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Lord Whitty: It is not hunting. If you go out over your farm with dogs chasing hares, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, described, that is hunting and falls under Clause 1. But an event where one simply compares the skill of dogs is not hunting under the definition of Clause 1 or any dictionary definition. It will therefore fall without Clause 1.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: With great respect, the noble Lord is wrong. In the Government's own words, hare coursing is hunting. He should look at the penultimate word in Clause 5(3).

Lord Whitty: We are talking about the dog's skill not the person's skill. We are making illegal what people do, not what dogs do.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: With respect to the Minister, does hare coursing involve "hunting hares"—the words used by the Government in Clause 5(3)—or not? If not, why is it in subsection (3)?

Lord Whitty: The long title of this Bill refers to hunting with dogs, meaning people hunting with dogs. In that context, we are talking about dogs chasing hares, not people hunting with dogs. We are not making action by dogs illegal in any of this; we are making action by people illegal. Hare coursing does not fall under Clause 1 by all the legal advice that I have sought. I suggest that noble Lords seek their own legal advice and I am sure that people involved in hare coursing events will also consult lawyers. If noble Lords delete this clause, there will be no control on what is regarded by many people as a pernicious sporting event.

Lord Mancroft: I am most grateful. If I could help the Minister a little, I suspect that what has happened is what some of us rather felt would happen when this Bill was first published. Suddenly, out of the woodwork, the Government's legal advisers have decided, after goodness knows how many years, that coursing is not hunting. Therefore, it needs a separate definition. It is prohibited in the long title of the Bill because it could not be covered by hunting. That is odd, because it was perfectly happily covered by hunting in all the Private Member's Bills throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

It would not be right to describe this person as a rogue lawyer, which would be rather unfortunate, but it appears that we have got into a muddle because of the Government's legal advice. Everybody else thinks that coursing is hunting and because the Government are so hooked on the idea of the competition, that is where the problem lies. Welfare is the most significant

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thing that we are all worried about, and the two protagonists that do not know that hare coursing is a competition are the hare and the dog.

Lord Whitty: I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that, on all occasions that hare coursing has been discussed in another place or here, the legal advice has been that hare coursing events of the type that we describe and define in Clause 5 are not hunting. This is not a sudden back-pocket intervention by the Government's legal advisers.

Lord Mancroft: That is the very point: it is a hare coursing event. Clause 5 refers not to hare coursing but to hare coursing events. All the rest of the hare coursing in this world—99 per cent that is not an event and not organised in the way described in Clause 5—will continue. It is pointless.

Lord Whitty: No. If someone is hunting over hills with dogs and that person is hunting hare, that is hunting under Clause 1. That is why we need a separate provision in relation to organised hare coursing events. Members of the Committee who wish to treat this in the same way as everything else under the registration system would need to put down an amendment that enabled that. However, simple deletion of the clause would not achieve that. It leaves such events totally unregulated.

Viscount Bledisloe: Does the Minister agree that, if his rather esoteric interpretation of the Bill is right—or even if it might be right—the matter could easily be put right at the next stage by including hare coursing in Clause 1 by a simple amendment? It is obvious that everyone who has spoken intends and wishes it to be regulated. Even if the Minister fears that there is a slight risk that his interpretation is right, it would be incredibly easy to remedy the matter and get hare coursing controlled and regulated in the way that we want at the next stage.

Lord Whitty: The noble Viscount is an eminent and distinguished lawyer. Nevertheless, over decades of legal advice, the burden has been to support my interpretation. Of course, if we delete this clause it is always open to Members of the Committee to table an alternative amendment at a later stage. However, as of tonight, what Members of the Committee will be doing is leaving hare coursing events totally unregulated under this Bill, not treating them the same as other forms of what everybody accepts is hunting.

My second point is frankly a heavier one. As my noble friend Lord Hoyle indicated, this clause—word for word— was in the original Bill presented to the House of Commons. Committee Members have tabled amendments and argued in this House that they want the Government and the House of Commons to go back to the original Bill and start again. They say that they are rejecting the last stages of the Bill in the House of Commons and the decision on Report to move to a

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complete ban. If they delete this clause, we are on course to reveal a degree of deceit and hypocrisy in that approach.

When we come to other amendments, it will be even clearer that it is not true that the mainstream amendments before us tonight are trying to return to the original so-called Alun Michael Bill—the original government Bill—but to go way beyond it. They would dilute it beyond recognition and remove from regulation many forms of hunting. They would exempt a whole swathe of what the original Bill was intended to cover. Such a story might as well be abandoned here and now if members of the Committee vote to delete this clause.

You are crossing the line if you delete this clause. Your argument that all the Government need do is to return to its original position falls if you delete this clause. By all means, this House has the right to do that, but Members of the Committee should recognise what they are doing.

Baroness Byford: I challenge the Minister on that point. Last Tuesday, we voted to alter the Bill as it was, so it is already an altered Bill.

Lord Whitty: It is an altered Bill, but the main alteration was, broadly speaking, back to the form of the original Bill. By passing Amendment No. 3, we effectively returned to the basis of the registration system under the original Bill. That is not the case under the amendments coming before us after dinner and I will make the same points when we debate them. A vote in favour of deleting the clause would be crossing the line. Members of the Committee will be abandoning any pretence that they are asking this House and the House of Commons to go back to the original Bill. That will no longer be true.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again, but if my memory serves me right—I do not have my copy of Hansard with me—the amendment that we agreed in my name last week featured the words, "knowingly permits", which were not in the original Alun Michael Bill at all.

Lord Whitty: I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. Clearly, there was another amendment that was rather misguided but did not destroy the basis of the Bill. It was a small amendment defining offences. I suspect that the Commons, even if it accepted the argument about going back to the original Bill, would wish to alter it. I certainly would. However, the amendment did not destroy the basis of the Bill. Deleting the clause does destroy a significant part of the basis of the Bill. I repeat: Members of the Committee are crossing the line if they delete this clause.

The substance of the issue—

Lord Mancroft: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way, I do not wish to interrupt and I am sorry if I am slowing up proceedings. It is our intention to return to the original Bill—it always has been—but with a number of exceptions. We have always said that

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and we stick to it today. We want those exceptions because we believe that certain areas of the Bill abandon principles that the Government and the Minister identified at the start of this process.

If the Minister is so convinced that hare coursing is appalling, it will not pass the registration process at the heart of this Bill. The whole purpose of this Bill is to have a registration process that is fair and takes these activities out of the hotbed of political argument. It is as simple as that. To assume that an activity that affects 160 hares a year and 5,000 people at the most is destroying the centre of the Bill is really ludicrous. It is not true. All we want to do is go back to the original principles. It is perfectly reasonable, perfectly justified and pretty easy to explain.

Lord Whitty: I have explained and will explain on subsequent amendments how that argument is a complete travesty of where the noble Viscount is coming from. Under the cover of purporting to return to the original Bill, the Bill that would result were we to pass all these amendments would be a complete distortion of the original Bill. In that context, it is not as simple as that. If we delete the clause, it will not mean that hare coursing will be subject to the same tests by the registrar as everything else; it will be subject to no such assessment. That is why I argue strongly against the deletion of the clause.

There are ways in which, at a later stage, the noble Lord could change the Bill, but deletion of the clause now would delete all regulation of hare coursing and, therefore, significantly change the original Bill. I ask noble Lords not to do it.

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