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16 Nov 2004 : Column 1261

Hunting Bill [Money]

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

6.45 pm

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I beg to move,


The money resolution is a necessary formality. The House has to pass a money resolution before it can debate proposed legislation that could require new public expenditure. The House of Lords has proposed a system that would require the establishment of an institutional framework, which would be a charge on the public purse, so we need to pass a money resolution as a prelude to our debate. I emphasise that passing the resolution is a formality. It does not pre-empt the decisions that the House might make.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Can the Minister tell the House his estimate of the costs of implementing the amendments made in the other place and of implementing his original proposal?

Alun Michael: No, I cannot give an exhaustive reply now, nor do I think it appropriate to do so. The resources necessary to implement the decision of this House would be agreed. It is clear that this is very much a House of Commons matter.

Mr. Hogg rose—

Alun Michael: What I am making clear is that it is necessary to pass the formality of a money resolution so that we can—

Mr. Hogg rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Alun Michael: It is necessary that we pass the resolution so that we can proceed to the substance of the Lords amendments, on which I think that the House would want to spend its time this evening. Let me repeat that passing the resolution does not pre-empt the decisions that this House might make. Passing it will not commit the House to agreeing with the Lords amendments or, indeed, to making any amendments to the Bill.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) asked about finances. At this stage, if this House agrees with the House of Lords, other decisions may well be taken that affect the cost and the impact on the public purse. It would therefore not be appropriate to go into the financial details now. What we need to do is make sure that the House would agree to the provision of resources, which is why I have moved the resolution.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Minister has made it clear that passing the money
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resolution does not pre-empt the decision of the House. What would affect the resolution, but appears to have been pre-empted by the House's previous decision, is the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) on compensation—an issue that is important to many hon. Members on both sides of the hunting argument. Does the Minister intend to allow the House to divide on that amendment later?

Alun Michael: What votes take place is very much a matter for the House's procedures to determine. It depends when the debate is concluded. I understand the motives of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) in tabling his amendment. He has made his position clear both personally and in correspondence and I respect his view, although, as he knows, I do not share it. Compensation is not made necessary by the provisions of the Bill. When we debate the substantive matters before the House, including his amendment, we can discuss the principles that underlie his decision to table it.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Does the Minister accept that, under the procedure of the House, the House's ability to divide on the matter is, in fact, within his gift? Does he agree that if we are to scrutinise the issue properly, he should use his power to allow us to vote on it?

Alun Michael: It depends on how we move forward with these debates. If the debates end well before the time that is allowed for the procedure motion, the procedures of the House go in one direction. If not, motions moved formally by Ministers take precedence, as is the normal procedure of the House. I would not mislead the House by suggesting that we are willing to entertain the possibility of compensation being paid.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the Minister confirm that, if we reach the guillotine, it is in his power to move it formally so that the House can divide on it?

Alun Michael: I shall listen with interest to the debate. However, I am not inclined to do what the hon. Gentleman says.

The money resolution is needed for the House to proceed to what I am sure Members on both sides of the Chamber wish to do, which is to engage with the substance of the amendments that have been proposed by another place. I have kept my remarks as brief as is possible, with the interventions, to allow the maximum time for the House.

6.51 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I know that the House wants to come to the serious business that is before us. However, I am disappointed that the Minister has given no indication of the blank cheque that he is asking the House to write this evening.

As I understand it, there are three possible outcomes from our debate this evening. The first is the Bill as it left this place not so many weeks ago—that is an effective ban, and many of us believe that it is riddled with
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inconsistencies and difficulties. The second possibility is that we accept the Lords amendments. I think that we accept also that that is probably unlikely, but a cost will attach to that. Many of us think that that is the right way to proceed, and a sensible and balanced approach. The third outcome is that the amendments of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) are accepted, which effectively returns the Bill to its original state when the Minister introduced it about two years ago. The Minister must be able to give us some indication of the cost of those three outcomes before we move to the major business that is before the House.

6.53 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): It is extraordinary that the Minister cannot give any estimate for any of the options that are before the House. It may be that an outright ban would cost the taxpayer a great deal more money than a licensing system.

Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that not only is it extraordinary that the Minister will not give us his best estimate but that that is improper? The House is being asked to authorise public expenditure by a Minister who is declining to give us any idea of what the cost is likely to be.

Mr. Sayeed: I have considerable sympathy for that point. The most important thing is that we have an idea of the costs. If an outright ban is much more expensive than a licensing system, it may be that certain Members would reject the concept of an outright ban in its entirety.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): I wonder whether the Minister is not giving guidance to the House on the costs of the various alternatives of the middle way or an outright ban because he is being assured by the First Lord of the Treasury, the Prime Minister, who will be voting for the middle way later this evening, that the Government are prepared to pay for the compromise.

6.53 pm

Alun Michael: I make it clear that, when we come to the debate, I shall refer to the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). The motion that is before us, the money resolution, refers to the offering from the House of Lords, which goes to one extreme in the nature of the regulation that it proposes. It is the House of Lords that makes those proposals, not the Government. It is for this House to debate these matters and I suggest that proceedings to deal with the money resolution would allow the House to use time to the maximum to debate the principles.

Question put and agreed to.

16 Nov 2004 : Column 1264

Hunting Bill

Clause 1

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