HC Deb 31 May 1824 vol 11 cc956-9

Mr. Stuart Wortley moved the order of the day for the going into a committee, to take into further consideration the report on this bill. Upon which, sir J. Shelley moved as an amendment, "that the bill be taken into further consideration on this day three months."

Mr. A. Smith

seconded the amendment. He thought the bill so completely absurd, that he knew of no better method than of getting rid of it altogether.

Mr. Lockhart

complained, that the hon. mover, in the recital of this bill, had overlooked at least twenty statutes, the objects or titles of which should have been recapitulated. Instead of doing as had been done with the bankrupt acts, whenever the bankrupt laws had been altered or amended, namely, reciting and consolidating them, and then stating the new enactments, the hon. member's bill specifically repealed, of all the numerous game laws now existing, so much only as regarded the matters of possession and qualification. Now, as it was no where stated in the bill what other parts of those preceding laws were to be still operative, or what repealed, he could not conceive an act, if the bill should pass into one, the extent and application of which could be more embarrassing to the people at large, to the magistrates, or the judges. The hon. member remarked on the danger of the clause permitting the sale of game, and the encouragement a measure would extend to poachers, and expressed his intention to support the amendment.

Mr. Cartwright

said, that although he was friendly to the principle of the bill, he should strongly recommend to his hon. friend, the expediency of withdrawing it for the present. He was quite convinced, from the opposition it had encountered, that it would be impossible to carry it in the course of the session.

Mr. W. Peel

opposed the bill, which he said could be advantageous to no other persons than the poachers and poulterers.

Mr. H. Twiss

also opposed the bill. There could be no doubt, he observed, that the restrictions which it added to those, already too numerous, of the present system of game laws, would considerably increase crime among the lower orders of the people. The provision which it was proposed to make against this consequence of the measure, by legalizing the sale of game would, he was satisfied, be found inefficient. Besides, if that provision were more operative than he believed it would be, its tendency would be to degrade the country gentlemen into hucksters, and he was therefore sure that it would never be sanctioned by them in practice. There were, however, other and more serious objections to the measure, which deserved the particular attention of parliament. It was admitted to be a subject of regret that the existing game Jaws were too severe, and their enforcement often evaded on that account. But, what did the bill before the House propose to do? Not to abate that severity, but to increase it to an unreasonable degree. At present, persons charged with offences under the game laws were held only to have committed a misdemeanour; but, by the proposed bill, their offence was made at once a felony. Now, bail might be tendered by the party accused, and no magistrate, however zealous for the preservation of game, could or would refuse to accept it. By the bill before the House, however, the liberty of the accused was at once forfeited, and he had no means of regaining it before trial, except by a writ of habeas corpus, the expense of which would make it, to the great majority of persons taken up under the bill, a remedy rather in theory than in practice. By this alteration in the character of the offence from a simple misdemeanour to a felony, the culprit would lose the privilege—to him an invaluable one—of addressing the jury; and thus the general operation of the bill would be, to increase the offence; and the opportunities of com- mitting it, while the means of defence would be curtailed and diminished. The game laws, as they stood, were too often the cause of ill-will between the landowners, and the people in their several neighbourhoods. The proposed bill, so far from removing this, would add to the prejudices which were created by the circumstance of those who were most interested in the preservation of game having to administer the laws respecting it; and, by legalizing the sale of game, would fix the imputation of still more palpably interested motives in the country gentlemen.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the main question was, whether it was expedient or not, to attempt to alter the present system. He did not know whether his hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire, was disposed to accede to the suggestion which had been made to him of withdrawing his bill for the present session, but after the objections which he had heard, he was induced, if his hon. friend did not adopt that suggestion, to vote for its re-committal. The bill had at least the merit of providing for two great evils of the present system; the one by permitting the sale of game, without which he was convinced no permanent improvement could be hoped for; and the other, by altering the absurdity with respect to the qualification. As the law stood at present, a gentleman of large property, with six sons, could not qualify more than one of them, and yet he was called upon to enforce the very laws which his own family set the first example of violating. This was an anomaly, the existence of which ought not to be permitted. Objections had been raised to the severity of the measure; but, was it forgotten, that the present law was also severe, and that it was the cause of crime, the quantity of which the bill proposed to diminish? He, however, thought it would be better that the measure should for the present be postponed, and under this impression he repeated his intention to vote for its being re-committed, if his hon. friend should determine to press it.

Lord Milton

thought the House had nothing to do with the effect which the bill might have, either as to the increase or the diminution of game. It was not the duty of parliament to provide for the amusements of country gentlemen, but to legislate for the preservation of the morals of the country. The main effect of the bill before the House would be, to multiply the number of persons interested in the preservation of game, and therefore to multiply the number of prosecutions for offences committed against it. He deprecated the severity of the punishments which it provided for those offences, and recommended the repeal of the prohibitions against the sale of game.

The House then divided: for the original motion, 103: for the amendment, 120; Majority, 17. The bill was consequently lost. Mr. S. Wortley gave notice that he would, early in the next session, move for the re-introduction of the bill.