HL Deb 26 October 2004 vol 665 cc1251-78

House again in Committee.

Clause 5 [Hare coursing]:

Baroness Golding moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 3, leave out "a" and insert "an unregistered"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 5, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group. The amendments relate to hare coursing. Amendments Nos. 5 to 9 all leave out "a" and insert "an unregistered", so that Clause 5 would read: A person commits an offence if he … participates in a hare coursing event … attends an unregistered hare coursing event … knowingly facilitates an unregistered hare coursing event, or… permits land which belongs to him to be used for the purpose of an unregistered hare coursing event … Each of the following persons commits an offence if a dog participates in an unregistered hare coursing event".

Amendment No. 50 would insert, a person engages or participates in a hare coursing event". Amendment No. 87 is consequential on that amendment in the Long Title of the Bill.

These clauses underline the principle of registration which the Committee overwhelmingly voted for earlier this evening. It has been agreed that hunting should be put under the control of a registrar; in other words, it is up to the registrar with, one hopes, the help of a hunting tribunal, to decide whether hunting should take place under regulation or, alternatively, whether it should be banned.

We must now decide whether hunting of some animals should be banned without consulting the registrar. These clauses deal with hare coursing. I submit that we cannot have it both ways: either the registrar is a fit person to rule on animal welfare, on utility and least suffering for all wild animals, or he is not. We should not pick and choose; we have appointed a registrar to do a job, we should give him our total support to do it, and we should allow hare coursing to come under the registrar. I beg to move.

Lord Eden of Winton

I find this a very difficult issue on which to come to a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, referred to hare coursing in his Second Reading speech, when he said: The welfare arguments against coursing are probably the clearest of all, as population control plays no part. But I have a residual worry that a ban on coursing would not eliminate the activity but would merely result in diversion into other forms of coursing".—[Official Report, 12/10/04; col. 145.] Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, did not develop his case regarding what he had in mind when he referred to "other forms of coursing". I wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who spoke to this group of amendments, is able to shed light on that as it would certainly have an influence on the way in which I approach this subject.

I emphasise that we are talking about coursing and that we are not discussing beagling. Beagling has quite different connotations and is quite another activity, which in my view should be facilitated. However, coursing troubles me because of what was referred to on the clause stand part debate; namely, the incidence of illegal coursing activity on land, estates and properties when the owner in question has not given consent for that. That is a very troublesome activity. I have been given evidence of the kind of coercion and excessive threatening behaviour which accompanies that activity, which in my view should not be countenanced at all.

I believe that a national body oversees coursing. I should have thought that an activity such as coursing was a prime example of an activity where registration and licensing should be imposed. There ought to be clearly defined rules of conduct. Coursing should be allowed to take place within certain clearly prescribed regulations. Perhaps that happens already, but as I have indicated—I hope for long enough—I am totally confused by this whole subject. I find it a very difficult one to fit into the context of hunting. It does not appeal to me as hunting as such, but none the less it is an activity in the country which deserves careful scrutiny and ought to be regulated properly.

Lord Best

In supporting this amendment I wish to make some comments that might be helpful to those of your Lordships who have not made up their minds on coursing. This amendment's effect would be to treat hare coursing in the same way as fox hunting, beagling and so on. Coursing would be subject to the same tests, and only if registered would it be able to continue.

If the amendment is not carried, hare coursing will be singled out for very special treatment. Irrespective of the arrangements for hunting, it would be the subject of an immediate ban. I confess that I have come very late to any knowledge of coursing, but I have now gained an understanding of it and my view is that a grave injustice would be done if hare coursing were regarded as so heinous a pursuit that draconian measures must be taken to close it down immediately.

When the previous version of the Hunting Bill was debated in your Lordships' House I felt compelled to speak up for coursing because I had been, with some trepidation, to two coursing meetings. I discovered there to my astonishment that my ideas about coursing were wildly wrong. First, I discovered that my understanding that the object was for hares to be chased and then killed by greyhounds was very wide of the mark. The objective, it turned out, was not to kill or harm a hare. The two greyhounds, coursing dogs, that race in each heat get no points for catching or killing a hare. They are tested on their speed and agility, being released by the slipper when the hare has run a hundred metres past him. I saw no hares killed at those two meetings. Subsequently my knowledge has increased and I now know that some hares are killed, and these are the facts. There were 1,380 occasions when coursing dogs at the regulated official meetings went after hares last year, and 126 hares were caught. That compares to thousands that are shot each year.

My second discovery was that the hares involved were not, as I thought, captured earlier and then taken to the coursing meeting to be released. That was entirely misguided. The hares are born and bred in the wild. For three or four coursing meetings each year, a big circle of beaters channels them to the field where the coursing dogs are. The hares are likely to enjoy the best possible conditions. Wherever there is coursing, there are many more and healthier brown hare populations. In those parts of north Yorkshire, East Anglia or wherever regulated coursing takes place under National Coursing Club rules, the farmers and landowners create an environment in which hares will prosper. That requires some sacrifices in modern farming practice. More land is set aside. Grass cannot be cut for silage, as that would happen in May, when the leverets lie low in the field and would be killed by the silage making. Poisoned slug pellets cannot be put down. Hedges, copses and grass verges are extended.

Moreover, in terms of enhancing the lives of hares rather than taking them, coursing involves rather more than conservation. It also protects the hare populations from the most vicious of their predators—the illegal coursing poachers, to whom the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred. They bring their lurchers and greyhounds to engage in a truly cruel free-for-all. The rules are simple: kill, kill, kill. It is a violent and aggressive sport. Bets are placed on which dog will kill the most hares. But hares enjoy protection on the land where organised coursing takes place and brings in an income from the participants who come to the coursing meetings. Trouble is taken to lock gates, create obstacles for intruders, and patrol the farmland. The nightmare scenario is legal coursing being unilaterally banned, with no one then paid to protect hares. If coursing is banned, those on whose land there are good stocks of hares would be well advised to shoot them as self-protection from highly undesirable elements trespassing on their land, creating damage and killing the hares.

I declare a new interest. My wife has kindly bought me a share in a greyhound puppy which I hope one day to see run. Meanwhile, I have come to the firm view that a grave injustice could be done, based on the kind of deep-seated ignorance of what modern-day, regulated and organised coursing consists of—ignorance that I displayed until recently. I cannot for the life of me see that coursing is so very different from beagling, which is also involved in hare conservation but accounts for 1,650 hares killed each year, compared with 126 for coursing.

I recognise that hare coursing is a sport, like fishing and shooting. However, shooting hares—it will be the fate of so many if they are not conserved for coursing means that 25 per cent of those shot will be wounded and suffer a prolonged death. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, mentioned that in his report. The exponents of coursing clearly do a good deal for the countryside, as well as providing a major social occasion for people in pretty remote rural areas, many of whom cannot afford many other pleasures in life. It seems grossly unfair for the activity to be condemned on the basis of near-universal ignorance of what today's coursing comprises.

The amendment would see hare coursing taking its chances to be assessed alongside the likes of fox hunting. Only if it stands the test of that scrutiny would it continue. The Committee should give organised coursing the chance to seek registration and prove its case.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Best, very interesting and really rather extraordinary. The mood of the great debate we had earlier today was on compromise—compromise between the House and the other place, possibly with the Government holding the ring in some way. On the issue of hare coursing there is absolutely no room for compromise whatever. I think that the Committee must realise that if it were to pass these amendments this evening, the other place would rightly conclude that this House has no interest in coming to a compromise on the Bill as a whole. The House of Commons has passed Motions, Private Members' Bills and other resolutions on the issue of banning hare coursing continuously since 1970. When the Hunting Bill came before them on the most recent occasion, and on earlier occasions, the votes on the issue have all been absolutely overwhelming.

This is the one issue on which there is universal public support for a ban. It is regarded as quite different from the fox hunting debate. The argument for fox hunting, which is not one that I agree with, was to do with keeping down numbers. There is no argument about keeping down the numbers of hares. The hare species is the subject of a biodiversity programme, and every attempt is being made to increase the numbers because, in some parts of the country, it is endangered.

Viscount Ullswater

The noble Lord has expressed his view about what the House of Commons has said. As far as I am concerned, I do not believe that the House of Lords has had an opportunity to express its view about coursing. Would he deny the House of Lords an opportunity to express its view?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

Of course I would not. Indeed, the House of Lords expressed its view on hare coursing on 28 October 2003, when it voted by 129 to 59 to remove Clause 5 from the Bill. We debated hare coursing at great length a year ago. I remember making a speech, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, followed me. We took completely contrary lines, but we debated this. On that occasion, we lost.

The effect of that vote to delete Clause 5 was to continue hare coursing unlicensed and unregistered. I suppose that, in that sense at least, the amendment which my noble friend moved earlier represents just a tiny step forward. I assume that one of the amendment's consequences is that unregistered coursing—the sort of coursing to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred—will be made illegal. My feeling is that, because coursing itself is essentially cruel—it is killing for sport, killing for gambling, killing for fun—it is inconceivable that we should continue to allow it to happen.

It is not the case that the National Coursing Club does not provide any points for a kill. I am advised that it provides for one point to be given for a kill provided that it is through superior skill. The noble Lord made another assertion that he may wish to correct.

Baroness Mallalieu

Will the noble Lord tell us who has given him the information that one point is awarded for a kill? I understand that that is not so.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I have been given this briefing by people who are taking a very close interest in the Bill, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Best, was making his assertions.

Baroness Byford

As the noble Lord will see, the noble Baroness wishes to come back. And noble Lords are quite rightly asking, "Who?".

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

The answer is that the information has come from the RSPCA. I am very happy to quote it in this debate.

The other point that needs to be borne in mind is that, in giving evidence to the Burns inquiry, the National Coursing Club made it quite clear that eight coursing clubs had netted and moved hares around the country for coursing. It is not true that they are all local hares that just happen to be in the fields where the courses are taking place. There is a conscious effort to move them from one part of the country to other parts of the country, particularly from Norfolk to the estates of Lord Leverhulme, where the Waterloo Cup is held. That strikes me as a cynical and very cruel practice.

I very much hope that your Lordships will reject these amendments. There is extreme cruelty involved in this sport. The Burns committee found no grounds whatever for justifying the sport's continued existence. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, said that there was little or no need to control overall hare numbers and that hare running and coursing were carried out essentially for recreational purposes. So hare coursing is cruel and there is no reason, other than for sport, for it to be allowed to continue.

I shall end by quoting one of the witnesses at the Waterloo Cup in 2003, who talked to the Daily Mirror after the experience.

Lord Burnham

My Lords—

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

This was someone who was at the Waterloo Cup and no one has denied that it happened. Perhaps I may read the quotation. It's not illegal but it is immoral. One day I sat down and thought about it and I just couldn't do it any more. The captured hares are released on to land that is unfamiliar to them, they don't have any runs and they're so scared it's impossible for them to find an escape route. It's like me being taken from my house, being blindfolded, driven a hundred miles away and then dumped, being chased". That strikes me as being a barbaric sport which there is no need for us to continue.

Lord Denham

The noble Lord has quoted all manner of things which are really not the case. He says that the hares are released on to ground that is unfamiliar to them. It is one of the rules of the National Coursing Club that no hare shall be moved at least six months before coursing takes place on that piece of ground. So the hare is familiar with that piece of ground in the natural course of events.

Baroness Mallalieu

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether he has ever taken the trouble to attend any hare coursing event.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

No, I have not, and I really would not wish to, but I have read enough about hare coursing events to be able to reach a view and to express to your Lordships my complete aversion to that barbaric activity.

Lord Donoughue

In speaking to the amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 6 to 9,50 and 87, which are also in my name. In defence of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, he has every right to speak from total ignorance and lack of experience regarding this subject. In this House we should tolerate that, because it is not an unfamiliar experience. I also note that this is one more issue that, when it comes to compromise, all the compromises have to come from one side. Once more we are told that there is no compromise from the other side.

The amendment alters the Bill to allow coursing events to be subject to the two tests of utility and least suffering, and hence allows them to apply for registration. It prohibits unregistered hare coursing. I should point out to my noble friend Lord Faulkner that unregistered hare coursing, which is an appalling cause of cruelty and disorder in much of the countryside, makes up the vast majority of sport concerned with hares. The amendment deals with that.

Personal opinions regarding hare coursing differ greatly and my noble friend has expressed his view, while others will express theirs. I have previously stated in this House that I am not a great supporter. In fact, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Best, and very much like my noble friend Lord Faulkner, I am fairly ignorant of the sport—as are some of my colleagues who are not well informed on hunting with dogs. I believe that ignorance and prejudice, which I may have on this issue, should not be the basis for banning an activity. I am content that the issue of coursing, while I do not support it, should be subject to the expert judgment of the proposed registration process and based on principles and evidence.

It may be the case that, under the process of rational scrutiny which we are suggesting, coursing is not registered or allowed and is banned. I would be content with that outcome if it had been the result of a proper process of scrutiny and evidence. These issues should not he decided by emotive prejudice. That is why I support the amendment. It provides a legal process by which hare coursing, along with all other such country activities, may or may not be permitted. We should show faith in that process. It is a process of regulation; a process of registration, tests and principles; a process which the Committee overwhelmingly supported today.

Lord Eden of Winton

Since we are debating the Hunting Bill, and coursing is not hunting, is there not a very strong case for arguing that matters affecting coursing should be taken under another Bill that deals with animal welfare?

Lord Donoughue

I have sympathy with the noble Lord because this whole area should be subject to a proper animal welfare Bill. As the Committee may be aware, I have introduced a Private Member's Bill that does exactly that. If one links that with the Government's proposed animal welfare Bill, one could deal with all these issues in a rational way that is based on evidence. But that is not the instinct of some people, mainly in my party, in the House of Commons and of just a few noble Lords, as we heard today, in this Committee. I sympathise with the noble Lord's view, but that is not the reality with which we have to deal.

Those who oppose submitting hare coursing to the tests and the registration process are rejecting or undermining that process. My noble friend Lord Faulkner may tell us otherwise, but they are apparently unwilling to expose their views to rational scrutiny and evidence. Surely if they are convinced not merely that their instincts lean that way, but that they are right and that the evidence points to it, they should be willing to go through that process in absolute confidence that an activity will be banned under it.

The approach of the amendment is to apply rational scrutiny and evidence. It provides that all activities and animals be treated equally under the law. That might normally be an instinct towards which Members of my party incline, since we have normally supported treating human beings equally under the law, but the law should not pick out certain activities and certain animals for discriminatory treatment. The amendment would leave to this process and the evidence before it the determination of which activities are permitted and which are banned.

As one who does not support hare coursing, I strongly support the amendment and recommend that those who have concerns about coursing too—maybe based on evidence; maybe, unlike mine and those of my noble friend Lord Faulkner, based on ignorance and no experience—should be willing to submit to this process, which will determine those activities which will be permitted and those which should be banned. I support the amendment.

9 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I shall be very surprised if what I am about to say changes anyone's mind—in fact, I am certain that it will not. However, I am amazed that Members of the Committee who feel strongly that hunting should continue should have any intention of sending the Bill back to the House of Commons with hare coursing included. That would be a red rag to a bull; it is not in the spirit of compromise, and it is entirely irrational.

What offends me most is not the question of hunting hares or hare coursing; it is the fact that including it in the Bill would bring this House into disrepute. I know that noble Lords who are pro-coursing gave the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, a hard time and I am sure that they will do the same to me. Nevertheless, I believe that it would show that the House of Lords was unwilling to compromise, and I feel very strongly about that. Hare coursing has no place in the Bill. It is a Bill about hunting and, because it is a Bill about hunting, it is a difficult place to consider anything carried out as a sport.

I want to address the issues of conservation which were prayed in aid of continuing coursing. The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group has made a useful analysis of the decline of the brown hare over the years. Mostly, it comes down to modern agricultural practices, and the group has listed the things that would reverse the decline in hare numbers, which now seem to have stabilised. None of the items listed will come as a surprise to the Committee. They include: keeping a wide grass strip; broadening the bottom of hedges; and having a wide food source for hares, which do not carry much body fat and so need a regular food source.

I do not think we can say that hare coursing is necessary in order to keep up hare numbers. The types of practice that will come about as part of CAP reform and the types of practice that will encourage more skylarks, and so on, are also likely to encourage more hares.

Is continuing with legal hare coursing likely to prevent illegal coursing or, at least, to have an impact on it? I do not believe that it will. Illegal coursing is horrendous and is an extremely difficult problem which needs to be tackled vigorously, but continuing with legal coursing will not in any way begin to address the issue.

I listened with great interest to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Best, who made some good points. Nevertheless, I believe that hare coursing is a sport and that it is not practised in order to control hare numbers. We have not heard any arguments to the effect that that form of sport is acceptable in relation to any other animal, and therefore I do not believe that it is supportable. Further than that, I believe that we may as well write off the rest of the days that we are to spend in Committee, Report and Third Reading if noble Lords are minded to vote in favour of putting hare coursing back into the Bill. If they do so, the compromise will be seen to have failed completely.

Lord Denham

l hope that the Committee will be aware that competitive coursing is the only field sport that has been examined in depth and given a clean bill of health by a Select Committee of the House. The Hare Coursing Bill 1975 was brought from the House of Commons and given a Second Reading in this House on 7 November 1975. It was then very properly withdrawn by the government of the day due to lack of time and, in the next Parliament, was introduced as a House of Lords Bill and given a First and Second Reading on 16 December 1975.

The Bill was thereupon referred to a House of Lords Select Committee of the type that can hear evidence, go about the countryside and examine what it is talking about. The late, very distinguished public servant Lord Trevelyan was in the chair. One of the members was the late Lord Cranbrook, a natural history expert of world renown. The committee heard evidence from all interested parties, attended two separate coursing meetings in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire and then produced their report. The report concluded that, The Bill is not a suitable instrument for reducing the suffering of hares. The welfare of the hare would not be appreciably affected by it, since the amount of physical suffering caused by competitive coursing is probably less than 1 per cent of the amount caused by hare shooting and non-competitive coursing". After that, the Government dropped the hare coursing Bill. That was nearly 30 years ago. The rules maintained by the National Coursing Club are even stricter now than then, but all I would ask is that the National Coursing Club should at least be given the opportunity to put its case among other field sports before the registrar is appointed under this Bill.

Baroness Mallalieu

I usually agree with 90 per cent of what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, says, but on this occasion I am in the 10 per cent zone. The advice that I hope the Committee will take on the approach to be adopted on this Bill is that given to the Committee earlier by the noble Lord, Lord King, when he said that we should try to do what we believe is right.

I hope that our earlier vote today is an indication that we want to try to send to the other place a fair Bill, rather than one that gives vent to personal prejudices. That is the problem with the Bill that has come to this Committee. In my submission, whatever one's personal views on hare coursing—I do not happen to share those of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner —it must be right that the same test is applied to this sport as to the others with which the Committee is concerned. Hare coursing is a minority sport within a minority and, therefore, we must be particularly careful to ensure that that minority's interests are treated with the same degree of care as others.

When he considered this matter, Alun Michael said that the matter must be determined on principle and evidence and not on personal distaste. With respect, I suggest that those are the words that we should remember now. I urge those who have personal distaste, whether they have investigated the matter or not, to adopt that principle and be prepared to submit hare coursing to the test devised by Alun Michael. If it does not meet those tests, as some noble Lords have indicated they do not believe it will, organised hare coursing will not receive registration and will, no doubt, cease.

I believe that Mr Alun Michael's view was that hare coursing would not pass the tests that he set. You will recall that the first of those tests was that of utility. I anticipate that at a later stage we shall come to the test of utility, which at the moment is very narrowly drafted to deal only with pest control. I anticipate that the Committee will consider whether it should be expanded to include wildlife management. I hope that it will. It is certainly right that if pest control is the test, hare coursing would not make the cut. I do not believe that anyone at the National Coursing Club would suggest that that was so.

If wildlife management were included at least there would be a case—they would say a strong one—for the registrar to consider. I am not in a position to say whether it is one that would find favour or not, but those of us who were fortunate enough a couple of days ago to attend a presentation given in this House heard from a keeper on an estate of 2,000 acres in Norfolk on which there are an estimated 800 hares. He was doing all the things that noble Lords have said should be done to improve and to increase the hare population. He said that if coursing went, because that was a coursing estate, the farming policy would change in such a way that he could not possibly continue to maintain that number and that there would undoubtedly be a substantial decrease. Indeed, I have heard it said on reliable evidence that some 30,000 hares are likely to be shot in the event of coursing being stopped because landowners would be anxious to avoid the undoubted increase in illegal coursing which would take place.

I say to my noble friend Lord Faulkner that, if the hare coursing proposals in the Bill as we have received it were to find favour and to reach the statute book, it is the view of many of those who have studied this subject that we could kiss goodbye to the Government's biodiversity programme. The stable hare numbers we have now achieved would plummet.

Mr Michael thought that hare coursing might not meet the test of "least suffering". That could be so. The noble Lord, Lord Best, said that one hare in 10 is killed in the course of a coursing event. That figure has to be looked at against the research done by Dr Douglas Wise, a lecturer in animal husbandry at Cambridge University, who has concluded that when hares are shot some 25 per cent are wounded, of which approximately half are not retrieved. That is an alarming statistic.

I have never been on a shoot where hares were shot, but those who have tell me that it is not a pleasant experience. If that really is the figure—and there seems to be considerable evidence for it—what we are doing is perhaps saving the lives of 126 hares a year and sacrificing a great many more which will be killed or wounded and suffer lingering death. When one looks at the "least suffering" test, I am not sure that there is not an argument for a registrar to consider.

I am not sure either that threats are the best way to achieve good, sustainable legislation. We are told that there is no point in our even considering this legislation because the Commons will regard it as provocative. I feel that that would be an unwise approach to adopt. We have to look at each issue on its merits.

We have also to look—and I am bound to say that I have—at the Bill that we have been presented with. The definition of a hare coursing event is so tightly drawn that the most minute changes to the rules of the National Coursing Club would take it outside the definition contained in the Bill. When I look at Schedule 1 "Exempt Hunting", I can see no reason why people should not walk across a field with two greyhounds, lurchers, salukis or whatever they choose and flush hares in the field, provided that at the end of the day there is somebody with a gun who can try to shoot.

We are told that control of illegal hare coursing is going to be improved by this proposal. I cannot see how that can possibly be. My understanding is that the people who engage in illegal hare coursing are not likely to be making applications for licences. When tackled, the Bill provides them with the clearest possible defence that they were out trying to catch rabbits. At the moment that defence is not open to them when they are charged with trespass.

Illegal coursing, or poaching as it is properly called, is a curse in many parts of the country. But it cannot be right to go for the law abiding because you cannot catch the law breakers. There was a very valuable adjournment debate in another place which Mr Robert Jackson introduced. A number of helpful proposals were made to the Government for steps that could be taken to try to curb illegal hare coursing; one involved the confiscation of vehicles that were used. If the Government's intention really is to tackle illegal coursing, those sorts of proposals should be coming before us as legislation. But they are not present in this Bill. Indeed, I think that the Bill provides some incentives and I very much fear that it would lead to an increase in illegal coursing.

For all those reasons, I hope that noble Lords who have reservations about hare coursing—I know that there are many on all sides of this House—will take the trouble to find out more before they vote to inflict a direct ban. In any event, I hope that they will take the view at this stage that the right course would be to accept what every side said at Portcullis House. I wish to correct the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at the outset of our discussions on the Bill, that there was no agreement at Portcullis House. I sat through every word of the evidence on all three days. The one thing on which every witness from each side agreed was that no distinction should be made as between different species; all animals should be treated the same.

That is the principle that I hope we will apply to this amendment—fair treatment right across the board. If hare coursing cannot make the cut, it will go. I appreciate that some feel strongly that hare coursing should stop. If they are right, they will get their way, but in a way that we can all see is just and fair. If we want lasting legislation that will stand the test of time, it must be fair, even for a minority within a minority.

The Earl of Caithness

I agree with the observation of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that hare coursing has no place in this Bill. However, it is in the Bill at the Government's behest, and it would be wrong of us not to debate it in our usual fashion.

I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I have been given bad, inaccurate briefs in my time. One takes them with the best of intentions but, on reading them in the House, one finds them to be totally wrong. Unfortunately, the noble Lord slipped from his usual high standard of accuracy tonight, in at least three ways.

Clause 5 is a poachers' charter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just explained. There is a wide new exemption under Schedule 1 that will enable anybody walking over heathland with their dogs to escape prosecution because they have a new defence that says they can hunt rabbits. They will say to the police, "We were hunting rabbits. I am sorry; my greyhounds—or lurchers—happened to come across a hare. What could I do? I am perfectly entitled to hunt rabbits; it was a genuine mistake". Clause 5 will increase considerably the amount of poaching in this country and give a new excuse and encouragement to those who carry out that trade.

As my noble friend Lord Astor said earlier, there is a threat to owners. When I was a land agent in Oxfordshire, one of the tenant farmers for whom I was responsible had his hay barn burnt down on more than one occasion because he had tried to stop illegal poaching. That is only one small example of where harassment comes in. It was not, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in reply to my noble friend, as simple as a threat; it is a much more insidious, subtle threat that such people impose on farmers and landowners. It is much more difficult for landowners and the police to handle such threats.

I have no doubt that, if hare coursing were stopped in England and Wales, not only would hare numbers be reduced, but the biodiversity programme that the Government are pushing forward would be severely damaged. Furthermore, the diversity of wildlife encouraged by those who manage their property for hares will also be diminished. One need only talk to the RSPB and the National Heritage authorities to learn from wardens that, where hares are managed on coursing estates, there is a considerable increase in wildlife and its diversity.

I used to know quite well the shooting area of Norfolk; I also know the coursing area quite well. There is a substantial difference in the amount of natural wildlife in the two parts of Norfolk. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, one of the keepers of that coursing land has told us that the hare population will have to be shot in order to stop illegal poaching in the future. If the hare population is shot and the farm is no longer managed for hares, all other species will suffer, including protected species.

We also heard from a farmer in Yorkshire who farms 800 acres. He extends all his set-aside and makes a conscious effort to improve the wildlife for the sake of the hare. He also said that the hares would have to be severely reduced on his land if coursing were banned. There is no question that if a ban on hare coursing is approved by Parliament, biodiversity and wildlife will suffer.

I return to my main point of animal welfare. Hare coursing that is run under the strict rules of the National Coursing Club is of benefit to the hare. Where coursing is properly managed, it has led to a huge increase in the number of hares. If that is stopped, illegal hare coursing and poaching will increase, which could be only to the detriment of all wildlife.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

In a debate like this, we all use the views with which we want to agree. I have listened carefully to today's debate. I rise because I have attended hare coursing. In 1979, I was the Labour candidate for Bury St Edmunds. Members of the Committee who know Bury St Edmunds will realise that I did not have much hope of winning the seat.

During the period in which I was a candidate, I was invited by a Newmarket racehorse owner to attend hare coursing. As I did not know anything about it, I felt that I ought to go along, which I did. I have to say immediately that it was not as bad as I had thought it would be. However, it was not a happy afternoon. Three of the hares were—to put it mildly—badly mauled. I did not really see a sport on this occasion; I did not feel that the hare had very much chance. That was before 1979: hare coursing may well be a great deal better now. I have listened carefully to what has been said. But, at that time, I was not impressed with hare coursing.

Having said that, obviously, unregistered hare coursing is quite appalling and there is a need for control, on which I think that there has been agreement around the Committee. That is one of my points, which I hope expresses distaste rather than prejudice.

I understand the feelings of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on these issues. We keep coming back to something that is bothering me greatly, which also arose in the previous debate about fox hunting. A noble Lord opposite threw down the gauntlet, which I did not take up, asking, "Well, if you are not going to fox hunt, how are you going to control?".

My first point on that is that the hunts are not very good at controlling anyway because only 6 per cent of the foxes are killed by the hunts. My second point is—I shall come back to hares in a moment—that shooting foxes is a great deal better than running them to the ground by the hunt. Earlier, I heard about shooting—

Lord Eden of Winton

When the noble Baroness talks about shooting foxes, does she mean shooting with a shotgun or does she mean lamping and shooting with a rifle?

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

I refer to both methods, but I shall come on to shooting with a shotgun in a moment. However, I also agree with lamping. I know that there have been two cases recently where people have been shot, but as someone who comes from the countryside, I have known people who have shot each other inadvertently when out shooting pheasant and so forth.

I listened carefully to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the control of hares, and I accept totally that control is necessary, as it is for foxes—which is why I am in favour of shooting them. But we have heard during the debate that the kind of people living in the countryside whom I have known over the years and who own guns have apparently become cross-eyed and cannot hit the target they are aiming at.

I am almost 64 years old and for the past 60 years I have been aware of people in the countryside shooting. They have shot rooks, blackbirds, hares, rabbits, crows, rats and foxes, and they have shot them accurately. However, we keep hearing the argument that shooting is no longer any good because so many people seem to miss these days. They cannot shoot accurately any more. I am beginning to feel that I must be living in a different countryside, even though I have lived there for 64 years minus one eight-year period.

I cannot accept, as I did not earlier, that shooting is not a viable alternative in relation to hares. We do not need hare coursing in this country because they can be quite adequately controlled by shooting.

Viscount Ullswater

I support the amendments. Perhaps I should start by declaring an interest in that my wife is a member of two whippet coursing clubs. I admit that coursing is a recreational sport, but it plays an important part in hare conservation. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, talked about shooting, which is also a recreational sport. So we are comparing like with like. The Game Conservancy Trust confirms a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, that estates where coursing is practised maintain hare stocks at some of the highest levels in the country". The Burns report—the report of the poor noble Lord, Lord Burns, has been almost chucked to one side, but I want to repeat one or two points—concludes on page 120 at paragraph 6.69 that, In the event of a ban on hunting and coursing hares, it seems likely that a few more would be shot than at present. There are concerns about the welfare implications of shooting hares because of wounding rates". My noble friend Lord Denham referred to the House of Lords Select Committee that examined the hare coursing Bill introduced in 1975, and the Burns report draws attention to its report.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, mentioned that wounding rates of 25 to 30 per cent had been reported, with a significant proportion of those injured not being retrieved at the end of the day. In any test of cruelty, it would seem that the gun is lower in order than the quick death from a coursing greyhound or whippet. When hares escape, they escape unhurt.

The Burns report uses a phrase in paragraph 6.67 which has often been repeated in this House: being killed by hounds seriously compromises the welfare of the hare". That is misleading. The alternative of shooting also seriously compromises the welfare of the hare, while wounding can lead to a prolonged compromise of the welfare of the hare before it eventually dies.

The biggest predator of the hare is the fox. It might have difficulty in catching an adult hare but it can wipe out a leveret population in any given area. The hare has been hunted by wild predators over centuries and has evolved with a body perfected for quick escape: eyes well back on the head to see almost 100 per cent behind; long hind legs giving excellent power-to-weight ratio; and an agility to turn and jink when closely pursued.

Organised coursing clubs have very strict rules and the welfare of the hare is not overlooked in the competition between the two competing dogs. Whereas beagles and harriers might perform the very useful function of removing weak and diseased hares from the population, coursing encourages a strong and thriving stock of hares on the farms and lands where it takes place.

Like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Why single out coursing for this special treatment in Clause 5 of the Bill? It is somehow exempted from government Amendment No. 56.

There is a glaring anomaly in the Bill. The hunting and coursing of hares is to be banned, but the hunting of rabbits is to be exempted. If this is an animal welfare measure, is not the welfare of the rabbit equally compromised by being flushed by terriers out of cover and caught by other dogs on the outside?

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the House of Lords should be allowed to express an opinion on what is suitable for registration. Coursing is a component of a conservation programme for hares and as such should be included. Amendments Nos. 5 to 9 would bring coursing in line with all other methods of hunting.

We have to engage with the Bill as it is written. We may feel that coursing should be excluded from the Bill, but it is in it and we are engaging with the Bill. I believe that we should place it on the list for registration. This is the right way forward. I support the amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

I had no intention of speaking because, coming from Northern Ireland, the Bill does not directly affect us. However, the recent debate has led me to believe that I should say something.

I completely understand why hares are a soft spot in people's minds. They are different from foxes. They are lovely animals, with certain characteristics which endear them to us. They leave their leverets out under trees or under grass and come hack to them at night; they remain there, absolutely still, and you can walk right over them. They have amazing vision, which is not 100 per cent. Hence when they run, they run in circles because they cannot see directly ahead. When a hare comes towards you on a track, you may wonder why, when it stops, it does not stop facing you but turns sideways. It cannot see directly ahead and therefore, when it is chased, it goes in a circle.

For all these reasons hares are quite special. We have never had coursing where I live. However, everyone agrees that, under certain circumstances, hares have to be controlled. There was a time when, for two years running, we had 5,000 trees killed by hares. It was their food and so on, but damage to commercial activity is taken as a reason for killing hares.

We used to have hare shoots where, on neighbouring land, we shot up to 180 hares a day. Looking back on it now it was a horrifying experience—and not only because of the wounding figures we have heard about. One of the terrible things with hares is that beyond a certain range—which may be from here to the Throne—you really do not know whether you have hit one. The statistics do not cover such hares, except where their bodies are found.

The other terrible thing which affects most people who have had to shoot hares is that, compared with rabbits or even deer—of which we shoot quite a lot—they scream when they are wounded. We stopped shooting hares 20 years ago. We do not shoot hares because there is a special feeling with them, and we love them. I cannot bear it when somebody shoots one and I am there. We have snipe shooting, but there are often hares on the bogs. I ban it, not because it is a dangerous ground game, but because it is such a miserable sport—such a miserable activity to—shoot them. So often they are wounded and you never know. Those Members of the Committee who have done it will know that the back end goes down and they shoot off extra fast. The inexperienced may never realise what has happened, but others know pretty well. Then you hear this terrible screaming.

I have no intention of being involved in this side of it. You can regulate most activities to do with culling animals. You cannot regulate shooting. You either shoot or you do not shoot—there is nothing beyond that. I have not been hare coursing. I am not sure that I would like it; I am not sure that I am for it. However, one thing is absolutely clear—it must be possible to provide regulations to ensure that the least damage possible is done to the welfare of the animals being pursued. There is no way, in my experience, that that can be done with shooting.

Viscount Astor

When one listens to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, one gets the impression that there were two Burns reports. One report, which said that hunting was cruel, was printed and given to a select few, mostly on the noble Lord's side of the House, while a second, on which the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, have spoken on many occasions, was publicly printed. It is quite extraordinary how the conclusions of the Burns report can be so clearly misrepresented on so many of these issues. I suggest to some noble Lords opposite who have spoken that they ought to reread some of the paragraphs in the Burns report.

The amendments are not about illegal coursing as such, but about hare coursing events. That is the issue. I have already spoken about illegal coursing, the difficulties that that leads to in the countryside and the difficulties that the police have in stopping it. It is out of control.

However, the question put to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is how hare coursing can meet the test of utility, least suffering and wildlife management if it is submitted to the registrar. I have my doubts about whether it can pass those tests; the noble Baroness has also expressed her doubts on some of those tests. There may be an argument for wildlife management. But if we believe in registration and in the independence of a registrar, we should not be afraid of putting this to the test of registration. I think that it is most likely to fail, but that is my personal view. I am happy to accept that all those who have a view give their advice, and that the registrars take as much expert advice as they require and come to a conclusion.

The other issue that has been discussed is whether the amendments will affect any compromise. I do not see how we can know because we do not know what the Government regard as an acceptable compromise. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will not tell us what he regards as an acceptable compromise. He will not tell us whether the Government would encourage licensed hunting or not. They do not seem to have a view. I hope that during the passage of the Bill, the Government will come to a view about what they regard as an acceptable compromise. After all, the Prime Minister has said on more than one occasion that he wants a compromise. Perhaps in the coming days the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can ask No. 10 what that might be.

If the Government say that hare coursing events are in their view unacceptable, they can either move their own amendment on Report or come before the House and tell us. Then we shall know what structure the Bill could have. This is an opportunity for the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to tell us something about the Government's thinking.

I believe that there should be registration and a registrar. I am happy for hare coursing to go before the test; if it passes the test, that is fine, and if it fails the test, that is fine. Then it is up to the registrar, on sound scientific advice, to make that judgment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

1 wish to make a thoughtful, short speech. I am not going to try to sum up the debate. A number of issues are important, perhaps the most important of which arises when one examines the Bill, which specifically says, to prohibit hare coursing; and for connected purposes". One of the amendments that we are discussing this evening would change that to, to prohibit unregistered hare coursing". My view is that the House of Commons would not have specifically put the words "to prohibit hare coursing" in the Bill, except for reasons that it holds pretty dear to its heart. One has to think about that, like it or not. I have heard a lot of very pleasant and good people in this Chamber making perfectly logical and good arguments in terms of conservation and other matters relating to hare coursing. However, we must consider the realpolitik of the matter, otherwise we could lose hunting completely. We must really think about that before going into vote.

I have some experience of beagling, as my adjutant ordered me to do it. I can remember it well—we ran a very long distance and got knackered. I cannot remember a kill of a hare, but we got a lot fitter as a result.

I find it difficult to support these amendments. My instinct is to support a minority, and this is a very important civil liberty issue indeed. But we must be shrewd in considering the matter. The problem is that hare coursing is specifically banned in this Hunting Bill; in fact, if the Bill is enacted, there will be only three months from the time when it goes through all its stages and receives the Royal Assent.

The argument, as I see it, relies on registration to control hare coursing, but many people in this country believe that hare coursing is unacceptable, even if it were registered. That is the perception; as I have said, I agree with many arguments put forward by Members of the Committee, but that is the perception. Members of the Committee may say that perception makes very bad law, and I would agree with them; but if we want to retain hunting, we shall have to think very hard about those issues.

Illegal hare coursing would be banned either way, whether we had registration or retained the existing clause in the Bill. We should think about the realpolitik of the situation, and think about it hard. The big question is this: does anyone really believe that Members of the House of Commons would accept this Bill with hare coursing in it?

Lord Denham

Is the noble Lord really suggesting to the Chamber that in order to save fox hunting we should ban coursing?

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I am saying that, because I believe that it is the view of the House of Commons and that we cannot get away from it.

Earl Peel

The noble Lord rightly criticised those who condemned fox hunting on the grounds of perception or misconception. It seems extraordinary that we could allow those who wish to continue to course hares to be condemned to the same fate. There is no moral distinction between the two. Either we allow the registrar to make a judgment or we do not. I cannot see the difference.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

I hesitate to intervene, but there seems to me to be a complete distinction between the two. I do not necessarily support the argument, but you can argue that fox hunting is getting rid of predatory creatures. Hare coursing seems to me monstrous. Here we have people letting hares loose and setting dogs on them in order to bet on the result. That is totally different from fox hunting. There is a complete distinction between the two.

Earl Peel

But does not the noble Lord agree with me that, rather than making judgments here, it would be far more sensible to allow the registrar to make that decision, which is exactly the purpose of having the system in the first place?

Lord Tordoff

I have to answer the noble Earl by saying that no, I do not agree with him. There is a fundamental difference between the two. I am not a great advocate of fox hunting, but I am totally opposed to hare coursing because the idea of people betting on the killing of wild animals just for the fun of it is, in my view, monstrous.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

There is a fine line between private conversation and debate in your Lordships' House. I hope that Members can judge where the line is.

Lord Mancroft

I would love to have lots of private conversations, but I shall try to take the noble Baroness's advice this evening and not do that.

This has been an extraordinary and fascinating debate in many ways, and rather different from many debates that we have had about the subject during the past few years and months. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, when he said that this is not a debate about whether one is for or against coursing.

If coursing were as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, sincerely and passionately described it, I, too, would be dead against it. I am quite clear that it is not like that, but the noble Lord believes that it is, so his view is entirely understandable. I happen to believe that he is wrong, not because his conclusion is wrong but because the information that he has is wrong. For example, I can clarify for him that there are no points whatever in the death of a hare under the coursing club rules. That is a mistake. Lots of people get information that is mistaken. The noble Lord told us that in his absolutely best belief, I am sure of that, but I must tell him that that is a mistake—not a significant one, but there we go. But that is how these things happen.

There is a difficulty with the amendment, or with part of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, rightly told us that coursing should not really be in the Bill because of the definitions. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, is nodding and I agree with both noble Baronesses that it should not be. But it is and we are here to deal with what is in front of us today, not with what we would like to deal with.

As the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, told us, we must find a compromise or a political solution to this problem that lies before the Committee this evening and send that solution—I hope that it will be the absolute solution—back to another place. As we all know, that may not be what we absolutely want—the perfect solution—but we must try to find one. For instance, I am quite clear in my mind that coursing is not cruel.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, I could never possibly shoot a hare. Like the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, I started in my schooldays as a beagler. I loved it, and I was pretty knackered too. I do not think that we caught many hares, but I am absolutely clear that shooting hares is, for me, a no-no. I could not do it; I think that it is terrible; and, yes, I hate the way that we wound so many when we shoot them. I have not shot one now for 30 years. How they scream is terrible. Fortunately, many people can do that rather better than I and it is a necessity.

Whether we like it or not, hares will go on being shot. Those who shoot them will do so to the best of their ability; most of them will not wound them; but there will be wounding. Whether today, yesterday or tomorrow, there will be 1,000 more wounded hares every year in this country than ever are caught coursing.

The other thing we have to face—I forget which noble Lord made the point but it is very important—is that the way in which the Bill is drafted, focusing on organised coursing events, means that in effect all this Bill will do is to ban the best regulated coursing in this country—about 5 per cent of it. That constitutes a minority of coursing. Some 95 per cent of the coursing in this country, which is unregulated, will continue. It is not caught by this Bill. It is not just a case of it continuing illegally; it is actually legal under this Bill, so it will continue. The reason is that those who drafted this Bill, after X years of studying the subject, clearly do not know anything about it. Coursing as it exists in most parts of the country will, for most parts of the year, continue legally.

The Bill will have not the slightest effect either on what is known as illegal coursing, but is more properly known as poaching. It cannot possibly do that. I refer to the excuse that has been given. It is a most ludicrous concept that if someone speeds in a motor car, the way to deal with speeding is to ban all driving. We have illegal coursing or poaching in this country because rural police forces are under-resourced. It is plain and simple: if you want to deal with it, give the police resources to do so. We do not do that and therefore it continues. Indeed, if this Bill were to go through in its present form, the problem would grow as it would create a further vacuum for that crime to increase. That is reality; there is nothing very controversial in that.

As I say, what we have to do is to find a solution through this very difficult area. There are two solutions on either side of the coin. The one is to go down what I call the route proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, which is to assume that this subject of coursing is such a bete noire to the House of Commons and to the Members there who have promoted this ridiculous Bill that we have to give it to them as the price of saving fox hunting, or saving tiddlywinks, or whatever it may be. We trade one principle for another. What a very unattractive idea. What an appalling thing for one House of Parliament to do with another—to trade in principles and to trade the way of life of a very small minority to save another minority. That is a very unattractive idea. I cannot imagine that in the cold light of dawn any of your Lordships would support such an idea.

The other solution is to try to find a principled way forward that we can all support in principle if not, possibly, in practice. I refer to a middle ground—not a middle way; that is the wrong term at the moment—a compromise; something that we can all sign up to. I quite like what the Government originally proposed, which was a Bill based on evidence and principle. That is a nice way forward, which is why I have supported—and joined, as the fifth member of the gang of four—the attempt to move the measure forward in that way. If we have decided that the registration principle—which your Lordships overwhelmingly agreed earlier today—is the way forward, why would we now abandon it the wrong side of dinner, having spent so long deciding that it was the right way forward?

We should not here in this Chamber tonight make a judgment on coursing. We should place our judgment and our confidence in the registrar who we overwhelmingly decided this afternoon was the right man to decide these things. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, made the strongest point in that regard a few minutes ago when she said that the one point—the only point—in the Portcullis House hearings on which everyone agreed was that in principle all mammals should be treated the same. After all these years of Burns reports, Portcullis House hearings and consultations, only one single principle has been agreed by everyone and the first time an awkward subject comes up we abandon it. That cannot be a very clever idea. It cannot be the right thing to do.

We have a choice this evening. We either go for expediency and try to second guess the other place or we operate in a way that we know is right which is based on principle, and we trust the registrar. Many Members of the Committee do not have a natural affection for coursing. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is one of those who does not find it the most appealing way to spend his afternoons, but perhaps he could be prevailed on to trust the independent registrar who will be appointed and the independent tribunal that can be appealed to. If we do not trust independent registrars, tribunals to which people can appeal and the prescribed animal welfare groups that can give evidence, there is no point in our proceeding with the Bill at all, and we should chuck it out and tell the other place to do the same.

The choice is between expediency—having agreed with the process and decided to go along with it, to duck it and abandon it at the first opportunity—or sticking to what the Committee decided this afternoon. Although not everyone agrees with it, it is a principled way forward. We should stick to the principle and have faith in the registrar. Whether we like tiddlywinks, coursing or anything else, we should trust the process that the Committee overwhelmingly agreed to follow this afternoon.

Baroness Byford

I shall be very quick after that contribution by my noble friend; he said nearly everything I wish to say, so I shall not repeat it. I accept that the views expressed around the Chamber are very strongly held. I should declare an interest: I have never been to a hare coursing event, and I suspect that it is something to which 1 would not particularly wish to go. However, 18 Members of the Committee have spoken, so it is obviously something of direct interest to noble Lords.

I want to make a couple of quick observations. The difficulty for some people is that they tend to think of illegal hare coursing as opposed to organised hare coursing events. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, said that her experience was from 1979, and she rightly said that things had probably changed since then. I am sure that others in the Chamber agree that they have changed; to be perfectly honest, they probably jolly well needed to. However, as my noble friend said very clearly, we may be in the position of having to stick by our guns of saying that all species should be treated in the same way.

I would be very doubtful that some hare coursing would qualify for registration, but that is no reason to deny it the opportunity to be considered for it. Whether we are for or against hare coursing is not the issue. The nub of the issue is whether it should be taken out and dealt with in a different way. Many Members of the Committee would not wish to see hare coursing where it is, but it is in that position.

I say to colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches that it would be desperately easy to take the easy way out and say, "Let's make this an offering to the Commons". This House showed this afternoon that we are not a House to take things lightly—that we take very difficult steps, otherwise we would have said that there was no compromise to be reached. We could have a Bill to ban hunting totally—including hare coursing—and say that we could not make any difference, in which case we need not debate this issue at all.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

When I—and I believe that it is the case for other colleagues—voted earlier today for registration, it was for the hunting of animals to be registered, not for animals to be used for sport to be registered.

Baroness Byford

In fairness, I did not say that. I happened to have the pleasure of sitting next to the noble Baroness at supper; we obviously disagree, but my difficulty with the views expressed from the Liberal Democrat Benches on the issue—a free-vote issue—is that it is so easy to opt out, but I do not think that we have that option. It is up to each and every one of us to make a very difficult decision tonight. Some, like me, have never hare-coursed and would never want to, but why should coursing be different? That is the issue before us.

I shall not go over all the arguments that have been made so clearly and passionately by those who are total opponents on the issue. However, I think it would be irresponsible of the Committee to take the easy way out by saying that we should not consider the issue but sacrifice it to the Commons. I for one am not prepared to do that.

10 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I have to say to the Committee that if the vote which I assume may be taken on this amendment follows the balance of the debate, then I despair of ever finding a spirit of compromise in this House. It seems to me that, having adopted a registration system, trying to force hare coursing through the same criteria as are applied to hunting is not only illogical, but a repulsive way of trying to justify an activity that—for reasons explained by my noble friend Lord Faulkner, and even more graphically by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—is in an entirely different category.

Lord Eden of Winton

Why, then, is it within the Hunting Bill? Why did the Government not deal with it in a totally separate Bill?

Lord Whitty

The Bill has covered the issue from the beginning, and "from the beginning" means the Bill that Alun Michael brought to the House of Commons. That Bill, which most noble Lords have purported at least in principle to support, has always covered hare coursing. It has always covered a ban on hare coursing, full stop. Those who claim that they are following that principle are distorting the history of the Bill and trying, as I say, to force hare coursing into the same criteria as hunting—whereas public opinion, opinion by and large in the House of Commons and most opinion generally is that, at the very least, a severe restriction on hare coursing is necessary, and most people would go for a complete ban.

The Committee in another place went further than a ban on hare coursing and banned hunting, which indicates that its view on the protection of hares is at least as deeply entrenched as the view of some noble Lords in defence of hare coursing. If the wish is to get the House of Commons to compromise, it is unlikely that it will accept the deletion of the prohibition on hare coursing. I think that that reality has to be faced, but I am afraid that few of your Lordships have faced it tonight. It has been spelt out very clearly to the Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

Lord Mancroft

The noble Lord implied that he has some sort of knowledge of what the House of Commons would do. Is that correct, or is he presupposing? Or does the noble Baroness know something that he and we do not know?

Lord Whitty

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is being naïve. It is pretty obvious what the House of Commons thinks about hare coursing, and it is not just in the past year or two that it has reached that conclusion. In many respects, hare coursing has been the target of the House of Commons, even under previous governments. It is true that this is the first time that it has got as far as legislation, but the position of the House of Commons is absolutely clear. Perhaps there are grey areas on other issues, but on this issue, there is no grey area.

Personally, I find the whole concept of hare coursing pretty distressing. For reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, explained, we are not dealing with something that might in certain circumstances be justified on the basis of pest control. Absolutely no criteria based on that form of utility would provide a justification for hare coursing. I appreciate that, in the next group of amendments, noble Lords will try to extend the utility clause to cover conservation. However, that is a pretty narrow and unlikely ground to justify hare coursing.

The net effect of those two factors is that, by adopting this amendment, this House would be saying to the House of Commons, "We are extending way beyond the Alun Michael Bill by deleting the prohibition on hare coursing, and we justify it by another means, by extending the Alun Michael Bill into an area that has not hitherto been accepted by the House of Commons". That stretches beyond belief the view that the House of Lords is genuinely involved in trying to establish a dialogue to engage with the Bill and to look for compromise.

Baroness Byford

So is the noble Lord suggesting to the House that the sacrifice of hare coursing is part of the compromise deal of which we talked earlier?

Lord Whitty

There is no deal. There is certainly no deal with me. There is a potential to engage in discussion with the House of Commons. If this House genuinely wishes to engage with the House of Commons you will not get to square one if you delete hare coursing.

There are two other points that I should mention. Regarding illegal hare coursing, we know of some pretty horrific stories. Even those who support organised hare coursing object to most illegal hare coursing and poaching. The view of the police is that if we have a clearer definition indicating that all hare coursing events are banned, their position will be improved. This clause would ban all hare coursing, whether currently legal or illegal and formal or informal. The police would have an easier job, not a more difficult one, as has been suggested by some noble Lords.

My other point is that even if the amendments are passed, they are defective in terms of how the registration system would work, because they seek to proceed by providing for the registration of events, but the other registration provisions operate by registering persons who are allowed to undertake hunting. Therefore, further amendment would be necessary to make it fit the criteria that applies to hunting. I make that point because, even if one passed the amendments, we would not be in a position where they would be workable in the spirit of the rest of the Bill regarding the registration proposals that we adopted before dinner.

There are strong moral arguments against hare coursing. There is a strong tactical argument for this House not to agree to the deletion of the prohibition of hare coursing. There are strong enforcement arguments in favour of banning all hare coursing. If your Lordships nevertheless propose tonight, or at any point, to go down that road then noble Lords will have to consider carefully what they are doing, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said. We are, perhaps, at a crucial point in the discussion of the Bill and the outcome of the vote tonight will be a clear indication to the country, as well as to the House of Commons, of where noble Lords actually stand.

Baroness Byford

Perhaps I may intervene before the noble Baroness responds. I suggested that perhaps hare coursing was something that might be sacrificed in the way of compromise. Now we have extracted that from the Minister, although he said that he was not aware of a deal. I did not say that he was; I just said that that had been suggested. Are there any other issues in the Bill of which we should be aware to which a "no-go" area such as this would apply? It would help if we were told that before we finished tonight.

Lord Whitty

We are discussing the amendment. As we progress to other amendments, no doubt a number of issues will arise and the attitudes expressed on those issues could, in certain circumstances, help to inform a constructive dialogue with the House of Commons and the Government. If, however, noble Lords pass the amendment tonight, there is probably not an area where there is any compromise likely to be forthcoming from the House of Commons. That is the importance of the particular decision that now faces us.

Baroness Golding

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said but I have to say to him that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said that all mammals should be treated the same. There can be no moral principle in sacrificing one mammal to save others. I intend to test the opinion of the House.

0.9 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 54.

Division No. 2
Arran, E. Donoughue, L. [Teller]
Astor, V. D'Souza, B.
Astor of Hever, L. Dundee, E.
Attlee, E. Elis-Thomas, L.
Best, L. Elton, L.
Bridgeman, V. Ferrers, E.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Brookeborough, V. Garel-Jones, L.
Burnham, L. Glenarthur, L.
Byford, B. Golding, B. [Teller]
Caithness, E. Heseltine, L.
Cameron of Dillington, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Howard of Rising, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Chadlington, L. Jopling, L.
Cobbold, L. Kimball, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Lang of Monkton, L.
Crickhowell, L. Liverpool, E.
Denham, L. Lyell, L.
Mallalieu, B. Peel, E.
Mancroft, L. Plumb, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Reay, L.
Monro of Langholm, L. Rotherwick, L.
Monson, L. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Morris of Bolton, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Moynihan, L. Seccombe, B.
Norfolk, D. Selsdon, L.
Northbrook, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Simon, V.
Northesk, E. Slim, V.
Onslow, E. Ullswater, V.
Palmer, L. Waddington, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Addington, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Ahmed, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Barker, B. Haworth, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. Henig, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Hoyle, L.
Dixon, L. Jones, L.
Dykes, L. Laird, L.
Elder, L. Leitch, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. [Teller] Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lockwood, B.
Fookes, B. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Gale, B. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. McKenzie of Luton, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller] Mackie of Benshie, L.
Mar, C.
Greaves, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Grocott, L. Maxton, L.
Hamwee, B. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Morgan of Drefelin, B. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Smith of Leigh, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Thornton, B.
Rennard, L. Tomlinson, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L. Tope, L.
Roper, L. Tordoff, L.
Rosser, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Rowlands, L. Whitaker, B.
Sandberg, L. Williamson of Horton, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

10.19 p.m.

Lord Donoughue moved Amendments Nos. 6 to 9:

Page 2, line 4, leave out "a" and insert "an unregistered"

Page 2, line 5, leave out "a" and insert "an unregistered"

Page 2, line 6, leave out "a" and insert "an unregistered"

Page 2, line 8, leave out second "a" and insert "an unregistered"

On Question, amendments agreed to, Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past ten o'clock.