HC Deb 03 December 2003 vol 415 cc492-3
3. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab)

What measures he is taking to halt the decline in numbers of the Irish hare. [141216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith)

The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is currently considering a number of steps. We have a species action plan to double the number of Irish hares by 2010 and we are reviewing whether the Irish hare should be given protection at all times under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Meanwhile, I am looking at a proposed temporary ban on the killing or taking of Irish hares, and we are encouraging the provision of Irish hare sanctuaries by landowners.

Mr. Pickthall

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on advancing and strengthening the decision made by Assembly Members in 2001 to restrict the hunting of hares. I welcome the temporary ban, which will mean no hunting or coursing of Irish hares in Northern Ireland, but if and when the scientific evidence again shows that hare numbers are under severe pressure, will she find the means to ensure that the ban is made permanent and the hare is removed from the list of quarry species?

Angela Smith

My hon. Friend's interest in the issue and his concern about protecting the hare are well-founded. I can assure him that when we look at the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order all scientific evidence will be taken into account. After consultation it will be the appropriate measure to use to end the killing of all hares.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

The Minister will be aware that I used to be retained as a consultant to the Countryside Alliance, as she was retained by the League Against Cruel Sports. From our different points of view, we both admire that noble animal, the Irish hare. Why is she using her personal prejudice, as hare coursing is muzzled in Northern Ireland? No animals are killed and a professor and a doctor of biochemistry from Queen's university, Belfast say that hare coursing clubs benefit the Irish hare population". The Minister is showing personal bias against country people—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is getting far too noisy again, and it is important that I hear the Minister's answer.

Angela Smith

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman declared his personal interest. My interest concerns the welfare and numbers of the Irish hare. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman misquoted Professor Montgomery, who did not say what was cited. In fact, it was Professor Montgomery who first asked the Department to consider removing the Irish hare from the list of quarry species. However, all those matters will be considered in the light of scientific evidence. There is no way in which I could allow the netting of hares for hunting and coursing following the Assembly's decision to protect the Irish hare.

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