HL Deb 23 November 2000 vol 619 cc91-3WA
Baroness Blatch

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In relation to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and in the light of the statement in the Official Report (H.L. Deb., 4 February 1997, col. 1593) that, "The Government will also pay compensation to owners for ammunition and for other accessories and other ancillary equipment which they own and which have no use other than in connection with prohibited higher calibre handguns", why it is that some manufacturers have been denied compensation for specialist tooling equipment, including dies for prohibited handguns, which cannot be used for other purposes; and [HL4674]

Why the Home Office have altered their interpretation of ancillary equipment from that contained in Section 17(2)(a) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 from the wording of that section "designed or adapted for use in connection with firearms prohibited by virtue of section 1(2)" to "equipment which is ancillary to the use or possession of prohibited handguns"; and [HL4675]

Whether the Home Office intend to instruct Chief Officers of Police throughout the country to return equipment and component parts which can only be used for the manufacture of, and in connection with, prohibited handguns; and [HL4676]

Why prototypes and their component parts of prohibited firearms which had, by law, to be handed in for destruction, were not included in the compensation scheme under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. [HL4677]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The Government have consistently taken the view that equipment used in the manufacture of prohibited handguns does not fall within the scope of the compensation scheme made under Sections 16 and 17 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997; nor could it do so, given the terms of Section 17 of the Act, which relates to ancillary equipment. Indeed, the noble Baroness explicitly referred to this exclusion in a later part of the speech she has quoted (Official Report, 4 February 1997, cols. 1593–94). There she said, "In the case of a manufacturer of handguns … the terms of the compensation scheme will not cover equipment in the area of the manufacturing of firearms".

In administering the Firearms Compensation Scheme, the Home Office has conformed with the terms of the Firearms (Amendment) Act and any relevant case law. The words quoted by the noble Baroness at the end of her Question are taken from a letter from one of my officials to a claimant which sought to paraphrase the relevant legislation in the interests of brevity: as has been explained to the claimant in question, they were not and could not have been intended to alter the effect of the legislation itself.

It is open to firearms compensation claimants to request the return from the police of those items which have been rejected from their claim as being ineligible to receive payment. (The police will comply with such requests unless they consider they are legally disbarred from doing so: the decision is for Chief Officers to make in the light of each individual case).

Controlled component parts of prohibited handguns are covered by the compensation scheme and, provided the general requirements of the scheme are met, payment may be made for such items. The same position applies to functioning prototypes of prohibited handguns, since such items would, in effect, be prohibited handguns themselves.