Hunting Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 13th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household) 3:07 pm, 13th March 2001

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion on the Order Paper standing in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. The Motion has been tabled in the name of my noble and learned friend because he is one of the Ministers concerned with the Bill. However, as it is entirely concerned with procedure, for which I am responsible, I hope that it is convenient to the House if I deal with it.

It may be helpful if I say a few words to explain the Motion. As it stands, the Hunting Bill contains only a ban on hunting. If this House is to have an opportunity cleanly to vote on one of the three options, it will be necessary to put in a place a procedure to enable that to happen. That is the purpose of the Motion before us.

I have read reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that the Government are proposing this because of the timing of the general election. I have to say that I do not know when the general election will take place. Furthermore, it is obvious that we have to devise a procedure to allow for a vote on the three options, irrespective of whether an election is held. If no election was in the offing, a similar Motion would still need to be tabled.

If the House agrees to this Motion, as I hope it will, then immediately the Government will table amendments specifically designed to ensure that three clear votes will be held. No single vote will be able to pre-empt any other vote. Three clear votes will take place on a ban, on self-regulation and on hunting under licence. If we use this procedure, which has been devised with the help of the Clerks of the House--I am extremely grateful to them for their assistance--three votes will definitely take place. I have been asked to achieve that aim. At the end of the process, only one option will be left in the Bill.

The Bill will then be reprinted containing the option which has been chosen by noble Lords and will be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House. After a short interval to enable the tabling of amendments, the House will then go into Committee on the Bill in the usual manner. The Bill will contain whichever option has been chosen by the House and, as I have said, amendments to that option can then be tabled.

This procedure mirrors closely the procedure used in 1994 on the Sunday Trading Bill. A very similar situation had arisen. A Bill arrived in this House containing only one option. A procedure had to be devised to find a way to hold a free vote on all three options. I am delighted to see the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his place. I am sure he will remember that on that occasion, as Minister of State at the Home Office, he tabled an instruction similar to the present one after Second Reading which was designed to ensure that the first votes taken in Committee would be votes on the three options. After those votes the whole Bill was recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House so that the full Committee stage could take place on the option which was chosen by this House rather than another place. That is exactly what we seek to achieve by the Motion that is now before the House.

In passing, the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, were both members of the government when this procedure was last used. With that precedent from the previous government's time in office, I hope that there will now be general agreement among the usual channels that this is the most appropriate way to proceed.

However, there is one area in which agreement among the usual channels has not been forthcoming. The disagreement relates to the timing of today's Motion. I believed that it would be in the best interests of the House to have a decision on the procedure to be used as soon as possible after Second Reading. Many noble Lords have stopped me to ask what is to be done with the Bill to obtain a clean vote on the three options. If we delay the decision we only postpone the achievement of clarity and extend the uncertainty and confusion that we now face. In addition, your Lordships and the staff of the House will waste time and resources on the tabling, handling and drafting of amendments to options which may never appear in the Bill.

I am aware that the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, believe that the Motion was tabled with insufficient consultation and would have preferred the House to consider this Motion next week. If I failed to consult sufficiently I apologise unreservedly. The noble Lords know that it is not my style to act without consultation, and I did not intend to upset relations in the usual channels.

I have now discussed the question of timing with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He has not yet managed to explain to me what is to be gained by delaying the matter until next week. In an effort to meet him half-way I offered to postpone the Motion until tomorrow, but of those two dates the noble Lord preferred today. I have agreed to that timing. I understand his reason: there is an important Opposition debate tomorrow. I do not see any virtue in postponing this decision further, certainly not until next week. To approve the Motion today will give the House the information that it needs in order to know how to plan for the rest of the Bill.

I have heard this Motion described by certain members of the Opposition as a guillotine. Your Lordships know that we do not have guillotines in this House. Apart from anything else, the whole concept of a guillotine rests on the premise of a government majority to enforce it. If the Opposition believe that I am able to impose a guillotine with only 29 per cent of the votes in this House, they give me credit for powers which even I do not possess. Even if the Government had the power to carry this Motion unaided, it would still bear no relation to a guillotine. It contains no provisions relating to the timing of the Bill but promises a recommitment, so we would have two, rather than one, Committee stages. If anything, this Motion increases the amount of scrutiny that the Bill will receive. This is simply an arrangement to allow us to have a clean vote on the three options so that the Committee stage can take place on the option that we have chosen rather than on one chosen by another place.

I turn finally to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I understand the noble Lord's concern about the way in which the main Motion was tabled. I have already apologised for the unintended discourtesy to the usual channels. My only concern was to serve the best interests of the House by ensuring that the procedural Motion was on the Order Paper yesterday when the House debated the Bill at Second Reading because my noble friend Lord Bassam was to refer to it in his opening speech--which he did--and deal with it today, as the first available opportunity after Second Reading, so that the House could have a clear line on the procedure which was understood and many noble Lords could support. To be absolutely frank, we should really have dealt with the instruction at the end of Second Reading at two o'clock this morning. I thought that it was only fair to the House to deal with it as first business after Questions today.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, is also concerned about precedents and procedure. The procedure is exactly as stated in the Companion:

"6.39 Instructions to any committee on a bill may be moved after the second reading.

6.40 Instructions may be either mandatory or permissive. The most common mandatory instruction directs the committee to consider the clauses and Schedules in an order other than that of the bill".

I have already pointed out the procedure which was followed in 1994 in relation to the Sunday Trading Bill. That Bill required the selection of an option, which is exactly the position that we face with the Hunting Bill. This is an unusual situation which requires a special but not unprecedented procedure. If the noble Lord decides to press his Motion to a vote and wins, the House will have decided nothing regarding the procedure necessary to obtain the clean vote on a single option and all those concerned with the Bill will be left in a state of limbo.

I hope that, having heard the explanation that I have given and the apologies that I have made, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Motion so that the House can take a clear decision on the procedure to be followed on this important Bill.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Hunting Bill has been committed that, notwithstanding the normal practice of the House in Committee, no amendments be considered except any amendments to leave out Clause 1 (Hunting with dogs: prohibition) leave out Clause 1 and insert a new clause (Hunting with dogs: supervision) as set out in House of Commons Bill 2, or leave out Clause 1 and insert a new clause (Hunting with dogs: regulation) as set out in House of Commons Bill 2, and consequential amendments to leave out the schedule and to insert new schedules; and that, thereafter, the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.--(Lord Carter.)

Photo of Lord Denham Lord Denham Conservative

My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for his very fair exposition of the events which led up to the Motion today.

Perhaps I should start by giving a brief explanation of the "next business" Motion itself. When I first came to your Lordships' House there was a delightful and highly valuable procedure known as "the previous Question". The definitive Question of course is the one before the House, and "the previous Question" was whether or not that Question should be put to the House, which would take the form, if carried, that the Question be not now put. It was used on very rare occasions when the matter under discussion was of such a delicate nature that it was thought to be inappropriate for the House to express an opinion on it by voice or in the Division Lobby. Its appearance on the Order Paper, and even on the Floor of the House, was rarer still, because the very threat to use it was often enough.

Some 30 years ago the Procedure Committee went through one of its phases of doing away with old and valued traditions, simply on the grounds that they had been around for some time. It decided that this procedure was difficult to understand and should, therefore, be changed. It was changed in name only to the "next business" Motion. As one of the self-appointed guardians of your Lordships' procedure, I must have been nodding at the time. The main difference between the old procedure and the new was that, while only dedicated aficionados of your Lordships' House understood "the previous Question", nobody at all understood the "next business" Motion. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that it has been used. I remember one occasion when it might have been, but the matter concerned was not only of very great delicacy but also of supreme importance. It was felt that while the old name would work all right, the "next business" Motion would give the impression to the outside world that your Lordships just could not be bothered to discuss it.

With regard to the Motion in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, it is generally accepted that this House works by consent. This is tempered by the equally important principle that it is the duty of an Opposition to enable the Government to get their business through--not through unamended, but through. It is a matter of supreme importance that these two principles should not be lost.

The Motion in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was tabled by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms without having obtained that consent from the usual channels. Furthermore, it was tabled last Friday, the day after the weekly party Whips had gone out. Of course, I wholly acquit the noble Lord, Lord Carter, of any discourtesy, let alone malice. Time was short and Chief Whips are busy people--even sometimes former Chief Whips--but I felt that it was of the utmost importance to signal it up in some way so that this could never be regarded as a precedent. In my view, simply to have voted against the Motion would have been inappropriate; first, because in itself it was not objectionable. Incidentally, I notice that since last night the all-important words,

"and that, thereafter, the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House", have been inserted at the end. Secondly, such an action might have prejudiced one of the possible ways to allow your Lordships the opportunity equal to that of another place which has been guaranteed by Her Majesty's Government to consider each of the options on the Hunting Bill and make their own choice. Last night, therefore, I tabled this "next business" Motion to have the required effect. I beg to move.

Moved, on the Motion of the Lord Falconer of Thoroton, That the House do proceed to the next business.--(Lord Denham.)

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, I am sure that the House will agree that there is no need for a long debate on this matter. I, like many noble Lords, am keen to move on to our critical debate on the plight of the countryside. This is not a debate about hunting or the Hunting Bill. There will be ample time within the next 10 days to determine how to proceed on the Hunting Bill.

I invite the House to support my noble friend's Motion and to dispense with the Motion of the Government for two reasons. The first reason, as my noble friend explained, is that the government Motion was set down without the agreement of the usual channels and at the shortest possible notice--on a Friday after the Whip had been sent out. It is a Motion accompanied by a statement that discussion of the options will be limited to one day only. That was made plain by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, yesterday at col. 519 of Hansard. It may not exactly be a guillotine, but it certainly sounds like one to me.

I join with my noble friend in accepting that Ministers say that they want to be helpful to the House. In particular, I accept the Government Chief Whip's motives; I know that he sought to come to this conclusion in the best interests of the House. But I wonder how helpful it was to do so without first agreeing it through the usual channels.

My second reason for urging the House to support my noble friend is the unprecedented nature of the Government's Motion; that is, that a normal Committee should not proceed except under the terms laid down by the Government, with only those amendments selected by the Government. That is not a course of action a House concerned to guard its freedom should take. The decision is therefore not about the merits of the Bill but about how we do business. It is about whether we keep the free and open procedures that are the unique strength of the House and the right of every Back-Bencher to put down an amendment and to be heard.

If we agree to the Motion, it will not mean that we cannot go into Committee on the Bill on 26th March; or to vote on amendments to the Bill; or, indeed, to vote on the options. If we agree to my noble friend's Motion, we will be able to see what amendments are tabled. I pledge to the House that, over the next week, we will come forward, together with other parties, to determine the best way forward, as we always have, by agreement.

The Government Chief Whip prayed in aid the example set by my noble friend Lord Ferrers in 1994. He quite rightly read out the Motion moved by my noble friend. However, the Government Chief Whip failed to examine the words of the debate itself, where my noble friend Lord Ferrers said:

"It is, of course, open to noble Lords to bring forward any other amendments that they may wish, and they could include any other options for reform towards which your Lordships may feel disposed. I would only add, with a certain degree of humility"--

Remember, this is my noble friend speaking--

"that there is considerable advantage in making sure that any option is simple and understandable and that the fewer amendments on the Marshalled List, the greater is the concentration of the mind".--[Official Report, 8/3/94; col. 1343.]

That is the example that we should have followed in this sorry matter.

Furthermore, it is quite wrong and unnecessary that we should need to take this decision now. The House has not had time to digest the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, last Friday, and how his ideas relate to the Bill before us. It has not had time to reflect on the Second Reading debate yesterday. Indeed, the response to the debate of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has not yet been printed in Hansard, and we have not had the opportunity to see the amendments to the Bill and to gauge the concerns and doubts that there may be about the various options.

When we have had time to reflect on these issues, and to discuss and seek agreement in the time-honoured way of the House, then we should decide how to go forward. But it would be quite premature to accept now, without reflection, a model laid down by the Government without notice and in a form devised, I fear, as some have suggested, for their private political purposes. I urge noble Lords to deal swiftly and firmly with this Motion. We can then proceed with the real business of today, which is to debate the appalling problems of the countryside. I support my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words as part of the usual channels. So far as we on these Benches are concerned, if there is a vote today, there will be a free vote. My noble friend Lord Rodgers and I will be voting in one Lobby, of course, but we do not ask our colleagues necessarily to support us. They must listen to what is said and come to their own conclusions.

This has not been an easy matter to deal with. I believe that the Government made an error at the end of last week by tabling this business Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has apologised for any unintended discourtesy. I do not think any discourtesy was involved last week; if I may say so, it was an error of judgment rather than a deliberate attempt to be difficult and unreasonable.

One of the reasons why we believed an error had been committed was that we had pressed for a tripartite meeting of the usual channels. We secured that last evening. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that the Government were prepared to have the debate that we are having now tomorrow. For understandable reasons, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, came to the conclusion that that was not what he wanted; he preferred today if the choice was between Tuesday and Wednesday.

I believe that the House now wants the right to make a decision on the three choices set out in the Motion. It would be wrong to underestimate the strength of feeling of many noble Lords on all sides of the House that they want a brisk decision on which of the choices to adopt, and then, if need be, to consider any amendments which may be put down after that choice has been made. That would be a businesslike way of proceeding and is one of the reasons why my noble friend Lord Rodgers and I will be voting for the Motion.

We have one particular point to answer--that made by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he said that the Government must get their business through by consent of the usual channels. Let me make it quite clear that I believe that the Government have an obligation to attempt to secure the agreement of the usual channels--indeed, if they do not try to get such agreement they will find themselves constantly in the minority in the Division Lobbies of the House--but no one party can impose a veto on government business. The implication of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, is a great mistake. It seemed to me--although I may be doing him an injustice--that he was implying that if there was not agreement in the usual channels, that if one party in the usual channels dissented strongly, that would be the end of the matter. I do not think that any government would accept a formula along those lines; it is, in fact, entirely unacceptable.

However, I am aware that the House now wishes to engage in the very important debate on the crisis facing British agriculture. I very much hope that we shall be in a position to make a decision in this matter as briskly as possible.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 3:30 pm, 13th March 2001

My Lords, perhaps I may make just one point to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I am certain that the cock-up theory applies here rather than the plot theory, because the world is much more frequented by the former theory. I have not discussed the matter with my noble friend; however, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carter, could offer to withdraw the Motion until Thursday this week and then do all he can to obtain agreement through the usual channels along the line that any Motion will be nearer to what was said originally by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Surely the difference is not that great. There are dangers in what my noble friend on the Front Bench said and I accept the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Surely it is possible to move together on this matter without breaking with precedent or establishing a new precedent. I put that suggestion to the House in the hope that it will be viewed with a certain amount of sympathy.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene as counsel for the defence for the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and as someone who has a close interest in the Bill that is the subject of the Motion. I oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for these reasons. The Government gave a promise that this House would have the three options that the Commons faced on the Hunting Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, spent a considerable time--on one occasion over an hour and a half--together with me and with Clerks of the House, trying to find a procedure that would enable that to happen. The Clerks have now come up with such a procedure. The noble Lord has apologised for the way in which the Motion was tabled.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I take the view from all that I have heard that Members of this House want to vote on those options. Noble Lords of all parties--I hope that this crosses party boundaries--who care about the countryside want an opportunity to vote on the Hunting Bill before an election. If, for party-political purposes, anyone tries to frustrate such a vote taking place, I suspect that the countryside will not forgive them. I also say to my own Front Bench that if, at a later stage, any attempt is made to suggest that this House has deliberately frustrated the Bill, when in reality it has been given insufficient time for proper scrutiny before a general election is called, I anticipate that people in the countryside will not forget that either. Therefore, I shall oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I want an opportunity to discuss the Bill as it has been sent to us by the Commons. We owe that to another place out of proper respect. It would also be extremely foolish not to discuss the Bill as we have it before us, because if another place decides to insist on its option, we shall have expressed no opinion on the many detailed points that require improvement in the Bill as it stands. To accept the Chief Whip's Motion would be to deny us any opportunity to discuss the Bill in the form that the Commons wishes.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms was kind enough to refer to me and to the passage of the Sunday Trading Act, saying that the two situations are not dissimilar. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to me and that same Bill and did me the flattery of quoting my words. I am bound to say that one's own words regurgitated always make one cringe with embarrassment. I say to the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that the only difference so far as I can see is that when I had the privilege of moving that amendment, it went through swimmingly; when the noble Lord moves it, there is a row.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, one important point has not been fully drawn out. Will the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms tell the House this: was the decision regarding discussion in Committee in the first instance being limited to one day taken by the usual channels, or was it announced at Second Reading on behalf of the Government? Without question, the most valuable commodity that Members of this House have at our disposal is time. The word "guillotine" should send a shiver through our ranks, not because we are Peers and not because of references to tumbrels, but because we cannot discuss matters properly if we do not have sufficient time to do so.

The Motion in the name of the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms--may I call him the Government Chief Whip; it is so much quicker?--suggests to me that a very important decision on the whole course of the Bill will possibly be taken in the early hours of the morning. That is not a proper thing to do on such an important issue. I hope that the usual channels will consider the question of the timing, whatever the result of our debate on this Motion, and ensure that it is such that we can do our job properly.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I confess to being somewhat confused by some of the remarks that I have heard. I do not pretend to be as humble as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in these matters. At the end of the Motion moved by my noble friend are the words,

"the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House".

I simply do not understand how that in any way prevents Members of this House moving amendments and doing what they like, in whatever time they like. We all want to discuss the three options. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointing at me; I have just read the words on the Order Paper.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, certainly I shall. I am not supposed to give way, but I shall do so.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, the Motion also contains the words,

"no amendments be considered except any amendments to".

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord should read on. The Motion goes on to say that, after that has been done, the Bill is to be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House. So we can discuss the matter again, and again, and again, as often happens.

As I understand my noble friend, his main point is that we all wanted to have the right to vote on the three options. That is what we shall have. We do not need to discuss thousands of amendments. I cannot understand why anyone finds that so misleading.

Photo of Lord Dean of Harptree Lord Dean of Harptree Conservative

My Lords, the original Motion tabled by the Government on Monday allowed for no amendments except those tabled by the Government. I believe that that is unprecedented. The amended Motion tabled today does provide for recommital, but it does not remove the objections that apply to this procedure. I suggest that it is for your Lordships to decide what amendments to table to a Bill rather than for the Government. This House prides itself on its revising role. That means that all amendments tabled by your Lordships can be considered. All noble Lords can take part in the debates.

I suggest that this Motion rides roughshod over that essential element in our procedure. It deprives the House of its right to decide how best to hold the Government to account. I hope that the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip will recognise the very strong feeling that exists on this matter and that he will be prepared to withdraw his Motion. I believe that it is dangerous and sinister, and I hope that the House will have none of it.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, it seems to me that, given the opportunity, this House makes heavy weather of many simple matters. Without claiming to be experts on the issue, many of us who have followed the manner in which it has been dealt with in another place have either deluded ourselves or have been convinced that the procedure that was adopted in the Commons--which is substantially the procedure that we are invited to adopt here--was simple and clear. It provided the vast majority of Members of this House with an opportunity regarding what they wanted to do. Noble Lords were denied that opportunity yesterday because it was Second Reading. But the stalls were laid out, the arguments have been going on for a long time, and now we are debating how we in this House shall dispose of a very important matter. Noble Lords may argue--I think that they argue too much--that they want to retain the right to examine every line and every dot and comma of every clause, of every option, before coming to a conclusion.

It is possible that my noble friend the Government Chief Whip was derelict in the manner in which he set about to secure the maximum collaboration. But anyone who has listened to someone apologising publicly and humbly--and, indeed, without reservation--will know that that was what my noble friend did 10 or 15 minutes ago.

Unless there are hidden agendas, this House wishes to proceed to let the world know that it favours option one, option two or option three. I do not believe that we are riding roughshod over our procedures. Similarly, I do not believe that this process ought to take a very long time. Of course, yesterday's debate served the House well. When, as I see it, someone will need to approve and submit what is in the Bill--namely, what was option three in the other place for the ban on hunting with dogs--it will take a full debate. But that will substantially deal with some of the other arguments. As I envisage it, the House will be packed. It will already have formed a view, but it will listen to the arguments. It will then wish to let the world know whether noble Lords are in favour of option one, two or three.

I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Denham has done. In his view, there has been a dereliction of duty by the Government Chief Whip. But he has apologised: he did so not in private; he did so in public. We all know that our Chief Whip is a man of the utmost integrity. He has made a mistake, and has apologised for it. I am not prepared to say whether or not the apology was justified. However, he made it. I believe that we should serve the House well if we listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has to say in response. In the light of this discussion, I very much hope that he will save the House further delay by withdrawing his Motion, thereby allowing us to get on to the important business of the day. If the noble Lord seeks to press his Motion, I believe that Members on this side of the Chamber, and indeed throughout the House, will have no option but to reject his advice and to support the Government Chief Whip.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative

My Lords, I intervene partly because of the remarks made a short while ago by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. One of the problems with the proposal in the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is that if, during the first Committee day--if I may put it that way--your Lordships decide on one of the three options, as I understand it, we shall not be able to move amendments on recommittal to the other two options that are on offer. Therefore, if your Lordships were to choose either supervision or regulation, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said just now, we should not be able to consider the Bill on recommittal in its present form, which includes the option of prohibition. Indeed, that is the only option currently in the Bill. In other words, we should not be able to look at the remaining details of the Bill.

However, during the course of yesterday's debate it emerged that there are some practical, committed difficulties with that option, as well as those that apply to the other two options. That is the difficulty with the proposal as outlined; namely, that the recommittal would be limited in practice to the single option that your Lordships had chosen on the first day.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household) 3:45 pm, 13th March 2001

My Lords, I believe it would be appropriate for me to reply to the debate now. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, can then decide what to do with his Motion. The noble Lord referred to the use of the "next business" Question. I believe that this is the first time that it has ever been used, although the procedure was agreed either 30 or 50 years ago. Therefore, this Bill is not only unusual in its options; it is also unusual in terms of the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

I turn to the point about the consent of the usual channels. I have apologised. I had a problem last Friday because I thought that the House should see the Motion during the course of the Second Reading debate. It was as simple as that. My noble friend Lord Bassam was to refer to it. There had been a great deal of discussion around the House in this respect. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows that there has been much informal discussion. However, it is only today, for the first time, that I have heard his criticism that one day will not be enough. Noble Lords on all sides of the House, including many of the noble Lord's colleagues sitting behind him who are supporters of fox hunting, have been referring casually to "Options Day".

The Motion does not refer to time; indeed, it cannot do so. It refers only to the procedure on the day. As always, it is up to the House to decide. As Government Chief Whip, I hope that the House will be able to complete the process in one day. However, the Motion does not limit the time, nor should it. I have to say that the stance of the Opposition has changed recently. With all the discussions that have been taking place, both informally and quasi-formally, I thought that this was the agreed procedure--or, that it was likely to be, if we could find a way of doing it. As my noble friend Lady Mallalieu said, I have held other meetings and tried very hard to see whether we could devise a procedure to meet the Government's commitment. I shall return later to that commitment.

Ever since the other place chose its option of a ban on hunting, each discussion that I have had informally--indeed, I have spent more time discussing this Bill outside the Chamber than has been the case with any other Bill--has always been based on the understanding that it would be a "clean options choice", which is the phrase that we have all been using. As I said, this is the first time that I have heard the argument that one day will not be sufficient for these purposes. I believe that I am correct in saying that that is a recent change of attitude on the part of the Opposition. It would be unworthy of me to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is marching to a different drum.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, was quite clear in his contribution. We always attempt to find consent within the usual channels. However, I must remind the House that the Government in this Chamber has 200 out of 700 votes. The Opposition cannot have a veto on the business of the House. I shall always attempt to get agreement, but if, at the end of the day, the usual channels are not able to agree on a matter of procedure, it has to be put to the House. It is the only way in which the business can be conducted, unless we agree that the Opposition should have a veto.

My noble friend Lady Mallalieu said that she would come to my defence. I hope that it is free! I repeat: the Government made a commitment when the Bill was in the other place that, as soon as it left there, we would attempt to facilitate this House and allow it to have the same choice as applied in the other place as regards the three options. As noble Lords are aware, Members of another place took one day on the Floor of the House during which they chose the option of a ban. The Bill was then committed to a Standing Committee, and thereafter all the amendments on that option were discussed. All we are trying to do is to meet the commitment that has been made throughout; namely, that this House would have the same choice as applied in the other place, and that it should then proceed to deal with the amendments. I am sure that amendments will be required, whichever of the options is chosen. They can be dealt with on recommitment.

When referring to the difficulty that I am experiencing, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the ease with which he received his instruction after Second Reading on a certain occasion. Perhaps I may remind him of the relevant numbers in the House when the noble Earl was Minister of State, and the relative strength of the opposition versus the government of the day.

I have already mentioned the fact that all I have heard until today is reference to "Options Day". I repeat: the Motion before the House obviously does not commit the House to one day. Indeed, it cannot do so. The Motion mentions only the procedure involved. As I say, I have tried to meet the commitment that the Government gave. There was no criticism of this at all, until the past few days. I understand that the Countryside Alliance would welcome this House having the chance to come to a conclusion on the three options.

I have tried to meet the Government's commitment. As I said in my opening remarks, if the noble Lord, Lord Denham, decides to press his Motion to a vote and wins, we shall be left in limbo again. We shall not know what the procedure should be. Indeed, as we leave the Chamber today, there will be nothing to stop noble Lords beginning to table amendments for a normal Committee stage. I do not believe that that is the best use of the time of the House. I believe that it would be best if we came to a decision, decided on a simple procedure and then allowed the House to proceed to a vote. I have suggested that we should start on the first available day, with the usual interval, which would be Monday 26th March. After that, I suggest that we recommit the Bill and deal with all the amendments on the chosen option. I do not think that I can be any clearer in my response. I shall, therefore, leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, to decide what to do with his Motion.

Photo of Lord Denham Lord Denham Conservative

My Lords, I would like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that the very last reason behind my Motion was party political. What I intended to do was to make a point for the preservation of the traditions of this House and the conventions between the usual channels. The procedure this afternoon, time wasting though it may have been, has done something to ensure that what happened is not to be taken as a precedent for the future. This was my main purpose. I am now satisfied in that respect and I shall be asking your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion. I realise, however, that it is an issue for the House. I cannot act unilaterally. If there is any further business, I shall abstain. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

My Lords, there is no need for me to continue the debate. We have covered it well. I commend the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 183; Not-Contents, 129.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Hunting Bill

Aye: 181 Members of the House of Lords

No: 127 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.