MP's jibe enrages Dunblane parents: AFTER CULLEN

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The Independent Online
Dunblane parents were outraged yesterday when a Tory MP accused them of being "partly hysterical" in their campaign for a total ban on handguns.

John Carlisle, MP for Luton North, told BBC radio: "They have been far too emotional and partly hysterical on what is a very, very important national issue. Some of the parents ... and their spokesmen in particular have almost taken themselves out of the argument."

His remarks were condemned by Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, who with Labour and some Tory MPs is backing demands for a total ban. "John Carlisle is one of the most offensive men in the ... Commons, with a long track record of repugnant remarks. However, this latest outburst is low even by his standards and will appall decent people in Scotland and his own constituency."

Mr Carlisle was also outspoken in his opposition to Government plans to outlaw all handguns except .22 weapons. He accused Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, of "panic" in the face of public opinion. Other right- wing Tory MPs also oppose the government line, raising the prospect of a defeat when the issue is put to a vote.

Campaigners were last night hoping a total ban on all handguns could be introduced by Christmas if the Government is defeated.

The Home Office is seeking to rush a bill on to the statute book before the end of the year to ban handguns above .22-calibre weapons, but a combination of Tory and Opposition MPs could enforce a total ban.

Four Tory MPs were lined up to vote against the Government. Robert Hughes, a former minister and ally of John Major, told the Independent he will put down a Conservative backbench amendment to the government bill, to outlaw all handguns. He criticised the Government for refusing a free vote, without whips. "It is an error to try to have the vote divided on party lines. I will vote to ban all handguns and I will be prepared to table an amendment to that effect."

The Government's majority of two votes could be wiped out by the four MPs - the others are Hugh Dykes, Terry Dicks and David Mellor - and others are expected to abstain.

Paddy Ashdown's 26 Liberal Democrat MPs, including the Tory defector Peter Thurnham, will meet on Tuesday, on the eve of the Queen's Speech, to discuss their approach to the gun laws.

Their votes will be crucial. After initially supporting the Government's approach, senior Liberal Democrats were predicting either a split or support for a wider ban, to include semi-automatic .22 weapons. This would allow only a few .22 Olympic single-shot weapons to be used in gun clubs.

The House of Commons gun club was also under pressure last night from a group of Labour MPs, led by Tony Banks and Jean Corston. They tabled a motion saying it would "set a good example to the country if the Westminster Gun Club was closed forthwith".

MPs who have used the club in the past include Edwina Currie. Handguns were introduced only recently. The club has a shooting range, used mainly for rifles.

It is in the basement, on the line of the route taken by Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plotters which will be marched next week by the Beefeaters in a ceremony before the State Opening of Parliament.