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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The answer to that question is yes.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, comes to a conclusion as to whether to press the amendment, and since the Minister was good enough to refer to me, I confirm that I did not approve of the previous Government's arrangements for their Bill. Indeed, I believe that the amendment, which your Lordships' House passed by a substantial majority with all-party support, to disassemble weapons, particularly .22s, and to keep the slide mechanisms and the chambers in the clubs under suitably secure arrangements and to keep the weapons at home, was the right amendment to meet all sides of this particularly difficult argument. Of course, it was a matter of regret that the previous

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Government did not feel able to accept that. It was certainly a matter of regret to most of us in your Lordships' House who supported it.

I appreciate that the Minister is not having an easy time today, and I certainly admire the way in which he is holding his extremely difficult and, I would have thought, unpleasant brief. However, I cannot go so far with him as to disagree with my noble friend Lady Blatch when she said that the previous Government left us with the possibility of at least having some .22 shooting in clubs and continuing the sport. The present Government, in their lack of wisdom, have decided to prevent that.

I support the amendment because if, with the further passage of time, we were to review the compensation arrangements, or lack of them, which the Bill brings forward we might reach a more sensible conclusion than the one that we are reaching still in the aftermath of the Dunblane tragedy. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, re-entering the Chamber because he referred to the terrible tragedy at Dunblane and the children who suffered. Speaking as the father of a 12 year-old girl than whom nothing and no-one is more precious in life to me, I must say to the noble Lord that I believe that he is wrong in thinking that the Bill will do anything to prevent future tragedies of that kind or the future deaths of children. As we have said for some time, the Bill seeks to ban the instrument that was used at Dunblane, but it does nothing to alleviate the cause.

Earl Peel: Why does the Minister seem so concerned that the amendment will re-open the whole question of compensation? I understand that under the amendment there is no onus to ask the Secretary of State to do anything other than to make a report. It may initiate debate, but there is no onus on the Secretary of State or the Minister to do anything. Therefore, I do not see why he is concerned about that point.

Furthermore, do I understand that the Minister's principal reason for not paying compensation in respect of businesses, mortgages, clubs and so forth--all of which have been raised many times in your Lordships' House--other than compensation for weapons is because the previous Government did not do so? I had hoped that the new Government would take a fresh view. I am aware that the present Government are copying many of the legislative provisions which were introduced by the previous Government, whether they be fiscal, connected with privatisation or whatever. However, in this respect I hoped that the new Government would take a new and fresh look at the matter and certainly a more generous view as regards those people who were treated so badly in the past.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course, we are not taking this stance because of what the previous Government did. I simply pointed out as a matter of historical accuracy that the scheme introduced into your Lordships' House by the previous Government leads to the banning perhaps of 160,000 large-calibre handguns; this Bill deals with the impact of banning 40,000 small-calibre pistols. It would be surprising to me to have a compensation scheme for the 40,000 guns which was different from that for the 160,000. That is the point

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that I was seeking to make and I hope that I have now clarified it. That policy decision was taken and ultimately it was endorsed by Parliament, which is why we have the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 on the statute book.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I thank all noble Lords who supported my new clause. We should listen closely to what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, because there could well be people who feel a sense of injustice and who may take actions which are not conducive to good order. Of course, there is always the danger that there will be a leakage of handguns to the criminal fraternity and that must be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was right to say that the Bill will do nothing to prevent future Dunblanes. There is no guarantee whatever that this Bill or the Act which preceded it will prevent any future Dunblanes. If I could be assured that that were the case I would not have opposed the Bill, but I know that it is not the case. No guarantee can be given and under those circumstances this Bill and the previous Act are bad legislation.

My noble friend the Minister in his reply said, fairly, that the Bill follows on from the previous Bill which was brought forward by the previous Government. He made that excuse, and I say that advisedly because it is an excuse. I must tell my noble friend and other Members of the Committee that I am a member of the Labour Party because I believe that it is fairer and understands the concerns and difficulties of ordinary people better than the party opposite--

Lord Renton: Not always!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: No, but let me explain why I am a member of the Labour Party. It states that it is fairer and that it wants a fairer society. If that is so why on earth is it following the policy--the mean policy--of the previous Government? People changed the Government because they wanted something different and yet all we have is the same. So that is my answer to my noble friend. I hope that he will understand and accept it.

Of course I want to reopen the whole issue of compensation. The problem is that my Government have drawn the Bill so closely and restricted the Long Title so badly that I have to resort to this device to try to talk to my friend, my noble friend, in the hope that they will depart from the policies of the predecessor government and bring about much more fairness to the people who are adversely affected by this Bill.

Of course, because there is a huge majority, he could while he is about it bring forward an amendment Bill so that we could have the same treatment for the people who suffered under the previous Act. Therefore, there is an enormous opportunity for my noble friend to do good for people who have been badly hurt by the previous government and now by my own Government.

I should like to press this amendment but it would be churlish to do so because everybody else has been kind enough to withdraw their amendments. They have done so in the hope and in order that my noble friend can examine what the amendment says and consider further what has been said in the debate. When the Bill comes to

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Report stage, it is hoped that the Minister will be much more receptive and will support some of the amendments. Indeed, if they are not properly drafted, perhaps he will bring forward his own amendments which we can all support and which will improve the Bill in the way I and other Members of the Committee have suggested in relation to other matters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 11:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

Compensation: payments

(" . In any case under this Act the Secretary of State shall--
(a) on notification in writing by any person surrendering weapons or ancillary equipment ranking for compensation, pay an amount equal to his estimate of the compensation payable on account of and without prejudice to the total amount of compensation agreed or determined; and
(b) make any such payment within 30 days of notification or other such period as is provided for by an order made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument and approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: I shall be as brief as I can, given the hour. I apologise also to the Minister for the relatively late tabling of the amendment, which is a probing amendment. It deals with a quite narrow, technical point but I should explain that it arises through my fear that the compensation scheme under this Bill may prove more costly than has been thought hitherto.

That is partly because of my impression that the quantum of ancillary equipment which may rank for compensation is almost by definition not known and quantifiable. I have heard some rumours that whatever the cost, it may be the case that there are no additional funds to be put towards the costs of compensation under the Bill and that any additional costs may have to be met out of existing Home Office budgets. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance about that because it worries me a great deal, and I shall explain why.

It is my general observation that, whenever there is insufficient money around, a certain amount of creative administrative practice arises. The flaw in any process which requires money which is in short supply to be paid out is that there results a tendency to draw out the process of agreeing what is due to a recipient.

The effect of that is to delay the evil day when someone has to write out the cheque. I alluded to that in relation to Amendment No. 3, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when I said that I did not believe that that amendment went far enough. Of course, it is one thing to be paid when the compensation is agreed or within a certain period thereafter; it is another to have the whole thing snarled up because the matter is not agreed. Therefore, my amendment seeks to redress the potential for a certain amount of financial manipulation in that respect. I do not suggest that that will necessarily happen but I feel that it is a risk.

The effect of the amendment is to enable a person entitled to compensation to obtain in relatively short order a payment of that amount of the compensation

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which is not in dispute, leaving the balance to be dealt with and picked up later. There are parallels for that in the general law of compulsory purchase and compensation relating to acquisitions of land and property for public schemes where there is entitlement to a statutory advance payment without prejudice to any larger sum under discussion.

Therefore, I commend this relatively technical amendment to the Committee and look forward with interest to the Minister's reply.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: The Minister will know that I am sympathetic to any way of speeding up and making more efficient the delivery of the system and also in relation to swift payment. The Minister has declared that he wishes to see payments made as speedily as possible. But I do not believe that the Minister appreciates properly the depth of anxiety and concern about this whole scheme, how it will work and how well it will be implemented. There are already discrepancies among police authorities as to how they are dealing with the shooting fraternity who will be subject to the measures in the previous Act and in this Bill.

Therefore, I believe that the Government should place something on the face of the Bill which reassures people that these matters will be dealt with efficiently and that timely payments will be made. People will be in need of this money and it is important that they should receive it as soon as possible. Therefore, I support the principle of including a provision of this kind in the Bill.

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