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Lord Henley: My Lords, the name of my noble friend Lady Blatch is down to the amendment. Where my noble friend's name appears on the Marshalled List of amendments one should read "Henley" rather than "Blatch". Perhaps I may thank the Minister for the concession he has made following the moving of the amendment in Committee by my noble friend. I thank him for giving it such careful consideration and for coming back with an identical amendment. On at least one occasion the Opposition's drafting has been as good as that of the Home Office, simple though the drafting is, it merely being a matter of deletion.

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I have just one small quibble with the Minister. He said that some of the matters relating to compensation were not controversial. I believe that they are still extremely controversial, as the feelings on the Bill which have been generated in this House and elsewhere will have shown. Having said that, I am grateful to the Minister for what he said.

In relation to the final point made by the Minister about a possible further amendment, I note at this stage what he said. I should greatly welcome early sight, if possible, of any amendment that the Government might feel it necessary to put down so that I and my colleagues could take advice on it. It will be Third Reading when we come to that amendment. If the Minister feels that the amendment will be complex it might be necessary to re-commit part of the Bill for that amendment. I wonder whether he will give some consideration to that possibility.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course as soon as the amendment is in perfected form I shall send a copy of it to the noble Lord. It relates to captive bolt weapons used in abattoirs and I should not have thought--famous last words--that it would be difficult or controversial.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 4:

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 dispatched within 40 days of agreement of the valuation.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a variation on an amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch in Committee. That amendment was designed to ensure that compensation would be received within 40 days of agreement of the valuation. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, objected to the amendment partly on grounds of logistics. I do not accept that because the Prime Minister himself said that he believes that all debts should be settled within 30 days and that he is considering legislation on that subject. Therefore, I should have thought that even the Home Office would be able to cope with an amendment which suggests 40 days.

But the Minister objected also to the amendment--and I think quite rightly--on the grounds that it provided that the payment "shall be received". He suggested that the words "shall be dispatched" would be a better alternative. I believe that he used those words at col. 946 in Committee on 15th July as being more appropriate. We have therefore tabled this revised version of the amendment using the noble Lord's suggested words rather than those used by my noble friend in Committee.

I appreciate that the noble Lord was, as it were, speaking without warning in Committee and I appreciate that he is not a parliamentary draftsman. But he is probably one of the most distinguished lawyers to work in the Home Office for many years. Therefore, I believe that it is quite right for us to use the words that the noble Lord suggested in Committee as being an appropriate

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variation to put forward on Report. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us whether, having followed the advice which he gave in Committee, we have produced an amendment which he is able to accept.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is an incredibly important point. I was present in the House yesterday when the Minister said with some pride that the response of the Home Office to MPs and the wider public is much improved and is better than it has been for a long time. That may be so. I do not wish to take issue with that except to say that there is one part of the department which is coming under very heavy criticism. If that has not been brought to the Minister's attention, perhaps I may use this opportunity to do so.

I have received a great many concerned telephone calls and letters from people who are complaining about the way in which compensation is being handled and about the delays in payment of compensation.

I telephoned the Home Office during the summer holidays. I did not say who I was and nobody asked me who I was. I telephoned on behalf of somebody who had written to me. He had handed in his gun at the beginning of the period and was extremely concerned that not only had he still not received payment but also that he found it difficult to contact the Home Office and when he did make contact, the officials there were extremely unhelpful. I cannot say that I had the most helpful telephone call with the Home Office. However, in the course of my telephone call I ascertained that the person for whom I was speaking had not been attended to, had not received his compensation but would do so within the next two weeks. That was more than a month ago and that person has still not received his compensation. He has now been waiting a good two months to receive compensation under a part of the scheme about which there is no quibble in terms of valuation.

I know that a large number of people are still waiting for compensation. In the course of my conversation with the Home Office, I eventually admitted that I was the Minister who had shepherded the previous Bill through Parliament. I told the young lady that in answering questions about payment being made as quickly as possible once a valuation has been agreed, the Minister was extremely encouraging. I told her that although the Minister did not accept that a provision should be written on the face of the Bill, nevertheless he gave every promise that the time limits for which we were asking in the amendments would, as far as possible, be adhered to. The person in the Home Office said that she had no knowledge whatever of deadlines or targets. Nevertheless, she made a promise that the person for whom I was speaking would be dealt with within two weeks.

This is a very controversial matter. It is discourteous not to deal quickly with people, particularly when there is no argument about valuation. Indeed, the amendment allows the Home Office to take as long as need be to reach a valuation and then dispatch payment within 40 days.

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I have one particular question for the Minister. It is being said now that the police authorities are not parting with the money that is already agreed because they do not have it; the money is simply not there. I should like an assurance from the Minister that no payment will be delayed on the grounds of it not being met financially by the Home Office or whatever is the source of this money. The matter remains controversial. If the Minister is not aware of the situation then I think that it is important to take this opportunity to bring it to his notice.

Lord Burton: My Lords, I had a very similar case to that referred to by my noble friend Lady Blatch. The person concerned handed in his weapons early on and thought that he would be right at the front of the queue and there would be no delay in receiving payment. When, after, I think it was, six weeks, he had not received his payment he wrote to the Home Office and he was told that it was the police who were delaying matters. We have one of the most efficient firearms sections of the police force in the country. It is extremely efficient and pleasant to deal with. It is clearly not the fault of the police and it is disgraceful to suggest that it is. I do not understand why the Home Office should be blaming the police force.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot accept this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was reading out the gratuitous legal advice which I had given, I was following it carefully. I read the small print. I do not believe that I was offering a solution but I was merely pointing out that as originally drafted, the amendment before the Committee was lamentably drafted. On that occasion I omitted the adverb because I was being more polite.

If there are any particular questions relating to specific instances, I am more than happy to have the details provided in writing. I have had correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Burton, and I hope that he can affirm the proposition that I wrote back to him as soon as I possibly could. I cannot deal with telephone conversations with a "girl in the office" because I have no knowledge of them at all. But if there are specifics with details that are provided to me, I shall deal with them as soon as I possibly can.

Perhaps I may tell the House that 13,000 claims have already been paid out at a cost of £10.5 million. The compensation money has been set aside by the Treasury and in answer to the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, I should tell her that there is not any problem with money. I stress that £10.5 million has been paid out.

The original amendment was defective, but I made it quite plain that that was not the reason for my objection. I pointed out the technical deficiencies but I outlined the main reasons for my objection, which I shall do again.

The majority of straightforward claims--option A or option B--will be dealt with quickly. Option C claims depend on individual valuations. They take longer for precisely that reason. There is a very large volume of

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claimants. There are more than 60,000 claimants under this scheme and that in operation for large calibre handguns. It is simply not practical to set a specific number of days within which payments will be sent to individual claimants. Some cases will be processed before others; others may take longer. Sometimes there are perfectly innocent errors. A claimant may give incorrect bank details on a claim form. Such a person may well believe that it is Home Office obstruction or Treasury meanness which is causing the delay when that is not the case at all. It is simply that the claimant has not made a correct claim. In such a case it is not workable to have a 40-day obligation.

It is noticeable that sensibly, there is no similar time requirements in relation to payments under the compensation scheme for large calibre handguns. That being so, I respectfully suggest that there should not be one for small calibre pistols. I repeat that I am more than willing to deal with any particulars that are properly given to me in writing so that I can look into them. I say that because anecdotal accounts are impossible to check and, therefore, impossible to put right one way or another.

The amendment remains defective because it refers to payment being made,

    "within 40 days of agreement of the valuation".
But I ask: what valuation and agreed by whom? It is not workable, apart from the fact, as I respectfully suggest once more, that it is not necessary. I should like to point out--and this was not the position as regards the earlier amendment upon which your Lordships gave a fairly robust rejection to the course which I proposed--that the proposal for a 30-day payment was considered by another place and defeated by a majority of 124. That is simply a part of the background to the discussions on the matter. As I said, it is unnecessary and, should the amendment be pressed, I invite noble Lords to reject it.

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