HC Deb 01 February 1819 vol 39 cc200-2
Mr. Lawson,

pursuant to his notice, rose to call the attention of the House to the state of the law as it respected wild animals reclaimed from their original barbarism and natural ferocity. He was aware that he might be exposing himself to some degree of ridicule by leading the House into such a discussion. There were honourable gentlemen on the other side of the House, whom, however, he did not then see in their places, who, from their manner of treating his observations on a recent occasion, might perhaps allege that he had undertaken this subject from a fellow feeling, he being himself ferœ naturœ. It was very far from his wish, he could assure them, to increase the number of penal enactments, or add to the severity of a code, against which the sentiments of the public were now so loudly proclaimed. He had not been hunting through the volumes of our criminal jurisprudence for the purpose either of filling up chasms, or lopping off exuberances. He had been induced to submit his present proposition, not by any impatience to become a legislator, but because he thought the law defective in this particular case. At a late trial during the last assizes at Hertford, a man was indicted for stealing a number of tame ferrets. The jury found him guilty; but the case being referred to the judges, who were just equal in number to the jury, but who had not the advantage of being starved into unanimity, they unani- mously agreed, that ferrets being animals ferœ naturœ no property could be held in them, and that the stealing of them was not punishable. Now, he contended that a ferret was not the useless creature which it was generally thought. It was a most powerful antagonist to that most noxious, odious, and destructive animal the rat [a laugh], and more effective against it than poison, traps, gins, and all that the hammer and the anvil could forge. One of our great poets had told us, that "all things were made for man's delight and use," and therefore he proposed that whenever any animal of whatever description, became of delight or use to its master, his law should protect it. Some gentlemen seemed much to enjoy his allusion to rats, but if even these animals could be reclaimed, he would have them deemed property, and so protected. If, indeed, a rat could be so reclaimed as to run from one side of that House to the other [a laugh], he would have such an animal protected from traps or gins. He also proposed to have menageries protected; for what just reason could be assigned for not protecting the property of Mr. Polito, or any other proprietor of wild beasts who resided in town, or who travelled through the country? Such animals ought, indeed, upon every just ground, to be protected by law; for their general exhibition was known to be of great utility, especially to the youth of both sexes, in presenting them with a practical illustration of the natural history of those animals. Why, for instance, should not property in a lion be protected? for he was not a base animal; certainly not so base as an ass; and yet the latter was protected by the law, while the former was left without protection. Why should not badgers and monkies also be protected by law? Badgers and monkies had their useful qualities, and if they themselves were not often stolen, it could not be denied in this age of foppery, that many stole their faces, anticks, and gestures. His object would be, to punish the offence of stealing them by seven years transportation, or by whipping, at the discretion of the sessions. The receivers of them, when stolen, should, he thought, be subject to the same, not a greater punishment, as was sometimes the practice in other cases. With regard to their becoming nuisances, he considered the law to be quite effectual upon that subject, and should not, therefore, introduce any new provision with reference to it. He did not boast of possessing any squeamish or morbid sensibility, but he could not see property of this kind in a different state with respect to its protection by the law from any other, and know that the owners of it as well as their families depended on its security, without being anxious to see that protection extended to them. He moved, therefore, "That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend the laws for the protection of Wild Animals reclaimed and retained as private property."

The Attorney General, after some pause, seconded the motion, in order to bring the subject fairly before the House. The gallery was cleared, but the motion was negatived, without a division.—Mr. Lawson said, he would consign the other motion of which he had given notice, namely, with regard to the repeal of the law respecting Trial by Battle, to the more able hands of the attorney-general, and that learned gentleman accordingly gave notice of a motion upon the subject for Tuesday se'nnight.