HC Deb 09 June 1997 vol 295 cc897-919 10.35 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)

I beg to move, That the draft Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 Compensation Scheme, which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be approved.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you will know, the draft scheme was laid before the House last Tuesday. I understand from the Vote Office that the papers were not available until very late on Tuesday night. I have a large number of shooters in my constituency, none of whom has had the chance to let me know what he or she thinks of the measure. I wonder whether you could guide the House as to how long a draft scheme of this nature should be available before it is debated, so that our constituents can make representations to us and we can do our job in this place, rather than having the measure pushed through at short notice.

Madam Speaker

There are no guidelines as to when draft schemes should be published and when they should be debated. However, the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will understand and appreciate that the matter has been debated over a long period of time, not only in the House, but throughout the country.

Mr. Michael

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on the Government's draft compensation scheme, which has been laid before the House under the terms of section 18 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.

Perhaps I can help the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) by saying that changes were made to take into account representations from shooters and those in the trade. The fact that the changes were requested by the very people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred demonstrates the lengths to which we have gone in listening to the people involved.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. Surely that is the point of publishing the Government's proposals. We should have given people at least a fortnight to make representations.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman must realise that there has been a great deal of consultation on the implementation of the scheme, just as there was an enormous amount of debate about the Act. Our priority is to implement the Act as quickly as possible. That requires the compensation scheme to be in place. Meeting the 1 July deadline and giving people three months to hand in their weapons and ancillary equipment requires us to proceed as quickly as possible. There was a general view in the House and among the public that the Act should be implemented as quickly as possible, so that the protection afforded to the public as a result of banning the weapons should be in place without delay.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Is my hon. Friend saying that the schedule to the Act cannot be changed at this stage or afterwards by addition, deletion or amendment?

Mr. Michael

I am not inviting such changes. I am simply stating that right up to the last moment, a great deal of consultation has gone into preparing the schedule and the information in the scheme. That is why the details have been made available. Indeed, I made them available to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who will be dealing with these matters for the official Opposition, and to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, to ensure that they had the information as early as possible. We have gone to as much trouble as possible to ensure that the information is available, as well as trying to ensure that the scheme is as fair as possible to all interests concerned.

I had been tempted to say that the matter was not controversial as the Government are implementing a compensation scheme that, in effect, fulfils the promises made by the previous Government during the passage of the 1997 Act.

Compensation will be paid to firearms certificate holders and registered dealers whose high-calibre handguns become prohibited by the 1997 Act. The draft scheme offers fair compensation—and, in at least some cases, generous compensation—for the weapons that will become prohibited and the ancillary equipment used only in connection with those weapons. Subject to parliamentary approval of the scheme, the hand-in period for weapons can begin on 1 July, with appropriate payments starting to be made from that date.

I shall briefly explain how we intend the scheme to operate. Before the hand-in period begins, certificate holders and dealers will receive full details of the final scheme, together with application forms and advice on where and when to surrender their weapons. They must complete the appropriate form in respect of their weapons and equipment and hand it to the police at the time of surrender.

Individuals will have a choice of three options. They may choose to accept a flat rate of £150 for their weapon. Instead, they may choose a standard rate for their weapon from the list of published values at annex A of the scheme. That contains the majority of the most commonly held large-calibre handguns. If they do not wish to accept the flat rate payment and if their gun is either not on the list at annex A, or is markedly different from those on the list, they can choose a third option. That means submitting their claim supported by an independent valuation or other evidence corroborating the value of the items surrendered. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) will realise that the flexibility provided by those three options is considerable.

Similar arrangements will apply to dealers, and they will be able to claim under any of the three options for items that they surrender. However, they will be able to claim under the third option even though their stock may already be listed at annex A. That is because the second option reflects second-hand values, while the other stocks will be either new or second-hand and have a higher retail value. I shall say more about the detail of values in the list in a moment.

The weapons must be handed over to a designated police station, as specified by the chief constable for the force area concerned. Special arrangements will be made with dealers because of the number of weapons that they will have in stock. Similar arrangements will apply to expanding ammunition and ancillary equipment that can be used only in connection with firearms that become prohibited. The corresponding values are set out in annexes B, C and D of the draft scheme. That is in accordance with the requirements of section 17 of the 1997 Act—and section 16 in respect of expanding ammunition. Although, of course, the equipment will not itself become prohibited, the Government accept that where it cannot be put to any other use, such as for rifles or other legitimate purposes, compensation should be paid.

The claim forms will initially be checked by the police, who will then send them to the firearms compensation section—the FCS, as it is imaginatively named—of the Home Office, where they will be processed as quickly as possible. The FCS has been set up to handle claims for the 160,000 high-calibre handguns that will become prohibited and to deal with the accompanying claims for ancillary equipment. Fifty staff have been recruited and trained, and the target is to deal with all the claims in 18 months.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)


Mr. Michael

The majority of straightforward claims under options A and B will of course be dealt with quickly. A computer system has been introduced to ensure that each claim can be dealt with thoroughly, without delay and with the minimum of paperwork.

Mr. Lansley

In respect of options A and B, under which flat payments or payments according to the schedule will be made, there is no reason why compensation should not be paid quickly. Will the Minister give an undertaking that compensation will be paid within 30 days in those cases?

Mr. Michael

I will not tie us to a specific period of days, because we do not know what decisions the House will make on other issues that might affect the speed and volume of the surrenders. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that payments will be made as quickly as possible and, as I suggested shortly after he sought to intervene, the majority of the straightforward claims under options A and B will be dealt with quickly for the reasons that he suggests. However, it would not be sensible to tie the time down to a specific period of days.

Once the claim has been settled and the claimant has no further interest in the guns or equipment, the FCS will issue disposal instructions to the police force storing the weapons and equipment, and those will then be destroyed in accordance with the local force's practice. In a few cases, some weapons or equipment may be retained by police forces for training purposes or may be taken for public display in museums.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

Before the Minister leaves the subject of surrenders at police stations, will he tell us what will happen to the weapons and ammunition that are surrendered? Will they be kept at local police stations or will big depots be created? What will the security arrangements be for those weapons, to prevent large armouries, which would be obvious targets, from being created?

Mr. Michael

The weapons will be destroyed under arrangements made locally. That procedure follows consultation with the police about the best and most secure way to deal with the issue. We have had sensible discussion and agreement on the most secure way to deal with the items.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

On the same point, will the Minister give an assurance that police forces will inform all those who hold firearms certificates of their rights and of the starting date of the scheme before 1 July? Will he also assure the House that police officers in police stations that will receive firearms and equipment will be familiarised with the various documents that will have to be submitted, to save problems occurring after firearms have been surrendered?

Mr. Michael

I assure the hon. Gentleman that much time and thought have been given to those arrangements. As he will be aware, several constraints apply to how we deal with the situation. Decisions first have to be taken by Parliament—that is why we are having a debate about the scheme now—before the police receive the information, to pass it on to the people who will need to surrender weapons. At the same time, we have had to give people an opportunity to make representations about the content of the scheme and to find parliamentary time for the debate.

The police will be allowed only a short time to get ready, but we decided—after consulting widely and discussing the issue with the police—that we should proceed as quickly as possible on the time scale that I suggested. To my knowledge, the police have made considerable efforts to ensure that everybody who will deal with the scheme is fully trained and aware of the arrangements. The time scale is tight, but the police have assured me that they will do all that they can to ensure that everybody is properly informed.

Time will be available after 1 July—not everything has to be done by then—and every effort will be made to ensure that the police have the information they need, if the House agrees the scheme tonight. The police will pass the information on as quickly as possible to shooters so that they can make their applications and hand in their weapons in an orderly manner. I am sure that all the Members who were involved in the earlier debates realise that the House and the public wanted the legislation to be implemented as quickly as possible once the decisions of principle had been taken.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Minister is dealing well with this sensitive and difficult issue, and the House is grateful to him. Will he tell the House with which representative bodies and trade associations he has discussed the levels of compensation? What response has he received from those organisations about the level of compensation? I ask that because I have an important company in my constituency, which is the largest wholesaler of arms and ammunition in the country.

Mr. Michael

It would take some time to list all the organisations that were consulted. Officials have consulted widely with all the organisations that, over a long time, have expressed interest, including the sporting bodies representing shooters and business interests. There has been detailed discussion.

There are those who are concerned, of course, about the business that they will lose as a result of the scheme's implementation. Indeed, there are those who would wish to take compensation further into compensating firms for loss of business. We have made it clear that we shall not go further than what has already been set out. That was the previous Government's position. Compensation is not always made available for loss of business—for example, where pharmaceuticals are removed from general availability. It would be surprising if we were satisfying everyone, especially as there are those who did not want the proposed legislation to become law.

Those who have an interest did not want to see legislation introduced and implemented. At the same time, many of those who were involved in consultations, whether in business or in sport, have sought to find a sensible outcome. That is surely the right approach.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Michael

I shall give way, but perhaps I should make some progress. Hon. Members may wish to make their own speeches.

Mr. Howarth

The Minister said that certain categories of weapon will be held by the police or for training purposes. It seems that other weapons will be placed in museums or elsewhere. I see no reference to those disposals in the scheme. Will the Minister expand on the quantity and category of weapons that he is talking about?

Mr. Michael

I am talking about very small quantities of weapons. That question applies not to compensation but to primary legislation. I understand that the point was taken up by my predecessor. We are dealing now with compensation. We must be concerned, of course, with the disposal of weapons and ancillary equipment, the majority of which will be destroyed under the arrangements that I described.

Once a claim has been settled and the claimant has no further interest in the guns and equipment, the FCS will issue disposal instructions to the police force storing the weapons and equipment, and those will be destroyed in accordance with the local force practice. That will follow discussion with the police about the best way to deal with those issues.

I move on to the detailed values in the scheme. Sections 16 and 17 of the Act make it clear that weapons and ancillary equipment must have been in the claimant's possession on or immediately before 16 October 1996, the date of the previous Government's announcement of their response to Lord Cullen's report.

The draft scheme uses the values of weapons and equipment in the period immediately before that date. The values listed in annexes A, B and D reflect the advertised prices as new in trade journals at that time minus 25 per cent. for normal depreciation. Those are notional prices that we believe individuals might have obtained had they sold their guns or equipment at that time.

As for individuals who submit independent evidence of the retail value of their guns and equipment and claim under option C, the FCS will normally pay out the retail value less 25 per cent. to reflect normal depreciation. For dealers who submit independent evidence of the value of their stock and claim under option C, the FCS will normally pay out the cost price plus 25 per cent., which is a fair reflection of the return that could have been expected had the stock items been sold on.

Officials have had contact with a number of gun dealers, and the dealers' views have been taken into account during the preparation of the draft scheme, as I said. We have used published or advertised values of guns and equipment as they have appeared in trade journals and other sources, rather than the values cited by one or more of the dealers whom we have consulted. That is the best way of obtaining fair values, both for claimants and ultimately for the taxpayer, whose interest also has to be considered.

There will be some concern about the position of dealers, gun clubs and others who will suffer losses as a result of the ban coming into effect. I referred to that concern a few moments ago, in my response to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). That matter was debated at length in the House during the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. It was decided at the time that such losses should not fall within the terms of the Act. The draft scheme therefore enables dealers and others to be compensated only for the weapons and certain ancillary equipment that they hand in. It does not extend to business losses, or to equipment used in the manufacture of prohibited guns or ancillary equipment.

Finally, I must make the position on small-calibre pistols clear. They do not form a part of the draft scheme because they are not prohibited by the Act. The Government intend, however, that there should be a free vote in the House. If the Firearms (Amendment) Bill is passed, that category of handgun will also become prohibited. We shall debate that later this week.

With that expectation, certificate holders and dealers who own small-calibre pistols may hand in those weapons voluntarily to designated police stations at the same time as the other handguns are surrendered. They will have to complete an application form, which will be processed by the FCS, and then they will receive ex gratia payments for those weapons and for related ancillary equipment. Details of those payments are already available in the Library of the House and will be circulated to all claimants at the same time as the details of the compensation scheme. The values of the ex gratia payments have been calculated in exactly the same way as for the main lists—son the basis of the market values in the period immediately prior to last year's statement on 16 October.

If the Firearms (Amendment) Bill is passed, the ex gratia list will become a formal scheme in its own right. That will not be the subject of today's debate, but will be debated during the relevant stages of the Bill.

The arrangements that we have made are a sensible way of ensuring that people who want to hand in their weapons can do so in one fell swoop, rather than having to do it in dribs and drabs; the arrangements are intended as an encouragement, to get as many handguns as possible out of circulation.

The Government believe that the draft scheme is fair and will properly compensate legitimate owners of prohibited weapons and related equipment. I commend it to the House.

10.56 pm
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

We welcome the publication of the compensation scheme for higher-calibre handguns made illegal by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. I am grateful to the Minister of State for responding to my pleas during the past few days about the differences between the scheme that was originally laid and the scheme before us.

I appreciate the difficulty of drawing up the scheme and the complexity of combing through hundreds of detailed assessments of different weapons and bits and pieces of equipment. It is an area in which it is difficult to be exact.

I do not share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) that the scheme was not laid for consideration long enough. However, if there had been further consultation with the gun trade initially, it might not have been necessary to withdraw the scheme and re-lay it. That is not a serious criticism of the Government because, as I said, I appreciate the complexity.

The Minister of State will be aware, however, that there is sensitivity among shooters on the issue. When a scheme is laid before Parliament one week and withdrawn the next, there is inevitably suspicion, which I shared until I got the hon. Gentleman's assurances that there was nothing sinister in the withdrawal. I merely flag that up as one of those little points. In dealing with a subject of this nature, it is important to try to get it right first time round—consult all concerned, so that they are not unduly suspicious if a scheme has to be withdrawn suddenly.

The Opposition believe that any compensation scheme must be fair and effectively administered. I am sure that, in drafting the scheme, the Government shared those objectives. Certain questions are left unanswered, however, and I am not certain that the Minister's explanation has fully covered them. I, therefore, seek clarification on a few points.

We introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to ensure greater protection for the public. As part of that Act, all higher-calibre handguns will be taken out of circulation and destroyed. We seek assurances from the Government that they will ensure that those guns are swiftly destroyed once deposited with the police. Have the Government given serious thought to the time scale between handguns being handed in to police stations and their being destroyed? We do not want handguns lying around in storage for long periods.

The security implications of protecting such armouries from theft would be very great, as, indeed, would be the burden placed on the police, who would no doubt be responsible for keeping them safe. The Minister did not fully answer the question that was put to him on the danger of those weapons lying around too long in police armouries or elsewhere.

I do not seek any information that would identify any locations where the weapons would be kept and could make it easier for terrorists, criminals or anyone else to get their hands on them, but I think that, despite the Minister's assurances that we should not worry because the Government have had intense discussions with the police and are aware that the matter must be dealt with expeditiously and securely, we need more information on how the weapons will be kept, when they will be destroyed and in what circumstances, and whether there will be armouries dotted around the country—with the weapons being passed on to the Army, for example—or one or two grand central armouries.

Mr. Frank Cook

It is refreshing to hear those expressions of concern about such a danger from the right hon. Gentleman, when the same expressions of concern made from the Opposition Benches before the general election were dismissed so easily by the Government of which he was a member.

Mr. Maclean

They were not dismissed so easily; they were not dismissed at all. We were always concerned about the severe security implications when the large number of weapons—160,000 of them—started to come in. It was always our understanding that we would need detailed discussions with the police to ensure that the security arrangements were adequate. We also anticipated that we would have to inform the House what those arrangements would be, and I suspect that we believed that we would have to give a bit more information than the Minister has been able to give tonight.

Of course, I understand that the arrangements may not yet be completed. Different police forces will have different arrangements, but, in due course, if not at the end of tonight's debate, we will need to know more about the security arrangements.

Mr. Michael

I will try to respond to the right hon. Gentleman later in the debate, but I am in a slight difficulty, because he rightly said that he did not want a mass of information that would identify the way in which the items would be dealt with and could cause dangers, but said that he wanted a little more information. I should be grateful if he could explain what additional information he would like. I should certainly be prepared to give him more information discreetly, outside the debate.

Mr. Maclean

We do not need to know addresses, locations and security codes for any of the armouries where the weapons will be stored, but the House and the country need to know whether we anticipate that the weapons will be stored in police armouries in the 43 police forces in England and Wales; whether facilities will be provided by the Ministry of Defence, for example; whether other civilian armouries of a certain security classification can be used instead; how long the Minister would expect the weapons being in the armouries before going to destruction; and what some of the general security arrangements will be, to ensure that it can be clearly certified that all the weapons handed in are destroyed under supervision.

It should be possible for the Government to give that information without revealing anything that would allow terrorists or anyone else to get their hands on those weapons or to breach security.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

In discussing how to dispose of armouries—large numbers of weapons will be involved—will my right hon. Friend join me in suggesting to the Minister that many organisations could help with disposal? Royal Ordnance at Radway Green in my constituency is well placed to do such a job efficiently and quickly. From everyone's point of view, the sooner it is done, the better.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend makes a valid point to which the Minister may want to respond.

I repeat that more than 160,000 higher-calibre handguns will be handed in to police stations when the Act comes into force. The procedure for storing and scrapping them must be slick, efficient and safe. That is no glib request. I recognise, as we always have, that this is a highly complex operation. The police are experts at a host of things that the rest of us could never dream of doing, but this is not an operation which they have done before. I am sure that they will cope wonderfully well, but, in due course, if not tonight, the House will want to know what the slick, efficient arrangements are for keeping the guns safe and ensuring their speedy disposal and destruction.

It is not clear from the scheme how long handgun owners will have to wait before they receive compensation. Gun owners are keen to hear about that. The Minister hoped that it would be 18 months at the most before all the staff were recruited for the firearms compensation scheme and compensation would be paid. I hope that it will be a lot faster than that in the majority of cases, particularly for options A and B, the straightforward schemes.

I will not at present join my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) in pressing for a 30-day deadline, but I do not see why it should not be as close to that as possible. The Minister, understandably, may not want to fix a deadline at this stage. The staff are not in post and have not been trained; it is difficult to see how things will pan out. However, to say, "Don't worry, everyone will be paid in 18 months," is not much of an assurance. I accept that, in complicated cases, if someone has a rare or speciality firearm that needs to be valued, or if someone comes in at the end of scheme, or if there is a dispute, it could take up to 18 months. For the majority of standard and flat-rate cases, I see no reason why compensation should not be paid rapidly, and close to the 30-day period suggested by my hon. Friend.

The Firearms (Amendment) Act created an exemption for trophies of war. Some handguns are of sufficient historical significance to justify increased market value, but fall outside the exemptions made for trophies of war and antique handguns. Let us say—I wish it were the case, but, unfortunately, it is not—that I owned a handgun that had been owned by a Lord Montgomery or a General de la Billiere. In other respects, it might be a standard military issue weapon such as a 9 mm Browning with nothing else special about it. Such ownership alone would be enough to increase its market value significantly without adaptations, improvements or bells and whistles.

It is not clear from the scheme where I would stand with regard to compensation. Would I come under option B or C? If I were to be compensated under the former, I would receive a sum well below the weapon's market value. There will not be many such cases, but such exceptions can be very unfair to the individuals concerned. We have tried to devise a scheme that is as fair as possible to everyone. I should be grateful if the Minister could cast light on such cases. The Government should also say whether they regard deactivated handguns as legitimate and whether their owners would receive compensation under the scheme.

Finally, I remind the House of the provisions of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which has given Britain gun controls which are among the toughest in the world. We introduced the Act to protect the public and, as it is currently framed, I believe that it will achieve that objective. It removes all handguns from general circulation and bans all guns from being kept in the home.

The Government have now proposed that the ban on higher-calibre handguns should be extended to lower-calibre. 22 handguns. We believe that that is not only petty and vindictive, but unnecessary. It would kill the long-established Olympic sport of target shooting which is practised by thousands of law-abiding citizens and at which this country does very well. We have been better at that than at cricket for many years. It would impose a heavy burden of further compensation bills on the taxpayer. It is also possible that extending the ban could reduce public safety by driving some target shooters underground.

The 1997 Act places strict controls on the ownership of. 22 handguns, which protect the public and ensure that law-abiding citizens can still enjoy their Olympic sport. Under the Act,. 22 handguns can only be stored at registered gun clubs that meet the toughest of security criteria. It is also a criminal offence under the Act to take a. 22 handgun out of a licensed club without a police permit. They would be allowed out of a gun club only for repair or if their owner is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we are talking about compensation and not about the movement of handguns.

Mr. Maclean

You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I intended to conclude on compensation, but I thought it right to allude to the Government's proposals to extend the ban on handguns. That will involve massive amounts of extra compensation—much more than the bill that we are currently facing for higher-calibre handguns. On Wednesday, we will discover whether the Government have given any thought to the finance that will be required to compensate owners should the Government go ahead with a complete ban on all handguns.

We welcome the compensation scheme that has been announced by the Government, but I await the Minister's clarifying responses to the points I have raised. I hope that the scheme will ensure an effective and fair compensation settlement for all the owners of higher-calibre handguns.

11.11 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I want to make a positive and constructive contribution. That was why I asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State whether the schedule to the Act could be changed now either by addition, deletion or amendment. I noted very carefully that he responded, "I am not inviting changes."

Consultations may have taken place until recently, but mine finished at about 8 o'clock tonight. A number of aspects of the compensation scheme still cause considerable concern not only to individual shooters but to dealers in the trade. I should like to refer to one or two of them.

The Minister has already said that a large number of guns in common usage are not listed. He has outlined the proposals to take care of those exceptions. No reference, however, has been made to a number of common factors. For example, between publication of the first draft of the compensation scheme and the third, which was issued on Thursday, all mention of. 38 round-nosed lead ammunition has been removed. That constitutes a large proportion of the ammunition that is used in. 38 calibre handguns. That means that dealers with large stocks might not get compensation.

Unofficially, and under the blanket, the dealers association has been led to believe that although dealers might not get compensation for the. 38 round-nosed lead ammunition as ammunition, they might be able to claim it on the basis of components. That means that they could claim for the content of the casing, the casing itself, the primer and the bullet. I notice that they will not be able to disassemble the munitions, but will have to hand it over as finite rounds. That is because it is illegal to unmake munitions. The only way to get rid of them legally is to fire the damned things.

The irony is that if the advice given under the blanket by the Home Office to the dealers is correct, it will mean that instead of £120 per 1,000 rounds made up, the dealers will get £167 per 1,000 rounds for components that could still be made up anyway. I do not suggest for a moment that if that is true the Minister should block it, because the dealers will lose a major part of their income and will have cash flow problems. It seems that they will have to wait until individual shooters are dealt with before they are able to claim for their losses. It is an anomaly, and it shows that the consultation that the Minister has reported to the House is less than full. He may be satisfied with it, but the trade is not.

The shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) repeated the oft-made claim that 160,000 of these pistols and revolvers will need to be handed in. That figure was arrived at by the police by counting the weapons that are registered on firearms certificates. It takes no account of the weapons that are held in custody by licensed dealers who keep a record of weapons in a register and not on a certificate. Each dealer has a summary certificate and the trade estimates that between 75,000 and 80,000 weapons have not been taken into account by the Government. That means that the Government are more than 50 per cent. out on their figures so far.

Has any account been taken of health and safety regulations in connection with the handing in of weapons at police stations? Those regulations require any premises taking receipt of such commodities to be licensed as a magazine, and they also require the issue of a recipient competent authority document to each person surrendering powders, primers or mixed explosives. Those documents have to be individually signed and supplied to each person surrendering on each occasion.

Does the Minister understand the administrative and bureaucratic burden that he will place on our police service? Will we be able to conduct this exercise, not with 160,000 weapons and their accoutrements but with about 220,000 weapons—nearly quarter of a million—in the space of three months? Is that realistic? Jack the Lad will have a field day in the back streets, getting away with whatever he wants to do, because the police will be bogged down in a morass of paperwork and nonsense.

As has been said about. 38 ammunition, 9 mm full metal jacket and total metal jacket ammunition is useless without handguns, and it accounts for about 40 per cent. of the ammunition that is already stocked. What is to happen to it? There is no mention of compensation in the draft scheme. Is compensation to be paid to dealers? Individual shooters will get compensation for the few rounds that they might have—a couple of hundred rounds here and there—but we are talking about many tens of thousands of rounds. Are the dealers to be compensated for them? It is not mentioned in the draft.

I see that several other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall ask one final question. Who is going to pay compensation to Manchester and the north-west of England? That may seem a strange question to pose at this stage, but let me explain my reasons for asking it. In 2002, the Commonwealth games are due to arrive in the north-west. If run successfully, they will be the source of great income and an economic surge for the country as a whole, the north-west in particular and Manchester especially.

Two of the principal disciplines in shooting in the Commonwealth games are the. 32, which has already been banished, and the. 22. If this legislation passes, we will have no one in 2002 to run those disciplines: we will not have qualified judges or referees and we will, therefore, not be able to mount those disciplines in the Commonwealth games. One of the requirements of the Commonwealth games coming to Manchester was that the full range of shooting disciplines be part of the broad competition. If we make it illegal, we shall not only render our own competitors unable to participate but put the country in grave danger of losing the Commonwealth games that we have already secured for 2002 and wiping out any prospect of getting an Olympic games in the future.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

We will have a Conservative Government by then.

Mr. Cook

I did not come here this evening to listen to third-rate comics from the back of the Gallery.

Jim Fox won the gold medal for the pentathlon, returned to the capital a hero and was feted. If we pass this legislation, the youngsters of tomorrow will have no opportunity to emulate him, because we will have banned all our young people from participating in the pentathlon at any time in the future. I repeat what I have said many times in the House: the Bill is unnecessary, it is irrational, it is unenforceable and I am frankly surprised that we should be pressing it with the same indecent haste that the Tory regime showed in respect of higher-calibre weapons.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I emphasise that this debate is about compensation, which is a very narrow subject.

11.23 pm
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

I shall certainly take your advice to heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because although the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 which has led to this draft compensation scheme was not one of the finer pieces of legislation passed by the House, we will have the opportunity to rerun some of the arguments advanced against it on Wednesday, when we consider the next Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

The draft Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 compensation scheme raises almost as many questions as it answers. My first question, of which someone on the Treasury Bench might like to take note so that the Minister can answer it when he makes his winding-up speech, concerns the draft compensation scheme that was laid before Parliament on 25 May and then withdrawn. What changes have been made in the scheme since then? Why was it necessary to withdraw it? Was it just badly spelt, written or drafted, or were specific changes made in the compensation terms, which made it necessary for it to be redrafted and relaid before Parliament?

My second question concerns the scope of the scheme, which is set out on page 2 of the draft compensation document. Paragraph 4 states that the scheme does not deal with small-calibre pistols or ancillary equipment for such pistols. I believe that, at the moment, under the provisions of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, ex gratia payments are available to those who voluntarily choose to surrender small-calibre pistols. It would make much more sense if a proper compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols were included at this stage, because people who own such pistols may want to surrender them. They may receive compensation that is not nearly as fair as it might be in a later scheme.

If the Firearms (Amendment) Bill that we shall debate on Wednesday is eventually enacted, we shall be re-running all these arguments in a few months' time and drawing up a further draft Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols. Surely the time to agree a proper scheme for small-calibre pistols is now.

Mr. Michael

Several contributions tempt immediate responses, but this one especially. It is proposed that we give ex gratia payments so that shooters who use high-calibre and low-calibre weapons can hand in their weapons in one fell swoop and we can get the weapons out of the way. Many shooters now think, "Let us get it over and done with; let us know where we stand." The lines of the ex gratia scheme will follow the lines of the compensation scheme that is being debated tonight as a measure consequent on the 1997 Act.

Mr. Colvin

I am grateful to the Minister for responding then—it will enable him to cut short his winding-up speech—but he has already run through the options for compensation for large-calibre handguns, setting out the details of the three different options. Is he now saying that the ex gratia payments that will be available to small-calibre pistol owners who choose to surrender them will be based on the three options that are set out in the draft document? If so, I have a further question regarding option C, which is for a payment based on an individual valuation of an item's full market value as at or immediately before 16 October 1996". Will that valuation be firm, or will arbitration be permitted if the owner of the firearm is not satisfied with the decision that has been taken on its value?

The Minister's intervention raises another issue—the total cost of the scheme. Interestingly, the draft, which is the result of many discussions since the original estimate was made when the Bill went to the other place on 5 December 1996, introduces a figure of £150 million as the total cost of compensation mooted under the scheme. In my submission, that estimate is based on very shaky ground.

I appreciate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already been obliged to postpone his Budget, which was initially proposed for tomorrow, because of the gaping black hole in his finances and the fact that he is about £;10,000 million short and the money must come from somewhere—he does not know where. Several measures that have come before the House in the past couple of weeks have shown that there are serious deficiencies in the funding arrangements that the Government propose for some of the measures that they are introducing.

Mr. Michael

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a serious contribution to this debate about compensation, he might bear in mind the thought that the need to pay compensation is our inheritance from the previous Government, as is any black hole anywhere in the economy.

Mr. Colvin

I am not going to be tempted down that path, but the black hole exists because there is a gaping difference between the promises made by the Labour party during the general election campaign and its inheritance from the previous Government in terms of spending commitments that it has already said it will honour.

The question of the cost of the scheme is, however, very relevant. The scheme will clock up still further sums which will have to be found somewhere. It should be borne in mind that the base figure of 160,000 large-calibre pistols that will be surrendered is a Home Office estimate. I do not think that the House, which is now agreeing the terms of the scheme, has any means of assessing how accurate that figure is, and therefore I do not see any way in which we can agree that the total cost of compensation under the scheme will be the round figure of £150 million.

There is a further point that is worth making about cost which relates to the Bill that we shall discuss on Thursday. It concerns small-calibre pistols. According to a figure published by the Home Office, 40,000 such pistols will have to be surrendered. The Minister has said that ex gratia payments will be—or could be—made under the scheme, and that that cost will have to be taken into account and added to the £150 million that we believe it may already cost. How has he arrived at the number of 40,000 small-calibre pistols, and has he any idea what the additional cost of all that will be? There is an estimate of £12 million in the Bill that we are to discuss on Wednesday; once more, I suggest that that figure is hopelessly inadequate.

Paragraph 7 of the scheme gives the impression that the police will be able to lay down where and when the shooter must surrender his or her gun. The Act requires surrender at a designated place within the three-month period, but not at a specified time. The Home Office guidance to police is likely to be that the date of surrender will be by negotiation, but that should be made clear this evening; if it is not, a major question mark will remain over that aspect of surrender.

The Act says that someone who retains a prohibited gun after three months commits an offence. What happens if a person tries to surrender his or her weapon, but is frustrated by the police? Surely the difficulty would be made still worse if some constabularies did not have adequate surrendering points. I would welcome further information from the Minister.

I was pleased that the Minister raised a question that I asked at Home Office questions this afternoon—on compensation for pistol clubs, apart from compensation for the value of their firearms, ammunition and ancillary equipment. A serious case can be made for compensation for the loss of their premises, business and fee income, and for all the other financial costs on top of the loss of their weapons.

I have not seen the official record, but I believe that, in replying to my question this afternoon, the Minister said that, of the 1,440 shooting clubs in England and Wales, only 49 were exclusively pistol—that is 4 per cent. of the total. I think that, by implication, the Minister was saying, "That is not very important; many of these clubs may be able to convert to rifle shooting, and may therefore be able to survive." The fact is, however, that if one club is forced out of business by the Government, that is unfair enough and should be dealt with as a problem; if 49 have to go out of business, with all their membership, the Minister should take the matter seriously, rather than brushing it to one side in the cavalier manner with which he approached my question this afternoon.

11.34 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire)

I support the Government, although I believe that they have been over-generous. Some of us might have argued that the compensation should be reduced, but I shall support the Government tonight because it is a move in the right direction.

I listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Ramsey (Mr. Colvin) on compensation. I remember the debates in the House about the BSE disaster, which cost the country billions of pounds. Conservative Members rushed to support the farmers, as did I, to see that farmers received adequate compensation for the savage and tragic problems suffered by their industry. However, I did not hear many Conservative Members arguing for compensation for the workers in meat and leather factories, who survived only because they worked in the meat industry. They have lost their jobs, but they have received no compensation apart from redundancy pay. That was tragic, and the Tory Government were wrong not to compensate the workers who lost their jobs.

I will support the Tory—the Government action to give compensation [Interruption.] Sometimes the House gets like the playhouse—the comedy. It is not a comic show when one considers those in the meat industry who lost their job through no fault of their own. The Tory Government could have taken action a long time ago on mad cow disease. It finally affected the previous Government and was one of the reasons why they were rejected by such large numbers at the general election.

On a more serious note, I will support the Government with great reluctance, as I believe that £150 is far too much compensation for surrendering a weapon. Conservative Members suggested tonight that the measure would drive some shooters underground. Those folk should never have had a licence if they were prepared to break the law. We changed the law in the House of Commons and it is a serious matter to suggest that folk might go underground. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will punish them as hard as he can. As a Scotsman, I remember the Dunblane disaster, which forced the measure on us tonight.

11.36 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you have made me aware that several hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

I shall raise two points. The first is on the issue of security, which I raised in an earlier intervention. It is true that, as the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, when we as a Government were asked about that issue, we said that due measures would be taken. That was reasonable then, when the scheme had yet to be worked out in detail.

Now that the scheme has been worked out in detail, it is reasonable to ask for a little more than the rather bland assurances that we were given. It is reasonable also to ask that a little more assurance is given openly in the House, although I understand well enough that an offer was made to give rather more information to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) outside the Chamber. Some more assurances need to be given in the House tonight.

Secondly, I would not dream of detaining the House by discussing the merits of a proposal that has yet to come before it, but it is inconceivable that the very existence of that proposal will not have an impact on the compensation scheme.

We had already agreed—the present Government are following in our footsteps—that if people were surrendering their. 22s as a result of the restrictions that we had introduced, they would receive ex gratia payments, even though we were not strictly at that time obliged to pay, because we had not proposed to ban. 22s. Indeed, I hope that the Government will yet see sense.

It is extremely likely that more people will wish to surrender their. 22s in anticipation of the ban. It must also surely be the case that more clubs will close sooner, because they will not wish to upgrade their security in the knowledge that the sport will not continue. The proposals that have yet to come before us must therefore impact on the scheme in terms of not only the total value of compensation paid—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) referred—but the administrative load placed on the police and other authorities by people seeking compensation. Has the Minister gauged the impact of his proposals on the scheme in terms of both amounts and additional administrative burdens? Those are important points, and I ask the hon. Gentleman either to address them when he responds to the debate or to write to me subsequently.

11.39 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The view of the Liberal Democrats, even with our new high-calibre post-election format, remains as it was during the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill earlier this year. We believe that the compensation scheme is okay as far as it goes. The issue is not what anyone might think about the guns themselves, but fairness and justice—concepts to which the Labour party refers constantly.

Two areas of compensation must be addressed, and the Minister has not convinced me that that has been done satisfactorily. The first concerns debts incurred by clubs and associations—people who quite properly and innocently took on debts to establish gun clubs several years ago and who, in a few months, may be bankrupt or seriously out of pocket through no fault of their own. The legislation should not leave people with unreasonable liabilities because of Government action.

The second issue involves compensating the gun dealers, who will remain in business after the legislation is passed and the scheme is introduced, for their reduced turnover. We have suggested reasonably that the payment of a year's profit in the affected areas of their business would compensate them for any loss of business. We believe that both the changes would be fair and just and, whatever the decision tonight, we urge the Government to consider them now before gun clubs, associations and businesses face ruinous financial consequences as a result of arbitrary Government legislation.

11.41 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I have several questions to which I seek replies from the Minister. The compensation scheme derives directly from the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. Those who opposed that legislation were told during its passage that the people who would lose their weapons would continue to be able to pursue their sport because they would be compensated for the loss of their high calibre weapons and could use the money to transfer to weapons of. 22 calibre and below. That compensation may be fair for people who could make that change, but it is not fair for those who are being denied the main sporting pursuit of their lives. We must remember that many shooters are devoted to their sport.

We must also consider additional legislation that will affect compensation for high calibre weapons—particularly compensation to gun dealers. Dealers could argue that they would have been compensated for the loss of their high-calibre weapons and would then have sold many smaller-calibre weapons. We must ensure that we compensate properly those gun dealers who will be badly affected by the Government's follow-on legislation. I hope that the Minister is taking careful note of these points.

I challenged the Minister earlier to reveal Labour's position regarding rifles and shotguns. Will Labour salami-slice until it has done away with all shooting? If the Government decree that a type of handgun is too dangerous to own because it may lead to the sort of massacre that occurred in Dunblane, it is logical to assume that they will ban rifles and shotguns also. We cannot expect the owners of rifle ranges to alter their business operations now if there is a chance that the Government might do something different 12 months later. They need to know now about any new proposals. We want some assurances from the Minister that the Labour party will not take action on that.

11.44 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I hope that the Minister took careful note of the speech made by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), because he articulated many of my concerns and those of my constituents and many others throughout the country. It is important to bear in mind the fact that the compensation scheme arises from a most draconian Act, which hit at law-abiding people, depriving them of their sport and almost rendering them criminal—indeed, the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) almost suggested that they were. The Act does nothing to deal with people who hold weapons illegally.

We shall deal with the principle of banning weapons another time. In the meantime, we have to deal with the legislation that is already on the statute book. It has been passed by Parliament, but those who supported it must accept that due compensation should be paid to those who have been engaged in a lawful activity that Parliament has now suddenly rendered unlawful. That is the minimum that those people can expect.

We shall find that the bill is very large. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) said that the current figures may well be an underestimate of the amount that will have to be paid out. How much discussion will there be on the figures in the annexes? I have not had an opportunity to see the annexes or to discuss the issue with my constituents before tonight. It would be only fair to consider further whether the figures there represent adequate compensation for depriving people of a lawful activity.

Has the Minister addressed the valuation date of 16 October? Many people in the shooting fraternity believe that that was not a reasonable date to use to arrive at a fair market value. A fair market value should properly be based on a date before the Dunblane tragedy. I should like the Minister to address that.

The Minister was kind enough to give way earlier when I raised the question of weapons that may be held by the police and others which may be placed in museums. He suggested that the issue was dealt with in the Act. I have had a quick look through the Act and I cannot find the information. The issue may be of concern to people who hold historic weapons that they are going to hand in. If they see them on display at their local museum without having been told anything, they may feel offended. The Minister should address that. I should be grateful if he could be more specific.

11.47 pm
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

I should declare an interest first, because I am a consultant to the British Field Sports Society. However, handguns play no significant part in any country activity, except for the humane destruction of livestock.

I should like the Minister to expand on the issues put to him by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) about what will happen to gun clubs that will no doubt be destroyed by the Bill that we shall consider within 48 hours. There is a sense of unreality about tonight's debate, because we know perfectly well that, on Wednesday, with their large majority, the Government will force through their measure to ban all handguns, leaving many gun clubs exposed to serious financial loss.

The hon. Member for Hallam asked what would happen if a member of a club had taken bank loans or mortgages to provide facilities for the club. What would happen to the equipment that the club had bought? Annex C lists the equipment that will be compensated for at the moment, but if the next stage of this sad progress goes through, the costs of equipment will be much greater. An automatic target changer can cost between £800 and £900. A club that can exist under the previous Government's proposals, by being able to use. 22s, can still survive, but when further legislation is introduced it will go out of existence. The National Small-bore Rifle Association club, for example, has 10 target changers which represent a considerable sum. We need some clarification about the Minister's thinking on compensation for such people.

Two other points have not been touched on tonight. The first is appeals. It is a moot point whether a weapon has been customised or raised above the level of the standard for sale weapon. Who will determine that? Under the scheme, the chief constable can appoint an outside assessor, but the choice of outside assessor will be solely at the discretion of the chief constable. Can the person who wishes to appeal bring in his own expert? That is a significant point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) spoke about trophies of war. One can imagine an enormous debate about the value of a weapon that may be a trophy of war. It is wrong that the chief constable should have sole discretion to appoint an expert to determine the value of a weapon. What appeal would there be against the original valuation?

Mr. Colvin

There is a good example of what my hon. Friend refers to quite close to hand. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and I took possession, on behalf of the House, of two presentation pistols at Bisley following the annual shoot against their lordships. Those pistols are in the possession of the House and they are now collectors' pieces. Under the present compensation arrangements, they will get the ordinary market value while their real value in the market at large is very much higher.

Mr. Atkinson

I agree. My hon. Friend illustrates well the problems to which I am alluding and which the Minister will, I hope, deal with in his winding-up speech.

I shall make just one further point, because we want the Minister to have an opportunity to respond fully to our questions. What compensation will there be for electronic security devices? Under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, gun clubs had responsibility to enhance their security, which meant not just gun safes, which are mentioned in the compensation scheme, but a lot of complex electronic equipment, some of which has already been installed. Once again, clubs whose future now looks extremely uncertain because of the debate we shall have in less than 48 hours' time face substantial bills for electronic security and surveillance equipment which will be of no value if the next stage of legislation goes through.

11.52 pm
Mr. Michael

I have taken careful note of the variety of concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I assure them that where time prevents me from responding fully, I shall write to them. Many questions were very general and some hon. Members questioned the Act rather than the compensation scheme. There were a number of short questions that would require a long answer. That would be not only unpopular, but impossible within the time available.

There were, for example, concerns about the date of base values. Any date is arbitrary to some extent, but we believe that the October date for the basic valuation is fair and reasonable because it is the date when the previous Government took the decision to legislate.

I listened to the pleas of several hon. Members who asked for compensation for business, including a specific suggestion, which included what could be a large figure, from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). That would involve finding extra money over and above what the previous Government allowed for in the Act. We would also be setting a precedent in compensating for loss of business and that would not be right.

Hon. Members referred to a number of wider issues that fall outside the scope of the scheme. The voluntary surrender of. 22 weapons is a practical proposition, as I made clear in my opening remarks. It is only sensible to make it possible for people to hand in. 22 weapons and be compensated for them, as well as any larger-calibre weapons, in order to meet the objective of getting as many handguns as possible out of circulation. That is what the scheme is all about.

The merit of implementing the scheme as quickly as possible and giving the new Bill a Second Reading without delay is that before people hand in guns voluntarily, consequent on the decisions that we are taking tonight, they will know the intention and the will of the House of Commons following the general election. By 1 July, when the Act comes into force, they will have had time to consider its implications.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) referred to the impact of the new legislation on the police as further weapons will have to be handed in. We have tried to spread the load through the voluntary scheme so that we do not suddenly switch to the handing in of. 22 weapons when the new Bill is passed by both Houses.

The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) talked about our forcing through a vote to ban. 22 weapons because of the Government's vast majority. I am always glad to refer to our large majority, but it seems to have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that we have promised a free vote on the issue. I believe that the vast majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends will support our proposals, as they share the public's belief that a complete ban on handguns is right. That belief will determine the decisions later this week.

Today, we are dealing only with compensation under the existing Act, but making clear the arrangements that we are putting in place for expediting the voluntary surrender of lower calibre weapons.

It is clear that my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) spoke for the silent majority in the House and elsewhere. Like the previous Government, we are in the business of getting rid of dangerous weapons. That is why we have produced a compensation scheme that meets the commitments that they made during the passage of the 1997 Act. We want to be fair to those who are losing the opportunity to take part in a sport that they have engaged in quite legitimately up to now, but we have no intention of going beyond providing the compensation for guns and ancillary equipment that was promised at the time.

I, too, dismiss the idea that shooters will go underground. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) should raise such an issue. Time and again, it has been stressed that those taking part in shooting are law-abiding citizens. In that case, they will not go underground; they will obey the law. We need to ensure that the law is clear and reflects the will of the public and the House, and that we are as fair as is reasonable in compensating people for the value of their weapons and ancillary equipment. That is why we are introducing the scheme which will provide reasonable, if not generous, compensation.

Like the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald wanted more information about the disposal of weapons. There is no secret about the general storage of weapons. Arrangements are simply best left to local police discretion. Some forces will store weapons at several locations in force areas—some forces cover a much bigger area than others—others are making facilities available under central force arrangements. Security is paramount in police planning. We discussed the issue with the police in advance of presenting the arrangements. We discussed, for example, the option of centralised arrangements rather than disposal on a more local basis. After listening to advice from the police, the general view was that it was greatly preferable and more secure to deal with disposal on a local basis.

It is impossible to say how long weapons will be stored—another question that was raised—because that will depend on how quickly the claims can be processed. Weapons and equipment can be disposed of only when the claims have been dealt with. I can, however, assure the House that the weapons will be destroyed as soon as is practicable.

There were suggestions that immense difficulties will be created for the police and that they have no precedent for such an exercise. In the 1996 amnesty, 23,000 guns were disposed of; in 1988, 48,000 guns were stored and then destroyed by the police service. To answer another question, there is no compensation for deactivated weapons, which are not covered by the Act and will not therefore be surrendered.

There was a reference to weapons that have some special value as a result of, for instance, being owned by General Sir Peter de la Billiere. Presumably they would be of additional value if he had owned them when he served as general officer commanding in Wales. There are arrangements for such weapons in the proposals. The weapons would fall under option C, under which individuals can come forward with specific valuations. They could seek exemption from prohibition under section 7 of the Act concerning firearms of historic interest if the interest in them was considerable enough to justify such exemption.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), who wanted to spend an awful lot of public money, seemed to want to limit the police's power to lay down details of the arrangements for when people can hand in weapons. Making such arrangements will of course take police time and it is sensible and logical for the police to make them in relation to time and place, and for the people who are to hand in weapons to be notified. The exercise cannot simply be carried out on a total open door basis. That is especially true of rural areas, where distance as well as security may be of particular significance.

The hon. Member for Romsey asked some questions about the estimates and figures that have been bandied around. The original 200,000 estimate was based on returns from a survey of all police forces conducted in the summer of 1996. Subsequently, a sample of a limited number of forces was undertaken to identify the total. About 40,000 of those identified were small-calibre pistols.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made a powerful speech. I understand his passion on the issue and that he is opposed to the Act altogether. We are discussing not the Act but levels of compensation. He talked about disassembling ammunition. At the beginning of the debate, I referred to the arrangements that we propose that will apply to expanding ammunition and ancillary equipment that can be used only in connection with firearms that become prohibited.

My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of claiming for components of expanding ammunition. That is not part of our proposal. That was a suggestion from the gun trade which the Home Office undertook to consider. It was not advice that the Home Office gave to the trade. My hon. Friend based his remarks on a misunderstanding of the consultation that has taken place.

We have tried to be open and clear about how we want to deal with the issues. There will be an impact on those who have legitimately taken part in a sport that will now be banned. That will affect the Commonwealth games and the bid for the Olympics, but the Secretary of State has power, under the existing firearms laws, to give special authority to allow competitions to take place involving prohibited weapons. That dispensation can be used for Commonwealth and Olympic pistol-shooting competitions. British participation in such competitions is, however, unlikely to continue, because of the impact of the bans. That is sad for those who have taken part and wish to continue to take part in those sports, but that is part of the price that has to be paid for determining that the protection of the public must come first.

The business before us tonight is agreeing to make reasonable compensation to those who will no longer be able to use—

It being one and half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Community documents).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 Compensation Scheme, which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be approved.