Lords amendment: No. 95, after clause 40, to insert the following new clause—
("—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such transitional and consequential provisions and such savings as he considers necessary or expedient in preparation for, in connection with, or in consequence of—
(2) Regulations under this section may make modifications of any enactment contained in this or in any other Act.
(3) The power to make regulations under subsection (2) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.")
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Miss Widdecombe.]8.45 pm
§ Sir Jerry Wiggin
The amendment, which appeared at the 11th hour, appears to someone such as myself—I am not qualified as a barrister—to give sweeping powers to the Home Secretary. I have, however, been given an absolute undertaking that it refers only to the transition period and will help to smooth out minor irregularities and problems.
Bearing in mind the fact that there are those in the shooting community who have got rather overexcited about the provision, I should be very grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could explain why it was introduced at such a late stage and repeat the undertaking, so that shooters will not feel that there is a Henry VIII clause at the end of the legislation that will act to their disadvantage, at the Home Secretary's discretion.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. My right hon. Friend the Minister will not be 827 surprised to hear that a certain amount of suspicion was aroused among members of the shooting fraternity as this late amendment was bounced into the Bill. Frankly, they felt—I choose my words delicately—somewhat let down by the Government over the whole of the Bill.
This evening's proceedings have been remarkable—almost unique—in that every single speech and intervention, other than those from the Front Benches, has been opposed to the principle of the Bill and to particular items in it. Not one speech has been made entirely in favour of any measure in the Bill—not even the 28-day limit.
Clarification is sought by the shooting fraternity, whose members have been amazingly patient during our proceedings, even about the fact that our debate on some extremely important issues is being unnecessarily truncated this evening, as it was on a previous occasion.
My right hon. Friend the Minister will have noticed that the votes in favour of the Lords amendments on disassembly and compensation for clubs and for dealers were remarkably high. I have no doubt that newspaper headlines tomorrow will say that that has been the biggest revolt of this Parliament so far—a Parliament that is at its fag end. There is deep unhappiness throughout the country, not only among the shooting fraternity, but among those who believe in justice, fairness and generosity, which the Bill has not demonstrated in any measure.
We need a clear explanation that the measure is purely transitional and that the Home Secretary, whoever it may be at the time, will not be able to pick out items for which he or she might have an especial liking and change the Bill before it hits the statute book—on whichever sad day that happens. I know that I speak on behalf of many people who have written to me and of many of my constituents who have expressed deep concern about the Bill and the way in which it has been handled by the Government.
§ Mr. Dalyell
One of the things that may happen in the transition period is the discovery that many of the clubs to which we have been light-heartedly referring have ceased to exist. It is my understanding that in central Scotland there are only two clubs, neither of which is particularly accessible to my constituents or to a lot of other people.
Another question that it is legitimate to peg to this is: who exactly are the civilian officers who are referred to throughout the Bill, and what qualifications do they have?
§ Mr. Gill
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), I seek an assurance that the powers will be used moderately. There is always a great suspicion that such powers will go far beyond what the House would want.
The House is well aware of the great upset among shooters about the Bill as a whole. They feel that they have been scapegoated for the events of Dunblane. None of us could fail to have been impressed by both the number and the quality of the letters that we have received about the Bill. We are all used to receiving many letters on many subjects, but I have been incredibly impressed by the quality of the letters and the force of the arguments, as well as by the sense of outrage that comes through all the letters from people whose sport is being outlawed.
828 It is quite without precedent that people who were quietly and peaceably enjoying a sport should find that at the drop of a hat it is no longer legal. There will be continuing unhappiness as a result of the refusal of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to allow for any form of consequential loss for those who have lost their businesses, either as suppliers to the trade or as operators of clubs. None of this ill-conceived, unwelcome, unwarranted legislation does anything to address the problem of firearms that are held without licence—the hundreds of thousands of illegal firearms. There must be some suspicion that, in taking the powers under this amendment, we have not heard the last of this legislation. I hope that I express the sentiments of shooters who have written to hon. Members to draw attention to their grave reservations about the provision.
Finally, I underscore what my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North said about the unprecedented number of Conservative Members who have voted against the Bill at every stage. It is a deeply unpopular measure and it is regrettable that it has come to the House. As a Conservative Member, I have to say that it is not a Conservative measure.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I give the House an absolute assurance that this is not, and was never intended to be, any sort of Henry VIII clause. The new clause makes it clear that its powers are purely in respect of transitional and consequential provisions, of provisions that are already written into the Bill. It does not give any wider powers to the Secretary of State.
We introduced the powers late, because the fast passage of the Bill and the necessity to introduce tighter controls on firearms in the near future made us decide that over the next few months some minor anomaly might become evident. We wanted to have the necessary powers to deal with that. There is no question whatever, and I say this categorically and give an absolute assurance, of this being a Henry VIII clause.
On the question of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the civilian officers referred to in the Bill are police staff who specialise in firearms licensing. They are often former police or military officers. The hon. Gentleman tried twice to intervene on amendments that had already been theoretically discussed. If he wishes to write to me on either subject, I should be delighted to reply.
§ Lords amendment agreed to.
§ Lords amendments No. 96 and consequential Government amendment (a), No. 97, No. 98 and consequential Government amendment (a), Nos. 99 to 104, No. 105 and consequential Government amendment (a), and Nos. 106 to 115 agreed to.
§ Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. Doug Henderson, Mrs. Jane Kennedy, Mr. David Lidington, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin and Miss Ann Widdecombe; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Brandreth.]
§ To withdraw immediately.
§ Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.