§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
said, that all would agree with him that it was a desirable thing to take measures for the prevention of those breaches of the law which were of such frequent occurrence in the winter season, and which led often to violent conflicts between poachers and gamekeepers, and occasionally resulted in murder. As he understood that objections would be taken to details of the Bill, he should not enter more fully into the subject until he heard what the objections were; and he should therefore content himself for the present with moving that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."377
§ MR. MAINWARING
said, he would second the Motion. He might remark that his keepers' time was taken up by keeping off men who were employed by neighbouring gentlemen to search for the eggs of game.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he was rather surprised that the second reading should have been moved that day, the Bill itself having been printed only the day previous. He thought when the character of the measure was known and its details carefully examined, the House would be of opinion that it was not a Bill which should pass as a matter of course, or be hurried through the House without the country having a full opportunity of knowing what its provisions were. The Bill, in the first place, would increase, to a very great extent, the stringency of the existing game laws, and in addition it would give very arbitrary powers to individual policemen, who, acting upon mere suspicion, might search and apprehend persons on suspicion of having game or guns in their unlawful possession. The Bill, too, contained this radical defect that it did not define what was meant by "the unlawful possession" of game and guns, but left that question to the decision of the policeman. He was not prepared to deny that the subject well deserved the consideration of the House. He would admit that poaching was carried on in a few counties at night by armed gangs although the law was very severe in visiting offences of that kind on the conviction of the offenders. That practice was productive of the greatest evils, and it might well be deserving of the consideration of the House whether some additional measures should not be taken to check practices, which, evil in themselves, led to other evils, and involved the persons concerned in them sometimes in the commission of the greatest crimes. But he was not aware of any such urgent or special necessity at the present moment for provisions such as those contained in the Bill, or even for any new law on the subject, which ought to induce them, without the most careful investigation, to pass a law which had every appearance on the face of it of having been framed with the greatest haste, without due consideration, and in a manner not calculated to effect the objects of those who were the promoters of the measure. Towards the close of the last year he had received a memorial on the subject 378 of poaching signed by twenty-eight chief constables of counties, and on the face of the memorial the chief constables stated that they were most anxious that the constabulary should not be employed directly or indirectly in the preservation of game. He did not say whether the House would agree in that opinion; but, founded as the Bills upon the subject that had been introduced into that and the other House of Parliament were upon the memorial, he thought it right to call attention to the fact that the chief constables themselves did not ask for the specific legislation which was now proposed. With respect to the number of murders and murderous attacks arising from night poaching which were said to be of monthly occurrence, some useful information had been received from the chief constables. Ten of them made returns of nil; so that in ten counties, the chief constables of which had signed the memorial, not a single case of the kind had occurred. But, on the other hand, it was not to be denied that in two or three counties assaults between keepers and poachers had been of frequent occurrence, and had often resulted in the death of the keepers and the most disastrous consequences to the persons who had committed the offence. The present Game Laws prevented persons from killing game without a certificate, and even those who might have a certificate were not allowed to trespass upon another man's property: if they did, they might be arrested by the person on whose land they were trespassing; and if they refused to give their names and addresses, might be taken before a justice of the peace as soon as possible; but in any case they were not to be detained more than twelve hours. But there was another Act—one of the severest upon the statute-book—with reference to night poaching, which was intended to be amended by the Bill before the House. "Night" was defined in that Act to extend from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise; but in the Bill under discussion night was assumed to extend from sunset to eight o'clock on the following morning. Under the present law, a person, trespassing in pursuit of game might, on a summary conviction, be subjected for the first offence to imprisonment for three months, with hard labour, and be obliged to find sureties for good conduct for a year; for the second offence he might be imprisoned for six months, and be compelled to find 379 sureties for three years; and for the third, which was an indictable offence, he might be condemned to penal servitude. A servant might pursue and apprehend a night poacher, and in case of violent resistance the latter might be subjected either to penal servitude or to a corresponding term of imprisonment. Right of appeal, however, was given to the sessions against summary conviction; but he found nothing about such an appeal in the Bill. So far as night poaching was concerned, he did not think the existing law at all deficient in severity. It was said, however, that the law could not be enforced, because, he supposed, the keepers failed to apprehend the poachers, or did not pursue them and apprehend them as they might do when they endeavoured to escape, and therefore it was thought desirable by the framers of the Bill to give powers to the police to intercept persons who were suspected to be poaching at night, to carry them before a magistrate on the charge of having game, guns, or nets unlawfully in their possession, and the magistrate, if not satisfied with the account which the prisoners gave, might commit them to the petty sessions, and the petty sessions might, without appeal, inflict a fine of £5, and in default commit the accused to prison for two months with hard labour. The Bill, however, must be considered in all its parts. The first power which the Bill professed to give to the police between sunset and eight o'clock next morning was that they might stop and search any person whom they suspected of being in unlawful possession of game, hares, and even rabbits,—for it extended to rabbits, though rabbits were not by the existing law included under the head of "game." But where would the hon. Baronet find a definition of unlawful possession of game on the highway? By the Game Act, indeed, unlawful possession was defined to be the possession by a dealer more than ten days after the expiration of the season when it is lawful to kill game, and by any other person more than forty days after the expiration of the season. This Bill assumed an unlawful possession which the law had not defined. He was not aware of any law which made it unlawful to be in possession of game on the highway, even if it had been killed unlawfully. He would ask the hon. Baronet to say what, if the Bill passed, would be the position of a railway carrier, or a gentle- 380 man in his carriage, who might be in possession on the highway of game by whomsoever it had been killed. The Bill assumed an unlawful possession which as yet was undefined, and would therefore be inoperative, for any person taken before a magistrate must be discharged, because there was no law to enable the magistrate to convict him. It might be desirable to make it unlawful for poachers to have large quantities of game in their possession on a highway; but the defect in the Bill was, that it did not allude to poaching. Its framers had not investigated the present law, and they had assumed that game killed by an un-certificated person, in the possession of a third person, was unlawfully in his possession, whatever he was going to do with it; and, assuming that, they proposed that a police constable, on suspicion of such unlawful possession, of which he was to be the judge, was to apprehend a person and take him before a magistrate. It would be monstrous to leave it to the judgment of an individual policeman whether Parliament meant such a possession of game to be unlawful. The question of the unlawful possession of game killed by poachers was, to a certain extent, before the courts of law. That was an additional reason why they should wait until they saw, upon the highest authority, what the law was. In the course of last year Lord Exeter's keepers seized some rabbits which they said were unlawfully killed on their master's property; an action for trover was brought against the keepers, and Baron Wylde laid down the law, that though the killing of game might have been an unlawful act, yet game once killed became the property of the persons in whose possession it was. The Court of Common Pleas, however, acting, he believed, on the authority of Lord Holt, decided, that if a person started game—animals feræes naturæ—on a man's land, and killed it on the land, the game was the property of the owner of the land, and he had a right to take it wherever it was found; but if the game, when started, once crossed the boundaries into the land of another person, then it became the property of the man who killed it. That question had been carried to a court of error, and when decided they would know what the law on the subject was. He wished the House to mark the stringency given to the Game Laws by the provision in the Bill, that a constable might search any person 381 or persons whom he had good cause to suspect of having unlawful possession of game. There were many individuals besides poachers—uncertificated persons, for instance—who violated the law by shooting without a licence, and, according to the Bill, they were liable in returning home after sunset — not an improbable occurrence in November or December—to be stopped by any constable; and, though they gave their names and addresses, they might be searched, taken to the nearest lock-up house, which might be ten miles off, and afterwards carried to the nearest magistrate, who might reside another ten miles off, and who might send them to the petty sessions, which possibly would not be held until after a period of ten days. There they would be subject to a penalty of £5, or imprisonment for two months. All that time, too, they were liable to penalties under the Game Acts, and might be prosecuted for trespass, as well as punished under the fiscal laws for having no licence. The Bill also authorized a constable to search any one who had a gun or engine which had been used, or could be used for the destruction of game—and he might apprehend him if he were in possession of game, or a gun, or a part of a gun, engine, or net—the powers of apprehension after search being larger than the powers of search. It did not follow that the gun or engine should have been used for the destruction of game, though, no doubt, that was the intention of the framers of the Bill. He did not wish to be over critical, but he observed that "constable or police officer" was used as the antecedent of the word "they," and he adverted to that circumstance simply because it appeared to him that every part of the measure bore the mark of haste, and manifested the almost indecent want of consideration with which the Bill had drawn up, though it had undergone the revision of a Select Committee of the other House. Under its provisions, a constable would be authorized to stop, search, and detain any cart or other conveyance in or upon which there should be reasonable cause to suspect that "any such game, hares, or rabbits, gun or part of gun, &c.," were being carried. That was a power that did not exist with regard to stolen property, for a constable could not stop a carriage except under the Metropolitan Police Act, the operation of which was limited to the metropolitan district, and detain the person in charge of it without 382 a warrant, and merely on the suspicion that such person had property unlawfully in his possession. The clause went on to say, that should the constable find in the conveyance any game, hare, or rabbit, &c., supposed to be in the unlawful possession of the person in charge of the conveyance, public or private, then the constable was entitled to apprehend the person, without the slightest proof that the game or other article was unlawfully possessed. He had already said that there was no limit as to the time when the person so apprehended was to be taken before the justice of the peace. There was not even the protection afforded in other Acts by the use of the words "as soon as conveniently may be." The third clause enabled all the penalties under the Bill to be recovered in the same manner as under the Game Acts; but it did not give, like those Acts, the right of appeal. The latter part of the first clause provided that the game, guns, &c., seized by the constable might, after the conviction of the offender, be sold by order of the justices, the proceeds to be paid to the treasurer of the county, and applied to the purposes of the county rate. Now, as the law stood at present, no one but a licensed dealer could sell game, and he was not sure that a county treasurer, acting under this provision, might not be held to be in unlawful possession of money derived from such a source. Having stated his objections generally to the Bill, he wished to add that he did not mean to deny that the subject deserved consideration; and having already, in answer to a question addressed to him, expressed his willingness to consent that early in next Session an inquiry on the matter should be carried on by a Select Committee, he would recommend that the Bill before the House should be withdrawn, with the object of giving further time for the consideration of the question.
§ SIR HENRY STRACEY
said, he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have spoken in the terms he had used of a Bill which had received the sanction of no less a person than the Lord High Chancellor of England. Surely such a Bill could not have been prepared with haste or without consideration, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman opposite was paying that high functionary a poor compliment in endeavouring to turn the Bill into ridicule. He had waited with a deputation on the right hon. Baronet; but though he had tried on several occasions 383 to obtain the advice of the right hon. Baronet, he would not listen to a word from him. When the right hon. Baronet's attention was directed to the prevalence of poaching, his answer was, "You have too much game; the country has too much game." Though twenty-eight constables and a great portion of the magistrates of England had memorialized the right hon. Baronet on the subject, and though his own Government Inspector had made a recommendation to him in words similar to those introduced into the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman had done nothing whatever to remedy that crying evil. Some remedy was certainly needed, for in many parts of the country gangs of poachers prowled about, not merely composed of persons who resorted to these proceedings from necessity, but putting a necessity upon the owners of game to retain a strong force of keepers for its preservation. Why, the right hon. Gentleman should throw the mantle of his protection over the poacher he could not understand. He believed it would be found that the poacher was invariably the thief in his neighbourhood. [Sir GEORGE GREY: No, no!] He could quote cases proving the correctness of his assertion. [The hon. Member cited instances in which convicted poachers had been identified as having been concerned in robberies, or attempted robberies.] The police generally prayed for the right of search, as they believed that if that power were given them, they would be able to prevent a vast deal of robbery which took place throughout the country. At present poachers were allowed to pass freely along the highway, their carts and bags being assumed to contain only game, though they sometimes contained property which had been obtained by burglary. On one occasion a cart which was stopped and searched was found to contain apparently only hares and pheasants. As their weight, however, excited some suspicion, they were opened, and were then found to be stuffed with silver spoons and forks. Within the last two or three days they were told that by application to the proper office they could obtain judicial statistics of 1861. Now, he had seen those statistics, and to his surprise it would appear from them that night poaching had decreased. He believed that that was a great error, as he had no hesitation in saying he could furnish testimony to prove that instead of that crime having decreased it had con- 384 siderably increased. It appeared that those statistics only embraced a quarter of the year, instead of the whole year, leaving out of calculation the vast number of offences that were committed out of what was called the game season. Whilst the right hon. Baronet was throwing the mantle of his protection over the poacher, he was in effect, shielding the worst thieves from the penalties of the law. He (Sir Henry Stracey) had been threatened with all manner of things if he ventured to support the Bill, and amongst other threats he was warned that "Henley would pitch into him." Well, he had a great respect for his right hon. Friend, but all he could say to that threat was, that if his right hon. Friend did pitch into him, he did not apprehend that he would, to use his own phrase, "Come with a very ugly rush." But be that as it might, he could not help feeling that he was taking the right course in giving his support to the Bill; and if his right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary refused to countenance such a measure, they must each be prepared to bear his own share of the responsibility which declining to take any steps to prevent the disasters which were likely to occur during the ensuing season would involve.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he could hardly suppose that it was seriously intended to immortalize a Session in which so little had been done in the way of legislation by the enactment of a more stringent game law. The principle of the Bill under discussion might, he thought, very fairly be described to be a proposal to turn the county police into gamekeepers. ["No, no!"] That, of course, was not the object of its promoters; but such, at the same time, was the opinion which would, he believed, be entertained with respect to it out of doors. There was, moreover, no doubt, that if it were to pass into a law, many gentlemen would have defrayed out of the county rates part of the cost which they now paid for an amusement; and that it would be impossible to prevent the impression from prevailing in the minds of the public that the preservers of game throughout the country, who were, generally speaking, also magistrates, would make use of the services of the police for their own purposes, in a manner very detrimental to the performance of their regular duties. He might also observe, in reply to the observations which had fallen from the last speaker, that the kill- 385 ing and taking away of animals or birds feræ naturæ was an offence with regard to which the notion very generally prevailed among the people that it was not to be placed in the ordinary category of theft. He therefore thought it would be somewhat unfair to brand as a thief the man who happened to break the law under that head, although he was quite ready to admit that constant opposition to the law in one direction was not unlikely to conduce to its violation in another. Hon. Gentlemen ought to consider whether it was becoming in them to insist so much as they did on the right to preserve game, and whether by so doing they were not creating incentives to crime by placing temptation in the way of the poorer classes. He wished simply to add, that being strongly of opinion it was not expedient to make the law with respect to game more stringent than it was, he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ MR. HUNT
said, that the minute criticism on certain provisions of the Bill in which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had indulged, afforded no valid grounds for rejecting the principle which it involved. He therefore trusted that the House would agree to the second reading, when all the objections of the right hon. Gentleman could be considered in Committee. For his own part, he must protest against allowing a state of things any longer to continue under which a law imposing severe penalties on those who broke it was rendered totally inoperative. He was intimately acquainted with districts in which the evil of gang poaching existed to a very great extent. He could point out railway stations at which gangs of men took their tickets for a particular train, equipped with all the appliances for the purposes of night poaching, just as if they were going upon a lawful errand. If he happened to be asked by an intelligent foreigner why such a state of things was permitted by the law—why men were suffered to go in bodies to destroy the property of others, their depredations leading but too frequently to bloodshed, sometimes to mur- 386 der, and why the police did not prevent the commission of such offences, he could only say in reply, that there were stringent laws against these depredations, but that the police were not allowed to interfere to prevent them, and that it was only when blood was shed their services were called for. Could the Secretary for the Home Department honestly contend that that was a wholesome position of affairs? It was said, indeed, in opposition to those who sought to provide a remedy for it, that the effect of their proposal would be to convert the police, who were paid out of the county rates, into assistant gamekeepers. He, for one, had no wish to do that; but he, at the same time, must strenuously contend that it was monstrous not to allow the police to apprehend men whom they knew to be going upon an unlawful expedition which might end in the sacrifice of life. By the Act passed under the auspices of the late Lord Campbell for the better prevention of offences, persons found out in the streets at night with crowbars or other house-breaking implements in their possession, or with their faces blackened or disguised, with intent to commit a felony, where declared to be guilty of a misdemeanour, any person being empowered by a section of the Act to apprehend those who furnished such evidences of guilt. Now, the principle set forth in that Act was, he maintained, quite in accordance with the principle of the Bill under discussion. He might further observe that it would be a matter of no difficulty to put a specific interpretation on the words "unlawful possession," on which the Secretary for the Home Department had commented, while it would be scarcely fair to reject the second reading of the Bill because those words might be deemed a little vague. Other objections on points of detail had been advanced, which might also, he thought, be very well disposed of in Committee. It was, however, said that it was desirable that legislation on the subject should be postponed till next year, when further inquiry with respect to it might be instituted. His answer to that argument was, that if another winter were allowed to pass by without any steps being taken to guard against the evils of which he complained, it might be found that the result would be the murder of many keepers, and the seduction from a life of honest industry into one of vice of many a young man throughout the country. But, in 387 order to show that those who supported the Bill were not disposed to press on legislation in the matter with undue haste, he would recommend the hon. Baronet who had charge of it, to assent to its operation being limited to one year, by the end of which time Parliament would be enabled to judge whether or not it was desirable that it should continue in force. If that were done, the House would, he hoped, have no difficulty in agreeing to the second reading.
said, he had not risen immediately after his hon. Friend behind him (Sir H. Stracey) had resumed his seat, lest he should suppose that he meant to "pitch into him," which he was by no means, anxious to do. On the details of the Bill before the House, he added, he would say but very little, inasmuch as they had been effectually disposed of by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. The observations which he had to make would therefore be mainly directed to its principle, and he might state at the outset that he would go as far as any man in supporting a measure which had for its object the suppression of violence and crime, provided only that such a measure was proved to be necessary. Had that, he would boldly put it to the House, been done in the present instance? Why, the promoters of the Bill had not attempted to lay before the House any such proof. He denied that the crimes with which they proposed to deal had increased to such an extent as to call for such legislation as they asked the House to sanction, while it was his honest conviction, that if the Bill were passed into a law, its tendency would be to augment rather than diminish the offence of gang poaching, against which it was specially directed. It had, he might further observe, been strongly asserted in the course of the discussion, by the supporters of the Bill, and assented to by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), that poaching and thieving were identical terms; and it had fallen to his lot, as well as to that of most other magistrates, to see a memorial containing allegations as to the close connection between the two classes of offences. He was induced, by an inspection of that document, to apply for a record of the state of things in his own county prison, and he subsequently applied to the Government for a statement with respect to all the prisons in England and Wales, showing 388 the number of persons confined in them for the last seven years, and at any time previously committed for poaching. The Return was a searching one, and he was, he must say, greatly surprised at the strong assertions which were made on the face of it. It showed that the number of persons committed to the various county prisons in England and Wales during the period he had just mentioned amounted to 190,000. From that number he thought it only fair to deduct the committals to Newgate, Clerkenwell, and Westminster gaols, inasmuch as poachers were not so likely to find their way into those places. Deducting, then, those committals, which amounted to 51,000, from 190,000, he found that there remained 139,000 as the number of those confined in the county prisons of England and Wales within the last seven years. Now, how many out of the 139,000 did the House suppose had been previously convicted of poaching at any period of their lives? The whole number, it appeared, of prisoners who found their way into confinement under that head was 2,088. That fact was, he thought, of some weight in opposition to the assertion that every poacher was a thief, and that those terms were interchangeable. He would next, with the permission of the House, state how many persons had, during a period of fourteen years, actually passed through the prisons on account of poaching. He had been able to procure Returns on the point only up to 1854–5, and from those Returns he ascertained that between 1841 and that year the mean average of persons confined for poaching was 3,200 per annum, giving a total for the whole period of 45,000 in round numbers. Then, in the case of gang poaching, with respect to which he wished to give the House figures bearing upon a series of years, he found that the number of persons who had been committed during the five years from 1842 to 1846, inclusive, for being out armed, taking game, and assaulting gamekeepers, was 671, while for the next five years it was 711. In the next five years, which were not only a period of comparative ease and comfort to the people, but in which there was a great demand for army services, carrying off a great many loose fish, the number of crimes decreased from 711 to 464. In the last five years, ending in 1861, the number amounted to 520. Last year the number was 111, showing an increase over 1860, when the number was 87, but showing a decrease as com- 389 pared with 1859, when the number was 132. The increase last year, as compared with 1860, arose almost altogether in Staffordshire, where there was an increase of 23 cases. What, however, would be the effect of the Bill? It said nothing about gangs, but gave power to the police to apprehend single individuals. At present gang poaching was confined to a comparatively limited number of counties. What would be the consequence of passing the Bill in all those counties where gang poaching did not now prevail? The police patrolled single-handed all over England, with no one within reach to aid them, without rattles or whistles by which they could get help. Directly the Bill became law it would be their duty to prevent every single sneaking poacher from getting home with his spoil. Could anybody believe that the effect of that would not be to make poachers go out in gangs of twos and threes, fours and fives, so that a single policeman patrolling in the dark, without assistance, would always be met by three or four sturdy fellows able to pound him into a jelly? It would be necessary to double the patrols, or, in other words, to double the present force of police. The House had been told that the Bill was not a measure for preserving game, either directly or indirectly. He asserted, on the contrary, that they were going to transfer the battle from the keeper to the policeman. Somewhere or other, a single policeman would be half murdered by a gang of poachers, and then representations would be made for an increase of the force. But, it was said, the police would patrol together near towns, where the poachers started from, and thus prevent any mischief being done. Would not that take the police from their proper duties? His honest belief was, that the Bill, instead of preventing gang poaching, would drive persons all over England to associate together in bands, and so lead to an increase in crimes of violence. There was nothing in the public Returns to justify such legislations. The cry for it had sprung out of the memorial of the chief constables. It had already been pointed out that of the twenty-eight gentlemen who signed that memorial eleven were the chief constables of counties in which no crimes of the sort had been committed. One of the allegations in the memorial was, that murders or murderous attacks were almost of monthly occurrence. A recent Parliamentary Return showed that within a 390 certain period, one hundred murderous assaults took place in the counties enumerated. During the period embraced in the Return only one case resulted in loss of life. Of the one hundred cases no fewer than twenty-eight occurred in Cheshire alone. The House, then, would not be surprised to hear that it was the chief constable of Cheshire who set the ball a rolling. Some of the cases were rather curious. The first took place on the 1st of September, 1860, and was described as a case in which a poacher took some nets from a keeper, which were afterwards retaken, though the poacher carried off sixteen rabbits. How that could be construed into a "murderous assault" upon the keeper, he could not for the life and soul of him imagine. In the next case, one poacher shot another by mistake in attempting to shoot the keeper's dog. That was a very strange "murderous assault" upon the keeper. But the most extraordinary case of all occurred on the 29th of September, 1861, when a poacher "threatened to abuse" a keeper. He did not know what threatening to abuse meant, but he defied the most ingenious man in the world to construe it into a "murderous assault" upon a keeper. In only fifty-three out of the one hundred cases had the offenders been brought to justice; and in twenty-five out of the fifty-three cases the sentences were imprisonment for three months or less. Where the punishment was so light, the crimes could not have been very heavy; and, upon the whole, he submitted that the Return did not justify the proposed change in the law. A great deal had been said about the metropolitan police having the powers now sought to be conferred upon the country police. He denied that either the conviction or the prevention of crime was promoted by giving such stringent powers to the police. Where the police had these powers they had more crime and less detection. Thank God, the passport system never existed in this country, but it had prevailed extensively abroad. Did it ever prevent thieves and bad political people going about and committing evil acts? It had been given up everywhere as of no use. So it was with stringent powers to the police. There was an old saying, that when one set of people conspired another combined; and it was never more true than in the case of the thieves and the police. When extraordinary powers were given to the police, sacrificing all personal liberty, the 391 thieves were driven to all sorts of cunning shifts. On one occasion a little boy was asked how he and his comrades contrived to evade the police on a particular night. "Oh," he replied, "do you think we couldn't see their shiny hats?" How had the system of giving stringent powers to the police worked in the metropolitan district? In that district there was one policeman to every 504 inhabitants — a pretty good allowance—but they did not put a stop to thieving. In all the rest of England there was one policeman to every 1,111 persons. There were 21,413 policemen in all England and Wales. The "dangerous classes," including known thieves, suspected persons, receivers, tramps, and prostitutes—a very nice party—amounted to 123,049. In London there were 6,153 policemen, and 13,724 dangerous classes. Out of London, the number of policemen was 15,225, and the dangerous classes amounted to 109,323. Thus, the proportion in London was one policeman to two and one-fifth, meaning two grown up people and a small boy, while in the rest of England there was one policeman to look after seven adults and one juvenile. London, in fact, was so well policed, its proportion of dangerous classes was so small, and its morality as a whole stood so high, that the only wonder to him was how so many crimes came to be committed within its boundaries. The population of the metropolitan district was 3,109,172, and it was really astonishing that there should be no more than 2,960 known thieves, 222 receivers, 7,096 ladies of easy virtue, 1,974 suspected persons, and 1,463 vagrants, making a total of 13,716. Really, as that was the age of soirées, he was surprised Sir Richard Mayne did not get up an entertainment at the Crystal Palace and bring those 13,716 persons and the 6,000 policemen together. In 1861 the indictable offences reported in all England out of London amounted to 39,606; the number of persons apprehended was 23,202, and of these 15,436 were either convicted or bailed. In London the number of indictable offences reported was 11,203; 3,972 persons were apprehended, and 2,990 were convicted or bailed. The House would thus observe, that while in the rest of England and Wales about 38 per cent of the indictable offences reported were brought to trial, the proportion in the metropolitan district was not more than 26 per cent. notwithstanding the extraordinary powers wielded by the 392 metropolitan police. [Mr. HUNT: The metropolitan police prevent crime.] He would give the hon. Member a little information upon that point presently. In 1861 the number of persons proceeded against in the metropolitan district for what might be called summary offences was 79,337, of whom 41,639, or 52 per cent. were convicted. In the rest of England the number proceeded against was 315,380, of whom 221,871, or 70 per cent. were convicted. Thus in London there was one summary offence for every thirty-nine of the population, man, woman, and child, and in the rest of England one for every fifty-three. But, said the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, the metropolitan police prevented crime. Why, in London, in 1861, there was one indictable offence reported to the police for every 277 persons, while in the rest of England the proportion was one to 428. There was consequently more crime and less detection in London than in the country. He did not mean to say that the metropolitan police were not good police. On the contrary, he believed that they were an admirable force, well organized and disciplined; but, as an old sportsman, he knew that if hounds were allowed to hunt two or three kinds of game, they would never kill any. The reason why the metropolitan police did not deal effectually with the thieves was that they were employed about a great many other things. They were to be found in that House itself, and he would not undertake to say whether their duty was to watch hon. Members or to watch over them. It was impossible to go anywhere without seeing the police. They had no time to watch the thieves. Whenever an old lady got her toes trodden upon they were sure to have a letter in The Times asking indignantly where was the police, but 100 poor people might be robbed without anybody knowing anything about it. Some hon. Gentlemen were very anxious to transfer the extraordinary powers wielded by the metropolitan police to every man who might be taken from the plough-tail and dubbed a constable in the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had pointed out the enormous difference between town and country, but what had happened even in towns? In the last year 4,900 persons were apprehended by the police in various towns in England, but of these only 3,228 were convicted when taken before the magis- 393 trates. Here they had no fewer than 1,672 persons locked up for a night for absolutely nothing, even although in all towns there was a superior police officer at each station-house, who could either bail or discharge as circumstances might seem to warrant. A poor man, though honourably discharged by the magistrate, could not fail to be damaged in character by being dragged to a station-house and there detained all night, and Parliament had no right to intrust such a power to a common policeman with his 17s. or 18s. a week, and newly taken from a plough-tail. The police had powers enough already, and he, for one, was not prepared to give them more. No objection could be made to the appointment of a Committee to take evidence and collect further information. At present the House was not in a position to legislate on the subject. He hoped the Bill would be at once rejected. It would drive sneaking poachers to associate together in gangs; it would take policemen from their natural game—the thieves, and set them to watch poachers; it would lead poachers, when they had got their swag of hares or pheasants, to plant it in some convenient house whence it might be removed without the knowledge of the police; and in a variety of other ways, which he would not stop to enumerate, it would increase and intensify the very evil which it was intended to remedy.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he was sorry that an engagement over which he had no control prevented him from hearing the first part of his right hon. Friend's speech, but he must say he had listened to the latter portion of it with extreme regret. He was sorry to hear his right hon. Friend introducing into the discussion on the question before the House a variety of statements with regard to crime in London, and the operations of the police of London which appeared to him utterly irrelevant to it; and he was still more sorry that his right hon. Friend should have spoken in a tone of levity, and attempted to turn into ridicule those frightful collisions between gamekeepers and poachers which were unhappily of such frequent occurrence.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he certainly understood his right hon. Friend so to speak of the returns of those collisions which were constantly attended with loss of life, which were a disgrace to the age 394 in which we lived, and which he held it to be the duty of the Government to put an end to if they could. The question before them was one of the most important of the Session. It involved the morals of the people, the rights of property, and the lives of Her Majesty's subjects. It was not, therefore, to be disposed of by a sneer. His right hon. Friend seemed to think, if the Bill were passed, it would be necessary to increase the police; but on such a question so narrow a consideration should not be allowed to have much weight. His belief was that his right hon. Friend never put forward a more visionary or unfounded opinion than that the adoption of the Bill would lead to any large increase of the county police. He resided within two miles of a railway station, and he was informed that the police in that neighbourhood every morning saw gangs of men laden with nets and other implements of poaching, and carrying hares and rabbits, openly going to the Droitwich station for the purpose of returning with their booty to Kidderminster; but the police were unable, having in fact no power, to interfere with them. Surely such a state of things required some remedy. He had not heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but he was told he had admitted the importance of the subject, and recommended that a Committee should be appointed to consider it. If so, why did not the right hon. Baronet propose that such a Committee should be appointed six months before when he spoke to him on the subject, entreated him to take it up, and urged the frightful consequences which might be involved in delaying to deal with it? With reference to the Returns, of which so much had been said, he had looked into the criminal statistics for the last ten years. There were eleven counties from which no Returns were received; but in seventeen counties he found that for ten years the largest number committed for poaching cases had been 132; while in the autumn of 1860–1 the number had swelled to 198, and in 1861–2 the number was 456. There was an enormous increase within a very short period, and that only for seventeen counties—more than there had been previously for the whole of England. He thought the memorial of the chief constables entitled to great weight. They were not game preservers, their duty being only to check 395 crime and maintain the public peace, morality, and welfare. With reference to the aspect which the question had on the morals of the people, he might mention a single case which occurred the winter before the last on his own estate. A man connected with a poaching gang had been apprehended; inquiries were made respecting him of the chief of the police at Kidderminster, who said, "Tell me the name of the man you have taken, and I will give you the names of the whole gang. There are four gangs of five men that go out every night, and return every morning, living by the plunder of the country. We know the men in every gang, but we are powerless—the law does not allow us to interrupt them; they pursue their profitable trade with absolute impunity." He appealed to the House whether such a state of things could be allowed to go on without producing the most demoralizing effects on the humbler classes of the country. They all knew how these gangs of men, who spent their nights in poaching, passed the day. They were engaged in no industrious occupation, they followed lawless and dangerous pursuits, and their profits were much larger than those of any industrious, sober man. He had in his hand a return from the chief constable of Worcester of the number of poachers known to reside in that county, and they amounted to 815, who lived more or less by poaching. These were facts which called for the serious consideration of Parliament. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State had criticised the Bill, stating that it commenced with assuming that the possession of game was illegal, whereas the possession of game was not illegal. On that point, undoubtedly, the right hon. Baronet was right; but an amendment in that particular was easy. The expression might be altered to "having game in his possession unlawfully obtained." If the Bill was defective, let it be amended in Committee. For his own part, he would say, whether it was open to the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman or not, he was prepared to vote for the second reading. There was a great principle at stake. He denied that the question was one of game-preserving; no doubt game preserving was an element in it, but the important principle at issue was not the preservation of game, but the preservation of life, public morality, and the rights of property. The House should not, therefore, 396 be carried away by the jargon they sometimes heard about game preserving. He was not himself an advocate for over-preservation of game; but if a man chose to preserve his game, it was a question between him and his tenants—if he preserved to an extravagant extent, he must pay for it; but it was perfectly monstrous that the landed property of England should be at the mercy of these marauders of the night, poachers.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he was not about to inflict on the House another speech, but it was quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) had not heard what he previously said, and consequently he had not correctly represented what had taken place. Indeed, he thought it was highly inconvenient that an hon. Member should come down to the House after a Bill had been under discussion for three hours and answer supposed arguments which he had not heard. He (Sir George Grey) wished the House distinctly to understand that he had not pledged himself to move for a Committee of Inquiry. He would repeat what he stated a fortnight before when he was asked to consent to a Committee of Inquiry. He then said that certainly he should willingly consent to such a Committee, and he was the more convinced of the necessity for it because a Bill had been introduced on the subject which appeared to him to bear marks of haste and want of consideration. He abstained from moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months out of respect for the hon. Baronet who had charge of it, who had not yet said a word in favour of the Bill, and who he trusted would still be induced to withdraw it. The right hon. Baronet had referred to the criticism he took the liberty of making on the Bill, and alleged that it would be easy to remedy its defects in Committee, but the preamble set out by stating that to be law which was not law. As the law stood, the possession of game on a highway was no offence; but if any person bought of a game-dealer partridges which had not been shot, the presumption being that they were unlawfully obtained, he might come under the operation of the Bill. He was told by the Member for Norfolk (Sir H. Stracey), that if the Bill did not pass, he should be responsible for the murders committed during the recess; but he had pointed out the just severity of the enactments of the Night 397 Poaching Act with reference to those offences with which it dealt. The Returns which had been referred to, without undervaluing them, were not such as to justify hasty legislation on this subject. Even in the cases of what had been designated as murderous attacks, when dealt with by courts of law the punishments awarded were, in many of the cases, so trifling as to show that that very serious character of crime did not attach to them. There were only five cases given for the county of Worcester. In two of these three months' imprisonment was awarded, and in one only two months. The law was already very stringent, and it was very strange, if the police knew there were actually hundreds of persons living in Worcester by night poaching, that the law could not be put in force against them. He had stated the objections which occurred to him with respect to the Bill, and there had been as yet no attempt to answer them. He thought it impossible to put the Bill into such a form as to receive the assent of this House.
§ MR. BASS
said, he would not defend all the details of the Bill, but he thought the principle involved in it entitled to the utmost respect. The offences connected with night poaching were greatly increasing in Stafford, the county with which he was connected, and in two of the neighbouring counties, only during last week, murderous assaults had taken place—in the counties of Nottingham and Leicester. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State say that the Bill violated the principles of law. There were cognate provisions in the laws for the preservation of salmon. It was an opprobrium to the law, that while a man who came to his back door and took away a rabbit-skin was guilty of felony, half-a-dozen fellows might come on his land, take a whole netful of rabbits and hares, sit down on the turnpike road, smoke their pipes with impunity; and if he asked where they got them, they would, no doubt, give him a very saucy answer. He was not indifferent to the preservation of game, and he admitted the Act, if passed, would be of the greatest use in its preservation. There were conflicting statements as to the law. The evil was increasing, and it was the duty of the House to find, if possible, a remedy for it. He should certainly vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. CAIRD
observed that the reference made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) to the preservation of salmon did not apply, because poachers for salmon did not go armed. This Bill was to apply to Scotland and Ireland, but he was at a loss to understand why it should be so. Who were to pay the police force, which, if the Bill passed, must be increased? Hon. Gentlemen opposite styled themselves the farmers' friends; but had the farmers been consulted on the subject—were they found to be anxious for increased stringency in the preservation of game? No good farmer objected to a moderate preservation of game; it was excessive preservation that encouraged poaching. He hoped the hon. Baronet who had charge of the Bill would withdraw it. He had never heard so many conclusive arguments against so short a Bill.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
said, he thought it most desirable that the House should affirm the second reading, and that they should go into Committee on the Bill. The right hon. Baronet had criticised the Bill; he did not know whether that criticism was intended to be grammatical or legal, but this he must say, the phrase objected to by the right hon. Baronet was put into the Bill in another place by the highest legal functionary. The right hon. Baronet said something about the details of the Bill, but nothing against its principle. It was his intention, if the Bill were read the second time, to propose in Committee that an appeal should be given to the quarter sessions. It was, however, most desirable that the police should have power to search persons found on the highways who were suspected of obtaining game unlawfully. The powers given by the Bill were not greater than those given by the Metropolitan Police Bill, and not stronger than were given in reference to the preservation of salmon.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he agreed with those who thought that night poaching had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished; but he must deny that the Bill would have the effect of diminishing it. It was said that the Bill involved the rights of property; but it involved the liberty of the poor. A man was liable to be taken into custody and kept all night, and then remanded till the petty sessions for an offence which was only punishable with a fine, and there was 399 nothing in the Bill giving the power of bail. He did not think that a private policeman ought to be empowered to take up upon suspicion any one whom he might choose to imagine was a poacher. Such a power would be an infringement of the privileges of the subjects of the realm.
§ MR. STANILAND
said, he had been astonished at the observations made by opponents of the Bill, and especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who had declared that it would violate every principle of law. Did that right hon. Baronet forget the measure he had himself brought in a Session or two ago in reference to deer? That measure provided, that if the head, skin, or any part of a deer, kept even in unenclosed grounds, was found in the possession of any man, any person—not a policeman only—might apprehend him and take him before a magistrate, who, unless he gave a satisfactory explanation of his coming into possession, could inflict a severe penalty upon him. It likewise provided, that if there was reason to suspect any person of having on his premises any part of a deer improperly obtained, a search warrant might be issued against him. The hon. Baronet the Member for Yarmouth had stated that the men who were known as poachers were also frequently known to be thieves; and that when a man failed as a poacher, he often took to stealing. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) contested that assertion, and referred, in support of his argument, to a Return showing the number of persons convicted of felony who had been previously convicted of poaching. The right hon. Gentleman said that within a given period 113,000 persons were convicted in this country for felony, and that out of that number but 2,088 had previously been convicted of poaching. The right hon. Gentleman was much more innocent than he had given him credit for being if he could imagine that any faith was to be placed in such a Return. If John Smith had committed a crime in county A, and wished to commit another in county B, would he not adopt a new name—say, Norfolk Howard, or something of that kind — so that he might hide his past misdeeds? Certainly, if apprehended for felony, he might not always feel it his bounden duty to tell the gaoler that he had been formerly convicted for poaching. But if the career of these men could be traced through the various counties in 400 which they had been perpetrating crimes of one sort or another, a much larger proportion of them than the right hon. Gentleman supposed would be found to have been poachers. The right hon. Gentleman also said that where greater powers had been given to the police more crime was committed and less detection took place. If that argument was sound, they ought to abolish the police to-morrow; and, to be consistent, the right hon. Gentleman ought at the very next meeting of the Oxfordshire magistrates to move that the resolution in favour of establishing the county police should be rescinded. With regard to the speech of the Home Secretary, he looked upon it as an official one rather than as being in accordance with the right hon. Baronet's private sentiments. He could understand a sympathy being felt for the old-fashioned poacher—a poor wretch overworked and underpaid, who snared a hare to eke out a scanty dinner. But that race was now entirely extinct, and a set of ruffians who went about openly in the face of the police wherever game was preserved had taken its place. The right hon. Baronet appeared desirous of obtaining further evidence of the necessity for such a measure before the House adopted the Bill. Let him read the accounts given in the public prints, especially during the winter months, of the cases in which men doing their duty to their employers either lost their lives or suffered severe personal injuries at the hands of persons who set the law at defiance. He said it advisedly, that if a gamekeeper, or his assistant, in the discharge of his duty, had his life put in jeopardy by the threats of a poacher or gang of poachers, he would be legally justified in taking life in self-defence. If two or three instances of that kind should occur next winter, perhaps the right hon. Baronet might think that the Bill ought to have been read a second time. He agreed that the measure had been hurriedly drawn, but there was no defect in it which might not be readily cured in Committee. The other House had done its duty in sending down the Bill to them; and it would be a scandal to that House, as well as to the department over which the right hon Baronet presided, if the Session were allowed to pass without an attempt being made to remedy so great and growing an evil.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
remarked, that if the question involved in the Bill were not discussed in that House, it would be dis- 401 cussed out of it. He thought they had all arrived at the conclusion that the provisions of the Bill with reference to the capture of poachers did not meet the support even of the promoters of the Bill. That was a great gain. The Bill was too stringent. In several of the midland counties, one of which he represented, he was sorry to say some legislation on this subject was required: he was opposed to changing the law of evidence in game cases, but in his own opinion the legislation which would be effectual would be to render persons against whom reasonable suspicion could be alleged liable to be searched by the police for instruments to take game, and for game, if met upon the highways under suspicious circumstances, and then to be summoned to appear before justices in petty sessions. He should be sorry to see legislation go beyond that point at present; but if, after what had occurred, the House did not read the Bill a second time, it might be supposed to have given a direct encouragement to poachers. As had just been stated, the character of the poacher had changed; he had become the agent of the game-dealer; this trade was encouraged by the conduct of game preservers themselves. He did not approve the provisions of the Bill, and desired the Amendments suggested by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets; but he hoped, for the reason he had given, that it would be read a second time. The evil was increasing and assuming such a shape that no one would be able to preserve any game unless he could maintain an army for its protection. If, however, the House sanctioned such a measure as he had suggested, it would preserve to the tenant farmer and the small proprietor some small quantity of game. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought legislation on this subject necessary, but he should be sorry to see any enactment which would encourage the preservation of game to an exaggerated extent.
§ MR. SCULLY
(who was received with cries of "Oh, oh!") said, the strongest argument he had heard in favour of the Bill was that of clamour, but the House had better hear him, as otherwise he should be obliged to detain it until six o'clock. He could not give his support to the Bill, but he would "pair off" if the promoters would strike out from it the word "Ireland." It was worse than any of the Irish coercion Bills which had been 402 introduced this Session. While, however, the Government supported bad Irish Bills, they had the good sense to oppose them when they also applied to England and Scotland. He was surprised to hear a speech in favour of so wretched a measure from the Liberal Member for Boston (Mr. Staniland). The Bill was a monstrous one, which ought to be thrown out at once; and although he did not often vote with the Government, he trusted that they would vote with him on that occasion in giving it his opposition.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 94: Majority 55.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Friday.