HL Deb 07 November 1975 vol 365 cc1520-71

1.19 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a simple measure comprising two clauses. The first, which gives effect to the single purpose of the Bill, will make hare coursing illegal and provide appropriate penalties for a breach. The second is largely technical. The banning of hare coursing is a subject which has been attracting a good deal of Parliamentary attention for a fairly substantial period of time. In recent years there have been several Bills introduced in another place with the object of making hare coursing illegal. In 1970 the Government introduced their own Bill, which achieved a Second Reading but fell as a result of the Dissolution of Parliament for the General Election. This was followed in 1972 by the Bill introduced in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lady Bacon, which failed to obtain a Second Reading. The noble Baroness has asked me to apologise to your Lordships on her behalf that she is not able to be present today.

Hare coursing is a subject which illustrates particularly clearly the rather ambivalent attitude of the British towards animals. On the one hand, we have a good record of pioneering work in animal welfare and protective legislation. At the same time there are occasional manifestations of an altogether different side of the British character. Sometimes both these trends can be found running together. Something of this kind is to be found in the case of hare coursing, where an interest in animals has become inextricably mixed with a form of cruelty which the Government believe can no longer be tolerated.

But for the lengthy debates at various times, here and in another place, about the nature of cruelty, and the repeated citation of various authorities, I would not have thought that there could be much argument about this aspect of the matter. However, in view of the variety of arguments that have been deployed, I think it desirable briefly to recapitulate the Government's understanding of what is meant by cruelty. We are well aware that animals are subject to various forms of suffering in nature. But this is not what we understand by cruelty. The Government believe that hare coursing is cruel because it involves the infliction of suffering, which is unnecessary, by man, solely for the purpose of sport. Arguments related to conservation, pest control and similar matters are entirely beside the point. Indeed, it is of interest that opponents of the Bill have found no inconsistency in defending hare coursing as a measure for both restricting, and maintaining, the hare population in almost the same breath.

We are dealing, therefore, with an activity in which, for the entertainment of the spectators and the gratification of the owners of the dogs, a wild animal is put in fear and at risk of its life and, in certain cases, may suffer a death which is painful and certainly not necessarily immediate. This is an activity, moreover, which we believe to be without defensible justification. It is for these reasons that the Government believe that this sport is cruel. I would concede at once that the subject of cruelty to animals is complex. We all recognise that man cannot avoid inflicting a certain amount of suffering for a variety of reasons; for example, for his own protection, for food, for pest control. Sometimes the motives may be mixed, but in all cases of this kind there is a justifiable reason, and every effort is made to restrict the suffering to no more than can be avoided. But when excessive, or unjustifiable, suffering might be involved, it has long been thought right to invoke the protection of the law.

It does not, of course, follow that criminal sanctions ought properly to be invoked to deal with every minor example of cruelty to animals, however reprehensible we might consider them to be. But there comes a point where the matter can no longer be ignored. We think that point has now been reached in the determination of that particular issue. It is not necessary, however, to establish any general principles for the purpose of the Bill we are debating this afternoon. It is perfectly clear to the Government that hare coursing is an activity which should properly be made subject to the criminal law. It involves the infliction of suffering to an animal which is precisely comparable to what has for long been unlaw- in related fields, such as bear baiting and bull-fighting. It is done solely for sport and with no other justification. Those involved are clearly determined to continue with it, and there is not the slightest prospect that they will give up of their own volition. And finally, it is abundantly clear that public opinion is resolutely, and increasingly opposed to this activity. This can be gauged from the support given to the Government's Bill in another place both in 1970 and on the most recent occasion. The growing strength of public concern has been reflected in the large number of letters which have been received by Members in another place, and by the Home Office. Taking all these considerations together, the Government is in no doubt that the invocation of the criminal law to bring hare coursing to an end is long overdue.

My Lords, I turn now to the Bill itself. The Bill does not need any definition of its terms because the activity which is being made unlawful is perfectly clearly described in the body of the main clause. Clause 1 makes it an offence for anyone to cause: … the coursing of a hare by two or more dogs in a competition as to their ability to course hares". In addition, it is made an offence to assist at such coursing, or knowingly to cause or permit any place to be used for such coursing.

The essential element in the offence is that there must be a deliberate arrangement of a competition between two or more dogs as to their ability to course hares. The Bill cannot therefore affect the straightforward hunting of hares, or any other pursuit of hares by dogs, provided there is no element involved of a pre-arranged competition to test the respective coursing abilities of the dogs. What the Bill deals with is the sport of hare coursing as it is at present organised.

My Lords, to deal with a particular point on which there was considerable discussion in another place, I should say a word about the question of the application of the Bill to Northern Ireland. Clause 2 of the Bill provides that it should not apply to Northern Ireland. The reason for this is that this is a matter which was formerly within the competence of the Government of Northern Ireland and it was thought right that this should continue to be dealt with separately. In explaining this in another place, however, my honourable friend indicated that, if this Bill passed, and there was still no legislative assembly in Northern Ireland, my right honourable friend proposed to publish straightaway proposals for an Order in Council along the same lines to the Bill. During its passage in another place, however, it was argued that this procedure was unnecessary and that the reasons which justified the introduction of the Bill at all called for its application to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government have some sympathy with that view and undertook to reconsider the matter if the Amendments for this purpose were withdrawn. This preconsideration has now taken place. Our view is that the Bill had better remain in its present form for one reason. Those involved in hare coursing in Great Britain have been under notice for some significant period of time that it was the Government's firm intention to bring hare coursing to an end. There has been no similar unequivocal notice in the case of Northern Ireland. In these circumstances, we do not believe that it would be right to extend this Bill to Northern Ireland at this point in time, although if the Bill made slower progress than we liked, we will reconsider this point.

MyLords, as I said at the outset of my speech, this Bill is simple and straightforward. It seeks to abolish an activity which has become growingly offensive to the majority of our fellow citizens. The Bill, was passed by decisive majorities in an-another place—made up of members of all our political Parties. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

1.28 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships have been under stress from pressure of Government business, to an extent that has been quite unparalleled in the 25 years that I have been a Member of this House. During the past 14 Sitting weeks, this part-time, unpaid, House has sat on all but five Fridays. It was at the request of my noble friend Lord Carrington that your Lordships' House came back, alone, for a week during the Summer Recess, because we on these Benches honestly believed that, if we did not, we could not get Government Business through.

The House sat through the night, on Tuesday of last week. Even so, your Lordships have only been able to give a part of the consideration that you would have wished to give and, indeed, that it was your duty to give, to a large number of complicated and far-reaching Bills. And it is in this, of all Sessions, that Her Majesty's Government have seen fit to find time for the Second Reading of a highly controversial Bill, at so late a day that it is manifestly unlikely that it can go further. I cannot but feel that this falls short of the standards of courtesy that your Lordships have become accustomed to expect from successive Administrations.

It is against this background, that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has had the unenviable task of moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I should like to congratulate him on the moderation with which he has done so. I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of people, both inside and outside Parliament, who support this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will believe that I am equally sincere, when I tell him that I am utterly convinced that they are wrong.

But clearly, if this Bill is to go further, it must be re-introduced in the next, or some subsequent Session, when it can reach your Lordships in reasonable time, and this debate must be something of a dress-rehearsal for that occasion. So I really think that I must reserve the arguments I intend to deploy in defence of coursing until the time comes when we are debating it for real. But it might be useful today if I were to give the noble Lord, Lord Harris, notice of some of the questions that your Lordships will, then, need to have answered. Your Lordships will want to know just what it is about hare coursing, that has led Her Majesty's Government to single it out, above other field sports, for abolition. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, created something of a record in that he made a speech about coursing without once mentioning the Scott Henderson Committee. The Scott Henderson Committee was set up 25years ago by a Labour Administration. It sat for a great many months and it heard a great deal of evidence and produced a Report.

Your Lordships will want to know what more recent, or more thorough, inquiries Her Majesty's Government have caused to be made, that can justify its implicit rejection of the Scott Henderson Report, the only official, independent, study of the subject that has been made. Your Lordships will want to know the answer to the question, which was asked throughout all stages of this Bill, in another place, an answer which the honourable lady Dr. Summerskill never gave. Exactly what forms of coursing will be legal, and what illegal, after the passage of this Bill? Where is what the honourable lady rather endearingly referred to as "innocent non-competitive hare coursing" to end, and where is crime to begin? And does this Bill, as at present drafted, carry out that intention, no more and no less?

My Lords, over the past nine or ten years, legislation to prohibit coursing has become an emotive issue, in a way that has tended to obscure the rights and wrongs of the sport itself. I believe that the time has come when we must re-establish the true facts. When this Bill, or one like it, comes again before your Lordships, in a new Session, I intend to move that it should be referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I have thought it right to declare this intention now, so that there can be no suggestion, when the time comes, that it is a procedural device to delay the Bill. It need not, of itself, delay the Bill coming into effect at all. However early the Bill were to start in the next Session, it just would not be possible, with the best will in the world, for it to pass through all its normal stages in both Houses, and come into operation before the 10th March, the end of the current coursing season. There is ample time for the very fullest investigation, before the beginning of the next Season, which begins on the 15th September.

But, my Lords, this Bill seeks to remove an ancient freedom. I accept the fact that there may be occasions on which it is right and proper that such a freedom should be removed. I am prepared to accept that Her Majesty's Government could be right, and I wrong, and that this might be one of them. But I do not believe that Members of any Government should seek to remove such a freedom, not without persuading everybody that it is right to do so, because clearly that would be impossible, but without letting it be seen that they have taken every step, and made every inquiry, reasonably necessary to assure themselves that it is right to do so. And this Her Majesty's Government have not done. A Select Committee of your Lordships' House, with the right to hear evidence, would go some of the way towards repairing this omission.

I should like to make a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and through him to the noble Lord the Leader of the House to which I hope that they will give very careful consideration. That we should discuss this Second Reading, as fully as your Lordships may wish to do so, but that, at the end of the debate, the noble Lord. Lord Harris, should not ask the House to come to a decision this afternoon, with only three Sitting days left before Prorogation, but that he should withdraw the Motion for Second Reading, as he would a Motion for Papers, thus leaving both sides uncommitted. My Lords, I believe that, in all the circumstances, such a course of action would commend itself to your Lordships, as being in the highest traditions of the House. But, if noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, are unable to accept this proposal, though I have my own opinion as to where their personal inclination would lie, those of your Lordships who believe, as I do, that the Bill is unjustified, will have to decide what action to take, when the Question is put.

If your Lordships agree with my proposal that, in a new Session, we should refer such a Bill to a Select Committee, it will be necessary first for that Bill to obtain a Second Reading. It is therefore logical that this Bill, too, should get its Second Reading on the nod, and I would urge your Lordships to allow it to do so. But we must make it as abundantly clear, outside this House, as it will be to your Lordships, that we are giving it a Second Reading so as to enable a proper inquiry into coursing to be made, and not that it in any way implies that this House accepts the principle behind this Bill.

1.36 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of SHEFFIELD

My Lords, in rising to address this House for the first time, I feel fortified in my apprehensiveness by the courtesy and sympathy—even charity—whichis extended to those who are addressing it for the first time. This debate has already been referred to as a dress rehearsal; for me it has all the tremors of a first night. It is an explosive issue with which to make any debut. Here is a minefield through which the hitherto uninitiated speaker in this House must tread warily. I confess that I do not find such circumspection difficult—nor do I apologise for it. I realise from what has been said about this Bill in another place that it is a contentious measure. I have already heard what has been said and I shall follow what will be said about it here with concentrated interest.

I put on record that I have no first-hand knowledge of hare coursing. I have taken some trouble to find out something about it. I have never been a crusader for field sports or for their abolition. It has always seemed to me that the opponents of blood sports, as they are perhaps not accurately called, have exaggerated the enjoyment of the participants in the painful death of their quarry. I do not believe that the hunting or the coursing fraternity are so motivated. That is not the source of their satisfaction. This attribution of false motives arises partly from the difficulty which all people experience of getting into other peoples' skins when they have diametrically opposed points of view. There is the difficulty of the townsman understanding and appreciating the life of the countryman and vice versa. So it comes about that certain pastimes arouse revulsion in some and enthusiasm in others.

In the general debate on blood sports, it seems to me that some commonly made assertions are irrelevant and misleading. Nature is red in tooth and claw, so it is asserted; but this is irrelevant. Animals are cruel to each other, so it is asserted; but this is misleading. Cruelty is a moral concept and wild animals are incapable of it. Then, further, the way animals behave to each other is no guide as to how man should behave in relation to animals. The Scott-Henderson Report on cruelty to wild animals is clear that animals suffer pain, and we need to have good reason to inflict it, or to be responsible for the infliction of such pain. Doubtless there are good reasons, for instance, in relation to pests and, to some extent, in relation to experiments where it is closely guarded against. It is claimed, of course, that hare coursing involves an unacceptable degree of suffering to the hare, and the question of pest control is not here seriously involved.

The subject of this Bill has been a subject of debate and discussion both in Parliament and in the country generally for quite a long time, and perhaps I might remind your Lordships of a Motion which was passed at the Church Assembly on 5th February 1970, which was in these terms: That the Church Assembly is of opinion that the practices of hare coursing, deer hunting and otter hunting are cruel, unjustifiable and degrading, and urges Christian people in the light of their Christian profession and responsibility to make plain their opposition to activities of this sort, and their determination to do all in their power to secure their speedy abolition There was some opposition in the Church Assembly to that Motion and, as I reread the report of the debate that took place on that occasion, it was interesting to see how there was this division, to which I have already referred, between townsmen and countrymen on this subject. But there was a clear majority, and I think we must now recognise that in the country at large there is a moral consensus, even though one must always treat those who take a different point of view with respect and realise their sincerity and their integrity.

I should like now, if I may, to turn for a moment to a report entitled Man in his Living Environment, which was published in 1970 in connection with the European Conservation Year. It was the report of a working group, an ecumenical group, which was called together by the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church Assembly. Its terms of reference were to examine and comment upon the ethical basis of man's use of natural resources, particularly those associated with the living environment. The second chapter of the report was entitled "Man and Animals" and I would venture to quote the first paragraph, which reads: It is a sobering thought that animals could do without man, yet man would find it very difficult to do without animals. Besides providing him with many of the necessities of life—food, clothing, bedding, glue and therapeutic substances, for example, they also fertilise and work the soil and help to keep it productive. We make animals work for us, carry us, amuse us and earn money for us. We also make them die for us, sometimes in ways which would be rapidly rejected if we could readily see it done. In many fields we use them not with gratitude and compassion, but with thoughtlessness, arrogance and complete selfishness. Man appears to be one of few animals which inflicts pain for his own pleasure, yet humanity is an attribute applied exclusively to him. The authors of this report acknowledge and I think we can also proudly acknowledge, that Britain has steadily led the rest of the world towards a more understanding and compassionate view of the animals with whom man shares the world. This understanding and compassionate view of animals is not cranky, though some cranks make it so. It is surely a matter of self-respect in a civilised community. We speak of human rights. What about animal rights? Has an animal rights over man? At the practical level, the senstitive man would be wise to treat animals as if they possessed rights of some kind. We cannot accept that man has authority for exercising an absolute dominion. In the words of the Jerusalem Bible, He who mistreats animals insults his Creator. My Lords, may I end by reminding you of one item in the Hebraic myth of the Creation? There are two versions of the Hebraic myth, the older of which appears in the second chapter of Genesis, where man is created first and animals afterwards as his companions in this world. I will quote the words: So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them and whatever the man called every living creature that was its name. It may seem curious, but of course this is not a scientific version but a theological version, which is establishing man's priority and function as head of the created order. His naming of the animals symbolises his having dominion over them, and his responsibility for them. I hope your Lordships will not think it far-fetched if I claim that this ancient Hebrew myth has something to teach us today.

1.47 p.m.


My Lords, I have the pleasure of being the first to congratulate my right reverend friend on his maiden speech, and I seize it the more avidly as an ecumenical opportunity. I am the more impressed by the fact that he has interpreted the opportunity of being non-controversial by reminding us of some things which are so self-evident that they need no controversial backing. I am most grateful, as I am sure all your Lordships are, for the way in which he has expressed the prophetic view of Creation, as opposed—as he will know far better than I—to the priestly one; and it is for his looking into the future as much as for his contemplation of the present that we are so grateful to him today. I should like to say how much we shall appreciate further contributions which I am sure he will make to discussing subjects as important as this one and also other subjects—for what subject could possibly be outside the purview of one who stands on the great theological propositions of my noble friend?

There are a number of reasons which, in view of what has already been said, it would be unnecessary to repeat, for the view which I hold is that this is an excellent Bill and one which ought to receive your Lordships' assent. But there are a number of reasons which have been proffered in defence of this measure which seem to me ill-informed and needing correction. Certain implications have already been advanced: for instance, the Scott Henderson Report makes the point that there is not necessarily any greater cruelty in this exercise than in some other forms of human attitudes to animals. This needs amplification. We do not support this measure because we believe that hare coursing constitutes such a degree of cruelty as to make it totally unacceptable in comparison with other applications of pain to the animal creation which may be regarded as more necessary or more permissible.

I have never been an animal: I have never been a rabbit, although I have from time to time been accused of being one, so I do not know how a rabbit feels. But I have every reason to believe, from those who have known much more than I do, that its reaction to pain is more immediate, less reflective, and intrinsically casual, as compared with the sort of pain which a human being suffers. But from an anthropomorphic intrusion into the thinking of the animal creation, man assumes that the animal feels the same thing. I am not at all sure that in hare coursing we are inflicting the kind of cruelty which is comparable with, or greater than, forms of pain which are suffered by animals in various attitudes of their own domestic environment and in various ways in which they come into contact with man.

That leads me to the second point which is not our argument at all. It is very dangerous to speak about the laws of nature which are highly dubious in many respects. We do not know so much about them as we think we do. The right reverend Prelate has mentioned the fact that in the 19th century nature was regarded as red in tooth and claw. We now know that a great deal of the apparent ferocity of nature is symbolic and ritualistic compared with some of the activities of man. In any case the kind of nature which is represented by the mason wasp or the shrike involves elements of what we would regard as cruelty, as totally damnable as any activity that man can himself profess and exert. I do not believe therefore that the argument that we are contravening some of the natural laws which belong to the world in which we live is a substantial one. It is not so much the pain that is inflicted upon the animal as the pleasure which is enjoyed by the participant in this particular so-called sport which I believe to be the substance of the argument for the abolition of hare coursing.

I have spoken many times on this theme. I find myself a little stale, although I hope not irrelevant. I am reminded of the parson who was so much addicted to the same sermon that his congregation felt that his cassock could undertake that office for him without any personal intervention on his part. Nevertheless, it is helpful to the argument that it is an impermissible form of human pleasure if one can attract evidence from other fields than those which hitherto have been deployed. I found to my delight that in 1516 none other than Sir Thomas More wrote the following words. The first sentence is convoluted but I think I have it right: What delight can there be and not rather displeasure, hearing the barking and howling of dogs? For one thing is done in both, that is to say running"— they apparently bark and howl while they are running"— if thou hast pleasure in that. But if the hope of slaughter and the expectation of tearing in pieces the beast doth please thee, thou should rather be moved with pity to see a silly innocent hare murdered of a dog: the weak of the stronger, the fearful of the fierce, the innocent of the cruel and unmerciful. Therefore all this exercise of hunting is a thing unworthy to be used as free men". And finally, after some other contributions to this theme, he says that this pleasure can so easily in continuance of time become cruelty itself. Sir Thomas More has been regarded as a man for all seasons, for all generations. For me, he is the quintessence of true manliness and I therefore pray him in evidence. But long ago there were those who believed, as I do, that whatever may be the conditions under which the hare suffers—and I am sure the hare does not like the experience—hare coursing is an unworthy exercise of our human dignity; it is a degradation of our human dignity to take pleasure in the infliction of pain, to take pleasure in fact in the prospect of death.

That is a position which has now been accepted by a great many people in the community. The National Opinion Poll which was taken not so long ago showed a 70 per cent. agreement with the substance of this Bill, and a 47 per cent. agreement that this Bill ought immediately to be put into effect. It has already received such consonance and approval in another place as I think is evidence of the general recognition that we should have outgrown this piece of infantile behaviour or, as I would prefer to think of it, this exercise of pleasure at the expense of the animal creation, for which, as the right reverend Prelate has so eloquently said, we are in such great measure responsible.

There is a continuing and subsequent argument which I delay your Lordships to mention because it is to me the heart of the matter. I do not believe that we live in an age in which the dose of original violence, so to speak, is greater than it was for our forefathers. But I believe we live in an age in which the environment of violence has become not only oppressive but mortally dangerous. The opportunities of violence have become so widespread. There is a world of difference between the damage you can do at the end of your fist and the damage that can be done now by the exercise of violence as a result of pressing a button of a nuclear device. Whatever may be the relationship of violence in itself, I would commend to your Lordships that we live in an area and climate of increasing and highly dangerous violence. If we can in any one respect reduce the general content of violence in our environment, is it not our plain, obvious duty to do so, at a time when violence corrupts so much and prevents so much that is good from coming into effect?

There are many areas in which the containing, let alone dismissal of, that violence is more or less impossible. But here is a field in which it is not necessary to continue a particular sport, so-called; in which the pleasure is, on the whole, degrading for many people—and I do not accept a difference between the townsman and the countryman. Many a townsman from Monday to Friday is a countryman over the weekend. In any case, I believe that substantially it is possible that those who look in through the window at the country may gain a better perspective of what is going on in the country than those who have lived in the country to such an extent that they have become conditioned to many of the situations in it which are to be deplored, or at least should be criticised.

Therefore, my Lords, on three grounds I hope that this measure will be passed and that we shall see an end to this particular blood sport. First, it is an unpleasant exercise in violence and in some cases in cruelty for the animal involved. Secondly, it is an impermissible pleasure to find joy in the infliction of pain. Thirdly, it is our bounden duty and service in the kind of community in which we live to reduce where we can the incidence of violencein a society which is already perverted by it and may be in a terminal condition unless that violence is reduced. It is for these reasons, added to the eloquent justification of this Bill made by the Minister and the addition so eloquently put by the right reverend Prelate, I commend this Bill and hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

1.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the chance of my place in this debate gives me the opportunity of being the second to congratulate the right reverend Prelate upon a maiden speech in which he expressed with clarity and moderation views with which, as he has already anticipated, I as a countryman will not be able wholly to agree. I have the greatest respect for the sincerity of the motives of those who have promoted this Bill, and I am sure they will have a similar respect for the motives of some of us who will be wholly unaffected personally if this Bill is passed but think it is wrong in principle. But I do not propose today to speak about that. I want to confine myself to the legal defects in this Bill which, once they are realised, will I think make it unacceptable to both sides of the House that this Bill should go upon the Statute Book in the words in which it is brought before this House.

What this Bill does is to make it a criminal offence to do what I believe the majority of country men and women —not necessarily townsmen and women—rightly or wrongly, think is perfectly natural and in no way morally to blame. The rule of law, indeed justice itself, demands that when a new criminal offence is created people should know for certain whether or not when doing what they have been used to doing they are committing a crime. As the noble Lord the Minister said, the words are short and simple—deceptively so. They are unacceptably vague and require much more precise definition of what is and what is not to be a crime. Many years of judicial experience, so much of which is spent in trying to ascertain the meaning of Statutes, show that the greatest uncertainty results from trying to apply a definition couched in wide terms to circumstances which Parliament really had not thought about at all when it adopted those words.

It was repeatedly said in another place, and it has been repeated again in this House, that what this Bill is intended to prohibit is competitive coursing as it is now organised—or, once it was said, competitive coursing as we now know it. It is quite clear that this Bill will prohibit the 120 official coursing meetings that are held during the year in which a total of 600 hares are killed under rules and supervision that are designed to cause the minimum of suffering. It is quite clear that it would make criminal the conduct of the 1,600 people—I think that is all—who take part in competitive coursing as it is now organised.

It is when one goes on from there that difficulties arise. Probably it would make criminal the 10 or dozen people with lurchers whom I happened to see two or three weeks ago walking across a stubble field, each with his lurcher. One man was acting as slipper and had two greyhounds on the leash. His job was to release the two dogs who were in the course of this walking out if a hare was put up. One man who was mounted was acting as judge. That must have involved some organisation in the sense that the farmer who found he had a superfluity of hares upon his land telephoned his friends and suggested a time and place when they should come with their dogs and course the hares. I do not suppose that there was any prize, but there was that degree of organisation and I have little doubt that it would fall within the Bill. May I invite the noble Lord the Minister to confirm whether or not that is the intention of the Government in promoting their Bill.

Apart from these two types of coursing, I find that it is quite impossible from these words to tell what else constitutes the coursing of hares by two or more dogs in a competition as to their ability to course hares. It is not intended to make it criminal simply to allow two or more dogs to chase a hare, or not prevent them from doing so. This would be logical if the purpose of this Bill, as it has been conceded it is not, were to protect hares from being chased. It does not matter much to the hare whether the owners of the dogs that are chasing it intend that their dogs should compete one with the other.

When a court construes a Statute, and that is what a court will have to do if this Bill reaches the Statute Book in the wording that is now before this House, it looks at the words used and attempts from them, and from nothing else, to find out the intention of Parliament that lies behind them. It cannot look at Hansard to find out what Members, even Ministers, thought that the words meant. Clearly, the court would take the view that it was not the intention that anybody should commit a crime if they allowed two dogs to chase a hare by sight. To this extent I agree with what was said on a number of occasions by the Minister in the other place. It would not constitute a criminal offence if two people who were taking a country walk with their dogs put up and pursued a hare. What, then, is the intention?

May I put to the noble Lord the Minister three specific questions which I invite him to answer when he ends this debate. Let us suppose that two country people take out their greyhounds—lurchers, salukis—to put up a hare for the pot. They are proud of their dogs and it would be contrary to human nature if they did not perceive which of their dogs was better at doing what nature had designed it to do—indeed, for which 2,000 years of breeding had designed it. In order that what they do shall constitute a competition as to their ability to course hares, my first question is whether there must be a third person present to act as an independent judge? In a restricted meaning of the word "competition" that might be so, but there is no clue in the words of the Bill as it now stands regarding the intention. I invite the noble Lord the Minister to answer that question. In accordance with his answer, let us amend the Bill to make the intention plain and not leave it to the chance of what a court may say years later.

Secondly, must there be a prize which is dependent on the result in order to make it a competition? Again, in a restricted meaning of the word "competion", that might be thought to be a requirement. If it is, is a bet between the owners enough to make it a competition? If that is so, does it make any difference whether the bet was laidbefore the hare was put up, or do both of them become criminals half-way between the beginning and the end of the course? I invite the noble Lord the Minister to answer that question so that the answer may be clear in the words used when this Bill reaches the Statute Book, if ever it does.

Thirdly, must there be rules as to the criteria by which the ability of the dogs to course the hare is judged? Can my two countrymen, going out to get a hare for the pot, make their own rules? Is it enough that unlike the rules of organised coursing they can say that the winner is the first dog to kill the hare? There is nothing in the wording in this Bill as it now stands to tell us the answer to that question. Again I ask the Minister to answer that question so that in accordance with the answer he gives, if it proves acceptable to the House, we can make it clear in the Bill. It is only when Parliament has decided what the real intention is that it is possible to devise the Amendments to give clear effect to this.

I will finish with one comment. It is sometimes sought to justify vague wording in a Statute by saying that you can rely on the discretion of the authorities and their commonsense not to prosecute in cases where, although technically a crime has been committed, it is really ludicrous to prosecute. To draft the law on that principle is bad law anyway. It is the entrance gate to the Police State. But in this case you cannot even rely upon that entrance gate, however narrow, because there are wealthy organisations sincerely—nay, fanatically—devoted to the suppression of all country sports who, whatever the police might do, whatever commonsense or discretion the police might show, would not hesitate to prosecute on the basis that the meaning of this Bill was the widest possible meaning that could be given to it.

2.13 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I am very glad to be the first from the Conservative Benches to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield on a very fair and interesting speech. and I hope he will—and I will try to show this in my own speech—come here to defend human beings with the same skill as he has defended hares.

I think it is right always to try to reduce pointless cruelty to animals. I should have thought we were agreed about that. If this Bill in a very small way achieves that purpose, then it is to be commended. But as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, has so devastatingly explained to the House, this Bill is drafted in such a way that the practical consequences are almost nil; and before the debate is over I think other noble Lords will have shown much better than I can that there is absolutely no certainty that hares will be either happier or safer if this measure becomes law. That being the case I wish, for only a couple of minutes, to direct your Lordships' attention to the hypocrisy of a Government that take all this trouble to protect hares when at the same time they persecute human beings as never before.

I invite your Lordships for a moment to imagine—and I wish no discourtesy to the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees or to my noble friend Lord Blakenham—that you have all been transformed into members of the hare family—that is four-legged and long-eared. In that guise are you not being driven every day on to coursing grounds where Ministers and their friends are waiting to loose upon you the hounds of bureaucracy? Picture to yourselves these power-hungry animals straining at the leash: their sharp eyes, their tense limbs, their snapping jaws. Read down the list of the entries at this Government-arranged coursing meeting. The two favourites, of course, answer to the names, "Rates" and "Taxes". There then follow "Coal", "Electricity", "The Post Office", "Bus Fare", "Season Ticket"—and a couple of extremely ravenous animals entered from London answering to the names of "GLC" and "ILEA".

I glance through the list in order to draw your further attention to the fact that all these hounds were bred in the public kennels, and that they compete with each other in raising costs, prices and penalties with which to inflict the citizen, who has no option but to pay all their escalating charges. I do not believe there is any category of citizen who feels more like a hare, chased and harried by officials of all sorts and kinds, than the self-employed. I have particularly in mind artists and craftsmen, who are today savaged by the increase in NHS contributions, by VAT and by the rise in the cost of all their supplies. These poor self-employed "hares" have no means whatever of warding off the savage pursuit of the bureaucrats.

So, my Lords, the contradiction stares us in the face. This Government measure is brought forward to protect hares in wild nature. So be it. I accept the merciful intention. But no Bill is presented to relieve the citizen from persecution by Whitehall, local authorities or nationalised industries. On the contrary, at the instance of one and the same Government, the pleasure which a few people derive from this particular field sport is to be replaced by a far more ugly, envious satisfaction in hounding and hunting the private citizen. My Lords, I find this humbug very distasteful and on that account alone I hope the Bill will have a rough passage.

2.18 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, wish to say how much I enjoyed the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield—a speech with which I think few of us will disagree, in so far as he was saying that we ought seriously always to search our consciences in all our dealings with animals, whether alive or dead.

For my own part I look upon this Bill in a very different way from every other noble Lord who has spoken today because I look at it from the point of view of a conservationist. I must first say that historically the field sports have been of enormous benefit to conservation. I can think of half a dozen important wild species which would have been exterminated had they not been protected in reserves as objects of the chase for kings and emperors in past years. We have only to think in Europe of the Alpine Ibex, the Pyrennean Ibex, the two bisons in the Caucasus and Poland, the Asiatic lion in India and Pere David's deer in China, all of which would have disappeared from the face of the earth had they not been protected. Lately in Europe those animals have started to spread, and probably are going to achieve a wider distribution than in the past. But, of course, they live in mountainous or forest regions where they have little effect on man's activities, but are subjected to continual persecution by neighbouring protein-hungry peasantry who are prevented from satisfying their hunger.

Many less spectacular animals have been protected in this and other European countries by strict forestry and game laws. They have been preserved in very much larger numbers than have these other possibly more interesting animals to which I have referred. Over the past 20 years, your Lordships have passed six or more Bills protecting birds, seals, deer, badgers, and last Session other wild creatures and wild plants, in very much the same way as the game laws did for other animals in the past, but with very much stronger penalties, penalties almost as severe as those which would come into operation under this Bill.

My Lords, there is one major difference, in that in every single one of those Acts it was found necessary to reserve to the owner or occupier of land, and to him alone, the right to kill animals which were likely to be injurious to agriculture, to forestry and to fisheries. So far as those conservation Acts are concerned, one has very much the same position as under the old game Acts in the past; that is, the man who is affected by the animals concerned has the right to control them. So far as the State itself is concerned—that is to say, for scientific and other reasons the State can grant a licence—a licence is given only under conditions which ensure that the population of the animal concerned is maintained. That is what we call conservation.

All these various injurious creatures, such as hares, rabbits and deer—the grazers and browsers—and among the carniverous animals, foxes and seals, are those that the State, where it is responsible, tries to secure that the numbers are so large that we see many of them, but not so large that they are damaging to agriculture, fisheries, forestry and the like: and just by definition, the population must not be allowed to increase, and the surplus population every year has got to be killed off. That is the position which the owner or farmer faces with all these animals. There are a great many farmers, foresters and fishermen who would kill the animals off and reduce the population to the same sort of status as that in which the pine marten and the wildcat are today, so that virtually no damage was done to agriculture, fisheries and the like. I think that all of us would regret that. Some of us like looking at these animals; some of us like studying them, and we do not want to see our wild creature population reduced to that sort of level.

A great many farmers and landlords either like field sports as such or they like the cash which a field sport brings in. They are prepared to undergo rather more damage to their crops and so on than they would otherwise accept in return for the pleasure of shooting, or for the cash which it brings in. By and large any of us who have been to any conferences on conservation with other Europeans will find that they look upon field sports as being a major tool of conservancy, and of the greatest importance. I cannot believe the Government have considered this aspect at all. From what the noble Lord who introduced the Bill said when he expressed surprise that at one and the same moment one talked about protecting animals and reducing their numbers, it is quite clear that the Government have not thought of the conservation side at all. Before they do anything more about a Bill of this nature, I hope the Government will consult the bodies who advise them on conservation, to see how it fits in with the many Acts which Parliament has passed over the past 20 years, where this is an integral part of the whole system of maintaining our wildlife.

2.27 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in that I was not in the Chamber for his opening speech. In my ignorance, I imagined that we were having an adjournment for lunch, which we did not have. However, I will very carefully read the Report of the speech of the noble Lord.

In debating a Bill of this nature, it is most important that we should avoid touching on matters of sentiment, or anything of that kind. Our evidence must be purely factual and according to research and discovery. The trouble about the subject of animal welfare is that so much is blurred by the rather sentimental correspondence which one can see almost every week in the papers, from those who know very little about the subject and are moved solely by their emotions.

I must confess that I have never attended a hare coursing meeting, but I have read very carefuly the accounts of those who have. Those accounts were purely factual and were not in the least influenced by the emotions of the writer. They simply related exactly what did and what did not happen. The main purpose of hare coursing is not the killing of the hare, but the testing of the dogs. None the less, the hare is frequently killed—not always; I believe it occasionally gets away—and it is sometimes killed in a very brutal and agonising way. We all accept the fact that certain animals have to be killed. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has just pointed that out, and that the animal population has to be kept down. But it is surely up to us as human beings to see to it that that killing is done in the most humane possible way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Sheffield, and one of the most remarkable things about it was the way in which he steered himself through a highly controversial Bill without being controversial himself. I agreed with practically everything he said. He quoted the very often stated fact that animals are cruel to each other. Of course, we all know that, but we are not animals and the fact that we are not cruel to animals is one of the few things that raise us above the animal level. Surely it is up to us, as human beings—not as animals—not to be cruel when we can avoid it.

Another commonly held falsehood is that animals are not intelligent enough to feel pain in the same way as we do. But the feeling of pain does not need great intelligence. I ask your Lordships to imagine a mentally retarded child being beaten and otherwise misused by a man who held that, because it was mentally retarded, it did not feel pain. That man would very soon find himself in prison, and very rightly. But many animals are more intelligent than a mentally retarded child, so have we the right to inflict that suffering on them? We sometimes describe acts of appalling savagery as "bestial". Sometimes man can be even more bestial than the beasts themselves, because of his greater intelligence.

I am not of course prepared to say what is the legal aspect of this Bill; I leave that to those who are more expert in law. I am not prepared either to suggest what the proper course will be today. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, suggested withdrawing the Motion at the end of the debate. But he also made another remark on which I feel I must comment. He said that this Bill will remove an ancient freedom. I have no doubt that exactly the same remark was made when bull fighting and cock fighting were abolished. There is no earthly reason why freedoms that are wrong should not be abolished or removed.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, the point I was trying to make was that this Bill would remove an ancient freedom without the necessary inquiries having been made to show that it should be removed. That is what I was complaining of. I was not asking that it should not be removed; I was asking for the inquiry to be made first, before it was removed.


My Lords, I do not know what inquiries the noble Lord wishes to be made, but there have been plenty of inquiries by those who have examined this sport and who know exactly what goes on.


The Scott-Henderson Report.

A Noble Lord

And who have found it not to be cruel.


That may be, my Lords. One can judge that only by one's own reactions. Some react in one way, and some react in the opposite way. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, complained that this Bill would do a great deal to prevent cruelty to hares, when we are doing nothing whatever to prevent cruelty to human beings. I would be the last to assert that animals are more worthy of respect or compassion than human beings, but, on the other hand, that does not say that animals are not worthy of it. Some of us are doing what we can to make the human situation better, and I do not see why those of us who are interested should not also try to do what is best for animals.

My Lords, I know that this is a very controversial subject, and those who try to defend the animal—be it the hare, the badger or anything else—are always likely to come in for a great deal of abuse. But, none the less, I feel that as human beings we owe it to the animal kingdom to show animals as much mercy as is possible, relative to the necessity of keeping them in control. So I sincerely hope that if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading, it will be reintroduced early in the coming Session.

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I must add my voice to those who have felt concerned that the Government were obliged to raise this hare, if I may so put it, at this stage in the Session, because although I very much welcome the general tone of this debate, I think we will be fortunate if any unknown truth should emerge about a well-worn and controversial subject. I should like to add my congratulations to the maiden speaker on his most admirable exposition and the delicate way in which he trod through this very difficult minefield.

My Lords, I have no particular interest to declare in hare coursing. I would simply say that I am a countryman—at least, I thought I was until your Lordships have fallen into the habit of sitting five days a week—andI hope I have a reasonable grasp of the practices and traditions of the countryside. Anyone who is involved in farming or forestry is soon compelled to realise that if he is to stay in business at all certain wild animals have to be controlled and culled,but not exterminated—and this is the point that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, made so well. High on the list of animals of this sort come the rabbit and the hare, both in themselves extremely attractive-looking creatures. Much as I respect the views of those, like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who are vegetarians, one must accept that if we are to eat bread or drink milk animals such as the rabbit and the hare must be severely restricted so that yields of corn arid grass can be maintained. Normally, of course, this is done by trapping, snaring, shooting or gassing, to many people certainly a choice of evils, but a choice that I am afraid has to be made.

Conscious of these practices, and having witnessed, but not liked, a full-scale hare shoot, and realising that this Bill was before Parliament, I arranged to attend the Old Yorkshire Coursing Meeting on 15th October this year, the first time I had done so. I am firmly convinced that anyone who has doubts in his mind about this subject, or wants to stop coursing, ought at least to see it for himself and be in a position to make comparisons. This was one of the weaknesses of the proceedings in Standing Committee B of the other place, in that only one Member among those supporting the Bill had actually seen what happens; and as the Committee sat only during the close season, there was no opportunity for the others to go coursing.

There are so many misconceptions on the subject, many of which I have heard discussed in the past few days in your Lordships' House. For example, there seems to be a widespread belief that hares are caught up and let out of boxes, whereas, of course, they are driven off open ground which is their natural home. Again, I have heard some extraordinarily unfortunate, lurid and un-Christian epithets applied to coursing by the Prime Minister downwards. I will not repeat them this afternoon because I am afraid they would lower the tone of the debate, but I assume that these referred to the people involved and not to the greyhounds. Therefore, I was intrigued to see what sort of people these coursing people were.

The occupations of the members of the Old Yorkshire Club have been analysed. Rather naturally, the farming fraternity are in the majority, closely followed by housewives and pit workers. After that, in equal numbers, come priests, publicans, and bookmakers. At the bottom of the list you find air hostesses, ice-cream merchants, tarmac layers, and tripe dressers. In all, they have 106 members from over 30 different professions or trades: a good cross-section of the ordinary, sensible, inoffensive people of our great country, totally undeserving of the epithets applied to them and the current persecution so well described by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. They were simply there to enjoy a peaceful and healthy day in the country and not, as I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Soper, seems to think, there with the object of inflicting pain. It was a very English scene; the Englishman out with his dog.

To return to the coursing itself, I was impressed by the general organisation, and this the Government do not seem to like. There were 32 courses during the day from which eight hares were caught. Of these seven were killed instantly by the greyhounds, and the odd one was despatched very speedily by one of the people stationed for that very purpose. I inspected the eight hares afterwards, most of which were totally unmarked, and none was torn to pieces. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will add my account to the others he has read, because I came away able to make the vital comparison of what I had seen that afternoon with the previous experiences of hare shoots and the like. I could come to only one conclusion: that coursing is a purposeful and, in comparison, humane way of culling hares, that its existence helps to maintain in proper equilibrium the hare species in our countryside.

To support this Bill is to be against the hare collectively and individually. Although today's proceedings are to be inconclusive, I strongly feel that any future Bill of this sort would have to be examined very closely before your Lordships took a view against the combined evidence of the Scott Henderson and the Stable Reports. These Reports raise many issues and implications with which I shall not weary your Lordships at this hour on a Friday afternoon, but they would have to be raised in any full proceedings on a Bill such as this.

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to intervene in this debate, finding, unhappily for myself, that I am rather out of step with my noble friends and to my great surprise finding myself in step with the Government. Before I continue, may I join with all noble Lords in saying how much I enjoyed the speech of the right reverend Prelate, and I hope we hear him often in the future on this and other subjects.

I wish that I had the ability to speak as fluently and with as much ease as some of your Lordships, but I find it difficult to bring out my real feelings about a Bill such as this. I support the principles of this Bill, and I would support the Bill if I were compelled to go to the Division Lobby. I believe that this is the last sport where a wild animal is chased by a dog at the behest of man which ultimately ends up in some financial gain for the owner of the animal. This Bill is designed to prevent competitions between dogs for a prize, because until such time as that occurs, if I understand the Bill, no offence has been committed. I shall come a little later to the noble Lord, because I am in agreement with him on what a bad Bill this is, but I am talking about the principle of this Bill.

At the end of this sport—which is not a mass sport for the entertainment of thousands of people—you have the prize. The value of the dog which wins is put up, and no doubt the stud fee is improved if he is a dog who is owned, and generally speaking there is an accumulation of cash in a sport which is fundamentally the killing of a wild animal at the behest of a human. I find it very difficult to explain to your Lordships that to me that is really not acceptable. I would not oppose, although it might be offensive to me personally, a sport which a mass of people supported, but I cannot say that this is supported by the masses of people.

I have been very pleased that those who oppose this Bill have not produced some of the arguments which have been produced in another place and at other times that there will be additional unemployment, and such remarks as that. The care of dogs is a highly-skilled profession, and I doubt, from the figures I have heard quoted today, that perhaps more than 70 to 100 people would be put out of employment, so 1 think that we can discount that. In any event, being a skilled profession, there is a demand for people who can care for dogs well and ably anywhere. I have also been pleased not to hear that there will be innumerable dogs destroyed. There are people who take great pains if dogs get beyond their working life in whatever category they may be—racing greyhounds, or any form of animal—and who are prepared to find homes for them; so I would not be prepared to listen to that argument.

I cannot think that the passing of this Bill might even affect the future of the greyhound. The greyhound can be said to be divided into three categories: the greyhound for coursing, the one for track racing and the one for normal showing under Kennel Club rules. They are not really interchangeable, but I cannot believe that the loss of the greyhound for coursing would affect the breed of the hound. I am not in total agreement with my noble friend Lord Cranbrook on the subject of conservation. I do not think the removal of coursing would have much effect on the future of the hare; the amount of the killing of hares which is conducted by coursing is quite infinitesimal over the whole area, though personally I do not like even that small part which is being done by coursing.

I support the principle of the Bill, but I dislike the measure intensely. The Government have dreamed up a lawyers' benefit. When it comes to legislation on dogs, this is the third measure with which I have got myself involved. The first one, the Breeding of Dogs Act, was a disaster. It was introduced at exactly the same period in the life of a Parliament, with only four days to go, and, being produced as an item on cruelty, it had to be allowed to proceed. The second was the Guard Dog Act, but luckily we were able to rescue that and turn out an extremely good measure. My fear is that if we let this one go through, nothing that the Government do will be effective. The Bill begins by talking about hare coursing matches and then talks about competitions. It refers to a competition, "as to their ability to course hares". One could drive a cart horse through this Bill on that phrase.

I can imagine an organisation of people starting a dog show. All they would have to do would be to draw up a standard for the dog—its build, shape, ability to move, turn, see, and so on—and that would be only a small part of the total requirement of the competition for the dog. Nowhere would an ability to course hares enter into it. One would merely hold the show in a place where there were hares and one would prepare two dogs together to sort them out, not coursing hares but testing their eyesight and movement, which is a very beautiful thing. The combination of the whole would produce the resultant dog. The fact that it happened to be the best courser would be purely coincidental, but it would be very difficult—it would be a lawyer's dream—to argue it both ways. I trust that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, will agree with me on that, and I certainly agreed with the points he made. While, due to the time factor, this Bill must be a dead duck—and, as I explained, I would support it whole-heartedly—I ask the Government, if they propose to do anything further about it, to think about the implications involved. If put to a Second Reading I would support it, but I should like to have a very close look at it two, three or four times in Committee.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I must confess to disliking this Bill very much indeed. I dislike it as a countryman, and I find insulting this urban interference with the ancient cus- toms of the countryside. We know animals much better, and we take far greater pains in looking after them. Kindness and the preservation of animals mean far more to us than they mean to those in the towns, where cruelty to domestic animals as well as to wild ones is often sickening. I agree very much with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, in linking sport with conservation. It has been a most intimate link in the countryside throughout all time. Nowhere except in England does one find a closely cultivated country bearing a high level of wildlife; in Germany and France one can go for miles without hearing a bird sing. That maintenance of a wildlife with intensively tilled land is an English achievement and an achievement of English sport, because the owners of that land, the farmers and the people, are prepared to accept the damage which the hare, rabbit, pheasant and deer do to their land—because they are sportsmen and because they form part of that feeling of the countryside which is linked with its wildlife, and therefore, and on those terms, that wildlife survives.

This link between conservation and hunting is an ancient one. After all, more than 98 per cent. of our fully evolved ancestors lived by hunting, and by hunting alone. Some of the old hunting people survive, for example in the Kalahari and Australia; and one finds there from those who know them and study them, the link between hunter and hunted. This feeling of the hunter for the hunted is illustrated in the cave paintings. As it develops the quarry becomes the herd and the huntsman becomes the herdsman. It develops with the man and his dog, the most ancient of partnerships; the thrill and interest of breeding the dog, the dog's performance—man and dog co-operating in the hunting field.

Hunting is a very strange mixture of pleasures. There is the visual pleasure, intense and beautiful. There is the sound, that choir the woods knew before they knew man. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to what Thomas More said about it. I refer him to some words of Euripides in the Gilbert Murray translations: A voice and a fear and a haste of hounds Oh wildly labouring fiercely fleet, Onward yet by river and glen, Is it joy or terror ye storm swift feet. That feeling was described all those years ago in the sense of the woodland and the hounds.

Then there is the horse—the sympathy, the affection, the rhythm, the sheer excitement. But the horse does not come into it for all. It is only a minority of sportsmen who ride. When I was the Member of Parliament for Northampton, a purely urban constituency, and also Master of the Pytchley Hounds, I remember that in my constituency we had 480 members of the Labour Party and 2,000 members of the Pytchley Hound Supporters Club. My opponent thought this most unfair.

Our pleasure, that of the countryside and of field sports, is very ancient and it is part of our nature. When the noble Lord, Lord Soper, talks of increasing violence, I do not believe that violence is increased by the field sports of our countryside. Quite the contrary. It is the repression of ancient instincts which leads them to be expressed in horrid and violent ways. It leads to the hunting of "Pakis" instead of the hunting of foxes.

But are hunting, coursing and all these things cruel? I believe that the simple definition of this question should be: does it add to the total of suffering? If one adds to the total of suffering and makes more suffering than would otherwise occur, I believe one must accept the charge of cruelty. Let us apply that test. Remember, nature provides no beds for its denizens to die in. Death in nature is always cruel and nearly always violent. If death by old age ever occurred in nature it would be the cruellest of deaths—the death of starvation and of failing competence. I have heard and seen hares die in a good many ways. I sometimes sleep out because I like listening to things in the woods. Once, I heard a hare killed by a weasel. It was crying for nearly three-quarters of anhour. I found the traces in the morning when it got light. It had taken nearly half a mile for the weasel to kill the hare. It was a horrible sound in the night. Again, I have found hares in snares and I have been to a hare shoot and I believe that anybody who supports this Bill should be made to go to a hare shoot, because that is a dreadful sight. I do not know what it is about hares. The grey hare seems to die very easily from a few pellets. The brown hare does not. The number of wounded hares at a hare shoot is quite appalling. They are retrieved by soft-mouthed dogs and there is the spectacle of the wounded animal breaking away, crying, being caught again, being caught several times and brought back. And this is not a question of half a dozen hares as one might have at a coursing meeting, it is a question of hundreds.

I have never heard a hare cry during coursing. I know people who say that they have and I believe them, but it is very rare. Normally, death by the hound is a broken neck. It is a quick shake and break and when one sees greyhounds fighting over the hare they are generally fighting over the body. The hare is dead before that happens. Of all the deaths available in nature, I believe the kill by a hound—the broken neck—is probably the quickest. Both my father and my grandfather broke their necks out hunting. I hope I shall do so, too. I hope I shall have the luck of my father and of the fox. I do not fear death, but I greatly fear dying slowly and I dread the process of losing my capacities. I do not believe that coursing adds to the total of suffering.

Why should we abolish coursing? What are the motives? First, there are the lovers of animals, like the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who have a strong sentimental feeling that they cannot bear animals to be killed. I find them admirable, though perhaps more so if they are vegetarians. Then there are those who object to the participants. They are those who are against sin. I believe that that is the attitude of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield in his excellent and charming maiden speech. It is also the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Soper. To them, cruelty is a moral concept and the sin of a spectator should be dealt with. I believe that this was expressed by Dr. Johnson on the subject of bear-baiting when he said that the Puritans objected to bear-baiting not because they had any objection to the suffering of the bear but because they objected to the pleasure of the spectators. That is a perfectly understandable and respectable point of view. I would have shared the Puritan's objection to that kind of pleasure. But I am doubtful as to whether it is the sort of thing that we should legislate about. We recently had the not very attractive case of the "spanking Colonel". If both parties agree, I doubt whether we should legislate against that sort of thing, however much we should like to.

On the whole, I believe that legislation against sin is almost always a mistake. It is the way of theocracy. The only legislation we have had against hare hunting in this country was from Cromwell's major-generals. I do not believe that they legislated because they felt sympathetic to the hares. They did so because they thought that it enabled the wrong people to assemble, and that may be the feeling here.

The Puritan point of view is a respectable one, though I do not share it; but there is another point of view which I believe is what the doctors refer to as the "envy/malice syndrome". It plays a considerable part in this emotional conflict. It affects those—who are often on the far Left—who have a tremendously violent class consciousness and who often have an unavowed social inferiority complex. These people are infuriated by the spectacle of a red coat and they get uplift from asserting their moral superiority over those whom they perhaps feel to be their social betters. That is an attitude which one encounters very often. These people are the socially jealous and spiteful.

Let us test a little and see what, in the light of this Bill, are the relevant motivations. We can judge it a little by looking at the targets. If we objected to cruelty—I would accept the definition of cruelty given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, as causing suffering unnecessarily solely for the purpose of sport—surely here our first objective should be coarse fishing. Here the fish is not wanted; he is thrown back. The object of the exercise is to play him on a barb. It is not substituting one death for another. It is a net addition to suffering deliberately inflicted on a living creature thrown back so that it may be tortured again and the pleasure measured by his struggle against the barb.

But we are told that these are cold-blooded creatures; that they do not feel like us. The old colonialists used to speak of Africans in much the same way: "they are black, they do not feel like us" But all the evidence of feeling that we have shows that there is no creature more sensitive than the fish. The slightest change of temperature, the slightest shaking of the ground from a foot, the slightest movement, the change of a shadow, to this the fish is infinitely sensitive. Consider also the quickness of his movements. Why in the world should we assume that he feels less than others? Let us consider also the position in terms of intelligence. Of all the vertebrates after man himself the most intelligent is probably the dolphin, and yet not a word is said about this. The fishermen are in no fear from the "antis" and the abolitionists. They are perfectly good working-class chaps, we are not going to touch them. They are in no fear from Government either—too many votes!

Let us look again at the position of the Puritans whose point of view is expressed by the Church. Again, if it is the sin of inflicting pain, getting your pleasure from another's pain, then the case of the fish, where the pleasure is gained from the fight against the barb, would be the first choice. But they could hardly choose this Bill: because under this Bill sadism is a defence. One has only to say—I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, will support me in this—"I was not in the least interested in testing dogs. All I wanted to do was kill hares. Their squeals give me a lift. I am a sadist. I like hurting things. "By saying that one would have a complete defence under this Bill. One would not have been doing it to test dogs.

Therefore those who are against the sin of inflicting pain can hardly be supporters of this Bill which, in fact, legalises pain and makes illegal only the defences which are set up by the rules of coursing to mitigate the pain of the hare, to save it, and to see that it is quickly killed. That is all that is made illegal. If you do it without any of the protection of the hare you are committing no kind of an offence. That is a Bill which does nothing for the hare. It merely removes some of its protection.

I feel, frankly, that the promoters of such a Bill, not only for legal reasons, should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Let us turn to the Government's role in this. I do not suppose that any of us are naivé enough for one moment to consider that the Government in selecting this Bill were concerned with coursing. That had nothing whatever to do with it. I do not believe that there is a Member of the Cabinet who has ever been to a coursing meeting, and I should think that their knowledge of coursing hares is just about equal to their knowledge of ringing unicorns.

When they decided to adopt this Bill not a single Member of the Cabinet thought it necessary to go to see what they were deciding to abolish, despite the fact that they were abolishing a very ancient custom which had been part of the countryside for a very long time. They considered what was happening to be purely irrelevant. What they were concerned with was doing something for the Left. The Left had been having rather a rough time. In the 1964 Government they found that a Socialist Government ended up with a wider gap between rich and poor and a period in which mere ownership had been rewarded at a level at which it had never been rewarded before. They came back and they found—perhaps not appreciating the Government's difficulties—that what in 1964 one could have done in world boom was just not available in world slump.

Something had to be found for the Left; something which sounded progressive, which would annoy the Conservatives; and, above all, something that was cheap. This Bill did it, and that is why we have it. I believe that Governments ought not to behave like this. Democracy is not the rule of a majority: democracy is tenderness for minorities—tenderness for the customs of minorities their religions, their beliefs, their way of life, their property. The Government's duty is to defend such things. To sacrifice a small and apparently unvocal minority in order to assuage a restive majority is a very dangerous slope. That is the policy of pogrom. That is the kind of thing that it leads to. My Lords, this is a nasty, spiteful little Bill. It ought never to have appeared. It ought to be buried without a sound; but if it is to come back, let us by all means send it to a Select Committee, and there let it die of exposure.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, has just said. I shall speak for about eight minutes or so, but first I should like to add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords on the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate, and to say how much I agree with his sentiments. My Lords, if this Bill was a racehorse—and I am quite sure it will not be a racehorse, certainly not in this House, because it will have to come back here again—I am sure it would be entered in the stud book as, "By Spite out of Emotion by Ignorance". This Bill is illogical, and we have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, say that it is bad law. I much admired his speech. The noble and learned Lord gave us to understand that if this Bill became law it would be quite impossible for the courts to administer it with any degree of fairness.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, gave us to understand that the object of the Bill is to prevent cruelty. If that is the object, Her Majesty's Government have chosen a very bad wicket. It will need all the genius of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, whose mental powers I much admire, to make any case at all for the Government. The noble Lord said that the coursing of hares at coursing meetings is very cruel. If it is very cruel at coursing meetings, could the noble Lord explain to me why the Government have not legislated for the ordinary man who goes out with a couple of dogs and courses a hare in the countryside? It is quite illogical, because the Bill allows this.

My Lords, if I were a hare, I would far rather, be, coursed at a national coursing meeting, because the meeting is conducted under the most strict rules: only about 20 per cent. of the hares coursed are killed; the greyhounds are slipped 75 yards behind and the hare has only about 400 or 500 yards to go before he can find some cover. On the other hand, of course, if you go out into the countryside and course hares there may be no cover within half a mile, and the hare may well be killed. Therefore, I cannot understand the noble Lord's argument that this Bill is designed to stop cruelty. I quite agree that the death of any animal involves a certain element of cruelty, but how Her Majesty's Government can produce a Bill like this with the excuse that they are legislating against cruelty, I cannot imagine.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who is not in his place, raised a rather new aspect of the Bill. He said, if I noted his words aright, that he objected to coursing because it brought an element of financial gain into the chasing of a wild animal; in other words, that if people at coursing meetings bet on the coursing dogs that introduced the element of financial gain. But if this Bill is about cruelty, that is quite irrelevant. It is true that at national coursing meetings there is an element of financial gain, but you might say the same about steeple-chasing where a certain number of horses regrettably have to be destroyed—or they may be killed outright. It is remarkable to think that in all the 120 coursing meetings held throughout the year under the rules of the NCC there are, on average, only 600 hares killed, representing, say, 20 per cent. of the hares coursed. Let us compare this with the number of hares shot, which I would presume to be about 100,000; and I do not know how many would be wounded. One noble Lord spoke of a farmers' shoot. I have been on a farmers'shoot—only once, thank Heaven, they are so dangerous! It is pitiful that so many hares are wounded and then go away and die very unsavoury deaths.

And how about the hares wounded on the roads by motorists—the maimed hares? I wonder how many hares are maimed by motorists. I should imagine that the number is between 12,000 and 15,000. And what about all the hares that are snared? Snaring is a fiendishly cruel practice and there must be many thousands of hares snared by farmers and others. I should heartily support the Government if they were to bring in a Bill to prevent snaring, but we hear no mention of that.

My Lords, all this leads me to believe that the object of the Bill is not to prevent cruelty. When the noble Lord comes to answer, I should like to know what is the real reason for this Bill. It cannot be to prevent hares being killed; for, as I have already said, this Bill allows anyone—miner, Duke or farmer—to go out with a dog or dogs and course hares provided he does not turn it into a betting match; provided that he does not run the dogs in competition. But how do you prove whether or not he is running the dogs in competition? Are we to have a policeman behind every bush? It is completely impracticable.

My Lords, of course the hare does not care whether he is coursed by an individual out for a walk in the country or at an NCC meeting. But I think he would much prefer, if he could choose, to be coursed at a NCC meeting. If Her Majesty's Government are really so concerned about abolishing cruelty—and I have always been a conservationist and have also practised field sports all my life—there are plenty of other avenues that they ought to explore. Let us consider, for instance, factory farming, hen batteries or vivisection, the latter especially for psychological reasons. Here you have animals cooped up in small cages, fed on dry pellets month after month. To have often quite useless experiments carried out on them for psychological reasons is quite absurd. They are also used in tests for cosmetics or weed killers. These are the avenues that I think the Government ought to explore. There is even the question of abattoirs. I send hundreds of animals to abattoirs, but I dislike it. These animals, I am sure, suffer great discomfort in travelling and they can probably smell the blood on arrival. I consider that the kosher form of killing is far more cruel than a 35 second course when a greyhound kills a hare outright, apart from a few exceptions where the hare is quickly despatched by one of the "pickers-up".


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? Has he ever been in an abattoir? If he has, he must know that, according to British law, every care is taken that no animal shall suffer more than it is humanly possible to prevent.


MyLords, I have been in an abattoir. According to law, care is taken, but unfortunately not everybody obeys the law. There was an incident—I think it was in Salisbury—where animals were not being electrically stunned before having their throats cut. If you cut the throat of an animal it takes as long to die as a greyhound takes to course and kill a hare. A greyhound kills a hare in a couple of seconds, though it may sometimes be longer.

Therefore, I think that this Bill is completely illogical and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, said, it would be bad law. I cannot understand the reasons for it. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will tell us the reason for the Bill. If hare coursing was a great "class" thing done only by Peers and rich men—I now differentiate them, because most Peers are very poor!—I could understand the situation. But from records that I have been able to find of the membership of coursing clubs, it appears that 7 per cent. are land owners, 18 per cent. are farmers, 22 per cent. are town dwellers and the rest are butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and anything you like to think of. I cannot support such a Bill.

I should like here to refer to an analogy on this emotional subject—the rat. The rat is a more intelligent animal than a hare, but some extremely cruel poisons which take many hours to take effect are used to kill the rat. Nobody cares about that. The whole argument about cruelty is completely illogical. Therefore, if this Bill goes to a Division—although I understand it will not—I cannot support it, because it is founded on ignorance emotion and bad law.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, I had absolutely no intention of participating in this debate. I have been in my place in order to vote for the Second Reading. But having listened to a number of speeches, I feel that it behoves me to get up and declare myself. I should like to offer my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate. I for one think he steered his craft carefully between the rocks. I believe he spoke out clearly and explained to your Lordships what he felt about a very controversial subject. He spoke out loud and clear.

I do not want to be misunderstood. I know that a large number of people, including some of my own friends, enjoy going to blood sports. I have never seen a hare coursing; I do not know why I should see one. I do not want to see one, any more than I want to see a bull fight. And I do not want to go for the same reason in both cases—I should not enjoy the spectacle. But I feel that many of us are missing the point. I know that many people—and I am a countryman and I speak as a countryman—enjoy these sports, and they are men of great courage. In their various walks of life, whether they are in industry, agriculture or anything else, they serve their country with great integrity, and I am not suggesting that there is a deep lack of something here because those people enjoy these things.

I believe that the right reverend Prelate was right when he explained how he felt about the matter in terms of the dignity of man. It is true that animals kill each other; they have to, because they have to eat like the rest of us. The phrase about nature being "red in tooth and claw" is, I suppose, quite true of the jungle. But anyone who knows about animals—anyone who knows how a cow, for instance, will care for her heifer, or how a cat will fight to the death to protect her young—realises that there is something additional to the need to kill and to eat. And, of course, animals do not have guns or humane killers, so they are "red in tooth and claw". Man has a humane killer, which I think speaks for itself.

I shall incur the wrath of my Front Bench if I go on, because it is late in the day. But in view of all that has been said I felt that those who stand where I stand have to declare themselves. I do not think that man is so far apart from the animals. After all, we know that the whole of life in this world evolved from a very simple form, and animals branched in one way and man branched in another. So in a real sense we are akin. St. Francis spoke of Brother Fox and Sister Hare; perhaps he was not so far out. We should not be too proud, and should not blow ourselves up by thinking that we are so far apart from these creatures which walk the earth with us. I believe that there is something more than just the body. The universe is a strange and frightening place. One may look up into the night sky and be scared—and it is said that this was all caused by an explosion. But one knows that here is man and here are animals, enjoying the world with us. I believe that man is more only in the sense that he is further along the road of evolution, and that evolution is not only a bodily one, the ability to use one's hands and stand on two feet, but it is also a mental—I prefer to use that word—or a spiritual one. In my view, what the right reverend Prelate said was quite clear and he is quite right. It is a question of morality and of the dignity of man in his forward march towards something—I do not believe any of us know what. That is why I am on my feet now. It is neither to criticise nor to condemn but to explain a point of view which I think is important and must be explained. My Lords, I apologise. The right reverend Prelate's speech was very much better than mine, but I could not go away without saying what I have said.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention to detain your Lordships for very much longer at what is now becoming a late stage on a Friday afternoon. First I must wholeheartedly and, indeed, sincerely congratulate the right reverend Prelate upon what on any showing was a magnificent performance. I am bound to say that when I saw the speakers' list and that the right reverend Prelate had put down his name for a debate on a subject such as this I went immediately to the Companion to Standing, Orders to find out whether such a performance was possible. I noticed that on page 84 the Companion enjoins maiden speakers first not to address the House in terms which would ordinarily provoke an interruption and, secondly, not to address the House in terms which would make it difficult for the succeeding speaker, whatever his view, to congratulate him with sincerity. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate has steered a beautiful course between those two rules. I myself do not share his views but certainly I look forward to hearing him speak frequently in your Lordships' House.

There has been a slightly unreal flavour about this debate as these well-worn and well-rehearsed sentiments have once more been flung around your Lordships' Chamber. Bearing in mind that last evening we were discussing the Community Land Bill, I am not going to say that we have come from the sublime to the ridiculous. Possibly that would be in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, but not in the minds of many Members of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, we have come down a little from the subject that was being discussed last evening.

May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, what is the point of discussing this matter for a few hours on this Friday afternoon? What are the Government about when they seek to introduce this Bill on the last Friday afternoon before Prorogation? I think that your Lordships are entitled to ask the Government to state their reasons for so doing. So far as this House is concerned, during the last few weeks everything that we have done in our debates has had some kind of end product, but so far as one can tell this debate, even if your Lordships' House were minded to give this Bill a Second Reading, will result in no end product. From the notable speech of the noble and learned Lord who pointed out some of the thorns in the path, it appears that this is a Bill which would have to be debated in Committee. Certain of the points which struck one as the noble and learned Lord made his speech would have to be debated and, one hopes, resolved to make sure that this Bill does not become a constitutional nonsense. It appears to me that we have had what I might term a Wednesday debate on a Friday afternoon and, thinking of my already truncated weekend 450 miles away, I bear a faint feeling of resentment, if no more.

As an Opposition, as a Party, we take no stance upon this matter, and anything that is done by noble Lords sitting behind me or in other parts of the Chamber is a matter for them, their conscience and their own individual thoughts and fancies. But I am bound to give vent to my distaste that this should be a Government Bill at all. This is not a Bill which should be sponsored by a great and honourable Department of State, such as the Home Office. One was very struck when reading about the last debate on this subject in 1972, when there was a Private Member's Bill, by the attitude of the Government as explained by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. That is not to say that I am poking a finger, as it were, at the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I thought that he did a very good job, although he lowered the tone of the debate by comparing hare coursing to bear baiting or bull fighting. I should have thought that, on any view, they were scarcely in the same league.

Be that as it may, this Bill has become, because of the Government's action, very much a Party issue and as such will have a divisive effect upon our body politic. This is not only because, for some reason which is not readily apparent, most of the supporters of the Bill in another place came from one side of the Chamber and most of the opponents came from another. I do not suppose any noble Lord, wherever he sits in this Chamber, would say there is a monopoly of goodness or a monopoly of tenderness of feeling on one side or in one Party; but it happened that way. What is much more serious is that, at least so far as the Bill's passage through the other place was concerned, members of the Government made no secret of the fact that this is supposed to be the first of a series of Bills. One can therefore only deplore the fact, if this is to be the case, that this is one more example of this Government's divisive effect upon our country. They are, as it were, setting one set of subjects against another. I do not mean the town against the country, but one sincerely held set of views against another.

I suppose that supporters of this Bill, apart from those members of the Government who feel that they have to support it, come in three types. I suppose there are those who have a genuine objection to blood sports, and this one in particular, and, whether or not they know about them or have attended a coursing meeting, they feel it is something which is wrong and to be deplored. I have never attended a coursing meeting, but I suppose I shall have to make the journey to somewhere in England to do so before the next Bill, whatever happens to this Bill, receives an airing in your Lordships' House.

The second type of person who supports a Bill such as this is one who I suspect cares very little about the animal in question and its fate, but is determined to "have a go", if I may use that inelegant expression, at a part of the community which he considers to be much more privileged than his own. That, again, is not so much a matter between town and country as between one community and another. Thirdly, there are those who do not care about the animals or the people at all; they merely want to change the whole pattern of society and imprint their standards of conduct upon it, and they see this Bill as merely a first step towards the attainment of that goal. Each of those classes of supporters of the Bill has its adherents, although I have not pointed any fingers at any particular noble Lords in this House.

I want to come to what might be called the philosophy of this kind of legislation, and I say this thinking particularly of the people outside this Chamber who have heard what Government Ministers have said in recent weeks and arc worried about what is to happen in the years ahead. I hope the Government will agree that the otherwise lawful activities of a section of our population should be controlled only, first, if what they are doing is objectionable or sufficiently objectionable in itself to justify some control or restriction; and, secondly, if the activities, whether or not they are justifiable in themselves, have such an effect, either on those who practise them or on outsiders, that society feels it is compelled to intervene.

So far as the first criterion is concerned, these matters depend so much on the individual viewpoint and I feel that nothing that anybody says in this House this afternoon will change anybody's individual viewpoint. So much depends on the way in which individuals have been brought up, where they have lived and how they approach these matters. As we have heard, in many cases shooting is essentially cruel, but many creatures have to be shot. In my own part of the world grey squirrels, which are fluffy, attractive looking animals when one sees them individually, are now such a menace that the Forestry Commission has asked officially that they be referred to by the name of "tree rat", because of the depredations which they work in the forest. Unfortunately, it is a fact that they can only be shot as they nip around the trunks of the trees: this is not an easy matter and many of them are wounded.

We are here concerned with a problem which to me, at any rate, seems trifling. On my own hill farm, if I may be personal for a moment, last "back-end", as we say in Scotland—and if I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, it is only because he did not mention Scotland—in two days, we had to kill over 2,000 blue hares. The reason, I hasten to say, is that five hares equal one sheep when it comes to grazing and we cannot support a sheep population if we have an excess of hares. Secondly, the hares carry ticks which themselves carry disease which kills the sheep and therefore this cull has to be made. I have to say that the entire neighbourhood take part with ancient and thoroughly unreliable fowling pieces, and I have also to confess that they derive no little enjoyment in the process. But there it is. We are talking about less than 600 hares which are killed throughout the length and breadth of England —and I believe in one part of Scotland—over a season. I have spoken about one farm, and I wonder how many hares go from Scotland to the Continent where they are eaten by the Germans and the Belgians with, I understand, considerable relish.

Snaring is cruel. Anybody who has seen a rabbit or a hare, or a fox for that matter, in a snare for some days will agree that that is a cruel and unnecessary form of control. But these things have to happen. A farm which is owned by a company in which I have an interest has its land on the furthest West Coast part of Scotland which is still on the mainland, and it abounds with foxes which eat the lambs. One cannot shoot the foxes there, because the area is so big that one cannot get near enough. Therefore, there is a local hunt which hunts on foot and, as a company, we invite this hunt to make several excursions on to our hill farm in order to try to control the foxes. The people who perform this act, which is vital to our farming operation, are not paid and I have no doubt that they thoroughly enjoy it; otherwise they would not do it in an obscure part of Scotland and in intemperate weather. Are they any more to be condemned than anybody else? It is what what one might call an essential operation is carried out by people who enjoy it, that the fallacy of some of the arguments used by those who wish to see this Bill becomes law is shown up.

I do not think I should detain your Lordships any further. It is obvious that if this matter is to be debated in the future the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will undoubtedly wish to do some homework in order to answer the questions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. If one takes the words of Clause 1, it says: the coursing of a hare by two or more dogs in a competition forms the offence. I should like to know what happens if the dogs course different hares, one after the other. Is that an offence? One would imagine not, on a strict interpretation of this clause, in which case it would once more make a nonsense of what the Bill seeks to achieve. I was particularly taken by the speech of my noble friend Lord Denham. It seems to me, in the words of the honourable friend of the noble Lord in another place who described the last great inquiry on this matter as "a well-squeezed orange", that before we make decisions which will materially affect the livelihood of a few, the enjoyment of rather more, and possibly the future prospects of even more, we should try to have some up to date information on the subject. To that extent, I was extremely impressed with the idea that, if and when this matter comes before us again, we should set up a Select Committee to inquire into it.

Your Lordships having been punished enough by sitting so late on a Friday, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will seek leave to withdraw the Bill for now, so that others can, if they wish, take appropriate action during the next Session. If the noble Lord does not do that, I shall not advise my noble friends to divide the House; we do not do things like that in your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, this is a rather distasteful process this afternoon.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by most warmly congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield on his maiden speech. It has been the one element of unanimity in this debate, and we all appreciate the quality of his speech and, indeed, his courage, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, pointed out, in deciding to make his maiden speech on a subject as controversial as this one. I can remember only last year making a maiden speech in this House myself, when I chose rather safer territory—that of the Representation of the People Regulations 1974.

My Lords, before coming to the detailed points raised in the debate, may I refer to the agreeable and boisterous speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We all appreciated it. He found it paradoxical—and I use slightly more neutral language than that he employed—that the Government, which were spending so much time hunting and hounding the private citizen, should have this rather sentimental attitude towards the hare. He seemed to me to some extent to be rather jealous of the new status of the hare following the passage of this Bill. The noble Viscount found the private citizen was persecuted by bureaucrats, presumably of the kind who served him when he was a Minister only a few years ago, and looked forward to a day when there would he far less time-consuming and tedious regulations affecting the private citizen. We all share that view, and I am sure he welcomed the decision of the present Government to relax at least one tiresome regulation, that applying to museum charges.

My Lords, I will now turn to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. He asked me a number of questions, and I am sure he will not he altogether astonished to learn that I do not propose to answer them all in detail this afternoon. I say that for a number of reasons, one being that, to my pleasure, I found that he is almost as non-numerate as I. Having said that he would ask me three questions, when he studies Hansard tomorrow, I think he will find that his degree of error was fairly substantial. The noble and learned Lord asked me a fairly formidable number of questions. In particular, he asked me whether there would have to be a prize in order for an offence to occur; whether there would have to be bets taken, and whether there would have to be rules. The noble and learned Lord asked a number of other questions too. In some cases, issues of this sort would be irrelevant as to whether or not there was a competition. But if, for instance, we were to say—and I am sure the noble and learned Lord will accept this point; he stated frankly he was an opponent of the Bill, and made no secret of his position—that there was a competition only if there were, let us say, bets, obviously we should he creating a major loophole in the Bill, and it is not the intention of the Government so to do. Nevertheless, the noble and learned Lord has made a number of points of substance, and I will undertake, given the fact that the Bill is likely to progress towards the Statute Book in a perhaps rather more leisurely way than the Government would prefer, to have these points looked at before the Bill is reintroduced.

The noble and learned Lord said one thing with which I very much agree; namely, that he greatly hoped that no one would question the motives of people on either side of this controversy. I share his view entirely. Only one noble Lord has questioned the motives of anyone involved in this controversy, and that, I fear, was my noble friend Lord Paget. He seemed to take the view that it was all the responsibility of the apostles of class warfare. I think a number of my friends in my own Party would be the first to agree that it is the first time I have been described in quite those terms for some little time. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, must have found it slightly surprising to be put in such a group of people, and presumably so must be the 18 Members of the Conservative Party in another place who went into the Government Lobby on the Second Reading of this Bill. I accept straight away that there is a substantial number of people of goodwill on both sides of this controversy, and I think we do ourselves less than justice if we question the motives of the people on either side of the controversy. I certainly respect the views of those who have spoken against the Bill.

I feel I must come back to the point that I made when I moved the Second Reading of the Bill earlier this afternoon, that the issue before the House is the simple one of the standard of humane behaviour towards which we ought to be aiming in our society. In essence, the Government's view, and the view, I believe, of the substantial majority of people in this country, is that hare coursing is no longer tolerable. In introducing this Bill I explained why the Government took this view, and, as I indicated, we believe it is a form of cruelty in regard to which to bring it to an end it is now necessary to invoke the criminal law. The morality of a society is to some extent judged by the way in which it deals with helpless people and helpless animals. There is a tendency for this country to regard itself as being in advance of many of its neighbours in animal welfare matters. I think it is all the more interesting, therefore, that, with the exception of Ireland, hare coursing as practised in Britain is unknown in every other country which is a partner of ours in Europe, and is unlawful in a number of them. The Government believe that the cruel sport of hare coursing is no longer one which is acceptable to public opinion in this country.

This brings me to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who, if I may say so, spoke with such eloquence earlier against this Bill. He put a number of questions to my noble friend Lord Shepherd, who will, of course, study Hansard and no doubt decide how to deal with the matters raised by the noble Lord. But I should reply to one point straight away. I think it would be quite wrong for me to hold out any hope that the Government would favour the appointment of a Select Committee. I do not in any way doubt the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Denham; but we had an explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Paget, as to what the purpose of a Select Committee would be so far as he was concerned. I cannot remember the elegant metaphor used by my noble friend; it had something to do with strangling the Bill at birth, or something along those lines.


My Lords, I think I suggested that this Bill would die of exposure if properly investigated.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I think he will find tomorrow morning that he put it in an even more interesting form of words than that. Nevertheless, his motive is quite clear. I was not aware of the phrase referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, which was used by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, that an inquiry on this issue was something of a well-squeezed orange.


My Lords, the noble Lord has it wrong. His honourable friend described the Scott Henderson Report and what had been gleaned from it, as a 24-year-old well-squeezed orange.


My Lords, I am much obliged. This confirms the point I was about to make, which is that I doubt whether any other form of inquiry is what we should look at so far as this issue is concerned. The position is clearly that there is a gulf of principle (and there is nothing to be ashamed of so far as that is concerned) between the people who favour this Bill and those who are against it. I doubt very substantially indeed whether, having heard the debate today, anybody could seriously argue that people on either side of this controversy would be moved as a result of some further inquiry into the merits of this question. There exists a gulf of principle.

I must come back to the point which I made earlier. I was surprised in the otherwise attractive speech of the noble Earl to hear him refer to this as a Party issue. For the reasons I have indicated, I find it hard to describe it in those terms, given that so many of his honourable friends in another place went into the Division Lobby in favour of this Bill. I would not use terms of that kind. It is an issue which cuts across political Parties. He raised the question as to why this Bill had come so late to this House. I think it came to this House so late because a number of the opponents of the Bill in another place, using perfectly legitimate Parliamentary tactics, succeeded in delaying the Bill to such a degree that it has only just arrived in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that it was unfortunate that it had been brought before the House at all. I do not agree with him. This Bill obtained a substantial majority in another place, made up of Members of both political Parties. The Prime Minister made perfectly clear at the last General Election that the Government had an intention of bringing in such legislation, and it was only right that this House should have the opportunity it has had today.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, the point about this Bill coming here so late was that it was first mentioned in this Parliament in the debate on the humble Address in another place. The Bill was printed in May, but there is no reason why it should not have been printed very much earlier because it was identical to two earlier Bills. There are only three differences; one was in the short title; one in the amount of the fines; and one the date on which the Bill should come into effect. We have a very good right to complain that this Bill has come to us so late, when one remembers that the Second Reading took place in another place only on 13th June.


My Lords, the noble Lord has made the point with greater force than he did earlier, but I am bound to come back to the point that this is a one clause Bill to all intents and purposes, and it seems remarkable that a Bill of one clause has taken so much time to wend its way through Parliament. I make it absolutely clear that I am not complaining of the tactics of the noble Lord's honourable friends in another place, but it is a little much for him to come here today and hold up his hands in horror and complain about the tactics of the Government in this matter. If he had wanted the Bill to come here earlier, I am sure his persuasive voice would have had a most remarkable effect on the attitude of a number of his honourable friends in another place. Nevertheless, I will make sure that on the next occasion this Bill is brought before the other place my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will draw to the noble Lord's honourable friends' attention his strictures on this matter, and make an appeal to them to pursue legislation rather more quickly than they have on this occasion.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why it is cruel to course a hare under the rules of the National Coursing Club where the object is not to kill the hare but to try out the dogs, and it is not cruel—I can only imagine this is what the Minister thinks—for a man to go out with one greyhound and a couple of lurchers to course a hare on his own with the object of killing that hare? I cannot understand the logic of this.


My Lords, I endeavoured to point out in my first speech this afternoon why the the Government had drawn the Bill as they had. As I think I shall have an opportunity future of addressing the House on this subject, on that occasion I will do my best to answer the question more satisfactorily than clearly I have today.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committe of the Whole House.