HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1171-2
Mr. John MacKay

I beg to move amendment No. 133, in page 50, line 30, leave out `sell or otherwise dispose of the property'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 134 to 136.

Mr. MacKay

Amendments Nos. 133 and 134 clarify the decisions which are open to the chief constable in determining the fate of unclaimed property. We had a debate on the matter in Committee and the amendments clarify the position in the manner suggested.

The amendments require the chief constable in normal circumstances to offer any lost property to the finder before proceeding to sell it. Where the chief constable does not believe that it is worth while trying to sell it, he may dispose of it in some other way. That ensures that the police have due regard to the position of the finder and it is hoped that the amendment will further encourage finders to hand in lost property.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who suggested a similar refinement in Committee.

Amendment No. 135 also arises out of a debate in Committee and I have gone some way towards meeting the points made by the hon. Member for Garscadden and by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). We have considered carefully the question of lowering the limit for the payment of compensation. We are convinced that a substantial figure is desirable to avoid imposing on the police a fresh administrative burden in processing claims for compensation.

On the other hand, it is certainly not our wish to confine the advantages of compensation arrangements to the more affluent groups in our society. It is obviously a question of striking the right balance between fairness to the loser and administrative practicality. The amendment, which will replace the sum of £250 with £100, shifts the balance significantly towards the loser.

Amendment No. 136 is my hat trick in terms of making at least some concessions to the points raised in Committee. The amendment arises from the misgivings about clause 76 expressed in Committee by some of my hon. Friends. On looking at the matter again, we concluded that there could be a disadvantage to farmers if animals on unfenced roads were regarded as strays and were thereby subject to the terms of clause 76. We decided that it would be desirable to exempt livestock altogether. That means that the chief constable would not normally consider allowing the finder of a stray sheep to take the beast home and care for it.

The thrust of the Scottish Law Commissin's arguments for clause 76 was that other animals should be treated in a similar way to dogs. That analogy is probably all right for living creatures that can be regarded as pets. However, some of the Opposition Members who fancied going round the unfenced roads of Berwickshire—as I see that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is amused—and of Argyll seeing how many stray sheep they could find will be disappointed.

Mr. Foulkes

There is one on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) could spend many happy hours—happy for the rest of us too—looking round the highways and byways of Argyll for stray sheep on unfenced roads.

Seriously, the exemption of livestock is sensible and does not represent a significant departure from the principles underlying the clause.

Mr. Dewar

I thank the Minister for amendment No. 135, which is important. One of the innovations in the new lost and found property system is a compensation fund. It is a valuable innovation. The value was almost completely destroyed by the Government's decision that the only people entitled to compensation would be those who had lost property over a value of £250. Almost everyone in the Committee, and also an uncomfortable Minister, thought that that was a ludicrously high figure. I have seldom seen the Minister, except on one occasion, which was during the inquiry into the Gourock-Dunoon ferry, looking more discomfited. I am glad that he has managed to persuade his superiors that that ceiling should be reduced to £100. That makes the compensation seem more valuable. Although we are trying to hurry to a conclusion, I should express the Opposition's thanks for that change.

Amendment agreed to.

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