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Viscount Astor: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that the Co-operative Society will donate its large sums of money to that venture?

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield: No, my Lords, I certainly am not, as the co-operative movement banned fox hunting 20 years ago and took great care at the time to provide alternative sources of employment for people whose livelihood might have been in danger.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, as someone who used to hunt over land in Leicestershire owned by the Co-op,

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it was interesting to know that all the employees of the Co-op on that farm were vitriolically against the decision imposed on them by an urban office in London. They disapproved of that thoroughly; I have that on first-hand evidence.

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield: My Lords, I doubt that. For a start, the headquarters of the Co-operative Wholesale Society are based not in London but in Manchester.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, in Manchester then.

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield: My Lords, there may well have been opposition; I am not at all surprised at that; but I should think that the compassionate way in which the matter was dealt with by people in Manchester and other areas disposed of that feeling pretty quickly.

A ban on fox hunting has been a manifesto commitment. It has been supported overwhelmingly in the other House—the democratic Chamber. In a few years' time, we shall be astonished when we recall that fox hunting was allowed to continue into the 21st century. We class ourselves as members of a civilised society. By demeaning dumb animals, ultimately, we demean ourselves.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I approach the Bill with the view that it is intolerant, prejudiced and illiberal and goes against the evidence and the facts. But I approach the debate with three separate thoughts: two major irritations and one suggestion. Before I embark on those, I must declare an interest in that I have a farm which is hunted over—I think only occasionally and, as far as I can see, almost always unsuccessfully, but that is another matter. I do not hunt and I have never owned a horse in my life.

I begin with my first irritation. I ask myself: why are we debating this Bill; why is it still before Parliament? Considering how it has been handled, I can believe only that the Government are playing games over it. As a retired business manager in another place, I can come only to the conclusion that the Government are not really very serious about the Bill at all. Months ago, it must have been decided that the Bill was for the long grass in this Session. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who is no longer in his place, said that the Bill was in Committee for seven months; in fact, it was in Committee from 7th January to 27th February, which is six or seven weeks. But the real question is: why did the business managers leave four months from the end of February till the end of June before they proceeded with the Bill on Report in another place?

In 33 years in the other place, I cannot remember a Bill for which there was such a huge gap between Committee and Report. Even here, when the Bill has reached your Lordships' House, we are now having Second Reading. We return after the next break at the beginning of October but, when I read the Whip, I see that the business for the first two weeks when we return in October contains no sign of Committee on the Bill.

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If the Government are serious about wanting the Bill, I find it impossible to understand why they are handling it in that way.

Unless the Government change the programme, there seems no way that we shall have Committee before the week beginning 20th October. If the Government want to avoid holding a State Opening of Parliament after this side of December, the amount of time that they have given for consideration of the Bill is absurd. As I said, I can think only that they are letting it tick along with a view to losing it and then blaming your Lordships' House for their having lost as a result of their total incompetence in managing the Bill's proceedings.

They may be thinking that it will be all right to let it tick along because they can then use the Parliament Act. I must say in passing that I listened to Mr Alun Michael on the early morning programme this morning. When he was asked whether the Parliament Act would be used, he said, "Oh, that is for the House of Commons and Parliament". Of course, it is nothing of the sort. The Government control the Order Paper; it is for the Government to decide whether they include on the Order Paper in another place the use of the Parliament Act. That is nothing to do with the Members; the Government and only the Government initiate that.

My second irritation is broader. That concerns the Government's whole attitude to the countryside. In my life, I have never known a Government who demonstrated so clearly their contempt for the countryside and for country people. Previous Labour Governments never took up that posture. When I remember people such as Tom Williams, Fred Peart and Cledwyn Hughes, they were always seen as friends of the countryside and did not take up the posture adopted by Ministers now.

That is no longer the case. I listened with horror on Sunday morning to the early religious programme, I think it was, on which Mrs Beckett was interviewed taking part in the Cancun conference. I thought that I was listening to a Minister for overseas development, rather than one concerned with British agriculture and the British countryside. She made no reference whatever to the hugely lower prices that farmers are receiving now than they were a few years ago or to the widespread lack of profit in the countryside.

So I come to my suggestion. I am much alarmed by what a ban on hunting means in our mountainous areas. I follow very much what my old friend—if I may call him so—the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said. In mountainous areas, hunting is the only way to control foxes. My noble friend Lord Inglewood has asked me to associate him with my remarks. In the Lake District, which I had the honour of representing in another place for 33 years, and in parts of Wales, foot packs do essential work in preventing sheep farming being made impossible when foxes get out of control. Hunting there is carried out on foot. There are no horses, or people in top hats—they seem to be the principal reason that many in the Labour Party are so antagonistic towards fox hunting. Foot hunting is

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done much more informally. It is essential that we build into the Bill an exemption for foot packs, which play such an important role.

I have evidence to demonstrate the importance of foot packs. Mr Ralph Beaumont, who lives near Machynlleth, kindly sent me an article from the November 1941 edition of Picture Post. It describes the case of Harry Roberts, who was called up to the Army at the beginning of World War Two. In 1941, at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, he had to be released for six months to resume hunting with the Plas Machynlleth hounds, as foxes were threatening food production in that part of Wales at the beginning of the war. The article says that, previously, hounds usually killed foxes out of sight of huntsmen or anyone else. Nobody, therefore, should seek to oppose foot packs on the grounds that they are supported by bloodthirsty followers who lust after seeing foxes killed—that is total nonsense.

I can do no better to demonstrate evidence of the importance of foot packs than to quote from Hansard the Answer to a Question on 16th October 1941 concerning Mr Roberts's release from the Army:

    "The soldier in question was released from the Army for a period of six months as a result of strong recommendations by the Ministry of Agriculture. In support of the application it was stated that these hounds were maintained for the sole purpose of protecting sheep and poultry from foxes, and that since his enlistment farmers had suffered severe losses. The Ministry are satisfied that in this mountainous district the only effective method of keeping down the foxes is to hunt them on foot with hounds".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/10/41; col. 1522.]

That is clear proof that, if you ban hunting in those mountainous areas, you will get a profusion of foxes, and sheep farming will be made wholly impossible.

I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at an amendment to exempt mountain foot packs from the Bill. Such a provision could be added to the schedule. As we debate the Bill I hope that we can discuss that proposition. I hope that it will gain the House's approval.

5.44 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, it is already clear that there are strongly held views on all sides. Noble Lords will have noticed that, even on these Benches—often so united—there are nuances to be observed. I look forward in particular to my noble friend Lord Livsey, in about five hours' time, drawing our arguments together and deploying them as a coherent whole.

I share with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, a complaint regarding the language used about supporters of the Bill. Many real friends of mine will speak against the Bill. Indeed, on the speakers' list, I am sandwiched between the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Bragg, whom I very much consider friends. I respect their points of view.

I would rather be elsewhere today—I shall explain where in a moment. I am here partly out of a sense of duty to delegations from the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and my own party, whose party

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conference decision is in support of the Bill. Many of those delegates are young, sincere, idealistic people, on behalf of whom I felt that I had to speak today.

I appreciate the approach of the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Miller. I was less enthusiastic about the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who was singularly uncharitable in his view of opponents. I am not surprised that his postbag is 100 per cent against the Bill. Given that he has such a closed mind, I suspect that proponents would not think it worth writing to him about it. One thing is certain: in his view there is no evidence of schizophrenia.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the problem of urban foxes, which relates to where I was today. I have been dragged to this debate from Brent East, where I was canvassing. There are probably more urban foxes than Tories in Brent East. By Friday, we will probably see that other popular blood sport in the Conservative Party, "hunt the leader"

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