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Lord Whitty: Without wishing to inhibit debate on this, which I am sure will substantial, I thought that it might be helpful to indicate at this early stage how the Government's spokespersons intend to deal with the Committee. This is particularly important, since the first batch of amendments includes a number of the issues on which the Committee would need some guidance. This is, of course, a free vote, and I have on several occasions made it clear what my opinion is. However, as I indicated at Second Reading, my role here on the Front Bench is to facilitate and guide the Committee in consideration of the Bill.

For that reason, and at this stage in the proceedings, neither I nor my noble friend Lady Farrington will vote on any of the amendments. I shall confine myself to pointing out to the Committee the relationship between the amendments before it, the original government Bill in the Commons, the Commons proceedings and the Bill finally adopted in the Commons and sent to this House.
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As there is some misunderstanding, which is probably my fault, I also need to clarify the Government's position on government amendments. I am recorded in Hansard as saying that the Government would table a number of amendments. In fact, we are tabling only one amendment in Committee which concerns the delay, and is in the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 56.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I shall continue to call him my noble friend for these purposes.

A noble Lord: All purposes.

Lord Whitty: Almost all purposes. I am also grateful to those whom, I regret, I am likely to slip into calling the gang of four, who have tabled most of the amendments. They have presented us with a coherent set of alternative proposals. That, in a real sense, is an advance on the last time we discussed these matters in Committee and indicates that they are—belatedly—trying to engage with the Bill rather than simply kill it. But my gratitude is finite.

The method of proceeding by effectively reintroducing substantial chunks of the original Bill with, as the proposers of the amendments would say, some improvements, presents us with some difficulties. In the normal course of events, the House as a revising Chamber takes the structure of the Bill that it receives, makes amendments, deletes and adds to that Bill. On this occasion, only one or two of the amendments tabled actually take the structure of the Bill as it is. The other amendments—the mainstream of the propositions from the gang of four—present us with a different Bill, one based on registration and tribunals. I noticed that my noble friend persisted in calling it "licensing", which is not quite the right term. If those proposals succeed to any degree in this Chamber, we shall be dealing with an entirely different Bill, and will send back a different Bill to the House of Commons. I have to say that that is not normally a recipe for a compromise between the two Houses.

My noble friend Lord Donoughue has said that the resulting Bill would in effect be the Bill that the Government themselves proposed to the House of Commons, which we proposed after consultation, in an attempt to find some common ground. Even if that were the case, it leaves us in some difficulty, as it ignores the obvious political fact that the House of Commons has now, on a free vote, voted several times by absolutely overwhelming majorities for the principle of a ban, and has specifically rejected the registration approach. By ignoring that, Members of the Committee supporting this group and subsequent groups of amendments go against the position which they purport to propose and which they wish to describe as a compromise.

In a sense, we are at a point in the parliamentary calendar when we are in some sort of negotiation on this and on other Bills. I am familiar with negotiation, and I must say that this is rather a peculiar one. As
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most Members of the Committee familiar with negotiation know, it is not usually a good move to send back to one's negotiating partners a proposal which has already been overwhelmingly rejecting—not unless one wishes to precipitate a complete breakdown of relations between the two sides. I say that as a warning.

In any case, the proposals from the gang of four, which my noble friend purports to call the "Alun Michael Bill", are not in fact the same as the provisions in that Bill. The most important change, which applies to this group of amendments, is that they do not propose a full ban on deer hunting. That may not be evident to all Members of the Committee on reading the amendments, because it is a change by omission. So I leave with Members of the Committee the difficulty of going back to the Commons with a Bill which is not the original government Bill but in fact drops the ban on deer hunting.

There is also the added complication that the House of Commons, in Committee, adopted a number of changes, many at the Government's instigation, some with the Government's support and some with consensus support. Most of those changes are reflected in some of the proposals from my noble friend Lord Donoughue and his colleagues, but they have taken a pick and mix approach to them, as we shall see with subsequent amendments. What is before us is a collection of amendments, some of which were in the original Bill and some of which reflect some but not all of the proposals that emerged from the Committee.

The main way in which the package of amendments departs from the Bill as it emerged from the Committee is over the key issues of the tests of registration, which we shall debate later under Amendment No. 10. Those who tabled that amendment have changed significantly the tests of cruelty and utility—as well as making other significant changes. It is, therefore, misleading to claim that this Bill, if we adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, would simply be the original Bill.

The amendments have been referred to in the media as making some improvements to the Bill. Frankly, those so-called improvements are significant changes, all of which point in one direction. If, in a negotiating situation, it is not a good move to send back a proposition that has already been rejected, I would suggest to the Committee that it is an even more foolish move to send back to your negotiating partners an offer that is worse, in their terms, than the one that has already been rejected. What signal does that give to another place?

As I have said, my noble friend Lady Farrington and I shall abstain until it is clear what shape the Bill will take in Committee and through the proceedings in this Chamber. However, it is important that Members of the Committee understand what they would be doing if they adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue. For those reasons, and given the position that we are in with another place, those who support the Commons position on the Bill that came to this Chamber and those who supported—or have come later in the day
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to support—the original so-called "Alun Michael Bill" ought not to accept the totality of the amendments in their present form. For that reason, I believe that it may be useful to guide the Committee on the Government's intentions. Obviously I wish to reserve my right to come back later in discussion on this group of amendments and on others, but I shall try to confine my remarks to procedural matters rather than speak too much on the substantial argument.

Lord Barnett: I have not spoken previously in this debate, but I have it in mind to support my noble friend's amendment. Is the Minister telling us that we are all wasting our time and that there is no possibility of the Government doing anything to accept anything whatever that the House may recommend?

Lord Whitty: No, I am specifically not saying that. I have said on Second Reading and subsequently that what happens hereafter depends on how this Chamber behaves. What I am saying is that if this Chamber behaves as these amendments imply that it will, it will not only send back to the House of Commons a proposition that the House of Commons has already rejected but, in terms of the majority position in the House of Commons, send back a proposal that is actually worse than the one previously recommended. That does not suggest to me a basis for compromise. There may be other bases of compromise, which the House of Commons would have to take seriously. But I have to say that it is unlikely—not impossible but unlikely—that the House of Commons would accept the totality of the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Donoughue.

Lord Donoughue: I want to respond to what the Minister said. He made a great issue of the changes made in the Bill by the amendments, which I deliberately did not go into, because the most important amendment of all has no changes. When changes are proposed, we shall deal with them as we come to them and point them out. For the guidance of the House, they constitute only a dozen or so words and, in every case, in my view, add up to an improvement in animal welfare. That has been a guiding point.

The Minister has responded to the central point raised by my noble friend Lord Barnett on compromise, but would he help the House by telling us what kind of compromise this Chamber could make which would be acceptable?

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