Orders of the Day — Firearms (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 11 June 1997.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My concern originates from the long-standing convention of the House that no intervention be made on a maiden speech. The debate will, I hope, be a sensible and perhaps energetic scrutiny of some aspects of the Government's proposals. There are many new Members, some of whom have delivered a maiden speech and some who have not. To avoid confusion—and perhaps embarrassment—would it be possible for you to counsel the House and hon. Members taking part in the debate, who could indicate by semaphore at the outset whether their contribution to the business of the House is their first? Perhaps you can provide some sign yourself, Madam Speaker.

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

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if a Member who stands up to speak does not have a familiar face, he should listen carefully to the first few phrases, in which a Member making a maiden speech usually pays tribute to his or her predecessor and makes nice comments about his or her constituency. If he or she fails to do that, the Speaker always knows who is making a maiden speech, as do the Whips on either side of the Chamber. Anyone who is interested can approach the Chair or the Whips to find out who is making a maiden speech. I want to be helpful in that area.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:22, 11 June 1997

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

None of us will ever forget the appalling events that took place on 13 March 1996 in Dunblane, when 16 innocent children and their teacher were gunned down by Thomas Hamilton, armed with a lawfully licensed handgun. In response to that tragedy, the previous Parliament passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all higher-calibre handguns. We supported it, but, in our view, it did not go far enough. In our manifesto, we said this about gun control: In the wake of Dunblane and Hungerford, it is clear that only the strictest firearms laws can provide maximum safety. There will be legislation to allow individual Members of Parliament a free vote for a complete ban on handguns. That is why, only five weeks after taking office, we have proposed this Bill to give effect to that manifesto commitment.

I strongly commend the Bill's proposals to the House, but I want to make it crystal clear that—as in opposition—it will be a matter for my hon. Friends' individual consciences to decide whether to support or oppose the measure tonight. But none of us should doubt the overwhelming public support for the proposed ban. For only one indication of the extent of public support for a complete handgun ban, I draw the attention of the House to the results of an opinion poll in The Daily Telegraph last Friday, which showed that 83 per cent. of those polled approved of the Government's proposed ban on all handguns.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

The opinion poll may or may not be correct, but on that logic, the Home Secretary would be introducing a Bill to reinstate capital punishment. Every time there is a poll on that subject, 75 per cent. of people are in favour. That is not a good argument for the Bill.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Of course, it is, in the end, a matter for the individual consciences of hon. Members, but, in making our decisions, we must take account of the strength of public feeling. I do not think that anything like 83 per cent. of people are in favour of capital punishment, but I am well aware that I may not have had my constituents' support when I have marched into the Lobby against it. That is a fact which I have to take into account, but it does not stop me. In a matter of public safety, it is important to recognise the extent of public support for what is in the Bill.

The Bill proposes a total ban on all civilian handguns in general use. The question was last debated on an amendment courageously moved by Mr. Robert Hughes, then Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow, West. With every justification, he said: I have evidence from my conversations with a number of Ministers and parliamentary private secretaries that, on a free vote tonight, they would vote for the banning of all handguns."—[Official Report, 18 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 789.] I suspect that it was precisely because of the prospect that a free vote would have resulted in the acceptance of Mr. Hughes's amendment that Conservative Members were placed under a three-line Whip, imposed, I believe, at the instigation of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The amendment was defeated by 25 votes and the British people have been forced as a result to wait another six months for the outright ban that they patently support to be put before Parliament.

Let me first explain the Bill's provisions. Clause 1 extends to small-calibre pistols—.22 and below—the ban instituted by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Shadow Attorney General

Everybody recognises the tragedy of Dunblane, but in the aftermath of such a tragedy—an important action has already been taken in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997—it is essential for the House to look after the liberties of citizens, including minorities. Could the Home Secretary tell us clearly on what basis of principle the Government think it proper to interfere with people's lawful recreation?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The basis of principle is the protection of the public. I do not think that there is a huge amount between us and the previous Government, who decided that the protection of the public required the banning of 80 per cent. of handguns, and that that should override what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was absolutely right to say that we should all be concerned about—the protection of minorities. We are proposing, for reasons that I shall explain when I set out the detail of how the Bill will operate, to extend that ban to 100 per cent. of handguns in general civilian use.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

On how many occasions in the past 50 years has a small-calibre pistol been used to commit murder, and what categorisations and classifications have come from that? A small-calibre handgun is designed for sport and for no other purpose, although of course it could be abused.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that issue, because I sought to establish whether the statistics on firearms murders distinguished between small-calibre and high-calibre weapons; the answer is that they do not. We know, however, as I shall explain in more detail later, that. 22 weapons are lethal. As he asks who has been murdered with such weapons, I can mention Robert Kennedy and Yitzhak Rabin. I also draw his attention to the fact that. 22 weapons are used for the purpose of killing people both by the Israeli security service and by our own Special Air Services.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

Obviously, all of us, including my right hon. Friend, are concerned about public safety. Is he aware of my constituents' overriding concern, which is the huge number of illegally held weapons? The police were called out to more than 800 firearms incidents last year in my borough and all the guns were held illegally. How will anything in the Bill help to make my constituents safe from illegally held guns, as opposed to those held in pistol shooting clubs?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am well aware, as my hon. Friend knows, of the problems with firearms incidents in her constituency, because I happen to live there. That important issue was debated at some length during the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. We cannot describe with absolute precision the relationship between the regulation of lawfully held weapons and the availability of unlawful weapons. However, we know that countries that have lax firearms controls also have a high level of use of firearms in crimes, and the reverse is true.

We may take the two extremes. The first is the United States, where it is easy in most states of the union to buy weapons over the counter, as I have seen myself, and where there is a huge level of firearms-related homicides and other incidents. At the other end of the scale, Japan has even tighter controls than this country will have, even after the Bill comes into force, and a low level of firearms-related murders. I can also tell my hon. Friend that, in 1995, almost 400 lawfully licensed pistols were stolen. Every one of those pistols was stolen for use by criminals.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

My right hon. Friend mentioned the assassination of Kennedy in the United States and of Yitzhak Rabin in Israel. Does he believe that if. 22s had been illegal in those countries, those assassinations would not have taken place?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is not possible to say that absolutely, but there is no doubt that if the availability of handguns is restricted, the prospect of their being used in crime is much less.

Clause 1 of the Bill extends to small-calibre pistols the ban instituted by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. It does that by putting small-calibre pistols in the same prohibited category of weapons as machine guns, semi-automatic rifles and higher-calibre handguns. The ban does not extend to the narrow range of exemptions already contained in the 1997 Act for people such as vets, slaughterhouse workers and race officials at athletic meetings. Provided such people can convince their police force of a specific need to hold a higher-calibre or. 22 handgun for one of the stated purposes, they may do so. In the majority of cases, a firearms certificate will have to be held with the necessary conditions, as specified by the police.

Clause 2 contains a number of consequential amendments to the 1997 Act, which bring the provisions for the surrender of small-calibre pistols into line with those for higher-calibre handguns. The clause also extends the compensation provisions of the 1997 Act to those small-calibre pistols and ancillary equipment. The compensation scheme for those weapons will not be subject to parliamentary affirmative approval, as we intend that it will follow the same lines as that for higher-calibre handguns and ancillary equipment under the 1997 Act, the scheme in respect of which was approved on Monday. A copy of the document describing the administrative arrangements for making ex gratia payments for those items has already been placed in the Library. That is because, from 1 July this year, owners of smaller-calibre pistols will be able to surrender pistols and ancillary equipment on a voluntary basis and to receive an ex gratia payment.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Is not it the case, however, that the position on compensation as a result of the Bill will be significantly different from that which arose on the previous legislation? A total ban on handguns will force many clubs to close, which will change the position. Have the Government considered compensating clubs that will be forced to close as a direct result of the Bill, because they will no longer be able to remain open for those who use. 22 calibre pistols?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have applied in the Bill exactly the same provisions for compensation that the shadow Secretary of State—I apologise to him for my error earlier—introduced when he was Secretary of State for the Home Department just a few months ago. If he can show any point in the Bill where we have departed from those principles in respect of our treatment of clubs, I shall certainly actively consider the point that he makes.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

Following the question of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about guns in illegal circulation, is there any evidence that pistol shooters who previously used large-bore pistols are using compensation money to switch to. 22 calibre guns? It has been suggested that the Act, as it stands, will not reduce the number of pistols because there will be such a transfer. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that that transfer is not taking place and that therefore, as a result of the Act, there is a fundamental reduction in the number of handguns in circulation.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It was a matter of speculation in the previous Parliament as to whether a reduction in the availability of lawfully licensed handguns down to. 22 calibre and below would result in people switching from higher-calibre handguns to lower-calibre handguns. We cannot say for certain what would have happened had there not been a change of Government. I suspect that, following our manifesto commitment, which could not have been clearer, most people who are going to hand in their higher-calibre weapons will not bother to purchase. 22 handguns, for the obvious reason that they are likely to be banned very shortly.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

On the subject of manifesto commitments, the Home Secretary will be aware that, since the legislation introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the former Home Secretary, his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has committed the Labour party to maintaining departmental spending totals. There is now a new spending commitment in respect of compensation for. 22 handguns. What impact will that have on departmental spending plans and where will compensatory savings have to be made?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That will be met from within the Home Office budget. It is a relatively small amount compared with the total compensation that was provided for by the shadow Home Secretary when he was the Home Secretary.

Clause 2 gives effect to the schedule containing consequential repeals and clause 3 deals with the short title and provisions as to commencement and extent. The Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland but not to Northern Ireland.

If, as I hope, the Bill becomes law, many entirely law-abiding holders of handguns of. 22 calibre and below will be denied the opportunity to practise their sport. To pick up the point raised by the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lye11), as elected Members of Parliament, we all have to be very careful before we use our power to prohibit actions that were previously lawful and involved no criminal intent. Simple disapproval can never be a ground alone for prohibition. I have thought about the matter a great deal. I accept that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I may have come to different judgments, but I want him and the House to know that I do not lightly come to the House proposing the prohibition of an activity that will affect many people who previously lawfully and entirely properly practised that activity.

We must bear in mind the fact that many branches of handgun competition involve higher-calibre weapons. The provisions of the 1997 Act that was brought in by the previous Government will make it impossible generally for followers of those competitions to practise their sport in Britain. All target shooting disciplines in the Olympic games are restricted to multi-shot handguns of. 22 calibre. I know that that matter weighed with the former Home Secretary when he came forward with his proposals.

The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson), when he was the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and I in opposition considered carefully whether there could be separate provision short of an outright ban for such weapons. In the event, not least because of Lord Cullen's conclusions, we decided that creating a distinction between. 22 weapons and others would not be safe or enforceable. We therefore concluded, as we said in our initial evidence to the Cullen inquiry, that, given the lethal nature of handguns, we saw a strong case for banning them altogether.

As a result of the provisions of the 1997 Act and the Bill, it will in general no longer be possible to practise handgun sports on the mainland of Britain. I want to make it clear that that will not in any way stop Britain hosting either the Commonwealth games or, at some future stage, the Olympic games. Indeed, as a north-west Member of Parliament, I am delighted that Manchester is to host the Commonwealth games in 2002. That is a great tribute to the city and to the leadership of my hon. Friend the new Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), who, as leader of Manchester city council for so many years, was instrumental in bringing the games to this country. The games will be a huge boost to Manchester and the north-west of Britain, and I wish them every success.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Do we take it that that has been affirmed by the British Olympic Association and the world Olympic organisation?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It certainly has been discussed with the organisers of the Commonwealth games, but I am not aware whether it has been discussed with those organising the Olympic games. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to deal with that when he replies to the debate.

Of course, handgun shooting events are part of the Commonwealth games, but we should not lose sight of the fact that they represent just eight out of a total of 174 sporting events at those games. It will be possible to hold pistol shooting competitions at the games, for reasons that I shall explain. In addition, it is important to point out that there are another 18 shooting competitions in the Commonwealth games that involve rifles and air pistols, and British teams will be able to practise for and participate in those competitions.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs when we discussed that matter. He will also be aware that I have always had grave opposition to the ownership of handguns. I am equally well aware of those who wish to participate in the Olympic games, the Commonwealth games and other international games, and that handgun shooting is part of those competitions. From what my right hon. Friend has said, am I to understand that we shall still allow people to take part in shooting events should the Olympic games or the Commonwealth games be held in the United Kingdom? What puzzles me is, how shall we train our competitors to participate?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We shall not be able to train our competitors. There is no dubiety about that. I am not making any pretence about it. The passage of the Bill, along with the 1997 Act that was passed by the previous Parliament, will make it impossible for British residents to practise their sport of pistol shooting. That is the reality. The House must take that into account when deciding whether to back the Bill. There should be no doubt about that.

As for our hosting of either the Commonwealth games in 2002 or the Olympic games at some stage in the future, it will be possible for pistol shooting competitions to be held within the confines of those games. That is because of the provisions of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, which is not affected either by the 1997 Act or by the Bill. Under those provisions, special dispensations can be issued on strict conditions to permit target shooting competitions within the context of the games. Those decisions are made by the Secretary of State. Should I be in that position, I would require a guarantee from the organising committee that guns would be handled with the necessary security measures in place.

We shall get in touch with the organisers of the Manchester Commonwealth games in good time, to ensure that arrangements are made to allow target shooting to take place at those championships. As I said earlier, similar arrangements would have to be made for pistol competitions held during any future Commonwealth or Olympic games held in Britain.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Is it not an extraordinary prospect that the right hon. Gentleman is holding out? Foreign teams will be allowed to come to this country to practise a sport in which, in reality, no British team will be able to participate. Is that what he is saying to the House and the country? Is he really saying that foreigners will be allowed to come here and legally do something that our citizens are not allowed to do?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I am saying that. We have to make a balanced choice. My hon. Friends will have a free vote tonight. I am not sure whether Conservative Members will have a similar free vote, but, in the light of the events of the past week, a free vote would probably be advisable on almost every issue. Most people in the country and, as I am sure will be clear in the Lobby tonight, most Members in the House support a ban on handguns in general civilian use. That is the truth and I suspect that that opinion will be approved this evening.

We then have to decide whether to allow that general ban to affect our hosting of the Commonwealth or Olympic games. I have considered the matter closely and I have looked at the powers that the House and the other place agreed in 1968 for special provision in exceptional circumstances. Those provisions are acceptable. There is a world of difference between controlling and securing the safety of the public at specific games such as the Commonwealth games in 2002 and allowing handguns to be held generally by civilians on a licensed basis.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Has the Home Secretary completely ruled out using that dispensation to enable British competitors to participate in the games and to have a period of training before doing so?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have not ruled that out altogether and if realistic representations are made to me, I shall think about the proposal. But I should require a high degree of convincing before going ahead with it.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

While the Secretary of State is thinking about that matter, will he consider the special position of Bisley? He is well aware that it is the world centre of shooting—a sport in which we have been conspicuously successful in a number of Olympic and Commonwealth games. If the Home Secretary is to consider allowing practice in the way that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested, will he also consider the special worldwide importance of competitive shooting at Bisley?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall look at the subject again, but we cannot impose a general ban and then make many exceptions.

The provision will not mean the end of all shooting disciplines for British competitors in the Commonwealth games—it is important to get that message across. There are 26 separate shooting disciplines in the Commonwealth games, and the effect of the 1997 Act and the Bill will be to ban British participation in eight of those disciplines; the other 18, including rifle shooting and airguns, will be fully available to British participants.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I cannot as I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

In view of the questions that we have heard, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not believe that the views expressed are those of the whole House. I, for one, fully support what he is doing and believe that it would be no bad thing if throughout the world there were an end to all sports involving murderous weapons.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is entirely right. We must not forget the extent of public revulsion at the holding of handguns in general civilian use that followed not only Dunblane, but Hungerford. I have no doubt that Labour Members and quite a number of Conservative Members speak for the public and also have the public's safety in mind.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, I have already given way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I think that I have dealt with his points at great length.

The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 allowed the continued use of. 22 pistols under certain conditions. That Act envisaged a complex system of pistol clubs, licensed by the Secretary of State, where. 22 weapons could be stored and used. In the debate on 18 November 1996, the then Secretary of State advanced three arguments for allowing. 22 weapons to be licensed in secure clubs. First, he claimed by implication that. 22 weapons were inherently safer than higher-calibre weapons. He said: high-calibre guns are particularly attractive to criminals and their storage in gun clubs in large numbers, whether dismantled or in one piece, would make gun clubs more attractive targets for theft."—[Official Report, 18 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 787.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman's view that criminals would distinguish between higher and lower-calibre weapons is palpable nonsense.

The House was invited to believe that if a criminal gang thought that it could break into a gun club—as surely a determined gang could do—it would then turn away and relinquish the loot the moment it discovered that it contained not. 357 magnums, but. 22 semi-automatics. It will not happen like that.

Throughout debates in the previous Session, I was struck by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's curious unwillingness to face up to the fact that. 22 weapons can kill. However, as I said earlier, they can. Many murderers and assassins choose. 22 weapons, and the criminals of whom we are talking would quickly switch their affections to lower-calibre weapons if they thought that they were more easily available.

The truth is, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman by implication accepted, that no level of security could guarantee that. 22 pistols could not be removed from licensed clubs; nor is it possible to safeguard the public when those pistols need to be removed, for example, for servicing or repair or for participation in a competition elsewhere in the country or overseas. In his report, Lord Cullen quotes the British Shooting Sports Council as saying: 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 second argument advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to justify the partial ban was that higher-calibre weapons are four to six times more powerful than a. 22 pistol."—[Official Report, 18 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 787.] As we have seen so often, he allowed his casuistry to get the better of him. The issue in terms of public safety is not the absolute power of the weapons, but their ability to kill. Lord Cullen destroyed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument when he wrote in his report: It should not be supposed that. 22 rimfire cannot be as lethal as other ammunition. The BSSC pointed out that …. 22 cartridges would be as lethal as 9 mm. The truth is that. 22 weapons can kill as surely as a higher-calibre weapon.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's third argument was that if there were a complete handgun ban, much shooting would be driven underground. As he knows, I would never dismiss that argument—indeed, it should be taken seriously—but the more I consider it, the less weight it carries with me. By definition, all the weapons under consideration are clearly identified, with the owners known to the police. Penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment apply to those who break the law and fail to hand in their weapons. For legitimate sportsmen and women, opportunities remain for competitive sports with shotguns, rifles and airguns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) raised the issue of the number of crimes committed by those in possession of unlawful weapons. We have to bear it in mind that the Bill will release a great deal of police time from licensing gun clubs so that they can search for and identify criminals who use guns. For example, section 13 of the 1997 Act requires pistol holders who want to move their gun outside their normal club for certain prescribed reasons to obtain police permits. Section 13 is written in complicated language and that process would be especially bureaucratic for the police to administer, involving them in possibly endless checking and double-checking of the movement of single guns or small groups of guns.

There is a wider point to be made in support of the Bill. Too often, we wait for disaster or worse to strike before taking effective action to secure the public's safety. I have two words for those who say that a total ban goes too far: Hungerford and Dunblane. I claim no special foresight, but if the House had listened over the years to the sage warnings of several hon. Members on both sides, those appalling tragedies might have been averted. Those hon. Members include my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), both of whom have called consistently over the years for tighter controls.

The House might also have listened to the warnings of the Home Office. Almost 30 years ago, my Department established a review of firearms controls, the findings of which were published in a Green Paper in 1973. That Green Paper recommended highly restrictive controls on firearms, a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and tighter licensing procedures. Had those recommendations been implemented, Michael Ryan could not have lawfully possessed the AK47 rifle with which he killed eight of his 17 victims at Hungerford, and Thomas Hamilton might well have been denied a licence for the 9 mm Browning with which he killed all his victims.

We have to recognise that all of us failed after Hungerford to put in place the controls necessary to reduce significantly the risk of a repeat tragedy. Some 15 months on from the Dunblane killings, we cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

We should listen carefully to the advice of the police, who know best about the dangers to society of the criminal use of weapons. Both the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association have come out in favour of a full and total ban. The Police Federation said about our proposals: The proposal to ban the private possession of handguns is a victory for common sense. No system can guarantee to exclude every potential mass killer, but we owe it to the victims of Hungerford and Dunblane to take the strongest possible action to prevent a repetition of past tragedies. It also said: We believe the public will strongly support this decisive action. I believe that the police are right in their opinion of the merits of the Bill.

If, on the basis of the votes today—and later in the other place—this House agrees to extend the ban in the 1997 Act to all handguns, I hope that it will be possible to speed up the remaining stages of the Bill before it goes to the other place. Subject to the views of the other place, I hope that the ban on. 22 pistols can be introduced well before the end of the year.

No system of controls, however tough, can guarantee that there will never again be another Dunblane or Hungerford. There will always be a way for the desperate, the cunning and the wicked to murder and maim their fellow men and women. A responsible Government must do all that they can to mitigate the risks and to set a legal framework that gives the maximum possible protection to the innocent. The 1997 Act, introduced by the previous Government and passed by the previous Parliament, did, I accept, go a long way in improving firearms controls in this country. However, as I said at the time, that Act did not go far enough. Its fundamental flaw was that, illogically and dangerously, it allowed 40,000 handguns to remain available for use. I believe that it is now the duty of the House to close that loophole and institute a total ban once and for all.

I recognise, as I always have recognised, that many law-abiding shooters will be inconvenienced or worse, and I regret that. But I am in no doubt about where the balance should be struck between the right to practise a sport and the right to life—especially the right to life of a child. By banning all handguns, this short Bill will contribute greatly to public safety. It will meet the legitimate demands made to the House by many people since the events of Dunblane. To deny the public the protection that the Bill offers would be an abdication of our responsibility. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It relates to the good reputation of the House—which has suffered in the recent past—which I hold dear, which I believe you hold dear and which I am sure all hon. Members regard as of immense importance.

Rumours are circulating that an internal Labour party inquiry into the actions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) has now been completed. In the interests of the good reputation of the House, should not the details of the findings of that inquiry be made available to hon. Members?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Rumours of that sort are not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not time that the good name of the House was protected by the Government setting up the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges? Why have not the Government done so, and will they now act?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That matter is being dealt with elsewhere. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 4:58, 11 June 1997

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 the Firearms (Amendment) Bill since the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 has dealt comprehensively with the problems identified by Lord Cullen; believes that there is no justification for a total ban on all handguns including those of. 22 calibre which would eliminate all legitimate target shooting; and calls on the Government to delay this intemperate Bill until the Firearms (Amendment) Act has been fully implemented and a proper assessment made of its impact.' The proposals in the Bill are unnecessary, unfair and expensive. We were all horrified by the tragedy at Dunblane in March 1996. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which was the previous Government's response to that dreadful event, received Royal Assent just three months ago. That Act banned all handguns from the home, it outlawed higher-calibre handguns of the type used by Thomas Hamilton and it ensured that lower-calibre handguns could be kept and used only in secure gun clubs. The 1997 Act would take at least 160,000 handguns-80 per cent. of all those held legally in England and Wales—out of circulation.

The Home Secretary gave the impression that the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association spoke for all organs of the police. As the Association of Chief Police Officers explained: The ban on high calibre handguns and the tightening up of firearms controls generally"— in the previous Government's legislation— will provide a significant improvement in public protection. ACPO's measured view suggested retaining a strictly controlled ability for handgun competitions, 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. So the Association of Chief Police Officers supported not the legislation before the House today but the legislation put before Parliament by the previous Government and passed by the last Parliament. That legislation provides the public with the protection that they need and deserve. It gives this country some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, but allows pistol shooting with low-calibre handguns to continue in secure conditions. The Act has not yet been implemented. Only the night before last, we were debating the compensation arrangements that would apply to those unable to shoot pistols as a consequence of its provisions.

What, therefore, is the justification for introducing the current proposals with such unseemly haste? Why not wait at least until the effect of the 1997 Act can be assessed? Why are the Government so hell bent on denying shooters, including those who take part in Olympic competitions, any opportunity to pursue and enjoy their sport? After all, it is not as though the Labour party has a long-standing commitment to abolishing all pistol shooting. As recently as 24 September last year, the Minister without Portfolio wrote in a letter to one of his constituents: There has unfortunately been some misrepresentation of Labour's position on the ownership of handguns. We support a ban on the holding of handguns in residential property. People such as yourself will still be able to own handguns but they must be kept safely under lock and key at properly run centres. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), said: We do think that handguns should be limited to the Olympic standard of. 22 calibre and we do think that there is an argument for handguns to be kept in secure storage under supervision at clubs. That was, perhaps predictably, in an article in the Shooting Times and Country Magazine of 3 October 1996.

Both those observations represented a rare outbreak of common sense on the part of the hon. Gentlemen concerned. I suppose that we should not be surprised that it did not last long. The Labour party turned its back on that commonsense approach at its party conference last year, when both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary committed Labour to a total ban on handguns, well before the publication of Lord Cullen's report.

When we introduced our proposals based on, although not precisely following, the views expressed by Lord Cullen in his report, Labour Members opposed them on the basis that they did not go far enough. Clearly, that is the basis of the present legislation. However, where is the justification for it? Where is the compelling need that must always be present if the state is to justify intervention in the otherwise lawful habits of law-abiding citizens? It cannot possibly be said that the 1997 legislation has not worked—it has not yet been tried. In this, as in so many other issues, the new Government demonstrate an arrogance and contempt for the rights of minorities, which will in due course prove their undoing.

The Conservative party believes that the principle of individual liberty that lies at the root of our democracy should compel any Government to take fully into account the views of minorities and minority interests. We contend that there is no compelling justification for the Bill, which is why we shall oppose it.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

Does not the shadow Minister wish that he had gone further with the measure that was presented to us in the previous Parliament? He said that the previous Government did not act in conformity with Lord Cullen, whose first recommendation was dismantling. If that had been adopted, it could have been applied to. 22s, and the two vastly opposed positions that now exist in the House might have been avoided.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, for the reasons that he knows well. We debated at great length the pros and cons of dismantling during the passage of the previous legislation. The hon. Gentleman had one view on that, and I had another. It would not do anyone any good if we went over that ground again.

I remind the House of the nature of the constraints introduced by the 1997 Act on the shooting of. 22 pistols—the only pistol that the law would still permit. Under the Act, those pistols could be used only in gun clubs that demonstrated that they met strict security criteria and that could satisfy the police that their premises had adequate security and that appropriate procedures were put in place to avoid any unauthorised removal of firearms from the premises.

Pistols could be moved from the club only if they needed to be repaired or if the owner were competing in a national target shooting competition at a different club, but, before the gun could be moved, a permit would be required from the police, and the gun would have to be carried by a third party whom the police were satisfied was a fit and proper person to discharge that responsibility.

The Act certainly does not permit unrestricted use of. 22 calibre pistols, but it does allow their limited use, so that those who have enjoyed pistol shooting for many years can still do so. Target shooting has a long tradition in Britain. It is an Olympic competition and has been since the 1870s. A total ban would kill off a sport in which Britain does so well. In the 1995 Commonwealth games, for example, this country won four gold medals in. 22 events. At the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, disabled shooters won a gold and a silver medal. Many hundreds of law-abiding people would lose their sport, even though there is no real reason to suppose that the public would be protected more effectively than they would be by the 1997 Act.

For some, target shooting is more than just a sport. I give one example. The British Paraplegic Shooting Association stated that disabled people have found competitive target shooting extremely useful as a rehabilitation means to help with balance and confidence, primarily in the use of a wheelchair and sport. This provides them with a better quality of life and respect for themselves as disabled people in an able-bodied world. What is the Government's justification for this draconian measure? As I said, there is no real reason to suppose that the proposals will increase public safety. Indeed, depriving pistol shooters of any legitimate opportunity for exercising their sport leads to the real danger that some of them might be tempted to exercise that sport outside the law, in circumstances where the risk to the public might inevitably be greater. The force of that point, which I have repeatedly made, was explicitly recognised by the Home Secretary in a discussion with me which took place on Radio 4 last November, which he acknowledged in his speech a few moments ago.

That draconian measure might actually lead to an increase in the risk to the public, and not a decrease, as we would all wish.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham Labour, West Renfrewshire

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, as the Opposition keep saying, that there are folk who will be driven underground and will take part in illegal activities with guns. Surely he is not encouraging folk to do that, once the House has taken a decision on. 22 guns and high-calibre weapons. Let us remember why the debate came about: because of the tragic circumstances of Dunblane. People can be killed just as well by. 22 guns. That is what the debate is about. I am surprised that the Opposition keep referring to folk going underground and acting illegally. We determine the law here. We shall give them 10 years in gaol if they are caught.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that assertion of a proposition does not help to establish whether or not it is well founded. Of course no member of the Opposition is encouraging anyone to use pistols in a way that is prohibited by law. We are highlighting the danger that that might happen and, indeed, the Home Secretary acknowledged that it was a point with some force to it, which had to be weighed in the balance. Throughout history, that danger has often followed total prohibition. We should always take account of it and weigh it in the balance. It does not always carry the day, but we suggest that the potential consequences of the legislation should be taken seriously. For that and the other reasons that I have identified, we regard the legislation as unnecessary and unfair.

It is also expensive. One would not begrudge the money if the legislation meant increased protection for the public. However, as I have explained, there is no basis for that assertion. The Government have estimated that compensation would be likely to run to more than £30 million for weapons and their accessories. Where do the Government intend to find that money? The Home Secretary said that it will come from within existing Home Office budgets. What does that mean? Does it mean that expenditure on closed circuit television or on the police will be sacrificed in order to compensate law-abiding owners of lower-calibre handguns?

The Government might like to consider the following facts. The sum of £30 million could pay for the installation of several thousand closed circuit television cameras up and down the country. It also represents half the funding that police forces such as Wiltshire and Gloucestershire received in this financial year. It must surely be better to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on more closed circuit television cameras or on the police than on compensation for law-abiding. 22 calibre handgun owners.

Furthermore, there is good reason to suggest that the estimates in the financial memorandum to the Bill do not tell the whole story. During the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill earlier this year, we decided against compensating gun clubs for the impact of a ban on high-calibre handguns. An important justification for that view was the fact that gun club members could continue to shoot. 22 and lower-calibre pistols. A total ban on handguns would force many clubs—especially those whose members fire only handguns—to close. Does that not alter the previous position on compensation? Have the Government considered compensating clubs that will be forced to close as a direct result of the Bill?

When I put those questions to the Home Secretary, he said that he would re-examine the matter if the Bill departed in any way from the principles that informed our approach to the previous legislation. The argument is not that the Government are departing from those principles, but that the application of those principles will lead to different consequences as a result of the total ban on pistol shooting that this legislation provides. We need answers to those questions and I hope that the Minister of State will address them in his winding-up speech.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made some well-founded comments about the Bill. However, he must recognise that some clubs were forced to contemplate closure under the previous legislation because they could not afford to implement costly security measures. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman refused those clubs' bid for compensation on that account.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I acknowledge that fact, but the current considerations are different. We debated that subject at great length during consideration of the previous legislation. At the time, I pointed to many precedents when the imposition of more stringent requirements under health and safety and similar legislation did not involve compensation. That proposition is entirely different from the one that I am putting now. Gun clubs will have to close as a consequence not of extra security requirements but of the fact that pistol shooting will no longer be permitted at all. That is an entirely different point and we look forward to hearing the Minister's response at the end of the day.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

My right hon. and learned Friend has put his finger exactly on the point. I have been told of one club that has contracted to spend nearly £16,000 on security equipment in order to meet the requirements of the existing Act. Its owners will face bankruptcy if the legislation goes ahead and no compensation is paid.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point which deserves a serious response—it certainly does not deserve to be met with the hilarity that we observed on the Government Front Bench a moment ago.

The Opposition want to see firm gun controls in place. Like the Government, we are committed to ensuring that gun controls are rigorous and protect the public. Throughout our time in government, the Conservatives tightened gun controls when we found it necessary to do so, following due consideration. As a result, Britain has some of the world's toughest controls on the private possession of guns.

In 1982, we recognised the necessity of making it more difficult to possess imitation firearms that could be readily converted into working weapons. We changed the law so that the same tight licensing controls established by the Firearms Act 1968 applied to the imitation and to other dangerous firearms. In 1988, following the Hungerford tragedy in August 1987, we strengthened gun controls further. As a result, many of the most dangerous weapons—such as self-loading rifles and short-barrelled semi-automatic shotguns—were banned. We also strengthened controls on shotguns and on the safe keeping of all legally held firearms. Following the Dunblane tragedy in March last year and the completion of Lord Cullen's inquiry, we took the further action that is contained in the 1997 legislation.

The need to protect the public should be the main priority of any Home Secretary—it certainly was mine. Protecting the public from gun-related crime was a priority of the last Government. We took firm action not only to ensure that we had some of the toughest gun controls in the world, but to deal with the criminal misuse of illegally held firearms. For example, in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, we increased the maximum penalty for taking a gun to a crime from 14 years to life imprisonment. The Labour Opposition of the day opposed us virulently. The then shadow Home Secretary, now Lord Hattersley, described the provision as squalid and disreputable, and the present Prime Minister and Home Secretary voted against it.

It should be a cardinal principle of government that action taken to interfere with the liberty of the individual must be shown to have compelling justification. Clearly, there will frequently be room for argument as to whether such compelling justification exists. This legislation interferes with the liberty of the individual and no compelling justification for it has been demonstrated—indeed, none exists. The Bill is a prime example of the new Government's weakness for gesture politics. It is unnecessary and unfair, and that is why we shall oppose it.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling 5:16, 11 June 1997

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak so soon after making my maiden speech. As the parliamentary representative of the Stirling constituency and the town of Dunblane, I want to identify some of the legitimate opportunities of my constituents that were infringed on 13 March 1996. I wish to put the debate in some context, because I believe that it is a continuation of the unfinished debate from earlier this year.

Like many hon. Members, I wish I were not discussing this issue today. However, I think that we should remember exactly why we are doing so. Thomas Hamilton entered a primary school in Dunblane with four high-calibre guns and 473 bullets. He fired 106 shots, killing 16 children and their teacher and injuring 15 others. Only eight years before, a similar incident had taken place in the town of Hungerford. We must never forget the context of this debate.

We have been criticised for introducing an emotional element to the gun debate, but I remind hon. Members that emotion differentiates us from other species. We should never forget the strength of the human spirit. Time is a great healer, and it is sometimes easier to put the facts from our minds. However, I want hon. Members to reflect for a few moments on where they were on 13 March 1996. I want them to remember how that day developed and the way they felt.

At first, it seemed as though only one child—think about that—had been killed. However, the numbers soon increased and there was incredulity at how many children had been killed. We then witnessed the despair of parents, families and the whole community. I observed the House's reaction from outside and I was impressed by the way in which it empathised with the people of Dunblane on that day.

Since then, there have been many developments. For example, there was the Snowdrop petition, containing 750,000 signatures. It reflected the public opinion of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke. The Cullen inquiry took place and many of the Dunblane parents listened to the evidence that was presented to it. A momentum was created and hope increased, but we went only part of the way.

The previous Government's Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 certainly tightened regulations and imposed restrictions, but it left a lethal loophole. We know that. 22 calibre guns are still in circulation under current legislation and it has been amply illustrated that these guns are not toys. The Police Federation's evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs confirmed that. The small-calibre single-shot handgun is as lethal as a larger-calibre gun. The loophole could still be exploited and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the British Shooting Sports Council highlighted that. The 1997 Act presented us with restrictions, but, at the same time, it put the pursuit of a minority who are involved in a sport above the protection of the public and their need and demand for public safety.

Labour's case in opposition was always that the House should establish a positive case for the possession of handguns. Two principal arguments are constantly advanced in trying to make that case. First, it is said that it is the individual, not the gun. Undoubtedly, Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan were evil and wicked people. They do not reflect honest, law-abiding citizens who shoot. We cannot legislate, however, for what an individual does with a gun. Lord Cullen identified that fact himself when he said that it is insufficient protection for the public merely to tackle the individual rather than the gun.

Secondly, it is often argued that target shooting is an international sport. I do not know whether I am the only Member of this place who is appalled that we are setting a balance of four gold Olympic medals against the lives of children and adults in Hungerford and Dunblane.

We are challenged with the statement that we are discriminating against those who wish to shoot. I recognise the dedication of sports people and—

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

If the balance being struck was as the hon. Lady described, she would be entirely right. Would she not accept, however, that the first thing that must be established is that this proposed legislation will increase the protection of the public? In the absence of any compelling evidence that it will, it is legitimate to examine the other consequences of the Bill if it is enacted. That is the point.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the convention of the House that no intervention is made during a maiden speech?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

I thought that I made that clear at the beginning of my remarks.

I take up the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Home Secretary. I said at the beginning of my speech that today's debate was an extension of the one that took place earlier this year when the previous Government introduced a bad piece of legislation. I hope that tonight we shall see a real conclusion to the debate on guns and not the half-baked one that we had earlier in the year.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

I was a Member of this place when, earlier in the year, it discussed the possession of handguns. I hoped that the Select Committee on Home Affairs would be able to give some guidance to the House. I remember the shock and horror following publication of the Select Committee report—it was forced through by Conservative Members—that opposed a total ban on handguns. I remember how that impacted on the people in Dundee whom I represent. Over the following six or seven weeks, a petition was organised in Dundee calling for a total ban on handguns to be introduced by the then Parliament. Over a short period, 6,000 people signed that petition. It was presented to my hon. Friend's predecessor, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, who did not even bother to reply. That illustrates the real reason why we got it wrong earlier. The then Government just did not care. They did not listen.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend. I suggest that many Conservative Members are entirely out of touch with the aspirations and wishes of ordinary people, which were reflected by my hon. Friend's constituents.

I recognise the wish of sports people to compete. I recognise also that they have rights in a democratic society. I assert, however, that their rights cannot and should not be put above the rights of others. I regret that their liberties will be infringed, but not as much as I regret the deaths of 16 children and their teacher in Dunblane on 13 March.

Life choices are still in front of the sports people who will have to give up pistol shooting. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, they can take up other shooting disciplines. They can take up hurdling, for example. They can do all sorts of other things and win gold medals for us in sports where those medals have not been won before. There are no choices left for the children who were killed in Dunblane or for the people killed in Hungerford.

One of the most moving comments that I heard was made by the mother of Mhairi Macbeth on the "Panorama" programme. She said that the tragedy was that she could not see the end of her child's story. I hope that today we can draw an end to the stories of those children who were killed.

We can be criticised for having an emotional response to what has happened. It is, however, an emotional issue when young people are shot down. Our emotional response is linked to a logical response, and that is to remove all handguns from our society.

Events, no matter how tragic, can often be used as a springboard to create a better world. That is our opportunity today, an opportunity which was missed earlier. Nothing can bring back the dead children and adults of Dunblane and Hungerford, but, by moving to extend the handgun ban, we can keep faith with them, with their families and with communities across Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole who signed the Snowdrop petition and other petitions.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the shadow Home Secretary, said that we legislate when it is necessary to do so. That is the tragedy that we face, for we have legislated only when it was necessary to do so. I hope that tonight we shall legislate because we want to do something positive arising from two terrible tragedies.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Shadow Attorney General 5:27, 11 June 1997

The House will recognise that we have heard an utterly sincere speech from the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who represents Dunblane, which was devastated by the shooting tragedy. The hon. Lady and the Home Secretary have both recognised and sympathised with the shooters whose rights we shall take away. Both have recognised also that there must be a principle on which we base our approach. The principle has to be that it is necessary in the public interest, in this instance for the enhancement of public safety, to make the change that is set out in the Bill and that the Bill requires.

I listened most carefully to the Home Secretary's speech and I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for seeking to intervene a second time. I wished only to highlight the point I am about to make. He did not really respond to the question whether the total banning of handguns, including the lighter. 22 handguns, is necessary for public safety and whether it will significantly enhance public safety. I do not believe that that case has been made out.

The House recognises—the Home Secretary acknowledged this—that, even if we were to ban every gun in this country, including shotguns and rifles, and even if we were to ban kitchen knives, we could not guarantee that the single-minded loner would never create an atrocity of the sort that we saw at Dunblane. It is not necessary to labour the point unduly, but it is one worth making. A gun does not have to feature in an atrocity. Poisons, although properly restricted, are obtainable; they are necessary, for example, in agriculture. An atrocity could occur through their use. As we know, tragically, from terrorism, it would be all to easy with the use of fertilisers, and household substances as simple as sugar, to destroy just as many lives in a moment of evil-minded atrocity. The same would be true—indeed, we very nearly saw it—of a machete. When dealing with small children, it is all too easy to kill.

The question that the House must address—I was deeply saddened that the Prime Minister allowed it to be raised in such a simplistic way at the end of Prime Minister's questions—is whether this measure is necessary and proportionate—

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Lady says yes, but please address the issues.

Is the Bill really necessary and proportionate to protect the citizens of this country? I believe—I do not criticise the sincerity of any hon. Member—that the Bill is, understandably, an emotional response, which still remains following the horrific tragedy of Dunblane; but that does not make the case. The Prime Minister himself has said that he believes that the House has a moral responsibility to pass the Bill and that he has a personal belief, but neither he nor the Home Secretary has really addressed and made out the positive reasons for the ban.

One can become rather saddened in the House sometimes when there is a mood such as this. I am grateful to the hon. Members on the Government Benches who are here to take part in the debate, but most hon. Members will come and vote on a free vote not having heard the arguments. The very fact that the Government thought it right to make this a free vote points up the principle that I am highlighting. If the Government really believed that this measure is necessary and proportionate in the public interest, they would make it a Government measure. They would not simply leave it to a free vote, because—the Home Secretary is chatting to his hon. Friend, but he is serious minded about this—the Government say that they recognise that they have a duty to protect the rights of minorities. Unless the Government can show that passing this measure will significantly enhance the safety of the people of this country, they should not encourage their supporters and should not seek to persuade the House to pass this measure through a Government Bill. What happens on private Members' Bills is an entirely different matter.

I shall conclude by making one positive point and then give a summary. There is a very positive reason for not banning. 22 pistols used by club members for target shooting. Properly monitored clubs are close-knit communities of highly responsible people. Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate will probably recognise that. Such clubs exist in my constituency.

There are also small businesses—I know of one, to which I go from time to time because I shoot with a shotgun—that run pistol shooting in a highly responsible way. Those bodies monitor their members far more effectively than the police could ever be expected to do and provide a positive defence against oddballs such as Ryan and Hamilton—who were very odd indeed. Those bodies would be far more likely to spot such people and, if necessary, report them, rather than leaving it to an unfortunate police officer—I have the greatest sympathy with the police involved here—and asking the officer to deal with it on paper; and they would do that, not least because if any member of their club were to behave irresponsibly, he would endanger the licence of the club itself.

In summary, therefore, this is what the House is considering. Here we have a popular sport, an Olympic sport, a Commonwealth games sport, enjoyed and participated in by people who are recognised to be highly responsible. There is no real case that these comparatively light pistols are exceptionally dangerous or that they are any more dangerous than the other implements and substances that I mentioned. The use of such pistols by club members is closely licensed and monitored and is demonstrably responsible. It is not necessary in the public interest to ban them. There was indeed overwhelming political feeling following Dunblane, which led to the 1997 Act which introduced a regime that is already more draconian in its controls and more stringent than those that exist almost anywhere else in the world. Nothing further will be gained in public security by a complete ban. As is now widely recognised, we in Parliament have, in these circumstances, a duty to protect the liberties of our constituents and the rights of minorities.

I ask the House in all sincerity at the very least to suspend judgment, to give the 1997 Act a chance to succeed, and not, on careful reflection, to give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North 5:35, 11 June 1997

I have in my hand some correspondence to a constituent from a Member of the House who knows of my intention to refer to it and who sits on the Opposition Benches. It might be an appropriate starting point for our discussions tonight, which I am hoping will be sensible and sober and will have a bit of logic about them, which has been in short supply in the past.

The letter, which is dated 17 February, says: There is, to be honest, little that I can now do to prevent this legislation being enacted, but I am anxious to ensure that your own views are noted at the highest possible level. To that end I think that the best thing that I can do at this stage is to write to the Prime Minister … to take up with him the important points which you raise. A handwritten postscript says: P.S. I was saddened to learn that you will not be supporting me in the General Election. I am a Conservative but have reflected in my vote and my contacts with Ministers the view that we share on this issue. It seems strange to me that I should be "punished" for so doing! The constituent replied: Let me stress please that I do appreciate what you have done. Further, I fully agree that it is unfair that you should be 'punished' for the actions of others with whom you do not agree.However, you must forgive me if I say that I feel great empathy with you. I too, along with thousands of others involved in shooting are being punished in a very real sense for the actions of one lunatic and the failings of one senior policeman. We too think such retribution very unfair". We feel totally betrayed by this spiteful and vengeful legislation. To be so punished without adequate compensation is iniquitous. I shall make plain my interest in this legislation. I am a qualified schoolteacher; I taught for many years. I am a grandfather. I have seven grandchildren and one adopted grandchild. I am also a trustee and director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Lucy Faithfull—Baroness Faithfull—formed a foundation, with my help and that of a number of others, to care for children's welfare and to counter child abuse of a sexual and physical kind, a matter that is close to my heart. Lucy died the day that Dunblane happened. Some say that she had been called early to greet the children at the gates of heaven. That is a terribly emotional statement, but there might be some truth in it.

I have become involved in this because of media focus on the fact that I also happen to be, for my sins, honorary pistol captain of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club. I am not a shooter. With a rifle, I am a little above average. With a pistol or revolver—I do not like the term handgun, as it is an American expression—I am moderately safe. Notice that I say "safe", because one of the things about gun clubs is that they train people to handle firearms safely: not to point them, whether loaded or not, at other people. They must conform to range discipline. They must obey the qualified range officer. They must undergo a period of probation and be subject to approval by qualified club officers.

By reason of my being honorary pistol captain—incidentally I have never owned or wanted to own a firearm and I have never sought a firearms certificate—the media concentrated their attention on me.

Another of my qualifications is that I acted as Opposition Whip on what I choose to call the Hungerford Bill. I remember the times and the arguments that we had on that Bill. I see that other Members who took part in those proceedings with me are present and they will remember them just as clearly. We appealed to the Government of the day to listen to a range of anomalies related to firearms legislation generally. The strange thing about the Hungerford Bill was that it did not touch the subject of handguns—there, I have used the term. More than half the killings at Hungerford were conducted with a 9 mm Beretta automatic. That Bill never touched 9 mm Berettas.

Those shortfalls were pointed out to the Government of the day. The Bill was guillotined by the Government and 67 clauses were not debated, not because of the Labour opposition but because of the opposition of Conservative Members. There were objections and, by one means or another, an arrangement was made that if we could not debate those clauses we would express our opinion by going through the Division Lobby. That evening, 18 Opposition Members—I was one of them—kept 140 Conservative Members in the House until about 9 o'clock the next morning.

Many of the Members who have been present in the House since 1987 and are now expressing grave concerns about circumstances and incidents that have taken place since, were not here that night. That is how much concern they showed about Hungerford in those days—but not me, and not some of my colleagues, so I want no one to question my qualifications to talk on this topic.

I have every sympathy with the parents of Dunblane, for God's sake. It was a horrendous experience. If I seriously thought for one second that by enacting this legislation we would obviate another incident of that kind, I would have signed the Snowdrop petition months ago. If I thought that that could be achieved by banning handguns, by completely removing guns from Britain, by God, I would be leading the charge to do that. But, frankly, that is not happening.

What is happening is a great diversion of attention away from the serious issues behind the circumstances. The relationship between Thomas Watt Hamilton and the police in central Scotland was a distinctly unhealthy one, and I want to say why. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stated today that the guns held by Thomas Watt Hamilton were lawfully held. We know for a fact that Michael Ryan at Hungerford held illegal weapons. The police knew but did not act.

There is incontrovertible evidence, which I will provide to anyone who wishes to hear it, that Thomas Watt Hamilton's first firearms certificate was illegal. The statements on it were incorrect, inaccurate and unchecked by the police. The first purchase of a firearm was illegal, so any renewal and change of weapon was, by definition, illegal, because the renewals are based on the veracity and validity of the first purchase.

We also know that Thomas Watt Hamilton had threatened a woman with a loaded firearm through the open window of his stationary vehicle and that he was admonished by the police. My God, can hon. Members imagine that—admonished? Why on earth was he not dragged in and his certificate and weapons removed? Everyone knew that he was a danger and a liar. There was unforgivable negligence and we must recognise that.

We also know that Sergeant Hughes, the firearms inquiry officer, had made inquiries about Hamilton's character, personality and conduct. He pleaded with his senior officers to authorise the removal of the weapons and certificates and he was ignored—ignored because, he said, the senior police officer was afraid that if he was taken to a court of law on appeal he would not be able to make the case stick. That is a problem for the Scottish Office. It is a problem which the Scottish Office and Scottish police ignored, which resulted in Dunblane.

Now, sadly, there has been a combination of cosmetic electoral competition, which has obfuscated the real issue. The Labour party said, understandably, that it wanted to ban. 38s. The Home Secretary of the day said that the Government would do that. That was an equation. An election was coming up and it was not going to be enough, so we had to go one better and we did, and we have never stopped competing since. That is the wrong way to implement legislation.

The statutory requirements of United Kingdom law with regard to firearms were not applied in Hungerford and have not been applied in Dunblane. The Cullen inquiry was misled on those facts. The evidence is there to be checked. I ask in all seriousness: if the police can fail to such an extent in Hungerford and Dunblane, how can we trust them to implement to the letter the legislation that the House seeks to enact today?

I come now to a document that has been supplied to every hon. Member by the Gun Control Network. I do not know a great deal about the GCN. I understand that one hon. Member is linked with its organisers and I should like seriously to discuss with that hon. Member some of its activities. However, I want to comment on the document, and some of what I say will relate to points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made this afternoon.

Point one concerns the logic. It is said that. 22 weapons are well known to be the favoured assassins' gun and are the preferred weapon of many secret services around the world. The Home Secretary made a similar point this afternoon. I invite hon. Members to put themselves in the position of the Jackal going out to do the job. Can anyone imagine him checking the place where the person will be, the time that he will arrive and the point and field of fire, and then saying, "Oh heavens, I can't use this because its illegal"? Can anyone seriously put that forward as being logical? It devalues the case that we are trying to make.

The second point says that shooters and manufacturers seek to exploit loopholes. I have news for the House. The shooters and traders whom I know are the most law-abiding people one could encounter. The Palace of Westminster Rifle Club is the only club in the Palace of Westminster to abide by the law as it exists outside in the country. We can drink here to our hearts' content rather than be thrown out of a pub. We can do virtually what we like, but not on the rifle range. On the rifle range, we do as we are bloody well told and according to the qualified range officer.

There are 4 million illegal guns out there. Anyone can obtain an illegal gun in under 60 minutes and for less than 60 quid. They may not be very accurate or of any use to a target shooter, and they are certainly no good in a gun club, but they are every bit as lethal, and they are obtainable in far less time than it takes to manufacture pistol components and barrels of revolvers. The arguments used against dismantlement are farcical. People can obtain illegal guns and the ammunition to go with them as easy as that. Furthermore, those illegal guns are not registered. If they are found, they cannot be traced back, whereas a legal gun can be.

On security, transport and identification, the document says that there is a real difficulty in distinguishing. 22s from other handguns. The Home Secretary also made that point. He referred to the distinction between. 38s and. 22s, and said that such a distinction would be unenforceable. He did not want to accept it because it would be unenforceable. Please tell me how enforceable this legislation will be, given that there are 4 million illegal weapons on the streets. Sloppy logic is being used. Hon. Members should consider their duty to enact legislation that is enforceable and achievable. We are in danger of failing to do that.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I was on the Committee that considered the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Does he agree that if some of the amendments that were proposed at that time had been accepted, the horrors of Dunblane might have been avoided, because the person concerned might have been identified by the police, who could then have taken action earlier? A man was murdered in Belfast today. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely unlikely that he, like the many hundreds of others who have died in Northern Ireland at the hands of terrorists, was slaughtered with legal weapons? Nor were they shot by. 22s. Terrorists and people out to kill folk use the heaviest calibre weapons and the most lethal ammunition that they can lay their hands on. Far too much nonsense is being talked in the House on this subject.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he amplifies my points. I fully agree about what might have happened had amendments been accepted at that time. I remind the Home Secretary that, during the previous debate on this issue, I raised nine points related to firearms legislation that could have been included in previous legislation but were not. I was told that they could have been tabled as amendments. Have they been included in this Bill? No, they have not. How serious are we about sorting out the whole business of firearms legislation? If we are to do the job, let us do it properly. My mother used to say to me that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That thought just returned to me.

The document makes the point that Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan both had legal handguns: the Home Secretary called them "lawfully held". That is impossible, and the evidence is quite clear on that. The document says: The vast majority of the population wish to see them prohibited completely. I shall try to explain to the House what the population knows about firearms legislation.

A MORI poll was conducted less than a month ago. People were asked whether they knew how to obtain a gun licence. It was a straightforward question: nothing complex. Three per cent. got it right, 39 per cent. got it hopelessly wrong and 58 per cent. had the good sense to say that they had not got a clue. According to that sample of 850 people over 18, 3 per cent. of people have some idea of how to obtain a gun licence.

I ask hon. Members to consider on what basis people make their judgments on these matters. It is our business to inform ourselves and to make ourselves aware of the real position. The fact that a number of hon. Members are not listening to the arguments and have not had any briefings hardly gives us confidence that our decisions will be taken on the basis of illumination and light.

I should like to refer briefly to Monday's debate on compensation. In his winding-up speech, the Minister of State responded to some of my points. He has told me that he will write to me, and I am grateful to him for that. I hope that his letter arrives before Monday's Committee stage, because I may have to raise these issues again.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Thank you. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. On Monday, referring to me, he said: My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of claiming for components of expanding ammunition. I was talking about both standard and expanding ammunition. That is not part of our proposal. That was a suggestion from the gun trade that the Home Office undertook to consider. It was not advice that the Home Office gave to the trade. My hon. Friend based his remarks on a misunderstanding of the consultation that has taken place."—[Official Report, 9 June 1997: Vol. 295, c. 918.] I must inform the Minister of a telephone conversation—I have already given the Home Secretary advance notice of this additional information. I have a communication from Bill Hulse, sales director of Edgar Brothers, which says: the following is my clear and exact recollection of part of the conversation which took place between myself and … the Firearms Industry Compensation Group at a meeting with Simon Barrat and Chris Potter at the Home Office on Wednesday 28 May last.I asked very specifically whether we could claim compensation for the components of an assembled round. Messrs Barrat and Potter conferred then Simon Barrat confirmed that this was the case. There was no implied or stated wording that this issue was to be considered.As the rest of this and all previous meetings have been both amicable, positive and constructive I can only assume that Messrs Barrat and Potter are mistaken in their recollection. If so, this is one more example of the incomplete and ambiguously worded compensation scheme causing as many problems to the authors and administrators as it does to the victims.The simple solution would be for another meeting between ourselves, the Home Office and the Minister responsible to clarify and resolve the ambiguity … which it is in everybody's interest to implement effectively. I once more put the question to the Minister: for heaven's sake, can we not re-examine the schedule, even at this late stage?

Much has been made of police consultation and the clarity of the instructions that they have been given. The Metropolitan police firearms inquiry team phoned me for clarification. I referred them to the Home Office, but they had already spoken to the Home Office and could not get clarification. I then spoke to the Clerk of the House, who told me that Royal Assent was on a certain date, and he thought that it would be simply a matter of time. The Minister was helpful in telling me that the Government want to implement both Acts simultaneously. That is an example of the police's lack of clarity.

I should like to give another example of the police's lack of clarity. I have the transcript of a telephone conversation between the secretary of the Loughton Hall rifle club and an officer of a firearms inquiry team, whom I shall not identify for obvious reasons. It took place at 11 am on 6 June 1997.

Talking to the secretary, the police officer said: Right, well when the new law for clubs comes in on 1st July it won't be allowed to have any weapons in unoccupied premises". The secretary asked: What, not even rifles?", to which the answer was: No". So not only will we require secure gun clubs, we will require them to be occupied. Presumably there will be numerous caretakers.

The Home Secretary has emphasised, not for the first time, that a free vote will take place tonight. I have to say that I hope that that vote will be a good deal freer than the previous vote. We had a free vote a couple of months ago, but two senior members of the shadow Cabinet were shepherding people who had not been party to the debate and had not listened to the arguments into the Lobby of their choice.

I lost my temper at that point, and registered the fact with both those Members, so the news will come as no surprise to anybody in the House. In fact, somebody dashed off to the press, whose representatives promptly got on to me but I refused to speak to them.

In the House of Commons we have not only free votes but free speech, and I shall watch the performance this evening to see whether there really is a free vote. There is a three-line Whip on attendance, and there are all sorts of ways of giving semaphore signals about who wants who to go where. Thank goodness that all the Government positions have already been filled.

I tabled an amendment, but, as it has not been selected, I cannot move it. None the less, I shall speak briefly to it, because I have been informed that two major Commonwealth countries are poised and ready to object to the holding of the Commonwealth games in Manchester in five years' time.

I checked with Manchester, and apparently Manchester is "comfortably confident" that it will still stage the games. I am happy about that. The last thing that I want is to see the Commonwealth games removed from Manchester. That is why I am raising the question.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would be very careful about the words that he uses on that issue. He will have heard the Home Secretary make it absolutely clear how discretion will be used, and what advice he has received on the law. That means that there will be no threat to the Commonwealth games in Manchester. Indeed, as a Member of Parliament representing the north-west, my right hon. Friend is keen to see the games come there. It would not be in the interests of Manchester, of the north-west, or of this country as a whole, for any doubt to be cast on the likelihood of the games coming to Manchester, because there should be no doubt.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I am grateful to the Minister of State; that is helpful and in line with the comments that he made on Monday, when he mentioned a dispensation. I was grateful then, too. But I must speak openly. If I kept quiet and afterwards something happened, people would say, "You should have spoken out." That would probably make me want to top myself, so I have to put my thoughts to the House in this form.

The Commonwealth games may well come to Manchester, but, in five years' time, if the Bill is enacted, we shall not have qualified and experienced judges able to conduct the proceedings.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

The hon. Gentleman is making a typically courageous speech. As he is on the subject, would he also like to comment on the impact that he thinks this unfortunate Bill will have on future bids for the Olympics, whether by Manchester or anywhere else in this country?

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his uncharacteristically complimentary remarks directed at me.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I probably shall be later, when the retribution sets in. Perhaps the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) will let me finish the first part of what I was saying first.

We shall not have qualified experienced judges and assessors to stage the competitions, so we shall have to borrow them. No doubt the same would apply to the Olympics.

Can we imagine several countries bidding for the next event and saying, "We shall put so many million pounds into building this stadium, that sports hall and this swimming pool, and we shall have 74 different disciplines," to which we would respond, "We shall do that too, but by the way, we have something extra. We have a dispensation that will allow your competitors to come to our country and participate in a sport that we have made illegal"?

That idea is so preposterous that it is farcical. Other nations would have a field day. As I said, two major Commonwealth countries are waiting, very interested and focused, poised to make representations should we pass the Bill. Now we see the impact of it.

If we do not make provision for target shooters to train, we shall not be able to enter a team anyway. Already today the Home Secretary has shown us, in a blunt riposte to the proposal, despite the fact that it was a serious proposal put by sporting organisations, that there is no concern about that.

With the utmost respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who is not now in her place, it is grossly unfair to try to measure a number of gold medals against a number of children killed.

Let me explain the difference. Albie Fox is a Welsh international shooter in free. 22 pistol. He is ex-Royal Navy and ex-Royal Air Force commission, an instructor on search-and-rescue helicopters, with awards for bravery. He has participated in international shooting events many times, and will continue to do so, because he will go abroad.

The gun that Albie Fox uses is single-shot, and it takes him almost two minutes to load the thing. It is a counterweighted pistol with a long barrel, which he shoots at a piece of paper 50 m away, in which the bull is about the size of the ring that I am making now with my finger and thumb. That man will be denied the opportunity to practise, train and compete at the discipline for which he has won awards.

Jim Fox came to the House this morning for a press conference. He is a gold medal-winning pentathlete who has represented this country at. 22 in four Olympics and 10 world championships. He is a model of respectability, as is every serious member of the shooting confraternity. Notice that I do not use the phrase, "gun culture".

Gun culture is on the television. It is in Moss Side and Vauxhall; it is in Birmingham, Liverpool and now, sadly, in Newcastle too. That is gun culture. The shooting confraternity punches holes in cardboard at a range of 25 m to 50 m.

My party now seems to be backing off on hunting, and easing up on the anti-hunting argument. That is sad, and I am disappointed to see it. I shall fight that, too, by the way. It seems strange that while we are easing off on an activity in which people pursue defenceless creatures across the countryside and allow them to be torn to pieces, we want to forbid people to put holes in pieces of cardboard at a range of 25 m. I do not see the logic in that.

Thomas Hamilton was thrown out of gun clubs. His membership was refused, because he was considered undisciplined and dangerous. If Sergeant Hughes's comments on that subject had been heeded by senior officers, Hamilton would never have been able to commit his crime at Dunblane.

One of the points that I raised the other evening is that we are talking about 160,000 large-calibre weapons, and now about 40,000. 22s. The police arrived at those numbers by counting the weapons covered by firearms certificates so that, as far as individual shooters in this country are concerned, there is a degree of accuracy. The figures take no account of guns in stock at dealers. Guns are not like second-hand cars—they cannot be traded in, trashed up, thrown into a furnace or rejigged. Second-hand guns are held by dealers because someone might legally want them.

It is estimated that about 70,000 to 80,000 large-calibre weapons are held by dealers. They are kept on registers in shop reserves, and are covered by summary certificates. We are talking about 70,000 to 80,000 guns, on top of the 160,000 large-calibre weapons. That will mean a major change in compensation requirements, and a similar situation applies to the 40,000. 22s to which I have referred. The necessary expenditure has been gravely underestimated.

Compensation is due to be paid only for those components, weapons and supplies that were in the owner's possession on or before 16 October 1996. I should not have to remind the House that, since that date, people might have switched from a. 38 to a. 22, thinking that the legislation would allow them to continue shooting. They might have knocked over and damaged a telescope and had to replace it. A change in weapon would require a change in ammunition—all required after 16 October. Will those people be penalised for buying after the set date? What does new Labour intend for this new measure?

I finish by repeating my pleas of the past. I have always said that the law is unenforceable, and I think that it is illogical and unjustified. Shooting in clubs is very much a family sport, and I have heard mothers pleading with me in tears that a ban on shooting would interfere with the routine of their family's activity. If I thought that enacting this legislation would make Jack the Lad stay at home instead of going out and doing a bank robbery or knocking off a post office, I would have signed the Snowdrop petition months ago.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:12, 11 June 1997

We have heard reminders of the grim and awful event that set in train this series of measures, and of the Cullen inquiry which followed it. I wish to go back to that for a moment.

The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997—brought in by the previous Government following the Cullen report—introduced a number of good things, for which some of us had been arguing for a long time. There was much more vigorous control of the issuing of licences, which could even have been carried out to some extent under the law as it was. The recommendations of the report and features of the legislation will make that system much better. I voted for the Act on Third Reading—and recommended that my hon. Friends do the same—particularly because I wanted that tightening of the licensing system.

The previous Government then took the decision not to accept Lord Cullen's proposal for the dismantling of handguns, but argued instead for a partial ban, amounting to about 80 per cent. of handguns. We had a free vote on the issue, as we will tonight on the proposed 100 per cent. ban. Let us remember what the Act has resulted in. When it comes into effect, no handgun can be held at home, and no handgun can be in a club except. 22s and below, and only then in the very few clubs that can meet the tighter restrictions necessary if they want to have handguns at all. The legislation made a number of important changes.

The partial ban itself had very few friends. It was criticised by those who wanted a total ban and by those who believed that a ban was unjustified and lacked a certain internal logic. Those who wanted the ban to be complete—including a significant number of my hon. Friends—can now vote that it should be so, except for the very particular exemptions provided for by the previous legislation for vets and others. The opportunity is here today and I make no criticism of the Government for bringing the opportunity forward.

I shall argue in a moment that I will vote for the reasoned amendment, although there is one word in it with which I do not agree—the claim that it is "intemperate" to bring the Bill forward. It is not intemperate—it is logical. Labour said before the election that it would create the opportunity for a free vote and that is what should happen tonight. I shall give my view in a moment, but it is a matter on which the Liberal Democrats will not have a party line.

Where we do have a party line—because we are in such strong agreement—is on the belief that the new ban further strengthens the case for adequate compensation for those who will suffer as a result. That particularly applies to clubs, and to trustees of clubs who could face crippling personal liabilities because they have entered into loans and mortgages to make the changes that would have been necessary to allow their club to participate in the legal. 22 shooting for which the previous legislation made provision. Severe personal liability could be incurred by club officers and trustees.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) criticised the Government's attitude, in that the Bill makes a significant change and will result in gun clubs having to close because there is no provision for pistol shooting at all. The business compliance cost assessment which accompanies the Bill and which has been issued by the Government states: Gun clubs which cater solely or mainly for target pistol shooting will probably have to close. It follows that the financial losses and liabilities that result ought to be a matter for compensation and we will table amendments to the Bill to seek that such compensation should be provided.

When the shadow Home Secretary made that point, I criticised him because there were implications for clubs in his own legislation that he did not accept or follow. Clubs and many businesses involved in this area were bound to suffer from a situation in which only very few clubs would be able to continue any form of handgun or pistol shooting.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made no provision for compensation for them—indeed, he steadfastly refused to countenance any such compensation—yet it was clear that, once the restriction became so severe, many people would say, "I cannot afford to get into. 22 pistol shooting. I will give up altogether." That was recognised by the previous Government in response to a plea that we made at the time.

We said that, once the restrictions came into force, those people who owned. 22s or smaller weapons would have guns that they could not shoot anywhere near them, because no club was equipped to do so, but would not be entitled to compensation, because the guns were not illegal. The ex gratia scheme was introduced in response to that plea and I welcome it, as a transitional provision, if the Bill is passed.

It was clearly wrong and unreasonable for people to suffer the almost complete loss in the value of something for which they paid a lot of money, because it was effectively unusable throughout much of the country. The same applied to the clubs and the previous Home Secretary should have seen the logic of that and accepted the case for compensation.

I make that point to the present and previous Governments and we shall be tabling amendments to that effect. Later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) will hope to take part and—as an experienced pistol shooter—will seek to make the case for a total ban much more eloquently than I will be able to do. That gives me the opportunity to set out my view, because it is representative of that of some of my hon. Friends.

We were all appalled by Dunblane. Some said afterwards that we owed it to the children to ban all handguns, but legislation on such a matter is not a memorial to the victims of evil or a way of venting our anger at the terrible thing that was done; it is a mechanism which limits the freedom of individuals and must therefore be judged according to whether the restrictions are justified and effective. That is an essential liberal principle. We must make up our minds how far the Bill satisfies that condition.

What will be taken away is the opportunity to engage in legitimate. 22 target shooting as a sport, not only nationally but internationally, because British competitors will not he able to train unless the Home Secretary, as I urged, uses the dispensation more widely than he intends and makes some provision for authorised British participants. That would never be ideal from a sporting point of view, because entry into the sport would be so restricted, but it would be a small gesture that he could make if he were serious about ensuring that the competitions can take place in the Manchester Commonwealth games.

Britain is successful in both Olympic and Commonwealth games shooting and shooting by disabled people, about which hon. Members will have received representations. There is a strong feeling among the disabled people who use pistol shooting as a sport that the ban is a severe deprivation for them.

My view is that the legislation will not stop the determined criminal or psychopath, who can use other weapons or obtain handguns from criminal sources perfectly easily. My personal conclusion is that a total prohibition of. 22 pistols kept in clubs would not make a significant contribution to public safety such as would justify or necessitate the severe limitations imposed on innocent citizens who want to pursue a perfectly legitimate sporting activity under strict regulation.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the impact of the proposals on disabled sport. Will he confirm that powerful representations have been made to me and to many other hon. Members by the British paraplegic pistol shooters, who have been conspicuously successful at recent Paralympics?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned them, because their representations are among those that I had in mind when I mentioned disabled shooters. The House should give consideration to that group of people.

I hope that all hon. Members will apply the test of whether they can be convinced that the restrictions in the Bill on those who legitimately engage in. 22 pistol shooting are justified and necessary and will greatly increase public safety. My judgment is that they will not.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre 6:22, 11 June 1997

Before proceeding to the heart of this fundamental debate, I must, in my maiden speech, tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about my wonderful constituency and my predecessors. I must also express my gratitude and acknowledge some debts.

I am privileged and proud to be here. I am the first Member of Parliament in my family; the first in the new constituency of Lancaster and Wyre; the first Labour Member ever in one part of my constituency; and only the second in the other. I am grateful to the people of what, from my accent, is clearly my adopted constituency, for returning me. I am determined to repay their faith, hope and trust with immense hard work. I aim to enable the voices of people from Lancaster and Wyre to be heard here and I aim to help to bring home to them the benefits of what I am confident will be a great reforming Government.

My constituency covers large parts of two districts, with two health authorities, and I have two immediate predecessors. Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman represented Lancaster for 27 years, and retired undefeated and unbowed at the Dissolution of Parliament this year. She was a remarkable Member of Parliament, with a strong following at home. She is a person of courage and principle. We disagreed on almost everything—on whether the sun was shining—but no one could doubt her tenacity, sincerity, strongly held commitment and work over those 27 years. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing her a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Lancaster joined with Wyre to make my constituency. Keith Mans was Member of Parliament for Wyre for 10 years, from 1987. He was my opponent at the general election. Again, there were many areas of disagreement between us, but I found him a decent, honourable and able man. Our personal relations were invariably cordial, and usually friendly. He served his constituency well and even though he has promised me that he will be back, I wish him and his family well in all that the future holds for them. I am sure that the House will echo that.

I have worked hard to get here. I have had such a feeling for Lancaster that I have thought for a long time that I would eventually arrive here. Perhaps uniquely on this occasion, I believe that I can say without fear of interruption that Lancaster is the finest historic city in the land. The Queen, after all, is the Duke of Lancaster, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

"Time-honoured Lancaster", in Shakespeare's words, has a Roman fort and a royal castle; it is the county town of the old county of Lancashire. Why should we not rise again as the administrative centre of regional government? We are significant. We have meaning. We stretch back over millennia. We have a moral tradition. We have a Roman Catholic cathedral, and an ancient priory church. We have a Quaker tradition. Our churches are ecumenical and alive.

We have a world-class university and a revered college of education. We have the oldest functioning prison in Europe and a model youth custody centre. It is unfortunate that the shadow Home Secretary is no longer here; Lancaster people could tell him how far prison works.

Lancaster is a beautiful city in lovely surroundings, a city of culture where music, literature, theatre, dance and the visual arts combine with our relatively small and compact size to make Lancaster the capital of cultural participation, offering more opportunities per head than anywhere else in the land.

Laurence Binyon—appropriately for this debate, the poet of remembrance—comes from my adopted city. I come from the east coast, from Northumberland, and I have loved Lancaster since the day that I arrived there. Seventeen years on, with one daughter born there and 10 years of hard work throughout Lancaster and Wyre, I love it all.

I love the market town of Garstang; the larger town of Poulton-Le-Fylde; Thornton; Preesall; Knott End; and the villages of Stalmine, Calder Vale, Cockerham, Winmarleigh, Pilling, Caton, Catterall, Brookhouse, Hambleton, Quernmore, Glasson Dock, Scorton, Forton, Bilsborrow and Barton—lovely names that roll off the tongue. We have lovely names and fine countryside: wild fells and river valleys, wild places, wildlife and cityscapes, rich farmland, marshes and the sea. My constituents include fine people who have lived there all their lives and those who have come to enjoy and benefit from the place. Every autumn, thousands of young people, full of creativity and vitality, come to learn there. It is exciting, it is fun, and the whole constituency is great.

Of course, we have problems galore. We have an animal rendering plant which blights the future and which must go. Our young people need jobs, and our pensioners need security and good care. Those fine rural towns and villages must provide affordable homes. We need heavy goods off the roads and on to rail. We need a good bus service restored.

We have one of the largest concentrations of park home residents in the country and the law needs to be reformed to give them security and tranquillity in their quiet years. Our excellent schools can be improved, our quality health service can develop and grow, and our environment needs to be sustained. The people must be listened to, their experience valued, their expertise utilised and their views solidly reflected in debate, including the debate today.

The greatest joy of my life has been to see our children grow up. They are 19 and 16 now. I have worked with families and children for more than 15 years and I can think of nothing more heinous, wicked or evil than the murder of all those bairns and their teacher in Dunblane. We must never allow that to happen again. We have taken action and banned weapons. We have reformed procedures, strengthened security at schools and increased vigilance. We must be ever vigilant and alert, and we must do all we can.

Yet today, we are tempted to go too far and to miss the point. Like everyone here, I have talked to people about this subject for months and heard differing views. Indeed, I sat in my office this morning and held a phone-in for my constituents. I was there for 19 hours—I am sorry, I mean two hours, it just seemed like 19—and 19 people rang in. As soon as I put the phone down, it rang again.

I have also searched my soul and my conscience on this issue. I do not doubt the obvious sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and everyone who has taken part in the debate. However, I cannot believe that the extreme circumstances that occurred at Dunblane can lead to good law. I profoundly believe that the House of Commons is here to protect the freedom of law-abiding individuals to go about their business and to explore their talents.

Target shooting as a sport is something at which elderly people and people with disabilities can excel. It is an outlet for their skills and they often have few others. I am worried about civil liberties and the quality of our democracy when patently decent people feel that their sport and their livelihoods are being sacrificed and their views ignored to no avail. Those involved in target shooting feel that the Bill will not address the real problems caused by illegal guns in our society.

I hold no brief for shooting. It does not interest me as a sport and I miss by miles at fairgrounds. I am concerned about the increase in illegal guns, in violent crime, in drug-related criminal behaviour and the use of firearms by vicious criminals. We must tackle those problems—I am sure that every hon. Member wants to tackle them—but they have nothing to do with adding further restrictions to the lives of thoroughly decent and utterly law-abiding ordinary people.

We must take time to reflect. The memory of those tragically murdered 16 bairns and their teacher could be better honoured by developing a culture in this country that puts children's rights and needs at the forefront of our concern. We must make some real progress in helping children and their families out of poverty, and in radically improving the lot of children in public care, which is an issue close to my heart. By providing quality services for all children, we could start putting children first in all policy areas. That is an issue for another debate.

It is a tribute to the good grace, sense and wisdom of the Government that a free vote will be held on this issue. It is a fundamental matter of civil liberties and of conscience. I intend to take full advantage of the free vote and, for once, I will not vote with the Government. I cannot vote for the Bill, because I am not convinced that it will provide overwhelming benefits for public safety.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 6:35, 11 June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) on an eloquent contribution. I look forward to the many contributions that he will make in the four and a half years that he has ahead of him in this place, before my former hon. Friends return to the Government Benches with the rest of my party.

I rise for the first time in a debate with some trepidation, following as I do a long tradition of distinguished Conservative Members of Parliament for North Wiltshire. My constituency can claim a record for continuity and longevity, because all my three predecessors—stretching back to 1941—are still alive. I challenge other hon. Members to equal that record if they can. David Eccles won a by-election in 1941, when he took over from Captain Cazalet, who was killed piloting General Sikorski in the war. David Eccles served for nearly 20 years and was replaced by one of the great gentlemen of the House, Daniel Awdry, who served from 1962 until he handed the baton to Richard Needham in 1979. Richard made a huge contribution to the nation in the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Trade and Industry. His wit and his particular brand of directness will be much missed by the House. I hope that I am able to follow in that worthy tradition—if not as a lookalike, at least as well as I can.

I am honoured and fortunate to have been elected for such a beautiful constituency as North Wiltshire. It represents, in the words of the English prayer book, the "unchanging changelessness" of rural England, and straddles the industrial prosperity of the M4 corridor. The constituency contains the most beautiful villages in England, including Lacock and Castle Combe, and pleasant market towns, including Malmesbury, Chippenham, Corsham and Wootton Bassett. Those four towns house some of the finest businesses in England. The fastest growing business in Europe, I am told, is Dyson, which manufactures bagless vacuum cleaners in Malmesbury. They are first-class.

North Wiltshire is no longer the rural idyll that some hon. Members might imagine. More than half my constituents live in towns. None the less, the whole character of the place derives from the fact that it is in the countryside. Even people who live on modern estates in Chippenham believe that they are countrymen, and their way of life is heavily influenced by the countryside.

Many of us are deeply concerned by two or three aspects of life in the countryside at the moment. Farmers have faced the most desperate 18 months in the history of modern agriculture thanks to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis. I very much hope that the Government, who are so proud of their close links and great power in the European Union, will be able to lift the EU beef ban as soon as they can. I have yet to hear any promises or aspirations from the Government on that front, but they must take urgent action to lift the ban.

I very much welcome the announcement that the Government made last week about banning the import of beef from possibly dodgy abattoirs on the continent of Europe. I shall make just two comments on that. The Government might consider bringing that ban forward to today's date on the ground that if they leave it until the end of July, there is a risk that those dodgy abattoirs, as I like to call them, will choose to pour beef into this country in the interim.

The Government might also consider using the excellent vets from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who tour British abattoirs and ensure that our beef is of the highest quality. They might be asked to go to the continent to inspect the abattoirs whence we shall be importing beef. I suspect that imports of beef into the United Kingdom would go down quite considerably and that even huge users such as McDonald's, which I believe is the largest user of beef in this country, might think twice about their determination to import everything that they use from the continent. Many hon. Members know that British beef is best, and it is high time that McDonald's and others realised the same.

Another threat to an area such as North Wiltshire arises from the possibly controversial activity of field sports. The economy of my constituency would be deeply damaged by any ban on field sports as a whole, but particularly damaged by a fox hunting ban. About £4 billion is contributed to the British economy thanks to field sports, about 50,000 horses are kept purely for the purpose of fox hunting and about 15,500 foxhounds would have to be destroyed if fox hunting were banned—incidentally, vastly greater than the number of foxes that are killed in any one year.

The immediate threat as I understand it from the Labour party's recent comments is to hunting on Ministry of Defence land. That would especially affect my constituency, because Salisbury plain is slightly to the south of it. We have some experience of such a ban there as, five years ago, hunting across the impact area was banned for safety reasons. After only a few years, farmers petitioned the MOD once again to allow hunting on the impact area because their land and poultry were suffering such appalling depredations. That case study would be repeated across the United Kingdom in the event of fox hunting being banned.

My particular concern with today's debate is that the political correctness of extending the stringent Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which my right hon. and learned Friend the former Home Secretary brought in last year, will stretch ultimately to field sports. Before commenting on the Bill, I should declare an interest.

I was brought up in Dunblane, my father was the minister of Dunblane cathedral and my mother was one of the doctors who took part in the counselling in the aftermath of the tragedy. More than perhaps many hon. Members, I was therefore deeply, deeply affected by the tragedy last year. Indeed, my younger brother attended Dunblane primary school.

Despite the fact that I lived in a field sports area all last year, I went to some length to justify the 1997 Act. I came under considerable pressure from the shooting lobby in North Wiltshire, which felt that I was not doing the right thing. I am conscious that, in opposing the Government's Bill, I shall come under equal pressure from my friends and relations who still live in the town of Dunblane. I therefore oppose the Bill intentionally and thoughtfully, while feeling deeply about the issue of Dunblane, simply because I believe that it will go no way at all towards preventing another such incident. I have a horrible feeling that the Bill has a taint of self-righteousness about it, of trying to appear to put something right rather than putting it right.

We made sure during the passage of the previous Government's Bill last year that Dunblane could never again occur. Today's Bill does not achieve that. It merely attempts to demonstrate to the public that the Labour party is as concerned now about the aftermath of Dunblane as we were last year. For that reason I find the Bill—speaking as a Dunblane boy—somewhat distasteful.

As I said, I came under huge pressure from the gun lobby. I bore that pressure and spoke up strongly in favour of the Bill of my right hon. and learned Friend the former Home Secretary. I know that I shall come under some pressure from my friends and relations in Dunblane as a result of making my comments, but I feel terribly strongly about the right of shooters to take part in Olympic sports, which the Bill would ban. I also feel strongly for people who work in gun factories—many of whom are represented by Labour Members—and who would be fundamentally affected by the Bill. It is for that reason that I have overcome my natural emotional inclination to support the Bill, and I very much hope that Labour Members will join me in the No Lobby.

Photo of Ian Cawsey Ian Cawsey Labour, Brigg and Goole 6:45, 11 June 1997

It is an honour to make my maiden speech, especially in this important debate. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on doing likewise. He made an extremely valuable contribution to the debate.

I represent the new constituency of Brigg and Goole. I can genuinely say that it is new, because when the boundary commissioners decided that Humberside should change from nine constituencies to 10, the nine sitting hon. Members all seemed to work out for themselves the boundaries that they wanted and Brigg and Goole was what was left at the end of that process.

I have three predecessors—two of whom are still hon. Members—who represented parts of what we now call Brigg and Goole. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), who was present until quite recently, did so for 10 years. Indeed, I believe that this week—perhaps even today—is his 10th anniversary of entering the House. In those 10 years, he has had by any standards an upwardly mobile career, even though it was as a Conservative Member. I am sure that he hopes that that will continue.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who has just entered the Chamber, represented the Brigg and Goole area when it used to be known as Glanford and Scunthorpe. He has already been mentioned by the shadow Home Secretary, who referred to an article that he had written in the Shooting Times. I used to work in my hon. Friend's office and was worried for a second about whether I had had anything to do with the article. When the shadow Home Secretary said where the article was published, I knew: "Not me, guv."

The third person who used to represent what we now call Brigg and Goole is the former Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, Michael Brown. Most of his constituency went into that of Cleethorpes; my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona Mclsaac) paid a warm tribute to him in her maiden speech last week. I certainly want to be associated with all those comments.

I fought Michael Brown in the 1992 general election. I found him an extremely able opponent and a principled politician. My respect for him grew enormously during that campaign. Following that, in my days as leader of the local authority in North Lincolnshire, I found him an extremely helpful local Member of Parliament in arranging visits to Ministers and the like. He certainly always did what he thought was in the best interests of the people of Brigg and Cleethorpes, and whatever he chooses to do with life outside Parliament, I for one wish him well. I am sure that other hon. Members would wish to associate themselves with that remark.

My constituency stretches from Goole at its most northern tip all the way down to where Lincolnshire borders with Nottinghamshire. Goole and the surrounding villages are now in the East Riding of Yorkshire, thanks to the previous Government's local government reorganisation. Of course, that has done nothing to satisfy the locals, who argue passionately that they are really from the West Riding of Yorkshire. As that was not in line with the Government's proposition, they did not get that change. The rest of the constituency lies in north Lincolnshire, leaving me the unenviable task of trying to achieve what the people say Humberside county never achieved: getting the people of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to live together in one entity.

The port town of Goole and its people are extremely proud. Despite being the largest conurbation by some measure in my constituency, it has a friendly community spirit. I have enjoyed immensely the work that I have done there since I was first selected as candidate for the area. The people have been through difficult times in the recession, but I am glad to say that the town has been like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that my first official engagement as the Member of Parliament was to open the new steel terminal that has been built by Associated British Ports at the port in Goole. I trust that that is a hopeful sign of things to come.

As I have the ear of the House, I should like to plead for a bypass, which Goole lacks. The old port, known as Old Goole, is landlocked when all the bridges are open, which is a great inconvenience to the local people. A bypass has been built for all but that part of my constituency. Although the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is not present, I hope that I can get a copy of Hansard to him, so that he understands that need. I am sure that he already does.

South of Goole is the Isle of Axholme, which mainly consists of flat farming country. In fact, it is reclaimed land and I pay tribute to the many internal drainage boards, whose excellent work ensures that the area remains first-class agricultural land.

All hon. Members claim that they represent a beautiful part of the world, but I truly do represent such an area. It includes the town of Epworth, which is perhaps most famous for being the home of John and Charles Wesley. It was the birthplace of the Methodist faith. The Wesley steps are still in the town centre and the Methodist faith remains extremely strong and important in the area. I am a Methodist and although I do not think that that is why I was elected, I do not think that it hurt either.

East from the Isle of Axholme, one crosses the River Trent to the villages and towns that are north of Scunthorpe and lead up to the Humber. As one might expect, there are many wharves around the Humber, including Flixborough, which, tragically, is probably best known to many hon. Members as the place where the largest peacetime explosion occurred, when the nitro-chemical works blew up on 1 June 1974. That killed 28 local people and injured 36. It is some indication of the strength of that explosion that it destroyed or severely damaged nearly 2,000 houses and 167 local shops. Even today in the village one can see the driveways to houses that were literally blown away by the blast. It remains a sobering reminder of the need for vigilant health and safety work in modern industry.

The Member of Parliament at the time of the explosion was the former Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe, John Ellis. Some hon. Members may recall that he served a Bristol constituency in the 1960s and Brigg and Scunthorpe in the 1970s, when he was a Whip in the previous Labour Government. Ironically, he is now my neighbour, which is how I got all those figures about Flixborough.

My constituency takes in many picturesque northern Lincolnshire villages before it finally finishes at Brigg, which is a lovely market town. It is home to a large part of North Lincolnshire council. It was particularly famous last year when Brigg Town football club won the FA vase when it beat Clitheroe 3–0 at Wembley. Those of us who were there will never forget that occasion. It is a beautiful part of the world, which I am privileged to serve.

I particularly wanted to contribute to the debate because I believe in banning handguns. That is not a recent view. In my former life, I was the chairman of Humberside police authority for several years and that experience made me believe that such legislation is necessary. I have had the great honour to visit other countries to look at their police forces and I have also hosted visits from overseas officers. They all say that the one item of our legislation that they would like to introduce, and which we should cherish and strengthen, is the control of handguns. Anyone who has visited America, and I am sure many hon. Members have done so, will understand why police officers believe that.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, this is an all-or-nothing matter. The previous 1997 Act was illogical because it banned some but not all handguns. I have spoken to members of my local police force—I am sure that other hon. Members have spoken to their respective forces—and they support their national associations. They would welcome the proposed ban. The shadow Home Secretary said that he was not sure whether the Association of Chief Police Officers was in favour of the ban, but I am sure that even he would accept that if the Police Federation and the Superintendents Association support it, that must account for between 98 and 99 per cent. of all police officers. One should note that the one rank left is that least likely to be out on patrol.

It is simpler for the police to enforce the law if they know that all handguns are illegal. That avoids arguments about the legal status of one calibre weapon as opposed to another. If the law is to be effective, it must be enforceable.

Some firearms will remain legal—for example, shotguns and rifles—but we could learn about improving the safety of those weapons by studying what has happened in Australia. Following the mass shootings at Port Arthur in Tasmania, the authorities have tightened the gun registration procedures. Apart from banning many firearms, the Australian authorities have introduced several levels of registration. The most powerful weapons may be licensed only after rigorous examination of their use and in exceptional circumstances. In fact, they can be kept only for employment purposes. Those different levels of registration cover air rifles and airguns, but they are exempt from registration in this country.

I have spoken to members of the Australian police and I know that they believe that the new ban has made a great improvement to public safety. Hon. Members might also be interested to know that the Australians, too, have had to decide how compensation should be paid. In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can tell the House that that was achieved through a one-off tax. It was widely supported by the public, who wanted to see such weapons taken off the streets.

Firearms benefit from technological changes. Anyone who has any knowledge of firearms manufacture will know that, following the 1997 Act, manufacturers studied how to manufacture handguns that effectively were still the same as those that the previous Government wanted to ban. They worked on new products that were designed to be one thing but to look like another. Never underestimate the ingenuity of those manufacturers.

The Firearms Consultative Committee was set up under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was passed after the Hungerford disaster. That committee is in urgent need of reform. It could act as an effective monitor, but not given its current membership. The law states that the membership should be drawn from those who appear to the Home Secretary to have knowledge and experience of either the possession, use (in particular for sport or competition) or keeping of, or transaction in firearms; or weapon technology; or the administration or enforcement of the provisions of the Firearms Act. That is a wonderful bit of Sir Humphrey Appleby. It has led to an unbalanced committee. Although it has undertaken some good work, for which I pay it tribute, it is more interested in protecting shooters' rights rather than in protecting the public. In the past, local authorities had just two members on the committee, but the former Home Secretary had them replaced by those from the shooting fraternity. One man, Councillor John Mellor, was a victim of that decision. I pay tribute to him for the work that he did on that committee, to communicate to it the public's concern about firearms. That is not a political point, because Councillor Mellor is a Conservative member of Wolverhampton council. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary decides to retain that committee, I hope that the reinstatement of Councillor Mellor and others might be considered.

The committee has produced seven reports, which I have read. We have heard a lot today about how seriously shooting clubs and pistol associations take the matter of handgun control and legislation relating to it. If so, I am bound to say that that represents a bit of conversion. After all, in 1993, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the National Pistol Association made a submission to the committee in favour of relaxing handgun legislation. One should remember that the legislation in question was not the Bill that we are discussing now nor the 1997 Act, but the 1988 Act. They argued in favour of relaxing handgun legislation to encourage tourism. They stated: hunting handguns are widely used by shooters in North America and a less restrictive approach might encourage more of them to cross the Atlantic for shooting holidays. I do not believe that that is a sensible approach to the use of handguns and I am yet to be convinced that those organisations have the public interest at heart.

As well as—I am pleased to say—rejecting that submission, the consultative committee made 160 recommendations in seven reports to the former Government to improve firearms safety, but those recommendations were largely ignored. In its 1994 report to the House, the committee expressed profound disappointment that parliamentary time had not been found for legislation. That disappointment was reaffirmed in its report to the House in 1995. On 12 February 1996, one month and one day before Dunblane, Lord Marlesford asked Baroness Blatch, then a Home Office Minister, what action was being taken on the consultative committee's recommendations. She replied that primary legislation was needed, but was unable to say when that might happen. The tragedy at Dunblane changed all that.

We have had seven reports, 160 recommendations and eight years of inactivity, followed by an Act that is neither one thing nor the other. It was not, as the shadow Home Secretary said, that the previous Government wanted to tighten firearms control; they wanted to do as little as they thought they could get away with in the face of the public outrage following Dunblane. Having considered the matter carefully, particularly in my former police authority role, I believe that it is time for the House to stop dithering and to stop acting, as the previous Government did, in a half-hearted way. It is time to ban handguns and I urge the House to support the Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey 7:01, 11 June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) on his maiden speech. He said that he was chairman of his police authority and I congratulate him on his many years' service in that role. He will know that, often, what counts is not how good the gun laws are, but how well they are enforced—the Dunblane disaster was an example of that. The hon. Gentleman also applauded the parliamentary record of his next door neighbour, Mr. John Ellis, who was previously the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West, a constituency which I have also had the honour to represent.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole and I share one further similarity: both our maiden speeches contained references to Mr. John Wesley. He may have been born in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but it was in Bristol that he did most of his work and the Methodism movement was launched.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on his maiden speech. He is almost one of my neighbours. He referred to the distinguished record of one his predecessors, Viscount Eccles. I well recall one of the early debates that we had in my locality on the movement of the county boundary. I do not think that there is anyone in the House who has not suffered from constituency boundary changes in one way or another.

That local debate was about whether the county boundary between Wiltshire and Hampshire should be moved. There was a turnout of 200 people at the meeting which, for a rural area, was considerable. Points were put with tremendous passion and the argument went to and fro. Viscount Eccles stayed fairly silent until the end of the debate, when the arguments seemed to be fairly well balanced and there was obviously going to be a division. At that point he got up and said, "To my mind, it is quite simple. Do you want to stay a Wiltshire moonraker or become a Hampshire hog?" The county boundary stayed precisely where it is and will no doubt remain so for as long as Viscount Eccles is living. He is well, robust and still a local.

I should also like to refer to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). He may have lost Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman as a Member of Parliament, but I have won her as a constituent. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that she is not going to have a peaceful and quiet retirement—someone like her could not retire peacefully.

Dame Elaine is married to my local Member of the European Parliament. Hon. Members who remember her efforts in this House will never have participated in a debate when she has not intervened in some way or another if present, and her interventions have always been audible. It is significant to see her at a meeting with her husband. When he is in authority or when she is attending one of my local meetings where, as a local Member of Parliament, I command a certain amount of respect, the good Dame is silent. The only times in my life when I have seen her silent are when she has been supporting me as a Member of Parliament or her husband as a local Member of the European Parliament.

On behalf of Dame Elaine and Mr. Keith Mans, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the good messages that he has sent them. We were sorry to lose Keith because his contributions in the House, both in defence debates and in any debates involving civil aviation or aerospace, were considerable. He had immense knowledge of the subjects. He was once one of my constituents when I represented a constituency containing part of the New Forest. I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's messages on to Mr. Mans.

Listening to the speeches, I have a slight sense of déjà vu. During debates on what became the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, there was hardly a single Back-Bench speech in support of the proposals, yet the Bill was passed. Until we heard the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole I do not think that we had heard any real support for what is being proposed today.

I oppose Second Reading. I support the reasoned amendment tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Home Secretary. Another reasoned amendment on the Order Paper was not selected; it is in my name and that of, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Some 16 hon. Members signed that reasoned amendment, which says broadly the same thing as that tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I am keen to add my support to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).

I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions relating to the parliamentary procedures for dealing with the Bill. First, why has the Home Secretary decided to commit the Bill to a Standing Committee of the whole House? When do the Government foresee the Committee stage taking place? There has been some talk of 19 June—it would assist us, particularly in view of the large number of amendments that are likely to be tabled, to have some idea of the date. The alternative procedure proposed by the hon. Member for Stockton, North—a Special Standing Committee to hear evidence from expert witnesses—is preferable. Given the Bill's nature—admittedly, it is a narrow Bill—there is surely a compelling case for subjecting it to expert, specialised and detailed scrutiny before we consider amendments.

The House may be aware that shooting is the fastest-growing participation sport in this country. Some 2 million people shoot using pistol, rifle or shotgun and it is the second largest sport after fishing. That said, there is a remarkable degree of ignorance about involvement in those sports. That is why I think that the Select Committee procedure could well be used to advantage in this case.

The present law, which was amended by the Conservative Government, is now the toughest in the world and that is tough enough in my view—in fact, I think it went rather too far. The 1997 Act banned all high-calibre handguns above. 22 rimfire and also removed handguns from general circulation. It banned all handguns from the home, which is certainly a good thing; it required that. 22 handguns should be kept and used in licensed gun clubs under the strictest security; and it made it a criminal offence to take a. 22 handgun out of a licensed club without a police permit. It also tightened the procedure for issuing firearms certificates and gave the police stronger powers to revoke certificates. That was a welcome measure, because, had those powers existed at the time of Dunblane, the local police authority could have revoked Mr. Thomas Hamilton's licence, thereby saving the lives of many children and their teacher.

Nevertheless, I believe that the 1997 Act went too far. The dismantling recommendations that were proposed in amendments were workable and would have done nothing to endanger the general public. In fact, refusing to accept those dismantling arrangements did nothing further to safeguard the public. When enacted, the 1997 legislation displayed a rather regrettable and unholy alliance between Front Benchers on both sides. It was an example of an knee-jerk reaction to a national tragedy—it was understandable, but such reactions sometimes make bad law. Having established the Cullen inquiry, the Government should have accepted its conclusions and enacted measures accordingly.

The Bill extends the ban to. 22 handguns and I remind the House that, during the Committee stage of what became the 1997 Act, my then hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, proposed an amendment to that effect so that all handguns would be banned. That amendment was narrowly defeated by 25 votes. I have not checked the record, but I believe that, in that Division, several Conservative Members and possibly some Opposition Members voted in favour of the amendment, so it is not true to say that the Whips stopped people voting according to their beliefs, although they may have tried to exert their usual influence. None the less, I still believe that the 1997 Act represented a disgraceful collusion between Front Benchers against Back Benchers who were opposed to the Conservative Government's proposals. On that occasion, we Back Benchers were defending the rights of 57,000 law-abiding citizens who were made scapegoats for the criminal activities of others.

It is important to note the Labour party's evidence to the Cullen inquiry in May 1996, which was presented by the current Secretary of State for Defence and the Home Secretary. Page 5, paragraph 17 of that evidence states: we recommended that handguns above. 22 inch calibre should certainly be prohibited. We also believe that the strong case for restricting handguns of. 22 calibre and below to those which need to be reloaded after each shot should carefully be examined by the Inquiry. They did not, therefore, recommend a. 22 ban, but said instead that single-shot. 22 pistols should be accepted. Why have the Labour Government changed their views?

As I said earlier, this is a somewhat narrow Bill, but I want to know whether it is the thin end of the wedge. Labour also made recommendations to Cullen on rifles. Page 5, paragraph 20 states: we think there should also be a general prohibition on rifles above. 22 inch calibre. This evening, I want a specific assurance from the Minister that there are no other Bills in draft to extend the ban or to bring air rifles and shotguns within section 1 certification. It is important that the House be told.

The Bill aims to prohibit the general ownership, possession or use of all handguns by civilians and seeks to achieve that by including small-calibre pistols in the list of weapons that are prohibited under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, unless authorised by the Home Secretary. In his report, Lord Cullen said: I do not consider that the banning of handguns for target shooting or the banning of shooting clubs would be justified. What are the Government's reasons for disregarding that recommendation?

My next point relates to the important matter that is the subject of the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stockton, North—competition shooting. I should apologise for the fact that I was not present in the Chamber for some of his speech this evening, but what I heard was pretty good stuff and I am sure that the rest was too.

The shooting of. 22 pistols has a legitimate place in the traditions of Olympic competition and it is a sport enjoyed by thousands of law-abiding citizens. We see in the Bill a fundamental contradiction in the Labour party's thinking, because the Labour manifesto says: A Labour Government will take the lead in extending opportunities for participation in sports; and in identifying sporting excellence and supporting it. I, too, support that part of the manifesto. It continues: A Labour Government will also work to bring the Olympics and other major international sporting events to Britain. Again, I am in agreement—it is extraordinary how much we can agree across the Floor of the House. The contradiction is that, on the one hand, the Labour party claims to support our great sporting traditions, yet, on the other, the Labour Government have now proposed policies that would effectively destroy some of those traditions.

The Home Secretary said that most people would support a total ban. I do not think that he is right. As hon. Members know and as new Members will discover, a Member of Parliament's postbag is a useful litmus test of public opinion and those of us who were in the House during debates on the 1997 Act will know that letters supporting the Conservative Government's proposals outnumbered those expressing the view that the proposals were a diabolical infringement of individual liberties by a ratio of about 10 to one. I will take an intervention from anyone who wishes to correct me or to agree with me on that point.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

I am grateful for the hardly covered invitation to intervene. I have a file drawer which, without separators or dividers, is full of the correspondence relating to firearms legislation that I have received since Dunblane. There must be several thousand letters, none of which is a duplicate or cyclostyle, but only three of those letters take issue with my views on firearms legislation. I have a constituency covering 68,000 people, yet only three letters from constituents of mine tell me I am wrong. All the rest agree with me or plead for my support and further participation in opposing the legislation. That is the sort of ratio I can report to the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

That proves that the hon. Gentleman is a better advocate in presenting his case than I am in presenting mine this evening. People are obviously persuaded by his oratorical skills. The balance of public opinion—those people who are prepared to write to a Member of Parliament—is very much against the proposals in the Bill.

It appears that the Government have forgotten that Britain is to host the Commonwealth games in 2002. We are committed to hosting. 22 pistol events in those games. Indeed, Manchester finally won its bid for the games because of that assurance. The Home Secretary's applause for that victory was somewhat cynical. Shooting is the third most popular sport in the games and most nations compete in it. The right hon. Gentleman reminded us that it covers 174 events in all.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Within the Commonwealth games, some nations participate only in shooting events. Some nations are so small that they do not even have a running track or a football pitch. But they can and do participate in shooting, and they do so with great joy. They do not win many medals, but is the only way in which they can participate in the games. That is why the Commonwealth Games Association is so insistent that shooting be included.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point that I was about to make. I need not bother to make it now.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his suggestion that there was anything cynical in what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. He cleared away any doubt about the position of shooting in the Commonwealth games—or, indeed, the Olympic games in the future. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to bolster a weak case by talking down the impending success of the Commonwealth games in Manchester.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

I was interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say. However, on the one hand the Home Secretary was applauding the fact that the games would be in Manchester and that the United Kingdom was committed to holding. 22 pistol events, but on the other he was telling British pistol shooters, "Bad luck chums, you can't participate."

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

My right hon. Friend was recognising reality; he was being honest and up front with the House. He made it quite clear that the safety of the public outweighs the continuation of the sport. He was perfectly honest about that. He then said, for precisely the reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), that the law allowed him to make an exception so as to place no obstacle in the way of the Commonwealth games—or, on a future occasion, the Olympic games—taking place in this country with participation in the sport.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

The hon. Gentleman and I differ on this—

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

No, I am not wrong and I will not withdraw my remarks. It is extraordinary that visiting teams will be able to take part in a sport in which this country happens to excel, while our sports men will not be able to participate.

I wonder what sort of role the police will have. A marksman—a pistol shooter—is somewhat wedded to his weapon. I cannot imagine what it will be like when visiting teams come to this country and have to leave their weapons in an armoury and be escorted everywhere by the police to ensure that they comply with the proposed law.

I ask the Minister to make a note of what I am saying. Whereas with the existing Act, introduced by the Conservative Government, there was not any risk of contravention of the European convention on human rights, what is proposed by the Labour Government may run foul of the convention. The Minister may find himself, on behalf of the Government, having to defend the Government's position in the European courts. I am no great fan of those courts, but that is where the hon. Gentleman may find himself.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend said that we are dealing with an internationally recognised sport. Does he think that this House could gain any wisdom from the fact that almost every other country in the world recognises. 22 shooting as a legitimate sport and allows people to practise it?

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

There are plenty of lessons to be learned. When drawing international comparisons, we should acknowledge the fact that this country already has the toughest firearms legislation of any country in the world. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Home Secretary, looks as though he wants to spring to his feet.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

No, my right hon. and learned Friend is just listening attentively.

Has the Minister seriously considered the impact of the Bill's proposals on disabled people? What consultations have there been with the British Paraplegic Shooting Association, which has trained its members exceptionally hard for the Paralympics? Why should disabled shooters be penalised by the Government's proposals? That matter was raised earlier by the right hon. Member for Berwickupon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

The Bill does not deserve the support of the House. It contains proposals that quite unnecessarily attack the liberty of individuals, damage vital British sporting traditions and add injury to the already draconian measure introduced in the last Parliament. In the Government's attempt to look tough, they have once again stepped over the mark. I urge all hon. Members to support the amendment.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour/Co-operative, Basildon 7:26, 11 June 1997

I take great pride in making my maiden speech as the Member for Basildon, which now includes east Thurrock. Basildon has a special place in the hearts of many Labour Members and supporters throughout the country. For a number of years, it has been regarded as a weathervane seat and the home of Essex man and Essex woman. No one could have envisaged that Romford or Hove would take over its weathervane title. It is a mantle which I am happy to pass on.

The boundaries of my seat have changed many times over the years. The new constituency includes Basildon, parts of Laindon and Langdon Hills and the new and welcome addition of east Thurrock, including Corringham and Fobbing, Stanford-le-Hope and Orsett. Those who think of it as merely an urban seat should think again. It has a large country park, numerous sites of special scientific interest, a rich and varied flora—including wetland species—and a number of farms.

The new town, which is held by many in great affection, provided for me and my family, and many like us, a new home, new jobs, a new community and a fresh start. Many Members of Parliament who have represented parts of my constituency have gone on to represent other constituencies, including Lord Braine, Sir Edward Gardner, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body) and, most recently, the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess),. who will always be remembered for the slogan, "I love Basildon".

The most recent Labour Member of Parliament was Eric Moonman, from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1979. Eric has retained his links with the community and he is recognised and remembered affectionately by many former constituents. All my predecessors, including a number whom I do not have time to mention this evening, have enjoyed the reputation of being hard-working, committed constituency Members of Parliament. It is a reputation that I, too, intend to earn.

Sadly, in 1984, the maiden speech of my predecessor, now the hon. Member for Southend, West, included strong attacks on Basildon council. As hon. Members will come to realise, my style is very different. The old politics of confrontation and attack must go and be replaced with partnerships and co-operation. I have three local authorities—Thurrock unitary, Essex county and Basildon district—and I shall work with them for the benefit of my constituents. They may make mistakes and I am sure that at times we shall disagree, but I promise them that my energies will be directed at working with, not against, them.

There are many misconceptions about my constituency. Basildon is a place that I have always called home and, like other Basildonians, I have been hurt and offended by some descriptions of my area. It may surprise some that a Labour Member would stand in this House and praise The Sun and The Daily Telegraph and criticise The Guardian, but we have had a far fairer hearing from the first two newspapers and are tired of some of the snide comments that we read about ourselves in other papers. It may come as no surprise that The Sun has the largest readership in my constituency, while The Guardian has the lowest. We ask only for fairness from all who consider us.

Sometimes, I do not even recognise descriptions of my constituency. I can now set the record straight. The Basildon and east Thurrock area is a developing one with a lively, ambitious and energetic population. Both Basildon and Thurrock have a thriving voluntary sector—local people giving freely of their time and energy for the benefit of others. Our schools make an enormous contribution to the community and will work in partnership with the Government to raise standards by providing better opportunities for all our young people.

A new development is the Basildon art and design initiative, led by local artist Tony Beckwith, who has developed a new art gallery, and works with schools and young people to encourage an interest in the arts and develop local talent. A local sculptor, Dave Chappel, has donated to the town a magnificent wooden "Basildon man" sculpture, which he made from a fallen tree. Tina Burrett from St. Cleres school was national young politician of the year for the 300 group in 1996. Science teacher, Karen Tann, from Nicholas school gained a Salters award for science and came second in the country. Many more have excelled in the fields of science and sport, including our excellent American football team.

My first official engagement as Member of Parliament was to attend the Basildon business awards and I shall attend Thurrock's business awards next week with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). The business community and the work force in both our constituencies are determined to play their part in regenerating the local environment and economy. I pay tribute to them for what they are doing.

Last Sunday, I met trade unionists from Belarus, hosted by Fiat unions and management. They are leading the way in developing links with workers in other countries, which is something from which we can all learn. I am proud to represent Basildon and shall do my best to ensure that a fairer and more balanced image of my constituency is presented in future.

I have received many representations on the handgun issue. I have had letters and telephone calls from people who supported the actions of the last Government in banning some handguns but felt that it did not go far enough. When a petition was drawn up in the constituency, that was the only occasion I have known people to queue for 20 minutes, to declare their interest and say how they felt about handguns.

The most recent figures issued in 1996 show that there are more than 40,000 handguns, although fewer than 5 per cent. of those are single shotguns. A major concern is the use of handguns in crime. Handguns, particularly. 22s, are small and easily concealable. In 1985, 1,200 incidents involved handguns. By 1995, however, that figure had more than doubled, although it reached a peak a couple of years earlier. In 1995, more than 3,000 criminal offences were committed using handguns. There were 150 cases of violence against the person, 230 cases of attempted murder and 39 homicide cases. Those are alarming statistics. Unfortunately, the Home Office has no breakdown of the separation of higher-calibre handguns and. 22s, but those crimes could equally have been committed with. 22s and there is no evidence to suggest that they will not continue to be committed if handguns remain in circulation. International comparisons bare that out.

Although many handgun owners and users are responsible and are as appalled as the rest of us at the use of handguns in crime, we cannot put their concerns and interests above genuine public safety concerns and fears. The public have made their views known on this issue. Neither they nor we are personally attacking handgun owners, but the case has yet to be made for keeping rather than banning handguns.

No one can say that the Bill alone will dramatically reduce crime or that a madman will not get hold of a gun. That is not in our power. We can, however, do everything possible to make it less likely. For the people of Basildon and east Thurrock and of Britain as a whole, I shall support the motion before us.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 7:37, 11 June 1997

First, I compliment the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) on her excellent maiden speech. I am sure that the former hon. Members for Basildon will be pleased with her kind remarks about them.

I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on his earlier maiden speech. Unfortunately, I could not hear it all because I had to leave the Chamber to attend a Committee, but I know from colleagues that it was excellent and I wish to be associated with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) in complimenting my hon. Friend.

I wish to concentrate on shooting as a sport and issues to do with disabled sportsmen and women. First, however, in this of all debates, I should draw attention to the work done over many years by my distinguished former colleague, Sir Cranley Onslow. I take this opportunity also to mention my two other predecessors for my new constituency, Sir Michael Grylls and Sir David Howell. Although this is far from my maiden speech, it is the first substantive speech that I have made on a Second Reading debate in this Parliament as the first Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Surrey Heath and it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the former Members for the three constituencies that make up the new seat—parts of Guildford, parts of Woking and North-West Surrey. Were those hon. Members still in the House, I am sure that they would all wish to speak on the same side as me in this debate. They were all distinguished Members who represented their constituencies ably over many years. Sir Michael Grylls was known for his work in supporting small businesses over many years and Sir Cranley Onslow was known, especially recently, for his work on this issue. In what is sure to be a happy retirement for him and Lady Onslow, I am sure that he will continue to take a strong interest in this issue above all others.

My concern is guided by the fact that Bisley is in my new constituency. The National Rifle Association's ranges are just over the constituency boundary in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). Nevertheless, many people who chose to live in Bisley because of their interest and involvement in shooting are my constituents.

I have always been interested in sport. In the previous Parliament, I was, for some years, chairman of the Conservative Back-Bench sports committee and, before that, its secretary. I also had the honour to serve as parliamentary private secretary in the Department of National Heritage, dealing with, among other matters, sport. In those capacities, I have been heavily involved in working with disabled sports people. I was involved in fund raising for the last two Paralympics for disabled fencing competitors, who competed with great success and won medals. I was involved with disabled athletes competing in wheelchair athletics and wheelchair racing.

As I mentioned in a brief intervention on the speech of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I have received a detailed letter on the Bill from the British Paraplegic Shooting Association. It is from the chairman, Mr. Nicholls, who has the honour of holding the British Empire Medal. He points out that all newly disabled people go to Stoke Mandeville sports stadium for the disabled with a view to taking part in as many and whatever sports they feel comfortable with. They arrive at the event of their choice—track, archery, swimming or shooting—by a process of elimination over a period of years. They are presented with shooting as a means of rehabilitation to help with balance and confidence, primarily in the use of a wheelchair and sport. That provides them with a better quality of life and respect for themselves as disabled people in an able-bodied world.

As the sport is closely followed by many disabled people at grass roots level, it follows that a wide range of disabled people are enthusiastic shooters, whether or not they ever reach the high standards required for the Paralympics. Those who reach the Paralympic standard train extremely hard—at least four times per week, and every day in the run-up to the Paralympics. Shooting is their sport.

Following the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996, the Paralympic committee has taken out two of the air weapons events and increased the number of live ammunition events, because the competition in air weapons had reached such a high standard and more competitive participation was needed. The current situation is that disabled competitors use. 22 calibre pistols in six events in the Paralympics, three for men and three for women competitors: sport pistol, free pistol and standard pistol.

Mr. Nicholls has drawn my attention to the fact that many disabled shooters are women with children of their own. The deepest sympathy of disabled shooters therefore goes out to the parents of the children tragically killed by Thomas Hamilton at Dunblane. Should the disabled shooters be penalised because of the maniac who was already known to the police for alleged child abuse and misuse of firearms?

At the time of the debates in the previous Parliament, when I spoke twice to try to persuade the then Government to modify their view, I felt strongly and I still feel that a person who should have had his firearms certificate revoked before the event had a chance to take place, if the police had used the then existing law properly, should not cause the House to pass draconian legislation that will interfere hugely in the lives of so many people who simply wish to pursue a previously lawful sport.

Shooting for the disabled was initiated in this country and is now recognised world wide. It would be ironic if Great Britain were the only country to be eliminated from international competitions by this legislation. The sport of disabled shooting has a proud history in the UK. Mr. Nicholls pointed out to me that the UK can boast the only shooter in the world who has won three gold medals in three consecutive Paralympics. At the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996, UK disabled shooters won gold and silver medals and set a new Paralympic record. At the European championships in 1995, disabled shooters won one gold, two silver and one bronze medal. In the world Paralympic games in 1994, Great Britain won two gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

The loss to disabled shooters will be extensive, as they will no longer be able to socialise and travel the world to compete in their sport. It will take their quality of life back, perhaps to the Victorian era when disabled people were often shut away from the eyes of the world. No hon. Member would want to encourage that.

The proposed legislation will have huge effects on disabled people, as I hope I have made clear. There are yet further reasons for opposing it, as I do. I am particularly sorry that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey, among others, was not selected for debate.

Pistol shooting is one of the few sports in which everyone competes on equal terms—young, old, male, female, able bodied and disabled are all valued in the sport. It offers positive incentives for disabled people, as I mentioned. It is crucial that Labour Members, many of whom have a proud record of work for the disabled, as I am well aware, should take the concerns of disabled shooters carefully into account.

The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) who spoke powerfully earlier in the debate—albeit from the other side of the House, but on the same side of the argument as I am speaking—stressed the genuine concern felt by many of us on both sides of the House who take an interest in sport about the threat to the Commonwealth games in Manchester. Because of my strong involvement in sport in the north-west at the time, I was actively involved in supporting Manchester's bid to host the Commonwealth games, and I was delighted when it won. The UK is committed to hosting the. 22 pistol events in the games. That commitment, which was given by the previous Government, played a big part in the success of the Manchester bid.

It must be remembered that when the original bid was lodged, the organisers of the Manchester bid had omitted shooting events. The attempt to exclude shooting was fiercely opposed by other nations. Fifty of the 63 countries involved in the Commonwealth games made it known that they would vote for the inclusion of shooting, for reasons such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton, North. That is not surprising, as shooting is the third most popular sport in the games, and most Commonwealth countries compete in it. If the Bill became an Act, it might jeopardise Manchester's obligation and its opportunity to host the games. It would be wrong for the Bill to be enacted if it had that effect.

As a sporting spectacle, the pistol shooting events would be reduced to a farce, especially if the UK competitors were the only ones from any Commonwealth country who were unable to compete, as the Home Secretary made clear. The law as it stands will require competitors to have a section 5 licence to carry their guns in the country—a licence with requirements so stringent as not to be practicable.

There are huge concerns about the issues relating to sport, but I shall close by raising a concern mentioned by one of my constituents in correspondence with my former colleague, the former Member for North-West Surrey, Sir Michael Grylls, which was copied to me. The constituent wrote: In 1979 our son aged 19 months died by drowning in a neighbour's unfenced swimming pool. All of our family can therefore relate to the terrible grieving that the Dunblane parents are suffering. However, we did not try to get our revenge on society by campaigning to have all private swimming pools filled in, and I am sure that such a campaign would not receive any political support as there would be no votes in it. The constituent was writing to my predecessor, expressing the view that the law proposed by the then Government would destroy a legitimate sport and penalise law-abiding people who have committed no crime. He made a point that I found particularly powerful in his personal circumstances. He asked: What has happened to British justice when you are supposed to be innocent until proved guilty if this sort of legislation can go through? He was referring to the previous Government's proposals. I am sure that he would feel even more strongly about what the new Government are proposing by way of a total ban.

I received letters from people elsewhere in the country who had lost sons and daughters in road accidents. As a young lawyer, I was brought up to believe that hard cases make bad law. There are no proposals from the present Government, as I understand it, to ban the use of motor cars simply because people sometimes steal cars and use them in a way that leads to the death of young children.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

The noble Lord Monson recently asked a parliamentary question about the number of deaths of children in road accidents. The last year for which figures are available is 1994; I forget the precise figure, but it was more than 400.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention, which reinforces my point.

I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Basildon, who made her excellent maiden speech before I spoke, and some of her hon. Friends, to some further interesting statistics that were presented in an article in the Police Review last autumn. The comparison of rates of armed crime and firearms ownership over the past 40 years reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend.

In the whole of 1954, there were only four armed robberies in London in which firearms were used. Between April 1994 and April 1995, there were 1,338 recorded crimes of a similar type in the Metropolitan area—nearly four a day. However, during the same period, from 1954 to 1994, the number of firearms certificate holders in London dropped dramatically. It was estimated in the article that there were roughly half as many certificate holders in London now as there were in the 1950s. There is no simple relationship between conventional armed crime and the lawful possession of firearms.

There is even more striking support for the view that lawfully owned firearms and armed crime are effectively unrelated. That comes from a study of firearms used in armed robberies in the Metropolitan area, which was conducted by Metropolitan Detective Inspector Adrian Maybanks. He discovered that of 657 weapons used in armed robberies in the Metropolitan area from January 1988 to 30 June 1991—a period of three and a half years—about half turned out on investigation to be imitation firearms. Of the remaining 328 firearms, only one had ever been within the lawful licensing system. Detective Inspector Maybanks concluded that a simplistic ban on one category of gun or on all legally owned guns was likely to be counterproductive, not least because it was bound to drive more guns underground.

I practised at the Bar for a number of years, and senior police officers have told me that guns used to commit crimes are normally held illegally. This legislation is an attempt to destroy the legitimate interest of law-abiding people in a sport that has always been lawful, in a totally vain attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, and to prevent maniacs from committing crimes. However, I am afraid that maniacs and other criminals will procure weapons illegally if they are determined to do so. That is the nature of the society in which we live.

If hon. Members believe that by supporting the Bill they will stop crime and maniacs, they are very much mistaken. They will simply destroy a legitimate sport which is enjoyed by literally thousands of our citizens. This is an example of hard cases making bad law, and the legislation is misconceived.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway 7:50, 11 June 1997

I shall also make my maiden speech this evening. So many hon. Members have made maiden speeches tonight describing so many parts of the United Kingdom that it occurs to me that visitors from abroad who are in the Strangers Gallery might have saved themselves the cost of a guide book.

I represent Medway and the historic cities of Rochester and Chatham. My immediate predecessor, Dame Peggy Fenner, represented Medway for 18 years and served for a time as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On 1 May, she came to the end of a long and distinguished career in public life as a local councillor and Member of Parliament. She was a formidable opponent and a politician of total integrity. In defeat, she was charm and graciousness itself. I pay tribute to her and wish her well. I know that all hon. Members would do the same.

Before Dame Peggy, Medway was represented by three equally formidable Labour Members: Bob Bean, whose tragic early death robbed us of a great parliamentarian; before him, the formidable Ann Kerr; and, before her, the equally formidable Arthur Bottomley. I treasure a letter sent to me by an octogenarian constituent immediately following the I May election. It says simply, "If you're half as good as Arthur, you will be all right". I shall do my best. One is entering an awesome pantheon and must bear an awesome weight, but it is made much lighter by the nature of one's constituency.

The historic towns of Rochester and Chatham are surrounded by beautiful and eccentric countryside. To the west, are the woods and hills of Kent and, to the east, the flat and daunting lands of the Hoo peninsula, with its sites of scientific interest and its teeming wildlife set against the industrial landscape of north Kent. We have the finest mediaeval castle in the country: discuss. We also own what is almost certainly the most dignified and perfectly formed cathedral.

In the middle of my constituency is the historic dockyard of Chatham, which, until comparatively recently, employed 17,000 of my constituents and those from neighbouring constituencies. If one seeks to discover the unique character of those who live in the Medway towns, one need look no further than the dockyard and the surrounding barracks and the industries that supported them.

We are a tough lot. We have been in the front line of conflict for 400 years against just about every European country. That has produced a breed of people in the Medway towns who are resilient and full of humour, but who are without prejudice or xenophobia. They do not, and would not, subscribe to the small-mindedness of view and the smallness of vision that sometimes masquerades as Euro-scepticism. Rochester is proud to be a European city. It lies at the gateway to Europe and, with a new council and unitary authority in place, we look forward to addressing some of the problems that have beset the Medway towns in the past 20 years.

We lost no less than 70 per cent. of our manufacturing base in that time and we are the largest conurbation in Europe without its own university. During my stewardship, one of my principal aims will be to see the laying of the foundation stone of a new academic institution—possibly the first university of Europe—in that area. We deserve it because we have not only a long tradition of science, technology and engineering, but an unrivalled cultural tradition in the arts and literature. We are the spiritual home of the greatest novelist ever to write in the English language. I could take you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Hoo peninsula to visit the graveyard where the infant Pip met his eventual benefactor, the convict Magwitch, who—if my memory serves me aright—was being pursued by hounds. That is another pastime that I hope we shall see the end of during this Administration.

I turn to the debate in hand. I shall be brief because hon. Members have rehearsed accurately and succinctly—save in one or two cases—the arguments with which we must deal. I immediately declare an interest in the debate and it has been mentioned already. This morning I received a telephone call from someone who described himself as the agent of the parliamentary rifle club. The agent asked me whether I was related to the chair of the Gun Control Network. I do not know why an agent had to ask me that question—I would have answered just as readily if I had been asked in the Members Lobby. The answer is yes. I am not ashamed of that fact and, what is more, I declare a further interest in that I have played some small—and I mean a very small—part in the workings of that organisation, which is the principal campaigner for the total abolition of handguns in the United Kingdom.

In the course of that work, I have had the rare privilege of working with a number of those who were bereaved as a result of the Hungerford and Dunblane tragedies. I take issue immediately on their behalf with one of the comments by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I assure him and the House, with all the force that I can command, that those people do not seek revenge on society for the horror inflicted upon them. I have never worked with a more rational group of people whose only interest is to ensure that that horror is not visited upon others. They understand better than anyone that legislation of this sort will create casualties and that it will cut across the civil liberties of others. I assure the House that those who work towards this aim take no pleasure from that fact and do not seek revenge. This organisation and this legislation has only one aim: to ensure that the children of Dunblane, of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom grow up in a safer place.

There is only one predication: will the legislation work? If it does not, there is no point in enacting it, and on that basis I make common cause with those who have spoken against the Bill. There is no right inherent in the House or anywhere else to remove people's civil liberties, or their pleasures or fun, in the interests of something that is simply vanity. In considering whether the Bill will work if it is enacted, however, let me adopt the legal metaphor that was used by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath; the burden of proof comes into play, and the burden of proof changed after Dunblane. We do not ask ourselves whether the Bill will work. Instead, we ask, "If there is any chance whatsoever of this proposed legislation helping at all in any circumstances to stop a Dunblane happening again, should we pass it?"

I say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and to others who have spoken articulately against the Bill that when the issue is put to the acid test there is only one choice, and that is to go into the Lobby in support of the Bill.

I, too, have some facts and statistics. It is incontrovertible in terms of international statistics that the countries that are the most liberal in their gun laws also have the largest gun ownership. Those countries that have the largest gun ownership have also the largest illegitimate use of guns, mainly in the commission of homicide.

It is perfectly possible to say that America is a special case. It is a frontier society with a culture of violence. It is a new society. The same cannot be argued for law-abiding, clock-making Switzerland. There, after centuries of liberalisation of gun control, where 13 times more people hold guns than are held in this country legitimately, there are 10 times more homicides caused by firearms than in the UK. The list continues and reaches Japan, which is not known for its law-abiding behaviour. It should be recognised, however, that Japan has had the courage to ban handguns. It is at the bottom of the international league for crimes committed with illegally held weapons.

Another statistic cannot be ignored. In the United States there is by head of population, amazingly enough, only three times the number of murders that take place in the UK that are not committed with handguns. If handguns are included in the equation, however, the United States have 150 times more murders than us. If we want to step down that road even a short way, we shall continue to license and keep within our culture the legitimate use of handguns.

That brings me to my next point, which has been largely ignored during the debate. Why is there a direct equation between the legitimate ownership of handguns and their illegitimate use? I suggest that there are two reasons for that. The first is the crude question of opportunity. The more guns that are available the more they will be used, and the more that they will find their way into illicit hands. Secondly, the more liberal that we are in our gun legislation the more we are seen tacitly to condone and support a gun culture. The more that we tacitly support that culture the easier it will be for people to obtain guns and commit crimes with them.

I do not suppose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have seen some of the films the names of which I could reel off, having made a study of these matters. In our youth, Mr. Deputy Speaker, together perhaps, we used to see films such as "High Noon" or the romances based on that film, during which people were shot and fell over. That happened five or six times during the film, normally at the end. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I could take you to see current films during which there is a death or a maiming by handguns every 17 seconds. The victims do not merely fall over. There are the most graphic details that the cinema of today can produce.

There is a gun culture and we live in unhappy and violent times. We cannot control that. In a free society it is difficult to produce such controls. But let us send a collective message from the House, in representing the people of the United Kingdom, that we shall not tolerate as part of a gun culture the legitimate use and handling of firearms. Let us make it clear that they will be outlawed despite the fact that there will be casualties. Those of us who feel strongly about these matters take no joy in that consequence, including those with whom I work. To use an unparliamentary expression, all this stuff about the Olympics being put in jeopardy by the banning of handguns is pure bunkum. The argument has been cooked up to produce a smokescreen.

It is perfectly possible to organise the Olympics on the basis that we do not participate in one sport. We do not participate in some canoeing events that involve three or four people with paddles. That has done has no harm in the Olympic games and we can still stage them in Manchester. It is unlikely that the canoes of which I speak will appear on the Manchester waterways. At the same time, as a sportsman, I feel considerable compassion for the sportsmen and women who will be involved. Undoubtedly, however, the greater good must prevail.

I can say as a lawyer that the licensing and regulation of handguns is, in reality, impossible. We shall never devise a system that will stop someone like Thomas Hamilton getting possession of a legal firearm. Those who are charged with licensing guns adopt a discretion. My lawyer friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), nods and he knows well what I am about to say, which is that that discretion must be judicial. The use of prescience or the concept that someone is unpleasant and therefore should not have a handgun would not be a way of depriving individuals of ownership. That is exactly the Thomas Hamilton case. There were many people who felt that he should not have had a gun, but an advised decision was taken that he had to have it. That will happen again. There is only one way out of the conundrum and that is a total ban.

I urge right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill to accept that the honourable course is to impose a total ban. I pay tribute to Bob Hughes, who is no longer a Member—he was a casualty at Harrow, West—but who had the courage to break his own Whip when this issue was last debated. There were many good reasons for the Tories losing Harrow, West, but Bob Hughes's espousal of the cause that I have presented was certainly not one of them. He worked closely with the Gun Control Network and with its chairman, my wife. That resulted in her having the perhaps unsavoury distinction of appearing in two election addresses in a general election, one Tory and one Labour.

I commend the Bill to the House. I have been proud to play some part in the efforts of the campaigning teams that, I hope, have assisted Members in the preparation of the Bill. For the reasons that I have set out, I urge Members to accept that the Government's proposal, regrettable though it might be, is the only way in which safety can be ensured.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:08, 11 June 1997

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) on a splendid and memorable first speech. Dickens might have found a spiritual home in the proud city of Portsmouth. He was born in the city, a fact of which we are extremely proud.

I am probably unknown to many Members, but I think that it is 10 years ago to the day that I was last a Member of this place.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

That is a good point: if the hon. Member knows, there are others who want to know.

I pay tribute to my predecessor. I thank him on behalf of the people of Portsmouth, South for the efforts that he put in on their behalf. I am sure that David Martin will be remembered by those for whom he worked. As I have said, he put in a great deal of effort on behalf of many people. I know that from correspondence that I have received since 1 May. I wish him and his family all the best for the future.

I am delighted to speak after a Member representing another naval constituency. It was nice to hear Chatham spoken of in such dignified terms. I speak as one who represents the finest of all British cities; I hate to contradict the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who made his maiden speech yesterday, but I am sure that, when he spoke of the fair city of Lancaster, he forgot to include Portsmouth in what he judged to be the country's finest cities.

I am very happy to represent Portsmouth, South again. I had the privilege and pleasure of serving the constituency some 10 years ago, and well remember the opportunities that that afforded me to speak on behalf of the people of Portsmouth. Much has changed in the intervening time, however.

We in Portsmouth have struggled to come to terms with the rundown of the defence industries, and have fought magnificently to rekindle enthusiasm within the city for its future. We look forward with great expectation to the developments associated with our gaining of Millennium Commission support for a major project in our city. I am sure that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) will join me in wishing Portsmouth all the best, in the hope that those endeavours will come to fruition in time for them to be celebrated in the millennium year. We trust that the whole nation will share in the occasion.

We also celebrate the success of our football team, led and managed by Mr. Terry Venables—who no doubt will bring much enjoyment to Portsmouth if he succeeds in bringing players from down under to play at Fratton Park in the coming season, delivering the success that we have been narrowly denied during the past three or four years.

Portsmouth is a very special place. It is a cosmopolitan city; it is the home of the Royal Navy, and of one of the United Kingdom's newest universities. It has contributed to the history of the nation for 2,000 years, and it is incredibly proud of those traditions. Only last week, we unveiled a statue of one of the United Kingdom's greatest heroes, Lord Montgomery, on our seafront, and in a few days' time we shall celebrate the success of our task force in the Falklands war. Portsmouth needs to be represented well in this place. That is why it is important for the voice of its people to be heard in regard to the issue that we are discussing.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on the courageous way in which he presented the Bill today: I am sure that he could have found an easier way—he could have run away from some of the difficult points that were put to him—but he denied no interruption, and gave hon. Members every opportunity to put him on the spot in regard to sporting issues. I heard him say that he had been assured that the Commonwealth games would not be threatened by the legislation, and I accept that he had researched that. He also promised that he would look into the position regarding the Olympic games.

I must declare an interest: I have a firearms certificate, and have had one for a long time. I have fired pistols and rifles for nearly two decades. I have enjoyed the hospitality, friendship and comradeship of shooters in this country and abroad, and have enjoyed the privilege and pleasure of shooting on many ranges in this country. I have done that in the knowledge that I was enjoying a sport—but I have not fired a gun since the Dunblane massacre. This morning, before coming to the House, I handed my last firearm in to the Portsmouth police station.

I have my current firearms certificate with me. It is quite interesting. I am sure that not many of my constituents are aware that it was—and legally still is—possible for me to possess five weapons, all of them capable of killing people. I could have had nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition in my home at any one time, but I am glad to say that I now have none of those things. I handed in my last weapon today, because anyone speaking in a debate such as this becomes extremely vulnerable as soon as he says that he owns guns. His property becomes vulnerable to people who would use an opportunity to gain access to a weapon.

We should all be concerned about the fact that 500 legally owned guns were stolen in the last year for which statistics exist. People may think that their weapons are secure. They may do what I did, and break weapons down, storing ammunition and pistols in separate containers and in different parts of the house. But they can never be sure that a chance burglary will not happen—or, indeed, a premeditated burglary. The burglar may know that someone is a gun enthusiast.

Since Dunblane, however, I have been unable to bring myself to support the idea that anything other than a total ban would be acceptable to the British people. Given that, according to the latest poll, 83 per cent. of people support such a ban, I cannot conceive that there is now any excuse for us to do other than support the Bill. I say that with a great deal of heartache: I feel sad for people who have enjoyed the sport for much longer than I have—the people who offered me friendship, and encouraged me to use their weapons and ranges to enjoy the sport of shooting. I know what a wrench it will be for them to be denied that opportunity.

Many disabled people have found that shooting is the one thing that makes them live again. I have met a number of those people, and have recently presented awards to some of them. I have also helped to develop the techniques used by some whose ambition is to learn to shoot. However, there are other ways in which such people can develop their potential. Their weapons will not be outlawed. I am sure that many paraplegics will turn to air weapons if they still want to shoot.

I am not at all worried that we as a nation will be forbidden to bid for future major sporting events, and I think that it is a travesty to suggest that that in itself would be a good reason not to ban weapons. I commend the Home Secretary for defending his position so forthrightly today.

The police will have less of a burden. They will not have to deal with the day-to-day routine tasks that the last Government's legislation would have increased dramatically. As the Home Secretary pointed out, the Bill will enable the police to devote more energy to ridding the nation of illegally held weapons, and of people who systematically peddle weapons. There will be no excuse now, because, after the three-month handing-in period, all legally held weapons should no longer be available.

I thought it unforgivable that the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), should suggest that legitimate gun owners would go underground. I considered that a slur of the worst possible kind, and, as a firearms certificate holder, I took offence personally. How outrageous it was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer to public safety as an important factor. He found every excuse under the sun for not recommending the Bill, but not once did he address the issue of whether we would live in a safer nation if we banned handguns. I found that a sad and startling omission.

I was also disappointed that so many Conservative Members tried to hide the true issue by supporting shooting activities among the disabled. I felt that that undersold and undervalued their contribution, and I thought it sad that Conservative Members had sunk to such a level, given that the nation had demanded that Parliament balance the issues carefully and then decide.

I have no hesitation in giving the Bill my whole-hearted support. It is right, proper and long overdue. An opportunity was missed, not last year but after Hungerford. That is when the true tragedy of Dunblane occurred. With hindsight, it just may be that we can look back and say that, if only we had seized that opportunity—it is a big if—Dunblane might not have happened.

Tonight, we have the opportunity to give the Bill a Second Reading, to give it a fair wind in Committee, and to wish it well on Third Reading, and the nation has the opportunity to get behind it. I am sure that most reasonable people will feel that there is nothing but justice in what the Government are trying to achieve this evening. I believe that, on balance, the Government have got it right, and that the Bill is worthy of support.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley 8:20, 11 June 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I had not intended to speak. I was looking forward to making my maiden speech on a subject which I knew rather more about, possibly the arcane workings of local government finance, or some such thing. But because the Commonwealth games and the Olympic games have been mentioned so much, about which I know quite a lot, having led, with Sir Bob Scott, Britain's bid for the Olympics in 1996 and 2000, and having led the successful English bid for the Commonwealth games in 2002, I decided to try to participate.

First, in accordance with the traditions of the House, I am delighted to pay my respects to my predecessor, Ken Eastham. Ken Eastham was elected to the House in 1979, but I had known him for some time before that. I must be one of the few new Members who have known their predecessor for most of their life. Ken could sometimes appear a little dour, but he did his work extraordinarily well, and behind that facade there were often extreme acts of kindness above and beyond the usual advice bureau work that one would expect from an MP, and which in Ken's case one got—both his constituents and new members of the Labour party.

For example, when I joined the Labour party in the early 1970s, a long time before new Labour, I lived in the area that Ken represented as a local councillor. That was at a time in the inner city when the ease of access to the Labour party was often in inverse proportion to the number of members that the Labour party had in that branch. In addition, young, opinionated, new graduates were also not often welcomed into inner-city Labour parties. Those parties were often said to be closed. But Ken Eastham went out of his way to help me along in the Labour party, and to support me in a way that at that time was quite unusual.

It was also at that time as a councillor that Ken took up the fight against corruption and what has more recently been called sleaze. He ran a long campaign against some dodgy contracts in which the local authority was involved, and had them changed. As a Member of this House, he was always the hammer of corruption. He spoke out against sleaze on a number of occasions, and that fitted well with his personality—that of an upright man reeking of integrity.

I shall just mention one other part of his work which I hope to follow. Although the British Aerospace factory at Chadderton is not within the Manchester, Blackley constituency, many of my constituents work there. Ken was tireless in trying to get contracts for British Aerospace in order to ensure that the people he represented stayed in work. Ken will be sadly missed as the Member for Blackley, and I hope to follow in his footsteps.

I was delighted on my election to receive a letter from the previous Member for Blackley, Paul Rose. I had not seen him since he decided to retire at an early age in 1979. He was elected to the Chamber in 1964, when he was the youngest Member of the House. He could still be the Member for Blackley, because he worked hard, he fought against racism and he was a good constituency MP. His letter of congratulations told me—something which I did not know—that he is now a coroner in the south of England. I hope also to follow in the tradition of Paul Rose.

It is also traditional in a maiden speech to talk about one's constituency—in my case, Manchester, Blackley, which the BBC often annoyingly pronounces incorrectly when giving election results. I have listened to a number of maiden speeches today and on previous occasions, when hon. Members have laid claim to win the competition to represent the most beautiful constituency in the country.

Unfortunately, I would not enter Blackley in that competition. Its people are wonderful, and the constituency has many attributes, but I do not think that anyone would believe me if I said that it has the best scenery in the United Kingdom—it does not. However, it has, if not the largest, one of the largest municipal parks in Europe, which is often visited and which will in the near future benefit from lottery money—Heaton park. It also has one of the three oldest municipal parks—Queen's park—which, again, we hope will receive money from the lottery fund. Along with Phillips park and a park in Salford, it was one of the first municipal parks.

The constituency also benefited from the first modern tram system to be introduced in Britain, which runs between the city centre and Bury in the north and Altrincham in the south. I hope during my period as Member of Parliament to extend that system to other parts of the constituency, which will benefit enormously.

I said that the constituency is not beautiful. It is a traditional industrial area, with many houses, which suffered enormously during the recessions of the early 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, each one biting into its economic and employment base further than the other. We lost the Ferranti factory when Ferranti went bankrupt, British Aerospace has contracted and ICI, turning into Zeneca, has also contracted. One of the most important tasks, and one reason for supporting the Government's programme, is to bring jobs back to Blackley and to ensure that the existing industry expands and employs more people.

As unemployment in the constituency has risen, so many of the social conditions have become worse. There is considerable poverty in parts of the constituency. Much of the housing in the private and public sector needs much investment. There is a great deal to do within the constituency, and I look forward to many of the Government's Bills which will improve that situation.

One of the ways in which the constituents of Blackley will find employment is as a result of the Commonwealth games in 2002. The job creation potential of major international sporting events, particularly multi-sporting events, is not generally known. It is estimated that the Commonwealth games will produce about the same number of jobs as half a car-manufacturing plant. I should like many of those jobs to go to people within Blackley and its immediate area, where most of the games will take place—Manchester, Central.

Therefore, I am concerned with some of the comments that have been made in the debate, suggesting that in some way the Commonwealth Games will not take place in Manchester in 2002. They will take place, and I will explain why.

There is a contract between the bidding city, Manchester city council, and the Commonwealth Games Federation, the international body which is the equivalent of the International Olympic Committee. Within that, there are only two reasons for taking away the Commonwealth Games. First, a natural disaster, an earthquake, a riot or a major event would prevent the games from taking place. Secondly, the games would be stopped if they were not properly organised. One cannot predict natural disasters, but they are unlikely in Manchester. We will organise an excellent games, not only for Manchester but for the whole of the United Kingdom. It will be the largest multi-sport event to take place in this country since the 1948 Olympic games.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his comments about the shooting event in the games. He said that he would use his powers to allow it to take place. He paid me a tribute, for which I am thankful. I thought that the tradition was for hon. Members to receive praise after they had made their maiden speech and not before, but I am grateful for his remarks.

A Conservative Member gave 80 per cent. of the story of why shooting is part of the games. It is correct that Manchester's original bid did not include shooting. We won the English nomination against London, and Sheffield withdrew. We had no competitors in Bermuda. The biggest hurdle we had to get over was obtaining the English nomination. We had not included shooting, although, by certain criteria, it is the third most popular sport in the Commonwealth games. When we decided which sports to include, we listed costs against income, the number of spectators that watch the sports, the history of the sport and other obvious criteria. After we had done that, shooting dropped out.

When we got to Bermuda, the shooting lobbies from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the Falklands drew up a petition and asked us to include the event. It is inconceivable that, at that stage, having got the English nomination and having passed all the necessary tests, we would not have been awarded the games even if we had not included shooting. We were to get the nomination, and we wanted everyone to be happy.

The Sports Council was on our delegation, and it said that it would do everything that it could to provide the funds for a shooting range. So we included shooting, and the Commonwealth Games Federation was delighted. It was not a condition, and even if we took the most extreme position and shooting were to be excluded—which it will not be because of the commitment given by the Home Secretary—it would not prevent the Commonwealth games from coming to England in 2002.

There is no doubt that the event will be affected. It is not well known that seven home countries compete in the Commonwealth games, including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland, which is not included in the Bill. Representatives from those countries will still be able to train and compete, but the event will be affected because English, Welsh and Scottish pistol shooters will not be able to train if the Bill is passed.

In Bermuda, I gave a commitment to the Commonwealth Games Federation that shooting would be included. It will be included, given the Home Secretary's assurance, but it will be a different competition from the one intended.

I have listened to the debate, and have thought about the issues a great deal. A balance has to be struck between individual liberties and the potential for another Dunblane. I am persuaded that, on balance, the Bill is right. However, I gave a personal commitment to the Commonwealth Games Federation, and we are now in a different position for understandable reasons.

Although I am persuaded of the arguments, I feel that in all honour I shall have to abstain on this issue. I do not like abstaining, because we must make a decision, but I have no alternative, given the situation and the fact that I presented the case on behalf of Manchester and England. I hope that I have clarified a number of issues surrounding the Commonwealth games.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 8:35, 11 June 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech. I am privileged to represent the new Arundel and South Downs constituency. As many hon. Members may know, it is a beautiful part of England. It nestles under the south downs and is twice the size of the Isle of Wight. It comprises parts of five previous constituencies, the three main ones being Horsham, Arundel and Mid-Sussex. As is traditional, I shall pay tribute to all five Members of Parliament from whom I have taken over, particularly the three who represented the main constituencies.

Sir Peter Hordern was a Member of the House for 33 years. He was enormously respected both here and in the constituency. He was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the 1922 Committee. He was one of the early disciples of Enoch Powell, in that he understood that this country could not achieve economic success without a sufficient market economy. I am delighted that the Prime Minister seems to have understood that, even if his deputy has not yet done so.

To the west, Sir Michael Marshall represented Arundel for 23 years. He is greatly loved in the constituency and in the House, and remains in Arundel. I viewed him as a model of an utterly decent Member of Parliament. He is also the author of five books, including a biography of Jack Buchanan. Like me, he worked in India for a while and shares my great love of that country. In recent years, he made a considerable contribution to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

To the east, Tim Renton, now Lord Renton, represented Mid-Sussex for 23 years. He served as Chief Whip, as Under-Secretary and as Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and at the Home Office. Following his retirement, Tim Renton has become chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, where he will have an important role in protecting the beauty of our environment—a subject to which I shall return.

The two other previous Members are Michael Stephen, because a small part of Shoreham has come into my constituency, and Tony Nelson, who represented Chichester. Their successors either have already paid or will pay tribute to those two, so I shall simply say that the House will be all the poorer without Michael Stephen's contribution on law and order debates, and that Tony Nelson made a great contribution both at the Treasury and at the Board of Trade.

When the new constituency was created, there were great rows not only about the boundary changes but about the name, because Arundel is right in the west of the constituency, which also contains three other old parliamentary boroughs—Hurstpierpoint, Steyning and Bramber.

Those boroughs have a fascinating history. The great Wilberforce represented Bramber—although he did not know where it was at the time, because it was the third rottenest borough. I discovered that one John Major represented Steyning for about 20 years, until the Reform Act of 1832 abolished the "labour" vote that had sustained him. Arundel has had the support of the great and talented Norfolk family, which continues to this day both in the country at large and in the county.

Many others made great contributions in the past. For instance, Richard Cobden, the apostle of free trade, lived just down the road. To come right up to date, I can add that many of the British citizens who have gone about the world to make their careers and build businesses in Asia retire to our part of the world, and have contributed enormously to this country and its interests.

The constituency today consists of five market towns—Henfield, Hurstpierpoint, Steyning, Arundel and Pulborough—with their surrounding villages. If there is one common major issue, it is the desire to preserve that part of west Sussex as we have inherited it. It is only an hour away from London, and is under the threat of urbanisation.

Half the constituency is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, and if the demands for housing, roads and gravel pits that much of today's bureaucracy brings were accepted, the other half of the constituency would be ruined. In that connection, the Sussex Downs Conservation Board has been an interesting and innovative concept. It is not a national park, but it takes on many of the responsibilities of one, without the planning role.

Finally, I was amused to discover that the house that my wife and I bought in Arundel was apparently the centre of Britain's defences against European invasion along the south coast in the Napoleonic wars. The closer we get to the south coast, the more people seem to become sensitive about their nationhood.

That brings me to the subject of the debate. During the election campaign, it seemed to me that the issue that people cared about most on the doorsteps was what our future vis-à-vis Europe would be. However, I had far more letters on the gun issue than on any other subject. They were all critical of the 1997 Act passed by the Tory Government, and enormously fearful that if there were a new Labour Government, the politically correct policy of a complete ban would be embraced.

I have discovered that in Sussex we have 60 of the total of 1,600 gun clubs, with nearly 2,000 members between them—no doubt because that part of the world is fairly close to Bisley. I am not a shooter; it has not been my sport. However, like the other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I have thought hard and long about the subject. I believe that a law-abiding minority are suffering injustice, to no proven end. The logical conclusion of what many people who support a complete ban on pistol shooting and gun clubs have said would be to stop any activity if there were any risk that it could lead to people being killed.

The nation's hearts went out to the families and parents at Dunblane, but when I think about the tragedy, I think particularly about people who are mentally unstable and let loose in society who may kill people with guns, poleaxes or whatever. A personal friend of mine is worried that her 23-year-old son, who is in society being minded by a 23-year-old lady, might kill somebody, and there is nothing that she can do to stop it. It is strange that the whole focus is on the means, and not on the bigger problem in society—how we strike the balance in protecting society from people who are mentally unstable.

I pay great tribute to the speech by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who covered most of the details and meat of the issue with great eloquence. I have certainly learned a lot this evening. My perception is that the 1997 Act—passed by the previous Conservative Government—has imposed a tighter regime here than anywhere outside of Japan, but we have not had time to see how it works. We are in no way a gun culture society—although I might add that if there is a risk of becoming so, it will come from the media and not from gun clubs. The Act was passed following much national debate and agony in the House, and the correct thing to do would be to let it work for a year or so to see what happens.

I am nervous about the argument that banning all guns will make the life of the police easier, as we all know that the real danger—as with prohibition, when the Americans did something similar in a different area—is if a police force gets sloppy in trying to police illegal guns. The crucial issue is how we prevent weapons of any sort from falling into the wrong hands, and we must not give the police an easy ride in doing that.

Many of the speeches in the debate made me uncomfortable, and contained an overkill of political correctness. I was reminded of other issues, when the House has gone overboard in reacting to tragic events, and when the first reaction has been to legislate after the event and over the top. Are measures produced to appease public opinion, or because Governments try to get out of their future responsibilities? We should stand back and think long and hard about these problems—as with similar legislation in the past on dangerous dogs and even on financial services. One does not stop crooks by passing legislation. One will not stop madmen and murderers by getting rid of guns.

Some 60,000 people are to be told casually that they cannot do their sport. We must get the balance right between protecting the majority and looking after the liberty of the minority. I am immensely unhappy at the ease with which people are prepared to ditch the interests of the minority.

The Cullen report was the professional investigation into the subject, and I wish to end—as did another speaker—by stating the conclusion of the report. Lord Cullen—I know well that the 1997 legislation did not follow all his recommendations—said: I do not consider that the banning of handguns for target shooting or the banning of shooting clubs would be justified. I cannot see that there is any argument that that banning would make the risk of another Dunblane occurring any the less. Many of those involved are simply scoring political points and trying to appease public opinion.

I want to defend my constituents of all political persuasions against the imposition of a tyranny. I very much hope that the House will allow the 1997 Act to operate before going over the top and enacting the Bill.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 8:49, 11 June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) on a thoughtful maiden speech. I have never been to the south downs, probably because they are a bit close to Europe for me, but his description made me want to go there; they must be almost as nice as Grimsby. I congratulate him also on his tributes to his five predecessors. That is approximately the working ratio in the Tory party after the election, with one Member replacing five. His tribute was entirely appropriate to the distinguished Members who preceded him.

I must declare a lack of interest, because I am not a gun enthusiast and I do not like the sport. I am terrified of guns and do not even like holding them, so I am not speaking from concern with guns and gun culture. I hope to argue that the rush of emotion is a bad basis for legislation.

We all feel strongly about Dunblane, but our responsibility in dealing with the consequences is to consider how best to prevent a repetition. The most rational and effective way of preventing it from happening again is not to rush into legislation. When the House rushes into legislation under a strong emotional influence, it always makes mistakes. We are perpetuating the rush that happened last year in the immediate aftermath of Dunblane.

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) and for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who made intimidatingly good maiden speeches, but, apart from the maiden speeches, we have merely heard a repetition of the speeches of November and December last year, perpetuating that rush into legislation.

The rational way is to think matters through. I hate having to differ from the bulk of people in my party, because I believe in the collective wisdom of parties and the way in which we help to shape each other's thought, but in this instance I believe that we should not go further down this road. We should hang on and think a little more.

The last piece of rushed legislation was about dangerous dogs—the persecution of pit bull terriers legislation—and it has been a disastrous mess. The rush to legislation that began with the 1997 Act has left several messy consequences that were not thought through at the time. It has left a far bigger bill for compensation than need be. We had estimates earlier this week of a total of £140 million or £150 million, and people may say that that is a price worth paying, but that is not the price, because the final bill will almost certainly be higher; we do not know how high. After this afternoon's financial statement, it is unreasonable for us to take on untold obligations. The cost could be £300 million, and I have heard even bigger estimates.

The Bill does nothing about illegal weapons, which are a major problem. It would have been far more effective if we had at the same time increased penalties and imposed greater sanctions on illegal weapons, which are far more numerous and more of a danger than legal weapons.

We are destroying the gun clubs, which are a means of restraint, of community and of people working together. In clubs, there is a discipline and people can keep an eye on each other. The gun clubs have been destroyed by the previous legislation. For example, in Grimsby, people have borrowed money, taken out extra mortgages and run up overdrafts to build up the gun club for their recreation and their sport. The club has suffered a huge loss of members, because they have been driven out. The members feel that they have become a distasteful minority. They face financial ruin, and the discipline that comes from the gun clubs will go. The gun clubs have been crippled, but we need them to provide a restraint on the use of weapons.

We should not ignore the effect of the Bill on the police. The Bill will have an impact on the proficiency of police firearms squads. At the moment, their official training is limited and their time on the range is limited, as are the number of rounds that they can fire and the style of shooting that they can adopt. When the police are in a stake-out, they cannot stand square as if they were on a range. Officers have supplemented their official training by joining gun clubs, at their own expense, and buying weapons. They have become more proficient, versatile and skilled and, therefore, much safer in their possession of weapons. That will stop and will be a severe setback for the squads.

The previous legislation has had the effects that I outlined. The Bill will compound the problem by banning. 22s, which were not used in Dunblane. We shall repeat the same mistakes. In banning the weapons, we shall not ban the gun culture. We cannot legislate against the culture of guns, because that would mean the censorship and control of television, which encourages it. We do not try to ban the lad culture or the sex culture through legislation.

Legislation should not try to ban or eliminate the gun culture: it should try, in the most effective and cost-efficient way, to stop guns being available in public, carried in public and used in public. I return to the argument that has not been advanced by many hon. Members in today's debate, although it was made in November and by Lord Cullen. It is not an original argument. Lord Cullen suggested that the most effective way to deal with the problem was to require dismantling of guns. By the simple expedient of requiring part of the gun to be kept at the club and the other part to be taken home by the owner of the gun, we would stop complete guns being available in public.

That would be an effective, total ban, which would not require the paraphernalia of enforcement that the Bill will bring. It was Lord Cullen's preferred option. It is feasible, practical and would achieve our main purpose—to stop a repetition of Dunblane. It would not require enormous sums to be spent in compensation and it would mean that there was no point in criminals raiding gun clubs or the homes of gun owners, because one part would be kept at the club and one in the home and never the twain shall meet. That seems to me to be a more effective way to stop the theft of guns, the ramraiding of gun clubs or criminal or terrorist attacks on gun clubs.

Under a requirement to dismantle, if whole guns were found outside gun clubs, they would be, ipso facto, illegal. Such a provision would allow the sport to continue. I see little point in persecuting people. We are turning gun enthusiasts into an alienated, paranoid and persecuted minority. They are upset and almost hysterical about the way in which they have been treated. The Bill will not foster a culture of co-operation among gun owners. If we can allow the sport to continue, we should do so.

When the point about dismantling was put previously, it was met by the Government—I should say the then Government, because things improve all the time as life goes on—with many specious arguments. First, they said that not all guns could be dismantled. The answer to that is simple. If some cannot—I think that all can—they should be specifically banned. It is as easy as that.

Secondly, it was argued that people could fabricate parts of guns. That is true, but they could also fabricate whole guns. So that really is no answer. If dismantling were the basis of legislation, possession of a whole gun would be illegal. Then it was argued that dismantling was not foolproof. What is foolproof? The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 is not foolproof. What kind of breeding ground is the creation of a paranoid minority who fear that they are being deprived wrongly of their guns? No system is absolutely foolproof.

All those objections are true, but all are trivial and unimportant. If there is a will to legislate by the more rational means of requiring dismantling, we should use it.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

The answers given by the previous Government on dismantling were terribly thin. Not only were they incorrect, as my hon. Friend has shown, but they did not respond to the argument being put. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will respond to the points made by my hon. Friend. He knows that I support them. They are due serious answers before we vote.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

The arguments were very thin. Thin is my description of arguments with which I disagree. Factually they were thin, too. The underlying concern was not to have dismantling, because the then Government wanted legislation. They wanted to show that they were doing something. They wanted to hang on to seats in Scotland. There was a threat in Scotland and they wanted to conciliate opinion there and show that they were responding to concerns. That is why they refused to listen to the argument. They had to have something to show to the Scottish electorate. That did not do them any good.

Now that that pressure is gone, we have an opportunity to rethink and take a cooler look. A cooler look would suggest looking again at what Lord Cullen proposed and asking ourselves whether that is the more effective way of dealing with the situation. Can we afford the scale of compensation? Should the Bill destroy the sport? Will the total ban work any better? I do not think that that is likely. We should answer such questions. It is very difficult to defeat totally the ingenuity of lunatics, as Hamilton was. We need a rational approach to the problem, to stop whole weapons being available among the public. Gun clubs and licensed, controlled premises should be the only places where guns can be reassembled.

I am in something of a quandary about to how to vote, because I am in the unusual position of receiving a three-line Whip on a free vote. I shall sit here and hope that some kind of telepathy from the Whips Office tells me what to do. I have not yet got one of those little bleepers. When they go off in the middle of debates, some of my hon. Friends look happy—even ecstatic.

If I were approaching such legislation, I would not start from this point.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 9:02, 11 June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for whom I have had a healthy regard, even since I have been reading his wife's columns in The Times on Saturdays, where she gives away all his personal secrets. He said that he knew very little about gun clubs, but he made an excellent speech on sensible, intelligent, well-thought-out and logical grounds. He also made a very good philosophical case against the Bill. That is not a party viewpoint; I think that he made a very good speech.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), who has just left the Chamber, on a first-class maiden speech. It is very difficult to make maiden speeches and I know that hon. Members often have butterflies in their stomachs. He paid due tribute to his predecessors and his constituency.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) made an excellent speech. I wish that I could make such a cogent speech without notes. I knew his predecessor well, because we served on the Select Committee on Employment together. He was a good man, who represented his constituents well. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue in the same vein. If I could just counsel him, although they may be grimy, he should see the streets of Manchester, Blackley as the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom. He should not be afraid to say that, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the good burghers of Blackley have returned him to the House, he should not be afraid to stand up to say that it is the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom.

I regret to say that I find the Bill small-minded, mean and populist. I do not believe it will be good legislation, which is why I oppose it. My colleague on the Front Bench, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), will remember that I was unhappy about the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which I considered to be similarly ill advised, but the Bill goes further and is far worse than that.

I have probably done more pistol shooting than most hon. Members, perhaps with the exception of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). I was paid to do it; it was not a sport, but something which I had to do in my working hours. Although I quite enjoyed it in those working hours, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to spend Saturday afternoons firing a pistol. Thousands of people, however, wish to spend their leisure hours firing pistols on ranges. They do no harm to anyone and they do not damage the country. They are perfectly law abiding and I would far rather that they did that than ran riot around our football grounds.

One must ask why the Bill proposes a ban on pistol shooting. First, it is a populist reaction to the ghastly tragedy of Dunblane. We all say that it was a tragedy, but we all truly believe that what happened at Dunblane was quite awful. It does not, however, justify the Bill.

The Home Secretary said that the Bill was designed to protect the public, but I do not follow the logic of that. A more august person than I referred to cricket bats, which was a reasonable reference to make, and the banning of motor cars has also been discussed. I wish that hon. Members would think about the "ingenuity of lunatics", to which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby has already referred. There was a ghastly case recently of a man who went to the home of his estranged wife and poured petrol through the letterbox, killing his sister-in-law and her three children. A couple of gallons of petrol can do just as much harm as a pistol, and Thomas Hamilton would have found that out quickly enough. It is pathetic to ban pistols when there are so many ways in which to harm others.

Of course I accept that the licensing procedures should be sorted out, because they operate badly. I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton, North that it was ill advised to issue a gun licence to Hamilton. That does not mean that we should stop thousands of law-abiding citizens from enjoying a sport. Cullen made some sensible recommendations and I urge those on the Government Front Bench to re-examine them carefully.

The second reason for the ban on pistols is the urge of some Members on the Government Benches to place restrictions on people. They are acting in a prescriptive and regulatory manner. It is the sign of a nanny Government. They are interested not in people's freedom, but in restricting what they may do.

I do not want to shoot, but it is sad that Labour Members, and possibly some of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches say, " I don't want to shoot, so you can't either." That is an authoritarian and unnecessary response. One might say the same thing about boxing. I do not wish to box, and many people are injured boxing, but many people came off the streets of the east end because of boxing clubs. They benefited from that by learning to fight in the clubs rather than beating each other up on the streets. Some people might still say, however, that one should ban boxing because it is so awful.

Some might argue that one should ban rugby football, union or league, because players break their necks. I know that many Labour Members, including some who agree with my argument, would ban hunting. I may not wish to hunt, but perfectly law-abiding people do so. They do not harm society and we should not ban their activity.

It has been said that tonight's Division will be a free vote. It may be a free vote, and I am sure that some Labour Members will vote—on a three-line whip—according to their consciences, but the political correctness that we have heard depressingly often in the speeches of Labour Members will reign, and there is no question but that the Bill will be passed. In the new Labour party, political correctness is reigning.

The 2002 Commonwealth games have already been mentioned, and I hope that they will be held in Manchester. However, those who are optimistic about Britain being considered for future Olympic games should think hard about the Bill. We would not be happy travelling to Olympic games in which we could not participate—sports such as the 100 m race or equestrian events. We would not support a bid to host games by a country that did not allow us to participate in a sport.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

Can the hon. Gentleman name any other Olympic sport that must be regulated by police?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

That is a very interesting question, of which I should have liked to have notice. I suspect, however, that the hon. Lady will find that various so-called self-defence clubs, such as judo clubs, require regulation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I certainly suspect that the use of sabres in fencing requires regulation. The hon. Lady is new to the House, and I do not think that her question is particularly relevant. Many sports require regulation, such as driving, which certainly requires police regulation. It may not be an Olympic sport, but it is a world sport.

The Government propose, most extraordinarily of all, that citizens of other countries should be able to walk our streets and fire their weapons, whereas British citizens will not be allowed to do so. That is a most extraordinary suggestion. Hon. Members have already mentioned disabled shooters. I will not revisit that issue, because other hon. Members wish to speak.

The hon. Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who made an excellent maiden speech, asked whether the legislation will work, and said that that would be the test. The obvious answer is that it will not work, because it will not reduce the accessibility of handguns. The Bill will have a negligible impact on handgun accessibility. The hon. Member for Stockton, North said that there are perhaps 4 million firearms in the United Kingdom, and the police estimate that there are between 1 million and 4 million illegal firearms. How much more worrying are those weapons than those owned by law-abiding people who wish to practise their sport on a Saturday afternoon?

Much has been made in the debate about small-bore pistols, and the Home Secretary said that the SAS is armed with. 22 weapons. I spent 15 years in the Army, and I can assure him that, should it be necessary to kill someone, we issue our armed forces with heavy-calibre weapons, because they have a longer range and a greater penetrating capability. The 9 mm weapon, which Thomas Hamilton used in Dunblane, is the standard-issue weapon for the British Army.

The legislation is small-minded, petty and indicative of a nanny state, and I regret it very much. I welcome the Home Secretary's comments on sorting out the violence on our streets that is committed with or without illegal firearms and pistols. The Bill, however, will not sort out that violence and has nothing to do with such violence. The Bill will only destroy the sport of law-abiding people who wish to do something that does not harm anyone. Simply because hon. Members do not wish to fire pistols on Saturday afternoons, that does not mean that we should destroy the sport for others. The Bill is a profoundly bad bit of legislation, and the House would be very unwise to approve it.

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney 9:13, 11 June 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I should like to start by congratulating hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Angela Smith), for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) and for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight). I also commend the tremendous work done by those in the Gun Control Network, particularly Mrs. Marshall-Andrews. As a local government leader, I led the movement within London borough councils to pass resolutions proposing a total handgun ban, which were adopted by UK local government associations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Medway mentioned a previous Conservative Member for Harrow, West, but, of course, another former Conservative Member broke with his party on the issue of handguns—David Mellor. I have before me a copy of the speech he made on 18 November 1996. It makes good reading and I agree with every word he spoke that evening.

Hon. Members may not know that, at the general election, there was a Sportsmen's Alliance candidate, Mr. Mike Yardley, standing against David Mellor and me in Putney. His sole manifesto pledge was to oppose what David Mellor and I both wanted—a total ban on handguns. Mr. Yardley called for a national march down Putney high street to show the strength of feeling on the issue; there were signs all along the A3 and 10,000 people were expected. I have to inform the House that, in fact, 75 people turned up. They were outnumbered by the police, of whom there were 78. A further 140 police officers were standing by as back-up, but they were obviously not needed.

I remind the House of the deplorable scenes at the Putney count, which were led by the Sportsmen's Alliance candidate along with Sir James Goldsmith. I know that Sir James is now seriously ill, but I would hope that Mr. Yardley has reconsidered his actions and realised that they were not that which is expected in this country. Hon. Members might ask how many votes Mr. Yardley got—the answer is 90, out of an electorate of 60,000. There are some 150 shooters in Putney, who between them own about 350 handguns, of which 50 are. 22 calibre. As the Putney police remarked to me this morning, the public are clearly in favour of a total ban on handguns as proposed in the Bill.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

As the hon. Gentleman is making such extensive use of statistics on shooters, does he recall the rally in Trafalgar square, at which tens of thousands of people turned up to support the shooters' cause? How does that fit in with his use of minute statistics on rallies?

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

All I can suggest is that the debate that followed in the press and in the House convinced the other 9,925 that their cause was not one to back. I confirm that only 75 people turned up in Putney high street.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Does the hon. Gentleman not believe that the role of this House, among others, is to defend the rights of minorities?

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

I do indeed. The minority exercised their right to hold their march in Putney and those 75 people were extremely well protected by the 78 police officers.

I am against the alternative of storing handguns at gun clubs, as are the police. I have a personal reason for that. Some years ago, my brother Ronald Colman, a police constable in King's Lynn, was called out after a break-in at a local gun club armoury and he cornered the criminals in the local sports pavilion. He did not call for back-up, although he should have done, and found himself looking down the barrel of a. 22 gun. I remind hon. Members that a. 22 can kill at a range of more than two miles and he was staring at the gun from a distance of 10 ft. He nevertheless went in unarmed and disarmed the two criminals. He was subsequently awarded the British Empire Medal and I am proud of my brother for what he did that day.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—we must not hang on; we must go forward with this Bill.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 9:18, 11 June 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly tonight—all the more so because I am conscious of the fact that it is only a couple of weeks since I made my maiden speech. In the short time available to me, I wish to pick up on three points that I thought were of some importance while listening to the debate. I shall run through them in explaining why I oppose the Bill.

Leaving aside the earlier legislation—which I would not have been able to support—and focusing only on the ban, the first point that struck me about the Bill was the Home Secretary's inability to provide any rational or valid argument for why. 22 weapons should be included in the ban. I listened to him carefully and asked him at the outset whether he could produce some Home Office statistics to back up the use of. 22 weapons in the commission of crime. No such statistics exist. Anecdotal evidence, some of which I derived from my experience as a barrister doing criminal cases, is that their use by organised criminals is virtually non-existent.

I accept that. 22s may have been used on occasion in cases of domestic violence, but a range of weapons is available, from the kitchen knife downwards, all of which weapons are impossible to legislate against. Anyone who applied a moment's thought to the matter would realise that it would be impossible to do so.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is being so dismissive of the logic of others that I wonder whether he would examine his own logic. Will he explain how his collection of information and analysis was derived during his practice in the courts?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

The Minister has been unable to produce any Home Office statistics—

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I will come to it. I can talk with my colleagues—[Interruption.] Yes, I can. It is one of the advantages of people coming to this House from a wide range of professional backgrounds. The Minister is flippant to dismiss that. We, at least, have the opportunity to talk among ourselves and we hear about whether and what weapons have been used. In my early years of practice going around the courts in London and the south-east, and whether I was having breakfast in the Bar mess or sitting in a court, I never came across an instance of a. 22 used in the way suggested. That is all that I can say to the Minister and the House. As the Minister cannot come up with any better information, he should not gainsay my point of view.

Secondly, I do not understand how the exception under the section 5 licence will work. I very much hope that the Minister will explain whether the exemption will apply only to foreigners coming to this country to participate in games, or whether it will also apply to any British citizen wishing to participate in those games and wishing to have access to a. 22 pistol, if necessary, by bringing it in from abroad. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary and detected a note of hesitation on that point. I should be grateful if the matter could be clarified before the end of the debate.

We will be left with one of two positions. The first is that an exception is made to allow a British—or English, Scottish or Welsh—team to participate in games in this country, notwithstanding the fact that they have been refused access to pistols for training purposes, in which case the ludicrous nature of the Bill will become apparent. Alternatively, the Home Secretary does not intend to allow the aborigines the rights that he will grant to people coming into this country, in which case—and leaving aside the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights—he will find that his susceptibility to judicial review will make the life of his predecessor in that respect pale into insignificance. I hope that those points will be dealt with before the debate is concluded.

I want to make a final point. It has been touched on occasionally, but generally hon. Members have skated away from it. Gun clubs and shooting clubs were mainly set up in the late 19th century and they had a civic role. That may no longer be a popular theme, but people who learned to shoot—initially mainly men—regarded it as a civic virtue. It was thought that people should learn how to shoot. Before the days of sex equality, it was regarded as a manly accomplishment.

It was also thought—this point has not been touched on, but should be—that people should learn how to shoot because that accomplishment might one day be used in the service of this country. We touched on that matter a little. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out that police officers make frequent use of the opportunities presented by shooting clubs to perfect their skills. Over the past 20 or 30 years, those virtues, as they used to be perceived, have been consistently denigrated by individuals who, for their own moral reasons—which I understand—regard such attitudes as archaic, militaristic and undesirable.

I have listened carefully to tonight's debate and much of the theme that I have picked up, particularly from the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), is that, leaving aside the practicalities of the matter, the House is being asked to make a moral statement. That moral statement requires us to say, "We do not like handguns; they must go."

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

I did not say that I do not like handguns and they must therefore go. Those of us who supported the ban on handguns did so because they kill, and in Dunblane 16 children and their teacher were killed by a handgun. It is not just that I do not like them; they have a lethal purpose.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I fully understand the hon. Lady's point. I took careful note of her words when she said that all handguns should be removed from our society, so I hope that I was not misquoting or misrepresenting her.

The strangest irony is that, ever since the trend that is now culminating in the destruction of shooting clubs began, the level of violence with handguns and all forms of weaponry has been rising. I believe that the two are linked. The more we get down to selfish, individualistic forms of society—[Interruption.] They are tolerated, because the House has never addressed the problem of how the culture of violence is foisted on our society. It has nothing whatever to do with gun clubs. That is precisely why, quite apart from resisting the Bill on a philosophical level, I am utterly convinced that it will have no bearing whatever on reducing the incidence of violence through the use of handguns. On the contrary; I am convinced that it will do the reverse. By destroying shooting clubs, which have served this country well by channelling that recreation and enthusiasm, we shall create more problems for ourselves. We disregard that at our peril.

I am a little distressed to note the reaction to what I hoped was an underlying point to commend to the House. It seems to be treated with a certain flippancy, which may be due to the fact that, as predicted earlier in this debate, the Chamber is now filling up with hon. Members who have not listened to previous speakers.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border 9:27, 11 June 1997

The Bill is unnecessary, unfair and unduly costly. If it becomes law, thousands of law-abiding citizens throughout the country will be deprived of their sport and pastime with no guarantee whatever that the public will be any safer.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) said that whenever the state considers limiting the activities of its law-abiding citizens, it must have a compelling reason for doing so. The Government said tonight that they have. They believe that extending the ban imposed on higher calibre handguns by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to. 22 pistols would increase public safety, yet they have produced no firm evidence or justification for that belief in this debate. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it is not a proportionate response.

Clearly, this is new Labour playing to the gallery. The Government do not care how many individual freedoms they trample on as they continue their process of apparently announcing a ban a day.

Of course, we accept that to curtail individual freedom is perfectly legitimate if it serves a good purpose, but the Bill serves no good purpose. That was powerfully pointed out in some excellent maiden speeches tonight. I have had the privilege of hearing quite a few maiden speeches in my time, but the crop that I heard today from both sides was particularly splendid.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on his maiden speech. I can also pay tribute to the wonderful Dyson vacuum cleaner, which I understand is made in his constituency. I can confirm that it is the only vacuum cleaner that picks up the dog hair from my springer and retrievers. Having used up many hoovers over the years, I can testify that that one works. It was good to hear about other features of my hon. Friend's excellent constituency.

In his maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) paid a good tribute to the many former Members who represented that composite constituency. He was right to say that, before rushing ahead, we should let the 1997 Act be implemented.

I congratulate all the Labour Members on their maiden speeches. I am pleased that all of them paid such generous tributes to their predecessors, whether they were Labour predecessors or, unfortunately, in too many cases, Conservative predecessors. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) made a good maiden speech. It is clear that he likes his constituency and he spoke with obvious sincerity. I must tell him that there was no single recommendation of the Firearms Consultative Committee relating to safety that was not implemented by the previous Government.

The hon. Members for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) also made excellent maiden speeches and were gracious about their constituencies and their predecessors.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) made his retread maiden speech. I welcome the tribute that he paid to his predecessor. He was, however, highly critical of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I am sorry, but it is nonsense to suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend did not address the public safety question in his speech.

My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that we passed the 1997 Act, which has yet to be implemented in full. It was all about protecting the public. The measure proposed by the Government is not about public safety, it is about public opinion polls. It is not about the protection of the community, it is about political correctness.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). In his maiden speech, he showed particular knowledge of the Commonwealth games, and the House listened raptly to what he said. The House will respect his decision to abstain in the Division tonight, and understandably so.

If I may single out one Labour Member for special praise, it must be the other northern lad like myself, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). I congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. He paid generous and noble tributes to his predecessors, Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman and Keith Mans. Of all the maiden speeches that I have heard over the years, I have not come across one in which a Member has spoken with such obvious affection for his constituency.

I have a particular affinity with what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that he had one feature that might possibly spoil his constituency—an animal rendering plant in Lancashire. I have the only other one in the far north of England, in Penrith. We tried to have it moved to Lancashire, to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but we were not successful.

The hon. Gentleman was extremely courageous to say in a maiden speech that he thought that his own side was going a bit too far in the Bill, and that in all conscience he would have to vote against it tonight. He will be respected on both sides of the House for taking that decision. I must tell him that, when I made my own maiden speech 14 years ago, I voted against the Government that evening on a matter relating to agriculture. The Government got their revenge because the then Minister of Agriculture, Michael Jopling, made me his PPS a few years later to shut me up. He did not entirely succeed.

We contend that the total ban proposed by the Government is unnecessary. The provisions of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 will ensure that no shooter can keep a handgun at home or carry it around in public. That is the crunch. All. 22 lower calibre pistols will be banned from general circulation. The owners of such weapons will be able to keep them only in a licensed gun club which the police are satisfied meet the highest security standards. Owners will never remove their pistols from the clubs, and the police will have to be informed if guns are taken outside clubs. Even then, the guns will have to be transported by a third party approved by the police. Those controls are rigorous—many people regarded them as excessive when the 1997 legislation was passed. Their purpose was to protect the public while allowing sports men and women to continue their pastime, although in a more limited and highly controlled way.

The fact is that, under the 1997 Act, another Thomas Hamilton or Michael Ryan would not be able to roam the streets carrying legally purchased and legally held handguns and commit indiscriminate murder. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made that point very powerfully in his speech today—as he did in speaking against the Government in the latter part of last year and earlier this year. He has spoken with obvious sincerity on this issue for a long time, and he displays deep knowledge of his subject. He was correct to point out that the Government are obsessed with controlling legal weapons, which is distracting attention from attempts to crack down on the illegal weapons in circulation.

The House must also be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for exposing the humbug of the Labour party free vote tonight. I shall say no more about that at this stage. However, if the Minister of State tries to make great play of Labour's free vote on the legislation, we shall quote extensively from several Labour speeches. We shall point out that, although it is technically a free vote in the Lobby, there is a three-line whip on attendance for Labour Members. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North pointed out, they can read the semaphore as to how they must vote tonight.

Earlier today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said—as have many of our colleagues—that the 1997 Act has not yet been implemented. The Government should consider the effectiveness of that Act before blundering ahead with their costly proposals for a total ban, which are based not on hard evidence but on an erroneous assumption. The Government seem to have the misconstrued and rather woolly idea that if they ban law-abiding people from owning. 22 calibre firearms, somehow evil people will be denied the means of killing the innocent. The world is just not like that.

If the Government think that they can protect the innocent from psychopaths and evil killers by banning the implements that they use to carry out their dastardly deeds, the Government will find that they must introduce new legislation every week banning another inanimate object that evil people use to commit crimes. Why will the Government not listen to the pleas of their Back Benchers? The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has spoken consistently about firearms control. Tonight, he urged the Government to think the matter through. He advised them to re-examine Lord Cullen's comments before blundering ahead with new measures before the 1997 Act is implemented fully.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Does my right hon. Friend recall the distinguished efforts of my predecessor, Sir Cranley Onslow, on behalf of thousands of law-abiding shooters in Woking who think that last year's legislation was too hasty? Will he accept that thousands of people in the Woking and Bisley area believe that the legislation is hasty and punishes innocent sportsmen?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sir Cranley Onslow was a noble defender of the right of innocent people to hold firearms in properly controlled, strict conditions. The Bill goes much further than that by seeking to ban firearms that are held at gun clubs under strict conditions.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

My right hon. and hon. Friends have paid tribute to Sir Cranley Onslow—and rightly so—for his efforts on behalf of gun owners and for his work as a distinguished member of the council of the National Rifle Association. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute also to Sir Jerry Wiggin, who, in a similar role on the executive of the National Rifle Association and as head of the British Shooting Sports Council, did a great deal to make the House and the country more aware of the value of shooting?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Of course I pay tribute to Sir Jerry Wiggin in exactly the same way. He has a long and distinguished record in defending those minority rights when properly and safely controlled.

To go forward with this draconian Bill without having clearly justified its need would be unfair and vindictive. It would kill off the Olympic sport of target pistol shooting in this country, ending for thousands of able-bodied and disabled law-abiding citizens alike a pastime that they may have enjoyed for many years. The British Paraplegic Shooting Association has said that the sport is as much a form of rehabilitation as it is a pastime for many disabled shooters. A total ban would mean that Britain would be no longer able to compete at Olympic or Commonwealth level at pistol target shooting events.

The controls under the 1997 Act are rigorous. When that measure was passing through the House, Labour Members argued that it was draconian. The controls that are available under it have not even been tried out. What is the rationale? What is the benefit that will be gained by such a draconian scheme other than a few snappy headlines and soundbites conjured up by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)?

We know that we are up against soundbite politics when even the new Minister for propaganda was out-soundbitten on this issue. Even when he was writing letters assuring constituents that people such as yourself will still be able to own hand guns, but they must be kept safely under lock and key at properly controlled centres", the then shadow Home Secretary was reading the latest opinion poll and focus group findings, and Labour party policy changed overnight. That happened behind closed doors over mineral water in smoke-free rooms in Islington.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) has observed that Labour's evidence to the Cullen inquiry was entirely at odds with its present policy. A total ban on handguns would also be expensive. The Government have failed to come up with any real justification for the Bill and they have not said from where the money is to come, or which other commitments or projects are to suffer if the money is to be found. The Minister must come clean on that point. Warm words and rhetorical smokescreens have been the Labour party's approach to accountancy in councils throughout the land, but it will soon discover that that is no way to manage the affairs and finances of a nation.

I press the Government again to explain how and where they will find the £30 million-plus to compensate. 22 pistol shooters for their weapons and accessories. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe has already said, we opted against compensation for gun clubs during the passage of what became the 1997 Act. That was legitimate and in line with long-established principles and precedents. We reached that decision because gun clubs and their members could transfer and shoot with smaller calibre pistols. They were not put entirely out of business.

The effect of the Bill, however, will be to force the great majority of gun clubs to close. A total ban will deprive clubs of the right to use their property. They will no longer be able to operate or exist as a result of legislation.

The Government must say whether they will revisit the idea of compensating clubs that will face instant closure when the Bill is enacted. I shall quote the line that was taken by the Home Secretary during a debate on what became the 1997 Act. He said that where individuals or businesses lose their property or property rights as a result of legislation or decisions made under legislation … it is entirely proper that they should be compensated for that loss."—[Official Report, 18 February 1997; Vol. 290, c. 804.] With the Bill receiving its Second Reading, all those clubs that cannot convert to any other form of shooting—for example, rifle shooting—because they were purpose built as pistol clubs will lose their property rights because they will not be able to continue pistol shooting. Therefore, the principles enunciated by all Governments, and which the present Government claim that they will adhere to, mean that the question of compensation must be revisited.

The Opposition do not oppose rigorous gun control. On the contrary, we bequeathed to the Government some of the toughest restrictions on the ownership and possession of hand guns that are to be found anywhere in the world. We took action throughout our period of office when we thought it necessary, after due consideration, to tighten firearms law.

I note with interest that the Government are considering banning imitation guns. It was the previous Administration who, in 1982, brought imitation firearms within the same tight licensing scheme that applied to other forms of dangerous weapons.

We do not believe that the Government have given this matter due consideration. We do not believe either that the Government have advanced an adequate enough case to restrict the liberty of thousands of law-abiding. 22 pistol shooters. Nor do we believe that there is any need for a total ban. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire said, the Bill has the taint of self-righteousness about it. I therefore commend the reasoned amendment to the House.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office 9:44, 11 June 1997

The speech that we have just heard was a mixture of soundbite and poetry. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) tried his best to mount a challenge to the Government's case, but failed. If individual freedoms are being trampled on in the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested at the beginning of his speech, they were being trampled on in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which he helped through the House. The difference is not one of principle. Tonight's debate is not a philosophical discussion. It is simply about whether we stick with the ban on 80 per cent. of handguns, under the present Act, or remove 100 per cent. of handguns, including the. 22 pistols, which are lethal and as portable and easily hidden as the larger-calibre handguns that are banned under the Act.

If, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, we wait until the 1997 Act has been in place for some time before considering whether to ban. 22 handguns, confusion and uncertainty will prevail for the public and for shooters, and we shall in due course be faced with the second and higher cost of compensating shooters who have moved from higher-calibre handguns to. 22 handguns. That will be a waste of public money. It is better for us to decide now, and to have certainty, in the interests of shooters and the public.

May I put the right hon. Gentleman right on the Labour party's evidence to the Cullen inquiry? I have it here. In paragraph 18, we stated clearly: In general, given the lethal nature of handguns, we see a strong case for banning them altogether. It is as clear and simple as that. We did, of course, consider whether it was possible to protect the sport of shooting in the interests of those who had legitimately enjoyed it, but we concluded that that was not possible. That logic underlies the arguments that we have advanced over the past year, and the arguments that have led to our presenting the Bill.

We have heard a number of maiden speeches tonight, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that their quality has been extremely high—worryingly high, in some ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a strong case for the needs of his constituency in a witty and effective speech. He brought to our attention the existence of the office of agent to the parliamentary rifle club: that sounds a curious animal, which will no doubt be sought out by a variety of people.

Having himself played a part in the campaigning work of the Gun Control Network, my hon. Friend paid tribute to his wife's work in chairing that group. I am happy to endorse his tribute. Campaigners since Dunblane have been characterised by restraint and common sense, rather than the hysteria that many of us expected might break out.

My hon. Friend was right to say that the basic question is, will the Bill work? I share his view that it will, that without the removal of. 22 handguns the existing law is flawed and that there is every danger that it will not work in protecting the public.

One of the most powerful speeches came from the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), a Liberal Democrat who spoke from experience as a shooter. He paid tribute to the honest way in which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had introduced the Bill, and had responded to so many interventions. In a similar way, I pay tribute to the honesty and clarity with which the hon. Gentleman spoke. He said that he supported the Bill with heartache and sadness, and described how he had handed in his own handgun after thinking through the logic suggested by Dunblane and subsequent events. His words spoke volumes in demonstrating and representing the decency of the vast majority of shooters who will, in general, accept the law of the land—albeit with regret—when the Bill is enacted.

Some of what has been said about shooters going underground is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman spoke for the decency of people who have taken part in the sport of shooting over the years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) is clearly a new Member of great talent and generosity, as his tribute to his predecessor showed. He said that he intended to vote against the Bill, but I hope that he will reconsider. It is not necessary to maintain a constituency-specific reputation for idiosyncrasy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) arrived in the House with a distinguished record as a county councillor and, indeed, as chairman of Humberside police authority—a name which will now survive. His support for the Bill is invaluable.

It is a particular pleasure for me to welcome to the House my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) and to know that the confidence that we both showed in ending her employment as my research assistant on 1 May was well timed and completely justified. It was rather cheeky of her to get a majority of more than 13,000, but her cogent and effective speech demonstrated her powers of persuasion, and the two may not be totally unrelated.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) made a confident contribution. We hope that he will grow into a fitting successor to Members of Parliament who have previously represented that area such as Wilberforce and Cobden. I wish that I could accept his comparison between the prohibition era in the United States and today's Bill, but I think that he is wrong in that comparison. He said that madmen cannot be stopped from committing murder by getting rid of guns. No, but one can reduce their access to guns and the Bill will reduce their access to. 22 pistols.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), although I disagree with his description of the Bill as distasteful. I wonder whether he would apply that description to the 1997 Act introduced by the Conservative Government.[Interruption.] Some hon. Members clearly would, but those hon. Members who have been absent most of the evening are even more vigorous in shouting at members of their own Front Bench than in shouting at Ministers.

I also pay tribute to the thoughtful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), who had a difficult job in the House tonight. I was chairman of the finance committee of Cardiff city council when it bid for the Commonwealth games, so I know the work involved and the disappointment of defeat, and I therefore share all the more in the joy that the games will be coming to Manchester. His speech demonstrated that the issue is much more complex than Conservative Members have suggested. I commend the quality of his speech and I respect his reasons for abstaining tonight. He made clear his acceptance of the commitment and undertakings given by my right hon. Friend with regard to the games.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) rightly paid tribute to his predecessor, who was courageous and passionate in pressing for a ban on handguns. My hon. Friend's reference to his brother's experience as a policeman facing the barrel of a. 22 pistol was one of the many contributions to the debate which each in themselves could be conclusive. It was a telling point.

Some contributions were less convincing. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) thinks that practice as a barrister provides authoritative knowledge of low life, but he was unable to produce evidence and so became petulant.

My hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) suggested that we should allow part of a gun to be held at home and part at a club, as was referred to in Lord Cullen's recommendation. That point was considered fully during the debate on the 1997 Act and it was comprehensively dismissed. He also made the point that the loss of gun clubs would undermine police training because they would be unable to continue additional training in their own time.

The Association of Chief Police Officers and its equivalent body in Scotland were consulted in February on that point and neither suggested that loss of additional training in private time to top up police training in official time was likely to have the impact suggested. Training levels for police are not compromised by the Bill or by the 1997 Act. They are set by an ACPO joint standing committee on police use of firearms, taking advice from police firearms officers and experts in training.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) made a rather odd speech in which he claimed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had not argued that the measure is necessary and proportional to the need to protect the public. I found it odd because that is precisely what my right hon. Friend's speech was all about. It is a Government measure. We have shown leadership and clarity. We have put the safety of the public first. We challenged his Government to allow a free vote on the issue earlier this year and we have kept faith with that approach in government.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) seemed to be going through the motions in his contribution. He always looks distinguished but he made a weak and sometimes petty speech in which he tried to call in aid the European Court, which he clearly despises. Then he accused my right hon. Friend of being cynical, when he is simply being clear and honest with the House about the Bill's impact. The hon. Gentleman was against the 1997 Act, so it is hardly surprising that he opposes this Bill.

The hon. Gentleman asked why disabled shooters should be disadvantaged by the Bill. There is no attempt to disadvantage disabled shooters, but it is the considered view that the public's safety can be protected to the extent that we believe is necessary only by banning not 80 per cent. of handguns, as proposed by the Conservative party, but 100 per cent., as we propose.

It takes a talent for well-presented muddle to argue that a move from 80 per cent. to 100 per cent. is an issue of basic principle. To be frank, the case for retaining. 22 guns has not been made.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

The right hon. Member for Berwickupon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) accepted that the 1997 Act deals with compensation in the same way as this Bill does.[Interruption.] I simply say—

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will be aware that. 22 pistols are widely available in France and can almost be obtained over the counter. They can be brought into this country without the slightest difficulty. The Minister does not pretend that there are any controls. Given that, what is the point of imposing a blanket ban in this country?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

I thought that it would not be much of a contribution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly has a total lack of faith in Customs or any controls on our borders. It is untrue to say that people can wander into this country with guns. It is a problem that people do not obey the law, but that is no justification for allowing more. 22 handguns to be held legally. That argument is totally illogical.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) spoke from the heart, as he always does. I acknowledge the integrity and passion with which he pursues issues such as child protection. I endorse his tribute to the late Baroness Faithfull. I respect his views, and I know that he has thought hard and long about the issues that will come to a conclusion with the Bill. He was right to say that legislation after Hungerford was flawed and not totally logical. I sincerely believe that our reasons for introducing this Bill are soundly based and logical, and will increase the protection of the public.

I shall clarify the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North made about dates in respect of the ownership of. 22 weapons, because he was wrong. Under clause 2(4), the Bill gives the date of possession as 14 May 1997, which is the date of the Queen's Speech. However, for calculating market values we have used 16 October 1996. That will benefit claimants, because the value of guns may have fallen between October 1996 and May 1997.

My hon. Friend made some powerful points, but he is wrong on a number of them. He is certainly wrong about the electoral pressure on my right hon. Friend. I was present when he met the then Home Secretary, the then Scottish Secretary and the then shadow Scottish Secretary shortly after Dunblane. I remember the determination that informed our discussion then and later to do what is right: not to be rushed or swayed by emotion, but to use the period of the Cullen inquiry to tease out the right policies for the future. We started out hoping that we could allow the sport of handguns to continue, but we were inexorably driven to the conclusion that we could not do so.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Before the Minister sits down, will he address the compensation point that the shadow Home Secretary and I raised?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

No, I answered those points during the debate on compensation on Monday. We will not go wider than the previous Government in compensating business. It is not logical or consistent, and we will not do so.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman should make up their minds what they want to do, because there are only a few minutes left.[Interruption.]

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

The shadow Home Secretary's intervention at this point is inappropriate. I have given way a number of times.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State, Home Office

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has tried to rewrite history—particularly his own record—by pretending that the previous Government were tough on guns.

The contrast that we have seen in the House tonight is clear. Our task of responding to the heart-rending tragedy of Dunblane will not be complete until we complete the ban on handguns that we believe is necessary for the protection of the public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) made a powerful speech, which was all the more powerful for being calm. Her contribution was emotional only in its sincerity. In its analysis of the choice that faces us tonight it was logical and clinical, and I can assure her and my other hon. Friends who have spoken that we shall complete that task.

Several hon. Members have said that damage is done only by weapons held legally. But 400 guns a year are stolen, and, once stolen, those guns are used illegally. That, above all, is the devastating statistic that leads us to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 384.

Division No. 27][10 pm
Amess, DavidBoswell, Tim
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelBottomley, Peter(Worthing W)
Arbuthnot, JamesBottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Atkinson, Peter(Hexham)Brady, Graham
Baker, NormanBrazier, Julian
Baldry, TonyBrooke, Rt Hon Peter
Berth, Rt Hon A JBrowning, Mrs Angela
Bercow, JohnBruce, Ian(S Dorset)
Beresford, Sir PaulBruce, Malcolm(Gordon)
Blunt, CrispinBurnett, John
Body, Sir RichardBurns, Simon
Butterfill, JohnLansley, Andrew
Cann, JamieLeigh, Edward
Cash, WilliamLetwin, Oliver
Chapman, Sir SydneyLewis, Dr Julian(New Forest E)
(Chipping Barnet)Lidington, David
Chidgey, DavidLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Chope, ChristopherLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter(Fareham)
Clappison, JamesLoughton, Tim
Clark, Rt Hon Alan(Kensington)Luff, Peter
Clark, Dr Michael(Rayleigh)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethMacGregor, Rt Hon John
(Rushcliffe)MacKay, Andrew
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMaclean, Rt Hon David
Collins, TimMaclennan, Robert
Colvin, MichaelMadel, Sir David
Cook, Frank(Stockton N) Major, Rt Hon John
Cormack, Sir PatrickMalins, Humfrey
Cotter, BrianMaples, John
Cran, JamesMates, Michael
Curry, Rt Hon DavidMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Davis, Rt Hon David(Haltemprice)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Davies, QuentinMay, Mrs Theresa
(Grantham & Stamford)Merchant, Piers
Dawson, HiltonMoss, Malcolm
Day, StephenNicholls, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenNorman, Archie
Duncan, AlanOaten, Mark
Duncan Smith, IainOpik, Lembit
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPage, Richard
Evans, NigelPaice, James
Fabricant, MichaelPaterson, Owen
Fallon, MichaelPickles, Eric
Flight, HowardPrior, David
Forth, EricRedwood, Rt Hon John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanRobathan, Andrew
Fox, Dr LiamRobertson, Laurence(Tewk'b'ry)
Fraser, ChristopherRoe, Mrs Marion(Broxbourne)
Gale, RogerRoss, William(E Lond'y)
Garnier, EdwardRowe, Andrew(Faversham)
Gibb, NickRuffley, David
Gill, ChristopherRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Gillan, Mrs CherylSt Aubyn, Nick
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairSanders, Adrian
Gorman, Mrs TeresaSayeed, Jonathan
Gray, JamesShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Green, DamianShepherd, Richard(Aldridge)
Greenway, JohnSimpson, Keith(Mid-Norfolk)
Grieve, DominicSoames, Nicholas
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamSpicer, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSpring, Richard
Hammond, PhilipStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Harris, Dr EvanSteen, Anthony
Harvey, NickStreeter, Gary
Hawkins, NickSwayne, Desmond
Hayes, JohnSyms, Robert
Heald, OliverTapsell, Sir Peter
Heath, David(Somerton)Taylor, Ian(Esher & Walton)
Heath, Rt Hon Sir EdwardTaylor, John M (Solihull)
(Old Bexley & Sidcup)Taylor, Matthew
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David(Truro & St Austell)
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasTemple-Morris, Peter
Horam, JohnThompson, William
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelTownend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Tredinnick, David
Hunter, AndrewTrend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelTyrie, Andrew
Jackson, Robert(Wantage)Viggers, Peter
Jenkin, Bernard(N Essex)Walter, Robert
Johnson Smith,Wardle, Charles
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWaterson, Nigel
Key, RobertWells, Bowen
King, Rt Hon Tom(Bridgwater)Whittingdale, John
Kirkbride, Miss JulieWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Laing, Mrs EleanorWilkinson, John
Willetts, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Wilshire, DavidMr. Patrick McLoughlin
Woodward, Shaunand
Yeo, TimMr. Peter Ainsworth.
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Abbott, Ms DianeClarke, Tony(Northampton S)
Adams, Mrs Irene(Paisley N)Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ainger, NickCoaker, Vernon
Allan, Richard(Shef'ld Hallam)Coffey, Ms Ann
Allen, Graham(Nottingham N)Cohen, Harry
Anderson, Donald(Swansea E)Coleman, Iain
Anderson, Janet(Ros'dale)(Hammersmith & Fulham)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryColman, Anthony(Putney)
Ashton, JoeConnarty, Michael
Atherton, Ms CandyCook, Rt Hon Robin(Livingston)
Atkins, Ms CharlotteCooper, Ms Yvette
Ballard, Mrs JackieCorbyn, Jeremy
Banks, TonyCorston, Ms Jean
Barron, KevinCousins, Jim
Battle, JohnCox, Tom
Bayley, HughCranston, Ross
Beard, NigelCrausby, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCryer, Mrs Ann(Keighley)
Begg, Miss Anne(Aberd'n S)Cummings, John
Bell, Martin(Tatton)Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bell, Stuart(Middlesbrough)Cunningham, Jim(Cov'try S)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Bennett, Andrew F(Copeland)
Benton, JoeCunningham, Ms Roseanna
Bermingham, Gerald(Perth)
Berry, RogerCurtis—Thomas, Ms Clare
Best, HaroldDalyell, Tam
Betts, CliveDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Blackman, Mrs LizDarvili, Keith
Blears, Ms HazelDavey, Edward(Kingston)
Blizzard, RobertDavey, Valerie(Bristol W)
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDavidson, Ian
Boateng, PaulDavies, Geraint(Croydon C)
Borrow, DavidDavies, Rt Hon Ron(Caerphilly)
Bradley, Keith(Withington)Davis, Terry(B'ham Hodge H)
Bradley, Peter(The Wrekin)Dean, Ms Janet
Bradshaw, BenDenham, John
Brand, Dr PeterDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Brinton, Mrs HelenDismore, Andrew
Brown, Rt Hon GordonDobbin, Jim
(Dunfermline E)Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Rt Hon NickDonohoe, Brian H
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)Doran, Frank
Brown, Russell(Dumfries)Dowd, Jim
Browne, Desmond(Kilmarnock)Drown, Ms Julia
Buck, Ms KarenEagle, Angela(Wallasey)
Burgon, ColinEagle, Ms Maria(L'pool Garston)
Burstow, PaulEdwards, Huw
Butler, ChristineEfford, Clive
Byers, StephenEllman, Ms Louise
Campbell, Alan(Tynemouth)Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Mrs Anne(C'bridge)Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Ronnie(Blyth V)Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Canavan, DennisFearn, Ronnie
Caplin, IvorFisher, Mark
Casale, RogerFitzpatrick, Jim
Caton, MartinFitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Cawsey, IanFlint, Ms Caroline
Chapman, Ben(Wirral S)Flynn, Paul
Chaytor, DavidFollett, Ms Barbara
Chisholm, MalcolmFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Clapham, MichaelFoster, Michael Jabez(Hastings)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David(S Shields)Foster, Michael John(Worcester)
Clark, Dr LyndaFoulkes, George
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Fyfe, Maria
Clark, Paul(Gillingham)Galbraith, Sam
Clarke, Charles(Norwich S)Galloway, George
Clarke, Eric(Midlothian)Gardiner, Barry
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom(Coatbridge)George, Bruce(Walsall S)
Gerrard, NeilKing, Andy(Rugby)
Gibson, Dr IanKing, Miss Oona(Bethnal Green)
Gilroy, Mrs LindaKingham, Tessa
Godman, Dr Norman AKirkwood, Archy
Godsiff, RogerKumar, Dr Ashok
Goggins, PaulLadyman, Dr Stephen
Golding, Mrs LlinLawrence, Ms Jackie
Gordon, Mrs EileenLaxton, Bob
Gorrie, DonaldLepper, David
Graham, ThomasLeslie, Christopher
Grant, BernieLevitt, Tom
Griffiths, Ms Jane(Reading E)Lewis, Ivan(Bury S)
Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)Lewis, Terry(Worsley)
Griffiths, Win(Bridgend)Liddell, Mrs Helen
Grocott, BruceLinton, Martin
Grogan, JohnLivingstone, Ken
Gunnell, JohnLivsey, Richard
Hain, PeterLloyd, Tony(Manchester C)
Hall, Mike(Weaver Vale)Llwyd, Elfyn
Hall, Patrick(Bedford)Lock, David
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Love, Andy
Hancock, MikeMcAllion, John
Hanson, DavidMcAvoy, Thomas
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMcCabe, Stephen
Heal, Mrs SylviaMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Healey, JohnMcCartney, Ian(Makerfield)
Henderson, Ivan(Harwich)McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Hepburn, StephenMcDonnell, John
Heppell, JohnMcFall, John
Hesford, StephenMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMcIsaac, Ms Shona
Hill, KeithMackinlay, Andrew
Hinchliffe, DavidMcLeish, Henry
Hodge, Ms MargaretMcMaster, Gordon
Home Robertson, JohnMcNulty, Tony
Hood, JimmyMacShane, Denis
Hoon, GeoffreyMcWalter, Tony
Hope, PhilipMahon, Mrs Alice
Hopkins, KelvinMallaber, Ms Judy
Howarth, Alan(Newport E)Mandelson, Peter
Howarth, George(Knowsley N)Marek, Dr John
Howells, Dr KimMarsden, Gordon(Blackpool S)
Hoyle, LindsayMarsden, Paul(Shrewsbury)
Hughes, Ms BeverleyMarshall, David(Shettleston)
(Stretford & Urmston)Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hughes, Kevin(Doncaster N)Martlew, Eric
Humble, Mrs JoanMaxton, John
Hurst, AlanMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hutton, JohnMeale, Alan
Iddon, BrianMerron, Ms Gillian
Illsley, EricMichael, Alan
Ingram, AdamMichie, Mrs Ray(Argyll Bute)
Jackson, Ms Glenda(Hampst'd)Milburn, Alan
Jackson, Mrs Helen(Hillsborough)Miller, Andrew
Jamieson, DavidMoffatt, Laura
Jenkins, Brian(Tamworth)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)Moran, Ms Margaret
Johnson, Ms MelanieMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
(Welwyn Hatfield)Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Jones, Barry(Alyn & Deeside)Morley, Elliot
Jones, Ms Fiona(Newark)Morris, Ms Estelle(B'ham Yardley)
Jones, Helen(Warrington N)Morris, Rt Hon John(Aberavon)
Jones, Ms JennyMountford, Ms Kali
(Wolverh'ton SW)Mudie, George
Jones, Dr Lynne(Selly Oak)Mullin, Chris
Jones, Nigel(Cheltenham)Murphy, Dennis(Wansbeck)
Jowell, Ms TessaMurphy, Jim(Eastwood)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldMurphy, Paul(Torfaen)
Keeble, Ms SallyNaysmith, Dr Doug
Keen, Alan(Feltham)Norris, Dan
Keen, Mrs Ann(Brentford)O'Brien, Mike(N Warks)
Kemp, FraserO'Brien, William(Normanton)
Kennedy, Jane(Wavertree)O'Hara, Edward
Khabra, Piara SOlner, Bill
Kidney, DavidO'Neill, Martin
Kilfoyle, PeterOrgan, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Mrs SandraSpellar, John
Palmer, Dr NickStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Pearson, IanStevenson, George
Perham, Ms LindaStewart, Ian(Eccles)
Pickthall, ColinStinchcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter LStoate, Dr Howard
Plaskitt, JamesStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pollard, KerryStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Pond, ChrisStuart, Mrs Gisela(Edgbaston)
Pope, GregStunell, Andrew
Pound, StephenSutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Ms Bridget(Lewisham E)Swinney, John
Prentice, Gordon(Pendle)Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Prescott, Rt Hon John(Dewsbury)
Primarolo, DawnTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Prosser, GwynTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Purchase, KenThomas, Gareth(Clwyd W)
Quinn, LawrieThomas, Gareth R(Harrow W)
Radice, GilesTimms, Stephen
Rammell, BillTipping, Paddy
Rapson, SydTodd, Mark
Raynsford, NickTonge, Dr Jenny
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Touhig, Don
Reid, Dr John(Hamilton N)Trickett, Jon
Rendel, DavidTruswell, Paul
Robertson, Rt Hon GeorgeTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
(Hamilton S)Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Rogers, AllanTwigg, Stephen(Enfield)
Rooker, JeffVaz, Keith
Ross, Ernie(Dundee W)Vis, Dr Rudi
Rowlands, TedWalley, Ms Joan
Roy, FrankWard, Ms Claire
Ruane, ChrisWareing, Robert N
Ruddock, Ms JoanWatts, David
Welsh, Andrew
Russell, Ms Christine(Chester)White, Brian
Ryan, Ms JoanWhitehead, Alan
Savidge, MalcolmWicks, Malcolm
Sawford, PhilWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Sedgemore, Brian(Swansea W)
Shaw, JonathanWilliams, Dr Alan W
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert(E Carmarthen)
Shipley, Ms DebraWilliams, Mrs Betty(Conwy)
Short, Rt Hon ClareWills, Michael
Simpson, Alan(Nottingham S)Winnick, David
Singh, MarshaWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Skinner, DennisWise, Audrey
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wood, Mike
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Rt Hon Chris(Islington S)Worthington, Tony
Smith, Miss GeraldineWright, Dr Tony(Cannock)
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wright, Tony(Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Ms Jacqui(Redditch)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Llew(Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, PeterTellers for the Noes:
Soley, CliveMr. David Clelland and
Southworth, Ms HelenMr. Jon Owen Jones.

Question accordingly negativated.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 384, Noes 181.

Division No. 28][10.17 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeArmstrong, Ms Hilary
Adams, Mrs Irene(Paisley N)Ashton, Joe
Ainger, NickAtherton, Ms Candy
Allan, Richard(Shef'ld Hallam)Atkins, Ms Charlotte
Allen, Graham(Nottingham N)Banks, Tony
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Barron, Kevin
Anderson, Janet(Ros'dale)Battle, John
Bayley, HughCunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Beard, Nigel(Copeland)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCunningham, Ms Roseanna
Begg, Miss Anne(Aberd'n S)(Perth)
Bell, Martin(Tatton)Curtis-Thomas, Ms Clare
Bell, Stuart(Middlesbrough)Dafis, Cynog
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDalyell, Tam
Bennett, Andrew FDarting, Rt Hon Alistair
Benton, JoeDarvill, Keith
Bermingham, GeraldDavey, Edward(Kingston)
Berry, RogerDavey, Valerie(Bristol W)
Best, HaroldDavidson, Ian
Betts, CliveDavies, Geraint(Croydon C)
Blackman, Mrs LizDavies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Blears, Ms HazelDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Blizzard, RobertDean, Ms Janet
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDenham, John
Boateng, PaulDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Borrow, DavidDismore, Andrew
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Dobbin, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Bradshaw, BenDonohoe, Brian H
Brand, Dr PeterDoran, Frank
Brinton, Mrs HelenDowd, Jim
Brown, Rt Hon GordonDrown, Ms Julia
(Dunfermline E)Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brown, Rt Hon NickEagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston)
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)Edwards, Huw
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Efford, Clive
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)Ellman, Ms Louise
Buck, Ms KarenEnnis, Jeff
Burgon, ColinEtherington, Bill
Burstow, PaulEwing, Mrs Margaret
Butler, ChristineFearn, Ronnie
Byers, StephenFisher, Mark
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Fitzpatrick, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Flint, Ms Caroline
Canavan, DennisFlynn, Paul
Caplin, IvorFollett, Ms Barbara
Casale, RogerFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Caton, MartinFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Cawsey, IanFoster, Michael John (Worcester)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Foulkes, George
Chaytor, DavidFyfe, Maria
Chisholm, MalcolmGalbraith, Sam
Clapham, MichaelGalloway, George
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Gardiner, Barry
Clark, Dr LyndaGeorge, Bruce (Walsall S)
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Gerrard, Neil
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Gibson, Dr Ian
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Godman, Dr Norman A
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Goggins, Paul
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGorrie, Donald
Coaker, VernonGraham, Thomas
Coffey, Ms AnnGrant, Bernie
Cohen, HarryGriffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Coleman, IainGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
(Hammersmith & Fulham)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Colman, Anthony (Putney)Grocott, Bruce
Connarty, MichaelGrogan, John
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)Gunnell, John
Cooper, Ms YvetteHain, Peter
Corbyn, JeremyHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Corston, Ms JeanHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cousins, JimHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cox, TomHancock, Mike
Cranston, RossHanson, David
Crausby, DavidHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Healey, John
Cummings, JohnHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHepburn, Stephen
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Heppell, John
Hesford, StephenMackinlay, Andrew
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMcLeish, Henry
Hill, KeithMcMaster, Gordon
Hinchliffe, DavidMcNulty, Tony
Hodge, Ms MargaretMacShane, Denis
Home Robertson, JohnMcWalter, Tony
Hood, JimmyMcWilliam, John
Hoon, GeoffreyMahon, Mrs Alice
Hope, PhilipMallaber, Ms Judy
Hopkins, KelvinMandelson, Peter
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Howells, Dr KimMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hoyle, LindsayMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Hughes, Ms BeverleyMartlew, Eric
(Stretford& Urmston)Maxton, John
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Meale, Alan
Humble, Mrs JoanMerron, Ms Gillian
Hurst, AlanMichael, Alun
Hutton, JohnMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Iddon, BrianMilburn, Alan
Illsley, EricMiller, Andrew
Ingram, AdamMoffatt, Laura
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)Moran, Ms Margaret
Jamieson, DavidMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Johnson, Ms MelanieMorley, Elliot
(Welwyn Hatfield)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)Mountford, Ms Kali
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Mudie, George
Jones, Ms JennyMullin, Chris
(Wolverh'ton SW)Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Jowell, Ms TessaNaysmith, Dr Doug
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldNorris, Dan
Keeble, Ms SallyO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keen, Alan (Feltham)O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)O'Hara, Edward
Kemp, FraserOlner, Bill
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)O'Neill, Martin
Khabra, Piara SOrgan, Mrs Diana
Kidney, DavidOsborne, Mrs Sandra
Kilfoyle, PeterPalmer, Dr Nick
King, Andy (Rugby)Pearson, Ian
King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)Perham, Ms Linda
Kingham, TessaPickthall, Colin
Kirkwood, ArchyPike, Peter L
Kumar, Dr AshokPlaskitt, James
Ladyman, Dr StephenPollard, Kerry
Lawrence, Ms JackiePond, Chris
Laxton, BobPope, Greg
Lepper, DavidPound, Stephen
Leslie, ChristopherPowell, Sir Raymond
Levitt, TomPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Prescott, Rt Hon John
Liddell, Mrs HelenPrimarolo, Dawn
Linton, MartinProsser, Gwyn
Livingstone, KenPurchase, Ken
Livsey, RichardQuinn, Lawrie
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Radice, Giles
Llwyd, ElfynRammell, Bill
Lock, DavidRapson, Syd
Love, AndyRaynsford, Nick
McAllion, JohnReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McAvoy, ThomasReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
McCabe, StephenRendel, David
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRobertson, Rt Hon George
McDonagh, Ms Siobhain(Hamilton S)
McDonnell, JohnRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McFall, JohnRoche, Mrs Barbara
McGuire, Mrs AnneRogers, Allan
McIsaac, Ms ShonaRooker, Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rowlands, TedTimms, Stephen
Roy, FrankTipping, Paddy
Ruane, ChrisTodd, Mark
Ruddock, Ms JoanTonge, Dr Jenny
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Touhig, Don
Ryan, Ms JoanTrickett, Jon
Savidge, MalcolmTruswell, Paul
Sawford, PhilTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Sedgemore, BrianTurner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Shaw, JonathanTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Shipley, Ms DebraTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Vaz, Keith
Singh, MarshaVis, Dr Rudi
Skinner, DennisWalley, Ms Joan
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Watts, David
Smith, Miss GeraldineWelsh, Andrew
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)White, Brian
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)Whitehead, Alan
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wicks, Malcolm
Snape, PeterWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Soley, Clive(Swansea W)
Southworth, Ms HelenWilliams, Dr Alan W
Spellar, John(E Carmarthen)
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stevenson, GeorgeWills, Michael
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Winnick, David
Stinchcombe, PaulWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stoate, Dr HowardWise, Audrey
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinWood, Mike
Straw, Rt Hon JackWoolas, Phil
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)Worthington, Tony
Stunell, AndrewWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sutcliffe, GerryWright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Swinney, JohnWyatt, Derek
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Mr. David Clelland.
Amess, DavidClark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Arbuthnot, JamesClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)(Rushcliffe)
Baker, NormanClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, TonyCollins, Tim
Barnes, HarryColvin, Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A JCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bercow, JohnCormack, Sir Patrick
Beresford, Sir PaulCotter, Brian
Blunt, CrispinCran, James
Body, Sir RichardCurry, Rt Hon David
Boswell, TimDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Davies, Quentin
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia(Grantham & Stamford)
Brady, GrahamDawson, Hilton
Brazier, JulianDay, Stephen
Breed, ColinDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterDuncan, Alan
Browning, Mrs AngelaDuncan Smith, Iain
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Evans, Nigel
Burnett, JohnFabricant, Michael
Burns, SimonFallon, Michael
Butterfill, JohnFlight, Howard
Cann, JamieForth, Eric
Cash, WilliamFoster, Don (Bath)
Chapman, Sir SydneyFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
(Chipping Barnet)Fox, Dr Liam
Chidgey, DavidFraser, Christopher
Chope, ChristopherGale, Roger
Clappison, JamesGarnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives)Nicholls, Patrick
Gibb, NickNorman, Archie
Gill, ChristopherOaten, Mark
Gillan, Mrs CherylOpik, Lembit
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairPage, Richard
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPaice, James
Gray, JamesPaterson, Owen
Green, DamianPickles, Eric
Greenway, JohnPrior, David
Grieve, DominicRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnRobathan, Andrew
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hammond, PhilipRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Harris, Dr EvanRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Harvey, NickRuffley, David
Hawkins, NickRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Hayes, JohnSt Aubyn, Nick
Heald, OliverSanders, Adrian
Heath, David (Somerton)Sayeed, Jonathan
Heath, Rt Hon Sir EdwardShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
(Old Bexley & Sidcup)Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hoey, KateSoames, Nicholas
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Horam, JohnSpicer, Sir Michael
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSpring, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hunter, AndrewSteen, Anthony
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelStreeter, Gary
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Swayne, Desmond
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)Syms, Robert
Johnson Smith,Tapsell, Sir Peter
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Key, RobertTaylor, John M (Solihull)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Taylor, Matthew
Kirkbride, Miss Julie(Truro & St Austell)
Laing, Mrs EleanorTaylor, Sir Teddy
Lansley, AndrewTemple-Morris, Peter
Letwin EdwardThompson, William
Townend, John
Letwin, OliverTredinnick, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Trend, Michael
Lidington, DavidTyler, Paul
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTyrie, Andrew
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Viggers, Peter
Loughton, TimWalter, Robert
Luff, PeterWardle, Charles
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWaterson, Nigel
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnWells, Bowen
MacKay, AndrewWhittingdale, John
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maclennan, RobertWilkinson, John
Major, Rt Hon JohnWilletts, David
Malins, HumfreyWillis, Phil
Maples, JohnWilshire, David
Mates, MichaelWoodward, Shaun
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisYeo, Tim
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
May, Mrs Theresa
Merchant, PiersTellers for the Noes:
Mitchell, AustinMr. Patrick McLoughlin
Moore, Michaeland
Moss, MalcolmMr. Peter Ainsworth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Michael.]

Committee Tomorrow.