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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I disagree strongly with those who oppose the Question whether Clause 5 stand part. I am sorry that those who have spoken in support of that position saw fit to do so in a spirit of a win-lose situation. I feel strongly that there is a case for hunting to continue where utility is proved. However, I do not believe that utility is likely ever to be proved in the case of hares.
Here, we are considering the inability to compromise. If we want to see hunting continue in some form, we shall have to accept some compromises. Indeed, the hunting of hares is not a compromise. I believe that it is wrong. One point on which I agree with all noble Lords who have spoken is that hares are beautiful and do not deserve to be hunted. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has been widely quoted, states that there is no need to control overall hare numbers. Other noble Lords have said that he makes the point that they are a biodiversity action plan species and a ban would have little effect in practice on agriculture or other interests.
Lord Tebbit: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Is she saying that rare animals suffer less pain or more pain than common animals? It seems to be a rather curious point of view that the degree of pain and therefore whether or not we should prohibit hunting depends on the number of animals there are. Perhaps the noble Baroness would tell me whether she is happy for me to continue shooting hares.
I believe it is also wrong that all mammals should be subject to registration. Some years ago both Houses of Parliament decided to remove otters from the list of species which could be hunted. No one is saying now that we should hunt otters again, even if that is not seen to be cruel. They are recognised as a species which should not be hunted. I believe that hares fall into the same category as otters as being a species which people are pleased to see in the countryside.
I would ask those opposing the Question that Clause 5 stand part to give serious thought to the fact that the public are largely with them when they say that they do not want a ban on all forms of hunting. Indeed, I do not want a ban on fox hunting. However, there are limits to what the public will find acceptable. We see that 59 per cent oppose a ban on hunting. When I ask members of the public how they feel about the hunting issueI receive many letters on the subjectthey are strongly in favour of not banning fox hunting but almost to a person do not want to see hares hunted.
The argument that just because a lot of illegal coursing takes place we should continue to support legal coursing does not hold water. We should continue to clamp down on illegal coursing. I hope that those opposing the Question that Clause 5 stand part will bear in mind that by pressing it, if that is what they choose to do, they will largely lose the sympathy of the public.
Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may make an observation. I am not a follower of hare coursing. Indeed, I have never been to a hare coursing event so I am in no position to speak about it. I admire the advocacy of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who made an extraordinarily robust and acceptable defence of hare coursing.
I am concerned about Clause 5 and what it does. I can understand the Government saying, "We don't want hare coursing. Therefore, it shall be an offence knowingly to facilitate a hare coursing event". It is an offence to permit one's land to be used for the purposes of a hare coursing event, so that stops people using their land. It is wrong for a person to participate in a hare coursing event. Presumably that means that he must not bring his dogs or ensure that the hares will run into the right place. If all that worked there would be no hare coursing.
However, to my mind the coup de grace comes in subsection (1)(b) which states that it is an offence to attend a hare coursing event. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, why should it be an offence to attend an event? If one sees an event taking place, of course one stops and looks. Everyone knows that the world is full of ghouls and if an aeroplane crashes one cannot get along the roads because everyone is stopping and looking. It is not an offence to be present when a burglar burgles a shop, if one happens to be
Earl Ferrers: I dare say that it is but the point I make is that if hare coursing is made illegal, it should not be a requirement to tell people that they cannot attend. What I find offensive is the Government telling people what they must and must not do, particularly when it comes to people's sport and preferences. When communism was at its height we used to worry a lot and people used to say, "Big Brother is watching you". Big Brother is watching you and telling you what to do now. I think that that is deeply offensive. That is why I do not like Clause 5 and why I hope that it will go.
Lord Best: The question for us to consider is whether or not coursing is so different and so beyond the pale that it should be banned even if other forms of hunting are allowed. Is it such an awful sport that there can be no argument but that coursing should be prohibited in all circumstances?
I have had absolutely nothing to do with coursing in my life but I went to see two coursing events in North Yorkshire not far from where I live to discover what it is all about. I went with some trepidation because I am as squeamish as I guess many noble Lords are. The thought of two greyhounds tearing a hare apart was fairly difficult to imagine. My last similar experience was to witness bullfighting in rather too much gory detail on Spanish television. I found that appalling and was totally disgusted by it.
Nevertheless, I steeled myself and went to visit these two coursing events and watched the morning's proceedings. I have to tell Members of the Committee that on those two consecutive occasions, to my astonishment no hare was killed. No one was distressed by that. It turned out that the whole purpose was not to kill a hare. Indeed, no points are awarded if the hare is killed. It does happen and I am sure that it is the case, that some 200 hares are killed per year. Apparently some 20,000 are killed on the roads, but the coursing events that now happen under very strict regulation are not about killing hares. I did not appreciate that and I rather suspect that a great many members of the general public do not appreciate that coursing is not about killing these animals. I saw eight pairs of greyhounds being let go to chase the hare. In 16 races between the two greyhounds no hare was killed. I thought that noble Lords would be interested to hear that one example.
That led me to question the sport, if that is what it is, of watching and following greyhounds performing in this way. It is certainly magical to watch. These are very sleek and wonderful dogs. Set in glorious countryside, one can think of very few things that are more pleasurable than standing as I did on a sunny day watching people from all walks of life enjoying
Is it useful in any way? Utility is the other test. Is it so obvious that it is not useful that it should be banned even if other forms of hunting through a registration and licensing scheme are allowed? It seems that it is useful in the conservation of the countryside. People who enjoy this activity ensure that the woodlands and countryside are in a state that is welcoming to the hare population. As noble Lords have said, hare populations tend to multiply where coursing takes place. It seems to have a beneficial effect on the countryside.
On other interests, I found it useful in the sense that this was a community activity. People came from, I suspect, rather lonely farm lifestyles to participate, to bring their own dogs, which were sometimes nothing to do with the event, and just to share the experience with others. It gathered people together from a wide area of rather remote countryside in north Yorkshire that seemed to me to be useful in a communal and social sense.
So, without prejudging how a registration or licensing system would determine whether coursing should be allowed, I came to the very firm conclusion that it is not self-evident that the cruelty or lack of utility are so obvious in the case of coursing that this clause should stand and that a ban should apply irrespective of whether it applies to any other form of hunting.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, with great respect. I acknowledge that this is a much more difficult issue than the one we debated earlier today. It is more difficult because one side can be argued with even moreperhaps a great deal morepassion than we heard in support of the Bill earlier today. A very good example of that was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. His speech, if I may say so, represented the high water mark of the passionate case against hare coursingthe high water mark perhaps after a very high spring tide; and none the worse for that.
Equally, we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and of course earlier we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the less passionate but possibly more cerebral case. I oppose the question because I think that Clause 5 is too widely drawn. I am satisfied that the law at the moment on hare coursing is exactly as it should be. The clause is too widely drawn in prohibiting it altogether.
I should like to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Best, by quotingand I can do so very briefly as the points have been argued so well on both sidesfrom personal experience, which I admit at once is slight on my side. In the mid-1970s I was a new Member of Parliament. Once again the legality of hare coursing was a public issue. I was perfectly happy about hunting with dogsas one must call it
So I took myself to a meeting on Romney Marsh of the Jack Jones coursing club, which is one of the oldest coursing clubs in the country. I went incognito. I have to say to noble Lords that I did not find much problem about that. I watched to see what happened. I was completely reassured. There was a long line of followers or supporters in the form of a gentle crescent. At each end a greyhound was held on a leash. The line moved slowly forward across the great marsh meadows. When a hare jumped up and had a lead of some 75 or 100 yards, the greyhounds were loosed at each end and off they went.
Noble Lords have said very clearlyand with much better access to it than I can describewhat the purpose of coursing is. It is not to kill the hare; it is to judge the agility of the hounds as the hare jigs. The hare was killed on one occasion out of many courses. I was very glad to find that the purpose was not to kill the hare. I came away feeling very reassured. I thought it was proportionate, fair and, as I say, the hare nearly always won.
I must be frank with the Committee, I have not been coursing again. However, from the arguments todayand I have listened with care and great sympathy to both sidesI certainly am not persuaded that the law should be changed so that no one else should ever go coursing again.
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