An update on hare coursing

As hare coursing makes it onto the parliamentary agenda with cross-party collaboration, CLA North Rural Adviser Libby Bateman gives an overview of the CLA's work to tackle this crime

Thanks to persistent CLA lobbying, hare coursing is finally on the parliamentary agenda. Tackling hare coursing requires cross-departmental work as, though the issue is one that affects rural areas which is the responsibility of Defra, it is also a crime and so something that needs to be considered in conjunction with not only the Home Office but also the Ministry of Justice. Securing this cross-party collaboration has been a key part of CLA lobbying, and a hard-fought win.

The CLA has been working in coalition with a number of other rural organisations to press government to introduce new legislation to better tackle the problem of hare coursing. Earlier this year we encouraged members of Parliament to submit an application into the ballot for a Private Members’ Bill, which is a way that backbench MPs can highlight issues that aren’t necessarily on the government’s agenda and seek to bring them into law. We’re very pleased that Richard Fuller MP secured a place on the ballot and is taking forward a bill on hare coursing.

In tandem, CLA President, Mark Bridgeman, made a direct appeal to Lord Goldsmith to highlight the destruction that illegal hare coursing inflicts on the brown hare population alongside the damage to rural businesses. The meeting was constructive with Lord Goldsmith eager to do what he could to help bring about action. Following that meeting, we were very pleased to see hare coursing highlighted within the Government’s Plan for Animal Welfare.

We have since held meetings with the Defra Secretary of State and Rural Affairs Minister Lord Benyon, and have worked with Robert Goodwill MP to put forward amendments to the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; which would strengthen the power of the police and courts.

Specifically, we’re calling for:

  • Full seizure and forfeiture powers in respect of dogs and vehicles.
  • Removal of the existing limits on the penalties (fines) that can be imposed.
  • Enable the recovery of kennelling costs from offenders.
  • The introduction of new power to disqualify offenders from keeping dogs in the future.
  • The introduction of a new offence of ‘going equipped’.

Robert Goodwill’s amendments were debated during the committee stage of the House of Commons, they will now be re-presented in the House of Lords by The Bishop of St Albans over the coming weeks. This bill is an opportune moment to equip rural police forces with the necessary powers to tackle hare coursing, and the wider problem of organised crime. We will be briefing parliamentarians to garner further support on the issue.

In parallel to this, Defra has indicated that it intends to bring forward its own Hares Bill. The CLA, as part of the wider Hare Coursing Coalition, is urging Defra to utilise Richard Fuller’s Private Members’ Bill as an opportunity to bring the legislation forward in a timely manner to avoid further months of misery and suffering for farmers, landowners and the brown hare.

It is welcome that hare coursing, which has long blighted rural communities, is being taken seriously by government, and we hope that this positive mood returns substantial change for the better.