HC Deb 22 May 1974 vol 874 cc388-90

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull. Central)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make hare coursing matches illegal. Since the attempts of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in 1966, efforts have been made by hon. Members representing the Labour Party to introduce a Bill to ban hare coursing. In the last Parliament, time after time on Friday afternoons the faceless men who were not prepared to stand up and argue their case when leave was first being sought to introduce such a Bill objected to it. The House will recall that in 1970, when I presented a Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and Rugby (Mr. Price) acted as tellers for the Noes to give the Opposition an opportunity to vote against the Bill. They chickened out. The vote was 181 to nil. My hon. Friends have doubtless earned a footnote in Erskine May.

When this Bill was a Government Bill in 1970, it received a Second Reading by 203 votes to 70. That was four years ago this month. On other occasions when the Bill has reached a Second Reading it has been deliberately talked out by excessively long speeches on preceding Bills, for example the Conservation of Seals Bill. So annoyed has the House been on such occasions that on one Friday it refused to carry the Adjournment and it appeared from the vote that the House would have been prepared to sit the whole of the weekend to get the Bill.

1 rehearse the history of the Bill so that Members who are new to the House and people in the country may know the devious methods, indeed the cowardly methods, adopted by opponents of the Bill, which has the overwhelming support of a majority in the House and in the country. My Bill is short and contains only two clauses. Although I am aware of the heavy, indeed onerous, legislative programme of the Government, I hope that if the Bill is blocked again, time will be found for it to be debated.

The arguments for the Bill are well known in the House. Hare coursing is described thus: In competitive coursing one hare is pursued by two dogs, normally greyhounds, which are matched one against the other. Points are awarded for skill and speed in turning the hare and it is not essential to the result of the course that the hare should be killed. If the hare is killed, the dog that brings it down is not necessarily the winner as it may not have exhibited as great a degree of skill as the other dog, which, at the critical moment, may be behind. That is a technical description of the sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) received a letter from the secretary of his local British Field Sports Society. This is how he described the sport: The coursing meeting I attended recently was the Barbican Cup, a fairly premier event. I found it to be fair, well run, up and above board, and involving much less cruelty than killing any animals in the ordinary course of pest control and for ordinary meat-eating purposes. I personally estimated that 80 per cent. escaped through the sufts placed along the course, or through one of the considerable number at the end (every foot). Those which escaped, the best of the species, did so without a scratch while those killed, the worst of the species, were despatched in a most accurate and rapid manner by an animal well equipped by nature for the purpose. The hares in general were more than a match for the greyhound and I witnessed hounds literally falling down winded as a result of their efforts. Please do not consider this cruel as it has happened to me on several occasions whilst cross-country running. Doubtless he had a pair of bloodhounds behind him!

A less romantic view may be seen from a report by an inspector of the RSPCA: … two greyhounds had coursed a hare for a full three minutes; they were almost at dropping point. The hare also was showing signs of exhaustion and heading for a thicket when a stray hound broke into the course and nipped the hare … it was immediately caught by the other hounds. All of them were tearing at this poor creature and the screams could be heard for 15 seconds before the body was ripped apart. From talking to other spectators, it appears this is quite a common occurrence, and this gives the lie to the rule providing for reasonable means of escape. Of 16 hares killed, four were still alive 30 seconds after being caught by hounds and their screams could be heard 200 yards away ". I received a letter from a young girl, aged 11, who attends the St. Joseph's Primary School, Droitwich, Worcestershire, expressing the feelings of the whole country and particularly of young people to this horrific sport. She writes: … we cannot understand the silly situation which allows unnecessary cruelty to some animals, but not to others. We believe it is necessary to respect all forms of life if we are to respect human life. Adults constantly tell us we must protect our environment, yet they vandalise themselves the very creatures who share the environment with us, because of their own selfish pleasures. Children all over England work hard to create new habitats for wild creatures and all in their own time and at their own expense. But what is the point of it all when the Government permits the cruel and unnecessary destruction of the very creatures we are to understand and protect? … Our laws which protect the badger but allow the killing, unnecessary and cruel, in the name of 'sport' of animals like the hare and the otter do not show any appreciation or understanding of conservation or the real importance of the environment. That is a summary of the moral argument, of what it is all about, by Karen Thomson, aged 11.

The issue is well known to the House. All the arguments have been rehearsed before.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Marcus Lipton, Mr. Neil Kinnock, Mr. John Ellis, Mr. John Prescott, M. A. W. Stallard, Mr. David Stoddart, Mr. Charles Loughlin, Mr. Arnold Shaw, Mr. A. E. P. Duffy, Mr. James Wellbeloved, and Mr. Peter Hardy.

Forward to