HC Deb 04 December 1996 vol 286 cc1063-104

'(1) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to persons who incur any loss as a result of this Act and to whom subsection (2) below applies.

(2) This section applies to persons who on 15th October 1996 were—

  1. (a) operating a target shooting club or association and were not thereby carrying on a trade with a view to profit; or
  2. (b) were registered firearms dealers or were engaged in the business of the manufacture or repair of firearms or in the provision of ranges.

(3) Persons operating a target shooting club or association under subsection (2) above shall not receive payment unless—

  1. (a) the club or association was for the use of firearms which have or will become unlawful by virtue of section 1 above; and
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  3. (b) the club or association is not able to meet the criteria set out in section 16 for the grant of a licence under section 15; and
  4. (c) such persons have responsibility for any debt, mortgage, lease or other liability in connection with the club or association.

(4) Persons to whom subsection (2)(b) above applies shall receive payment equal to the value of the loss of business and such loss shall be defined as the difference between the value of the business on 15th October 1996 and the value of the business following the commencement of this Act.'.—(Sir Jerry Wiggin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: Government amendment No. 73.

Amendment No. 1, in clause 11, page 5, line 31, leave out from 'persons' to end of line 41 and insert— 'who—

  1. (a) surrender or forfeit property under this Act; or
  2. (b) incur any other loss as a result of this Act; and
such loss shall be calculated by reference to the value of assets on 15th October 1996.'. Amendment No. 19, in page 5, line 31, after 'surrender', insert 'small'.

Amendment No. 20, in page 5, leave out lines 40 and 41 and insert— '(2) In this section "small firearm" means any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length or is less than 60 centimetres in length overall (disregarding any detachable, folding, retractable or other movable butt-stock), including any small-calibre pistol.'. Amendment No. 67, in page 5, line 41, at end insert 'or has been restricted by virtue of section I9A of the 1968 Act, as inserted by section 6 above.'. Government amendment No. 74, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(4) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with any scheme which may be made by him, make payments in respect of ancillary equipment of any description specified in the scheme. (5) For the purposes of subsection (4) above "ancillary equipment" means equipment, other than prohibited ammunition, which—

  1. (a) is designed or adapted for use in connection with firearms prohibited by virtue of section 1(2) above; and
  2. (b) has no practicable use in connection with any firearm which is not a prohibited weapon.
(6) A scheme under subsection (4) above shall provide only for the making of payments to persons making claims for such payments in respect of ancillary equipment—
  1. (a) which they had in their possession on 16th October 1996; or
  2. (b) which they had in their possession after that date, having purchased it by virtue of a contract entered into before that date.
(7) No payment shall be made under a scheme under subsection (4) above in relation to any ammunition unless its possession or, as the case may be, purchase by any person claiming a payment in respect of it was, at all material times, lawful by virtue of a firearm certificate held by him or by virtue of his being a registered firearms dealer. (8) A scheme under subsection (4) above may require, as a condition of eligibility for receipt of payments under the scheme in respect of any equipment—
  1. (a) the surrender (whether to the police or any other person) of that equipment in accordance with the scheme within a period specified by the scheme; or
  2. (b) the disposal of that equipment by way of sale within a period so specified; or
  3. (c) either such surrender or such disposal of that equipment within a period so specified.
(9) A scheme under this section may—
  1. (a) provide for the procedure to be followed (including any time within which claims must be made and the provision of information) in respect of claims under the scheme and for the determination of such claims;
  2. (b) make different provision for different descriptions of equipment or for different descriptions of claimant.'.
Amendment (a) to amendment No. 74, at end add— '(10) Any scheme made under this section shall provide for the appointment of an independent financial arbiter with powers to hear and determine appeals against valuations of guns and ancillary equipment under the Act.'. Amendment No. 2, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to members of unincorporated associations, associations incorporated by charter, companies limited by guarantee or companies with unlimited liability which—
  1. (a) on 16th October 1996 were operating a target shooting club or association for the use of firearms which have or will become unlawful by virtue of section 1 above; and
  2. (b) are not able to meet the criteria set out in section 16 for the grant of a licence under section 15; and
  3. (c) thereby suffer loss.'.
Amendment No. 3, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to persons who on 16th October 1996 were operating a target shooting club or association and were not thereby carrying on a trade with a view to profit, provided that—M
  1. (a) the club or association was for the use of firearms which have or will become unlawful by virtue of section 1 above; and
  2. (b) the club or association is not able to meet the criteria set out in section 16 for the grant of a licence under section 15; and
  3. (c) such persons have responsibility for any debt, mortgage, lease or other liability in connection with the club or association.'.
Amendment No. 4, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to persons who are registered firearms dealers or who are engaged in the business of the manufacture or repair of firearms or in the provision of ranges and who suffer loss of business caused by the prohibition of firearms under section 1 above, and such loss shall be defined as the difference between the value of the business on October 15th 1996 and the value of the business following the commencement of this Act.'. Amendment No. 5, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) The Secretary of State shall, in accordance with a scheme made by him, make payments to persons who are registered firearms dealers or who are engaged in the business of the manufacture or repair of firearms or in the provision of ranges and who suffer loss of business caused by the prohibition of firearms under section 1 above, and such loss shall be defined as the difference between the value of the business on 12th March 1996 and the value of the business following the commencement of this Act.'. Amendment No. 13, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) No scheme shall be made by the Secretary of State under this section before he has laid before Parliament a report on the general principles which he proposes should underlie the scheme and the Commons House of Parliament has come to a resolution in respect of that report.'. Amendment No. 66, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(3) Any scheme made under subsection (1) shall provide for the appointment of an independent financial arbiter with powers to hear and determine appeals against valuations of guns and ancillary equipment under the Act.'. Amendment No. 68, in page 5, line 41, at end insert— '(2) The Scheme may include provision to make payments in respect of any equipment or facilities required solely in connection with the use, maintenance, storage or repair of such weapons or the making and supply of ammunition for such weapons.'. Government amendments Nos. 75 to 78.

Government amendment No. 79, in schedule 1, page 21, line 43, at end insert— 'Voluntary surrender of pistols 8A.—(1) A person to whom this Schedule applies may before the appointed day, surrender a small-calibre pistol belonging to him at any designated police station instead of keeping it at licensed premises of a licensed pistol club or delivering it into police custody. (2) Where a small-calibre pistol has been delivered into police custody, the person who delivered it may (if it still belongs to him) surrender the pistol by giving notice that he is surrendering it to the chief officer of police for the area in which the designated police station to which he delivered it is situated. 8B. The Secretary of State may make such payments, to such persons, as he may consider appropriate in respect of small—calibre pistols which are surrendered, or are treated as having been surrendered, by virtue of paragraph 8 or 8A above.'. Amendment (a) amendment No. 79, at end add— '(2) Any arrangements made under section 10 shall provide for the appointment of an independent financial arbiter with powers to hear and determine appeals against valuations of guns and ancillary equipment under this Act.'

Sir Jerry Wiggin

I apologise to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who asked that his name be attached to new clause 4. I failed to attach it, but he has been very supportive of the principle and I apologise to him.

The Bill will result in thousands of law-abiding people being deprived of their sport. That is both wrong and unfortunate, but, much more important, it will deprive many dealers, manufacturers, agents, transport companies, suppliers and others who make their livelihoods from the sport of shooting of those livelihoods and their jobs. There are ordinary club members who have put their names on long-term mortgages and leases for clubs and ranges that will be forced to close. In short, the Bill will have a devastating effect on a significant minority of people.

Natural justice demands that those people are entitled to receive proper compensation for assets that will be confiscated through no fault of their own. New clause 4 would provide that anyone who loses money as a result of the legislation should be properly compensated. When a legal and, in this case, licensed occupation is legal one day and is made illegal on the next, through no fault of the individuals concerned, it is not the business of the House to deprive people not only of their fun but of large sums of money. I am deeply ashamed of my Government for proposing that.

So far, much of the debate on compensation has rested on precedent, and the Government argue that many others have lost investments in their business because they have had to comply with public safety legislation and that they have not been compensated. But surely the circumstances of the Bill are different. Many of the examples that have been quoted concerned businesses that have been able to continue with their trade at normal levels after meeting the new obligations. At worst, they have incurred additional overheads, but that is not the issue here.

The principle applies to those examples quoted by the Minister in Committee, including owners whose cars could no longer be licensed under new Ministry of Transport rules in the 1960s, road haulage businesses whose lorry fleets were affected by vehicle testing requirements and businesses that could not afford to implement health and safety regulations, noise level requirements for equipment or safety guards for machinery.

Even more irrelevant were the cited changes in the law on food additives. Bearing in mind the fact that all those rules and changes applied to a whole industry, competition demanded that everybody had to upgrade. In this case, there is no option to continue the business in a modified form. The business comes to an end the day the Act becomes law.

The Government cited new Environment Agency regulations that require narrow boats and other boats used on inland waterways to ensure the safety of fuel and electrical fittings. Until recently, I was an adviser to the British Marine Industries Federation and owned a boat, so I know a little about that matter.

The new rules were the equivalent of an MOT test, and boat owners with any common sense would have maintained their boats to those standards anyway. The rules simply insisted on what was already good practice. It may have cost some owners some money, but that is not the same as saying, "Thou shalt not ever go in thy boat again, as from tomorrow."

I know that the Government are nervous about establishing a principle that would require compensation to be paid to people affected by the bovine spongiform encephalopathy rules. Here I declare an interest, because I am an adviser to British Sugar, which manages a company in the animal food business that certainly has it in mind to make a big claim against the Government. The food in its hoppers was legal on Monday but illegal on Tuesday, and the cost of disposing of it rather than selling it was substantial.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) introduced a debate in the House the other day about a firm in his constituency that was told that what was a perfectly legal activity one day was illegal the next.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Does my hon. Friend intend to deal with what he understands to be the position under the European convention on human rights? It seems that we have an obligation to conform to that convention, which requires compensation in such circumstances. As the Labour party favours our being further bound by the convention, presumably it will wish to support any claim for compensation in line with the convention.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

I certainly look forward, as I am sure do all my hon. Friends, to hearing the Labour party's position on compensation. When the coal mines were nationalised, the Labour Government paid compensation to the coal owners. That rubbed against the grain, and the money was not adequate, but it was paid. I shall come to the European convention in a moment.

The Government have been inconsistent over BSE. They have refused help for the small business in Gosport, but they have offered the rendering industry £118 million. They have offered the farming industry even more. I do not complain about that; I simply point out that there is a good precedent for paying compensation, expensive though that may be. If it proves too expensive, the Government should have considered that problem before introducing the Bill.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is much in common between the cattle head de-boning industry, which tends to consist of small businesses with individual proprietors who borrow against their houses to pay for their equipment, and small gun dealers, many of whom have borrowed against their houses to fund their businesses? If precedent dictates that the Government are driving such people out of business through no fault of their own, is not precedent wrong, and should we not change the rules?

Sir Jerry Wiggin

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; it is a matter of morality. That was why I referred to the case that he raised. I think that we both stand by the same feelings on the morality of what should happen to citizens' interests. The House of Commons is here to protect those interests, and I am unhappy about the way in which compensation is handled in connection with the Bill.

In Committee, the Government cited other examples, such as the manufacturers of asbestos, flammable furniture foam and certain drugs, whose businesses have been affected by public safety legislation. Those categories offer a false comparison. They fall under existing product liability law, which covers products that cease to be safe for the purpose for which they were intended.

5.15 pm

No one suggests that the guns that are to be made unlawful are not suitable for the purpose for which they were intended. Indeed, the reverse is strongly argued by those who oppose our point of view. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that some of the worst hit people will be individuals such as those who have given personal guarantees for mortgages or leases on their clubs.

To return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said, in the case of Lithgow v. United Kingdom, in 1986, the European Court of Human Rights stated: The taking of property in the public interest without any compensation is justifiable only in exceptional circumstances. A fair balance has to be struck between the demands of the general interest of the community and the protection of the individual's fundamental rights. A disproportionate burden should not be placed on individual owners. I am not proud of the fact that we are thinking of having to take faulty legislation passed by the House to the European Court of Human Rights, when we should not be passing it in the first place. Of course, when the Bill becomes law, there will be many lawyers beavering away to see whether there is any further outlet. But let us be realistic: such actions take several years, and the suffering in the interim will be great, even if there is success at the end of the day.

A relevant precedent is being set at this very moment in Australia. The Australian Government have banned three categories of weapon following the tragic incident in Port Arthur this year. However, they have also willingly accepted the principle of fair and proper compensation for dealers, individuals and collectors.

In Australia, compensation is to be based on the value of the assets one month before the Port Arthur incident. The Government there recognise that compensation must take into account the fact that a depression in the value of such assets occurred immediately after the incident.

The scheme works as follows. Individuals and collectors are given compensation as soon as they hand in their weapons. The firearm is identified by type, make and model number, and a basic assessment of its condition is made. Owners also have the opportunity to secure an independent valuation of their guns, or to sell them overseas. Compensation will also be paid for any accessory specific to a prohibited firearm.

Dealers are offered compensation for stock, unusable ammunition, spares, maintenance equipment and manuals relating to prohibited firearms—not at purchase price but at sale price. They are also offered compensation for loss of business, which is interpreted as the difference between the value of the business before and after the incident and the new legislation. The valuation will be carried out by professional accountants, and based on audited financial statements for the previous three years.

The Australian Government offer fair and proper compensation to their citizens, in accordance with natural justice. The British Government must do the same.

The people about whom we are especially concerned are firearms dealers. Compensation is offered for stock, but not for loss of business. Many dealers will lose their livelihoods as a result of the Bill. We do not know exactly how many, but 163 dealers wrote to the British Shooting Sports Council to say that they expected to lose 155 jobs when the Bill went through. For 3,000 registered dealers, that would mean 3,000 jobs.

The closure and loss of income for clubs and ranges will hit hard. Clubs and ranges often have leases and mortgages, which are met by ordinary members of the club. The Bill presents us with the real prospect that such people will have their clubs closed. A quick survey of 139 clubs, carried out by the British Shooting Sports Council, shows that 71 per cent. will not reach the Government's requirements for security, and that individuals will remain personally liable for long leases and mortgages, which will leave many people bankrupt. Returns from 126 clubs show that they expect to suffer financial losses as a result of the changes, to a total of £31.24 million. If we apply that to the 2,067 clubs that we know about, the total loss will be more than £64 million.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has listened to some of our requests. The Treasury hand could be seen in the original tight money resolution, which would have prevented us from even debating these points. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for producing a new money resolution that allowed the debate to be widened. I am also grateful to him for taking into account the ancillary equipment used by large-calibre revolver firers to make shots, and the other specialist equipment that he has agreed to compensate for. He has just announced that he will also take into account .22 calibre weapons where the individual concerned no longer wants a weapon because there is no club within range, and has decided to give up his hobby. Those are small crumbs for which we thank the Home Office but, frankly, they do not go far enough.

I appeal not just to those interested in shooting but to the whole House on the basis of fairness. We have seen what the Australian Government think of the matter. I could read out various examples, but they would not necessarily strengthen my case, as hon. Members will have read about them in the press. Many people will suffer greatly and will face severe financial loss. I find that unacceptable, and un-Conservative. I shall be interested to learn what the Opposition think about it. I am certainly not prepared to support the Government, and I shall naturally vote for my new clause. I ask as many of my colleagues as possible to support me in the Lobby.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

I wish to give broad support to the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), and I should like to underline a couple of his points.

It is true that there are differing views in all parties in the House on the merits of the ban itself. Speaking for my party, I can say that there is no difference of view on the essential point that the hon. Gentleman made—that, whatever our views on the ban, we are under an obligation to make sure that those who, through no fault of their own, suffer loss as a result of this legislation are adequately compensated. That is surely a view around on we can unite.

Like the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, I recognise—it would be churlish not to do so—that, by virtually rewriting the section on compensation, Home Office Ministers have gone some way to try to meet the points raised in Committee. But it is my contention that they have not yet got it right, and we are right to use Report and the later stages of the Bill in another place to get it right.

I underline the basic point made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. I do not believe that there is a precedent for confiscating people's property in the way that the Bill proposes, and comparisons with MOT tests are not valid at all. I speak as someone who began my driving life owning a motor car that braked on only one wheel. In the interests of public safety, the Government of the day thought it right that the cars should be tested. The car was irreparable and—if I had still had it at the time—I would have lost my property. However, that was a wasting asset, and there is no comparison between that—in any case, a long period for confiscation was given—and what we now propose.

We are confiscating not only the property of a small minority of people—I accept that it is a small minority—but their livelihood. We should not do that with gay abandon. As far as I know, only one person in my constituency will be affected by the legislation, but a minority of one is what we are here to stand up for. I referred to the gentleman in a previous debate—I have met him, of course—but he wrote to me only yesterday to say: I am a Registered Firearms Dealer who until recently, manufactured top quality competition handguns. Building, repairing and retail sale of pistols and revolvers was 90 per cent. of my business. As a result of the impending legislation, I have effectively lost my livelihood". The House should note his next point: because I am self-employed I am not entitled to any unemployment benefit, a ludicrous situation given the fact that the Government have put me out of work. That is a very fair point, and it must be answered. I do not think that we can pass legislation that takes away the livelihoods of even a small number of people without making sure that we have dealt with the subject adequately.

The central weakness of the Government's case is that they have never made out to anyone's satisfaction—certainly not to mine—the case against the dismantling of weapons, as recommended by Lord Cullen; but they have decided on a policy that the House has approved, and that is the situation with which we now deal. Given that, and given that we are talking about confiscation, we must look carefully at the new clauses and amendments.

I refer briefly to the new clauses and amendments in my name, and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who served on the Standing Committee and tabled an amendment on compensation. Our amendments deal with, among other things, whether there should be an independent arbiter to whom appeals can be made where there is a dispute about compensation—whatever the scope of the scheme proposed by the Home Secretary.

That seems to fall within what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare rightly described as natural justice. When we are dealing with such a draconian piece of legislation, the insertion of some kind of arbitration and valuation is essential. That is the burden of the measures tabled in my name, and I hope that they are pursued during this debate.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), and I agree very much with the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). I read the Committee's proceedings on clause 11 with some astonishment, and I was amazed by the specious argument of my hon. Friend the Minister of State in resisting the amendment moved there. Having read Hansard, it strikes me—this is to my hon. Friend's credit—that she was not happy to read the brief that was put in front of her.

At any rate, the precedents described in Committee do not apply to the situation we are discussing. The question of setting standards in public safety for cars, boats and food additives is not on all fours with what we have now, which is confiscation. The nearest parallel is compulsory purchase, a well-recognised principle for which people are fully compensated and where the established precedents of the law are firm—thank goodness for that. If someone's property has been taken away or someone's livelihood has been removed, and that person has been injuriously affected, the principles of compensation for compulsory purchase apply 100 per cent., and that is the situation that we have here.

I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will touch on the question raised quite rightly by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare of the Australian precedent, which is an honourable one. It meets what the House would regard as the proper demands and requests of people whose livelihoods and property will be taken away at one stroke by the Government. There can be no alternative. The Australians are right—let us follow them.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) for pointing out that my name should have been among those supporting the new clause, and the same is true of amendment No. 58. It is nice to refer to the hon. Gentleman in relation to not putting someone's name on an amendment, but in this case I regret it because I support the new clause and amendment. No. 58.

It is only right and fair to apply reasonable—indeed full—compensation to people who will be hit by the measure. The Government look rather evasive on the vital issue of compensation, which is a central right. It looks as though the Government have decided to ignore the rational approach, which is to follow Lord Cullen's recommendation on dismantling. They cannot do that, because it is not a big enough gesture to pacify public opinion. The Government have to make a gesture, but they will not give us the cost of it. Therefore, they are effectively not coming clean on the scale of and the right to compensation.

There is a further argument regarding the right to compensation for people with .22 weapons, which will remain legal. They, too, will be severely affected. The effect on pistol shooting, whether with weapons that are explicitly banned or not, will be extremely damaging.

The Bill is a mess, and it will create an even bigger mess unless we provide for compensation for those with .22 weapons, as amendments Nos. 19 and 20 would do. The Government's gesture of banning weapons more powerful than .22 will have a disastrous effect on all shooters. As the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said, many .22 shooters have expensive weapons and many gun clubs, including the one in Grimsby, have borrowed from banks and run up overdrafts to provide good facilities and adequate security.

5.30 pm

The number of people practising with .22 weapons will fall because of the odium that has fallen unfairly on all shooting, and extra security to store whole weapons—not dismantled weapons, which would be much cheaper, because there is no point in ram-raiding a gun club to get part of a gun, but which the Government have not had the sense to provide for—will cost a great deal, and clubs, many of which are already in debt, will go bust.

Once the clubs have gone bust, people with .22 weapons will have nowhere to store them and will be unable to practise the sport. They will be left with unusable weapons that will be a burden on them as well as on the clubs, and they have a right, in that entirely foreseeable and almost inevitable situation, to compensation. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 would simply bring those people into the rubric and allow people who want to surrender .22 weapons to take them along to the police station and get compensation, to avoid the long, whimpering, slow death that will happen to the sport in any case.

The Government's approach is interesting. The Secretary of State for Scotland is going around telling Scottish Members that we do not need to ban smaller handguns because the sport will wither on the vine and die; that is what he says north of the border, to compensate for not having the total ban that many people there want. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary tells us that there will be a great deal of ingenuity and that new clubs will come along with new technology and the sport will flourish. That is total nonsense.

The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot both be right. Personally, I believe that the latter is right. Let us then follow the logic of what he says and provide compensation for those people who will be hit. That would be right, fair and decent.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Mitchell

I think that I can anticipate what the hon. Gentleman wants to say, so I shall not give way to him.

I note that the Government have tabled an amendment that points in the right direction; it is not as good as my amendments, but they do not have the advantage of my legal expertise and advice. However, they must do something.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) for his support. I should also say how pleased I am that those of us who tabled the new clause and the amendments have the support of the hon. Members for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), who at least have personal experience of shooting and know what they are talking about. They also have an interest, as we all do, in the principles of fairness and justice, which is what the new clause and the amendments are all about.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) on the able and robust way in which he moved new clause 4. I want to speak to the new clause and to amendments Nos. 1 to 5. Incidentally, I also support what the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and his colleagues propose in amendment (a) to Government amendment No. 74. If we win the case for fair compensation, it will make sense to have independent arbitration available in case there should be any dispute.

In debates such as this, it is as well to call in at one's Whips Office to pick up the brief that gives the party line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Everybody does it, and I found it interesting on this occasion. I thumbed through the pages of the document, and found that all that we are offered on compensation is a reiteration of the original clause 11. There are no arguments against fair and proper compensation. The Conservative research department seems tacitly to accept that those of us who support the new clause have won the argument. Was that not what the Second Reading debate was all about? We won the argument but, alas, we lost the vote. Unfortunately, that is often the case.

New clause 4 and the amendments refer to fair and proper compensation for the 57,000 people who currently lawfully hold handguns of which the Bill, if enacted in its present form, will deprive them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare said, dealers, manufacturers and clubs are also affected, and it is only right that there should be proper arrangements for fair compensation. The arguments for that were well rehearsed on Second Reading.

The debate that we had then was one of the most interesting that I have attended in the House, because I did not hear any hon. Member from any party saying anything in support of the Government. Every Member who spoke opposed to the Government's proposals: some because they felt that the Government had not gone far enough, others because they felt that they had gone far too far and that, having waited for Lord Cullen's report, they should have accepted its recommendations.

We saw the dismantling of guns demonstrated in the House yesterday—although, when I originally saw the Cullen recommendations, I wondered whether it would be possible to dismantle certain pistols—and it would have been sensible to proceed to legislate on that basis. Instead, we have a Bill which to a great extent ignores Lord Cullen's inquiry and which will destroy the sport of target shooting, in which Britain excels. The Bill jeopardises the future of all British shooting sports and does nothing to prevent criminals from getting guns illegally. There is plenty of expert advice to the effect that as many guns are circulating illegally as legally.

The Bill has distracted attention from the regrettable policing failure at Dunblane. It will cost about 2,000 jobs in the shooting industry, and there is considerable debate about the extent of compensation. If the new clause and amendments were accepted, a figure of about £300 million has been suggested.

Mr. Budgen

Does my hon. Friend mean an extra £300 million? If looks as though the present proposals will cost £200 million. Does he mean that a further £300 million will be required, bringing the cost to £500 million?

Mr. Colvin

A lot of figures are being bandied about. Whether it is £200 million or £300 million—

Mr. Budgen

Would it be £300 million extra?

Mr. Colvin

It could be extra. But the Treasury says that we cannot pay out more than £50 million. The dead hand of the Treasury, rather than justice, is dictating policy.

Sir Anthony Grant (South-West Cambridgeshire)

If the Government had accepted the advice of the high-powered review that they set up, headed by a distinguished judge, they would not be in this mess. The Government will have to pay up: they are the authors of their own misfortune.

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend puts it rather better than I did. Whether the figure is £300 million or £500 million, the present figure of between £25 million and £50 million is a gross underestimate. The Government are legalising the confiscation of private property and paying very little in return. It is nothing short of legalised robbery.

There was some evidence in Standing Committee that the Government will move on compensation for related equipment and accessories belonging to people who shoot with pistols. A good case has been made for compensation for them. I searched the Bill as amended in Committee and could find no reference to compensation going beyond weapons. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what is proposed when he winds up. That will have a profound effect on the amount of money required to pay compensation.

To give the House some idea of what is involved, I shall quote some letters. Throughout the debate it has been interesting to observe the litmus test of our postbags. Normally when we are dealing with something controversial and emotional—the whole debate has been surrounded by a welter of emotion, which is unfortunate but a fact of life, or death, that we must accept—our postbags are a good litmus test. The letters that I have received in support of the new clause, and generally in support of Lord Cullen's proposals, outweigh the others by 10 to one. There were no letters saying that the Government have got it right, but a few said that the Government should have gone still further.

I have a letter from a constituent who came to see me, Mr. R. G. Newnham. He has weapons worth £645 that will have to be surrendered and destroyed. His equipment is worth £810—more than the value of his guns. I have half a mind to hand the letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, because it is in fact an invoice made out to him in the hope that he will pay. There are others. If my right hon. and learned Friend is minded to accept that invoice, I have another bill that he might like to deal with from Mr. John Southey of Chiswick. His guns are worth £5,000 and his equipment £3,700.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Under the Government's proposals, can my hon. Friend imagine the reaction of those gentlemen if their invoices reach the Home Secretary and they are told that he disagrees with their valuations and has no intention of entering into discussion about what he intends to pay them, whether they like it or not?

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is even more important to support amendment (a) to amendment No. 74, which provides for arbitration in such circumstances.

I have other letters. Mr. Peter Brown of Great Missenden states: I am one of the unfortunate members of the gun trade who are going to lose their business, livelihood and house, all because of the actions of a madman. Our loss adjusters, MPC, who are working on behalf of the gun trade report to us that the Home Office will not compensate us for consequential losses. I am going to lose everything! Mr. C. A. Reddy of Itchen Valley Shooting Club, another constituent of mine, will lose about £2,000-worth of guns and £3,500-worth of equipment. Worse than that, his gun club will have to wind up because there is no way that it will be able to preserve its membership if large-bore pistol shooting stops. Most of its members will not change to .22 shooting: one or two might, but the vast majority will not.

5.45 pm

The Snowdrop campaign argues that compensation should not be paid to such people, because, having had to surrender their large-bore pistols, they will buy .22s instead, so the number of firearms will not be reduced. That is just not so. Anyone with experience of shooting with pistols realises that shooting with .22 pistols and shooting with large-bore pistols are as different as chalk and cheese. Itchen Valley shooting club will probably have to close because it faces costs of £6,000 or £7,000 to carry out the modifications to the premises required by the Bill. It also faces a serious loss of membership revenue.

Another typical example is the Nottingham shooting centre, which was established in 1988 by Bruce Rainford, a miner who invested his redundancy money in the business with his friends Brian Phillips and Pauline Perrins. Their business employs four other people and has an annual turnover of £300,000. The centre is used by nearly 1,000 shooters and includes a 10-point range, workshop, test range and retail outlet. The Bill would put Bruce and his partners out of business.

One of the most moving letters that I received came from Mr. Frank Spittle of Wolverhampton, who wrote: Having shot for my Country in peace and war, now seeing the small shop that I have worked for and the sport I have served since the war, ruined by you and this Government, how can you expect the most law abiding citizens to trust you again. Please read my small book"— he has sent it to me and I am happy to lend it to other hon. Members— then tell me and my two sons who will now lose their jobs why this is happening. The compensation limit is due to the dead hand of the Treasury. Hon. Members have made the case on precedents. The Australians decided to pay fair compensation for weapons. We could and should follow that precedent.

The true cost, when all the calculations are done, will probably be in the region of £300 million. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said about the European convention on human rights. Its key clause is article 1 of the first protocol, which states: Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided by law and by the general principles of international law. There is every reason why people might use that convention to get proper compensation. There are probably plenty of reasons why they might not succeed, but it is worth a try. The House of Commons Library briefing refers to the Bill of Rights of 1689 as another piece of legislation which might be used in this case.

I ask the House to support new clause 4 and the other amendments to which I have referred. If the Government are determined to oppose the new clause and the amendments, at least let them undertake to look at the matter again before it goes to the other place.

Mr. Salmond

I thought that the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) was about to end with a clarion call for a written constitution, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that case to be argued.

I should like to speak briefly in support of some of the arguments tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The hon. Gentleman and I frequently find ourselves converging from initially different points to a point of agreement—a process which is deeply disconcerting to both of us.

None the less, it is undeniable that he had a point when he argued that it would be quite wrong if holders of .22 calibre weapons, who surrendered them voluntarily, were treated any less favourably than the holders of higher-calibre weapons who surrendered them under the legislation. The Government have addressed that in amendment No. 79, but part of that discrepancy is inherent in the distinction that the Government have chosen to make in their legislation between .22 weapons and weapons of a higher calibre. It has become apparent from our proceedings that that distinction cannot be intellectually defended.

The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside referred briefly to the concern felt by some of us who are sympathetic to the case for compensation that those who are compensated for weapons surrendered could use the money to invest in other .22 calibre weapons. I generally accept the argument that in the short term the number of .22 weapons will decline, but I am much less certain about the medium term.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby put his finger on an important point, because, at meetings the Home Secretary has openly speculated on new gun clubs coming into existence which fulfil the requirements of the legislation. Those new high-tech gun clubs would be suitable for those who wished to opt for .22 calibre weapons. The Home Secretary seemed to welcome that as a potential process when we debated the matter in Committee on the Floor of the House. Some of us find extremely disturbing the idea that people could use compensation given for weapons surrendered under the terms of the legislation to re-invest in .22 calibre weapons, which in many senses are just as dangerous as the higher-calibre weapons.

Mr. Stern

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wonder whether he would agree that his point—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Has the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) given way?

Mr. Salmond

No. I have finished.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Sir Patrick Cormack.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The issue before the House is essentially an extremely simple one. As Members of Parliament, we have two overriding duties. One is to call the Executive to account and the other is to protect minorities. On this occasion we must call the Executive to account because the Government have handled this matter less than adroitly.

The Government set up the Cullen inquiry to the acclamation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Lord Cullen produced his report and, had the Government decided to accept it, they would have been immune from criticism. The Government, however, decided to go their own way in an arbitrary and ill-advised manner. It is not appropriate to discuss now wholesale bans or other issues, because the House has made its decision. We must accept that and live with it.

The consequences of the decision that the House has taken, under Government prompting and according to a timetable that is extremely constrained, are that many innocent people will suffer because they will no longer be able to practise their legitimate sport. I do not think that one should lightly dismiss that, not least because shooting is a sport at which people in this country have excelled and brought back many honours to it. Shooting with a gun is just as legitimate a sport as shooting with a bow and arrow.

The Government have deprived many innocent people of that sport, including, as we have learnt from debates on the Bill, a great many handicapped people who cannot take part in other sports. They have done far worse than that, however, because they have deprived many people of their livelihood. Their action is nothing less than blatant confiscation without compensation. That is something that no Conservative should contemplate.

I echo the thanks that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) offered to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but I urge him to go further and emulate another Howard in another Conservative Government. Australia has had a terrible shooting tragedy, but the Prime Minister of that Conservative Government has not balked at insisting that compensation should be proper and adequate.

I do not believe that any of us can look our constituents in the face if we do not meet our moral obligation. I must tell my right hon. and learned Friend that what is morally wrong is never politically right. What we are doing now is morally wrong.

Sir Michael Grylls (North-West Surrey)

My hon. Friend has been in the House for a year or two. He will recall that in the mid-1970s the then Labour Government nationalised the shipbuilding industry among others and gave wholly inadequate compensation. The Conservative Opposition quite rightly fought that tooth and nail for the very reason about which my hon. Friend has just spoken—fairness. It would be perverse and a blot on the record of a highly successful Conservative Government of 17 years if we let the Bill go through without providing compensation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a Conservative Government must never allow that to happen.

Sir Patrick Cormack

My hon. Friend is right. The terms of the legislation fly in the face of our achievement and our principles. We are not being true to either if we proceed along the line that my right hon. and learned Friend has commended to the House. What the new clause suggests is right and proper, and the least that people have the right to expect.

The House has decreed that people should lose their livelihoods and their sport, and the House, having willed that particular end, must therefore will the means to soften the blow. We can only do that by offering adequate compensation.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) made some pertinent points in his speech and I agreed with him. He was right to advocate some form of arbitration to adjudicate on the valuations. There is plenty of time for the Government to get it right. All that we need tonight from the Home Secretary is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that, to date, we have not been fair. The Conservative party should always be fair in its dealings with people. All that he has to say to the House is that he is determined to be fair. If he says that, it can be put right in another place, and we can make sure that proper amendments are moved by Ministers in another place to provide that adequate compensation.

That is all that we need from my right hon. and learned Friend. If he cannot say that, I am afraid that I certainly cannot go into the Lobby to support him. I say that with great regret. I have no desire to vote against him, because I admire much of what he stands for and what he has done. Tonight I do not think that he will be true to his oft-stated principles if he does not ensure that compensation is proper and adequate and is seen to be fair in all corners of the land.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

The Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland, although we will no doubt get it at some point. Whether it is needed in Northern Ireland is a moot point, given the strictness of the legislation that already governs firearms there; but, because it does not currently extend to Northern Ireland, I have not seen fit to speak much on the Bill thus far.

I have not always been popular when I have expressed my views on firearms—not least during the passage of the last firearms Bill, when I kept the House up for much of the night. I do not think that the Government behaved well on that occasion. I suspect that, had they considered some of the amendments to that Bill and had they listened, to and put into effect all the recommendations from the Firearms Consultative Committee—those recommendations were supposed to have been put into operation at the first legislative opportunity, but were not—we might not be in the position we are in this evening, with the tragedy of Dunblane behind us.

6 pm

Sir Jerry Wiggin

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I remind the House that, on the last occasion, Northern Ireland was included, but only a few hours before the termination of proceedings in the House? Let him beware—who knows what might happen on this occasion?

Mr. Ross

I am not unaware of the hon. Gentleman's point, but nor am I unaware of some of the statements that were made in the House on the subject of fireworks a few days ago. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that he resented the killjoy tendency in Britain whereby when there is a crisis or accident, there is an emotional spasm that says everything must stop."—[Official Report, 20 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 899.] Whether that comment has anything to do with the fact that some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents were engaged in making the things, I shall leave to the judgment of others. I make no such accusation.

I also noticed that the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) mentioned the use of pellet guns, but he did not mention kitchen knives, with which I am sure he has had to deal in the course of his professional career outside.

Having said that, I am happy to support new clause 4, which stands in the names of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) and his hon. Friends and to which I have put my name. I have one quibble, however, in that it tries to define every individual or group who might be affected. For that reason, I also saw fit to put my name to new clause 7, in the names of the hon. Members for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley).

New clause 7 would implement what is really the Australian legislation, which is far more comprehensive, but which might not have the precision and clarity that appeals to the Home Secretary's mind. Whether his precision and clarity meet the current case is a question that I would answer in the negative. That is why I have to say that, although I support the new clause currently being debated, I would have preferred it if the Government had been prepared to go further. I am happy to see so many hon. Members putting the same point to the Home Secretary.

I draw the attention of the House to amendment No. 74, standing in the name of the Home Secretary, which states: 'ancillary equipment' means equipment, other than prohibited ammunition and goes on to refer to ancillary equipment that has no practicable use in connection with any firearm which is not a prohibited weapon. In reality, that is an exclusion. It does not include much ancillary equipment and it actually excludes much equipment that the layman, reading the clever wording, might think was included.

The amendment means that, if a piece of ancillary equipment can be used for any other type of shooting, no payment will be made—at least, I feel sure that the clever ladies and gentlemen employed by the Home Secretary will find a way of saying to owners, "That is excluded, because you can use it for shotguns or rifles." Even a holster can be used for another type of firearm. The amendment is intended to be used to cut the amount of compensation paid.

Today, I talked to an expert on firearms who acts as an expert witness in courts in this country and elsewhere. He pointed out that loose bullets are not currently illegal. Regardless of their nature, a firearms certificate is not needed to purchase loose bullets, because they are not ammunition until they have been loaded in the case along with the explosive material. He has a large collection—he admits that he bought some of the items for "silly money"—which includes hollow-point expanding ammunition. It is not included in his firearms certificate—it does not have to be. He pointed out to me that one of the consequences of the Bill is that, as soon as it is enacted, he will be caught. Because that ammunition, which is valuable and which he uses in his work, is not included in his firearms certificate, he will be unable to claim compensation.

The Home Secretary has to look at compensation in a more comprehensive fashion. He will find all sorts of nooks and crannies that will exclude people from receiving compensation to which any reasonable man or woman would say they were morally entitled. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take my words in the constructive spirit in which they are intended. Problems will arise.

This Bill, like so much legislation that is founded on emotion—the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 springs to mind—will have many completely unforeseen consequences. People will suffer severe handicaps and consequences that cannot now be foreseen, and all because the legislation was not properly thought through. I believe that the issue should be examined by a royal commission if we are to get sensible firearms legislation in this country.

I fully support the point made by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). If we are going to satisfy anyone, there must be independent arbitration. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has noted that on page 41, line 45, the Bill states: The chief officer of police shall not be obliged to make pistols delivered to him under paragraph 2 above available for inspection either by the certificate holder or by any other person. The Home Secretary needs to go away and look at that, if we are to have the independent arbitration that is needed. Under that provision, an independent arbitrator could not get his hands on a pistol to determine its value and what level of compensation should be paid.

The Bill affects a large number of items that are really collectors' pieces of historical value. I know of a man in Northern Ireland who has two of Blair Mayne's pistols. The name of Blair Mayne should be known to every military historian in the House, because he was one of the early members of the Special Air Services and a man whose exploits excited admiration across the western world during his lifetime. Those pistols, by the very fact that they were once owned by that man, have acquired considerable value to collectors. The Home Secretary might say that the pistols are pre-1946 and therefore escape the legislation, but I wanted to mention them because their calibre might well pull them within its scope. It is in that sort of area that the real difficulties will arise.

The number of people who will lose as a result of the Bill is remarkable—it includes not only dealers, but the people who work for them; the people who write, produce and distribute magazines; and manufacturers of ammunition. In addition, there will be enormous loss in unforeseen nooks and crannies.

I totally disagree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who complained about people using compensation that is properly payable to them to buy a legal weapon. Why should they not? I should have thought that part of the purpose behind the compensation was to allow people to continue in their sport, although with a smaller calibre weapon, if they so desired.

I listened with care to the speech of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). He did not say it, but I think that he was pointing to the fact that, if compensation is to be paid, it must be paid over a much longer period than is currently envisaged either by the Home Secretary or in the Bill.

I say in passing that on Monday 9 December we shall discuss the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill, and in that debate right hon. and hon. Members will no doubt be delighted to learn that the IRA and other terrorist organisations have up to five years in which to surrender the horrendous weaponry they possess, which contrasts with what the Home Secretary proposes in this Bill. I hope that that will be borne in mind.

If some people say that compensation should not be paid for loss of business, I suggest that the Home Secretary and other Home Office Ministers consider Northern Ireland and especially the Irish Land Acts, in which many of these things were taken into account. On that occasion, however, the Government were only acting as the people who provided the down payment—the capital—and eventually the tenant farmers had to pay the compensation.

Mr. Budgen

As anyone listening to the debate must reflect, it is extraordinary that any competent Government and any competent Opposition can have got into such a jam. We have before us, not a Government measure, but an agreed measure, one of the most dangerous measures that one could ever find—an agreement that has been cobbled together in a hurry between the two Front Benches and foisted on to a reluctant and amazed House of Commons.

On reflection, it is amazing that we are dealing, not with the 96 per cent. of crimes committed with firearms which are committed with an illegally held weapon, but with the 4 per cent. of such crimes that are committed with a legally held weapon, and we are trying to reduce that 4 per cent. yet further.

Surely, when we try to reduce that 4 per cent. yet further, we should consider the matter sensibly and logically, as though we were deciding whether it was necessary to straighten a corner on a road or legitimate to give a person an expensive operation. We consider the cost—which must be met by our fellow citizens—and ask whether, in the circumstances, the cost is justified and is likely to produce the saving of life that we hope for.

I shall not attack the Government for the Bill; that would be grossly unfair. This is a Front-Bench Bill, a Front-Bench conspiracy against the House of Commons.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

It is a Government Bill.

Mr. Budgen

No, it is not at all. It is entirely supported—[Interruption.] Let us have no nonsense about this. The Opposition have not opposed the Bill; they have welcomed it. They have entirely given up their proper constitutional duty of criticising and improving legislation, and they have rushed behind the Government, urging them to proceed ever faster.

The jam that we have got ourselves in was foreseeable. In the Government's response to the Cullen report, which was published in October 1996—

Mr. Salmond

I am not following the hon. Gentleman. Why is it not a legitimate rule of any Opposition party to criticise the Government for not going far enough? Why is not that a legitimate part of Opposition criticism? I do not understand the point.

Mr. Budgen

Let me say immediately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am confining myself entirely to the new clauses and not raising any wider issues. [Laughter]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman could have fooled me. He has now given me some comfort.

Mr. Budgen

The hon. Gentleman asks me to concentrate on the role of the Government and the official Opposition. At page 6 of the Government's reply to the Cullen report, they list very many restrictions that they claim should be imposed on gun clubs to make them safer and to ensure that guns and handguns cannot be stolen. They continue: Very few, if any, existing gun clubs will meet these security requirements"— in other words, "We shall put 'em out of business by the back door."

What will happen if one puts people out of business and takes away their livelihood? In his interesting little booklet, Mr. Spittle from Wolverhampton points out that most gun clubs were set up after the South African war to encourage people in this country to shoot more accurately. If it be the case that we shall turn patriots into criminals, it is likely—unless, by the dictatorship of agreement, we deprive those people of the right to do so—that they will ask for compensation; and it looks as though the compensation will be very great.

6.15 pm

We bandy such figures about, but we have just spent a week discussing a Budget that, net, makes a difference of £1.8 billion—quite a lot of money, but not very much in proportion to public expenditure. Tonight we casually suggest that, because the Government have not considered the cost of the Act, we might have to compensate people for unnecessary security measures to the tune of at least £300 million. Is that good government? Is it good opposition? Is it a sensible way in which to spend the taxpayer's money?

Surely it would be sensible for a Government making such proposals to say honestly: "Plainly, those people will demand compensation for a long time and the cost could be very large. We tell the House, this is what the cost will be." If there were an Opposition who welcomed the legislation, who said, "We support the European convention on human rights; indeed, we want to give more power to that convention," would not they say, "Look here, the cost is enormous. Is it justified for the very slight advantages that might be obtained by extra security?"

Three hundred million pounds—

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Budgen

Let me finish the sentence. Three hundred million pounds, which we are demanding, is an awful lot of money. I shall vote for that compensation, but I shall do so with regret, because it is a waste of money. A great many people could be saved and given more years of happy life by better treatment in the national health service.

Mr. Michael J. Martin

Hear, hear.

Mr. Budgen

Yes, for £300 million. Some children could be saved by better maternity services for £300 million. This is a gross—

Mr. Robert Jackson


Mr. Budgen

This is a gross waste of money, which derives most of all from bad government, from ill-considered government, from panic reaction and from allowing the House of Commons to use its powers as though it were a lynch mob.

Several hon. Members


Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I thank my hon. Friend—

Mr. Robert Jackson


Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)


Mr. Budgen

I shall just answer my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson), if I may.

Sir Donald Thompson

I thank my hon. Friend—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is giving way?

Mr. Budgen

I am giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley, and then I was going to finish.

Sir Donald Thompson

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He has been most courteous, as usual.

Mr. Budgen

As occasionally.

Sir Donald Thompson

My hon. Friend is most courteous to me, as he always is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He is talking about the costs to the Government. I have a constituent who makes ammunition for handguns only. The cost to him would be enormous. His way of life, his father's way of life and his livelihood would be gone for ever. It is as though the whole Government's money slipped away in our world. There must be dozens of people—not hundreds, but dozens—in a similar position.

Mr. Budgen

I agree with my hon. Friend. People will complain about the Bill for many a year.

Mr. Robert Jackson

Does my hon. Friend consider that the Government would have rushed into the legislation in the way that they have if they had believed that they would have to pay the compensation?

Mr. Budgen

These claims, as I said earlier, were entirely foreseeable. One did not have to be a genius, or even a fellow of All Souls, to foresee them.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I remain of the view that the people of Dunblane, or anywhere else, are the victims of a cruel delusion if they believe that this measure will reduce the risk of a repetition. On the contrary, by driving maniacs into the illegal market, it may even increase the risk of a repetition. Hamilton should have been detected—as witness the resignation of a senior police officer.

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said earlier, and with those who say that the arrangements suggested by Cullen would have been a great deal safer—large stores of weapons would not have been kept in one spot—and a great deal cheaper. I cannot help wondering: what on earth were Treasury Ministers in the Cabinet doing when they allowed the Government to go beyond Cullen, with all the attendant implications for public expenditure? I cannot understand it.

In those circumstances, however, it is right that the Government should compensate people who lose business, and others who, as the Liberal Democrat spokesman said, may lose their homes and jobs without entitlement to unemployment benefit. Those who will have to give up their equipment, which may be worth twice as much as the weapons themselves—or even more—ought clearly to be compensated.

One of the troubles with guillotine motions is not just that some issues do not get debated but that some speeches tend not to be made at all because they are crowded out. I shall therefore make only two or three points.

The first arises from the amount of compensation to be paid. I was sent a letter by the then Home Secretary on 31 May 1988 about the compensation payable following the Hungerford tragedy. At that stage, it was either to be a fixed amount for the pistol concerned, or just 50 per cent. of its value because, it was claimed, the other 50 per cent. was the amount that would be made by the dealer. That just shows how much dealers will lose if they are not compensated.

I do not think that that kind of valuation is fair. The right approach is to assess a weapon's value to the person who has given it up—not what he could get for it in a forced sale at auction but how much he paid for it, allowing for depreciation and so on.

Secondly, we must consider carefully the position of clubs that find themselves operating with a reduced membership because only lower calibre weapons will be available. They will have to invest a great deal so as to meet the new requirements. My constituents told me last Friday that they do not know how much compensation there will be, or what the timetable is, or what conditions they will have to meet.

They were also under the delusion—I do not share it—that there might be a Labour Government in a few months' time. Labour is clearly on record as saying that it will ban guns completely. It is wholly unreasonable to expect clubs in the meantime to invest a great deal of money in getting their clubs approved, only to find after the election that all the money has been wasted. Many of them will go out of business; that, too, will require compensation.

Finally, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who was very reasonable about amending the money resolution, carefully to consider the question of timing—in relation to compensation payments, in relation to when the weapons will have to be given up, and in relation to when the clubs will have to meet the new arrangements for security. I hope that he will soon publish his intentions as regards those arrangements.

I believe that my hon. Friend's new clause is right, and if he forces it to a Division, I shall certainly support him in the Lobby.

Mr. Gill

I support new clause 4 because I share the concern expressed by Members on both sides for the scores of people whose livelihoods will be, or have already been, endangered by this legislation. I am thinking of people like the proprietors of Minsterley Ranges in my constituency, who tell me that 70 per cent. of the activity at their well-equipped and well-managed establishment involves the shooting of pistols. If this legislation is enacted, those proprietors will be left with 30 per cent. of their former turnover with which to sustain a sizeable investment and a large establishment. Anyone with any experience of business will know that that is almost impossible.

I am sad to find myself this evening having to advocate higher public expenditure. I understand the Government's reluctance to pay for consequential losses and to set a precedent; on the other hand, there is no precedent for Government moving so decisively to outlaw a whole sport and an entire trade. This is not an academic exercise; we are talking about the livelihoods of people with varying amounts of capital sunk in their businesses—ranging from their savings to their homes. Many have devoted their life's work to those businesses.

We are also talking about all the people who are employed in the trade, and about those who depend on them.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Unfortunately, there is a precedent—the one referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers): the head de-boners in the beef trade, whose livelihood has been extinguished overnight. Another precedent will be set when the House comes to consider revising, upgrading and strengthening the quarantine regulations. Quarantine kennel owners will have to be compensated, as recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) and his colleagues on the Agriculture Select Committee. The process is set to go on and on. The more Governments intervene in, and regulate, our lives, the more compensation will have to be paid out. We shall have to grasp that nettle at some point.

Mr. Gill

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point. My point was that I recognise the Government's reluctance to accept their undoubted moral obligation to pay for consequential loss suffered by the people who operate clubs and who supply the sport as retailers or manufacturers.

These are specialist businesses that have no scope for diversification. I recognise the heavy cost to the taxpayer of the compensation that has already been conceded. I further recognise that the bill for the loss experienced by all the groups that I have itemised would be substantial. Had the Government accepted the recommendations of the Cullen report, the cost would have been significantly less.

The new clause is an attempt to avoid setting the precedent that Parliament is in danger of creating if the law of the land at a stroke destroys a legitimate trade and bona fide businesses without underwriting the devastating costs to those affected. That would amount, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, to downright confiscation.

Mr. Michael J. Martin

My heart tells me that we should not give anyone any compensation for giving up guns. That would be obscene—

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Martin

I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. First, though, let me say that I hope that the logic of compensation will be extended to other facets of society.

Mr. Gill


6.30 pm
Mr. Martin

I shall not give way, because I must be brief.

I recall that I had to put the case for people who worked in the meat industry and who were told that, for non-medical reasons, they must shut up shop. Their livelihood was lost but, with few exceptions, no one complained.

The railway industry used to employ 3,000 people in my constituency. When the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided to do away with the railway industry, no one asked about those who would lose their livelihoods. After seven years, there are still former railway workers without a livelihood.

The Home Secretary may be considering giving people compensation for the loss of their guns. I hope that the argument will not apply to gun club premises or to the targets, which I consider obscene. They are not the red, white and blue targets that I used when I was in the Territorial Army. They are targets in the shape of human beings, and the general public should not pay compensation for them.

Civilian gun clubs should not associate themselves with the military. I worry about people who dress up as soldiers at the weekend and on Wednesday night and go out with high-calibre guns, pretending to be SAS men. As Thomas Hamilton showed us, there are an awful lot of Walter Mittys running about those gun clubs. That was not the first time that someone took a gun out of a gun club and shot people. There was such an incident a few years ago in Glasgow.

If we go down the road of giving compensation to the gun clubs, it should be remembered that, as a result of the Budget resolutions, sports centres in my constituency and elsewhere will be closed. People will lose their sports, hobbies and pastimes because of Government decisions to close sports centres. I hear no talk of compensation for them. We have heard about cuts in health service spending. People will die because they cannot get heart operations in time. I hope that the relatives of people who die as a result of Government cuts in spending will receive compensation.

The Government have opened up a can of worms by undertaking to give compensation to a sport that is pursued by relatively few people. If the Government give compensation to gun owners, they should compensate everyone who suffers a loss as a result of Government policy.

Sir Michael Grylls

This has been a powerful debate, ably instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin). The common thread running through it from our side and from the Liberal Benches has been the strong feeling on the subject of compensation.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has listened carefully to the debate and is always responsive to feelings in the House. I am sure that he will take on board the strong views expressed from our side during the debate, and our abhorrence of the idea of putting people out of business, destroying clubs and ruining people's lives without proper compensation. I do not believe that my right hon. and learned Friend, for whom I have high regard, would allow that to happen.

I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South—West (Mr. Budgen) who said in his extremely entertaining speech that the Government had not realised that there would be such an uprising by people in the clubs and firearms industry, all claiming compensation. I think that the Government probably did realise that that would happen, but as always—in a way, understandably, as they are dealing with taxpayers' money—they have been fighting a rearguard action, possibly waiting to see the strength of feeling on behalf of the clubs. I do not go along with my hon. Friend on that.

The Government have a proud record. In the past 17 years, more than 1 million new business have started up. We have let the enterprise culture blossom. My right hon. and learned Friend played an important part in that when he was a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, encouraging people to be enterprising, set up their own firms, look after themselves and be successful. Some of the dealers would have set up their businesses during that time. It would be absurd for them suddenly to be put out of business.

As I said earlier in an intervention, those of us who lived through the nationalisation debates in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries around 1975, when we opposed so bitterly the inadequate and disgraceful compensation that the then Labour Government allowed to go through Parliament, could never allow that to happen. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take that on board.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) and I have the privilege jointly—I am never sure where the boundary is—of representing Bisley, the mecca of all shooting. We both have many clubs in our constituencies, many people who are distinguished shots and have represented their country, and many important firearms firms, which will be severely damaged.

Stopping people pursuing the sport of shooting with the weapons that are to be banned is not the topic of this debate. The dealers and clubs are our present concern. There are various precedents that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to deploy in arguing for the money with the Treasury. For example, the Government give people grants to insulate their homes. It is public policy to encourage the insulation of houses, and people are given grants to help them. That is a minor matter, compared with the removal of people's livelihoods and putting clubs out of business. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare pointed out, people have given guarantees backed up by the value of their house in order to keep their club going.

It would be a disgraceful blot on the Government's proud record if that is not put right. I am confident that the Government will put it right. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend has listened to every word spoken in the debate and that, having heard the strength of feeling among Conservative Members, he will think the matter through and respond by ensuring that people are treated fairly.

Sir Hector Monro

I warmly support my right hon. and hon. Friends who have given their support to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin).

It is clear from the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House that pistol shooting, a great deal of indoor rifle shooting and possibly outdoor rifle shooting as well will be dealt a mortal blow by the Bill. The trade will suffer severely. It is inevitable that the majority of clubs will close, because they will not be able to afford the stringent requirements of the Home Secretary to keep them secure from attack by terrorists or other serious incidents.

Many rifle ranges are located in remote areas, so security will be hard to enforce. That task will be even more difficult if we demand that pistols be kept complete at ranges rather than storing them in different parts, as we shall suggest later tonight. I accept that my right hon. and learned Friend has made a number of valuable concessions in the past few weeks in accordance with our views. I urge him to reconsider the matter carefully, and to look particularly to the Australian example, when he winds up the debate.

While now is not the time to talk about our international prowess in pistol and rifle shooting, we must remember that it will be impossible for our high calibre shooters to practice if there are no rifle clubs. As I have said before, I visited the shooting ranges at the last Commonwealth games and saw how effectively and efficiently they were run. Sadly, we might not have even limited competition at the Manchester Commonwealth games, as the gun associations may decide to stay away if the disciplines are curtailed dramatically.

I hope that it will be possible for the Home Secretary to remove some of the current uncertainty surrounding the valuations issue. There is little knowledge of exactly how the valuations will be carried out, who will conduct them, whether there will be some form of appeal and which weapons will be confiscated. For example, when is a muzzle loader an antique? That sort of question springs immediately to mind. On 18 November, my hon. Friend the Minister said that muzzle loaders require firearms certificates, yet the Home Office information leaflet states that antiques do not require a certificate. Where do we draw the line between a muzzle loader and an antique? That is not an easy decision to make.

I hope that such questions will be clarified soon. Will all flintlocks be classified as antiques? The situation is unclear at present. Those who may lose their weapons do not know which firearms will be classified as antiques or perhaps war trophies. My hon. Friend the Minister promised to put down an amendment regarding inherited war trophies, but that does not appear on the Order Paper.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary shall explain tonight how valuations will be carried out, in addition to outlining the assistance that he plans to provide for the rifle and pistol ranges mentioned in the new clause. I do not think that he realises how many letters hon. Members have received from individuals and from clubs all over the country expressing their fears about a bleak future. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will rethink the issue and consider whether he should provide still more assistance. No one is saying that we should abandon the legislation—that matter was decided in the House at Second Reading—but we must make substantial progress in offering concessions to those whom it will damage severely.

6.45 pm
Mr. Frank Cook

There seems to be much confusion about what target gun clubs are and what they are not. I assure the House that the target shooters I have met do not dress up like SAS Spetsnaz, and they do not shoot at each other on Friday nights with high-calibre guns. If they did—and if they were good shots—there would be very few of them left. Such descriptions refer to those foolish middle-aged teenagers who squirt paint-soaked sponge balls at each other, pretending to play the old game ''Bang, bang, you're dead".

We are talking about people who engage in a very respectable sport. When its proponents returned to this country with eight gold medals, we hailed them as national heroes—and we still do. Carol Paige has competed for almost 30 years from a wheelchair. She has proved that she is every bit as good a marksperson—it is the first time that I have used that word—as any able-bodied person competing on the range. She deserves our respect. She represented her country in that sport, and she would like to continue to do so.

It is not a joke: serious target shooters do not shoot at human form or NATO targets. They shoot at measured circles in black and white—not colour—and they calculate their scores precisely. Let us get the facts straight.

I think that any discussion of compensation at this stage is a capitulation: it is a concession that the prohibition will be enforced, and that therefore we must salvage what we can. I think that that is a sign of weakness. However, we must consider the issue seriously. Ultimately, we must ensure not that we maximise the amount of compensation but that it is adequate. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 29 October, enclosing a copy of a letter from a constituent. I am grateful to the Minister of State for her extremely helpful reply.

However, she said: Those who have higher calibre handguns will have the opportunity to sell them before the prohibition comes into force". I have tried hard to get my head around that statement. I ask myself, "Who on earth will they sell their guns to?" If gun owners can do so legally, they might sell their firearms to Jack the lad, who will use them on the street to enhance his income. Perhaps they will sell them on the continent. However, the German gun dealers are already saying that they will not buy guns until the prohibition comes into force, because they know that they will pay less for them then. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will acknowledge that point.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; my hon. Friends and I are enjoying his speech immensely.

He may be interested to know that one of my constituents telephoned the Home Office seeking suggestions as to what he should do with his redundant—I fear that is what they will become—firearms. The person on the end of the telephone told my constituent that he should sell his firearms abroad. That was the official advice provided by someone in the Home Office, and it demonstrates the desperate state of affairs. The hon. Gentleman is correct: the proceeds from forced gun sales would be a pittance compared with their real worth.

Mr. Cook

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments—it is probably the only time that we have agreed on anything. He makes a serious point: that is the sort of issue that I am trying to highlight.

I have sought the views of the Greater Manchester police—which have been confirmed by observers in the Metropolitan police—who say that, according to realistic estimates, 2,500 handguns cross the Channel from the continent into Britain every week. I put it to the House that we can have all the compensation we want, we can sell the guns to the Germans, and then Jack the lad can buy them back at a lower price next week. It is easier and cheaper to buy a gun illegally than to procure one properly with a certificate. Adequate compensation must be considered seriously. I shall support the amendment.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

It is sometimes easy to speak in the abstract in this sort of debate. Therefore, I shall tell the House about one small gun club out of more than 2,000—it happens to be in Market Rasen, but it could be anywhere.

The club meets in a small hut and has 20 or 30 members. It was founded in 1906, and its constitution proclaims that its purpose is patriotic: to train people for national emergencies. There are faded pictures on the hut's walls of the club's original members, but nowadays its members shoot only with .22 calibre pistols at small black-and-white targets. They pursue their sport with immense care and precision.

In the corner of that small wooden hut is a safe. The club is likely to be required by the police to erect high barbed-wire fences all around the hut. It is in the middle of a suburban area and houses are adjacent to it. There is no way in which it would ever get planning permission. It could survive, possibly, if the local police allowed it to leave the safe where it is and surround it with a concrete structure, but if the local police demand high barbed-wire fences and reinforced doors—which are pointless, because people could simply drill through the walls—it would almost certainly go under. It is just one club out of 2,000, and that would be replicated all over the country.

I could talk about Dunholme pistol club, which is in a similar situation. I could talk about a farmer in Reepham, who has put his life savings into creating a similar club.

Mr. Robert Jackson

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Leigh

No. I shall make a very short speech and then sit down.

The point that I am making is that this is a profoundly un-Tory Bill. It is inimical to the principle to which we have always adhered: that legislation should be tried and tested. It is inimical to the principle of private property. Those two principles have been at the heart of our party's thinking since it was founded. Because we are laying aside those principles, 20 or 30 members in that small club in Market Rasen will lose their sport, and there will be no compensation.

Mr. Home Secretary

let right be done.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Unlike many of my hon. Members—indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House—I am not familiar with guns; I barely know one end of a gun from the other. I recommend that no one ever test me on the subject. I am here to talk about people. The new clause is fundamentally flawed in that it treats gun clubs, their members and supporters shoddily—which, like many of my hon. Friends, I never expected to see from a Conservative Government.

Before my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary came into the House, he was a very distinguished lawyer. Indeed, he is still regarded as such. In Committee, he quoted precedents for failure to give compensation in this case. May I point out to him two things? First, as any lawyer will know, there are always precedents on both sides. He has, quite understandably, given precedents for the Government to fail to pay compensation. May I point out to him the other precedents, of Governments who, often through gritted teeth, avoided any question of nationalisation without compensation, by paying compensation even when they did not believe in it?

Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that the Labour Government after 1945 believed that they should pay compensation to mine owners or steel owners? Of course they did not, but nevertheless, as a matter of fairness, as a matter—as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) put it—of morality, they paid compensation, because they did not believe that any democratic Government should remove people's assets without doing so.

That is a principle for which my right hon. and learned Friend and I, in our earlier days in politics, criticised Labour Members when they sought to make a breach of that principle Labour party policy. I find it very worrying that the Government now propose the exact opposite of the principles for which we have fought for many years.

I understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), that, if compensation is paid for one type of gun, people will—quite legitimately under the Bill—spend it on another type of gun. I disagree fundamentally with his approach to the Bill, but I accept that there is force in his argument. I put it to him, however, that that argument is not appropriate to the new clause before us.

The people who will be deprived of compensation under the clause, particularly club owners and supporters, will not be the ones who then go out and spend the money on building up a new club, because they will not have the money in the first place. The point he made may well be appropriate to the main body of the Bill, in relation to compensation to gun owners, but it is entirely inappropriate for the Government to offer compensation to gun clubs.

Mr. Salmond

I was making the point in support of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The hon. Member for South Hams seems to agree that they apply in that case.

Mr. Stern

They may well apply in that case, but certainly not in the context of new clause 4, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin).

If new clause 4 does not go through, a number of my constituents who shoot at gun clubs in Yate and Nailsea will be deprived of their occupation and hobby. That is what one would normally expect of a Government who are introducing ill-conceived legislation. But many of my constituents will suffer much more deeply at the hands of the Government. They will be deprived of their assets. They will be treated by the Government as second-class citizens. They have done nothing to deserve that treatment. I do not believe that they sent me here to condone it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I raised a number of points on Second Reading and in Committee, but they were not adequately answered, and people are being deprived of their private property rights.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for widening the money resolution so that we can have this debate tonight, but I should be grateful if he would clarify a few points. First, what will be the date of valuation? It seems that the market was distorted immediately after his announcement to the House that these guns would be banned, so the valuations have been reduced.

Secondly, what will be the basis for the valuations? I understand that a list of various categories of weapons will be negotiated with the major gunsmiths in this country. Again, that is an unsatisfactory way to come up with a basis of valuation, because, critically, the value of a gun depends on its age and the amount that it has been used. As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, a gun that is taken out of a gunsmith's is immediately devalued by between a quarter and a third.

Thirdly, who will carry out the valuation? It needs a considerable expert to value a gun. One cannot just pick up a pistol and work out how much it has been used, unless one is a considerable expert.

Fourthly, who will judge the valuation appeals? If 160,000 guns are to be taken out of circulation, a considerable number of cases will go to appeal. Again, the people in charge of the appeal, who are making the awards, need to be—

Mr. William Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

No. I have hardly any time left.

The people in charge of the appeal need to be great experts in this subject.

Fifthly, how long will people have to wait for their compensation? If people's private property rights are being taken away, they should be paid compensation rapidly.

A number of people have obtained firearms certificates for high-calibre pistols on the basis that these firearms will be kept in secure premises in a gun club. Therefore, a number of people have voluntarily got together to form a gun club and spent considerable sums on those premises, and on the security arrangements of those gun clubs.

It would be iniquitous if individuals received compensation for their steel cabinets in a private home but not for the more sophisticated arrangements that the police will require of a gun club—an armoury, burglar alarms and so on—before the club obtains a licence for the premises, and in order that people can get firearms certificates to keep their guns on those premises.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give me some assurance on those points.

7 pm

Mr. Henderson

We on the Opposition Front Bench support the principle of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and his colleagues. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) that we shall deal with the potential disposal of weapons abroad later in the debate, so I do not propose to deal with it at the moment.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) alleged that there was a coalition of Front-Bench speakers against Parliament. I understand where he comes from on that, but he is not right, because we on the Opposition Front Bench do not agree with the Government on a major issue in the Bill—whether .22 pistols should be retained. If they are retained, it will endanger our agreed objective, which is to provide proper protection for the public. There is a major difference between the Front Benches on that.

The Opposition and the Government agree that people want action on the excessive use of guns and their danger to the public. The House will completely abdicate its responsibilities if it does not face that issue quickly. That is why the Opposition agreed to co-operate with the Government on timetabling, but not on every part of the Bill.

The debate has not half brought people out of their burrows. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have clearly shown where they come from. I mentioned the accusation by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West about a Front-Bench coalition. Opposition by Conservative Members is not entirely from the Back Benches: it could accurately be described as being led by ex-Front-Bench Members who now disagree with the Government.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said that the Bill was very un-Tory because it did not protect private property. We are all obliged to protect private property—that is part of democracy—but we also have an obligation to protect people, and I did not hear the hon. Gentleman or those colleagues who supported his case speaking about that. Protecting people should be our main responsibility, and that is the issue that we should tackle.

Sir Patrick Cormack

At any time before Dunblane, did the hon. Gentleman receive any objections from anyone in his party about target shooting as a legitimate sport? Can he refer to any pronouncement by any Labour politician at any time against it?

Mr. Henderson

Many people—not only members of the Labour party and lobby organisations, but people in my constituency—have asked me, "What do you intend to do about guns? People on our street have guns. Can you do something about that?" After an incident such as that at Dunblane, in which the lawlessness emanates from an activity that is currently lawful, people rightly say to Parliament, "What will you do to prevent that outrage, that horror, happening again?"

The specific issue that we are debating is compensation. Can the Home Secretary give examples of what he would define as "ancillary equipment", which is referred to in his amendments?

Mr. William Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

I should like to proceed with my speech.

A definition of ancillary equipment would help the House. The debate is about where one draws the line on compensation. There is a clear distinction between nationalisation and confiscation on the one hand, and loss of business income, or even personal income, on the other. In terms of state action, one must distinguish between those two. If we accept that anyone who loses in any way from a decision in Parliament has a right to compensation, the list of persons and organisations applying for it will be limitless.

Everything we do affects somebody in some way. Signing up to the Maastricht treaty means that some people will say, "I am affected now and I will be affected in future." When we pass labour laws, some people will say that they are affected, and when we pass laws on health, some will say, "My business and my job are affected." The list is endless, and we would find it impossible to make any definitions. Parliament has said that compensation is automatic for nationalisation or confiscation in wartime, or when someone's home is demolished because of a road. There may be arguments about the amounts, but the principle is automatic.

The great danger with compensation for loss of business is that everyone will claim it. Furniture manufacturers who have to meet new safety requirements could say, "My business had to change and I had to invest in new equipment and diversify. I should get full compensation." There would be no claims in respect of the people who work for such manufacturers, but that is another matter.

Drug companies invest colossal amounts up front, thank goodness. In the light of scientific evidence, the House has to decide what is safe for the public, and sometimes drugs on which the companies have spent a great deal of money are no longer safe and have to be withdrawn. I cannot recall any substantial compensation to drug manufacturers.

The House has been passing building regulations and mine safety regulations for the best part of 150 years, but it has never been the policy of any Government to say that, if a business requires change or investment to meet new conditions, it will be entitled to full compensation. When building and fire safety regulations were rightly changed, there was no question of compensating every business that had to change as a result.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

No, because I am time-limited.

I recognise that dealers and others will face a loss of business. That is unfortunate, but they are no different from businesses which in the past had to modify their operations because of parliamentary decisions.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that we had a similar debate in Committee on compensation. The businesses that we are discussing cannot change: they will be extinguished. The hon. Gentleman spoke about a road going through a house. If a road goes through a business, it is compensated. There is a difference between changing for the future in accordance with parliamentary regulations and being extinguished.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman is not making a new point. Many businesses, such as the de-boners in the meat industry and companies involved in meat distribution, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) referred, have gone bust. Small sub-contractors to drug companies often go out of business because their expertise is linked to the manufacture of a drug that has been withdrawn. There are many examples of companies going out of business. I understand the difficulty of the companies that have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), but they are no different from other companies, and they are able to diversify.

I am no expert on guns or gun dealing—parliamentarians cannot be experts on everything—but I looked at some dealers' premises recently, and I noticed that some of them sell not only pistols but shotguns, rifles, fishing equipment and even England football strips. Therefore, not every dealer will go bust. There will be a change in their circumstances, but they must recognise the weight of public opinion to which the Government and Opposition have responded. People are saying, "Something must happen." We must take action to protect the public, and that action has consequences. People who have to hand in their guns, whether they are dealers or individuals, should receive adequate compensation.

It would be helpful if the Home Secretary would tell us what will be the sequence of events. The Opposition tabled amendment No. 13, which asks the Government to return to the House with the principles of a compensation scheme, so that we can debate them, and further debate some of the arguments that have been made today.

Mr. Clifton-Brown


Mr. Henderson

I will not give way.

The Government were reluctant to present such principles during proceedings on the Bill in Committee. The Government should realise that there is much confusion on matters such as what values will be set. who will set them, what an individual who disagrees with a valuation should do, and whether there will be a right of appeal. Many questions must be answered.

It is important to ban the use of pistols to the greatest possible extent—although we differ on that—so legislation must be passed quickly. That is why the Opposition have co-operated on procedural matters. But many issues remain unresolved. There are issues linked to airguns that must be settled. The Government should have been bound by the legislation to make further proposals.

On compensation, a wise path forward, perhaps in another place, would be for the Government to provide further information on general principles of compensation, although the details might be set out in secondary legislation. If the Home Secretary can accomplish that, he will assure many hon. Members on both sides of the House that a satisfactory and reasonable approach has been found to deal with the matter.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

Right hon. and hon. Members have spoken with force and with passion in this debate, and I understand and acknowledge the depth of their concerns. I shall do my best to reply to as many points as I can in what must now inevitably be a short speech, and I will endeavour to write to those whose points I fail to deal with in the next few minutes.

On 18 November we tabled a new money resolution to the Bill so as to allow hon. Members to table amendments and to debate the matter of compensation without a technical limit being imposed on the scope of those amendments and of that debate. I said then that the Government would listen to all the arguments before deciding on the scope of a compensation scheme. In a moment, I will explain our conclusions on that. Before doing so, however, I should like to deal with the substance of the amendments tabled and eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin).

As my hon. Friend knows, in discussing these matters I have always made it clear that a distinction must be made between paying compensation for guns and accessories and the question of wider business losses. As I said on Second Reading, so far as I am aware there is no precedent for paying claims for business losses which occur as a result of Government legislation, and I made it clear then that I could not give my hon. Friends comfort on that score. I fear that nothing that I have heard today has led me to alter that view.

I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) that the issue is not whether compensation should be paid. The Government are not presenting to Parliament a Bill which does not offer compensation. The difficult issue is determining where one draws the line—the point at which one either says, "This is a case in which, on all precedent, one must and should pay compensation", or, "However sympathetic one might be to those who will suffer loss in consequence of the legislation, on all precedent and on a proper analysis of the case, it does not justify compensation."

I think that the distinction between the two categories is clear. If the effect of Government legislation is to deprive people of property or of the use of that property, it is right that taxpayers collectively should pay those property owners for the value of that property. That principle has been a part of English law for many years in relation to land and buildings which are, for example, the subject of compulsory purchase orders.

Sir Terence Higgins


Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

If my hon. Friends will forgive me, I should like to make some progress in my explanation, and time is short.

Observance of the principle also arises from our obligations under the European convention on human rights. Of course we recognise that there are businesses which will have stocks of guns that they will no longer be able to hold legally, and of equipment that is intended only for use with such guns. Their position is analogous to that of an individual who owns such equipment, and we accept that they should receive compensation for the objects that they hold which become unlawful or unable to be sold. However, those are very different issues from paying compensation for business losses or losses associated with the operation of a club.

7.15 pm

All businesses operate within a framework of legislation. In the case of the gun industry, the framework is stricter and more specific than in many other industries. It regulates what types of guns and ammunition can be bought and sold and who may buy and sell them. It is right that there is a strong framework to control the market in a product which is, potentially, extremely dangerous. Moreover, that framework of regulation has existed since the 1920s, and everyone who works in the firearms industry operates within it.

Major changes have been made in that regulatory environment on a number of occasions in recent history, and the changes have had a massive impact both on the shooting industry and on those who use guns for leisure purposes. In 1920, firearms controls were introduced for the first time; in 1934, fully automatic weapons were prohibited; in 1962, airguns and shotguns were made subject to restriction for the first time; in 1988, semi-automatic and self-loading rifles were prohibited; and in 1992 disguised firearms were prohibited. There have been many other minor changes which have affected the operations of gun dealers and gun clubs. All those changes were introduced to improve public safety, and some of them will have affected some businesses more than others. However, no one who works in the firearms industry can be unaware of the significance of regulatory controls on that industry.

It is one of the overriding duties of a Government to protect the safety of the public. The decisions that the Government have had to take on this extremely difficult and vexed matter were not different in principle from many other decisions that Governments are occasionally bound to take which may cause damage to the prospects of the industries associated with them. There have been many occasions on which the Government have felt it necessary to ban a particular product or to restrict access to it.

A recent example was the Government's decision in 1989 to ban the chewing tobacco product called "Skoal Bandits", which had begun to be marketed in this country. It was considered to be so potentially damaging to health that the Government banned it. The company concerned suffered a considerable loss, and it even challenged the Government in the courts. No compensation was paid, and the courts supported the Government on that decision.

Over the years, in the interests of public safety, many regulations have been introduced in the transport industry. Those measures have imposed very substantial additional costs on the haulage industry and have no doubt put some hauliers out of business. One sympathises with people who had to suffer those consequences, but no compensation was paid.

Occasionally various medicines or other chemical products, such as insecticides, have to be banned when information comes to light about their side effects. Major changes in regulations are occasionally made in order to control pollution. The Government have never paid compensation in those circumstances.

To provide an even more controversial example, only three weeks ago the House debated the cattle head de-boning industry, which has effectively been destroyed by the ban introduced in March this year on sales of head meat from cows. The ban was introduced because of the risk posed by head meat in relation to BSE. The Government were bound to act to preserve public safety and no compensation has been paid for the losses suffered by cattle head deboners.

The Government have a fundamental obligation to protect public safety. It would be a very significant inhibiting factor if, on every occasion that a decision had to be made, the Government were obliged to pay compensation for the business losses that resulted. My right hon. and hon. Friends are well aware that Government compensation means other taxpayers being required to pay for the business losses of those affected by the aftermath of Dunblane. Much as I regret the difficulties that gun clubs and firearms dealers are facing, I do not believe that it is right to ask for such compensation.

Sir Patrick Cormack

What is the logic of compensating the renderers but not compensating others? What is the logic of not compensating the gun maker, who will be driven out of business—all his assets, his house and everything else will go—but readily agreeing that it is entirely proper to compensate owners?

Mr. Howard

I have sought to explain why we do not think it right to compensate gun makers. Renderers were paid compensation to preserve a vital link in the food industry chain. The industry could not have survived if the renderers had all gone out of business. That is why a decision was taken to pay them compensation.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me. I have only five minutes more because it is right that I should give my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, who moved the new clause, time to reply. I also want to deal with some of the other points that have been raised in the debate.

Amendment No. 66 would provide a form of independent financial arbitration on the valuation for compensation to be paid for those items for which we are intending to pay compensation. That important matter was raised by several right hon. and hon. Members and I should like to explain how we intend to approach the issue of compensation.

I intend to draw up a list of approximate values for different makes of gun, which I shall discuss with the British Shooting Sports Council. Gun owners will have a choice. They will be able to accept a flat-rate payment, or a value based on the list drawn up with the British Shooting Sports Council. If gun owners challenge our valuations of guns that they claim have special features making them more valuable than the norm, they will be able to provide their own valuations and the Government will seek an independent valuation when agreement with a gun owner cannot be reached. A similar approach will be taken on accessories.

Those arrangements will be included in the scheme that the Government will make for compensation. Amendment 13 would make that scheme subject to parliamentary oversight. I am content that that should be done. I am happy to give a commitment that there will be access to independent valuations and that the details of the compensation scheme will be subject to parliamentary approval. We shall table an amendment to achieve that effect in another place. On that basis, I invite the hon. Members who have tabled amendments Nos. 66 and 13 not to press them.

Before I sit down, I should like to say a word about the amendments tabled in my name. Amendment No. 73 to clause 11 provides for compensation to be paid to owners who surrender expanding ammunition, which clause 25 will make it unlawful for them to possess. I hope that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not go through a complicated explanation now. His concern that ammunition might be excluded from the compensation arrangements was misplaced. A proper analysis of the amendments shows that ammunition will be compensated for.

Subsection 2(a), to be introduced by amendment No. 73, clarifies the qualifying period for the possession of surrendered prohibited firearms and ammunition with the phrase: on or immediately before 16th October". That is the answer to the first of the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who rightly pointed out that, if the valuation date was after my announcement, the market would be false and compensation would not be given at market value, as we intend. That is the practice that we followed in the 1988 scheme. The amendment makes it clear that the qualifying period must be in the days, or perhaps the week, before the date of my statement. The current wording of clause 11 is ambiguous and the amendment is an improvement.

Subsection (3), to be introduced by amendment No. 73, provides that a surrender and compensation scheme for guns and expanding ammunition can specify a period after which new claims for compensation will not be entertained, making different arrangements for different categories of claimant. The scheme for dealers, for example, may differ from that for individuals.

Amendments Nos. 75 to 79 are to schedule 1, which deals with the transitional arrangements for .22 pistols, which have to be kept in secure gun clubs. The amendments give the Home Secretary power to make payments on an ex gratia basis to owners of such guns—that is .22 calibre guns, not the guns that we are declaring unlawful—who hand them to the police and who are unable or unwilling to find a licensed gun club in which to keep them. Although such individuals are not being deprived of their property in the full legal sense, we accept that the provisions for .22 handguns will make it very difficult for some .22 shooters to continue to shoot on the same basis as before. We therefore accept that it is right that they should receive payments for their guns at market value. The arrangements to be made under the scheme will achieve that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) drew my attention to the important issue of timing. I entirely understand and accept his point. I assure him and those who are similarly concerned that we shall take their considerations carefully into account when drawing up the scheme to deal with timing.

I believe that the Government amendments go a considerable way—although not, I regret to have to concede, all the way—to meeting the legitimate worries expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends. In doing so, we have significantly increased the level of compensation to be paid to individual certificate holders and to firearms dealers.

Mr. Harris

My right hon. and learned Friend has not dealt with the position of individual gun clubs, particularly non-profit-making clubs. Many of them will be driven out. What can we do to help them?

Mr. Howard

For the reasons that I have sought to explain, I fear that I cannot offer my hon. Friend comfort on that. Many such clubs may be able to put in place the arrangements necessary to continue to operate, although I accept that many of them will not. However, for the reasons that I have sought to explain, it would be a complete departure from precedent to compensate such clubs.

Taken overall, I believe that this is a fair package. On that basis, I commend it to the House.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

My right hon. and learned Friend's statements on valuations are welcome. The British Shooting Sports Council will certainly co-operate to make a workable scheme.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend takes comfort from the fact that, in a two-and-a-half-hour debate, his principal support has come from the Opposition Front Bench and from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). I also detected from a short intervention that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is unlikely to support the new clause. Every other Member who contributed to the debate opposed the Government and supported the new clause. A high moral tone was adopted in an excellent debate.

I shall not detain the House. My right hon. and learned Friend has just said that it is the duty of the Government to obtain safety for the public. It is the duty of the House to protect the individual from theft by the state under the guise of law.

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

The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 299.

Division No. 25] align="right">[7.28 pm
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bermingham, Gerald
Alton, David Biffen, John
Ashdown, Paddy Bowden, Sir Andrew
Austin-Walker, John Boyson, Sir Rhodes
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Barnes, Harry Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Beggs, Roy Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Beith, A J Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)
Benn, Tony Chidgey, David
Bennett, Andrew F Churchill, Mr

Question accordingly negatived.

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