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Lord Renton: Before my noble friend Lady Blatch replies, will the Minister bear in mind that Parliament must be assured that the compensation scheme is adequate? That can only be assured if Parliament has the chance to consider the matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I take the noble Lord's point. I am merely indicating that the proposed scheme is the same as the scheme that has already been approved for larger calibre weapons.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The Minister may have overlooked the fact that one of the reasons for accepting

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that .22 weapons could go on being used is that many thousands of people have been most unfortunately deprived of the right to use larger calibre weapons by the previous Act. Therefore the compensation possibly needs to be larger for the small calibre weapons because people will be using them who would otherwise have been able to go on shooting in some way, whereas the previous Government, much to the regret of many of us, banned the use of larger handguns. It is not on all fours to say that the compensation scheme for these weapons should be the same as for the others--even the compensation for the others was entirely inadequate--because people are now being deprived of the sport entirely, whereas before they could have gone on to some extent.

Lord Burton: Is it not right that the small bore compensation is only £100 as opposed to £150 for large bore weapons? I understand that that is what the people have been signing for.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I repeat what I believe to be correct: the scheme is the same as the other scheme. I do not know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has ever practised at the Bar, but he has a point of philosophical ingenuity to which many lawyers would take their hat off. It is apparently attractive, and therefore on closer examination may not be perfect. When one does not go into detail, one comes to the principle, which is the principle that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, have contended for.

I repeat that I am happy to look carefully again at the committee's report in the light of everything that has been said by Members of the Committee and to consider whether to bring an amendment on Report. I hope that the Committee will think that that is an appropriate response to the concerns that have been raised.

Baroness Blatch: I shall not be pressing the amendment today, but if the Minister comes back at the next stage of the Bill with the same argument that he has used today, I shall have no hesitation in asking Members of this place to join me in the Division Lobby on the amendment. This place must be cautious about disregarding the advice of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It will be an unprecedented act if the Government refuse to accept what is unequivocal. As the Minister said, vigorous language is used to say that the Bill in its present state is unsatisfactory. We owe it to the committee, which does such valuable work, to respond positively. It will cost almost nothing to put the Bill on all fours with the previous Act.

Without any disrespect to the Minister, we have only the Minister's word that this scheme will be identical. The powers in the Bill allow the scheme to be changed. They allow changes to take place without any reference to Parliament. There is no control over the scheme that will arise from the Bill, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for the shooting fraternity.

I was almost breathless with surprise when the Minister said that the scheme is not controversial. I do not know where he has been for the past few weeks, but I can tell him that there is a great deal of disquiet about the scheme. I know, from having been at the Dispatch Box on that side

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of the Chamber, the difficulty of having to convince people that the scheme was fair and that we would play fair by those disadvantaged by the Bill. There is great disquiet about the scheme.

As my next amendment will show, there is a great deal of unhappiness about the way in which the scheme will be administered and the speed with which it will be administered. For all those reasons, changes in the timing, the way it will happen, and its administrative implementation could all take place without reference to Parliament. That is unacceptable. I accept that the Minister will go away and reflect on what has been said during this short exchange, but if he is not prepared to move on this I shall be inviting Members of this place to be joining me in the Division Lobby to sustain our record of always taking seriously and positively the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 21, at end insert--
("(3B) Payments made under this scheme relating to small-calibre pistols, or to equipment designed or adapted for use in connection with such pistols, shall be received within 40 days of agreement of the valuation".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment would ensure that compensation payments relating to small calibre pistols or equipment designed or adapted for use in connection with such pistols will be paid within 40 days of the agreed valuation. The amendment is in line with current government policy. Indeed, in a lecture to the City of London Corporation in September 1996, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Party:

    "will introduce a requirement for Government Departments and public agencies to pay their bills within 30 days".

That has my wholehearted support.

There is no reason why that principle should not apply to affected owners under the Bill. Indeed, the amendment offers a further 10 days above the limit specified by the Prime Minister. There was confusion during the debate in the other place on a similar amendment. The Minister said that it would be,

    "unreasonable to include in primary legislation the requirement sought by the amendment"--[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/97; col. 371.],

because of the demands that it would place on police forces which collect the weapons.

If the amendment were to require payment 40 days after surrender of the weapon, that might well be a valid objection, but the amendment requires payment 40 days after agreement of the valuation of the weapon. So once claims have been sent to the Firearms Compensation Section set up under the firearms compensation scheme 1997 and agreement has already been reached, there is no reason why that payment should not be sent out by that department within 40 days. It is a question of just writing the cheque.

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It does not matter whether the pistol in question is in option A or B, which is the flat-rate payment, or the listed pistol evaluation, or claims under option C (individual valuations). If there is any dispute, particularly under option C, the 40 days runs from the time of the agreed valuation. My noble friend Lord Attlee received a letter by fax from the Minister this morning as a result of points made by him on Second Reading. In that letter the Minister states:

    "All claims will be processed as quickly as possible. Single claims submitted under Options A and B will be dealt with very quickly, as soon as they can be entered on to the Home Office computer system. Multiple claims from individuals or dealers, and those under Option C, will take longer".

That is accepted, and set aside as an argument for the purposes of the amendment.

It is only at the point of full agreement between the parties that the 40-day period commences. There should be no difference if someone is covered by an A, B, or C scheme. It is not too much to invite the Government, after all the negotiations have been completed, to take within 40 days to write the cheque. As I say, we support the Prime Minister's objective. We have given a little leeway with respect to the volume of applications, but we believe it is eminently achievable and that there should be no problem for the Government in considering it favourably. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: I support the amendment. To deprive our sportsmen and women of their pistols for reasons which have more to do with public relations than with public safety is wrong and unnecessary. To make them wait for several weeks for the minimal compensation adds insult to injury.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, pointed out, prompt payment is wholly in line with the promise made by Mr. Blair 10 months ago when he was Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, for that reason if for no other, I trust that the Minister will accept the amendment.

The Earl of Lytton: I agree with the thrust of the amendment; namely, that payment should be made promptly. However, I do not believe that it goes far enough or is sufficiently comprehensive, hence my Amendment No. 11. I support the thrust of what the noble Baroness put forward and believe it right and proper that once the amount of the payment is known it should be made promptly. Anything else would be to court a dangerous situation on which I shall elaborate in connection with Amendment No. 11.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I regret to say that I cannot accept the amendment. I do not disagree with the sentiment behind it, but on Second Reading I made it plain to your Lordships that compensation payments for small calibre pistols and their ancillary equipment would be made as quickly as possible. Your Lordships will remember that I gave the same assurance for large calibre handguns.

The noble Baroness was good enough to refer to a letter which I sent to her noble friend Lord Attlee in which I made it plain that single claims under options A and B will

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be dealt with quickly and that multiple claims--there will be some--from individuals and dealers under option C will take longer.

It is a problem of logistics. There will be a large number of claims over a short period of time. Those which are entered and are straightforward should be dealt with if no further check is required and payment sent out in the post within a matter of days. It is not practicable to set a specific time period within which claimants will receive payment. There was a murmured question, "Why not?". The amendment requires that payments "shall be received", not "shall be dispatched", and it is not possible to have such an obligation in an Act of Parliament. It simply is not possible. I am not taking that purely as a drafting point because it is not an issue between us, but obviously the amendment is defective in any event.

I turn to matters of substance and principle. We expect that there will be more than 60,000 claimants under the scheme for large calibre handguns. It is a matter of practicability. I ask the Committee to accept my indication that simple cases ought to have payment within a matter of days. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, originally invited me to consider 60 days. The amendment asks for 40 days and other views for 30 days. The fact is that simple cases will be processed before others. Some cases may take longer than others, certainly under option C. Interestingly, in respect of the compensation scheme for large calibre weapons there is no time limit. We suggest that one is not practicable in the scheme for small calibre pistols.

As the noble Baroness indicated, the matter was considered in another place in the context of a 30-day time limit and it was rejected resoundingly. We will do what we can to make payment promptly, but we cannot accept any amendment, particularly a defective amendment, which imposes that limit. It simply is not practicable.

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