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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I hope that in the space of two or three minutes I may be able to persuade some Members of the Committee at least why Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill and why hare coursing is a practice that needs to be outlawed.

I remind the Committee that the original decision to outlaw hare coursing was taken in the House of Commons as long ago as 1970, and it is a measure that has been the subject of Private Members' legislation which has been approved in the other place on numerous occasions since. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, rightly pointed out, even in the Government's original Bill introduced by Mr Michael, hare coursing was described as an "indefensible" activity and would have disappeared.

It was interesting that the noble Lord chose not to describe exactly what happens at hare coursing meetings. When one studies what happens at those events, one finds it almost impossible to believe that there can be any grounds whatever for allowing it to continue. It is an activity—I refuse to use the word "sport" in relation to it—whose purpose is to give pleasure to bystanders by giving them the opportunity to watch a beautiful animal, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, rightly said, being subjected to a

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gruesome and agonising death. The animal in question, the brown hare, is the subject of a biodiversity action plan, the aim of which is to maintain and expand their population following a huge decline in their numbers over the past century largely as a result of intensive methods of farming.

The Burns report—I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, should have quoted the Burns report in evidence—concluded that,

    "there is little or no need to control overall hare numbers".

It also stated that,

    "hare hunting and coursing are essentially carried out for recreational purposes".

Hare hunting is covered by Clause 1 of the Bill and we do not need to concern ourselves with that now.

Clause 5 deals with hare coursing events. These involve the setting of two dogs, usually lurchers or greyhounds, on a single hare. The season for hare coursing runs from September to March, which means that the season does not end until after the first litters are born. Hares may be heavily pregnant or nursing when coursed, and the leverets obviously die if their mother is killed.

Competition coursing is funded largely by gambling, and watched by spectators in a coursing arena. The hares are beaten on to a field where handlers are holding the dogs. The hare gets a head start before the dogs are released. As the dogs are bred for speed, they catch up with the hare in seconds. The only chance the hare has of escaping is by turning sharply. It sometimes happens that the two dogs catch the hare simultaneously and then there is a tug of war with the hare in the jaws of both animals. That goes on until the picker-up gets on to the scene and removes the hare, which may still be alive but in intense agony. The officials then try to break the hare's neck, but do not always succeed the first time.

The RSPCA engaged the services of an independent vet to examine the corpses of five hares killed during the 2001 Millennium Cup coursing event. He found that none had died instantly from a bite. The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare carried out 53 post-mortems on coursed hares. None of those had been killed by a bite to the neck. The research commissioned by the Burns committee found that, out of 12 coursed hares, only one was definitely killed by the dogs. Of the remaining 11, five were killed only after the picker-up arrived and broke their necks. In the other six cases, the cause of death was uncertain.

The Waterloo Cup is the highlight of the hare-coursing year. It is held near Southport in February, on the Altcar estate of Lord Leverhulme. It is an area where the number of native hares has been declining since the 1970s, so the organisers have to round up hares in other parts of the country, with Norfolk being the favourite county from which to take them. That increases the cruelty, because hares are confused in unfamiliar territory. When hunted, they tend to run in a large circle in fields that they know.

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One courser at the Waterloo Cup this year spoke to the Daily Mirror after the experience. He said:

    "It's not illegal but it is immoral. One day I sat down and thought about it and I just couldn't do it any more.

    The captured hares are released on to land that is unfamiliar to them, they don't have any runs and they're so scared it's impossible for them to find an escape route. It's like me being taken from my house, blindfolded, driven a hundred miles away and then dumped, being chased".

How can any decent, civilised person argue that that is a sport worth preserving?

The Earl of Caithness: I am very grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, because a lot of what he said was emotional and, unusually for him, wrong. If he cares to look at the evidence—there is plenty of it—he will see that the picture is not as he painted it.

We are on a totally different argument from that on fox hunting. The fox is a predator, whereas the hare is probably one of nature's most complete prey animals, but we are still talking about hunting. It is also wise for me to declare my non-interest. I do not have any land. I have been hare coursing once. I have not been fox hunting; I tried once to see what it was like, but I was fogged off so I never got there. As I shall explain, I take a very different view about hare coursing from my view a year ago.

There are two types of what one might call chasing hares. The first is uncontrolled. I have witnessed that in Scotland. It is not a pretty sight—for the hare or for the poor farmer, who is terrified by the mobs that drive on to his land in 4x4 vehicles. Their idea is actually to cause damage and catch the hare. If one looks at controlled coursing by the National Coursing Club, a very different picture emerges. In 116 A.D., Flavius Arianus said:

    "The true sportsman does not take out his dogs to destroy the hares, but for the sake of the course . . . and is glad if the hare escapes".

Unlike chasing hares in an uncontrolled manner, the intention is not to kill the hare. No points are awarded in a hare course for killing the hare, and there is great joy for everyone when the hare escapes. As notified in the Burns inquiry, the average course is something like 40 seconds out of the hare's lifespan of three to four years.

Coursing has won every argument, be it on fear, terror, suffering or preservation of the hare, or conservation, diversity or biodiversity. However, it is still persecuted. It is the most investigated country sport. As my noble friend Lord Brooke reminded the Committee, there have been four reports on it since the Second World War. It is the most controlled. The National Coursing Club implements very strict rules on hare coursing, and it has accepted all the recommendations made by the four reports since the war, most notably and recently that by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It also has an inspector on site who is on the side of the hare and is able to stop coursing meetings—he has done so in the past—if he feels that, for any reason, the hare might be at an unfair disadvantage.

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Coursing is the most misunderstood country sport. My noble friend Lord Brooke quoted, as I would have, the point made by the Select Committee of this House, which felt that it was totally ignorant of the subject before it began to try to understand it. I, too, would have put myself in that position. That was why I went to a hare-coursing meeting. This time last year, I would not have opposed the Question. I believed some of the hype and emotion in the press and on some television programmes. The more I have looked at properly controlled hare coursing, the more I understand its benefits and that it is not as people have portrayed.

Controlled hare coursing brings enormous benefits to both the hare and the countryside. Man is not the only predator of the hare but the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, did not mention any others. He mentioned that the hare might be pregnant. The hare might be pregnant in May, June or July when the fox does the chasing, or when the mother fox might teach the young foxes what to do. If any Members of the Committee have seen that, they will know that it is nastier, more vicious and inflicts more suffering on the hare than any controlled coursing could.

Man does a huge amount to protect the hare in the areas in which controlled coursing takes place. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is, unusually for him, wrong in saying that hares are transported to hare-coursing meetings and do not know the lie of the land. It is perfectly true that in some parts of the country hares were brought in to restock, but the coursing did not take place until the hares had grown accustomed to that land and the area in which they were.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Is the noble Earl not aware that, in 1997, the League Against Cruel Sports filmed hares being netted on an estate in East Anglia, an activity supervised by the chairman of the Waterloo Cup, which was taking place only two weeks afterwards?

The Earl of Caithness: There has been evidence of some of that. Where anything like that has happened in the past, huge attempts have been made to rectify it. The situation that the noble Lord presents is thoroughly overplayed.

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