Westminster Hall Debate calls for illegal hare coursers to receive stiffer penalties

CLA North Rural Adviser Libby Bateman reflects on the take-home messages from a political debate on hare coursing

The debate was brought by Kent MP, Gordon Henderson who called for amendments to historic poaching legislation so that the penalties imposed on those convicted of hare coursing better reflect the magnitude of the criminal activity involved.

Mr Henderson began by highlighting that illegal hare coursing is not just poaching but is high-stakes illegal betting with the ‘chase’ often live-streamed across the nation so bets could be placed.  He continued by highlighting the destruction and stress this causes to farmers and landowners who face an increasing cost of defending their property from intruders, often to no avail as barriers are breached by the criminals.

Evidence was presented on the level of fines imposed on those convicted, quoting an average of just £227 over a 10-year period.  Praise was given to the work of rural police officers in attempting to tackle the problem but concerns were raised that this work was not backed-up by the rest of the judicial system.  Mr Henderson concluded by challenging Defra to bring forward amendments to S30 of the Game Act 1831 to allow stiffer sentencing, greater power to gain forfeiture of dogs used in illegal hare coursing as well as the power to reclaim the kennelling costs of dogs seized while their owners are awaiting trial.

In response to the debate, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said that Defra were in regular contact with the Home Office on the matter and they are looking at possible solutions to improve the situation.  Intervening in her reply, MP Danny Kruger (Devizes) said that many farmers and landowners are at their wits-end with the issue and have reluctantly culled hares on their land as the only way to reduce the disruption to their livelihoods. 

The debate was supported by a coalition of rural organisations, including the NFU, CLA, Countryside Alliance and a number of wildlife charities who have recently been in dialogue with Defra and the Home Office to put forward suggested amendments to the Game Act 1831 which would strengthen the power of the justice system to tackle this problem.

This effort to further raise the issue of illegal hare coursing with Government is welcomed by the CLA.  Hare coursing is a persistent problem which wreaks havoc on the lives of CLA members.  An amendment to historic legislation is needed to enable the justice system to tackle the problem. We hope to hear more from Defra and the Home Office about when they will be picking up this challenge and bring forward long-overdue amendments.