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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way on that point? The Government have made it absolutely clear that they are neutral on this issue.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I appreciate the interjection made by the noble Baroness. That is not what is being reflected outside of this place. However, I understand what the noble Baroness has just said and I shall return to the matter shortly.

During the previous Session we dealt with the question of fur farming, which was banned. After the incident in Dunblane, when we were in government, handguns were banned. In both cases, those who were affected were compensated. When she comes to wind up the debate, I ask the Minister to tell the House whether the Government are thinking of providing compensation in any form, should a Bill to ban hunting with dogs be passed.

Noble Lords will remember the Prime Minister's words when we discussed the earlier fox hunting Bill sponsored by Michael Foster, MP. At the time, the Prime Minister said that he blamed the House of Lords. I hope that the Minister will accept that that was what was reported in the press. However, that was not a fair comment; indeed, I have put down in my notes that it was rather rich. We all know in this House that the Foster Bill never reached this place. Can the Minister confirm, if another places passes a Bill to ban hunting with dogs without offering us the options being given to the other place, that we shall be able to consider only the chosen option; namely, probably an outright ban? Alternatively, will this House be given an opportunity to debate and examine the question of the three options? I am not clear about the exact position. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this point in her comments.

I should like to turn briefly to the contributions made by my noble friends. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain rightly referred to an excellent presentation assembled and led by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, on the report of the Better Regulation Task Force. Some of the ideas contained in the report are excellent

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and we welcome them. However, we also need to see action being taken on those recommendations sooner rather than later. I hope that the Minister has followed my line of thought on this point. It is becoming extremely urgent.

My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the rural White Paper, to the question of hunting and to the annual revenue support grant.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, in his particularly poignant--as always--contribution to our debate, touched on agriculture and the environment. He spoke about its continuing financial reliance and robustness. I agree with him that the countryside schemes are too inflexible. Many farmers say to me that there are too many and that they are not sure which ones to apply. He also rightly identified the problems of abattoirs and of small farmers and their organic produce being put at risk. Like us, he would like to see some form of retirement scheme. He ended with the whole question of the despair in the countryside.

My noble friend Lord Plumb, who is very experienced in these matters, reiterated many of the things to which the right reverend Prelate referred. There is huge concern out there. There will be even greater concern that the gracious Speech did not include the environment and agriculture. This will affect not only those directly involved in farming but also those involved in the supply trade--such as feed suppliers and others. My noble friend Lord Plumb gave examples of existing EU directives and those which are likely to come through in the future.

It has been said to me over and over--it was said again at the weekend--that our farmers are not asking for special treatment for special circumstances; they are asking to be able to compete fairly against others.

Finally, they are concerned about the whole question of country sports and the lack of freedom, of tolerance, that is presently being shown.

The debate has revolved around many issues. We have touched on climate change and housing. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. We have had debates before about the housing situation, particularly about empty and unused houses. The situation is a disgrace and needs seeing to very quickly.

Noble Lords on all sides of the House are urging the Government to go forward and take some major steps to support the rural economy and the environment. Some people said to me earlier that farmers are now getting paid for doing some of the environmental work. In the past, they would have made a profit and been able to do such work within that framework. It is not that I am knocking or ungrateful for environmental schemes, but it is a sad reflection that nowadays farmers need them to be profitable.

Two things have come through clearly: the burdening of our businesses and the bureaucracy with which they have to work. This affects farmers, horticulturists, everyone. They all have businesses and, sadly, some of them are going bust. We cannot wait. We have consulted enough. We need to reform the CAP urgently. The Leader of the House referred to

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the need for "urgent action". I can push her further and say that we need "very urgent action". We cannot wait. We must push forward.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for opening the debate. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in response.

9.11 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, in my first speech from this Dispatch Box in May 1997, I learnt of the challenges inherent in replying to a day's debate on the gracious Speech. It is always extremely difficult. I preferred the word of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, when he said that the debate tended to be "kaleidoscopic", rather than the description of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, of "discontinuous". It is certainly challenging for anyone attempting to cover the range of issues referred to by noble Lords in speeches which, as ever, have been well informed, well expressed and always extremely stimulating. I shall do my best to cover the main areas. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if there are specific questions that I need to follow up in writing after the debate.

As I said, there have been many stimulating speeches--some extremely well informed and several which ensured that Wales had a proper hearing in your Lordships' House. The contribution of my noble friend Lord Morgan, in an outstanding maiden speech, illustrated all of those qualities. It was well informed, stimulating and reflected his experience in the Principality. I am sure that it made all of us want to hear more from him in the future.

I apologise to those noble Lords whom I did not hear when I had to leave the Chamber briefly. Listening to the debate, I was struck by how much of it concerned inclusion and exclusion--not only social inclusion and social exclusion, some of which I shall perhaps deal with later, but what was included in the Queen's Speech and what was excluded from it. You cannot get it right in a gracious Speech--if it is too long and over-full, we hear all the arguments as to how we are over-burdened with legislation; if it is too short, we are told that lots of pet themes have been left out.

The gracious Speech is basically about the Government's legislative programme. In this debate important issues have been mentioned: for example, those covered in the urban and rural White Papers. Recently, we heard Statements on the White Papers and the policies contained in them. Not all of those require legislation to take them forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, wanted such legislation. However, I listened also to the welcome given by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to the Regulatory Reform Bill, and I have heard the same from the NFU. From my experience of talking to farmers, I understand that they want less legislation, not more. So I am not sure how much they would have welcomed great swathes of additional legislation in the gracious Speech.

Perhaps I may deal first with the inclusions and exclusions. In relation to the issue that is included in the Speech, the Bill on hunting with dogs, I should like

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to make the Government's position absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box and not from any reports in newspapers. The Government are neutral on this issue.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I apologise profusely to the noble Baroness, but the question asked by many noble Lords was: why is the measure urgent?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that point in a moment.

The Government are neutral on the issue. It is a matter for a free vote; Members of this House will be able to exercise their individual conscience. I was asked specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, whether all three options that will be available in another place will be available in this House. The answer is yes, and we shall ensure that that is done. It will obviously have to be done by means of a procedure reinstating the ability to vote on those options that will have been determined by Members in another place.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, several noble Lords asked why we are bringing this measure forward now. There are many parallels with the issue of Sunday trading. My experience in another place and in this House goes back 25 years. In all that time this has been a contentious issue. We have seen continuous attempts to resolve it through Private Members' legislation. It is a matter on which many people, on both sides of the argument, feel passionately. It is the Government's view that it is appropriate to allow Parliament to debate and come to a resolution on an issue that is of such concern to so many people throughout the country. That is the reason for its inclusion in the gracious Speech. There have been 16 Private Members' Bills on the subject over 20 years. That evidences the strength of feeling on both sides.

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