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A noble Lord: Watch out.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, it lasted a lot longer; that was the point. If anyone says withdraw, that is a very bad taste joke.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the regrettable thing is that that is part of the problem.

A noble Lord: What is?

Lord Whitty: The noble Earl's partial withdrawal, my Lords. Enjoyment in the countryside—whether riding, following hounds, or whatever—ought not to be dependent on the distress and suffering of an animal. Distress and suffering of an animal may be justified if it is for food production or for pest control, but, in my contention, it is not justifiable simply on the basis of enjoyment. In any sense that has been suggested in this House, we are not attacking the rights of a minority. There is no right for a minority or a majority to engage in cruelty to animals without justification.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that most people who go hunting go out for the pleasure of the hunt and for the pleasure of the day out, not just to see a fox killed?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is my point. We do not need to reach the heights of pleasure described by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, by having to chase a small animal. A gallop, a run, a drive in the countryside, or maybe drag-hunting or a paper chase, and so forth, will give as much pleasure to the majority of those people as will fox hunting. However, a minority of people need the quarrying and the kill. In today's society it is not appropriate to accept that we should allow that degree of cruelty to an animal.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but I must get this right. His right

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honourable friend Mr Michael is wrong. The Bill is not based on evidence in principle; it is based on personal prejudice. Is that what the noble Lord is telling us?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord ought to listen to what I say. Cruelty is justifiable only if the alternative is worse cruelty or there is no alternative in achieving the utilitarian objective. That is what the original Bill was based on; utility as against relative cruelty. That was the balance which Alun Michael sought to achieve within his Bill.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, on this point, for the sake of argument, let us assume that we agree with the Minister on fox hunting. Why does he not then say, "Our principles are consistent. We are going to stop shooting and we are going to stop fishing."? Those questions have been asked and the Government have particularly ducked them and given undertakings that they will not be—

A noble Lord: What is the difference?

The Earl of Onslow: What is the difference?

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: When did you last eat a fox?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as so often, the noble Earl is contradictory within two seconds. He says that the Government have ducked those questions and then says what we have said. We said that we will not do that. I reiterate and underline again that we will not be legislating against fishing or shooting. There are two reasons for that. First, a significant amount of shooting and fishing is either for conservation or for food. Secondly, we have to take account of general public opinion.

In the latest poll, however people think about how we should deal with the issue of hunting, 80 per cent of people believe hunting to be cruel, and there is not much difference between the opinions in the countryside and those in urban areas. It may not be 80 per cent of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, but they hardly represent public opinion, so shaking heads on the Opposition Front Bench is unlikely to do much good. That is the fact of the matter.

Clearly, civilisation moves, although not necessarily in a straight line. At present, the sensibilities of society are overwhelmingly against unnecessarily causing suffering to wild animals. The word, "unnecessarily" means that a judgment needs to be made against other forms of pest control. "Unnecessarily" means that there should be effective methods of pest control, along with other means of achieving the management of wild animals. If they do not exist, clearly we can return to using fox hunting, as the original Bill would have allowed.

Those arguments have been debated in the House of Commons. That House has spent many hours in Committee and on Report discussing these issues and it has reached a conclusion. It is a conclusion with

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which the majority of the speakers in this debate, and probably the majority of the Members of the House of Lords, do not agree. This is not the end of the process. The House of Lords is able to make suggestions to the Government for amending the Bill and to propose amendments that might receive favour in the House of Commons. Alternatively, noble Lords may take a wrecking approach to the Bill which, in effect, would delete its main principles.

The Government continue to hope—it may be hope against hope—that some agreement can be reached between the two Houses. It is difficult to see how that will be done, but I suggest that your Lordships' House conducts the Committee stage of the Bill on the basis of constructive amendments being proposed to the main thrust of the provisions. The Commons will then consider diligently whether it can accept those amendments. The situation beyond that is clearly a matter for the House of Commons rather than the proceedings here, but I advise Members of this House very strongly not to use the Committee and subsequent stages of the Bill to destroy or delay it, because that would simply precipitate a situation where the House of Commons would undoubtedly take the view that that was an act of sabotage.

Were noble Lords to make constructive amendments, the House of Commons would need to consider them and see whether some further compromise was available. It is important, however, to recognise the overwhelming majority with which the position of the House of Commons was carried. At the close of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Denham, remarked that it was no use the Government hiding behind the size of their majority in the House of Commons. Ultimately, however, the existence of a majority and the size of that majority in the House of Commons determines most of our legislation. If at this stage we want to convince the House of Commons to do something different, we need to propose constructive amendments to the Bill.

With a few exceptions, I have to say that most of the contributions to this debate have indicated that noble Lords do not accept the framework of the Bill as it has come from the House of Commons. Many did not accept the framework of the original Bill. If we go down either of those roads, there will be conflict between the two Houses. I would regret that, Alun Michael would regret that and the Prime Minister would regret it, but nevertheless that would be the position which the House of Commons would have to consider. Therefore, this House should think seriously about how it behaves in Committee and beyond. For the moment, however, I hope that the Bill will receive its Second Reading.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wish to make a genuine attempt to clarify what he has said. I have understood him to say that there needs to be some control on the number of foxes. I would be grateful if he could clarify whether the Government's position is that hunting with hounds

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is a more cruel method of controlling the number of foxes than shooting, trapping, gassing or poisoning. Is that the position?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is the position taken by the Government and by a majority of Members of the House of Commons. The Government are now facilitating it. It is also true to say that one cannot justify hunting with hounds as the main method of pest control because the facts do not support that argument.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Local Government Bill

Bill returned from the Commons on 15th September with certain amendments disagreed to with reasons for such disagreement; with an amendment agreed to with amendments and with consequential amendments to the Bill; and with the remaining amendments agreed to; the Commons amendments and reasons were printed pursuant to Standing Order 51.

Inter-Governmental Conference

A message was received from the Commons that they have made the following order:

    (1) There shall be a standing committee, called the Standing Committee on the Inter-Governmental Conference on the Future of Europe.

    (2) At any sitting of the standing committee, the chairman may permit a Minister or Ministers to make statements on the inter-governmental conference, and questions may then be put thereon by Members:

    Provided that no proceedings under this paragraph may continue after the expiry of a period of one and a half hours from their commencement, except with the leave of the chairman.

    (3) At the conclusion of proceedings under paragraph (2), the committee may consider either of the following—

    (a) when a written report has been laid before Parliament by a Minister or Ministers, a Motion proposed from the chair "That the committee has considered the report of [date] on the inter-governmental conference"; or

    (b) a Motion for the adjournment of the committee, provided that a Minister of the Crown has given notice of a subject relating to the inter-governmental conference for the debate on the adjournment not later than five days before the sitting.

    (4) (a) The chairman shall put any Questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings on any Motion under paragraph 3(a), if not previously concluded, when the committee shall have sat for two and a half hours; and the chairman shall thereupon report that the committee has considered the report of [date] on the inter-governmental conference, without putting any further Question;

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    (b) in case of a Motion under paragraph (3)(b), the chairman shall adjourn the committee without putting any question, not later than two and a half hours after the committee has begun sitting.

    (5) (a) Notwithstanding Standing Order No. 86, the standing committee shall consist of those Members of the House nominated for the time being to the European Scrutiny Committee (appointed under Standing Order No. 143) and to the Foreign Affairs Committee (appointed under Standing Order No. 152); and

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    (b) any Member of the House, not being a member of the committee, may take part in the proceedings of the committee and be counted in the quorum, but shall not vote or make any Motion, except that any member of the government may move a Motion under paragraph (3)(b).

    (6) Members of the House of Lords may participate in the committee's proceedings, but no member of that House may vote or make any Motion or be counted in the quorum. That this order be a Standing Order of the House until the end of the next Session of Parliament.

        House adjourned at twenty minutes past eleven o'clock.

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