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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2A:

Page 2, leave out lines 15 to 21.

The noble Baroness said: I should first apologise to the Committee for bringing forward this manuscript amendment at such short notice. I found myself in a similar situation when I was a Minister because of the publication of a scrutiny committee report close to the date of the Committee. Such occasions usually gave rise to very lively debate, with the Opposition spending a good deal of energy exhorting me, as the then Minister, to heed the recommendations of the report from the scrutiny committee.

The Select Committee described the Bill as illogical. I agree. Sections 16 and 17 of the 1997 Act provide that the Secretary of State may not make a scheme unless the draft has been approved by both Houses and that

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those requirements apply equally to any alteration to a scheme. Therefore, the Government's argument that 80 per cent. of firearms are already covered totally ignores the fact that any alteration--minor or otherwise--to the scheme may be made under the present Bill without reference to the parliamentary procedure. Therefore, there is no parliamentary control.

Clause 2(5) of the Bill makes amendments to Section 18. In the result, it excludes the affirmative procedure from underwriting the scheme. The scheme so limited instead must be laid before Parliament after it has been made. This does not attract the negative procedure, and there is no parliamentary control over compensation schemes relating to small-calibre pistols.

The committee did not accept the argument of the Home Office. It said that it was unconvincing, and I believe that it was right. It claimed that it was anomalous and that Parliament should have no control over the making of compensation schemes under the Bill, since even minor variations of the main scheme remained subject to the affirmative procedure but the scheme under the Bill as drafted would not be subject even to the negative procedure. The committee went on to say that the scheme was virtually the same as the original scheme, which was subject to the affirmative procedure, and that the firearms, and in some cases the equipment, referred to were different in this Bill and so therefore were the sums involved in determining their values. But the basis on which these values have been calculated is the same. The committee went on to say that it saw no reason why the provision of parliamentary control or its total absence should depend on the calibre of the weapon.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne, when speaking on this subject, advocated that it was important that the Government should make a commitment to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee that the House would listen with the greatest care to the recommendations contained in the reports of that committee and seek to respond quickly and positively to the views expressed. I am proud to say that the previous Government, who set up the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, not only found the work of the committee very helpful--as indeed it was--but had a record for always responding positively to the wishes of the House that the recommendations of the committee should be addressed.

I have spent many hours in the Home Office. I know that there is always a reluctance to submit anything to the affirmative or negative procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the enemy of officials in most departments. But I always succeeded in persuading them otherwise for two reasons: first, because I believed that the parliamentary procedure was worth invoking in many cases; and, secondly, because I believed that this House had an in-built abhorrence of the use of powers without Parliament having some control. Therefore, it is important to heed what is said.

The scrutiny committee went on to say,

    "Apart from the illogicality of the Bill as drafted, the Committee has also borne in mind the fact that this issue is a controversial one, and one which has attracted considerable debate both in and outside

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    Parliament. In the light of these considerations, the House may wish to consider whether the Bill should be amended to make the new scheme subject to the affirmative resolution procedure".

I invite the Committee to consider that matter. I hope that the Committee will support me in believing that it should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I rise briefly to support my noble friend. This is a very important matter. I remind your Lordships not only of the valuable work of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation but also of the fact that the point to which my noble friend has referred would be the first occasion on which your Lordships had either ignored or acted contrary to the advice of that select committee. In particular, the committee's comment in paragraph 4 on page 3 is very important:

    "It is anomalous that Parliament should have no control over the making of compensation schemes under the Bill".

It would be most unfortunate if that principle were abandoned by ignoring the advice of that committee. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to this short debate will provide an undertaking that the matter will be further considered. The words in lines 15 to 21 inclusive on page 2 of the Bill are inappropriate.

Lord Burton: I also support my noble friend in this matter. I believe that pistol shooters have been very hard done by anyway, but to have what may be a considerable delay in making payment to them if this matter is not dealt with promptly will be a final and quite unnecessary imposition upon them. If there is nothing else in the amendments tabled today, perhaps this is one that the noble Lord will be able to support.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As the noble Baroness has indicated, this amendment would require the details of a compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols to be subject to affirmative approval. That would mean that the Secretary of State could not make compensation payments to the owners of small-calibre pistols until the scheme had been approved by both Houses. Perhaps I may indicate why I do not believe that that is necessary.

When we debated the compensation scheme on 9th June I made clear (at col. 767 of Hansard) that the scheme for small-calibre pistols would be structured on entirely the same basis as that for the higher calibre weapons. I suggest to your Lordships that it is unnecessary to require both Houses to go over effectively the same material. I take the point made clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It is for that reason that we do not believe that it is necessary. It is exactly the same scheme.

The ex gratia scheme which will operate for small-calibre pistols and ancillary equipment until such time as the compensation scheme comes into force has already been placed in the Library of the House. Copies have been issued to all claimants at the same time as details of the compensation scheme already approved. If the further compensation scheme consequent upon the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 2A required approval by both Houses, there would be a delay in bringing the

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Act into force, which we believe would be unwelcome. We want to remove firearms from circulation as soon as possible. I believe that there is a strong public expectation that there will be no delay. I believe that claimants would welcome the introduction of the scheme sooner rather than later.

I read the report of the Select Committee on this matter. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have made plain, the language used is quite vigorous. The one point of dissent that I offer is that the report speaks about a controversial scheme. The banning of handguns is controversial, but the payment of compensation on the same model is not. That is the point of disagreement between the Government and the Select Committee. We certainly do not ignore its report; we have read it with care. It is couched in strong words.

We hope and intend that the present ex gratia scheme should become the formal compensation scheme. What we see now is what small-calibre pistol-holders can expect after enactment. This amendment would not do any favours for claimants. We have already received some claims for payment under the ex gratia scheme. Therefore, there will be some further delay.

The Government intend--I repeat it willingly--that if two individuals claim, one early ex gratia and the second for the same make and model of weapon, they will receive exactly the same amount. Your Lordships confirmed earlier the compensation scheme which accounts for 80 per cent. of the expenditure necessary to compensate the owners of handguns and related ancillary equipment. This is a further 20 per cent. on exactly the same principles as those already agreed. If one looks at the compensation scheme which has already been approved, and the ex gratia scheme which has been published, they are the same. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment. I stress again that I am not disregarding any of the constitutional points--if I may describe them in that way--made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

If it were to be of assistance, I am happy to look carefully again, in the light of what has been said (it has been said briefly but to abundant effect, which may not always be our experience) and consider--I cannot do more than give this undertaking--whether to bring an amendment on Report. We do not overlook the Select Committee's importance. It is capable of being, as it were, distinguished, but I am happy to give that undertaking if that is of assistance to the Committee and, in particular, to the noble Baroness.

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