HC Deb 21 February 1826 vol 14 cc647-52
Mr. Martin of Galway

, rose, pursuant to notice, to introduce a bill for the more effectual prevention of bear-baiting, dog-fighting, and other cruel sports. It was, he observed, so very unusual to oppose a bill on the motion for its introduction, that he felt it incumbent on him not to take up much of the time of the House. He would therefore reserve himself to answer any arguments by which his application might be opposed. The bill for which he should move had this recommendation to the representatives of the people, that it was generally approved of by their constituents throughout the country. He held in his hand a list of fifty-two petitions, presented from some of the most populous cities and towns of the kingdom, praying that an end might be put to these cruel sports. These disgraceful scenes were carried on in places called pits, and in no places were they more cruel and disgusting than in that called the Patrician-pit in the neighbourhood of that House. It had become the duty of parliament to put an end to these enormities. He would conclude by moving for leave to bring in his bill.

The Attorney-General

said, that the merits of this case had been so frequently discussed, that he felt it would not be necessary to make any further comments upon it. He would therefore confine himself to stating, that he would oppose the bill. [Cries of "Question, question."]

Mr. Martin

said, he could hardly persuade himself that a case which had come to the House recommended by the inhabitants of fifty-two respectable places would have been met by cries of "question, question." The hon. members who raised those cries could not, surely, be aware of so many petitions being before them on the subject, otherwise they would not have thought it decent to limit the expression of their opinions to that brief negative. He could assure the learned gentleman that he would not recommend himself to that body whom he wished to represent, by opposing the present motion; for there was no Christian minister who would countenance those brutal exhibitions. Both the clergy of the Protestant church, and the dissenting ministers, were unanimous in their wish to have them put down. There was also a petition in progress, of gentlemen who were going about knocking at the doors of all the inhabitants in Westminster, and ninety-nine persons out of every hundred were desirous of signing it. There were also fifty-two petitions from Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, and Hull; in short, from all the great ports and large manufacturing towns in the kingdom, praying for the adoption of this measure. He would supplicate the Attorney-general, if it were only out of respect for the learned body whom he wished to have for his constituents, to assign the reasons for his opposition to this motion. He had received some affidavits from Oxfordshire, which gave a heart-rending account of a most horrible act of atrocity recently committed at a bull-bait near Oxford. After the bull had been torn and mangled by the dogs, a wretch who was a disgrace to the name of man, thrust some sharp instrument into the mouth of the suffering animal, and cut out its tongue by the roots, and having placed it on a plate, carried it round amongst the assembled multitude soliciting a collection. He could mention a hundred instances of similar acts of cruelty, of which he had been informed on most undoubted authority. A fellow matched his dog to fight with one of a much heavier weight, and after it had won he again matched it against another dog much larger than itself. In this second engagement it was vanquished, upon which its brutal owner chopped off its fore legs with a bill-knife, and having dug a hole in the ground deposited it therein. If the Attorney-general thought it for the good of the country that atrocities of this kind should daily take place, he hoped he would state so to the House. He would give another reason in support of his motion. There was not a magistrate in London, Westminster, or the adjacent counties, who was not desirous that these disgraceful practices should be put down. It was a matter of great concern to them that they had not been able to suppress the brutal contests and exhibitions which were continually taking place at the Patrician-pit in Westminster. In short, he would defy any hon. gentleman to deny that the whole body of the English nation were not against these sports. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not meet the motion with a mere negative.

Mr. William Smith

said, he should think himself unworthy of a seat in that House if he was deterred by the apprehension of ridicule, from giving his opinion upon a question in which the morals and happiness of the country were much involved. He thought the country much indebted to the hon. member, for exposing himself in bringing forward this measure, to that species of treatment which was very unworthy on the part of those by whom it was practised. Hon. gentlemen must oppose the bill upon one of three grounds. Perhaps they did not believe the stories which the hon. gentleman told. For his own part, he did believe them, because they were published in the newspapers from time to time, and nobody contradicted them. Perhaps they thought the present laws sufficient to put down these sports. If they were, why were they not enforced? If they thought it was of any advantage to the country that these sports should take place, let them say so, and he should then know better how to answer their arguments. He thought there was a great misunderstanding about these matters. Gentlemen apprehended that they rose above vulgar prejudices and were great philosophers, because they considered the lower class of people entitled to their own amusements. Such an opinion, so far from being philosophic or philanthropic, was founded on an unworthy motive. He thought it arose, though gentlemen were not aware of it, rather from a contempt for the lower class of people. It was as much as to say, "poor creatures, let them alone; they have few amusements, let them enjoy them." It was similar to the language which, for a long period of time, was common in the colonies—"As long as they work that is all we want, let them seek their own amusements; what signifies it troubling them about morals; we don't care about these, let them take their own way." He thought these sentiments did no honour to the parties who entertained them. Let those who wished the people to be nothing more than hewers of wood, and drawers of water, entertain such sentiments; but, if they wished to make them rational beings, let them not educate them with one hand, and with the other turn them loose to sports like these.

Colonel Wood

said, he certainly thought, last session, that the House had gone far enough in legislating upon this subject; but, in the course of the last summer, a most brutal, cowardly, and atrocious scene was permitted to take place at Warwick. He alluded to the lion fight. Every gentleman who had read an account of that disgraceful scene must be of opinion that the laws were deficient; for he was quite sure that, if the magistrates had felt they had power to put a stop to it, they would have interfered. That scene was a disgrace to human nature; and some law ought to have sufficient force to prevent a similar occurrence. The noble animal which had been so tormented was more worthy of protection than its brutal owner.

Sir Robert Wilson

wished to know whether such horrible crimes could not be punished by the existing law, without an expensive process, which rendered the punishment extremely difficult.

Mr. R. Colborne

said, he was one of those who did not like this system of legislating. If these sports were to be put down, there were sports of the higher classes which should be put down also. It was rather curious that, when the hon. member for Galway got leave to bring in a bill of this nature, he always contrived to have it passed through its stages at one or two in the morning. He would allow that one bill which the hon. member had brought in was of a beneficial nature. He gave him full credit for that bill, inasmuch as it was of his own production, and he stayed in town to put it in execution; but that bill would become a dead letter if it was not for the active interference of the hon. member; and so would all bills framed in this spirit of legislation. It was often seen that where there were public laws to avenge, there was not much private interference to protect, and the animals were worse off than before. He wished the hon. member would withdraw his bill, in order to revise it, and include in its operation some of the sports of the higher orders.

Sir John Brydges

said, he was not disposed to treat a subject of this importance with levity. Having witnessed the good effects of a former bill of his hon. friend, he could not but vote for this measure. It was said, that this was a contraction of the pleasures of the poor. Now, he contended that those who enjoyed pleasure from these sports rendered themselves worse than brutes. Allusion had been made to the University of Cambridge. If he knew any thing of the sentiments of that learned body, and had the opportunity of seeing them assembled to morrow in the Senate-house, he should find them unanimous, or nearly so, in support of this measure.

Mr. Martin

said, that the fact of tearing out the tongue of the bull was authenticated to him by the clergyman of the parish where the occurrence took place. The hon. member for Oxfordshire could confirm what he said.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he could not approve of those personal appeals which the hon. member for Galway thought proper to make to his hon. and learned friend; and, as to the insinuations that his lion, and learned friend would injure himself in the estimation of those whose suffrages he was about to court, he could only say, that if his hon. and learned friend stood up, as he always had done, in a fair and manly way, to avow his princiciples, and if, when a proposition was submitted to the House, which appeared to him to originate in a mistaken notion of humanity, he expressed his disapprobation of such measure, there was little danger that he would lower himself in the estimation of those whose support he should solicit. He felt the more anxious to express his disapprobation of the way in which his hon. and learned friend had been treated, because he entertained the same opinion with him upon this bill. If this measure were now for the first time submitted to the consideration of the House, he should perhaps have thought it expedient to entertain it. But it was by no means a novel question. It had been discussed six or seven times in former sessions, and the House was now as competent as it would be at any future time to come to a sound conclusion upon it. God forbid that he should treat with levity the instances of atrocious cruelty which had been detailed by the hon. member. Nothing could be more disgraceful than levity upon such an occasion. He abominated those deeds of disgusting cruelty as much as any man could do. But the question was, whether or not, upon individual cases of abuse, the House was prepared to make an enactment of general application. Where was legislation to stop, if one gentleman wished to protect lions, another to protect dogs, and both would have an act declaring lion and dog fights illegal? There was scarcely an animal that was capable of being ill-treated in favour of which an act of parliament would not at last be sought. Let these hon. gentlemen state some positive principle upon which they would correct such abuses, and which would apply equally to all cases of cruelty. Let them take, for instance, pigeon-shooting. Why was that practice to be permitted to one man, whilst another was punishable for doing what amounted to the same thing in principle? If abusing a dog for sport was punishable when practised by the lower orders, there was no reason whatever why pigeon-shooting should be allowed to the higher orders. Let then the House, before it went farther, determine upon the principle on which it was disposed to legislate. To say that selecting a fine thriving pigeon, setting it in a trap to be shot at at twenty yards distance, when in all probability it will be either killed or maimed; to do all this in cold blood, and to say that such wanton cruelty was a perfectly innocent pastime, whilst dog-fighting and bull-baiting were held infamous and punishable, because practised by the lower orders of the people—was a course of legislation to which he for one would never consent. Such were the reasons which induced him to disapprove of the present bill. He owned he was swayed very much by another consideration. He feared, though he was very anxious to suppress abuses, that the means of doing so might in itself be a source of new abuse. He doubted very much whether we could purchase the due punishment of such outrages, except at the risk of creating fresh instruments of individual oppression. He feared the result would be, that animals would not be protected, but that human beings, from piques or wantonness, would be prosecuted. He opposed the motion, not because he less abominated the cruelties recounted by the hon. member, but because he considered that appeals to the feelings did not constitute a sound basis for legislation. The measure was partial in its objects, and inexpedient in its principles; and he therefore should oppose it.

The House divided; for the motion 37; against it 76; majority against the motion 39.