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Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: In moving that Clause 5 shall not stand part of the Bill, I speak also to Amendment No. 101 to which I have put my name and which is consequential. I should also declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Conservation and Wildlife, which has some relevance to this debate.
In the run-up to Mr Michael Foster's Bill, in 1997, I asked Lord Cranbrook, the then chairman of English Nature, for a bibliography on the fox which I then pursued comprehensively. I cannot claim a similar prolonged background on the hare, although I have had a love affair with the species since I was a schoolboy. One of the principal reasons that Durer was my favourite painter in my early teens was his enchanting painting of a hare.
My wife and I live on the edge of a woodlanded sheep farm in Wiltshire which has hares in profusion for almost daily observation. I once picked up a newly dead leveret in a field yards from our cottage. Your Lordships' House will know that hares, in giving birth, drop their young in open fields. I have rarely held in my hands anything more beautiful.
One of the ironies of hare coursing, which this clause is about, is that it is the mirror image of Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. In the hare coursing version, the greyhounds play the hare and it is the cunning and skill of the tortoise that enables the vast majority of the real hares to survive unscathed.
The fundamental argument in favour of dropping Clause 5which was of course also in the original Billfrom this Bill was the consistent advice at the Portcullis House hearings that all species should be given parity of treatment. Those views were underpinned by the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at the same hearings, which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, quoted last Tuesday (col. 1507 of the Official Report). He said that,
The consequence of dropping Clause 5 from the Bill would be to allow applications in respect of coursing to be made to the registrar in common with the other currently lawful forms of hunting. The registrar would then decide, assuming other amendments to the Bill are subsequently carried, if the application passed the twin tests of utility and least suffering. If it did so, a licence could be granted. If it failed in either respect, it would not.
The opposition to Clause 5 standing part of the Bill does not of itself permit coursing, or even support it, except vicariously. It returns the Bill to the state of affairs pertaining at the Portcullis House hearings.
Ministers can scarcely say that they have explained why they resisted the Portcullis House advice, nor was any evidence adduced or produced at Defra's hunting consultations to show that these activities should be banned. Mr Alun Michael, in charge of the Bill in another place, said on Second Reading of the original Bill that hare coursing was indefensible. I have no grounds for supposing that he raised his voice, and therefore did not follow the advice of a Latin American delegate at the United Nations whose text was marked in the margin "weak point, shout", but the use of a categorical word such as "indefensible" in the light of centuries of coursing is probably hazardous from the lips of a Minister who said Professor Bateson's evidence on stag hunting was "incontrovertible" when even Professor Bateson himself would not dream of making such a claim.
In the debate on coursing in Committee in the other place on 13th February, the Minister, Mr Michael, got himself into a massive semantic tangle about the difference between dogs hunting and humans hunting
I am not going to enter the detailed argument about coursing and its practices because in doing so I should be going beyond my own articulation of why Clause 5 should be dropped from the Bill, but possibly others in your Lordships' House may be less prone to self-restraint, including even possibly the Minister. I appreciate that there may be future points to which I should respond when I wind up the debate.
In the mean time, I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the National Coursing Club, which was founded in 1858, has responded to each one of the reports that were produced in the past 50 years of the 20th century. Whether it was the Scott Henderson report of 1951I remark parenthetically that the eponymous author appointed by a Labour Home Secretary who gave his name to that report was coincidentally a resident of the village of Sutton Mandeville from which I take my titleor the admirable Stable and Stuttard review of coursing of 1971 (now a rare volume but still immensely worth reading), or the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on the hare Bill of 1976, or the Burns inquiry of 2000, the National Coursing Club has always responded positively and constructively to the recommendations of each report, including five specific changes to practice since the Burns report was published; and the number of hares killed during hare coursing has fallen precipitously over the past quarter of a century.
From the narrative I can see no reason why that responsiveness will not be maintained, not least because of the praise lavished on the National Coursing Club for the exceptional tightness of its regulations. I shall also quote a single sentence from the Lords Select Committee report of 1976 which states that,
As to stewardship of the countryside, which I regard as contributing to biodiversity, and thus indirectly to the Government's Rio target of doubling the brown hare population by 2010, there is similar praise for the conservationist practices of the estates where competitive coursing occurs. The Minister will be aware of the significant article in the much respected magazine, Nature, on 29th May this year by four researchers of the Durrell Institute of Conservation
I shall close with three further quotations. The first illustrates the hazards of governments interfering with our ecosystem. In 1896 the Reverend H A Macpherson in a book entitled The Hare, lamented the passage of what he called the mischievous and uncalled for legislation of Sir William Harcourt's Ground Game Act of 1880ground game being hares and rabbits. Mr Macpherson wrote:
Finally, and most briefly, but with all the directness of Yorkshire, I quote the verdict of a farmer in that county who takes considerable care with the preservation of hares on his land who said, "If they ban coursing, the hares will have to look out for themselves".
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