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Lord Waddington: The Minister is not right even in that. It is not for the House of Commons to decide whether to reintroduce the Bill. It will be for the Government to decide whether they are going to introduce a Bill themselves or give time for a Bill introduced by a Back-Bencher. It is the Government's responsibility.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord is completely wrong in that respect. Ultimately, the time in the House of

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Commons is a matter for the House of Commons itself, particularly in relation to legislation based on a free vote of the House of Commons. It is therefore not entirely in the hands of the Government. It is true that the Government can help that process along or not, but at the end of the day it is a matter for the House of Commons, which has already spoken, and spoken clearly, on what it believes the legislation should provide. That is the Bill before us.

The Government felt that a degree of compromise at an earlier stage might be possible with the original Bill that we put before the House of Commons. In fact, that was greeted with no great enthusiasm by those who wish to defend hunting. Several of those who have tabled amendments today opposed the basis of that legislation. The next groups of amendments that we will debate, which on the face of it purport to reinstate the original Bill, in fact dilute the original Bill very substantially. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu was clear that she felt that the original Bill would not be acceptable to this Chamber and was certainly not acceptable to her.

Therefore, the idea that we have an alternative before us today—the original Bill promoted by the Government as against the Bill presented by the House of Commons—is not actually the truth. Instead, we are faced with a Bill that has been passed by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons, which is in line with the manifesto commitment and the Government's responsibility to facilitate that Bill passing into law.

Baroness Mallalieu: Is it no longer the Government's intention to continue to deliver a Bill based on evidence, which was the promise that was made both by my right honourable friend Mr Alun Michael and by the Prime Minister and was the basis of the original Bill?

4.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: The evidence base of the original Bill was one set of evidence. The evidence that was taken into account by the majority in the House of Commons includes other views, and views that some Members of this House undoubtedly query. The fact is that the House of Commons has made a judgment. Although that judgment does not meet with the approval of large sections of this Chamber, it is a fact. If we ignore that fact in this debate we are avoiding discussing the content of the legislation and the potential constitutional impasse that we will be up against. Therefore, we should be dealing with the Bill that is now before us.

Lord Donoughue: I thank my noble friend for giving way. Because he was being interrupted, he may not have conveyed the total contents of the Labour Party manifesto. Will he allow me to tell the Committee what it says? It says that the Government,

    "will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view".

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The Minister conveyed that accurately, but then he was interrupted and did not have a full opportunity to read out the following sentence, which says:

    "We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue".

Noble Lords: He said that.

Lord Donoughue: I know that he meant that, but I do not believe that it came across as clearly as he would have wished.

Lord Whitty: As a number of my noble friends have said, I read that bit out as well. I said that we are not yet at that stage. Excuse me, I need my glasses—the Labour manifesto needs to be written in larger print. It says:

    "If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved".

The manifesto says that, in that context,

    "we will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue".

Parliament can reach a conclusion in a number of different ways, and it is open to the House of Lords to attempt to amend this Bill. I was pointing out to the Committee that, in line with the manifesto and the Government's responsibilities, noble Lords must consider the Bill that is before them. I, in terms of the Government's responsibilities, must make it clear that I—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am most obliged to the Minister and sorry to interrupt him. Did I hear him correctly when he said that the Labour Party manifesto referred to fox hunting and that the Government would give the House of Commons the opportunity to vote? Are those the exact terms? Fox hunting?

Lord Whitty: Yes, they are, and if my noble friend takes the matter further he can no doubt say that hare coursing and stag hunting are therefore not covered by the manifesto commitment. Nevertheless, they are covered by the legislation introduced through the House of Commons.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again. This is a Bill to ban the hunting of wild mammals, not to ban fox hunting, so in actual fact the House of Commons has gone very much further than the Labour Party manifesto wanted it to go.

Lord Whitty: Yes—the House of Commons, on a free vote, has gone further than the manifesto commitment. However, the core of the Bill and most of the argument in the course of the discussion of the amendment, which does not of itself really provoke such a wide discussion, was focused very much on fox hunting. The fact that the Bill before us goes somewhat wider than that does not undermine the fact that the Government are broadly following the manifesto commitment.

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I have engaged in this rather lengthy preamble in order to—

Earl Ferrers: If the Government are following the manifesto commitment, were they not following the manifesto commitment with their original Bill?

Lord Whitty: Yes—the manifesto commitment is to allow the House of Commons a free vote on the issue. That is what we have done. The manifesto commitment is completely fulfilled and has resulted in the Bill that is before us.

I apologise to the Committee for making such a long preamble. However, it is a preamble to me saying that, because of that background—because of the decisions taken by the House of Commons, the attitude that the House has hitherto taken and the amendments that are before us, which are an attempt to substitute at later stages an alternative to the Bill—I am not going to recommend to the Committee that we accept any amendments to the Bill, whether this amendment or any other amendment. It is, of course, a free vote. I am not binding my colleagues on the Benches behind me and I am not attempting to determine that the noble Earl opposite will always oppose me.

The Earl of Onslow: In all my time in this House I do not think that I have ever heard a more arrogant disregard of people's views. It is completely disgraceful that a Government Minister should come to the Front Bench and say that he has no intention of paying any attention to any views put forward in your Lordships' House. That is an abuse of Parliament. I have not yet finished. It is second rate and it shows how low this Government have now fallen. I have been angry before but never so angry as when I hear that kind of arrogant remark.

Lord Kirkhill: Before my noble friend the Minister responds, as a long-standing Member of this House—just about as long-standing as the noble Earl—I say that the noble Earl's intervention just now was entirely disgraceful in its content, its attitude and its expression. I for one take the strongest possible objection to it.

Lord Whitty: I thank my noble friend for that intervention if only because it prevented me responding rather more strongly. I respectfully point out to the noble Earl that I did not say that I would not take any notice of what was said in your Lordships' House. I did not say that I would not recommend the House of Commons to take notice of what was said in your Lordships' House. I said that I would not recommend acceptance of any amendment which is before this House. That is entirely different. That does not seem to me arrogant. It is a matter for your Lordships' judgment whether that is second rate but it is certainly not arrogant.

Earl Ferrers: I realise that the noble Lord does not want to be arrogant and I am sure that he does not intend to be. But if he says that he is not prepared

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to listen to an argument to find out whether it has anything in it before saying whether or not it should be accepted, that is being slightly arrogant. Surely the whole purpose of putting down amendments is to hear the argument.

Lord Whitty: I did not say that I would not listen to argument. I said that in the rather unique circumstances in which we find ourselves when both Houses have a free vote, and when the Government, in line with their manifesto commitment, have brought to this House a Bill carried by a free vote of all parties in the House of Commons, it is not the Government's intention to indicate support for amendments to that Bill.

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