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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
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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
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?
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 evercertainly in public and probably also in privateI 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.
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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
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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 mediatorto use his wordhe 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 "bear 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.
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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.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 322; Not-Contents, 72.
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