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Lord Mancroft: I am not sure whether my noble friend is aware that the allegations by the League Against Cruel Sports were examined by the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and were found not to be correct.

The Earl of Caithness: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that, which goes to prove my original contention that a lot of the argument, most unusually for the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, was emotion rather than fact.

Hare coursing can be justified, but that is not the point of the debate. The point of the removal of Clause 5 is to treat hunting on a level and fair basis. What applies to one wild mammal should apply to all wild mammals. If hare coursing is permitted and there is a regulator, I strongly believe that it will be a

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deterrent for those who course in a manner that is not controlled. That is the activity on which we should focus our attention.

Baroness Mallalieu: I, too, oppose the Question whether Clause 5 stand part of the Bill. If one could identify a point at which the Government's Hunting Bill began to run to difficulties, it would appear to be the moment when Mr Alun Michael departed from the principles and the evidence that had been established during his consultation period. He had heard from all sides that whatever direction his proposed legislation were to take, all animals and all forms of hunting should receive the same treatment; in other words, all forms of hunting should be prohibited or all forms should be capable of registration if they could pass the tests that were set. It seems, however, that he took a political decision at that stage to exclude coursing, presumably because he thought that he would be unable to sell that to another place. He said that coursing could never pass the tests, so the registrar should not be entrusted with any applications.

Mr Michael also took a decision about rabbits. He said that the registrar should not be bothered with applications concerning them either, because rabbits would always pass the tests. His intellectual dilemma is now as follows: chasing and perhaps killing a hare with a dog or dogs cannot ever pass the twin tests of utility and least suffering and so must be banned, but chasing and perhaps killing a rabbit with a dog will always pass the twin tests, so must always be permitted. How can that possibly be right when, for rabbits, terriers are used often which are much smaller and less powerful than the larger greyhounds, lurchers and salukis?

The intellectual nonsense of the debate has been highlighted by Sir Mark Prescott, a leading racehorse trainer and a keen supporter of coursing, who with others gave a superb presentation to noble Lords. He asked:

    "How many MPs can tell a hare from a rabbit? Almost none. How many policemen can tell a hare from a rabbit? Very few. How many dogs can tell a hare from a rabbit? Not a single one".

My opposition to the Question whether Clause 5 should stand part does not reflect a pro-coursing or anti-coursing position. It does not water down the Bill. It applies, as the Minister promised, the principles and the evidence drawn from the consultation process and it allows coursing to be considered by the registrar against the same twin tests as the other forms of hunting. If the information which was so passionately presented by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is right, coursing will fail one or both of the tests. If coursing does not perform a useful task, as utility is defined in the Bill, or if it cannot pass the test of least suffering, no registration will be granted.

My own position is as follows: I like hares; I like to see them about and I would like to see their population increase, not decrease. That is the very object of the Biodiversity Action Plan. I do not like illegal poaching. I am aware that in some areas, gangs of people with their dogs, chasing hares on other people's

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land without permission, are not just a serious nuisance, but sometimes a cause of real fear and difficulties in the locality. I am also well aware that their activities have proved virtually impossible to police. I do not want to see the activities of such people increasing—quite the opposite.

I own a lurcher that enjoys rough coursing around the farm, with or without human company. A group of friends sometimes gets together—with, I stress, permission—to walk around the farm with their dogs in what is effectively the equivalent of rough shooting. Any rabbit or occasional hare caught is then taken and eaten later by those present. That is not organised coursing of the kind which the clause is intended to prohibit. Although that activity does not amount to a hare-coursing event as defined in the Bill, it would be required—and rightly, if one accepts the principle of the Bill—to be licensed and registered.

I have attended a hare-coursing event, organised by the National Coursing Club. It has already been referred to. It took place in 2001, near Newmarket, and it was held over three days to celebrate the Millennium. I did not know what I was going to find. It was a superb occasion. One could not have seen a wider section of the community present. There were people who owned a number of dogs and had them professionally trained; there were people who owned one dog or even just the leg of a dog in a syndicate and trained it themselves; there were men with tattoos; there were people of every age and there was substantial ethnic representation. It may surprise some noble Lords that coursing is a popular activity in India and Pakistan. So from all backgrounds and all ages the spectators came.

The skill of the hares was breathtaking, as was that of the greyhounds involved in the coursing. The proportion of killed to courses, as I understand it, is some one to eight; in other words, for every eight courses, only one hare is killed. We are debating in this Chamber an activity that kills just 200 hares in a year.

Initially, I found the argument for coursing difficult to follow, but it became more persuasive during the presentation of Sir Mark Prescott. In speaking about the speed of kills, to which reference has just been made, he said that the longest time that those who oppose coursing have ever claimed that it took for a hare to be killed was some 40 seconds. He added that if you were standing and watching, that would seem interminable and I am sure that he is right. However, he also asked which of us, given the choice, either for ourselves or someone we cared about, of a good life, followed by just 40 seconds of suffering at the end, would not say, "I'm for that. Give me that". I suspect that few noble Lords will have the good fortune to suffer for such a short period when their time comes. The kills that I saw, which were very few, were rapid.

It was particularly telling that, as I left the meeting, I saw hares which had already been coursed grazing in a field immediately beyond the course. That was within a short time of them having been coursed.

I saw no one take pleasure in the few kills that did take place. I saw considerable anger at a small group of demonstrators on the opposite side of the field, who,

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by their activities, frightened hares away from crops that had been grown there to give them an escape route and who, in one case, caused a death which would not otherwise have happened.

What is our purpose in opposing the Question whether Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill? Is it wrong that people should go to watch an activity that may lead to the death of an animal? In no way do I wish to be thought to be attacking racing, but many more racehorses are killed every year on the race courses of this country than are hares by coursing. The Bill would make it an offence even to go to watch a hare-coursing event. I need not be involved with a dog or anything of that kind. If I simply go along to watch, I shall be committing an offence. Are we to make it a criminal offence to watch David Attenborough's programmes on television, where impala, gazelles and zebras are coursed, pulled down and eaten alive night after night with literally hundreds of thousands of people watching and where, in many cases, the death of the animal takes a great deal longer than 40 seconds?

We are talking about some 23 greyhound clubs. There are other lurcher clubs and clubs which practise coursing with salukis and deerhounds. Every year, approximately 16,000 people enjoy the biggest event in the organised coursing calendar—the Waterloo Cup. I pause to say that the seasons have been shortened over and over again in order to comply with recommendations, as has the slip or the distance at which the greyhounds must remain behind the hare. All that has changed. Whenever recommendations have been made following an inquiry, the coursing community has responded by doing what has been suggested. As I said, the biggest event—the Waterloo Cup—is attended by 16,000 people every year.

What would be the result of a ban on coursing? In the words of one of my noble friends—he is not in his place at the moment—who spoke in the debate on foxes, it would do the hare no favours. Research carried out by coursing organisations indicates that on estates where there are currently large numbers of hares and where coursing takes place, it is very likely that a substantial number of hares—the published research indicates some 30,000—would be shot for the very good reason that, without coursing, poachers would move into those areas.

Interestingly, a ban would also remove the one effective way of policing at least some of the illegal poaching—that is, it would remove the legal hare coursers, who operate under the rules and obtain permission and warn off those who do not do so. Therefore, without question, not only would one increase the number of areas in which illegal poachers would move but one would remove the very people who can be effective in stopping them.

There would also be a vast increase in hare shooting because such shooting is lucrative. There is a great demand for it from, in particular, people from the Continent. In a single day of hare shooting, several hundred animals can be killed. At the presentation attended by those of us fortunate enough to do so, I asked about the wounding rates relating to the

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shooting of hares. Research, which I am sure we shall discuss later, has recently been carried out on fox-wounding rates. Hares are an even smaller target. Dr Douglas Wise of Cambridge University said that, in his view, the wounding rate for the shooting of hares was some 24 per cent and, of those, some 10 per cent were not picked up. Coursing leaves no wounded animals. They are grazing in the next field or they are dead. A ban on hare coursing would lead to a drastic reduction in hare numbers—the very opposite of what the biodiversity scheme seeks to achieve—and an increase in suffering caused by wounding.

If I am wrong and if my noble friend Lord Faulkner is right in his description, those who apply to the registrar for licences to go hare coursing will fail the tests of utility or of not suffering cruelty. If that is right, no licences will be granted. From what I have seen, personally I believe that hare coursing can, in some places, pass both tests. But, if I am wrong, as I said, the registrar will simply refuse the application.

Therefore, removing the clause from the Bill would reinstate the principle of fairness. I hope that those who have reservations about hare coursing, together with those who, like my noble friend, have made up their minds very firmly the other way and those who, like me, feel that it has an important part to play in conserving and, indeed, encouraging the hare population, will, on that basis, find it possible to support our opposition to Clause 5.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton: I believe I am right in saying that during the course of the Second Reading debate the Minister did not particularly defend the retention of Clause 5 in the Bill. I hope that I do not do him an injustice in saying that. Therefore, I hope that, when he comes to reply from the Front Bench, he will take the opportunity of this short debate to make clear the reasoning for the clause being in the Bill. In doing so, perhaps he will say to what extent he is supported in his case by the evidence submitted at Portcullis House and elsewhere. I believe that, in our consideration of the Bill, it matters a great deal to some of us to know how far the clause is backed by those who are most concerned about the protection of wild mammals and their conservation. That is the point of my interest in this clause.

I turn to the Burns report. Paragraph 7.21 refers to the Game Conservancy Trust. It states:

    "The Game Conservancy Trust found . . . that coursing estates had made or retained habitats which benefited hares, for example areas of grass instead of cereal and root crops; that they had prohibited organised shooting; and that they had taken active steps to protect hares from predation and poaching".

It so happens that the other day I met a landowner who had followed the precepts outlined in that quotation. At one time, he suffered a serious decline in the hare population on his land, which he attributed very much to illicit coursing and poaching. I strongly agree that coursing needs to be controlled, regulated and registered. The activity on his land was taking place without his consent and it was clearly totally wrong.

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The result—particularly as a consequence of the poaching which took place—was the decimation of the hare population on his estate.

Noble Lords who have seen hares know that there is something particularly beautiful and exciting about seeing a wild hare. I am sure that everyone in this Chamber wishes to see the hare population increase rather than reduce. It happens to be the case that where regulated, controlled, licensed or authorised hare coursing occurs, the hare population increases.

The friend—the landowner—to whom I referred gave me chapter and verse on that very point. As a result of authorising and controlling coursing, the poaching has ceased. The same people participate at the coursing but the hare population on his estate has increased substantially. That must be something that noble Lords opposite want to achieve as much as I do. It is one reason that, for the moment, I believe that Clause 5 should not stand part of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will go out of his way, if he can, to corroborate his justification for it with the evidence that was produced in his support.

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