Hunting Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:24 pm on 28 October 2003.

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Votes in this debate

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 4 [Hunting: defence]:

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 1, line 18, leave out from "he" to end and insert "conscientiously believed that the hunting in which he was to take part ought to be exempt"

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

I do not hunt, and I am now too old to take it up and thus be made a criminal by this wretched, mean little measure. It comes to us, of course, to satisfy the consciences and feelings of zealots who care little for the consciences of others. It is a Bill which is a mixture of prejudice and nonsense, which my amendment would do something to redeem. I am, however, dreadfully conscious of the fact that there would be no chance whatever of it being accepted by those people down the other end of the Corridor.

Mr Tony Banks—one could describe him perhaps as the other Tony, the one who says what he means—has brought to the proceedings a degree of stark clarity. On 30th June, he said that,

"the matter is now highly political and, in many regards, has become totemic".

We were, he said, in,

"a situation in which passions and subjectivity rule the day".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 91.]

I just pause to wonder—I think that your Lordships might all reflect upon it—what on earth would happen if the rule of passions and subjectivity were to become the norm. I think that our fragile democracy might be mortally damaged by it. Certainly Parliament would enter into a decline even steeper than exists today.

I turn for a moment to a very different speech made by Miss Kate Hoey in another place on 30th June from which I shall quote one passage of some length. I think that it is so important that it is worth taking up a moment of your Lordships' time to repeat it here. She said:

"The Bill is inconsistent. Why is it not okay to hunt hares when it is okay to hunt rabbits? That shows that the Bill has been devised by people who take an attitude of zealotry towards those who hunt. They are opposed to hunting, and they are not prepared to listen".

Miss Hoey had met people in Parliament Square. She said:

"I want to pay tribute to the hundreds of women who spent last night and all day in Parliament square. If only some of my hon. Friends had had the decency to go and talk to those young, middle-aged and elderly women who live in the countryside and know what this is all about, rather than treating them with contempt.

The saddest thing about this whole process is that there has been no listening at all. At Portcullis House, everyone involved in hunting produced a huge amount of work and put in a great deal of effort, but it was all simply ignored because some of the facts did not fit in with the Minister's or the Government's intentions".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 116.]

I am very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is supporting this amendment. He spoke at Second Reading of his hope that the Government were looking for a middle way. It has been rudely dashed but that thought of an opportunity missed now leads me to ask, what of Mr Alun Michael? How did he manage, I wonder, to perform such an about-turn at such dazzling speed? Perhaps he had in mind the fate of the "late" Lord Chancellor who nourished the old-fashioned idea that a promise was a promise. His successor on the Woolsack has altogether a more accommodating dictionary.

I would not like to end my remarks without a word of admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She has shown the most extraordinary courage and determination in pursuing a cause in which she believes. At Second Reading she lamented that the Bill would make criminals of herself, her husband and her children. She went on:

"I am sorry to say that, to some, all of this does not matter one jot because they are prepared to sacrifice not just animals but people—their homes, their jobs, their way of life, their communities, especially in places such as Exmoor, which I love—for the sake of some transient peace from a section of the parliamentary Labour Party. If that is allowed to happen, the lasting sense of injustice and resentment in those communities will dog the Government who were responsible, not just for a Parliament or two but for a generation".—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col. 782.]

Coming from the West Country as I do, I believe that those words of the noble Baroness are absolutely true and justified and should receive the respectful attention they have not yet received from the Benches opposite.

I marvel how such speeches as those have been swept aside and how the conclusion of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has been ignored simply because it was not what they wanted. Scientific opinions, too, have suffered much the same fate. I refer to the verdict of Dr Lewis Thomas, a vet already quoted in these debates, who said that,

"any legislation that bans or seriously restricts hunting . . . cannot be regarded as having the welfare of wild animals as its primary objective".

One hears no words from those who support this Bill to indicate that they have even taken notice of such arguments. Adverse opinion polls count for nothing. So too, rather strangely, do the strongly expressed views of the media. I quote only today, that of the Guardian of 2nd July which states:

"The majority should hesitate before it rides roughshod over the minority".

I should have thought that the Labour Party would have that fairly close to its heart as it has had reason to complain of it in the past. The article in the Guardian continued:

"The peacefully expressed fears of many in the countryside, who see things differently and feel their way of life is under threat from people whom they think do not understand them, have made a persuasive case for a less absolutist approach. This was the spirit that underpinned Mr Michael's bill, and it will be both legitimate"—

I hope that the noble Lord will note this—

"and desirable if the Lords reinstate clauses in a similar . . . spirit.

Like many of your Lordships I have had hundreds of letters on this subject. I had one in favour of the Bill. I quote from one single letter from Mrs Rutherford of Plymouth. In a very short space she encompassed what seems to me to be the whole issue. She wrote:

"I neither hunt nor follow a hunt but felt I must write to you in defence of hunting and I fear a ban would have far-reaching, adverse consequences for our beautiful countryside, the rural way of life already affected by poor public transport, school closures and inadequate policing"—

She can say that again! One reason I might just for a moment feel well disposed towards this Bill is because there would be just a chance—an outside chance perhaps—of seeing a policeman in the village in which I live. Mrs Rutherford went on to say,

"and for this country's long tradition of liberty and tolerance".

For those who espouse this Bill, liberty and tolerance mean nothing except in the most limited subjective sense.

I want to raise with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—if he will bear with me for a moment—one further point which I have mentioned two or three times but so far without an answering echo. At Second Reading the noble Lord said quite clearly:

"The threat of disruption—

I am not concerned with that now—

"and unenforceability is not one to which the Government or Parliament can or should succumb".—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col. 771.]

Does the noble Lord seriously mean that unenforceability is not a matter which should be in the minds of legislators when they contribute to the torrent of legislation which his Government pour through Parliament? The noble Lord might even care to discuss the point with the police.

I shall finish now but I want to end on this note. I find it very hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government abandoned their search for a middle way in order to placate a bunch of their Back-Benchers who might otherwise embarrass the Government on a host of subjects. Hunting and the countryside, and perhaps your Lordships' House as well, would serve this Government as useful diversions. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 24.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I have been asked by Members with widely differing views on the Bill before us to remind Members of the Committee to speak to the amendment which is before us rather than to make Second Reading speeches. The particular amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, deserves consideration rather than Second Reading speeches.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

I should just like to say that the whole of my speech was inspired by the way in which a section of the party opposite has paraded its own conscience and ignored that of other people.

Photo of The Bishop of Hereford The Bishop of Hereford Bishop

I shall quote George Washington, who said:

"Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience".

I shall speak very briefly in support of the amendment. For those who hunt, the many more who support hunting and the even many more whose livelihoods depend on it, this is a matter of conscience, deeply felt. Those who oppose the Bill in the form in which it has come before the Committee do not do so out of arrogance or prejudice, attachment to selfish advantage or indifference to rational argument, or simply out of a perverse desire to perpetuate a long-established pattern of life and leisure. They do so out of a passionately and conscientiously-held belief that hunting is right and good—good for animal welfare, social well-being, conservation, wildlife and landscape management.

It is that combination of conscience with rational argument that makes the case for hunting so strong and convincing, and makes resentment and opposition to the Bill in the form in which it has come from the other place so strong and unrelenting. There is in this matter more than a little spark of that "celestial fire called conscience".

I shall move from the philosophical to the practical and pragmatic. There is a real risk of unwitting contravention of this deeply unpleasant and undesirable Bill, if by any mischance it were to become law. Imagine an elderly farmer walking with three or four dogs and unexpectedly flushing out a mammal that is not exempt. Do we have to rely on the good sense of the police not to prosecute because that man, or whoever else may be in that position, will technically be guilty of infringing the new law? Do we have to rely on the restraint of those who administer the law?

It has been said many times that we can rely on that restraint and moderation, but is it really sensible? Would it not be better to acknowledge that there is real risk of gross injustice of the prosecution of someone who conscientiously believes that the activity in which he or she is engaged should be exempt? I support the amendment. It is a matter of conscience, and there is a risk of the misuse of law if the point is not acknowledged.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative 3:45, 28 October 2003

I, too, support the amendment, moved for very strong reasons by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I wish to put forward yet another reason. Unless we are very careful, we shall find that foxes suffer terribly if hunting is abolished. I speak not merely as one who hunted regularly in Huntingdonshire until I was 70, but because I live in the countryside. We find there that if foxes are not controlled in numbers, they spread terribly and do enormous damage. They kill lambs, poultry and game. In the interests of life in the countryside, it is therefore essential that the number of foxes should not be increased by the abolition of hunting—and it certainly would be. We cannot get away from that fact.

If hunting is abolished, foxes, because they will become so numerous, will have to be killed by other means, all of which are most cruel, except one. Shooting is all right if a fox is killed, but if it is wounded it goes away and dies of gangrene, a terrible death. Poisoning and snaring are both illegal, but of course take place already and would do so to a much greater extent. They are horrible ways of killing foxes. The only other way is trapping, but that is ineffective. Foxes are difficult to get into traps; they somehow instinctively do not get in.

If hunting were abolished, foxes would run the risk of dying of gangrene or being poisoned or snared. I have seen foxes snared; they were still alive and suffering terribly. Of course, one has to go up to the snare and kill the fox. Poisoning is horrible and we do not know how long it takes, because it must vary depending on the poison.

People say, "Yes, but chasing a fox a long way is cruel". Being of light weight I was able to keep up with hounds, and I got into the habit of counting the number of seconds between hounds closing in and the fox being killed. I never counted more than four seconds. That is a very quick and certain way of killing foxes. In the cubbing season, of course, young foxes are killed without much of a chase. Old foxes are sometimes killed quite quickly in the cubbing season also, as they are during the hunting season. Only those foxes in the prime of life have to be chased.

I quite understand that what I am about to say will seem incredible to some Members of the Committee. Sometimes I have seen foxes in the prime of life being chased with what looked to me like a grin on their face. I do not think that they minded being chased. When hounds closed in, the end was quick.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

If they had a grin on their face and were being destroyed, they might even vote Tory.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

That is an irrelevant comment, quite outside the debate.

I would like those Members of the Committee who want the Bill to be retained in its original form to bear those factors in mind. For the reasons that I have given, if hunting is abolished foxes will suffer terribly. The amendment does something to avoid that.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

The whole issue of hunting is a non-party and free-vote issue, but I should support the Government and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in her remarks. It is important that we stick to the amendments. Much though I love my noble friend very dearly, I think that his contribution would have fallen under Amendment No. 28. It might help the Committee all round if we tried to focus on the amendment.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

I shall speak exactly to the amendment, which is totally about conscience. The right reverend Prelate talked about conscience, and I am rather struck by the fact that all of us here who vote on the Bill shall do so on the basis of a free vote, as did all those who voted on it in the House of Commons. Therefore, that was voting on the basis of conscience.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, wants to give other people the benefit of conscience. Since we are allowed to have a conscience about the issue, and bearing in mind that about 60 per cent of the British electorate do not believe in a ban on hunting, other people should be able to have a conscience about it as well.

There is another point about conscience. In the Labour Party, and in other parties, we have always held that if a person has a conscientious objection to an order, he is entitled to take action against it. The person whom the amendment describes would be doing what many people have urged their Members to do for a long time.

Finally, the Bill is about more than fox hunting; it is about hunting with dogs. One is entitled to point to the Labour Party manifesto, which undertook to bring forward a Bill to ban fox hunting. The Government have gone far further than that. Anybody who hunted deer with dogs would therefore be able to say, "Look here. You did not have a mandate to extend your hunting ban to deer hunting".

Although the amendment may seem strange to a number of people, who perhaps believe that it should not have been moved and that laws passed by Parliament should be obeyed, that point of conscience should be addressed. Moreover, how far outwith the people's expectation at the previous general election should the Government and Parliament go? We have had a worthwhile discussion. I will be interested to hear the Government's response.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. He spoke with that cogency and moderation to which we have become accustomed in your Lordships' House. I strongly support the views that he expressed.

When speaking about conscience, most people in this country become rather embarrassed. We feel a little bit uncomfortable when talking about our conscience. We do not like people who parade their conscience publicly. I remember well, when I was at school, that the more unpopular boys were those who tended to do just that. They became somewhat isolated for that reason.

It is important to emphasise that people feel very strongly. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in his opening remarks at Second Reading, people feel strongly on either side of the matter. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for example, has strong feelings about it. He has spoken frequently about the matter and expressed his views powerfully.

Conscience, therefore, traverses both sides of the argument and is not the exclusive preserve of those who are opposed to hunting. There are those who are conscientiously opposed to killing animals full stop. They do not like to engage in any form of killing animals. If they carry it to its logical conclusion, they tend to be vegetarians. Many of those who oppose hunting, ostensibly on the ground of conscience, do not oppose eating hamburgers, chicken or other forms of meat at their dinner tables, yet there are those who clearly and conscientiously object to the taking of life for those purposes. The Bill does not defend that, because Schedule 1 exempts certain forms of hunting on the grounds that the hunted species can be eaten. "Conscience" is therefore a fairly loose term in some people's books, but is rigidly applied in the case of others.

My own attitude to the whole of the Bill, and to the amendment in particular, derives from my conscientiously and deeply held view that hunting with dogs of the quarry species entails least suffering and preserves that degree of utility, which are the two yardsticks by which the measures should be judged, according to Mr Alun Michael when he started out on this course.

Like the right reverend Prelate, my prime motivations for supporting the continuation of hunting with dogs are the proper management of the quarry species, the proper management of the environment and the conservation of the countryside. I conscientiously believe that it is far less cruel to hunt and kill with dogs than it is to use other methods, as my noble friend Lord Renton made clear. That view was strongly supported in 2000 by two vets, who explored the subject in great detail in an interesting pamphlet, A Veterinary Opinion On Hunting With Hounds. The vets pointed out the grave suffering that could arise from shooting and wounding animals without being able to retrieve them. The shooting and wounding of a fox was anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in the Bill. He expressly indicated that shooting a fox because it is too big to retrieve with a dog would not be exempt under Schedule 1. So what happens to the wounded fox? It suffers. It suffers a cruel death as a result of the wounding. The vets to whom I referred said that that,

"represents an unacceptable degree of animal suffering, particularly if, as with foxes and hares, the wounded animal is not followed up and dispatched. No such risk of failure occurs with hunting. The quarry species are not injured and abandoned".

I give way to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

Perhaps the noble Lord will reflect on the fact that so far as estimates go, four out of five foxes that are dispatched are dispatched by shooting. As that is the current situation, we therefore have a cruelty problem now. Would the noble Lord's solution be to eliminate shooting and to introduce universal fox hunting with hounds? I think not.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 4:00, 28 October 2003

My conscience is quite clear on this subject in that hunting with hounds is the least cruel method. In wild animal control, shooting occurs right across the board. There is shooting of deer, hare, rabbit, fox, wild boar and other animals which I shall not detail. But shooting takes place, and one has to hope that it is carried out by skilled marksmen and that it does not cause undue suffering. But the fact remains that shooting does cause suffering and hunting with dogs causes least suffering.

Therefore, if I may put it at its mildest, there is room for exercise of one's conscience on both sides of this argument. Members of the Committee may well call to mind the words of Mark Twain:

"It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practise either of them".

On this particular occasion, I do choose to practise my conscience, and I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

I do not like to sound a discordant note and I agree with all that has been said in the course of this debate, save for one thing. I do not believe that the amendment should appear on the face of the Bill. As currently drafted, it would be unworkable and, in my view, would drive the proverbial coach and horses through the registration and licensing scheme which Mr Alun Michael devised and which I hope this House will try to restore and improve.

However, in one sense, this amendment is one of the most important and fundamental on the whole Marshalled List because it raises the topic which underlines the enactment of any new criminal legislation. The Bill that we received from the House of Commons was designed to turn into a crime something that has been done for hundreds of years with the approval and encouragement of the communities where it takes place and with the approval and encouragement of those without whose co-operation hunting could not happen—namely, the farmers.

Without exception, all the major farming organisations opposed that Bill. Organisations such as the campaign of which I am chairman—the Labour supporters' Leave Country Sports Alone campaign—undertook the production of some maps in a number of marginal rural constituencies. Every farmer was interviewed and a map was coloured accordingly. In no constituency did the proportion of farmers who wanted hunting to continue fall below 90 per cent.

This spring on Exmoor, where I farm in a small way, 722 farmers in the area hunted by the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, whose farms accounted for more than 90 per cent of the total area hunted by those hounds, signed a declaration stating that they regarded deer hunting as the only practical way in which the herd of red deer could be managed and preserved there.

Those who have direct responsibility for the management of populations of wild mammals in this country are overwhelmingly the farmers and landowners who want hunting to continue. Not merely do they believe overwhelmingly that hunting is an option which should remain available to them in doing that job; there is also a widespread opinion that the effect of a ban would not be, as others have already said, to decrease numbers killed but probably the reverse. As noble Lords will remember, there was evidence to that effect in the Burns report and at Portcullis House. But, even more importantly in the context of this amendment, there is among very many a firmly held view based on evidence and their own experience that the other methods of control that would be left to them are likely to increase and not decrease animal suffering. So far, we in this Committee have changed that Bill to permit registered hunting, and the extent of it is something that we shall go on to deliberate in due course.

But I ask those who oppose hunting to reflect on this. If, for example, my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and those who support him were asked whether they would comply with a law which required them to do something which in their view caused an unnecessary increase in suffering to an animal, I suspect that I know what their answer would be. Yet that is the very position in which the majority of country people, who have responsibility for managing wild animals, would find themselves in the event of a ban.

A criminal law which does not have the support of the law-abiding community to which it applies because that community holds the belief that it is being asked to do something wrong, and a law which requires the members of that community to adopt methods in their ordinary, essential tasks which they believe deliberately cause unnecessary suffering—the original definition of "cruelty"—is a recipe for bad law. It is a recipe not only for a law which is unenforceable but for one which brings the legal process generally into disrepute.

Once one passes legislation which offends the conscience of the community to which it applies, one strikes a blow at the administration of justice and, just as significantly—perhaps even more so—at the unity of those communities and of our nation. To force such legislation on to the statute book would—as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, reminded me I have already said—create lasting resentment, I believe, not only in rural communities but among those who care that we live in a free society. As the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—a true liberal—reportedly told the Prime Minister, it would be widely perceived as,

"the most illiberal measure in the past 100 years".

The difficulty of enforcement of a measure which does not have the support of the community and which offends that community cannot be exaggerated. Time and again I have heard people say, "The police are our friends. Many of them come hunting with us. This would make them our enemies". Enforcement is a matter that we must consider at every stage of the Bill.

A chilling picture of what might happen is contained in an article in the Police Review of 19th September this year, written by Mr Hamish Rogers, an RSPCA chief superintendent. I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Simon, who drew it to my attention. In an article in which the RSPCA inspector dismisses the arguments against a ban and says that there will be no difficulty in enforcing it, he says:

"It would be nearly impossible to prepare dogs, horses and riders for a hunt without going unnoticed. Where reports of illegal hunting are received, intelligence-led operations could prevent a meet taking place".

He goes on:

"The successful prosecution of offenders is often reliant on information from members of the public, and there is no reason to suspect this will change".

What a picture of life in rural Britain in 2003 or 2004. Are we to have spies and snoopers peering through the gap in the fence to see whether the little girl next door is plaiting her pony in preparation for the meet the next day and then ringing the authorities? What a problem for rural police, who rely on the good will and co-operation of local people to do their general policing job effectively. And what a problem, ultimately, for the administration of justice. We have already heard about that from a number of very senior police officers, not to mention the Magistrates' Association.

Who are the new criminals to be? The local vet? Five practising vets used to hunt with the pack with which I hunted until quite recently. One can brand people as criminals, one can change the law and one can tell people that they are criminals, but in the dock will be elderly people, women, children, vets, doctors and nurses. No matter how much one calls them criminals, it will be apparent to the nation that they are nothing of the sort. The law will be brought into disrepute and so will a Government who devoted their time in office to such nonsense and allowed their zealots to have their way. Bad law does not last.

There is general agreement, at any rate in this Chamber, that much as many of us dislike the idea of still more regulation, hunting which is properly conducted, which serves a useful purpose and causes no greater suffering than other available methods, should be permitted under strict control. Mr Alun Michael spoke over and over again to that effect: he wanted a law to emerge which stood the test of time. A banning Bill will not end this matter; rather, it would be the start of a new and more unpleasant period of division.

In his evidence at Portcullis House, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, made that very point; namely, that a quick fix, a quick solution, would not be the answer. He said that something which would work needed co-operation and agreement. When one tells people that they must do something they believe to be wrong they tend to take no notice. I cannot forget the day when I and others in this House walked down Whitehall past the Cenotaph at the front of a column of people who numbered over 400,000. That was just over a year ago and was then the largest demonstration this country has ever known—there have been larger since. The silence as we walked past the Cenotaph was something that those of us there will never forget.

Freedom of conscience is what this country is about. We do not readily give in to bullies or to people who use their power in office to force us to behave in ways which we believe are wrong. The amendment is right to remind us that those who seek to do so are embarking on a course which would have unpredictable and unpleasant consequences for the whole of the nation, but to put it in this form on the face of the Bill would be a mistake.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop

We should take it as read, as an assumption, that those who oppose a ban and those who support it are likewise motivated by conscience. Having listened on more occasions than this to my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford speak with very great force on this matter in a direction opposite to the one that I hold, I could hardly think otherwise.

It is clear that those who support the continuance of hunting with dogs do so in the belief that it is best for the country and the countryside that that should happen. It is also clear that those who oppose it do so from a Christian perspective because they believe that whatever may be the utilitarian arguments, the control and, indeed, even the protection of animals, should not be made a matter of sport if that evinces an inappropriate attitude between humankind and animals. So there is conscience on both sides of the matter.

I want to speak entirely on the inclusion of the reference to conscience on the face of the Bill and to agree on that particular matter, if on no other, with what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just said. It is important that we live in a country that recognises conscience, but it is also important to be clear that conscience is not simply what we feel strongly about. Conscience is about being informed by convictions. I believe that in our society and, I regret to say, in our Church, we have reached a situation where the word "conscience" is used rather more freely than it should be.

On this matter the word "conscience" probably is entirely appropriate to the views of some people, but it is also appropriate to the views of those people who would see it as their business to obstruct hunting if it were allowed to continue. It concerns me greatly that there should be written on to the face of the Bill a reference to something which will be used on both sides of this particular argument which will allow both sides to appeal to this amended clause as justification for their attitudes.

I believe that we live in a country with freedom of conscience. However, I also believe that freedom of conscience involves being prepared to pay the consequences of breaking the law if you believe that your conscience drives you to do that. The words here are witness to the seriousness of the debate and to the fact that for many people this is a religious issue which has come to us from the other place for that reason. For many others their conscience is motivated by more humanistic instincts. However, to write such words on to the face of the Bill sets a precedent in our attitude to law which would be disastrous. On how many other Bills will there be written a right of conscientious dissent not just in one's mind but in one's action?

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative 4:15, 28 October 2003

I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving way. It may save him a good deal of pain and anxiety if I tell him at this stage that I agree entirely with what he says: these are not words which should be written on to the face of the Bill. However, he is right in thinking that my aim is to ensure that the people who espouse the Bill recognise that conscience is a two-edged weapon.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop

I would not want to continue a speech in favour of a course of action which those supporting the amendment no longer support. So I am happy to sit down and trust that we can proceed to consider the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

In her excellent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, began and, indeed, ended by telling us that the amendment was unworkable. I perceive a rather dangerous situation arising. When those on the Government Front Bench insist on passing a law which they have been warned is unenforceable, it is hardly surprising that noble Lords table amendments which are also unenforceable. I think that we are getting into a rather dangerous position.

I have not sought previously to intervene in the debate. I have never hunted and cannot claim to know anything about the finer points of the sport. However, I strongly support freedom, conscience and tradition. As soon as I read the amendment I felt that I must speak, albeit briefly, in support of it.

I am very well aware of the need to destroy foxes. Surely, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind that there is that need. I have lived in the country for most of my life and know all about the harm these vermin can do. I have seen a hen-house in which every single bird was killed by a fox for absolutely no reason. One chicken was quite enough for a good meal for him. Foxes kill far more than just chickens. I believe conscientiously that foxes must be destroyed. I believe conscientiously what I read in the reports of those who have studied the matter, which tells me clearly that the other methods to be used if hunting ends are far more cruel and far more likely to cause pain to the fox. So I was greatly impressed when I read the amendment.

It seems to me that the Bill came into being because a section of the public declared that they conscientiously objected to hunting. Everyone has a right to their conscience and to hold views that he or she thinks are right and in accord with that conscience. However, I think that those people reserved quite a large part of their conscientious objections to country people and their traditions; they did not understand the first and they disliked the second.

Apparently, they had no conscientious objection to lambs, pheasants, quail or hens being torn to death. It was only the fox who was enjoying himself, after all. That seemed to be perfectly acceptable and perfectly in line with their consciences. But no government should run a country which allows some of its citizens a conscience but not others. They should not adhere only to what they hear from the section of the public that they believe in and agree with because others have a right to their conscience too.

In a free country—and I sometimes wonder whether this one is still free—everyone has a right to a conscience, whether or not the Government agree with what he says. The amendment makes that point. On two occasions at least hundreds of thousands of people took part in hugely impressive demonstrations in London. They were expressing their wish and their conscientious belief that hunting should continue: some because their livelihoods were threatened; some because they followed the hunt; some because they knew that foxes must be controlled; and some because they believed in freedom. But all of them, in their different ways, were expressing what their conscience led them to believe. Only the Government believe that their wishes and their words should be ignored and that their consciences are not as important as the consciences of the anti-hunt lobby.

How can it be right on an issue of this kind—which has nothing whatever to do with national politics, which sets country against town and which is deeply divisive—to pass such a hated law and to ignore what free people are expressing as their conscience. If country people truly believe that hunting breaks no moral code, who are this Government to criminalise them?

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

The noble Lord who moved the amendment has now, quite rightly—albeit belatedly—admitted that it would be wholly wrong to put on the face of a Bill a provision which states that, taking part in 'X' is criminal, but you don't need to obey that; you can get off it if you thought that the legislation should be something different.

Surely, it is now time—if not past the time—for the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment and to enable the Committee to get on with its proper duty of considering amendments made to the Bill and intended to alter it, rather than those merely pegged for Second Reading speeches.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I go further than the noble Viscount: as one who is totally opposed to the abolition of hunting and totally in favour of returning a Bill to the Commons that is more nearly like the one introduced to the Commons, I believe that this amendment is inimical to that tactic. It gives a hostage to fortune; and it will be held up by those against hunting and against this House as an example of how out of touch—indeed, in some ways how unrealistic—we are. I wonder why the amendment was ever tabled.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

It seems to be the Committee's wish to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on whether he wishes to withdraw his amendment. I am finding this difficult. I am trying to go with the mood of the Chamber. It seems that the Committee would like to hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

With the leave of the Committee, it was not my intention to speak to the amendment, but one or two points have been made which have inspired me to rise to my feet. I refer to some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Renton. It is absolutely essential that we understand from the outset that the ways and means of controlling foxes in this country have evolved over the years. Different practices suit different places, and hunting plays a hugely important part in that process.

However, and I say this with the greatest of respect to my noble friend, to condemn snaring as being automatically cruel is wrong. Snaring, if done correctly, is a perfectly humane way of controlling foxes. The same applies to shooting. The noble Lord referred to poisoning. Poisoning is an illegal activity. You are not entitled to poison foxes, and quite rightly so. So my only point, which I regard as very important, is to try and clarify that, unless we get our facts absolutely straight, we compare one form of control against another at our peril.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps he would bear in mind that snaring is illegal also.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

No, snaring is not illegal.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

I am not altogether sorry to have annoyed both Front Benches. I seldom succeed in annoying both Benches on the same day in the same context, but I shall recover.

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that these words on the face of the Bill would be just what I would object to most; namely, unenforceable and hopeless. But I thought—and I absolutely make no apology whatever for this—that when the authors of the Bill used words to show, as they did, that passions and subjectivity are the rule of the day, one was entitled to table amendments like this which perhaps have an element of unreason in them to remind them and others that there are strong beliefs on the other side of this argument and that they have no right whatever to continue their bullying tactics.

I am happy to have made that protest. I make no apology for that. I shall nevertheless respond to the obvious will of the Committee and beg leave to withdraw the amendment. But I hope that the Minister will take an opportunity sometime to answer the point that I have repeatedly made about enforceability.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 1, line 18, after "was" insert—

"(a) registered, or

(b) "

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

The amendment is consequential on an earlier one. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

moved Amendment No. 25:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—

"DEFENCE: PROTECTION OF SHEEP IN SHEEP GRAZING AREA IN DESIGNATED NATIONAL PARK

(1) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 1 to prove that the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of using dogs for the control of foxes for the purpose of protecting sheep on a fell or moorland within a sheep grazing area in a designated National Park.

(2) In this section "designated" means designated in an order made by the Secretary of State.

(3) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by each House of Parliament."

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

In moving my Amendment No. 25, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 26. I shall speak narrowly to my amendment. The case for Amendment No. 25 was very usefully put by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, at Second Reading. The noble Lord, who is a former Minister for Agriculture, said:

"It is essential that we build into the Bill an exemption for foot packs, which play such an important role . . . I [the noble Lord, Lord Jopling,] hope that the Government will look sympathetically at an amendment to exempt mountain foot packs from the Bill".—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col. 806.]

I come to the debate from a very different position. I presume that the noble Lord will be supporting the principle of registration that I have been opposing and will further oppose, as I am in favour of a ban on hunting. That was the position I took throughout my 21 years as a Member of the other place. I represented a constituency that contained a number of fell packs, but where there was a constant and heated argument about hunting in the community. I can tell the Committee that of all the issues I had to face as a Member of Parliament, hunting raised the most correspondence. During general election campaigns, the number of letters I received on the issue of hunting was often 10 times or more the total volume of correspondence on any other issue, because it was a live debate.

While recognising that, I had to take into account the considerable concern about the Lake District National Park and what would happen if hunting were to be banned. I must say that the majority of correspondence that I received during all those years was always against the hunt, but an argument was being advanced that had to be addressed. Essentially, it was that there were problems in the Lake District in lambing season and if hunting were banned, that would lead to an invasion of guns in an area subject to intensive tourist penetration throughout the year.

I shall cite two letters from the many that I received—these are not the photocopied letters that many of us will have received—from people who live in Cumbria. A chap called John Hayton of Thackthwaite, near Cockermouth, writes:

"I am an upland sheep farmer in the Lake District National Park, who every year suffers losses to foxes. The local hunt does a great job in fox control by keeping numbers in check and are on hand in the spring to help farmers if they have a particular problem with worrying by bringing hounds to the lambing area, even if hounds are unable to catch the culprit, the very fact that hounds have been about can sometimes have the desired effect. Without hounds to carry out this very necessary task we would have to rely on shooting"— that word is in capitals.

"surely no one really expects us to do that in an area where we already have up to 14 million visitors a year".

I cite another letter from a chap called Paul Renison of Troutbeck, near Windermere, who writes:

"I work on a farm called Braesteads—a traditional fell farm near Ullswater in the Lake District National Park. Through my work as a shepherd especially in lambing time I have witnessed the damage foxes can cause. We lost 15 lambs to the fox last year. If this is multiplied by a replacement cost of £50 per animal (not including time and effort) the damage lost the business £750. Would any business suffer this unnecessary expense (which will be higher) if a tried, tested natural preventative measure were to be outlawed?"

This evening, I have sought to introduce amendments to deal with that problem. Let me tell the Committee where the amendment came from. It was drawn up in 1987. Some of my noble friends may be interested to know where it was drawn up. It was drawn up for a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, because we were considering whether it was then possible to include in the 1987 Labour Party manifesto some reference to the problem that existed in national parks. As a result of that amendment, words were included that I understand have subsequently been withdrawn.

I have hawked the amendment around for the past 15 years on the basis that one day a Bill would be presented and we would have to face the reality of what we were going to do in the parks. I now present it to the Committee. However, there is a problem. There is an inconsistency between the Bill and my amendment. The amendment does not sit well with the principle of registration. I accept that, but I ask the Committee to be realistic.

We all know what the Commons wants. If we are truthful to ourselves, we all know what will happen to the Bill when, or if, it finally makes it back to the Commons and is further considered. All the clauses on registration—well argued as they certainly will have been in this place—will inevitably be removed. If my amendment is left in the Bill, it will cause substantial discussion in the other place. Indeed, it is the bottom line and only amendment that is credible in the context of the 2:1 support for the Bill in the other place.

So I ask the Committee to take that into account. Simply be realistic. If you knock out my amendment tonight, all that will happen is that the Bill will go back; it will be kicked around; registration will be removed; and the whole question of exemption for national parks will not even be considered. On that basis, I move my amendment.

Finally, another issue will be raised in the other place if my amendment were to succeed in this House. A good briefing was produced by the animal welfare lobby on whether the case for Lake District exemption is valid. It was argued in its document that there was an abuse of the use of artificial earths by the hunts in the national park. If that is the case—I am not unconvinced that there may be some merit in it and artificial earths may have been used on occasion—the answer is simple. Legislate against them; make them illegal; stop the hunts using them, if they do. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative 4:30, 28 October 2003

I have one reason for objecting to the amendment in its present form, which has been well set out by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I want registration. I am deeply sceptical of the idea that if the Bill returned to the other place, an amendment such as this would be accepted in any case.

However, I have a quite different set of reasons for being critical of the amendment—to which, in a way, I should be sympathetic. I happen to live in a national park. I used to represent another national park in Pembrokeshire. As Secretary of State, I suppose that I was responsible for a third: the Snowdonia National Park. I find it impossible to understand why we should support an amendment to allow hunting to protect sheep in a national park but not in all the other places in which sheep are just as vulnerable.

If I stick to Wales, it happens that to the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park, which embraces the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, is a vast area of upland of almost identical character, where the sheep are just as threatened. In my former constituency of Pembrokeshire, the national park was a narrow strip around the coast. Most of the sheep under threat would have been outside the national park. If we consider North Wales, the amendment would include Snowdonia but not the Berwyns. The amendment would also exclude the whole of mid-Wales.

If it had not been for the rather ruthless cull of hereditary Peers, I have little doubt that Lord Davies of Llandinam would be sitting on the Liberal Democrat Benches today. He, and his family before him, have run one of the most formidable foot packs anywhere in the country with magnificent long-haired hounds. I find it extraordinary that we should be considering an amendment that would exclude the area in which Lord Davies's hounds operate. I take the opportunity to suggest that Lord Davies's foot pack is a splendid example of a refutation to those who believe that hunting is only for toffs. Few toffs would keep up with Lord Davies's hounds on the very hilly country in which they operate.

Equally, I could turn to the south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, to the industrial area of south Wales, where many sheep have been, and continue to be, hunted by miners' packs. Those who took part in the splendid march to which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred—

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Does the noble Lord really mean that a very large number of sheep have been hunted to death by foot packs?

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

I did not say that that number of sheep had been hunted to death by foot packs. I am saying that sheep are just as much, or perhaps more, under threat from foxes in the industrial areas in south Wales, where foot packs usually almost entirely composed of miners and ex-miners seek to protect them.

Those who participated in that march will remember that among the largest and most vociferous groups were miners from south Wales. Indeed, at a later demonstration, which got out of control and where some people attempted to climb over the fence of Parliament, I fear that among the leaders were those probably trained by Mr Scargill. They were certainly south Wales miner's packs.

The amendment would select for protection a relatively small area of the threatened uplands but leave out the rest. One must also ask why we are to protect only sheep in those areas. Unfortunately, foxes in the uplands, as elsewhere, are just as destructive of chickens and other livestock and animals. We are confronted with an amendment lacking in logic and against the principle that emerged clearly in the consultations undertaken by Alun Michael that animals should be treated on an equal and comparable basis, and that we should not discriminate. Surely if we are to select particular areas or forms of hunting for special treatment, we should leave it to a registrar, with all the ability that he would have to take evidence and to consider the individual facts to reach a sensible arrangement for dealing with the matter.

Although the amendment is no doubt moved with the best intentions, it cannot be justified in logic or reason. It would also undermine the important principle that we should opt for registration and the proper control of hunting throughout the United Kingdom. On that basis, I hope that it will not be pressed.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

Most unusually, and worryingly to me, I have reached a different conclusion from that just reached by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Of course I agree with him in the simple position that the law should deal with hunting on an equal and uniform basis and, as I believe, by a registration scheme. But I understand where the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who moved the amendment, is coming from: his old constituency, which extends over the delectable hunting country of the Blencathra, the Ullswater, and, for all I know, the Eskdale and Ennerdale and perhaps the Coniston and the Melbreak.

I, too, have the good fortune to know those hunts and over many years, off and on, to have gone out with them. I know what they mean to the dalesmen and women of those parts and, as the noble Lord graphically made clear, to those who owe their exiguous livelihood to their sheep. In the horrid language of this horrid Bill, I, too, have engaged,

"in the pursuit of a wild mammal [when] . . . one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit".

What was that wild mammal? It was a most efficient and savage killer of lambs born and reared, as they must be, on the fell side.

Who were my fellow followers? They were about as far removed from the stereotypes so lovingly hated by those behind the Bill before the Committee as is possible to imagine. They follow the hounds and climb, not on horses but on foot. Their boots are those of the farmyard, and their clothes are those of every working day, which happens to come round seven times each week. Typically, their lives in the dales are lonely and very hard. The hunt is the linchpin of what social life they have. If I may quote from the old song:

"When the fire's on the hearth and good cheer abounds,

We'll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds".

I know that it is hard for people who live in the South, as I do, to understand what the hunt means to those people. For people living in the South, the fox gets only at their dustbins and never at their incomes. For their social lives they have an embarrassment of riches. I just want the supporters of this blunderbuss Bill to know that in all seriousness I fear for the very lives of many people living in the dales if their hunts were destroyed.

The law should deal with all hunting on an equal basis and by a system of registration. I shall support an approach to the Bill that would achieve that in later votes and opportunities. If people wish to hunt on horses, with hounds and in customary hunting kit, that is no reason to single them out for criminal punishment. I have had the good fortune to hunt in that way, too.

The amendments, provokingly selective though they are, confront me with a dilemma. I shall resolve it by supporting them for the moment, without prejudice to my main position, because if the worst came to the worst, one bit of hunting preserved, in any event, would be better than none.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat 4:45, 28 October 2003

My name is attached to the amendment. I wish to speak in favour of it, but not quite from the same perspective as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I support registration; that is extremely important. I want to see the uplands hunted, indeed over the widest possible area. In that, I agree with most of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. But, as I understand it, an amendment of this kind is the only one that may be accepted in the House of Commons. I regard it as a last-ditch amendment.

My name and that of my noble friend Lord Hooson are attached to Amendment No. 100, which will not be discussed. It covers foot packs in the area outside national parks and is preferable to this amendment. I am looking at it from a last-ditch point of view. Very specifically, I understand that it is the only amendment in the whole Bill that might be acceptable to the House of Commons. I do not know whether that is an accurate assessment but, given what happened when the House of Commons introduced a complete ban, it is in the realms of possibility.

I represented the Brecon and Radnor constituency for 11 years in the other place. Farmers frequently hunt on foot in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Foxes are a big menace to lambs. The hunts go to the highest mountains to track down foxes. Hill farmers must be able to protect their sheep from the predations of the fox and maintain the sustainability of the national parks so that ground-nesting birds are not eliminated. The call of the curlew in the days of my youth in the Brecon Beacons National Park was a frequent harbinger of spring. Now it is practically not heard at all because of many changes in the environment, one of the most significant of which is the predations of the fox on ground-nesting birds. Basically, the amendments mean that hunting in national parks will be exempt and that a person cannot be charged with the offence of hunting.

I also recall what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about miners' hunts. There is one hunt in particular—the Banwen Miners hunt—which frequently hunts the Brecon Beacons National Park. It plays an important part in the social life of the area and in ensuring a sustainable population of foxes in the southern part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Another important proviso should be discussed in relation to this amendment. There is a lot of open access now to national parks, and the issue of shooting in national parks obviously has an important bearing on the matter. I support this amendment which is why my name is attached to it, but I regard it as a last ditch amendment that will secure hunting at least in national parks if the House of Commons is minded to ban it everywhere else.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

Before the noble Lord sits down, I understood him to have degrouped Amendment No. 100. He seemed to be sorry about that. Is he now speaking to that amendment with this group?

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat

I thought that I had made it clear that I was not speaking to Amendment No. 100 at all. It has been totally degrouped. If Members of the Committee look at the groupings, they will see that Amendment No. 100 is the last but one at present and addresses a much wider issue than this narrow one of national parks.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he enlighten my ignorance? If this last-ditch amendment were to be accepted by Members in the other place, would it deprive them of the opportunity of using the Parliament Act?

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat

I did not hear the noble and learned Lord's final words.

Noble Lords:

The Parliament Act.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat

I would have to defer to the noble and learned Lord in that case and take legal advice about whether that would happen. I have not thought the matter through and have always found it a good idea not to have an instantaneous response to a question of that kind.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

I find myself in some agreement with speakers in this debate in so far as I think that this set of amendments may trespass the principle of uniformity of approach. However, my approach is entirely different. The issue of the morality of chasing foxes for sport is identical whether we are talking about upland or lowland areas. However, I am conscious of why my good friend Lord Campbell-Savours has moved the amendment and his purpose in so doing.

In my noble friend's opening speech, he acknowledged that he was in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs. We have heard evidence of the paraphernalia of fox hunting that exists elsewhere in the country, including artificial earths and the dumping of livestock in order to encourage foxes. However, I seek clarification. As far as I understand the Bill before us, flushing foxes for pest control is allowed under certain circumstances, albeit with two dogs only. If my noble friend is unable to confirm that, perhaps the Minister can do so.

I conclude my remarks on this set of amendments by referring to the general case that has been made elsewhere about the fox predation of sheep. I, like many colleagues who contributed to the Second Reading debate, received many letters for and against fox hunting. I have attempted to reply to them all. One letter that I received was from a sheep farmer in Cumbria. I wrote back to him thanking him for his letter and asking him for his view on the ground of whether foxes do indeed predate in the way that it is suggested. This is his reply:

"In answer to your request as to my views on the extent of fox predation, I have to say that I find it difficult to come to any clear conclusion. Foxes definitely take quite a lot of lambs, but lambs spend most of their short lives dreaming up ways of dying before they can be turned into a chop. It is usually impossible to say whether a particular lamb taken, had succeeded in its endeavour, and the fox was merely recycling the resulting carcass, or whether the fox did the killing.

"When our flock is lambing in by, I have to say in support of your argument, that if a particular fox is being a nuisance, the easiest solution is a gun, this does not, however apply when they are back on the fell".

I have tried to be even handed about the reply that he sent to me, because he also gratuitously told me that drag hunting, which I fully support, is Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon compared with claret. We may take different views on the wine that we drink. However, there is some doubt about the matter. There have been extensive scientific studies, but I seek clarification from the Minister. I think that what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours seeks is already covered in the original Bill.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

I would not want to leave this matter purely in the hands of those in the Brecon Beacons or the Lake District. I would hope to include Exmoor, in terms of the national parks and, in the amendment that is linked with this one that mentions areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Quantocks as well. Certainly, the problems referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, are the same in those areas—just as they are in the enjoining land that does not happen to be part of a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and disagree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who I thought was rather unkind to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I think that this is a very promising amendment. The first thing that it does is to accept in principle that there is nothing unacceptable about hunting with dogs, which is an important statement. Although the noble Lord does not want to admit it, he wishes that there were some system that allows for certain sorts of hunting with dogs. I thought that that was what the registration principle was all about—to allow properly conducted hunting.

I was interested to hear his reference to the 1987 Labour Party manifesto. I suspect that many people were sympathetic to his amendment, which he subsequently pocketed for further use, for the same reason that we have heard many times in another place. It is not the principle of hunting with dogs, but rather, if I may refer to the Freudian remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, it is the paraphernalia that many people cannot accept. I have received an interesting letter from Mr Douglas Batchelor, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, which I mention in connection with the hunt packs of the fells that operate in the national parks mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The letter states:

"I am sure you will agree that people hunt mostly because they enjoy it. Our case is quite simply that they should not enjoy it".

That is accurate. That is the view of many people. It is not to do with the absolute principle of whether one should pursue and destroy predatory foxes with dogs; it is about the way in which one does it.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to the impact of tourism, to the number of walkers on the hills and to the impracticability of shooting in many areas. The Government's case throughout the Bill is, largely, that, at all times, shooting is preferable. We know well the number of visitors and tourists on Dunkery Beacon and on Exmoor. Should people be able to use high-powered rifles at any time in such areas free of hazard? As a former Member of Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will know that, the moment that one shot passes within half a mile of a visiting group of schoolchildren walking over Exmoor or the Quantocks—the noble Lord will know that it is often difficult to tell how close a shot may be—there will be an outcry.

In his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has established an important principle: there is nothing wrong with hunting with dogs, provided that it is done in a proper and orderly manner. I commend him for tabling the amendments. I take the same view as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden: the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, should be supported because his amendment would establish a principle. The principle of registration lies behind it, and it fits properly with the registration concept.

Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative 5:00, 28 October 2003

Like my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The Committee must realise that, in all the areas, we must look after the national sheep flock. It is a rather special sheep flock.

Does the Committee realise what hefting is all about? Hefting is important in moorland areas. For many years, I had a sheep farm in Sutherland. We used to send the sheep away to winter in Aberdeenshire. They came back at the end of their first year and went to a yield herding, where the tups were not put out. They had a second year not being tupped at home in the same area and did not go back to their original herding until they were two years old. Two shears after clipping, they went back to their original herding.

The interesting thing is that, within two or three days of having been on a yield herding and having been down in Aberdeenshire for their first winter, the sheep would automatically gravitate towards the areas from which they had originally come—the good green burn or a particular green area on a hill. That is what it is all about with moorland sheep. We must look after them, not only in the Lake District but in all other moorland areas and in Wales. I hope that the Committee realises the importance of hefting.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

I must first declare an interest: I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty that may, shortly, be designated a national park. The inquiry into whether the South Downs will become a national park starts in three weeks, so I could find myself moving from an AONB to a national park in two or three years' time.

I am interested in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I notice that there is a sort of gradation about them that may have passed by some other noble Lords. The first amendment refers to national parks in a sheep-grazing area. The second amendment drops the phrase,

"within a sheep grazing area".

It refers simply to,

"protecting sheep on fell or moorland".

The third amendment refers simply to,

"protecting sheep in a designated National Park".

It has dropped the words "fell or moorland". I have taken the liberty of tabling an amendment to that third amendment that would add the words,

"or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".

I find myself in a bit of a difficulty. My spirit is with my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden and not, for once, with my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton—I mean my noble friend Lord Crickhowell; he and I sit on the same EU sub-committee, so I am sure that he will have it out with me tomorrow morning.

The national park habit is coming southwards. It started around the Derbyshire Peaks, and it is always said that that is where the idea of a national park was first born in the 1930s. Many people working in the industrial cities around the Peaks found it difficult to get access to the land that is now in the Peak District National Park, as a great deal of it was owned by the water companies, which severely prohibited access for any sort of holiday, walk or hike. The Attlee government's idea of national parks was inspired by the Peak District. The Peak District and the Lake District are still the two largest national parks in terms of budget and number of tourists.

I have declared my interest. If the South Downs are turned into a national park—that may happen shortly—it will have more visitors than any other and will be bigger than any. We have a lot of sheep that graze. We do not have any fell or moorland. The traditional and difficult way of making money farming the South Downs was not from cereal—the Downs were ploughed during the Second World War only under pressure from the Ministry of Agriculture for more cereals to be grown—but from sheep. There is still a breed of South Downs sheep, which I recommend to noble Lords for the next time that they are shopping. If one can buy South Downs sheep, buy it, rather than New Zealand or even Welsh sheep. South Downs sheep are a traditional means of profit for a farm on the Downs, and we are trying to propagate the South Downs brand, so that farmers may have a bigger income. I declare an interest that I have often declared before: I am chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board.

I sat on the Benches opposite the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for many years in the other place. He finds himself this evening with a surprising number of supporters whose support he may not be used to. I am sure that he would not wish to have some national parks allowing hunting with dogs in order to protect sheep on fell and moorland, if it was not allowed in other national parks, such as the New Forest, which is about to become one, or the South Downs, which may become one, because they do not have fell or moorland. That would be ridiculous. I hope that, in considering which of his important amendments to press, the noble Lord will pass over Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 and move Amendment No. 27, in which case I shall move my amendment to Amendment No. 27.

I accept that areas of outstanding natural beauty cover considerably more country than the national parks, but they are also getting a higher status. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 encouraged the formation of statutory conservation boards. Those boards are starting to be formed around areas of outstanding natural beauty; the Cotswolds and the Chilterns are two examples. The exception that the noble Lord proposes is important. As my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater rightly said, it shows that there is a noble Lord on the Government Benches who is willing to accept that hunting should be permitted on certain conditions. That is an important point. However, the exception should be extended, for the reasons that I gave, to areas of outstanding natural beauty, to the national parks that are based on grassland and where sheep are often the farmer's only source of income.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

The subject matter of the amendment is of direct interest and concern to me because I farm in a very small way in a national park on Exmoor and also in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Chilterns. I have sheep in both places, which move between the two. I also subscribe to the Exmoor Fox Hounds, which would be covered by the amendment. I have hunted with foot packs in the Lake District, which I understand to have been my noble friend's constituency.

Because my noble friend supports a ban on hunting generally, I am very glad that he recognises that packs of hounds in his own area perform an important—indeed, an essential—task in relation to fox control and that they should continue to hunt. But I must tell him that the arguments, which have won his support in his area, apply just as strongly elsewhere.

In the national park where I farm, which is exceptionally well-provided with fox hunting, predation, certainly in my direct experience in the past couple of years, has been largely kept under control by the hunt. I see foxes about all the time, but I have had few problems. As many noble Lords will know, whenever there is a difficulty, the huntsmen—whether in season or not—will go out specifically on a lambing call, taking a few hounds with him, to track down a rogue fox and to deal with it. He provides a service to farmers which goes far beyond the usual day's hunting with the meet on the village green. He is a working member of the countryside and is on call. He deals with difficulties on the farm in relation to fallen stock—which we will come to later—and with particular difficulties with foxes.

Where I live in the Chilterns, hunting is much more problematic because of shooting interests, woodland, which is not used for shooting but has widespread public access, and the proximity of a motorway. In that area, I have serious fox predation problems, not only with sheep, but also particularly with poultry, which are out during the day but securely locked up at night. We regularly lose a substantial proportion of the flock each year. At one stage when we had particular fox difficulties, it was necessary to house young lambs for the first three weeks of their lives. Even then, I lost good, strong lambs.

There is shooting in that area and there is wounding. Sadly, one sees the effect of that. On two occasions, foxes have come into the farm buildings to die, which, on examination, clearly have suffered for a considerable period of time. So my problem in the area of outstanding natural beauty is that there is not enough hunting. On Exmoor, the hunting works and works well.

My sheep move from one area to another. Under the amendment, they would be protected on Exmoor, but would have none of that protection in Buckinghamshire. That is discriminatory in relation to the degree of protection that a farmer can give his animals in one area as opposed to another; what of the other areas just outside the national park or the areas of outstanding natural beauty which are not covered?

Seven miles away from my farm in Buckinghamshire, just down the road in Oxfordshire, near Thame, I have a friend who has an outdoor pig farm. Such were the losses of piglets that he called the police believing that he was suffering the attentions of rustlers. When night cameras were set up and a watch was kept, the photographs showed clearly what was happening. Foxes were coming at night and, with a remarkable lack of noise, were taking piglets of a size which he could not have conceived to be capable of being taken and killed. The hearings at Portcullis House made it clear that there should be parity in the treatment of all the quarry species and all the areas of the country in the way in which the registration system applies.

I know the Lake District. It is a particularly strong hunting community, as is Exmoor, where I come from. With an echo of my own experience, I listened to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said about his concerns for the well-being of some of those people for whom hunting is central to their lives. No one should understate the feeling of threat which they are under at the moment. However, I am concerned. The areas that my noble friend represented as a Member of Parliament are particularly strong in that respect. They played a remarkable role during the foot and mouth outbreak. I know that the staff of all those local hunts were extremely involved in the very unpleasant task of destroying animals belonging to their neighbours and friends, which they did with tact and in a manner which commanded the reassurance of those with whom they were dealing. That is something which must never be overlooked because they are the very people whom this measure is designed to put out of work.

I have great sympathy with what my noble friend said. I wish I shared his optimism about the likelihood of the amendment being acceptable in another place. He knows much better than I how the other place works and the minds of those in it. From what I have seen and read of the debates, so far it seems that the actual arguments are no longer playing any part on the minds of those at the other end. What they want is a totemic victory, regardless of the cost in human or animal terms.

However, let us assume that my noble friend is right. Perhaps I may try, with some temerity, to answer as best I can—if I am wrong, I hope that others will correct me—the question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, raised about the Parliament Act. As I understand it, the Parliament Act could be applied not just to a Bill which is identical to that which left the Commons, it could incorporate amendments made in this House if the other place agrees with them subsequently. So there is scope for an amendment being included.

I come back to what we are trying to do—at least I am trying to do—in Committee; that is, to reinstate the registration system which Alun Michael decided should apply, based on the evidence. He determined that that system should apply to all hunting. What I think we all want—I speak in so far as I can for the hunting community—is that best practice should be applied to all forms of hunting. There should be a proper form of regulation. There should be proper enforcement of the rule so that the public can have confidence that it is properly conducted. For that reason I am reluctant to see any forms of hunting or any areas of hunting taken outside that scheme. I should like to see the public having confidence that those rules and the new system apply everywhere and to all.

If my noble friend presses the amendment, I cannot go into the Division Lobby with him. I feel that what he is doing does not lie with the registration scheme. But, I am bound to say, nor could I go into the Division Lobby against him and oppose something which, potentially, could have great significance for areas and for people who deserve support.

Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench 5:15, 28 October 2003

I, too, listened terribly carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, particularly in reference to what will happen if, indeed, the Bill, having completed all the stages of parliamentary scrutiny, does go back to the Commons. I was rather impressed with what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said. Indeed, we all must bow to the much longer experience of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in another place. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that this, to some degree, is a last-ditch amendment.

One of the most fundamental points about the amendment is that it emphasises the idiotic fact that here we are, yet again, talking about foxes. People outside the building simply cannot believe that we are banging on yet again and wasting so much parliamentary time. I also listened very carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said. On balance, bearing in mind that more than 10 per cent of the land area of England and Wales is now part of a national park, I feel that if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, does press this to a Division, I shall have to support him.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

I find myself in something of a dilemma over the noble Lord's rather strange amendment. I applaud his concern for his former constituents and for those who live around him. I also suspect that the noble Lord will appreciate the great passion and love for hunting that will be so unfairly wrenched away from people in such areas, were this ludicrous Bill to become law. But, like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I am bound to ask two questions: why have the national parks been specified and, indeed, why is the amendment directed specifically at sheep?

I should have thought that, if a form of demarcation line was to be drawn, the "less-favoured area" line would be more appropriate because it would cover a wider area of similar farming conditions. On the question of sheep, it is true to say that sheep rearing is an absolute lifeline for those living and working in the upland areas, but what of piglets? I know of a farm in the North Yorkshire moors where I am sure that fox predation is a problem. What of game birds, which now play such an important part in local rural economies? Why should sheep be given special protection as opposed to ground-nesting birds? Why cannot the curlew and the golden plover—birds that are in decline in many of these areas—be afforded the same protection? There is a degree of inconsistency here which causes me real concern—and, of course, it is that lack of consistency throughout which is causing so many noble Lords difficulties with the Bill. Registration would appear to be the only sensible way forward.

One further point is worthy of discussion. What are farmers in these areas to do if hunting is outlawed? What will happen in the Lake District, where lamping and shooting foxes at night is an impractical solution, not only because of people being present, but because of the very nature of the terrain? In many upland regions, in particular those managed for grouse, lamping is an option, although there are real concerns about the safety aspect of it now that the right to roam has reached the statute book. That is another problem which I do not believe that this Government have taken into account.

As I have said, on many parts of the Lakes hills and in Wales, lamping is not an option and hunting is the only alternative. But, under the terms of the Bill, the only option open to a farmer in such conditions is to flush out a fox and shoot it, using no more than two dogs. However, anyone with even the remotest degree of common sense must realise that that is wholly and utterly impractical. Do we really expect farmers in the Lake District to go out with two dogs, ranging over those huge areas of land, in the hope that they might flush out and shoot a fox? Once again, in this Bill we are entering the world of "Fantasia".

This issue also raises the question of the gun packs, a matter about which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, feels strongly. I am sure that we shall discuss it in great detail when we come to his amendment. If the gun packs and fell packs are removed by legislation, then I put this question to the Minister: what practical alternatives will there be for the control of foxes in those areas? Unless the Government can come forward with a practical solution, I say to them: think again, and think again fast. They are going to devastate—I repeat, devastate—the lives of people living and working in these areas.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat

The amendments moved and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, are, in my view, demonstrably illogical, unattractively pragmatic and self-evidently tendentious. For those reasons, in part, if I have the opportunity to give a view, I shall support them. I shall do so because it is better to have an unjust law that applies to only part of the country than to have an unjust law that applies to the whole of the country.

That conclusion is not based on a logic which I have learnt from almost four years in your Lordships' House. In my time here I have come to appreciate debates in which decisions are reached largely on their merits, after listening to the arguments. The conclusion that I shall express, if given the opportunity to do so tonight, will be based rather on what I learnt, as it were, at the noble Lord's knee during my 14 years in the other place. That is a House in which, while sometimes one foot may be dragged down into the vortex of the usual channels, the remainder tries to grab hold of the best of what is left of one's energy into trying to achieve a just conclusion on the issue.

It is, of course, completely illogical to suggest that sheep should be protected from foxes in Llanberis, but not in Llandinam, a place mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, when he referred to my close friend Lord Davies of Llandinam, whose hunt I have followed on foot, along with all those ordinary farmers and other people from far and wide who do not wear regalia or anything of that kind and who follow such hunts.

If one looks at the boundaries of any national park, such as, for example, the Snowdonia National Park, one will find many pieces of land where the boundary actually goes through the middle of farmers' fields. This kind of amendment is, as I have said, self-evidently illogical.

What I really want to say to noble Lords is this: if these amendments are agreed tonight, we should not send to the other place the message offered by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours; that is, that we will grab what we can while we can get it. Rather we should send to the other place the message that this House, while it may be prepared to support these amendments, does not support the grounds given; namely, those of expediency. We might send the clear message that we are asking the other place, for once, to apply the standards which are applied daily in this House; namely, the standards of listening to the arguments and judging an issue on its merits.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

Both of these amendments are dedicated to the very worthy cause of protecting sheep, which is all-important for the reasons put forward by my noble friend Lord Kimball. Living, as I do, in the Conwy Valley on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, in the middle of sheep-rearing country, I have great sympathy with the thrust of these amendments, although I cannot support them for reasons that will become obvious, and I prefer registration.

The annual losses incurred by sheep farmers as a result of the onslaught of foxes on their flocks, in particular at lambing time, are staggering. The fox does not simply kill to eat but, as my noble friend pointed out earlier, he kills for kicks—or whatever is the proper term for the feral killer instinct.

Among the many letters that I have received is one from Mr Ifor Evans, who runs the Aber Valley Hunt in my neighbourhood. That hunt is a farmers' gun pack with 12 and a half couple of Welsh hounds. They hunt on foot, usually over difficult terrain, and very hard work it must be. For myself, I cannot see much sport in it. Nevertheless, that hunt has already dispatched, within that small area of the Aber Valley, some 60 foxes—above the usual annual average of 50 foxes. I shall quote selectively from Mr Evans's letter:

"One local family [whom I think I know] lost over a hundred lambs [this season] and the losses occurred between the busy A55 expressway and the Holyhead to London main railway line—an extremely dangerous situation to both man and hound".

I know that stretch of land on the coastal fringe of the national park—land on which there are also protected badgers. Foxes, I am told, are crafty enough to use badger setts to earth in and gain extra protection. That creates another problem. This is where the hounds excel because they do not go underground. They leave the badgers alone and hunt foxes in the open.

Mr Evans continued:

"Another smallholder, a working man, in Betws-y-coed"— in the heart of the national park—

"had the tremendous loss of 41 lambs this spring. All attempts made to catch the fox . . . by followers with shotguns, lamps and squeegers (giving a similar sound to a rabbit in distress) . . . were to no avail. The losses continued until finally a dog fox was flushed out by the hounds and shot on May 4th. The losses ceased, much to the relief of the farmer".

That letter gives a cameo picture of the situation on the ground in at least one national park area which is almost entirely grazed by sheep for most of the year. The ewes are brought close to the home farm in the lowland at lambing time, but foxes are seldom far away and can cause extensive havoc in a single night. I have seen a fox on my lawn at home in August but my most surprising sighting was of a fox in the park keeper's garden by the lake in St James's park within 100 yards of Downing Street. The point is that foxes are not confined to specific locations, and that seems to me to be the fundamental defect of the amendments.

The amendments imply that hunting with dogs should not be prohibited when it is undertaken to protect sheep in a variety of specified locations. Of course, all kinds of questions arise in that context, as we have heard. What happens when the fox is chased from the designated area? Does the hunt then become illegal and cease? Indeed, why should not sheep be protected against foxes wherever and whenever they are threatened?

The amendments offer a crumb of comfort but I prefer the thrust of later amendments that seek to legitimise hunting to prevent damage to livestock. That such protection is necessary, especially so far as concerns sheep flocks, is beyond doubt in my experience. In my area, certainly, people do not keep poultry in the open because the danger of a fox kill has proved to be very real time and time again. The slaughter of lambs and the ravaging of ewes that try to protect their young against foxes is a very common occurrence in the lambing season.

Thanks to a few expert fox hunters and their essential dogs, the numbers of foxes are kept within tolerable proportions. About 60 to 70 are shot every year in my own Rowen Valley but, like my noble friend Lord Peel, I dread to think what the situation will be like if the Bill becomes law and hunting with more than two dogs is prohibited.

Photo of Viscount Ullswater Viscount Ullswater Conservative 5:30, 28 October 2003

My Lords, I was initially attracted to the amendment. I endorse all the comments made by various Members of the Committee about the Ullswater Foxhounds, which is a foot pack that hunts in the Lake District National Park. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, these foot packs are often summoned during the lambing season by farmers who are perhaps being plagued by a rogue fox, which can do quite a lot of damage. Foxes can bite off the head of even a large lamb and carry it away, leaving behind the remainder of the lamb. This is wasteful and distressing to the shepherds. So the hunts provide a very good service.

The use of dogs is widespread in rounding up sheep and moving them to new pastures and so on. From this has grown a sport. "One Man and His Dog" is a popular television programme. We allow this sport—we call it sheep dog trials—because it takes place using domesticated animals rather than wild animals. So that is all right. We have no idea what might be going on in the head of a sheep while it is being chased along. Does it think, "Oh, that's okay, it looks like the boss's sheep dog", or, "Scarper, ladies, it's that alsatian from the pub down the road"? We make these judgments to suit our purpose, and our purpose is livestock production—or, put another way, raising lambs to kill to eat.

I said I was attracted initially to the amendment because of the protection it affords livestock. For every reason suggested by my noble friend Lord Peel, I understand that the land in national parks or other upland areas may increase the difficulty of fox control by all the other methods mentioned, but what reason can be given for distinguishing between a designated area and a non-designated area? Why do foxes gain protection from hunting by crossing a line on a map? If this is a last-ditch amendment, I view it as humbug and hypocrisy. If hunting is humane in the Lake District National Park, it is humane in Leicestershire. I cannot support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

Like my noble friend, I, too, was attracted to the amendment initially. I fully understand the reasons of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for promoting such an amendment and bringing it forward. However, what concerns me most is finding a solution to this very difficult political problem, which has been served up to us by an incompetent government and an irresponsible House of Commons. What really matters is that we should try to solve this problem for all the people out there—some of whom I know very well—who are very distraught, sad, depressed and angry about what is going on. We owe it to the 400,000 who marched through London, if we possibly can, to find a solution.

The Bill we were originally promised was to have been based on principle. Although when it finally arrived in the House of Commons it was a little hard to find out exactly what those principles were—they were enmeshed in expedience, as are so many government Bills—they were there. As we know, principle was removed from the Bill before it arrived here. Last week, in moving the amendments to put back into the Bill the registration process, we were attempting to find a principled solution to this extremely difficult and unpleasant problem.

I completely understand what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, seeks to do by moving the amendment. He has told the Committee that he is not in favour of hunting—that he opposes it—but that he recognises the issues it raises for his former constituents. I cannot help wondering whether Mr Banks would have felt the same if he had been standing for a seat in the Lake District rather than in East London. It would have been rather helpful for us to know, I suspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raises a number of points with his amendments. He recognises, as other noble Lords have pointed out, that hunting with dogs plays a significant role in fox management for sheep farmers. In his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised questions about the amount of predation that sheep farmers suffer. There is a question mark over this issue—there always has been—but the old Ministry of Agriculture, now Defra, has always accepted that there is a problem. It has been recognised that the amount of predation of lambs is usually around 2 or 3 per cent. That seems a very small figure until one realises that it represents about 300,000 lambs every year—a rather larger figure if you happen to be a sheep farmer. So that issue is worth taking into account, and I will say it again: hunting with dogs plays a significant role in fox management for sheep farmers. The evidence on which the Bill was supposedly based found that as well, although the Government may be tempted to forget that today.

The noble Lord also changed his amendment from an earlier draft with regard to permitting the use of dogs. My noble friend Lord Peel said the idea of hunting with one dog was completely ludicrous. To tell the honest truth, hunting with two is not much better. The idea that people devise the hunting of foxes, deer and hares with packs of hounds because it is better and more amusing to have 20, 30 or 40 rather than two is ludicrous. The reality is that you cannot hunt foxes with two hounds. It is not a sensible thing to do—most importantly, it is not a humane thing to do. Nevertheless, the amendment recognises that dogs are needed. When the noble Lord winds up this little debate, I would be interested to know how many dogs he had in mind.

There is again the issue of why sheep should be protected in one part of the country and not another. Why should calves, piglets and other livestock not be protected? It is important to realise that, as more and more pigs are reared outdoors, the level of predation of piglets by foxes will rise considerably. People have been pressing to reform the way in which pigs are farmed in this country, by getting them out of the iron pens and stys and out into the fields, which is very much nicer for the pig. It does, however, mean that there are very much higher levels of fox predation. So there are swings and roundabouts with all these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raises very interesting points. He accepts principles of fox management that the Government appear to have forgotten—the House of Commons has certainly forgotten them. The problem is that by accepting an amendment like this, we possibly deny ourselves any chance of finding a real, long-term and principled solution to the very difficult question raised by the Bill. Therefore, with the deepest regret, I am afraid I shall not be able to support the noble Lord if he divides the Committee.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

We have debated the interests of sheep and a number of other types of livestock quite extensively around the Committee. I begin by declaring an interest as someone who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, owns sheep and lives in a national park—the only difference being that the park I live in is in Scotland. Noble Lords will understand how, subjectively, I must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for tabling these amendments. I can perhaps understand the limitations he has placed on their effect.

The noble Lord drew to our attention the speech made by my noble friend Lord Jopling at Second Reading in which he described a most telling case. Unfortunately, my noble friend is unable to be in his place today, and he has asked me to remind your Lordships about the Plas Machynlleth hounds and how one of the huntsmen of the hounds had to be recalled during the Second World War because the foxes got so out of control that they were threatening food production in the area.

When my noble friend Lord Mancroft mentioned statistics, he was no doubt thinking of those provided in the Burns report, which were taken from studies carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust and other bodies. The studies looked first at lambing in mid-Wales and then at lambing in the whole of England and Wales, not necessarily in national park areas. Burns drew out that the percentage of losses is greatly influenced by the number of sheep that are lambed indoors. He quoted a rate of loss of 0.6 per cent in mid-Wales and a best estimate of less than 2 per cent for England and Wales together. This has perhaps given the impression that, in general, it is not a very serious problem for sheep production. However, he added the rider that the effect of the loss on the individual farmer will vary, depending on his or her circumstances. Most of the circumstances that have been described today have involved people lambing out of doors.

I expect it will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that in the recent Scottish legislation, the use of dogs in the control of foxes, particularly underground, has been allowed as a general rule because the legislators in Scotland were impressed by the importance of this kind of control for sheep farming. Like the Lake District farmer whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned, I should like to share some of my practical experience, which is in slight contrast to the more general statistics provided by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison.

It so happens that this spring, there was a period when I was not able to have someone controlling foxes in my area. I had 40 ewes running in a couple of fields next to the open hill. In the first 10 days, the shepherd lost between 10 and 15 lambs to foxes. This is a man who knows every one of his sheep individually. In the main, healthy lambs, seen with their mothers last thing at night, were not there in the morning. Does the Minister consider that the shepherd's trauma was limited because nobody was there to witness the lambs being killed? This represents about 25 to 30 per cent of the lambs we would expect from these ewes. Our impression was that it tailed off only because the man further up the hill started lambing by the end of this time so the foxes moved on to pastures new, as they will do.

I have more ewes whose lambs were not affected to this extent so, overall, it was not a disaster of the proportions that it might first have appeared. But perhaps this serves as an illustration of what happens in particular areas at particular times if one or more foxes in a sensitive area escape the most effective method of control available. We will come back to this issue later when we debate a number of amendments on the use of dogs underground.

In the mean time, my difficulty with this amendment is that, like a number of other noble Lords, I know that a lot of sheep and livestock do not reside in a national park, and we have before us a Bill which is now to be based on registration. This will allow rational decisions based on individual areas across the country, and it will allow those making the judgment to tailor their decisions on the threats that actually exist.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy) 5:45, 28 October 2003

I shall speak in this debate very briefly. If I am slightly more benign towards my noble friend's amendment than I am to some others which are before us today, it is not because I agree with it but because he, at least, shows some consideration of the fact that the Bill before us, from the House of Commons, has a structure, and his amendment is geared to that structure. Most of the other amendments before us would effectively delete that structure and replace it with something entirely different.

It is therefore important to recognise that my noble friend's amendment could sensibly be considered by the House of Commons within the structure of the Bill originally before us. It could, with some tweaking—some significant tweaking—also be considered in the context of registration, which was agreed in earlier proceedings, although it would not be appropriate to do it in precisely this form.

As to the substance of the proposition, the protection of sheep, particularly in upland areas, was considered as a separate issue when the Government were discussing the Bill at previous stages. Because there were fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting with dogs in other areas, this may not be appropriate in all upland areas, particularly the more remote upland areas, most of which are within national parks. It was therefore suggested that some sort of exemption should be provided there.

On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Harrison indicated, much of this is for flushing out, and the Burns report recognises that the welfare of foxes could be affected adversely unless dogs could be used at least to flush out foxes from cover in upland areas. That, therefore, is a different situation from that which prevails in the rest of the country where, in the estimation of the majority of the House of Commons and the Government in both the original Bill and the Bill which is now before us—or was before us—in most circumstances there will be less cruel methods of conducting the control of foxes. In the upland areas, there is an argument that that might not be so, but most of those could be covered by the exemption in the Bill for flushing out, as my noble friend Lord Harrison suggested.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

What evidence does the Minister have, either from Burns or Portcullis House, that hunting is actually crueller than other methods? That is what he is implying.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

We have discussed that at great length, as we have discussed many amendments at great length. I am not prepared to respond to that question, as I have responded to it in various forms at various stages. Those who supported the Bill originally before this Chamber strongly felt that the cruelty was greater in relation to fox hunting with hounds than in other circumstances. That may not apply in some areas, and it is reasonable therefore that my noble friend should ask the Committee and, subsequently, the House of Commons, to consider whether a further exemption might be necessary.

I do not believe there to be an overwhelming case for that, although I believe that the Committee should consider it. If this Chamber supported it, the House of Commons should consider it—whether by way of the amendment introduced by my noble friend on grounds for defence, or by the method proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in Amendment No. 100, which would add to the exemptions and which we shall reach later. Both those amendments respect the original structure of the Bill, which can be adapted.

I do not believe that the case has been made, and I am not therefore prepared to advise acceptance of the amendment. All that I am saying is that the discussion is somewhat different from some that will come, where the amendments would in effect construct an entirely different Bill from the one sent us by the Commons.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

I thank the Committee for the serious and frank way in which it has considered my amendment. I shall comment briefly on the observations made by those noble Lords who have spoken.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who was wise enough to acknowledge that under my amendment at least one bit of hunting would be preserved. Those were his words. I thank my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for his balanced contribution and his use of the correspondence. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for his recognition that this is a last-ditch attempt. That is precisely what it is.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for his reference to the dangers from the use of high-speed rifles and for his irony; the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, for bringing to the debate his great knowledge of the countryside; and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for his good eye in recognising the gradation of the three amendments. I am afraid that I cannot cede to his request to press Amendment No. 27, as it would be amended in the way he wants. In doing so, I believe that what left this Chamber would not be taken seriously by the House of Commons.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who referred, in the absence of my reference, to the services provided by the hunt, especially during the period of foot and mouth. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for his understanding of the position in the national parks, coming as he does from the north of England. I fully understand the dilemma faced by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who does not want to compromise the principle of registration, which is the position taken by a number of Members on his side of the Committee who are wavering on the amendment.

I have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for his colourful combination of irony and sarcasm, which I so often enjoyed listening to when he was a Member in another place. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, felt unable to support my amendment. I would ask him to recognise that I am putting to the Committee tonight only what I believe to be credible in the other place. I am being as frank as I can; that is my objective.

I am afraid that I have to reject the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who described my amendment as "humbug". Oh, that we could have perfection and consistency in all legislation! I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for at least understanding the problems.

My noble friend the Minister referred to his contribution in response as benign, and I took it in that way. However, in light of the debate, and because there are many people in the Lakeland and in the national park in Wales who are watching what happens during our proceedings this evening, I now wish to test the will of the Committee.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 104; Not-Contents, 68.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Hunting Bill

Aye: 102 Members of the House of Lords

No: 66 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench 6:06, 28 October 2003

We come to Amendment No. 27A. It follows that that is not moved, I take it.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

In the circumstances, and with regret, it is not moved.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

It is pre-empted in any event. Thank you very much.

[Amendment No. 27A not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

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.

The only hunting I have ever done in my life was a brief spell of beagling in County Down when I was a Minister there. I never recall our killing a hare, but I had to desist when the Irish Times revealed that I was doing it, as hunt sabotage in the Province could have carried extreme personal overtones.

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 5—which was of course also in the original Bill—from 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 bulk of the concerns the Burns Report raised about hunting might be addressed through licensing, a regulatory approach or by changing the rules of the hunts".

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 with dogs in language worthy of Alice Through the Looking Glass. More precisely, all coursing is hunting but not all hunting is coursing. If, however, the Minister really believes that coursing is indefensible and that his case, to borrow a word at random, is incontrovertible, why does he not leave it to the registrar to determine the matter and leave the intellectual honesty of the Portcullis House hearings intact? Competitive coursing, which the Burns inquiry said was essentially carried out for recreational purposes, also falls into the same category as shooting or fishing, which are not to be banned, with all the attendant environmental and species management benefits which apply.

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 1951—I 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 title—or 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,

"the welfare of the hare would not be appreciably affected by it [the hare Bill] 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".

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 and Ecology at the University of Kent on the notable beneficial effects of field sports on conservation in the UK.

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 1880—ground game being hares and rabbits. Mr Macpherson wrote:

"A great change has taken place in the numbers of hares that are annually bred in England. Go where you may, one meets almost universally with the same lament, that where you would formerly have seen 20 or 30 hares feeding in the fields on a summer evening, you will now hardly see a single animal".

That was written 16 years after the passage of the Act. This dirge was despite the reactive and recuperative alternative legislation, the Hare Preservation Act, which was introduced in the summer of 1892 in order to rectify matters.

My second quotation is from the Lords Select Committee of 1976 which stated:

"It has been argued that public opinion is increasingly opposed to coursing matches. The Committee point out however that if those canvassed by the societies—" those were the animal welfare societies—

"are as ignorant of the facts as members of the Committee were before the inquiry, the value of the statement must be considered debatable".

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".

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

I hope that in the space of two or three minutes I may be able to persuade some Members of the Committee at least why Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill and why hare coursing is a practice that needs to be outlawed.

I remind the Committee that the original decision to outlaw hare coursing was taken in the House of Commons as long ago as 1970, and it is a measure that has been the subject of Private Members' legislation which has been approved in the other place on numerous occasions since. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, rightly pointed out, even in the Government's original Bill introduced by Mr Michael, hare coursing was described as an "indefensible" activity and would have disappeared.

It was interesting that the noble Lord chose not to describe exactly what happens at hare coursing meetings. When one studies what happens at those events, one finds it almost impossible to believe that there can be any grounds whatever for allowing it to continue. It is an activity—I refuse to use the word "sport" in relation to it—whose purpose is to give pleasure to bystanders by giving them the opportunity to watch a beautiful animal, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, rightly said, being subjected to a gruesome and agonising death. The animal in question, the brown hare, is the subject of a biodiversity action plan, the aim of which is to maintain and expand their population following a huge decline in their numbers over the past century largely as a result of intensive methods of farming.

The Burns report—I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, should have quoted the Burns report in evidence—concluded that,

"there is little or no need to control overall hare numbers".

It also stated that,

"hare hunting and coursing are essentially carried out for recreational purposes".

Hare hunting is covered by Clause 1 of the Bill and we do not need to concern ourselves with that now.

Clause 5 deals with hare coursing events. These involve the setting of two dogs, usually lurchers or greyhounds, on a single hare. The season for hare coursing runs from September to March, which means that the season does not end until after the first litters are born. Hares may be heavily pregnant or nursing when coursed, and the leverets obviously die if their mother is killed.

Competition coursing is funded largely by gambling, and watched by spectators in a coursing arena. The hares are beaten on to a field where handlers are holding the dogs. The hare gets a head start before the dogs are released. As the dogs are bred for speed, they catch up with the hare in seconds. The only chance the hare has of escaping is by turning sharply. It sometimes happens that the two dogs catch the hare simultaneously and then there is a tug of war with the hare in the jaws of both animals. That goes on until the picker-up gets on to the scene and removes the hare, which may still be alive but in intense agony. The officials then try to break the hare's neck, but do not always succeed the first time.

The RSPCA engaged the services of an independent vet to examine the corpses of five hares killed during the 2001 Millennium Cup coursing event. He found that none had died instantly from a bite. The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare carried out 53 post-mortems on coursed hares. None of those had been killed by a bite to the neck. The research commissioned by the Burns committee found that, out of 12 coursed hares, only one was definitely killed by the dogs. Of the remaining 11, five were killed only after the picker-up arrived and broke their necks. In the other six cases, the cause of death was uncertain.

The Waterloo Cup is the highlight of the hare-coursing year. It is held near Southport in February, on the Altcar estate of Lord Leverhulme. It is an area where the number of native hares has been declining since the 1970s, so the organisers have to round up hares in other parts of the country, with Norfolk being the favourite county from which to take them. That increases the cruelty, because hares are confused in unfamiliar territory. When hunted, they tend to run in a large circle in fields that they know.

One courser at the Waterloo Cup this year spoke to the Daily Mirror after the experience. He said:

"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, blindfolded, driven a hundred miles away and then dumped, being chased".

How can any decent, civilised person argue that that is a sport worth preserving?

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I am very grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, because a lot of what he said was emotional and, unusually for him, wrong. If he cares to look at the evidence—there is plenty of it—he will see that the picture is not as he painted it.

We are on a totally different argument from that on fox hunting. The fox is a predator, whereas the hare is probably one of nature's most complete prey animals, but we are still talking about hunting. It is also wise for me to declare my non-interest. I do not have any land. I have been hare coursing once. I have not been fox hunting; I tried once to see what it was like, but I was fogged off so I never got there. As I shall explain, I take a very different view about hare coursing from my view a year ago.

There are two types of what one might call chasing hares. The first is uncontrolled. I have witnessed that in Scotland. It is not a pretty sight—for the hare or for the poor farmer, who is terrified by the mobs that drive on to his land in 4x4 vehicles. Their idea is actually to cause damage and catch the hare. If one looks at controlled coursing by the National Coursing Club, a very different picture emerges. In 116 A.D., Flavius Arianus said:

"The true sportsman does not take out his dogs to destroy the hares, but for the sake of the course . . . and is glad if the hare escapes".

Unlike chasing hares in an uncontrolled manner, the intention is not to kill the hare. No points are awarded in a hare course for killing the hare, and there is great joy for everyone when the hare escapes. As notified in the Burns inquiry, the average course is something like 40 seconds out of the hare's lifespan of three to four years.

Coursing has won every argument, be it on fear, terror, suffering or preservation of the hare, or conservation, diversity or biodiversity. However, it is still persecuted. It is the most investigated country sport. As my noble friend Lord Brooke reminded the Committee, there have been four reports on it since the Second World War. It is the most controlled. The National Coursing Club implements very strict rules on hare coursing, and it has accepted all the recommendations made by the four reports since the war, most notably and recently that by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It also has an inspector on site who is on the side of the hare and is able to stop coursing meetings—he has done so in the past—if he feels that, for any reason, the hare might be at an unfair disadvantage.

Coursing is the most misunderstood country sport. My noble friend Lord Brooke quoted, as I would have, the point made by the Select Committee of this House, which felt that it was totally ignorant of the subject before it began to try to understand it. I, too, would have put myself in that position. That was why I went to a hare-coursing meeting. This time last year, I would not have opposed the Question. I believed some of the hype and emotion in the press and on some television programmes. The more I have looked at properly controlled hare coursing, the more I understand its benefits and that it is not as people have portrayed.

Controlled hare coursing brings enormous benefits to both the hare and the countryside. Man is not the only predator of the hare but the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, did not mention any others. He mentioned that the hare might be pregnant. The hare might be pregnant in May, June or July when the fox does the chasing, or when the mother fox might teach the young foxes what to do. If any Members of the Committee have seen that, they will know that it is nastier, more vicious and inflicts more suffering on the hare than any controlled coursing could.

Man does a huge amount to protect the hare in the areas in which controlled coursing takes place. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is, unusually for him, wrong in saying that hares are transported to hare-coursing meetings and do not know the lie of the land. It is perfectly true that in some parts of the country hares were brought in to restock, but the coursing did not take place until the hares had grown accustomed to that land and the area in which they were.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

Is the noble Earl not aware that, in 1997, the League Against Cruel Sports filmed hares being netted on an estate in East Anglia, an activity supervised by the chairman of the Waterloo Cup, which was taking place only two weeks afterwards?

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

There has been evidence of some of that. Where anything like that has happened in the past, huge attempts have been made to rectify it. The situation that the noble Lord presents is thoroughly overplayed.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

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

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

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 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, 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 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.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 6:45, 28 October 2003

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. 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.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I disagree strongly with those who oppose the Question whether Clause 5 stand part. I am sorry that those who have spoken in support of that position saw fit to do so in a spirit of a win-lose situation. I feel strongly that there is a case for hunting to continue where utility is proved. However, I do not believe that utility is likely ever to be proved in the case of hares.

Here, we are considering the inability to compromise. If we want to see hunting continue in some form, we shall have to accept some compromises. Indeed, the hunting of hares is not a compromise. I believe that it is wrong. One point on which I agree with all noble Lords who have spoken is that hares are beautiful and do not deserve to be hunted. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has been widely quoted, states that there is no need to control overall hare numbers. Other noble Lords have said that he makes the point that they are a biodiversity action plan species and a ban would have little effect in practice on agriculture or other interests.

I do not believe that hares are comparable to rabbits. There are enormous numbers of rabbits, which, therefore, can be classed as pests. I do not think that hares are in that class.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Is she saying that rare animals suffer less pain or more pain than common animals? It seems to be a rather curious point of view that the degree of pain and therefore whether or not we should prohibit hunting depends on the number of animals there are. Perhaps the noble Baroness would tell me whether she is happy for me to continue shooting hares.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I do not think that I have yet advanced an argument either way, although I shall address that point when I come to it.

I believe it is also wrong that all mammals should be subject to registration. Some years ago both Houses of Parliament decided to remove otters from the list of species which could be hunted. No one is saying now that we should hunt otters again, even if that is not seen to be cruel. They are recognised as a species which should not be hunted. I believe that hares fall into the same category as otters as being a species which people are pleased to see in the countryside.

I would ask those opposing the Question that Clause 5 stand part to give serious thought to the fact that the public are largely with them when they say that they do not want a ban on all forms of hunting. Indeed, I do not want a ban on fox hunting. However, there are limits to what the public will find acceptable. We see that 59 per cent oppose a ban on hunting. When I ask members of the public how they feel about the hunting issue—I receive many letters on the subject—they are strongly in favour of not banning fox hunting but almost to a person do not want to see hares hunted.

The argument that just because a lot of illegal coursing takes place we should continue to support legal coursing does not hold water. We should continue to clamp down on illegal coursing. I hope that those opposing the Question that Clause 5 stand part will bear in mind that by pressing it, if that is what they choose to do, they will largely lose the sympathy of the public.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

Perhaps I may make an observation. I am not a follower of hare coursing. Indeed, I have never been to a hare coursing event so I am in no position to speak about it. I admire the advocacy of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who made an extraordinarily robust and acceptable defence of hare coursing.

I am concerned about Clause 5 and what it does. I can understand the Government saying, "We don't want hare coursing. Therefore, it shall be an offence knowingly to facilitate a hare coursing event". It is an offence to permit one's land to be used for the purposes of a hare coursing event, so that stops people using their land. It is wrong for a person to participate in a hare coursing event. Presumably that means that he must not bring his dogs or ensure that the hares will run into the right place. If all that worked there would be no hare coursing.

However, to my mind the coup de grace comes in subsection (1)(b) which states that it is an offence to attend a hare coursing event. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, why should it be an offence to attend an event? If one sees an event taking place, of course one stops and looks. Everyone knows that the world is full of ghouls and if an aeroplane crashes one cannot get along the roads because everyone is stopping and looking. It is not an offence to be present when a burglar burgles a shop, if one happens to be there. It is not an offence to witness someone throwing a brick into a window, but it is an offence to watch someone's dog chasing a hare.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. It is an offence to attend a cock-fight because cock-fighting is illegal.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

I dare say that it is but the point I make is that if hare coursing is made illegal, it should not be a requirement to tell people that they cannot attend. What I find offensive is the Government telling people what they must and must not do, particularly when it comes to people's sport and preferences. When communism was at its height we used to worry a lot and people used to say, "Big Brother is watching you". Big Brother is watching you and telling you what to do now. I think that that is deeply offensive. That is why I do not like Clause 5 and why I hope that it will go.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

The question for us to consider is whether or not coursing is so different and so beyond the pale that it should be banned even if other forms of hunting are allowed. Is it such an awful sport that there can be no argument but that coursing should be prohibited in all circumstances?

I have had absolutely nothing to do with coursing in my life but I went to see two coursing events in North Yorkshire not far from where I live to discover what it is all about. I went with some trepidation because I am as squeamish as I guess many noble Lords are. The thought of two greyhounds tearing a hare apart was fairly difficult to imagine. My last similar experience was to witness bullfighting in rather too much gory detail on Spanish television. I found that appalling and was totally disgusted by it.

Nevertheless, I steeled myself and went to visit these two coursing events and watched the morning's proceedings. I have to tell Members of the Committee that on those two consecutive occasions, to my astonishment no hare was killed. No one was distressed by that. It turned out that the whole purpose was not to kill a hare. Indeed, no points are awarded if the hare is killed. It does happen and I am sure that it is the case, that some 200 hares are killed per year. Apparently some 20,000 are killed on the roads, but the coursing events that now happen under very strict regulation are not about killing hares. I did not appreciate that and I rather suspect that a great many members of the general public do not appreciate that coursing is not about killing these animals. I saw eight pairs of greyhounds being let go to chase the hare. In 16 races between the two greyhounds no hare was killed. I thought that noble Lords would be interested to hear that one example.

That led me to question the sport, if that is what it is, of watching and following greyhounds performing in this way. It is certainly magical to watch. These are very sleek and wonderful dogs. Set in glorious countryside, one can think of very few things that are more pleasurable than standing as I did on a sunny day watching people from all walks of life enjoying themselves. This seemed to me to be a very simple and honourable pastime and not one associated with cruelty, at least in the events that I witnessed.

Is it useful in any way? Utility is the other test. Is it so obvious that it is not useful that it should be banned even if other forms of hunting through a registration and licensing scheme are allowed? It seems that it is useful in the conservation of the countryside. People who enjoy this activity ensure that the woodlands and countryside are in a state that is welcoming to the hare population. As noble Lords have said, hare populations tend to multiply where coursing takes place. It seems to have a beneficial effect on the countryside.

On other interests, I found it useful in the sense that this was a community activity. People came from, I suspect, rather lonely farm lifestyles to participate, to bring their own dogs, which were sometimes nothing to do with the event, and just to share the experience with others. It gathered people together from a wide area of rather remote countryside in north Yorkshire that seemed to me to be useful in a communal and social sense.

So, without prejudging how a registration or licensing system would determine whether coursing should be allowed, I came to the very firm conclusion that it is not self-evident that the cruelty or lack of utility are so obvious in the case of coursing that this clause should stand and that a ban should apply irrespective of whether it applies to any other form of hunting.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 7:00, 28 October 2003

I follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, with great respect. I acknowledge that this is a much more difficult issue than the one we debated earlier today. It is more difficult because one side can be argued with even more—perhaps a great deal more—passion than we heard in support of the Bill earlier today. A very good example of that was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. His speech, if I may say so, represented the high water mark of the passionate case against hare coursing—the high water mark perhaps after a very high spring tide; and none the worse for that.

Equally, we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and of course earlier we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the less passionate but possibly more cerebral case. I oppose the question because I think that Clause 5 is too widely drawn. I am satisfied that the law at the moment on hare coursing is exactly as it should be. The clause is too widely drawn in prohibiting it altogether.

I should like to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Best, by quoting—and I can do so very briefly as the points have been argued so well on both sides—from personal experience, which I admit at once is slight on my side. In the mid-1970s I was a new Member of Parliament. Once again the legality of hare coursing was a public issue. I was perfectly happy about hunting with dogs—as one must call it—because I knew something about that, but I knew nothing about hare coursing. I had many anxieties about hare coursing.

So I took myself to a meeting on Romney Marsh of the Jack Jones coursing club, which is one of the oldest coursing clubs in the country. I went incognito. I have to say to noble Lords that I did not find much problem about that. I watched to see what happened. I was completely reassured. There was a long line of followers or supporters in the form of a gentle crescent. At each end a greyhound was held on a leash. The line moved slowly forward across the great marsh meadows. When a hare jumped up and had a lead of some 75 or 100 yards, the greyhounds were loosed at each end and off they went.

Noble Lords have said very clearly—and with much better access to it than I can describe—what the purpose of coursing is. It is not to kill the hare; it is to judge the agility of the hounds as the hare jigs. The hare was killed on one occasion out of many courses. I was very glad to find that the purpose was not to kill the hare. I came away feeling very reassured. I thought it was proportionate, fair and, as I say, the hare nearly always won.

I must be frank with the Committee, I have not been coursing again. However, from the arguments today—and I have listened with care and great sympathy to both sides—I certainly am not persuaded that the law should be changed so that no one else should ever go coursing again.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

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

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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

A noble Lord:

I will pass it over.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

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.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

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.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

To be clear, in The Wind in the Willows it was a water rat and not a common land rat.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

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.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

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.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

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.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

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

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

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.

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.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 7:15, 28 October 2003

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—

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

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

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

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.

Photo of The Bishop of Hereford The Bishop of Hereford Bishop

I oppose the Question but I speak as a recent convert to that point of view. I take seriously what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I might have made a similar speech a year ago, although without his passion and eloquence. I also take seriously what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. She told the House that public opinion would not support a similar attitude towards coursing as, by and large, it would towards fox hunting. The Committee will have to weigh that argument in deciding on the matter.

A year ago, I would have taken the view that hare coursing was self-evidently wrong and should be banned. It has been part of my slow, painful and rather shameful education to have found out enough about coursing to know that, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and others have said, it is not as the public generally understands it to be. There is a huge amount of ignorance, but I see no reason why coursing should not be subject to the same conditions as fox hunting, or that the decision should not be made by the registrar.

I speak as a convert. I hope and believe that if the same principle were to apply to hare coursing as to fox hunting, the general public would come to understand it—as the great majority of the public has come to understand a great deal more about fox hunting than it knew five years ago. I oppose the Question; I hope that the Committee will also do so.

Photo of Viscount Ullswater Viscount Ullswater Conservative

I ought to declare an interest, because my wife is a member of a coursing club in East Anglia. I have therefore attended a number of coursing events. I must start by saying that the coursing events to which I have been, which are whippet coursing, bear no relation whatever to those described by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. There is no crowd; there is a single line of people with their dogs. There is no driven game; it is all walked up. There is no betting; there are no people such as that.

What the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, described, happens—certainly at the Waterloo Cup and other venues—but much coursing happens in a simple way, which is a competition between two dogs. They may be whippets, salukis, greyhounds or deerhounds; there are various sorts of clubs. The noble Lord, Lord Best, gave the other view by describing his recent experience of what happens when coursing. It would be wrong if Members of the Committee listened only to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and took that view of what coursing is all about.

The Game Conservancy Trust says that on estates where coursing is practised hare stocks are maintained at some of the highest levels in the country. My contention is that coursing plays an important part in hare conservation. Recent surveys suggest that there is a wintering population of some 800,000 hares, and the Biodiversity Action Plan suggests that by 2010 our countryside should support at least 2 million animals in winter.

I have turned to the Burns report to see what it says about hare and animal welfare. It quotes from the report of a House of Lords Select Committee that examined a coursing Bill in 1976—it was also referred to by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. I shall quote from a part of the report that I do not believe he cited. It concluded that,

"the total physical suffering caused by coursing matches is negligible compared with the suffering of hares wounded by shooting".

The Burns report concludes at paragraph 6.69:

"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".

That is not a ringing endorsement for the most common method of hare control used at present—shooting.

As Members of the Committee know, coursing clubs have their strict rules. The few hares caught are usually caught extremely quickly, and the number caught has been demonstrated as being very low. Why single out coursing for special treatment in Clause 5?

The Government have ratified the UN 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, which urges signatories to,

"respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity".

I started by saying that, where coursing is practised, the number of hares is at some of the highest levels in the country. The Government should support the practices of local communities and recognise that hare coursing plays a useful role in the Biodiversity Action Plan.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I shall explain briefly my own views. I have never been to a hare coursing event. Had the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford not said what he said, I would have said it. I was very sceptical about hare coursing until I went to the presentation. I feel much more confident in organisers' ability and the thinking behind the way in which they organise coursing events.

I was grateful to my noble friend for the way in which he introduced the debate. It is perhaps the most controversial and difficult issue that Members of the Committee face today, as has been explained by other noble Lords who spoke. We are asking the Government to treat this clause in the same way as they treat other parts of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked whether it was so bad, and why it should be considered differently. I agree. The House of Lords Select Committee, which has been referred to several times, has said that hares suffer less than they would as a result of shooting.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, made a very impassioned speech. I understand that it is a very impassioned debate, as it is the one about which people feel strongest. My noble friend Lord Peel stole my thunder, but I repeat the Burns report's conclusion that,

"in the case of the hare, on those estates which favour hare coursing or hunting, rather than shooting, a ban might"—

I use the word "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".

Many views have been put forward today. I hope that it has been made clear that we are talking about legal hare coursing, not illegal hare coursing, which we have sometimes debated at length in the House of Lords. We are all against illegal hare coursing, and the sooner it is stopped the better. We are talking about organised legal coursing. We must decide whether we oppose the Question that Clause 5 stand part and believe that hare coursing should be treated in the same way as other areas of hunting. In my view, that is what we should do. I will support my noble friend.

Photo of Baroness Strange Baroness Strange Crossbench

I did not mean to stand up, but I could not resist doing so. I went coursing often as a child. Unlike my noble friend Lord Faulkner, I have never been unlucky enough to see a hare killed. However, I admired how the hares ran and very much admired the dogs. The question is that of killing hares. We all love hares. But should we not ban cars? We once found a hare that had been run over on the road and had its back leg badly broken. We took it home, amputated its back leg, kept it in a box of hay for two weeks and then released it. It was perfectly all right. Three years later, we saw the same hare, with three legs, perfectly happy and feeding all right. I am very worried about cars. I do not think that we should ban cars, as they are very useful, but that is part of the argument.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy) 7:30, 28 October 2003

My first point is technical. Some Members of the Committee, latterly the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, have said that all they are trying to do is to put hare coursing events on the same basis as everything else. That is not what the deletion of the clause would do. It would leave hare coursing totally unregulated—in an area where, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, there is huge public anxiety about such events.

As the Bill now stands, if we go for a registration system, hare hunting falls under Clause 1. Sometimes the term "coursing" is used for informal hare hunting. This clause is about organised hare coursing events, the purpose of which is to test the skill of dogs, not pest control or conservation. It is defined in Clause 5 as,

"a competition in which dogs are, by the use of live hares, assessed as to skill in hunting hares".

It is true that the main purpose is not to kill the hare, but frequently it is killed. The whole point of the event is to bet or otherwise compare the skills of dogs in chasing a hare. In terms of the registration system, that has no utility in pest control, and I would dispute whether it has any utility whatever in conservation. The Biodiversity Action Plan for the hare in no sense depends on hare coursing being maintained.

The technical point is that if the clause is deleted, there will be no regulation. It is not treating hare coursing differently from everything else. Hare coursing events will not be covered by the registration on which we voted last week; they will be excluded. Yet it is an area of huge public anxiety.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

Will the noble Lord explain that again? Why would it not be covered by the registration system as so much else is?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat

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).

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat

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)?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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 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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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 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.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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—

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

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 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.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

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.

Noble Lords:

Order!

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

I assume that I am entitled to reply to the debate. I apologise to the Chair. It has been an excellent debate, and I thank everybody who took part in it. It has been good humoured.

If I single out the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, it is because he constituted the major opposition to deleting the clause prior to the Minister's speech. The noble Lord said that people gathered to watch an animal subjected to an agonising death. When journalists ask if they may take pictures, the National Coursing Club takes them to the top of the course. If the journalists ask why they have been taken there, it is explained to them that, if a death is to occur, that is where it will occur. The reason that the crowd is so far away, not watching the death, is that it has come to see the skill of the greyhounds and the hare in competitive coursing.

The noble Lord said that I omitted to refer to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, had indicated that there was no conservationist plus to be had from hare coursing in terms of numbers. I did not say that. First, hare coursing is not engaged in for that purpose, and, secondly, it would have been wrong for me to contradict, in a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, when I believe him to be right. Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, said that the hare coursing season went from September to March. I am not a lawyer, but there is a touch of suggestio falsi in that. The season starts on 1st October and ends on 28th February. I mean no disservice or disbelief, but the noble Lord was pushing it a bit with that observation.

My noble friend Lord Ullswater referred to the disappearance of the bookies from hare coursing and, thus, the disappearance, effectively, of gambling. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, said that the autopsies that had been done on five hares indicated that none of them died as a result of a bite. That is not surprising, as it is not how hares die in hare coursing. They are hit by a greyhound that is much heavier than they are and is going at extreme speed. As somebody once remarked, it is like a Reliant motor car being hit by a truck. I am not suggesting that that is not a painful process, but it is not the process that the noble Lord described. That applies also to the remarks that he made about hares being found in the jaws of both animals. It might apply to a dead hare, but it would not apply to a live one.

My noble friend Lord Caithness dealt with the rules that the National Coursing Club has about movements. My noble friend Lord Mancroft dealt with the subsequent allegation from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

I challenged the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to produce the evidence, and he could not. I do not want that to be repeated.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 7:45, 28 October 2003

My very good friend the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will wait. I was saying that that matter would be determined outside the Chamber, rather than inside it tonight. Before the noble Lord becomes too supportive of the League Against Cruel Sports, I must say that, in a recent advertisement, it said that hares that survive the experience die of exhaustion. That was taken to the Advertising Standards Authority, which found it unsubstantiated and ordered the League Against Cruel Sports not to repeat it. The noble Lord must be careful about the quality of at least some of the evidence that he quotes.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

The noble Lord corrected something that I said about the season for coursing. Paragraph 2.54 of the Burns report says:

"Coursing by registered clubs takes place from 15 September to 10 March".

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

I am happy to take that intervention from the noble Lord. However, he did not pay attention to what I said. The National Coursing Club has changed its rules in five respects since the Burns report, and that is one of them. I acknowledge what the Burns report said, but the up-to-date situation is different.

I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for their support. They put more eloquently the things that I might have said, if I had not subjected myself to a degree of self-restraint at the beginning of the debate.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, I must say that approximately 200,000 acres are used by the coursing clubs on coursing estates. Since the Burns report, the National Coursing Club has carried out an investigation of the consequences of ending coursing. The figures from Dr Wise that were quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, are accurate. It looks as though ending coursing would lead to the shooting of 30,000 hares on those 200,000 acres. That is an area four times the size of Birmingham. I acknowledge that, according to Dr Wise, only one quarter are not shot cleanly and that only 10 per cent are not then picked up by gundogs. However, that still leaves 720 hares that will die an extremely painful death in order for the noble Baroness to stop 220 deaths by hare coursing, almost all of which happen instantaneously.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, on his personal initiative and his exceptionally objective speech. I also congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who went to similar trouble.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has already been engaged in a degree of disagreement. I will not carry that further, except to say again that I never said that the issue was one of pest control. The noble Lord said that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, had said that the process,

"seriously compromises the welfare of the hare".

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, has since said that he regrets using those words because he did not have a basis of scientific certainty for saying them. He did not know one way or the other.

I thank my noble friend Lord Peel. I also thank my noble friend Lord Onslow, from the heart of the countryside, for the common sense of his observations, even though he found fault with my championship of Durer. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who joined the noble Lord, Lord Best, as a thoughtful convert. I thank my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for winding up the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft responded to the first point that the Minister made. In my opening speech, I said that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, had emphasised the recreational purposes of hare coursing and that, therefore, it fell into the same category as shooting and fishing. It is curious that shooting and fishing are fcoutside the Bill, while hare coursing has been put in, unless that is because coursing has always been linked with hunting in all previous Bills.

The Minister said that we would cross a Rubicon if we deleted the clause. However, as I said, the Minister in the Commons said that hare coursing was indefensible, whereas any number of Members of the Committee have shown in eloquent speeches that it is defensible.

I shall end with Dr Stoddart's evidence to the Lords Select Committee. He was giving evidence as a witness for the RSPCA, which he advised. His evidence has not been specifically refuted since 1976. Incidentally, I hope that the quotation will repair my standing with my noble friend Lord Onslow. Dr Stoddart said:

"The hare is a prey species, that is to say it has evolved with the capacity to move with great speed and to escape from its predators by that means and by jinking. Its flight is a natural instinctive and behavioural response; it is, in fact, a normal state of affairs.

"Just as it is biologically necessary for an animal to heed the warnings of physical pain, so also it is biologically necessary that an animal of a prey species should not suffer psychologically by being chased. "If an animal did so suffer, its capacity to escape would be impaired and the species would risk elimination by a process of natural selection. In addition to these considerations, it must be observed that an animal of a prey species like a hare has also evolved the capacity to instinctively resume, very quickly after the chase is over, exactly what it was doing before the chase began".

On the basis of the debate, I believe that a majority of the Committee wishes the matter to be put to the test, and I therefore ask that it should be.

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 129.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Hunting Bill

Aye: 57 Members of the House of Lords

No: 127 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and Clause 5 disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 8:02, 28 October 2003

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before two minutes past nine.

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

House resumed.