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Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I intervene on two points of clarification. The Minister is talking about a straitjacket. As I understand the

18 Jun 1997 : Column 373

amendment, the purpose behind it is to put in statutory form the Government's intention to make payment within 30 days. That is obviously 30 days of applying the statutory amount of compensation or the agreed amount of compensation if it comes within option C. I am not clear why the police having to make inquiries has much to do with what we are discussing. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide clarification.

Secondly, is it the intention that interest should arise if someone were left for some considerable time beyond 30 days without compensation? I understand that that lies behind the Government's general proposals for interest on non-payment of debts.

Mr. Michael: I do not see that such a provision lies within the amendment, which would simply introduce a requirement.

We are not envisaging or planning for delays in making compensation payments. Pressure, however, will be put on the police and many others as a result of a temporary arrangement. How quickly we can finalise arrangements and have everyone handing in their guns depends partly on how expeditiously the proposed legislation is enacted and implemented. If the Bill passes through Parliament quickly, much will depend on whether we can back the arrangements for whatever weapons people have not handed in voluntarily to be handed in subsequently and quickly by an extension of the compensation scheme. I have in mind the employment of people and the arrangements that are already in hand.

We are talking of temporary arrangements to deal with specific circumstances. That makes the acceptance of the amendment inappropriate. The general principle is that we should seek to ensure that compensation is paid as quickly as possible and, if possible, within the period to which reference has been made. That might be thought of as aspirational, but it is something that we shall seek to do with the co-operation of everyone involved, if that is at all possible.

There are a couple of points to be made on a problem that is involved in implementing the compensation process. We are talking of 60,000 claimants, who will all submit claims within a short time. It would not be practicable to set a specific number of days within which individual claimants would receive payments. The sheer volume of claims to be made prevents that. Some claims will be processed before others and some claims might take longer than others.

There is, sensibly, no time requirement applying to payments under the compensation scheme for large-calibre handguns. There is nothing in logic, therefore, that requires that there should be one within the scheme for small-calibre pistols. That would be entirely inconsistent.

Mr. Boswell: I raised earlier the issue of interest, and the matter was taken up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire(Sir N. Lyell) with greater eloquence. Will the Minister consider, in cases where things go sadly wrong because

18 Jun 1997 : Column 374

of some administrative error, the payment of ex gratia interest? I do not seek an immediate answer now. Perhaps he will take away the point and think about it.

Mr. Michael: I hope that there will not be gross incidents of delay, other than those where there might be specific complications on an option C valuation where there is a considerable amount of debate because values are not being accepted. We want to see all cases dealt with as expeditiously as possible. We shall seek to ensure that that happens, and I am sure that we shall receive the full co-operation of the police and all those who are involved in the Home Office. We shall try to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

We are dealing, however, with a challenging task. We are progressing rapidly because we believe that it is in the public interest for the guns concerned rapidly to be removed from general public ownership. The Association of Chief Police Officers and others have accepted our objective and supported us in trying to get the arrangements into place. I place on record my thanks to all those concerned, including individual chief constables, in seeking to implement the arrangements.

I return to a final point of simple logic: no time limit was placed on larger handguns. I accept, of course, that the Bill does not deal with them. That being so, it would be illogical to put a straitjacket on the way in which we deal with .22 handguns. I accept the aspiration that we deal quickly and efficiently with all claims--I undertake that we shall do all that we can to achieve that--but it would not be sensible or logical to accept the amendment.

Mr. Maclean: This is a matter not of simple logic but of whether or not the Prime Minister's word is to be trusted. There have been some interesting revisions of Government policy this evening from a Minister of State in Her Majesty's Government. We assume that he is speaking with the authority of the Government. We have been told that the policy is not to have payment within 30 days, but to try, with all efforts, to pay as soon as is practicable or as soon as possible, leaving no stone unturned to pay Government debts as soon as they can be paid.

The Minister said repeatedly that we cannot have 30-day payments because that would impose a straitjacket on the Government. Does that mean, therefore, that the Prime Minister's statement on 16 September 1996 that a requirement would be introduced--it was not a straitjacket then, when the right hon. Gentleman was on the prawn cocktail circuit, wining and dining business men and pursuing their votes--by a Labour Government for the millennium was not a commitment that the Government would pay their bills within 30 days?

The previous Government did not insert such a requirement in the 1997 Act because we were content to rest with the provisions that we had introduced with the development of the British standard payment. We had decided to publish league tables of the Government's performance, and we were content to rest on that. At the same time, we took the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), at his word. He went round telling business men that a new Labour Government would introduce a requirement that Government bills would be paid within 30 days.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 375

That is why we have tabled the amendment. We have been presented with our first chance to test the word of the new Government, and especially that of the Prime Minister. Can they be trusted on the issue of the Government paying their bills?

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Would I be right in understanding my right hon. Friend to be saying that the word of the Prime Minister for a requirement seems, having regard to the words of the Minister of State, to have become a pious hope?

Mr. Maclean: My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. It was not even a pious hope. It amounted to, "We shall do our best to pay if we can within 30 days." The requirement that the Prime Minister wanted is now regarded by the Minister of State as a straitjacket into which the Government do not wish to insert themselves. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister is concerned about froth on the top of beer glasses. It seems that his concern for the Government to pay their bills within 30 days was froth before the general election. It seems also that it can be blown away like froth from a beer glass.

The Opposition will force the amendment to a Division because it goes to the issue of whether the Prime Minister's words can be trusted or whether they can be overruled by a Minister of State, Home Office.

Mr. Michael: What a surprise. The Opposition have found specious reasons to have another Division. It seems that they need to fill in the time. I have listened with admiration and astonishment to the developing capacity of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for invention. What a pious intervention from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell).

I have made it clear that we are dealing with a temporary arrangement, which will be dealt with properly by the police and civil servants, under great pressure. The reason for that pressure is that there is pressure to get handguns off the streets and out of people's homes.

The right hon. Gentleman had to find some specious excuse for not having put in his Bill something that he now requires us to put in ours. His arguments were indeed specious. Of course people can trust the word of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That is why he is Prime Minister, and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border is where he deserves to be--on the Opposition Benches.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 177, Noes 301.

Division No. 33
[7.9 pm


AYES


Allan, Richard (Shef'ld Hallam)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brake, Thomas
Brand, Dr Peter
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burstow, Paul
Butterfill, John
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin
(Grantham & Stamford)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Fearn, Ronnie
Flight, Howard
Forth, Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Gorrie, Donald
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kirkwood, Archy
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Livsey, Richard
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Robert
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Merchant, Piers
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Oaten, Mark
Opik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew
(Truro & St Austell)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thompson, William
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Wallace, James
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steven
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Patrick McLoughlin and
Mr. Bowen Wells.


NOES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N)
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Ms Charlotte
Barron, Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Mrs Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Robert
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon
(Dunfermline E)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Christine
Byers, Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Church, Ms Judith
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
(Hammersmith & Fulham)
Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Ms Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corston, Ms Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Ms Clare
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dean, Ms Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Ms Louise
Etherington, Bill
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Flint, Ms Caroline
Follett, Ms Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael John (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
Galbraith, Sam
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Graham, Thomas
Grant, Bernie
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Philip
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley
(Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Ms Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jowell, Ms Tessa
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kingham, Tessa
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andy
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Ms Shona
McKenna, Ms Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McMaster, Gordon
McNamara, Kevin
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Ms Judy
Mandelson, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meale, Alan
Merron, Ms Gillian
Michael, Alun
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Ms Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms Linda
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Robertson, Rt Hon George
(Hamilton S)
Rogers, Allan
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salmond, Alex
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Wigley, Dafydd
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Wray, James
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mr. Greg Pope.

Question accordingly negatived.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 379

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.


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