HL Deb 26 October 2004 vol 665 cc1175-216

3.18 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Hunting wild mammals with dogs]:

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, after "is" insert—

  1. "(a) registered, or
  2. (b) "

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 86A, which are grouped with it.

The amendment, which, as is clear from the signatories, has cross-party support, seeks to reintroduce the concept of registration and licensing for hunting, as was in the Government's original Bill in December 2002. That Bill followed long consultation. First, there was the Burns report which, in 2001, concluded that hunting could not be proven to be cruel, and the noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that in this House this very month. Without objective evidence that hunting is cruel—and that does not exist—there is no case for a ban; there is just prejudice.

I remind the Committee that in 2002, the Minister, Alun Michael, conducted six months of consultation with all interested and expert parties. The aim, he said, was to have legislation based on evidence and principles—principles such as cruelty and utility. The present banning Bill ignores all that.

When introducing the licensing Bill in December 2002, Mr Michael said that it was based on "a golden thread" of principles and evidence. The proposed ban is not; we are proposing to revert to the Bill to which Mr Michael was referring.

In July last year, the Prime Minister told the Commons that he supported his Minister's compromise proposals in the registration Bill to which we wish to revert. All major countryside organisations support this compromise approach.

These are the proposals—the principles based on evidence which this amendment and its consequential amendments propose to reinstate in the Bill. The amendment would remove the crude ban before us. I may disappoint some, but I do not propose to detain the House by repeating all the defects of the ban, which have been stated in this House again and again. Above all—I say that because it is my prime priority, as someone who does not hunt and never has—the amendment would remove the attack on the civil liberties of countryside people.

Anyway, I have no need to go through the flaws in the banning Bill before us, because they have all been admitted by the Government. Mr Michael wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister last year saying that a complete ban would destroy the architecture of the original Bill. It would undermine its,

strong, simple framework of enforcement"— that is what we are proposing to reinstate—and would, be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty". Exactly.

In June 2003, Margaret Beckett wrote that the original licensing Bill—the one we wish to restore—was,

the strongest ever put forward". She said that no Bill on a simple ban had ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, she said, I plead with colleagues not to wreck the licensing Bill". Exactly. We propose to respond to the Secretary of State's plea.

In moving this and subsequent amendments, we are acting in what I believe is a true parliamentary and democratic spirit. What are we doing? For a start, we offer compromise. I need hardly point out that many supporters on our side have compromised and have moved significantly from their early inclinations towards laissez-faire to embracing registration. They have compromised; we have compromised. The Prime Minister and Mr Michael have stated in public that they want compromise. The Prime Minister has repeated that today. Well, they can achieve that they can have that. So why, if they want compromise, do they support a non-compromising ban? That side has not yielded one inch, despite massive evidence that a ban would increase suffering. I say to the Prime Minister and to the Minister, if they want compromise, why not accept the compromise we offer?

We also offer considerable consensus. We have the support of many, in all parties in Parliament. We have the support of the main countryside organisations. The polls tell us that only 1 per cent of Labour voters say that such a ban should be a priority for the Government. Two-thirds of the public say that the Government should listen to the House of Lords.

In addition to offering compromise and consensus, we offer a rational approach to cruelty, based on tests, evidence and the principles that the Minister set out. We do not offer the irrational prejudice that is in the ban. We do not offer the greater degree of animal suffering that will follow the imposition of such a ban.

Above all, we offer the Government their original Bill, based on consultation, principles and evidence. If they do not accept this rational compromise and use the draconian Parliament Act against their own original proposals, then my Government, of whom I am normally a most loyal supporter, will, in my view, be shamed and humiliated by their actions.

I was once an adviser to the "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" programmes. We would have been happy to adopt this scenario as a satirical script in that programme, with the Government using the Parliament Act to resist their own proposals. But the two authors would have certainly said to me, "We won't get away with that because it is not credible". If it were not so tragic, it would be funny. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Without wishing to inhibit debate on this, which I am sure will substantial, I thought that it might be helpful to indicate at this early stage how the Government's spokespersons intend to deal with the Committee. This is particularly important, since the first batch of amendments includes a number of the issues on which the Committee would need some guidance. This is, of course, a free vote, and I have on several occasions made it clear what my opinion is. However, as I indicated at Second Reading, my role here on the Front Bench is to facilitate and guide the Committee in consideration of the Bill.

For that reason, and at this stage in the proceedings, neither I nor my noble friend Lady Farrington will vote on any of the amendments. I shall confine myself to pointing out to the Committee the relationship between the amendments before it, the original government Bill in the Commons, the Commons proceedings and the Bill finally adopted in the Commons and sent to this House.

As there is some misunderstanding, which is probably my fault, I also need to clarify the Government's position on government amendments. I am recorded in Hansard as saying that the Government would table a number of amendments. In fact, we are tabling only one amendment in Committee which concerns the delay, and is in the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 56.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I shall continue to call him my noble friend for these purposes.

A noble Lord

All purposes.

Lord Whitty

Almost all purposes. I am also grateful to those whom, I regret, I am likely to slip into calling the gang of four, who have tabled most of the amendments. They have presented us with a coherent set of alternative proposals. That, in a real sense, is an advance on the last time we discussed these matters in Committee and indicates that they are—belatedly—trying to engage with the Bill rather than simply kill it. But my gratitude is finite.

3.30 p.m.

The method of proceeding by effectively reintroducing substantial chunks of the original Bill with, as the proposers of the amendments would say, some improvements, presents us with some difficulties. In the normal course of events, the House as a revising Chamber takes the structure of the Bill that it receives, makes amendments, deletes and adds to that Bill. On this occasion, only one or two of the amendments tabled actually take the structure of the Bill as it is. The other amendments—the mainstream of the propositions from the gang of four—present us with a different Bill, one based on registration and tribunals. I noticed that my noble friend persisted in calling it "licensing", which is not quite the right term. If those proposals succeed to any degree in this Chamber, we shall be dealing with an entirely different Bill, and will send back a different Bill to the House of Commons. I have to say that that is not normally a recipe for a compromise between the two Houses.

My noble friend Lord Donoughue has said that the resulting Bill would in effect be the Bill that the Government themselves proposed to the House of Commons, which we proposed after consultation, in an attempt to find some common ground. Even if that were the case, it leaves us in some difficulty, as it ignores the obvious political fact that the House of Commons has now, on a free vote, voted several times by absolutely overwhelming majorities for the principle of a ban, and has specifically rejected the registration approach. By ignoring that, Members of the Committee supporting this group and subsequent groups of amendments go against the position which they purport to propose and which they wish to describe as a compromise.

In a sense, we are at a point in the parliamentary calendar when we are in some sort of negotiation on this and on other Bills. I am familiar with negotiation, and I must say that this is rather a peculiar one. As most Members of the Committee familiar with negotiation know, it is not usually a good move to send back to one's negotiating partners a proposal which has already been overwhelmingly rejecting—not unless one wishes to precipitate a complete breakdown of relations between the two sides. I say that as a warning.

In any case, the proposals from the gang of four, which my noble friend purports to call the "Alun Michael Bill", are not in fact the same as the provisions in that Bill. The most important change, which applies to this group of amendments, is that they do not propose a full ban on deer hunting. That may not be evident to all Members of the Committee on reading the amendments, because it is a change by omission. So I leave with Members of the Committee the difficulty of going back to the Commons with a Bill which is not the original government Bill but in fact drops the ban on deer hunting.

There is also the added complication that the House of Commons, in Committee, adopted a number of changes, many at the Government's instigation, some with the Government's support and some with consensus support. Most of those changes are reflected in some of the proposals from my noble friend Lord Donoughue and his colleagues, but they have taken a pick and mix approach to them, as we shall see with subsequent amendments. What is before us is a collection of amendments, some of which were in the original Bill and some of which reflect some but not all of the proposals that emerged from the Committee.

The main way in which the package of amendments departs from the Bill as it emerged from the Committee is over the key issues of the tests of registration, which we shall debate later under Amendment No. 10. Those who tabled that amendment have changed significantly the tests of cruelty and utility—as well as making other significant changes. It is, therefore, misleading to claim that this Bill, if we adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, would simply be the original Bill.

The amendments have been referred to in the media as making some improvements to the Bill. Frankly, those so-called improvements are significant changes, all of which point in one direction. If, in a negotiating situation, it is not a good move to send back a proposition that has already been rejected, I would suggest to the Committee that it is an even more foolish move to send back to your negotiating partners an offer that is worse, in their terms, than the one that has already been rejected. What signal does that give to another place?

As I have said, my noble friend Lady Farrington and I shall abstain until it is clear what shape the Bill will take in Committee and through the proceedings in this Chamber. However, it is important that Members of the Committee understand what they would be doing if they adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue. For those reasons, and given the position that we are in with another place, those who support the Commons position on the Bill that came to this Chamber and those who supported—or have come later in the day to support— the original so-called "Alun Michael Bill" ought not to accept the totality of the amendments in their present form. For that reason, I believe that it may be useful to guide the Committee on the Government's intentions. Obviously I wish to reserve my right to come back later in discussion on this group of amendments and on others, but I shall try to confine my remarks to procedural matters rather than speak too much on the substantial argument.

Lord Barnett

I have not spoken previously in this debate, but I have it in mind to support my noble friend's amendment. Is the Minister telling us that we are all wasting our time and that there is no possibility of the Government doing anything to accept anything whatever that the House may recommend?

Lord Whitty

No, I am specifically not saying that. I have said on Second Reading and subsequently that what happens hereafter depends on how this Chamber behaves. What I am saying is that if this Chamber behaves as these amendments imply that it will, it will not only send back to the House of Commons a proposition that the House of Commons has already rejected but, in terms of the majority position in the House of Commons, send back a proposal that is actually worse than the one previously recommended. That does not suggest to me a basis for compromise. There may be other bases of compromise, which the House of Commons would have to take seriously. But I have to say that it is unlikely—not impossible but unlikely—that the House of Commons would accept the totality of the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Donoughue.

Lord Donoughue

I want to respond to what the Minister said. He made a great issue of the changes made in the Bill by the amendments, which I deliberately did not go into, because the most important amendment of all has no changes. When changes are proposed, we shall deal with them as we come to them and point them out. For the guidance of the House, they constitute only a dozen or so words and, in every case, in my view, add up to an improvement in animal welfare. That has been a guiding point.

The Minister has responded to the central point raised by my noble friend Lord Barnett on compromise, but would he help the House by telling us what kind of compromise this Chamber could make which would be acceptable?

Lord Whitty

This Chamber must decide what it is prepared to go along with. The previous position taken by this Chamber does not give a great hope for compromise on any front. However, relatively minor changes could be made to the Bill that the House of Commons would consider. In any case it must take seriously and consider whatever this Chamber sends back to it. It would consider those proposals with regard to whether there were grounds for compromise or further movement. But there are forms in which the Bill could be sent back to the House of Commons which are unlikely to deliver a compromise and others that might be more likely. The reality of the matter is that what is currently on the agenda and what Members in this Chamber have hitherto indicated that they would be prepared to support and go no further than, would not in my view be the best basis for compromise.

As to the differences between my noble friend's propositions and the position taken by the original, I felt it necessary to intervene on this group of amendments because, although he is correct to say that the first amendment does not of itself change the Bill, taken together with the other amendments in the group it would mean the omission of the important banning of deer hunting. That is not immediately clear, and my noble friend is being a little disingenuous in that regard. That may be an issue on which your Lordships may not agree with the Commons, but it is nevertheless important to recognise that that would be a change from the original proposition that was put to the Commons.

Baroness Warnock

Can the Minister enlighten me on one point? It is the general understanding—it is mine, at any rate—that where there is a choice between banning something absolutely and not banning it absolutely, the choice is normally between banning it and permitting it only subject to certain stringent restrictions. One can think of many analogies, including the case of abortion, where the choice is between either a total ban or providing that the activity should be carried out only subject to registration or other kinds of restriction.

So I should be grateful if the Minister could explain what other type of compromise there might possibly be between an absolute ban and something that we might propose that was not that which is contained in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I cannot myself see what other kind of compromise there could be.

Lord Whitty

We are getting into deep water here. The basis of my intervention was to guide the Committee on where we stand in relation to what is being proposed by the Commons and what was originally proposed by the Government. It is for Members of this House to propose changes at this or later stages of the Bill's consideration. Clearly, the Bill as it has come from the Commons does not impose a complete ban; there are exemptions to that ban, as is the case in many other fields, as the noble Baroness will know.

So there are other ways than reverting to the original Bill, but my key points are twofold. First, the original government Bill, whatever its merits, has been rejected overwhelmingly by the Commons. This group of amendments, taken together with other groups of amendments proposed by my noble friend and others, would go further backwards, in the majority view of the House of Commons, and are therefore unlikely to elicit a positive response from the House of Commons. Clearly, the House of Commons and the Government will listen to whatever this House says, but my guidance to this House, which is made genuinely, is that some avenues are more productive than others. I say no more.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord made great play of saying that it would be wrong or inadvisable to send something back to another place that had been overwhelmingly rejected on three occasions. That sounds very plausible. But does the noble Lord not agree that in fact we are considering a Bill, a Bill that will be subjected to the Parliament Act? The point of the Parliament Act is that if there is a disagreement between the two Houses and the Lords will not bend over backwards, the Parliament Act is used. But on this occasion, this Bill is a replica of its predecessor. Its predecessor never contained any amendments passed by your Lordships that were put to the Commons. Your Lordships held a Committee stage. One set of amendments was passed and thereafter the Government said. "We will now not continue with the Bill". Therefore, no amendments were sent from your Lordships' House to another place; another place did not consider any amendments from your Lordships; and there was no disagreement between your Lordships and another place because the Government had stopped the Bill.

How, therefore, can it be reasonable to say that a disagreement has been shown on three occasions? It may have been shown on three totally separate occasions, but not on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, shakes his head, but it is a fact that the Government stopped that Bill going through and prevented the House of Commons considering any amendments made by your Lordships. That is why it is wrong to introduce the Parliament Act on this Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am very pleased that, so far, speeches have been, by comparison to past occasions, short and to the point and I intend to follow that practice. The word used and over-used by my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I repeat the felicitous tone of my noble friend the Minister when referring to my colleague—was compromise, compromise and compromise. I look at that which we are being invited to support and, to me, it is not a compromise; it is a continuation of past and present practice dressed up with registration, licence and legality.

Under the arrangements that my opponents on this issue want, the fox will be chased by trained dogs and hounded to death. How is that death different from what has happened in the past? It is all very well for people here to say that hunting is a religion; it is a way of life; it is an arc of the Covenant. It may very well be and I respect that but, to me, it is a simple issue of right and wrong. You are either for the present practice or against it. I am against it.

3.45 p.m.

The middle way amendments—substantially, that is what we are discussing—were designed to continue the present practice but dressed up with legality. That is what would happen if the amendments were carried and the Bill became law. Those who support the amendments have not changed their attitudes to hunting the fox with dogs trained in the manner that they are. They have not changed their views. They are looking for a way to get round the will of the House of Commons. I support the will of the House of Commons.

Lord Waddington

There is one thing that the Minister did not make absolutely plain. That is whether the Government are bent on using the Parliament Act if the other place rejects amendments sent there from here. Various views have been expressed during the course of our debates about the circumstances in which the Parliament Act should and should not be used—the principles that should operate in making such decisions. Surely the Minister must agree that if the Parliament Act is used in this case after we have sent to the other place amendments reinstating the licensing regime that the Government originally said that they wanted and the other place then rejects those amendments, that will be entirely without precedent.

The Minister will know that the Parliament Act's use is not actually an automatic process. It is not the case that if a Bill is rejected by this place, the Parliament Act must, as a matter of course, follow and the Bill must be presented to the Queen for Royal Assent. In fact, there is an important provision in the Parliament Act that is often ignored. That is to the effect that the Bill should go forward for Royal Assent unless the House of Commons directs to the contrary.

I suggest that, in the peculiar circumstances of this case, where this House is apparently intending only to reinstate, to all intents and purposes, the Bill that the Government originally presented, it would be perfectly proper for the Government to table a Motion that would have the effect of the House of Commons not directing that the Bill should be presented to the Queen for the Royal Assent.

I think that the mood of the Committee is that we should not have lengthy contributions today, but I must say that if this matter ends in the Bill in its present form being railroaded on to the statute book by the use of the Parliament Act, the prospect is bleak indeed. One of the things that particularly worries me is the inevitable souring of relations between the police and some of their natural supporters. Instead of fighting enemies of society the police in country areas will be spending their time treating as criminals upright citizens on whom up to now they have been able to rely for total support in carrying out their duties.

It should go without saying that the criminal law should be used to deal with activities which it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to bring to a halt, not activities of which some people disapprove. It makes no sense at all for the Government to preach the virtues of tolerance and the evils of intolerance and prejudice but at the same time allow themselves to be railroaded by bigots into denying people the right to follow occupations and pastimes which have been part of life in the countryside for generations.

On Second Reading this House was reminded that Hitler banned hunting. Indeed, we should be reminded that things like that should not happen here because we live in a democracy. In a healthy democracy the majority should not ride roughshod over the minority; rather the rights of minorities should be respected. I do not hunt; I have never hunted, but I cannot stomach this attack on personal freedom. These amendments will make the Bill less objectionable.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

As the second member of the "gang", as we have been described, to speak in this part of the debate I hope that I may try to tempt the Minister into a further and informative intervention, which I am sure would prove most helpful certainly to myself and to the other members of the gang, and probably to the whole House.

In trying to tempt the Minister to make that intervention I remind him—I think that he was not entirely as fair as he would normally wish to be to members of the gang—of the history of attempts at compromise on this issue. The Middle Way Group and propositions connected with it have a very long history. Some Members of this House have for very many years sought a compromise both here and in another place on the issue of hunting foxes with hounds—some for much longer than the 20 years that I have been involved in one way or another in this place and in the other House. I remind the Minister that there have been many proposals, which have tended to come from one side of the argument only, to try to secure either a registration scheme or a licensing scheme or some other form of management of hunting which would be reasonably acceptable to all parts of the argument. There are more than two sides to this argument. For example, some hold different views on hare coursing than on hunting foxes with hounds.

My attempt to tempt the Minister to say a little more to the House is partly a result of what happened this morning. I am given to understand that this morning the Minister's right honourable friend the Prime Minister made some comments on this issue. I am informed that he said he hoped there could be a compromise, or that he was looking for a compromise. One is entitled to assume that that was said by the right honourable gentleman today in the full knowledge that there would be a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House today and tomorrow at least. Are we not entitled to assume that the Minister has been informed of those comments and is able to provide at least an interpretation of what they mean?

I invite the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to go a little further. He said that we were in deep water. He is absolutely right but the reason we are in deep water, as I see it, is that his very genuine attempt earlier to help your Lordships was the very depth charge that deepened the water. Someone behind me uttered the word "Delphic" as a description of his statement. I echo that and invite the noble Lord to give us a little more straightforward information on where we can go. He spoke of his many years of experience of negotiation. I suggest that his mention of deer hunting was plainly an attempt to take that negotiation on to the very Floor of your Lordships' House. If that is so, will the noble Lord be more explicit? Is he saying to your Lordships, "If the Bill that reaches the Commons has banned deer hunting, the Government will use every endeavour they can to prevent the Parliament Act—it is a matter for the House of Commons, of course, not for the Government—being used in relation to the Bill that emerges"?

If I can be so subjective, I think that we are entitled to an answer to that question. I refer to the spirit in which the "gang" has been described. I am not a habitual member of gangs so I feel a little out of sorts with that description. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who is also a member of the gang, will confirm that although she and I have worked together on various issues in the past, we have never quite regarded ourselves as part of a gang, and we certainly do not carry bicycle chains or anything of that kind. What we carry is a willingness to trade in negotiations with the Minister, if only he will tell us what the trade is. The fundamental issue, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is: what are the circumstances in which the Government will use every endeavour to stop the Parliament Act being used on this proposed legislation? Please tell us; I think that we are entitled to an answer to that question.

With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who I think fell into this trap, I share the view that has already been expressed that we should not make our Second Reading speeches all over again. This debate is intended to be very constructive and to deal with issues of detail not merely issues of principle. It is perhaps worth adding in that context that the amendments would introduce a strict registration system. It is worth reminding those who have not had time to read the whole of the sheaf of amendments which have been tabled, and all the previous legislation, that automatic conditions would be attributed to registration; that is to say, inalienable conditions. They are set out in Amendment No. 35 on page 13 of the Marshalled List. I suggest that they show a genuine attempt not simply to avoid a ban on hunting by any means available, as has been suggested, but to introduce an enduring, constructive and well thought out settlement of this issue so that those of us on both sides who year after year have had to deal with it can lay the matter to rest for a generation on the basis that a proper settlement has been reached.

Lord Eden of Winton

Since this is the first of more than 80 amendments which are down for consideration it would be very helpful to have further clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Given the observations that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, there quite clearly is a difference of approach between the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister is asking for compromise. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as I judge given what he said earlier, is inviting this House to tinker with the Bill but not to change it fundamentally in any way. He is inviting this House to return a Bill to the other place that will retain a total ban on hunting. That is what I understand to be his point and purpose and what he is saying to us in this House. He is saying that we may tinker with the Bill, make a few minor amendments and a few cosmetic changes but that we should not prevent a total ban, which was the basis of the Bill which was brought before us for consideration today.

However, I remind the noble Lord that the Bill proposing a total ban was itself an amendment to the Government's own Bill and was brought in by the noble Lord's colleagues in the other place as an amendment to the original government Bill. What we seek to do through these amendments is to reinstate with improvements the original government Bill and let the Commons think again. That is the point and purpose of this place.

4 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

I want to make a brief point in response to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am sorry that he is not still in his place, but the point is worth making. At Second Reading, he read out a number of letters that he had received complaining of some of the activities of hunts. I added to them and said that I would refer the letter that I had received to the relevant hunt, for it to take action in future.

It is not a peripheral or insubstantial matter that registration is to be the middle way forward if this and later amendments are accepted. The issues with which they deal are not unimportant. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was too dismissive in speaking to them. As my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew made clear, the registration process will be stringent and, so far as I understand it, designed to exclude henceforward activities and ways of hunting that are offensive, unnecessary and peripherally cruel. In effect, it will apply best standards to hunting, retaining none the less the central issue of the hunt—the killing of foxes in a method that is, as was made clear in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, as humane, swift and certain as any method known.

We are not dealing with some cosmetic exercise, but with a very substantial one that should satisfy a great many of our fellow citizens who do not like some current practices that would be made impossible in future.

Viscount Bledisloe

I urge the Minister to reply now to the many requests made to him to clarify the position that he stated earlier. He indicated that sending back Alun Michael's Bill totally unamended would not be an offer of compromise. He said, in what were rightly described as delphic words, that other compromises could be made. However, he has utterly declined so far to explain what he has in mind or what those could be. Unless and until we are told what sort of compromise he or his friend the Prime Minister have in mind when they use the word, one is driven almost inevitably to the conclusion that "compromise" means "unconditional surrender".

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

It may assist the Committee if I indicate that my noble friend will speak towards the end of the debate and answer points made to him to which he considers that he should reply. His speech at the beginning was discussed through the usual channels who were in the Chamber at the time, and was intended to be helpful. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was not aware at the time, but I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. All that my noble friend sought to do was assist the debate. If he needs to come back on points later, he will do so in due turn. That answers the many questions.

Baroness Byford

The noble Baroness rightly said that I was not in the Chamber at that moment and that she spoke to my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. The truth of the matter is that we were told that the statement would be made; whether it was suitable was not discussed.

At this stage, at which we are talking about an individual vote, I urge the Minister to clarify the situation for the whole procedure of the Bill. If he does not, we will all keep speaking, perhaps unnecessarily. Perhaps a better steer could be given. At the moment, we have no steer whatever. I shall keep my remarks to the end, out of courtesy to all Members of the Committee, but we are going round the houses at much greater length because there is no clarification. I urge the Minister to respond to the requests of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

Lord Hoyle

I was not going to speak at all, but I want to come to the defence of the Minister. Cruelty is cruelty and the middle way does not alter that, but I shall not go into that. I listened with rapt attention to my noble friend Lord Donoughue when he moved the amendment, as I always do. He said that he was effectively introducing the Alun Michael Bill. The Minister pointed out that the amendments did not introduce the Alun Michael Bill because deer hunting, which was banned under it, has been included. If I am wrong, I invite my noble friend to tell me so, but I understand that deer hunting is introduced in the amendment, because it is not referred to.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I shall be very brief. It is ridiculous that this discourse should continue until we get an explanation from the Minister. He spoke about another form of compromise. We know that the Prime Minister has in his mind—he has said so—the type of compromise that is registered or licensed hunting. However, while the Prime Minister seeks that sort of compromise, the Minister says that he seeks a compromise that is not that but something else and he will not tell us what it is.

We can all make a speech, if we want to and if we can get in to do so. In the mean time, however, it is only right that the Minister should acquit himself honourably and let the Committee know what type of compromise he means. He used the word "government", saying that the Government would not accept the amendment. The Prime Minister will accept it, but the Government will not. Where are we getting? We are certainly in a deep hole.

Lord Campbell-Savours

I would like to help my noble friend. He will know that there is an amendment on the Marshalled List that fulfils the criteria of a compromise. Amendment No. 47A provides for the defence being the protection of sheep in grazing areas in designated national parks. Can he confirm that that is the kind of compromise amendment that would he seriously considered by the House of Commons, because it does not suffer from the problems that arise in the case of this group of amendments?

Lord Renton

I wish to make a fundamental point that has not yet been made. Foxes have to he killed, because they are very destructive to lambs, poultry and game and in various ways. I speak from experience that I shall briefly mention. The least cruel way of killing foxes is to hunt them. I have hunted. Being of light weight, I was able to keep up with hounds, and I never counted more than four seconds between hounds closing in and the death of the fox. Yes, there had been a chase, but I never thought the chase itself cruel; it did not damage the fox until the hounds closed in.

The well meaning but ignorant people from towns assume that the other ways of killing foxes are less damaging to them than hunting. What are those other ways? Poisoning is illegal, although often done. Snaring is legal and very painful. I have twice seen foxes snared—by someone else—that have not died but have struggled while still alive. Shooting foxes is difficult; foxes are very evasive. Most of those that are wounded and get away die of gangrene—a horrible death. Trapping, which is lawful but ineffective, is the other method.

So if we are to get rid of foxes, as we must do, the easiest, simplest and least cruel way—I ask the townspeople to hear it in mind—is by hunting them.

The Earl of Erroll

As the Minister is clearly not going to intervene now, I should like quickly to make a point to reinforce the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.

I am not sure that the Parliament Acts can apply in this case. Section 2(3) of the Parliament Act 1911, in total, states: A Bill shall be deemed to be rejected by the House of Lords if it is not passed by the House of Lords either without amendment or with such amendments only as may be agreed to by both Houses". The assumption is that the Bill has gone through all its stages and that amendments have gone backwards and forwards. The logical conclusion to the proposition that the subsection can be cut in two and the process stopped after the House of Lords declines to pass the legislation would be to say—I do not think that it would be the normal legal interpretation—that the Bill has only to be presented for First Reading and, if the public debate is such that the Government know that the legislation will not get through the House of Lords and Ministers will not give it time, the Parliament Act can be used in the next Session.

Nothing in the Parliament Act suggests that a difficult Second Reading is sufficient reason to assume that the Bill will not get through the House of Lords. The subsection has to be read in its totality. It assumes that the legislation is unamended or has amendments that are acceptable to the Commons.

Looking at the situation in its totality, I do not believe that the first part of the Parliament Act has been fulfilled. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is correct on that. This is the first time that the Bill is being properly considered.

We have two difficulties. The Speaker's certificate has been mentioned. However, the Speaker's certificate will not apply to this provision until the Bill leaves the Commons with an attached certificate for the Queen. In the interim, the Speaker's certificate deals only with changes made to the original legislation in the Commons.

The second difficulty is a major problem. Do we have a court to which we can take this point for proper adjudication? I do not know whether this is a case for the Committee for Privileges. We do not have a proper separate Supreme Court, and nor will we under that legislation. So it is a problem.

The amendments present two positions: a total ban and, as at present, total freedom. Registration and licensing is the only possible compromise. I cannot see a logical compromise between the two position. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Viscount Astor

It would help the Committee if the Minister would say something. Will he stand up now, as many noble Lords have requested, and make his position clear? If there is a compromise, what is the Government's proposal? How are we to understand it? It would aid our debate if we knew the Government's proposal.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I do not think that the Minister is going to get up and enlighten the Committee. I shall therefore assume that we are still speaking to Amendment No. 1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and the so-called gang of four.

I shall make my position perfectly clear: I have supported the middle way for some time. I have done so because it will improve animal welfare. I should like to ask some of those who wish to ban hunting how a ban will improve animal welfare. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said that cruelty is cruelty. That is all he said before sitting down. He did not go into any detail. I invite him to elaborate on that a little, perhaps when I have finished my remarks—or he can intervene on me now.

Lord Hoyle

We are not making Second Reading speeches. The noble Lord can read the speech that I made on Second Reading.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I am delighted to say that 1 have done so, but I could not find anywhere in his speech anything about improving animal welfare. When pressed, however, the noble Lord said he believed that lamping was the answer. As he will know perfectly well, lamping is dangerous—as we know from a recent accident—and is possible only in certain parts of the country. So, lamping is clearly not the whole answer.

None of those who spoke at Second Reading made a case for their method of control. They addressed only one point—fox hunting. The question is not whether we will kill foxes; it is how. We have not heard any reasons why fox hunting is any more cruel than lamping, snaring, trapping or illegal poisoning, which does happen. It is incumbent on those making the case to ban hunting to tell us why their particular method of controlling foxes—let us not mince words; killing foxes—is better than the methods put forward in Amendment No. 1.

Noble Lords should listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said in his report. The noble Lord also took the trouble to come to the House to speak at Second Reading. He made his position clear. Other noble Lords have already quoted his speech on that occasion, so I will not quote it again. However, that was the Government's own inquiry, and he was its chairman. He came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to ban hunting. Why do those who wish to ban hunting not answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns? Where is the evidence on which we can ban hunting?

Some keen hunters, and I am among them, have strong reservations about the registration solution. However, it would be acceptable to the broad generality. The extremes on either side may disagree with it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will never agree. He will never compromise at all—cruelty is cruelty. On the other side are those who say, "We can self-regulate. We do not want to be messed about with". Generally, however, I think that the compromise solution as tabled by the gang of four is the sensible one. I think that, were it given the chance, it would be followed by the country at large.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Hooson

It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate, if there is any spirit of compromise on the Government Benches, what their attitude is to the hunting of foot packs in upland areas in England and Wales.

I remind the Minister that there are tens of thousands of ewes—sheep—and their lambs on the hills of Wales and England. The greatest predators of those lambs are foxes. In the same areas, there are tens of thousands of acres of forest and hill land that afford cover for foxes. Those foxes cannot be controlled without the use of hounds. The hounds have to hunt them to get them out into an area where they can be shot. It is a very important instance of nature control in rural areas, which form a fair part of the country. If the Government are looking for a way out, the least compromise they could make is not to ban hunting there.

Lord Sewel

Perhaps I can invite my noble friend the Minister, when he says a few words, to address the issue of the appropriateness of the use of the Parliament Acts in this case. I accept that the Parliament Act provisions are available for use. What I question is whether it would be appropriate to use the Parliament Acts at this juncture.

The Parliament Acts deal with the relationships between the two Houses of Parliament. However, let us put the 1911 and 1949 Acts in their historic and political context. What is behind that regulation of the relationship between the two Chambers? That regulation addresses situations in which the executive has support in the House of Commons for its legislative programme but is frustrated by not having support in the House of Lords. So it is a provision to enable the executive to obtain its legislation after a period of delay.

I cannot recollect any legislation that has been subject to the Parliament Acts where it has been a matter of a free vote in both Houses. I can, however, think of examples in the 1960s. Year after year almost, the House of Commons, on a free vote, voted for the abolition of capital punishment. However, that provision could not secure a majority in this House. As I remember, there was not even a suggestion that the Parliament Act provisions should be used in that context.

So I suggest that we are going into a new area where the Parliament Act provisions are being used for legislation that is not a matter of the executive securing its own legislation against frustration by the House of Lords. We have before us now a Bill that is subject to a free vote. In that matter, I do not believe that there is a strong case for the appropriate use of the Parliament Act.

Lord Carter

With reference to the point made by my noble friend Lord Sewell—the War Crimes Act was passed on a free vote under the Parliament Act, as was the age of consent Act.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Although I may be alone in this opinion, at this stage it would not be useful for the Minister to tell us what compromise is on the table, because I detect many shades of opinion in your Lordships' House, including among those of us who are minded to vote for registration and this first group of amendments—as I intend to. However, at a later stage there are a number of matters that I mentioned in my Second Reading speech, which I shall not repeat, that I would wish not to be included at any price. Those would include deer hunting and hare hunting. Those matters would be suitable to introduce as amendments at Report.

So, personally, I would not yet welcome the Minister's comments about where he would like to compromise until, in our own House, we have sorted out exactly what our opinions are by way of votes on each issue.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Reverting to the question that was just raised as to whether it would be appropriate to resort to the Parliament Acts, assuredly there are other reasons why it is not appropriate. Assuredly we are entering a new area. Those Acts were not devised to exterminate lawful minority interests and they have never been so used before. The question of civil liberties, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is a live issue.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, to which I shall speak briefly, open a gateway to the path of compromise on some form of registration. A Motion in another place to withdraw the Bill would not appear to have much prospect of success, so the only prospect to which we return regarding compromise is some form of registration that is envisaged by the amendments. One might well ask why the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister should seek that sort of compromise.

The nation is divided and there is a turmoil of protest. The police would be put in an impossible position, which is not acceptable. One of the Prime Minister's own Back-Benchers, Kate Hoey, the honourable Member for Vauxhall, said, at Third Reading that the Bill was "unsustainable" and, We have made a great mistake".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/09/04; col. 1415.] Another of his Back-Benchers, Jean Corston, the right honourable Member for Bristol, East, said that the question of a total ban should be settled only by due process at the next general election. The right honourable lady, who is a lifelong opponent of hunting and who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, also said, on the advice of that committee, that the Bill as certified by the Speaker would be incompatible with the Convention on Human Rights—Article 1, Protocol 1. If enacted, the Bill could not be enforced unless and until it was sanctioned by our courts. Bail would have to be granted pending the ultimate decision of the Appellate Committee of this House and the European Court of Justice.

There are three issues arising for judicial resolution, not for Parliament: first, whether three months' notice under Clause 15 is unlawful as it is inadequate, as advised by the Joint Committee; secondly, whether a total ban is in the public interest, or whether the Bill is in the general interest within the express provisions of Article 1; and, lastly, the point often made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, whether the Act of 1949 is an abuse of the Act of 1911 and, therefore, invalid.

Surely we must accept as a matter of comity, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has accepted, that another place will reconsider the entrenched position that it has taken up regarding a total ban. If the Parliament Acts are invoked, would it not be better if resort were taken to the courts before we were to take to the streets?

Lord Lea of Crondall

Perhaps I may briefly speak on the question of whether the registration scheme would work. It is a somewhat complicated scheme and is none the worse for that. I voted for a registration scheme when the Countryside Alliance was against it. I am still in favour of it and it could be given a chance to work, provided that the ban was written into the Bill. So another form of approach could logically be that we have been challenged in the order of eight times by various noble Lords, mainly on the Opposition Benches, to specify what type of compromise might be on offer.

The Minister cannot possibly today suddenly produce a rabbit out of a hat, if I may use that expression. But presumably we could have a Bill which would specify that the ban would be activated in "x" years if the registration scheme proved ineffective. If people say that there are various other compromises in their heads, why do they not also think aloud regarding what they might be?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

We do not seem to be making fast progress. All the talk is of the Parliament Act. I thought we were considering the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and the "gang of four"—an excellent expression, which I do not believe that my noble friend should resent at all. Many gangs are useful, I understand.

The Minister has also clearly indicated, as did my noble friend on the Front Bench, that the difficulty between us regarding the compromise might well be the issue of hare coursing and deer hunting. So the "gang of four" will have to make up their minds, as will the Committee, what they wish to do regarding that and what would be acceptable to the Commons. If, after we have put that to the Commons, that House rejects it, we could then begin to discuss the Parliament Act.

Baroness Mallalieu

In addition to supporting the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, perhaps I may also speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 53 which are grouped with it, the second of which is in my name.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already mentioned the matter that we are actually addressing in this group. Essentially, it is the principle of registration—whether it should be possible for hunting to continue, subject to the control of having to satisfy the registrar under the tests that were devised by Mr Alun Michael, when he produced his original Bill. Although there have been a number of variants and diversions during this debate, perhaps we may return to that matter.

First, I shall speak to Amendment No. 2, which is set out in precisely the same terms as the Government Bill introduced into the House of Commons in December 2002. That amendment provides that hunting by an individual can be registered in three ways. First, the individual can seek individual registration, which would allow him to hunt by himself or with a limited number of people who are not registered. In that case, he would have to apply to the registrar, submitting the species of wild mammal that he intended to hunt and the area in which the hunting would take place.

4.30 p.m.

Secondly, individual registration is not necessary if an individual participates in hunting with a group of which at least one individual is registered under a group registration in respect of the species of wild mammal that is intended to be hunted and the place in which the hunting takes place. If that is the case, a record must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates in the hunt, regardless of whether they are registered or not. That record has to be kept for the duration of the registration. Thirdly, an individual may be considered as registered if he participates in hunting with a number of individuals one of whom must be subject to individual registration.

However, in every case, as has already been said, an applicant for an individual registration must agree to abide by the following conditions: any wild mammal which is injured or captured must be killed quickly and humanely; and any wild mammal which is shot in accordance with that must be shot by a competent person; and permission must have been received from the occupier of the land or, in the case of unoccupied land, from the person to whom it belongs. Any inspector who is appointed by a prescribed animal welfare body must be permitted at the request of the registrar to accompany the registered individual while hunting for the purpose of inspection. Insurance has to be in place in respect of loss or damage caused to people other than the registered individual. Finally, not more than two other unregistered individuals may participate in reliance on the registration of an individual.

Failure to abide by those automatic conditions would result in deregistration. Group registration has precisely the same conditions. Records must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates and reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that no individual who has been refused registration participates.

I suggest that those provisions, which are automatic conditions before any hunting can take place, will ensure that hunting is accountable and is carried out to the highest possible animal welfare standards. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 2.

I can be briefer about Amendment No. 53, because that relates simply to money, and it has precisely the same wording as the government Bill that was introduced in the Commons in December 2002. It states: (1) Any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown in connection with this Act shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament. (2) Money received by the registrar by way of fees shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund". The amendment provides simply that the necessary moneys are made available to pay for the registration system and for the tribunal.

Perhaps I may briefly speak in support of the main amendment in the group, Amendment No. 1. Notwithstanding the somewhat Delphic statements of the Minister following the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, I hope that we can produce a compromise which is acceptable to the other place, because, frankly, this nonsense has gone on for long enough. I do not like Alun Michael's Bill; I did not like it when it first appeared. It would not have been my chosen method for reaching a compromise. I would have preferred to see reform of the Protection of Animals Act along the lines that were proposed in the Bill that was introduced by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, and I would have liked to have seen that combined with a licensing scheme as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at Second Reading. That would have been simpler, clearer and less bureaucratic. However, I recognise that the essence of compromise is that no one gets exactly what he would like.

I recognise also that the architecture of Alun Michael's original government Bill, with its twin tests of utility and least suffering, was a reasonable approach to a licensing system. The same principles should apply across the board to all forms of hunting. An independent registrar should make a decision based on the evidence which is placed before him. Some applications would succeed and some would fail, but the process would be seen to be fair and, as such, would "stand the test of time", to quote the words that have been much used by the Minister.

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Gale and others—indeed, my noble friend Lord Hoyle said much the same today—said that hunting should be banned because it was cruel. I say that it is not, but neither of us is impartial. Both of us perhaps have our judgment clouded—in the one case, by a personal dislike; in the other, by a personal passion in favour. However, an independent registrar, looking at the evidence presented to him, applying the twin tests to it and determining the application on that basis, should command the respect of both sides. We may not like the outcome, but we will feel that there has been a fair hearing. If the hunting community is prepared for its case to be dealt with in this way, as I believe it is, I hope that, in due course, so will its opponents.

If we cannot reach a compromise, I fear that we will be well on the way to putting on the statute book a Bill which will be divisive, increase animal suffering and cause some real hardship to people in some areas. I hope that the process will succeed, and I hope that we will produce something that will stand the test of time. I hope very much that, when he comes to reply, the Minister, my noble friend Lord Whitty, will produce something more helpful than in his earlier interventions.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

The noble Baroness will, like me, have heard the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that neither he nor the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, intended to vote on the amendment. Does not the government abstention on the issue of registration suggest that at least a system of registration is within the parameters of a compromise which might be accepted by the Government?

Baroness Mallalieu

I very much hope that that is the case. I see the Minister's difficulty in voting against the provisions which were the work of his colleague, Alun Michael, in another place. I hope that the line he has taken indicates that we may have a more favourable reception.

Lord Richard

I have taken no part in any of the discussions on this or the previous hunting Bills. Hunting is not an issue that stirs my heart one way or the other. If people want to put on red coats and chase animals across a field, I am reasonably tolerant about that. I have heard the evidence, but I am not convinced that it is necessarily a cruel way of doing what we must do; that is, to control foxes. I have therefore previously abstained.

I have listened carefully to everything that has been said today and understand the great difficulty that the House is in. My noble friend talks about negotiations. So be it, but the trouble is that there are three parties to the negotiations; this House, the other place and the Government. It is important that before going into those negotiations this House should clearly express its view in principle of a registration scheme for the hunting of foxes by dogs.

Once the House has agreed the basic principle, the negotiations can legitimately start on the many details of the scheme; for instance, what should be contained in it and whether deer should be covered by it. One could negotiate about the form of the scheme, whether that proposed in the Bill is sensible or whether there should be another. However, we should first take a decision on whether in principle we are in favour of a registration scheme in respect of the hunting of foxes by dogs.

It is a simple question and we should take a simple decision on it. In a sense, it would mean degrouping the amendments and taking a vote on the first amendment. Thereafter, no doubt, discussions—sensible ones, one hopes—could take place between at least two of the parties to these tripartite negotiations; namely, the Government on the one hand and those who are passionately in favour of hunting on the other.

Lord Tebbit

I think that there is something in what the noble Lord has just said. It also reflects upon what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who is not now in his place, said about the use of the Parliament Act. Although the War Crimes Bill—one of the Bills that he quoted—was the subject of a free vote, it was clearly the government's Bill. The executive wanted it and therefore it was probably not inappropriate that the Parliament Act should have been used.

We are now in a difficult situation because, as has been said, there are three parties to these negotiations. From what we have heard, we know that the Government would be very willing to find a compromise. We know that because, of course, the compromise which might arise would be a Bill very close to one that the Government themselves introduced.

The awkward squad in all this is the majority in the other place, which does not appear to be fully under the control of the Government. So it would be very strange—but we live in a strange world these days—were this House to oblige the Government by giving them a second chance to get their own legislation passed. In the event that the Government were able to persuade the majority in the Commons that that would be the right course, we could then forget the Parliament Act or anything of that kind and, with a little shuffling backwards and forwards, I am sure we would be able to find a compromise that would work.

So the question is: how will the Government deal with this legislation if we amend it so that it becomes the Bill that they really want? If I were the business manager in the other place or the Prime Minister, I would know that I had one weapon with which I could persuade the majority in the Commons to come into line—parliamentary time. If the Prime Minister were to let his majority know that, in the event that they did not compromise and accept what was basically the Government's Bill—the registration Bill—he would not allow time and the Bill would fall, then surely we could expect a compromise to be reached.

Therefore, it seems to me that, whatever else we do or do not do, we should at least provide the opportunity to find out whether, ultimately, the Government have the courage to stand by the Bill that they wanted or whether they will be pushed over by their own supporters in that place as opposed to, on this occasion, their supporters on both sides of this House.

I admit that it is a little odd for this place to support the executive against the majority in the other place, but I think that we should at least give it a fair chance. We should see whether the noises that have been coming from those informed sources and spin masters—that is, that the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, would like to avoid a confrontation between the Government and the rural interest in this country—are true. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not going to vote either way on this matter suggests that there is a feeling of compromise in the air, and we should give it a go.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

As the fifth member of the "gang of four", perhaps I may add my voice to those who have already spoken in support of these amendments, to which my name is attached. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, explained quite adequately to the Committee at the outset of this debate why the Bill before us today—we have discussed it before and do not need to do so again—is unworkable and unenforceable and why it is based on prejudice and bigotry.

We have already been through that, but an important point was the contribution to the debate made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at Second Reading. Towards the end of his speech, he made a very important point, which has not been focused on as much as it might be. It was in the context of the phrase "good and robust law", which is what the Government were seeking in resolving this very difficult issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, told us that using the Parliament Act or a similar device to settle this issue in a way which those most involved—the rural community—would regard as unfair and unjust would, in fact, not settle the matter; it would mean that it would fester on in the countryside for years and years until a future government came back and resolved it properly. Regardless of any noble Lord's views on this issue, that is another incentive and another reason to find a more equitable way to settle the issue.

Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and others think or, indeed, whatever I may think, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has considered this matter independently, believes that cruelty is not proven and that there is no evidence of cruelty to justify a ban or such a draconian step. That, in itself, is another reason that we should seek a better way forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and the rest of the gang of four are proposing an alternative. The alternative, the principle of which is enshrined in this first amendment and which we shall go on to discuss in detail as the amendments proceed, is, as your Lordships are aware, entirely consistent with the Government's original proposal. That proposal was based on the evidence and the principle that the Government promised to everyone, including the rural community. It is what we now know that the Government apparently want and, in particular, it is what the Prime Minister appears to want.

In his opening remarks, which, while they may have been Delphic, I found extremely helpful, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made it clear that changes have been proposed to the Bill through amendments which we have tabled and which we are to discuss this evening and tomorrow. That is right. When we attempted, via amendments, to move from the present Bill back to the original government proposal, we were, if I may put it this way, shooting at a moving target because the Bill changed during its progress from First Reading to Second Reading and through the Committee stage in the House of Commons. We tabled those amendments not as a deliberate attempt to deceive your Lordships or to hide issues but in an effort to find the most equitable and reasonable way to proceed, bearing in mind that, as your Lordships will know, if something is changed early in the proceedings on a Bill, it frequently affects the Bill further along the line. This was, and is, a long and complex Bill but it is in a form to which we hope your Lordships will agree.

I believe there are very few matters of principle in the changes that we have made, but we would welcome comments from either the Government Front Bench or elsewhere if it is felt that we have it wrong. There are two major changes to the Bill introduced by Mr Alun Michael, and we shall reach them in due course. They are not, I think, matters to be dealt with at present. At the moment, we need consider only the principle of registration.

Of the two changes that we are proposing, one is to do with coursing and stag hunting and the other is the second test of registration—the test of utility. We shall discuss those as and when we reach them. The Minister suggested that we had changed in some way the test of least suffering. I think that, on reflection, he will find that we have not or, if we have changed it, that we have done so inadvertently, but 1 believe that it remains the original test of least suffering. However, again, we shall come to that in due course.

What we have produced here is a compromise. There is no doubt about that. We have compromised considerably in going down this route, and that was our intention. We would like to find a compromise solution. We have made considerable concessions. I shall not go through them in detail now, but as we go through the later amendments, which take us stage by stage through the registration process, the concessions that we have made, and are prepared to put on the table in a gesture of goodwill to solve this very difficult issue, will become clear. On the other hand, I point out—without, I hope, any inflection in my voice—that I have yet to detect one single concession that has come from the other side. It takes two to tango.

I hope that we have produced what the Government wanted: a registration Bill—their registration Bill. We have produced exactly what was recommended by the Government's independent report under the noble Lord, Lord Burns; and we have produced exactly what the Prime Minister appeared to be talking about at lunch time this very day. Therefore, we hope that your Lordships will look on it favourably and work with us as we go through this somewhat complicated process over the next day or two to try to produce the compromise that we hope the Government will accept.

My last point is that in listening to the Minister speaking from the Front Bench—I do not make this comment in a judgmental way—from time to time I found it difficult to work out his position. My understanding was that Ministers on the Front Bench represent the government of the day, not the House of Commons. The House of Commons must represent itself. So, when the Minister speaks at the end of the debate, it would be immensely helpful if he could explain not the position of the House of Commons we all know that—hut the position of the Government. That is the key to the issue. We are giving back to the Government the Government's Bill; we are supporting the Government and we hope to find a compromise. I hope that at this late hour the Government, for once, will support the same compromise.

Lord King of Bridgwater

The Minister made the comment that we are in deep water. Anyone who is familiar with rural areas, and many people not familiar with rural areas but who have different views from many others about hunting, know that there are very strong feelings on this issue. It is very important that we recognise that and that we deal with this matter in the proper way. Many people in the countryside know that the way in which this matter has been handled has added to the anger of so many and it has been the worst possible prelude to any action that the Government may wish to allow to happen in relation to hunting.

Looking back over the matter, the original attempt was made by Jack Straw as Home Secretary, who asked the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to undertake his inquiry. Then the Government requested Mr Alun Michael to hold the hearings in Portcullis House. There followed attempts to deal with the issue on principle and evidence and, although they were greeted with some scepticism by hunting people, they were seen as genuine attempts to see whether there was a fair basis on which this longstanding disagreement could be approached. Many noble Lords have experienced debates on this subject for years.

Of course, the approach has been pretty chaotic. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the handling of the first Bill and the way in which the Government simply pulled stumps and abandoned progress on it. Now we have this Bill which has appeared at the last gasp of this Session of Parliament, having been lying around for a considerable period of time in the Commons, not being dealt with in any way. That has not given us any confidence.

The point made now by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is whether this House is simply wasting its time, whether the Government are prepared to take any action or whether they will simply allow the will of their BackBenchers to prevail, notwithstanding that they have admitted that this is quite the wrong way to approach the matter. They have warned of the dangers of what is proposed.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. I do not agree with the idea of the registrar; I do not believe it is the best way to approach the matter. I would much rather see self-regulation. Recently we had an example of self-regulation. Two very stupid people at the Labour Party conference produced two carcasses which they laid out on the street. The action may have been handled in the courts, but I noticed that the Masters of Foxhounds Association took immediate action and banned that hunt from hunting for a period of time. So the whole hunt was punished for the stupid action of two people. However, if we have a system of registration, people will not act with such speed. There will be a tribunal and all kinds of opportunities for people to argue their cases. That is an illustration of self-regulation.

There is no point in arguing such a point because we have gone beyond it. In the spirit of compromise that has been advanced here, the idea of registration is set out. I believe that it is the least worst alternative to self-regulation and that it is the way to proceed.

The Minister was absolutely right that one or two changes are proposed beyond the Alun Michael Bill, but they are not in this amendment. The amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has made clear, deals with the Alun Michael proposal for a registrar for registration.

I may disagree with a number of noble Lords on the issue of stag hunting. Having represented a constituency in which one of the principal stag hunts in the country is based, I do not agree with people who believe that it should be banned. I accept that I have to argue that at the right time in this Committee stage.

The principle of registration, as in the Alun Michael Bill, is quite clear. I believe that it is now the duty of this House to save both the Government and the country from what could otherwise be a most unfortunate situation. I may be wrong, but I believe that successive Home Secretaries have never voted for this Bill and have never supported a ban. I have been a Back-Bencher and a Minister, and the benefit of being a Back-Bencher is that one does not have to take responsibility. Ministers and the Government will have to pick up the mess if this goes through in the way in which government Ministers have already stated is unworkable and is likely to lead to serious tension in our country.

I believe that it is the duty of this House to act, not because we are frightened of the Commons—many of us have been in the Commons and have seen it make mistakes on many occasions—but because we have to do what we believe to be right. We must stand by our honour, integrity, experience and knowledge and do what we think is right. In the present circumstance I am sure that the compromise of registration is right.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough

From these Benches I add my support for this group of amendments. I do so very much in the spirit of compromise to which the noble Lord, Lord King, has just referred. It seems to me that this is a compromise between those who want a total ban and those who want the present situation to continue without any regulation.

I support these amendments on the basis of a principle that my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who is in his place beside me, indicated at Second Reading. He said that one of the marks of a civilised society is the ability to live with difference and that, One should not impose something on people against their consent unless there is an overriding reason for it". That is a principle that this House scrupulously sought to implement yesterday in a very different context. The right reverend Prelate also said at Second Reading that there are other matters which many feel are undesirable and socially corrupting, but we have found ways of managing them without banning everything in sight".—[Official Report, 12/10/04; cols. 135–136.] It seems to me that this amendment does precisely that; it seeks to manage without banning in a situation where there is deep division in our country and where many people in the countryside, as other noble Lords have said, feel that there has been a failure to listen and to understand their way of life.

I very much hope that your Lordships' Committee will support these amendments and that we shall have the opportunity to discuss further the nature of registration and how it should, in practice, be implemented.

5 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I spoke on this issue in Second Reading debates in the other place in 1995 and 1997. I have never spoken on it in a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House. If some Members of the Committee think that some aspects of my speech might be a Second Reading speech, it is necessarily not one which I have already delivered in this place.

In the other place I was an inner city MP. I had a sense of responsibility in that capacity—on the Burkean principle that a Member of Parliament owes his judgment to his constituents—to learn more about the fox than as an inner city MP I was likely to do. In those days the Earl of Cranbrook was the chairman of English Nature. I happened independently to know him. I asked him whether English Nature would provide me with as comprehensive a bibliography on the fox as it could. It produced a list of about a dozen books and an enormous list of articles. With the assistance of the House of Commons Library I secured those and read them. The animal welfare conclusion to which I came as a result of doing that reading derived from arguments such as those expressed in this debate by my noble friend Lord Renton. It was that hunting was the optimal way to proceed. That view has been sustained by the Burns committee, which was set up by the Government to assist Parliament in these matters.

My friend Tony Banks—and I can say genuinely "my friend Tony Banks" for he and I regularly meet to explain to American students how Parliament works; and I know him well—has said that we are now into politics and that we have moved on from animal welfare. If so, I regret that. But I have the feeling from the Minister's speech earlier in the debate that that is his view too and that we are no longer into animal welfare.

The Minister quoted two-thirds of a famous quotation by Mr Sherlock Holmes where he said, "These are deep waters, Watson". I am a bear of very little brain and I am therefore perfectly happy to play the role of Dr Watson in listening to what the Minister has to say.

The Prime Minister is said to be interested in compromise. I am not quite sure, in the light of what has happened so far, how he would deliver it in the other place. But that is by the by. He may still regret in due course what he said about my right honourable friend John Major when he was Prime Minister. On one occasion in the other place he said that, the difference between the Prime Minister and myself"— that is Mr Blair speaking— is that I lead my party and he follows his". That issue may return to haunt him in the days ahead.

Of course the Prime Minister may say that this is a free vote. That is quite different from an issue of party policy under a Whip. But some of us were surprised by the opaqueness of his original pledge in the manifesto in 1997 that the Labour Party, if elected, would allow a free vote in the House of Commons. That was a meaningless commitment, considering that in the House of Commons a free vote had always been allowed on fox hunting. It added absolutely nothing to the status quo of where we then were.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that he could not accept the middle way, although the Prime Minister is attached to that form of triangulation. I have heard what has been said about registration improving animal welfare; and I am prepared to accept that. For myself, I am clear that, whatever the Minister in due course says, the issue of animal welfare will determine my own vote when we go into the Lobbies and that animal welfare should remain our guiding star. I share the view of my noble friend Lord King that we should do what we believe in.

Earl Peel

I originally voted against the proposal that is before us today that has become known as the middle way. I think and I admit that that was a tactical error. I remember very well my noble friend—I think that he is still my noble friend—Lord Willoughby de Broke trying to persuade me and others to do the same but we rejected it. However, there is such a thing as political expediency. We all have to move; we all have to think; and we all have to make judgments. I believe without any question of doubt that the judgment now before us means that we have no option whatever but to accept the proposal in the form of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.

I accept the strong feelings expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Hoyle and Lord Graham, but there is no question of doubt that foxes need to be controlled. It is therefore a question of clinically looking at the science available and asking what is the most humane way to deal with it. Clearly, hunting is the least cruel.

I would simply make an intervention at this stage. I have not done so to date, but there have been in my view a number of misrepresentations made during the course of the hunting debate about other methods of fox control. I fully acknowledge that hunting is a least cruel method, but Members of the Committee should be under no misapprehension that snaring and shooting if done correctly are humane ways of controlling foxes. I would not want anyone to be under the misapprehension that all shooting and all snaring leads to an untimely death for the fox because that simply is not the case.

It seems to me that on this issue there are two fundamental points. One is that of least cruelty and the other is the one of civil liberty and respect for the minority. That to me is perhaps the burning issue; the one on which we should concentrate more than anything else. Seldom, if ever, in the legislative history of Parliament can so much evidence have been accumulated against a piece of legislation as that which we have in front of us today. That I believe is the key issue. Many noble Lords have referred to Alun Michael and how he himself supported, quite naturally, his original Bill and how he wishes to have something similar returned to the House of Commons.

We had the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Bums, and we had the Portcullis House hearings. It all points in one direction. We have the opinion polls which show quite clearly that the majority of people are now uncertain about the hunting issue; and I do not believe that many of them think that hunting should be outlawed. Then we have the press and these hugely important libertarian arguments that have been put forward time and time again. I said at Second Reading and I say again that if the Government ignore that, they do so at their peril. It is one of the most fundamental and damaging things they could do towards the well-being of the countryside and the well-being of people who live in a democracy and expect fair play.

I believe that this amendment offers that alternative. It offers fair play and I genuinely and sincerely hope that your Lordships will support it.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House at the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill. I asked for the House to try to find a way forward that would answer the genuine questions of those who oppose hunting and would find a proper solution to all who value freedom and tolerance. This amendment answers exactly those questions.

I agree with my noble friend Lord King. In an ideal world I would prefer self-regulation as that fits with my philosophical view of life. But if we need a registrar in order to ensure that whole swathes of our fellow men and women are not criminalised, I feel that this is the way forward and I urge your Lordships to support the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

If there are no further speakers in the debate I should like to start to conclude it. The interesting amendment on registration is pivotal to the whole of the Bill. The issue has to be resolved shortly in a vote, but on listening to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I thought that there was a hint of a nod and a wink on occasions in what he said. Indeed, he admitted that the four noble Lords whose names are attached to most of the amendments are trying to be helpful. But then he said that it differed radically from the original Bill.

During this debate important points have been made about what the Government's view is on this Bill—after all, it is as near as possible to their original Bill that came here from the House of Commons. Noble Lords asked whether the Government are still prepared to support the principle of registration of hunting or whether they will look at the House of Commons and back away from its decision to ban hunting. That is contained in the Bill that we are now debating.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked the Minister to come clean and tell us whether he is highlighting hare coursing and deer hunting, and whether that is the compromise sought. I hope that the noble Lord will express his views on that. The debate on the Parliament Act is important but we must stick to the amendments before us. The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to secure a registration scheme for hunting in the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke to Amendment No. 2, which lays out specific ways in which individuals and groups can hunt and become licensed to do so. Groups of individuals can also seek a licence. The conditions were read out, so I shall not repeat them. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, rightly mentioned that one cannot negotiate without ground rules and that in some respects we are debating in a vacuum. He said that the principle of registration must be accepted or rejected. We will do that, I am sure, in the forthcoming vote.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has been referred to, expressed his opinions on cruelty. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, sought a more equitable solution to the issue, which was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, himself. The noble Lord, Lord King, rightly responded to the situation in the countryside, which is in turmoil over the issue. We need to be responsible in resolving it.

I shall now address specifically Amendment No. 1. It is the constructive alternative to a ban. The fact that the Government produced a registration Bill at the conclusion of a two-year consultation process was a very objective conclusion. It creates a degree of ethical control of hunting by regulation. The registration and licensing of hunts ensure that standards must be adhered to; that will be very, very acceptable in the countryside. As a fisherman, I get a fishing licence every spring and adhere to the rules clearly stated on my licence. Others shoot, for which they obtain shooting licences. I see nothing wrong in getting licences to hunt under certain conditions. It is a principle already accepted in the countryside.

The registration body will be equally independent of pro- and anti-hunting interests. The registrar must be objective and independent in determining who is fit to hunt; if hunts disobey rules, there must be rulings that will be enforced; and licences must be withdrawn if rules are breached. That provides for an appeals mechanism, which is contained in this set of amendments.

This is the way forward for the countryside, and the way to get much more cohesion between town and country. I beg those not only in this place but in another place who believe in a ban to think again and find a civilised solution that most people can accept.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford

I rise very briefly because nearly everything appropriate has already been said, so I shall not cover the ground again. I wish to draw noble Lords' attention to some specific points.

I find it very strange that, having made his statement at the start of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refused to enlarge on it. The question must be: why? If we are told that the Government seek a compromise, we are at least due an explanation of how we could compromise. If the only compromise that the Government seek is to accept the Bill as a ban Bill, I see no compromise at all. I hope that the Minister will address those very specific issues that Members of the Committee raised today.

First, the last time the Bill was before us, the House of Lords did not block it; we all agreed that at Second Reading, however much noble Lords opposite tried to say that that was not true. Secondly, it was clearly the House of Commons that altered its own Bill—it was the Alun Michael Bill, a government Bill, which Back-Benchers hijacked at the last minute. Following that, the Government decided to leave the Bill for 10 months before they brought it back to your Lordships' House. Indeed, they introduced it into the House of Commons first, in September, leaving us very little time to go through it in the normal way. Thirdly, the House of Commons never debated the amendments or the work that we had done on its previous Bill. The Commons had guillotined the Bill before us today into such a short space of time that it did not have the chance to debate it. So it is not this House that altered the Bill at that stage; the Commons altered its own Bill.

Amendment No. 1 concerns the principle of registration. Although I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Members of the Committee should bear in mind that at the moment we are not debating the question of whether to look at different aspects, including stag hunting and hare coursing; we are debating whether to approve the principle of registration. As one of my noble friends has stated, the Government are setting down some very high standards for registration, and some hunts currently might not qualify. Noble Lords should not let that point go amiss. Most importantly, we must end up with a robust law, in whatever form. Registration should apply to all forms of hunting, not just specific ones.

If the Minister seeks a compromise, as he said earlier, does it include the Alun Michael Bill? If it does not, what does it include and what are we talking about? Perhaps there is no compromise. I was very disappointed that, on the many occasions when the Minister was invited to comment, he declined to do so. I wish to put that on the record because I suspect that, if things do not turn out the way the Government hope, this House will be blamed. That would be very unfair because many noble Lords have asked the Government to clarify what their compromise would be, but clarification has not been forthcoming.

We are where we are. I agree with other noble Lords who have said that it is for this House to decide. My own position is well known, but it is for each individual noble Lord to look at the amendment and consider it as it is presented at the moment. I hope that we will not look further down the line at other amendments to come. We are where we are at the moment, and this is the amendment before us, which I beg to support.

Lord Grantchester

Perhaps I may say why I have difficulty listening to this debate on compromise. I applaud my noble friend Lord Donoughue for seeking compromise, but I have difficulty in seeing it as such because the amendment seeks registration for hunting of all species and does not distinguish between the different species of animals hunted. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that that could be addressed later. My difficulty is that, in addressing the matter later, it may be decided that stag hunting is in exactly the same category as fox hunting, which I cannot accept. At this point, therefore, it is very difficult for me to support the registration option.

Lord Whitty

I am sorry that the noble Baroness and others feel that my intervention earlier was not helpful and that my refraining from intervening subsequently was equally unhelpful. It was not intended that way: it was intended, as is often the case in this House, to give some guidance on how the Government should behave on this Bill before Members of the Committee made comments on what was bound to be a contentious and, in some sense, a principled amendment.

For that reason, I have also referred to the various options that have been discussed and the implications for the totality of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Donoughue and the gang of four, five or however many it is. In many respects, it is a crucial vote because it will begin to define the structure that the Committee intends to put back to the Commons.

I have been asked some extraneous questions that I will not answer. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and my noble friend Lord Sewel, all asked about the Parliament Act. We are not at the Parliament Act yet; it is there to resolve a deadlock between the Houses. It is available to use on this Bill, hut we are not yet at deadlock.

My attempted guidance to the Committee was to give my judgment on how it might best avoid that deadlock. By and large, most speakers have not accepted that advice. It may well be that the vote does not accept that advice either, both on this and subsequent amendments. But on a subject that has historically always been a free vote—we are not in new territory here in that sense—it is the main job of the Government's spokesperson to give guidance to the Committee and to the House.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord refers to the issue of the Parliament Act as an extraneous argument. Of course, it was he, in his speech, who referred to the fact that the House of Commons had voted overwhelmingly three times for the banning. That, according to the noble Lord, was a reason why we should continue to ban it.

My point was that at no point has the House of Lords had full Committee, Report or Third Reading stages. The House of Commons never had the ability to consider our views. Therefore, that was a reason for not having the Parliament Act. The only reason I mentioned that was that the noble Lord referred to it in the first place.

The Earl of Erroll

Perhaps I may intervene with an important point. The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and me is that we do not think that the Parliament Act applies. It is being abused. The Minister should understand the danger: if one starts to accept that a procedure where there was a hostile Second Reading in the House of Lords is capable of triggering the Parliament Act—that is not in the 1911 Act at all and is not one of the conditions under which rejection by the House of Lords is counted—when the Minister's party is not in power, that procedure may be used by another party in power.

A very dangerous precedent is being set because it has never been used as a triggering of the Parliament Act in the past. We will move into new waters in which a government of the day who control the House of Commons will be able to force through legislation, after getting it only as far as Second Reading in the House of Lords. On that interpretation, it may be possible to reduce that to a First Reading in the House of Lords. I do not think that the Minister realises how dangerous the avenue that they are going down is. It is not clear.

Lord Whitty

We can have as many examinations of history as we like. As the noble Baroness just said, "We are where we are". I dispute the interpretation of the timing on the previous occasion, which I have already put on record. It is not sensible to reopen that argument today.

In so far as it has implications for the Parliament Act, I repeat that we are not at the stage where the Parliament Act has to be triggered or not triggered. It is there to avoid deadlock. In any case, it becomes a matter not for me, not for the Government, but for the House of Commons and for the Speaker if there is deadlock at the end of this process. We are not yet there.

Lord Waddington

From what the Minister has said, can we take it that if there is deadlock, in his terms, the Government will use the Parliament Act? Is that what he is saying?

Lord Whitty

No: I am saying two things. First, the Parliament Act is available, which I accept that some Members of the Committee dispute. Secondly, the Parliament Act at that point is not a matter for the Government, it is a matter for the House of Commons. I am therefore not in a position to say—nor are the Government or anyone from the Government—whether the Parliament Act would then be triggered. We would certainly consider it in those circumstances because we have to fulfil the manifesto commitment made in the last few manifestos to ensure that there is some resolution of the issue, but it is not a decision for today. It is a decision that I have been trying to advise the Committee on how best to avoid. Regrettably, the Committee has hitherto not taken my advice.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

This is getting us nowhere. We have been threatened with resort to the Parliament Acts. What is the intention of the Government? The noble Lord speaks for the Government.

Lord Whitty

Yes, but, as has been rather underlined in some of the debate, the Government do not always speak for the House of Commons. Ultimately, it will be a matter for the House of Commons whether the Parliament Act is there or not. All that I am saying today is that the Parliament Act is available on this kind of legislation. If we are in deadlock, there will need to be consideration of using the Parliament Act at that point. We are where we are, and we are not at that point yet.

Lord Tebbit

Does the noble Lord not accept that if the Government wish to avoid using the Parliament Act, all they have to do when the Bill goes back to the other place is refrain from giving parliamentary time to the Third Reading of the Bill? Then there will be no Bill on which to use the Parliament Act. It is entirely in the hands of the Government. It is not within the unilateral control of the House of Commons whether or not the Act could be used.

Lord Whitty

Even when the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was Leader of the House of Commons, there were occasions when he recognised political reality. That would be one of these situations, I fear.

Lord Tebbit

The noble Lord is historically wrong: I was never Leader of the House of Commons, but I gave very good advice to the Prime Minister at times.

Lord Whitty

We could debate that for some time. I apologise for awarding him the wrong office.

The issue has been around for the whole of the period of this Government. It is time that it was resolved; therefore, the potential use of the Parliament Act comes into discourse. If people feel threatened by that, that is the reality. We have all been threatened in this. We have been threatened with civil disobedience; we have been threatened by all sorts of things. But the fact is that parliamentary procedures exist for resolving the issue if the two Houses remain in conflict.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked me if my abstention on these matters indicated a position that the Government were likely to take. I tried to explain that. In fact, I took the same position when we were last in Committee—the aborted Committee or the Committee that failed to complete its business. I felt that it was right that I should primarily use my position as Government spokesman to guide the House rather than allow my personal opinion on a free vote, which is of course applicable to Ministers as well, to cloud the issue. That is all that I am doing during this Committee stage. There may come a point when I will use my vote, but I shall not use it in Committee. No one can draw any conclusions one way or another from that as to the eventual position of the House of Commons, let alone the Government.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I was really trying to clarify whether the Minister's abstention on the vote indicated that registration, which is the subject of the amendments, was within the parameters of a possible compromise.

Lord Whitty

I shall come on to the point about negotiation. A compromise is not a matter for me or, indeed, ultimately a matter for the Government. A compromise and a free vote is a matter for negotiation between the majority of this House and the majority in the House of Commons. In so far as that remains the case, there are difficulties about a system of registration. If the House of Commons maintains its position, it will not accept that which looks likely to be the position of this House.

That is not an absolute "no" to the noble Lord's question, but it is not a "yes" either. I am taking a position that I hope will be of guidance to the Committee rather than misleading.

The Earl of Onslow

Perhaps the Minister—

Noble Lords


The Earl of Onslow

I love people moaning when they have to listen to questions they do not agree with. Is it not quite extraordinary that the Minister does not say yes, does not say no, and does not know what he is talking about when his name is on the Bill? This is his Bill and no one else's. Surely he must have an opinion of it, or is that asking too much?

5.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

The noble Earl knows very well my opinion, as he knows my opinion about his interventions on the Bill. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is entitled to a free vote. What I am attempting to help the Committee through is the procedural position here and what the likely procedural position will be if noble Lords take one or other stance. If noble Lords do not want my advice, that is fine. If they wish to ignore my advice, that too is fine. Everyone has a free vote. However, I am giving my advice anyway.

We are in a negotiating situation, and it is with deep regret and some trepidation that, for the first time ever—certainly in public and probably also in private—I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Richard. This is not a three-way negotiation. On a free vote it is a negotiation between the majority in this House and the majority in the House of Commons. I do not say that the Government have no influence on that, but that is the negotiating position. If anything, the Government have tried to be something of a mediator in the past, although we have failed.

Let us not pretend that, when we presented the proposal now seen as a shining compromise, it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the pro-hunting lobby. It was rejected by all sides. However, broadly speaking the intention behind the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Donoughue is to go back to that position. The negotiations are not primarily for the Government and therefore it would not be sensible for me to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, with the Government's proposition for a compromise. However, it is for this House to make a judgment about what proposal or compromise might engage the majority of the House of Commons in constructive dialogue so that the stage of ping-pong could be constructive rather than a stand-off.

My solid advice has been this: do not go back to an offer that has already been made because it has already been overwhelmingly rejected; and even more strongly: do not go back with an offer which, from the point of view of the other party, is less desirable than the one it has already rejected. That is common sense. I have been accused of being Delphic, but perhaps I may say that that is blunt common sense and pretty good advice. However, it is the privilege of noble Lords not to take that advice.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am now totally confused. Where on earth do we go back to? The Minister seems to have rejected the only two retractions we can make. Does he have some other retraction that I have not thought of?

Lord Whitty

It is for noble Lords to consider whether there is another alternative which might better engage and thus could lead to a compromise. For example, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours referred to his own amendment. I do not know whether the House of Commons would accept that proposal, but it is an amendment, along with others, which basically accepts the structure of the Bill. In normal circumstances, therefore, it is an amendment which the House of Commons should seriously consider. I am not sure whether that is a basis for compromise, but in my view it would be a more sensible way of proceeding than the one we are embarked on now.

Nevertheless, if the House wishes to pursue a system of registration, it would also be sensible to bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has graciously accepted; that is, that the proposition on registration is neither the same as that which was put to the House of Commons by Alun Michael in the first place, nor is it the same as that which came out of the Committee in the House of Commons. It does not bear a relationship to the position of either the Government or the pre-ban position of the House of Commons. Bearing all that in mind, at this point the House has to make a judgment on the principle of registration, with the implication on deer hunting, and at later stages it will have to make a judgment on the various points set out in the proposition for registration. However, if noble Lords wish to maximise the area of agreement, even on registration, they should not go further than the original Bill.

However, it still remains my advice that the original Bill in itself is probably unlikely to lead to a position whereby the House of Commons could accept the proposal being made by the House of Lords, and therefore the House of Lords should be a little more creative, inventive and constructive rather than seek to redefine an already entrenched position. What we are trying to avoid is a collision course, to which for a long time this House has been completely devoted, although one could argue that the vote of the House of Commons also put it on a collision course. But it is in the interest of both the Government and the constitution that we should at least examine whether there are any other means of compromise. Those I have advised against are ones which I genuinely believe will not do the trick, and I suspect that that will be the view of the House of Commons as well.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

Will the Minister help the Committee a little more? As a mediator—to use his word—he has been advising us about what he as a mediator is against. Will he please tell us something, just one thing, that he as a mediator is for, because that might help us to reach conclusions and table further amendments?

Lord Whitty

If the noble Lord had any knowledge of industrial relations he would know that that is not the mediator's job. The mediator encourages the two sides to make propositions which bring them closer to each other. That is the position, I am afraid, and it is the sensible position to take today.

No doubt noble Lords will be talking across the lines to those who take a different view to see whether there are any other propositions which might secure a positive response in the House of Commons. Certainly the indications from the Government have been that we would consider such propositions, but ultimately the issue before this House is whether noble Lords can come up with a proposition which is likely to engage the majority in the House of Commons. If not, then it will be noble Lords themselves who put the House on course for deadlock and therefore the potential use of the Parliament Act. It would not be the Government and, at this point, it would not be the majority of the House of Commons.

My points have been procedural, although obviously I could respond also to a number of substantive points. However, we should deal with those in later amendments. In my two interventions I have probably said enough and I therefore defer to my noble friend Lord Donoughue to sum up the debate.

Lord Donoughue

The amendment in my name is about registration, because we may have lost sight of that. I should point out that no one, not even the Minister, has spoken seriously against registration in the sense of pointing out any defects in it as a structural approach. I would also observe that the Minister has just said that the amendments being moved and the position we are moving towards "hear no relationship" to the Alun Michael Bill. I suggest that he might like to think about that again. Others would say that that was nonsense, but I do not use words like that about my noble friends. However, the vast bulk of this Bill, upwards of 90 per cent, is identical.

The main diversion in our discussion has been into compromise. I shall leave to one side the Parliament Act because that comes later. However, it is sad that, even when giving his reasons, the Minister has declined to indicate any direction towards compromise in which we could move that the Government might accept. I acknowledge that he cannot speak for the House of Commons.

I believe that this amendment proposing registration is a constructive compromise, and that within the framework of registration other moves towards compromise might be possible. That was indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her excellent speech, and by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. It is certainly possible. We are putting forward a structure of registration which contains within it the possibility for further compromise.

In this situation, one in which we still lack any information from the Government on other acceptable directions of compromise, the amendment would be a major and desirable step forward. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

5.39 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 322; Not-Contents, 72.

Division No. 1
Acton, L. Byford, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Caithness, E.
Alli, L. Cameron of Dillington, L.
Ampthill, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Carey of Clifton, L.
Armstrong of Ilminster, L. Carlile of Berriew, L.
Arran, E. Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Astor, V. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Astor of Hever, L. Carter, L.
Attlee, E. Cavendish of Furness, L.
Bagri, L. Chadlington, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. Chelmsford, Bp.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Chorley, L.
Ballyedmond, L. Cobbold, L.
Barnett, L. Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Colville of Culross, V.
Bell, L. Colwyn, L.
Belstead, L. Condon, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Cope of Berkeley, L.
Best, L. Courtown, E.
Biffen, L. Craig of Radley, L.
Blaker, L. Crathorne, L.
Blatch, B. Crickhowell, L.
Bledisloe, V. Croham, L.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B. Cumberlege, B.
Boothroyd, B. Dahrendorf, L.
Borrie, L. Darcy de Knayth, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Dean of Harptree, L.
Bowness, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Bradshaw, L. Denham, L.
Bragg, L. Desai, L.
Bramall, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Bridge of Harwich, L. Donaldson of Lymington, L.
Bridgeman, V. Donoughue, L. [Teller]
Bridges, L. Drayson, L.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L. D'Souza, B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Dundee, E.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Dykes, L.
Brookeborough, V. Eccles of Moulton, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Elis-Thomas, L.
Burnham, L. Elles, B.
Buscombe, B. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Butler of Brockwell, L. Elton, L.
Erroll, E. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. (Lord Chancellor) MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Falkland, V. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Falkner of Margravine, B. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Feldman, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Fellowes, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Ferrers, E. Maclennan of Rogart, L.
Flather, B. Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Fowler, L. Mallalieu, B.
Garden, L. Mancroft, L. [Teller]
Gardner of Parkes, B. Mar, C.
Garel-Jones, L. Marlesford, L.
Gavron, L. Marsh, L.
Geddes, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Glenarthur, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Glentoran, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Golding, B. Methuen, L.
Goodhart, L. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Goschen, V. Miller of Hendon, B.
Gould of Brookwood, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Grabiner, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Greenway, L. Monson, L.
Grenfell, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L. Montrose, D.
Guthrie of Craigiebank, L. Moran, L.
Hanningfield, L. Morris of Bolton, B.
Harris of High Cross, L. Moser, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Hart of Chilton, L. Moynihan, L.
Haskins, L. Murphy, B.
Hayman, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Henley, L. Naseby, L.
Heseltine, L. Neill of Bladen, L.
Hoffmann, L. Neuberger, B.
Hogg, B. Newby, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Hollick, L. Noakes, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Norfolk, D.
Hooper, B. Northbourne, L.
Hooson, L. Northbrook, L.
Howard of Rising, L. Northesk, E.
Howarth of Breckland, B. O'Cathain, B.
Howe, E. Onslow, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Howe of Idlicote, B. Oxford, Bp.
Howell of Guildford, L. Palmer, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Parekh, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Parkinson, L.
Hylton, L. Patten, L.
Inglewood, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Peel, E.
James of Holland Park, B. Perry of Southwark, B.
Jauncey of Tullichettle, L. Peterborough, Bp.
Jellicoe, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Jopling, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Kimball, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
King of Bridgwater, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
King of West Bromwich, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Knight of Collingtree, B. Plumb, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Lane of Horsall, L. Prior, L.
Lang of Monkton, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L. Puttnam, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Randall of St Budeaux, L.
Lewis of Newnham, L. Rawlings, B.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Listowel, E. Razzall, L.
Liverpool, E. Rea, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L. Reay, L.
Lucas, L. Redesdale, L.
Luke, L. Rees, L.
Lyell, L. Rees-Mogg, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L. Strathclyde, L.
Renton, L. Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L. Swinfen, L.
Richard, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Rix, L. Tanlaw, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Taverne, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Rogan, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Rooker, L. Tebbit, L.
Roper, L. Temple-Morris, L.
Rotherwick, L. Tenby, V.
Royall of Blaisdon, B. Thatcher, B.
Ryder of Wensum, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Saatchi, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
St John of Bletso, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
St John of Fawsley, L. Tombs, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Tordoff, L.
Sandberg, L. Trefgarne, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Trumpington, B.
Sandwich, E. Tunnicliffe, L.
Scott of Foscote, L. Turnberg, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B. Ullswater, V.
Seccombe, B. Vinson, L.
Selborne, E. Waddington, L.
Selsdon, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Sewel, L. Wakeham, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B. Wall of New Barnet, B.
Sharples, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Walpole, L.
Sheppard of Didgemere, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L. Warnock, B.
Simon, V. Waverley, V.
Simon of Glaisdale, L. Weatherill, L.
Skelrnersdale, L. Wilcox, B.
Slim, V. Wilkins, B.
Smith of Clifton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L. Williamson of Horton, L.
Steinberg, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Stern, B. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Windlesham, L.
Strabolgi, L. Winston, L.
Strange, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President of the Council) Grantchester, L.
Grocott, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Hamwee, B.
Avebury, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Bach, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Harrison, L.
Berkeley, L. Howells of St Davids, B.
Bhatia, L. Hoyle, L.
Billingham, B. Jones, L.
Campbell-Savours, L. Kilclooney, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. Kirkhill, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Laird, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Laming, L.
Craigavon, V. Lockwood, B.
Crawley, B. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. McDonagh, B.
Dholakia, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Dixon, L. McKenzie of Luton, L.
Dubs, L. McNally, L.
Eatwell, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Evans of Parkside, L. Maxton, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Morgan, L.
Fearn, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Fookes, B. Northover, B.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L. Orme, L.
Gale, B. Pendry, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Prosser, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller] Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rennard, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller] Richardson of Calow, B.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rosser, L. Tomlinson, L.
Rowlands, L. Tope, L.
Sheldon, L. Triesman, L.
Smith of Leigh, L. Truscott, L.
Southwark, Bp. Walmsley, B.
Stone of Blackheath, L. Whitaker, B.
Thornton, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.57 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committes (Baroness Lockwood)

The Question is—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

If noble Lords are leaving the Chamber, will they do so quietly and have conversations outside? My noble friend Lady Lockwood is having difficulty being heard.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The Question is that Clause 1, as amended, stand part of the Bill. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content".

Noble Lords


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The Contents have it.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Mallalieu moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—