On 17th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill in the sixth day of the report stage. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, supporting amendments that would place restrictions and penalties on hare coursing (hunting hares with dogs):
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. It is a great delight to stand in the House and congratulate the Government on tabling these amendments to address this very serious rural problem of hare-coursing, which has affected so many landowners and farmers across these islands. In particular, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, who really listened to the debate, when people from every part of the Chamber spoke. I know that he has taken that back to others. I am hugely grateful to him for doing that.
I know that this is something that the Government were keen to do and that the consultations with Defra and others were ongoing during the passage of the Bill, so I am grateful that we will not see the delay we thought we would face and that we can offer protection to rural communities and, indeed, hares. I will not say much about the actual amendments—they have been laid out already before us—but I note that the changes the Government are bringing forward are the result of a long-running campaign. I pay tribute to organisations such as the NFU, the CLA and others, which have continually raised this issue and campaigned for a change in the law.
I also pay tribute to our rural police forces and our rural police and crime commissioners. I have been speaking to those in my area who work in my diocese, and this has been a real issue for them. It has been very helpful that they have provided input and feedback on the sort of legislative changes that would be most useful to assist them to be more assiduous in combating hare-coursing. I hope these amendments will go a long way to assist the police to do this.
Of course, there will be some other problems beyond the legislative changes, such as with local police resources and their ability to arrive on time and in sufficient numbers to deal with it. That being said, this is a victory for rural communities, rural police forces, hares and, I believe, Her Majesty’s Government; I strongly welcome it.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP): My Lords, I commend the government amendments, and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his successful campaigning and all those behind it. It is great that we are seeing an awareness of the huge issues around wildlife crime, but this is very much a piecemeal approach, addressing one small element of wildlife crime, as important as it is. As the right reverend Prelate said, this is about the welfare of hares, as well as what is happening to people living in the countryside.
I ask the Minister—if he cannot respond now, I would appreciate a response by letter—whether the Government are considering doing something about the welfare of hares, particularly those being caught in spring and snare traps. There is a particular issue around Fenn traps approached by tunnels. There is guidance that says they should be restricted in size to the target species, but there is no legal provision on that. I am afraid there is some very disturbing documentation of hares, and pieces of hares, being found in such traps, and in Perdix traps. Think about what happens to an animal trapped by a paw and left to die, possibly for days, in terror and pain; I hope that that is something the Government are thinking about dealing with.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): My Lords, we welcome these amendments, although, considering that the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, published early last year, said that the Government would bring in legislation to crack down on the illegal practice of hare coursing, it was a little disappointing that this was not included in the Bill from the very start. We too offer our congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on his sterling work in bringing forward amendments and continuing to press the Government on this issue. Also, as he and others have done, we praise organisations such as the NFU and CLA for their campaigning over many years on this issue.
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