HC Deb 18 February 1818 vol 37 cc508-10
Mr. G. Bankes

said, that in the motion which he was about to make, he expected the support, not of those members alone who were anxious to protect the game of the country, but of those also who were solicitous to diminish the number of offences connected with the unlawful destruction of ganie. Most of these offences would be got rid of, if the legislature could effectually prevent the buying and selling of game; for it seldom happened that poachers killed game for sustenance, or for the mere gratification, of their own tastes. As the law stood at present, all persons, qualified and unqualified, were forbidden to sell game. Unqualified persons were also virtually forbidden to purchase game, but there was no such restriction on qualified persons. His wish was to put all persons on the same footing in this respect; and by the bill, for which he was about to move, to enact, that all persons, qualified or not, should be liable to the same penalties for buying game as those inflicted by the existing law on unqualified persons so purchasing it. The hon. gentleman then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the farther preventing of offences connected with the unlawful destruction and sale of game."

Mr. Curwen,

thought the proposition of the hon. gentleman quite inadequate to the attainment of the object in view. It would only go to make the game laws still more odious than they were. He was by no means one of those who thought this not a fit subject for legislation. On the contrary, he was fully impressed with the advantages of increasing the inducements to gentlemen to reside in the country, by protecting the game for their amusement. But while the present oppressive and unjust code of laws existed on the subject, it was in vain to think of putting an end to the crimes which they generated. At present the right of game was confined to landed proprietors. Now it was well known that in this country the proportion which commercial property bore to landed property, was as seven to one. He could see no objection to making game private property, up to a certain extent, and to doing away all qualifications not founded on property. Severe penalties were never productive of the effect intended by them. While the plundering of a farmer's field of turnips and such articles was felony by law, the practice was general, as the punishment was too severe to be inflicted; but as soon as it was reduced to a moderate fine, the practice entitely ceased. He strongly recommended the hon. gentleman not to content himself with so inefficient a proposition as that which he had just made, but to go to the root of the evil, and endeavour to reform the whole system of the game laws. As to making the purchase of game penal, the only consequence would be, that the smaller culprits would be punished, while those of more importance would escape. For instance, such an individual as the lord mayor of London must have game. He would not purchase it himself, but others would purchase it for him; and this would take place, whatever statutes the legislature might enact.

Mr. Warre

was surprised that his hon. friend could imagine that in the present state, temper, and constitution of society, any legislative measure could effectually prevent the sale of game. But two years ago an hon. member brought in a bill on this subject, the enactments of which were so severe that it was deemed expedient to repeal it last session. The hon. member who had just sat down, had given his hon. friend good counsel, although it would be no easy task to set about reforming the whole system of the game laws. On this subject he had that morning met with a passage in Mr. Justice Blackstone, which he would read to the House. It was as follows:—"Though the forest laws are now mitigated, and by degrees grown entirely obsolete, yet from this root has sprung a bastard slip, known by the name of the game law, now arrived to, and wantoning in, its highest vigour: both founded upon the same unreasonable notions of permanent property in wild creatures; and both productive of the same tyranny to the commons; but with this difference, that the forest laws established only one mighty hunter throughout the land, the game laws have raised a little Nimrod in every manor."* *4 Comm. 416.

Mr. G. Bankes

professed himself wholly incompetent to execute the task which the hon. member for Carlisle wished him to undertake. All he desired was, to make the game laws something better if he could. The omission which the proposed bill tended to supply, appeared to him to be a casual one, and easily to be remedied.

Sir C. Burrell

thought the bill proposed by the hon. gentleman would be beneficial, by putting the rich and the poor on an equal footing. It had been most justly said by the late Mr. Fox, that, without a violation of the laws of property, he could not see how the game laws could be much altered at present.

The House divided: Ayes, 60; Noes, 28.