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Lord Hoyle: I am totally opposed to Clause 5 being deleted. I want to return to something that I said last Tuesday. I said, amid protestations from the other side, that the idea was not to return the Alun Michael Bill to the Commons. Indeed, that has been proved today because far from that—the noble Lord shakes his head—the noble Lord is seeking to delete one of the main clauses from the Bill that was introduced by Alun Michael. So it is not the Alun Michael Bill. It is being added to, despite warnings from noble Lords on the other side, in particular from the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, who said: "I support hunting generally but I do not support hare coursing because it is cruel; it affects a beautiful animal".

Pest control cannot be used in support of the issue. This is not about pest control. It is about a sporting activity that I believe should have been banned long ago.

I want to make one other comment. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that in 1997 the League Against Cruel Sports spotted hares being netted on an estate in East Anglia. One of the people supervising the exercise was David Midwich, the chairman of the Waterloo Cup—hare coursing's premier event—which was taking place two weeks later. I understood him to say

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that the Burns report had disproved that. I will willingly sit down if he can show me where Burns even examined that.

Lord Mancroft: I would love to, but I do not have the Burns report with me.

A noble Lord: I will pass it over.

Lord Mancroft: That is very kind of the noble Lord. I will look and check and come back to the noble Lord on that.

Lord Hoyle: The noble Lord will not find the matter because it was not even examined by Burns. So, if we are going to make statements in the Chamber, there should at least be some clarity and legality about what we are saying.

I do not want to take up a great deal of the Committee's time in relation to the matter. I think it would be wrong to bring it back. But I want to quote what the Burns report had to say on hare coursing. The report stated:

    "We are similarly satisfied that being pursued, caught and killed by dogs during coursing seriously compromises the welfare of the hare. It is clear, moreover, that, if the dog or dogs catch the hare, they do not always kill it quickly. There can also sometimes be a significant delay in 'driven coursing', before the 'picker up' reaches the hare and dispatches it (if it is not already dead). In the case of 'walked up' coursing, the delay is likely to be even longer".

I stand by that. I am sorry to see an attempt being made to bring back such barbarity when at least the Alun Michael Bill was seeking to get rid of it.

Earl Peel: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has shown quite clearly that there are those who support the principles of fox hunting, some who take an ambivalent view and some who, like the noble Baroness, oppose the notion of hare coursing. I can fully understand her view. It seems to me that, from the outset, the common strand that any animal welfare Bill should contain is consistency. To discriminate against a rabbit in favour of a hare, or a rat in favour of a stoat, displays quite clearly the inconsistency that exists within this piece of legislation.

The noble Baroness said that hares are beautiful and should not be hunted. Any child reading The Wind in the Willows may come to the conclusion that a rat should not be killed. So I suggest that that is an illogical and rather dangerous precedent on which to base the legislation that we are discussing today.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: To be clear, in The Wind in the Willows it was a water rat and not a common land rat.

Earl Peel: But the same principle applies, whether we are discussing the water rat or the ordinary domestic rat. The same principles of consistency must apply throughout legislation; that is my point.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: It is a serious point: one is a pest and one is not. A hare is not proven to be a pest in the way that a fox is. A rat is a pest; a water rat is not. That is my point, which is serious.

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Earl Peel: I do not want to enter a debate with the noble Baroness about whether a hare is a pest, but I can think of a number of farmers in East Anglia who regard the hare as being a considerable pest. However, that is another issue.

One difficulty that we face when dealing with legislation concerning animals is that we fall into the trap of substituting human thought processes and emotions for the instinctive way in which an animal will react. Furthermore, there is the additional trap of assuming that wild animals will respond in a similar fashion to the domestic pets with whom we share our lives. Those are misleading and dangerous assumptions that can lead only to misguided actions in how man carries out his responsibilities—they are responsibilities—of management of habitats and their associated species.

That is not to say that we should not show the highest respect for all that we manage, including all pest and quarry species, but we must not abandon reality. It is against that need for consistency—coupled, I must say, with the lack of evidence—that I can see no justification for not subjecting coursing to the same registration process as fox or, indeed, hare hunting. I therefore urge those who have supported the principle of registration to do so again and not discriminate against coursing. If we believe in registration, allow the registrar to consider the facts and reach proper conclusions.

As an aside, I am bound to say that as for so-called cruelty, I cannot distinguish between the hare being killed by a dog and by a fox. Does the hare feel some sense of betrayal by being killed by a dog rather than a fox? I hardly think so.

Lord Hoyle: The difference surely is that the fox is a predator, whereas the dog is being set on the hare by a person.

Earl Peel: I can quite see the distinction, but I am discussing the act of cruelty. Is it more unfair on the hare to be killed by a fox than by a dog? I suggest not.

Of course, other Members of the Committee have raised other important issues. One is the correlation between hare coursing—and, indeed, all field sports—and the creation, retention and management of habitats that are such a benefit to a whole range of other species. We have heard many quotations from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, this evening; perhaps I may cite him again:

    "In the case of the hare . . . a ban might lead farmers and landowners to pay less attention to encouraging hare numbers. The loss of habitat suitable for hares could have serious consequences for a number of birds and other animals".

But that principle cuts right the way across the countryside and applies to all field sports. It is important that we should not forget that habitat and species management often comes at no cost to the taxpayer.

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Finally, I mention illegal coursing, as have several Members of the Committee. The problem is that it is not simply against the law but indiscriminate. Most people who course are highly sensible to the number of hares and take animals only when a cull is appropriate and populations have reached a point at which they need to be controlled. Get rid of coursing and the men with the long dogs will simply rub their hands in glee. That could have a serious effect on the biodiversity action plan for the hare.

I finish on what I regard as a salutary note. I know that in County Durham the police have now admitted that they have virtually washed their hands of dealing with poaching offences. I am certain that that will spread to other counties. Get rid of hare coursing and indiscriminate poaching with long dogs will increase, to the detriment of the hare population.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: I want to say only one small thing. It has been established beyond peradventure that when man hunts, he protects his quarry species. The fact that big game hunting in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, when it is not in total chaos—

Lord Addington: How many times in our history have we hunted to extinction?

The Earl of Onslow: There was the quagga in South Africa, I quite agree, but what I know to be true is that where there are big game farms for shooting in South Africa and other African countries, there is a sustainable quantity of the quarry species. Where quarry species are properly managed, which involves private property, private rights and so forth, the quarry species thrives.

Those of us who indulge in field sports know that if we want to go fox hunting, we want to find a fox to hunt. If we want to go coursing, there must be a hare to course. If we want to go grey-legged partridge shooting, someone must have gone to enormous expense, time and trouble to preserve grey-legged partridges.

All I suggest is that when we think about how to deal with quarry species, we do not get over-influenced by long floppy ears and beautiful paintings by Durer, because the hare looks so much prettier than anything else. It is a quarry species; it is part of what the Church used to call the animal kingdom. For that reason, it is our duty to look after and preserve it. I suggest that sensible and well managed sporting and hunting maintains quarry species, which is what we should all want to do.

To ban coursing just to save the lives of 200 hares but to put at risk those of a lot more seems to me the wrong way round. I have gone hare coursing only once with my godfather and his long dog, when we wanted a jugged hare for lunch. It was great fun catching it and even better eating it.

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