Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Michael: The later date.

Mr. Boswell: If that is the case, I believe that, although the objection in principle stands and the Minister might like to reflect on that, the objection in practice may not stand. I believe that he and all of us wish to seek the fairest possible deal for shooters in what are bound to be difficult circumstances. I merely pray this issue in aid as a case for a more rounded consideration of the details of the compensation issue, to eliminate any possible unfairness.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on the way in which he moved the amendment. I support the amendment, and in my short contribution I shall ask the Minister of State a couple of questions to which I am sure he will reply later.

6.15 pm

As recently as last week, we considered compensation when we debated the compensation scheme introduced by the Government under the previous Act, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. In that debate, it was suggested that it might have been sensible to incorporate compensation for .22 weapons in the same draft compensation scheme, but I appreciate that, with all the technicalities involved, that might have been difficult, if not impracticable.

During last week's debate, we drew attention to the inaccuracies or inadequacies and errors in the original draft compensation scheme tabled on 22 May, which was then withdrawn and re-tabled on 3 June. We put it to the Minister of State that some explanation was required, and we wanted to know why so many changes were required and how many there were.

I thank the Minister for the answer given on 9 June at column 328 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in reply to a question about the changes in that draft compensation scheme. They amount to 37 changes in all, and are a combination of errors, factual errors, and items and values listed in the annexes that were wrong. I now ask, how accurate is the new draft compensation scheme likely to be? I very much hope that when the Government come up with a new scheme, they make a better job of it than they did of the last one.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 362

How soon are we likely to see the new draft compensation scheme for .22 pistols and for the ancillary equipment that goes with them? When addressing that compensation scheme, would the Minister think in terms of compensating for the loss of business, and so on?

In the Bill, estimates are made of £12 million for the cost of weapons and £19 million for equipment, but several people have suggested that those figures are underestimates. Perhaps the Minister will give us a more accurate estimate of the likely compensation total.

Mr. Hancock: I believe that, if they were realistic, hon. Members would concede that most gun owners and certainly people who were trained in guns would say that the value of their weapons and of weapons held in gun clubs and in gunsmiths devalued the day after Dunblane. Once that incident took place, the true value of any weapon was seriously eroded by the hour, if not by the day. That was recognised by gun owners throughout the country.

The compensation legislation allows the individual gun owner to choose between several ways of disposing of a gun. Most of those options are, in the main, very fair. If hon. Members who know about guns study the comparison prices, they will find that, although some individual gun owners will query the value of their individual gun, the figures give a pretty fair price for guns, bearing in mind the circumstances that forced Parliament to take the decisions that it did.

The point is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said, that Parliament and the Government should have the chance to look again at the unique difficulties faced by some gun clubs and their members when it comes to compensation. Our amendment is a safety valve to allow for some of those difficulties. On Monday, Members of all parties referred to the problems that they knew gun clubs and members--some of them not active members--would face because of the huge sums of money, sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, which are at stake. That will leave small groups of members with substantial liabilities and not many assets to dispose of apart from the land on which a club is situated.

I hope that there will be general support for the amendment. It will at least allow the Government to say that they have re-examined the issue of equitable compensation and will give the Committee a chance to vote for it.

Mr. Maclean: The Opposition will support the Liberal Democrat amendment. It is intolerable that the Government should not follow the scheme in the 1997 Act. After all, the Minister spent most of Monday saying that he was religiously following the precedent of that Act and did not wish to depart from it. Yet this scheme departs from the one in the 1997 Act, under which the Government would prepare a draft compensation scheme, lay it before the House and, following a resolution, come up with a final version.

I cannot understand why the Government are afraid to put such a draft before hon. Members. They have an overwhelming majority; they could get it through easily. There would, however, be scope for Opposition Members and Labour Members to point out errors and inconsistencies, and experts from the gun trade would have the chance to make similar points.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 363

This is another example of the Government riding roughshod over the House--ignoring it, circumventing it, or neutering it--as they tried to do with Prime Minister's questions. In this case, they are ignoring Parliament by not laying the draft before the House.

In the original draft scheme that we approved last Monday, there were, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) said, 37 errors. I do not criticise the officials responsible for that. With a highly complex scheme, it is quite understandable that mistakes will be made. Neither was there anything sinister about withdrawing it. Some values rose, some fell, and mistakes were corrected. The point, however, is that it gave the Government, the industry and hon. Members a chance to look at those mistakes. Then the Government speedily produced a revised draft and laid it before the House, which had a chance to approve it last Monday night. No one voted against it--everyone agreed with it.

Why the phenomenal rush? Why are the Government afraid to trust hon. Members by following the procedure in the 1997 Act and letting them have a look at what they propose? They know that they can drive it through. They know that if the proposals are as sensible as the ones we saw last week--and as fair--there will be no opposition from any quarter. So unless the Minister has a compelling reason for not supporting the amendment--I cannot imagine what it would be--we shall join the Liberal Democrats in voting for it tonight.

Mr. Michael: I regret that opportunism on the part of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and the Opposition. With his experience of government, he will know that there is not a shred of substance to any of his criticisms of the Government. He is wrong to suggest that the compensation element departs from the principles of the 1997 Act.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what the rush was. It is simply that we want to get .22 guns out of public ownership as quickly as possible. If he had allowed a free vote during the passage of the 1997 Act, such guns would have been banned then. The move would have succeeded on a free vote and we would not have needed this legislation. It is, therefore, his fault that we must deal speedily with the flaw that he left in the legislation by failing to deal properly with a ban on handguns. He had the chance when in government, but he failed to take it.

The right hon. Gentleman was wrong about virtually everything. He was certainly wrong to refer to errors and mistakes. When trying to put right the wrong that he left behind him, we consulted people involved in the sport and the trade and took their suggestions into account. I am grateful for the Opposition's acknowledgment that that was sensible.

Referring to errors and mistakes was rather cheap. We did the best we could to carry on consultations right up to the last minute so as to be able to amend the scheme and use the most precise possible figures.

I have valued the contributions by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). He has enhanced his reputation in the short time he has been here with his constructive interventions. He said that it is possible to query specific estimates but that the general scheme seeks to be fair. The legislation includes the safety valve of allowing for a specific valuation; so--this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Daventry

18 Jun 1997 : Column 364

(Mr. Boswell)--if a specific piece of equipment is the subject of an error, that error can be rectified. The fact that a specific value is set out in the statutory instrument does not mean that there is no way of getting around it.

Ours is a sensible scheme. I must tell the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) that he sometimes seems to mix up his speeches as between one debate and another. He has a habit of re-running previous debates, and he does not listen to answers that he was given in those debates. We have already explained the 37 changes to which he referred. It is only sensible to take account of advice from sporting and business interests, even though we are trying to get legislation through quickly, so as to give sportsmen and the general public a coherent scheme that will deal with all sizes and calibres of handgun as quickly as possible. As I have told him several times--he does not seem to have grasped it--the scheme is available in the Library, as we pointed out on Monday last.

Of course, total costs can be estimated accurately only to a certain degree--by their nature they are based on estimates. The numbers and types of weapons have been gathered from information given by the police around the country. Estimates have been refined during discussions between officials and police, especially those involved directly with firearms, and business interests and the clubs have also been included. Discovering the precise quantity of guns and ancillary equipment is not a precise science. Listing and valuing each and every weapon would cost a great deal and would cause enormous delays.

I answered most of the points made by the hon. Member for Daventry in interventions because I thought that he was trying to tease out some specific information while making some interesting points about compensation. There are various ways of trying to be fair. Choosing the October date for high-calibre guns, thereby avoiding further declines in value that would come with a later date, is, we believe, the fairest way to approach the valuation of guns and equipment; it is in the interests of shooters. If someone has enhanced his equipment, the alternative route of a specific valuation is available.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about property valuation, but I should have thought this case was more like valuing second-hand cars. There will clearly be a decline in value if someone does not wish to purchase. The likelihood of legislation increases the probability that values will fall, but if that general point does not cover a particular circumstance, specific valuation provides an alternative.

Next Section

IndexHome Page