HC Deb 13 March 1823 vol 8 cc541-3
Lord Cranborne

rose to bring forward his motion for the appointment of a select committee to take into consideration the game laws. As the object of it was solely to acquire information respecting the operation of those laws, he trusted it would encounter no opposition. His own opinion of their tendency to deteriorate the morals and deprave the habits of the lower classes, had been unhappily strengthened by the number of committals for violations of their provisions during the past year. They had amounted to 1,467, of which 372 had taken place in the last month of the year. He would move, "That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the Laws relating to Game, and report their Observations thereupon to the House."

Sir J. Sebright

implored the House to take the subject into their most serious consideration. He conjured them to do so, not upon any speculative opinion of his own; but upon his actual knowledge, as a magistrate of long experience, of the baneful effect of the game laws. Their operation was far more detrimental than members were generally aware of, and had seriously altered the character of the lower classes. The gaols were filled with persons charged with violating those laws; and amongst the prisoners, he had often occasion to observe young men, who, at the time of their committal, were utterly incapable of robbery—who would not steal even a farmer's goose or his turkey, but were nevertheless sent to gaol for a violation of the game laws; and who, after their imprisonment, were turned upon society, capable of committing any act of violence. He entreated gentlemen, therefore, to consider this motion not as a game question, but as one which affected the moral character of a vast body of the population.

Sir J. Shelley

was of opinion, that the demoralization of the lower agricultural classes was not so much owing to the game laws, as to the distress which prevailed among them, and the difficulty of their procuring adequate subsistence.

Mr. Curwen

thought, that to the existence of these odious laws a vast proportion of the offences which came before the judges at the assizes was to be attributed. Perhaps the only mode of altogether doing away with poaching, would be to suffer game to come legally into the market. This, he thought, might be permitted, without too much encroaching on the pleasures of gentlemen who resided in the country. The effect of the game laws was to cast an odium on every gentleman who endeavoured to protect the game on his estate.

Mr. Gipps

was anxious to have a return of the number of convictions under the game laws for some years past. By such a return, it would be seen whether the amount was connected with the pressure of agricultural distress. He was persuaded that latterly these convictions had decreased.

Mr. Secretary Peel

did not think that the committals under the game laws had been at all increased by the distress of agriculture. He agreed, however, that it was desirable to have correct accounts of the number of committals in each year; but even should it appear that the number had materially diminished, that would not, in his opinion, be an argument, against the appointment of a committee. He by no means pledged himself to the support of any particular course in the committee. He was quite aware that the question was full of mixed and important considerations. That there should be a law for the preservation of game he willingly admitted; but that law ought to be subservient to a still more important object, the preservation of internal tranquillity. He had great doubts if legalizing the sale of game would have the effect of diminishing the number of poachers; but on that, as well as on all the other points connected with the subject, it would be for the committee to inquire and deliberate. Perhaps it might be found advisable to consolidate the game laws, with a view to rendering them more simple and intelligible.

Mr. N. Colburne

was persuaded, that the peace and happiness of the lower classes were materially affected by the game laws. At the same time, he thought that legalising the sale of game would have a tendency to increase, rather than to diminish the evil.

Colonel Wood

was glad to see a more liberal feeling pervade the House, than when the same subject was last before them. He thought the thanks of the country were due to his noble friend for calling their attention to this important subject.

The motion was agreed to.