The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has “warmly welcomed” legislation proposed by Conservative North Bedfordshire MP, Richard Fuller, to tackle the crime of hare coursing.
Mr Fuller was among 20 other back benchers who were drawn in the Private Member’s Ballot, allowing them to introduce a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday).
According to Politics Home, selection is, “is normally a once-in-a-career opportunity for a backbencher: presenting legislation to the Commons which actually has a chance of making it onto the statute books.”
Mr Fuller’s Bill will include measures that can effectively deter hare coursing, potentially including stronger guidance on sentencing, a higher limit for certain penalties and giving the police the tools to combat the crime.
“Remedies in law are strewn across multiple, arcane pieces of legislation dating back to the 1800s such as the Night Poaching Act of 1828 and the Game Act of 1831,” said Mr Fuller.
“My Bill will remove these and become the defining law for the crime of hare coursing.”
RSPCA Head of Wildlife Adam Grogan said: “The RSPCA warmly welcomes this hare coursing bill proposing increased powers for the police and more severe penalties for those involved in this cruel activity.
“We look forward to working with Richard Fuller MP on this important initiative to help put an end to this horrible crime.”
Although hare coursing is illegal it is not a notifiable offence and many incidents are not reported.
Police powers to intervene, already difficult given location and times of day for hare coursing, are ill-suited to the crime and too often the penalties are an insufficient deterrent.
A survey last month by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society revealed the problems associated with hare coursing, with many respondents reporting they had received threats, damage to property, experienced livestock harm and had to invest considerable sums to deter vehicles from destroying crops.
“Hare coursing is a serious and aggravating crime, but victims of this crime are currently poorly served in obtaining justice,” said Mr Fuller.
“Over the past year, I have heard directly from residents in North East Bedfordshire who feel both threatened and powerless in confronting this crime. This is replicated across much of the country.
“In addition to the impact of this criminality, the dogs used in the crime are often exhausted and left for dead and hares are killed senselessly. The government’s own Action Plan for Animal Welfare released last month, highlights the need for action.”
Mr Fuller said that he will be consulting with residents, the local National Farmers Union (NFU) branch and Bedfordshire Police to get their thoughts on his proposals and will be working closely with national animal welfare and rural campaign groups for their advice on what he hopes will prove to be an effective step in combating hare coursing in the future.
Oliver Rubinstein, NFU county adviser for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire told the Bedford Independent that hare coursing is a source of constant anxiety for farmers across the region, with their members regularly subject to serious assault, threats and widespread intimidation when trying to confront those taking part in a damaging and illegal activity on their land.
“Despite coordinated efforts from the police to clamp down on hare coursing, within current laws they have limited powers at their disposal.
“This Bill will go a long way in giving the police the tools they need and we are extremely grateful to Richard for bringing this forward after we raised our concerns.”
In the NFU’s annual rural crime survey, hare coursing consistently ranks as the most widely experienced crime across the region, with 67% of respondents having been victim to at least one incident of hare coursing in the last year.
“Last year we wrote to the Home Office and Defra alongside a range of other organisations on this issue, but so far progress has been slow,” said Mr Rubinstein.