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After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

Review of compensation scheme

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall undertake a review of the operation of the compensation scheme approved under this Act and shall report to Parliament the results of the review together with any recommendations for compensating all persons affected by this Act.
(2) The report under subsection (1) shall be presented to both Houses of Parliament within 6 months of this Act coming into force.").

The noble Lord said: Before I speak to this new clause, I should like to take up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, when he said that we must take public opinion into account. I agree very much with that. The noble Earl will know--I tell him again--that in a MORI poll in May 53 per cent. of the population polled agreed that target pistol shooters were being unfairly punished. If we are taking notice of public opinion polls, we must bear in mind that the public are not in favour of the way in which target pistol shooters are being treated under this Bill or in the previous Act.

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My amendment is simple. It seeks to require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the compensation scheme under this Bill to see how it has been working and its effect on individuals, gun clubs and businesses, and to report to both Houses of Parliament within six months of the Act coming into force.

My views on this legislation and the previous Act are well known. They have not changed. I believe that the legislation is outrageous and spiteful. It unfairly treats decent, respectable, law-abiding citizens, imposing collective punishment on them for the actions of a homicidal maniac. It is a great pity that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has left the Chamber because he intervened in the speech of my noble friend Lord Howell to invite him to visit a primary school to ask about views on gun control bearing in mind what happened at Dunblane. Perhaps the Committee and the noble Lord should know that every week, week in, week out, year in, year out, 14 children are killed on our roads and 200 are seriously injured. Once in this century--perhaps in even a longer period than that--15 children are killed in a school. That is horrific. It is horrible. It is disgraceful. Nevertheless, we must keep a sense of perspective. If we are concerned about the children who were killed at Dunblane, let us also be concerned about the 14 children who are killed week in, week out, year in, year out on our roads and the 200 who are injured.

In spite of what I have said, I think that we all want to improve the Bill, particularly since the present plans would lead to gross injustice. The Bill provides for compensation on the same terms for .22 pistols as for higher calibre guns. The injustice of the scheme currently operated under the 1997 Act will also apply to this Bill but is, in fact, worse. Clubs and businesses which might have been able to continue to operate with .22s will no longer be able to do so. The point was recognised by the then Minister, Miss Widdecombe, in a debate on the 1997 Bill when she said:

    "The Bill will make no difference to clubs which use .22 pistols."--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 20/11/96; col. 26.]

That opportunity for survival is no longer available. The same is true for businesses. They will face the costs, not only of the value of the guns themselves, but all the other costs, financial obligations and loss of business from closing down.

Many of the worst hit by this Bill will be ordinary club members who have pitched together to run their club or range. Many of these individuals will remain liable for long-term mortgages and leases for clubs and ranges which will be forced to close by this Bill. Nothing could be more unjust than that.

A survey of 139 clubs showed that 71 per cent. would not reach the government requirements for security under the 1997 Act; 126 clubs gave details at that time of their expected losses, and it was possible to calculate that their losses could be over £64 million. The new Bill makes the situation even worse. All pistol clubs will now have to close. The 71 per cent. will become 100 per cent. The loss for which no compensation is

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being paid to clubs could be £100 million. That loss is being placed on them by the Government and Parliament. They will have to meet it.

The British Shooting Sports Council's survey of clubs drew attention to the Derby Rifle and Pistol Club which is a non-profit-making operation which will lose (even assuming a good resale price) over £100,000 on land and facilities. It recorded the Chesterfield Rifle and Pistol Club which has land and buildings unsaleable except for shooting club premises and stands to lose £128,000. The lease of the Aberdeen Full Bore Gun Club runs for 21 years at £70,000 a year.

The case of the 10th Battalion Suffolk Home Guard Rifle and Pistol Club sums up how critical it is for the Government even at this late stage to compensate at least those individuals who stand surety for their club. The 10th battalion was founded when the Government stood the Home Guard down but instructed it--"instructed it", mind you--to establish ranges on which the public were to be admitted. The 10th battalion did so on rented land. It built a clubhouse and raised money by its own efforts. In February 1996, a few weeks before Dunblane, it bought the land. It managed this with the help of money from the Sports Council, the local district council and the National Rifle Association. The land is owned subject to a covenant that it can be used only as a shooting range. The £15,900 grant from the Sports Council is subject to the condition that the club shall continue to function for 10 years. Then there is a matter of a £6,000 loan. None of this is under the control of the trustees yet each of the four will be personally liable for the quarter of any debts on winding up. What a way to treat British citizens! What a way for the Government to treat individuals!

There is also the question of what will happen to businesses. Compensation is being offered for loss of stock but not for loss of business. Many dealers will lose their livelihoods as a result of the Bill. This is not just an occupational hazard; it is a sudden imposition by law which will take away so large an amount of trade that the enterprise could become unviable. It is estimated that some 3,000 jobs will be lost as a result.

The Government say that there are plenty of precedents for this and that this is what usually happens when governments pass new Acts: some people are bound to be hurt, including financially. However, there are precedents for compensating for loss of business. I refer, for example, to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which states, in Sections 107 and 108, that compensation can, in appropriate cases, include an amount for loss of anticipated profit which could have been earned from the use of the land in a way which becomes prohibited by reason of the revocation. That is a precedent for compensating people for loss of business.

We ought also to look elsewhere for precedents, including at the Australian scheme, which is generous. The Australian scheme was established following the incident at Port Arthur. The Australian Government have willingly accepted the principle of "fair and proper compensation" for dealers, individuals and collectors--in fact, for everyone affected. Compensation in

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Australia is based on the value of assets one month before the Port Arthur incident not at the publication of a Bill after the incident. Obviously, that government recognise that compensation must take account of the fact that the depression in the value of such assets occurred immediately after the incident.

Dealers in Australia are being offered compensation for stock, unusable ammunition, spares, maintenance equipment and manuals relating to prohibited firearms. Importantly, this is being offered at sale price, not purchase price. There is a big difference. The dealers are also being offered compensation for loss of business; that is, the difference between the value of the business prior to the new legislation--before the incident in Port Arthur--and the value of the business following the new legislation. If the Australian Government can offer fair and proper compensation to their citizens in accordance with natural justice surely our Government--which is very much richer--can do the same. There are practical problems relating to the operation of the compensation scheme. Tonight I do not have time to go into the details. However, a review would enable the difficulties to be addressed and perhaps ironed out.

One hears a good deal from the present Ministers about individual rights and natural justice. One understands that the United Kingdom is to incorporate into law the European Convention on Human Rights. We have an opportunity here to bring about natural justice by ensuring that dealers, pistol shooters, gun club owners and gun club members are properly compensated for their losses. They deserve that. I hope that this small and, unfortunately, insignificant amendment--it is the only way to get anything at all by way of compensation because of the restriction of the Long Title of the Bill--will be accepted so that the Government must look at the matter six months after the Act, if it ever becomes law--I am sure it will--comes into force. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Zouche of Haryngworth: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We must now live with the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. I believe that it was a rotten, rotten Bill, but that is as it may be. The noble Lord's amendment will give the Government the opportunity to rethink the issue of compensation. The previous government made excuses about precedents. That was nonsense. It was just a convenient excuse not to compensate fairly. The Australian Government looked after their citizens. Australian dealers, clubs and individuals have been paid compensation for loss of business. What is wrong with us? I am ashamed. Not only have we taken away the right of some of our citizens to partake in an honourable sport but we do not even have the decency to pay them proper compensation. I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and give the Government the

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chance to put right something that is so shamefully wrong. I beg the Minister to dig deeply into his conscience before rejecting this amendment.

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