The Prime Minister yesterday underlined his determination to impose discipline on the government "payroll" vote by sacking Terry Dicks, 59, as a ministerial aide for supporting the Dunblane campaign.
The sacking of Mr Dicks as parliamentary private secretary to John Watts, a junior Transport minister, was condemned by Labour's spokesman on Scotland, George Robertson, as a "brutal and insensitive warning" to other MPs that a victory on a partial gun ban mattered more than conscience or principle.
"It is a sickening irony that Tory MPs, including Cabinet ministers, can achieve a free vote on caning by breaking ranks, but a humble parliamentary private secretary is sacked for exercising his conscience on gun control," Mr Robertson said.
Urging John Major to respond to the Dunblane parents' plea for a free vote, he said: "There is still time for the Tory party to save its reputation."
Mr Major was accused of acting "in a juvenile manner" by Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader. "This is a clear sign of Major's petulance and abject fear that the case for a complete handgun ban is now winning the argument," he said.
About six Dunblane parents are expected to make their case to Mr Major at the meeting, immediately after Prime Minister's question time. But a Downing Street spokesman played down any chance of the Prime Minister changing his approach to the Firearms Bill and allowing a free vote next Monday.
Mr Dicks is one of the most outspoken right-wingers in Parliament. A strident supporter of tough law-and-order measures, including the return of capital and corporal punishment, he backed the police on a total handgun ban. He said: "I am sorry the Government acted in this way. I have no regrets: first Hungerford, then Dunblane - how many more people have to die before effective action is taken to deny private ownership of handguns and other weapons?"
He knew he risked being sacked from his unpaid post. He is now free to vote with other Tory rebels, led by David Mellor, the former Home Office minister.
t On Tesday night 31 Tories voted against the Government on the second reading of the Bill. Some Tories said another 30 abstained. Voting for the rebel Tory amendment were: Robert Banks (Harrogate); Spencer Batiste (Elmet); John Biffen (Shropshire N); Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston); Sir Andrew Bowden (Brighton Kemptown); Ian Bruce (Dorset S); Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton SW); John Carlisle (Luton N); Winston Churchill (Davyhulme); Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside); Christopher Gill (Ludlow); Sir John Gorst (Hendon N); Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire SW); Sir Archibald Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell); Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden); Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke); Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden); Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale); Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster); Tom King (Bridgwater); Dame Jill Knight (Edgbaston); Iain Mills (Meriden); Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking); Roderick Richards (Clwyd NW); Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire N); Peter Viggers (Gosport); John Whittingdale (Colchester S and Maldon); Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare); Ann Winterton (Congleton), and tellers, Tony Marlow (Northampton N) and Rupert Allason (Torbay).
Also for the amendment were three Labour MPs - Frank Cook (Stockton N); Dr John Gilbert (Dudley E); David Young (Bolton SE) - and three Ulster Unionist MPs - Roy Beggs (Antrim E); William Ross (Londonderry E); John Taylor (Strangford).Reuse content