§ On the order of the day for the second reading of this bill,
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, that if the House allowed the bill to go to a committee, he should supply two omissions, by introducing a clause respecting persons coursing, and another protecting the rights 903 of the crown, which some persons thought were not sufficiently provided for by the present bill.
§ Sir John Shelley
rose to give this measure his decided opposition. There were, he said, only two good grounds that could be assigned for repealing the old law, and substituting another in its place: it must be shown, either that the existing law was unjust and oppressive, or that it was inefficient For the purposes with which it had been enacted. Now, no one could deny that whenever any evils arose in the nation, whether real or imaginary, the right of petitioning parliament for a remedy was always resorted to. Had not the table of that House, for instance, groaned, session after session, beneath petitions for reform—petitions for relief from agricultural distress—petitions for remission of taxation, and a hundred other objects? But, inasmuch as, within his own knowledge, there had not been one single petition presented to that House against the existing Game laws, he was justified in assuming that those laws were not oppressive. It had been said, that this was a modified measure; but, let honourable gentlemen be assured, that if the barrier that now subsisted were once passed, it would be utterly impossible for them ever to return to the point from whence they had set out. Another bill after this, and another still stronger, would, in successive sessions of parliament, be introduced; until, at length, all restrictions would be done away with. He must be allowed very much to doubt, whether either his hon. friend (Mr. S. Wortley), or those other hon. members who were among the zealous supporters of this new measure, would be prepared to go this length. A law must be bad that was founded, as this would be, upon partial, or upon impracticable principles. An act of parliament might be passed for the general preservation of the game throughout the kingdom; but, how could it be possible to pass a law, intended to give a property in an animal which, by nature, defied all human control, and could never in that sense become property? He maintained, that they might as well bring in a law to limit and regulate the migration of woodcocks as one that should establish a right of property in the birds themselves. What property could there be in that which in the space of twelve hours might change its habitation four-and-twenty times? His hon. friend wished to assimilate the Game 904 laws of England to the Scottish Game laws; but, though the Game laws of Scotland might be extremely good for that country, where properties were usually large, and where there was a vast deal of waste land, they would be very inconveniently applied to England. In England, land was, generally speaking, so much subdivided into small properties, that it was mostly impossible for an estate to maintain so much game as to keep any thing like a property in it. The difficulty of breeding game was much more felt, therefore, in England than in Scotland, on account of the subdivision of land. But, suppose a person to be possessed of a little waste land upon the confines of a large preserve and an extensive estate, he would have nothing to do but to plant it, or even to sow it in a certain way, and he would find that he could by possibility convert his land to a better profit; for all the game would flock to his corn or his new plantation, and by this proposition they would become his property. But, suppose that parliament were to make game property, would it be just or fair that a man who might possess a certain number of acres should be said to have a property in more game than all his land would support? If the present measure were proceeded with, such a man would be able to possess hundreds of heads of game, whose own property might never have contributed a single leveret to the common stock. The chief argument in favour of the sale of game had been, that monied men ought to be enabled to buy it, and that their money would always procure it, under any circumstances. But, he would maintain, that if in England there was space for breeding a sufficient quantity of game to allow of the monied men laying out their money in its purchase, they ought to expend some part of their wealth in the purchase of land itself. Then they would know what amount of game they could raise; and with the other advantages of country gentlemen, they would acquire some knowledge of poor-rates and taxes. His hon. friend had proposed a very strong clause against the man who, being unqualified, was found shooting by day. To find a man shooting by day over his property was a circumstance that might ruffle the serenity of his hon. friend a little; but it was not a man of this description that did the mischief of which country gentlemen had sometimes to 905 complain. He was to be considered as doing no more harm, than one additional Sportsman coming down to his hon. friend's mansion. The mischief was always done by the poacher—the thief who snared his game by night. Did his hon. friend suppose that the poacher, if game were made property under this bill, would all of a sudden be conscience-struck, and reason thus with himself,—"As game is now property, I will not touch it, because I shall be depriving another of the value he is entitled to receive for it?" Would he not rather say, "As game can now be sold, I will get at it; and getting into some road or foot-path, I shall easily know where to meet with a dealer, who will purchase of me without a question?" Last year, he had entered his protest against the sale of game. He did not like to convert that into matter of poor paltry profit, which, under present circumstances, was a compliment both to the giver and to the receiver. He should, however, say no more at present on this part of the subject, except to remind the House, that the poacher would always undersell the fair trader; because he would continue to get his game by such means as enabled him, at a lower price, to realize a greater profit. The hon. baronet, after adverting to the great advantage which the kingdom derived from the residence of the country gentlemen upon their estates, expressed his unwillingness to consent to such an entire change in those ancient laws. He Would ask—had not this country risen to its highest pinnacle of glory during the existence of those laws? Let not the House be led away by a false species of philanthropy, to adopt so mischievous a measure. He was convinced that they would be doing no good by giving their sanction to it, except to the poacher, the thief, and the attorney [Hear! hear]. Upon these considerations, he begged leave to propose, by way of amendment, "That the bill be read a second time upon this day six months."
§ Mr. W. Peel
rose to second the amendment, and expressed his opinion, that the making game private property was fraught with many difficulties. He was surprised that his hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire, who was so little of a reformer in general, should have disposed in so radical a manner of the Game laws, by a bill which would annihilate all the Game laws in the country. Some gentlemen were so sanguine as to suppose that this bill would 906 put an end to poaching altogether; but they might rest assured, that so long as there was game there would be poachers, though he admitted, that this bill would in the end destroy poachers, by destroying the game. Some gentlemen would say indeed, that rather than have poachers they would have no game; but, because there were no poachers, there would not cease to be criminals. After a few years, when the occupation of poachers should be destroyed, was it supposed that those men would return to the habits of honest industry? He was persuaded that, if the House legalized the sale of game, they would do more to demoralize the people, than they could do by any other measure. It was said, that the gaols were now full of poachers. He knew that one quarter of the commitments in England were for offences against the Game laws; but he would predict, that if the present bill passed, for some years one-half of the commitments would be for such offences. He knew that some strong evidence had been offered to the House last year, to shew that the sale of game was now carried on to as great an extent as it well could be. But, to say the least of it, this evidence was suspicious as coming from interested persons; and, if the sale of game were legalised, it would still be the interest of buyers to get it from those who could supply it cheapest; and none could give it so cheap as those who stole it. As for the small landed proprietors, the preservation of game must be so vexatious to them, that, after a short time, they would give it up in despair. The great objection he had to the bill was, that it would destroy the noble amusement of fox-hunting; for, when to the other inducements to destroy foxes, the occupier of land had the additional one of preserving his game, the race would soon be extinct. If there were gentlemen who wished to turn poachers under this bill, and turn their partridges and pheasants into sixpences and shillings, he hoped they would be woefully disappointed. It had been said, that if they had no field sports they would have no country gentlemen. He would not go so far as that; but he would say, that any law that discouraged the residence of the country gentlemen on their estates, would have a most mischievous effect; and he begged them to compare Ireland with England, and those parts of Ireland where gentry did reside, with those where they did not. He knew 907 there were gentlemen who wished to try an experiment on the Game laws,; but he begged them to reflect that what they did must be irrevocable, and that it was as well to think of retracing their steps from the grave as to repeal this bill after passing it. He hoped that the reception given to this bill would be such, that legalizing the sale of game, or the making it property, would never again be mentioned in that House.
§ Mr. C. Ross
said, that if he thought the bill tended to diminish the legitimate influence possessed by the country gentlemen over the lower classes, he should be one of its warmest opposers; but if it tended, as he believed it would do, to increase that influence, by removing one of the main causes of irritation, it was well worthy the attention of the House. The hon. baronet had inferred, that the Game laws were popular, because there had been no petitions against them: Now this was a most unfounded inference. It was unfortunately true, that the Game laws were very generally obnoxious; and that an habitual violation of the law in the case of poaching, as of smuggling, had ceased to excite moral reprobation. The legislature had had recourse to severe penalties against it; bill after bill had been brought in to prevent game from being sold, but without effect; and the question now was, not whether game should be sold or not, but whether they should legalize and render innoxious that traffic, which they found they could not prevent—whether it was not advisable to authorize that to be done, by law, which was now done in spite of all law? Considerable doubts had been expressed by some gentlemen, as to the correctness of the evidences that had been given before the committee last year, as to the extent of the sale of game; and he confessed that he himself had felt some suspicions as to its accuracy. But he had taken the trouble to examine the books of some of the poulterers, and he found the statements to the fullest extent confirmed. He had extracted from the books of one, by no means of the principal sellers, the numbers of game he had supplied, and the names of the persons to whom they were supplied. He found in one day he had supplied 100 head; in another, 135; in another, 228; in another 101, and so on. The books he had examined were made up previously to the parliamentary inquiry on the subject; so that there was no room 908 or temptation for falsification. But, it was not to London alone that the sale was confined; it extended to every considerable town, and indeed the system was spread over the whole country; and, as it had been strongly stated by one of the witnesses before the committee, if the laws were written in blood they would not be effectual, there were so many persons of great wealth, and yet of no landed property, who would have game; though the greatest consumers of all, created as it were by the difficulties thrown in the way of procuring the articles, were the tradesmen of London and of the great towns.—It was the duty of the House to try whether, by a revision of the law, they could not obtain the same advantages, and prevent the evils of the system. It was a primary principle of legislation, to consider the temper of the people upon whom the laws were to operate. What could be more unfortunate than a state of law, under which there was a continual struggle between the magistrate and the multitude, and an alternate series of victory and sullen submission? In all the trials under the Game laws, it was known what difficulty there was in getting convictions. There were continual appeals, not to the sober reason, but to the passions of jurors; and there were no class of crimes where the convictions were so few, in proportion to the number of offences. Under the present system, the poacher almost monopolized the market; and, if the sale were legalised, he would at any rate meet with a competitor on the part of the regular vender. But the game now procured by the poacher was even more than was wanted for the supply of the market; for a great deal so procured was kept by the poulterer until it was in a state not to be saleable, and was destroyed; because, from the illegal and uncertain manner in which it was obtained, the poulterers entered into contracts to take all the poachers might send. It was said, that if game were made private property it would rapidly disappear. But if they might reason by analogy—if experience might guide them—they might safely pronounce that there was no ground for such an apprehension. If they looked to the countries in which game was made private property, they would see that the game was not destroyed. If they looked to Germany, they would find that the quantity of game slaughtered in a day, was greater than in this country. If they 909 looked to France, of which he could speak from experience, he could assure them, that in those parts of it where game was not preserved at all, they would find more than in any county in England. In Scotland, too, where, if the sale of game was not permitted by law, it was connived at, there was no complaint of the deficiency of game; and it was necessary that some stronger difference should be adduced, than the alleged difference in the state of property, before he should consent to give up the inference drawn from the state of the law, and its results, in that country. He was not so sanguine as those persons were, who supposed that this bill would put down poaching altogether. Those who pursued it for their own gratification might still pursue it; but those who pursued poaching in order to sell game, would, he had no doubt, be driven out of the market. He was anxious to draw closer the bonds which united all classes of people in this happy country: he was anxious that the ground of dissatisfaction, whether real or imaginary, that was to be found in the Game laws, should be removed; and wishing by no means to encroach on the amusements or on the privileges of the country gentlemen, to whom the country was so deeply indebted for their zeal in repressing tumult at home, and in standing up against foreign enemies, he should warmly support the present bill.
§ Mr. Lockhart
said, that when it was asserted that the Game laws were unpopular, he should like to know with what class they were unpopular; for certain he was, that he had heard more said against them in that House than he had in any other place. They were unpopular with the poachers, and never would be otherwise; but with other classes they were far from being unpopular. The bill before them was, they were told, to unite all classes of the people. He should be glad to know how this could be; for he never saw a bill more calculated to be unpopular, one that more rashly took away existing rights—or supported its provisions by more tyrannical and unconstitutional means. In the first place, without discussing the principle of making game property, or legalising the sale of it—he might observe that the first enactment of the bill was, to sweep away all qualifications at a blow. There had been objections to the principle of qualification; but, he did not hold vested rights in general, or qua- 910 lifications in particular, so lightly as thus to dispose of them. Those qualifications had their value; they afforded inducements to the acquisition of learning and honour, and to the perseverance necessary to attain the stations which conferred them. They were cheap incentives to exertion. The next clause was, to make the game the property of the proprietor of the land—so long, he supposed, as it stayed on the spot. The property of game, then, was not in the occupier of the land!—["Certainly not!" from Mr. Wortley]. What, then, became of the liberality of the bill, the person who fed the game was not to have the property in it? The person who had the property of the game then was, he supposed, looking at the bill as a lawyer, the person who was seised of the fee simple, or who had an estate for life in the land. Who, then, was to preserve it? The occupier was hot to preserve it, and the owner of the fee-simple had no right to do so, unless he was happy enough to be one of those overgrown aristocratical personages who had a given quantity of acres not yet named, but which he supposed would be a pretty large one, lying altogether, without so much as a single field intervening to break their continuity. Those who were happy enough to have lying together, a given number of acres, he supposed 500, might appoint a game-keeper; but the humble yeoman of 100 or 200 (or 1,000 acres, if they did not lie together) could not. If a lady were possessed of land she could not appoint a game-keeper—a difficulty which the gallantry of the hon. member for Yorkshire should have led him to avoid. When the odious task of arresting trespassers was provided for, the occupiers of the land, though they had no property in the game, might apprehend any person who trespassed on the grounds of the overgrown aristocratical persons he had described, if, upon being warned, they did not go off. They were to apprehend in this manner persons sporting in open day, and with their guns in their hands! Did the hon. gentleman think that this would be popular with his constituents or with any constituents living in towns? Those tradesmen and manufacturers who now could be, and in point of fact were whenever they were respectable, constantly invited by the farmers or land owners to shoot, would be liable to be apprehended as common felons, or rather in a manner still more summary than felons. Was 911 the hon. member aware how the law stood as to the apprehension of felons? Was he aware, that if a man was not a con-Stable he apprehended a felon at his peril, and if there was resistance which occasioned death, it was only held to be manslaughter? Yet the hon. gentleman authorised any occupier of land to seize any trespasser with his gun in his hand. When they considered the difficulties as to determining what was a sufficient notice, and the disputes as to property, they might form some idea of the bloodshed and affrays to which such a power would lead. The professed object of the bill was, the better preservation of game, yet for this purpose it was notoriously unnecessary; for the game had, in fact, increased tenfold within the time of his own knowledge. There was some other object not avowed, he believed—the destruction of poachers; but there was nothing in the bill to make this attempt succeed, with the exception of the clauses respecting the punishment of night poachers on successive convictions, which, to be just, he thought worthy the attention of the House. If the present Game laws were unpopular from the narrowness of the qualifications, let the House enlarge them. Let them keep up the old qualification of land and rank, and add such others as might be deemed advisable. Let them admit the army, the navy, physicians, the bar, the clergy. For commerce, let them admit the heads of corporations, or let them give a qualification to a certain amount of personal property; but let them not pretend to give the property of game to the owners of the land, and thus break down ignominiously the property they had created, by disqualifying those owners from preserving it. Under the bill, no one was to be allowed to have snares to take game but a gamekeeper. What! was it meant by this that a man should not snare the game which the bill declared to be his property, or even his rabbits, which were eating up his crops? At present, the law was impartial, and declared, that no persons should have snares to destroy game, though gamekeepers who, partook of the poaching as well as of the preserving character, sometimes had them in defiance of the law.—He thought he had shewn sufficiently, that the bill could be papular—not with the occupiers of land, for it gave them no right to the game, not to professions, not to persons of small and divided properties, whose qualifica- 912 tions it swept away—but only to those who possessed a certain arrondissement of land, to whom the bill seemed intended ultimately to give a monopoly of game. What could be said, under the present bill, to persons possessed of allotments in common fields, who might have a thousand acres divided into two hundred slips? How would it be possible for them to pursue game, or to preserve it? If there was an ulterior object behind—if it were said, that game produced crime, and should therefore be destroyed altogether, he should be ready to meet that argument. They might then go deeply into the question, what sort of property it was fitting to protect against those who were below the law, how far the fruits of the earth, or the implements of husbandry, were to be left exposed to depredators, or to be considered communis juris, because they were exposed to lawless pilferers. He would not speak of the principle on which the Game laws had been maintained as conducive to the comfort of the gentry, and as preventing them from falling into the errors of the gentry of France who wasted their time in coffee-houses, without improving the health of their minds or bodies. But he would say, that, considering the difficulty of the subject matter, the Game laws were as perfect as could be expected. They afforded a healthy amusement to a greater body of people than would be done by the amending bill. They did not exclude the bar, the church, the farmer, or even the tradesman; for though in words they excluded them, where they happened not to be qualified, yet there were very few who were not invited, and who, where a litigious spirit had not sprung up, were not enabled to shoot. This system would be ill-exchanged for that boorish and churlish practice which prevailed abroad; where every man who went out of a town to shoot might have his gun broken by a gamekeeper, or be exposed to the more deadly quill of an attorney. He thought the existing Jaw with a few alterations, was as good a one as could be devised; and, as the proposed amendment was only likely to set the people by the ears, he should give it his decided opposition.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said:—As this bill, Sir, provides for an evil which I consider to be one of great magnitude in the present state of society, I mean the legal prohibition of the sale of game, I shall certainly give my vote for it, reserving to 913 myself the power of proposing such alterations and modifications, with respect to other clauses of the bill, as I may hereafter deem expedient. Independently of the expediency of the clause for legalising the sale of game, I am certainly of opinion, that the present state of the law, with respect to the qualifications of those who are entitled to kill game, requires alteration and nothing which has just fallen from the hon. and learned member for Oxford, has tended to change my opinion. I am persuaded, indeed, that if the hon. and learned gentleman were seriously to undertake the defence of the present laws, with respect to qualifications, he would find them teeming with so many absurdities, that he would be compelled to abandon the task, and to admit that the grounds for amending them were irresistible. He has said, that to alter the laws with respect to qualifications, would be to interfere with vested rights; but surely the notion of vested rights has never yet been pushed to this extraordinary extent. Can it seriously be maintained, that the admission of fresh persons to the right of killing game would be an interference with vested rights? The hon. and learned gentleman thinks, that the qualification ought to be limited to rank, to science, and to talent. But, does the present law admit science and talent to the privilege of killing game? How does the present law deal with the clergy, to whom the hon. and learned gentleman would give the privilege? A doctor of divinity does not by the present law, possess the privilege of killing game; he may indeed procreate a qualified person, but he is not himself a qualified person. The eldest son of an esquire, or person of higher degree, is a qualified person; and as a doctor of divinity is a person of higher degree than an esquire, he may beget a qualified man, but he has not himself the privilege of killing game. Men of science and talent, therefore, are not favoured by the present law; they are merely left to the melancholy privilege of begetting game-killers, who may be men of no talents at all. And, what is the state of the law as to qualification founded on property? Why, the second son of a man of 20,000l. a year, is not by law qualified to kill game; the younger children of a man possessing the largest property in the kingdom, are not by law qualified to kill game on their father's own estates. Is it not a most absurd and anomalous state of things to see 914 men acting in the capacity of magistrates and enforcing the Game laws against others when theirs own sons are every day violating them? It seems to me that no gentleman who seriously weighs the two arguments to which I have adverted, can possibly resist a proposition for amending the laws with respect to qualification. The hon. and learned gentleman will recollect, that there is a material difference in the laws respecting qualifications in different parts of the United Kingdom. In Ireland, for instance, the law of qualification is founded on a different, and, in my opinion, a much better principle than in England; for in Ireland any individual possessing personal property to the amount of 1,000l. is qualified to kill game. In Scotland any person may kill game, who receives permission from the proprietor of the estates on which he kills it. I do not advert to these differences of the law with a view of contending, that they ought to be introduced into England, but merely to shew, that the practice of the law is different in countries whose general customs are not very alien to our own.—With respect to the sale of game, the more I turn this question in my mind, the more satisfied I am, in the first place, that it will be for the interest of the game-preserver; and in the next place (which is a much more important consideration) that it is absolutely necessary for the interests and the peace of society, to remove the legal prohibition of the sale of game. In arguing this question à priori, let us look to the present state of society as compared with the state in which society formerly stood in this country. Our union with Scotland, and our subsequent union with Ireland, have compelled the residence in England of some of the greatest proprietors in those countries. An Irish peer for instance, residing in this country, has no legal right to kill game, for his Irish qualification does not give him the right; and, if the law were enforced against him, we should be in the situation of having invited him over to this country, and then depriving him of the privilege to which his rank and station entitle him. A foreign ambassador is not, by Jaw, entitled to kill game in this country. In short, by the existing law, Irish peers, Irish bishops, foreign ambassadors, and even princes of the blood, I believe, unless possessed of landed property, are all disqualified. If laws stand upon our Statute-book, which are practically evaded 915 and violated every day, this is of itself a sufficient reason for their repeal. I will ask, whether these laws are not perfectly inoperative—whether they are not constantly, notoriously, and openly violated in every great town—and whether it is possible, in the present state of society, that it should be otherwise? The constant violation of laws is a bad example. And, by whom are these laws violated? In general, by those whose duty it is to enforce the laws of the country. It often happens, that a gentleman who is occupied during the morning in enforcing the laws, himself sets the example of violating them in a subsequent part of the day. If the law really prevented the sale of game, there would be a ground for objecting to an alteration of it; but as it is notorious that it is wholly inoperative, this is one of the strongest grounds for its repeal. It may be said, that it is a mere speculative assumption to take it for granted that game is sold. What is the proof of it? Before the committee of last year, evidence of the constant habitual sale of game in London was produced, such as must have convinced any man, that game was sold as openly as any other article. But it may be said, that these persons were not examined on oath; that before the Lords they would have told a very different story; and besides, that they were persons interested in the sale of game. To meet these objections, Sir, and to ascertain in as satisfactory a manner as possible the facts as to the sale of game, I have felt it my duty to select four or five of the principal towns in England, and to ascertain the number of convictions which have taken place in those towns, for the selling and purchasing of game. I have not confined myself to a single year, but I have called for returns for the last five years, and I have selected places notorious for their hospitality. If any hon. member who represents any of those towns, will rise in his place, and deny that game is sold there, my mouth is closed; but if it be not denied, the House may, I apprehend, place some reliance on the fact of the notoriety of the sale of game. The first place which I selected was Bristol, where it will not be disputed, I believe, that the public exhibition and sale of game is notorious. From Bristol I received the following answer:—"I am directed by the Mayor, in reply to your letter of the 7th, to acquaint you, that no person has been convicted in 916 Bristol during the last five years, for selling or purchasing game." Here, then, there has not been a single conviction. I perceive, indeed, that the hon. member for Bristol smiles at the very supposition of a conviction for the sale of game at Bristol. From Liverpool the following answer was returned:—"In reply to the letter of Mr. Hobhouse, dated the 7th,I have to acquaint you, that no person has been convicted at Liverpool for the last five years for selling or purchasing game," From Manchester, the answer is—"In reply to your letter of the 7th, respecting convictions for selling or purchasing game before the magistrates, within the last five years, I have to state, that four persons have been convicted; three in the year1821, and one in the year 1822, all for selling game." From Glasgow the reply was—"The magistrates of this city, during the last five years, have not been called upon to enforce the Game laws in any one instance; offences against these laws are usually prosecuted by justices of peace in the country." If, therefore, in four of the principal towns of Great Britain, there have been only four convictions for this offence during the last five years, it cannot be denied, that the legal prohibition of the sale of game is utterly inoperative. In point of fact, game is already sold as openly as it could be if the law were repealed. The hon. and learned member for Oxford spoke of the heads of corporations. Is it conceivable, Sir, that, the head of a corporation—an "animal propter convivia natum"—could be restrained by any penal enactment from the indulgence of his appetite for game [a laugh]? If the law therefore, has fallen as it must be admitted to have done, into complete desuetude, it is desirable, as well for the interests of the game-preserver, as of the public, to legalize the sale of game. The poacher has two motives for poaching; one the pleasure of sporting which he shares in common with ourselves: the other the hope of gain. With the first of these motives, It is impossible to contend by legislative enactment, but we may control the other, by a measure which will diminish the illegal profits which the poacher at present derives from the exclusive supply of the market in large towns. If we permit the legal dealer in; this article to compete with the poacher, it cannot be denied, that such a measure will interfere with the profits of the poacher. I have myself seen in a single 917 room upwards of a thousand head of pheasants collected, which were not disposable for any useful purpose. All the friends of the owner of these pheasants were satiated with game; but, supposing him to have been enabled to send these pheasants into the markets, can it be contended that this would not have the effect of diminishing, pro tanto, the profits of the poacher, and consequently of diminishing the temptation to poaching? I do not mean to contend, that the legalising of the sale of game will put an end to poaching altogether; but it will certainly have the effect of materially diminishing it. Suppose a law were enacted by which rabbits, salmon, or any animals of the nature of game, were declared not saleable in the market, would such a law have the effect of giving increased protection to the proprietors of such animals? Quite the contrary; it would inevitably throw a monopoly into the hands of the illegal trader. The hon. baronet opposite thinks it very strange, that people who have nothing but personal property should complain that they cannot get game. "I never heard of any thing so unreasonable" (exclaimed the hon. baronet). "Why does not such a person go and purchase an estate, if he wants game? What has a man with nothing but personal property to do with game?" If we were to go into the question of right, the hon. baronet would find that his argument rested upon a very frail foundation. Besides, the argument, such as it is, is capable of an extension, which even the hon. baronet might not find perfectly convenient. Upon the same principle it might be said to one man, "what right have you to eat salmon? You have no river." To another "What right have you to indulge yourself with turtle? you have no West-India island." The hon. baronet, in consistency with his own principle, that none but the proprietors of the soil have a right to eat game, must forego the pleasures of salmon and turtle, unless he be the owner of the water which they inhabit. If the sale of game be legalised, I am satisfied that by far the greatest portion of the supply will be that which is derived from honest means. This has been the result in every instance of a similar alteration of the laws. Half a century ago deer-stealing was a very prevalent offence. At that time the public exposure of venison was an offence punishable by very severe penalties. But, since the repeal of the law 918 prohibiting the sale of venison, the legal trader has driven the deer-stealer from the market, and the offence is comparatively of rare occurrence.—It has been said, that one of the consequences of repealing the present law will be, to enable a man who has a few acres of land in the neighbourhood of a great proprietor, to sow buck wheat for the purpose of seducing the pheasants of his richer neighbour. What, I will ask, is to hinder a small land-owner from doing this in the present state of the law, and then employing a qualified person to kill the game which may come on his land? If he entertains any malignity against his rich neighbour, here is at once a mode of gratifying it, under the existing law. My hon. friend talks of the injustice of tempting away the rich man's pheasants; but, if we look to the strict justice of the case, is it perfectly just in the rich man to preserve game to eat up the poor man's crop? There would be much more justice in allowing the poor farmer to destroy a few of his rich neighbour's stray pheasants, as an indemnity for the injury which he must necessarily sustain from them. But, the alteration of the law will, even in this respect, be attended with the most beneficial effects. As it stands at present, the poor farmer has an interest in destroying as much of his rich neighbour's game as possible; but when he has a legal right to kill that which comes on his own land, the waiver of that right may be easily made the subject of pecuniary compromise between him and the rich proprietor.—My hon. friend urged another argument, which is certainly more forcible than any to which I have hitherto adverted. He contended, that if we legalize the sale of game, we shall lose one of the best means which we now possess of convicting poachers. Poachers, however, are much more frequently convicted for being detected in the act of killing game than for having game in their possession. It appeared from a return of persons convicted for having game in their possession, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorsetshire, and Sussex, that they bore no proportion to those convicted for being found out at night in the act of destroying game. If, Sir, I were perfectly satisfied that the present system of Game laws worked well, I should be the first to oppose any speculative plan of improvement; but I am satisfied that the present system does not work well. The number of commitments throughout 919 England for offences against the Game laws have amounted, in six or seven years, to upwards of 9,000; that is, about 1,200 a year. I believe that it is neither for the interest of society, nor for the interest of the game-preserver, that the present law, which prohibits the sale of game, should continue. I do not believe, that any legislative enactment would have the effect of preventing the sale of game. The effect of increasing the penalty has been tried and it has not succeeded. The wiser course, therefore, will be to suffer the legal possessor of game to enter into competition with the illegal possessor. I believe that this course will succeed; and, considering as I do, that the prohibition of the sale of game is one of the greatest evils arising out of the present system of the Game laws, I shall support the second reading of my hon. friend's bill, reserving to myself the power of giving a free opinion hereafter, as to other parts of the measure. I cannot help thinking that my hon. friend has, in many respects, attempted too violent a change in the laws, and that it would have been better to introduce a more cautious and gradual alteration of the present system. The expediency of adopting some alteration and modification of these parts of the bill, will be more properly discussed in a future stage of it.
Mr. Ridley Colburne
thought that the expectation of underselling poachers by a repeal of the present law would not be realised. Pheasants and hares were already sold by poachers at two shillings, and partridges at six-pence each. As to the argument, that people would prefer dealing with the legal trader to buying their game of poachers, this was a distinction, with respect to property in animals feræ naturæ, which was not likely to enter the heads of purchasers. The remedy proposed was, he thought, of an extremely doubtful nature, as it would establish a legal market for the sale of game, without ascertaining the means by which the market was to be supplied.
§ Mr. Benett
, of Wilts, said, he was so disgusted with the present state of the laws respecting game, that he Was prepared to consent to any change, conceiving that it must be one for the better. No man in England was fonder than he was of country amusements, and of foxhunting in particular; and, if he thought that the bill would have the effect of abolishing that sport, he would most stre- 920 nuously oppose it. That, however, would not be the consequence of the passing of the bill, which would merely remedy the defects of a system of laws, which had become the instrument of tyranny, and the cause of immorality. The laws relative to game had been passed in feudal times, when land-owners were tyrants, when commerce was but little cultivated, and when few persons were able to purchase game. They were not calculated for the present state of society. Merchants would have game on their tables, even if it were soiled with the blood of the poachers who procured it for them. Since, therefore, there was such a determination on the part of monied men to have game, he thought it was wise to allow them to procure it, without destroying the morals of a large portion of the community. Under the present laws, no persons felt an interest in the preservation of game, except the great land-owners; and their servants. The farmer, who had the best opportunity of preserving it, had no interest in doing so. The only way to put a stop to poaching was, to take away the inducement to commit the offence, by legalizing the sale of game, which would have the effect of reducing the price of that article so low, as to render poaching no longer a profitable employment. It appeared to him, that the present bill could in no way affect fox-hunting. Every fox-hunter was a trespasser, under the law as it now stood; and persons would have as much right to draw a fox after the passing of the bill, as they had now. For the reasons he had stated, he would vote for it.
§ Lord Milton
said, that the hon. member who had just sat down had expressed his disgust with the present system of the Game laws to be so strong, that any change must be an improvement. Now, he apprehended, that the general cause of that disgust arose from the enormous quantity of crime which they engendered. The great object of the House should be to diminish crime; and to this purpose all other considerations should yield. He thought the hon. baronet, the member for Lewes, attached too much importance to other considerations, such as the inducements to country gentlemen to reside on their estates. He was one of those who doubted very much whether those gentlemen were the most serviceable in their respective neighbourhoods, whose chief occupation and pleasure consisted in shoot- 921 ing game. With respect to that part of the measure which proposed to legalize the sale of game, it should have his hearty concurrence. He thought such an enactment highly advantageous, indeed loudly called for; because he could tell them, that, whether parliament did or did not legalise the sale of game, the public feeling of the country, and the general sense of mankind had already done it. And, if parliament did not consent to do it, the present laws would only remain a lasting monument of legislative folly. His wish on the subject was not to legislate at all: he wished to destroy the legislation which at present existed; he wished to take away the act of parliament which prevented the legality of the sale of game, together with its twin-brother in wisdom, the measure which was passed five years ago, to prevent the purchase of it. The efficacy of both those measures had been amply proved before the committee which sat on this question last year. It was very proper that the principles of a bill should be discussed upon the second reading, although at the same time there were many of its details which could only be understood in the committee. But he objected to the principle of the present bill, which went to change the right of property. He could see no good reason why there should be a transfer of the right of property from the lord of the manor to the freeholder of a few acres. They might talk as they pleased of the odiousness of the Game laws, they might call the lord of the manor by what name they pleased; they might call him tyrant, oppressor, remnant of the feudal system; but he contended, that this principle would raise up thirty tyrants instead of one: it would invest the proprietor of fifty acres of land with all the rights which the lord of the manor possessed at present; and, without meaning to speak at all harshly, he was inclined to think, that those rights would be exercised with ten times more vigilance, and ten times more oppression to the people, if they were vested in such proprietors, than if they continued to be vested entirely in one. It was in vain for gentlemen to suppose they could have game to the extent they had at present, without also the attendant consequence of poaching: it was, in fact, a necessary consequence of the system. From the facts which he had stated, gentlemen would, of course, draw their own inference; but he did not wish 922 it to be supposed, because he so far objected to the principle of the measure, that he was altogether adverse to some of its provisions.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
said, he was not prepared to go to the whole extent of the bill; but, at all events, it was clear to him it would have the effect of doing that which had excited so much attention; namely, to diminish poaching; and would besides put the system upon something of an intelligible footing. It was obvious, that the amazing increase of game in this country, had increased the practice of poaching; and it was equally clear, that there must have been an increased demand for the article, or there would not have been such an increased supply. And, did not daily experience prove, that when a commodity of any description could be had by fair and honest means, it would find a much more ready and steady market? The receiver of stolen goods was not the first person to whom a purchaser would resort for any article he might require; but, if he was prevented by law from purchasing the article, then, as in the case of game, he would go to a person of that description. The article would not fail to reach those who had money to purchase it, and it was absurd to think of preventing it by legislative enactments. It had been stated by the hon. member for Oxford, that it was a peculiar hardship not to extend the right of qualification to lawyers, divines, and the heads of corporations. But, by this bill, the House gave them a great deal more; for they gave the learned doctors, both of law and divinity, as well as the right worshipful mayors of corporations, the power of eating that lawfully, which before was illegal diet; and, in his judgment, the lawyers, and doctors, and heads of corporations, would be much better pleased at receiving the privilege of eating game than of shooting it according to law [a laugh]. By legalising the sale of game, poaching would lose much of its inducement; and although he would not say it would destroy it in the first or second year, still, in that space of time, it would, he was convinced, considerably diminish the practice; and, by so doing, the House would remove a most disgraceful statute, and destroy a most prolific source of immorality. An hon. gentleman had asked, by whom were the Game laws called unpopular? He would ask in return, by whom were they styled 923 popular? By the consumers of game (for consumers they all knew did exist) they were styled unpopular. They were styled unpopular by all those who looked upon them as an excitement to crime; in fact, they were styled unpopular by all those who were anxious to promote the industry and the morals of the people. If, therefore, the proposed measure were only a change from that which at present existed to any thing better, it would be so very important a change in the system, that the House was bound to adopt it.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
replied. He said, that the object which he had in view in introducing this important measure was, if possible, to satisfy the minds of the majority of the people of England, who saw nothing in the present laws but injustice. Questions of this sort ought always to be considered with reference to some general principle; and, if game must belong to some one, reasoning from analogy, in whom ought that right of property to be vested? As the law now stood, the right of property was given to those who had no power over the land in which the game might happen to be. It had been said, that this right should belong to the lord of the manor; but this bill would regulate the matter in what he considered the fair and ordinary course, for it would confer the right of game on those who held possession of the land on which the game was found; and he thought that when a man disposed of his land, the regulation of the right of game was a fair matter of bargain between the owner and the occupier of the land. It had been urged, amongst other things, that he would endanger his popularity with his constituents, by the introduction of this measure. On that subject, he could only say, that he had too good an opinion of the understandings of his constituents, to suppose that this bill would render him unpopular amongst them. If he should incur unpopularity he should certainly lament it; but his rule of conduct in that House, and elsewhere, had been, to do what he conceived to be his duty, and trust to the consequences. But, in fact, what was it he proposed to do? It was to give to every man in England, no matter how humble his condition, the right of shooting, wherever he was allowed. It had been objected to him, that he would take away vested rights; and an hon. friend had complained of the hardship of not extending qualifi- 924 cations to particular classes of persons, amongst whom were included the members of the learned professions; but, according to the bill before the House, there was no member of the universities, no head of any corporation in England, who might not take his morning's walk, and bring home game either to consume, to sell, or make a present of to his neighbours. That was the very principle of the bill; and a vested right he proposed to take from no man. An hon. friend had remarked, that the trespass clause was a severe one. He was free to admit that it was so; but it was incumbent upon the House to give the owner of the soil adequate protection when his rights were invaded. The bill enacted, that no man should trespass on the land of another, but that if a man so trespassed, and refused to go off the ground when requested so to do, he was then, and not till then, liable to be seized. If a property were once established in game, and any man might come on the land of another, and remain there after warning to depart, it would be absurd to say that property was protected. There could be no protection to property, if persons had the power to walk out of large towns and trespass upon that property with impunity. The hon. baronet, the member for Lewes, had asked, "Why do you wish to change these laws, since no petitions have been presented on the subject? But he could assure his hon. friend, that it was his fault that one at least had not been presented; for he had received a petition from his own county to present to the House, which was neglected by accident; and but that he had stated that the subject had already occupied the serious attention of the House, other petitions would have been presented; for he had received offers of them without end. "But," said his hon. friend, "you have as much game as you require." Admitted. There was as much game in the country as could be desired; but his complaint was, that the system of preserving that game was a curse to the country. He was himself a game-preserver, and was as fond of country sports as any man; but the preservation of game was to him an annoyance so great, as almost to amount to a desire to abandon it altogether. He had experienced a dreadful accident on his own ground; for an honest and gallant fellow had lost his life in a conflict to preserve his game; and he could assure the House, that his feel- 925 ings on awaking in a fine moon-light night, were sometimes not of the most pleasing description. Once give game the quality of property, and let the right of that property belong to the occupier of the land, be the individual ever so humble in life, and he was persuaded that a different feeling would be introduced into the country. The moment you allow game to be legally purchased for domestic purposes, the practice of poaching must diminish; or human nature was not human nature. His hon. friend had made an objection which he considered a strange one; namely, that these wild animals could not be made property. But, was there not property in animals just as wild? Pigeons, for instance? If I shoot a pigeon belonging to another man, I can be compelled to pay that man half a guinea for it. But, said the hon. gentleman opposite, "How would the case stand with respect to the trespass, if you fire at a bird and wound it, and it falls in another man's ground?" Why the law would then be just as it was now; you could not pick it up without committing a trespass. It would belong, as a matter of right, to the man on whose land it was found. He considered that the mode in which these laws were sometimes enforced, rendered the residence of some gentlemen upon their estates an evil and not a benefit; and if a gentleman could not prevail upon himself to reside in the country, without the powers which these laws allowed him, he was not so sure that his residence could be very serviceable. He had been told, that this bill would not abolish the practice of poaching. He was no Utopian, and was not so little acquainted with human nature, as to suppose that, as long as there were things to be stolen, there would not be persons to steal them. But, his great object was, to promote a different feeling with respect to these matters; so that a man might say to a poacher—"What right have you to come upon my land and carry away that which I may take to market and obtain money for?" And, in addition to this, another valuable object would be attained; namely, the removing the odium of enforcing these laws. His noble colleague had complained, that he had not gone far enough, and would wish to abolish these laws altogether; but if the House proceeded to that extent they would find, that until all the game in the country should be destroyed, the crime of poach- 926 ing would rather increase than diminish. It was exceedingly difficult to render a bill of this description perfect in the first instance; but he was neither disposed, on the one hand, to reject any suggestion or amendment that might be proposed, or to adhere tenaciously, on the other, to any of the clauses that might appear objectionable. All he wished was, that the House should go into a committee, and he should then be happy to attend to any suggestions. The magnitude of the evil was such as loudly to call upon the House, to see whether they could not frame a law that would satisfy the nation at large, and take away from the country gentlemen the reproach of endeavouring to uphold a system of tyranny.
§ The House divided: For the second reading 105. Against it 37. Majority 68.