Gun-ban rebels spurn Howard's extra cash offer

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The Independent Online
The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, last night doubled the compensation for the shooting lobby, but failed to buy off a backbench revolt by 30 Tory MPs against the ban on handguns.

Tory MPs led by Tom King, the former Cabinet minister, two Labour MPs and three Ulster Unionists voted against the Government for going too far with the ban on all guns above .22 calibre weapons.

But Home Office ministers were confident that it would be able to defeat a cross-party move next week to extend the ban to all handguns.

An estimated figure of around pounds 100m was offered by the Home Secretary to head off the revolt by Tory MPs on the second reading of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill introduced after the Dunblane massacre in which 16 children and a teacher were killed last March.

Mr Howard announced that in addition to around pounds 150 per gun, enthusiasts who will be forced to surrender their weapons will be entitled to compensation for accessories, including holsters, gloves and reloading equipment. Officials estimated that it would add "tens of millions of pounds" to the total bill for compensation which was earlier put at pounds 25-pounds 50m.

The concession was secured after a meeting between the Home Secretary and a lobby of shooting representatives, led by the former minister, Sir Jerry Wiggin. They demanded higher compensation for businesses faced with bankruptcy.

Sir Jerry was among a group of eight Tory MPs led by former Cabinet minister John Biffen who tabled a motion attacking the Government for going beyond the Cullen report.

They voted against the Government with a cross-party group, including Labour MP Frank Cook, who tabled a rival motion calling on the report to be implemented to make guns safe by dismantling the firing mechanism outside gun clubs.

Former minister David Mellor will lead a cross-party move next Monday by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Tory MPs to impose a total ban.

The Ulster Unionists are expected to abstain, securing a victory for the Government on the Bill as drafted. Exemptions to the ban will include trophies of war acquired before 1946, flare pistols and starting pistols.

The Snowdrop campaign, supported by families of the victims of the Dunblane massacre, lobbied MPs to reinforce their call for a free vote on the issue.

They believe that without a whip behind the Government's formula, there would be a Commons majority for a total ban.

Members of the campaign will be meeting the Ulster Unionist leaders tomorrow urging them to support the total ban.

The Labour MPs voting against the bill were Frank Cook and John Gilbert. The Ulster Unionist MPs who voted against were Roy Beggs, John Taylor and Willie Ross.

The Tories included John Carlisle, Winston Churchill, Michael Colvin, Chris Gill, Sir John Gorst, Sir Richard Body, John Biffen, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Dame Jill Knight, Iain Mills, Rod Richards, Sir Trevor Skeet, Peter Viggers, John Whittingdale, Ann Winterton, Andrew Hunter, Sir Anthony Grant, Sir Archie Hamilton, Nicholas Budgen, Robert Banks, Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman and David Young.

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