HL Deb 18 November 2004 vol 666 cc1644-6

A message was brought from the Commons, That they insist on their disagreement with your Lordships in the amendments on which your Lordships insisted, and disagree to the amendments made by your Lordships in lieu of Lords amendments disagreed to but have made an amendment in lieu to which they desire the agreement of your Lordships.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be considered forthwith.

Moved. That the Commons amendments he considered forthwith.— (Lord Whiffs.)

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, perhaps before we proceed I can crave the indulgence of the House and record my extreme concern about today's procedures. Like many others in the House, I have been baffled how we are still pushing this matter to and fro between the Houses. This House has repeatedly made clear its support for the compromise of registered hunting; against that, the other place has insisted on a ban. There is a clear double insistence on the main issue in the Bill.

In such circumstances, a normal Bill would have been lost, although in this instance the Parliament Acts could have been used to force it into law. Now we have this proposition hack before us again. This has been made possible by the Commons packaging all Lords' amendments together and altering only one. I am told that this could go on indefinitely until, no doubt, it is hoped that your Lordships will give up and the Government can get a hunting ban without the use of the Parliament Act. Such a system enables and rewards government inflexibility.

This procedure was unprecedented until May when, by mistake, the Government lost their Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. In order to help bail them out we agreed, exceptionally, to accept this procedure on one amendment on that one Bill. I said at the time that, this is an exceptional agreement …I know of no direct precedent for it. And, for the record, I must say firmly that it must form absolutely no precedent for the future".—[Official Report, 11/5/04, col. 153.] The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said on the same occasion: It is obviously undesirable that this situation should have arisen at all. I am sure that we all wish to ensure that it does not do so again".—[Official Report, 11/5/04; col. 152.] It is extraordinary that we find ourselves in exactly the same position again.

The Leader of the House published a statement on 21 July reflecting discussions between the authorities of both Houses. It stated that, the Clerk of the Parliaments will invite the Lords Procedure Committee to consider changes to the practice of the House, to allow more flexibility in dealing with Commons amendments which have been packaged". The Procedure Committee has not considered this, neither has the House. This procedure is novel; it has never been debated by the House nor agreed by it. In the light of what has happened today I very much hope that the Procedure Committee will look at the matter urgently and make whatever recommendations are necessary to protect the power of this House.

However, under the provisional arrangements, I am advised that the procedure we are faced with is just in order. I ask the House to accept that—but this one more time only. Let me be blunt—and I am sure that I speak for many Peers on all sides of the House and on all sides of the argument—if this House maintains its position now, as I hope it will, and if the other House seeks to return the package yet again, we should at that stage decline to discuss it further if a Motion to do so is laid.

I hope that my speaking at this stage will not introduce a wide-ranging debate on the procedural question now.The Procedure Committee must consider the issue urgently and report to the House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Lord Roper

My Lords, I also do not wish to introduce a wide-ranging debate. I have a certain degree of sympathy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We were very concerned when we had to deal with the problems of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill earlier this year and were very pleased when we received in July the reports of the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons. They tried to show us the way forward so that we did not fall into these problems again.

As noble Lords will know because of our recent considerations, the Procedure Committee has had to consider our working practices. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that Procedure Committee consideration of this issue has not yet occurred. It is none the less unfortunate because we are again, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, faced with a considerable difficulty. We have great sympathy for the position of the Clerk of the Parliaments who is having to deal with an extraordinarily difficult situation before the House has clarified it.

Therefore, while I think it would be a great mistake and would be totally misunderstood outside the House if we were not to proceed with the consideration of these amendments on this occasion, it is most important that we consider very urgently a report to the Clerk of the Parliaments so that we do not get ourselves into this situation again.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, 1 am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his contribution and for giving us notice of it. Slightly surprisingly, this is probably the high point of consensus in the whole consideration of the Bill. We should not be in this situation and the Procedure Committee should look at the position again, and rapidly. However, we are advised that this procedure is in order, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has acknowledged. It may not be the most satisfactory procedure in the world, but we are where we are. There are certain procedures which the Clerk clearly advised would not have been in order. This, however, is in order. I thank the Clerk for so advising, and suggest that we get on with the debate. If the House does not object, I will move my first Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.