HC Deb 07 November 1996 vol 284 cc1349-50
4. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the public representations he has received since 16 October on handgun control proposals. [917]

Miss Widdecombe

Since 16 October, we have received upwards of 250 letters on this subject from right hon. and hon. Members. The Department has received more than 700 telephone calls and more than 1,200 letters from the public. The great majority of letters have been from individual shooters.

Mr. Dykes

As to the idea of a total ban on handguns or one so close to being a total ban that it renders unnecessary the creation of new loopholes in the future, does my hon. Friend agree that the overwhelming views of about 56 million people are much more important than those of 56,000 shooters?

Miss Widdecombe

As I said in response to a previous question, we are trying to strike a balance between protecting legitimate sporting rights and protecting the public. Lord Cullen produced an independent report with 24 recommendations, 23 of which we have accepted. I assure my hon. Friend that we are trying to get the balance right.

Mr. Ainger

Will the Minister confirm that, under the proposed legislation, individuals who currently own high calibre weapons will receive compensation, and, there is nothing to stop them buying. 22 calibre weapons, so the estimated figure of some 40,000 .22 calibre weapons in circulation after the legislation is enacted is likely to fall far short of the mark, and people may use many more such weapons than they do at present?

Miss Widdecombe

That is an impossible prophecy. Perhaps some people who currently own .22 calibre weapons will decide, because of the restrictions on other weapons or the inconvenience caused to some—but not all—clubs, to cease to use .22 calibre weapons. It is quite impossible to make that sort of behavioural prediction.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend concede that there is a serious possibility that the judges of the European Court of Human Rights may oblige the British taxpayer to provide compensation on a much wider basis—to those who manufacture pistols, to gun clubs owners, professional shooters and those who supply the ancillary trades? As the object of the exercise is to preserve human life, does my hon. Friend agree that, if the level of compensation were to rise to between £0.5 billion and £1 billion as some suggest, taxpayers might consider that the money would be better spent elsewhere?

Miss Widdecombe

Our estimates are nowhere near the figures mentioned by my hon. Friend. We shall take full account of all our legal obligations in deciding how we should compensate and what compensation is proper. There are plenty of precedents for providing compensation following changes in the law. We shall do what we believe is right, and we shall put our proposals before the House.

Dr. Godman

May I point out to the Minister that, a few years ago, two Glasgow police officers were shot dead by an assassin armed with a .22 calibre pistol. Does she realise that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland demand that any ban on pistols should include .22 calibre weapons?

Miss Widdecombe

The statistics for homicides between 1992 and 1994 show clearly that only about 5 per cent. Involved .22 calibre weapons. I agree that 5 per cent. is too much, but it puts the problem into context. I sympathise with the relatives of the policemen to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, but I believe that, by confining guns to clubs, we are tackling the problem of guns in circulation and held perfectly legally by the general public.