HC Deb 04 March 1817 vol 35 cc876-9
Colonel Wood

said, that in rising to move for leave to bring in a bill for the purpose of altering a branch of the Game laws, of which he gave notice on a former evening, he should confine himself to a brief explanation of the object he had in view. By the 28th of Geo. 2nd, it was made illegal for any person to sell game. He wished to repeal that act, in order to place this branch of the game laws on a different footing. When he introduced a similar bill last session, it was facetiously said, that is ought to be intituled a bill to encourage poaching; but, if he thought it would facilitate that most pernicious practice—if he were not convinced that it would tend to put it down—he never would have introduced the bill. His great object was, to put down, not to augment, an increasing evil, which first initiated the British peasantry into the commission of crimes. That act of prevent the sale of game was not as ancient as the game laws; it was, comparatively, of modern date; and it had completely failed to produce the intended effect. By the 5th of Anne, higlers, chapmen, carriers, inn-keepers, and victuallers, were restricted from selling game. But, by the act of the 28th of Geo. 2nd, the game-keepers of lords or ladies of manors were prevented, under a penalty, from selling game, without the consent of their employers; but, having obtained that consent, they were at liberty to sell. The 28th of Geo. 2nd, which was an isolated act, unconnected with the general body of the game laws, extended the meaning of the word "chapman" to all persons, qualified or not, who sold game; and it contained a clause which was considered by the preservers of game of very great importance, namely, that where any game was found in the house of a person not qualified, it should be considered as exposed to sale, and the convicted party should be subject to a penalty. This clause might be supplied by a provision in the 4th and 5th of William and Mary, if the operation of that act were not prevented by the 28th of Geo. 2nd. In the act of Wm. and Mary, where game was found in the possession of an unqualified person, he was obliged to state, on oath, the manner in which he became possessed of it. This, he conceived, would be a sufficient protection for the preservers of game. If the House agreed to the repeal of the 28th of Geo. 2nd, he should then move for leave to bring in a bill to enable certain persons to sell game. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill to repeal the act of the 28th of Geo. 2nd, and to make other provisions relative to the sale of game."

Sir C. Burrell

differed entirely from the hon. member, and regretted that be had again brought forward a measure which so entirely failed last session. If the present system of the game laws were unsettled it might be found difficult to settle them again. He thought the better way would be to appoint a committee, consisting of a few sensible and legal men, to inquire into the subject, and then, perhaps, something might be done. He, however, considered the existing system as highly beneficial, because it induced gentlemen of property to live on their estates; and as the present measure seemed calculated to destroy that bond of union which subsisted between them and their tenants, he should feel it his duty to divide the House upon the question of bringing in the bill.

Mr. G. Bankes

was surprised that the hon. gentleman, who was so partial to the preservation of game—who knew so well that the sports of the field induced gentlemen of fortune to visit their estates frequently—should have introduced a measure which would have the effect of increasing the practice of poaching in a ten-fold degree, so long as any of those species of animals, recognized by the game laws, continued to exist. The system which he spoke of as modern, was three hundred years old, and therefore was supported by the wisdom and experience of their ancestors. In the reign, of Henry 8th an act was passed prohibiting all persons, except members of the royal household, from selling game. That act continued in force till the time of James 1st, when the prohibition was extended to persons of every class and degree. The game laws might, not unaptly, be compared to an old park-fence; which, though it was somewhat irregular in its form, answered all the purposes for which it was intended, although it might not please the eye so much as a neat fence, which was often less useful than ornamental. He denied that the game laws were made exclusively for the rich, and contended that the system generally contributed equally to public happiness and public good. If it were thought necessary to make any alterations, he would suggest whether increased penalties might not deter from poaching, and also, whether it would not be prudent to inflict a penalty upon qualified persons who purchased game.

Mr. Curwen

was astonished, considering the tenour and spirit of the game laws, how the hon. gentleman who had just spoken could interpret them favourably. From beginning to end they were opposed to every thing like English liberty—they were most unjust, and most impolitic. He wished they were done away altogether, and a different system introduced. It would tend to promote the growth of game, and to extend the sports of gentlemen. He would be better pleased, if a bill were brought in to punish the wealthy buyer of game, instead of the miserable retailer.

Mr. Long Wellesley

thought, that the game laws should remain untouched. There were rights of forest and rights of chase, which were very valuable, but which would be affected by any alteration.

Sir F. Burdett

agreed, that if any punishment were to be inflicted, it ought to fall on the wealthy man, and not on the poor tool whom his riches had seduced into an illegal act.

Mr. Wynn

recommended that some regular and connected system should be adopted, and that the House should not resort to temporary measures.

Colonel Wood

, in reply, observed, that he did not wish to go back to those good old times of Henry 8th, as some seemed to think them, when it was necessary to have a licence to shoot crows. It was certain, that at present pheasants were to be bought and sold in almost every poulterer's shop. He hoped that the House would allow the bill to be brought in and printed, and afterwards they could alter its provisions as they pleased.

The House divided:—For the motion 46. Against it, 34. Leave was accordingly given to bring in the bill.