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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, as regards foxhunting, can the Minister clear up a little confusion concerning the statement made by the Prime Minister last week on "Question Time"? He said that the Private Member's Bill had been blocked partly by the House of Lords. Surely we all recollect that that Bill never got to the House of Lords. Why did the Prime Minister mislead his audience? Was it ignorance?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is right in his recollection, which coincides with mine.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it has been commonplace for the animal lobby, in particular the IFAW, to donate moneys to all political parties; that the Labour Party has never been shy about publicising donations that have been made to it, unlike the party opposite; and that it is only by virtue of pressure that this information has become known about the Conservative Party? Does he also agree that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, seems to have a penchant for the sinister even when things are not sinister?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that has never been my experience of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. He and I are always on the best possible personal terms. I always regard his interventions as designed to be personally helpful to me.

Of course, pressure groups donate money. The important thing is that it is done openly. I remind your Lordships that over a period of 11 months the Home Secretary wrote six letters to various dignitaries in the Conservative Party asking about the donation from Mr Ma, otherwise known as Mr "white powder" Ma, presently residing in Taiwan.

Lord Renton: My Lords, would the Government bear in mind that foxes are very destructive of poultry and game and that therefore their numbers must be controlled? Killing foxes by trapping or poisoning is illegal and, incidentally, very cruel because they do not die at once. Shooting foxes and wounding them if they are missed causes gangrene, which is a horrible death. By contrast they are killed at once when hunted and hounds close in on them. Hunting is, therefore, the most certain and least cruel way of killing foxes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have heard that view expressed in the past. I know that there are contrary views. Some, for instance, think that chasing an animal to exhaustion and tearing it to pieces is morally

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unacceptable and, indeed, reprehensible. That is a quotation from a helpful article put in the Observer last Sunday by Miss Ann Widdecombe.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, moving away from the more gory and controversial elements of this issue, and given the obvious and very serious pressures on the Government's legislative programme, when and why did foxhunting become the major priority?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not properly described as the major priority of the Government. The noble Lord will well recall that in our manifesto we stated that there would be a free vote on this issue, and we have fulfilled that. As the Prime Minister stated quite clearly, the present position is that the Government are actively considering how to take the issue forward and hope to make an announcement on specific proposals soon.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if this matter comes before this House, and for that matter, another place, there will be a free vote for all Members of our party, both Front Bench and Back Bench? Will it be the same for the Labour Party? Speaking for myself, I regard a ban on hunting as an unacceptable infringement of personal freedom. As my noble friend indicated, it will lead to greater suffering for foxes and other animals, plus a serious loss of jobs and amenities.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I would expect there to be a free vote in the Labour Party. Indeed, I hope that the shadow Home Secretary will have freedom of expression to express her views; but I understand that at the moment she has been banned.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, can the Minister advise the House of the extent to which the organisations which are campaigning against what they call cruel sports are now directing their attention towards the shooting of birds and the catching of fish? More importantly, what attention have the Government given to such activities?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this is part of a continuing dialogue and debate. In a free society people are entitled to have views even if I, personally, or indeed the rest of the Government, disagree with them.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the cause of animal welfare would be better served by the Freedom of Information Act being able to give out information freely on what happens in animal laboratories?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is an extremely rigorous regime regarding animal experimentation. The Animal Procedures Committee, which is a statutory body, is an excellent committee. The statute forbids the disclosure of certain information.

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I can tell your Lordships that the number of experiments carried out under licence in this country is lower than it has been since the early 1950s.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, further to the supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord, Tebbit, is my noble friend aware that the Fireworks Bill, which is a Private Member's Bill with the aim of improving the safety of fireworks for the prevention of accidents to children, was amended in this House with the sole aim of preventing the anti-foxhunting Bill introduced by Mike Foster from making progress in the other place?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have heard that suggestion, but I do not think that it derogates from the underlying point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that I am pleased to hear that I can carry on fishing? Can he guarantee that Scottish Members of the other place, who will not be able to legislate on this matter in Scotland, will not be voting to ban, or indeed not to ban, foxhunting in England?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am pleased to hear that the noble Lord will be able to carry on fishing. Since the last election he has had more time, of course.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the apparent change in stated government policy, as given by the Prime Minister on "Question Time", was first cleared through the Cabinet?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it would not need to be cleared because there has not been a change.

Business of the House: Northern Ireland Motions

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This Motion follows the Business Motion that I moved yesterday and is similar to the one I moved on 1st July. The purpose is to ensure that if the process in Northern Ireland goes as hoped, the final necessary secondary legislation can be laid before the House and taken on this coming Friday. Whenever the legislation is timed there will clearly not be time for the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to report on it as it held its meeting for this week on Tuesday in the normal way.

The second limb of the Motion I move today, to suspend Standing Order 70, therefore allows a Motion to approve any secondary legislation laid before the House tomorrow or on Friday to be taken notwithstanding that the Joint Committee has not had the opportunity to report on it to the House.

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The first part of my Motion today allows an order laid on Friday to be debated on Friday, as is anticipated. The Motion is purely an enabling Motion and if no order is laid, or if it is laid on Thursday, normal procedures will apply. I am sure it will be of interest to your Lordships to know that the Motion has the full consent of the usual channels and, as we have agreed, the Cross-Bench Peers have, once again, been consulted on this important issue.

Moved, That in the event that one or more statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland are laid before the House tomorrow or on Friday next, a Motion or Motions to approve them may, notwithstanding the practice of the House, be moved that day without notice; and that Standing Order 70 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with to enable the Motion or Motions to be taken, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instruments has been laid before the House.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Bill

3.10 p.m.

Brought from the Commons, and printed pursuant to Standing Order 48; read a first time.

Then Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of yesterday):

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Northern Ireland Bill, has consented to place her prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

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