Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 893: debated on Friday 13 June 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Friday 13th June 1975

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Local Government

With your permission, Mr. Speaker and that of the House, I wish to present a petition which has more than 5,000 signatures, collected very quickly, and which has been organised by the Keighley Branch of the National Housewives Association and the Ratepayers Federation.

The people who have signed it are concerned at the disastrous consequences of local government reorganisation and the huge increase in the size of units with the consequent difficulties of ensuring proper scrutiny of expenditure. They have the impression that in local government there are too many highly-paid chiefs and not enough Indians.

The petitioners are particularly concerned at the growth of such things as public relations departments, which they see as expensive and unnecessary when there are many more urgent priorities such as education and the social services starved of facilities. It is very much hoped that the Government will take notice of this petition so that local government can undergo an examination with a view to instituting a policy of decentralisation in the years ahead.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that
A broadly-based team of investigators be established to look into the waste of ratepayers' money in local government which has resulted in a further massive increase in this years' rate in the Bradford Metropolitan area and elsewhere."
and call for
"drastic reductions in the number of administrative offices and staff in local government departments."
The petition concludes
"And your Petitioners, as in duty will ever pray."

To lie upon the Table.

Houghton Main Colliery (Explosion)

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the explosion at Houghton Main Colliery, South Yorkshire, in which a number of miners are reported to have lost their lives.

At 7.15 p.m. last evening an explosion from a cause as yet unknown took place at the Houghton Main Colliery, resulting in a large fall of roof. About 200 men were underground at the time. Work was stopped immediately and the pit evacuated, and I am glad to say that the great majority of the men managed to get to the surface unharmed. I am deeply distressed to have to inform the House that five men were killed and another man was badly burned and is in hospital. I am sure that the whole House will wish to extend its wholehearted sympathy to the relatives, friends and colleagues of the five men who were killed and the injured man, and to pay tribute to the rescue teams, who have in the best traditions of the industry done all that could be done in what I understand were most difficult conditions.

The accident will be fully investigated by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines and Quarries with the co-operation of the National Coal Board and the trade unions concerned.

I am deeply grateful to the Minister for making that statement. May I be associated with the message of sympathy which has been sent to the relatives of the bereaved men and with the message of help and sustenance to those who have been injured? May I also express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and other Ministers in the Department, who, I understand, have hurried to the pithead to be present and to convey the feelings of this House to the relatives of those concerned?

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am pleased to hear that there will be an investigation?

At this point may I pay tribute to the men for the orderly way in which they left the mine? I am told that there was no lack of volunteers for rescue work among those who had been evacuated from the mine.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I would expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy as soon as possible but that I am grateful to him for making this statement at such short notice?

There are two Departments with responsibility in this area—the Department of Energy, of course, and my own Department, which is responsible for the Health and Safety Commission. As my hon. Friend said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is at the moment at the colliery, as is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. Also there are Derek Ezra, the Chairman of the National Coal Board, and Bill Simpson, the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission.

I join my hon. Friend in his remarks about the work of the rescue teams. It is voluntary work done by men trained to a high degree for work which calls for the utmost courage.

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition wish to be associated with his expressions of sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives, and that we, too, congratulate the rescue teams, perhaps all the more since this is an area of the coal field which has had some other sad accidents in recent years?

Can the Minister say what form the inquiry will take, how it will be conducted and what plans there are? It may be too early for him to say, but some indication would be helpful to the House.

My information is that some of those who have been at the colliery in recent hours are of the view that an inquiry should take place. The formal responsibility for a public inquiry lies with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. He will make his decision, having considered the recommendations of the Health and Safety Commission. I can assure the House that if there is a request serious consideration will be given to whether or not a public inquiry is necessary.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Liberal Bench, I join the expressions of sympathy to the next of kin of those who lost their lives and compliment not only the rescue services but also the courage of the development teams, which have the most dangerous tasks to perform, and also our colleagues who are at the coal face doing what they can to help.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentlemen for those remarks. It must be a very difficult decision for hon. Members to choose whether to be at the colliery or here. But we welcome the presence here of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall), who represents the constituency in which the accident occurred, and we know that he is here out of a sense of the need for the constituency to be represented on such an occasion. We know, too, that he will be quickly with his constituents as soon as this matter is concluded.

Will my hon. Friend accept that in cases like this it is very nice to hear expressions of sympathy, and, of course, I associate myself totally with them, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall)? However, we should also bear in mind, when there are other questions relating to miners and other heavy industrial workers who suffer on occasions like this, that we should have the same sympathy for them when they are in any struggle on the industrial front. Any investigation has to take into account the fact that in the mining industry, whether we like it or not, the chances of improving productivity are becoming more difficult every day because we are working thinner seams and because the geology is getting more difficult. Therefore, the chances of raising productivity are reduced as each day goes by. Therefore, any investigation must take into account the fact that in many cases the optimum has been reached regarding extra productivity and that the chances of accidents of this kind will be heightened unless additional safeguards are adopted along the lines that many of us have been suggesting from time to time.

I take very much the spirit of what my hon. Friend said. There is a price to be paid for many of the services provided for the country by those working in dangerous jobs. Although we at the House of Commons tend to be more conscious of this on special occasions when disasters of this kind are brought to our notice, we should have very much in mind when we discuss the conditions of those working in industries that this is part of the overall picture which has to be considered when determining matters of productivity and remuneration in those areas.

Orders Of The Day

Hare Coursing Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.15 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I should inform the House that about 30 right hon. and hon. Members already have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. I hope that regard will be had to that fact, especially because I know that among Opposition Members opinions are divided on the Bill. I want to give every hon. Member who wishes to speak an opportunity to do so if I can.

The Bill which I have the pleasure of presenting to the House today is one whose purpose is very familiar to hon. Members. It seeks to make competitive hare coursing illegal. This has been the purpose of a sequence of Bills regularly introduced into this House by Private Members over the past 10 years, and, despite mounting evidence of public concern, those Bills were as regularly blocked by those who support coursing. In this connection I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw), Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), Rugby (Mr. Price), Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), and Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton), all of whose efforts in this matter over the years have paved the way for the successful passage of the Bill that we debate today.

Some hon. Members will no doubt ask why the Government have departed from the tradition that leaves to the initiative of Private Members legislation relating to field sports and many other matters of animal welfare. The repeated efforts of Private Members to abolish hare coursing illustrates the long-standing concern in this House, especially among Government supporters.

This is not the first time but the second time that the Government have introduced such a Bill. In 1970 the Government's Bill was given a Second Reading by 203 votes to 70 but fell with the Dissolution. Despite this clear indication of this House's support in principle for legislation to abolish hare coursing, Private Members' Bills introduced in the succeeding Sessions have continued to be blocked without coming to debate. We have taken into account the outcome of the Second Reading debate in 1970 and the growing strength of public concern about this matter. This is manifest not only in the petition of more than a million signatures recently presented to this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull Central but also in the size of my own post-bag at the Home Office and, I am sure, the postbags of most hon. Members. It is, furthermore, our view that the sport, as it is called, is cruel and, to quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, a barbarous anachronism in the last quarter of the 20th century.

I see no reason to apologise to the House for the Government's introduction of the Bill. Since we returned to power in February 1974, we have made no secret of our intention to legislate on this matter. It was an undertaking reiterated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House both before and after our reelection last autumn and confirmed by the Prime Minister in the debate on the Queen's Speech. Today, we are fulfilling that undertaking.

Equally, I do not consider it necessary to spend much time on the objection that we have heard, and no doubt will hear again today, that the House should be debating matters of greater moment at the present time. This is a stereotyped objection to be used at such times by the opponents of any measure, however laudable, on any Friday afternoon. In any case, this is a matter of great concern to very many people. They will not criticise the Government, but applaud them for finding time for this debate. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said just before the recent recess,
"It is always right to spend time trying to get rid of cruelty, whether to human beings or to animals, and that is what we are doing."— [Official Report, 22nd May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 1622.]
Turning to the Bill itself, I want first to explain why the Government consider it necessary to legislate to ban competitive hare coursing.

If one reads the report of the Scott Henderson Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals or "A Review of Coursing", a 1971 report by Stable and Stuttard commissioned by the British Field Sports Society, certain clear facts about coursing emerge.

First, the object of coursing, as carried out under the rules of the National Coursing Club, is not the control of hares. Its purpose is to test the merits of the dogs involved for speed, stamina and coursing ability. Secondly, however long the slip—that is, the distance from the dogs that the hare is when the dogs are released—the hare, for the period of the course, is running for its life. Thirdly, however long the slip, some hares are caught and killed. I believe the average was thought to be about 20 per cent. to 25 per cent of those coursed, although it may have decreased with the increase in the length of slip recommended by the Stable Report. Lastly, despite amendment of the rules to require more "pickers up"—the officials responsible for ensuring the hare is killed with as little delay as possible—inevitably the dogs do not kill all the hares they catch instantaneously and there is a period of varying length before the pickers up can reach the hare and kill it.

In short, for the entertainment of the spectators and the gratification of the owners of the dogs, a wild animal is put in fear and at risk of its life and, in certain cases, may suffer a death which is painful and certainly not necessarily immediate.

The Government consider that this sport is cruel and is no longer acceptable to public opinion at large in this country.

Have the Government considered whether fishing is cruel?

The Bill before the House is to make hare coursing matches illegal. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] If the House would like me to spend some of its time now talking about the general issue of sports and their illegality or legality, I could make my speech considerably longer. [Hon. Members: "Do so."] I know that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, but I have a note fully prepared about the Government's intentions towards field sports in general which I had intended to talk about in my summing-up speech. However, in view of the demand for some reference to this subject, I will refer to it now.

Some years ago the Departments concerned considered the general question of legislating to bring field sports in general under control. The problems and considerations arising in relation to individual sports are many and various, and the issues are by no means so clear-cut as in the case of hare coursing. The Departments concluded that a comprehensive measure dealing with all field sports—including, I assume, fishing—would, in any case, be bound to be complicated.

Our present view is that the better way of tackling the matter is to deal with one activity at a time. At this stage—and I stress this qualification—the Government have no proposals to introduce legislation to deal with other field sports, but we reserve our freedom to take such action in respect of any other specific activity as may appear necessary or appropriate.

I now return to the subject of the Bill before the House.

Those who defend hare coursing have asked, and will no doubt again ask today, why the Government have brought forward this Bill to ban competitive coursing when the last official committee, the Scott Henderson Committee, which reported as long ago as 1951, did not recommend the banning of coursing and when the more recent review of Stable and Stuttard found no grounds for its abolition.

Whenever hare coursing has been debated in this House in recent years, one of the features of the debate has been the detailed attention given to the words of Scott Henderson on this matter. Rather like a classical text, they have been analysed and pored over until the last drop of significance has been drawn from them. The obscurities of this 24year-old text are known to hon. Members, and I do not think it worth squeezing this old orange any more. I would merely recall the conclusion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) in the debate on the previous Government Bill who, after analysing the logic of the committee's report, said:
"It seems to me that the committee hovered on the brink of condemning competitive coursing and coming out with a firm recommendation that it should be prohibited, and then drew back and settled for what might be described as a neutral attitude…. It is now very nearly 20 years since the Scott Henderson Committee reported, and it is clear that whatever public opinion was towards the sport at the time, it is now no longer prepared to tolerate this activity purely in the interests of sport"— [Official Report, 14th May 1970; Vol. 801, c. 1527.]
Certainly the question of public opinion carried some weight with Scott Henderson, and there is no doubt that the remarks made by my predecessor are equally true of the state of public opinion in 1975. For this reason we cannot accept the committee's attitude of neutrality. We find competitive coursing objectionable, and we are confident that this is the view of the great majority of people today.

Turning to the review by Stable and Stuttard, with which not all hon. Members may be familiar, I should first say that this was not commissioned by the Government. It was initiated by the British Field Sports Society in order
"to obtain, as far as possible an objective report incorporating any recommendations which we might make for amendment of the rules"—
the rules of coursing—
"for consideration by the National Coursing Club."
Its primary task was addressed not to the question whether it is right in principle for competitive hare coursing to continue, but to a re-examination of the rules and conduct of the sport. But it concluded that it should be set in a wider context, and it went on to re-examine the question of cruelty and to draw its own conclusions. I shall comment briefly upon these in a minute.

However, the explanation of the origin and purpose of the review is enough to show why the Government do not feel in any way bound by the review's conclusions. In saying this I do not wish to undervalue what is a thorough and interesting report but merely to point out that it comes out of the wrong kind of stable.

On the question of cruelty, the Stable review suggested that to the principles proposed by Scott Henderson for the acceptability of a particular sporting activity there should be added the criterion that the degree of suffering caused should not exceed that associated with the usual fate of the animal in nature. About this criterion I would make one comment. It entirely misses the point of the case against competitive hare coursing. In nature the hare, like any other animal, takes its chance. It is at risk of death by natural causes, from disease, from predators, from starvation or from extremes of weather. In competitive coursing, on the other hand, for the purposes of what we call sport, for the enjoyment of the participants and for no other reason, the hare is made to run in terror for its life and is put in risk of dying a fearful and painful death. Of course, nature is red in tooth and claw. We did not need to be told that. What we cannot accept, and what I believe is no longer acceptable to public opinion in this country, is that the risk of death by coursing should be added to those risks which the hare already naturally runs.

I have two further points of a general nature to add before making a few comments on the detail of the Bill. First, there are the allegations that this Bill is an attack by an ignorant urban majority upon the harmless and simple pleasures of a small minority of country people or, alternatively, that it is an attack motivated by class prejudice.

The Stable report has clearly demonstrated that, although coursing, by its very nature, is a country sport, there is a substantial group of townspeople who take part and, further, that there is little substance in the idea that this is an exclusively upper-class pastime. However, the crucial weakness of this kind of argument is that it can be used with appropriate modifications to defend any sort of minority activity. All it does is to divert attention from the nature of the case against the activity itself towards the imagined prejudices of those who are advancing that case. It could equally well have been used, and perhaps was, to defend bull-baiting or cock-fighting. I am not necessarily equating these with hare coursing, but I am criticising the logic of this particular argument used by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in a passionate speech, and showing why the Government find it unpersuasive.

Secondly, I want to comment on the argument that may be advanced today that competitive coursing plays a significant part in the conservation of hares. I make no observation one way or the other on the view that some have expressed that coursing tends to conserve. What I do say is that it seems to me somewhat perverse to suggest that the way of conserving a species is to put it at greater risk of suffering a violent and painful death. If it is the case that environmental pressures are such that the hare is in need of protection for conservation purposes, the right answer is conservation legislation which will protect it, on the lines, for example, of the Badgers Act 1973 or of the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Protection Bill, which has passed through this House and is at present being considered in another place.

The Bill before the House today is the same as that introduced by the Government in 1970, except in two respects, with which I shall deal later. However, one point needs some elaboration. The Bill is confined to the single issue of competitive hare coursing. Clause 1 prohibits the coursing—that is, the pursuit by sight—of a hare by two or more dogs in a competition where the basic object is to compare the relative coursing abilities of the dogs. The Bill will not make illegal the hunting of hares by beagles or harriers, nor interfere with the right of the farmer to set his dog or dogs after a hare to catch and kill it for control purposes, nor will it create a criminal offence if two people are taking a country walk with their dogs and the dogs put up and pursue a hare. What we are concerned to prohibit is competitive coursing as it is now organised.

Those who oppose the Bill have criticised a Bill of this scope on the ground that it will not achieve the stated purpose of preventing cruelty to hares by coursing. One suggestion is that competitive coursing will go underground, or, as the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)—perhaps I could have his attention—has suggested picturesquely, that this will send hare coursing into the back streets. Whether it is sent underground or into the back streets—

I should have thought it would have been jugged hare for him.

Another suggestion is that it will continue, freed from the guardianship of the protective rules of the National Coursing Club, with dogs being set upon hares purely for the "sport" of seeing them run down and killed.

On the first point raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely, such activity, underground hare coursing or hare coursing in the back streets, may occur for a limited time after the prohibition of coursing becomes effective. However, in our view, it is unlikely to flourish in those conditions for very long. It would have to be a hole-and-corner affair. Judging would be difficult. There would be but a handful of spectators, or, more likely, no spectators to encourage the activity, and without the major events in which the dogs could be entered there would be little incentive to continue training coursing dogs. I shall, however, mention this point further in connection with penalties.

I find equally unconvincing the other argument, that coursing will take place not to test and compare the dogs' abilities at coursing but to kill the hare without any of the so-called safeguards provided by the National Coursing Club rules.

A large part of the case of those who support coursing has rested upon the proposition that they are interested in the performance of the dogs and not in the kill. They feel admiration for the hare. The rules are devised to give it a sporting chance and to bring the best out of the dogs as coursers and not as killers. Indeed, 80 per cent. or so of hares are said to escape and the dog that wins the course is not necessarily the one that makes the kill. Are we to suppose, then, that if the Bill is enacted, these people who have followed coursing for these reasons will as eagerly follow coursing where there is no competition between the dogs, where the hare has no chance and where the whole attention is focused on the kill? I do not find the argument persuasive.

Before the hon. Lady leaves that point, will she tell us whether she has taken steps to see hare coursing for herself?

No, I have not seen hare coursing—nor have I seen a man hanged, a woman raped or a baby battered. It is not necessary to witness cruelty in order to condemn it.

Finally, I want to mention the two changes in the Bill that we have made since 1970. First, the penalties have been increased. This partly reflects the change in the value of money since 1970. [Interruption.] I do not, even if goaded by hon. Members, intend to discuss inflation.

However, this also is intended as a more substantial financial deterrent to those who for a while might be tempted by the prospect of gain, for example from betting, to organise clandestine meetings. Secondly, we have changed the commencement date from one year to one month.

In 1970 the Government accepted the provision that had been in the Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South of a year's running-down period for the sport to enable those whose employment would be affected to find alternative work. A figure was quoted by 70 people who were wholly dependent for their livelihood on training or caring for greyhounds and other breeds of dog kept exclusively for coursing.

We have reviewed this matter again very carefully. Although the number of persons involved is difficult to determine with certainty, it is clear that it is not very greatly in excess of the 70 figure quoted to the Government in 1970. We are no less aware than our predecessors were in 1970 of the effect of the legislation upon the livelihood of those concerned.

However, circumstances have changed in one fundamental respect. The Government's decision to legislate in 1970 was announced only shortly before the introduction of the Bill. This Government have, however, made known their intention to legislate since the summer of last year, through announcements by my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. I reiterated our intention when, last November, I saw a deputation from the British Field Sports Society and the National Coursing Club led by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). Accordingly, those concerned have been on notice for a year that, so far as the Government are concerned, the days of competitive hare coursing are numbered. They may have chosen to ignore that notice; that is a matter for them.

Given the length of notice, we consider that once Parliament has decided, if it does do so, to abolish coursing and the legislation is on the statute book, it could be a serious provocation to trouble if there were a further coursing season. I am sure that we would want to avoid this. In the circumstances, we are proposing the earlier commencement date, which gives sufficient grace for the Act to be printed and for the courts and police to be made aware of it.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the Government's view remains as it was in 1970. We can see no place in a civilised society in the latter part of the 20th century for competitive hare coursing. The sooner it is dispatched to join those other cruel and discredited sports which were outlawed in the 19th century the better. We believe that that view—

Will the hon. Lady explain to the House how, in the latter half of the 20th century and looking around at other aspects of life, she thinks that morality is increasingly good?

I do not want to embark upon a speech about the morality of the country, but we are hoping that in this small but vitally important and humane measure we are contributing to that humanity and morality. We believe that this view has the support of the large majority of this House and of the public at large.

11.41 a.m.

I am strongly opposed to the Bill, on two grounds. First it is a bad Bill, and secondly, it is a Government Bill. I very much hope that a large number of my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against it. I hope, too, that a large number of Labour Members will listen to the arguments which may reasonably and rationally be levelled against the Bill and, without closed minds, give us the opportunity to debate it without prejudice and emotion.

It is a bad Bill because by a sheer Draconian act of abolition without qualification it seeks to sweep away for ever a single sport which, compared with other sports which are at present left intact—and I stress "at present"—suffers two disadvantages. It is perhaps guilty of two misdemeanours. First it is a sport pursued by a tiny minority of the population, somewhere between 800 and 900 people at all the various coursing, meetings throughout the country. Secondly, because of the tiny minority who are actively involved as participants, the sport is subject to a quite exceptional degree of prejudice, ignorance and misunderstanding by the great mass of the people who do not take part in it and who know little about it. They have been prejudiced by totally false propaganda.

Many people outside this House may be excused for not possessing sufficient practical knowledge to make a true judgment of the merits of the sport. However, no one in this House, and least of all Ministers, can be excused for not knowing the merits or demerits of hare coursing in reality and in fact. Perhaps I may touch upon the merits as I see them.

Mainly, in the eyes of the participants and the many other sympathisers who are not participants, it is a good sport. It is a sport which is pursued for the purpose of developing and demonstrating the prowess of dogs, not, I hasten to stress, for the thrill of the kill. It is a sport in which, in the course of the development of the prowess of the dogs, strong hares are used. They are used in their natural habitat and they are not exhausted by the run that is involved. Three out of four hares get away. When they are killed they are killed more cleanly, quickly and certainly than by any other known method of killing wild hares. The numbers of deaths of hares involved in a year at, say, 600 is the same as may be shot far more uncertainly and far more cruelly in a single day's hare shoot for productive and utilitarian but not sporting purposes.

It is a sport in which an element of cruelty which I do not dispute exists, but is not demonstrably greater than the cruelty involved in a whole range of other sporting activities including shooting, hunting, fishing with live bait and many similar sports. On its merits, therefore, there is absolutely no case for this Draconian act of abolition. There is no evidence, and this is the nub of the argument, that if this Bill is passed more hares will survive—if it is hares we are concerned for—because I believe that the opposite will be the case. Neither is there any evidence that more hare deaths will be less painful and more painless. Therefore, if the Bill is concerned with the welfare, well-being and survival of the hares, let us be under no illusion: more hares will die more cruelly as a result of the enactment of the Bill.

I take Lord Paget's point when, as an articulate spokesman for hares, he said that hares would certainly vote against the Bill.

Will my hon. Friend enlighten the House on one point? He used an expression which I did not quite follow. He said that strong hares are used. Will he elaborate on the verb "used"? Like the Under-Secretary, I have not actually witnessed this sport and I should like to know what merit there is in the hares being "used".

I do not want to delay the House for too long with a lengthy Front Bench speech. I hope that my hon. Friend's query will be noted by experts like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and others. Briefly, however, the hares are used in the sense that they are in their natural habitat and are driven by beaters, as might happen in shooting or any other sporting activity, towards the area in which the coursing is to take place. If the hares are weak, they are not so driven to the coursing.

The hon. Member has reached an important point in his speech since he now seems to be presenting the conservationist view. He suggested that if hare coursing were abolished, the hare population would decline. [Interruption.]

I hope hon. Members will allow me to keep my intervention as brief as possible.

Will the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) give information as to the hare population in areas where coursing does not take place, where the habitat and farming practices are conducive to a high hare population, and will he give comparable information about the population in similar areas where coursing takes place? It seems from observations I have made that there is remarkably little difference between them, and in that case the hon. Member's contention is a little questionable.

I was selective and moderate in what I said. I make no claim other than that if the Bill is primarily concerned with the survival and well-being of hares, there is no evidence that it will ensure the survival of more hares and there is no evidence that those which survive will die more painlessly or less cruelly.

If it is true that hares would vote against the Bill, why is it necessary to employ so many beaters to get them to the field where the coursing takes place?

I might ask the hon. Gentleman why it will be necessary for the Government to use so many Whips to get Labour Members into the Lobby.

One does not usually see the beaters at hare coursing either.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of the public are concerned neither one way nor the other about the Bill, but that the great mass of those who favour it do so because they believe that dreadful, inhumane cruelty to animals is involved. I believe that they are profoundly mistaken in their ignorance and prejudice. They are just as mistaken in thinking that hanging would effectively reduce the rate of murder. It is precisely because I believe that ignorance is not the basis for sound legislation that I have always been an abolitionist about the destruction of human beings by this means.

The view of the public is, as in the case of hanging, based upon emotional misunderstanding and prejudice. The merits of my case that hare coursing is not cruel to hares, or not exceptionally cruel—any more than there is cruelty in a great many other sports—are not understood by the public.

The second reason why I believe that the Bill is bad is that the Government, who have no excuse for ignorance, prejudice or misunderstanding, have brought forward a Bill which they must know has no merits in relation to the popular misconceptions which it is seeking to assuage and to meet.

The Government have decided on the Draconian abolition of hare coursing in a single, simple Bill without qualification or attempting to allow a fair and reasonable debate, resulting in many amendments to secure the modification of the practices of hare coursing along the lines, for example, of Mr. Stable's proposals. They have not made any of the exploratory approaches which it is proper to make in legislation where the facts are known. On the contrary, simply in order to meet populist prejudices, they have brought forward a totally abolitionist Bill. I believe that they have done so because they have no illusions at all about the suffering to the hares involved in hare coursing but are primarily concerned—to put their case at its highest—with the effect of hare coursing not upon hares but upon human beings.

If that is the case, I should like to spend a few moments examining the merits of a Bill ostensibly designed to deal with the suffering and pain, or the lack of pain, of wild animals in their natural habitat, but in fact concerned with human beings, to see whether the Bill, as a human measure rather than as an animal measure, has any merits.

Man is a direct predator in two main sports, shooting and fishing. In neither of those sports is the pleasure to be found in killng as such. It is the pitting of man's skill as a predator against that of the quarry—the animal or the fish—which provides the excitement, the enticement, the attraction and the pleasure of man's predatory activities in shooting and fishing.

It is indisputable that in both shooting and fishing cruelty is involved. Cruelty is involved to hares when shot. There is cruelty to rabbits when they are shot, no less because the rabbit's cries are slightly less loud than the hare's. It still cries. Cruelty is involved in winging birds, in using live bait, in pulling the hook out of a fish's gill or mouth. Cruelty is indisputably and unavoidably involved in those sports in which man is the direct predator. However, the cruelty is accepted because, on balance, man is not pursuing the sport for the pleasure of causing pain to the quarry or killing it. He is pursuing the sport for the age-old human need and desire to pit his skill against the quarry.

In a number of other sports man is not a direct but an indirect predator. He uses an agent. Hare coursing is a sport in which he uses the greyhound. In hunting he uses foxhounds, staghounds, horses and beagles. In falconry the bird of prey is used. Man is an indirect predator in these sports.

It is not the pleasure of the kill which is the primary attraction in these sports any more than in those in which man is a direct predator. It is once again the pitting of a skill that is the attraction. Where an agent such as a hound or a dog is used, it is the pitting of the skill of that animal against that of another animal that is the attraction. There is precisely the same justification in the case of man, as a direct predator, pitting his own skill against the quarry, as in the case of man, as an indirect predator, pitting the skill of another animal against the quarry. In both cases, it is the attraction and excitement, human and historic, of the skill in competition of man or his animal friends and agents against a quarry.

In all the sports I have mentioned, cruelty is involved where man is a direct or an indirect predator. In none of those sports is cruelty or the pleasure of killing an end in itself. To that extent, I do not believe that hare coursing is any more dehumanised than any of the other sports in which man is a direct or indirect predator.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in many hunts with dogs the quarry, whether a deer or an otter, is cornered and there is often an opportunity to call off the dogs, but that that is very seldom done?

In hare coursing, it is often the case that the dogs, if they are anywhere near the hare, should not be called off because the death of the hare is widely and universally accepted as being so instantaneous and clean compared with practically every other way of killing a hare.

If the principle at stake in the Bill is that the pursuit of activities in which man is the predator are dehumanising, we cannot stop at the Bill. The Under-Secretary has conceded the principle herself. If the argument is that the very act of man as a predator, direct or indirect, is dehumanising, it cannot stop at hare coursing. It must go through to shooting, fishing and all the sports in which man is an indirect predator, such as fox-hunting, stag-hunting and beagling.

The single simple issue then arises: does the House, in considering the merits of the Bill, believe that man as a predator in the context of competitive sports such as I have outlined is engaging in an activity which is fundamentally dehumanising? I do not believe that he is, and that is one reason why I shall vote against the Bill.

However, if the view is taken that man must be pursued by the moralising hell's angels of Government Ministers seeking to rehumanise that which they hold to be dehumanising, it must be recognised that immeasurably more is at stake in the Bill. The real test of the Government's courage, and whether or not they are simply being populist, partisan hypocrites in the Bill, is whether they can bring forward all the other measures to staunch the natural inhumanity of man as a predator. I personally do not believe that predatory sports are dehumanising. I very much hope that the Bill will be rejected and, indeed, that all measures which necessarily or logically flow from it will be rejected in due course.

12 noon.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) is wrong on just about every ground. It must be clearly understood at the start that there is no "Whipping" on this matter. If I have any criticism of the Bill, it is precisely that we made clear in our manifesto that it would be a Government measure. Having brought the matter in, the Government have decided that it is up to Private Members to vote or not to vote. That is a matter for them but is not my view.

I have long held the view that at some time or other the Government will have to decide, in the interests of civilised living, to eliminate blood sports. We have not yet reached that courageous position, but we have reached a position where the present Government have brought in a measure which is absolutely justified. I hope that the House will vote for it. It is high time that the whole system of the so-called sport of hare coursing was eliminated from this country.

I am particularly proud to be speaking in the House today, because after a lapse of 20 years I brought in a Bill almost 10 years ago to abolish hare coursing. The arguments then used were the same arguments as have been used today by the defenders of this so-called sport.

One argument was that a lot of "townies" were seeking to introduce a Bill on a subject about which they knew nothing. They assumed that because I represented the great city and port of Liverpool I was born in such a city and was a "townie". I had to explain that I was brought up in a very small country town and that most of my relatives still lived in the countryside. Most of them, incidentally, are not farmers but farm labourers and they work in the country and are as hostile to the whole concept of hare coursing as I am. What was remarkable at that time was the large number of letters of support I received from people who lived in the countryside. Many of them were farmers and farm labourers. I also had the support of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. I do not know whether that union still takes the same view, but I doubt whether it has changed its mind. It went on record as saying that it was opposed to hare coursing and was in full support of the Bill.

The idea that all country people are in favour of hare coursing is untrue. The number of people who are actually involved in hare coursing and who take part in it is a very small minority. In my view, that is the basic reason why, apart from anything else, we believe that this measure will cause no great upheaval. It is an uncivilised practice carried out by a minority and should be dispensed with at the earliest possible moment.

On the basis of that argument, how many people does the hon. Member think are engaged in football hooliganism from one season to another? Just because there are many more in that category, would he propose to leave the matter there?

The hon. Gentleman is showing his usual stupidity. I know nobody in this House who argues in favour of football hooliganism. The fact that we are arguing against hare coursing does not mean that we are in favour of football hooliganism. I am in favour of the strongest possible measures being taken to ensure that there is no football hooliganism.

Another argument that is used is that because one is opposed to hare coursing one would not be opposed to cruelty to children. Of course I am opposed to cruelty to children. The fact that I am in favour of abolishing hare coursing does not mean that I am in favour of beating my wife, or of anybody else beating his wife, or in favour of children being beaten or ill-treated. Those are the most fantastically stupid arguments and they have nothing whatever to do with the basic issue which is facing the House today.

The case was made magnificently by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. The argument was put so well by her that I believe we could have voted on the Bill within 10 minutes. However, because of parliamentary procedures we have to continue debating these matters throughout the day.

Perhaps we should not have to listen to silly remarks of that kind. We could then get on with the matter that is before us. Because of our parliamentary procedures, we shall be discussing the Bill at great length from every point of view. That is the correct democratic parliamentary procedure.

I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments about hare coursing, but I should like to draw attention to one or two matters that need to be dealt with. Atti- tudes appear to have changed because of the existence of the Stable Report. That report led to the rules being tightened and it was then thought that we would not need to abolish the so-called sport of hare coursing. My comment is that the Stable Report came forward only because of the tremendous criticism of hare coursing. The report was largely a cosmetic whitewash job and the argument was used "Now that we have tightened the rules, there is no need to abolish the sport altogether".

The real truth of the matter is that whether the distance involved is 40, 60, 80 or 100 yards, two dogs are competitively set on a hare. It is true that points are given for turns and so on. All this is laid down in the coursing rules, which I have read many times. The kill is not the basic objective, though that is the principle behind it; but the truth is that a percentage of hares are killed. From the word "go" they are put into a terrified state. It is not true to say that some are not exhausted even when they get away. They can still escape and die in a hedge half an hour or so afterwards because of the exhaustion caused by escaping from the dogs. This is known to happen.

Is it right that human beings, people of high intellect, should place themselves in a position to allow animals to compete with each other for the personal enjoyment of those human beings? Surely that is uncivilised behaviour. I know that we live in an uncivilised society and that things are not right with the world. There are many practices which are wrong and, unfortunately, violence is increasing. We should be doing our utmost to ensure that violence in all forms is stamped out. One way of doing that is to ensure that human beings in the best sense act in a civilised way, especially towards animals. Surely that is most important. I believe that that is the essence of the argument.

From time to time hares are caught. There is a tug-of-war. I have seen this tug-of-war. I have heard the screams of the animals. The sight of that happening made me feel physically sick. I do not believe that we should allow that practice to continue.

Arguments were brought forward in, the Stable Report—

We are struck by the strength of personal feeling on this matter which has been expressed by the hon. Gentleman. However, on the narrow point of exhaustion, does he think that a hare is any less exhausted as a result of being pursued in beagling activities? Does he think that he should on principle introduce a Private Member's Bill on beagling in due course?

My argument has always been that all forms of cruelty to animals should be eliminated from society stage by stage. I believe that passionately. We must start somewhere.

The arguments produced today by the hon. Gentleman were used in relation to cock fighting. No doubt if we read the reports of debates in the House of Commons at that time we could find sufficient quotations to prove that hon. Members on both sides argued that that practice was perfectly all right, that it did no harm and that it was simply a competition. I want to see the eventual elimination of all cruelty to animals. I want to see us live in the highest possible state of civilisation.

We are now discussing the Hare Coursing Bill. I believe that we must begin somewhere and that this is where we must begin. I argued that 10 years ago.

Most Liverpool people have felt ashamed that the blue riband event in the coursing world was held just outside our city. I first came into contact with the idea of the city abolishing this so-called sport when I was a member of the Liverpool City Council. I never liked the sport. I had always been against it. A debate took place in the Liverpool City Council. I was surprised. By an almost unanimous decision, the city council of nearly 15 or 20 years ago said that it wanted to see the practice eliminated. The council wrote to the Home Secretary at the time urging that that should be done. I pledged myself that if ever I became a Member of Parliament I would do my best. When I arrived in Parliament I discovered to my delight that I was not alone and that there were many hon. Members who felt the same as I did. I hope that today the majority of hon. Members will feel the same about this matter as I have long felt and that they will support this excellent Government Bill. Let us eliminate this so-called sport—this cruelty to one section of the animal community—once and for all.

12.15 p.m.

I am certain that it is not the intention of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) to mislead the House. However, I should like to set the record straight about one point.

I made a careful search of the election manifesto of the Labour Party. I cannot find any mention of the Hare Coursing Bill in the manifesto published for the last General Election. This point is important. It is important for the House to get the matter straight. I refer to what the Under-Secretary said when she opened the debate. This matter was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The warning arose by means of an aside from the Prime Minister during his speech on the loyal Address.

I should like to refer to three main points. Why are we legislating in the present circumstances? What effect will the legislation have? I think it would be wise to place on record how hare coursing finds itself in its present position.

I do not think that the hon. Lady made a good case when she said that the Government were concerned and were therefore using Government time in which to deal with the case of the 600-odd hares that are killed annually in this sport.

The hon. Member for Walton—with his rural background, about which some of us know—made it clear that this is to many Government supporters, an old-fashioned Labour Party attack on what it wrongly believes to be a privileged way of life. This is not the sport of a privileged rural community. Let us examine the make-up of the Huntingdonshire Club. An air stewardess, a fellmonger, a fishmonger, an ice-cream merchant, a jockey, an inspector of taxes, a priest, a printer, a surgeon and a tripe dresser make up the membership of the three principal clubs in this country.

If this is some form of Labour Party attack conducted on a class basis, will the hon. Gentleman say why it is that in the past 10 years thousands of people who have written to me about hare coursing specifically mentioned the fact that they were Conservative Party supporters?

I shall deal during my speech with the point about letters and how this matter arises.

Animal welfare is a sensitive subject for any party to legislate about. Prejudice runs strongly on both sides. I believe that the Government have a duty not to stoke up prejudice or misconceptions. Any Government have a duty not to legislate on hearsay, not to legislate in haste and not to legislate against a background of demonstrable misinformation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), in his excellent speech in support of our cause, asked whether the Home Secretary had written to the Chairman of the National Coursing Club and expressed concern about the conduct of coursing. What checks have been made by the Home Office on the allegations which have been made against this sport? What has changed in the past 24 years since Scott Henderson reported that was not covered by Messrs. Stable and Stuttard in their excellent report? Messrs. Stable and Stuttard were asked to report because of the changed agricultural circumstances in which the sport was being conducted. Stable and Stuttard were brought forward principally to see whether it was necessary to change the rules of coursing to bring them into line with the changing countryside. The hon. Member for Walton knows how the countryside has changed in the past 24 years.

The difference between today's debate and the debate of May 1970 is the work done by Stable and Stuttard. I believe that most people interested in or worried about this problem will have studied that report. It is a sad day in the House of Commons to see the Home Office—one of our great Departments of State—dragged before this house as a political bone. I do not think that this reflects well on the Home Secretary's reputation.

The hon. Lady has a great family tradition—which some hon. Members saw demonstrated in 1957—for seeing the other side of the argument. I do not think that she has tried to see the other side of the case.

What will be the effect of the Bill? 'The Bill will make illegal the least cruel way of killing hares—coursing as organised and run under the strict rules of the National Coursing Club. It will not make the killing of hares with coursing dogs, greyhounds, whippets and salukis, illegal. If people are denied the effort of matching them one against the other, the people who have these dogs will not just keep them at home and take them for walks. They will, legally, take them out and course hares with them, but the hares will not have the safeguard of being coursed over their familiar coursing ground with all their sough and well-known ways of escape.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, South (Mr. Clark) asked how strong hares are selected. Strong hares are selected by the slippers. The slippers do not slip at weak hares, hares that have had their feet balled up in plough or suffer from other disadvantages.

To argue against a Bill that it will not be enforceable is not a good argument. If the Bill ever gets through its parliamentary course, the National Coursing Club will strictly comply with the law. But are our overworked country policemen to crawl about in the countryside with their notebooks and binoculars keeping watch on suspected persons and dogs? I submit that the Bill will be as unworkable as were the street betting laws prior to 1960. Apart from those who enjoy beagling or hunting with the hounds, as a result of the Bill the hare will be left quite friendless in the English countryside.

As Chairman of the British Field Sports Society, which embraces the protection of all sports, it is not for me to compare the merits of one form of control as against another. What I am concerned about are the 180 people who are employed in coursing who will lose their jobs, with one month's notice. The Under-Secretary of State spoke of 70 people, but I will give her evidence about the figures. The people who are employed in coursing include trainers, slippers and kennelmen. The livelihood of puppy walkers, for instance, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), will be affected.

I am also concerned about the future of the 3,000 greyhounds and a similar number of whippets, salukis and deerhounds now kept for coursing. The House must not think that those dogs can go track racing. They would not be fooled by an artificial hare. The greyhound tracks are declining and six have been closed during the past 18 months.

My hon. Friends and I will in Committee urge the Government most strongly to permit a year's grace from the operation of the Bill, to assist the people involved in hare coursing. To say, as the hon. Lady said, that coursers have had plenty of warning is to forget that they have lived under this threat for nine or 10 years. They have looked in the past for Parliament to preserve their minority rights, and Parliament must give them a chance of reorganising their affairs if the Bill ever goes through.

I conclude by examining how the sport of coursing has got into the condition in which it now finds itself. I will also endeavour to deal with the point made about the letters in a Member of Parliament's post-bag.

After the Scott Henderson Report the coursing community put up the shutters. The 23 clubs, with their 122 days' sport, wanted to be left alone to get on with their sport. Press and television cameras were not made welcome. With hindsight, this was an error. It allowed myths and misconceptions to be built up. Only after the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) started his antics in 1964 were the television and the Press made welcome.

I should like to thank the producers of the television programmes that have investigated the sport in depth and cleared it of the charges of cruelty. I pay tribute to Alan Wicker, Fyffe Robertson and the BBC, Anglia, Thames, Southern and Yorkshire Television. The much-quoted BBC programme which showed park or enclosed coursing was filmed entirely in Ireland. It is illegal in England, Wales and Scotland and cannot go on under the National Coursing Club Rules.

It is significant that a number of provincial journalists associated with the Eastern Daily Press, the Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post and the Liverpool Echo who have been coursing have written charming articles about the sport, having gone there knowing absolutely nothing about it. I pay tribute to the wholehearted support we have had from the sporting Press throughout the whole year. The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times have all published good articles this year about coursing. On 25th May the Sunday Times published an objective article. Of all the newspapers and journals that have helped in the coursing battle, The Sporting Life, with great editorial courage bearing in mind the stable from which it comes, has continued faithfully to report the position of the sport throughout the argument.

The mass-circulation papers have given only a selective presentation of certain aspects of the sport to a public which is separated from the realities of wild nature and the countryside, a public which is now embracing an opinion based not on real knowledge but on an inadequate and out-of-context presentation of the facts. That is why hon. Members get so many letters on this subject.

I do not refer to the television programme which the hon. Gentleman said was filmed in Ireland, but after television programmes I always have an increased amount of mail from members of the public who are angry to see that coursing is going on. It is precisely because they have seen it on television that they become opposed to it.

Hon. Members have various interpretations of their post-bags. Some hon. Members get many more letters than do others on this subject. There seems to be a selected list of hon. Members who get letters to which "no reply is expected or required". The letters come from professional letter writers in, or around the boundaries of, certain constituencies, and they deal with this and other causes which have close affinities with the "humanist" agitation on so many other subjects.

Hon. Members should at least have found out for themselves, in view of the misconceptions of the one-sided presentation which has been made of the sport. I do not accept the hon. Lady's argument that one does not have to see this sport to know about it. Out of 632 hon. Members who were asked to go coursing this year, only 29 went. The reaction of those hon. Members was "I do not understand what all the fuss is about". That was the general reaction.

I find it distressing that hon. Members go to Vietnam, Russia and Czechoslovakia with all expenses paid but they can do nothing about what goes on there and their votes do not count, whereas they have steadfastly refused over the past 10 years to find out the truth about coursing, a subject on which they will vote at 4 o'clock this afternoon.

When I first entered into this argument with the hon. Member for Walton 10 years ago, I felt that it was probably an argument about pride and prejudice, pride in the oldest of our country's sports and prejudice brought up for reasons I have attempted to describe and fostered by other people for various other reasons. I have worked over these years in the hope that, during the period when these various measures have been frustrated by me and my hon. Friends, perhaps instead of a sense of pride and prejudice we might get a little sense and sensibility into the problem.

I believe that that has happened. I believe that Stable and Stuttard did a lot to make that happen, and the responsible Press is helping enormously. My fear is that the vote will be taken which I have steadfastly tried to avoid during the last 10 years. It is coming just a little too soon for sense and sensibility to prevail.

12.28 p.m.

As I promised to take only a few minutes so that other Members can take part in the debate, I shall be unable to engage in all the detail which I would wish to put before the House.

I fully support the Bill. I was born on a farm and I represent a constituency which is largely agricultural. I look forward to the enactment of the Bill after many years of filibustering by certain hon. Members.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the measure but I make the complaint that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. I ask the Government to move an amendment at the Committee stage to extend this worthy measure to the Province. If that is not possible, I rely on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that an Order in Council is introduced to put an end to the cruel and sadistic sport of competitive hare coursing practised in Northern Ireland, in Co. Antrim at Crebilly. I shall welcome the day when that event comes to an end.

We who support this humanitarian piece of legislation are often accused of emotionalism and prejudice. I have just listened to the hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) accusing us of prejudice. I believe that I am without prejudice in this matter. As a lawyer—or, at least, as one who practised at the Bar until my election in 1970—I look on all matters dispassionately and carefully. I have carefully considered this matter, even though some hon. Members behind me may disagree. I decided long ago and without much difficulty that live hare coursing was uncivilised and should be brought to an end.

I go further and take up a point mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State. I believe the sport, if one can call it such, to be degrading to those who take part in it. I am particularly concerned, however, that the hare which is involved is cruelly used. But responsible people such as the clergy have confirmed the view, which I share, that hare coursing is likely to corrupt the decent instincts of the participants and spectators, and their views should be given some consideration. In Northern Ireland the event attracts a great number of gamblers, and I do not think it pleasing that gambling should be associated in the killing of this innocent animal in such a way.

It is a credit to Parliament that, despite the grave economic crisis, we can discuss hare coursing and express concern for the hares which are put through a period of terror. No one can deny that when hares are chased by the dogs in competitive hare coursing, they are put through a period of great agony and are sometimes killed in a very cruel way—indeed, literally torn apart on some occasions, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said.

The objectors to the Bill excuse this brutal activity on the basis that, like all other wild life, hares are subject to the ruthlessness of nature. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that legislation will not save the life of one hare because death will come to it in some other violent way. That is blatant nonsense. Live hare coursing means that a hare must be put in jeopardy, and if live hare coursing did not exist many of the hares brought into this so-called sport would live and perhaps die a natural death or a death of a kind dictated by nature.

The Bill does not make illegal the hunting of hares by other means or the killing of hares by farmers for control purposes. It is aimed to stop competitive hare coursing. We have heard the explanation given that man is a direct predator and enjoys pitting his skill against the quarry. In competitive hare coursing, however, man is deliberately and callously using the hare to test the prowess of dogs, and that is not the same as when a hare is raised naturally by a dog in a field.

I give my blessing and support to the Bill and do so, in my belief, on behalf of the great majority of my constituents.

12.35 p.m.

Since, apparently, one has to demonstrate in the debate that one is not a "townie" in order to be able to give one's views, I should say at the outset that I was born in a village surrounded by copses, commons and fields, and I grew up with a love of animals.

Perhaps I was fortunate in never witnessing the kind of cruelty towards animals which so many Opposition Members seem to find necessary. Over the last 10 years the issue of hare coursing has been one of those issues to recur most frequently in representations from my constituents, people in all walks of life, who have been appalled by what they have heard and read about what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has rightly called the "barbaric anachronism" of hare coursing.

Earlier this year I received a spate of letters following a report which appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post about a speech by the Duke of Rutland referring to the Bill as a political matter. The people who wrote to me objected to its being referred to as a political matter. But, of course, the Duke of Rutland was right: it is a political matter. Any piece of legislation which has to go through all the processes of Parliament is a political matter. As a prominent officer of the Conservative Party, however, the Duke of Rutland knew very well that it was a party political decision by the Conservatives to make use of every procedural device in this House to bring to naught every Private Member's Bill on hare coursing which has been brought before the House during the time I have been a Member.

Would not the hon. Gentleman admit that the efforts to introduce such a Bill have been sponsored by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that we all equally regret that on previous occasions it has been impossible to obtain a debate because people have objected or have talked the Bill out without giving any opportunity for expressions of opinion to be formed?

I agree that there are some hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), in the Conservative Party who can be completely exonerated from what I have said, but one rose does not make a summer and too many Conservative Members have seen to it over the years that we have not been able to get the legislation that is so necessary on this matter.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, nature in the raw is often red in tooth and claw. But that is a different matter from making use of the killer instincts of one species of animal towards another in order to pander to the sadistic instincts of those who call hare coursing a sport, who arrange for hares to be chased and injured or killed—sometimes torn apart—in unnatural and confined circumstances, for their own savage amusement and not for the exercise of any human skill, a point made by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder).

I have had one letter opposing this legislation. That letter talks about infringement of personal liberty and freedom involved in this legislation. What utter nonsense. No liberty is infringed by the Bill. All that is involved in the practice of hare coursing is the licence to carry on a cruel sport, to which most people are opposed.

Today, we have had a terrible reminder that there is still blood on our coal. I remember reading that, when this House debated legislation last century to prevent the employment of women and children in mines, some people said that since they worked in mines they obviously chose to do so and that the legislation would deprive them of their liberty and freedom. That was a specious, selfish and basically cruel argument and I would apply the same adjectives to those who oppose this Bill.

I hope that we pass the Bill and that it will quickly reach the statute book so that those who need to relieve the tedium of their long hours of leisure in the way they do at the moment will now have to do so in a much less offensive way.

12.41 p.m.

I find it extraordinary that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) should have said that personal freedom and liberty are utter nonsense. That must be a matter of opinion in relation to the Bill. The fact remains that a large number of people are utterly convinced that their freedom and liberty are being imposed upon by the threat in the Bill.

There was one phrase in the speech of the Under-Secretary of which I took particular note. She said that the Government were considering "one activity at a time". In the light of that phrase, not one field sport is not at risk while this Government are in office. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office is nodding in agreement and smiling with joy at the thought of the ending of every field sport. That is something which should be noted by any field sport supporter. The sport and entertainment of those involved is threatened.

I thought I would reply quickly to the suggestion by the Under-Secretary that some of us would be talking about subjects that we felt we should be debating rather than the subjects that we actually were debating. She had a point. Last Sunday the Secretary of State for the Environment said that the country was on a suicide course. I imagined that he was talking solely in terms of the crisis facing the country, but since the Government have done nothing to get us off the suicide course since then, I began to wonder whether he was referring to the Bill.

It is worth considering the background against which the debate takes place. On Monday the Bank for International Settlements, in its annual report, warned:
"…as sure as fate, real consumption is going to have to be curtailed and the mass of labour will be obliged to shoulder its share of the cuts."
On the same day the Department of Industry survey forecast a cut in investment of 15 per cent. this year over 1974. Tuesday was action day. The Prime Minister inflated the Cabinet by one. That was progress. On Wednesday we had the pay-off. The pound plunged to a new low, and the National Institute warned of still higher inflation and unemployment. Yesterday the Chancellor pledged severe anti-inflation measures, and the pound hit a new low. The suicide course is showing now in much sharper perspective.

Therefore, today, with their customary approach to the immediate problems of the nation and their customary belief in equality—on this occasion, in equality of misery—the Government decided to act, literally, as spoilsports. No wonder the Minister responsible for sport is not here. He did not have the face to come when the entertainment of many people is threatened. Those who are for or against this Bill might care to consider the quaint order of Government priorities.

I have been coursing only once, but I have a number of related interests, as a farmer, as a countryman, as a gardener, as a conservationist and, perhaps most particularly, as Vice-Chairman of the Game Conservancy. That is a research and advisory organisation concerned with the conservation and management of game as a crop. It receives grants for its research from both the Agricultural Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. This point emphasises the ecological connection among gaming, the environment and farm husbandry. That is accepted by senior scientific research organisations.

Also, I am bold enough to admit that I fish and shoot. I wonder when the Prime Minister will say that those are barbarous anachronisms. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) said, having been coursing once I cannot see what the fuss is about.

I know that it is asking a great deal, but it is better to try to consider this issue without prejudice, bias or emotion, and solely with common sense and realism. We must do so, because the Bill seeks to limit the freedom of a minority. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) seemed to think that that was an insupportable principle, but at least until now the House as a whole has been very zealous in its desire to protect the freedom of minorities. If it is going to stop doing so on this occasion, it must have strong justification.

That is why I draw attention to the fact that there is no interpretation clause in the Bill. We must have more clarification. First of all, what is meant by "a hare"? Does it mean the brown hare, lepus Europaeus, or the blue hare, lepus timidus, or any of the other groups? Does it include the hare which I understand has been introduced from Northern Ireland and which many hon. Members may have seen running around on the Aldersgrove Airport—

My right hon. Friend has probably seen it more often than any of us.

It is important to know what we are talking about. It is not good enough to produce a Bill as short as this with no interpretation or clarification.

The hon. Gentleman has made a point of some significance, but does he not accept that we are debating hare coursing legislation, which must, by obvious implication on the part of those who support this legislation, amount to opposition to the coursing of hares of any kind? Speaking for myself, I am opposed to coursing whether it involves the blue hare, the Irish hare or any other kind of hare. I hope to make similar remarks in future regarding stag hunting.

It is fair enough for the hon. Gentleman to be opposed to all sorts of hare coursing, but what is normally referred to as the sport of hare coursing is the coursing of the brown hare—namely, lepus Europaeus. Unless we are clear what we are talking about and unless there is a definition in the Bill, should it by ill-chance receive a Second Reading, it will be even more difficult for the unfortunate officers of the law to know whether they are prosecuting somebody properly. We must have clarification.

Secondly, I want to know what is meant by "dog" and by "competition". The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and several other hon. Members have placed great emphasis on competitive coursing. I own a black labrador which has a habit of coursing. I must admit that I would back him for starting power, stamina, speed, endurance and nose against most other labradors and not a few greyhounds. When he takes off next time—and it might happen with another labrador or somebody's terrier—what is my position? If I said to the owner of the other dog "I bet you so much money that my dog comes back with a hare in its mouth", does that constitute competition? I do not know whether or not it does. As the Bill does not provide for such a situation, how can I possibly know whether I would be breaking the law? If it is not competition, why not?

The Bill refers to dogs but it does not refer specifically to greyhounds, salukis or whippets. I must also tell the Parliamentary Secretary that my dog does not need the spur of competition to chase a hare. The fact is that the dog will chase a hare anyway. I only hope that the dog's trainer is not listening. What do I do about this situation? Do I shoot the dog? It seems that it is perfectly all right for me to allow my dog to chase a hare provided it is not technically in competition with another dog. It seems to be pretty good nonsense to have a Bill that allows that sort of thing to happen.

Yes, on many occasions. My hon. Friend casts most appalling aspersions on the ability of my black labrador. As my hon. Friend is a shooting man himself, I must ask him along one day to enjoy the entertainment. Dogs of all kinds will chase hares quite naturally. There is nothing that the House can do about that. There must be more clarification in the Bill if it is to make any sense, should it receive a Second Reading.

I turn to the arguments in favour of the Bill. There is the argument, first mentioned today by the hon. Member for Walton, that coursing brutalises those who partake. Then there is the argument that coursing is cruel to the hare. In spite of what the hon. Member for Walton says, if there is an argument for the Bill as regards the brutalising of participants there must be a much stronger argument in favour of a Bill to ban football. I bow to no one in my enjoyment of the game of football. If I had the choice of going to one spectator sport or the other I would always go to watch a football match, and preferably Liverpool. I would prefer to watch a football match than to watch hare coursing, but that does not seem to have very great relevance. The effect of football on some spectators is appalling, but we do not hear much of coursing spectators breaking windows, stopping public transport or behaving like drunken savages in France.

That is an interesting point, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to know that on the one occasion that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and I accepted an invitation to go to a hare coursing meeting there was a physical assault which ended up in a court case. The fact is that that sort of thing happens at hare coursing meetings.

I suspect that there was extreme provocation. Of course, I do not know the nature of the circumstances. We do not hear very often about such incidents at hare coursing meetings, but they happen a good deal more often at football matches. It is clear that we cannot distinguish between two sports when we are legislating in this way. Let us have no nonsense about coursing spectators being brutalised.

There is the argument that coursing is cruel to the hare. I emphasize that I have no more and no less knowledge than any other hon. Member as to the reaction of a hare on being coursed. When I heard, for example, the Leader of the House say not so long ago something to the effect that the hare has as much right to life as we have, I wondered how far the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to carry that argument. Does he carry it to rats? For example, if the Leader of the House received representations from his Newcastle constituency for him further to advance the control of rats or other vermin, would he say that they have as much right to live as we have and that they should not be controlled? Most people with common sense would exterminate vermin with poison and would create an extremely unnatural and desperately painful death. There is no natural risk involved. The situation is entirely man-made; yet rats are intelligent, loyal and tenacious in the defence of their young—as a matter of fact, much more so than hares. I do not comprehend the morality of the Bill in that sense.

The hon. Gentleman has said that he does not know the effect that coursing has on hares. Would he be prepared to accept a position in which he could be given a jolly good start and then have two hungry lions that had not been fed for about a couple of days set on him, we having agreed that there would be a distance just sufficient for him to get out in time? Afterwards he would be able to indicate to the House what he felt about that situation. If he accepted that position he might know what a hare feels.

Luckily for me, that is not an alternative that is open. If the hon. Gentleman set about trying to instigate such a situation, I have the feeling that the long arm of the law would get him before the lions got me.

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear of the experience of Dr. Livingstone, who was set upon and mauled by a lion. There is an interesting account of this in the Stable report. To his absolute amazement, he felt absolutely no fear and no sensation of pain. Perhaps that might be the end result if my hon. Friend were chased and caught by a lion.

I want now to consider the alternatives which face a coursed hare. For the majority of hares which are coursed the writing is on the wall anyway. This is not simply because of the ruthlessness of nature. In the wild the vast majority of hares have a life span of a year or less. Many are born in the summer and die during the following winter. They die from a large and varying number of causes. They die as a result of paraquat poisoning and poisoning from other chemicals. I do not believe that agriculture could stand the banning of chemicals. They die from the effects of hard weather and from a variety of diseases such as coccidiosis, a disease of the gut, yersiniosis which creates abcesses and is the worst killer of hares. They also die from lepto-spirosis, which is an infection of the kidney. They die from bloat, and they are shot as a method of control. Half a dozen large hares are approximately equivalent to a sheep. If there are many hares there is a restriction on the ability of farmers to increase their stock.

Then they are preyed upon. It is not without interest that as a prey rather than as a predator the hare has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, smells of all mammals in the United Kingdom. It is an interesting point that the greyhound, as I understand it, has very little sense of smell.

The greyhound hunts by sight. On the other hand, predators hunt by smell. Therefore, the hare is naturally in much greater danger from those animals which normally prey on it than it is from a greyhound. The main predators are foxes, stoats, weasles, crows and other birds of prey. Country people believe that buck rabbits prey upon young leverets. Against that battery of death-dealing risks the rare chance of being coursed and the even rarer chance—one in four, I believe—of meeting death as a result of coursing seems rather unimportant.

This Bill is a senseless Bill for which there is no justification. Its only effect will be to reduce the freedom of a small minority without any benefit to that minority or anyone else—least of all the hares. For that reason I shall vote against it.

1.05 p.m.

I take the entirely opposite view from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). Further, I find myself very much at variance with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) from the Opposition Front Bench. If I may say so plainly to him and others who share his views, I was ashamed of his contribution. I was a sponsor of one of the ill-fated Private Members' Bills dealing with this subject and I am only sorry that it has taken eight such Bills and Government intervention to bring about any likelihood of such a measure being enacted.

I have noted with interest the attacks on those of us who have the temerity to oppose this so-called sport. There have been suggestions that we are ingnorant. I have attentively followed the various contributions made by the opponents of the Bill and it has seemed to me that there was a shortfall of closely reasoned arguments. In many cases wholly irrelevant arguments were brought in.

I deal now with coursing itself. I hope that I shall not be accused of ignorance if I repeat what is involved in this. It is important to my argument. As I understand it, the hare has to be brought in by beaters, possibly from some distance. When it reaches the coursing ground, there is a race over 600 yards or thereabouts. It is given a start of between 40 and 80 yards. Who knows exactly what distance it is on any given occasion, whatever the rules may say? The hounds then catch up with it after about 150 to 200 yards. Part of the skill and part of the enjoyment of the sport lies in the necessity for the two hounds to go after the hare as it twists and dodges trying to escape.

The hare may or may not escape entirely. Figures given in evidence obviously vary. The view of the National Coursing Club is that about 80 per cent. of hares escape, leaving 20 per cent. which may or may not be killed instantaneously. Although it may be reasonably unusual for death not to be instantaneous, there is no one who will claim that there are not occasions when death is comparatively long and drawn-out and when suffering is caused.

I asked the RSPCA to let me have reports on various meetings its representatives have attended. I thought it best to be up to date. The society gave me reports for this year and last. So that I may be entirely accurate, I shall quote from those reports. There was one hare coursing event at Postland in Lincolnshire. This was the East of England Coursing Club event which lasted from 26th to 28th February this year. The inspectors reported that a total of 15 hares were killed in 77 courses during the three days. On the first day eight hares were killed, one of which was dispatched by a handler. In that case death cannot have been instantaneous.

On the second day, when fog delayed the start, 28 hares were coursed and five were killed, one again being dispatched by a handler. On the third day 19 hares were coursed and two were killed. One hare examined on the second day had been caught by both dogs. One dog had caught it by the lower body and the other by a rear leg. Neither was a fatal hold. That hare must have been in agony. I have plenty more cases but I shall not detain the House further with them unless I am challenged.

The duration of the course is anything from 30 to 35 seconds to possibly 11 minutes or even longer, according to the National Coursing Club. We must bear in mind that the creatures have already been driven to the course. That has to be added to the time when, as someone has said, the hares have to sprint for their lives. I take what I suppose some of my hon. Friends will call a puritanical view. I do not believe that suffering of that kind can be justified unless it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable, and I do not believe this to be so in the case of hare coursing.

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not mean to mislead the House. On the last day's coursing at Huntingdon, over 30 courses, the beaters moved only 12 yards in order to get hares through the slips. This is not beating hares over great distances before they are coursed.

In that case, perhaps my hon. Friend can assure me that that is so in 100 per cent. of cases. I suspect that it is not. I accept that the distances may vary, but the fact remains that those hares have to be got to the course from somewhere—or are we to believe that because they love it so much they come of their own accord to enjoy this little adventure?

In any event, since the publication in 1951 of the Scott Henderson Report there have been considerable scientific studies of stress in animals, including farm animals, and there is a great deal more understanding now of the stress and suffering which may be caused simply by the pursuit, quite apart from the actual death, which can be horrible or may be instantaneous.

There is no escaping the fact that this so-called sport is unnecessary. One hon. Member dragged in an argument about the killing of rats. They at least are a pest in many conditions.

Therefore, I believe that there is justification for killing rats, though again it must be done as humanely as possible. Even though hares may be pests, no one suggests that hare coursing is an efficient method of keeping down their numbers. We have had hon. Members going to great lengths to explain how many get away and that this is a small hazard. The Scott Henderson Report made it clear that it was not a question of pest control. Therefore, that argument simply will not wash. If we are talking about pest control, this is about the least efficient method of controlling them that one can name. I hope that we shall hear no more of this.

We have heard arguments about curtailing the liberty of the individual—

I do not argue that coursing is a method of controlling the numbers of hares. However, my hon. Friend said about the control of hares that more humane methods should be adopted. Will she say precisely what she means by that?

I was talking about rats. I am not convinced that hares are such a pest that we have to adopt drastic methods to keep down their numbers. Whether that be so or not, we are concerned with a form of sport which on the admission of all, whether they oppose it or not, is not a form of control. That argument is a red herring.

Will my hon. Friend consider this point? In the village where I live, which I admit is a very large parish, hares became so numerous several years ago that there had to be two large shoots. In those shoots, 1,500 hares were shot. Surely no one can doubt that there are occasions when the numbers of hares have to be controlled, otherwise they will in effect take food from human beings.

I take the point that my right hon. and learned Friend makes. All I say is that hare coursing is agreed on all sides not to be a method of controlling a pest. I did not want to be drawn into this argument because it is irrelevant. If I am forced to do so, however, I shall take it up. If it is necessary to shoot hares to keep down their numbers, let it be done, but only by those with the proper skills. I do not think that that is an unreasonable suggestion to make—or is it suggested that all people have equal skills? I remember one person who bitterly opposed me on this and who admitted in private that he had given up shooting as a pastime—he was not talking about hares—because he reckoned that he was a poor shot and was causing unnecessary suffering. I take it that hon. Members will admit that there are degrees of skill in shooting and that some shots can get their prey pretty quickly when others make a real mess of it.

Let me continue my argument about the liberty of the individual, which again I do not find acceptable. Every Act of Parliament curtails the liberty of the individual in some way. We accept it for the common good. I do not think it is good enough to say that animals should be put in this position simply for someone's pleasure in watching greyhounds exercising their skill. Indeed, I wonder just how much enjoyment people get out of that skill and how much of their interest really centres on betting. Not very much has been made of this, but I suspect strongly that it is the element of betting which keeps hare coursing going rather than any interest in the skill of greyhounds. If skills are required to be developed, there are countless other activities to give excitement and pleasure without causing considerable suffering.

I do not wish to delay the House too long. I feel strongly that many of the arguments deployed against the Bill are utterly spurious and that the main reason for the opposition to it today is that those who are interested in other forms of field sports are afraid that, once this Bill goes through, other activities will be in jeopardy and that it is, so to speak, the first line of defence.

I make no secret of the fact that I oppose other forms of field sports. Therefore I welcome the Bill, just as others dread it, as the first sign that we shall eventually end all such barbarous sports.

I was interested to see in an editorial recently in the Shooting Times that those who opposed hare coursing were not only guilty of infringing the liberty of the individual but were members of the Left insidiously trying to get at our traditional way of life. In my time I have been called many things. I have no doubt that I shall be called many more. Until reading that editorial, however, I had not associated myself with the Left. But if that be so, I am happy, on this occasion only, to march shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), who might perhaps more justifiably be called a member of the Left.

I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House. I hope that it will be the final Bill dealing with hare coursing. I hope, too, that no one in this House will be deluded into thinking that all the Conservative supporters are against it. Many others feel as I do. It so happens that the Bill's opponents are more vociferous on this occasion. I hope that that will not be matched by the strength of votes against this legislation.

1.19 p.m.

I am more than glad to join the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) in supporting the Bill. She made an eloquent speech, and I want to take up only one of her remarks. It was that concerning the liberty of the individual.

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said that we were, after all, talking about only a few people, and he asked why their liberties should be curtailed. I remind him that in this country murderers are very much in the minority. Nevertheless, we chase them and curtail their activities. I can see no merit in that argument.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) tried to seek information regarding the Government's attitude to the Bill at any time in Labour Party manifestos. The 1970 Labour Government were prepared to bring in a Bill after the one brought in by myself had been talked out by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. From that he must have known that at some future date a Labour Government would do this very thing.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State pointed out that the Government had made it clear for almost a year that this would happen. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Government have brought in the Bill. It is welcomed by millions of people throughout the length and breadth of the country, not merely in towns but in country districts.

One criticism of the Bill expressed today is that the time of the House is being wasted when there are so many other more important Bills in the pipeline and the economic situation of the country is such that we should not spend time on this matter.

I should like to refer to the paper referred to by the hon. Member for Gainsborough—The Sporting Life. Incidentally, it is not my usual reading. It states that the hon. Gentleman referred to the
"absurd abuse of the Parliamentary timetable."
It also refers to the hon. Gentleman as the Member who
"has been masterminding the Parliamentary opposition with great skill for many years and refuses to be downcast."
I do not know what his situation is today. He has been successful so far, and we have paid a certain amount of tribute to him, but I am convinced that Friday the 13th will prove unlucky for him.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen it, but my horoscope in the Daily Mail says:

"Success will depend on your being purposeful, objective and well organised."

The result of the vote today will show that either the horoscope is wrong or my hon. Friend's abilities do not add up to what is required.

I do not have a great deal of faith in horoscopes. We shall have to wait and see.

I should like to refer to the use or misuse of parliamentary time. I remind Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Gainsborough, that we spent a whole Friday discussing the Conservation of Seals Bill. It was a wonderful debate. It was most erudite and so on. The situation in the country at that time was not very bright. Nevertheless hon. Gentlemen, in almost unwonted fashion, spent the whole day talking out that Bill. I have no complaint about that. However, they should not tell us that we are wasting time. The time is being wasted by hon. Members opposite who have opposed this kind of Bill over the last 10 years.

Opponents of the Bill make another complaint—that it has been introduced without consultation with the authorities concerned. Reference has been made to the Scott Henderson Report and the further report from the British Field Sports Association. Frankly, I do not think that those reports have much relevance. Whatever changes may have been made in the way that coursing is carried on, they do not appear to have had very much effect.

I come now to the further charge—that many opponents of hare coursing talk, as it were, from second-hand information. That charge cannot be brought against me. In November last year I attended a coursing meeting not at the invitation of the Hare Coursing Association but privately. We thought that that might be a more satisfactory way of learning what hare coursing was about. It was the three-day meeting in Lincolnshire to which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake referred. We went on the second day. The hon. Lady said that she got her figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I shall give my own figures, because I saw the events. We saw 15 courses, during which five hares were caught. That was enough for us. I know that there were further courses. I understand that subsequently another two hares were caught and killed.

I went to that meeting, I confess, prejudiced, because I had seen a television presentation of this so-called sport. I was prejudiced, but what I saw completely justified that prejudice. I came away determined that sooner rather than later such legislation as this should be on the statute book.

I turn now to the claim or the charge that much of the propaganda which has been put out by various animal welfare societies has been faked. We are all aware of the picture showing the hare being tugged in two directions by two dogs that had managed to catch it in the course. That has been put out by opponents of the Bill as sheer propaganda.

I do not know whether the hares were aware that we were at the particular meeting to which I referred, but one hare was most obliging. It actually chose to be caught by two dogs within 10 to 15 yards of where we were standing, and there followed that horrific spectacle which has been so aptly described. It must have been at least 30 seconds before the screams of the hare ceased. Therefore, no one should tell me that this is sheer propaganda. I saw that very thing. I do not believe that anybody can suggest that this so-called sport is not cruel. I am certainly more than convinced that it is.

Another point which struck me at that meeting was the large number of people engaged, I assume on a part-time basis, as beaters. In fact, there may have been more beaters than spectators. We have heard talk about a 12-yard chase. These people were shouting like dervishes. They were two fields away driving the hares. Whether in driving them on they gave them a medical test to ascertain whether they were strong or weak, I do not know. I certainly do not know whether the people who slipped the dogs could gauge whether the hare was physically fit. All I know is that the hare passed the dogs and the dogs were slipped at perhaps 80 yards. I do not know. That may have been the distance. That was the sort of think that went on. I wondered who the beaters were. I assumed that they were agricultural workers who got a few bob for doing this work during the three days. I am sure that hon. Members who are so anxious about the country's economic situation would agree that these people could have been more usefully employed during those three days, especially in agriculture, which many Opposition Members will understand.

I turn to the last objection, namely, that the Bill is part of an insidious plot to abolish cruel sports. Yes, I am glad to say that it is. The periodical Horse and Hound, which I do not normally read, illustrates this in a warning it gave its readers when it said:
"Remember, the aim of the abolitionists is to pick off all field sports one by one, with coursing as the first target."
I shall state simply the aim of the abolitionists. When I refer to abolitionists, I mean my friends, my hon. Friends and Conservative Members who agree with my views on this matter. The aim is to eliminate those cruel sports which opponents of the Bill today defend. Hare coursing is the first bastion—the one they are defending today. When this falls, as I hope it will, my friends and I will rejoice and will be prepared to gird up our loins in order to make the next attack. I support the Bill.

1.31 p.m.

We are devoting a parliamentary day to a Government Bill which is to make illegal a pastime that is witnessed by under 1,000 people and causes the death per annum of fewer hares, with rather less cruelty, than the number run over on any summer's evening on the roads of East Anglia.

When opening the debate the Minister said that she considered the Bill to be vitally important. I disagree. I am also sorry that the debate is taking place on a Friday, at not a great deal of notice; I do not want to join the lobby who say that the people who are against coursing are the "townies", and that the people who are for it are those who live in the country or who represent country constituencies.

However, there is not much doubt that there is much more coursing in my constituency and in the constituency of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton)—and we would normally spend our Friday afternoons in our constituencies—than there is in the metropolitan constituencies and the constituencies of hon. Members who find it so easy to be here on a Friday afternoon.

Will the hon. Gentleman not give way at all during his speech, because I have a question to ask?

I am just beginning to make my speech.

First, I should like to declare my interest. I have attended coursing meetings, because for 20 years I was a sports writer. I am not a great protagonist. I do not think there is anything particularly uplifting or honourable about coursing. However, it is a pursuit which the people who indulge in it have taken great pains to hold in distant parts of the country. I do not believe that anyone has come across a coursing meeting by accident. There is no question of this being imposed on people who were not expecting it.

I do not believe that Lord Paget's great remark that hares would vote for the continuation of coursing, even with my and my party's fervent belief in universal suffrage, has any great authority. However, I shall vote against the Bill because I am not an abolitionist. I do not believe that the time we are devoting to this should be given to abolishing something which does the limited amount of harm that coursing does.

Why is the Bill being brought? That is the crux of the matter. If it is being brought to constrain cruelty to animals, it is being very badly brought indeed. It is a poorly conceived Bill. Is it being brought to make money for the Government by fining the minuscule crowds with un-index-linked fines which do not seem very much, or is it—

The hon. Gentleman may assume what he likes, but I shall go on speaking for the time being.

Or is the Bill, as I suspect, being brought as a sop to the anti-cruelty-toanimals lobby? What will the Bill achieve? It may well achieve what I said in a speech that was published in one of our excellent newspapers, which the Minister was kind enough to quote, that it would drive coursing underground.

The hon. Gentleman said that it would drive coursing into the back streets.

That would be a particularly inappropriate place to have coursing. The Minister also said that it was a hole-and-corner sport. But a hole in a corner is very much more in favour of the hare and would do infinite damage to the dogs. Therefore, I do not go very much for that as an analogy.

Very little thought has been given to the effect the Bill will have. Presumably the police will be brought in to control coursing; that is, to ensure that no coursing as specified in the Bill will take place in this country. The police, as I am sure all hon. Members agree, are already sufficiently overworked. I should be grateful if, during her summing up, the Minister would announce how many extra police will be brought in, because everyone wants to know this. I know that the police members are unhappy about it.

I am very much against what seems to me to be unenforceable laws. I am particularly against legislation which would seem to be an incentive to people to inform against others, because in this country when it comes to cruelty or suspected cruelty to animals there is not a great deal of rationality.

In this debate is the hon. Gentleman speaking for his constituents, or is he putting forward his own views? If he is speaking for himself will he indicate when he changed his views? If hon. Members change their views, it is essential for them to say so. I have changed my views on various issues many times. I understand that in 1968, as a paid performer, the hon. Gentleman spoke at the League Against Cruel Sports' annual meeting in Birmingham. I should like to know whether that is true. If it is, when did he change his views? Was it when he began to represent a rural constituency?

I am glad I gave way, because if this distresses the hon. Gentleman I can explain. I have never been an abolitionist. I did attend a meeting as a paid guest of the League Against Cruel Sports, and I made it very clear that I was against cruelty but that I was also anti-abolitionist. In 1965 I wrote an article in the Sun about coursing in which I made my views clear.

When I speak in this House in a free debate, I speak for myself. I have received a large number of letters from my constituents. Many of those letters are in favour of hare coursing and a very large number are against it. I was singularly impressed that the letters in favour were addressed to me and argued their case rationally and well, whereas all the letters against had obviously been dictated by a society and copied out by those who wrote them from a prototype letter. Whereas, in all fairness, I must say that, although I had more letters, not from my constituency but from all over the country, urging me to support the Government's Bill, I was very much more impressed by those who said that coursing does no real harm and that it should be allowed to continue. I have never been against coursing but I have always been against cruelty to animals—[Interruption.]

I have certainly had enough of this speech. I am not listening to any more of it.

It must be made clear that hares are naturally frightened animals. They are frightened as much by a dog like the one belonging to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), which runs after them, as they are by dogs at an organised coursing event.

It is important to remember that if cousing is abolished hares will be killed in a much less efficient and a much more cruel way than the few hares—the number last year was 590—which were efficiently dispatched at coursing meetings held under proper supervision. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said, some of them were actually put out of their misery by the handlers. That was not cruelty; it was kindness. If hares are in traps or are caught up in nets or if they are inefficiently shot, it is kindness to kill them rather than let them go on suffering.

It is right that a civilised society should cut out all aspects of uncivilised behaviour, and I would not say that hare coursing is civilised behaviour in any way. But the way that it is being done today and the legislation which has been presented to us are not the proper answer. I would like to see the whole case investigated in consultation with the people who are involved in the sport. There are, admittedly, only 70 people employed full-time in coursing but I wonder whether the Under-Secretary and her supporters realise that if coursing is made illegal some 2,000 greyhounds are likely to be shot in the next 18 months because there will be no further use for them. I know that they will be shot compassionately and I realise that the protest today is that the sport causes unnecessary cruelty, but I would still not like to see that happen to the dogs. I hope that when coursing is made illegal and no longer takes place it will be done by people, unlike the Under-Secretary, who know from experience what they are campaigning against.

In 1936 38,000 people witnessed the Waterloo Cup, which is the classic of coursing. Two years ago there were 180 people at the same event. They did not go there, as the hon. Member for Drake suggested, for betting. This is usually an incredibly uncomfortable day out. It is wet and cold, and the bars tend to be very expensive. If people want to bet, there are very many easier ways for them to do it.

I think I have explained that people go because they are interested in the quality and performance of a greyhound, and although the only product is the occasional death of a hare, which is perhaps generally unacceptable, but is not particularly acceptable to me. the fact that a dog is faster and more skilful than another dog and that a man who trains it proves his ability to do so is attractive to a number of people. It has been said that this is not a very popular sport, and if it is not, let us leave it alone to die a natural death. I believe that that is what we should do, and that is why I shall be opposing the Bill in the Lobby.

1.45 p.m.

I think this debate has probably produced as many red herrings as it has hares, but I feel that this is not an issue which should be argued on party lines or as between town and country. The clash really comes between those in this House who argue that it is allowable for man, the highest form of life, to be allowed to terrify, mutilate and destroy other forms of life in the pursuit of his own pleasure. That is the issue. We are not arguing in terms of conservation or pest control.

In its most horrific form coursing leads to the hare being torn, screaming, limb from limb as a living rope in a tug of war between two dogs. To me it is irrelevant that it should be suggested that the kill is not the aim of the sport. The real horror to me is that a wild animal is calculatedly terrorised in the amusement of the spectators. I do not dodge the issue. I am a complete abolitionist of blood sports, and I do not hedge on that. I will support every measure that comes before this House that seeks to abolish these sports.

On this Bill, let us accept the argument put forward by the pro-coursing lobby that the aim of the exercise is to test the skill of the dogs. The stimulation is a human living ceature— [HON. MEMBERS: "Human?"]. I apologise. I have made a mistake. I was led astray when David Livingstone's experience was quoted on the subject. Although I have not been to see this sport, if any of the hon. Members who quote him as an example wish to enter a controlled experiment I will go along as an observer.

The stimulation is a living animal, and in this situation I cannot find it in my heart to justify any sport which uses an animal in this way. In a way the living animal is reduced to a mere pawn for the enjoyment of the human race.

We are not arguing about conservation or pest control or a change in the rules. The issue before the House is a deep gulf in attitude over a so-called sport to which many of us feel an abhorence because it is cruel. Judging by my postbag from both town and surrounding country, it is an affront to many of our electors. In such circumstances I do not think the law can remain mule. I do not feel that we can argue against violence and at the same time permit the law to cover a sport in which the ingredients are horrific, shocking and sadistic. Any society which treats a form of life, albeit animal life, with such contempt denigrates life as a whole and loses any justification for calling itself a civilised society.

On those grounds I shall vote in support of this Bill and of any other Bill which is introduced to remove blood sports by the control of law.

1.50 p.m.

The Government's whole idea of introducing the Bill today is complete and utter nonsense in view of the many urgent matters which require the Government's attention. It is extraordinary that the Bill should be introduced today when the Leader of the House said last month that we had not time to debate certain aspects of capital gains tax. Every Thursday the Leader of the House says that there is not time to debate this or that matter of urgent national importance. The pound is bumping along at the lowest possible level. There is a record rate of unemployment. There will be a national rail strike on 23rd June—in case the Government did not know—but here we are talking about hares.

It is extraordinary that when one goes abroad and people ask about the state of the country and what the Government are doing about it, one can come back, as I have done from Europe this week, to find the House of Commons engaged in spending a whole day debating hares and the abolition of hare coursing.

I shall not give way because my time is strictly limited to a timetable which I gave to Mr. Speaker. I hope that the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) will understand.

For the Government to introduce a measure of this type at this time is a matter of utter madness. One can talk of the madness of March hares, but the madness of June hares, especially when they are chased by a Labour Government is infinitely greater.

I should like to examine briefly this ancient pastime which is so horrific that it has stirred the Labour Government of the day into action. Statistics have been quoted and I do not believe they are in question. In an average year approximately 600 hares are killed by coursing. What the House has not been told is that by other methods approximately 100,000 hares are killed every year. Therefore, today we are spending the whole day—which is just the beginning of the road—on the abolition of hare coursing dealing with 600 hares killed every year, or just over ½ per cent. of the total that are destroyed annually.

Let no one take the view that it is not necessary to destroy hares, because it is. In certain parts of the country, particularly East Anglia there are vast populations of hares which have to be destroyed at certain times of the year by every means possible for agricultural reasons. The other methods of killing hares are often just as cruel as and, indeed, more cruel than the method which the Government are seeking to ban today.

One of the most distasteful methods of killing hares which is widely used throughout the country is that of snaring them. Hon. Members on both sides of the House bold up their hands in horror at the thought of a hare being coursed for 35 seconds and then taking five seconds to die. I suggest to those hon. Members that they should visit certain areas of the countryside and see hares that have been left in snares for perhaps 12 or 13 hours and then judge how the cruelty compares. Hares have to be destroyed in many parts of the country, and it is utterly ridiculous that Parliament should spend today, as a beginning, on discussing the way in which approximately ½ per cent. meet their end.

There are other ways of killing hares which involve a certain amount of cruelty, for example shooting. Hares cannot be gassed because they live above ground. They are also destroyed by beagles, whippets, lurchers and greyhounds taken out by people to be sharpened up on the real thing before being introduced to the greyhound track.

Therefore, we are faced with the strange position that the Government have acted to protect ½ per cent. of the number of hares destroyed annually, and those not by the cruellest means, simply because of hysterical and unfair pressure applied by the publicity media.

If some of the supporters of the Bill have their way, they will completely abolish cruelty in the killing of hares only by the complete elimination of the species, which may be what they are seeking. The House has many other urgent matters to attend to. Whether the Bill goes through or not, I regard it as of trifling significance to the hares.

The Bill is promoted by a spiteful minority, some of whom are quite prepared to legislate to allow, for instance, consenting adults to commit, in private, the most disgusting and unnatural acts but are not prepared to allow other adults engaged in an ancient—indeed, the oldest—honourable field sport, governed by a strict code of rules, to continue with a skilled and sophisticated pastime.

I am no great fan of hare coursing, but I am a fan of other country sports which are threatened today just as much as hare coursing.

The Leader of the House said last year:
"I am afraid that one step at a time is enough for me. If we can get the legislation on hare coursing through the House during this Session it will be a major step forward, and we could then look towards dealing with other sports."—[Official Report, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1254.]
This is the thin end of the wedge and it must be resisted by all right-thinking persons.

1.57 p.m.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) believes that the House should not be debating this subject, because I know how interested and concerned he is about the preservation of British wild life and the conservation of our natural heritage. He was right to point out to the House that only a tiny proportion of the hares which are killed in Britain annually are killed by coursing. He was also right to say that hares have to be controlled. Three, four or even five hares will eat as much grass as any sheep. A hare can do tremendous damage to crops. Hares have to be controlled and destroyed. However, the destruction of hares does not justify coursing, which although it is the oldest of our field sports is one I can scarcely defend.

In his powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made the point that opposition to coursing was not restricted to people who lived in towns. My own mail-bag and my own acquaintances justify that view. I have received about the same number of letters from people defending coursing, or at least opposing the Bill—and there is probably a subtle difference—as from those who wish to deplore it. Some of the letters I have received—indeed, many from my own constituency—expressing criticism, doubt, or anxiety about the Bill were from people who would not practise coursing themselves, who I know dislike it but who feel that it is the thin edge of the wedge. It is because of that argument that I am anxious about the Bill and approach it cautiously.

I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but I do not wish to express my own approval of the argument that all field sports or all country pursuits should be abolished. If they were abolished, it seems to me that we would put at risk the wealth and diversity of our natural heritage. It is because I firmly believe that the natural abundance of wild life in this country is desirable. if not essential, that I feel we must be cautious and consider the consequences of any legislation which the House proposes. I do not believe that the prohibition of coursing will make any difference to the hare population, but we could then proceed to the abolition of other field sports in the harmful belief that there would be the same absence of effect on distribution of population.

Coursing is the oldest field sport, but it differs from the rest in one fundamental respect. In all the other field sports the aim is to destroy the animal, because its destruction is necessary and perhaps because its destruction leads to the provision of food which can be palatable. However, in coursing the fate of the animal is unimportant. That is the justification for the Bill. The process still involves the destruction of life, albeit animal life, and it is the frivolity of the process which leads me to be critical of the activity. Since the pursuit is frivolous in its regard for life and unimportant as a measure of control, I shall vote for the Bill.

I shall view with anxiety the view of those who believe that this is the first step to complete prohibition of all country pursuits. I would rather see people going into the open air, or a boy sitting in the countryside fishing than going around smashing street lamps on his way back from watching Manchester United play football. That is a valid point. We should seek to avoid creating the attitude that women should spend their days in bingo halls and that men should spend their time watching association football matches.

If the Government had sought to observe the proper priorities, they would probably have introduced a Bill to prohibit the hunting of the otter rather than introduce the present Bill. I believe that the killing of hares may be more justified than the killing of otters, if only because there are more hares than otters and also because the otter is much less harmful than is the hare on the British scene.

I hope that the people who are responsible for our country pursuits will take note of the fact that the arguments against otter hunting are even stronger than those against hare coursing. I believe that otter hunting persists only because of the opposition to field sports in Britain. In other words, those responsible for the direction or management of country pursuits have allowed otter hunting to continue because they feel that a ban would be regarded as a surrender to the anti-blood sports interests.

It would be highly desirable for that sport to be examined by those who practise it or those who can influence the people who practise it, and I hope that that will happen without much more time elapsing. If we ban coursing and also bring about the complete disappearance of otter hunting, we shall go a long way towards meeting the decent consciences of those who know a good deal about the subject.

One of the problems we have to face is that many people who express opinions on these matters know little about them. We are creating a situation which is rather similar to that which was developed in the medieval period. This is an interesting point and is worthy of a little more consideration. When we talk about meat—beef, mutton and pork—we are using Norman French names, but when we talk of the animals from which those meats come—cattle. cow, pig, sheep and so on—we are using the Saxon names. It is interesting that the people who carried out the work and who handled the animals that produced the meat—those who supervised the calving, the shearing or the mucking-out—were the Saxons and the people who enjoyed the meat were the Norman French, who had remarkably little to do with the animals. It seems to me that the use of language illustrates a division in society and certainly a lack of understanding.

We are in danger today of developing new divisions. One division is between those who are concerned about the countryside and rural England, although they may not necessarily be resident there, and those who are satisfied with the pursuits and residence of an urban situation. Such a division is harmful.

I do not think my hon. Friend should pursue that point. Surely the argument that people wish to enjoy the countryside is one thing, but the fact that that must inevitably lead to the killing of an animal is quite another matter. People can be encouraged to enjoy the countryside without the killing of an animal entering into it. Therefore, there is some confusion of thought which my hon. Friend should not pursue.

I disagree with my hon. Friend. I know that in my hon. Friend's constituency there are some attractive woodlands. In the next few years there will be coming into that constituency and mine sika deer and roe deer. Since the deer are increasing in numbers, a problem will be created in both our constituencies. We can take the matter lightly, but in a few years' time the population of those deer will have risen and they may cause damage to farming and be a nuisance in forested areas. Those deer will have to be controlled by culling. Killing will have to take place. Similarly in our constituencies and in others, rabbits, wood pigeons, hares and foxes will have to be destroyed in the interests of the provision of food, and perhaps the balance of nature.

For that reason, my hon. Friend will have to accept that those who believe that we can enjoy the countryside and retain its advantages without any destruction are slightly deluded.

I do not think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has been answered. There are many reasons why people are attracted to the countryside which have nothing to do with the increase in the deer population.

I accept that point, but it would be desirable if those who visit the countryside accepted that a certain number of animals had to die. Therefore, if on their visits they happen to encounter a gentleman dragging the corpse of a deer, they should regard him not as a fiend incarnate, but as somebody who may be carrying out a necessary rural activity. That kind of approach to field sports is sometimes wrong because it fails to understand the true picture of life within a rural situation. I certainly would have more respect for those who want to achieve such a policy if I knew that they were vegetarian. That is surely a logical manifestation of the belief.

We are entitled to expect that while the urban majority may have the political power to dictate the law of the land, that urban majority should not operate on the basis of sentimentality rather than sensitivity. On the other hand, if the rural minority are to be allowed to indulge in country pursuits they will have to convince the very larger urban majority that those pursuits are being indulged with decency and without avoidable cruelty. It is essential that before many years pass those who are concerned with rural pursuits should clearly demonstrate that the practices are desirable or necessary and operate with a minimum of cruelty. That is essential.

The Government should ensure that no legislation will be passed by this House unless it deals with the conditions I have just outlined. I believe that coursing is an offence, and that is why I shall vote for the Bill. I hope that there will be legislation to end otter hunting too. After that situation has been reached, I hope that the House will conduct itself discreetly and cautiously.

This is a free vote of the House. So far I have called eight hon. Members to speak for the Bill and five to speak against. I shall try to adjust that figure. I do not want any complaints to be made about my doing so. However, I should like the reason for doing that to be clear.

2.10 p.m.

I believe that all hon. Members listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) with sympathy and great interest. If I may say so, it was a relief to hear a speech from the Government side which was based on a clear experience of the countryside and a great deal of thought about this problem, rather than some of the emotive stuff we heard earlier. The House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a case for hare coursing as opposed to other field sports. Clearly, he is not certain about this himself since he mentioned otter hunting as well, which is a separate and complicated argument. However, we are grateful to him for what he said and for the note of reason which he introduced into the debate.

One aspect of this debate which upsets me is that, although there was a clear invitation from the National Coursing Club to Members of Parliament to find out what hare coursing was like, only two dozen or so availed themselves of that opportunity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said, those hon. Members came away wondering what the fuss was all about.

We cannot all aspire to personal experience of all the areas of legislation in which we engage. Not so long ago, for instance, we discussed the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. I dare say hon. Members would find difficulty with this context, over that Bill.

However, over hare coursing there is no excuse. Hon. Members should have tried to find out the facts. We are dealing with an ancient sport and pastime enjoyed by a minority—that is even more important in some ways than if it were a majority—of our fellow citizens. It is a case in which reality is vastly different from the emotive clamour of so many people who oppose it.

There has been much play over conscience in this debate. I suggest that any hon. Member who has never seen or attended a coursing meeting, or who has never met the people involved in hare coursing, and who votes for the Bill had better examine his conscience very carefully.

I did attend a meeting. I have a wide experience of field sports in this and in many other countries. Although I have never attended hare coursing before, I have always found those involved in field sports to be as decent and as kind as the followers of any other sport, and often more so.

Remarks have been made today about those who follow football. If the Leeds United football club could swap some of its devotees for those following a coursing meeting at Altcar I dare say that it would be very pleased. I am equally certain that those who follow field sports take a close interest in and know more about wild game and do more to help with the conservation of game than those who do not.

Looking at it, then, with some experience of these activities, by no acceptable definition or comparison do I see this as a cruel sport. The rules bend backwards to give the quarry a chance, and 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of hares get away. The object is not to kill. The impression one gets is of a natural drama. The hare seems preconditioned to the chase. The dogs and the quarry are splendidly matched. The greyhounds possess superb speed and clear sight but lack manoeuvrability. The hare has speed, much more agility, and a knowledge of the ground. [Interruption.] The hon. Member has made his case. Perhaps he would now like to listen to mine. I do not know how much experience the hon. Gentleman has, but if he had taken the trouble to watch, he would now know what I was talking about.

The hare watches the dogs run up. As she turns the dogs are literally flung yards past the hare. It is only then that the hare accelerates. If she has not been caught after two turns she will steadily gain on the greyhounds. From then on the strain is on the dogs. Cramp, broken legs and lameness are common after only a few seconds of a course. Hon. Gentlemen may laugh. However, if they wish to understand what goes on they should pay attention.

It is essential to compare this activity with shooting. No hon. Member has made a case for dropping the control of hares altogether. In my view, wounding is the worst aspect of any field sport. It may be the only bad aspect. A wounded animal dies slowly, not necessarily more slowly or painfully than as a result of so-called natural causes, but slowly. Such a slow death is absolutely impossible in coursing, in my observation.

Supporters of the Bill presumably recognise the need for control. What do they suggest'? Do they suggest shooting, poison, snares or traps? All these involve substantially more cruelty than hare coursing. Therefore, those who vote for the Bill are not diminishing the suffering which these animals are likely to undergo. They are increasing it. Hon. Gentlemen have been informed of that time and time again this afternoon. We have not heard a ghost of an answer. When the hon. Lady comes to wind up—she has already lectured us for 20 minutes about this matter—let her answer that point. How can she answer what has been put to her this afternoon? If the Bill becomes law the hare will suffer proportionately more.

I do not wish to make too much of the question of conservation. Over the well-known coursing grounds there is a bigger hare population than would be tolerated ordinarily. That principle applies to all field sports. Where man pursues game for controlled sport, the game flourishes. Where the sportsman is forbidden, man, the pure predator, takes over, and greed soon exterminates.

I wish to mention two other misconceptions, both of which rest on a fundamental ignorance of animals in the wild. The first is that coursed hares die of fear and exhaustion afterwards. We were assured of that earlier on by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer). If he had bothered to read the Stable and Stuttard report he would know that it went into this matter with great care. Not one example of such a death was ever produced. That was the conclusion of the report. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever found a dead hare after a course. The course is over in seconds. A course of from two to three minutes is rare. The dogs are far more exhausted. I saw them practically unable to move after two to three minutes, while the hare was still running freely.

Some hon. Gentlemen could benefit from a little more information about the subject of fear in animals. If they had read the Stable and Stuttard report and the original Scott Henderson report into cruelty to wild animals they would know that it is ridiculous to compare the fear or pain experienced by animals with that by human beings. The reports went to great trouble to investigate that. In many ways fear is an essential mechanism. I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman has seen the reaction of buck in Africa hunted by a predator such as a lion. As soon as the quarry is killed these animals stop running and graze round about without any apparent fear, There must be some explanation.

The hon. Member keeps interrupting. I know that he is trying to catch my eye so that he may speak later on. However, he is ruining his chances.

I dare say that it is a long time since the hon. Member for Penistone has observed anything of the kind I have described.

The second misconception is that it is our duty to leave these animals to die of natural causes. The hon. Lady made much of this. Death by starvation, disease or predators is relevant. The hon. Lady seemed to think that all were acceptable. It seems to me that this is the nub of the argument. The hon. Lady does not seem to care provided that she can keep man out of it. On any analysis the Bill is concerned not with animals but with our fellow men. Here there are two arguments—and they are both odious.

The first has been dealt with again and again and I accept that most hon. Members opposite do not in any way support it. It is that this is an activity of the privileged and the rich. The first four owners I came across were a furniture restorer, a small butcher, a taxi-driver and a gipsy. Plainly, that argument is nonsense. I do not know where these categories stand in the class enemy structure—but probably not very high! But we cannot entirely discount this charge, however ludicrous it may seem.

The so-called animal welfare organisations have an unsavoury reputation for Left-wing penetration, notably the League Against Cruel Sports. A gentleman by the name of Rorke Garfield, a prominent member of a glamorous organisation known as the Hunt Saboteurs Association resigned last week or the week before at the age of 33, giving to the Press as his reason for resigning that the organisation was being taken over by the Left-wing—"as were other animal welfare organisations"—by people who cared less about animals than about political aims". Marxism is a doctrine based on hatred, and applied to field sports it is grotesque.

The serious argument which the hon. Lady was undoubtedly deploying is, in effect, that it is wrong for men to take pleasure from the pursuit and possible death or suffering of an animal. I grant that this has a straight, simplistic appeal and that many well-meaning people—though, with respect, uninstructed and inexperienced, people—fall for this. But the suffering of a hunted animal is a highly debatable state, not comparable to human emotion. In any case, suffering would be increased by the abolition of hare coursing.

The reality of nature is ignored by the proponents of the Bill. They are concerned simply with other people's consciences. They think that by imposing their will on other people they will mitigate the harshness of nature and make people better. Coming from this Government—or any Government—that is insufferable arrogance. One visit to a coursing meeting and half an hour spent with people who have an enthusiasm for coursing should be enough to dispel it. If that is really their motive, why do they not pay more attention to more profitable fields and introduce their zeal into the football arena, or to Soho?

I turn lastly to the hon. Lady and the Government. Has she really studied the Scott Henderson report and the Stable and Stuttard report? Does she agree with their definitions of cruelty, and, if so, which? Does she agree that legislation should be based on objective analysis, and is she not struck by the contrast between the depth of analysis, care and knowledge of the hare, and of this sport which had been deployed on the one hand, and the emotive clamour she has heard this afternoon, let alone before, on the other? How dare she bring forward legislation which makes it legal for a farmer to set one dog on a hare but makes it a crime to set two, and that disregards every serious conclusion of those who were appointed to look officially into these matters.

Drinking, gambling, smoking, homosexuality and pornography all have their enemies, but all will continue to be tolerated. Why should this ancient sport be singled out? Is it because so few are engaged in it? What particular political calculation lies behind it? There is something sickening about a society, predominantly urban, which has steadily deteriorated morally in almost every sphere and phase of life turning in the name of morality upon those who enjoy a particularly well-regulated and ancient sport practised by a few people from all walks of life in a spirit of enthusiasm and friendliness.

The function and quality of the House of Commons has steadily deteriorated of late. No longer is this place the bastion of the people's liberty, as it used to be and should be. It is a place for devising and imposing ever more petty restrictions on the people of this country in the name of ideology or of some other prejudice. Our sickness of mind is frightening. The threat to our economic life is overwhelming. The potential menace to our ancient liberties is a reality. For such eventualities our forefathers created this place. And what do we do? We engage in the petty persecution of decent people engaged in an ancient and traditional country pursuit.

It is no small matter. Increasingly, these tyrannies passed by the House of Commons are supported by less and less argument. From the hon. Lady and those who support her we have heard no serious argument whatever. If the Bill is carried, it will be in the teeth of a mass of collated fact and evidence and by a combination of prejudice and mean-mindedness. The House of Commons will be diminished by it. The contempt and despair of a number of decent people will be the sole achievement of this day's work. "While Rome burned, we abolished hare coursing." That is the only miserable little boast that the Government will be able to make if the Bill goes through.

2.25 p.m.

I deeply regret that the restrictions placed upon me and upon other speakers prevent my following the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings).

I support the Bill, which is long overdue. I hope that in Committee or by Order in Council its provisions will be extended to Northern Ireland. The Government have every justification for doing that. Northern Ireland is not noted for its progressive views, but in 1967 and 1968 I was the co-sponsor of a Bill on this subject which passed successfully through Stormont but was, unfortunately, defeated in the Senate. Stormont is no longer in existence, but at that time people from right across the political spectrum—Unionists, people who were bitterly opposed to Unionists and people who were bitterly opposed to my ideology—all completely supported the Bill to outlaw this barbaric practice. In my few remarks I shall not refer to it as a sport. It is not a sport; it is an obscenity.

We have been told that it is an ancient sport. It may have been a sport at the time when human beings were pitted against each other and only one could survive. I hope that civilisation has advanced a long way since those days. In Northern Ireland we had full support from all the elected Members, many of them Conservative and arch-Conservative, for the abolition of this practice. If the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is anything to go by, we can expect serious opposition, but I hope that we shall be successful in bringing to an end this barbaric practice.

The specious and untenable arguments used both here and in Northern Ireland by those who want to retain this barbaric practice do not stand up to examination. First, we hear that it is an ancient sport, but that is no reason for retaining it. Secondly, we hear that it is not cruel. I heard a record of this event that was put on sale, and I can go only by the sounds that I heard, which were of screaming. Those sounds conveyed to me the terror and agony of the poor animal that is being hunted. I should not be surprised to hear someone say that the animal was screaming in sheer enjoyment and excitement of the chase. We have been asked to believe that. No one can say with any degree of honesty that it is not a cruel and agonising death for the hare.

When the Bill to which I referred was going through Stormont, we were told that it would lead to a falling off in the breeding of Irish greyhounds. We were even told that to pass the legislation would be unpatriotic because it would result in Irish greyhounds being of a lesser calibre than greyhounds in this part of the United Kingdom where the practice was still legal.

We were also told that the Bill would lead to unemployment. We have heard this afternoon that only a few people are employed on hare coursing in Britain and even fewer in Northern Ireland. We have also been told that the abolition of the practice could lead to a decline in greyhound breeding. I recognise that there is serious unemployment in Northern Ireland and in other parts of Britain, but if an industry can exist only because of its barbaric cruelty it has no right to exist. I would do nothing to help retain it.

I believe that a big betting interest is involved and that bookmakers make profits while, of course, some punters lose. I understand that there is a lobby among the betting interests to keep hare coursing going. But the betting interest is certainly not paramount. I believe that the main lobby is from the people who have been brought up to such a way of life that they believe that it is a God-given right to engage in this barbaric practice.

We have heard conflicting arguments about hare coursing as a pest control method. We have been told that it is an efficient way of getting rid of hares. Yet we have also heard that the life span of a hare is perhaps only a few months—that a hare is born in spring or summer and will usually die from predators or disease by the end of the year. If the life span is so short, surely it is quite unnecessary to use this means to wipe hares out of existence.

We are living in an age of violence in many ways. No one is more aware of that than I am. I see it every day. I am against violence, whether it be against human beings or defenceless animals. If I can take any steps in a political way to do away with violence, to make life livable, whether for human beings or for animals, I regard it as my bounden duty to do so. The arguments pursued for the retention of this barbaric practice of live hare coursing are not tenable, and I believe that the vast majority of the British people, including Northern Ireland, want to do away with it.

2.32 p.m.

I apologise to the House, as I have done already to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Minister, for my absence this morning. All of us discover after being here for a short time that most outside engagements are avoidable, but some are less avoidable than others and my engagement this morning fell into that category. For this reason, I shall do my best to speak even more briefly than usual.

During my time in this House I have not been unduly resistant to change, although I belong to the Conservative Party. But I have been anxious that the changes we make in our legislation should lead to something better. The question which I have heard asked since I joined the debate is, what will happen if the Bill is passed? The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made a strong plea for the Bill, but I find it unrealistic to believe that the hares that will not be coursed if the Bill is passed will be allowed to remain peaceful pensioners of a grateful nation. I think that we shall be forced, whether we like it or not, to consider the alternative.

As I understand it, the National Coursing Club has never claimed for coursing that it is a means of control. It may control, but the claim is not made. But I believe that some means of control will have to exist—and most of us accept it—if the Bill reaches the statute book. What will those means be? Extermination? Most of us would bitterly regret it if that were so.

One is left with the alternative of guns, snares and unregulated coursing. It is hard to reach a balanced conclusion as between present and future suffering, both in quantity and quality. My feeling is that there is the real possibility that the balance will be against the hare and that there will be more suffering in future than there is at present. Even if this mere possibility exists, we are bound to be driven to the conclusion that the main aim of the Bill is not the removal of cruelty to the hare but the removal of the enjoyment of those who go to coursing meetings.

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was honest enough to say so in his usual honest manner. I say to him and others with the same view that if they could go to coursing meetings, with some of my hon. Friends, no doubt, they would be amazed if they found at any gathering more than one or two people who found the idea of the enjoyment of suffering anything but totally abhorrent.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) made a thoughtful speech. He referred to the division which will be created if the Bill goes through. Support for the sport of hare coursing or any other field sports is largely drawn from those of us who live outside the cities and towns and who feel more at home in the countryside than anywhere else. The Bill, on the other hand, is obviously introduced by a Government whose main political support comes from the cities and the towns.

Words recently used by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House about the Bill suggest that they consider that all opponents of what they call a humane measure are nothing but a bunch of benighted and sadistic rustics. We may be benighted, but I think we still have a certain bucolic logic which enables us to make a comparison between the behaviour of our fellow human beings at coursing meetings and the behaviour of others at cricket and football matches.

If I had the opportunity and pleasure of entertaining a party of Martians on a package tour of the earth and was allowed to take them shooting, fox hunting and hare coursing and then to a football match and finally to see Thomson and Lillee bowling at Lords, I doubt whether, on their return to Mars, giving their views to the "Martian Advertiser" or whatever it might be, they would all agree nem con that the ideals of the earth's civilisation were always most closely approached on the cricket and football fields. I think they would say something in favour of the other sports.

I have no wish to poke fun at cricket and football, which I have played and now watch with immense enjoyment. But I resent the arrogance of a Government who decide for us which sports are morally pure, which should be allowed to continue and which must come to an end, and who claim to see much more clearly the consequences of abolition than anyone who has lived in the country all his life surrounded by wild animals.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a fascinating speech. My experience over many years, including the receipt of many thousands of letters, is that support for the Bill is at least as strong in the rural areas as it is in the towns.

I certainly would not enter into argument with the hon. Gentleman about statistics. I have no doubt that many people in the country do not like hare coursing while many people in the towns like it. I was claiming that for obvious reasons support for hare coursing and other field sports comes mainly from the country.

I would only add that I shall not make comments, as some of my hon. Friends have done, about the irrelevance of the Bill at present, although I could develop that argument at length if I dared. But I detest the divisiveness. I do not believe that any of our citizens like it to be said to them: "We do not mind what you say. Whatever you say, we know best what is good for you." None of us likes that. I do not believe that the unity between town and country is so perfect that it can stand the divisiveness which this meddling Bill will introduce. I believe, sadly, that the Government have made that necessary unity and understanding more remote by deciding to introduce the Bill.

2.41 p.m.

The speech of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) was one of the few speeches by Labour Members which showed any understanding of the difficulties created by legislation like this in the countryside. I regard the hon. Member's speech as one of the most significant comments in the debate. I have been present at every debate on this subject during the past six years, although this is the first time I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and this debate has been marked by a more intellectual and perhaps less emotive approach. Perhaps this is because we have been over a lot of the ground in the past.

The Under-Secretary of State commented, en passant rather than as part of her prepared speech, that this was an initial attempt at the abolition of all field sports. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office has that as his objective.

It is for that reason that there is so much opposition to the Bill.

Those of us who have been brought up and lived in the countryside and enjoyed field sports of all sorts are prepared to look at our own house and keep it in order as and when necessary. The Stable and Stuttard Report is an example of how that can be done.

As for priorities, I sat through a Friday afternoon last July to discuss the compulsory wearing of seat belts, and I was told on that occasion that Friday afternoon was not the time to decide anything very much. Twenty people a week are now dying because they did not wear their seat belts and we are debating hare coursing when fewer hares than people have died in the period of delay. That shows a strange priority in Government business.

I know that cruelty is emotive. The Under-Secretary of State would recall if she were here that when I used the word in an earlier debate this Session I got into considerable trouble. But criticisms of cruelty are relative. I have heard no hon. Member argue the case in terms of fishing rather than coursing. If the argument is one of cruelty to animals, we deserve an answer on that point. But we know that this debate is not about animal welfare at all: it is about people. The truth is that far too many people enjoy fishing. Far too many people in the Parliamentary Secretary's constituency enjoy it for him to have a comfortable ride if the Bill were intended to abolish fishing.

I was challenged. It is no good the right hon. Member shouting like that. My constituents know very well that I have for many years been a vegetarian. My majority goes up at every election.

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Price) knows that the only reason why his majority goes up at every election is that no one ever does anything about Rugby Hospital.

Perhaps I might resume. I apologise for having diverted so violently the course of our debate.

One aspect of the Bill causes me considerable concern. I owned a greyhound for many years. Admittedly it was inadequate for coursing and it failed its trials, but it remained a pet and I had great fun with and affection for that dog. I therefore know something about the application of rough coursing when, in the pursuit of an ordinary afternoon walk, a hare is put up and a course takes place. This legislation will lead to a great many strange afternoon walks across the countryside by pairs of men each of whom happens to have brought his greyhound along.

The Bill is abolishing the only form of organised coursing in which trouble is taken to ensure the maximum welfare of all the animals concerned. That seems illogical. If one were to say that a dog shall not course a hare, that would have some logic, except that we all know that it could not be.

I find the filling of my postbag by both sides of the argument unhelpful. It has been going on for a very long time. May I say to my hon. Friends who I know have deep influence in the animal welfare societies—I am myself a member of the RSPCA—that I find no necessity to have 200 or 300 letters on the subject from either side. That does not do the animal welfare bodies much good in this House.

We are all concerned about the continuing practice of producing bad law. We are constantly criticised outside—rightly, I think—for our lack of attention to this matter. This is a bad law that the Government are trying to pass. In "Barrister's Diary" in the Guardian Gazette on 26th March, someone called "Furnival", of whom I have never heard but who wrote with authority, said:
"Set against all our national troubles the question whether coursing the hare is to be made yet another criminal offence is not of great import. But I do say that if the Government lends its weight and aid to the proposal it will be a bad day for liberty. New laws should not grow from clamour but should be framed after fair discussion and in the general interest. Unless necessity dictates new crimes should not be made of what have hitherto been innocent pursuits."
That seems to sum it up extremely adequately.

Also on the point of bad law, is it right that penalties of £200 and £400 should be imposed, assuming that the Bill receives a Second Reading? If it does, I hope that the Committee will give attention to the size of these punitive penalties, which seem irrelevantly high.

I oppose the Bill on a number of grounds—because it is totally irrelevant to the priorities of the nation at this time, because it is an interference with a traditional countryside pursuit and, above all, because it is both ill-informed and misdirected.

2.49 p.m.

Two principal arguments have been advanced against the Bill. The first is that hares may and do die deaths that are unpleasant, sometimes even more so, and that there are other forms of hunting equally unpleasant if not more so. That argument is easily dispensed with because it does not stand up against the suggestion that the gratuitous addition by human beings to the natural hazards facing the hare is not defensible. We cannot argue that because hares may suffer other kinds of death, albeit natural, we should add to them and increase the chances of their dying an unpleasant death. This seems not to be the principal argument to which my right hon. and hon. Friends should be addressing themselves.

It seems that there is the idea that we are in some way allowing our distaste for the practitioners to be greater than our distaste for the practice. That is a feeling I can admit to having had many years ago. For the sake of Conservative Members, I tell the House that I both live in the country and own a farm. I do not allow the hunt to hunt on my farm. Furthermore. I have seen fox hunting and deer hunting and I saw cockfighting abroad. I saw hare coursing many years ago and I am familiar with the whole process.

I can recall the first fox hunt I saw well over 20 years ago. It was as much my disgust with the practitioners as with the practice that turned me against blood sports at that time. It would be only honest to admit that that feeling affects many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, in hare coursing we find that the practitioners are not necessarily the middle and upper classes. In fact hare coursing practitioners, as has been pointed out by so many Conservative Members, are likely to be constituents of Labour Members.

It is one of the oddities of the Labour Party and of the reforms that we have seen in blood sports that it has always been the proletarian bloodsports which have been abolished—for example, cockfighting and bear baiting. It is about time that we started attacking some of the non-proletarian blood sports such as fox hunting, otter hunting and deer hunting.

I do not accept that the Bill is directed specifically at the practitioners. I had to face the fact over a number of years that it was basically the practice which I abhorred. As I have said, I do not let the local hunt seek foxes on my farm. I have in my woodlands a delightful family of small cubs which are now becoming extremely tame. I go with my family to watch them at weekends. I have not stopped people riding through my woods and enjoying my land or any other piece of countryside, nor do I wish to do so. There is no wish on this side of the House to stop people enjoying the countryside. What we are asking is why the death of an innocent animal has to be a reason and a cause for that enjoyment.

If the defence of blood sports and country sports in general is that they are the only way in which people will enjoy the countryside, I wonder why in the civilised world we should be allowing the people to enjoy the countryside or to visit it at all. Hare coursing is not the way in which people enjoy the countryside. People are capable of enjoying it in many other ways. By all means let people have the right to exercise their dogs and to be delighted in the skill of our animals, but surely it is not beyond the wit of people who wish to enjoy the countryside to devise other means of doing so than pursuing innocent and in many cases defenceless animals.

I see the Bill as important because it is the start of other Bills. Perhaps the most important point is that this is the thin edge of the wedge. When I tabled Early-Day Motion No. 34, which was supported by many hon. Members, I asked that time be given not just for this Bill but for a Bill to abolish all hunting that takes place with dogs. I would still much prefer that to what we are debating today, but fundamentally I support the Bill because I believe that it is the start of a number of Bills for which by and large society is ready. When society is ready, such Bills will be passed. I do not know, but it may be that one day we shall abolish fishing. I am sure that there would be no public acceptance for such a Bill now, but I am sure that there is such acceptance for a Bill to abolish hare coursing, otter hunting, deer hunting and fox hunting.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to correct one minor solecism. Only human beings are hunted with dogs, all animals being hunted with hounds.

That is a semantic on which I shall not comment. Probably that tells me more about the hon. Gentleman than about anything else.

We must make it clear that we are not opposed to the practitioners of hare coursing. Further, we are not opposed to people enjoying the countryside. We believe that country people can devise other means of enjoying it that are unrelated to the extermination and the cruel death of some of the most vital and beautiful of our wild creatures.

2.56 p.m.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) seems to be certain about public opinion on hare coursing. I think that it is a minority on either side which takes a keen interest in the matter. Most people in the country adopt a neutral attitude. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman considers this a suitable subject for a referendum on a suitable future date.

The debate has been shot through with emotionalism on both sides of the House. I think that is bound to be so when we debate this subject. I deplore the extravagant language of the Leader of the House, who I think referred to coursing as an appallingly cruel practice. The Prime Minister on another occasion referred to it as a barbarous anachronism.

Emotionalism is an extremely bad basis for legislation. We are dealing with a minority of the country which takes an active interest in the sport. When we legislate over affairs concerning a minority, we need to take extra care to see that its position is safeguarded. As back benchers we are here to protect minorities and minority interests. Labour Members should bear that well in mind.

Many of the views that we have heard and, indeed, the basis of this legislation can be described as vindictive. Vindictiveness is also a thoroughly bad basis for legislation. I do not believe that the Bill is about cruelty. I do not believe that what will happen as a result of the Bill will be any less cruel than what is happening now. In fact, there will be more cruelty because the hares will have to be kept down and they will be shot. The only reason for their not being shot in such large numbers at present is that coursing interests dominate some parts of the country. Death by shooting— and I have shot hares although I do not like doing so—is far crueller than death by coursing. I believe that coursing is the most humane possible death to which a hare can be subjected.

The other effect of the Bill——

No, I shall not give way. The other effect of the Bill will be that coursing will continue to take place but not as it operates at present—namely, to test dogs without a kill necessarily taking place. We should bear that in mind when we consider the effects of the Bill.

It is right that people who enjoy country sports should fear the Bill as the thin end of a wedge. We have heard from the Under-Secretary that it is her intention that each field sport should be taken in turn and examined to see whether it should be abolished.

Coursing is this country's oldest field sport. Not long ago it was indulged in by many more people and the country was far more densely populated with hares. We all know what has happened since. The habitat of the hare has been reduced as a result of modern methods of agriculture and increased motor traffic. Coursing has kept small reservoirs of high hare populations in certain parts of the country. It can be argued that, but for hare coursing, the brown hare would be very much in jeopardy. There is, therefore, a misconception on the question of cruelty.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) intervened to suggest that a lion should chase one of my hon. Friends. I was able to quote from a statement which Dr. Livingstone made about this to the effect that when he was mauled by a lion he did not actually feel any pain. People who have suffered a serious road accident or who have been seriously wounded know that the most extraordinary thing is that they do not experience any feeling of pain.

The reason is that the shock nullifies the pain. This is Nature's anaesthetic. The same thing applies to the hare. The death of a hare in coursing is instantaneous. The essential nervous system is severed. In nine cases out of 10 I do not believe that the hare feels any pain. It is all very well saying that if we do away with the sport the animal will be able to lead a natural life in peace and security. We all know what is the normal fate of any wild animal, particularly a hare, as it reaches old age. It becomes a prey to starvation and eventually may be taken by a stoat—a far worse death, possibly, than death by coursing.

At the time of Scott Henderson Report great stress was laid on the question of control. It is now realised on all sides that sport and the preservation of game for sport plays a large part in preservation generally. If it was not for organised sport, and coursing is such a sport, not only the hare population but much of our wild life would be at a lower level than it is. We have strong sporting interests which have preserved game. The preservation of game has meant that the wild birds have not been prey to the hunters. On the Continent, in Italy, Spain and parts of France, there is a sterile and silent land. By treating these matters in a civilised way and having organised rules for these sports. we are protecting and preserving our game and allowing it to develop in increasing numbers.

I remind the Under-Secretary of what she said when my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) introduced a Private Member's Bill. Today's Bill was once a Private Member's Bill. The hon. Lady said:
"I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that there is any lack of love of animals on my part, but we are considering a piece of legislation, and, therefore, it must be studied very carefully.
It is the duty of the proponents of a Bill to satisfy tae House unequivocally on a number of issues. They must show that there is a situation which is causing problems, and that legislation is required to solve the situation, because only legislation will solve it. They must establish that the legislation they are presenting will also resolve any doubts that it will have unintentional and undesirable consequences."—[Official Report, 24th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 2176.]
I commend the hon. Lady's words to the House, because they apply particularly to this Bill.

3.5 p.m.

This is the first time that I have attempted to catch your eye, from this place in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, other than to make an intervention, and this may arise from a subconscious desire to seek propinquity with Government supporters. I must admit to feeling a certain anxiety that so many of my friends, as well as my hon. Friends, have attempted to change my mind on this topic. It has even been put to me that this issue is a touchstone of party loyalty. I regard this as most regrettable. I feel that when issues of this kind are seen only in terms of Right against Left, rational argument suffers.

I am only too well aware that Government supporters hope to fill their Lobby today with people motivated by three separate impulses. First, there are those who have a genuine objection in principle to the practice of hare coursing, amongst whom the lion. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) and Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) are pre- eminent. Then there is a possibly larger section who take a mischievous satisfaction from discomforting the gentry, as they see it. Thirdly, there are those who are united in seeing this as a bridgehead towards further legislation, as we were so eloquently warned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison).

I feel that many Government supporters are motivated politically as well as from purely humanitarian beliefs. Many of them are the same people whose intemperate language and over-political commitment clouded the issue which was put before the people in the referendum and which no doubt contributed to the result' that I personally greeted with some sadness. If that issue also had not been shown in Left versus Right terms, I believe that the result might not have been the same.

There is a fundamental issue of principle here. It has nothing to do with ecology, with farming, with husbandry or with the social content of the clubs which practise hare coursing. I reject even the argument of the Under-Secretary of State, who said that the risk of death by coursing should not be added to the other risks which hares face. That seems to be going a little far. We are not concerned with preserving the hare. We are concerned with something which I regard as fundamental: the principle whether man should take advantage of the natural propensity of animals to hunt and to tear each other to pieces for his own amusement. Should he be allowed artificially to contrive a situation where a weaker creature is put in mortal terror and torn to pieces for his own entertainment? That is the principle at stake. The very word "entertainment" was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), when he invited my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) to come and watch "the entertainment". In my view, this is the corrupting element which enters into this issue.

Furthermore, I hope that this Bill is the precursor of further measures to follow. The hon. Member for Walton said that man must behave "in a civilised way, especially towards animals". He is a man of considerable influence and stature in the Labour Party. I hope that shortly he will be pressing for measures to look, for example, into the question of domestic pets which are tortured for commercial gain. How about a measure to deal with puppies which are fed through a tube with nail polish until they burst in order to swell the profits of a cosmetic company? How about a measure to deal with rabbits which are restrained in canvas sleeves and drip-fed in their eyes with shampoo until they go blind in order to swell the profits of a shampoo company?

If we argue that man should be particularly careful in his attitude to animals and civilised—that was the word used by the hon. Member for Walton—I wholly endorse that proposition. I genuinely believe that all creatures on this planet are sentient beings and that man, as the highest form of life, owes a duty of care, consistent with his own survival, to all of them.

I believe that the Bill—all too few Bills of this nature are put before the House and I do not regret that parliamentary time is devoted to it—is in some small way an expression of that principle. I ask the whole House to endorse it with its support this afternoon.

3.11 p.m.

I think that everyone has been impressed by the strength of feeling on this matter expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, irrespective of party. However, it is of supreme importance that Parliament should consider very hard before putting a new crime on the statute book. That is really the fundamental reason why I shall vote against this measure today.

My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clarke) and Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and right hon. and hon. Members opposite feel very strongly on this question. It is a matter of conscience whether blood sports be a good or a bad thing. We must be careful about putting a legislative obligation on the mass of the people which the mass of the people do not necessarily feel is needed. It must be against the whole tradition of British common law to impose criminal offences on people who otherwise are genuinely innocent.

Another point which must be borne in mind by the Under-Secretary of State is whether this legislation will bring the law into disrespect. There are hon. Members behind her who do not care a damn whether the law is brought into disrespect, because they regard it as the thin end of the wedge and have no respect for Parliament or parliamentary procedure.

The Minister's first concern should be to bring forward legislation which will not make the law look asinine in the public eye. Frankly, if we put this kind of burden on police officers and magistrates when there is no general support for this type of legislation, the law will indeed be made to look foolish.

This precise piece of legislation deals with the lives of 599 hares. That was the number killed by coursing last year. The whole machinery of the Labour Party is being put into motion with bleeding hearts to bring forward a particularly foolish and unsupportable piece of legislation on this matter.

My hon. Friend knows a lot about these things. In the course of my education, I have been a master of beagles, not at Balliol College but at Ampleforth. I assure hon. Members that the kindest, most humane and swiftest way for a hare to be killed is not by beagling or shooting, but by being caught by a greyhound. To my mind, there is no doubt about that. It is, of course, a subjective point of view, but there is no question about it.

If this legislation is brought forward, the only immediate effect will be that hares which would have been killed by greyhounds under proper rules will be shot by farmers who are inefficient shots, snared, or otherwise destroyed. I know that the Minister will bear one or two other considerations in mind. It will mean the putting down this year of some 3.000 greyhounds and other dogs used in this pursuit. I would point out that there are many dog lovers among Labour Members and their supporters.

The three immediate effects of the Bill would be as follows. First, it is a bad Bill to protect 599 hares. To bring forward legislation on this matter is a ludicrous proposal. Secondly, it will involve cruelty to hares. Thirdly, it will mean that during this year 3,000 extremely beautiful hounds will be put down. Let the bleeding hearts of Labour Members rejoice about that.

3.16 p.m.

I have listened with interest to what the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) has said. It reminded me of the visit I occasionally have to make to some of my constituents who are in prison, all of whom are perfectly honest, moral and upright men and women except that they happen to have murdered their mother or father or robbed a bank, and, apart from the law, they would not be criminals. If that is the level of the debate to which the right hon. Member will go, I am surprised.

During the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), I noticed the way my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary scurried off. I am happy to see that she is back because that means that Roy is safe, the two Ministers of State are safe and the Home Office has not been taken over by the Manifesto Group, that well-known group of Lefties who support the Labour Party's policies. In fact, there are two Manifesto Groups now, but that is beside the point.

This is the sort of depth of argument to which the opponents of the Bill are resorting. They do not like the Bill, and that I understand. They want to retain their "sport", as they see it. I understand that also. But let us have none of this weird nonsense. Let us not have what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said when he began his speech and would not give way when I asked him. He said: "This is the first time I have been lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to speak about the way I feel about the Bill".

Time after time, year after year, Ten-Minute Rule Bill after Ten-Minute Rule Bill, the supporters of the sport have had an opportunity to speak out in its favour and they have turned it down. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) even gave them an opportunity to vote on one occasion by shouting "No," against their firmly held conviction, and "telling" for them, but they still would not go through the Lobby.

Hon. Gentlemen have shirked the fight and the argument. To say that they have the argument on their side is a complete travesty.

I agree almost entirely with the speech made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who spoke with sincerity and courage about his attitude, and the rôle and duty of men towards other sentient beings.

I want to deal with the question of class. It is not an argument that I have had anything to do with in my attitude towards the sport, except that it is raised in the famous Stable report, "A Review of Coursing". The report says:
"The convivial tradition of earlier coursing survives in the annual dinner or dinner-dance which provides an opportunity among other things to entertain the landowners, farmers and trainers on whose interest and goodwill or professional competence the sport so much depends. … A new look at incentives, along the lines of social integration, would not come amiss. … Had coursing clubs extended and adapted the social traditions of the sport they might have been better able to counter the many charges which have been made against it."
The point is that the book defends hare coursing and says it is a splendid sport. The real problem with which we are faced, and the real argument which we must bear in mind, was that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), the one which caused such a deal of support for him from some rather strange allies on the Opposition Benches.

Those of us who live in towns—and not all the people who oppose the sport live in towns—are not unconscious of the debt we owe to the people who live in the countryside for the enjoyment it gives so many of us, for the opportunities it gives us to see the beauty in nature and the beauty in the way man has civilised nature, particularly in my part of the East Riding, where it has been done in a way which is beautiful and a wonder to behold. We do not deny that. Nor do we deny the cruelty which must necessarily exist in forms of agriculture. Not all of us are vegetarians or take what may be regarded as the extreme view of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office.

We say that if these animals are hurt they must be treated with a degree of respect. They are here for us to enjoy, not to abuse, and it may be necessary in the interests of man and for man to survive to kill animals, perhaps on occasions with a tremendous cruelty which is far greater than anything seen in nature. However, it is not cruelty which is deliberately contrived and enjoyed at the expense, so we are told, of breaking the limbs of other animals. It is not a cruelty which has been created in order that people can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of two fine hounds racing against each other where incidentally the hare may be killed. I have seen no instantaneous death in coursing, but I have heard the hare squeal and it did not appear to be saying in an anaesthetised way "I am enjoying it. Please do it again".

I have seen a hare in a tug of war, and I have seen a hare thrown up in the air. I have seen a hare grabbed by a hound, escape and hobble off, be grabbed again and escape and a beater jump on it and kill it. All this took place at the first meeting of the East of England Coursing Club last year.

We are not talking about being anti-countryside or about being for a particular class or against another class. We are talking about human dignity. We are talking about what we are prepared to will and suffer for ourselves and what we are prepared to impose upon other beings in nature. What we are prepared to suffer ourselves at football or rugby matches is something we have the right to decide. That right may not have existed at the school attended by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, but the majority of us have the right to say "No".

I believe that we have a duty under creation to respect an animal in so far as it does not impinge upon human dignity or survival. None of us has the right to put animals deliberately at risk in that way, and that is the nub of this argument.

3.18 p.m.

I suspect that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and I have only one thing in common in this issue and that is, as I judge from his speech, that he and I have been to only one coursing match. I know he will correct me if I am wrong. In that we are in marked contrast to the Under-Secretary who moved the Second Reading. I was extremely surprised at her irresponsible approach to a small but important piece of legislation. To compare hare coursing to rape or murder is to cheapen the debate, to cheapen the hon. Lady and to cheapen the great office she holds.

I hope in the closing minutes left to us in this debate that we shall be able to lift the debate to a slightly higher plane. [HON. MEMBERS: "You?"] I am not winding up the debate. Others will speak. I am not so arrogant as to think that I can set the tone of the debate, but the Under-Secretary struck a particularly low tone when she spoke as the Minister responsible, and she might at least have taken the trouble to see for herself what was involved in hare coursing. I attended one hare coursing meeting in anticipation of this debate. It may be that irrespective of the outcome of the Bill I shall never see another hare coursing meeting. However, that is for me to decide.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central raised the question of human dignity. I have always thought that that kind of question is best left to the decision of individuals, but I shall come to that point in due course.

The case against hare coursing has been put in two ways. First it has been said that it is wrong that an animal should be killed in the course of sport or for sport. That opens up the whole question of how far field sports are justified in the twentieth century or, indeed, in any subsequent century. In the time available I do not propose to pursue that argument, although I shall be delighted to do so on another occasion. [An HON. MEMBER: "When will the hon. and learned Gentleman pursue any argument?"] I shall come to my argument if I am given an opportunity to do so.

On field sports, I hope that every member of every angling and gun club will have noticed what Labour Members have sincerely said and have noticed the very qualified remarks which the Under-Secretary made on this subject. If we are to use this as the touchstone by which to judge the Bill, we must logically go on to abolish angling, shooting, hunting and every field sport that involves the death of an animal. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the fishmongers."] I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman, who intervenes constantly from a seated position, has a particular problem, because he believes it wrong that any animals should be killed. Therefore he is a vegetarian. That would be a very interesting subject to debate, but I doubt whether we have the time to do so now and I suspect that on that issue he would not carry a great number of hon. Members with him. I shall leave that argument for another occasion.

I come to the second main argument in support of the Bill, namely, that the cruelty involved in this sport is unique, indeed so special so horrible and so exceptional that we should concentrate the whole weight of our legislative power at Westminster on it. Here I must draw upon my personal experience. It may be that I attended a special hare coursing meeting; I do not know, but I suspect it was not. It was not organised for my benefit. Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central I received an invitation to a meeting. I make no point of that, because I do not believe that it was a special meeting. I hope that I have looked at the matter impartially and clearly. I am involved in other field sports but not this one. I understood a little of what was involved, but I had never seen this activity before.

I asked myself whether the odds were weighted from the start against the hare. On that occasion well over 50 per cent. of the hares escaped. The Under-Secretary has conceded that the number of hares killed at such meetings is only between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. That leads me to suppose that the odds are not weighted against the hare.

Some hon. Members have said that the terror inspired in the hare is exceptional. I must confess to a certain diffidence on this, because I am unable to judge the terror inspired in the hare and I doubt whether those hon. Members can do so. I can only record that in a state of nature animals hunt and are hunted.

I timed the length of the course, and on that occasion the average course was between 35 and 45 seconds. That does not suggest to me that the hare was coursed to the point of exhaustion. From my observation, it was the greyhounds rather than the hare that were exhausted.

I come to the kill. The squeal of a hare is an unattractive sound, but the squeal of many animals at the moment of death is unattractive. I can only recall that in practically every case the death seemed to me to be remarkably quick. Indeed it was almost instantaneous, one quick snap and the hare's back was broken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It may be unattractive to those of such delicate sensitivity that they are not prepared to indulge in field sports.

In regard to the manner of killing, I believe that coursing is a good deal less cruel than shooting. I appreciate that many hon. Gentlemen, and indeed one or two hon. Ladies, are involved in shooting. I regard it as more reprehensible that animals and birds should slink into the undergrowth to die, with a charge of pellets in their wing or flank, than that a hare should be instantly killed by greyhounds. If we are looking at a situation of exceptional cruelty, on the evidence available to me I can only say that I did not find it in hare coursing. I do not find the case on those grounds to be proved in favour of the Bill.

However, there are other considerations that weigh with me. I believe that the tyranny of the majority can be as odious as the tyranny of any one man. Merely because we are in our generation endowed with legislative powers here and in the Upper House, I do not believe that we should necessarily impose our tastes and standards on all our fellow countrymen. If it is a question of public disapproval, this should be expressed in a different way. There are social sanctions that can be imposed apart from legislative ones.

Finally we come to the practical question. The consequence of the Bill, if passed into law, is that the better-run matches will be discontinued and the private, furtive meeting will be conducted without safeguards.

I am surprised at the priorities of the great Department of State of which the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is the representative today. Am I to go back to my constituents this evening and say that the Home Office is so abreast of its responsibilities that it can afford to take up the time of the House with a Bill of this nature? I must say that we deplore the absence of the Home Secretary from these discussions, because I suspect that before he achieved his own fastidious brand of Whiggism, he may have taken a whippet into the hills near his home. In fact, in the days after this Bill is passed into law there may be a rather thin cheer when he returns to Abersychan. Let us examine the responsibilities of the Home Department.

Is it not part of the greatness of this House that it finds time to discuss these sometimes small but not unimportant matters?

In general terms I would agree with my hon. Friend, but at this particular state in the nation's affairs I wonder about the Government's priorities.

Let me go back to deal with the problems concerning the Home Office which worry my constituents. Am I to tell them this evening after the vote that the problem of juvenile delinquency and truancy has been solved? Is the Minister happy with that situation? Am I to tell them that she has checked and, indeed, reversed the flow of illegal immigration? Is she completely satisfied with the anomalies and complexities of British nationality? Finally, can she tell the House in all conscience that our police force is so up to strength and so under-employed that its time can be devoted to the hunting down of a small minority of fellow countrymen who choose to embark on this sport? Speaking for myself, from my limited experience, I find this a shabby little Bill. I respect the sincerity of some of those who support it, but I cannot respect their arguments and I shall vote against the Bill.

3.34 p.m.

I am sure right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that this wide-ranging and interesting debate has been characterised by the most refreshing candour. There have been no attempts to conceal motives on either side. That takes us a very long way in trying to understand each other's point of view and to get to the bottom of this matter.

The most significant outcome of the debate is that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, speaking on behalf of the. Government, made it abundantly clear that this little Bill was but a prelude to a series of Bills "taking one activity at a time", to use the hon. Lady's words, the object of which was eventually to abolish all field sports. That clarification at least has emerged.

As an old hand in this place, I regret that a matter of that kind should become—I think that this is inevitable—a divisive party issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) described this as a divisive Bill. It would be a great pity if in the years to come this question of the traditional way of British country life should become a matter of dispute between the major parties.

I should disclose that I am not a hare coursing man, although I suppose that hare coursing has been carried on since time immemorial in Huntingdonshire, which I have represented for many years. I have been to two hare coursing meetings, both in my constituency. One was a greyhound meeting and the other a saluki meeting, which is rare. I confess that I thought, seeing the salukis contesting against each other, that that was one of the most graceful sights I have ever seen. I say that without shame. By the way, very few hares were caught.

Living in the country, in my constituency, as I do, I have seen all the conditions in which hares live. I have followed the harriers. I have shot many hares. I am ashamed to say that I have also missed hares. I am not certain what happened to the hares I missed. [Interruption.] I do not claim to be a brilliant shot, but even the best shots sometimes miss.

However, I think that the snaring of hares, which may remain in snares for many hours, and possibly for several days, should be made the subject of a crime. It is pitiful to behold the struggle of a live hare which is caught by the leg or neck. I become badly steamed up over that subject, because prolonged agony is caused. That is a great contrast with the brief spell of being chased by greyhounds, especially at the properly organised coursing meetings which have been described by my hon. and right hon. Friends.

I have also seen hares kept in small hutches in my constituency. On a previous occasion I described how we kept a hare in a large hutch. However, I decided that we could not go on keeping that animal. When we let the hare out of the hutch the poor animal was too stiff to do more than hop about on the grass.

I have seen hares kept for experimental purposes with electric plates over their heads. They were kept in a confined space. Wires were attached to the plates. I was assured that the experiment was for the benefit of the human race. I did not like it.

I explain all that as the background to the views which I shall put to the House. To some extent I shall express my own views, and to some extent I shall draw upon arguments which have been used in the debate by hon. Members on both sides.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) pinpointed the real issue in this debate when he said that Parliament should think hard before it put a new crime on the statute book. The real issue is whether we should turn into a crime this limited form of hare coursing which happens to be one of the oldest sports known to man.

We have with us today a Home Office Minister for whom, like many other hon. Members, I have a great respect. She and I have been allied on what I believe to have been better occasions. She will recollect what I mean. [Laughter.] I assure the House that they were bona fide parliamentary occasions. If I may borrow a phrase, I am not without long experience of the Home Office. Whichever party was in power, I have always felt that the greatness of the Home Office was its tradition of maintaining not only order but freedom, and aiming to do so with humanity.

During most of the past 30 years the Home Office problem of maintaining order and preserving freedom has increased yearly. Although we have more police than ever to cope with the growing crime rate, we still do not have enough police.

I do not know whether it is within the hon. Lady's recollection, but it is certainly within mine, that during every one of five Sessions hon. Members tried to persuade the Home Office to add new crimes to the statute book. We naturally felt that we had to consider carefully before turning a lawful activity into a crime, before adding to the criminal calendar, before introducing the whole paraphernalia of the criminal law and before creating a new crime and new criminals.

There were certain things we always did before creating new crimes. The first was to make a thorough and careful study of the nature of the disorder or mischief that it was suggested should be dealt with and a study of ways of preventing it. The chief officers of police were always consulted, the Criminal Law Revision Committee was often asked for advice, and, where appropriate, interested bodies were consulted. None of these actions appears to have been taken on this Bill.

The hon. Lady said that she had never seen hare coursing, and gave her reason for that, but she might have better understood the subject if she had seen at least one hare coursing meeting. Nobody can say that there is a need to stop hare coursing meetings from the point of view of public order. Many such meetings have taken place in my constituency for generations without giving rise to incidents which cause trouble to the police—except when opponents of hare coursing came along and stirred things up. I speak with many years' recollection of what has gone on in my constituency, as well as a long experience of the Home Office.

Naturally, we all wonder why we need the Bill at all. I do not doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and my hon. Friends who support the Bill, but I wonder why they think it will achieve their purpose. Many people whose passions and perhaps instincts have been aroused against hare coursing want it to be abolished altogether along with hunting with beagles or harriers.

But, of course, the Bill abolishes only hare coursing matches—that is to say, it abolishes the properly organised hare coursing. It turns that into a crime, and what I must confess—because I know many of them in my constituency—to be law abiding decent people of all classes who run hare coursing into criminals. [Interruption.] If this activity, which they have conducted well and in an orderly manner in carrying on a long tradition, is made a crime, they will become criminals. [Interruption.] They will become criminals if they wish to pursue it. If hon. Members opposite think that this is a subject worthy of serious discussion they might give more serious attention to the arguments being deployed.

The Bill leaves untouched the casual, unorganised, unregulated coursing. As has been pointed out, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), the Chairman of the British Field Sports Society, who has made a long study of the subject, unregulated hare coursing is likely to grow. I have seen it myself—people going out with their dogs and letting them chase hares at will. The results are uncertain. It is no wonder, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), said in his thoughtful speech, that when the matter was debated in 1970 Mr. Reginald Paget, as he then was, said "This is not a Bill that the hare would vote for if he were here".

Will the hon. Lady answer the point made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)? How many more police are to be brought in for this matter? Why are the Government supporting the Bill? It is not for the benefit of the hare or of the greyhounds, or of those who genuinely feel strongly about killing hares, because close study of the Bill shows that it would carry out the objective in a selective way which, from their point of view, must be the wrong kind of way. Why is the Bill brought in at a time when the Government already have a huge legislative programme which is bogged down? I think that Mr. Paget gave the answer when he said in 1970:
"Coursing is being hit, not because it is cruel but because it is weak".—[Official Report, 14th May 1970; Vol. 801, c. 1572 and 1574.]

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I may be wrong, but is it in order for someone to speak in a debate for the second time?

3.50 p.m.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This debate has covered the main arguments for and against hare coursing and the Bill, but I should like to reply to some particular questions. First, perhaps I should correct what seems to have been a slight misrepresentation of what I said on the general subject of field sports—although the Bill is not concerned with the whole range of field sports.

When I was pressed on this point, I said that the Government's present view is that the better way of tackling the matter is, if necessary, to deal with one activity at a time. At this stage the Government have no proposals to introduce legislation to deal with other field sports, but, on the other hand, we reserve our freedom to take any action in respect of any other activity as may appear necessary or appropriate.

The reason why this Government Bill has been introduced, not for the first time but for the second—as hon. Members who have been here all day will know, a previous one was introduced in 1970—is partly the long history, which I explained, of Private Member's Bills concerning hare coursing. No fewer than 10 Private Member's Bills have been introduced on this subject. Clearly, that, combined with the public opinion being expressed on the subject, caused the Government to bring in this second Bill to abolish hare coursing.

I can assure the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that we have given the subject of police enforcement careful consideration, as one does with any Bill which might involve the police. We are not persuaded that if the Bill is enacted illegal coursing will continue on any substantial scale—this view was put by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball)—or that it will place additional enforcement burdens on the police.

Any persons or organisations would be free to initiate proceedings in respect of any incident if they had reason to believe that an offence had been committed. We are certain that voluntary organizations, like the RSPCA, which support the Bill will play a leading part in seeking evidence of offences and bringing offenders to justice. This system works satisfactorily already in the case of other animal welfare legislation, and we are confident that it will continue.

As I said earlier, the Leader of the House twice last year announced our intention to bring in this legislation—an intention confirmed by the Prime Minister in the debate on Queen's Speech. So it can come as no surprise to the hare coursing interests or the community at large that we intend to abolish hare coursing.

While discussing the Government's intention, will the hon. Lady make one thing clear about which the House might have been misled? The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) said that this was a question of individual conscience and a free vote. Mr. Speaker himself said that this was a matter for a free vote. Is this the case when it is clear that the Government—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady confirm that this is a question of individual conscience? If so, will she explain why letters have gone to all Ministers telling them to come here to vote for the Bill? Would she also say whether it is in the interests of a free vote and individual conscience that public money is being spent to bring a Minister back from Northern Ireland—

Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is growing into the nature of what can only be described as an interrogatory speech. Dr. Summer-skill.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is a free vote on this side of the House. I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury that any of my right hon. and hon. Friends who either do not vote or vote against the Bill will not be admonished by him.

In the time that remains I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) that if the Bill passes the House and there is still no early prospect of a legislative assembly operating in Northern Ireland, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have it in mind to publish straightaway for public discussion proposals for an Order in Council along exactly similar lines to the Bill. I hope that those hon. Members who have raised that point will agree that that is a fair way of dealing with the matter as it relates to Northern Ireland.

Many Conservative Members have advocated that hare coursing is the most painless and satisfactory form of pest control; but coursing has never been advocated by the National Coursing Club as playing a significant part, or any part, in pest control. The Bill is not about one animal hunting another for food to keep alive. We are not concerned about the justification of man's rôle as a predator, which was the theme of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) in his rather philosophical discourse. The Bill is to abolish the practice in which, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) living animals become mere pawns for the enjoyment of the human race. To quote the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), that is the corrupting element of hare coursing. The Bill will abolish a practice in which an animal is forced to run in terror for its life and is put in risk of dying a fearful and painful death.

The Government totally refute the fallacious and spurious allegations that have been made by the Bill's opponents, that this measure is being introduced either for spite or for reasons of class prejudice, or even that it is a subtle Left-wing plot against the privileged few. As one who has for some years been Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Animal Welfare Group, I disclaim any of those intentions.

The Bill is a milestone in the long history of measures to eliminate cruelty and to reduce unnecessary suffering to animals. I am proud that it is this Government—and the Home Office of which I am a member—who have seen fit to find time to introduce a measure which will create a more civilised society.

The morality of a society is to some extent judged by the way in which it deals with helpless people and helpless animals. The Government believe that the cruel sport of hare coursing is no longer one which is acceptable to public opinion in this country. There is increasing concern about the violence of our society, and the Bill will abolish a shameful sport which involves the violent and cruel use of animals by men. Any cruelty and any violence should be abhorred; it is uncivilised and unjustifiable.

I ask the House to endorse the Bill by giving it a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House proceeded to a Division

:(seated and covered) On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you whether it would be appropriate for you to call the Prime Minister to make a statement about why it is necessary for him and the members of his Cabinet to break off a meeting at Chequers discussing the future of the economy in order to come to the House to vote on a subject such as this?

Division No. 233.1


[4.0 p.m.

Abse, LeoEyre, ReginaldLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Anderson, DonaldFaulds, AndrewLewis, Arthur (Newham N)
Archer, PeterFernyhough, Rt Hon E.Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Alkins, Ronald (Preston N)Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)Litterick, Tom
Atkinson, NormanFlannery, MartinLomas, Kenneth
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Luard, Evan
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Fookes, Miss JanetLyon, Alexander (York)
Bates, AllFoot, Rt Hon MichaelLyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Bean, R. E.Forrester, JohnMcCartney, Hugh
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodFowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)MacFarquhar, Roderick
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.)Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w d)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Bidwell, SydneyFreeson, ReginaldMcNamara, Kevin
Bishop, E. S.Gardiner, George (Reigate)Madden, Max
Blenkinsop, ArthurGarrett, John (Norwich S)Magee, Bryan
Booth, AlbertGilbert, Dr JohnMarks, Kenneth
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Ginsburg, DavidMarquand, David
Braine, Sir BernardGoodhart, PhilipMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Graham, TedMason, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Grant, John (Islington C)Maynard, Miss Joan
Burden. F. A.Grist, IanMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Mendelson, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hardy, PeterMikardo, Ian
Campbell, IanHarper, JosephMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cant, R. B.Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Carter, RayHart, Rt Hon JudithMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Cartwright, JohnHattersley, Rt Hon RoyMolloy, William
Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraHatton, FrankMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHayhoe, BarneyMulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Clemitson, IvorHayman, Mrs HelenaNeubert, Michael
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Healey, Rt Hon DenisNewens, Stanley
Cohen, StanleyHeller, Eric S.Noble, Mike
Concannon, J. D.Higgins, Terence L.O'Halloran, Michael
Corbett, RobinHooley, FrankO'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Crawshaw, RichardHoram, JohnOvenden, John
Crosland, Rt Hon AnthonyHowell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Owen, Dr David
Crouch, DavidHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Padley, Walter
Cryer, BobHuckfield, LesPardoe, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Park, George
Davidson, ArthurHughes, Mark (Durham)Parker, John
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Hunt, JohnPavitt, Laurie
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Pendry, Tom
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Penhaligon, David
Deakins, EricJay, Rt Hon DouglasPerry, Ernest
Delargy, HughJeger, Mrs LenaPhipps, Dr Colin
Dolg, PeterJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Dormand, J. D.John, BrynmorPrescotl, John
Douglas-Mann, BruceJohnson, James (Hull West)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Dunn, James A.Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Price, William (Rugby)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethJones, Alec (Rhondda)Radice, Giles
Durant, TonyJones, Dan (Burnley)Reid, George
Edelman, MauriceKaufman, GeraldRichardson, Miss Jo
Edge, GeoffKelley, RichardRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Kerr, RussellRoderick, Caerwyn
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRodgers, George (Chorley)
English, MichaelLamborn, HarryRodgers, William (Stockton)
Ennals, DavidLamond, JamesRooker, J. W.
Evans, John (Newton)Leadbitter, TedRowlands, Ted

:(seated and covered) On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We were assured that for Government supporters this was to be a free vote. If that is so, how does it come about that the Government Chief Whip, together with another Government Whip, should "sweep" the Lobby at the end of the vote?

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 176.

Sandelson, NevilleSummerskill, Hon Dr ShirleyWhitehead, Phillip
Sedgemore, BrianThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)Whitlock, William
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)Tierney, SydneyWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)Tomlinson, JohnWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Townsend, Cyril D.Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Tuck, RaphaelWilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Silverman, JuliusVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Sims, RogerWalker, Terry (Kingswood)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Skinner, DennisWard, MichaelWrigglesworth, Ian
Spearing, NigelWarren, KennethYoung, David (Bolton E)
Spriggs, LeslieWatkins, DavidYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Stallard, A. W.Watkinson, John
Stanbrook, IvorWeetch, Ken


Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)Weitzman, DavidMr. Thomas Cox and
Stoddart, DavidWellbeloved, JamesMiss Margaret Jackson
Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.White, Frank R. (Bury)


Alison, MichaelHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Nott, John
Amery, Rt Hon JulianHarvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissPage, John (Harrow West)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Hastings, StephenPattie, Geoffrey
Awdry, DanielHavers, Sir MichaelPeyton, Rt Hon John
Banks, RobertHawkins, PaulPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bell, RonaldHordern, PeterPym, Rt Hon Francis
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Hurd, DouglasRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Benyon, W.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Berry, Hon AnthonyJames, DavidRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Bitten, JohnJones, Arthur (Daventry)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Biggs-Davison, JohnJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRidley, Hon Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon RobertKershaw, AnthonyRidsdale, Julian
Brotherton, MichaelKimball, MarcusRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Bryan, Sir PaulKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Budgen, NickKirk, PeterRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Kitson, Sir TimothyShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Clark, William (Croydon S)Latham, Michael (Melton)Shepherd, Colin
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lawson, NigelSinclair, Sir George
Cockcroft, JohnLe Marchant, SpencerSkeet, T. H. H.
Cormack, PatrickLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Spence, John
Costain, A. P.Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Drayson, BurnabyMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Fairbairn, NicholasMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Farr, JohnMarten, NeilTemple-Morris, Peter
Fell, AnthonyMates, MichaelViggers, Peter
Fisher, Sir NigelMather, CarolWalters, Dennis
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)Maudling, Rt Hon ReginaldWells, John
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Freud, ClementMayhew, PatrickWiggin, Jerry
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Winterton, Nicholas
Godber, Rt Hon JosephMonro, HectorWood, Rt Hon Richard
Goodhew, VictorMorgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Goodlad, AlastalrMorrison, Charles (Devizes)


Grylls, MichaelNeave, AireyMr. Jasper More and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Nelson, AnthonyMr. John Cope.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).


Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Walter Harrison.]

Direct-Grant Schools

4.10 p.m.

I have the opportunity and privilege of being the first hon. Member to congratulate the new Secretary of State for Education and Science on his appointment. I hope that in his time debates in this House on education will help to strengthen the education service and, despite shortage of funds, improve standards throughout the system, both maintained and independent, and retain the widest possible range of parental choice of schools.

I must declare an interest as the chairman of the governors of a direct-grant school and as a member of the Direct Grant Joint Committee.

Today's debate is about a circular issued on 1st May by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). That circular sets out to destroy the direct-grant system—a system that is serving the country splendidly.

We on this side of the House believe that every good school should be fostered, and we deplore the Government's hard-faced and doctrinaire determination to destroy the direct-grant schools and, in-deed, all secondary schools which maintain a system of academic selection. I should very much like to think that the new Secretary of State will wish to take a fresh look at the consequences of pursuing a policy based on his predecessor's circular and its headlong timetable.

The speed with which schools are now being asked to make decisions means that many issues important to the schools, to the local education authorities, whole neighbourhoods, parents, boys and girls, as well as highly skilled and dedicated staff, will have to be taken without proper discussion and without safeguarding the proper rights of groups and of individuals.

Since that circular was issued there have been a number of discussions and much correspondence between the Secretary of State and representatives of the Direct Grant Joint Commitee representing the 174 direct-grant schools. As a member of that committee I am aware of the main issues now being discussed. As these flow directly from the circular, I shall not need to refer to the other documents circulated since but simply to some of the main outstanding issues.

The detailed proposals that the Secretary of State is now contemplating and which he will have to embody in regulations to be placed before this House can in no wise be considered moderate. They are patently unjust, especially to teachers, and they are hasty and ill thought through.

The schools are asked to make a statement of intent by the end of this year. They are asked to declare that they intend to apply to their local authority to become maintained schools. One might have thought that both schools and local authorities would be given time to discuss first whether there is a place for a former direct-grant school in the maintained system in its area, and time to discuss what its rôle might be. The Donnison Report suggested a four-year time scale. Is its new status to be a sixth-form college, a middle school, or part of an all-through school on a split site? Or is the school to be closed? The answers to these questions might well decide the governors of the school one way or another, but they are to have no chance of asking them. They must first agree to go into the maintained system and only then find out what part they will be asked to play. This is a demand for unconditional surrender first and talks after that.

Let me now turn to the teachers. The current proposals are monstrously unjust to teachers in these schools. When a direct-grant school goes into the maintained system, the Secretary of State "hopes" that they will be employed by the local authority, but this gives no guarantee that their salaries and status will be secure. I shall give an example. The head of a language department—say French—on a salary of £4,000 a year might not be employable by the local education authority if the school became maintained, especially at a time when authorities are having to cut staff and might not want to employ him. Such an experienced teacher would face not only loss of status but also loss of salary. Indeed, teachers in the direct-grant schools will have no guarantee that the authority, hard-pressed by the need to cut its budget, will even want to employ them at all.

As his current responsibilities run, the Secretary of State has no power to compel an authority to do so. Surely he ought to declare at once that generous compensation will be payable for teachers thrown out of work by the change of status of their schools, for which the Secretary of State alone is responsible. For this he will require a central fund under his own control.

The Secretary of State's proposals are unfair also to those few teachers who are classified as unqualified. Here I am not talking about people who should not be teachers at all. I am talking about graduates who have been teaching successfully for many years and who did not take a teacher-training course. It is not enough for the Secretary of State to be ready to consider an application from a local education authority for qualified status on the basis of service, experience and qualifications. This is little more than a hint to local education authorities. But it does not go nearly far enough.

It would be little consolation for a man who had been teaching successfully for 20 years to know that the Secretary of State will be ready to consider an application from an authority for which that teacher has never yet worked. Surely in these times, when the Secretary of State is forcing a hasty and stark choice, he should give an undertaking that he will accept applications direct from the individuals concerned.

The Secretary of State should make it clear that he would normally grant qualified teacher status to any graduate who had successfully completed three years of teaching in a direct-grant school. I think this is a reasonable compromise.

A similar undertaking should also be given about the probationary year. It has long been an anomaly that if a teacher begins his career in a direct-grant school he is not deemed to have qualified himself by serving the probationary year.

In the special circumstances of the present case, there can be no justification for denying qualified teacher stauts to staff who have served their probation in direct-grant schools, especially in the face of the enormous shortage of dedicated and gifted teachers. I call upon the Secretary of State to indicate that he will guarantee that status to everyone in that position when his proposals take effect.

These proposals throw into jeopardy the careers of some of the best teachers available to our young people.

The Government seem to value organisation more than people. They seem to have been vouchsafed by the revelation that:
"All schools are offensive
Except the comprehensive."
There is a long list of unresolved problems of which the Secretary of State is aware. On teaching staff, apart from the problems I have mentioned, there is the point about protection for the status and salaries of heads of direct-grant schools. Administrative staff—for example, bursars—also require to know what their options are to be.

Other unresolved issues are the possibility of retaining the direct-grant status of a child on transfer from one direct-grant school to another, either because one of the schools is closing down or because the parents are having to move. Secondly, there is the effect of inflation noon the relative value of the continuing direct grant. Thirdly, there are the special and increasing difficulties of schools awarding their own free places in 1975. That is a rather technical question which the Secretary of State will have to hoist on board. Fourthly, there are the problems of the dual systems of accountancy which will be unavoidable during the phasing-out period.

There is also the question of boarding, and that involves a real question of educational need. By and large, boarding schools are regional rather than local. It may not be possible to find one authority which will sponsor the retention of the boarding side. Further thought should be given to the position of those direct-grant schools which do much to meet the boarding need over a wide area. The necessary negotiations with a number of educational authorities and possibly also, for example, the Association of County Councils will inevitably take time. There is a case for allowing the boarding direct-grant schools a special extension of their direct grant for the time being in order to preserve their position. This covers a special educational need, thrown up by the mobility of people going abroad, perhaps to serve in the Common Market or with the Armed Services, and having to leave their children behind with some continuity in their education.

I received a letter from the Methodist Colleges and Schools making this very point, and I hope that the Secretary of State will take full note of their case. A large number of schools are involved. I have also received a letter from the Red Maids School in Bristol which will be well known to the Minister's staff.

There is also the special problem of schools which are forced to close. This is a particularly difficult one. A number of schools may be facing closure because of inflation and they will have special problems such as dispossessed staff and pupils, disused buildings, the realisation of assets, the settlement of debts and so on. These problems have not been resolved between the schools and the Ministry. And yet the schools are being hastened into a choice without knowing what faces them. That is the road to chaos.

There are also schools with excellent working arrangements with the local education authorities. Are all those arrangements to be jeopardised without full discussion and time to adjust? They already have an integrated system in agreement with the local authority, sharing sixth forms and all sorts of facilities. Are all those to be jeopardised? I hope not.

The Secretary of State has inherited a policy which will lead to the destruction of one of the best parts of our secondary schooling. All over the country parents and friends of these schools are protesting, not only about the policy but about the haste with which this disruption is being forced upon them.

I commend to the Secretary of State the objections tabled by the governors of that splendid and justly famous London school, Emanuel, to the proposal of the ILEA to change the character of that school.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has a reputation for looking at problems for himself and making practical arrangements, will not be swept along helplessly in the rush to wipe out schools which have outstanding records of service to the young, their parents and the nation.

4.26 p.m.

First, I thank the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) for his kind personal remarks about me. Perhaps I would not have chosen to reply to a debate of this sort within three days of taking office, because the problem is clearly difficult and complex, and I have not had the opportunity to consider all the detailed aspects that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We need to be clear about the difference between the principle involved and detailed questions of how the necessary changes can be administered, and I think that the hon. Gentleman was clear.

I accept, and have accepted for many years, that the system of direct-grant schools should be brought to an end, and I intend to carry forward fully, not only in the direct-grant school sector but in secondary education generally, the advance towards the comprehensive principle and the abolition of selection that my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), my predecessor, carried out.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's work in the Department. In the Government's view, and my view, it is necessary to proceed along the lines of my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on 11th March and the letters—that is the correct technical term, rather than circulars— that went to each school and local authority on 1st May. I completely agree with my predecessor's statement on 11th March, when he said:
"This decision follows necessarily from the Government's commitment to end all forms of selection for secondary education. The direct grant schools have made an important contribution to the national system of secondary education while that was organised on selective lines, and some of them provided places needed by local education authorities. I hope that as many of them as possible will accept that they can best continue to serve the public by making the adjustments necessary to become an integral part of the local system of comprehensive education as maintained schools."—[Official Report, 11th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 271.]
That is certainly my policy. I understand the hon. Gentleman's opposition. It is a difference of principle, and all the talking in the world will not persuade him that what I intend to do is right, any more than his persuasiveness is likely to persuade me to adopt an education policy different from that of my predecessor. On the question of detailed consideration the hon. Gentleman to some extent exaggerated the difficulties. I understand that all the points which he properly made have already been made by the schools and organisations involved to the Department in consultations and in the letters of 1st May. Those matters are the subject of further and full consideration.

On the question of the timetable, I do not accept that it is unreasonable to ask the schools concerned again to make a decision on principle. I know that in these pressing economic times all decisions affecting money are difficult, but for many the decision is whether to become part of the local educational provision or whether to go independent.

It is essential to make clear that most of the schools will move into the public sector of education and that they should do so as part of a comprehensive system. It would be nonsense to stop the direct-grant status on the one hand and allow them to become voluntary maintained grammar schools on the other. I hope that nobody believes that that is feasible. If those schools come into the local education authority framework, they will have to come in as part of a comprehensive system.

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's point about the particular character of a school. It would be wrong to assume that what would be right in one area would be right for all others. It must be a matter for the local education authority, after consultation, to work out proposals that will best fit the needs of children in the area. What we are concerned about is the education of children in the area.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the staff situation. I should like to make it absolutely clear that when we talk of teachers and staff the expression also embraces head teachers. I understand that there is concern about the fact that when a direct-grant school comes into the maintained system and becomes a comprehensive school or part of the comprehensive system it may not be possible for every member of staff to be offered the same sort of position as he or she held previously. We have already had a great deal of experience of the kind of adjustment that may be necessary. In general, the same adjustment will be involved as when a maintained grammar school has been reorganised on comprehensive lines, and we expected that there may be some additional factors as well. My right hon. Friend made clear in March and also in correspondence in May that we recognise there will be problems and that we are anxious to do our best to minimise them.

We hope that, wherever possible, qualified teacher status will be granted to those who lack it. We hope that every effort will be made by local education authorities to find continuing employment of a comparable kind for individual teachers. We have under active consideration the position with regard to compensation in those cases where employment has to be terminated. I know that these problems are serious ones for the individual concerned. This is likely to affect only a small number of staff at relatively few schools, but I agree that it is an immense problem for the individual who is affected. I assure the House that the matter will be given full and earnest consideration.

On all the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman we are anxious, wherever possible, to achieve reasonable and just solutions. Difficulties arise in any system of reorganisation. We know that this hap- pened as a result of the local government reorganisation. Therefore, we should do all that is possible to find reasonable answers to the difficult problems which will arise. It is difficult to say that just because any reorganisation involves problems one should never embark on a reorganisation. If, for good sound educational reasons, we are to get rid of the system of selection, there is no case for the Government to give a direct subsidy of the kind which has been in existence in the direct-grant school system. This is in no sense a reflection on the distinguished contribution of these schools over the years from the time when their development was on a basis of what was commonly known as the 11-plus selection procedure.

I have returned to education matters after an absence, in parliamentary terms, of 15 years or more. When I was first a Member of Parliament in the 1950s I was chairman of the parliamentary education group. I participated in the first Labour Party working party on the problems of comprehensive education, which at that time was not a popular idea even among Labour authorities. However, persuasive as the hon. Gentleman is, he is not likely to move me today from the strong views of principle which I formed 18 years or so ago, many of them as a result of sharp discussion with the late Dick Crossman, who was also passionately concerned with education problems. I am sure that we shall return to this matter.

The policy can be brought into effect, if that is decided, only by regulations which, in the ordinary way, are subject to parliamentary processes.

While we want to give every opportunity to deal with the real problems, not only in personal terms but in terms of resources, I do not want any hon. Members to be under any misapprehension or to feel that by procrastination or by making proposals which will not wash and trying to buy time, they will postpone the evil day, as they see it, of decision. I am not prepared to go along with that. We want to meet the real difficulties, but that must be done in a reasonable period of time, or as quickly as is reasonable in all the circumstances.

I intend to stick to the timetable laid down by my right hon. Friend. When I look at the regulations, I shall seek to strengthen them so that there can be no doubt about the desire to proceed, at the same time trying, on humanitarian and education grounds, to make the transition as smooth as possible for the individuals concerned.

I wonder whether in the dying seconds of this week I could add my congratulations on behalf of a number of colleagues to my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education and Science, especially in view of the forth-right way in which he has upheld Government policy on this occasion.

My hon. Friend was Chairman of the Sheffield education committee when both of us were slowly arriving at the views we now hold.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock.