HC Deb 18 November 1996 vol 285 cc698-710

Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State which are attributable to that Act;
  2. (2) the payment out of money so provided of any sums required by the Secretary of State for paying compensation in respect of—
    1. (a) property which is surrendered or forfeited under that Act; or
    2. (b) any other loss which may be incurred as a result of that Act; and
  3. (3) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums received under that Act by the Secretary of State.—[Mr. Howard.]

3.39 pm
Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak briefly about the money resolution—an opportunity that we would not have had if the motion had been taken immediately after the Bill's Second Reading last week. I declare an interest as president of the Worthing and West Sussex shooting club, an office which I have held—totally unremunerated—for many years.

It is very important that we should debate the money resolution, because it has a significant impact on the scope for amendments that may follow. I shall therefore concentrate on the money resolution.

I make one point by way of background. In my view, although we must all have great sympathy for the victims of the Dunblane massacre, these proposals are unlikely to have a significant impact in reducing the probability of a similar tragedy occurring in future. Indeed, in my view, the proposal may prove to be counter-productive because, if I read the Cullen report correctly, the problem is not so much the current law as the way in which it has been administered; the resignation of a senior police officer bears witness to that.

If we are to drive these matters underground, and if there still are fanatical gun maniacs—I fear that there may be—they may find it more attractive to buy weapons illegally than buying them under the previous arrangements, so we may receive no warning whatsoever of a tragedy similar to that which occurred in Dunblane, whereas, reflecting on the history, perhaps we should have taken more careful note of warnings that were given in the case of Hamilton.

At all events, we shall seriously affect many of our constituents, who engage in what has always been regarded as a perfectly reputable and sensible sport. That being so, the House should pay close attention to compensating those who suffer as a result of the legislation, whatever view one may take on the overall issue.

I very much welcome, therefore, the change that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made in the money resolution, but I want to be sure that I have understood it correctly. When we debated the matter last week, it was clear that compensation would he provided for those who were giving up firearms that would become illegal under the legislation. My right hon. and learned Friend went further; he said that he Understood the points that were made about equipment, which may be very expensive and which would no longer be of any use to its owners. But several of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, strongly emphasised the case of those who, as a result of the legislation, will lose their jobs or suffer severe financial strain, perhaps having mortgaged their homes to set up in business or establish a shooting range or whatever.

If I understand the amended resolution correctly, under clause 2(b) it would now be possible to move amendments to cover any other loss which may be incurred as a result of the Act—that is, over and above property which is surrendered or forfeited under the Act. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can confirm that that is so, and that it will now be possible to move amendments, for example to clause 11, which would enable us to make provision to compensate people in all the circumstances that I have described.

This is a matter of very great importance because, as I understand it, it would affect not only the amendments that could be moved in the House but those that could be moved in the other place—and no doubt their Lordships also will wish to debate those matters. I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would confirm what I have just described.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Is it my right hon. Friend's understanding that the money resolution implies that the Government would be prepared to pay compensation for loss of trade—this is a crucial point—rather than just for guns?

Sir Terence Higgins

As I understand it, the resolution covers any loss, other than guns and property forfeited, which may be incurred under the Bill. It is an important point if we are to deal fairly with those affected by the Bill. However, it will have a significant effect on public expenditure. No doubt we will want to debate that when we reach the appropriate clauses.

I find it surprising that, apparently, Treasury Ministers in the Cabinet must have agreed to the proposals, which are potentially very expensive. As a number of hon. Members pointed out in our debate last week, the money could be better spent on other things—for example, the police. We need to be clear about the position. In particular, we must take note of the fact that, if the Government were simply to accept the Cullen recommendations—which, in my view, would be equally effective, in that equipment would be dismantled and the parts kept in separate places—the cost of the Bill would be significantly less than it is currently likely to be. It is important that the Treasury should carefully consider whether the Government's view that they should go beyond Cullen was the most appropriate decision in the circumstances.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way so generously. Does he agree that it is important that we get a clear statement? The Bill is going through at a rapid pace and it will be impossible to unpick.

Sir Terence Higgins

I agree very much with my hon. Friend. The whole matter has been rushed—indeed, we will reach the guillotine motion a little later. I do not understand why it is necessary to legislate in such haste.

I want to make a final point on the narrow issue of compensation. I am worried about the provision of clause 11, which states that compensation will be in accordance with a scheme made by him"— that is, the Home Secretary. Surely in legislation of this sort any scheme involving large sums of public money—it has been conceded already that it is more than £100 million—should be subject to a resolution of the House. It is extraordinary that the Home Secretary should propose—I might almost say, presume—to spend public money on a scheme made by him rather than one approved by the House.

Having said that, all those on either side of the basic argument about firearms control should welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals—but we want an assurance that, if we wish to amend the Bill during its later stages in the way that I have suggested, that will be possible.

3.47 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

As I made clear in the Second Reading debate last Tuesday, it is appropriate that compensation should be paid to those private individuals who have to give up their weapons, which, until the Bill becomes law, they have held lawfully under arrangements previously agreed by Parliament. We therefore support the money resolution.

Whether the Government's proposed scheme for an 80 per cent. ban on handguns goes through, or the alternative 100 per cent. ban—which we support—it is that huge majority of decent, law-abiding handgun owners who will be seriously affected by the Bill. Their sense of grievance, which we all understand, would be all the greater if no compensation were to be offered.

Of course, no compensation of any sort was offered when a previous Home Secretary—the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd)—made his original proposals in the December 1987 White Paper, "Firearms Act 1968: Proposals for Reform", which followed the atrocity at Hungerford. In that White Paper the Government were emphatic in what they said: We have concluded that as a matter of principle it is undesirable and unjust to require the taxpayer at large to pay for the removal from the public domain of weapons which are an acknowledged threat to life. Significantly, the White Paper went on state: Although there will be no market for prohibited weapons in this country, authorised dealers will still be able to export them abroad, and owners will be able to recover some of the value in this way. Given today's revelations in The Times about a wholly unacceptable arms trade between British-based companies and rebel forces in Rwanda, I think that we can all appreciate the fact that a payment by the Government would be far preferable to allowing 160,000 to 200,000 handguns to be sent abroad to who knows where.

Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the compensation situation in 1988, and, to the Opposition's credit, in Committee on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill that year, they insisted during the debate on the sittings motion that proper compensation was payable. May I take it from what he said that he will support the proposition that compensation should be paid to anyone who is affected by the Bill—to include dealers, manufacturers and others—whom the Home Secretary has said he will not compensate?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Yes—in the same way as the Government compensated miners.

Mr. Straw

I was planning to deal with that point. I said that we support the money resolution and, as I said in last Tuesday's debate, that we are willing to consider proposals other than those currently on the table. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not offer him a blank cheque before I see the proposition.

The point about the possible export of weapons that are handed in is very important. As I said, one of the many defects in the original proposal by the right hon. Member for Witney in December 1987 was that he said that former rifle owners could receive compensation by selling their weapons abroad. I think that all hon. Members believe that that is unacceptable. After the Bill becomes law, at least 160,000, and perhaps 200,000, weapons will be surrendered on payment of compensation to the police and the Government.

I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would give us an undertaking that the weapons surrendered will be destroyed or that they will not be exported by the Government without the clearest guarantees about the acceptability of the end user. In no circumstances, however, should those weapons be used for internal or external repression. I hope that he will give those undertakings in his reply.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a sedentary intervention about compensation paid to miners who lost their jobs in the rundown of the coal industry. Does the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) agree that if dealers, who currently will receive no compensation, were to receive anything like the compensation paid to miners, they would be more than satisfied? Does he also agree that the figure of £25 million to £50 million provided in the resolution is lamentably short of what will be required if one considers the valuation of firearms and of pistol shooters' equipment—which, luckily, is now being included in the compensation terms provided for by the Home Office?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, I shall deal with the first issue that he mentioned. On his second point, I look forward to hearing any details that the Secretary of State may offer about the calculations.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) in the Chamber. During the debate on the Loyal Address, he mentioned the possibility that the judges of the European Court of Human Rights may oblige the British taxpayer to provide compensation on a much wider basis".—[Official Report, 7 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 1350.] As I said last week when he was not in the Chamber, we are very glad to have his full support for the European convention on human rights. I should tell him that the rights that he feels he has under the convention—which of course has nothing to do with the European Union—would be far easier to adjudicate upon if the European convention were incorporated into British law. After the next election, when we endeavour to do just that, I hope that we will have his full support.

As the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) pointed out, in the end the right hon. Member for Witney did agree a compensation scheme, although the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who was then his Minister of State, went out of his way to say that it was not to be seen as a precedent.

I mention this background because, although I certainly understand the sense of grievance among many handgun owners, they are now, under this money resolution, likely to be treated in a relatively generous way compared with others in a similar position. It is worth our bearing in mind the fact that many people whose private property is specifically affected by decisions agreed or approved by the House are not compensated at all. That is simply a fact.

Turner and Newall traded in asbestos and had no interest in running anything other than a lawful trade. It was discovered that the product was causing injury and death and it was decided that the firm could no longer produce it, but, as far as I know, it received no compensation. Nor did the manufacturers of foam-filled furniture, which turned out to be inflammable and therefore dangerous. Nor do the manufacturers of drugs that may have passed various tests and are thus approved but which are subsequently taken off the market.

Very different principles apply to the compensating of private individuals and the compensating of businesses. If we decide to compensate whole businesses, it will have huge implications for the public purse—implications that the House needs to consider other than during a debate on firearms.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the danger of underestimating the enormous possible cost of compensating too widely or too generously. Is he aware that there is an even better parallel for non-compensation—the plight of the many British beef farmers who have been pushed to near-bankruptcy? Government action has almost destroyed the industry in which some of my constituents work.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend makes an important point.

Even where the private interest of constituents is directly affected by a decision made or approved by the House—for example, a decision on a road scheme—sthere is not necessarily a direct right to compensation. I have two such cases in my constituency at the moment. One involves individuals living close to the M65. The Department of Transport entirely accepts that the value of their homes has been reduced by more than 15 per cent. but they are to receive no compensation. The other involves the owners of a public house whose trade was reduced to virtually nothing because of a road scheme which meant that no one could reach the public house for six months. They, too, are to receive no compensation whatever.

We are today considering the compensation payable to the holders of guns. Eighteen months ago, the House was considering the far more serious Government proposals to cut compensation to the victims of criminal injuries, including those injured by guns. It is a very great shame that the Tory Back Benchers who are so vocal in calling for more compensation for the owners of guns were wholly silent in May last year when we were discussing compensation for the victims of users of guns. Had they been as vocal then as they are today, a far better scheme for compensating the victims of gun injuries and deaths might have been agreed by the House.

3.58 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I should like to add a few words to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) said, but I must first point out that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) is wholly wrong. The Government have—rightly—provided about £500 million to help farmers and the meat trade as a whole. I am glad that farmers have received that income.

As for the money resolution, I want to put a few suggestions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to try to ease the pain felt by many pistol and revolver shooters relative to the valuation of their weapons. Will he give us his thoughts on how the scheme will proceed? Should the Bill become an Act at the end of the year or in January, will everyone have to take all their weapons to a police station on that very day? I suspect that the police stations would be swamped with weapons. We cannot have people queuing down the street with firearms waiting to hand them in.

Are the police to take the details at that stage? When will the valuation take place? Who will do the valuation? The valuation of arms and weapons is a specialised business. It is important to have some idea of how the valuation is to be carried out. If it takes place some months after the handing-in date, will the owner of the weapons be allowed to be present at the time of the valuation and discuss it with whoever is doing the valuation?

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), I am glad that the Government have had second thoughts about the money resolution. It now seems that they will be a little more helpful to those who have to hand in their weapons. However, bearing in mind the fact that one reads in the papers of guns being valued at an average of £400, has my right hon. and learned Friend allowed for sufficient money? That average figure may be on the high side, although some weapons, particularly the rare and valuable ones, will inevitably be worth a great deal more.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will also think about gun clubs. I am thinking not of commercial rifle and pistol clubs which try to make money, but of those many private clubs at which members have scraped money together to make a secure shooting range. They may have only a dozen or 20 members, who shoot only occasionally. They will feel that all their efforts are wasted and will receive no compensation for the significant amount of money that they will lose.

We may cover the issue in more detail when we consider the specific provisions of the Bill, but will my right hon. and learned Friend give a little more information on Olympic and Commonwealth games weapons and their valuation? I went to the Commonwealth games in Victoria, in British Columbia, and saw immaculately run ranges and high-quality pistol and rifle shooting. Has my right hon. and learned Friend given second thoughts to the Commonwealth games? I appreciate that only .22 pistols are used in the Olympics, but the Commonwealth games has always featured larger calibre pistols as well as .22 pistols and airguns. The Bill might make the shooting competitions at the Manchester Commonwealth games impossible. Those who have international shooting weapons will want to know where they stand on valuation.

All in all, I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has listened to those of us who have talked to him about valuation. I hope that he will be able to give us more information when he winds up, so that we can tell those hundreds of people who have written to us how things will work out.

4.2 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I should like to follow the lead given by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), who opened this debate on the money resolution, which has raised some significant issues. I, too, start by acknowledging the fact that the Government have paid attention to the criticisms levelled at the original money resolution. We are grateful for that, because it gives us a chance to discuss some of the issues that we had feared we would not be able to raise.

I am bewildered by the comments of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on the effects on businesses and those who do not count as individuals. In my constituency—I know that this will be mirrored in the constituencies of many hon. Members on both sides—there are manufacturers with small, specialist and highly developed businesses. Many have big export potential, but many also produce rifles, handguns and handgun barrels—a particular concern in my constituency—for the domestic market. Businesses big and small, as well as dealers, and those who have erected ranges suitable for handguns, have expended large sums on the facilities that they required for the previously legitimate activities of gun clubs. They will all find themselves out of pocket as a result of the Bill.

I have also had some pretty robust representations from people who have invested heavily in putting equipment into their homes for the security of their handguns. All those different categories should be considered properly in Committee. The Government are wrong if, as I understand it, they are setting their face against providing adequate and sensible compensation for companies, individuals, clubs and others who will be indirectly affected and who may suffer a significant loss or who may lose their livelihood as a result of the Bill.

Some individuals will still be able to hold .22 handguns, but they will be worth less. They will suffer loss as a result of the Bill, and they should be given fairer consideration as well.

I should like the Government to confirm the amounts quoted in the explanatory memorandum, which mentions sums of £25 million to £50 million. Those figures are, of course, not part of the legislation and are not prescriptive. They are current estimates and I should like the Government to confirm that if, as a result of further deliberation and better consideration, the House or the Committee decides that the compensation schemes must he extended and that the finance necessary to pay for them must be increased, that decision will not be constrained by the fact that the explanatory memorandum refers to the financial effects as being between £25 million and £50 million.

I share the views expressed by other hon. Members. The financial effects are an extremely important part of the Bill. The Government's changes have been welcome as far as they go, but they do not yet go far enough. I and the majority of my colleagues want the compensation regime to be extended far beyond individuals so that it embraces anyone who has, directly or indirectly, suffered capital or revenue loss as a result of the Bill.

4.7 pm

Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I have little to add to what I said last week in opposing the Second Reading of the Bill. I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) that generous compensation will help to allay the deep feeling of injustice that law-abiding people who enjoy shooting, under licence of the law, feel at having their sport prohibited by Act of Parliament.

Not the least of my objections to the Bill is the speed with which it is being indecently dragged through the House. We shall debate the timetable on the next motion; I will confine my remarks to the money resolution. Very strong protests were made last week about the narrowness of the money resolution, which, as originally drafted, would have precluded proper debate of those whose livelihoods, businesses, investment and wealth are associated with the sport of shooting.

I appeal to Labour Members to show a sense of justice. I did not get a satisfactory answer from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Whether they are in favour of handguns or not, do hon. Members believe that it is right for us to take away people's money, people's investments and people's livelihoods by Act of Parliament without fair compensation?

I welcome strongly my right hon. and learned Friend's response to our criticism and I am grateful to him for tabling a much wider money resolution so that we can debate the issues in Committee.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On the narrow point of fair compensation, who will carry out the assessment of compensation? The right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made a valid point: there are compensators and compensators, and valuers and valuers.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill with care, he will find that the matter is covered by clause 11. I share his view and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries that a proper arrangement that is seen to be fair and transparent should be established.

Although there is much talk about such matters, on the most recent occasion, total compensation amounted to a mere £625,000. However, I understand that there are still some outstanding cases, so one views with considerable suspicion the attitude of the Treasury to such matters.

In common justice, the House must not oppress individuals by passing laws that deprive them of their livelihoods without offering proper compensation. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will deal with that point in his reply to the debate.

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

For the avoidance of doubt, let me begin by taking the opportunity to declare that I hold a shotgun certificate.

The money resolution replaces that which was tabled with the Bill and which would have limited debate on compensation matters to the provisions in clause 11. Clause 11 requires the Government to establish a scheme to make payments to persons who surrender firearms to a chief officer of police when the possession of those firearms will become unlawful by virtue of the provisions of clause 1.

As I announced on Second Reading, since the Bill was published the Government have received further legal advice as to their obligation to pay compensation. It was made clear to us not only that we had an obligation to pay for handguns that would become unlawful, but that our obligations would extend to firearms certificate holders who owned accessories that had no other use except in connection with those guns. In those circumstances, it is clear that the owner will have lost all the essential fruits of ownership of such accessories and must be compensated. It was clear that the money resolution would have to be revised to accommodate such accessories, so we did not move the earlier resolution.

The revised resolution before the House will allow the Government to pay compensation for accessories as well as guns. It will also allow hon. Members to raise wider questions on compensation that they believe should be the subject of debate.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

My right hon. and learned Friend talks about the Government's obligation to pay compensation. Under our constitution there is no written obligation to do anything other than as a result of those constraints that we have allowed to be imposed on us by the European convention on human rights. Is my right hon. and learned Friend saying that he concedes that, if compensation is not paid according to the criteria of that convention, the Government and whoever succeeds them will be at risk of having claims brought against them in that court?

Mr. Howard

Clearly, it will be open to anyone to bring a case to that court. My hon. Friend is entirely right in assuming that, when I referred to obligations to pay compensation, I had in mind the provisions of the convention and the way in which they are likely to be interpreted. So I agree with my hon. Friend.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Am I right to assume that the reworded money resolution would enable my right hon. and learned Friend to establish a scheme at least as generous as that provided by the Australian Government?

Mr. Howard

I hesitate to give a simple and categorical answer to that question because I do not pretend to have any expertise in respect of the Australian scheme. I have made some preliminary inquiries about the scope of that scheme, which lead me to believe that the answer to my right hon. Friend's question is yes. However, I hope that he will not hold me to the details of that if further examination proves the truth to be somewhat different.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

For the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that what he has already told the House allows us at some future stage to bring forward the prospect of compensating clubs, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers for their consequential losses?

Mr. Howard

Amendments to that effect would be in order. As my hon. Friend will be aware, I have previously indicated what the Government's view would be and I shall proceed to explain it in a little further detail in due course. The answer to his question is yes: amendments to that effect would be in order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I hate to correct the Home Secretary but it is not for him to decide whether amendments are in order. It is for him to decide whether to accept amendments that are in order.

Mr. Howard

I unreservedly apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and entirely accept that rebuke. The Government's purpose in tabling this revised money resolution is to ease the path of the Chair towards finding such amendments within the Bill's scope and in order.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Subject to the view of the Chair, is it my right hon. and learned Friend's opinion that this new money resolution would allow the House to debate an amendment to compensate the owners of .22 calibre pistols, who will have to surrender and forfeit their pistols because they do not have access to secure gun-club premises?

Mr. Howard

Subject to any rulings from the Chair, I believe that such an amendment would be in order.

I am well aware from representations that have been made to me both in the House and outside of hon. Members' concerns on the matter. It is right, therefore, that there should be an opportunity to raise those concerns in Committee and on Report, and the resolution will allow that.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

As the Home Secretary knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made it clear that we support the money resolution. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree, however, that our sympathy would be strained if the Sportsman's Association of Great Britain continued to distribute leaflets such as the one that it distributed at Eglinton hunt in Ayrshire this weekend, which describes the Dunblane parents as a noisy hysterical group of social terrorists"? The owners of handguns and the association will lose the sympathy of the Opposition and other hon. Members as a result of such leaflets.

Mr. Howard

I prefer not to comment on leaflets that I have not seen, and I have not seen the leaflet to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I do not believe that it would be right at the moment to go into the substance of all the questions that could be raised—and, indeed, have to some extent been raised—by my hon. Friends. There will be ample opportunity to debate those matters extensively at the appropriate moment. I indicated the Government's position on this question on Second Reading. Although that position has not changed, I am confident that the money resolution will enable the Chair to permit full debates to take place.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

This new money resolution has obviously been decided at the very highest level and the Treasury has obviously been involved. In contingency terms, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House roughly how much it is likely to cost?

Mr. Howard

I cannot do that because the money resolution as such does not actually cost any money. As I have been endeavouring to explain, the money resolution makes it easier for the Chair to permit amendments to be tabled which, subject to the will of the House, will have the effect of deciding what compensation provisions ultimately find their way into the Bill. The money resolution as such does no more than permit debate to take place. The original money resolution was restricted in that context; this one is wider in that context.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Home Secretary give us a categorical assurance that if we support him tonight, the confiscated guns will not be sent to the killing fields in Africa?

Mr. Howard

That matter is not covered by the money resolution and it can be extensively debated in due course. If it is appropriate to give any assurances at that stage, those assurances can be given, but that will be the moment to deal with the matter and not now.

Mr. Straw

On that point, will the Home Secretary accept that it would provoke grave concern on both sides of the House if the weapons for which compensation was paid were to find their way into the general arms trade? It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that strict licensing regulations and arms export licences apply to any weapons that are sold which have been the subject of compensation.

Mr. Howard

I can see that there are important questions to be discussed and debated in that area, but it is not appropriate to rush to conclusions about them this afternoon and I do not intend to do so.

The position on the Government's attitude to compensation has not changed since the Second Reading debate, but the money resolution before the House will allow Madam Speaker to permit a full debate to take place, both about those who will be obliged to surrender property as a result of the Bill and about those who will suffer other losses.

4.20 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I am grateful that the Home Secretary sat down just four minutes before time is up, because that gives me a few minutes to pose a series of questions. On the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I was against the retention of guns, but I have listened carefully in the past few months to the representations made to me. I understand those who are sportsmen and their need for sporting facilities and—although I will vote for a total gun ban later today—I understand the position of those who will support the Government in the retention of .22s but would also like to retain other guns.

I have always believed in the fundamental principle that one cannot confiscate without proper compensation. Therefore, I seek assurances from the Home Secretary because, if we end up with total confiscation, which is what we want, or partial confiscation, as in the Bill, it is not only the people who own guns who will lose. For example, the members of several little gun clubs, including some in my constituency—one in particular is owned and run by its members—have used their personal moneys to invest and develop their personal facilities. They have a right to compensation.

A fundamental principle lies behind the right to compensation and, far too often, the Government have taken over assets without proper compensation. Back in 1974, to take an extreme example, the Government took over the water boards, and local authorities were not properly compensated. At this stage in the 20th century, we have surely reached the point at which we properly compensate a person who, through no fault of his own, loses an asset because the state has decided that that is in the best public interest.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I will support the money resolution, but I hope that we will not look narrowly at the question of compensation. It is not only the guns and their accessories that matter, but the facilities and those who run them. In many cases, they will be put out of business and they also have a right to compensation. I do not include the manufacturers, because they will have other outlets for their products, and the arms trade, regrettably, will continue.

I ask the Home Secretary not to be narrow-minded when he considers the matter, and to consider the generality not the particular. I hope that he will bring a sense of justice to bear on the question of compensation for those ordinary citizens who will lose not only their rights to what they consider to be a sport, but their rights to their assets and their pleasure, because the House decides that handguns should cease to exist in the greater interest and for the greater good. They should be compensated in total, not through the farce of 80 per cent. compensation.

Somebody mentioned earlier the European convention on human rights, which states—

It being three-quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 50A(1)(b) (Money resolutions and Ways and Means resolutions in connection with Bills).

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State which are attributable to that Act;
  2. (2) the payment out of money so provided of any sums required by the Secretary of State for paying compensation in respect of—
    1. (a) property which is surrendered or forfeited under that Act; or
    2. (b) any other loss which may be incurred as a result of that Act; and
  3. (3) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums received under that Act by the Secretary of State.