We have received a great many queries and representations, most of which refer to the progress of individual compensation claims. Few have commented on the outstanding work of the police and the firearms compensation section, which has so far led to more than 41,670 payments, to a value of more than £41 million.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kindness and courtesy in inviting me to today's dress rehearsal for Home Office questions in room W1, where I would be given a helpful supplementary. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman that I could not be present, but as I am a Conservative Member I prefer to ask my own supplementary: when can gun owners and gun companies in Southend, West, who surrendered their arms in good faith last September, expect compensation, particularly in relation to category C?
The hon. Gentleman might have got a better standard of question if he had attended the briefing. The more straightforward option A and B claims based on published values are expected to be completed by the end of May. The more complicated option C claims will take longer, but the bulk of them should be completed by the end of the year. We are moving as quickly as we can.
Does not the Minister realise that gun owners are angry? On the figures that he has just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), gun owners have received barely more than a third of the £115 million that the Government expected to pay out by tomorrow—the end of the financial year.
What more evidence could anyone need of the Government's inept handling of the matter and their contempt for the interests of gun owners? Has the Minister any real idea when all claims, including category C, will be met? Can gun owners expect their money by Christmas, or by this time next year, or by the opening of the millennium dome? When? What would he consider sufficient delay to justify the payment of interest?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my reply to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), he would have heard me answer that question precisely. These matters are being dealt with very quickly, but we have a complicated compensation scheme—as he and his colleagues knew when they passed the original legislation.