HC Deb 17 April 1833 vol 17 cc257-65

Mr. Lennard moved the second reading of the Bill to amend the Game Act. As there were many Gentlemen who seemed to misunderstand the object he had in view, he was anxious to state, that all he proposed to effect by this Bill was, to make the Game Act what it was when introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and before it was sent to the other House. He hoped the House would agree with him that a clause more unjust or oppressive than the one he proposed to repeal was never introduced into any measure. It interfered with existing rights and interests. Formerly, if tenants were, in other respects, qualified, they were entitled to shoot over their own grounds. This right had been taken from the tenant and given to the landlord, against the very principle of the Bill as it was introduced by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The clause which he wished to repeal was introduced into the Bill in the other House; and the sup- porters of the Bill were willing to admi-this clause rather than that the measure should be defeated for the Session. He had been told that there were very few persons who could be affected by this clause; but, on the contrary, he had good reason to believe that the number was very considerable. But whether the injustice affected a greater or smaller number of persons, this House—he hoped—would not allow it to continue. It was unnecessary for him to dwell on the extent of the evil; for if it existed, it was the duty of the Legislature to remedy it. The fact was, that it injured a very numerous class of persons. It was also in direct variance with the principle of the Act into which it was introduced. The object of that Act was to extend the right of shooting, and to allow those persons to shoot who were formerly excluded from the privilege; but this clause tended materially to diminish that right. Before he moved the second reading, he would answer one objection which he had heard urged against this proposition. It was said, that it would work in an injurious manner towards those landlords who had let farms since the passing of the Game Act; as they had neglected to insert, as they formerly did, a clause reserving to themselves the right of shooting. As the law stood, game was the property of the landlord, and it was the object of the present Bill to transfer that property to the tenant. Now, unless there was a clause in every lease reserving this, the landlord would be deprived of his right. If such leases had been granted, his Bill would deprive the landlord of a privilege which he intended to reserve to himself, unless the tenant should waive his right. If, however, the Bill were read a second time, he would agree to the insertion of a clause saving the right of the landlord in all these cases. His object was, that injury should not be done to either landlord or tenant. The present law was attended with the greatest injustice to a large body of the tenantry of this country; and he was sure that it was quite sufficient to show that, to induce the House to consent to its being amended.

Mr. Fysche Palmer

had the strongest objections to this Bill. In the Act which was passed a year and a half ago, the game was specifically declared to be the property of the landlord; and the hon. Gentleman now called upon the House to declare that this should no longer be the ease. He had supposed that the Game Laws had been set at rest by this Act, which came into operation in October 1831; and certainly nothing had occurred since that time to render an alteration of the law necessary, and to say that landlords should no longer be the proprietors of the game on their estates. This Bill would work a gross injustice to every landlord in the country. Many landlords had, since that period, let portions of their estates under the supposition that the present law would continue—and had not reserved the game. This clause would take away the right they now possessed, and deprive them of the property in the game, and of the right to kill it. The Bill, as it was, was founded in injustice, and he certainly should divide the House respecting it. It was impossible that the House could consent to let it proceed further, merely on an understanding that one ground of objection to it should be removed at a future stage. Time had not yet been allowed to give the Game Bill a fair trial, and therefore he should oppose any proposition for altering it at present.

The Solicitor General

was desirous of saying a few words before this Bill was read a second time. When the former Game Bill was before the House, he had agreed to that Amendment of the Lords, which it was the object of the present Bill to alter, because he feared that that measure would be lost if the Amendment was not agreed to. His noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had said at the time, that he lamented the introduction of the clause; and observed that, though it was against existing rights and interests, he was induced to agree in these amendments, fearing that otherwise the Bill would be lost for, at least, a year. At that time he observed that he trusted that the wrong done would be remedied at some future period. But what had been the effect of this Amendment of the Lords? A Gentleman holding an estate of 500 acres as tenant, if otherwise qualified, had a right to shoot over it, and the landlord could not come upon it without his permission. The Amendment of the Lords deprived every tenant of this privilege; and, not only the landlord might come himself and shoot the game, which was fed off the produce of the tenant's farm, but he might send other persons to kill the game there, and then he was entitled to sell it. The tenant was altogether excluded from killing the game. This was an extreme injustice, and neither more nor less than a breach of all then existing contracts between landlord and tenant. According to his (the Solicitor General's) notion of right and wrong, it was the duty of the Legislature instantly to amend the law which wrought such an injustice. The objection of the hon. member for Reading was not, in any way applicable; for this Bill proposed, merely, to restore the state of things to what it was before the Game Bill passed.

Colonel Wood

was sorry to hear the observations of the hon. and learned Solicitor General, and he trusted that the House would not be led away by his remarks. The hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that, formerly, the tenant, if not otherwise qualified, could not shoot on the farm he occupied. The hon. and learned Gentleman, to suit his present purpose, assumed the case where a tenant was qualified, and was in the possession of a right of shooting, of which he was deprived by the Game Bill. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that there was a single occupier of a farm in England, who, being in that situation, had not reserved to himself the right of shooting over his farm by a clause in the lease? It was certainly possible that there might be isolated cases of this sort; but, certainly, the operation of the Lords Amendment on the Game Bill had not been so extensive in its operation as to make it incumbent on the House to alter one of the most important provisions in that Act. He had exerted himself, for several years, with a view to ameliorate the Game Laws, and to put them on a less objectionable footing than they then were; and he could not, therefore, be supposed to be a staunch supporter of the old and severe laws formerly in force with respect to game. The hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken of landlords depriving tenants of the right of shooting, by means of the operation of this Amendment; but he would venture to say, that there were but very few cases in which this had occurred. He was satisfied that in most of those cases in which the occupier was qualified, he specially covenanted for the right of shooting over the farm he occupied; or the landlord reserved to himself in the same way, by express provision, the right. In the Committee which sat up-stairs on the Game Laws seventeen years ago, a question had arisen in whom the property of game on a farm should be vested The present Lord Teynham, the late Mr. Curwen, and other Gentlemen who were not very much disposed to set up arbitrary views of the Game Laws, in other respects, agreed cordially in the Resolutions that were come to by the Committee. In the first place, it was resolved that all game should be the property of the person on whose land it was found. The question then arose, whether this was the landlord or tenant; and the Committee determined that the property was in the landlord. True, the clause which it was now proposed to alter was not in the Bill when it passed through that House, but was introduced in the House of Lords; but then, it should be recollected, that this Bill passed in a very hasty manner through that House; and he himself had been very glad that the alteration was made in the Bill by the other House. Parliament was justified in taking credit to itself for having passed the measure in the form in which it now stood. He was aware some Gentlemen were of opinion, that all Game Laws were had, and he would not then stop to argue with them. It should be recollected, however, that the Act which it was now proposed to alter, greatly ameliorated the former law. It allowed game to be sold—it extended the qualification in the most extensive manner, where, formerly, the qualification was most objectionable. The Lords had placed the matter on the right footing; and it was inexpedient and unjust to alter the principle of the Game Act. It had been said that tenants who had taken leases since the Game Act passed had waived their rights; but tenants could not waive a right which landlords never granted to them. An assumption of that sort seemed the oddest perversion of words imaginable. Until the landlord granted away his property by a lease, all the land, trees, and game, belonged to him; and nothing was more common than for the landlord to reserve particular rights to himself; for instance, in the case of trout-Streams, to this day—and formerly, the right of shooting. It might be said that the tenants would not take farms if the landlords reserved to themselves these rights. He could only say, that he never knew an instance in which there was such a refusal. The landlord had ever claimed, and ever exercised the right, of granting the game to the tenant, or any other person. He hoped that this Bill would be rejected, and that the country would be allowed to see how the present system worked—which he had no doubt would be better and better every year. He regretted that it had not put an end to poaching; but he was sure that, taking it altogether, it had done great good.

Mr. Horatio Ross

said, as the hon. member for Reading had not proposed an Amendment, he would move, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. The House would commit an act of great injustice, if it were to assent to this Bill; the object of which was, to give the tenant the right to kill and sell the game on all farms where the right had not been specially reserved by the landlord. The hon. Gentleman below him had said, that the Game Bill deprived all the tenants of a right which they previously possessed; but he (Mr. Ross), would venture to observe, that there was hardly a tenant in the country who was deprived of his right. If every tenant in the country were allowed to shoot, the end would be, the destruction of all the game in the country. All Gentlemen in that House were not such keen sportsmen as himself; but he trusted that the majority of the House would not consent to destroy these sports, which operated so powerfully in inducing gentlemen to reside on their estates. He would trouble the House with only one other observation. It was said to be unjust, that tenants should not have the right to kill the game which was fed on their farms; but it must be recollected that they were aware that they would not be allowed to do so, when they took their farms. If they were allowed to kill the game, of course they would have given more for their farms than they actually did pay; and, at present, it was not at all uncommon for gentlemen to make an allowance to their tenants, in cases where it appeared that the game had been destroying any portion of the crops. He trusted that the House would not consent to take away from country gentlemen such a powerful inducement as they now had to live on their estates in the country. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.

Mr. Rolfe

hoped the House would not come to a decision on this Bill, with the impression that the state of the law was such as it had been described to be by the opponents of this Bill. Both the hon. member for Reading, and the hon. member for Montrose, were completely wrong as to the law on this subject. It had been said, that there were very few cases in which tenants, who had, at any time, had the right of shooting, had not reserved to themselves this right, in special clauses in their leases. He was able to state, on the au thority of a most eminent conveyancer and lawyer, that he never knew a case in which a lease contained a reservation of game for the tenant. Indeed, such a reservation would have been absurd, it would have been as extravagant as if the tenant had stipulated in his lease that he should have the use of the rooms in his farm-house. The only reservation, in reference to game, which ever appeared in a lease before the passing of the Game Bill was—a reservation of it for the landlord. The reason of this was, that, according to the old law, if nothing was said about game, it belonged to the tenant; and, therefore, if it was agreed that the landlord was to have the game, it must be specially reserved. If it was agreed that the tenant was to have it, nothing was said about it. The clause, however, in the Game Bill was to the effect, that, for the future, all the game should be the property of the landlord. But it had been said, that an unqualified person could not shoot—that most tenants were in that situation—and that there were few who were owners of property to the amount of 100l. a-year. He had reason to believe, that a great number of tenants had been deprived of the right they possessed, by the operation of the clause of the Game Bill which it was now proposed to alter. He would state a circumstance which came within his own knowledge, in which this clause operated in a most injurious manner. A friend of his, who was a large landed proprietor, hired a farm of 1,200 acres of land, and as the landlord did not reserve the right of shooting to himself, of course it rested with the tenant. This Gentleman was, unfortunately, not on good terms with his landlord, and, therefore, since the passing of the Game Bill, in consequence of the insertion of the clause giving all game to the landlord, he had not felt himself justified in killing a head of game on his farm. He did not know that the landlord had interdicted him from doing so; but the tenant, who was a gentleman of high feelings, said that he did not consider himself to be in a situation to do so. There was another case, in which the clause he alluded to might have had a most injurious operation. A friend of his at the bar, had assured him, that it came before him in his professional character, in which character, indeed, he was called upon to give an opinion on it. The facts of that case were these:—A gentleman hired a manor of 1,500 acres of moor land, in the north of England, for three lives, for the sole and express purpose of grouse-shooting, at a rent of 200l. a-year. Last year the owner of the property died; and immediately after, the new landlord warned off the tenant from sporting on the manor, and himself and friends sported on it; at the same time, too, he demanded the 200l. a-year, which was only given on the condition that the tenant should have the right of shooting. Fortunately, his legal friend had been enabled, from the mode in which the agreement had been drawn up, to prevent the infliction of a most shameful piece of injustice in this case. These cases, however, seemed to him sufficient to show that the clause, which was introduced as an Amendment into the Game Bill, was attended with great injustice in its operation. It had been said, that this Bill was founded in injustice, as its tendency was to deprive the landlords of their game. If this were really the case, there might be some ground of complaint; but the truth was, that it was only to remedy a piece of injustice, by which the game was transferred from the tenant to the landlord.

Mr. Lamb

was aware that the House was impatient to come to a decision on this Bill. He would, therefore, take up but a very few minutes in the observations which he felt called upon to make. When the Game Bill had passed through that House, and received the sanction of the other branches of the Legislature, he had not anticipated that, in the short space of a year and a-half, they should have been called upon to make an important alteration in it. He was not disposed to assent to this proposition, because this Bill would, in its operation, be attended with much injustice to the landlords. The hon. member for Maldon had stated two or three cases in which he said that the clause in the Game Bill, which he desired to alter, had been productive of hardship to tenants. He (Mr. Lamb) did not take the same view of those cases as the hon. Member did; and did not consider them of such a nature as to render it incumbent on the House to alter the Game Bill. His hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor General, had also expressed himself warmly in favour of the measure now before the House. If he and other lawyers would pass a little more time in the fields—in the country—in sporting—they would not be so indifferent as they appeared to be to field sports, and so desirous of interfering with these pursuits of country gentlemen. It must be recollected that formerly very few tenants were qualified so as to entitle them to sport; so that the clause in the Game Bill could not have been extensive in its operation. That Bill, also, licensed or qualified a most numerous class of persons to sport, who could not formerly do so; so that the operation of a measure like the present would certainly tend to the destruction of all the game in the country. Again, hon. Gentlemen should remember that the Game Bill constituted a new species of property, which was very properly vested in the owners of the soil. It constituted a property which did not formerly exist, inasmuch as it allowed game to be bought and sold. If the landlords had been aware that a measure like this was likely to receive the sanction of the Legislature, they would not have granted a single lease without reserving to themselves the right of killing game. As it was, he did not believe that, in a single instance, such reservation had taken place; and, therefore, it would be an act of injustice to them to pass this measure. He did not dispute the correctness of the law as laid down by his hon. and learned friend; but he was sure that he was wrong as to the practice.

The House divided on the Amendment. Ayes 43; Noes 29: Majority 14.

Bill postponed for six months.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Phillips, M.
Barnard, K. G. Ricardo, D.
Blamire, W. E. Rolfe, R. M.
Brougham, W. Rotch, B.
Clay, W. Romilly, J.
Childers, J. W. Ruthven, E. S.
Duncannon, Visc. Ruthven, E.
Ewart, W. Strutt, E.
Hawes, B. Tancred, H. W.
Hawkins, J. H. Warburton, H.
Heathcote, J. Wason, R.
Hughes, Alderman H. Young, G. F.
Jervis, J. TELLERS.
Moreton, Hn. A. H. Campbell, Sir J.
O'Dwyer, A. C. Lennard, T. B.
Pease, J.