HL Deb 16 December 1975 vol 366 cc1362-415

4.25 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps I should start by saying that I am a president of a coursing club and have been so for the last 30 years. I feel therefore that I can speak a little about this subject with some first-hand knowledge, and even perhaps with a little authority—which is perhaps more than some of the honourable Members in another place can lay claim to. This, I am afraid, also includes the right honourable lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and, in particular, the honourable gentleman the Minister for Sport who, by his own admission, did not believe that coursing was a sport.

This history of the various coursing Bills in one form or another that have been born and then died had left behind many false scents. As a result, the whole issue has become shrouded in mystery and fog, much of which is intentional. I shall endeavour therefore to clear the air a little so that your Lordships can look at the picture in a clearer and, hopefully, better perspective. Irrespective of Government Bills there have been in the last ten years seven Private Member's Bills. I think that it is interesting to note that these have come from honourable Members of the following constituencies: Liverpool (Walton); Ashton-under-Lyne; Ilford, South; Kingston-upon-Hull (Central); Rugby; Swindon; and Lambeth Central. These Bills, unless I am mistaken, have all come from constituencies which are urban. Is it not perhaps a strange fact that no honourable Member for a rural constituency over the last ten years has felt it his or her duty to do the same thing?

Baroness BACON

My Lords, is the noble Earl not forgetting that the Waterloo Cup is run at Liverpool?


My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. In the majority of cases (both now and in the past) the object of coursing Bills is far more devious than it appears on the surface. I should be the first to agree that many would-be abolitionists of this and other field sports very sincerely think that they are right; but, unfortunately, ignorance plays a large part in their belief—ignorance which is enlarged out of all proportion to the truth, largely due to false representation by the media, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, so ably put it. In spite of factual evidence to the contrary, coursing is still thought by many to be a sport or diversion of the so-called upper class. It is interesting to note that an average coursing crowd consists of: rustics, 43.5 per cent.; Oppidans, 22.6 per cent.; farmers, 18.3 per cent.; professional breeders and trainers, 8.3 per cont.; and landowners, 7.3 per cent. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that this comprises a very fair cross-section of the community.

My Lords, continuing on the same theme, why should the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the House in another place state—and I quote from Hansard: I am afraid that one step at a time is enough for me. If we can get the legislation on hare coursing through the House during this Session it will be a major step forward, and we could then look towards dealing with other sports."—[Official Report (Commons), 7/11/74; Col. 1254.] I cannot believe that any of your Lordships can be so naive as not to think that the abolition of coursing is not only the thin edge of the wedge but well on the way to being the last blow of the axe that fells a mighty oak under which shelter all the other field sports of this country. These sports not only give pleasure to many thousands of people in a variety of different ways, but also conserve and protect wildlife in its many and varied forms.

One should also consider the statement made in another place by the honourable member for Liverpool (Walton). Again I quote from Hansard, of 13th June, 1975. at column 837: It is an uncivilised practice carried out by a minority and should be dispensed with at the earliest moment. I begin to wonder, if it were not for your Lordships' House where would democracy be? Surely, one of the prime duties of Parliament is to look after and defend the interests of minorities.

It has been said that the Government should get their priorities right. That has been said many times. With the vast amount of legislation which was ploughed through in the last Session of Parliament, it has been suggested it was not right to waste much time on coursing. It is interesting to note that 16½ hours were spent in Committee on coursing, 13 hours 57 minutes debating in another place, and 3 hours 41 minutes in your Lordships' House. Many noble Lords will agree with me that the time taken in another place over the last coursing Bill could well have been shortened, as far too much time was taken up in discussing irrelevancies in the Bill. Nevertheless, when the rights of a minority group are threatened it is right and proper that all the aspects of the Bill should be properly aired and debated. I shall not go into the details of whether or not coursing is cruel. It has been referred to in the Stable and Stuttard Report and the Scott Henderson Report. It is there for anybody to read who wishes to do so.

I am afraid I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when he says that coursing does not conserve hares, because I believe categorically that if coursing were abolished within a few years on intensively-farmed land the hare will become almost extinct. Because of coursing the hare population. is conserved. That is a simple fact of which the majority of people are in complete ignorance. The abolitionists are proud of the 1 million signatures they have produced. Alas! in spite of certain publicity, many people today do not realise that a great number of these signatures were obtained by spurious means. Comparisons can be odious, but I often wonder what the emotions of the adult animal-loving British would have been when myxomatosis was introduced into this country 20 years ago, if the victims had been not "Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton Tail" but the common rat.

We should take a long, close look at ourselves. How much have we changed in our attitudes to each other in the thousands of years that we have been on this planet, countrymen to townsmen, religion against religion, one political ideology against another political ideology? We are far kinder to animals than we are to our fellow men—take, for example, battered babies and battered wives, torture, war all of which go on unceasingly. In my humble opinion, this Bill is far more damaging and dangerous to democracy than many realise. In its nucleus, which is so well hidden, lies the danger. It is a Bill designed to try to drive yet another nail in the coffin of your Lordships' House, through the medium of saying that this House is undemocratic in going against the wish of the electorate. Another place went against the wish of the electorate over capital punishment last week.

This is a Bill which is full of emotion and which completely camouflages the true motive. It is the usual ploy which the Left-Wing always tries to produce to get its own way, by making other middle-of-the-road-minded and fair-minded people do its dirty work for them through propaganda and misrepresentation. The right honourable lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office said on 13th June at column 912 of Hansard: The Government totally refute the fallacious and spurious allegations that have been made by the Bill's opponents, that this Bill is being introduced either for spite or for reasons of class prejudice, or even that it is a subtle Left-Wing plot against the privileged few. I do not doubt the right honourable lady's words, or her integrity or sincerity; but I feel that somewhere along the line perhaps there may be just a small touch of naïvety.

My Lords, if we pass the Second Reading of this Bill this afternoon without referring it to a Select Committee, it will be a bad day indeed for the liberty of every private, law-abiding citizen in our country.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, pointed out that we had had a very full discussion on this Bill only about six weeks ago, and therefore I do not see any necessity to go over everything I said on that occasion. There are, however, one or two things I should like to say. I would start by making some comments on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. He referred to the fact that statements made by those who wished to abolish cruel practices are made from the hearing of propaganda. I would say that that is about 25 per cent. true, but no more than that. A great deal of our knowledge and attitude is taken from reports that we hear from other people about subjects on which they are more expert or have had more experience than ourselves. I have no doubt that the noble Lord forms his opinions on some aspects of his political life on which he is not personally an expert but because he knows others who, from what they say, are, and he naturally trusts them.


My Lords, if I may interrupt, I have taken the trouble to go to a coursing meeting to see what happens. Can the noble Lord say that he has done the same?


No, my Lords: I cannot. I have tried to do so, but unfortunately time and distance did not permit it. On the other hand, I was going on to say that I know a great many people personally who have done so and they arc people whose opinions I can trust, and who are not fanatics. They have reported exactly what they have seen. Therefore, I do not think I am any more unreasonable in accepting what they say than the noble Lord is in accepting what his political colleagues may say.


My Lords, I am sorry, I hate to interrupt the noble Lord again. The noble Lord is getting at me for quoting the Scott Henderson Report. That is the only official, independent inquiry into the subject that there has been. What I said came from that Report, and not from any friend of mine who may or may not have known.


My Lords, indeed, the noble Lord based a great deal of his argument on that Report. There have been several reports of this nature, the Brambell Report, the Little wood Report, and many others. In general, they are partly right and partly wrong. There are very few—if any—that are entirely right or entirely wrong. Therefore, I accept with reservations what the Report says.

There are two points that I wish to raise. First, there is nothing glorious or of splendid tradition in killing a wild animal or causing its unnecessary pain and suffering. That wild animals must be killed in order to control their numbers cannot be denied by anybody, but if we arc to regard ourselves as higher than animals we must act in the most humane way possible.

The second point I wish to raise is this: I do not claim for a moment that regrettable incidents such as those described by people who have seen them, occur at every meeting of a hare coursing club, though it cannot be denied that they do sometimes occur and not so infrequently as to make them unworthy of consideration. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said, very truly, that he spoke with authority as president of a coursing club; but one must remember that speaking from that position, his motive must obviously be to defend it—as mine would be if I were in his position.

The last time we discussed this Bill the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and also the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, spoke about its legal deficiencies. I sincerely hope they will do so again tonight and that, if they do that, the Government will pay great attention to what is said, because if one is to pass a Bill of this kind it is absolutely essential for it to be legally workable. I do not think that anybody can accuse me of being a fanatic over these matters, but I do not believe that one should shut one's eyes to matters which arc causing a great deal of concern among the public at large and which are also causing a great deal of unnecessary suffering to animals which cannot defend themselves. To cause suffering to a defenceless animal is, as I said before, every bit as bad as causing suffering to a mentally defective child.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, those of us who have taken part in previous debates in your Lordships' House on this topic must necessarily, in speaking today, be somewhat repetitious, although we need not be expansive. I shall endeavour to avoid that particular sin. I suppose there may be a few who will be changed in their views by the hearing of the arguments which have been deployed in the previous sessions dedicated to this theme, but I doubt it. I venture to hope that the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, who last time talked with equanimity about the prospect of losing his head in the hunting field may have taken a second opinion in the interim. But, generally sneaking, people will have made up their minds, and therefore I can only repeat, by way of witness, what I have tried to say before in opposition to hare coursing.

I want to take as my text, if you like, the reverence which purports to lie behind the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for the Scott Henderson Report and its importance for those who would seek to make up their minds on this issue. It reminds me somewhat of ecclesiastical dependence on another document, and I think that in some cases the same failures are evident. One of the ways in which the infallibility of Holy Writ can be sustained is by the simple expedient of not encouraging those who are invited to sustain it to read the document in question. I believe the same is probably true of those who would cite the Scott Henderson Report in the hope that people will not peruse its contents too carefully. I say, I hope without impertinence, that there maybe those in your Lordships' House today who have listened to what has been said about the Report as though it were some simple and conclusive document, whereas as a matter of fact it is quite confused and says contradictory things on subsequent pages.

I should like to refer to one of these, which seems to me to be very important. The following appears in paragraph 280: Consequently the suffering which is caused by hare coursing at such meetings comes within the definition of cruelty which we have adopted". I think it is a little factitious of the noble Lord to say that this is a technical addition. It is of the very substance of the argument. The argument, therefore, which I would deploy on the question of cruelty is substantially that which is advanced in this document. It expresses the belief that hare coursing at such meetings is definitely cruel, but goes on to say—and I do not differ here—that in many respects it is no more cruel than other forms of cruelty. Let us accept that. Cruelty is inevitably the association of the infliction of pain with the pleasure or satisfaction of those who inflict that pain or watch its infliction. That is cruelty; and it can well be argued that there are many inflictions of pain which certainly are not cruel —for example, the surgeon's knife or the conservationist's bullet, I suppose, could not be called cruel, though it does necessarily inflict pain.

This is not the argument, because the Scott Henderson Report is about cruelty, and the main substance of the argument against this particular evil of hare coursing is not that it causes pain but that the kind of cruelty involved is the kind of cruelty which in total, I think, should be rejected by people who want to live in a civilized society. Furthermore, the argument about conservation or control is deliberately and comprehensively rejected by the Scott Henderson Report. The Board of Coursing does not claim that it is a form of conservation and does not pretend that it is a method by which control can be effected. Moreover, if I may turn to the animadversion that we should have gone to see particular events before daring to speak about them, I see no reason to go to a bullfight in order to comprehend its enormity. And I see no reason, particularly when I have the Scott Henderson Report at my elbow, to go to see hare coursing, when there is a most comprehensive and copious description of what happens—a description with which, again. I have no disagreement as to what in fact takes place in this evil so-called "sport".

The real argument against hare coursing is not so much the infliction of pain or cruelty on animals: it is the totally undesirable and, I think, impermissible enjoyment of human beings in such a savage exercise. Here is one of the aspects of a violent society from which I believe we suffer in increasing degree. It does not provide any elevating or conscientious increase in human happiness. It is subversive in the sense that it serves elements in our human make-up which we should he the better for not being encouraged to develop.

The argument is not against cruelty. I have never been a hare, though I have occasionally been called a rabbit; and I am perfectly willing to agree that to attempt to assess the immediacy of animal pain and to collate it with the relevance of reflective pain in human beings is a useless exercise. I am quite sure that hares do not enjoy this and that they react to it in ways that are comparable to the immediate reaction of human beings to pain. I am quite sure that hare coursing is not a suitable method of control. I am still utterly convinced that it is an unworthy exercise for human beings to take part in. Admittedly, the Churches of this country are unanimous in its rejection. Such polls as have been conducted and examined give a clear majority against hare coursing. I am merely making my comment that I do not accept the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that it is a matter of taste. This is no aesthetic preference; this is a basic issue.

Though, wearing this collar, I may be the wrong person to indulge in moral reflection, yet I cannot but say, in conclusion, that here is one of the manifestations of man behaving in an uncivilised way and yet, at the same time, claiming the privileges of a civilised society. I honestly and fervently believe that we should be better without it and. therefore, I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. Hare coursing is entitled to capital punishment, though the date of the execution and its method may be of some consequence to your Lordships who are concerned with procedural matters and with the elucidation of some of the questions that have been very properly raised by the noble and learned Lords as to the relevance of some aspects of this case. But what I want to assert again, with all the fervour at my command, is that this is a rotten habit and it will be better if we reject it. It is no compliment to us that we still love that kind of violence, however varied it is, and therefore I very much hope that we shall refuse to let it continue any further.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, when this Bill was debated before this House only six weeks ago I ventured to point out that its effect would be to brand as criminal a tiny minority of decent country people for doing something about which they themselves are in the best position to know the actual facts and which they do not regard as cruel and/or morally blameworthy on their part. How large that tiny minority is beyond the 1,600 or so people who are members of coursing clubs affiliated to the National Coursing Club, depends upon the answers to the questions that I put to the noble Lord the Minister six weeks ago. Those questions, if he will forgive my saying so, have not been answered.

We are told that a judge, a prize, a bet, are not essential to create a meeting of coursing which will be condemned by this Bill; they are only factors—"We will leave it to the courts to tell us, when we have passed this Bill, what it is we have prohibited." In the field of criminal law, that is not good enough. I do not blame the noble Lord for failing to answer the questions. They cannot be answered without a more accurate knowledge, not only of organised coursing meetings, but of country life and what actually happens when dogs course hares, than that possessed by the draftsman of a Government Bill who apparently thought that these complex matters could be dealt with adequately by making the language conspicuously vague.

My experience in this House is mainly in the Judicial Committee. There we follow the fundamental rule of human justice that before we convict any person —however humble; whatever minority he belongs to—of a crime, we make certain that we know the facts on which our judgment is to be based. I urge the House to adopt the same fundamental rule of justice when considering this Bill. When one is considering an activity, and whether an activity which involves the pursuit or death of a wild animal is cruel, I should myself accept the criterion that the degree of suffering caused in the activity does not exceed that associated with the usual fate of an animal in nature. If whatever the Bill is intended to condemn as criminal—and I do not know what that is—does not satisfy that criterion, then I, for my part, should not object to this House passing it. But if it passes that criterion, then I, for my part, should not have the hubris, the effrontery, to say to other people, "You shall not do it because I do not like doing it". I am not satisfied, on my present knowledge of coursing hares by dogs, whether at organised meetings or otherwise which may or may not be caught by the Bill, that it is cruel if judged by this standard which I have just suggested as an appropriate standard for cruelty.

I do not myself take part in coursing meetings. If this Bill is passed, it will make no difference to me. But I have done my best to inform myself about the facts. Unlike most—indeed, after listening to the speeches in this House. I think unlike all—supporters of this Bill. I have attended coursing meetings and I should not dare to form a judgment on the sport unless I had. I have studied the Scott Henderson Report, and also the other reports upon the subject which mainly confirm but do not give a full picture of what happens. I have listened to speeches in this House supporting the Bill. In my view, they have demonstrated the need that this House should obtain information about the true facts before deciding whether or not to approve the Bill.

I do not oppose the Second Reading, because that will give us an opportunity to adopt the procedure of a Select Committee by which we can ensure that if the House ultimately decides to approve, to amend or to reject the Bill, each Member can vote upon it with a clear conscience, certain of the facts upon which the judgment which will brand people as criminals is based.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, if I may be allowed to intervene as Leader of the House, may I say that this is a Bill which was debated in the last Session? It was given a Second Reading in the full knowledge that whatever then happened it could not proceed any further. This measure has now come before the House again, and I suspect that following its custom, whatever may be the feelings towards it, the House will agree to give it a Second Reading this evening.

When the noble Lord, Lord Denham, spoke in the last Session, with as much passion and conviction as he spoke today, he made a plea for a Select Committee, as he also did today, and during the course of the last few weeks I have had a number of overtures made to me to the effect that that might be the proper way of dealing with this Bill. Naturally, I am hesitant about sending a Government Bill to a Select Committee. I believe that it was last done in 1917, and to do so raises considerable dangers and questions of precedent.

To that extent I approach this question with a deep sense of unease. However, I recognise that there is a general feeling that before they agree to this Bill far more information ought to be made available to Members of this House. In the light of those representations I, as Leader of the House, accept this situation and agree on behalf of the Government to the setting up of a Select Committee. In doing so, I hope that the House will agree that I am in no way creating a precedent for other Public Bills to be sent to Select Committees; it is being done only in the light of this particular subject. If, therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, agrees, and the Bill is given a Second Reading, I hope that he will not move his Motion, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, but will rest on the precedent of 1917, when it was dealt with either by the Leader of the House or by a noble friend on his behalf.

If the noble Lord, Lord Denham, will agree, immediately after the Bill has had its Second Reading I or one of my noble friends will move, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The Committee of Selection will produce a list containing the names of those who should sit on the Select Committee. If I may express a personal view, this is a matter which could be best examined if, so far as possible, that Committee were made up of those who take a relatively impartial view. It should not necessarily be a battleground for those who feel passionately one way or the other. If we had such a Committee, I believe that we might have more confidence in the advice given by it.

Once agreement to the terms of reference had been obtained—this is my condition and I make it with confidence because the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has clearly stated that this is not a tactic to delay for a long period the passage of this Bill—I should immediately move an Instruction as to the date by which the Committee should have completed its deliberations and produced its Report. Obviously I should have consultations through the usual channels about the date. Certainly it needs to be sufficiently far ahead to allow the Committee to do its work. It must provide time for your Lordships' House to consider the Report of the Select Committee and the necessary Amendments during the Committee and Report stages and to complete the remaining stages of the Bill, yet still allow sufficient time for another place to consider it and, if it is so minded, place it upon the Statute Book.

With those reservations—I will not say "conditions", although I referred to them as such—I should be most happy to ensure that a Motion is moved to that effect, if your Lordships' House is of that view and if the Bill receives a Second Reading.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept it from me that we on this side of the House are most grateful to him for taking this view on behalf of the Government and for making it known in the middle of this debate. Anybody who has taken part so far in the proceedings of this Bill will acknowledge that there is a division of opinion. There are sincerely held opinions on all sides of the House. Looking at the matter in retrospect, one can do nothing but congratulate my noble friend for having given notice to the Government of what he intended to do when and if this Bill should again appear before your Lordships. I am sure that all noble Lords will accept what the noble Lord the Leader of the House did not call "conditions". No doubt the usual channels will make the Committee as prompt and yet as efficient as possible so that this Bill will have the proper consideration that most of us feel it deserves.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl. I shall certainly undertake to consult through the usual channels. I intervened at this stage because I knew that there were strong feelings in this House. Noble Lords may have felt that those feelings had to be pushed in order to obtain the statement that I have made. I have been very conscious of the fog, not within your Lordships' House but outside. Therefore, I did not feel that it was right to delay this announcement to the very end of the debate. At least it will permit certain noble Lords to leave a little earlier, if they wish, and avoid the worst of the congestion.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships are much clearer about this issue than I am. I am not quite clear whether the noble Lord's suggestion of a Select Committee is made because people disagree and have strong feelings or because not enough facts are known. On either of those criteria I should have thought a Select Committee could be set up on most matters which come before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, that is a real problem, and I must be very careful to be the guardian of the Rules of your Lordships' House by not intervening too often. This is a factor which I have borne in mind, but as I was conscious of the feelings aroused by this matter I, on behalf of the Government, took it as a personal responsibility to suggest this procedure. However, it is entirely a matter for your Lordships' House either to agree or disagree.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has said, it is unnecessary for me to address your Lordships for more than three or four minutes, particularly as, having spoken on this subject many times, my views are well known. Before I sit down I should say that I am rather disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, did not answer the questions I asked him during our last debate on this subject. The noble Lord said that he hoped to be able to answer them during this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, also fell into this trap regarding the logic of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, tells us that the object of this Bill is to avoid unnecessary cruelty, but what he has not explained, and what I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Soper, understood, is that this Bill will not prevent coursing. It will prevent running dogs in competition after a hare, as at NCC meetings. It is not a Bill to prevent coursing. Therefore, I cannot understand the logic of this Bill. The noble Lord has not answered that question. If the police can prove that private individuals have run dogs in competition after hares, presumably they will be caught under this Bill. But it will affect only a very small part of coursing. Therefore, for the Government to introduce a Bill like this, which is completely illogical, is both shameful and hypocritical.

As I said in a previous debate, if I were a hare I would far rather be coursed at a meeting of the NCC where the rules are strict—I have witnessed quite a lot of those meetings—where the hare has every chance, and very few hares are killed. Only 20 per cent. of the hares which are coursed are killed. I was horrified to hear the noble Lord, Lord Soper, say that individuals get delight out of seeing hares killed. This is complete and utter nonsense. As I have already said, the object at NCC meetings is not to kill the hare; it is to test the dogs.

I have spoken on this subject so many times that my views are well known. I am all for the avoidance of unnecessary cruelty, but if this Bill in its present form ever became law it would make a complete mockery of the law. It may save the lives of 600 hares which are killed annually at NCC meetings, but they will probably die a far more painful death if they are not coursed at NCC meetings. It does not affect the 100,000 hares which are shot every year, the 25,000 which are shot at and wounded; it does not affect hares that are maimed by cars in their thousands and it does not affect the thousands of hares that are coursed by private individuals, be they miners or dukes, who go out with their dogs and course hares in open country to kill them where the hare does not have escape routes.

This is a completely nonsensical Bill and I cannot find out from the Government what is the motive behind it. Obviously it is not to prevent cruelty. They have attacked this tiny minority of people—I believe under 2,000 people belong to coursing clubs—and I should like to know why. Presumably the Government have some motive. I have rather a nasty feeling that it may be some political pressure from the Left which of course is so keen to destroy anything that is connected with our traditional way of life in Britain, and especially regarding our country pursuits. When these country pursuits are followed by all classes of people (as they are), and lead to great harmony and comradeship, I view with suspicion any attack by the Government on such country pursuits and traditional British country sports.

In conclusion, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for intimating that the Bill will go to a Select Committee, provided the House agrees. I think that is an excellent idea and I am sure that out of the evidence produced before this Select Committee—and I quite agree with the Lord Privy Seal that impartial people should be appointed —they will decide that if such a Bill as this became law it would be a complete nonsense. I hope the whole subject will be dropped. One might have some sympathy for it if it were a Bill to prevent all hares from ever being chased by any dogs. That would at least be logical in intent although it would be quite impracticable. Let us hope that out of the Select Committee will dawn understanding.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, after the statement which has just been made by my noble friend the Leader of the House I wonder whether there was any point in continuing this debate today. However, statements have been made by opponents of this Bill and perhaps it is as well that the debate should continue so that a few replies may be made to some of the statements that have been made. Like others who have spoken today, this is not my first speech on a hare coursing Bill. Not only have I been making speeches on the subject in this House, but I was doing so in another place before I came here. For that reason I had intended that my comments should be brief, even without the statement that has been made.

Like my noble friend Lord Soper, I believe that people's minds are made up about this. This—or a similar Bill— has been around for a long time. Indeed, in 1925 a similar Bill had its Second Reading, Committee stage and Report stage in another place, and failed to become law only because there was no time for a Third Reading. So it was only lack of time which prevented a Bill similar to this from being passed half a century ago. Later there were several Private Members' Bills. In 1966–67, when I was a Minister at the Home Office, again it was lack of time which prevented a Private Member's Bill from being passed in another place, and at that time on behalf of the Government I make a promise to the Promoters of that Private Member's Bill that the Government would find time to introduce such a Bill. The Government did so in May 1970 and that Bill received its Second Reading in another place by 203 votes to 70, but, again, a General Election intervened and that Bill was lost. It was because it had been impossible to carry out the promise which I had made to Members of the other House, owing to lack of time, that I introduced the same Bill in this House in May 1972, when it was defeated by 115 votes to 71. I considered that to be not too bad having regard to the fact that an unofficial three-line Whip had been sent out by somebody on the Front Bench on the opposite side of this House.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness will give way, I should like to state that I have no knowledge of an unofficial three-line Whip being issued.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I had such knowledge at the time, but I do not want to mention the person's name. I am sure it was all good humoured, but I do know that a Whip went out unofficially with three lines under it. It was sent out privately, as it were, by a member on the Front Bench on the opposite side of the House. Perhaps I may speak to the noble Lord privately about this.

More recent attempts have been made in another place, but they have always been unlucky because of lack of time. So we had the Government Bill in the last Session of Parliament which went through all its stages in another place and came here again too late to be considered by this House. Now today we are told that there is going to be a Select Committee. Indeed, it looks as if we are going to have a Select Committee because it has been agreed, but when my noble friend made the statement a few minutes ago he said he would fix a date when the Select Committee would have to report to this House. All I ask him to do is to make it such a date that it would be possible for the Bill to be considered fully by this House and also in another place during this Session of Parliament. I believe that is the least that could be asked by those of us who have supported such Bills, and particularly those Members in another place who have supported them, having regard to the fact that these Bills have been passed through all their stages in another place.

I will not repeat all the arguments which have been made, but I should like to make a few comments about some of the points which have been made by those who oppose this Bill. They are very contradictory comments. They say that there are too many hares; therefore they must be killed and it is better to have them coursed than that they should be shot. On the other hand, we arc told that hares are in danger of extinction and we must preserve them. We are told that hare coursing means that some of the hares are preserved especially for this so-called sport. There we have two quite contradictory arguments. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said that if it were not for coursing hares would not be preserved, but I wonder for what they are being preserved. I must apologise to the noble Earl for smiling broadly in the middle of his speech. The reason for my doing so was that I am sure that a great many people in my Party would find it very funny indeed that my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich and myself were part of a Left-Wing plot.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that coursing was better than shooting because it was a quick death. It is said that hares are killed instantly. We are often told of the strict rules of the National Coursing Club. One of the rules is: Pickers-up shall be stationed on each side of the coursing ground and as near as practicable to where the courses are likely to end. If the hare is brought down, the pickers-up shall without delay go to the hare and satisfy themselves that it is dead, and if it is not dead, they shall kill it forthwith". Surely, this contradicts the view sometimes held, and which is put forward by opponents of this Bill, that the hare is always killed instantly, because if it is, I do not see any point in having the pickers-up who, if it is not dead will "kill it forthwith".

My Lords, I accept that there has to be killing for food and for the control of vermin and pests. But hare coursing is not done to control hares; it is not to provide food. As has been so ably pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, hare coursing inflicts unnecessary suffering for so-called sport. I know there are comparatively few people who engage in this sport. I have heard it argued that we are picking on this sport because just a few people are involved. But I understand that of the2,000 or so people who indulge in this sport, many move about the country to where courses are taking place. One thing we have not heard today which we usually hear in this debate is that this is the sport of the miners, and we must not deprive the miners of their sport. I have lived all my life among miners, and in a mining area. I can assure your Lordships that I do not see the miners going off at the weekend to course hares. I must say the miners would be very grateful for this solicitous attitude on the part of some people to preserve what they think is the miners' sport—but which is not.

The Scott Henderson Report has been quoted today. In the past, I studied this very carefully indeed and came to the conclusion that this Report was an inconclusive and woolly Report. Both those who support hare coursing and those who are against it can open the pages of the Scott Henderson Report and quote from it in order to bolster their point of view. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would agree with that. One can quote from both sides. Now we are to have a Select Committee. I am not sure what it will find out that is not known already. However, we are to have it. I can only say in conclusion that since we are to have a Select Committee, I hope that the dates will be such, as I have already said, that this legislation can be considered by both Houses of Parliament in this Session, and that we can get some conclusive action on this matter which has now been going round both Houses of Parliament for over 50years.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, sits down, may I intervene in order to make sure there is no misunderstanding. When I intervened before I said I knew of no unofficial three-line Whip from the Front Bench. May I make it absolutely clear that, although I know one or two letters did go round, the official Opposition was keeping neutral on this subject. It was not the Front Bench.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I understand that. I think it was sent out privately—not on behalf of the Front Bench; I thought I had made that clear —by an individual who happened to sit on the Front Bench.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, about a year ago there was a film on television which showed the public what hare coursing was like. First of all, the hind leg of the hare was broken, the hare was sent off, and then chased with dogs. The hare gets pulled apart by the dogs over a period of about half a minute, amid screams. After seeing that film, I was asked to sign a petition, quite reasonably, against hare coursing —and no wonder that 70 per cent. of the people in the country are against it, according to the National Opinion Poll. Before I signed the petition, I thought I ought to go and see what hare coursing was really like. I did so and, of course, the real thing bore no relation to the film. I saw about 12 courses, each of which was most interesting, with the hounds chasing the hare turning over, and each time the hare got away. Not one single hare was killed throughout the whole time I was watching. The dogs were extremely good; I understood they were from the Waterloo Cup. One realised that the film which had so influenced people was 100 per cent. fake.

The main argument for the Bill seems to be the question of cruelty. I talked to a vet who is renowned in my area for humanity and compassion for animals. He told me that more often than not, in coursing the death of a hare is very quick. It is fairly well known that animals take hares by the neck, although this does not mean that it happens every time. There are times when the hare is not killed quickly, although I cannot confirm this because I never saw one killed. But if cruelty is the reason, why should coursing continue to be allowed other than in competition—for the pot, for instance. If it is to be stopped for cruelty, then everything must be stopped. Would the hare, being chased for the pot, appreciate the difference from when he is being chased for competition?

Let us examine other deaths very quickly, because they have been mentioned so many times before, such as shooting, which inevitably means excessive wounding; it always happens. There is no move to stop that. If we take snaring, the hare may struggle for 12 hours in the trap, which is much more cruel. There is no move to stop that. How many of your Lordships eat jugged hare made from hare killed by the gun? How many of your Lordships say, "I will not eat it"? Perhaps some noble Lords do. If your Lordships felt strongly about it you would say you would not eat it. How many of your Lordships eat lobster, which has been five minutes boiling in a pot? Or fish, netted by the gills for probably 12 hours in appalling agony? According to the Westmorland Fish Research Association, fish have more sophisticated and well developed nervous systems. So if one is really worried about the cruelty aspect, one should be a vegetarian. If one is not a vegetarian, I am afraid I am not very impressed by the arguments about cruelty.

My Lords, another argument nut forward against hare coursing is the stress caused to the hare. Each animal has its own defence. The chameleon changes colour; the giraffe turns round and kicks; the hare runs, and knows from experience that its speed will get it out of danger, as it always has done during its life. The hare runs with disdain for its pursuers—and this disdain can often be seen. It probably no more imagines that it will be caught than the motorist thinks he is going to have an accident a few moments before he actually does so. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, advanced the argument that pain should not be inflicted for entertainment and that enjoyment in witnessing pain is strictly reserved for the sadist. The noble Lord will not try to infer that there is a connection between field sports and sadism, but if the infliction of pain really is his argument, I do not notice a great lobby against fishing. I do not suppose fish like being played with, with a sharp hook in their mouth, or eye, for 20 minutes. I do not suppose they like having a barb torn from their flesh after being caught by a coarse fisherman who then puts them back to be caught another day.

There is the argument that coursing encourages violence. Well, football encourages violence; there can be no doubt about it. Are you going to stop that? One knows how one gets disruptive truants and elements from ill-disciplined schools. Are you going to reform them? There is violence on television, sex in cinemas, pornography in bookshops. These all produce imitators of the crimes; they stir up violence and lower values and morals. Where is the legislation to get rid of all that? What shred of evidence, what single piece of evidence, can be found to prove that coursing leads to violence? On the contrary, coursing and other field events tend to satisfy the need for people to get out into the fresh air, and if they were not doing that they might well be putting their "bovver boots" on to satisfy their natural craving for excitement.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment? The noble Lord is reiterating the age-old proverb that one cannot enjoy fresh air without killing something. It is a very English tradition. Perhaps he will explain it.


My Lords, there are obviously many things you can do; you can go for a walk or you can go and play football and many other things. But I do not see why one should only do certain things like going for a walk or playing football; one should be able to do all sorts of things. The advantage of getting out into a coursing field, for example, is that one is getting away from an organised football pitch or an organised walk; one is right off in the distance on somebody else's land, and I think there is a lot to be said for that.

Coursing was compared by the noble Lord. Lord Harris, last month with bear baiting and bull fighting. There is the argument about encouraging violence and the suggestion that it is allied to sadism. Those arguments indicate by their absurd exaggeration that the Government have nothing to say against the sport, so they have to produce these absurd exaggerations. Why do they not admit that they are not motivated by reason, but by prejudice? One thing is common to all those who oppose coursing: that none has witnessed it. All hate what they imagine happens, but none of them is prepared to go and see it. I am delighted that there will be a Select Committee on this subject because obviously people will have to go anal see coursing and see for themselves how innocuous it is.

I do not think that the anti-coursing lobby really gives a fig for hares or for cruelty in general. If they did they would stop snaring and the sale of dead hares. I think a dislike of the spectators is the main thing. The anti-coursing lobby is closely allied with the Hunt Saboteurs Association. I accept the fact that there is no Left Wing question in this House, but a leading member of that Association, Mr. Garfield, resigned in the summer. He is reported to have said: The Association has been taken over by Left-Wingers. These people care less for animals than for political aims. The article goes on that that there is a Left-initiated movement to undermine all stabilising aspects of the accepted way of British life is too self-evident to need elaboration. In particular any aspect of British life which if not disrupted contributes to national unity and accord between classes has become a predictable choice for guerrilla-type pressure on public opinion. Well, the coursing enthusiast is suddenly to find that his innocent recreation is to become a criminal action. What value are laws when one set of individuals legislate for fancy what other individuals shall or shall not do? What if the courser were to try to make football illegal for the very good reason that it breeds hooliganism, vandalism, and some quite unpleasant spectacles of bad sportsmanship among players? A very good case could be made out.

Coursing, to me, is entertaining; I find it interesting. I have been once and I shall go again, and I do not find it a cruel sport. I recommend the public to go and see coursing and enjoy themselves in the open air in the fields. It is a grand sport. They can get the list of fixtures from the National Coursing Club, 32. Brixton Road. London. The next meetings are at Alresford on the 20th, Scottish National the 22nd, Cotswold on the 23rd; and for any noble Lord who lives to the East of London I can find January 5th, Colchester. We have heard much ill-informed exaggeration against coursing. Those who do not like coursing do not want to see it and do not want to learn what happens, and do not want others to do it. It is just not good enough to ban sports for reasons which are wholly exaggerated, grossly prejudiced and totally unfounded. If the Bill gets a Second Reading it will now 20 to a Select Committee. I hope it will be judged by fact and not fancy. I think this Bill is bred by gullibility out of ignorance, and by a load of bull out of Heffer.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in which he said that many people's opinions on this and allied subjects were determined not by personal experience but rather by prejudice and supposition. I can understand that point of view. I can understand the resentment of sportsmen to those armchair critics who pass judgment on something that they have never personally witnessed. I can also understand the point of view of sportsmen who fear, perhaps because of some of the, to my mind, incautious statements that have been made from time to time, that if hare coursing is abolished this will be the thin end of the wedge, and that in due course restrictions will be placed on other field sports, such as hunting, fishing and shooting.

My Lords, some time ago I went to a hare coursing meeting at Crevelly near Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, because I thought it was only right that I should see it myself before being so bold as to come to your Lordships' House and speak about it. I may say that when I went there I was very courteously received by the chairman of the club, who said that he was glad that someone who was averse to the sport was at least prepared to come to see for himself rather than criticise without personal experience.

Perhaps I ought to make my position clear. For at least 20 years, I have not participated in any blood sport, with the exception of motor racing. But if other people want to do it and if they do it properly, that is O.K. Who am I to criticise them? Having stated my position, I should say that I was brought up in a family whose enthusiasm for field sports was almost evangelical; it was almost like a religion. My late mother hunted regularly with the local pack of harriers. She was an animal lover and she did not like the killing, but the hares were caught so seldom that it caused her only minimal inconvenience. My father was a dedicated wildfowler and shooter; but he would never go out to shoot, he would never take a gun in his hand, without having a well-trained dog with him. He was an expert shot, and therefore he very seldom wounded a bird; but if he did, he would quite happily have missed the next two drives in his endeavours to pick up that wounded bird and to despatch it immediately and humanely.

The point is that the hares that my mother hunted and the birds that my father shot at were in their natural environment. Anyone who has ever endeavoured to shoot woodcock knows well that they make maximum use of that natural environment. Similarly, the angler is pitting his wits against those of the fish, who knows every nook and cranny of the river bed and the river bank, as indeed the hare knows the country when being hunted and therefore nine times out of ten outwits the hunters.

I should say that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, enlightened me in private conversation yesterday on a fact of which I was not previously fully aware; namely, that hare coursing in this country is conducted in a different manner from that in which it is conducted in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, at Cravelly, where I went recently—and perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for a moment if I explain what happens—the club pays farmers, or other people round the countryside, for hares in good condition. I believe that £3 a head is the going rate this year. Those hares are netted, or captured by some other means, held in captivity and treated well. They are well fed, kept in top class condition, and during that period of captivity they are trained as to the nature of the enclosure in which the course takes place and where the escape gate is. On the day of the meet they are released and chased by greyhounds, and it is their luck whether or not they reach the escape hatch in time.


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt for one moment? Is the noble Lord aware that coursing a hare or a rabbit which has previously been caught is already wholly illegal under the existing law? It is therefore quite irrelevant to this Bill.


My Lords, I was coming to the point that the noble Lord has raised. I think it adds weight to my argument. Whereas various noble Lords and honourable Members in another place have felt that it would be proper to legislate against hare coursing as it is conducted in England, I am going to submit to your Lordships that there is an even stronger case for precluding the type of coursing which takes place in Northern Ireland. I apologise if I am wearying your Lordships, but that is why I am explaining the difference between the procedure here and in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that this Bill does not cover Northern Ireland?


My Lords, I appreciate that fully, and that is why later in today's debate I will give notice of my intention to move an Amendment at the Committee stage that the Bill should apply to Northern Ireland. Unlike with the bird, the hunted hare, the fish, the procedure is that a coursed hare under these circumstances is released into an entirely unnatural environment. It is a large open field, which is enclosed, with an escape hatch at one end. None of the natural survival resorts that the hare would normally use is available. There are no bushes, no banks, no ditches, no long grass. The hare is in full view of the greyhounds all the time.

Here we come to the main difference between coursing as it is carried out here and carried out in Northern Ireland; namely, that if the hare escapes into another enclosure, it is then recaptured and coursed again another time. If it escapes a second time, it is recaptured and coursed on another occasion. If it escapes the third time, it is recaptured and coursed on another occasion. So it would virtually be true to say that perhaps the most fortunate hares are those which are killed on their first course rather than having to endure the experience three, four, five, or more times.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, mentioned the contribution of hares to the national diet and nutritional requirements. I hardly think that the contribution is one of great significance. I would further discount the argument that coursing of hares is an important factor in the control of vermin, in view of the fact, particularly this year, that the club of which I speak is having to go to considerable lengths to find sufficient hares to be able to course. I speak here with some hesitation and apprehension because I may be wrong, but some 23 years ago I think I served under the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, as a trooper at Hadrian's Camp, Carlisle, when he was a troop leader. I may be wrong, but he is not listening so it does not matter. Anyway, he went to a hare coursing meeting and saw no kills; at the one I went to, in 13 courses four hares were killed.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt again, but I hope the noble Lord will not compare the kind of coursing that he is describing with the kind of coursing that occurs in this country and which this Bill seeks to ban. From the noble Lord's remarks, he would not oppose hare coursing in this country, because a hare is hunted in its natural environment. Therefore, I hope he will not give anyone the impression that this Bill is to ban the kind of coursing he is describing. What he needs to do is to introduce a separate Bill to ban park coursing, which is something quite different.


Yes, my Lords; but in fact, if you read the Bill, it covers coursing generally. The only qualification concerns the use of two or more dogs.


My Lords, the kind of coursing the noble Lord describes does not take place in this country. This Bill applies only to this country. It may be necessary for the noble Lord, and may be desirable to the noble Lord, to introduce a Bill to ban park coursing; but this Bill does not touch park coursing, because it is not allowed in this country.


It is illegal anyway.


My Lords, the fact remains, whether noble Lords like it or not, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and until such time as we canget ourselves sorted out—and I sincerely hope that that will be as soon as possible and that we have a devolved administration at Stormont—Westminster (and here I fully sympathise) is responsible for the law in Northern Ireland. What I am saying, and I am coming round to it, is that if the kind of coursing that is permissible in England is considered fit to be abolished because it is so objectionable, how much more should coursing be abolished in Northern Ireland when it is so much more objectionable; and I am saying that this Bill refers to hare coursing.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? It may help him. Though it is quite true, as noble Lords opposite say, that the hares in this country are not first of all caught and then let out, in fact beaters-up are employed to beat the hares on to the coursing ground. The situation is not quite so simple as some noble Lords who have interrupted the noble Lord would have him believe.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that when the hares go on to that coursing ground, they have far more chance than if they were coursed before they were on the coursing ground?

Several Noble Lords: Order!


My Lords, I think it might be better if the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, was allowed to get on with his speech. There have been complaints, and I say this in no partisan sense, that no one supporting the Bill has gone to the trouble of attending hare coursing. The noble Lord has been interrupted on a substantial number of occasions, and I think it would be fair if noble Lords allowed him to complete his speech.


My Lords, we cannot allow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, to get away with that. First he says that no supporter of the Bill has been to a hare coursing meeting, and then he produces one and says he should be heard because he has been to a meeting.


I take the hint, my Lords, and I will conclude as quickly as I can. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, was good enough to put in a commercial and advertise future meetings so that noble Lords who have not taken the opportunity so far to see hare coursing will be able to enter in their diaries the dates of future events. Many arguments have been advanced against hare coursing and a lot of them are probably similar to those which were put forward in times past as, gradually, civilised society began to object to bear baiting, pig-sticking and, as many of us do today, to bullfighting in other countries. Possibly the arguments were similar to those used by the ancient Romans to justify casting Christians into the lions' den; after all, it probably provided a good diet for the lions, and anyway it was humane for Christians because it spared them suffering from perhaps a prolonged death from cancer, leprosy or some other disease. Genuinely, I do not think those arguments hold much water.

The main decision that has to be taken by your Lordships today is whether to read this Bill a second time. I sincerely hope that it will get a Second Reading. I have taken note of the fact that an Order in Council may be enacted in respect of Northern Ireland if this Bill is passed, but I plead that the spirit of the Bill be spread to Northern Ireland because if hare coursing is so objectionable that it should be banned here, then it is twice or thrice as objectionable in Northern Ireland and therefore it is twice or thrice as important that it be banned in that Province. If Her Majesty's Government find that it is not possible to give an undertaking to that effect, then, while I am not sure of the procedure that is involved with a Select Committee, I give notice that at the Committee stage.in this House I shall table an Amendment to the clause which says: This Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland to make it read "This Act shall extend to Northern Ireland "or what other form of words I am instructed is appropriate.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, I am also the president of a coursing club. I, too, have attended coursing meetings and it amazes me that most of the supporters of the Bill in this House and in another place do not appear to have attended a coursing meeting to find out the true facts for themselves. What will be the effect of this Bill? It will make illegal the least cruel way of killing hares. It will not make the killing of hares illegal with greyhounds, lurchers and other dogs—provided they are not in an organised competition—but it will mean that hares will not have the advantage of suffering less cruelty, with more chance of escape, by having tie course properly organised.

We have heard—and we shall hear a lot more—about the word "cruelty ". Surely, it must be up to each and every individual to decide whether he or she is being cruel to an animal; this decision must be left to one's conscience. I know that this Government like to decide everything for us, but please, can this decision be left to the individual? With what animals does one associate the word "cruelty", and why? Where does cruelty begin and where does it stop? Is it not cruel for a fly slowly to die attached to a sticky piece of paper? Is it not cruel for birds to be allowed to die daily in their hundreds at London Airport, as your Lordships heard on 25th November in reply to a Question put by the noble Earl, Lord Arran? Is it not cruel for rats to be caught by terriers'? Is it not cruel for rabbits to be bitten to death by ferrets? And is it not cruel for beagles to be used in smoking tests? I am sure that noble Lords are glad to hear that these tests are shortly to end.

Why, therefore, has this Bill been introduced? It has been introduced mainly because the Government consider it cruel to course hares. We have heard that shooting and snaring are more cruel. This extract comes from A Review of Coursing in 1971 by Owen Stable Q.C., and R. M. Stuttard: Our conclusion is that coursing is a well-conducted sport and that those who take part in it are familiar with its rules"— more than the Irish, I am afraid— and are keen to observe them. We consider that the rules are good and that the amend- ments which have been made from time to time are interesting examples of adaptation to new conditions and to new problems as these have arisen. Is this Bill sheer Government hypocrisy and is it a forerunner of other measures to prevent the freedom of the individual, with more Government interference in our daily lives? It seems totally illogical to allow a person to set one dog on a hare but a criminal offence if two dogs course the same hare. What is the point of this? Is it less cruel to the hare? Of course not. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, to enlighten me on this point? Can he also tell me whether, if three or four dogs or greyhounds chase the same hare when they are out in the countryside with two or three handlers, that is coursing? Or is it hunting? And is it a competition as to their ability? I shall be surprised if he can give a clear-cut answer to these questions. If the noble Lord cannot, then that will show that the words used in this Bill are, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, said in the debate in this House on 7th November, "short and simple, deceptively so." They are unacceptably vague and we require a much more precise definition of what is and what is not a crime. I feel very strongly that it is wrong to enact a law which is difficult to define and hard to enforce. Our police are more than fully occupied at the present time. This is an irrelevant, ill-defined and ill-conceived piece of legislation and I am happy that the noble Lord the Leader of the House has agreed to it being sent to a Select Committee.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, during the past 30 years I have been a Member either of this House or another place and I feel that either House is never better than when it is discussing animal cruelty or animal welfare. I remind noble Lords that within the last six months or so we have had Questions or minor debates on such matters as the export of old horses to Belgium, the importation of tortoises, the bludgeoning of baby seals, the sale of birds as pets and the transit conditions of birds at Heathrow Airport, to which reference has been made. We are never better than when we are showing some real concern for the animal world because we have rightly been called a nation of animal lovers. I like to think that we are such a nation. Yet, on this small Bill dealing with cruelty to thehare—and Scott Henderson, in his Report, regards it as cruelty—we are divided. Happily, we are not dividing on Party lines and, if there is a Division on the Second Reading at the end of the day, that will be proved. The disagreement arises because some people feel that it is easier and perhaps kinder to course a hare than for it to be shot by the farmer in the interests of pest control because his crops are under attack.

I should perhaps declare an interest. If I have a hate of any animal atall—and it is more or less a love-hate relationship—it is the grey squirrel. I have three very nice walnut trees and, at the right season of the year, they are full of walnuts, but I have never yet tasted one. We see plenty of squirrels. However, if I were asked to shoot one I could not because the little blighters sit up, using their front paws to hold the walnut in front of them and biting it.

One cannot help occasionally feeling somewhat fanatical about animal welfare and the love of animals, but I do not go the whole way in that direction—for instance, with people who are opposed to vivisection. I believe that the human animal—the head of the primates, if one cares to call him that—is entitled in the interests of medical science to make experiments on certain animals to serve humanity. However, that is a very different matter. We are this afternoon considering whether there is any real cruelty to the hare in coursing. If we admit that there is some cruelty, we have to decide whether it is more cruel to shoot hares or to have them coursed.

I have never engaged in a hare shoot, though I have shot rabbits. I do not suppose I could hit a hare anyway, for I am not a good enough shot, but I am certain because I have been told so by people so engaged—farmers and so on—that when hares are being chased they scream and scream pretty loudly. That must indicate, if not pain, at least fear. So really we are trying this afternoon to decide whether hare coursing should be stopped simply because it is cruel. I believe that there is no doubt, and Scott Henderson confirms that this blood sport is cruel. I do not believe for a moment that every hare is caught and killed, but, for the purposes of this debate and with the background I have mentioned and which we all have as animal lovers, we ought to be certain before we cast a vote against this very simple Bill.

It has been suggested this afternoon —and I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, again mentioned the point—that, unless one has seen hare coursing one cannot judge it or support it. I hope that I am paraphrasing the words of the noble and learned Lord correctly. I am an opponent of capital punishment, but I have never seen a man or a woman hanged. We would all now oppose cockfighting—how many have joined the gentlemen of the main to see cockfighting? I do not feel that that argument holds good at all and, if one is in any doubt at all as to what hare coursing means, Scott Henderson's appendix gives more graphic detail than anything one can read elsewhere. Scott Henderson is worth reading for that reason. His Report is now 25 years old. At the beginning of that Report he refers to the hare as, a defenceless animal, most active at night, that does not move much at all during the day ". If Scott Henderson is right in any direction, he is right in that direction and, if that is so, what is happening is that coursing is taking place during the time when the hare is least alert.

Scott Henderson may or may not be right—I do not know—but the purpose of that Report was to investigate cruelty to wild animals. It is, as has been mentioned, a contradictory Report. It said that hare coursing came within the authors' definition of cruelty, but was no less cruel than shooting hares, and on hare coursing they had no recommendation. Further on, they said it was another method of pest control; and further again, that a hunted hare can run anywhere at will but a coursed hare is pursued in a very restricted area and its chance of escape is very small indeed. Then, in paragraph 275, Scott Henderson said that the crowds as coursing meetings added to the hare's fright.


My Lords. I wonder whether the noble Lord could give the reference for Scott Henderson's remark that the coursed hare was in a very restricted area?


My Lords, I believe it is paragraph 280. When this matter was being considered 25 years ago evidence was taken from anyone who wished to give it and another interesting point came out in the evidence given by the Government—and presumably this came from the Ministry of Agriculture. It was pointed out that hare coursing was more popular in industrial than in rural areas. Yet we have this afternoon been told time and again that this is a countryman's sport and that the townsman knows nothing whatever about it. That is not what Scott Henderson said.

During the last debate it was strongly argued that even if this small Bill is worth bringing before this noble House, now is the wrong time because of inflation, unemployment, Northern Ireland, Chrysler and so on. That is a specious argument because even during the grim days of the War a number of humane social Acts of Parliament were put on to the Statute Book. If one argues in that way it will never be the right time to do anything. It is rather like the pay of Members of Parliament—it is never the right time to raise it. I can say that now as I am no longer in the other place. It is a specious argument. I would suggest that those who use it should read not necessarily the Acts themselves but some of the titles of Acts passed during the war years. For example, I see that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is in his place. His Badgers Bill went through and was approved—and he is to be congratulated on it—at a time when we were very concerned about the Common Market issue, in addition to inflation. It is always the right time to do something worth while in the interests of animals or humans, whenever they are being badly or inhumanely treated. It is the strength of this country that we have been able to do such things.

We have also heard arguments as to whether or not coursed hares or hunted animals generally suffer pain. They cannot speak so we cannot be sure, but it is very evident to anyone who knows anything about the animal world that animals do suffer pain. In any case, we should not experiment to find out whether they do.

This simple Bill makes coursing matches illegal. A coursing match is a match in which a hare is driven on to the course and, at an appropriate moment, dogs are released and the hare is chased. If it tries to get off the course it is driven back on by men who are stationed at appropriate intervals—


My Lords, the noble Lord will not wish to mislead the House. That is totally untrue and entirely against the rules of the National Coursing Club.


My Lords, I am basing my argument on Scott Henderson. He says that men are employed at regular intervals on the side of the course to drive the hare back to the course if it should get off.


My Lords. I believe that the noble Lord is misreading Scott Henderson. This is certainly not done and I hope that the noble Lord will reread the Report and not give the House this idea.


My Lords, let Members of your Lordships' House read it themselves. I cannot give your Lordships the reference without stopping in the middle of my speech, but I can assure your Lordships it is there. The actual words are: …is driven back on again by men standing at intervals and put there for that purpose. One accepts that the main purpose of hare coursing is for sport, to test the skill of the dogs. Perhaps a little money is made for the dog owners. But in the process of this—and it is not the objective of the coursing match—the hare is killed, if not on all occasions, certainly on very many; and it is not killed very pleasantly.

I ask this question—I ask it out of ignorance—and perhaps someone will answer it when making a reply: Why would it not be possible to muzzle the dogs? Could they not chase the hare in precisely the same way, show their skill in running and turning, without catching the hare? We have heard the argument that this Bill is legally defective. I believe that it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, who said this, not today but on the previous occasion, which I think was Friday, 7th November. I should not argue with a learned judge, but if a one-clause Bill is legally defective there should not be much difficulty in making it legally correct in its subsequent stages. If the lawyers advising the Home Office, as well as the Parliamentary draftsmen and the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet have allowed this one-clause Bill to go through without its being legally correct in law, that is a rather poor reflection on them. I wonder what would happen if they were dealing with the Community Land Act, which was rather more involved than this. I am sure that something can be done to put this point right.

Prior to the debate at the end of the last Session I had not read the Scott Henderson report, but I am now a firm supporter of the Bill and of all its objectives. What the Bill does not do is important; it does not prevent the farmer out with two, three, four, or even six dogs setting up a hare, chasing it and killing it. It does not prevent shooting hares if they are pests. Here I agree that if they are not killed outright it may be cruel. But as I said earlier, we must prevent destruction of crops. One accepts the point which has been made this afternoon, that animals in the wild hunt and kill each other, but this is usually done for food. Hare coursing does none of these things at all. It does not help pest control. It is simply organised as a so-called sport, to train dogs—I accept not necessarily to kill hares, but that does happen; or at least they are badly wounded.

We are told—I hope that I have the name right—that the dog handlers or trainers are required to get on the spot as quickly as possible once the dogs have caught the hare to see that the hare is despatched and its misery ended. But surely their first job would be to secure the dogs. But if that is not so, presumably the dogs are allowed to run around, and not be pulled off when the hare is down. What happens when the hare is down on the ground and the dogs have got it? Again, I turn to Scott Henderson —and this time I can quote. I refer to Appendix IV, paragraph 14: "…with both dogs biting "into the hare. Is that not cruel? That is an extremely cruel way of doing it!

I ask the supporters who attend meetings, when they are watching the skill of the dogs, to have a thought for the animal which is being killed. I should exonerate them from any blame or accusation of their being there purely to watch the killing of a hare. I do not think that they are there purely for that purpose. They are there to watch the skill of the dogs, but it is in that process that the hare is killed. The supporters of blood sports always take the view that the animal enjoys it in part. I would not go all the way with the supporters of all blood sports. There are certain blood sports among us humans. I can give as an example boxing, which I like—and I can say that in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. I like watching boxing, if that is a blood sport—and often it is. But with hare coursing it must be degrading for people to stand there, watching the hare driven on to the course, frightened by crowds, driven back again if he tries to get off, and eventually caught by dogs, only, I hope, to be mercifully killed, if necessary, by the dog handlers.

I was not present during the last debate, but I read the report of it. One noble Lord then said that if we were to lose hare coursing we would lose an ancient freedom. I cannot say which noble Lord said that; I do not have the name with me. We lost the ancient freedoms of bear baiting, cock fighting, and public hangings, and I do not think we are any the less as a result of having lost them. Our generation is a better one than were the generations in which those activities took place—that is my view.

It has been said this afternoon by at least one noble Lord—and I do not know how this is worked out—that this Bill is a Left-Wing plot. I say at once that if this is a Left-Wing plot the hare would not be the objective; it would probably be my colleague my noble friend Lord George-Brown and myself. We humans are supposed to be the heads of the animal kingdom, the heads of the primates. If that theory is correct and we so regard ourselves, then it is about time that we supported small Bills of this type simply to serve our subjects.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be extremely brief in addressing your Lordships. Following the statement by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that this Bill is to be referred to a Select Committee, I feel that the whole point of this debate has been removed. We have heard this afternoon a number of speeches from noble Lords who were speaking from what were almost entrenched positions. I do not like the shape of this Bill as it is, and I think it a bad Bill, because in order to enforce it it may be necessary to go through considerable legal procedures and incur considerable costs to ensure that it means what it says. I hope that during the Committee stage—whenever it may be—we can get real clarification as to what is meant by this Bill.

I do not believe that anyone will try to prevent the Bill receiving a Second Reading today. My noble friend Lord Denham said that he would not ask your Lordships not to support the Bill. I am rather sorry to see the Bill go to a Select 'Committee. I think that your Lordships could probably have dealt with it better on the Floor of the House. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House say that a terminating date in regard to the reference to a Select Committee must be given in relation to the Bill. I say that because those who are well skilled in such matters can use Select Committees extremely well to keep things moving along gently, and in such circumstances the Bill could again be lost in this Session.

I should hate to have to select Members for the Select Committee, because almost everyone has a view on these matters. However, I hope that when the Bill goes to the Select Committee and people are giving their evidence (all of which we have heard in various shapes or form this afternoon), noble Lords who form the Select Committee will appreciate that, whatever we may say for or against the Bill, we say it from our deepest convictions and not because we are trying to make a point one way or the other.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, will try to be short. I should like to start by saying one word with regard to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. He referred to a film, the hunt saboteurs' film. They seemed to me to be a society to promote a conspiracy against the peace, and I should have thought that their performances as displayed in that film would have been a proper matter for consideration by the prosecuting authorities. I should have thought, too, that perhaps the activities of the ITV in presenting that conspiracy might also be considered. In that film was included a wholly fraudulent scene of coursing. In that coursing, a sound which was supposed to be that of a hare screaming was put on throughout the course. I have heard hares scream, not in coursing but when killed by a stoat or a weasel, and when they have been shot or wounded. I can assure noble Lords that the note of a hare screaming has no real resemblance at all to the fraudulent sound which was introduced into that film.

May I now turn to the theme of what I want to say. I am concerned with cruelty, but in this I think there are two aspects. There is, first, the public aspect; the aspect which it is the duty of society, by its laws, to control and to suppress. I would give a definition of such cruelty. It is: any act which adds unnecessarily to the total suffering of beasts or animals, bearing in mind all the time the course of nature, the balance of nature, that nature provides no beds for its denizens to die in and that the process of death in nature is always cruel. Unless one is satisfied that an activity adds to that total suffering, I do not think it is the concern of the law to deal with it.

The second aspect is the personal matter; the things which, individually, we may or may not care to do. So far as I am concerned, when I was a boy I shot the hindlegs off a rabbit which got under an oak tree, and I could not get it out. I have never shot anything since; I was haunted by the fear of that wounded animal which I could do nothing about. Again, I have not fished, because again I do not like the idea of a live, very sentient creature fighting against a barb. But I would not forbid those things, because I am not at all satisfied that they add to the picture of a balance of nature, which is in course of going anyway.

But when we come to coursing, I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, is not in his place, because I should very much have liked to say something to him. He said, as I understood him, that he would not pass judgment on the question of cruelty. What he found objectionable about the Bill was the unacceptable enjoyment of those who went to see coursing. That was how he put his case, I think. I have joined with the noble Lord in various campaigns with humanitarian aspects, particularly the campaign against capital punishment. I believe that for him to say, without going to see what happens, "I will condemn your unacceptable enjoyment", is simply insulting. I would contrast the words of the priest with the words of the judge: "I would not dare to pass judgment unless I had seen". My Lords, I prefer the words of the judge. We have had said, "I do not have to see babies battered in order to condemn battering babies, or people hanged in order to condemn hanging". That, surely, is a different matter from saying, "I can condemn unseen, without taking the trouble to go to see, that which I know many of my colleagues, many of my friends, many people whom I have every reason to respect, have seen but not condemned and do not regard as cruel".

I would say that this attitude of refusing to go to see is the attitude which was taken by an Aristolean philosopher (also, I believe, a priest) when he refused to look through Galileo's telescope for fear of what he might see. He said, "I have read Aristotle twice. He does not mention sunspots; there are none. I will not look through your telescope". So, today, one after another of the people who wish to interfere with an ancient and established custom of the countryside, say, "I will not look through your telescope. I do not want to go to see what I am going to condemn".

I would turn to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and say that he at least provided very good reasons for going to see, because if he had seen—and I say this with all due respect to an old friend—he would not have talked the nonsense about coursing that he did. He said that hares scream throughout the course. No hare has ever screamed in a course or when it is being run. It would not have the breath to do so. I have never heard a scream during coursing. I know it has happened; I know there are those who have heard it. I have heard it in hare shooting. The wounded hare screams, and it is a most pathetic thing. I have heard it at night, when a weasel has got a hare—an awful, eerie, horrible sound. But in the course it does not happen. Then the noble Lord said—and I do not know where he finds it, from Scott Henderson or the misreading —that people were posted to turn the hare back. They would be nearly lynched if they did; it would totally spoil the course. The whole point is that the course ends at the limit. There you want to get the dogs stopped as soon as you can so that they do not have the handicap of a hard course before the next round. The whole point is to get the hare away as soon as it has crossed the boundary. You stop the dogs at the boundary, but never the hare. It makes absolute nonsense; it is not what coursing is about.

Again, the noble Lord spoke of an urban constricted area. There is no urban area which could possibly hold a coursing meeting. It is a large area where the hares live in their natural circumstances—driven, it is true, by beaters walking slowly until they come into a field where the hare and the slipper are ranged. Then there is the run. One hare in four or one hare in five gets killed. His death is probably quicker than almost any other death scene in nature. Generally, it is a quick broken neck; very occasionally it is not, and it has to be killed by an assistant. To say that this adds substantially to the cruelty is a great nonsense.

I would make one final point, one which I made last time and which was ignored both by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Soper. When the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that it was the unacceptable enjoyment that he wished to prevent and which he condemned, what does he mean by that? Does he mean the sadism, the enjoyment from killing, the enjoyment from blood? One must presume so. But this Bill does not forbid that. You can course your hares, you can chase your hares, you can do anything you like to them so long as the purpose is not a competition as to the ability of the hounds. That is all that is forbidden. If you say: "I did not do that to test the ability of the hounds; I did it because I like torturing hares, because I am a sadist, because their screams turn me on!" this would be a complete defence under the Bill. You are not condemning what is done for cruelty: you are only condemning what is done without any desire to kill a hare at all, the coursing of the dogs. Really, a Bill of this sort is almost too much nonsense to waste the time of a Committee.

I am glad that it is going to be exposed. I hope that it there dies of the exposure that it will receive; but I certainly do not want, and would not accept, any time limit which would prevent the evidence which is proper from being heard. I do not think that courts properly operate under a time limit constricting the evidence; and this Select Committee is in the nature of a court.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, after the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Paget, I hesitate to intervene. albeit briefly. Where I live in Scotland is over 150 miles from the only coursing meeting in Scotland. We heard this earlier in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. He was giving a commercial for that meeting, which I understand is on Christmas Eve, I have listened with great interest to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, as well as those of the other contributors to the debate. But I owe the House an apology, and particularly the noble Lord. Lord Harris, in that I was absent from the Chamber for the major part of his speech. I regret that I was at a meeting discussing that other open air sport, a sport which, I am sure, transfixes the miner neighbours of the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, who is, I regret to say, no longer in her place. That is professional football, if we dare call it a sport. To this so-called sport I go regularly and I see appalling viciousness and intimidation among humans. This afternoon we are spending several hours discussing what is said to be cruelty, viciousness and intimidation concerning hares.

As a result of the debate that we had at the end of last Session, I attended a coursing meeting to see for myself whether there was any cruelty or needless pain inflicted on the hares. I am sure that noble Lords will be aware that agriculture requires the number of hares to be controlled so that the crops that we grow are not ravaged. Of the various methods of controlling the hare population, it seems that coursing, and, in particular, coursing carried out as a sport under the National Coursing Club rules, is one of the least cruel methods, if not the least cruel method. Shooting hares can and often does give rise to wounding and unpleasant and painful deaths. Gassing is totally impracticable. There are also predators about which we have heard in the speeches, both in this Session and in the last, of the noble Lord, Lord Paget.

At the coursing meeting that I attended earlier this month I saw greyhounds chase the first hare, and suddenly the greyhounds lost sight of their quarry in dead ground. This brought home to me that the greyhounds chase their quarry entirely by sight and not by smell. Thus, there was no relentless chase of exhausted and terrified hares; and only for a mere 20 or 30 seconds was the hare in any way at risk of its life, or of injury, or of any other unpleasant fate. Can any of the noble Lords who have spoken—and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Paget, who has experience in this matter—tell me whether a fox would give up the chase or stalk of a similar quarry, or whether any dog such as a retriever would give up the chase of a hare after 20 or 30 seconds? I think not—and I have reasonable experience of seeing retrievers chasing after hares.

At this meeting I saw 36 hares coursed. A total of four hares were caught and killed. Two were killed outright in about 10 to 15 seconds from the time the hounds were released. One hare was caught, and after ten second the handlers of the dogs and other officials of the course killed the hare which was in the mouth of the winning greyhound. I counted that hare and all the hares afterwards. The first two had their necks broken. The third was totally unmarked. The fourth that I saw killed was caught and slightly wounded. It was a flesh wound, a tooth mark, in the shoulder of the hare. This hare, too, was swiftly and humanely killed.

I believe that if other noble Lords had come to that meeting with me, they would have seen no acts of appalling cruelty or needless acts of cruelty. We have heard a great deal about this from that outstanding naturalist, the noble Lord, Lord Paget. I heard no hares screaming as they were done to death. This too was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Paget; and I would reiterate it to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. Not one of the 36 hares that I saw coursed, screamed. The only time I have ever heard a hare screaming was when it was gravely hurt by shooting or was in the mouth of a dog or a predator—a weasel, a stoat or something like that.

At the meeting I attended 32 out of 36 hares escaped unharmed. Can anyone say what would have been the proportion of wounded or maimed hares after 36 hares had been shot at at a normal hare shoot? I suspect that a good proportion would have got away and died terrible deaths. I understand that only about 600 hares are killed each year at coursing meetings. This, it seems to me, is a relatively insignificant number when considering the country as a whole. As the House has heard from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, killing the hare is not necessary in coursing. The competition is to see which dog is better at pacing, turning and at accelerating; and the judges' decision is final. If a hare gets away—and I have seen hares which dodge through the cars of the people who were observing the coursing—there are no men driving them back on to the course.

I have heard the arguments for and against this country pursuit of coursing. From my own observations at one meetting—and I certainly would go to others —I do not think it is a cruel sport. Doubtless, I shall hear a hare screaming. This is inevitable if one goes to a large number of courses. I saw 36 hares, which is a reasonable number in one day, and not one screamed or was killed inhumanely. Of the four I saw killed, not one had a mark except for the one I explained. From the observations that I made, I do not believe that coursing is any more cruel or more brutal than any other sport in the country.

I believe it is one of the most, if not the most, humane way of killing hares. I would support the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in his suggestion that the Bill should go to a Select Committee before it proceeds further.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for not putting my name down earlier to speak I did not think I could be in my place in your Lordships' House today. I will be brief as the hour is getting late. Notwithstanding the Scott Henderson Committee Report. I do not understand how we can consider hare coursing in isolation. I do not understand how one blood sport can be divorced from another when one is discussing whether or not cruelty is involved. One must surely recognise that inevitably there is a degree of cruelty in all field sports; that element is not entirely involved in the possible death of the hunted animal, but there must be some fear and anguish experienced when it is being hunted or coursed. Nevertheless, one has to recognise the need for control of numbers, and also the need for the preservation of the species.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, that there is a danger of hares becoming extinct if coursing is abolished, for then there would be widespread shooting. This Bill seeks to prevent two or more greyhounds in competition coursing a hare. The antagonistic nature of public opinion towards hare coursing could possibly be assuaged if only one greyhound were used. With respect to the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, the hare obviously would have a greater chance of survival. Surely greyhound A could compete with greyhound B, and the judges could award points accordingly if the dogs were running individually. However, we have to agree upon a cruelty aspect of hare coursing.


My Lords, with respect, I said that I did not consider there would be any less cruelty by having two dogs rather than one dog. I said that I was sure it was less cruel if two dogs caught a hare rather than one dog.


My Lords, I consider that the hare would have a greater chance of survival if only one dog was coursing it. However, that may not be so. In any case, all we have to do is to consider the cruelty aspect of hare coursing. I personally am glad of the interjection of the Leader of the House, for I support the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in his endeavour to bring this Bill before a Select Committee, so enabling us to consider all the aspects concerned.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords. your Lordships have listened to a long and interesting debate, and one might have been pardoned if at one stage after the Lord Privy Seal's intervention one had thought it might be slightly truncated. That was not to be. Noble Lords emerged refreshed from the tea room, and some made the speeches which they would have made whether or not the noble Lord had intervened. To take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, he said, admittedly from his vast experience, that he thought Parliament was at its best when discussing matters relating to animals. My experience is less than his, but I would have said exactly the opposite: I think your Lordships' House, in particular, is at its worst in those circumstances. We wear our already large hearts writ large on our sleeves; and, because of the passions which are aroused in the debate, we over-egg our puddings considerably. This has been demonstrated this afternoon by comparing the coursing event with throwing Christians to the lions. It is only when one looks at it in that way that one can make up one's mind whether or not your Lordships' House is at its best in this form of debate.

I do not intend to go over what has been said before or, indeed, what I said before. This is a matter which, on our side of the House at any rate, is not a Party matter; it is a matter for the individual feelings and conscience of each noble Lord when he comes to make up his mind, if and when he is given the chance of so doing. If I have a quarrel with the Government it is the quarrel that they have, as it were, taken unto themselves to promote this Bill. If ever there was legislation which should be left to the Private Member to put forward and try to get through one or other House, it is this type of legislation. I am disturbed that the Home Office should be used as a vehicle for this kind of legislation. It may well be that supporters of the ending of blood sports feel that without Government intervention or assistance they will never get what they wish. It may be that British political genius is trying to see that they do not get what they wish in this somewhat curious way. It arouses considerable disquiet. I have said this before, and I will say it again: the disquiet is because this form of legislation is so divisive in its effect. Other noble Lords have already emphasised that it sets what I call the town against the country.

Most noble Lords who have supported this Bill—I will not accuse them of having what I call the "North Circular Road complex "—do not give the air of ever having gone too far into the countryside. One knows that many Cabinet Ministers now have houses in the country and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, tells us he has awalnut tree —I am sure he does not whip it! He cannot bear to shoot the grey squirrels although they devour his walnuts. Grey squirrels in my part of Scotland are now so numerous, and their depredations so bad so far as hardwoods are concerned, that the Forestry Commission have asked that they be officially re-named "tree-rats" and have asked everybody to shoot them. There have been experiments to poison them. They are indeed rats, and people have been placing dishes of a substance which I believe is called Rodene—I am not thinking of the independent school —to poison the rats. I think that woolly thinking pervades your Lordships' House when we come to discuss this question of animal welfare.

What is it that, in the end, we have to make up our minds about in this Bill which I anticipate will shortly receive a Second Reading and will then no doubt go through its course in your Lordships' House? First of all, is coursing, the sport or the activity or whatever it is, so cruel that society is entitled—and, indeed, bound—to take action against it in itself? Many people have said many things about coursing. I have to confess I have never been hare coursing. I do not suppose anybody would quarrel with the view that some fright is occasioned to hares, otherwise they would not run away. Therefore to that extent, if for no other reason, I suppose it could be said to be cruel. But is it cruelty of such a nature that an otherwise perfectly respectable and pleasurable pastime should be stopped? Bear in mind, my Lords, that many country activities involve death in almost everything that is done in the country scene.

The other criterion is this: whether or not coursing is cruel, or cruel enough to be prohibited, is the effect on those who take part, or on society as a whole, such that they should be prevented from continuing the sport? We have today heard a great deal once more of thinking which is perhaps less logical than entertaining. The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said that he was quite happy to watch boxing —grown men pummelling each other with the intention of inflicting such grievous bodily harm that one or other of them falls senseless to the ground. I wonder whether the noble Lord has ever watched women engaged in all-in wrestling, which, on the occasion I watched it, seemed to me a horrible spectacle. But apparently he draws the line at coursing—


My Lords, I wonder whether I might intervene briefly? The noble Earl referred to wrestling: presumably he means all-in wrestling, which is regarded as an entertainment rather than as a sport.


My Lords, I think it was all-in, because when I watched it the trunks of one of the participants came off! But I have to confess that while I am no expert on coursing I am equally no export on various forms of wrestling. This was certainly something at which the ladies who watched seemed delighted to be present.

Of course, there is an excitement in the chase: I think everybody would agree with that. Is it something which is so perverted—I use the word in its strict sense—that it should be banned? I wonder whether that is so. This is something which your Lordships will have to think about in the coming months because, obviously, this is not in any way the end of the discussion of the principles of this Bill.

I should like to say just a word as to the meaning of the Bill. If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, dealt in a fairly cavalier fashion with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. I should have thought that if a Law Lord comes to your Lordships' House and says in effect that a proposed Bill does not make legal sense, it is surely up to the Minister in charge of the Bill to make a somewhat better explanation at least as to how his civil servants think that it does, and not merely to say that it is, or will be, perfect law. Even to me, in my humble capacity as an ex-practising member of the Bar, it seems as though it is going to be an extremely difficult line for a court to draw as to when is a course not a course. As I understand it, it is only when a course has a competitive element in relation to third parties— because otherwise it can never be proved —that coursing can be brought within the ambit of a court. So we are left with the absurd situation that any number of people can take out their dogs and set them on to hares, subject to no rules, so far as I can see—because if there are rules and if there is a competition they will be committing an offence. If they have no rules and merely try as best they can to kill hares, then they will be guilty of no offence at all.

I should like to answer just one point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I live comparatively near Fife and have on many occasions in the early morning seen people on the edges of the little mining towns taking greyhounds for walks over open country. It may be that they just like to take the morning air with their greyhounds, but I somehow feel that the presence of a hare in the vicinity might not be entirely unconnected with that early morning activity. And who shall gainsay them if they want to do that? If people want to pursue a hare with their dog, is it not better than going round a field hitting a little white ball with a stick?—and that is also something I have never done and about which I am rather proud. It seems to me it is better to do something and to do it honestly than to try to make out that such an activity, because it is enjoyed by a section of the populace that is disapproved of by a certain element in our society, is somehow degrading and therefore must be ended.

Most of your Lordships who have stayed to the end of this debate will have listened to a particularly telling contribution made by my noble friend Lord Denham. I have already expressed our gratitude, if that is the right word, to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, when he announced that he would move for this Select Committee to be set up if your Lordships gave this Bill a Second Reading. At least, when we debate the Bill further I hope that those of us who have not been coursing or who know little about it will continue this debate in not quite the same state of ignorance as some of us have been this afternoon.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I think we would all agree with what the noble Earl has just said, that this has been a full debate and a very interesting one to those who have had the pleasure not only of attending this one but of hearing what was said in our last discussion only six weeks ago. If I may say just one thing with some feeling, this is the fourth opportunity I have had within a period of six weeks of addressing the House during the Second Reading of the same Bill. I do not know whether that will get an entry in the Guinness Book of Records, but at least one hopes that it will get a small footnote in some important historical work which will no doubt be written at some time on the history of this controversy, which began, as we have been told by my noble friend Lady Bacon, in 1925.

I will speak very briefly, largely because many points in today's debate were inevitably covered on the last occasion and they will be gone into in detail later by members of the Select Committee, when the opportunity arises. They will certainly direct their minds to the point made by the noble Earl relating to the questions raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, which I answered with brevity because I recognised that they were likely to receive very careful inspection during the Committee stage of the Bill.

I should like to begin by welcoming the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and if my noble friend Lord Paget will restrain his feelings on the flatter for a moment or two, it is right to say that the noble Lord did testify to having attended a coursing in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and therefore it is clear that if the Bill were amended in a particular way it could cover Northern Ireland. With great respect to those who took exception to what the noble Lord said, it seems to me perfectly reasonable for him to raise the point he did this afternoon, though, I should point out, in passing, as I indicated during my Second Reading speech, that we should propose to the House that Northern Ireland should not be included in the text of the Bill but that we should proceed by Order in Council, were this Bill to reach the Statute Book.


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me just to intervene on that point? If one wants to forbid what the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, objected to, one would not make this Bill apply to Northern Ireland, because it would not forbid it. What one would make applicable to Northern Ireland is our legislation against cruelty to animals, which does forbid it.


My Lords, it would be idle for me to pretend—though no doubt my noble friend Lord Paget is in a wholly different class—to be an expert on Northern Ireland in this respect. All I would say is that, clearly, the mischief of which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, complained could be dealt with in this Bill were it to be the view of your Lordships' House that that was the appropriate way of dealing with it.

I shall now pass very briefly to the speech of my noble friend Lord Aylestone, and in so doing welcome him back to the House, because I think this is the first occasion on which he has addressed us since returning to this House from his chairmanship of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. I think we are all delighted to have had the opportunity of hearing him this afternoon, and look forward to doing so in the future. I say that with particular feeling, because when he was Chief Whip in another place I was a junior member of his staff, and I did not think I should ever have the opportunity at any stage of my life of welcoming him anywhere, particularly from the Government Front Bench.

In passing, I should now like to deal with the point made by my noble friend Lord Paget. He referred to a film made by the hunt saboteurs, which he said he thought constituted a criminal offence. It is far from my responsibility, talking to a distinguished member of the Bar, to advise him on a matter of this sort, but it seems to me that if that is his view he will no doubt wish to take an early opportunity of reporting to the Director of Public Prosecutions, presumably, the makers of the film and the IBA for any responsibility which he considers they may have in this matter. I now turn, if I may—


My Lords, may I—?


My Lords, I shall gladly give way, but, with respect, we have spent a fair amount of time on this point. I should like to turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who always speaks on this issue with great force and persuasiveness. The one point on which I do not think he was adequately persuasive was when he implied that we should accept—fairly uncritically, I may say—the Report of a Committee which reported 24 years ago; a distinguished Committee, no doubt, but a Committee which, I am bound to say, having looked with some care at this matter particularly over the last few weeks, produced a Report which in many respects is certainly capable (I use the most neutral possible language) of having a number of conflicting interpretations. For instance, if one looks at the Report of the Committee, there is no doubt that they considered hare coursing to be cruel. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that it is a technical matter. It does not say so in the Report of the Scott Henderson Committee. No doubt that is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, but it is not borne out by the Report itself.


My Lords, this is a very important point which the noble Lord has raised. The position is that the Scott Henderson Committee—and perhaps the noble Lord will look at the Report more carefully—did not say that the actions in coursing are cruel. Why I said that the Scott Henderson Committee found them to be technically cruel was because they were under the impression that the hare is being coursed unnecessarily at the National Coursing Club's meetings. That is why it is technically cruel. Anything that was not done at a National Coursing Club meeting they found not to be cruel.


My Lords, the sentence which I should like to read to the House is the last sentence of paragraph 280 of the Report, which reads: Consequently, the suffering which is caused to hares coursed at such meetings comes within the definition of cruelty which we have adopted. That is the point which I was relying upon to justify that observation on my part. But, secondly, whatever may have been the private views of members of the Committee as to whether it was desirable to have legislation, they referred to this question in the following paragraph. It is curious that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and other noble Lords who take a similar view of the matter did not refer to it, because it is a point of some significance.

In paragraph 281 of the Report, the Committee addressed themselves to the question of the past position of Government in this matter, and they came to the conclusion—this is dealt with in paragraphs 266 and281 of the Report—that one of the reasons why Government in the past had not taken steps to prohibit this sport was the possible effect on public opinion. I do not think there is very much doubt in anyone's mind as to the present state of public opinion on this matter. Of course, noble Lords who object to the present state of public opinion say that it exists because of the very successful and persuasive campaign which has been waged by those who are opposed to hare coursing. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that in the last 24 years since the publication of that Report there has been a decisive shift in public opinion, and that is one of the many reasons why Scott Henderson, by itself, is not an adequate answer to the situation with which we arc now confronted.

I now come to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard—what I can perhaps refer to as the Left-Wing conspiracy theory. Under this theory, we are apparently doing this because of pressure from the Left. As my noble friend Lady Bacon pointed out, she was the author of the Bill which was introduced in this House in 1972. I can think of many descriptions of my noble friend—I had the opportunity of hearing a number from some of her political critics—but being a member of the Left is not one of them. We had a little research done on the point made by my noble friend, which I thought was of some interest, about the 1925 Bill. It was carried in another place on Second Reading, went right through its Committee stage, and who, my Lords, was the Prime Minister at the time? It was Mr. Stanley Baldwin. Was he a victim, were the Government Whips at that time victims, of some Left-Wing conspiracy theory? If the House will forgive me, that is a fairly far-fetched conclusion and, if I may say so to the noble Earl, there were a substantial number of Liberal Members in another place at that time who would have been the first to identify any polluting influence of that character.

I have dealt with a number of points which have been raised in the debate. I recognise, as we all do on this Bench, that there are substantial differences within the House and, as has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, within the Parties. As he knows, and as I pointed out on the last occasion, a significant number of Members of his Party went into the Division Lobby in favour of the Bill in another place and there are certainly, as my noble friend Lord Paget pointed out, one or two on Benches on this side of the House who do not altogether find favour with what the Government are proposing.

Nevertheless, the Government in no way lack any respect for the views of the opponents of this measure, and I wish I could always say the same so far as the reverse is concerned. But they see the passage of this Bill as one more step—small, undoubtedly, but none the less important—towards a more humane society. There is no doubt in my mind that the great majority of the general public would agree with this view. Hare coursing is cruel because, as I indicated in my Second Reading speech, it inflicts unnecessary and avoidable cruelty on animals. It is right that this country, which prides itself on its concern for animals, should invoke the criminal law to bring this practice to an end.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Moved, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.