroy was murdered with a knife and other children in the same class were threatened with knives in a constituency next to mine.

My second criterion is comprehensibility. Of course it is comprehensible to every member of the public that we ban all handguns.

The third criterion is fairness. Is it fair that 2,000 members of the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain should be banned from having matchlocks, flintlocks and percussion cap pistols? The Opposition propose the banning of all handguns. When was the last time someone was held up with a flintlock pistol? Perhaps it was by Dick Turpin.

We should consider the proposal to offer compensation for legitimately bought weapons. Is it feasible for us to hand out enormous sums of money—far more than the Government are prepared to admit—when hard-pressed public services and many more worthy causes, including hospitals, schools and prisons are seeking increased resources in the forthcoming Budget? Is it right that we should implement the legislation in two months when it took us 13 months to pass the last firearms measure, which was supposed to have solved the problem altogether?

Hon. Members may know that I am vice-chairman of the Anglo-Japanese group, so I found out what has happened in Japan where private ownership of handguns is prohibited. The relevant statute is the Firearms and Swords Control Law which provides punishment of up to 10 years forced labour for violation. The results are as one would expect: a thriving black market, an enormous criminal and illicit armoury outside any control which by all accounts is steadily growing through criminal imports. In 1952, the police in Japan seized 17 pistols from gang members. In 1972, they seized 778 pistols, and two years later 1,054. In the past four years they have seized an average of more than 1,200 weapons per year.

We should ask ourselves what we are trying to do. The Bill will affect only weapons currently held on legitimate firearms certificates. What have legitimate firearms certificate holders done to deserve that? All hon. Members know that the Bill is an overreaction and that it will not solve the problem. We all know that we are bowing to media pressure and that it will not work. Why do we not support the Cullen report's recommendations? It was a careful report and we should amend the Bill to bring it back into line with the original report.

I shall support the Bill on Second Reading because I believe that we should control guns. However, we should amend the Bill quite radically—

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State 9:31 pm, 12th November 1996

We have had a sober and well informed debate on a serious issue. For the most part, it has been conducted with detail and knowledge and, of course, strong feelings. However, there have been some exceptions. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) made yet another disgraceful speech, which plumbed depths even for him. I found the remarks of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) difficult to take in the atmosphere of consideration that has permeated the debate.

The issue is so serious and feelings run so deep that I am not the only one to wonder why, when heavy issues of conscience such as abortion, Sunday trading and now the question of caning in English schools were deemed appropriate for a free vote, an issue on which Parliament and its Members will be judged in years to come is subject to a Conservative Whip so that Conservative Members will be dragooned through the Lobby to produce a decision which, as a consequence of that, cannot be sustained.

Making a law which, from its very birth process, cannot be stable, effective or long lasting, does no justice to the strength of feeling on all sides of the argument and on both sides of the House. Even at this 11th hour, I call on the Government to drop the Whip before Monday's votes and let Parliament decide so that the law that we make will endure.

If the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) chooses to press his amendment to a vote, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench and I will vote against it. I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to do the same. We are not happy with the Bill in certain key areas, but it is better than the law at it stands at present.

I live in Dunblane, but I do not approach this debate with any irrational knee-jerk reaction to one particularly awful atrocity. Like so many others, alongside the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Education, Housing and Fisheries, I have been deeply and permanently moved and changed by what I saw and heard in Dunblane on 13 March, but I still look on this key issue as being one of ensuring public safety and not some punitive raid on a legal hobby carried out by thousands of ordinary and largely law-abiding people. I react with passion and quite natural emotion to what happened that day at the hand of a crazed, legally armed and suicidal killer, but I address the issues of firearms control coolly, rationally and dispassionately. I find offensive the idea that those who argue alongside the Police Federation of England and Wales for a complete outlawing of handguns are to be defined as merely hysterical, emotional or somehow lacking in reason or justice.

I once shot a rifle as a recreation—it is perhaps one of the few sports that I did passably well—but I will never do it again. I do not, therefore, speak with ignorance on the subject or with insensitivity about a sport that will be affected by the law that we shall pass, but I believe that the right to life is greater and more important than the right of any person to conduct themselves in any sport.

The policy is not one of vengeance. Nor is it an instant reaction to be worried about such a vast and previously unseen arsenal of handguns. Having waited nine long months for this debate, this policy is not one of indecent haste. It is not a policy of blame or emotion to say that one category of firearms more than any other poses a very different and distinct threat to public safety and that we should do something radical to prevent what has now happened twice in a single decade in our country, when legally held, legally obtained firearms were turned against ordinary citizens.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset

I know the hon. Gentleman well and I look on him, if I may say so, as a friend. He said that he has fired a rifle. I represented the United Kingdom in the modern pentathlon championships and had to fire a pistol. What he is saying is that never again will anyone represent the United Kingdom in the modern pentathlon, never again will any paraplegic who does not run the marathon or play basketball but who enjoys shooting a pistol be allowed to do so, and that such activity will be outlawed totally for all time. He is saying that we shall never again be represented at the Olympics or any other sport worldwide. Does he accept that?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

I respect the hon. Gentleman and I reciprocate his sentiments. It is with some feeling, therefore, that I say that when he makes a passionate plea for something that we might never do again, let him remember the innocents who died on 13 March and what they will never do again. We have to strike a balance—it is an onerous burden for us to do so —between those who might not take part in a sport as it is currently defined and those who have lost everything and are now campaigning to ensure that no other families have to go through the same tragedy. I do not find it difficult to make that judgment, most hon. Members do not find it difficult to make that judgment, and outside the House there is no doubt where the judgment lies.

It is not a policy of blame or emotion to say simply that we should identify handguns. It is no knee-jerk reaction to do now what we should have done after 1988 and to minimise the risk of another Hungerford or of a repetition of what happened on 13 March at Dunblane primary school.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

I ask for the hon. Member's assurance that if we pass the legislation in the form that he would like, that sort of massacre will never happen again.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

I suspected from the quality of the hon. Member's contribution that he would be unable to rise to the seriousness of the debate, and his intervention proves it. Had he been listening, he would know that I have just mentioned the minimising of risks. The Government made a decision about minimising the risks. There are 200,000 handguns in circulation and the Home Secretary, who does not consider himself a liberal dove on that or any other issue, has decided to minimise the risks by reducing that number by 80 per cent. My hon. Friends and I want to go 20 per cent. further than that in minimising the risks that we believe should be contained and which now exist.

The definition of a gun, in the original firearms legislation which replaced the zero regulation in the 1920s, is clear and unmistakable. A gun is a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged". "Lethal" is the word. Such guns are designed to kill. That is their purpose and function, and pistols stand out in a special category. No other instrument of death, no other firearm licensed today, would have enabled one man to carry 743 bullets, to fire 106 shots, to cause 58 wounds, to kill 16 children and their teacher, to injure 15 people and to commit suicide himself—all within four minutes. Pistols are small, hidable and portable. They are also horribly lethal and we have to deal with that.

A number of the points that were made in the debate should be addressed. One point in particular must be addressed seriously—the claim by hon. Members that their postbags should tell them what to do. The October 1996 edition of the magazine, Target Gun, said: It is time for us to start writing again to our MPs, a brief letter, not detailed, just stressing our participation in an honourable sport that we wish to continue to enjoy. This is particularly important if your MP is Labour, but Conservatives too need to feel the weight of the pro-gun post bag. We are feeling that.

I was handed a book at my surgery a week last Saturday by the secretary of the Clyde Valley pistol club, Mr. McGhie, who is a constituent of mine. It is 400 glossy pages long and was produced by the pro-gun lobby. It analyses all the evidence and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) chose to quote from it during the debate. It has no price on it. It is being handed out free throughout the country. That takes a lot of money. Against that, the Dunblane Snowdrop petition's total resources at the moment are, I believe, £3,000. A gun lobby with a war chest of £250,000 is set against a sentiment and a petition signed by 750,000 people and hardly any money. Nobody should come to the House and claim that we should make a decision based on the postbags that we receive on the issue.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

No. I have limited time and some of it has already been taken. Hon. Members have said that it is the individual and not the gun that causes the problem and that we should address the individual, not the gun.

Lord Cullen, in paragraph 1.11, was clear about that: There is no certain means of ruling out the onset of a mental illness of a type which gives rise to danger; or of identifying those whose personalities harbour dangerous propensities. On this ground alone it is insufficient protection for the public merely to tackle the individual rather than the gun. That is why we must address the issue, and why the Government have chosen to do so.

Some, such as the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), say that everything was the fault of the Central Scotland police. The police, they say, did not implement the law, so we should pile the blame on one of the smallest police forces in the country. Then, apparently, we would have the solution to everything that happened.

Lord Cullen examined that idea in enormous detail. A deputy chief constable, one of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary, admitted an error and has resigned. That could be an example to many people on the other side of the argument. But I remind hon. Members what Lord Cullen said about the licence: On balance I consider that there was a case for revocation of Thomas Hamilton's firearm certificate and that it should have been acted upon. However, I do not consider that this would have been the end of the matter. Using the usual double negative for which the legal profession has such a great affection, he continued: It is not certain that an appeal would have been unsuccessful. That is Lord Cullen's considered view.

I knew the murderer, Hamilton. I was uneasy and angry about him, and my wife and I campaigned against him for years. But I recognise that the evidence against him is easier to see after the event, now that his supporters—he had many—have all disappeared like snow from a dyke. It is not sufficient, and never will be sufficient, to put the blame on an individual police force.

Now the Government have offered their solution, which has been berated both by Opposition and by Conservative Members. The Home Secretary has left a major loophole by saying that the Government will exempt .22 weapons. Those are said to be somehow less lethal than the instruments of death that are to be banned. However, in the letter sent to hon. Members, the British Shooting Sports Council wrote: While the rate of fire of a single-shot gun is somewhat less than a multi-shot handgun, the difference (perhaps 12 per minute instead of 20 per minute) is not significant in the context of events like Dunblane. I draw to the attention of the House a brochure for target guns—.22 pistols. I have it in my hand now, and hon. Members can see the face of the guns that will remain in circulation, and which may indeed become more numerous because compensation money may be diverted from the larger guns to those that will remain legal.

The decision on the issue will be ours. It will be for us, as Members of the House, to judge the balance between a sport and the risk to people from the thousands of guns now in legal circulation. This is a defining moment for all of us. Heavy is the responsibility of having a vote tonight, and perhaps more serious votes on Monday. If we choose wrongly and allow more than 40,000 lethal pistols to remain in circulation, it may be we who vote, but we are hardly likely to be the ones who pay the price.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone 9:48 pm, 12th November 1996

The debate and the Bill have their roots in the tragedy of Dunblane. The tone of the debate and the nature of most of the contributions have made it a constructive discussion. I can guarantee that, although the Government will not be able to accept all the suggestions made tonight, every contribution will be carefully studied and assessed, to guide our thinking during the passage of the Bill.

In a debate to which many distinguished contributions have been made, hon. Members on both sides of the House were moved and impressed by the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). It was a very thoughtful and moving speech, which endeavoured to address an extremely difficult subject with good sense and mildness in the face of the emotion generated.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) talked about the collision of two rights—the right of people to enjoy a legitimate sport and the right of the public to be protected. We believe that we have produced a solution that achieves both those aims. We believe that the public are protected by our proposals as far as they can be. Of course, no matter what measures we take, neither I, nor my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, nor anyone else can absolutely guarantee that there will never be a repetition of the dreadful tragedies in Dunblane and, before that, in Hungerford. We have to try to find the solution that best protects the public and if, in the course of that solution, it is also possible to protect—at least to some extent—a legitimate sport that has been practised in this country to Olympic standard for 100 years, it is right that we should take that solution.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I shall; but I would point out, not in an aggressive way, that, because Opposition Members' speeches have eaten into the time available for my winding-up speech —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—this will be the only intervention I accept.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

My hon. Friend mentioned Olympic sports, but she should also address Commonwealth sports. Our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that he would look at amendments that might allow certain weapons to be brought into this country for the Manchester Commonwealth games in 2002. On that basis, will she acknowledge that, even though those weapons might come in from abroad, they will not be available for the British team to practise with? As a result, we shall be at a severe disadvantage—indeed, we shall be unable to take part even if the exemption is given. Will my hon. Friend address that problem and advise the Commonwealth games associations on what they should do in respect of Manchester?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I would point out to my hon. Friend that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary did not say that we would consider amendments to achieve the event at Manchester. In fact, no amendment would be necessary—the authority could simply be given. It is true and it must be faced that, under our proposals, it will no longer be possible for British competitors to take part in some Commonwealth games events.

I want to make progress on answering some of the points that were raised in the debate. A point that was raised consistently, not only by Conservative Members but by several Opposition Members—specifically, the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook)—was whether we should accept the Cullen preference for dismantling rather than banning. We have come to the view that there have been no convincing arguments to overcome the objections that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained in his speech and that were based on advice from the Forensic Science Service and on the document that has now been placed in the Library.

My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that existing barrel blocks are currently commercially available only for certain types of shotgun and that they are not suitable for handguns. Even if such blocks became more widely available, it would be quite impossible to guarantee that someone with enough determination could not remove them.

As for removing parts from handguns so as to disable them, my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledged that it is true to say that the slide or cylinder can be removed from many handguns and, indeed, that it is quite easy to do so. However, that is not universally the case and, more important, it would again be impossible to ensure that people did not keep illicit spares at home.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I regret that I shall not. Many questions were asked in the debate, which I want to answer. I shall be happy to engage in further discussion with the hon. Gentleman, as I shall be happy to engage in discussion on any of the questions raised by my hon. Friends and by Opposition Members, but my time is somewhat truncated.

The hon. Member for Blackburn asked whether I would consider making any changes in the age limits. The hon. Gentleman was not inaccurate, but he gave a brief description of the present system and, in the limited time available, it is important to put on record that a great many caveats are already built into provisions dealing with young people's access to the types of gun that he mentioned. For instance, a person under the age of 17—the hon. Gentleman concentrated on 14-year-olds and was not inaccurate—may not purchase or hire any firearm or ammunition, and that includes shotguns, air weapons and their related ammunition. It is an offence to sell or hire a firearm or ammunition to an under-17-year-old and, again, that includes shotguns, air weapons and ammunition. A person under the age of 15 may not have an assembled shotgun with him, unless he is under adult supervision, and it is an offence to give a shotgun or ammunition to someone under 15, and so forth—I shall not go into further detail, but I thought it necessary to put that on record.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) asked about the arrangements that we would make for museums and whether they were affected by the proposals. No changes are proposed to the existing arrangements for granting museum licences to those institutions covered by the existing legislation—those funded wholly or partly from public funds. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that we will produce an amendment to the definition to include other museums or similar institutions that are not publicly funded, such as regimental museums. I hope that that offers some reassurance to hon. Friends who raised the matter.

I was also asked about compensation for collections. Although compensation will be based on the value of the individual pieces in a collection, it stands to reason that, merely by being a part of a collection, a piece may have an enhanced value or a value that is affected by that fact, and that will certainly be taken into account. Again, I hope that that provides some of the necessary reassurance.

Much of the debate, particularly on the Government side, concentrated on compensation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made the situation extremely clear. We have made it clear that we will table an amended money resolution and that we will take into account the points raised in the debate when we consider our response to them and how that should be reflected in that resolution.

The hon. Member for Blackburn and others repeatedly pointed out that .22s can also be used to kill. That is self-evidently true, but in 95 per cent. of homicides involving the use of firearms recorded between 1992 and 1994, the weapons were not in that category. Indeed, the American experience clearly shows that fewer than one in eight of the weapons used in crime —not just for homicides—are .22s.

The effect of the Bill will be to give us some of the toughest gun laws in the world. That will provide the public with the protection that they deserve and that we are duty bound to give them.

I believe that this measure gives the public much reassurance, and that it is a wise and sensible Bill. At the same time, we have been concerned to preserve the legitimate activities of a century-old sport. I commend the Bill to the House. Possibly the reason why Opposition Members have been given a free vote is the number of dissenting voices that we have heard among their ranks.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 35, Noes 384.

Division No. 12][9.59 pm
AYES
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Hamilton, Sir Archibald
Batiste, SpencerHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Beggs, RoyHunter, Andrew
Biffen, JohnJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Body, Sir RichardJopling, Michael
Bowden, Sir AndrewKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)King, Tom
Budgen, NicholasKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Mills, Iain
Churchill, MrOnslow, Sir Cranley
Colvin, MichaelRichards, Rod
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gilbert, Dr JohnSkeet, Sir Trevor
Gill, ChristopherTaylor, John D (Strangf'd)
Gorst, Sir JohnViggers, Peter
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Sir JerryTellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)Mr. Tony Marlow and
Young, David (Bolton SE)Mr. Rupert Allason.
NOES
Adams, Mrs IreneConway, Derek
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Cook, Robin (Livigston)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Alexander, RichardCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alison, Michael (Selby)Corbyn, Jeremy
Allen, GrahamCousins, Jim
Amess, DavidCunliffe, Lawrence
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Arbuthnot, JamesCunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCurnie, Mrs Edwina
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Curry, David
Ashby, DavidDafis, Cynog
Ashdown, PaddyDalyell, Tam
Atkins, RobertDarling, Alistair
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Davidson, Ian
Austin-Walker, JohnDavis, David (Llanelli)
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Davia, Terry (B'harn Hodge H)
Baldry, TonyDay, Stephen
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Deva, Nirj Joseph
Barnes, HarryDevlin, Tim
Batiste, SpencerDewar, Donald
Battle, JohnDixon, Don
Bayley, HughDobson, Frank
Beith, A JDonohoe, Brian H
Benda, VivianDorrell, Stephen
Benn, TonyDouglas-Harnilton, Lord James
Bennett, Andrew FDover, Den
Benton, JoeDown, Jim
Beresford, Sir PaulDuncan, Alan
Boateng, PaulDunn, Bob
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Booth, HartleyDykes, Hugh
Boswell, TimEagle, Ms Angela
Bottomley, Peter (Eltharn)Eastharn, Ken
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaEggar, Tim
Bowls, JohnElletson, Harold
Boyson, Sir RhodesErnery, Sir Peter
Bradley, KeithEtherington, Bill
Bray, Dr JeremyEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfld)
Brazier, JulianEvans, John (St Helens N)
Brooke, PeterEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Browning, Mrs AngelaEvans, Roger (Monrnouth)
Burden, RichardEvennett, David
Burns, SimonEwing, Mrs Margaret
Burt, AlistairFaber, David
Butler, PeterFabricant, Michael
Caborn, RichardFatchett, Derek
Callaghan, JimFenner, Dame Peggy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Forman, Nigel
Campbell-Savours, D NForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Canavan, DennisForth, Eric
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)Fowler, Sir Norman
Carrington, MatthewFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Carttiss, MichaelFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Cash, WilliamFraser, John
Channon, PaulFreeman, Roger
Chapman, Sir SydneyFrench, Douglas
Chisholm, MalcolmFyfe, Mrs Maria
Clappison, JamesGalbraith, Sam
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochfd)Gale, Roger
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Gallie, Phil
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Galloway, George
Clelland, DavidGarel-Jones, Tristan
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyGeorge, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGerrard, Neil
Coe, SebastianGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Cohen, HarryGodman, Dr Norman A
Congdon, DavidGoodlad, Alastair
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesLlwyd, Elfyn
Gordon, Ms MildredLord, Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaLoyden, Eddie
Graham, ThomasLuff, Peter
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Lynne, Ms Liz
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McAllion, John
Gunnell, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Hague, WilliamMacdonald, Calum
Hall, MikeMcFall, John
Hampson, Dr KeithMacKay, Andrew
Hanley, JeremyMcKelvey, William
Hannam, Sir JohnMackinlay, Andrew
Hanson, DavidMaclean, David
Hardy, PeterMcLoughlin, Patrick
Harman, Ms HarrietMcMaster, Gordon
Harris, DavidMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Hawkins, NickMcNamara, Kevin
Hayes, JerryMcWilliam, John
Heald, OliverMadden, Max
Heath, Sir EdwardMaddock, Mrs Diana
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMadel, Sir David
Henderson, DougMahon, Mrs Alice
Hendry, CharlesMaitland, Lady Olga
Heppell, JohnMajor, John
Heseltine, MichaelMalone, Gerald
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)Mandelson, Peter
Hinchliffe, DavidMarek, Dr John
Hogg, Douglas (Grantham)Marland, Paul
Home Robertson, JohnMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hood, JimmyMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Horam, JohnMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Hordern, Sir PeterMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Howard, MichaelMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Howarth, Alan (Stratfd-on-A)Martlew, Eric
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Maxton, John
Howell, David (Guildfd)Meale, Alan
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)Merchant, Piers
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Michael, Alun
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Milburn, Alan
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Miller, Andrew
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hurd, DouglasMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Ingram, AdamMonro, Sir Hector
Jack, MichaelMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)Morgan, Rhodri
Janner, GrevilleMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Mowlam, Ms Marjorie
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)Mudie, George
Jessel, TobyNeedham, Richard
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)Neubert, Sir Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Newton, Tony
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Nicholls, Patrick
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Norris, Steve
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Olner, Bill
Jones, Robert B (W Herts)Oppenheim, Phillip
Jowell, Ms TessaOttaway, Richard
Key, RobertPage, Richard
Kiffoyle, PeterPaice, James
Kirkhope, TimothyPatnick, Sir Irvine
Kirkwood, ArchyPatten, John
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Pawsey, James
Kynoch, GeorgePeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Lait, Mrs JacquiPickles, Eric
Lamont, NormanPickthall, Colin
Lang, IanPike, Peter L
Legg, BarryPortillo, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Lewis, TerryPurchase, Ken
Liddell, Mrs HelenQuin, Ms Joyce
Lidington, DavidRaynsford, Nick
Litherland, RobertRedwood, John
Lloyd, Tony (Stretfd)Reid, Dr John
Rendel, DavidSykes, John
Rifkind, MalcolmTapsell, Sir Peter
Robathan, AndrewTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Robertson, George (Hamilton)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTaylor, Sir Teddy
Roe, Mrs MarionTemple-Morris, Peter
Rooker, JeffThomason, Roy
Rooney, TerryThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Rowe, AndrewThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rowlands, TedTimms, Stephen
Rumbold, Dame AngelaTipping, Paddy
Sackville, TomTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Sainsbury, Sir TimothyTredinnick, David
Salmond, AlexTrend, Michael
Sedgemore, BrianTrickett, Jon
Sheldon, RobertTrotter, Neville
Shephard, Mrs GillianTurner, Dennis
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)Tyler, Paul
Shersby, Sir MichaelVaughan, Sir Gerard
Short, Ms ClareWaldegrave, William
Simpson, AlanWalden, George
Sims, Sir RogerWallace, James
Skinner, DennisWalley, Ms Joan
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Ward, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Waterson, Nigel
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfld)Watson, Mike
Spearing, NigelWatts, John
Speed, Sir KeithWelsh, Andrew
Spellar, JohnWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Spencer, Sir DerekWigley, Dafydd
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)Willetts, David
Spink, Dr RobertWilson, Brian
Spring, RichardWinnick, David
Sproat, IainWise, Mrs Audrey
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Wolfson, Mark
Stanley, Sir JohnWorthington, Tony
Stephen, MichaelWray, Jimmy
Stewart, AllanWright, Dr Tony
Stott, RogerYeo, Tim
Strang, Dr GavinYoung, Sir George
Straw, Jack
Streeter, GaryTellers for the Noes:
Sumberg, DavidMr. Roger Knapman and
Sweeney, WalterMr. Gyles Brandreth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),That Clauses Nos. 1 to 5 and any new Clauses and Schedules appearing on the Order Paper not later than Friday 15th November which relate to the prohibition of small firearms or to further special exemptions from the general prohibition of small firearms be committed to a Committee of the whole House.That the remainder of the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee.That when the provisions of the Bill considered, respectively, by the Committee of the whole House and by the Standing Committee have been reported to the House, the Bill be proceeded with as if the Bill had been reported as a whole to the House from the Standing Committee. —[Miss Widdecombe.]

Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.