Why does parliament have a rifle range?

Tucked away in a House of Lords basement is a 25-yard shooting range. Proposals to turn it into a creche or swimming pool have come to nothing. Why?

Lord Tyler, a Liberal Democrat peer, has this week questioned the use of taxpayers’ money to maintain and provide security for a 25-yard rifle range in the Palace of Westminster, that is open to peers and MPs.

When I first started reporting from parliament, people talked of a shooting range in hushed tones. Nobody knew where exactly it was – or why it even existed.

I found it eventually, in the basement of the House of Lords. You could borrow a .22-calibre single-shot rifle and ear defenders, and blaze away while an instructor, who was always present, told you to “squeeze the trigger, don’t tug at the bloody thing!” The guns and premises were securely locked up – it was certainly a lot safer than being in a pub with a lot of pissed darts players.

The rifle range is still operational, for the use of the parliamentary sports and social club. In 1997, the women who arrived with Tony Blair’s landslide victory wanted it to be shut and the room used for a creche, but this was rejected. In 2007, another group suggested it should be replaced by a swimming pool, to improve MPs’ fitness. Again, nothing happened. In 2009, Nick Clegg said it was absurd that parliament should have a shooting range but not a creche. Then John Bercow became Speaker, and in 2010 ordered a bar at One Parliament Street, an adjunct of the main palace, to be converted to a creche.

Meanwhile, the rifle range remains and may well survive this latest burst of outrage.

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