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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
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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, but 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 votewe are not in new territory here in that senseit 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 Actthat is not in the 1911 Act at all and is not one of the conditions under which
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rejection by the House of Lords is countedwhen 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 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 saynor are the Government or anyone from the Governmentwhether 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 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
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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.
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 Committeethe 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.
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