HC Deb 01 May 1967 vol 746 cc5-48

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

The debate upon which we are entering cuts across party lines. There are supporters and opponents of the proposed Bill on both sides of the House. I shall endeavour to secure a balanced debate.

10.13 a.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The first thing which I wish to do is to thank the Lord President of the Council for allowing Parliamentary time for the Bill. The Government receive not only my personal thanks and those of the sponsors of the Bill, but the thanks of countless thousands of people from all walks of life and from every part of the country.

I realise that many Members are somewhat annoyed because the Bill has been given time as against others. I sympathise with them, but hope that it will not colour their attitude to the Bill. I trust that the Bill will be considered on its merits and not opposed by anyone for reasons which have nothing to do with the issue before us.

A number of attempts have been made to abolish the coursing of live hares. In 1925, a Bill to prohibit the coursing of hares and rabbits got through its Committee stage, but, unfortunately, failed to secure a Third Reading through lack of Parliamentary time. On 25th February, 1949, Mr. Seymour Cocks moved the Second Reading of the Protection of Animals (Hunting and Coursing Prohibition) Bill. A debate took place, but the Bill failed owing to Government opposition, possibly because it was too wide in its scope. Therefore, the fact is that 42 years ago this House almost abolished live hare coursing but failed to do so due to lack of Parliamentary time. I believe that it would be a tragedy if a similar situation were to develop in this Session.

In his speech introducing the Bill, Mr. Seymour Cocks said—and I believe that this is worth quoting: We in this country are not a cruel race. We always pride ourselves on our love for animals. However, this love for animals which characterises our people is of very modern growth. Just over 100 years ago there was very little love for animals in this land. Horrible cruelties were perpetrated on animals in the early part of last century and there was no law to prevent them. Cats were skinned alive for the sake of their fur, bears and badgers were baited, dogs were matched against monkeys and fought each other to the death and bull baiting was a national sport and was defended in the House of Commons …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1949, Vol. 461, c. 2168–9.] It is a sign of our democratic strength as a nation that even at this moment, when the country is being asked to consider momentous decisions, time can be found for Parliament to decide whether the coursing of live hares should be abolished.

The Bill, as I said in the speech when I introduced it, is very simple. The Explanatory Memorandum reads as follows: The purpose of the Bill is to prohibit hare coursing of a particular kind, namely where steps are taken to bring two or more dogs and a hare within sight of each other and the dogs are only then released for pursuit with a view to a comparison being made of the respective coursing abilities of those dogs. It has been suggested by friends and foes of the Bill alike that it does not go far enough. Hon. Members who feel that can, if they so desire, put down a number of Amendments to strengthen the Bill even further. But that would not be my view. I think that we have to deal with this one issue at this time. It is right that we should do it in this way. Therefore, in a sense, the Bill is restrictive in nature. It has only two Clauses and therefore is extremely short. It is designed only to do what it says and cannot be interpreted in any other way.

Let me define what coursing is, as I did on 31st January on First Reading. Again, I quote from the publication issued by the National Coursing Club, "The Truth about Coursing", which says: Coursing is a sport of testing the merits of two greyhounds in their competitive pursuit of a hare. The hare, we are told, is in a sense incidental to the sport.

On page 36 of the Rules of the National Coursing Club, Rule 24 gives the points of the course, and I quote: The points of the course are:—

  1. (a) speed—which shall be estimated as one, two or three points, according to the degree of superiority shown.
  2. 7
  3. (b) the Go-Bye—two points, or if gained on the outer circle, three points.
  4. (c) the Turn—one point.
  5. (d) the Wrench—half a point.
  6. (e the Kill—two points, or, in a descending scale, in proportion to the degree of merit displayed in that kill, which may be of no value.
  7. (f) the Trip—one point."
Pages 37 and 38 contain a definition of the points which I have mentioned. Let me quote them, one on the merit of the kill; and, two, on the trip. I again quote: The merit of the kill must be estimated according to whether a dog by his own superior dash and skill, bears the hare; whether he picks her up through any little accidental circumstances favouring him, or whether she is turned into his mouth, as it were, by the other dog. The trip, or unsuccessful effort to kill, is where the hare is thrown off her legs or where a dog flecks her but cannot hold her. I emphasise that those are not my words. They are from the rules of the National Coursing Club. I trust that we shall hear no more from the opponents of the Bill to the effect that the kill is not an essential or inherent part of this brutal and inhuman sport.

Since I first introduced the Bill thousands of letters urging the abolition of this so-called sport have been received by myself and by other hon. Members. Many hon. Members have suggested giving me their postage bills, which I am sure would immediately have bankrupted me, such is the number of replies they have had to send to people who have written to them. In addition, I and other hon. Members have received many petitions containing thousands of names. The letters and petitions have not been confined to city and town dwellers, as some people have alleged, but come from all parts of the nation, including village and country dwellers.

I want to quote just a few of these letters. One dated 1st February says this: I was once a beater for the Isle of Thanet hunt and coursing club. I was out of work at the time and this beater's job was offered me (two days) 15s. a day at the Margate Labour Exchange, so of course I went. I was sick with despair at this so-called sport, but I needed that 30s. at the time, but I did not go back to finish the meeting, because it was horrible". A farmer's wife says this in a letter: I have never written to an M.P. before, but I feel so strongly on this subject that I would like to know if there is any way in which I could help to get this Bill passed. … We farm about 350 acres in Hertfordshire and naturally have many hares on the farm. Admittedly, they do do damage to our sugar beet and other crops, so when there are too many around my husband has to organise a shoot to reduce the number of hares. He does not do this for the joy of killing the hares, and the shooting is done with great care to ensure that no animal is injured but dispatched quickly and as near painlessly as possible.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)


Mr. Heffer

The lady continues: The hares are not chased for miles in fear of their lives as with coursing. I am sure that most farmers who have to reduce the number of hares on their farms do so as humanely as possible, so the argument put by one of the coursing gentlemen that 50 per cent. of the shot hares go off to die in agony is a gross exaggeration. Someone writing from Stafford says this: I have heard that there is hesitation to do anything to stop hare coursing because of its long association as a sport in the Northern Mining areas. I am a Northerner by birth and hare coursing was very much a sport of the wealthy. The mining community and the farmers raced whippets asd hounds by aniseed trailing, which many of us have watched and thoroughly enjoyed. If only this kind of 'coursing' could become more popular here; no one is torn to pieces in great agony. Dogs, owners and spectators all enjoy themselves and it can be most exciting. Those are three of the many thousands of letters that have been received by hon. Members and myself. The abolition of this so-called sport will be a most popular act and, as you yourself said, Mr. Speaker, it cuts across party division and is supported by people of all religious denominations and by some who profess no religion at all.

Many of our great national newspapers have either declared their support for the Bill or have carried articles about live hare coursing. Let me list a few—the People, the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, and the Sketch. There are others, and if I have missed them out I apologise to them.

The whole question has also received wide television and radio coverage. The Bill is supported by the R.S.P.C.A., by the League Against Cruel Sports, and by many other animal protection and animal lovers societies. A letter dated 12th April from the League Against Cruel Sports to the Home Secretary says this: Sir, we have received in the office the below number of signatures, petitioning for government support of Mr. Eric Heffer's Bill for the Abolition of Hare Coursing as a result of a single advertisement in each of the following newspapers—The Liverpool Echo, 5,500; the Yorkshire Post, 3,082; the Daily Mail, 18,579, making a total of 27,161. Those petition forms were contained in newspapers. Anyone signing one had to fill in the form, go to a post office to get a stamp, and then send it off. The number of petition forms I have received regarding abortion has been infinitesimal compared to the number of petition forms which has been sent to me on this issue. This shows that there is a real interest and, without question, indicates that the majority of people are for the Bill.

However, it may be said, and I am sure that it will be said, that 27,000 is only a small number. The League Against Cruel Sports asked the National Opinion Polls to organise a poll. These are the results.

Two questions were asked. The first was: Do you approve or disapprove of live hare coursing (that is, the blood sport in which two dogs compete against each other by using a live hare as a quarry)? The second was: Parliament is considering a Bill to abolish hare coursing. The Bill is unlikely to be passed unless the Government support it. Do you think the Government should support the Bill or not?". I disagree with the phrasing of the second question, but the point is made clear to the person being asked.

The answers to those questions were as follows. Those who approved of live hare coursing were 17 per cent., those who disapproved were 77 per cent. and the "don't knows" were 11 per cent. As for the second question, those who thought that the Bill should be supported were 75 per cent., those against were 15 per cent. and the "don't knows" were 11 per cent. I believe that the results of the National Opinion Poll, plus the petitions and letters, truly indicate where the people stand in relation to this Bill.

Why, then, are they supporting the Bill? No doubt there are many hon. Members who will say that it is out of ignorance, that the whole matter has been blown up, that it has got out of proportion and is greatly exaggerated. No doubt the same arguments will be used today as were used when the campaign against cock fighting was an issue in the House and in the country.

Let me again give some of the facts about what I believe to be a horrible business. Since the First Reading of the Bill, the Waterloo Cup meeting has been held at Lydiate, near Ormskirk, and this is the blue riband event of the whole hare-coursing world. I want to give some of the facts about events on the second day, which was 9th February, 1967. The following is an accurate record of events as seen by Mr. Swift, who had a stopwatch, and Mr. J. C. Burns, which was taking notes, and I have before me a document prepared by those gentlemen. This was on the second day: Race No 6 in the Waterloo Cup: Duration of course, 18 seconds. Time for kill, 9 seconds. 'Tug of war': No. Very weak hare, not fully grown. Much abuse from crowd to the slipper about this, presumably because it was a poor contest. Race No. 7: 79 seconds. Time for kill: in ditch; could not time this kill. A very gruelling run. Hare was killed in ditch after attempting to clear it. - Crowd milled round ditch to witness the kill. Then we have race No. 7 in the Waterloo Purse: 20 seconds. Hound which won 'tug of war' would not let go of hare and finally ran off with hare, the back legs of which were bleeding and still kicking. Then we have Waterloo Purse race No. 10—and I cannot read them all because of the pressure of time, but they are extremely gruelling to read.

Hare flung into the air as it was caught on the turn. Then we have Waterloo Purse race No. 15: A particularly macabre 'tug of war', during which handlers were unable to separate the two hounds. When finally dropped the hare continued to kick and squirm and no attempt to put it out of its misery was made by either handler. About 45 seconds later a beater arrived and stamped on the stricken animal several times. So it goes on, and I want now to read some general observations: Many spectators judged the weather as 'perfect for coursing'. There had been some rain on the previous night but the day itself was fine with sunny spells and only one shower. Yet under 'perfect' conditions 23 out of 44 hares were killed … All the investigators remarked that the greyhounds do not kill as a terrier will kill a rat. There is absolutely no truth in the 'quick nip behind the head and she is dead' argument. The dog simply grabs the hare. At a certain stage of the proceedings, there was an altercation between Mr. Rowley and Lord Kenyon. The altercation arose because Mr. Rowley had been taking photographs, with specially adapted binoculars, and I have those photographs for everyone to see. They were taken during the Waterloo Cup this year—not in the past, not a hundred years ago, but two or three months ago. They are photographs of actual events which occurred at the Waterloo Cup meeting. I am only sorry that every hon. Member has not been able to see the photographs.

It can be argued that the League Against Cruel Sports is an extremist organisation and that it is, as it were, the left wing of the movement. The most respectable animal organisation in the country is the R.S.P.C.A. I do not know whether members of that body could be called "centre-ists" or "conservatives", but there is no doubt that it is a respectable body. I want now to quote some recent reports from the R.S.P.C.A. These, again, have come up since the Bill was introduced on 31st January.

The first is from Inspector No. 81, of Bedfordshire: Of the 16 hares killed, 4 of them were still alive 30 seconds after being caught by the hound. Their screams could be heard 200 yards away. One incident which I should like to record was where two hounds had coursed a hare for a full 3 minutes. The hounds were almost at dropping point. The hare also was showing signs of exhaustion but was headed for a thicket and safety, when a stray hound broke into the course and nipped the hare, throwing it over its back. The hare was immediately caught by the other two hounds, and all three were tearing at this poor creature and the screams could be heard for 15 seconds before the body was ripped apart. On talking about this incident to other spectators, it appears that this is quite a common occurrence, which gives the lie to the rule about a reasonable means of escape. This is a report by Senior Inspector No. 227, again of Bedfordshire: Three hounds were unable to race in the finals, owing to injuries received when coursing over soil with sharp flints exposed in the ploughed fields. With regard to the kill, four of these were out of sight of the spectators, but on three occasions where the killing was witnessed, the screams of the hares could be heard for seconds after the hounds were tearing at them, and in one case one hound holding the hare in its mouth rolled over on to its back owing to the speed at which it was travelling, and the second hound made a grab at the hare, pulling it away from the first hound. The second hound then dropped the hare, which commenced running for a few yards before it was caught and killed. Quite often, the hounds themselves are injured, and in that connection I wish to quote reports by R.S.P.C.A. inspectors of two incidents which took place this year and a third which occurred in 1964. R.S.P.C.A. Senior Inspector No. 227 of Bedfordshire, whom I have already quoted, stated: Three hounds were unable to race in the finals owing to injuries received … Inspector No. 81, also of Bedfordshire, stated in March of this year: … two hounds had coursed a hare for a full three minutes and the hounds were almost at dropping point … Senior inspector No. 55 said in February, 1964: There were two casualties during the day. Dog No. 3 collided on a turn and broke his right hind leg in the region of the hock joint. It tried to carry on chasing with the leg dangling until eventually caught Dog No. 52 also collided on the turn and broke his right foreleg under the knee joint. In February, 1949, Mr. Carson, the then hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said: I have been to coursing meetings before the war. I have seen the hare, as it became exhausted, and as the dogs or hounds began to overtake it, screaming in terror. Someone told me the other day that that is a reflex action. I do not believe it. The hare is alive, it is frightened and it is perfectly aware of what is going on. I heard that scream in six courses in one day, and I shall remember it as long as I live. I do not want to hear it again, and I do not intend to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 2183.] The defenders of this so-called sport argue, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that it is not a cruel sport. Lord Sefton, according to an article in the Liverpool Daily Post of 20th February, 1945—at that time a great argument was raging about whether or not it was a cruel sport—stated: I maintain strongly and with complete conviction that, of the so-called blood sports, coursing is the least cruel. I have no doubt that those who oppose the Bill will quote from the Report of the Committee on Cruelty to Live Animals which was presented to Parliament in June, 1951. On page 110 the Report stated: The degree of cruelty involved in coursing is not sufficient to justify its prohibition. For the reasons set out in paragraphs 280 and 281. however, we make no specific recommendations as to the continuation of this sport. It is interesting to note that the paragraph 281 there referred to stated: Even if coursing is not prohibited, we should point out that, if our general recommendations about cruelty to wild animals are accepted, anyone who takes part in coursing and either causes unnecessary suffering or fails to take reasonable precautions to prevent … unnecessary suffering may be liable to a conviction for causing cruelty to a wild animal. The whole issue there turns on the phrase "unnecessary suffering".

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

In fairness, would the hon. Gentleman quote the beginning of paragraph 280, to which he referred?

Mr. Heffer

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to quote that paragraph to the House. He must allow me to make my own speech.

I believe, as do those who support the Bill, that the whole idea of competitive coursing causes unnecessary suffering, not only to the hares but often to the hounds. It also creates among those who participate and watch an attitude of mind which leads to unnecessary cruelty. After all, what do we mean by "cruel" and "unnecessary"? I cannot think of anything worse than two dogs chasing a hare for pleasure. This in itself is unnecessary cruelty and cannot be justified, even by the standards of that Committee.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I apologise for arriving late and the hon. Gentleman may have referred to this matter earlier—but may I ask whether his Bill would prohibit beagling? He says that he can think of nothing worse than two dogs chasing a hare. Would not he agree that a pack of hounds chasing a hare is equally cruel, and, if not, why not?

Mr. Heffer

If the hon. Gentleman had read my Bill he would know that it does not deal with beagling but with competitive live hare coursing. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to introduce a Bill to abolish beagling I will willingly sponsor it with him and assure him of my fullest support.

In my view, the Scott Henderson Report was wrong in its conclusions about live hare coursing, especially if one reads what the Committee stated about the so- called sport. For example, in paragraph 14 of the Appendix to the Report an account was given of the Waterloo Coursing Meeting, the final day of which the representatives of that Committee attended in 1950. They stated in their Report: Sometimes, of course, the hare does not get away and is killed by the dogs. Usually the leading dog catches it and pulls it down, but the other dog is, as a rule, so close behind that it is also on the hare within a second or two. The speed is so great that it is impossible to see what actually happens, but generally the hare is on the ground with both dogs biting at it. The Report went on to give the figures of the number of hares killed during three days of one meeting. On the first day there were 48 courses and 20 hares, or 41 per cent., were killed. On the second day, 36 hares were killed in 44 courses, which means that 82 per cent. of the hares were killed. On the third day seven hares were killed in 17 courses, or 41 per cent. of hares. The report also stated in paragraph 17 of the Appendix: Some of the dogs also suffer as a result of the weather. We saw one dog slip while turning a hare and break a leg, and the same thing happened at least once the previous day. I believe most strongly that the evidence of the Scott Henderson Committee contradicts its conclusions. I do not know why that should be so, but it must be said that any arguments based on those conclusions are misguided and irrelevant to this issue.

I have spoken at considerable length today and I could speak at even greater length, so strongly do I feel about this issue. I am sure that I have said enough to have made out an adequate case for the abolition of live hare coursing. Many arguments in favour of coursing will be adduced today. Some will say that coursing controls the level of hares and, therefore, fulfils a useful function. Again, I have evidence from the R.S.P.C.A. which shows that in one part of the country beaters were beating up for a shoot while almost next door beaters were beating up for a course. It is very strange that that should be going on at the same time.

Control is not the real purpose. If these people were concerned only with controlling the hares they would do as the farmers do—shoot them when necessary and when the occasion arose. The real purpose is the competitiveness, the pleasure, that certain people get—the "fun", as a young lady described it on television, that they get out of the kill. That is the real purpose of this so-called competitive sport.

The second argument will no doubt be that the people in the countryside are against the Bill, and that therefore it is not popular. I have had hundreds of letters from people in the countryside—and the one I quoted was an example—demanding the abolition of this so-called sport.

The other great argument will be, of course, that the Bill strikes at the liberty of the individual. This is the most disgraceful argument of them all, but it has always been used. It was used against the abolition of child labour in the mines. Against every progressive Measure that has ever been introduced into this House of Commons for the abolition of some form of cruelty, the argument of the liberty of the individual has been raised. It was raised in connection with cock fighting, bull baiting, and all the other so-called sports with which this House has had to deal.

This so-called sport is a cruel and bestial thing, and a relic of the past. The fact that it is an old sport is in no way evidence that it should continue. I hope that no one will argue about its ancestry from the days of the Pharaohs. Further, the people are in a majority against this coursing, and would welcome its abolition as a humanitarian as well as a civilised step.

I conclude by quoting from a letter to The Times from Lord Soper on Friday, 14th April which, in my opinion, sums up the whole case against live hare coursing. Lord Soper wrote: Here is a matter upon which there surely ought to be no difficulty for the Christian conscience, indeed for any sort of educated conscience. The coursing of hares is morally detestable. There is nothing of genuine import to be said in its favour, and everything to be said for its abolition.

Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)

Before the hon. Member sits down, will he tell us why it is more cruel to course a hare with two dogs than with one?

Mr. Heffer

I have sat down. I am sorry.

10.54 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I think that the action we saw before the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) introduced his Bill, when the Trade Unions Dues Bill was not opposed, disposes of the argument that has already been used that this Bill was not voted against or spoken against when the hon. Member asked leave to introduce it. We think of this Bill in exactly the same way as we have done of the previous two similar Bills. It was only in 1957 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) spoke against a similar Bill, but we did not vote against it.

It is important to have on the record the fact that when hon. Members know that there is no chance whatever of a Bill becoming law one does not get a truly representative vote. This was the position until 3.30 p.m. on Thursday, 20th April. Until then, the hon. Member's Bill was right down the list of Private Members' Bills, and I think that this point is important when we are assessing the effect of the letter-writing campaign which the hon. Gentleman has already mentioned.

I must appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, as the protector of minority interests in the House, to remember that members of the sporting community are used to this game. We have been under fire many times before. We know the rules of the game as they used to be. We know that one real danger would be if the Government were ever misguided enough to introduce their own Bill. The other real danger is if an hon. Member draws place No. 1 or No. 6 in the Ballot, when we are faced with Second Reading before Christmas, or early in January. We have never before had a situation in which we have been given only 10 days' warning of the Second Reading of a Bill. I do not want to labour the point, but it is important that we should have it on record.

It is also important to record that as long ago as last July I went to see the right hon. Lady, the Minister of State, Home Office to inform her that not only the National Coursing Club, but the governing bodies of all the sporting organisations which the British Field Sports Society represents, were ready to co-operate with the Government if they wished to work on the lines of the Scott Henderson Report, and legislate on the sections of that Report that have not been implemented.

The last thing that one should have on record is that the chairman of the National Coursing Club wrote to the Home Office on 27th March—after the Bill was published—and asked to see the Home Secretary. It is rather remiss that she and her colleagues were not asked to go to the Home Office until Friday afternoon, after it had been decided that the Government would give time for the Bill.

We must accept from the start of this debate that the Government have fallen for a campaign of misrepresentation. This was one of the points made in 1949 and commented on in the Scott Henderson Report, and it is exactly the present position. The hon. Member may make great play of the number of hon. Members who signed the Motion on the Order Paper in support of the Bill, but the Scott Henderson Report found in 1947 that it was easy to understand how Members of Parliament, magistrates and clergymen, if supplied with the kind of literature which was then circulating, were only too ready to sign petitions and other things.

I want to deal with this misrepresentation, because we are suffering very badly from it in the countryside. The first and worst kind of misrepresentation is to be found, not only in the literature put out by the opponents of the sport but in the frightful pictorial matter published. I, too, have the photographs to which the hon. Member has referred. I would point out that to any one who knows anything about the handling of hares it is quite apparent that the hares in the photographs are all dead. The point is always made of a tug-o'-war between two dogs, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that hares killed at coursing meetings are sold to poulterers. If the hares had been damaged by the dogs they would be unlikely to be accepted by those who wanted to sell them.

It is very important that we should dispose early in this debate of the argument that I have seen in some newspapers that the dogs should course in muzzles, and not kill the hare. Any one who has seen a greyhound kill a hare will understand that if the hare is not dead the greyhound will not get it off the ground, but will pummel it into the ground. That is why I say that photo- graphs which show hares off the ground are photographs of dead hares. Greyhounds would worry a handkerchief if they were encouraged, and that is all they are doing in the photographs.

Another misrepresentation is that so much is made of the screams of the hare. I saw a young golden eagle try to catch a hare on top of a hill, and the only thing that saved the hare was its screams, which prevented the eagle from coming in for the final strike. It is on these occasions that the House would realise that the course of nature is very cruel indeed and that the screaming is one of the normal defensive mechanisms of a hare when it is in trouble.

I find it extraordinary that none of the hon. Members who support this Bill has come as a guest of the National Coursing Club to a meeting. The hon. Member for Walton, when he asked leave to introduce the Bill, argued that one does not have to see murder or wife beating to know that it is wrong. There is no argument between us about murder or wife beating, but there is a very serious argument between us about the merits of coursing hares with greyhounds. In the countryside many respected people from all walks of life enjoy this sport, as was indicated by the Government inquiry set up by the last Socialist Government to look into cruelty to British wild animals.

Above all, the members of the National Coursing Club resent the refusal of hon. Members opposite to come to see the sport for themselves. We want to make quite clear that we resent the allegations of the hon. Member about the character and mental attitude of the people who enjoy this sport. I ask him to look at the character and mental attitude of the people who enjoy indoor and sitting-down sport in night clubs, public houses, coffee bars and dance halls. There is enough scope for private Members' legislation there to keep him going for a whole Session of Parliament. This Bill is not about cruelty at all as I understand it. To chase a hare with one long dog is apparently not cruelty according to the hon. Member, but to chase a hare with two long dogs is said to be cruelty.

Mr. Heffer

I have not said that it is not cruel to chase a hare with one dog. If the hon. Member wishes to introduce a Bill to stop that or wishes to put down an Amendment to this Bill abolishing that as well we shall be pleased to accept it.

Mr. Kimball

I accept that the hon. Member for Walton may not have said it but his supporters take the view that they are supporting a Bill to abolish cruelty and this is not so. Hon. Friends of mine who are better qualified to do so will deal with the legal side of the argument and with the incompetence of the Bill. Has the hon. Member thought of what will happen to the 70 trainers of greyhounds to the staff and the rearers of dogs and all concerned with the industry?

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

Is my hon. Friend aware that at a recent sale of greyhounds many dogs were withdrawn because many breeders are suffering considerably as a result of this Bill?

Mr. Kimball

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Walton realises that at sapling sales breeders nearly all have to withdraw litters as a result of his activities.

When he was introducing the Second Reading of the Bill I thought that the hon. Member for the wrong reasons, was coming to the right conclusion about how we could handle the matter. He spoke of the 1911 Protection of Animals Act. The Scott Henderson Report made it perfectly clear that that Committee would like to see the Act amended to make it an offence to inflict on a wild animal greater cruelty than is normally suffered in nature. It went on to say that there should be a safeguard that coursing and other field sports were conducted under rules which would provide that there would be no greater cruelty than that which occurs in nature.

It said that the rules should be deposited with the Home Secretary, or with an advisory committee set up by the Home Secretary on the particular sport concerned. Does the right hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office, still support the Scott Henderson Report? Are the Government prepared to give time for a Bill, prepared by the Government, on the lines of the Scott Henderson Report?

Perhaps hon. Members will look at the table used by the hon. Member for Walton in support of his Bill and some of the criticisms made of the Waterloo Cup meeting. The real criticism is that on the rare occasions when greyhounds do not kill the hare outright the trainers are slow to kill the hare. Naturally they want to collect their dogs first. Rules could be deposited with the Home Secretary making it an offence, for which one could be prosecuted, not to kill a hare before finally collecting one's dogs. The hon. Member will find that this solution suggested by the Scott Henderson Committee would cover the problem.

All of us in the countryside who are connected with field sport regard this Bill as the thin end of the wedge. We regard it as extremely dangerous that the Government should stir up this controversy again and should depart from the tradition as set up by the Scott Henderson inquiry. I ask hon. Members, before they vote on this issue, to find out something about it. Hon. Members will have noted that The Guardian published a leading article which was misinformed and inaccurate in what it said about the sport, but The Guardian then had the courtesy to send a reporter to the Waterloo Cup meeting and to publish an article which ends with the statement: …one's reaction to the sport seen as a television film is one thing; one's feelings about it standing in the crisp air of a spring day with the real sounds and smells of the sport and the countryside around one is quite another. I ask the hon. Member to see it thus.

11.7 a.m.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

I offer congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on bringing before the House a Bill which has widespread support in the country. He has outlined the case well and I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes.

I should like to add a small tribute to the organisations, newspapers and individuals who have long campaigned for the abolition of coursing, an activity—I have no intention of describing it as a sport—which cannot be justified on moral, economic or practical grounds. There are those on this side of the House who thank the Government for providing time for the Bill.

Obviously, some hon. Members opposite are bitterly upset. I can understand their feelings. It is not difficult to understand why they take this attitude. There can be only one reason. I hope that I shall not be uncharitable thus early in my remarks, but they hoped to kill the Bill in the usual way. It does not take a great deal of courage to set greyhounds on to a defenceless hare. It does not take much courage, either, to sit at the back in this House and to shout "Object" on the Motion for Second Reading of a Bill. We shall have the pleasure and privilege of seeing a little later whether those hon. Members have the courage of their convictions in the Division Lobby.

Some hon. Members may not be absolutely clear on what coursing is about. Those from constituencies where coursing is practised want to relieve the ignorance. I accept the description in a leaflet issued by the League Against Cruel Sports, an organisation described as Left-wing. This is what it says about coursing: Two greyhounds straining at the leash are released by a person called 'the slipper' giving the hare about 30 yards start. The already tired and terrified hare has then to run for its life. It has no other defence. The hare twists and turns at a speed of about 35 m.p.h. in order to escape the faster and fresh greyhounds. The hare is invariably doomed. It will first be caught by one greyhound, then the other will grab it and the hare becomes a living rope in a macabre tug of war. This may last a couple of minutes or so depending on how long it takes the handlers to reach their dogs. The hare at this point is more often than not still alive and screaming piteously. Writhing in agony, it is taken from the jaws of the dogs and killed, usually by having its neck stretched. That I believe to be a fair description of what is going on.

There have been suggestions outside the House—we may get them in the House—that the 92 Members who signed my Motion calling for Government action come from the highly industrialised safe Labour seats where no coursing takes place. I do not propose to go through their credentials, but I can answer for my self. I come from a rural constituency and I have a majority of about one-fifth the size of most hon. Members' postal votes. Therefore, perhaps, I have a great deal to lose, but I do not intend to be deterred by the thought that there may be votes to be lost in the countryside.

There was a time, many years ago, when I was filled with hatred for the people who took part in blood sports, particularly hare coursing. But my attitude changed, as it has changed in many respects as I get older. I feel no hatred at all. My feeling is one of pity. I do not blame those who take part. I believe that society failed to educate them in their responsibilities towards the defenceless, and that Parliament, by refusing to legislate, encouraged them. In many ways, this is a sad debate. It is sad that it should be necessary. It is sad that we should be taking up valuable time, but a tiny minority of people, intent on satisfying their lust, have made it essential if we are to retain our reputation as a nation of animal lovers.

I should like to deal briefly with two of the arguments which will be put forward. It is often claimed that one in ten of the hares is killed. That argument has been totally discredited time and again. The figure is nearer one in four. It is difficult to imagine more revolting methods of killing any animal. It could be argued that the chances of an hon. Member being murdered during the next 12 months are one in 300,000. Is that any justification? This is a very poor argument indeed.

Secondly, it is said that coursing keeps down the hare population. I believe this to be a ludicrous argument. There have been allegations, not always answered, perhaps not always substantiated either, that foxes are being cultivated, and there have been occasions on which they have been imported. All I can say is that it strikes me as curious that there is always an abundance of hares when coursing meetings are held.

Opponents of the Bill have made great play of the fact that none of the 92 Members who signed my Motion, and who support the Bill, accepted the invitation to go to a coursing meeting. I did not accept it, and I am not surprised that my hon. Friends did not accept it. The very thought of coursing is sufficient to turn my stomach over and over, and I suspect that many of my hon. Friends take the same view.

If the coursing fraternity is so keen to open its doors, why does it ban all forms of photography? Why was there the rumpus to which my hon. Friend the Member for Walton referred? I have never been to a bull fight. I have never seen cock fighting. I am content to rely on the fighting which I see in the House. I have never seen dog baiting. However, I know that Parliament was right many years ago to ban all three. Do hon. Members want any of them to be reintroduced? If the answer is "No"—and I do them the credit of assuming that that is the position—will they tell us in what way bull fighting or cock fighting is more evil than trained greyhounds tearing a hare to pieces? I am prepared to give way to anybody who can answer that simple and straightforward question.

The law should be consistent. I do not believe that there are degrees of cruelty. The hare is entitled to the same protection as, say, the domestic rabbit. They have the same feelings, and they should be given the same rights.

I welcome the Bill because I am opposed to the brutal massacre of innocent animals in the name of sport. But my objection goes deeper than that. The country is faced with an unprecedented crime wave, much of it based on violence to women, elderly people and animals. I am not suggesting for a moment that any of the people who take part in coursing would condone any of those acts. Indeed, I am sure that they would condemn them just as all hon. Members condemn them. But I suggest that, without even knowing it, they are setting an example which others, perhaps of less intelligence, are following.

I believe that violence breeds violence, and that coursing supporters do the country a great disservice. Out of a love and respect for animals will develop a lcve and respect for people, and with it, one would hope, a substantial reduction in crimes of violence. Parliament must show the way. We must make it clear that we shall not tolerate cruelty in any form, whether it be hooligans kicking a cat to death or valuable greyhounds ripping a hare to pieces. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton, with whom I am frequently in disagreement, has earned the gratitude of millions of our people. I wish him and his Bill well.

11.16 a.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I should like to make one or two observations about this small Bill.

I thought that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) presented his case, if not with absolute moderation, then certainly with absolute fairness. Although I am opposed to the Bill and, in answer to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), will have the courage to go into the Lobby against it, I have no reproaches to the hon. Member for Walton for introducing it. Any Member is free to introduce any Measure he likes on the subject nearest to his heart. The hon. Member for Walton, who feels strongly on this subject, has bided his moment and seized his opportunity. I see nothing discreditable about that—quite the reverse.

However, why the Government have involved themselves to the extent of finding time for the Bill is to me a little mysterious. Again, I offer no approaches; I am mystified. It is not immediately clear to me what great matter of principle requires the Home Office to bring up its heavy artillery on a Monday morning. I am sure that the right hon. Lady the Minister of State will not misunderstand that; it is no disrespect to her. Presumably, it is felt that some great matter of principle is involved—perhaps a greater matter of principle than the export of live animals. We shall listen with great interest to what the right hon. Lady has to say.

Perhaps it was felt by the Leader of the House that there is a need for a bit of sport on Monday mornings. Perhaps he felt that this little Bill, suitably boxed, and released under the noses of right hon. and hon. Members, would improve Monday morning meets. I see his point. I do not share the view of my hon. Friends who think it wrong that this controversial Measure should be introduced on a Monday morning. The problem of the Leader of the House is not to keep controversy out of Monday morning sittings, but to inject anything of the smallest interest into them. May I mention, in passing, that at an appropriate moment I shall seek leave to introduce a Bill to prevent the coursing of the Leader of the House by two or more Members of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who has great knowledge of these matters, has touched on the Bill's principal weakness. It cannot be gainsaid, no matter how ingeniously the hon. Gentleman puts his case against the Scott Henderson Report. I have been refreshing my memory of that Report, and I thought that perhaps the most interesting lines in it, which have not been quoted, were these: The reports of the members of the Committee who went to Altcar caused us to revise our initial views very considerably, and the oral evidence which we later heard from the representatives of the Prohibition of Coursing Committee and other animal welfare organisations did not accord with what the members of the Committee saw. A gap arises between those who see these things and those who hear what others have seen. The hon. Member for Rugby, referring to an article, said that he believed that it was a true description of what was going on. I have no doubt that he spoke with absolute sincerity. But he could have improved his knowledge had he proved less unwilling to go and see for himself. Seeing is not always believing, but it is sometimes a help, and it helps to avoid saying some of the foolish things which have been said in support of the Bill which could not have been said by anyone who had witnessed the sport.

A month or two back I spent a morning—I am not unfamiliar with the sport—with a coursing club, not in my own constituency, but very near it, on Romney Marsh, in Kent. I shall not weary the House with an account of the rather arduous morning I spent in an extremely cold wind, wearing rubber boots and pounding over plough and marsh.

However, I want to venture to record one or two matters arising from the experience which established themselves in my mind. I saw, I suppose, a dozen hares coursed and three or four killed. I absolutely accept that figures vary, and I do not make over much of them. At least, it is fair to say—the hon. Member for Walton himself made this point—that all concerned are principally interested in the skill of the greyhounds and not in the slaughter of the hare.

I must say with absolute honesty that I cannot pretend that I was shocked by anything I saw. I am not insensitive to animal welfare. Indeed, in my own household human beings are in some danger of being displaced by a wide variety of animal life. Nevertheless, even coming from that background, I did not see anything which I felt was a disgrace to national life or a disgrace to those who participate.

Perhaps this club, which is about 100 years old, is rather exceptional. I was impressed by the discipline which the field master and the slippers imposed, which seemed to me firm. I accept at once that, if the hon. Member for Walton had been with me, he might well have disagreed with all this. No two people see alike.

I must go on to tell the House of one or two deeper impressions which were left on my mind. As I moved on that cold morning rather breathlessly over those lonely marshes, with perhaps a score of others, I found myself wondering how this ancient and rather esoteric pastime had come to outrage those who now write to tell me that it is a blot on our national life and must be wiped out.

On the degree of suffering, there is well room for dispute. In my time I have followed beagles and have been with harriers. It struck me that the degree of suffering for the hare was probably somewhat less than could occur with beagles. I would defend beagling as well. I speak in terms of comparison. I did not think that wild life suffered the indignity or barbarity which is sometimes alleged. But that is arguable.

At least, there can be no argument about this: no one can call it an intrusive pastime. It keeps itself to itself. The many thousands who have written, I have no doubt most sincerely, to the hon. Member in protest do not have this inflicted upon them. They are not compelled day after day to suffer the indulgences of other cruel and rather selfish people.

The second reflection which struck me very forcibly was the margin between what I saw and what some current propaganda tells me what I ought to see. There is a discrepancy between those who actually go coursing and those who write and sometimes read the propaganda. I must say one word about this. For the R.S.P.C.A., which the hon. Member for Walton mentioned, I personally have nothing but the highest respect and regard, whatever its views are on the Bill. It does an enormous amount for animal welfare and it deserves our support through thick and thin, even if it supports a Bill like this.

I cannot see that the same can be said of every other organisation which has been engaged in this small campaign. It is not very difficult, with judiciously selected pictures, appropriately captioned, to arouse a deep sense of human outrage, particularly on the most emotive subject of animal welfare. All is fair in love, war and propaganda. I will not describe some of the propaganda as mischievous, but it has certainly been misleading.

It can become mischievous when it is taken up thoughtlessly by mass media. Coursing is not only good campaign material. Coursing is also what the producers call "good television". We all know what that means. It is not bad for newspaper circulation, either—"This filthy practice must stop. See page 7".

Mr. William Price

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman so soon after I have spoken. So that an accurate picture could be obtained, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Waterloo Cup organisers would allow television cameras in?

Mr. Deedes

No doubt other hon. Members can answer the point more specifically. I am anxious not to speak beyond the range of my own knowledge.

I understood that the organisers were open handed indeed in the matter of those they invited. However, there is a limit, bearing in mind the intrusiveness of television, to what one can permit. The House of Commons has taken a view about this. At any rate, it is not particularly difficult nowadays to persuade thousands of people who do not know the country very well that this is some form of barbaric custom steeped in cruelty. It is extremely difficult to prove the converse.

The fact is that in this very heavily urbanised country of ours urban and rural dwellers have points of view which are very, very difficult to reconcile. The countryman is outnumbered today by about 20 to one. The National Opinion Poll figures mentioned by the hon. Member for Walton—75 to 10—are more than accounted for by the fact that the country-man is in a very small minority.

Those who are speaking against the Bill are not doing so out of a sense of political hostility, but because this tiny minority of countrymen who feel passionately in defence of these sports need a voice or two raised on their behalf.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the N.O.P. and the fact that countrymen are way outnumbered, anyway. Has he any information about the practice of the pollsters in not going near rural areas? I am under the impression that they trot around large towns exclusively.

Mr. Deedes

I have no such information. I find all the statistical basis for this very confusing. I mention this aspect only because the hon. Member for Walton mentioned figures. It has some relationship to the minorities in the country-side.

The countryman has his point of view. When campaigns of this sort, sometimes nourished by prejudice and fed on a little ignorance, arise, he has, or he feels that he has, his grievance. I think that the countryman may be forgiven for wondering whether his indulgence in blood sports, of which this is only one, is really more demoralising than the current public taste for violence, for horror, for sado-masochism, in which entertainers indulge so generously.

The countryman sees television plays of unending violence, beatings up, killings, not of hares, but of human beings, offered for the delectation of old and young, not on remote marshes, but on television screens wide open to millions of people. He is entitled to wonder a little why he should be sought out by the hon. Member for disgrace.

Again, taking a hare's blood is passionately regarded by some as a sin, but the splashing of blood round the ring in a heavyweight boxing championship is thought to be legitimate public amusement. If we had a Bill to prohibit professional boxing, the hon. Member for Walton might very well be in the same Lobby as me, opposing the Bill. I do not believe that we should go into the Lobby with the noble Lady who feels strongly that boxing should be abolished. It is, in a sense, a matter of comparison.

More directly, the countryman sees a great deal of unwitting cruelty inflicted on his own animals——

Mr. Heffer

I was born and lived in a country town until I entered the Royal Air Force, at the age of 19. So I know all about the country; I was brought up in it. I do not want it to be thought that I am introducing the Bill as a "town boy" who has had no experience of country matters.

Mr. Deedes

I think that the hon. Gentleman was not in his place earlier when I said some kind words about the way in which he introduced the Bill. I am not knocking him in the least. However, there are others who have less advantage than he when it comes to discussing these proposals. I am addressing them, not the hon. Gentleman. I look to him because he is the promoter of the Bill.

I was saying that the countryman sees a great deal of unwitting cruelty inflicted on his own animals when urban visitors come and spread their bottles, tins and the rest of it, and much worse, in the woods in his area. If he is anywhere near a town, he will find the woods rendered unsafe for man or beast by the practice of young men descending in cars with shotguns and loosing off indiscriminately at all forms of wild life.

Again, I am not seeking merely to justify a sport by what I say but to give a perspective of the countryman considering the Bill. I wonder if hon. Members know how many animals are wounded and left to die in agony and to rot, because of the promiscuous use of shotguns. Every now and again, alas, human beings are also left like that.

On top of all this, the countryman is told that this ancient sport—I do not stress its antiquity, which is conducted under strict rules, is a disgrace which must be put down. He may be forgiven for feeling that there is a lot of humbug about this, and that is not the least reason why I oppose the Bill. We have become most censorious about other people's recreations. All of us are apt to criticise those who play bingo, those who watch football on Saturday afternoons and those who play polo.

Short of any offence against the law as it stands, the countryman is entitled to his recreations, even if they include bloodsports. They may seem to the sophisticate less enlightened than Saturday afternoon punch-ups at football grounds, or bingo, but they have their adherents who do not regard them as inhuman or wicked.

We shall not reconcile the differences between town and country. In my village we are apt to divide the villagers and the residents. There is a distinction. There are many residents in villages today who, unlike the hon. Member for Walton and myself, were not brought up in the countryside. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the letters he had received, and no doubt that accounts for some of the correspondence which bears rural postmarks. The policy to which I lend my hand is co-existence between town and country. If we can continue trying to get the Communist countries and our own to co-exist, as the hon. Gentleman is keen to do, surely we could achieve greater co-existence between the countryside and the town. What does co-existence mean? It means saying, "We object to some of the things you do and you object to some of the things we do. But without sacrificing important principles we shall none the less try to get on together."

In this small island, as the town begins to cut bigger swathes all the time into the countryside, that is the only sensible solution; it is certainly the only sensible solution for the Government. That is why it is so daft for the Government to appear to be giving the Bill a fair wind. They should be seeking to reduce the bitterness which undoubtedly exists. I have worked in a Ministry where we dealt with the bitterness of the countryside against the demands of cities and towns. The effects of a Bill like this——

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

Although I represent the centre of one of the biggest cities I live in the country, so at least I see both.

Mr. Deedes

The right hon. Lady and her city sometimes have demands to make on the countryside. I am in favour of reducing the bitterness felt between county councils and municipal councils.

Bills like this, which crusade against cruelty and make allegations against the countryman, increase the bitterness the countryman feels towards the town and tend to stiffen his back against all demands. That is very short-sighted and rather sad.

I say to hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, if they really feel that they are dealing with a unique, barbaric pastime, which is out of line with all the other country pursuits, they must support the Bill. But I hope that they will not support it simply because, if they do not, their constituents will think badly of them. I am clear where I stand. I stand for co-existence of town and country. The Bill is inimical and detrimental to that co-existence, and that is why I shall vote against it.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

On so many occasions when there is a chance to carry out a reform the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) either comes down on the fence or surrounds his arguments with matters which do not seem altogether relevant.

This is a question of opinion. I recognise that there are differences of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman saw three or four animals killed and says that that does not matter very much; it did not affect him. But to some of us it does matter. There is something to be said for killing pests, but not for doing so in sport. I can think of nothing more unsporting than to match two fresh dogs against a hare that is frightened and is chased to its death.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who is the principal opponent of the Bill, was rather disturbed that hon. Members on this side who had put their names to the Bill had not accepted his invitation to attend a coursing meeting. I am one of them. I have always opposed blood sports. I was asked some years ago to see a deer hunt. I was invited by the Devon and Somerset Staghounds.

I was sure that it would not change my view, but I thought that I would go. They offered to provide me with a horse, and one of my colleagues said, "If ever you ride on a horse, then I shall go on a camel". I am sorry that I could not accept the offer of a horse. The result of my visit was that, instead of being affected, as they might have thought, to be in favour of hunting, I became even more opposed to it.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

The hon. Member was accompanied by me on that occasion. The only difference was that I had a horse and he did not. Fog descended, and neither he nor I saw anything of the stag hunt that morning. Therefore, it is rather hard for him now to say that he left more firmly convinced that it should be opposed.

Mr. Yates

I am not so sure. I did not see the kill on that occasion, but even if the hon. Gentleman felt delight in seeing the deer being cut into pieces and distributed to people in the village, it did not appeal to me. I felt a horror about it all.

I had the opportunity, in Birmingham, of seeing a film of live hare coursing. The hon. Member for Gainsborough said that when one sees the tug of war the hare is killed. But I saw the film of the hare being chased until one dog and then a second had hold of it, and I believe that those pictures are correct. I cannot see any reason for my going to see that all over again; I should only feel more horror. If hon. Members believe that photographs of live hare coursing are not correct, why are the cameras not allowed in? Why is it that the programme of the Waterloo Cup hare coursing, of which I have a copy, says that all rights of photography are strictly reserved?

Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)

I am informed that, on the occasion of the last Waterloo Cup, both the B.B.C. and I.T.A. were present.

Mr. Yates

The programme clearly states that all rights of photography are reserved. I have been in communication with the Home Office on the matter. A number of policemen on the course have chased people with cameras.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Yates

I am sorry. I must not keep giving way. Other hon. Members wish to speak.

This programme costs 10s. That is what it costs to see this barbarity. I cannot see why hon. Members should feel, in this day and age, a delight in seeing dogs chase hares and pull them to pieces. This is one of the worst of the blood sports. I feel very strongly about it.

I believe that the hunting of wild animals for amusement is not reconcilable with a humane way of life. I do not believe that it is reconcilable with a Christian order of life, because one of the Christian attributes is mercy and there is no mercy in hare coursing. Perhaps the idea of a Christian order of society does not appeal to the hon. Member who is laughing, but to me and to many other people coursing is absolutely inhuman.

Mr. John Wells rose——

Mr. Yates

I shall not give way again.

I want to say why I have seen no necessity to go to one of these coursing meetings. I have seen a film and it was horrifying. Coursing may be thrilling to hon. Members opposite, but it is horrifying to me and apparently horrifying to the majority of the House who are prepared to support the Bill.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). If the Bill goes through, as I believe it will, it will be a further step forward in the march for humanity. I do not believe in any hunting. Coursing is probably the worst of the lot. The fact that animals get killed anyway does not affect the issue of the inhumanity of coursing. One hon. Member has said that hares can be sold for food. That may be so, but why do we want to kill animals just for amusement? This is a very important subject. The Bill should have been introduced long ago. I give it my fullest support.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

The hon. Gentleman has been making a general attack on field sports. Does this dislike of his also extend to fishing?

Mr. Yates

I do not consider fishing to be in the same category as this subject, which is the only issue before us this morning.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a case of seeing two dogs dragging an animal apart. It is degrading and is pursued just for fun. The hare is a live rope in a tug of war. The time is long overdue when coursing, which is the hunting of creatures to utter exhaustion and death, should be outlawed. It has been called "sportive butchering" and that is precisely what it is.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) raised the question whether hunting or coursing are reconcilable with civilisation or the Christian way of life. I will deal with that aspect later in my speech.

On reading the debates which took place in 1949, the last time that this issue was raised, I see that Sir Joceyln Lucas was taken to task for not declaring an interest because he kept large numbers of those terriers associated with his name. I, too, had better declare an interest. I do not keep greyhounds, but I do keep foxhounds. I got together a pack in 1962.

It is illustrative of the wide geographical support for field sports and of the growing support for them generally that, in the same year, two new packs were formed, one by myself in the North of England and one by the miners in South Wales. I have not myself been coursing but like others brought up in the country, I have seen hares caught by dogs and I appreciate what happens. I did try to go to a coursing meeting as soon as I knew that the Bill was likely to come up in the House, but the season had ended and it was not possible. No one originally expected that the Bill would ever come on.

I find it rather objectionable—and I gave the Leader of the House notice that I would say this—that the Government should have put a Bill of this character on at a morning sitting. The right hon. Gentleman gave a clear undertaking about his intentions for business at morning sittings. He said that we would not discuss anything controversial. He told us that on 14th December.

Last Thursday, however, he said that because the Bill was allowed an unopposed introduction under the Ten Minute Rule, and because the Motion in support, while signed only by Members on his side of the House, was not opposed by hon. Members on this side of the House, he could not find it in his heart to regard the Bill as controversial. To have used that argument is disingenuous. He will not retain the respect and confidence of the House if he treats it in this way.

I have never been coursing, but probably there is more excuse for me than for hon. Members who have promoted this Bill. I gather that they were all invited to a coursing meeting, but that no one is aware that any of them accepted. That is a pity. They should have done what the Scott Henderson Committee did and availed themselves of an opportunity to see the Wateroo Cup or, at any rate, some other coursing meeting. If they had they would probably have reached the conclusion, as that Committee did, that the amount of cruelty involved in coursing is considerably exaggerated by the propaganda of those who, like themselves, support this Bill.

Although I share in the tribute that has been paid to the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I think that the Bill is the child of a great deal of inevitable ignorance, because people do not take the trouble to find out the facts for themselves. I accept, also, that he and his hon. Friends want to stop a practice which they regard as cruel. I will take that as the starting point of my argument and will seek to meet him on that basis.

If the Bill goes through as it stands it will not prevent the coursing of hares. It will not stop people going out with a greyhound, or a whippet, or a lurcher, and running hares. They will still be able to do that. What the Bill will prevent—and I wonder whether the promoters realise this—is coursing being carried on, as it now is, under the auspices of the National Coursing Club. The effect will, therefore, be to remove an existing safeguard which ensures that coursing is properly conducted.

Mr. Heffer

The right hon. Gentleman has obviously misread the Bill. It is quite clear that it prevents all coursing whether done under National Coursing Club rules or carried out by a group of individuals. The point is that an organised course will be prevented by the Bill.

Mr. Ramsden

That is exactly my point. The practice, to which objection is taken on grounds of cruelty, of dogs running hares will not be prevented by the Bill. In fact, I believe that there will be more of it. What the Bill will prevent is the organisation of this sport and, therefore, the safeguards at present existing to ensure that the sport is decently and properly carried on——

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that for many years cock fighting has been illegal, yet mains do go on, and under conditions we know nothing about?

Mr. Heffer

Perhaps I may make the position clear. The man who goes out on a Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon with a dog which chases a hare is not covered by the Bill. That is perfectly understood. But it would be illegal for a number of people, whether or not they were members of a club, to organise a course. For them to say they were not organised and did not belong to a club, or something like that, would be quite irrelevant.

The Bill makes it illegal for them to organise a competitive course. The man whose dog is slipped and runs after a hare is not covered. That sort of thing happens in the countryside all the time, as we know, and it is not intended to be covered.

Mr. Ramsden

That is exactly my point. When this happens, as it will, and I think that there will be more of it, there will be more of what the hon. Gentleman regards as cruelty than there is now. I do not believe that the Bill will do what he wants it to do.

The safeguard at the moment lies in the rules of the National Coursing Club. Coursing meetings have to be held under those rules. People who break the rules are barred from coursing just as a jockey who punishes a horse too much is barred by the Jockey Club. Other similar organisations watch over the interests of other forms of British sport.

The sport of coursing, like other sports, has built into it its own code of proper conduct. To instance one or two points that are relevant, that means that weak hares are not coursed, for the good reason that to do so would be unsporting in terms of the hare and would not provide a proper test as between two dogs, which is the intention. Coursing is not done in conditions in which the hares cannot run. Meetings do not take place if there is snow on the ground, or the ground is very muddy. Hares are coursed on their own ground with which they are familiar and know the escape routes, and when they are not, as it were, at a disadvantage as compared with the dogs.

All these rules are to enforce proper conduct of the sport. If the hare is not killed cleanly by the dogs, and this can happen—and the hon. Gentleman made quite a point of it—it has to be dispatched at once by people who are on the ground for that very purpose. It is the duty of the first person on the scene to make sure that the hare is so dispatched. If this Bill becomes law, coursing will certainly go on, but without the present safeguards provided by the National Coursing Club.

Someone has said that there are about 4,000 greyhounds—I am told that there are more—at present registered. I do not believe that if the Bill becomes law the owners of these greyhounds will knock them on the head and get rid of them. They will want to continue to course them, and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent it. I believe that if this Bill had been law 10 years ago there would now be more coursing going on than there is, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman why I think so.

At the moment, coursing takes place under the auspices and in accordance with the programme of the National Coursing Club. To begin with, meetings were arranged and programmes were drawn up in accordance, roughly, with the availability of ground on which to course. There are not all that many places where one can course. One cannot use very enclosed country, because coursing is just not possible there.

But, because of a change in the practice of agriculture there is now very much more ground over which people can course—farmers have pulled out hedges, and there is much more arable farming. I therefore honestly think that if the Bill goes through there will be much more coursing. The country is available, people will take out the dogs, and a great deal more cruelty will be involved because of lack of control over the conduct of coursing. I must ask hon. Members: is mat what they intend?

The hon. Member prayed in aid the state of public opinion, and quoted a number of letters. If this Measure goes through, it will prevent a form of activity in which a number—admittedly, a minority, but quite a substantial minority—of our countrymen participate and which they enjoy. Hon. Members may have differing views on the merits of this recreation and people's enjoyment of it, but it goes on, and we should ask ourselves what sort of people engage in it and enjoy it.

It is certainly not the gilded rich. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have had a number of letters on the subject, and if we had had a little more warning of the Bill's provenance, I would certainly have had a good many more. I should like to quote from one or two of them. I have a postcard which reads: Please do not let them stop coursing on 1st May. I am an old-age pensioner. I go to Thirsk"— That is the seat of the Old Yorkshire Coursing Club— and get 30s. a day for beating. I meet all my old pals, see a lot of sport and have a right good day out. It's all I have to look forward to to pass the winter on. Please do not let them do it". Let me quote from another letter written to me. I am writing to ask your help, as there is a Bill coming up in Parliament on May 1st to end greyhound coursing. As I am a coursing enthusiast, and I know you yourself is a great sportsman, please vote against it. The Press have made a great song and dance against it, but most of it is all lies. There are an awful lot of things which are far more cruel than coursing, and far worse. For instance, the filth printed in the Sunday papers and poured out on television. The latter point may be what the Leader of the House describes as "an intemperate remark", but the fact is that it conveys truth and expresses a sense of values which, I think, have a great deal to commend them.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Would my right hon. Friend also agree that there are many people in the towns involved, as well as in the country? As was pointed out in the Scott Henderson Report, they like a day in the country.

Mr. Ramsden

Both of these letters were postmarked from my constituency of Harrogate, from people living in the town.

Two things have emerged from this. The first is that if the Bill is proceeded with, hon. Members opposite will be deliberately oppressing—1 do not think that that is too strong a word for it—a minority of their fellow countrymen, and limiting their freedom to enjoy themselves in their own way.

Secondly, and this was well put by my right hon. Friend for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), the Bill is encouraging a very regrettable spirit of town versus country-side. It is stirring up the people in the towns to believe that the country people spend all their time in the practice of barbarous sports. It is stirring up the country people to think that those in the towns are only concerned with interfering with the country people's recreations. This is happening and it is to be regretted.

This brings me to say a word about the attitude of the Government and the Home Office. The right hon. Lady knows that the Labour Government of 1945 to 1950 went fully into this subject and appointed the Scott Henderson Committee which reported on this. Hitherto, the present Government have been prepared to stand on the conclusions of mat report. I hope that they will stand on them now and that the right hon. Lady will assure us on this. Having given time to the Bill, we are anxious to know whether the Government have changed their position.

Miss Bacon

I hope to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in a few moments, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could be a little more specific when he says that he hopes the Government still stand by the Report. Could he point to any announcement by the Government that any Government had accepted the views of the Scott Henderson Report.

Mr. Ramsden

No, but this morning I looked up an Answer given by the right hon. Lady on fox hunting. In that Answer she used, almost verbatim, an extract from the Scott Henderson Report, expressing its conclusions. I take it that the Government stand by it? Perhaps she can explain the position. We want to hear of the position of the Government and the Home Office.

When I was Minister at the War Office I used to thank my stars for the Home Office because it seemed that there was at least one Government Department which was more accident prone and more liable to get into trouble than the War Office. The Home Office has, whether it likes it or not, an endless succession of troubles on its plate. The crime wave has been referred to; there is drugs, drink, aliens, strip-tease, gambling, a whole lot of things, all of which are liable to blow up at any moment into a first-class row. In addition, the Home Office is the great Department of State which has the prime responsibility of seeing that people accept happily our system of government and live peaceably under it.

When there is a minority of people who are prepared to live peaceably and enjoy their own recreations, giving no one any trouble and not getting involved in crime, and if the Home Office sets about stirring those people up, sponsoring an interference with their liberties and recreation, then as my right hon. Friend for Ashford said, I think that the position is daft. I hope that this is the view that the Home Office will take.

I promised that I would face the question of cruelty raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates). This is fundamental to the whole of the argument. If one can state the problem, one can do so as follows: how far is a man, who is a being in a higher order of creation, justified in doing things to members of a lower order of creation, involving them, perhaps, in suffering in the course of obtaining his own recreation?

This is the question which has exersised people, and it is one that we ought to face. If I felt that one could answer it by saying that a man is not so justified, then there would be grounds for supporting the Bill and for prohibiting, not only this field sport, but others, including shooting and fishing and for prohibiting other practices, going far wider than field sports, such as the killing of animals for food, and some of the practices of modern husbandry.

The fact is that one cannot give such a plain and simple answer to this question. During the long time that this problem has been debated, a clear, straightforward answer which would command universal acceptance has never been given. This has always been a matter for conscience and debate. One of the difficulties about reaching a clear-cut answer arises from the amount of cruelty which is to be found in nature. These hares at Altcar and the other coursing grounds, if the Bill goes through, will not have their lot made much more agreeable than it is now. If they increase in number they will be controlled by shooting or some other way. If that does not happen, next year or the year after, there will be a hard winter with snow on the ground, they will not get their proper food, they will weaken and fall a prey to a fox, a stoat, or a cat.

There is the Blue Mountain hare in Scotland which seems to be expressly created to be the food of the Golden Eagle. A more horrible death than being carried off alive in the talons of a Golden Eagle it would be difficult to imagine. Yet this is a bird which Parliament protects. The ordinary course of nature produces some baffling instances when one tries to face these problems. Even if the Bill were better drafted from the promoters' point of view, it would not improve the lot of the hare.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

Has my right hon. Friend ever listened to the sound of, or watched, a stoat attacking a rabbit?

Mr. Ramsden

I have, and what my hon. Friend says reinforces my argument. But from the point of view of those who favour the Bill, this is not the point. However cruel nature is—and she is cruel—is man justified in adding to it by participating, to some extent, in it? This is the question which must be faced.

The hon. Member for Walton concluded his speech with a quotation from the words of one eminent divine. But the fact is that philosophers and divines have answered this question in opposite senses through the ages, no matter what Church they belonged to or the philosophy to which they subscribed. St. Hubert said one thing, St. Francis said another. Hon. Members have to make up their minds before which saint they light their candle. There is no consensus.

This is not a question which the House of Commons—I say this with great respect—can decide satisfactorily. Parliament is not at its best when handling such questions. Essentially, it is a question for each person's individual conscience. It is a choice which anyone who decides to take part in field sports and to enjoy them has to make for himself. I do not think that the hon. Member for Walton or i, or any of us, has the right to make it for them. If we attempt to make it for them, we are trespassing on the ground which belongs to individual liberty and individual freedom of choice. I do not think that we should so trespass.

I hope that the Bill will not pass. It will not achieve its object or the wishes of its promoters. It will oppress the liberties of a minority of our fellow countrymen. It will put in peril a much larger minority. When one of my hon. Friends said that the Bill was the thin end of the wedge for those who participate in other field sports, he was applauded by hon. Members opposite. Many people are anxious in case the Bill should go through. It raises a question which, in all humility, I do not believe Parliament is competent to decide. It is a matter for the individual conscience of those who see fit to participate in these sports. I hope that the House will reject the Bill.

12.14 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

It might be helpful to the House if I were to say a few words about the Government's attitude to the Bill and about my own views.

As hon. Members will recall, the Leader of the House announced on 20th April that the Government proposed to allocate time to the Bill today to facilitate proceedings. This has been criticised this morning. At any rate, it seems to have achieved one thing. I seem to have had more than my fair share of business on Monday mornings, and I have sat in the House and gazed at empty benches. At least the Bill has brought hon. Members to the House on a Monday morning.

I never thought that I would hear hon. Members criticising the Government for giving more time to Private Members' Bills. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] It is no use saying "Come off it". The Government decided recently to give time to two Private Members' Bills. One was a Bill of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), who had taken over the Lord Chief Justice's Bill, which was introduced in the House of Lords. It was only because it managed to be reported and get a Third Reading on a Friday afternoon that it, too, was not given Government time on a Monday morning.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Since the right hon. Lady is advancing this argument, can she tell us why the Bill produced by her hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) did not get priority over the Bill we are discussing? The hon. Lady's Bill dealt with the question of children's nurseries, which, in the view of many hon. Members, is of high priority.

Miss Bacon

I am very interested in that Bill, but as far as I recall—I speak without the dates before me—the announcement to give this Bill time on a Monday morning was made before my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough had permission to bring in her Bill.

The Government's decision does not mean that at this stage the Government are giving, or are committed to giving, full and formal support to the Bill. For reasons which I shall mention later, the Government's attitude at this stage is one of neutrality. There will be a free vote on this side of the House, with no Government Whips on, as is usual with Private Members' Bills. However, there seemed to the Government to be good reasons why discussion of the Bill should not be indefinitely delayed.

May I deal with what I thought was the rather unfair speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). Perhaps he did not mean it to be unfair. I was very surprised that he criticised me for not meeting earlier the deputation from the National Coursing Club. He will know that I have met two deputations within months from this club, and I went out of my way at very great personal inconvenience to meet it before this morning. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not realise, although I am sure that nearly every other hon. Member realises, that the Home Office Ministers have been very heavily engaged in the last few weeks in Government business in the House and in Committee. The club could have met an official of the Home Office earlier, but I went out of my way—perhaps a week or two after it requested to see me—to see it before the Second Reading this morning.

As I say, there has been clear evidence of wide and continuous public interest in this Measure, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who presented his case very fairly this morning, received a good deal of support when he asked leave to bring in the Bill.

The Bill is short. It is simple in construction. It is confined in scope to a particular activity, and it seems to the Government to be soundly drafted for the purpose in view. Above all, the issue for decision is relatively straightforward, as I will try to explain.

Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)

The right hon. Lady announced to the House on 23rd June that a review of field sports was taking place. The House would be interested to know whether the views which she is about to express are as a result of that review.

Miss Bacon

If the hon. Gentleman allows me to make my speech, I will deal with that. I should prefer to make my speech in my own way.

The Scott Henderson Committee has been referred to today. It has been mentioned that it examined the case for a number of field sports in its Report on Cruelty to Wild Animals in 1951. On several occasions I have read with great care the Committee's remarks about hares and hare coursing. The Committee dealt, first, with the need for control of hares, and in paragraph 250 of its Report it stated: Hares are regarded as a pest to agriculture only if they become too numerous. When this occurs they cause considerable damage to root crops (especially sugar-beet), brassica and, to a limited extent corn, so that control of them becomes necessary in the interests of agriculture. Hares are always regarded as a pest to forestry because they nip off the tips of newly planted trees, both hardwood and softwood. Consequently control is of greater importance to the Forestry Commission and those engaged in forestry than it is to the Agricultural Departments and farmers". Turning to methods of control, the Committee mentioned that the normal methods are shooting, netting, snaring and trapping—shooting being by far the commonest method used. The Committee recommended in paragraph 252— The field sports of hare-hunting and coursing are also regarded by some of their supporters as exercising a degree of control though neither is considered to be very effective. The Committee returned to this point in paragraph 280, pointing out that hares were not controlled by the coursing that takes place at, for example, Altcar, where hares are far more numerous than they would be if their numbers were controlled by ordinary methods.

The balance of the argument about control seems to tilt very heavily against hare-coursing as making any real contribution. I must make it clear to the House that the Agriculture Departments and the Forestry Commission have no objection whatever to the Bill looked at from the point of view of control of hares. Therefore, today we can ignore the question of dealing with hares as pests in considering the proposals in the Bill. That leaves the question of cruelty.

The view of the Scott Henderson Committee was that, where a justifiable activity necessarily involved a degree of suffering, cruelty did not arise unless more suffering was inflicted than was necessary in the pursuit of that activity. When the Committee came to apply this test to field sports, it considered that there would be justification in interfering with a sport in one or other of the following circumstances. The Committee said, first, in cases where the sport contributes to control interference would be justified if the amount of suffering inflicted is greater than would be involved in the use of alternative methods of control. That case is not relevant here, because, as I have explained, the hare coursing with which the Bill is concerned does not contribute to control.

The other case where the interference with the sport would, in the view of the Scott Henderson Committee be justified, is where a sport does not serve control and gives rise to more than a degree of suffering. The basic issue is, therefore: does coursing involve more than a slight degree of suffering?

If I have read the Report correctly, it reached the following conclusions. These conclusions have been mentioned this morning. They appear to be in some respects slightly contradictory. The Report said, first, that coursing involves no more suffering than the shooting of hares as ordinarily practised. Secondly, the risk of cruelty would arise where the coursing made no contribution to control. Thirdly, the degree of cruelty was not sufficient to justify prohibition. However, as has been pointed out by one hon. Member, the Committee also recommended that all wild animals should be brought within the provision of the Protection of Animals Act, with special provisions to the effect that hunting, coursing, capture, destruction or attempted destruction of any wild animal should be lawful while conducted under rules approved by a Minister and not accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary suffering

I see the hon. Member for Gainsborough nodding his head, but he knows as well as I do that this is a very diffi- cult task to perform. To try to provide rules, whilst permitting the sport to continue, to ensure that there is not unnecessary cruelty has proved to be almost impossible. That is why up till now this part of the Report of" the Scott Henderson Committee has not been followed by legislation.

On the other hand, the Committee felt it right to recommend that the National Coursing Club should take steps to ensure the immediate dispatch of a hare if still alive after being seized by the dogs. More obscurely—this is where the Report is slightly contradictory in these two paragraphs—the Committee added that it made no specific recommendations as to the continuation of this sport.

I want to draw particular attention to the Committee's conclusion that coursing causes no more suffering than shooting. In itself, this does not tell us much about the amount of suffering involved. The important point is that the suffering involved in coursing is unnecessary and that it has no value for control.

It may be suggested that the Committee's review of the sport is now out of date and there should be a further inquiry. I doubt whether this is necessary, for the Report does ample justice to the arguments on either side.

I have never seen hare coursing and make no claims whatever to be able to advise the House about the suffering involved. I have read the Report and the literature which no doubt has been sent to other hon. Members. I am well aware that sentimentality—I am not saying that this is in any way wrong; where would the House be without sentiment—often complicates questions of protection of animals. However, I have been impressed by the view of the Scott Henderson Committee that the risk of cruelty is significant if officials are not in a position to intervene once a hare is seized.

It has seemed to me that in the ordinary circumstances of this sport there is, to say the least, a very small margin indeed for the unknown factor to transform a slight degree of suffering into something much more intense and objectionable. Taking that point, together with the point that coursing is not necessary for the control of hares, I personally am in support of the Bill, as is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

We listened to a rather extraordinary speech, as I thought, by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) who often makes good speeches. He said that this sport had this to be said for it, that it did not intrude on other people who were not engaged in the sport. Was he, then, saying that cruelty is all right provided that it is done in private and not in public? That is what it seemed that his argument was.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that every night on television we could see the blood of boxers who were taking part in boxing. That is so, but boxers go into the ring voluntarily; they can please themselves whether they go into the ring and are punched about the head and on the jaw so that their blood flows. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was not up to his usual standards.

Mr. Ramsden

I did not hear the right hon. Lady perfectly earlier. Was she saying that the Home Secretary was personally in support of the Bill?

Miss Bacon

Yes, I said that both I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary were personally in favour of the Bill, without committing the Government in any way.

Mr. Tilney

Before the right hon. Lady concludes her speech, will she say exactly what is happening about the review of field sports generally?

Miss Bacon

I am coming to that, if only hon. Members would be a little less anxious. It may be objected—it has been so objected during the debate—that to deal with hare coursing by itself is illogical, that we should deal with all the blood sports. As I have said in the House——

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your guidance. Am I allowed to move that the Question be put this morning?

Hon. Members


Mr. Heffer

If not, will you tell me what the position is, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I have no power to accept a Motion for Closure. At half-past twelve, if the debate is not concluded, it will be adjourned until another day.

Miss Bacon

I am afraid, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have made the mistake of thinking that we had until one o'clock.

I was coming to the point about the review of field sports which is taking place. It may be argued that to deal with hare coursing by itself is illogical and that many other sports involve suffering to animals. That would be a good argument at any time for doing nothing because we cannot do everything, and we are having this review——

It being half-past Twelve o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.