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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I explained in Committee on 15th July, the Government do not wish

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to allow exemptions to the general ban on handguns which the Bill seeks to introduce. The amendment seeks to exempt single-shot small-calibre pistols from the general ban on handguns that we propose. We do not believe that it would be justifiable to treat one group of shooters in a special way which is out of step with the general approach taken by the Bill.

The amendment is inconsistent in another way. It seeks to exempt single-shot small-calibre rimfire pistols. But a pistol of exactly the same dimension which is centre fire is already banned by the Act introduced by our predecessors earlier this year. It would be extremely difficult for police officers or anyone else to tell the difference between those types of pistol without specialist assistance. The Bill intends to ban all firearms with barrels less than 30 centimetres long. If this amendment became law, it would be a recipe for confusion.

It is said that those weapons cannot be reloaded promptly. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the Cullen inquiry. The evidence to Lord Cullen from Mr. David Penn, the chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council Technical and Research Committee said:

    "With reasonable practice a shooter could get the reloading time down to about 5 seconds".
Lord Cullen said:

    "I am content to accept that this could be achieved".

Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment. Perhaps I may indicate to your Lordships that there was a similar amendment in another place which was defeated by 333 votes to 123, a majority of 210. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swansea: My Lords, I am naturally disappointed by the Minister's reply. He raised the point about, for example, barrel lengths. The minimum barrel length mentioned in the amendment is merely an example. Many pistols have barrels much longer than that. That was merely an example and not intended as a firm statement of barrel length.

Small calibre rimfire is self-evident. It means .22. One of those pistols is totally unlike any other form of pistol of a larger calibre. It needs no expert to distinguish one from the other, even at first sight.

The Government are firmly committed to banning all types of pistol. I am sure that that has been a Cabinet decision. However, I hope that this amendment will be accepted and I ask your Lordships to support it.

6.52 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 81.

Division No. 1


Congleton, L.
Cottesloe, L.
Cuckney, L. Downshire, M. Haddington, E. Halsbury, E. Hylton-Foster, B. Milverton, L. Molloy, L. Monson, L. [Teller] Newall, L. Nickson, L. Palmer, L. Rowallan, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Savile, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L. Swansea, L. [Teller]
Wharton, B.


Acton, L. Addington, L. Allenby of Megiddo, V. Barnett, L. Blackstone, B. Borrie, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Calverley, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Carter, L. [Teller] Castle of Blackburn, B. Clinton-Davis, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. David, B. Davies of Coity, L. Dean of Beswick, L. Desai, L. Diamond, L. Dixon, L. Dormand of Easington, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Gallacher, L. Gladwin of Clee, L. Graham of Edmonton, L. Grantchester, L. Gregson, L. Grenfell, L. Hamwee, B. Hardie, L. Hardy of Wath, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Haskel, L. Hayman, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Hollick, L. Hollis of Heigham, B. Hoyle, L. Hughes, L. Hughes of Woodside, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor] Jay of Paddington, B. Judd, L. Kilbracken, L. Kirkhill, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L. Lockwood, B. Ludford, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller] McNally, L. Merlyn-Rees, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L. Mountevans, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L. Nelson, E. Newby, L. Nicol, B. Paul, L. Plant of Highfield, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Prys-Davies, L. Ramsey of Cartvale, B. Randall of Saint Budeaux, L. Rea, L. Richard, L. (Lord Privy Seal] Rogers of Riverside, L. Sewel, L. Simon, V. Simon of Highbury, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B. Strabolgi, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L. Thomas of Gresford, L. Turner of Camden, B. Walker of Doncaster, L. Whitty, L. Williams of Elvel, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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7.1 p.m.

Clause 3 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 15, at end insert--
("(5) Payments made under a scheme made under subsection (1) above relating to small-calibre pistols shall be dispatched to claimants within 40 days of a valid claim being approved under the terms set out in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 Compensation Scheme.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. It appears that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has what I might term the "big battalions" on his side this evening. I shall have to rely on sweet reasonableness to see whether he will agree to what I hope is a very small amendment and one which I believe he should find easy to accept. It does not relate to another exemption for

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firearms. This is the third attempt that I and my noble friend Lady Blatch have made to try to create some sort of package whereby those receiving compensation for losing their firearms get their compensation within 40 days, or rather within 40 days,

    "of a valid claim being approved"
by the relevant government agency.

I appreciate that we have made two previous attempts and that the noble Lord was not satisfied with those amendments partly for drafting reasons, if I may so put it. I hope that this third attempt has a better chance of meeting with his approval. I hope and certainly believe that the amendments are entirely workable because they are based on the provisions of the compensation scheme approved by Parliament under the 1997 Act.

In the first instance, the amendments require a shooter to submit a valid claim to the firearms compensation section (FCS), the Home Office division overseeing the compensation scheme. I hope that that deals with the noble Lord's objection to my earlier amendment when he pointed out that a 40-day deadline from the point of agreed valuation would not be practical in instances where

    "there are perfectly innocent errors"
such as,

    "incorrect bank details on a claim form"--[Official Report, 16/10/97; col. 585.]
The amendments cover this possibility as the 40-day limit does not begin to operate until a valid claim, without such errors, is submitted.

The amendments also ensure that a valid claim has to be approved by the FCS before the 40-day limit begins. It makes no difference what category the claim falls under. The 1997 compensation scheme states that a flat rate or listed payment under options A and B will be approved by the FCS once a valid claim has been received. Once received, a notification of the claim is sent out by the FCS and it is from this point that the 40-day limit would begin. Valid claims under option C (individual valuations) would not be approved by the FCS until agreement was reached between the latter and the claimant. At that point a payment declaration which says that the claimant agrees with the amount to be paid in settlement of the claim must be signed by the claimant and sent back to the FCS. Again, it is only at this point that the 40 day limit begins.

I do not believe that the amendments are designed to impose unrealistic pressures on civil servants. They would simply ensure that a compensation cheque is sent, or dispatched, to a claimant within 40 days after a valid claim has already been submitted and approved by the firearms compensation section. I believe that it is entirely in line with the Prime Minister's commitment made over a year ago to introduce a requirement on all government departments and agencies to pay their bills within 30 days. We are not even asking for 30 days; we are merely suggesting 40 days as an appropriate limit. It is a very modest little amendment. As I said, we have made three attempts to persuade the Government of its

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virtue. I hope that the sweetly reasonable way in which I have put the issue before the noble Lord will allow him to accept it on this occasion. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have made it clear on behalf of the Government at all stages of this Bill that compensation payments for small-calibre pistols and ancillary equipment will be made as quickly as possible. I share the sentiment that lies behind the amendment and I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for the sweet reason which he demonstrated. However, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment, although I agree that the drafting is significantly improved since it first saw the light of day.

Normally, once a claim is approved for payment by the firearms compensation section, the payment will be sent to the claimant's bank account within a few days of that approval. The problem is that the amendment would impose a statutory requirement to send payments to claimants within 40 days of the claim being approved. There are bound to be some cases where, despite our best efforts or those of the FCS, some difficulty will be encountered in making payments. I give an example of such a case. A claimant may have entered his banking details incorrectly on the claim form, but that does not make the claim invalid. The claim is valid but the details are wrong. In such a case, we would have to delay until the correct information was made available. There is no guarantee that we would receive this information in good time to dispatch the payment within 40 days of the original approval of the claim, which would be valid despite the fact that the bank details might be inaccurate. It is therefore quite possible that in some cases, for reasons beyond our control, we would simply not be able to send a payment to the claimant within a specified time-scale and would thus be in breach of the law. Quite what sanction and consequences legally follow a breach of the law is not plain to me.

There is also the question of consistency. In Committee, many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, forcefully expressed the view that the compensation scheme for small-calibre pistols should be treated in the same way as the scheme for large-calibre handguns and should, therefore, be subject to the same procedure of parliamentary approval as applied to the earlier scheme. Your Lordships will recall that I promised to consider the noble Baroness's point; and, indeed, I did so. In effect, I accepted the thrust of her amendment by introducing a government amendment. We agreed to amend the Bill accordingly, thus achieving consistency between the two schemes.

However, the noble Lord's amendment seeks to have different treatment for the two schemes. There is no similar requirement in relation to the timing of payments made under the compensation scheme for large-calibre handguns, which was the production of the predecessor government. It would be very inconsistent, very strange and, indeed, very odd to impose such a requirement for the small-calibre pistol scheme alone. It would suggest that the owners of small calibre pistols were in some way to be treated differently, perhaps more favourably, than those who owned and were handing in large-calibre handguns under the scheme introduced by the previous

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government. More than 26,000 small-calibre pistols have been surrendered so far under the ex gratia scheme.

Officials in the FCS are doing their best to process all claims as quickly as possible to ensure that those who have surrendered their firearms and other items because of the earlier legislation this year will not have to wait longer than necessary. There were some initial teething problems in setting up the computer system, but the payment system is now well established and working well. The FCS will tackle claims for small-calibre pistols surrendered under the new scheme with equal vigour.

I should like to make two points by way of fact which may be helpful. I understand that the noble Lord will not press this amendment. Just a few days ago I was able to tell him and your Lordships that £10.5 million had been distributed. In the space of a few days, up until last Friday, the figure had risen from £10.5 million to £16.9 million. Therefore I do not think it is fair to say that officials have been dilatory in this respect.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about persons who had not received their payments within a reasonable time. I said that if I were given any details in writing I would have such cases investigated within the department and that chief officers of police would be contacted. I have not received details of a single case. I do not make that as a forensic point; it implies that the scheme is working well. I refer to the difference between £16.9 million and £10.5 million which has been distributed in a matter of a few days. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I refer again to the lack of details of any late payment and with great respect I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am afraid that, as I expected, that reply had the sound of one of those notes with which we are all familiar which has the large word "resist" scribbled over the top of it. The noble Lord resisted and did so well. I think there is very little I can do. I see that we are in the presence of the noble Lord the Chief Whip. To save him a little time I should say that I have no intention of pressing this amendment tonight or for that matter on any other occasion. Therefore he can now send his boys and girls home, should he so wish. The noble Lord may remember that many years ago he was kind to me in allowing me to leave early. I believe that we were discussing the disability living allowance and disability working allowance Bill on Second Reading and the whole matter finished much earlier than we had originally expected and that allowed me to be present at the birth of my only daughter.

I take note of what the noble Lord has had to say on this amendment. I am grateful for the attempt he has made to deal with my points. I am also grateful that he stressed the fact that Home Office officials are working hard to make sure compensation is paid as speedily as possible. For that I thank the noble Lord and his officials within the department. I am sorry that he does not feel

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able to accept this amendment, or at least to go some way towards accepting it. But I at least take some hope from the Prime Minister's commitment to encourage all agencies to settle their debts within 30 days. I hope that the spirit of that at least will be recognised by the Home Office in trying to deal with this matter and that the noble Lord will make sure that the concerns that have been expressed in this House both at this stage and on earlier occasions are noted and are dealt with. Having said that I have no intention of pressing this amendment, it remains only for me to withdraw it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

The Schedule [Repeals]:

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 not moved.]

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

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