§ 'It shall not be lawful during the months of March, April, May, June or July to sell or expose for sale in any part of Great Britain any hare or leverets imported into Great Britain.'—[Mr. Hardy.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Hardy
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This matter can, I think, be dispensed with fairly rapidly, although hon. Members, had they so wished, could have addressed the House for a long period, largely because the new clause concerns the Hares Preservation Act 1892, one of the faltering steps forward in the early development of conservation. The Act established virtually a close time for hares during the breeding season. It made unlawful the sale or exposure for sale of hares or leverets in any part of Great Britain during the months of March, April, May, June and July. This conferred a measure of protection on the hare which was felt to be necessary in 1892. Now, 88 years later, I think that we still need to protect the hare, at least partially.
Unfortunately, the Act took little account of anything happening outside these islands, and it was specifically excluded from applying to imported foreign hares. Since there is an inadequacy of record keeping and one cannot prove easily that a hare on sale is a foreign one, there seems to be justification for a further look at the matter now.
The Bill seeks in part to fulfil our international commitments and demonstrates above all that we are only a part of the world of conservation. It seems highly appropriate, therefore, that the Bill should take foreign hares into account. It may be that in some counties in England the hare is much less common than it was. In my view, the same argument can be applied to hares in neighbouring countries.
I hope that we can take action not merely to protect in Britain the British hare, but to protect in Britain the hare which we might otherwise import from countries where it may be more scarce than it is here. Therefore, I ask 857 whether we can delete section 3 of the Hares Preservation Act 1892. It is 88 years since the Act was passed, and it is now appropriate for its provisions to be reconsidered.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) who, with his close interest in these matters, has identified what appears on the face of it to be a loophole in our law. We understand his arguments about the failure to cover hares from other countries being sold here and his concern that conservation interests should not be confined to our shores but should extend to the wider Continent of Europe.
At the moment, however, we are not aware of any problem in this respect. The NCC has not advised us that it is aware of any problem here, but we are having discussions about some of the related problems. If we find that there is a need for action we have powers under the Endangered Species Act 1976 which, as he knows, covers more than merely endangered species. We have powers, and those can be implemented. Therefore, if action of this kind proves to be needed it can be taken under existing powers.
On that basis, and with that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel it necessary to press his motion to a Division.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.