§ Mr. Bright
, after presenting petitions against the Game Laws from Horsham, Sussex; from Alnmouth and Alnwick, signed by farmers and landowners; from farmers and landowners resident on the west side of the Severn, in Gloucestershire; and from Ruslip, in Middlesex, 54 signed by almost every occupier of land in the parish, said, that he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws. He felt the full importance of the subject; and at the same time how much it was likely to suffer from not being in the hands of some older and abler Member of the House than himself. The importance of the subject, he was sure, must be felt by all. For several years past a considerable number of the convictions, particularly at petty sessions in agricultural counties, had been for offences against the game laws. Hundreds and thousands of poor people had been fined and imprisoned for these offences; there had been the most violent outrages, the most fearful and ferocious encounters between gamekeepers and poachers, ending not unfrequently in the death of one party or the other; and it appeared also, that the last sentence of the law had frequently been visited on persons in consequence of offences against the game laws. It was because he (Mr. Bright) felt a deep sympathy for these, the poorest and most defenceless portion of the population, and as deep a reverence for the sacredness of human life, that he now asked the attention of the House to the subject of his Motion. He felt quits sure, that no considerable number of the Members of that House could refuse to accede to his Motion. He found his justification for bringing it forward in the fact that there were repeated instances heretofore of the appointment of Committees to inquire into the operation of the game laws. There was a Committee of that House in 1816, another in 1823, and another in the House of Lords in 1828. The object of the Committee of 1816 appeared to be to abolish the qualification for killing game then existing, and to enable persons to purchase certificates. The Committees of 1823 and 1828 went further, and legalized the sale of game. No one could, however, be unaware of the fact of the real cause of the appointment of those Committees. It was worth while to follow the course of those Committees. The Committees of 1823 and 1828 both appeared to go on the assumption that if the sale of game were legalized, gentlemen and lords of manors would not breed game for the market, and so drive the trade out of the hands of the poachers. What did the Committee of 1823 do? They examined a large number of poulterers from Leadenhall-market, and asked 55 them whether the proposed plan would not put an end to poaching. The poulterers, being naturally anxious to have an open legitimate trade, of course decided in favour of legalizing the sale. But the Committee were warned by one or two of them, more straightforward than the rest, that the result would be different; that the rearing of the game would cost the gentlemen so much that the poachers, whom it cost nothing but the risk of being taken, would undersell them in the market. These suggestions proved in the end to be correct. The recommendations of the Committee failed in their effect, and the result of the whole scheme was the great increase of poaching, which he considered to be a ground for a further inquiry. He thought it was highly necessary that they should appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject and report the evidence to the House; and in order to support his recommendation he would lay before them some description of the evils which arise from the game laws. From the universal cry that had been raised throughout the kingdom from the tenant farmers, he would be justified in calling the attention of the House to that branch of the subject, and would lay bare, to some extent, the injury inflicted on them by these laws. He was aware that some objection would be raised to that course; but, considering how many hon. Members were landed proprietors, and how many had, and most naturally have, a very strong sympathy with those cultivators of the soil, there would be no objection to examining this part of the question; and, in connexion with it, he should give to the House some particular cases of damage. About three weeks ago he was in Hampshire, and had an opportunity of conversing with several farmers, and received from them many facts connected with this question. One farmer had written to him, saying—
The farmer he spoke of was a tenant of a Member of one of the Houses of Legislature, and he had said that if the Committee 56 which he (Mr. Bright) now asked for was granted, he would gladly come up and give evidence and tell them all he knew in connexion with this subject. Another case, from the same neighbourhood, was that of a farmer, who, with his own lips gave him (Mr. Bright) the particulars he was about to state to the House. He farmed 600 acres of land—he had one field of seventy acres running along a preserve belonging to —. He (Mr. Bright) should be happy to give the name to any Gentleman in private, but the House would see the desirableness and necessity of his not mentioning the name unless he had special permission to do so:— "For three years," the account continued, "he has had 50l. annual damage in this one field, and would as soon have kept fifty sheep turned loose on his own farm as the game from this preserve. He began to trap them, his lease allowing him to kill rabbits, and the owner of the farm not caring for the hares. Going down one Sunday, he found a live hare in the trap. He took it up, and gave it to his dog on the spot. A watcher, lying down in the cover, heard the hare squeak, summoned him, and he was fined 50s., and costs 7s. 6d. He then took out a license, and for six months trapped fifty rabbits and twenty-eight hares per month. After that, he bought traps by the gross, and had twenty-four set at a time; but the gamekeepers invariably entered his land and stole them. When in turnips the shepherd turned up the turnips at night, and in the morning, there was scarcely one that was not half eaten by the rabbits. Hares eat the young corn in the winter and spring, and new shoots coming up do not ripen with the rest, so that the thrashing machine will not fetch out all the unripe grain, and what does come out is small and unripe (chicken's meat,) deteriorates the general average, and may be estimated at from 2s. to 3s. per quarter. Hares make runs or racks, sometimes the whole length of the field, clear nine inches wide; hares feed during the winter by biting out the hearts of the clover, and this injures the grass for the coming spring and summer, and the hay crop. Five years' damage on his farm at the very lowest cost was 300l., notwithstanding the number of game he had destroyed."
"Twelve acres of wheat completely spoiled, ploughed up and sown with barley, the loss upon which, with the extra ploughing, harrowing, and seed, and the difference in the value of the two crops, I calculate at £45 0 0 32 acres more injured to the extent of six bushels per acre 57 0 0 20 acres of vetches destroyed 60 0 0 14 acres of young sainfoin 42 0 0 The total loss he had sustained in one year was 204 0 0"
And then he spoke of the ill-will that often was created between farmers and the landowners, and between farmers and gamekeepers. The latter were spies upon the farmers, and in a multiplicity of cases the farmers had to bribe them. But that state of things was not confined to one county. A respectable farmer, and tenant of an hon. Member of that House, in the neighbourhood of Stirling, had written to him, saying:— 57I rent a farm of about eighty-five Scotch acres, and on this small farm I am sure I am 50l. the worse for game yearly. Last year in a field of turnips of about five acres, there were three acres almost totally destroyed. This year I should have been worse, but after I had upwards of two acres almost totally destroyed, I called three respectable men to value the turnips, in order to make the proprietor pay for them, and then was obliged to carry the remainder off the field to secure them from being eaten up. If turnips are thus destroyed, what must be the case with wheat, oats, and barley? I could furnish you with statements similar to this from a great many farmers in this neighbourhood.The next case he would submit to the House was from the county of Chester. It was taken from the Stockport Advertiser, a newspaper that did not generally sympathise with him upon this subject. The writer, speaking of hares and rabbits, said:—The breed of these animals, to the extent to which it has been encouraged in some parts of this county, is beginning to excite public sympathy towards those who are really suffering. On one estate, but a few miles from here, 300 brace of rabbits are destroyed weekly, besides a large amount of hares; and when it is moreover told that they are carried to the nearest market, and made a large profit of by the owner of the estate, it is no wonder that public sympathy has been enlisted, and particularly so when several of the tenants have been obliged to quit their farms because of the destruction created by the game, without adequate compensation for the loss. We are informed that, to prevent the intrusion of rabbits on a neighbouring farm or field, the road or hedge backs which separate the farms should be occasionally strewed with gas tar. It is computed that two hares will eat as much as one sheep.The hon. Member for North Cheshire would easily discover to what estate he alluded. It was the estate of a young gentleman, and a young magistrate in that county; and he (Mr. Bright) had good reason for knowing that some of his farms at the present time, or very recently, were unoccupied, because they were overrun with game, and their produce was almost entirely devoured. It appeared, then, that this system was not confined to one county, but was spread over several. Another case was from a farmer at Clare, in the county of Suffolk, who said:—The loss of the farmer often amounts to more than his rent; and his inability to employ the necessary labour for his occupation causes a turbulent discontented spirit to exist between the employers and the employed; as 58 witness our late incendiary fires. The great increase of the county rates in Suffolk is traceable to the same cause. In casting my eye over the Suffolk newspapers of last week, I find more than half the convictions are under the game laws. Many tenants in — parish are in a state of insolvency, and this solely from the damage done by game. I know them to be steady, honest, and industrious men; but whenever complaint is made, they are told they may leave their occupation if they like. I have noticed where game is most tenaciously preserved—in that neighbourhood have been most incendiary fires. My brother occupies a farm at Lanshall, and he tells me that the injury done to him by game on less than 100 acres was at least 50l. He is obliged to take out a game license to prevent a greater injury.Another case was from Sussex. It was extracted from a newspaper published in that county, and was stated as the case of a Mr. Hayward, of Marshall's farm, near Maresfield in that county. He said that, in consequence of the great damage he had sustained from game, he had written three letters to his landlord; but, having received no answer, he published those letters in that newspaper. He said he had divided his land into the most damaged side, and the best side. On the best side about 18¼ acres produced 327 bushels, whilst on the other side about 14 acres 3 roods produced only 53 bushels; and that the damage computed by a competent valuer, was 129l. 11s., for which he had not received a farthing compensation. He had also an extract from a speech of Mr. T. C. Beasley, whose farming the Duke of Rutland had upon one occasion greatly eulogized, at a meeting of the Waltham Agricultural Society, as reported in the Worcester Herald, in which he said:—That some estates he had seen were a disgrace to the proprietors; he had recently counted in one field as many as eighty-three hares, and to keep these was equivalent to the support of twenty-three sheep. For his part, he would not keep them for any landlord in existence; and he would ask whether it was common honesty to expect any man to keep that quantity of game for his landlord?He (Mr. Bright) was not a farmer, and therefore could not be expected to understand the abstruse matters of agriculture; but he asked for a Committee, and if it were granted he should be able to bring evidence which no man could dispute, of facts more extraordinary than those he had stated, and which were altogether indisputably true. Another case was in the 59 county of Buckingham; and it was deplorable that in that county there should be so great a destruction of produce by game as was stated in a speech reported in the Aylesbury News of the 19th of October, 1844, to have been delivered at a public meeting in that county by Sir H. Verney, a magistrate of the county. He understood from Gentlemen of all parties that Sir H. Verney was not a man to use exaggerated language, or make statements that could not be substantiated; and he said that—Some occupiers were especially injured by the game preserves. Those who held land in districts where game was in great abundance, and where, consequently, the temptation to poaching was so great as not to be resisted, had especial reason to complain of the operation of the game laws. He had been informed, on good authority, that the destruction occasioned by game amounted to at least one-fourth of the whole crop. [A voice: "In Bucks?"] Yes; there were districts in this county in which one-fourth of the crops was consumed by game. Nor was that all of which the farmer had to complain; for, besides this serious loss, he had the increased county rates to pay, and to keep the poacher's wife and family in the union poorhouse whilst he lay in gaol. The farmers, in fact, were made to pay towards the preservation of that they most wished to see wholly destroyed.At that meeting a memorial to the Queen's Government was recommended; but it was rejected by the majority of magistrates there assembled. A striking fact stated in that memorial was that, in 1843, 539 persons were committed to the county gaol, of which number 196 were for offences against the game laws. Those offenders were sent to prison, maintained there at the expense of the county, and their families were supported by their respective parishes. These were cases which he wished to submit to the House in connexion with that part of the subject; but he could assure the House that he had letters which it would take till the following morning to go over, detailing similar ravages of game, and some, from persons whose credibility was not to be disputed, were so remarkable, that he dare not bring them to the House, because he did not think that their statements would be generally believed. He expected that, if any hon. Member opposed the Motion he now brought before the House, he would tell him that the landowners had a right to keep game upon their land. He would not deny that they had that right; he had 60 no wish whatever to interfere in the smallest degree with the rights of property, whatever injury might be done in particular cases; that even partial ravages by game, or occasional infractions of the law, would perhaps he less injurious than any real or serious attack on the rights of property. It was not proper that any man should exercise those rights that they should become a serious grievance and wrong to his neighbours and the community at large; and landowners should recollect that they did not keep game on their own land. A tenant-farmer who spoke at Aylesbury said, he should be glad if landowners would keep their game; but, if they had parks or lands of their own, there were always holes and outlets by which game came out for some other parties to keep them; and therefore he thought the hardship on the occupiers was very great indeed. In one of the cases he had referred to from Hampshire, the farmer told him that his landlord allowed him by his leave to kill rabbits, and he had no objection to his killing hares; but on the adjoining property the game was preserved, and, as they came into his land, he was obliged to take out a license to destroy them; but, notwithstanding all the time and attention he devoted to it, he could not prevent very great injury to his land. But there was another question which landowners had to consider; and here he begged distinctly to be understood that he had no intention in this discussion to bring forward any debateable subject which should lead to a discussion beyond that which should belong to the question before the House. At the same time, the public had a great interest in this question. It was notorious that the destruction of grain by game throughout the country was to an enormous amount beyond what was generally supposed, and which they were so unfortunate as to have no means of calculating. Now, the landowners had, for reasons which might be right in some persons' eyes and wrong in others, taken upon themselves the duty of providing food for the people of this country. Hon. Members knew his opinions upon that subject; but, without discussing whether the system they had pursued were right or wrong, it was a system upheld by that House, and in favour with the majority of landed proprietors in the country. Those proprietors had then taken upon themselves and constituted themselves purveyors in general to Her 61 Majesty's subjects in Great Britain and Ireland. Now, he thought that if there were a complaint on the part of a large portion of the population, that in some years they had insufficient food from the failure of harvests in this country, they had also a right to represent to the landed proprietors that they felt it a hardship that they were prevented from going to other countries to supply their food; that the landed proprietors maintained on their estates, in almost every county in the kingdom, large quantities of game, for no other purpose than amusement, by which a very considerable portion of the produce of the soil was destroyed, and the scarcity and shortness of the supply was very much increased and aggravated. It would be urged, also, if any hon. Member opposed his Motion, that his sympathy for the farmer was beside the question—that farmers made contracts with their landlords—and that they must stand the consequences of their bargain. He admitted that they did make contracts with their landlords; but there was no landed proprietor in that House who was not conscious of this fact—that there was at that moment, and had been for years past, a competition for land so fierce and merciless in its operation upon the tenant-farmers, that they could be scarcely said to make half their bargain; and if they did make a contract with the landlord, how did they know that the quantity of game would be kept preserved as it was when they took their farm? It might be a moderate quantity then; but the landed proprietor might perhaps sell a part of his property to some third party who had no connexion with the farmer, and he might preserve game until that which was an endurable mischief to begin with became a calamity ultimately ruinous to the tenant, and all his capital and attention might be unable to bring him a fair return for the undertaking in which he had engaged. Upon that point he felt he had strong grounds of appeal to hon. Members in that House. There had been a complaint since this Session began of distress amongst the farmers in some localities, and there had been deputations to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to ask him to consider that distress. A Motion was at that moment on the books of that House for some proposition whereby the proposed reduction in taxation should not take place, in order that something else might be done which was thought likely to give greater 62 relief to the tenant former. But he would ask the landed proprietors whether it was not possible to give to their tenants great—ay, munificent—relief, by giving up this most ruinous and absurd system, and allowing their tenants, when they took land, to be the sole owners of every living thing upon it, and the sole proprietors of everything their land should produce? He would tell hon. Members what he had heard from some farmers. Just before coming up from the country at the commencement of the Session, he met with a very respectable and intelligent farmer from Lincolnshire. ["Hear, hear," from Colonel Sibthorp, followed by laughter.] That was almost enough to prove the fact of his being an intelligent farmer, the statement that he came from that county. That gentleman was discussing with him a question on which he differed altogether, after which they touched upon the game question. I asked that farmer this question—"You believe that the repeal of the Corn Laws would be hurtful to the farmer; now, assuming, for the sake of argument, that you are right, and that you admit that game preserving is injurious to the farmer, do you believe that the abolition of the game laws would be a fair compensation for any injuries he might receive by the abolition of the Corn Laws?" His answer was—"That might make very little difference on the estate where my farm is, because there is very little game there; but, where game is preserved to any great extent, I do think the abolition of the game laws would be a full compensation for any evils that may result from the repeal of the Corn Laws and the establishment of free trade." I conversed with a farmer from Hampshire, in a free and friendly spirit—and I find of late that the farmers do view this question in a more rational light than before, and that they do not think men in this House who differ from them in opinion are hostile to their interests. This farmer told me that his fear of free trade was so great that he hardly durst give an opinion; but that, if he knew free trade to be inevitable, his fears would be greatly mitigated if he knew that game preserving was at the game time come to an end. I have found this opinion general among farmers; and, although it is not my duty here to dwell more on that point, yet I do recommend to hon. Members who are sincerely anxious to better the condition of the farmers, and to improve the agriculture of the country, 63 to limit, at any rate, if they will not give up, the enjoyments of the chase, for the sake of that large, and most honourable, and most useful, and, in many cases, very suffering, class of peeople who are employed in the cultivation of the soil. I pass now to another class who have often enlisted the sympathies of hon. Gentlemen in this House—those who are holders of allotments: and if the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire and the hon. Member for Hertfordshire are in their places, I have no doubt I shall have their sympathy. I will first mention the case of W. E., of Midhurst, in Sussex, as I received it from an informant:—W. E. told me, and on a subsequent day showed me, that his allotment was at best of little value to him. It was part of a small field situated with plantations full of game on three sides of it, and a heath, on which the game was also preserved, on the fourth side of it. Everything which he sowed or planted upon it was eaten up by the game, save his potatoes, and they were also destroyed, less or more. I myself counted sixty and odd rabbit holes, mostly made by young rabbits learning to excavate, as young rabbits do, among the potatoes. He had sown peas, expecting a few dinners of green ones with a bit of bacon in the summer; but he only had in all about a gallon, where he should have had at least a bushel. This was entirely the result of the game. He had tried, both last year and this, to get some turnips and greens for the winter: every blade went to the rabbits. All his neighbours were in the same predicament, less or more. This land was rented from Colonel Wyndham, of Petworth, and the game was his game and two other gentlemen's. In Midhurst we have about fifty allotments, and have frequently heard the tenants complain of damage done them by hares and rabbits, although not to any great extent; but in most cases they are afraid to say much, for fear of offending.Another communication I have is from the county of Suffolk, from a respectable farmer in the neighbourhood of Clare. He says—In one of the cases referred to in my last letter (Bruce's), the loss cannot be estimated at less than 20s. I include the damage done to his barley crop, as well as the wheat. This is more than his earnings for two weeks, and more than the rent of the whole of his land. The other case mentioned by me, but with no name, being a cottage tenant of the game preserver, is considerably worse: he had a worse crop, independently of which he sowed his land three times to insure a plant, the grain having been eaten by the pheasants after it was sown, and that which escaped eaten by the hares when it got above ground, and the 64 few heads that came to maturity were cut off with a knife, not being enough to employ a sickle.I would ask, then, in all seriousness, the attention of hon. Gentlemen to this portion of the question, as being important indeed. There are parties in this country who have judged harshly of me and others with whom I act, because we have not hurriedly and enthusiastically advocated the system of allotments. We are of opinion, as all men must be, that it is of very great consequence to the agricultural labourer to have a nice garden about his cottage. In a moral point of view it is worth half the police of the district. I think every owner of land should, if possible, give to every laboured on his estate as much land as will provide him amusement and employment, and provide his family with some articles of food. But imagine the case of a labourer who gets up by sunrise, two hours earlier than his usual time, in order to devote them, before he goes to work, to his garden. He works with gladness and hope. He returns from his daily toil, and again labours on his allotment, while during the day, perhaps, his wife and children have been performing there such services as are consistent with their skill and strength. But when what he has sown begins to appear above ground, it is devoured by the game of some large landed proprietor, who, standing on an eminence in the country, cannot see the extent of his estates, so boundless are they. I declare I do not envy the feelings of any man who is conscious that his game does this cruel and extensive mischief, blasting the hopes and damping the energies of the honest and industrious labourer, and yet is indifferent about the matter. But in speaking of labourers, there is another important consideration. All farmers agree, and I think all landowners who honestly speak out, will say so, too, that the preservation of game is most injurious to agriculture as a pursuit. I speak not with respect to farmers, but as to the cultivation of the land. A farmer came to me the other morning with the petition from Ruislip, in this county, which I have presented to the House this evening, and which is signed by every farmer in the parish, but one, ["Ratepayers?" from Mr. F. H. Berkeley,] every one occupiers in the parish. The farmer told me that though the parish contained 7,000 acres of land, not more than about 100 labourers are employed in agriculture; and that game is preserved 65 to a great extent. He gave me an account of the expenses of that township for the prosecution of poachers, for three or four years back; and here let me observe, that in the Returns presented last Session to this House, no Return was made for Middlesex, as far as Petty Sessions are concerned. From this statement, and from the statements made by all parties, I am led to this conclusion, that where there is rigid game preserving there cannot be good farming, and if not good farming, there cannot be that reasonable amount of labour for the labourers which they had a right to expect, and which it was necessary they should have. If I were a landed proprietor, seeing labourers growing up around my property, there is nothing I would advance more than measures to give them greater employment and remuneration, so as to increase their physical comforts; for upon that foundation alone can be built up any moral education or religious improvement whatever. And when we bear in mind what took place in Suffolk last year, and in Wales some time ago, and what has periodically spread through almost all the counties in England, I think all owners of property, and all owners of common sense, should endeavour to discover whether this proposition, or what may come from this proposition, I am now submitting to the House, might not do something to obviate and remedy many of those evils they suffer from, and the country is almost sick of. Speaking again of the labourers' condition, I would ask the attention of the House to the executive part of the law, i. e., to its administration. We were given to understand by the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, at the end of last Session, that attention would be given to the hardships endured by persons coming under the operation of the game act, and that he was sending instructions through the land to magistrates that they might administer the law with a little more mercy. I have a few cases which must indeed be pretty well known. But where I bring one case, I could easily have brought a hundred for the elucidation of the subject, or for establishing the ground on which I plead for an inquiry into it. The Leicester Mercury of March 2, 1844, gives the following account of the proceedings at the Petty Sessions, hold Feb. 24th:—Magistrates, W. W. Abney, and R. G. Cresswell. — William Edwards, Thomas Edwards, jun., and John Fairbrother, all of Worthington, 66 charged by W. Peters, gamekeeper to Earl Ferrers, with having used a net on Sunday, the 1st of October last, not having a game certificate. The parties absconded shortly after the offence, and were not taken till the 17th inst. They were each fined 5l. and costs, and in default of immediate payment, sentenced to three months' hard labour. They were then charged with the Sunday offence, and fined 5l. and costs, and in default of payment three months' imprisonment. William and Thomas Edwards were then charged with trespass in search of game on the same day, and fined 40s., and in default of payment to two months' imprisonment and hard labour. William Edwards and John Fairbrother were then charged with an assault on Peters, fined 5l., and in default of payment two months' imprisonment.In this case then, these three persons, one being a boy, for going out on a Sunday with a net or snare were thus severely dealt with. Surely it was not an overwhelming offence. One would have imagined that a magistrate would have looked at their condition in life, and the degree of their intelligence, and have pronounced a lenient and merciful sentence. But, no, the very worst and most stringent powers of the law were to be brought to bear upon them; and ten months' imprisonment and hard labour were inflicted upon these unfortunate persons, for this single offence of going out on a Sunday with a net in search of game. There is another case which is no doubt fresh in the recollection of the House. It is that of Lawrence Elborn, in the county of Nottingham, in September last. The report states that the watchers of the Rev. O. Chetwode saw him kneel to untie a snare. No snare was found though the man was immediately seized, therefore there was no proof that there was a snare there at all. The gamekeeper believed it was his first offence. The man had a family of four children, one of whom was an infant. He had had thirteen children. He had done only ten days' work during the past month, and was in great distress. His children had not a bit of bread to eat. Mr. Stone, the magistrate, (a most appropriate name, for it required a heart of stone to take the course he did,) said he was liable to three months' imprisonment, but as it was his first offence, he should give him only six weeks and hard labour; ordering him also to find sureties, himself in 10l., and two others of 5l. each, or be further imprisoned for six months. This took place at the Ashendon Petty Sessions 67 on September 23, 1844. I presume this gentleman is still a magistrate; and I ask the House to reflect upon the circumstances of this case. Here is a man who does not get more than 6s. or 7s. a week, when in work, ordered to find bail to the amount of 10l. himself, and to find two sureties to the same amount. Is this an administration of the law consonant with the feelings of the public? Every newspaper had this account, and denounced the course pursued as one of the most flagrant instances of cruelty ever committed by any bench. But I fear there are many, aye, multitudes of such cases. What was the effect of it? Subscriptions were sent through the post-office to pay the fine inflicted on the poor man, and he was liberated. I hope some of his friends have taken him from that district where he suffered that grievous punishment, into some happier district, where offences against the game laws are not disposed of by a bench on which invariably sit men who are interested in the preservation of game. It is a principle of our law that a man shall be tried by his peers. An agricultural labourer is not very likely to be tried by a jury selected from his own body. But here is a case in which the man had no jury, not even of the middling class; but he was tried and condemned before men who have a deep and enthusiastic feeling in favour of the preservation of game. When the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of the Home Department, brought forward his Factory Regulation Bill, he introduced a Clause to limit the magisterial powers of millowners. I thought that was, considering what was doing under the game laws, rather an unusual course. But if a gentleman residing in Yorkshire or Lancashire is not competent to sit upon the magisterial bench because he is interested in factories, I ask with what propriety can game preservers, who are enthusiastically wedded to the system supported by the present game laws, be allowed to adjudicate summarily upon offences created by the laws. A man so convicted has no appeal. If he were asked to appeal to another court, where is the money to come from? He cannot, moreover, employ counsel to defend him, not being able to pay the expense. There is the unhappy culprit at the bar; there is the gamekeeper anxious to obtain the favour of his employer; and there is the game preserver, may be a clerical magistrate, sitting on the bench to decide the 68 fate of the accused; and this is what is called law and justice in this country. I do not blame the magistrates altogether, because I suppose they must administer the law somewhat as they find it. But he must be a man of little feeling, and of small sympathy towards the poor around him, if he is not most anxious—aye, more than any one else—to co-operate with me, or with the House, or the Government, to arrange any better system by which his own sense of what is right may not be outraged by such cases as I have stated. In considering the amount of criminality which attaches to those who offend against the game laws, I think some allowance ought to be made with respect to the amount of temptation which is around them. We have it on authority that the temptation in some districts is more than flesh and blood can stand. The hon. Member for South Wilts (Mr. Benett) stated before the Lords' Committee in 1828,—I believe the agricultural poacher is the most skilful, because he begins setting snares at a very early period; a boy at twelve years old sets snares with his father.A Huntingdonshire farmer says—It is usual for shepherd boys to leave their work about twilight, at which time they are obliged, unless they close their eyes, to observe hares running about in all directions—a temptation such boys cannot resist: and, from my own observations, I can state as a fact that the love of poaching has ruined more boys than all the public houses they have ever entered.Thus the House must see (proceeded the hon. Member) that boys are inevitably brought up to poaching, and that they were taught to believe that they were committing no moral offence or any infraction of the law. But there was another authority he wished to quote, that of Mr. Williams, Inspector of Prisons, who, in his 9th Report had this passage:—While upon the general subject of prison discipline I may remark, that however severe in physical restraints, or powerful in moral influence, it signally fails in producing any salutary impressions upon offenders convicted of infractions of the laws enacted for the preservation of game. These men, while undergoing imprisonment, appear possessed of the idea that these laws are more harshly and inflexibly administered than in other cases of a more serious character, and that the punishments awarded are unequal, disproportioned, and unjust. In support of their views they instance the double convictions and cumulative 69 penalties and imprisonments under various statutes for one offence, and the act against night poaching, under which offenders are adjudged to hard labour, while detained for want of sureties, contrasting the law in this respect with its different application to those committed for want of sureties in assaults and other cases where the penalty of hard labour does not attach.The testimony of chaplains of prisons will be found to furnish abundant evidence that argument, admonition, entreaty, are all unavailing to induce in these offenders any admission of criminality, or a promise of relinquishing this pernicious pursuit. There can be no question that the tenacity of this feeling among poachers is in some degree to be traced to the support and encouragement it receives from the sympathy so notoriously prevailing among the middle and lower classes of society, and which was well described by a chaplain in the following terms:—I have frequently tried, but quite in vain, to persuade prisoners convicted of poaching, that they offend God in breaking the laws of their country; they answer, the law is oppressive, and they have as much right to the game as others. The man's neighbours, too, second him in this feeling when discharged; they receive him as usual, saying, 'You have been in prison, it is true, but not for stealing or felony.' A man loses no caste by having committed an offence against the game laws, but when discharged, goes into the society of his fellow-men quite as usual.This opinion was generally held many years ago. Stafford, the chief clerk at Bow-street police office was examined before the Committee appointed by the House in 1824, and was asked whether he thought that when a poacher took game he believed he was taking property belonging to another person; his answer was,—No, I think a man takes a hare or a pheasant with a very different feeling from that with which he would take a pig or a fowl from a farm-yard.Mr. Hunt, afterwards a Member of this House, being asked his opinion, said,—That while there were large quantities of game collected together, which the poachers could not avoid seeing every day, it was too great a temptation to them; they had a strong impression that they were not killing the property of any one.Mr. Benett, the Member for Wiltshire, was asked, "Whether any disgrace or shame attached to poaching in the opinion of the lower orders?" His answer was, 70 "Not the slightest." "Or in the opinion of those a little higher; that is, of unqualified proprietors?" "Certainly not." "Nor of the occupiers?" "Nor of the occupiers." Some Gentlemen might suppose that this argued a great confusedness of mind upon the question of the rights of property; but it was not, after all, so clear that there was, or could be, any property in game. If otherwise, it was very odd that the House should at one time have forbidden the sale of it; there was no such unjust prohibition in the case of any property. But the Report of the Lords' Committee of 1828, threw some light on the question: they said, that inasmuch as the legal sale and purchase of game would necessarily invest that article in some degree with the character of property, it appeared just and reasonable that it should be protected from trespassers. Mr. Bradshaw, then a Member of the House, and living at Worsley, one of the strictest game-preservers in the kingdom, said before that Committee,—I have a very strong opinion that, before you attempt to preserve game in that way, it should be made a species of property; you cannot, I am afraid, go the length of making it altogether private property, but I do not agree that a wild animal cannot be the property of any one.There was a peculiarity about this property, if it were such; it could not be impounded, nor even identified, nor proved to belong to any one when it was seen. But if a man was apprehended driving a pig the chances were he would not be punished unless it could be identified; while if he had a hare or a rabbit, or even a piece of copper wire with a string to it, or was carrying a gun from a smith's shop across a private walk in a field, the law suspected him, and most likely he would be severely punished. The law did not regard the taking of game as stealing; when a man was brought up, the game was not identified or proved to be the property of any one; perhaps it was caught on the high road. Yet this man was subjected to a grievous punishment, so strictly had the law hedged round the game of this country. To show how little there was of opinion that it was wrong to kill game, he would mention the case of a man in the neighbourhood of Aldborough, in Suffolk, a notorious poacher, who carried on a very thriving, and, what might be called, in some respects, a very respectable trade, employing thirty or forty men, and having a game 71 license; he poached chiefly on the estates of Lord Rendlesham and the Marquess of Hertford, and the men who were joined in a society for mutual protection, and a mutual assurance society, to fee counsel in case any of them were apprehended. There were notorious poachers in that county, who had by successive offences and imprisonments been driven out almost from the pale of society—a kind of savages, living in hovels, or wherever they could find shelter; and one was tried for an incendiary fire at the last Assizes, but, he believed, acquitted. Another case might be mentioned, to show how little people regarded this as an offence against the moral law. Some months ago he (Mr. Bright) saw in a Yorkshire newspaper a paragraph stating the death of an individual somewhat in these words—"Died, so-and-so, on such a day; he was a notorious poacher, but in every other respect a most upright and respectable man, and so great confidence was placed in his honour and integrity, that he has repeatedly been intrusted with his own commitment, and has proceeded with it to Wakefield House of Correction, and given himself up there, to submit to the punishment which the law inflicted upon him." It was not altogether without proof, that landed proprietors and game preservers, sometimes engaged poachers to act as gamekeepers. Now, suppose a shopman was found making free with the till, or abstracting some of his master's property, it was not likely he would be put in the position of cashier with a higher salary. But the game preserver would take a poacher, a clever fellow of fearless character, who knew the other poachers, and the ways of taking game, and make him a gamekeeper. He would not do that if he believed the offence of the poacher was a crime against the moral law. If game preservers really were right in making out game to be property, like fowls or sheep, they were used very hardly; for it was an understood principle that a man's property should be preserved, and watched, and guarded by a police paid by the community at large; and yet there had never been the man bold enough to propose a rate on all occupiers throughout the country, for the purpose of paying the expenses of gamekeepers. That seemed to show that the proposition that game was property did not rest on a very substantial basis. Last Session he moved for certain Returns, and others were moved for by another hon. Member. From these it appeared, 72 that in 1843 the convictions at Assizes amounted to 152, for infractions of the game laws in England and Wales; at Sessions, to 4,377; total, 4,529. There were transported at the Assizes, 35; at the Quarter Sessions 5. Imprisoned at the Assizes, 112. The fines in these cases averaged more than 2l. each; and the imprisonment seven weeks each. Now, it was an easy matter for a Member of the House to throw down 2l. and walk off; many of them wasted as much many a time; but when a labourer had to work for his living, and happened to be caught in one of these infractions of the game laws, and was fined 2l., or sentenced to seven weeks' imprisonment on the tread-wheel, he would say that it was a punishment altogether monstrous, when compared with the offence; and that the infliction of such punishments must destroy, in the minds of the great mass of the poorest of the population, all reverence for the law, and all belief in the impartiality, the wisdom, and the mercy of the Legislature. But he had already stated that Middlesex had furnished no returns of the cases at the Sessions, and there were many others very incomplete. There was another point to be considered; cases of punishment under the Trespass Act had not come into that return at all, unless it was a trespass in pursuit of game; the case he had stated from Ashby-de-la-Zouch was entered but once in the return, though the individuals were punished for three or four different offences—using a net in pursuit of game, breaking the Sabbath, trespass upon the land, and assaulting the gamekeeper. He had no doubt from what he had heard from legal gentlemen in different parts of the country, that if the return had really contained a true report of all the punishments inflicted under the operation of these laws, it would present an amount of injury, of suffering, and of degradation, probably double that which the return offered to the House. But there was another return, perhaps more important still; it appeared that in ten years, from the end of 1833, to the end of 1843, there were no less than forty-two gamekeepers killed; some by accident, some in a manner which the ingenuity of the coroner and jury could not discover; but in twenty-five of these cases a direct verdict of wilful murder was returned. Last Session, a Factory Act was passed, in which was a Clause to provide against the recurrence of accidents, as much as possible, in connexion with the 73 manufactures of the North of England; and a return was to be made by every mill-owner of accidents occurring from machinery—a very unnecessary thing he thought, and the only good of it would be to show that these accidents had been greatly exaggerated. But this return proved that more persons in a year were killed who took out licenses to kill game than by all the machinery and steam engines connected with the cotton trade of Lancashire. Of 30,000 persons employed in the cotton mills, one was killed in a year; as for the number that took out game licenses, the returns for 1837 gave somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000, and they might be taken at 60,000; of that number there were killed in ten years rather more than at the rate of one in thirty per annum. Thus did the destruction of human life exceed that in the factories, of which so much had been said; and those accidents were very different things from those deaths in hot blood. Take the case on Lord Derby's estate at Knowsley. A gamekeeper, a very worthy man it was said, met with a number of poachers; he fired, and one of them fired; the gamekeeper's shot did no damage; but he was killed by the shot of the poacher. It was one of the greatest consolations of that gamekeeper, as he lay the next day upon his death-bed, that his shot had not hurried any one into eternity. Five of those poachers were tried and convicted, one of them being hung, and the sentence of the other four commuted for transportation. He (Mr. Bright) had seen a letter from one of them, a man whose past life would have given some hope that he would never have come into those unhappy circumstances. He had heard of the condition of that man's aged parents. The wife and family of the gamekeeper were bereft of their protector, and those of the convicted men left to live with a stain upon their name. That case, more than any other, stimulated him (Mr. Bright) to bring this question before the House. It might be a weakness, but he confessed that his suffering of mind from reading the details of the trial, and imprisonment, and the execution of one of those poachers, was such as he would not undergo again for a very large consideration; and he could not understand how any man could set his amusements and enjoyments, although abstractedly innocent, in comparison with such great and grievous evils afflicting the country. But the year 1843 did not see the end of the system; 1844 had its roll 74 of victims. The morning papers, through one or two of which he had looked, though they did not contain all the cases that occurred, furnished the details (since the Return) of nineteen serious encounters between gamekeepers and poachers, in which two gamekeepers were murdered, and in consequence of which two men had been hung, though under circumstances not at all satisfactory; for the moment before they were executed they protested, with a solemnity almost impossible to believe any man could feign in such an hour, that they had no part whatever in the death for which they suffered; but he did not doubt the evidence would be found such as justified the jury. These were terrible circumstances to arise out of the preservation of game for the mere amusement of a small portion of the people. In those nineteen affrays, thirty-one persons were grievously, and some of them desperately, wounded. There was a case near Salisbury about a month ago—five gamekeepers against five poachers—in which two gamekeepers were taken to the infirmary, one with both his arms broken, and two poachers were carried home, and believed not likely to recover. Within the same week, the same woods were again attacked by a large number of poachers; thus venturing immediately upon the same dangerous pursuit. There was the case of Lord Coventry's gamekeeper, at Croom, in Worcestershire—a murder for which eleven persons were now in custody. He (Mr. Bright) did not bring these cases forward as demonstrations that no man should keep game, and that there should be no laws about game; but to show the House and the country that there were circumstances arising out of the preservation of game which were most lamentable, and that he had a strong claim for a Committee of Inquiry. But there was another description of calamities arising out of the case. A man was lately in the Penitentiary hard by, sentenced to seven years' transportation for stealing rabbits in Staffordshire; and the distress of his mind, under the awful severity of such a punishment for an offence of comparatively so trifling a character, was so overwhelming, that in the Pentitentiary he put an end to his existence; the jury returning a verdict, as was so often done, of temporary insanity. Another case occurred at Watlington, in Oxfordshire, where a labourer, a lad of sixteen, was employed to shoot sparrows, and whilst doing 75 so a pheasant came in his way, and he shot it. Was there a man in the House, who, at sixteen, would not have done the same? The gamekeeper heard the shot, charged him with the act, and threatened him with the consequences. This unfortunate youth, unable to bear the distresssing circumstances in which he found himself placed, in the very same field in which the offence was committed, hung himself to a tree, and thus escaped being brought before a tribunal which had such terrors for him in this world. They had the evidence of farmers without end, that gamekeepers were a spy on them, and that they thought it an insult to be dodged and watched over the very land which they rented. It was a system of terrorism which operated most injuriously upon the labouring classes throughout the agricultural districts. The system and the operation of the game laws then appeared to him to be one which the House was bound to look into. He could not suppose for a moment that there would be any opposition to the Motion, unless it came from the hon. Member for Gloustershire, who sat on the front form before him, and who had recently published a pamphlet on the system. They had heard of the Berkleyan theory some hundred years ago, which denied the existence of matter—which was, in fact, a system of immaterialism. This pamphlet, however, had nothing of immaterialism about it. "Hands off," "punches on the head," "blows before words"—there was something extremely material and substantial in all that it recommended. He should not attempt to answer the arguments in that pamphlet. He had heard many persons say that it contained both the bane and the antidote, that it answered itself most completely. In it there was a most startling discovery, that the British Constitution, lauded as it was, and that which was even of more value, namely, liberty of conscience, were connected in some way or other with a great head of game. He had sometimes said harsh things in that House and elsewhere of proprietors of land, but he had never said anything so harsh of them as had been said by some Gentlemen with regard to game preserving. They seemed to think that if there were not abundance of game, and sport, and battue shooting, gentlemen would not remain in the country on their own estates. He did not know how far the country would suffer from this; but he believed that there were many, very many, whose absence would 76 be a great evil to the properties and localities with which they were connected. But he did not judge so harshly of the landed gentry as to suppose that they had no ties on their paternal estates, and at their mansions where their youth had been spent, except they were thus provided with the means of an enthusiastic pursuit of the chase, and with those pursuits which were connected with game preserving. His opinion was that there were other pursuits which it would become them better to follow, and which it would be a thousand times better for this country, provided they did follow them. There was not a finer position in the world than that of a Member of that or the other House of Parliament, possessed of public spirit, and blessed with large property. He went to his estate and had the means of doing untold good. Let him look after his tenantry, and after the proper cultivation of his lands; let him look after the labourers on his estate, and see that they had sufficient wages, proper and well-built cottages, good gardens, and that there were a sufficiency of schools for the children of the neighbourhood. And he would assure hon. Gentlemen that these things gave a pleasure as great, and infinitely better than the pleasures derived from the pursuit of game, because the pleasure of doing good never wore out; and if hon. Gentlemen would pursue this line of conduct, instead of devoting their whole attention to game preserving, they would far more act up to the principles of English gentlemen, and their presence on their estates would do far more good than anything which they could do connected with the protection of game. There was one mode of enjoying the sports of the chase, which appeared to him particularly objectionable, and from which had grown up this system of excessive protection of game. He alluded to the battue system. The right hon. Baronet opposite, he had no doubt, and many Members of that House, knew perfectly well what that was. He never saw any exhibition of it, and the whole of his knowledge relative to it was derived front the public papers; but he understood that gentlemen stood in part of a wood, and that a number of men surrounded them in a circle, and drove the game within range, and almost to the muzzles of their guns, and that the game had no chance of escape. He would not say anything in ridicule of that amusement, because it was not worth 77 while. It was altogether so absurd that no man could raise his voice in favour of it. If any man would go into Leadenhall market to a basket of game with a net over it, and ask leave to put the muzzle of his gun into the basket, no doubt he would be enabled to kill a quantity of the game at such sport, and he would have just as much title to the character of a sportsman as a "battue" shooter. If there were one thing more unsuited for this age and this country, with its dense and struggling population, it seemed to him to be this great preservation of game, and this providing for the battue system of sporting. What were they doing now? Had not that House established in all parts of the country a highly educated, and in many cases a highly paid officer, for the purpose of attending to the moral and religious instruction of the people; and it was said they were particularly required for the poor. But whilst they were extending large schools for the purpose of raising the condition of the people, he believed that they were maintaining a system that counteracted, to a very great extent, in many districts all the good that they were attempting to do. They had great sympathy for the poor now; he believed really more than was ever felt at any former period; and many of the debates of that Session in that House were connected with the interests of the poorest of the people. One way or other the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester had had to bring forward several schemes relating to the benefit of the poor. The hon. Member for Hertford was about to bring in a Bill for the improvement of the labouring classes, connected with the allotment system; and not only in that House, but in the country generally, he believed that there was, amongst the middle and upper classes, now, an honest and sincere feeling and desire that the poorest of the people should be raised up from their poverty, and that there should be a greater dispensation of the comforts of life among all classes, even to the very lowest amongst them. He had not entered into the law of this question at all. He had not suggested anything as a remedy; he had merely laid before the House what he conceived to be a fair, and he was certain not an exaggerated picture of the game system in the country. He had said that he had cases which he would not bring forward because they would be met with the cry that they were not true; 78 yet they had come from men of the first respectability, and would be proved before the Committee. His object was a real inquiry, and not a sham inquiry. He did not want every man on the Committee to hold his opinion, or the opinion of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire. He did not want men on the Committee who had no feeling on the question at all, and who would not take the trouble to go into a searching inquiry if the Government would grant the Committee; and he could not believe that they would refuse it after such a case as he had laid before them. He trusted it would be an honest, fair, and impartial Committee, and that it would go through this question thoroughly; beginning, middle, and end. Committees of that House had been appointed in former times who had skimmed over questions. He confessed that though he had no pleasure in the pursuits of the chase, yet he could easily understand the enthusiasm with which some men joined in them. He could believe that in many cases these pursuits could be innocent, and that they were conducive to healthy enjoyment. He had no hostility to the amusement; but he thought that these amusements, of the rich especially, ought to be so guarded and limited, that to them the rights and interests of the poor should not be sacrificed. He was speaking to a House of Commons, three-fourths of whose Members took out game-certificates, perhaps more. Many Gentlemen to whom he spoke were preservers of game. Many persons might think that, speaking to such an audience, he had no chance of success. He altogether repudiated any such idea. He believed there was amongst men who were sportsmen, and who really enjoyed enthusiastically the pleasures of the chase, a feeling that they, of all other men, would be willing to give fair play and justice even to the very humblest among them. He owned that opinion honestly. He thought that in following these pursuits they might do, and often did, great mischief; but he still thought that they would give a fair inquiry. He asked the House now not to judge the case as he had stated it, but on its own merits. He brought it before the House without using a single word, or a single expression of harshness towards any human being. He could state, with the utmost sincerity, that there was not in his own breast a particle of feeling of hostility towards any human being in connexion with this question; but he had 79 seen the sufferings of thousands of the poor and defenceless—of those for whom the law should be a protector—those for whose especial good the Parliament and the Constitution had been instituted; and he had seen other cases where persons had had their lives sacrificed under this system. He had seen cases where persons had been led out to undergo the awful sentence of the law, whilst the public sympathy was decidedly in their favour; and under these circumstances he did think that the House would not be doing justice to those over whom they were called to govern, if they did in any way give encouragement to a system productive of so many grievous evils, not to one class, but to many classes; and not to one district, but to the whole kingdom. He begged leave to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws, and to report their observations and opinion thereon to the House.
§ Sir J. Graham
, after apologizing for speaking inaudibly on account of indisposition, said, I must confess, that although the hon. Gentleman has addressed the House at very great length on the present occasion on a subject on which considerable excitement out of doors prevails, and on which the popular feeling is warmly with him, I have not any fault to find with either the tone or the temper of his speech; and I more particularly refer with pleasure to some of the closing remarks of the hon. Gentleman, because with those remarks I can cordially agree. In the first place, he has done justice to the gentlemen of England. I am satisfied that, although a large proportion of the Members of this House exercise, and are attached to the sports of the field, and are preservers of game on their properties, and delight in the amusements to which it leads, he estimates the feeling of this House rightly, when he says that upon a statement such as he has presented to the House to-night, there will be a general disposition, in the present circumstances of the case which we are now discussing, to enter on a full, fair, and dispassionate inquiry of the grievances to which he had drawn attention. And also I would observe, that it was with great satisfaction that I heard him point out the truth, that there is no higher or happier station in any country, certainly none in this, which affords a greater opportunity of doing good, than that of the resident country gentleman inspecting the labours of his tenantry, rewarding the meritorious, 80 watching over the poor labourer, ministering to, and relieving his wants, and aiding education of the children of his poor neighbours; and I must say, and I say it with pride and a feeling of honour, though one of the class myself (however imperfectly I may have discharged its duties), that facts will prove that the great body of the gentry of the country do fulfil those important duties which the hon. Member has described. I must go on to say, that I do not believe that the enjoyment of the sports of the field, at least in moderation, is inconsistent with this praiseworthy conduct; on the contrary, it is very generally found in alliance with the character of a sportsman. But, Sir, I would also remark, that I think the hon. Gentleman has made out, especially towards the close of his speech, substantial grounds for instituting this inquiry. I am bound to admit that, in the course of the last two or three years, some lamentable circumstances which can be traced to the preservation of game have forced themselves in an unusual degree upon the attention of the Government. What the hon. Gentleman has said, is most true, that not being himself prepared to propose any legislative enactment on this subject, if Her Majesty's Government were prepared to offer any measure, he ought to view any such suggestion on their part as superseding the necessity of inquiry. I heard with pleasure the statement of the hon. Member that no legislation was desired by him, or could be satisfactory to him, which was not entirely consistent with the rights of property; and, moreover, he added another observation, that the inquiry he sought to obtain was an honest, a fair, and an impartial inquiry—one that should not be conducted by a Committee partially chosen, from men the majority of whom held extreme opinions on the subject; but that he was willing to go into this inquiry in a Committee fairly constituted, and that he would serve on on such a Committee, even though the majority might not be nominated by himself. I will, with the permission of the House, point out some reasons which appear to me conclusive why at this moment such an inquiry is politic. Since the year 1828 there has been no such inquiry. In 1828, an inquiry was instituted in the other House of Parliament on this question, and the Committee which sat on that occasion recommended a very decided change in the law; namely, that game should be made property, and be protected as property. 81 The Administration of Lord Grey, soon after it came into power in 1831, did propose this great and extensive change in the law. A measure was brought forward with that view in this House by the present Lord Spencer, then representing the Government of Lord Grey; and in 1831 that most important alteration was made in the law. I have not before me the Returns of the number of crimes committed against the game laws at that period as contrasted with other crimes; but I have a distinct recollection that the attention of Lord Grey's Government was forced to this subject on account of the great increase of crime under the unchanged law at that time apparent, and which circumstance now is again attracting, in a painful degree, the attention of the country. The proposition made by Lord Althorp and adopted by Parliament effected a very extensive change in the law relating to game. It abolished all trace of the feudal distinction which rendered a landed qualification necessary to the right to kill game; and it enabled every person in this country, without distinction of rank or degree, to kill and sell game, on paying for and taking out a certificate, and it rendered game the property of the owners of the soil. Now, the effect of this in the case where the same individual is both owner and occupier of the soil, which is the simplest case, is to throw the whole cost of maintaining the game upon him. The case is not so simple where the landowner is not the occupier as well as the owner. There the right to kill the game is given to the occupier, provided he take out a license; and there is no case in which if the landlord lets land to a tenant without a specific stipulation to retain the right to kill the game, that he can claim it, unless there be that specific stipulation, the occupier has the right of destroying all the game on his farm, provided only he take out a license. The hon. Member has put the case of a small owner and occupier in the neighbourhood of a great preserve, not being the tenant of the landlord, who is the game preserver. That is exactly the case where the individual has the largest command over a quantity of game, without any cost to himself, if he will simply pay the license duty of three guineas to destroy game. He has an unlimited power to kill all the game maintained at the cost of others, and of selling it at the highest price, and of actually deriving a profit from the sale of it. But I admit that the change 82 of the laws which converted game into property was a material and extensive change. The first effect of that alteration was certainly to open the right of sporting to individuals and to large classes of people, who, according to the law up to that time, had not enjoyed the privilege. Then as relates to the supply of large cities, it has led to an abundant and cheap supply of a great luxury to the richer classes, and for a long time it appeared to me to operate favourably, and not to be attended with any increase of crime. Fourteen years have now elapsed since that law came into operation, and I am bound to acknowledge that within the last two or three years, commitments, punishments, and crimes have multiplied; and I do think that the time has arrived when the operation of that law should be investigated. I also would remark that there was an observation which fell from the hon. Member at the close of his speech, and with which as a sportsman I entirely agree; I do think that the pride and vanity of battues have been pushed to an unreasonable extent. I do think—even if the result of this inquiry should not be to produce any alteration in the law—I can confidently anticipate from this inquiry a good moral effect, in pointing out to persons thoughtlessly misled into errors on this subject, the great practical evils resulting from those errors; and if they are fairly stated and brought to their consideration, this notoriety, without any alteration in the law, will lead to a practical remedy. After all, the grievances which the hon. Gentleman stated as arising out of the game laws principally resolve themselves into the great extent to which hares and rabbits are preserved; the principal complaints, as it appeared from the hon. Gentleman's statement, arise with reference to tenants, in whose neighbourhood preserves and great battues have multiplied of late. I am bound to say I consider this complaint in many instances well founded. I shall not say anything in the least offensive to the hon. Gentleman on this occasion; he has treated the subject in a manner which does him credit; there was not a hostile tone, I think, in the whole of what he said; but I must add that there is considerable exaggeration in the public mind on the subject, and on that account I anticipate that an investigation into the facts of the case will have a salutary effect. Indeed I should desire nothing better than an investigation of some of the facts stated by the hon Gentleman. I should like to 83 see various statements made this evening by the hon. Gentleman brought to the test of a vigorous cross-examination; I should like to see that witness who would prove that on seventy-eight acres of land, the farmer has lost for a series of years 50l. a-year by the game preserved on the estate; I should still more like to see the gentleman who is to come forward and say that on eighty-five acres he has lost, in one year, 80l. from the same cause; I should like also to see proof, by witnesses, that eighty-three hares consume as much as twenty-three sheep. I confess I should like to see evidence adduced on those points; but above all, I should like to have opposite to me the witness from Yorkshire, who, from time to time, walked to Wakefield House of Correction — a Yorkshireman mark you—with his commitment in his hand, in order to take his term of punishment there. [Mr. Bright: He is dead now.] Then, of course, he is out of court; and he cannot tell his tale; but still there remains the startling statement to be proved, that eighty-three hares consume as much of the produce of a farm as twenty-three sheep; and, on the whole, if the hon. Gentleman will undertake to prove these facts which he has stated, I think that all sides of the House will concur with me in anticipating that this will be a most amusing investigation; and I am sure that, in perfect good humour, all of us will join in deciding an investigation into these matters. But, Sir, I also demur to another of the propositions of the hon. Gentleman. He said he could show that the preservation of game was incompatible with the good cultivation of the soil. The hon. Gentleman said he was not a sportsman, and not a farmer, and therefore I am very ready to believe that it was not of his own knowledge that the hon. Gentleman made so bold an assertion; but I think he has been misled as to this part of the subject. I see the hon. Member for Norfolk in his place: I have had the pleasure of visiting and shooting in Norfolk, and I say that the county of Norfolk will produce evidence, in almost every part of it, that the hon. Member for Durham is not correct in this statement, but that the highest state of cultivation is completely consistent with the strictest preservation of game; and I apprehend the hon. Member for Norfolk will bear me out in this assertion. There is only one other topic on which I wish to say a word. The hon. Member complained 84 of the cumulative penalties leviable under the game laws; and the hon. Member referred to particular cases, which I do not propose at present to go into; but I am bound to say that certain cases of this description have been specially brought under my notice, and my knowledge of those cases has led to the regulation which is at present in force in the office which I have the honour to hold. I have thought it my duty to direct that from every gaol the commitments under the game laws shall be sent up to the Home Office, as soon as they are received, in order that, in all cases, the legality of those commitments might be reviewed. In some cases I found errors in the commitments; but, in every such case I have had the pleasure of communicating with the committing magistrate, and there is not a single case in which those errors occurred that I have not, with the full concurrence of the committing magistrate, advised Her Majesty to remit the punishment. And I may say nearly the same with respect to some cases of cumulative penalties which I thought pressed too severely on the offenders. I communicated with the magistrate concerned, and in almost all cases, with the full concurrence of the magistrate, I have remitted the punishment. The hon. Gentleman has misrepresented somewhat the state of the law with respect to adjudications under the game laws. He said that game preservers constantly sat on the Bench to try questions arising under the game laws, and he proceeded to state that by a measure of last Session, the millowners were obliged to observe a very different rule, for that under that Act no millowner could sit to decide on a case arising in any mill, though not his own. Now in this the hon. Member is mistaken. The words of the Act are—That no complaint referring to any such offence against this Act shall be heard by a justice of the peace or by a borough magistrate, being the occupier, or by a father, son, or brother of the occupier, of the factory in which such offence shall have been committed.There was no general prohibition, therefore, of millowners acting as magistrates in such cases, as the hon. Member had represented, but only of those who had a direct interest, and the near relatives of those who had a direct interest, in the factory where the offence against the act was committed. But I am bound to say, that if a case came to my knowledge, that under the game laws any magistrate had acted on the 85 bench in a case of his own, I should not hesitate to express in the strongest manner the displeasure of Her Majesty, on account of such abuse of the Commission of the Peace. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have great pleasure in answering parts of his speech in a manner not dissonant, I hope, from that in which he addressed the House. I shall also have pleasure in supporting his Motion for a Committee, and, as far as I can, I will engage that he shall have, as he stated he wished to have, a full, impartial, and searching inquiry. Now the composition of a Committee of this kind is of great importance, with a view to ensuring the impartial investigation which is desired; and I think, that if the hon. Member will postpone the appointment of the Members of the Committee until Monday, and if, as is usual, the matter can be settled by communications out of the House, a satisfactory arrangement might easily be made. I hope that the inquiry will be perfectly full and dispassionate; and if no change in the law should result from the appointment of this Committee (of which I will not despair) I am convinced that it is possible that great moral good may result from their labours; and if such an effect should be realized, I may say, on behalf of my colleagues, that they will greatly rejoice, and that every facility and assistance in the conduct of this inquiry shall be afforded by the Government.
Mr. Vernon Smith
wished to address a few words to the House before the Motion was agreed to. He must confess that he regretted the course taken by the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down, for he did think it would be much more expedient if Her Majesty's Government, seeing the great importance of the question, and—as the right hon. Baronet had admitted in the course of his speech—the growing feeling of disrespect for the game laws, which was extending throughout the country, had imitated the course pursued by Lord Grey's Government, and had brought in a Bill embodying their views on the matter, instead of leaving it to a Committee of the House of Commons to enter upon unnecessary inquiries. What would be the result of these inquiries? Neither the right hon. Baronet nor the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward the Motion had stated to the House how they proposed the inquiry should proceed, or to what objects it should be directed. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) had 86 stated, with great ability, the evil results of the present system. The right hon. Baronet, who next addressed the House, did not attempt to contradict the description which the hon. Gentleman had given of those evils, and yet he virtually consented, by agreeing to the appointment of a Committee, to allow all those evils to continue unabated for at least another season, since it was utterly impossible that the Committee could arrive at any conclusion in sufficient time to enable Parliament to legislate on the question in the present Session. What then was to be the result of the labours of the Committee? Were they merely to inquire whether the complaints which the right hon. Baronet had described as so amusing were exaggerated or not, or whether the battue system of sporting should be encouraged or discountenanced? A noble Duke had recently written a pamphlet on the subject, in which he proposed an assessment on game for its preservation; but when he came to consider how that assessment was to be made, he very properly and very naturally shrunk from the attempt. Were the Committee to direct their inquiries to that point, or did the right hon. Baronet mean that they should go into an inquiry into the nature of the tenant's tenure in every case, and the agreements by which game was to be preserved? If that were done, then he could tell the House that nothing could be more endless, and he would add, more improper in its nature, than the inquiry must prove to be. He thought the Committee, if appointed, ought to have their labours limited to an inquiry into the remedies by which the evils admitted to exist under the present system could be removed. There were not two Gentlemen in the House who would not admit the existence of those evils. The right hon. Baronet had stated that he was not furnished with statistics of the increase of game, but he could furnish him with some statistics of the increase of crime under the game laws, from the speech of the Duke of Richmond, in moving the commitment of the Bill of 1831, in the House of Lords. The noble Duke, in speaking of the old laws said,—The system was also attended with this baneful consequence—it increased and heightened the feuds between the higher, the middle, and the lower classes. By the 22nd and 23rd of Charles II., a penalty of 5l., or imprisonment for three months, was inflicted on any unqualified person for shooting at a 87 hare or partridge. When an unfortunate labourer committed this offence, what was the consequence? He could not pay the fine; he was incarcerated, and his wife and children were cast upon the parish. What must be the feelings of that man, when he saw a neighbouring gentleman allow his younger sons and his friends to do that, they having no right to do it, for which he was punished? He might be told that a poacher was a very worthless and bad character. He did not stand up there to defend poachers, but to deprecate the law which impelled individuals to become poachers. The labourer knew that, legally, he could not kill game, though it fed on his property; but he knew, also, that thousands in this capital would have game at their tables, and he felt that, by some means or other, the market must be supplied. The result was, that he became a poacher, and thus the laws gave to the poacher the monopoly of selling game. The labourer could not stand the temptation; it was too much for him. He violated the law, and after the first fatal step, he was too often hurried on, in his career of guilt and crime, till he finished a life of infamy on the scaffold, the victim of strong temptation. Would their Lordships believe, that in three years, from 1827 to 1830, 8,502 persons were, according to a document laid before the House of Commons, convicted of offences against the game laws in England and Wales, many of those individuals being under eighteen years of age?Such was the state of the law, and the amount of offences against it, prior to 1831; but it had been stated by the hon. Member for Durham that no less than 4,500 convictions for offences against the laws took place within the last year alone. Therefore they had the fact before them, that the convictions under the existing game laws, compared with the convictions under the game laws repealed in 1831, showed an increase of nearly two to one; and, with that fact ascertained, what advantage was to be derived from inquiries into details which they had already before them? He believed every Gentleman in the House would also admit the great increase in latter years in the quantity of game, to which the hon. Member for Durham had referred, and on that point, likewise, he did not think any inquiry was necessary. It would, he thought, be impossible for them to compel men to give up the preservation of game; but he considered they were bound to take from these game preservers any support which they derived from legislative enactments, which drew a distinction between game and other property. He might probably be told by persons acquainted with the subject 88 that there was very little difference between trespassers in pursuit of game, and trespassers for other purposes; but in the latter the punishment was under the Malicious Trespass Act to the amount of injury done, with a certain penalty beyond it; while, in the case of the trespasser in pursuit of game, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stepped in, and demanded a fiscal penalty. The offender was called upon for 2l. additional fine for not having a game certificate; and under the Assessed Taxes Act, it was probable that he would be fined a sum amounting to no less than 20l., and all the charges might amount to an aggregate penalty of 27l. He thought that an extreme hardship against such persons, and that the penalty against them ought not to be more severe than against any other trespassers. Under the old system game were regarded as feræ naturæ; but at the present day, when they were fattened in many cases as carefully as if they were fed in a coop, it would be absurd to apply such a term to them. And yet it was impossible to apply to game any of the three conditions which constituted property, namely, confinement, identification, and reclaiming; and, therefore, they could not hope to impress upon the minds of a large class of men any feeling of respect for game as private property in the ordinary signification of the term. He agreed with the hon. Member for Durham as to the absence of any moral feeling in the bulk of the community against the destruction of game. It was an offence not forbidden by any moralist who had ever written. It was, in fact, merely a statuable offence; and, under such circumstances, he would ask the House, with the hon. Member for Durham, were they to establish a penal code merely for their own amusement? He repeated that he could see no reason why offences against game should not be placed on the same footing as all other offences by trespassers. If a person broke down a fence, or stole a twig, the magistrates might fine him the amount of the property damaged or taken, and also impose a punishment, under the Malicious Trespass Act, for the crime; and he thought the same course should be adopted with, regard to game trespassers. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the late Act was indeed a change from the feudal system, and an attempt to make game be regarded more in the light of property than before. It was, therefore, calculated to do good as far as it went; but it promoted 89 many of the evils of which they now complained. It made the game laws more agreeable to the middle classes, but more odious than they had hitherto been to the poorer classes of society. It had been said that by adopting any measure which would diminish the number of game preservers, they would throw a great mass of unemployed persons on the labour market who were now engaged in the preservation of game, and that, therefore, some evil as well as some good would follow from a repeal of the existing laws; but he thought that was, after all, but a minor consideration in comparison with the great deterioration of morals to which the present game laws gave rise. No one could overrate that evil. In fact, the offences against the game laws appeared to him to be the beginning of nearly all the crime in the country. It was on these grounds that he would have wished the right hon. Baronet to introduce a measure for the repeal of the existing law, as had been done by the Government of Lord Grey, without the intervention of a Committee. [Sir J. Graham was a party to the introduction of that former measure, and could not treat it with so little ceremony.] The right hon. Baronet might have concurred in the measure ten years ago, and have seen reason to change his opinion respecting it since then; and, in fact, he was now consenting to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the very law which he then sanctioned. No man could venture to say that they might safely remove all laws relating to game, and introduce a system allowing any man to shoot day or night on every man's property; but some intermediate course might easily be adopted. He concurred with the hon. Member for Durham in commiserating with minor offenders in the punishments which were inflicted on them under the game laws, though he certainly could not say he felt great sympathy with those who suffered for murders which they had committed in the manner described by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman concluded by again expressing his regret that the Government had not taken a different course with regard to the matter then before the House, as the appointment of the Committee must be followed by a postponement of any remedial measure for another year.
§ Mr. Darby
thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. V. Smith) had involved himself in inextricable confusion 90 and difficulty in discussing this question. The right hon. Gentleman had objected to cumulative penalties, and had pointed out the difficulties attending the Trespass Act; but was he prepared to abolish game certificates, and to allow every person to carry a gun, and shoot over his land, the only remedy being a penalty for trespass? He considered that the right hon. Gentleman had involved himself in the utmost confusion; and he certainly thought that the hon. Member for Durham had evinced great prudence when he stated that he was not prepared to suggest any measure on this subject. He must confess that he thought no one could object to the tone by which the speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Bright) was characterized; and he could only express his hope that the hon. Gentleman would, on all future occasions, adopt a similar tone. If the hon. Member did that, he would not find that hon. Gentlemen connected with agricultural districts were unwilling to co-operate with him in promoting measures advantageous to the interests of the country. He must say—as had been stated by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham)—that some of the cases referred to by the hon. Member for Durham were a little exaggerated. The greater part of the hon. Gentleman's speech dealt with this question as between landlord and tenant; and he had stated that he was not prepared to recommend the House to interfere with private rights and property. Unquestionably the effect of these laws with regard to the good conduct and morality of the poor was a question well deserving the Committee's consideration; but if the hon. Gentleman believed that by abolishing the game laws he would remove all temptations to crime in the agricultural districts, and make everybody virtuous, he was utterly mistaken. He saw a great deal of the poor in the agricultural districts, and the great mass of them, as far as he had seen, were most grateful for any efforts to promote their comforts and welfare; but there were among them some who were disinclined to work. They sometimes heard of men who had families being apprehended for poaching, and expressing their willingness to work if they could obtain employment; but he believed that in most cases these representations would be found on investigation to be entirely unfounded. He considered that the right hon. Baronet had pursued the proper course in granting this Committee, if it was to be 91 a fair Committee, and especially if it was to investigate the most important part of the question—the moral effect of the game laws. He must say that the speech of the right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith) was one of the most extraordinary he had ever heard in that House; for, though the right hon. Gentleman urged that Government ought to have introduced a specific measure on this subject, he had shown the great and numerous difficulties attending such a course. He thought, therefore, that the difficulties and perplexities which encompassed the question fully justified the right hon. Baronet in declining to bring forward a Bill.
§ Mr. Francis Henry Fitzhardinge Berkeley
said, he was very unwilling that the debate should terminate without at least one Member of that House expressing his dissent from the positions which the hon. Member for Durham had assumed. It was not his intention to oppose the appointment of the Committee which the right hon. Baronet was prepared to concede; but he could not for one moment allow that the reasons which the hon. Member for Durham had stated for its appointment were valid and sufficient. Indeed, he thought the hon. Member for Durham owed the concession of this Committee to the peculiar course which he had adopted that night, so very unlike the course which had been adopted throughout the country by those persons, whether orators or writers for the press, who had advocated so strenuously the abolition of the game laws. He must say that the agitation which had been carried on in reference to that question, ever since the hon. Member for Durham gave notice of his Motion—an agitation with which the hon. Gentleman was connected, and in which he had taken part—was one, the character of which was anything but creditable. It was an agitation which, in his own opinion, was very well calculated not to forward the cause, but to make people look upon the course the hon. Member was pursuing with suspicion. He agreed on many points with the hon. Member for Durham. There was no person in that House who desired an abolition of the Corn Laws more than he (Mr. Berkeley) did. He was perfectly contented to be called anything which hon. Gentlemen pleased—a Radical, a Reformer, or if the right hon. Gentlemen opposite preferred the term, a Whig-radical—and to oppose 92 them as such; but he never would assume personalities towards those Gentlemen who were opposed to him, and he trusted that he would always be found to give them credit for proper motives when he happened to differ from them in opinion. Now, if he followed the agitation touching these game laws throughout the country, what did he find? From east to west, and from north to south, he found the landocracy held up as a set of tyrants. He found the hon. Gentleman setting himself forth as the farmer's friend, and in that character striving apparently to set the tenant-farmers and their landlords at variance. Now he did maintain that such a course of agitation was well calculated to prejudice the hon. Member's course; and he was very glad that on introducing the subject into that House he had adopted a different mode of proceeding. He had reaped the benefit of a course which he had now pursued by the Government conceding to him the Committee, for he verily believed that for that concession he was indebted to the moderation of the tone which he had assumed. But still he, for one, could not permit the opportunity to pass without expressing his dissent from the opinion that the game laws were in fault as regarded the crimes and offences which had taken place under them. They might just as well contend that any other statute besides the game laws was to blame for an excess of crime. Take, for instance, offences against the revenue laws. There was a great similarity in the character and pursuit of the smuggler and the poacher. There was something adventurous in the life of both, which had, no doubt, great charms for the wild and the dissolute, nor did such offenders lose caste with their particular class. But did the hon. Member know that at one time more murders were committed under the revenue laws, than were ever committed under the game laws? The hon. Member could not be ignorant of the fact that more violence was perpetrated, more murders were committed, under the former than under the latter. But did the Government, on discovering the extent of crime which prevailed under the revenue laws, immediately assume what the hon. Gentleman had assumed in the case of the game laws, that the laws should be abolished on account of the crimes which had been committed? No; instead of abolishing the laws, the Government 93 took the opposite course. They strengthened the executive power; they put on a blockade force; they adopted every means to check smuggling; and the consequence was that they did put down the evil. But the hon. Gentleman, and those who agreed with him out of that House, contended that the instant crime took place under a statute that statute should be abolished. Why, it was not the game laws alone which were disagreeable to a certain class of the community. There were other laws which were equally distasteful to one class of persons frequently referred to in the newspapers—the light fingered gentry. There were certain laws which were extremely disagreeable to that portion of society. But was he to be told that because an excess of crime arose under particular laws they were therefore to be abolished? Why, if they were to follow the hon. Gentleman's principle of legislation, the result would be this: If any body of men found particular laws disagreeable they would only have to offend against them, and to commit murders in doing so, in order to secure their abolition. Such a principle of legislation was of the most imbecile order. He could imagine nothing more monstrous and ridiculous. It was actually the principle of old Dogberry, the constable. If they took Dogberry's language, word for word, they would find the opinions of those who advocated the abolition of the game laws precisely similar to those of the weak old constable. If the House would allow him, he would point out the resemblance. Dogberry tells the watch (continued the hon. Gentleman), "that they shall visit all the ale-houses, and bid them that are drunk get them to bed." "How, if they will not?" ask the watch. "Why then let them alone until they are sober;" is his reply. The watch inquire, "If we know a man to be a thief, shall we not lay hands upon him?" "The most peaceable way for you," says the sagacious Dogberry, "if you do take a thief is, to let him show himself what he is, and steal out of your company." Exactly the non-interference principle of the hon. Member for Durham; with just this difference, Dogberry lets the thief go, the hon. Member for Durham would abolish the statute which detains him. The principle was the same; it was the principle of abolishing all statutes against which offences were committed. Such a 94 principle appeared to him, he repeated, to be absolutely monstrous, and he trusted that the House would not assent to it. Now, as the Committee was to be appointed, he did trust that it would be a fair one. He should like very much to hear to what point their labours were to be directed; for upon that subject he confessed that he was at present entirely in the dark. If they were to follow the course of the agitation, he must pronounce the inquiry to be absolutely absurd. The hon. Member confessed that he was perfectly ignorant of farming, that he knew nothing of sporting. He had shown a great want of knowledge of ornithology and natural history Hon. Members who came to that House impressed with the idea of the destructiveness of game, were utterly ignorant of the subject; and persons should know more about it before they took part in the discussion. He would appeal more especially to those hon. Members who were agriculturists, and who were not ashamed, also to be called sportsmen; for really, if be might judge from the accounts which he had read of this agitation, to be either an agriculturist or a sportsman was to be one of a denounced class. He would ask whether it would not appear from those accounts as though the pheasants, the partridges, and game in general, had not a moment to themselves from year to year, but were constantly employed in devouring grain? Now, did the hon. Member for Durham know that for six months in the year, pheasants and partridges could hardly be called granivorous? From the time when the power of the sun brings the insect world into life, from that moment the quantity of grain destroyed by pheasants and partridges was actually as nothing. He could tell the hon. Gentleman that he had seen pheasants on their nests tempted with grain, and actually turning away from it. He appealed to any hon. Gentleman whether he ever saw a pheasant go near a stack of barley, beans, or any other grain placed for its use, after the month of April? The fact was, that they fed on insects and grubs; and they were particularly destructive to that injurious insect the wire worm. It could not be pretended that they eat the corn in the month of May. The injury which they committed must take place when the grain was ripe. But whoever heard of a pheasant seizing upon ears of corn before the corn had been 95 cut? The pheasant, as many hon. Members whom he addressed well knew, if he might use the expression, was a gleaner and not a reaper. To judge, however, from the writings and speeches of those who agitated this question, and especially from those of the Anti-Corn Law League, it would appear as if the pheasants were continually eating wheat and barley. The most extraordinary statements were made, and the most extraordinary abuse was lavished on the proprietors. Pheasants' crops were dissected, and the grains of corn enumerated which they contained, without any consideration from whence and how they were obtained. Lord Normanton was visited with abuse for purchasing Mr. Henry Baring's property and preserving game, and Mr. Henry Baring was depicted as a kind of Robinson Crusoe, going about destroying game with four guns on his shoulder. With respect to the petition from Ruislip, presented that evening, he had no hesitation in saying, that the meeting at which that petition wag agreed to was a most disreputable meeting. He would tell the hon. Gentleman, that his friend Jenkins—the gentleman who was found speaking at that meeting, went to the beer houses on Saturday night, and treated the labourers, to get signatures to the petition. That he would prove; and he would prove likewise, that the petition was got up merely on account of a feud between two farmers, and, in point of fact, there was not game enough in the neighbourhood to injure any farmers whatever. But now, he would ask, what were the Committee to do with reference to this matter? Was the House to legislate so that game should be entirely extirpated in this country? Should they favour the intrusion of an armed rabble on landed estates? Should they deny to a man the right to possess the beast and the bird which he bred and fed? Something had been said about the impossibility or impropriety of making birds and beasts private property, because they had locomotive powers, and could not be identified. Why who could swear to a trout or pike: and would they hand over the Duke of Richmond's salmon to every one who pleased to catch them, because they could not be sworn to or identified! Who can swear to a dovecot pigeon? and yet he had seen 700 pigeons follow at the tail of a plough, and eat the good seed as fast as it was thrown down. But how 96 was the farmer protected against these depredators? Although these pigeons might destroy seed as fast as it was sown, and though it was impossible to identify them, a heavy penalty—a heavy penalty of half-a-guinea for each bird—was incurred by any person who killed them. The pigeon is to be protected, yet it will fly five miles to rob a farmer, while you deny protection to the partridge, on the ground of its wandering habits. You must protect both or neither, to be consistent. But how was it that the hon. Gentlemen (Mr. Bright) and his friends, who so frequently quoted the golden maxims of republican nations, had not referred to the game laws of any other country? Where was their pattern republic, their El Dorado—their Utopia—America? Why had not the hon. Gentleman referred them to that country? Because in America the game laws were infinitely more stringent and severe than they were in England. He held in his hand the game laws of New York, New Jersey, inclusive of Duchess County, Queen's County; King's County, and Suffolk County, he had selected States in which the negro and the white man were upon equal terms. Now, there a law existed protecting the birds and beasts during the breeding season; and though they might be considered as feræ naturæ in some States, yet he would show that they were treated strictly as private property in others. The penalty for shooting a deer out of season was twenty-five dollars; and the law went on from a deer through a number of other animals, down to the miserable musk-rat, for shooting which the penalty was one dollar. What would the House think if an hon. Member were to get up and propose a penalty of 5s. for killing a hedgehog? The magistrates of America, under this law, could act on an information, and if it was merely suspected that a green deer's skin was concealed in a man's house, they could issue a search warrant, to enter that house and make a search, and if a green deer's skin was found, the person was liable to a penalty of twenty-five dollars. For birds, also, the same kind of penalties existed; for killing grouse, or as they were called in some of the Acts heath-hens, for pheasants, for partridges, and quail; when he said pheasants he ought to explain that though this was the word he found in the Acts, the bird itself, he believed, was 97 really the pine partridge. The penalties were extended even to the migratory woodcock. Now let them turn to the laws of the State of New Jersey. That State more resembled England than almost any other State of the Union; it was very populous and fertile, and it was adjacent to the great cities of New York, and Philadelphia. The first game law of this State to which he should call their attention, although there might be others passed before it, was of the date of 1771, when New Jersey was a British Colony. That law prohibited any person from carrying a gun over another man's property without leave, under a penalty of 40s. and costs. There was the same penalty for setting snares for deer, iron spears, or pointed sticks, or for hunting with bloodhounds or beagles. If any stranger in the Colony should shoot over another man's land, without leave, he was liable to a penalty of 5l. and the forfeiture of the gun. Now, it might be said, that this law was passed in 1771. But when these republicans shook off the yoke of Great Britain, did they shake off the game laws? By no means. At that time they were not in a humour to find much to admire in British institutions; yet they found no fault with the game laws. In 1820 they increased their stringency; in 1837, they enacted a supplement to these laws, and in 1838, a second supplement. But there was one section of the law he ought to mention, which prohibited hunting even over the waste lands of the State. It enacted that all persons, except freeholders, or the sons of freeholders, above eighteen years of age, should be prohibited from hunting on the waste and unimproved lands of the State, under a penalty of 20s. for each offence. Now, at some future time the hon. Member for Durham would no doubt visit the city of Philadelphia, in which he would find many respectable men of his own peculiar class. He could say that for no class had he (Mr. Henry Berkeley) more respect. He numbered many friends among the Society of Friends, and he could say that that class was a most respectable, kind, and hospitable one. He had no doubt that the hon. Member for Durham would be made very welcome in the city of Philadelphia. There he would find the savoury venison well protected by law, pheasants, quails, partridges, and birds of all descriptions, with which the hon. Gentleman might amuse himself. But let the 98 hon. Gentleman beware how he carried that natural instinct which he said all men possessed, to kill game whenever they saw it; let him beware how he indulged his propensity for poaching in the adjoining State of New Jersey, because he would find it rather more expensive than in England. And let him give the hon. Member a word of advice; if he carried out with him one of Manton's or Purdy's guns, he might find the penalty, with the forfeiture of the gun, amount to 60l. or 70l. He had to thank the House for the patience with which they had heard him. He could only say, in conclusion, that he trusted that this Committee, be what it might, would prove successful. He would not oppose it; but what on earth its attention was to be directed to he could not conceive.
§ Captain Rous
said, there could be but one feeling in the House as to the moderate and statesmanlike speech which the hon. Member for Durham had made on this subject. At the same time, he was satisfied that many of his statements were exaggerated, for he had lived long enough in a sporting country to know that great exaggerations prevailed on this subject. He held in his hand a pamphlet published against the game laws which had already gone through three editions. It contained some statements connected with the estate of a noble relative of his own; and among other things, it was said, that one of the keepers had last year been destroyed by poachers. All he would say in answer to this was, that during the last three hundred years no gamekeeper had been hurt or murdered on that estate. Again, it was stated, that within a short time two keepers had shot themselves, from the fear that on the arrival of his noble relative at home they would be found fault with for want of game. This pamphlet had now been published for three months; and he hoped the House would excuse him if he were to defend the cause of his own brother. One of the keepers referred to, had been head keeper on the estate for thirty-three years; he had latterly fallen into a bad state of health, and wished to give up his place, but was prevailed upon to remain. Soon after he lost a child by death, and the sorrow so preyed upon him, that in a fit of despondency, he shot himself. It appeared that on the following day, another person who was head keeper of the greyhounds, had accompanied his wife to church; and on coming home, while his 99 children were playing at the door, he took down his gun, went into the garden, and whether voluntary or by accident, no one could tell, he shot himself also. All he could say was this, that if his brother or he had come a week sooner, they would have cheered up these men, and he firmly believed these melancholy occurrences would not have happened. The whole question of the game laws resolved itself into this,—If a gentleman with an estate of 4,000l. a year, wished to preserve game for the amusement of himself and his friends, it was absolutely necessary that he should deduct so much from the value of his rent roll. He knew many cases where game was preserved, which was let at 20 per cent. less than land where game was not preserved. That was the plain fact. The hon. Member for Durham contended that the preservation of game affected the morals of the labouring classes. But the very same argument would apply to shopkeepers exposing their goods. There was a tendency in a labouring man to steal a pheasant; but there was the same tendency in a starving man to steal goods wherever they were exposed. There was as much immorality in the one case as in the other. But the reason why a labouring man stole a pheasant rather than ducks or other fowls was, that the proprietor could swear to the identity of the one, and not to the other. He would as readily steal cattle; but he knew that he was liable to be hanged or transported for that; and he had no great taste for either of these punishments. For himself, he could say that he lived in a county where game was very strictly preserved, and there was not a better set of people in the world, nor more honest or industrious peasantry. There had not been an incendiary fire within ten miles of the place where he lived, and nothing could be better than the good feeling which existed between the landowner and the labourer. He would state an opposite case, which occurred in his county on the estate of an amiable nobleman, who had written a pamphlet on the game laws. That nobleman preserved his game, but after a peculiar fashion; he would not allow his keepers to watch at night, but he allowed his tenants to shoot upon his estate, on this proviso, that for fear of demoralising the people, they should not employ labourers on the farms. What was the consequence? The whole inhabitants of the parish where the noble Lord resided, were poachers; and they did not confine their poaching to their 100 own parish, but they intruded into other parishes; and when they were asked why they did not stay in their own parish—they answered, "because the pheasants there are so lean and starved they will not sell, and, therefore, we are obliged to come and steal yours." He might notice further, that all these people that were to be kept so pure and moral were most determined sheep stealers. That was the difference between a county that was well preserved, and a county that was not half preserved. He had no doubt that the game laws, like many other laws, required revision. All he asked was, that they should not go to the extent of destroying game entirely, but leave something to induce young men to live in their own country, instead of going to the Continent, for when once they acquired a taste of living abroad, they came home generally very insignificant and worthless members of society.
§ Mr. Hume
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol had strangely misunderstood the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Durham in bringing forward his Motion. The hon. Member (Mr. Berkeley) in travelling to America for an argument had made quite a mistake. If his hon. Friend was disposed to compare the laws of America with the laws of England, let him take them as a whole, and let there be a special discussion upon the subject. There might be some laws in America which he (Mr. Hume) should condemn, whilst there might be others which he thought might be introduced to the manifest improvement of our own; but in referring to them as he had, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Berkeley) had not done justice to the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Durham. His hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) did not wish to affect the property of any individual, but he wished for some alteration in these laws, because they had produced evils which no man could regard without being appalled. He (Mr. Hume) could not understand why his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol should not be as anxious for a Committee as his hon. Friend the Member for Durham, because he admitted public feeling was against these laws, and some modification was necessary in them. The hon. Member admitted this fact, and in proof of it he said societies had been established, and meetings held from one end of the country to the other, all denouncing the game laws. Could anything be stated more powerfully in support of the position 101 that the evils produced by these laws required a remedy? The hon. Member for Durham deserved great credit for the manner in which he had brought the question forward; and the country at large upon reading the speech he had delivered, would be deeply grateful to him for it. Look at the situation of the country under the operation of these laws. No less than 4,540 persons was the number annually convicted under them. In 1811 there were only 127 persons committed for game offences; and in the same year, 1811, the convictions for all offences in England and Wales were 3,163; whilst last year, those under the game laws alone were no less than 4,540. Was it possible for any man to hear this statement, and not see there was something calling for remedy? The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had been twitted for inconsistency, but he had shown the best possible spirit on this question; and he had done so evidently from a conviction that evils existed which ought to be remedied. He (Mr. Hume) thought inquiry ought to take place.
§ Mr. Liddell
had heard the speech of the hon Member for Durham with great interest—with considerable pain—as he alluded to the various points he brought before the House. He did not mean to oppose the appointment of a Committee; but he must own it would have been more satisfactory to him if the hon. Member for Durham, or any hon. Gentleman on his side of the House, had indicated in their speech some shadow of the alteration in the system which they expected as the result of the labours of the Committee. He might state that his paternal property was situated in a very populous neighbourhood—that it covered a large area of ground, and that for many years the game on that property had been strictly protected. He was bound to say with regard to that immense population that he had seen nothing of them, generally speaking, but the most excellent disposition and observance of the law. At the same time, evil dispositions did exist—it was with pain he had seen several outrages take place on his father's property. One case of murder had lately occurred, and four cases of frightful outrages on the person. The House would easily believe that, on such events occuring, the subject engaged the earnest attention of his father, and every member of his family. They were willing to sacrifice all the game on the property rather than have 102 a recurrence of such evils; but, after long and anxious consideration, they came to the deliberate conclusion that they would not consent to do any thing of the kind. Not so much for the sake of the game, but likewise for the security of the property, for the comfort of the family and the establishment, for the security of the ladies of the house in their daily exercises, it was necessary to keep watch, and to protect the property from marauders. He was anxious to see the game laws improved; but let the House take care that they did not make matters worse instead of better—because he was convinced that if the game laws were entirely done away, and if they were to depend entirely upon an extension of the Trespass Act, then, in populous neighbourhoods every third person would carry a gun; and on Sundays and holidays gangs of men would go about armed, disturbing in a very serious degree the peace of society. All these dangers must be avoided in making any alteration in the existing law. It was but fair to consider also who were the parties that were really to blame for these outrages. Let him put a case to the House. They all knew that in the immediate neighbourhood of this house there were beautiful walks and pleasure grounds laid out for the recreation of the inhabitants of the metropolis; and a society had been at the pains to stock them with waterfowl. They were to be seen there tame; and he believed they afforded great interest and amusement to the citizens. Now, what would be said of the man, who, because his family were starved, carried a gun into the park, shot two or three of the ducks, carried them away, and on being interfered with by the park-keeper, knocked him down with the butt-end of his gun. Who would be to blame in such a case—the law that protected the parks, or the man that broke the law? It was the same case with regard to the protection of estates. The question divided itself, as the hon. Member for Durham had stated, into two distinct heads. The first was with reference to the damage done by the game to the extent of agricultural produce they destroyed, and the other was to the outrages to which he had already alluded. With reference to the amount of food the game destroyed, he believed, with the hon. Member for Bristol, that that was very much exaggerated—that in almost every case it was a case between landlord and tenant, with which the House had no occasion to interfere—and the hon. Member 103 for Durham ought to recollect, when he next founded an argument against the game in his orations before the Anti-Corn Law League, that they destroyed such a quantity of human food—he ought to recollect that they themselves in turn became food—equally advantageous, equally palatable, and equally profitable in the market. He did not, however, as he had said, mean to oppose the Committee. On the contrary, it the hon. Member for Durham wished if, he was willing to become a member of it, and to enter upon the inquiry with as much moderation and impartiality as the hon. Member had brought forward his Motion, but at the same time he did not expect much good from it.
§ Mr. Aglionby
concurred in the propriety of bringing forward this Motion, and in the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. He certainly must say that he was surprised there could be found in the House a Member inclined to find fault with the course pursued by the right hon. Baronet. He did expect that much good would result from a full inquiry before a full Committee, where witnesses might be examined, and he believed the result would be, that a great many of the exaggerated statements that had gone abroad upon the subject would be corrected. He did believe that a portion of the statements which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Durham — and which, no doubt, that hon. Gentleman implicitly believed, not knowing so much of the country, and of the operation of the game laws as many hon. Members present—was exaggerated. The hon. Member said there had been an outcry against the game laws from one end of the kingdom to the other. Why, he had been in the north of England, and he had never heard of such an outcry. It might be that in Suffolk meetings had been got up for the express purpose; but in the north of England, in Cumberland, and in Westmoreland, nothing of such meetings had been heard, and, be it remembered, there were game preserves in those counties. Then, again, the hon. Member for Durham stated in his speech that this was a question between landlord and tenant, and he would have them to believe that the preservation of game was injurious to the cultivation of the soil. Now, he (Mr. Aglionby) did not believe that such was the case. In the part of the country to which he belonged, in Cumberland, and other parts of the north of 104 England, the properties generally were divided into small portions, the land was very well cultivated, and game was so divided that there was not above one hare for 500 acres. And he knew that there was a general kindness existing between the landlord and the tenant; that the landlords were generous men, and lived on the best of terms with their tenants; and that, too, where game was preserved. This was the state of things in his own immediate neighbourhood. He saw a Gentleman opposite to him who had large estates, not exactly near him (Mr. Aglionby), but certainly not very far off him, and who could bear out the statements he had made; and though game was preserved in that locality, there was not better cultivated land than was there to be found. He must say, that when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) quoted a comparative number of convictions of persons between the last year and the year 1811, in order to show the injurious effect of the game laws, he (Mr. Aglionby) was not at all convinced that the increase of crime was attributable to the operation of the game laws. The hon. Member said the offences now committed under the game laws were equal to all the offences committed in 1811. Now, that was not owing to the game laws, but to many other circumstances. Destroy all the game in the country, and that would not diminish the quantity of crime. He ventured to predict that if there was not a head of game in the country the property law would then be found fault with, as the game laws were now. If the hon. Member for Durham was to succeed in destroying the game laws altogether, and an end was to be put to battues, did they think that that would give satisfaction to the country? Did they not know that in the north of England, and in some parts of Scotland, where there were not many battues, that, without the inducement or temptation of seeing the game near them, persons came a distance of 20 miles from the mines, with guns, in pursuit of game? Now, that was not attributable to the game laws. He quite agreed with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department. Whatever alterations might be made in reference to these laws, he hoped they would have the result of improving the morality of the people. At some future period they should have more evidence on the subject, and for the present he would not go further into the 105 subject. He hoped the Committee would commence its sittings as soon as possible, so that their Report might speedily be laid on the Table of the House.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
agreed with what had been said by the hon. Member for Cockermouth. He would not say the same of the hon. Member for Northampton, who appeared to him in his speech rather to encourage a disposition in people to make inroads and destroy private property. He did not advocate the game laws, nor would he oppose the Committee. But he must say that the language of the hon. Member for Durham appeared to him to be consistent with all the speeches he made in this House, raising an impression in the country that there existed a bad feeling between the landlords and tenant farmers. He could not have a stronger proof that that was not the case than was shown by this circumstance—that when he was prowling about the country as the advocate of the Anti-Corn Law League he had only been able to pick six cases in which he had obtained information from tenant farmers as to the destruction caused on their farms by the game. It appeared that he had dropped into one of the most extensive localities in the United Kingdom—the county of Lincoln; and there he had met with one intelligent farmer, who told him that he would rather see the abolition of the game laws than the continuance of the Corn Laws. He could not tell where the hon. Member had picked up that one intelligent farmer; perhaps, as a friend near him had suggested, on the railroad. If that intelligent farmer had entertained the hon. Member with a hare or a pheasant, he wondered if the hon. Member would have rejected it? He was of opinion that the hon. Member would not—that if the intelligent farmer had presented him with a hare or a brace of pheasants, that he would not have been disposed to ask whether they had been shot by license or snared by a poacher. But let him tell the hon. Member for Durham to take care how he prowled about Lincolnshire; and though he had not taken out a game certificate for the last five or six years—though he cared nothing about game—yet, if he caught the hon. Member in that county, he would not be the last to assist in apprehending him, bringing him before a magistrate, who, he hoped, would inflict such a fine as was due to the punishment of such an interloper.
§ Mr. G. Berkeley
said, that the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, in bringing 106 forward the subject now before the House, differed materially from all the speeches of the hon. Member which he had heard or read previously. For his part, he (Mr. G. Berkeley) did not object to the appointment of the Committee which was the subject of the hon. Member's Motion, and he should not have risen to address the House if he had not been personally alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Bright). He could assure that hon. Member that the expressions to which he had objected in the pamphlet to which he had referred, were called forth by the observations of the hon. Member in other places. If the hon. Member had confined himself to such speeches as that which he had made tonight, and had he not thought fit to abuse the class to which he (Mr. G. Berkeley) had the honour to belong, he should not have published those observations to which the hon. Member objected. A great deal had been said of the injury which had been done to the property of the tenant-farmers under the operation of the game laws, and of the hardships which they suffered in consequence of that destruction of their property; but when this subject was under the consideration of the House, it ought to be recollected that the tenant-farmer took his land with a knowledge of the quantity of game upon it, and that in most cases he was remunerated for the loss by the low rate at which he was allowed to enter upon a farm so situated. It had been said that it was not the agricultural labourer, but the outcast wanderer who generally became the poacher; but to this statement he (Mr. G. Berkeley) could answer that, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, it was the labourer who was in constant pay and full employment who became the poacher of game. The outcast, the houseless wanderer, was as objectionable to the farmer and the labourer as the landed proprietor, and was generally known by the tenants and labourers, and feared by them, under the name of the tramp; so that to his case the game laws bore no relation. With respect to the influence on the increase of crime which was exercised by the game laws, he should read to the House a few returns of commitments, which he held in his hand, and which would show that the committals for crimes were less numerous in districts in which the game was strictly preserved, than in those districts in which it was not preserved so strictly. In the county of Stafford, where game was strictly preserved, the return of commitments 107 for all crimes for the years 1842, 1843, and 1844, was as follows:—In those three years, there were committed for all offences 8,446, and of these the number for offences under the game laws was 2,109; whilst in a district of large extent, where game was not strictly preserved, the cases of offences under the game laws amounted to 6,337 in the same period, leaving a majority of crime in unpreserved districts, in those years, of 4,228; so that, viewing the subject in proportion as to numbers in preserved and unpreserved districts, the game laws did not deserve the charge made against them of producing demoralization, inasmuch as more crime existed where game was not preserved with strictness. In the county gaol and house of correction at Taunton, in Somersetshire, the commitments for all crimes in the years 1842, 1843, and 1844, was 2,621, and of that number 77 were for offences against the game laws. How, then, could that return be said to show an increase of offences against the game laws in greater proportion than crimes of other descriptions? He would now take the gaol of Bury St. Edmund's; and he would beg of the House to see how the poacher and the common thief were one and the same delinquent, and to consider whether one was a more reclaimable offender than the other. In that gaol, the number of prisoners convicted of felony during the years ending Michaelmas, 1842, 1843, and 1844, was as follows; and the return which he held in his hand specified what proportion had been previously convicted of offences against the game laws, as well as those which had been convicted under the game laws for the three years named, and the proportion of these previously convicted of felony. In the years ending Michaelmas, 1842, 1843, and 1844, the number was—1842, males convicted of felony, 150; of poaching, 110: in 1843, of felony, 132; of poaching, 126: in 1844, of felony, 110; of poaching, 101; and on going through the table carefully, and comparing the number of cases of larceny and poaching for the three years, the result proved, that of every nine convicted of larceny, one had been a poacher; and that out of every twelve convicted of offences against the game laws, one had been previously convicted of larceny; whilst in 1844, there were fewer cases of poaching by nine than in 1842. Now, he would take the gaol and House of Correction at Ipswich; and it appeared that the total number of commitments 108 in the year 1842 was 463, and of these 48 were under the game laws. It 1843, the number was 585, of which number 60 were under the game laws; and in 1844, the number was 605, of which 52 only were under the game laws; showing in that instance, on comparing the year 1842 with the year 1844, that there was an increase in general crime, in the last year, of 242 cases, whereas in the crime of poaching, within the same period, there was only an increase of four cases. They would not find that poaching had increased to the extent which a great number of hon. Members appeared to think, and that whilst it might, like other crimes, increase in a certain proportion to the increase of population, it had not increased to the extent which some had stated, or become so serious in late years, in comparison with previous years, as some appeared to think. The hon. Member for Montrose had referred to the year 1811, in order to show that there was now an increase of commitments. How could that prove that the game laws were the cause of any increase, when they recollected that in 1811 the game laws were ten times more stringent than they were at present? When hon. Members spoke of the evil which was inflicted upon persons by the game laws, they overlooked the great good which landed proprietors did to the country. If they looked to the estates of those gentlemen who were strict preservers of game, they would find large numbers of the poor employed upon them, and great benefits extended to all around by their residence in the Country. It was said that a great number of the poor were unemployed in the agricultural districts. Would they, then, wish to deprive of employment all those who now were occupied in connexion with the preservation of game? Why should they take the bread from the mouths of the large numbers to whom the preservation of game gave employment, unless they were positively certain that they could substitute another law which would be better than that for the people in its operation. He had no objection to an inquiry. What he demanded was, that the tenants and farmers should not be set against the landlords by false reasoning. He did not like to hear his order, if they choose to call it so, represented as tyrants who did not care about the sufferings of the poor so long as their own enjoyments were not interfered with. To any inquiry in which the landed interest would be fairly represented, he should give his support; 109 and if the hon. Member should succeed in convincing him against his will, he would join his side, but as long as he had a voice or a pen he would not sit down and submit to that abuse for which the hon. Member for Durham had become so famous for directing against him and his order.
§ Mr. B. Escott
said, that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. G. Berkeley) had made a statement with respect to the game laws which was very important, and was one to which he could not give his assent. The hon. Member said, that the old game laws were more stringent and severe in their operation than the present game laws; and on that subject he (Mr. Escott) would join issue with the hon. Member, for he thought the existing statute was more stringent and oppressive than the previous one, inasmuch as the existing law, whilst it gave greater facilities for the disposal of game, increased the penalties for poaching. In one sense it added to the temptation, and on the other hand increased the penalty. They were all aware how much the Judges objected to a prosecutor placing temptations in the way of a felon, and that it was assigned as a reason for refusing costs to a prosecutor who had so acted. In this case, however, the game laws gave the greatest possible facility for the disposal of game by the poacher, which was difficult under the former law. There was another point to which he wished to direct the attention of the House, namely, the summary convictions under the game laws. He believed it would be more satisfactory to have a more common intervention of juries; for however high-minded and honourable the country gentlemen were, yet it would be more calculated to give confidence to those who were affected by the game laws, to have the cases tried before juries, than before a tribunal which, perhaps, they might suppose would be interested in the stringent operation of those laws. He was sure that every one who enjoyed the sports of the field would feel obliged to the hon. Member for Durham for affording an opportunity of showing that there was nothing tyrannical or oppressive necessary in order to encourage and maintain rural sports.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire had devoted much time to the investigation of facts connected with this subject, and what was his argument? That the offence of poaching was not usually committed by the houseless wanderer or vagrant, but generally by the regularly 110 employed and regularly paid agricultural labourer; that the offence was in ninety-nine cases out of 100 committed by the labourer: if that were true, was it an argument in favour of the continuance of the existing game laws? Must they not in such a case be productive of the most injurious and demoralizing effect on the people? What was the condition of the agricultural labourer who was detected poaching? Would the farmer employ him? No, he dared not; and if he did, he might lose the occupation of his farm. Would hon. Members say that a man who had been detected poaching would get employment from a farmer? [Mr. G. Berkeley: Yes.] He denied it, and his experience did not show him that such was the case. In the parish of Ruislip, with which he was acquainted, the farmers would not employ any man who had been detected poaching. Was it not astonishing that high-minded, kind-hearted gentlemen could sit down and enjoy themselves, knowing that any of their own pleasures had a tendency to produce misery to others? It was deplorable that an aristocracy said to possess so much good feeling and high-mindedness should be open to such a charge. There was one result which he trusted the Committee would produce, namely a discontinuance of the stupid and ridiculous battues. He had been a game preserver, and he had always acted on a system which effected his purpose without irritating and annoying those around him. He always said to a farmer, "Whenever you want a day's sport give me notice, and you shall have it," and that was a most successful mode of proceeding. He never prosecuted a poacher; but he remembered once catching one, and how did he act? He told the man that he was sure it must be distress which drove him to such conduct, for he could not believe that he would leave his regular employment and adopt such a dangerous course; and he added "If you are in distress come up to my house, and I will give you a joint of meat, and whenever your family are in distress, come to me again, and you shall have another." To that the man answered, that he might depend he never should catch him poaching there again, nor would he permit any one to do so if he could prevent him. Why did not hon. Members try that system, or something approaching to it, instead of framing a law, which if it found a poor man in distress, and without means of supporting his wife and children, inflicted such 111 severe penalties on him if he yielded to the temptation of killing a head of game? They might adopt a course which would allow them to enjoy their pleasures with a better appetite, and without creating in the mind of any poor man a rankling feeling of revenge. He believed that, ultimately, game laws must give way to the pressure of population. The population was increasing in vast numbers, and they had seen in all other countries that savage life disappeared before civilisation. The Red Indian had been obliged to fly before the civilised man, and the game would follow the same course in this country.
§ Mr. Newdegate
said, that he should not have addressed the House had it not been for several allegations contained in a petition against the game laws, which had been presented and subsequently alluded to by the hon. Member for Durham: the statements contained in that petition were no unfair instances of the exaggeration and fallacies which too often characterized statements on this subject. He (Mr. Newdegate) was well acquainted with the parish of Ruislip; he had been born in the adjoining parish of Harefield, where during great part of every year he resided; there he had for five or six years as a Magistrate attended on the bench before which all cases from Ruislip were tried. The first point in the petition to which he would allude was that stating the enormous quantity of game in Ruislip, where the quantity was nothing approaching that indicated by the petition; but the allegation which was most preposterous and the most untrue, was the complaint of the petitioners, that they were heavily rated for the maintenance of the police, whose almost sole occupation was the preservation of game and the detection of poachers. Now he could assure the House that in very few instances had he known policemen give evidence in cases under the game laws, except so far as related to the service of summonses issued by the Magistrates, and that in such cases he could not recall one instance of a policeman having appeared as the prosecutor. He assured the House that this statement was entirely without foundation, and he called upon the Home Secretary to ascertain whether there were any grounds for it. He rejoiced at the manner in which the Motion of the hon. Member for Durham had been received by the House, for it would prove to the country at large how ready the landed proprietors of that House 112 and of England were, to submit their pleasures, their pursuits, and their property to investigation, where even the shadow of public advantage could be anticipated from such an inquiry. He appealed to the conduct of the landed interest on the present occasion, in attestation of what he had stated with respect to the motives which as a body actuated that interest, when he lately addressed the House upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Bath. He begged to acknowledge the more moderate tone adopted that evening by the hon. Member for Durham; and would merely suggest to him how little the tone and doctrine of the Members of the Anti-Corn Law League in general tended to promote that good understanding and those kindly feelings between landlords and their tenants, which the hon. Member had that evening so eloquently inculcated. The hon. Member for Finsbury had prophesied that ere long game and game preservers would vanish from this country, retreating before civilization like the game and the red man in America. He (Mr. Newdegate) could not quite understand how far the hon. Member intended that comparison to apply to the country gentlemen of England: should it result in their non-residence, and the abandonment of game preserving, he doubted whether the country would be much benefited by the change. At present, whilst preserving game, gentlemen protected not only their own property, but that of the tenants upon their estates; at present, the best preserved districts were generally the most peaceful; but were the preservation of game abandoned, woods and moors would again become the lurking places of thieves, and an enlarged system of police would be required, the expense of which must be heavy, and would fall with peculiar severity upon those whose advocates the anti-game law agitators professed to be; and this merely because the owners of landed property were not to be allowed to guard that which was strictly their own in a manner that thus resulted to the public good. He would not ascribe such paltry motives for the residence of country gentlemen on their estates as mere amusement; but it seemed to be forgotten that most families consist of more than one—that whilst the father may be properly engaged in those more serious duties and pursuits which befit him, that the younger branches of the family can scarcely have better amusements than those which 113 are afforded by field sports. It was vain to philosophise and forget the real state of these things—in youth, men seek amusement and excitement, and if you deny it them in that which is manly and innocent at home, they will seek it elsewhere; and I appeal to the House, whether a lengthened residence abroad sends the young men of England home, better men, better members of society, or better citizens.
§ Mr. Cobden
said, that although there appeared to be a general concurrence, and a general approbation of the Motion proposed by his hon. Friend, yet there was a general disposition to impute to his hon. Friend's statements—exaggeration. He had observed, when an estimate was offered of the amount of grain consumed by game upon a farm there was a slight cry of "Oh, oh;" and he remarked to an hon. Friend who sat beside him that the country Gentlemen appeared to know less of the feelings of the farmers—he repeated that they knew less of the feelings, the circumstances, and the grievances of the farmers—than he and the other Members of the much-maligned Anti-Corn Law League. There was nothing of which the tenant-farmers complained of over their own firesides, and when released from the surveillance of proprietors, and gamekeepers, and watchers, so much as the game laws. ["Oh, oh"]. Let that "oh, oh" go forth to the country, and the people would say that the landlords knew less of the country than he did; nay more, he said that he had a larger correspondence with farmers, he had shaken hands with more, and had talked with ten times more tenant-farmers, than any other Gentleman in that House. With regard to the exaggerations imputed to the estimates of the cost occasioned on a farm by the damages of game, he could prove that these were not exaggerations. He was in Scotland last year, and received a letter from a farmer in the neighbourhood of Cupar in Fife, which he requested him to read to a public meeting. After stating the grievances that resulted from game, and expressing a hope that the Anti-Corn Law League would attack the game laws, as well as the Corn Laws, the letter went on to say, in order to give him some idea of the destruction oceasioned in that district by game, that upon about 700 Scotch acres of land held by the writer and four others from Captain Wemyss, the sum of upwards of 700l. was awarded to them in 1841 by the arbiters, and even then they were not indemnified for the losses sustained 114 from that cause. This, the writer observed, would show the loss of human food that was incurred by game being preserved by the aristocracy. The name of this tenant-farmer was Andrew Falton. There was nothing of which the landlords were so profoundly ignorant as the state of feeling amongst the farmers. Gentlemen talked of exaggerations, but they had not referred to the reports on the Table of the House. Was it not a monstrous evil that 4,500 persons should be convicted of poaching in one year in England and Wales, and forty transported? — that in ten years twenty men should have been shot? There were 60,000 persons who took out licenses; and in order that they should enjoy the indulgence of sporting, 4,500 persons were convicted, and forty transported, or, in other words, for every fifteen persons that went shooting, one man was convicted of the crime of poaching. He pleaded guilty to all that the Anti-Corn Law League had done to bring this question before the House; and it was by the feeling created out of doors that the House and the Government were reluctantly compelled to grant this Committee ["No, No"]. Why, he used the words of hon. Members themselves. The hon. Member for Bristol had told them that it was in consequence of the violent attacks upon the game laws out of doors that the Committee was conceded. He did not want to appear as the farmer's friend in this matter. The farmers were too much practised on already by professing friends; and the best service that could be rendered to the tenants was to dissuade them from trusting to professing friends in that House on either side, and to induce them to trust to themselves, and believe that any good which would result from this inquiry must result from their own determination, and not from legislation. The tenant-farmers must resolve when they look a farm to take all the produce of that farm. Was it not absurd that A should let a farm to B, and should then let to C the right of shooting over B's farm? It would be just as reasonable to let the farm, and then let to a butcher the right to turn his sheep or cattle on it. He did not believe that much good would result from this Committee—there were too many people in that House who took out licenses—but it would give an opportunity to the farmers to make known their grievances, and, if any good was to be expected, they must depend upon themselves and upon the middle classes to help them to get what they wanted.
§ Mr. Adderley
declared that there was no unwillingness on the part of the Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House to the appointment of the Committee. He did not think the destruction of food by game a proper subject of inquiry by the Committee, as that would involve a question of pounds, shillings, and pence, between the landlord and the tenant, in which the Legislature could not properly interfere. A more important consideration would be the alleged connexion of crime with the game laws; and if the Report of the Committee should establish the allegations made on that head, he for one would say, Perish the game laws and all the game in the country, if thereby crime would only be diminished.
§ Mr. Wodehouse
admitted the moderation which had been exhibited that night by the hon. Member for Durham, and which formed a strong contrast with the temper he had displayed on previous occasions. He and his friends had no objection to this inquiry, but he trusted that, let the result be what it might, the Committee would be a fair one. Nothing, he was convinced, would prove to be more groundless than the statements which were daily made by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the landlords were a selfish set, caring only for themselves, and not for their tenants.
§ Mr. Colvile
defended the conduct of certain magistrates of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, who had been referred to in the course of the debate, and stated that neither of them were game preservers. He was favourable to the sport of fox-hunting, and if the Report of the Committee led to any Bill, he should certainly propose a clause for the protection of foxes as well as of hares and rabbits.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that the hon. Member for Stockport was mistaken in supposing that there was any reluctant acquiescence on the Ministerial side of the House to the Motion made by the hon. Member for Durham, or (to use his words) to a full, dispassionate, and impartial inquiry into the operation of the game laws. He had had an opportunity of conferring that very day with a very large portion of agricultural Members and others sitting on the Ministerial side of the House, and there was a unanimous feeling that the inquiry ought not to be resisted. They did not anticipate, he must own, so temperate a speech from the hon. Member for Durham as that which he had made; but at the same time their view was not altered by the expectation of 116 a more violent speech from that hon. Member, and therefore he assured the hon. Gentleman who had spoken of a reluctant acquiescence, that his impression was entirely incorrect. They thought that the evidence of increasing poaching, and the apparent connexion of crime with the game laws, constituted a justifiable reason for any hon. Gentleman asking for inquiry. In his (Sir R. Peel's) opinion this view was a perfectly just one. Having before them evidence of an increase in crimes, resistance to inquiry would have been unwise; but he must own at the same time, that it would be unwise to entertain very sanguine expectations with respect to the effect of any alteration. The prejudices against the game laws arose from the excessive preservation of game in certain districts. Where game existed to a moderate extent, they would find no great amount of crime, and the existing game laws worked well. If, however, they were to make any alteration of the law with the view of applying it to the excessive preservation of game, they could not restrict it to particular localities, and it might injuriously affect a much larger portion of this country where the game laws worked well, and where there was no ground for interference. He believed that on the whole the effectual way of dealing with this subject would be by a social and moral change, rather than by a legislative one. They who preserved game would do well to consider whether or no it were wise to preserve game to such an excessive extent as prevailed in some parts. This was the way in which he anticipated a useful result; and he believed that evidence might be adduced which would bring home conviction to almost every Gentleman, that it was his duty, not enforced by law, but a moral duty, not to keep up any excessive preservation of game. What objection could there be to a tenant, before taking a farm, making strict conditions with respect to game? It would be perfectly fair for the tenant, whether a tenant at will or by lease, to stipulate with his landlord, that he should not let the game, and that he should have the exclusive right to the game on his ground. He apprehended that the law as it stood would give the tenant the exclusive right to the game if there was no reservation; and if the tenant objected to take a farm with a reservation, he could do so. The remedy, in point of fact, was in the hands of those who made their contracts on taking farms. His impression was, that tenants would consider this subject, and before 117 taking farms would make stipulations of that kind. Much evil had arisen from tenants entering into contracts with their landlords under the impression that their landlords only desired the game for their own amusement, or that of their friends; and after that the estate was let to other parties, with whom this understanding did not exist. He thought that the amusement of sporting had been almost destroyed by the extent to which the system of preserving game was carried, and they would find more pleasure in sporting after the fashion of their forefathers, than by accumulating great quantities of game, holding out there-by a temptation to crime difficult to resist. He hoped that improvement would be effected rather from consideration on the part of landlords than by an alteration of the law; for he despaired of seeing any alteration of the law which would not affect the rights of property, and thereby introduce more evils. If they abolished the game laws and allowed everybody to kill game, as being animals feræ naturæ, he feared that the state of lawlessness and insubordination which might thereby be occasioned would cause the occupying tenants more injury than the present system. It was said, that the permission to sell game was the cause of evil, but let them not hope they could revert to the former system. He recollected the discussions which induced the House to make the alteration; and it was proved that the law was evaded, and that under the old system any person might get game whenever he wanted it. So again, with respect to the qualification; what could be more rational or just than to permit every person, without reference to his status in society, to provide himself with a license to kill game? Let it not be supposed possible to alter the law in these respects. He cordially concurred in the appointment of the Committee, and he hoped that they should approach the consideration of the subject in the same temper as had been displayed during the present debate. As he stated before, he despaired of making any important improvement in the law; but all game preservers would do well seriously to consider whether it was not in their power to apply a remedy to the evil, by modifying their own conduct according to the change of circumstances and the existing feeling of the country. He strongly advised all parties to enlist on their side rather more than at present the feeling of the occupying tenant, by associating him in some degree with themselves in their amusement of sporting. With 118 respect to the four-footed species of game, hares and rabbits, he believed that the complaint against their excess was well founded; but if the landlords permitted their tenants, with certain restrictions, either to destroy or derive some enjoyment from the game, he believed that such arrangements would be attended with advantage. He repeated, that with respect to the Gentlemen with whom he had conferred that day, nothing could be more disinterested or more honourable than their conduct; nothing could be more marked than their desire that there should be a full and impartial inquiry; and nothing could be more proper than their consideration with respect to the morals, the peace and good order of society. The mere preservation of game was a subordinate consideration; and he repeated that, regardless of any taunts, nothing could be more cordial than their desire to co-operate with hon. Gentlemen opposite, in order to make the fullest inquiry.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Committee to be nominated on a future day.