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Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has moved the amendment with his habitual skill and sensitivity to the injustices inflicted upon tens of thousands of law-abiding decent citizens by panic legislation both by this Government and the previous government. His exposition of those injustices is so comprehensive that there is no need for me to enlarge upon them, particularly at this relatively late hour.
However, it is worth examining the amendment in some detail to see what it provides. All it obliges the Secretary of State to do is to undertake a review of the operation of the compensation scheme and to report the results to Parliament--nothing more. It gives the Government the option of making recommendations to increase compensation in certain instances if they believe it right to do so, but they are under no obligation to make any such compensation. On the other hand, in the light of evidence revealed by the review they may decide that it is appropriate to introduce new primary legislation to provide extra compensation for the worst hit individuals and associations. There is nothing in the amendment that obliges the Government to do so. Therefore, the amendment is extremely moderate and responsible, and I hope that on that basis it will be accepted.
Earl Peel: I very strongly support this amendment. During the proceedings on the previous Bill I spoke at length on the whole question of compensation. I make no apology for speaking about it again, because it is a very serious question and there are undoubtedly clear examples where financial losses have been identified and those losses have led to real hardship. I declare an interest, as I always have, as president of the Gun Trade Association. Quite a number of these cases have been brought to my attention. At Second Reading I quoted the figure of £64 million as the estimate of the losses that had been incurred by clubs alone due directly to the previous legislation. That sum does not include businesses and those who took out mortgages or loans. I dread to think what the total figure may be. However, one can be sure that it comes to a very considerable sum of money. Those people were ignored.
The previous government maintained that no precedent had been set for such compensation, certainly to be met out of the public purse. But examples were given to show that in previous cases when government had legislated to prohibit a product for whatever reason there had in many cases been other products to which the particular businesses could turn. But that was not the case with many businesses and clubs which dealt specifically with specialist guns. One knows that clubs in particular suffered under the previous legislation. Furthermore, in previous cases where items had been prohibited, a phasing-out period was provided which gave those concerned an opportunity to look to other ways of maintaining their businesses. That opportunity was not afforded under the previous legislation. It was rushed through for reasons of political expediency and
There will be casualties from this Bill. Whereas I accept that the Government have said that they will pay full compensation for those who hand in their .22 hand guns and accessories, there will still be businesses, clubs and those who have taken out mortgages and loans in respect of whom nothing has been done. If the Government on behalf of the electorate consider that the measures in this Bill are in the best interests of the public at large, I believe that equal consideration and courtesy must be shown to those who have taken the brunt of this legislation.
The amendment is, on the face of it, an innocuous one. That is not an adjective I like to use to describe anything with which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is involved, but what he says is right. It is only, in effect, a small amendment. I support it for one reason only. It will help concentrate the Government's mind on the whole question of compensation and could, in time, demonstrate the plight that businesses, clubs and individuals have suffered. The Government may at that time rethink the whole question of compensation and adopt a system considerably fairer and more just than that witnessed under the previous legislation.
The Earl of Lytton: I have previously expressed an interest in compensation matters, and I have an apology to make to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. A few days ago I indicated that I did not think that I could support the amendment. Having heard what he has had to say--I had no idea at the time that he was proposing to raise the whole question of compensation--I must add a few things from my experience. That will help foreshorten what I have to say in connection with an amendment in my name.
The noble Lord referred to public opinion and opinion polls. He underlined something which I have always understood; namely, that public opinion is a fickle commodity. One minute it is borne on a tide of emotion, press comment and such things; the next minute it has moved on to something different. I hope therefore that the Government will bear in mind that feature and that, perhaps in a year's time, when the first anniversary of their success in being elected into government comes around, they will consider that they are receiving the support of the country for reasons different from the ones upon which they went to the polls in the first place. That is a necessary and desirable process. They need to be alert to it.
On Second Reading, I referred to public opinion versus public interest. I pointed out that they are not the same; that there is a role for government to make a distinction. I do not see that distinction being made here.
I come now to the question of compensation. As I say, I was unaware that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, intended to raise it. However, it is something close to my heart and my amendment relates to one aspect of it. There are severe risks involved in getting this wrong. What will happen if those who stand to lose because they are not being paid the proper sum by reference to
It may not be fashionable to say so, but I wonder whether a number of weapons will not disappear through loss, theft or export on whatever pretext and whether the effect of the proposed legislation will not fail to achieve the Government's objectives in terms of reducing the number of guns by getting rid of these legally held guns. I do not know what the answer to that is. I am extremely worried that it may not work in the way the Government have in mind, because there will be people who will feel that they have been short changed.
I said on Second Reading that two wrongs do not make a right. At this stage of the Bill, they still do not make a right. They are still two wrongs. There is still the risk of disillusionment and the tit-for-tat response. How many people will be left, as one sees in the light of Lord Cullen's report, like that embittered, disillusioned man who took his revenge on society? That may sound far fetched, but we are playing with fire if we do not get the matter right.
It is in the public interest that full and fair compensation is paid, and seen to be paid. If that is not done, the consequences are likely to lead to this country being a more dangerous rather than a less dangerous place. I want it to be a less dangerous place. I support the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. I am glad to have heard what he had to say and to have had the opportunity to contribute.
Baroness Blatch: I shall be brief. It is unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is not in his place. He has not found one Member on the Liberal Benches to support his arguments. He strongly supported the issue of compensation, and his comments would have a far greater resonance, given the situation presented by the superimposition of the Bill onto the 1997 Act.
Under the 1997 Act, it was at least possible for clubs to continue operating, albeit, I say to my noble friend Lord Peel, under strict regulation. However, the importance of the Bill is that the opportunity for survival will no longer be available. That makes the scenario different. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, set out in considerable detail the distress that will now be suffered by clubs, shooters and the sport. It is for those reasons that I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: As my noble friend clearly indicated, he wants a statutory requirement for a formal review and report of the compensation scheme under the Bill. It will not have escaped attention that the scheme under the earlier Bill introduced by the previous government restricted itself to handguns and ancillary equipment. On many occasions the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, raised the question of wider compensation, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Earls, Lord Peel and Lord Lytton; that is, compensation for loss of business, for mortgage loans taken out, and loss perhaps in
A policy decision taken by the previous government, endorsed by another place and approved by this place, following considerable discussion, was that those would not be eligible for compensation. I always respect my noble friend's ingenuity. He says that it is a little amendment. Someone flashed out the red light that it was an innocuous amendment, so I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Stoddart was developing. Of course what he is doing--if I may respectfully suggest it, and I think we may be in agreement--is not asking for a formal review but for the reopening of the compensation scheme basis.
The 1997 Act had the same scheme for compensation as the Bill. I do not find it persuasive when the former Minister, now sitting opposite me, says that everything has changed because under the previous Act, which did away with so many more weapons than does the Bill, there was still the possibility of running .22 clubs. I do not find that argument persuasive in any way. Since the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and I have agreed on changing disciplines, I should be surprised if he were persuaded by it either.
We believe that there is no need for a formal statutory review. The scheme will start--and I hope that it will be efficiently run--on the basis of the present regime of compensation. I understand the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and I understand the sense of principle which other noble Lords have adopted. If the amendment were passed we would have a statutory requirement for a review in relation to compensation for small-calibre weapons but not in relation to compensation for large-calibre weapons. I respectfully suggest that that would be distinctly unworkable and inconsistent and I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
Lord Monson: Does the Minister agree that the amendment, if passed, does not oblige the Government to pay a single penny more in compensation than is provided for at present, if they so decide?
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