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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.


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