THE WEAPONS DEBATE : 16 tiny bodies in cold graves who should not be th ere

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The Independent Online
The high emotion of the Dunblane crusade against handguns continued yesterday, in the wake of the clear-cut Commons defeat for a total ban.

Ann Pearston, of the Snowdrop campaign, told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "All I know is that in the very cold cemetery in Dunblane there are 16 tiny children and a beloved teacher who shouldn't be there; cold under the ground.

"They should be warm and they should be with their families, and although money in the pocket is important, and basic health care and educating your children is important, what is more important is not having the life of a loved one taken from you, or a child of yours disabled for the rest of their life."

Given the absence of 22 Labour and seven Liberal Democrat MPs from the vote, and a government majority of 25 against a total ban on handguns, opposition sources were yesterday keen to emphasise that Labour could not have won the vote - because the Ulster Unionists would have saved the day for John Major.

The Government's overall majority at present stands at one vote over all other parties, but there were four Ulster Unionists and three Democratic Unionists voting with the Government - more than offsetting the votes of the four Conservatives who voted with Labour and the other minority parties.

In theory, the votes of the missing Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs could have been enough to defeat the Government.

In fact, most of those missing MPs were "paired" off with 18 non-voting Conservative MPs. If they had not reached such an arrangement, their votes would have been negated by Conservative MPs who would have been forced to turn up to vote.

Among the Labour MPs who were paired in that way were some who have been ill for some time; and some, including Labour overseas aid spokeswoman, Clare Short, who are on official visits abroad.

Labour whips said that some of those who were paired, including Frank Cook (Stockton North) and David Young (Bolton South East) would have abstained even if they had not been paired.