HC Deb 11 February 1824 vol 10 cc131-4
Mr. Martin

said, that the second bill which he should move for leave to bring in, would require little detail. He would move for "leave to bring in a bill to prevent Bear-baiting and other cruel practices." There was some hesitation in putting the question, as Mr. Martin had not provided a seconder. Mr. Martin expressed a hope that some gentleman would second it. Some one having seconded it, and the question being put,

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he was as ready as any one to do justice to the motives of his hon. friend, and he did not object to the first of the bills that had been proposed to amend the law for the protection of cattle from wanton cruelty; but the bill which it was the purpose of the present motion to introduce, was an extension so important, that he was surprised his hon. friend did not think proper to enter into the details by which he might conceive it was called for. The hon. gentleman proposed to prohibit certain cruel sports. Now, if the hon. gentleman laid down the general principle, that no pain should be inflicted on animals, beyond such as was necessary in putting them to death for the support of man, his legislation would be consistent; but he was certainly not fair in selecting partial instances to legislate on, in which the members of the House, the parties legislating, did not happen to be interested [hear!]. It was impossible for him to vindicate the cruelty with which the sports in question were probably accompanied; but at the same time it was impossible for him to forget, that those who would have to pass this bill, for the purpose of putting an end to the sports in which the poor found amusement, were in the habit of pursuing other sports attended with just the same cruelty to animals. The House had last session refused to amend the Game laws, on the express ground, that, by affording a mode of amusement to country gentlemen, they afforded them a motive to residence on their estates. The advantages of this residence he did not mean to undervalue; but, while they thus directly encouraged the wounding of animals in shooting and hunting, they could not with any decency pass a partial law against the same sort of cruelty, when perpetrated by a lower class of people, nor could they make it penal to encourage the antipathies of two animals in Bear-baiting, when they encouraged precisely the same antipathies in fox-hunting. Let them abolish foxhunting and partridge shooting, and they might then abolish Bear-baiting. If, indeed, the hon. member alleged that, for purposes of police, it was necessary to abolish a particular kind of amusement, because it brought together disorderly characters, or led to riots, he should have given the allegation the consideration it might deserve; but on the ground of cruelty, it was manifestly partial and unjust to propose it. Who could say that hawking was less cruel than Bear-baiting or fishing? Nay, fishing added treachery to cruelty; while, in Bear-baiting, the victim was at any rate brought fairly to the stake, and the late Mr. Windham used to assert, had a sort of pleasure in contending against his natural enemies the dogs. Fishing was a cruel fraud practised on innocent and defenceless animals. On what principle, too, did we retain animals in confinement at all? An unfortunate monkey, that was taken and shut up in a cage, and exhibited for gain, was surely ill-treated; and it might be questioned, whether the condition of such a monkey was not as wretched as that of the bear. He should protest against any partial measure on the subject, which would interfere with the amusements of the poor, while it did not interfere with the sports of the rich as, by making such a distinction, they opened the door to great injustice and oppression.

Mr. Martin

said, he should defend those gentlemen who amused themselves with shooting, hunting, and fishing, against being confounded with the miserable wretches who pursued the brutal sports which he proposed to prohibit. He wished to stop cruelty as far as he was able: he wished to prohibit those cruelties which public opinion would follow him in saying ought to be prohibited. It was the opinion of all well thinking people out of these walls (and he was happy to say, that there were out of the House, millions of well-thinking people in this country), that cruel sports ought to be prohibited. There was not a part of the kingdom that he was not in correspondence with, and he knew that to be the general opinion. There was no inconsistency in not prohibiting field-sports and in putting down the gross and atrocious cruelties which depraved the morals of the people. Bull-baiting was already prevented. He begged to call to the recollection of the right hon. gentleman a law now existing, which prevented every one of these sports, or rather of these deliberate acts of cruelty, in a particular part of the metropolis. He alluded to the Mary-la-bonne act, which made it illegal to bait a bull, or to hold a bear fight, monkey fight, or dog fight in the parish of Marylabonne. He wished to know whether his right hon. friend meant to repeal that act; and, if he did not mean to repeal that clause in the Marylabonne act, which made it illegal for bears, dogs, and monkeys to fight and massacre each other, he saw no reason why those disgraceful sports ought not to be abolished in every other part of the kingdom. Hunting and shooting, in his opinion, were amusements of a totally different character. Many gentlemen who indulged in those recreations had been the foremost to support his bill for preventing cruelty to animals. A gentleman of his acquaintance, remarkable for the strength of his nerves, had, nevertheless, experienced nausea at the stomach, upon seeing a bull which had been baited. The upper lip was torn, and part of the tongue hung in shreds down the wretched animal's cheek. Honourable gentlemen ought really to attend these sports themselves, before they decided that a bill of this kind ought not to be introduced. He was informed by the police-officers, that the greatest vagabonds in the world were in the habit of attending these sports. He felt satisfied, that such sights tended to degrade the character of Englishmen; and he was convinced also, that if the House did not accede to his motion, their decision would not be supported by the general voice of the country. He was persuaded that, if the population of London could be polled on this subject, there would be a thousand to one in favour of his bill.

Mr. Lockhart

thought he could relieve the hon. gentleman from the necessity of pressing the House to any decision on the subject. The hon. gentleman had already obtained leave to bring in a bill to amend his act for preventing cruelty to cattle, by extending protection to other animals. Now, as he himself admitted, that bull-baiting was illegal by the operation of his own measure, it was evident that if his amendment were carried, the bears to which the hon. gentleman wished to extend protection, would be included in the words "other animals." It would be wholly unnecessary, therefore, to protect bears by a specific enactment.

Mr. Martin

acquiesced in the suggestion of the hon. gentleman, and consented to withdraw his motion.