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Sitting suspended.
18 Nov 2004 : Column 1478

Orders of the Day

Hunting Bill

1.44 pm

On resuming—

Lords message considered.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House is in his place. Has he given you any indication that he intends to make a statement on what has obviously gone wrong today? Does he accept that this is no way to run a national Parliament, let alone a ping-pong tournament?

Mr. Speaker: Nothing has gone wrong—absolutely nothing. I am running the proceedings in the House.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. A paper is going around that I have not had the opportunity to see, but if any amendment to the Bill is carried today and if the two Houses cannot reach agreement on the Bill at the end of the day, will you be able to invoke the Parliament Act?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. The Parliament Act is applicable if agreement on the Bill as a whole is not achieved. That will not be affected if the House agrees to either of the two motions that are being proposed today. Beyond that, I do not want to be drawn into ruling on hypothetical situations, because it might be thought that I was trying to influence the debate. It is up to the Minister to explain the effect of the motion that he is bringing before the House.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you clarify whether, if you chose to use the Parliament Act and it was used under your guidance—you have to follow the rules—you could be swayed at all by a vote in this House? Do you agree that the only way in which you can be prevented from using the Parliament Act is by a vote in this Parliament telling you not to use it, and can we have that vote?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady is correct; that is the case.

Lords amendments: Nos. 1 to 44 and 46 to 54.

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 10C, 12C and 52C. If the House agrees to the amendments, I will arrange for the necessary entries to be made in the Journal. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment to the Minister's amendment in the name of Opposition Members.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For clarity, there are two amendments in the names of Opposition Members. Which one are you referring to?

Mr. Speaker: Amendment No. 1.
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The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I beg to move, That this House insists on its disagreement to Lords amendments Nos. 1 to 44 and 46 to 54, disagrees with the Lords in their amendments 10C, 12C, 46C and 52C, but proposes the following amendment in lieu—

Essentially, I am inviting the House to restore the Bill to the form that we have previously agreed, but I shall also be inviting it to consider proposals in respect of commencement. I want to explain what I am trying to do today. As always, the Government want to be helpful and constructive, giving people time to adjust to the reality of legislation on the statute book. I shall then explain the procedure. I want to do those two things very clearly and without taking interventions, so there is absolutely no doubt about what I am saying. Of course, I will then be prepared to take interventions from hon. and right hon. Members.

This House previously agreed to propose a delay in commencement until July 2006. I have tabled a motion proposing July 2007, and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) has proposed 2006. Those are both choices that would enable this House not only to be reasonable but to be seen to be reasonable by going the extra mile, if we like. The House insists on the Bill as it has already agreed it, with only that date being changed. That is what is before us today.

Let me come to the procedure. I suggest to the House that it is clear but complicated, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the clarification that you gave before we started the debate. I want to give hon. Members complete certainty about the impact of what we are asking the House to agree to today. I am advised that passing either motion on commencement would not in any way affect the application of the Parliament Act. We would be passing not an amendment to the Bill, but a motion to propose an amendment in lieu. In other words, we would send the Bill to the other place as previously passed by this House in its Parliament Actable form. Alongside it, if passed, would be the motion making the proposal that the other place amend the Bill in order to delay commencement of the ban. From that point on, the only question is whether the Bill becomes law with the agreement of the other place or via application of the Parliament Act, with or without the proposed change in the date of commencement.
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If we send a motion proposing an amendment to the Lords and they accept it, it will form part of the Bill as enacted. If there are no other disagreements, the Bill will pass without the Parliament Act. If there are disagreements, the Parliament Act will enact the Bill as first sent to the other place, but with the amendments proposed by this House today. If neither of the amendments is carried, I will move that this House insists on its disagreement with all the Lords amendments and disagrees to their amendments in lieu. Our position is very simple.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, the Countryside Alliance has threatened to drag this through the courts. Can he guarantee that the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the judicial council of the other place will absolutely agree with the interpretation that he has given us today?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend knows that it would be unwise of any Minister to predict what they will do about anything, be it the original Bill, an amended Bill or any other legislation. I can say, however, that if we do what I suggest and pass the Bill in its Parliament Actable form—that is, if we reject the Lords amendments and invite the Lords to take the common-sense step of agreeing to our proposition for a delay in the date of commencement—that sensible approach would lead only to the courts' considering whether the date of commencement should be a date that we have agreed in this House or the original date three months hence, in February 2005. I think that the position is entirely clear, and although I appreciate the wish of some hon. Members to make it more complicated, I shall do my best to keep it simple.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD) rose—

Alun Michael: I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sure will help me in that regard.

Mr. Beith: I am trying to help with clarification. The Lords having already rejected the 18-month delay, if this House sent that proposal to them by passing the second of the two motions—which would require the Minister to move it—what would happen then? Would the proposal come back to us for further consideration, or for us to suggest a further alternative? If the Lords insisted on, let us say, three years or two and three quarter years, what process would follow?

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