HC Deb 17 May 1827 vol 17 cc895-901

The Order of the day for taking into consideration the Lords' Amendments to the Spring-Guns' Bill having been read,

Mr. Charles Calvert

observed, that, by the amendments which had been introduced into the bill in the House of Lords, it was rendered general; and Spring-guns were prohibited from being set for the protection of any property, except in houses. In houses they might be set both clay and night; which latter permission seemed to him to be an extraordinary one, and calculated to produce accident. Some time ago, at the request of a number of market-gardeners in the neighbourhood of London, he had presented a petition on the subject in their behalf; and, at their further request, he was now prepared to move an amendment to the amendments introduced into the bill by the Lords. It was well known that there were large gardens in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, which, although walled, were accessible; and, to deter from the robbery of which by boys and others, the appearance of spring-guns was the surest means. The market-gardeners declared, that, unless they were allowed to set spring-guns and man-traps, they could not adequately protect their property. He meant, therefore, to move as an amendment to that amendment of the Lords—that nothing in the act should be construed to render illegal the setting of spring-guns or mantraps in houses—the addition of the words, "or in any garden, hot-house, or conservatory, enclosed by a wall seven feet high; due notice being conspicuously given of their being so set."

Mr. W. Bankes

said, that this bill had come back from the Lords, different not only in its details, but in principle. He was one of those who agreed that such deadly engines as spring-guns were hardly justifiable for the protection of game, but he was far from thinking that it was right to carry the principle of their abolition so far as to withdraw them from other and more valuable property. Their very existence inspired a salutary terror in trespassers, and he trembled at the consequences of its being known that they were withdrawn altogether. For these reasons, he should dissent from these amendments.

Mr. Peel

admitted that game, as a source of amusement, was a species of property which ought to be protected, but he was far from thinking that it was justifiable to use means for that protection destructive of human life. Upon that principle, therefore, he had supported the present bill in its progress through the House, and more particularly because it took away that wide arena which existed of woods and plantations, in which such engines were before permitted. But there appeared to be a broad distinction between the use of spring-guns in uninclosed and extensive grounds, where their deadly effects might be visited upon inadvertent trespassers, and such places as market-gardens, by the security of which from robbers a large class of men obtained their subsistence. When a man inclosed his ground by a wall seven feet high, and thus took the best precaution in his power to exclude trespassers, his case was most undoubtedly different from those, where there was nothing to protect but a pheasant, and no safeguard but a fence. He therefore dissented from the Lords' amendment in this respect. And really the House should know that there was no class of men which required protection more than these market-gardeners, for in no place was the police more lax than in the immediate neighbourhood of large towns. Within the towns themselves the police was generally well-regulated; but this strictness drove the vagabonds out a few miles upon the roads, about the places where these market-gardens were situated. He had, early in the session, without reference to this question, moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the police near the metropolis; for he had reason to know, that the consequence of having horse and foot patrols in London was, that the bad characters were banished four or five miles out upon the roads. In order, therefore, to an effectual suppression of crime, it would be necessary to place that particular branch of the police upon a more efficient footing. In many places it was most mischievously ineffective. Throughout the whole of that extensive district comprehending Twickenham and Richmond, the peace of the county almost depended upon the individual activity of colonel Clitheroe. Many of the market-gardens were situated in that district; and, until a better police was set on foot, he thought it not unreasonable that the market-gardens should be protected by spring-guns. At the same time, he thought it would be better if the market-gardeners were called upon to provide for the protection of their grounds by taking into pay a sufficient number of ordinary constables, who, if they did their duty, would be sufficient for all purposes. He had not the smallest doubt but that if an investigation took place into the causes of the increase of crime, it would turn out to be closely connected with depredations upon such property. Whilst the amount of great crimes was diminished, the sum of offences against property had greatly increased. This he ascribed to the defective state of the police in the neighbourhood of the metropolis. Until something else was done, he could not dispense with this species of protection to the market-gardeners.

Mr. C. N. Pallmer

agreed, that, until some other protection was afforded the market-gardeners by a more efficient police, they ought to be allowed to protect their grounds by spring-guns. The subject seemed to have been viewed in rather a curious light in another place, for the only instance in which they permitted the setting of spring-guns was that in which a man was most unlikely to use them; namely, in his dwelling-house. The market-gardens were a species of property especially subject to depredation, from being so near town, and they were therefore entitled to special protection.

Lord Althorp

said, he had supported the bill originally, upon the ground, not that spring-guns were unjustifiable for the protection of game only, but because he would not permit such deadly weapons to be used in any case in which a man would not be warranted in firing a gun from his hand. He did not understand that a market-gardener would be justified in firing upon a trespasser with a gun; and therefore he would not allow the use of spring-guns in such cases.

Mr. Tennyson

denied the validity of the arguments which had been urged by the hon. member for Corfe castle. The principle of the bill had undergone great extension in the House of Lords; and, in his opinion, the improvement was commensurate with the extension. If the House adopted the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Southwark, they would make a material change in the criminal jurisprudence of the country. It ought also to be recollected, that the same amendment had been ineffectually proposed in another place.

Mr. Monck

opposed the amendment.

Lord Milton

observed, that the real question for the House to consider was, whether, by disagreeing to the Lords' amendments, they would postpone for a year the advantages to be derived from the bill; or, by agreeing to those amendments, would merely subject the market-gardeners to a temporary inconvenience, which might be remedied next session.

Mr. Frankland

Lewis remonstrated against any allusion to the opinions of the other House. Those opinions ought never to influence the decisions of the House of Commons. By its merits, and by its merits alone, ought the bill under consideration to be tried. It ought to be recollected, that the market-gardens were the property of a very large and industrious class of individuals, who ought to be encouraged to supply the London market as cheaply as possible. It was impossible that they could fence round their extensive grounds so securely as to prevent persons who were determined to get over the fence from doing so; although the fence were such that no person could violate it by accident. That was the distinction between gardens and woods. No case had been made out of any individual having suffered from spring-guns set in these gardens. The only objection to them therefore was theoretical. It would be most unjust to deprive the persons in question of protection, and to put their property in jeopardy without any grievance having been shown to exist. On all these grounds he supported the amendment.

Dr. Lushington

observed, that there was much good sense in taking all the benefits that could be obtained from any measure, when all that it was desirable to obtain could not be secured. He who adhered rigidly to what was called principles, frequently lost opportunities of accomplishing much practical good. He was disposed to assent to the amendments which had been made by the Lords; first, because they were in conformity to the general principles of our law; and, secondly, because they were in conformity to the view which, in his opinion, the legislature should take of the manner in which property ought to be protected. He said "ought;" because he believed the security of property in this country by severe enactments was carried much further than it ought to be carried. Although the acquisition and the just security of property were advantageous to the community as well as to the possessor, there were limits beyond which neither the acquisition nor the possession ought to be protected. Property was only one means of happiness; the happiness of all was the end of the security of property. They who maintained the justice of setting spring-guns in woods for the protection of game, might as well say that it would be justifiable at any hour of the night to fire guns through the wood, in the hope that if any poachers were there they would be killed. Such an act, however, would be murder. An hon. friend of his, lately a member of the House, had the misfortune, during his absence from home, to have a spring-gun set in his garden. He had the still greater misfortune of having a man killed by that spring-gun. He (Dr. L.) had been an eye-witness of the misery in which this accident had involved his excellent friend. The loss of his garden, or of his whole property, would not have inflicted upon him half the pain that he endured for weeks and months; and yet he was not to blame, for he had given strict orders to his gardener to load the spring-gun only with powder—an order which was, unhappily, disobeyed. This example was sufficient to show, that, if the setting of spring-guns were allowed at all, it would frequently happen that the indiscretion of inferior persons, who were reckless or thoughtless of consequences, would be the cause of the loss of human life. With respect to gardens, where was the necessity for this kind of protection? Large gardens were watched. He spoke of his own knowledge, of such large gardens as those at the bottom of Highgate-hill. Those gardens had persons to guard them at night. It would be otherwise impossible to prevent the intrusion of stragglers. If persons would have valuable property in open fields, easy of access, it was their duty to guard it against depredation; and if they did not do so, they must bear the loss. It was on this principle that some of the wisest and best men in this country had reprobated the practice of tradesmen who left their goods exposed at their shop-doors. The expense of guarding these gardens was nothing as compared with the profit derived from them. Had any hon. gentleman an idea of the advance in the retail price of garden-stuff sold in the market? It was a thousand-fold. The small increase of expense, therefore, which the employment of watch- men would occasion, would be comparatively trifling. Justice and humanity called for the total abolition of the practice of setting spring-guns. The House ought to consider, that on this subject they were legislating with respect to a description of offence which no member of it was likely to commit. There was, therefore, no community of feeling between the legislature and the criminal; and that consideration ought to induce them to pass the bill in its present state, by acclamation.

Sir C. Wetherell

opposed the lords' amendments, and fully concurred in all the views of his right hon. friend. He contended, that, according to the law of England, protection to property from injury was justifiable.

Lord Sandon

asked, if it was justifiable by the common law, for a person to do that by agency which he would not do by himself. If a person could not shoot a man climbing a wall, could he do so by a spring-gun, or any other engine? He contended, he could not. Such doctrine was alike repugnant to the common law and natural law, which was anterior to it.

The amendment was agreed to.

Mr. C. Calvert

moved, respecting the setting of Spring-guns in the next clause, that after "continued," there be added, "from sun-set to sun-rise."—Agreed to.

Mr. W. Bankes

moved the next amendment, on the lords' amendment, which rendered the bill general in its operation, with the exception of dwelling-houses; he proposed, with the intention of bringing the bill back to its general form, that instead of dwelling-house, there be inserted, "unless in woods, under-woods, greenhouses," &c.

Mr. S. Rice

urged the inexpediency of altering the lords' amendments, which were, perhaps, made in the very expectation of their being rejected here. He hoped the House would not be seduced to lose the bill altogether, by now negativing some objectionable clauses, but would carry the bill in its present shape, and trust to chance for future improvements.

Lord Milton

concurred in these suggestions. They had no right to look on the amendments made in the bill in the Lords, in any other light than as the amendments of the lords generally; although, out of that House, if he were asked the question, he could point out the author of those amendments. Let the House take the bill as they found it, and not take on themselves the odium of throwing it out altogether, which would in all probability be the result of pressing these amendments. The House then divided; For the amendment 24; Against it 46; Majority for the bill as it was 22.

Mr. C. Calvert

submitted an amendment for permission of spring-guns to the owners of gardens, hot-houses, or conservatories, surrounded by a wall seven feet high, by setting a conspicuous notice on the wall.

Lord Milton

said, that persons who could keep such places, could also keep a watchman to protect them.

Mr. C. Calvert

said, that it was not so; as many of the persons for whose benefit this clause was proposed were market-gardeners, who cultivated the gardens and conservatories attached to large houses which had been dilapidated. The House divided: For the Amendment 23; Against it 40; Majority against it 17.

The other lords' amendments, with amendments, were agreed to, and ordered to be sent back to the Lords.