HC Deb 03 July 1833 vol 19 cc75-80
Mr. Gilbert Heathcote

presented a Petition from the Master Gun-makers of the metropolis, complaining of a falling-off in trade, in consequence of the operation of the Sale of Game Act, and praying for a revision of the same, especially as regards the sale of game. The hon. Member stated, that the effect of the change made in the Game-laws, two years ago, had been very different from that hoped for by its promoters and expected by himself. In order to show, that such was the case, he would state to the House the number of committals which had taken place in the course of the year previous to the alteration in those laws, and in every year since, which would show what the effect of the change had been on the amount of crime. In the year 1830, which was the last year of the old system, the number of committals in England and Wales, under the Game Act, was 778; in 1831 (the first year of the new system), the number of committals was 1,355, or nearly double what they had been the year before. In 1832, they increased to 2,820—in other words, they had quadrupled in two years. After making that statement, it was almost unnecessary for him to say, that the change in the Game Laws had not been found to answer the purpose intended from it. He (Mr. Heathcote) thought, that the public was mistaken as to the object of the Game-laws. It was thought that those laws were intended to secure amusement for the country gentlemen. That was by no means the case. In several districts, most of the gentlemen and great proprietors were absent, and as far as they were personally concerned, the state of the laws did not signify so much as it did to the small landholders and tenants; and, he could say, that with no class was the new system so unpopular as with those small holders of land, and with tenants. They had stated to him (Mr. Heathcote), that the new system had demoralised the people to a degree which was totally unknown before, and they were almost universally in favour of a change. He could state as a fact within his own knowledge, that no class was so anxious for a change of the present system, as the farmers. He hoped that he should have those Members who were anxious for the better observance of the Sabbath on his side in procuring a revision of those laws, for it had so happened from the manner in which the Bill was drawn up, that Sunday was the day on which the poachers carried on their depredations, which was another evil of great magnitude, even when considered abstractedly, and in connexion with the morals of that portion of the community most likely to be affected by these enactments—the poor. It had been said, that an abundance of game was a temptation to crime, but he could not sec that there was any truth in that assertion. It might as well be said, that the quantity of fine goods exposed in the windows of the shops of London was a temptation to crime. But he had a proof that the abundance of game was not a temptation, and it was a subject well worthy of re-mark. He found that, in 1831, whilst there were at one period 603 persons in confinement for offences against the Game-laws in England and Wales, there were but six confined in Scotland. That fact alone proved that the abundance of game was not the cause of the amount of poaching in England, for in no part of the United Kingdom was the game so plentiful as in Scotland. He might be asked what remedy he proposed for the evils of the present system? He would plainly say, that he was not for abandoning the principle of the present Bill in as far as the sale of game was concerned, but he thought, that means might be taken so to modify that principle as to prevent the evils at present complained of. He did not; wish to legislate hastily upon the subject, for fear of falling into errors, as the framers of the present Bill had done; and he was, therefore, willing to give the present Act a trial for another year. But, he hoped, that the question would be gone into next Session, and when it was taken up, that the Government would consult the country gentlemen and others who might be supposed best acquainted with the subject, before any attempt was made to amend the law.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. William Brougham

presented a similar Petition from the operative Gnu-makers of London and Birmingham. In his opinion, it was well worthy of the attention of the House, and there was nothing that could be more conducive to the prosperity of agriculture than a well-regulated system of Game-laws. It appeared to him that the great defect in the present system was, that game, being a species of property, was not protected like other property. He thought that game ought to be as well protected as fowls, chickens, or geese, and other poultry. A poacher, who took out a license had a right to shoot over the lauds on which he had leave, and through him great numbers of other poachers had an opportunity of obtaining sale for their game. He thought, that some additional protection might be given to game, which, while it gave a sufficient opening to the sale of game, would prevent poaching. The present Act had been in operation for two years, which, he thought, was quite sufficient to show how it would operate, and, he was bound to say, it had failed. He had ascertained, in the course of his inquiries on the subject, that even the farmers were dissatisfied, and he had been told that poaching, so far from being put down, had absolutely increased; and the consequence had been, that in many counties, gentlemen who were not extensive proprietors, had been obliged to give up sporting. That was confirmed by the petitioners, who complained, that in consequence of the diminution of sporting, they were unable to sell any new gnus. He allowed, that the demoralization of the people was not attributable to the Game-laws alone; some part was to be set down to the effect of the new beer-shops, which were found to do much evil. The petitioners prayed for the revision of the Game-laws, with a view to their Amendment; and he concurred in the prayer of the petition. He did not, however, think that they could be taken up this Session, although, he hoped, an early opportunity would be taken next year to bring them under the consideration of the House.

Mr. Cobbett

said, as the hon. Member did not intend to submit any motion to the House, he would only make a very few remarks. He was sure, that the country gentlemen must be greatly obliged to the gun-makers for bringing this subject before the House. As to what the hon. Member had said about the increased number of commitments for poaching, he would only remark, that it must appear somewhat curious, when the present Act was intended to put an end to them. He said, when it was before the House, that such would be its effect, and it was now seen that he was right. But the beer-shops! The hon. Gentleman could know very little indeed about the effects of beer, if he supposed it made men poachers. No, it was not the men who congregated together at beer-shops who went out poaching; it was the quiet men, who did not go to the beer-shops, who went out poaching. Then as to the sale of game, what could be so well calculated to promote poaching as this? As to making game properly, the House, he was sure, would never do that; making blackbirds and thrushes property was too preposterous a tiling to be thought of. The way to suppress poaching was, to repeal all the laws that had been made on the subject since the accession of George 3rd.

Mr. Craven Berkeley

had been requested to support the prayer of this petition, which he did most cordially. He could not agree with the hon. member for Oldham, that the gun-makers had come forward in support of the country gentlemen. The gun-makers had found their trade so much depreciated, owing to the present Game-laws, that they could not sell any new guns whatever; and if no other hon. Gentleman brought forward any measure upon the subject, he himself should feel it his duty, next Session, to bring the subject of the Game-laws under the consideration of the House.

Mr. Thomas Attwood,

in supporting the petition, said, that he did not attribute the distress of the petitioners to the Game-laws, but to the mischievous interference of the Legislature with the monetary system. If, however, his Majesty's Government would persevere in carrying their Resolutions respecting the Bank charter—and if they would have the kindness to give us a silver standard—and perhaps they might even let us have one-pound notes—if they did this, the gun-makers of Birmingham, and the gun-makers of London, would also have plenty of custom. He believed that all the distress of the country was monetary, and nothing else.

Mr. Gilbert Heathcote

was sorry that he could not agree with the hon. member for Birmingham, when he made the monetary system the cause of all the evils complained of by the petitioners. The petition said nothing about the monetary system whatever; it merely complained of the Game-laws. The hon. member for Oldham had complained of the general poverty of the agricultural portion of the community; now, he (Mr. Heathcote) would say, that, as far as he knew anything of the part of the country which he represented, Leicestershire, it was never in a state of greater contentment and prosperity than at present.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the gun-makers of the metropolis complained of the effect of the Sale of Game Act on their trade; but they ascribed probably too much to that Act. He believed that much was to be attributed to the extension of the manufacture of guns in the country. He remembered the time when no gentleman would shoot with any but a London gun. He believed, that London guns, which were once the only guns that gentlemen would shoot with, were still as good as ever; but he also believed, that those manufactured in country towns were not inferior. Something, too, might be attributed (though perhaps this was not a very fit subject for discussion in Parliament) to the effect of the introduction of detonating locks, which put all sportsmen pretty much on an equality. In his opinion, there was more game, but less shooting, at present than at any former period. Gentlemen shot now, not for game, but for vanity. As for the argument adduced by the hon. member for Birmingham, no doubt the hon. Member kept the currency question always at full cock, but he doubted the propriety of firing it off on the presentation of a petition on the subject of the Game-laws.

Petitions to lie on the Table.

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