§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the laws relating to Game. The hon. Member said, that until he saw the Amendment of the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Thompson) on the paper, he was in hope that there would have been no objection to this proposal. The grounds for that hope were the feeling which he knew pervaded the country, and the apparent desire of the House last Session to have the matter fully investigated. He understood that last year hon. Members on both sides, not only of the House, but of the Game Law question, were in favour of an inquiry; and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in reply to a question on the subject put by the hon. Member for Thirsk (Sir W. Gallwey), admitted that inquiry was necessary prior to any alteration of the law, and said, that if a Motion were made for inquiry in the course of the next Session, he should not oppose it. Soon after that a Bill came down from the House of Lords, and was passed. It was possible, therefore, that some Gentlemen who thought it desirable to have an inquiry before the Poaching Act was passed might think it unnecessary when that measure had been carried. He believed, however, it would have been more satisfactory to all concerned had the case for that Act been more fully and deliberately examined. Had they had an inquiry before the Bill — which came down from the other House a Night Poaching Bill and went back a General Poaching Bill—was brought in, it might have saved much discussion and several of the divisions that took place upon it. The hon. Member for Whitby, 1555 however, had now given notice of an Amendment on his Motion, and in that Amendment the hon. Gentleman said, that the Motion ought to be postponed until the House had longer experience of the working of the recent Act. In his opinion, however, the present position of that Act justified the demand for an inquiry. The Act in the hands of the lawyers who had to administer it had been found a most difficult measure. Difficulties had arisen in regard to its interpretation; there had been delay in giving judgment, and there had been contrary decisions. At last Chief Justice Erie had given an opinion on the question, which, of course, coming from such a quarter, had great weight. It must be remember-ed, that when the Bill came down from the House of Lords, it threw the onus probandi on the defendant.; but a majority of the House removed that obligation. The decision of Chief Justice Brie restored the Act to the shape in which it came down from the other House, putting practically the onus probandi upon the defendant, and making the possession of game, under suspicious circumstances, evidence upon which a conviction might be obtained. He did not say that that was contrary to the opinions of a majority of the House, but he did say that it was contrary to what was supposed to be the Bill at the time it was passed, and therefore that there was reason for inquiring whether the fact was as he stated; and, if so, whether the law was what the House wished it to he. There was yet another and a stronger reason for inquiry—namely, whether it was desirable that new powers should be given to the police for the protection of one particular kind of property. He doubted, indeed, whether the Act did not give the rural police powers which they had never possessed before with regard to any kind of property; but there could be no doubt about it, so far as game was concerned. It had been said that the Act had been successful, and that it had tended to prevent the crime of poaching. If that was so, did it not remove from the preserver some portion of the necessity he was formerly under of watching for himself? If the new law was successful, he could not imagine that gentlemen -would be so fond of paying money to keepers and watchers that they would do so to the extent they thought necessary before the Bill came into operation. And the question arose, at whose expense were these additional 1556 precautions against poaching to be taken? That was an inquiry which he could assure the House the ratepayers—in other words, the tenant farmers—had been asking in many places since last Session. That point ought to be deliberately considered by a Select Committee. Again, in the passing of this Act, Parliament embarked upon a new course of legislation; and the House ought to consider bow far they wished to pursue it. The Bill as it came down from the House of Lords defined poaching to be "having game unlawfully in possession;" as it went buck to their Lordships, it was altered to "game unlawfully obtained." The difference was not very clear; but the difficulty which was felt in the matter showed that they were clothing game with a character different from everything else. The hon. Member for Berks (Mr. Walter) strongly insisted on the necessity of declaring game to be property. The Bill, however, passed the House without that having been done. Whether that course ought to have been taken or not, there could be no doubt that the passing of an Act, under circumstances which rendered it necessary to alter the definition of the offence, made a fresh inquiry indispensable; and the time had now arrived when they should finally determine whether or not game should be regarded as private property. These were the grounds on which he (Mr. W. B. Forster) would reply to the suggestions of his hon. Friend the Member for Whitby, that they should wait for some time, in order to see how the new Bill worked. He now came to the general reasons why he pressed for an inquiry into the Game Laws. Sixteen years ago a Select Committee sat upon this subject. Their investigations lasted two Sessions, and they published two large blue-books, which he had lately been studying, and which he found to be at once informing, and in some respects amusing. It was not likely that any new Committee which the House could now appoint would exceed the industry or ability which the former one had shown; but there were many circumstances that rendered the prospects of another inquiry more hopeful than they were sixteen years ago. At that time the country had just concluded the severe contest on the Corn Laws, and there was a good deal of opposition between country and town, which he trusted had now disappeared. Of that opposition he could find many traces in the 1557 blue-book, and there was no doubt that it had greatly interfered with the action of the Committee. But the abolition of the Corn Laws had rendered it also desirable to discuss what was called the economical question of the Game Laws —namely, how far the farmer, who was now exposed to the competition of the whole world, was weighed down by the quantity of game which was kept upon his land. There was also another reason why an inquiry would be more hopeful at the present juncture. There had been, for the last ten or twenty years, a growing wish on the part of all classes to consider the condition of the labouring poor. He (Mr. Forster) was not going to prejudge the question whether it was for the interest of the poor that the Game Laws should or should not be altered; but still it was the opinion of many that such should be the case, and he thought that the point was at least worth discussion. It appeared, too, that the operation of the existing laws had Dot diminished, but, if anything, had rather increased the offence of poaching. He had carefully gone over the statistics, but owing to the constantly-varying manner in which the Returns were made out from year to year he had found it impossible to make any exact comparison. He found, however, that in the three years 1858–60, there had been an average number of 8,590 cases per annum of persons brought before the magistrates charged with offences against the Game Laws. He believed that that was an increase, but he was hound to add that there did not appear to be any increase in the more serious crimes resulting from poaching. He did not think, either, that there was any increase in the number of persons imprisoned—a fact for which he accounted in two ways:— First, he was inclined to attribute it to a growing desire on the part of the justices to administer the law in a more lenient manner; and secondly—which was not so satisfactory a reason—he believed the greater demand for game had so increased that the illicit dealers had been able to supply the poachers with money with which to pay the fines. In considering what the House should do to put a stop to poaching, the first thing they had to consider was, what were the special temptations to the offence of poaching. He thought they might he comprised under three heads. First, the love of sport. He was told that that was less prevalent now than formerly among the lower 1558 classes, and that the old sporting poacher had gone out of date. But he did not know why that should be so. The love of sport had not diminished amongst the gentlemen of England, and he did not see why it should have done so amongst the peasantry. The second temptation was the hope of gain, strengthened by the greater facilities which now existed for getting game to market. But he believed the great cause why poaching continued, and must continue, notwithstanding any laws they might pass, was the existence of over-preserving in places bordering upon densely-populated districts. The amount of poaching was determined more by the quantity of game preserved in any given neighbourhood, and by the density of the population near, than by any other circumstance. The way, therefore, to get rid of this particular offence was to get rid of excessive preserving. He was no sportsman himself. From accidental circumstances he had not begun to shoot when he was young, and it was not likely that he should now take it up, except at a target. But he could fully understand and sympathize with a love of sport; and he did not believe that it would be kindness to any class in the country—to the farmer or to the labourer—wholly to exterminate game. He believed that a moderate amount of it did no harm, but was rather an advantage, because it offered an inducement—though he thought that inducement had been somewhat exaggerated—to gentlemen to reside upon their property in the country, and thereby increase the prosperity of those around them. He believed that it was a great advantage to train the country gentlemen to reside on their estates, and to become good working justices; but they must take care that they did not at the same time train the peasantry to be criminals. Last year there was some discussion whether a poacher was a thief. In some cases he was, and in others he was not; but he believed that though the poacher did not usually begin as a thief, he often ended by becoming one. Of course, a gentleman had a right to over-preserve if he liked. It was to be lamented that he should do so, but still he could not he legally prevented. But while it would he a cruelty to the labouring man so to alter the law as to induce him to break it by poaching, on the other hand they ought as legislators to do all in their power to diminish the temptation to which he was exposed, by discouraging excessive 1559 preserving. Now, a most important question was, were they proceeding upon right principles in their efforts to prevent poaching? That there was something very peculiar in the position of game was obvious, or the chief-constables would not have memorialized the House last year against the employment of the police, directly or indirectly, in its preservation. But it was most essential, if they wished to repress poaching, that the law should be clear, which was at present by no means the case. Besides, the law had not the support of public opinion. There was no country in the world in which the law, especially as it regarded property, was so generally respected, and yet by no class of its people was poaching looked upon as standing in the same category with other crimes. He supposed it would be admitted that to take an egg would be held to be as much poaching as anything else; and yet the hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Main-warning) last year complained that his keepers were principally employed in preventing persons from searching for eggs for the neighbouring gentry. The country gentlemen, therefore, could not look upon poaching as theft, or they would not countenance such a practice as that referred to by the hon. Member. Whatever might be the case with regard to its words, the law was anything but clear as to its principle. It was yet undecided what was the legal nature of this crime, whether it was in the nature of larceny or not. An illustration of this uncertainty was supplied by a case tried not two years ago before Mr. Justice Willes, in which some rabbits had been taken by poachers on an estate of the Marquess of Exeter. The rabbits were seized at the Stamford Station, and the dealer commenced an action against the persons who had taken them from him. The case was tried at the next assizes. Mr. Justice Willes said, that if a person went upon land belonging to the Marquess of Exeter and killed rabbits, and then carried them away and sold them to a fishmonger, the servants of the Marquess had no right to go to the fishmonger's shop and take them away from it; that the property was in the fishmonger, although the taking of the rabbits on the land was an act of trespass. The learned Judge also declared that he could not understand how such a law should exist; because, if a man had land, and chose to keep pheasants upon it, he never could see why the law of larceny should not apply to such a 1560 case; for, according to all principle, the pheasants should belong to the man who created the property, just as much as though they were domestic fowls. ["Hear, hear!"] The Gentleman who cheered would, no doubt, vote for his Motion; for if they agreed with the learned Judge that the law should be altered, that was surely a good reason for inquiry into the matter. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: What is the date of that decision?] It was at the summer assizes of 1861. The verdict was against the Marquess of Exeter. Surely, when a Judge stated that the law ought to be altered, that was a good reason for inquiry. There was, however, an appeal from the verdict then given, on the ground of misdirection of the jury by the Judge, and the rule was argued about the beginning of 1862 by four Judges of the Common Pleas. All the four Judges in the mean time had had their attention called to a case which had been decided some considerable time ago, and all four gave a contrary opinion to that previously given by Mr. Justice Willes, that learned Judge himself being one of them; and a new trial was granted. The case came on in the Exchequer Chamber, and was determined only a month or two ago. It was argued before Lord Chief Baron Pollock, Mr. Justice Blackburn, Mr. Baron Martin, and Mr. Baron Wilde. The decision as reported was headed to this effect:—" Rabbits—property in animals ferœ nalurœ—rabbits started and killed on the property of another the property of the person on whose land they are found." Mr. Baron Wilde, while concurring in the ruling of his brother Judges, after referring to the former state of things, said that at present there was a vast quantity of game in this country which never stirred from the enclosed property of the landowner; but it was too late now for the courts of law to meet this change of circumstances by declaring a right of properly in game, and that any legislation establishing an absolute or qualified right in the owner of land to property in the game on his estate would be consonant to justice and to the policy of the common law. Now, although the proposition was stated at the heading of the report of these decisions, that rabbits, wherever started, are the property of the person on whose lands they are killed, yet he (Mr. Forster) could not ascertain that the law was so settled; and, indeed, he had received precisely opposite opinions on the question from eminent 1561 lawyers. Surely such statements as these, corning from the judicial bench, showed the necessity of having this question inquired into, and inquired into without delay. With regard to the question of property, if the House thought fit to grant a Committee of Inquiry, he could only say he should go into it with a mind unbiassed as to how they should solve the question of property in game. He should certainly go into the inquiry with this feeling—that they ought to rest the law as far as possible on property alone. They ought to find how far there could be property in game, and on that rest their measures for its protection. It was to be observed that when Justice Willes said he could not understand why a pheasant should not be the property of the man who preserved land for its support, that was on the supposition that he could identify his property. But he (Mr. W. E. Forster) thought it would be very difficult to decide about meum and tuum in the case of animals which on one side of a hedge belonged to one man, and on another side belonged to another, and when in the public road belonged to neither one nor the other. He thought the Committee should go into that question with a feeling that it was rather a scandal that it had not yet been decided. He should be prepared to act on this principle:—Let them give a man this right in property, as far as possible, without infringing the principles upon which property was founded; but let not the owner expect anything else; let him not expect to have protection beyond that which his right of property gave him. The Committee, he thought, should settle not only this question, but should remove every relic of the old forest and feudal law which still remained. They should inquire whether the gamekeeper was at present an official; if so, he ought not to remain so. A private policeman was contrary to the temper of the times. Then, if game were property, it must be settled whether it was not the property of the occupier of the land; whether it was not his own like the crops and the cattle on the ground, and whether, being his own, he had not the right to kill it when and how he pleased. He thought he had pointed out two or three topics which were quite sufficient for the consideration of the Committee. Then, again, there was the question whether the law could do anything towards discouraging the present excessive system of preservation. He thought, that if the Chancellor 1562 of the Exchequer could not give up his game duties, it was quite possible that those duties might be so arranged as to fall upon the preserving, rather than upon the killing of game. Then, again, it was to be considered whether the passing of the Act of last Session, combined with the Parochial Assessments Act, did not bring forward the subject of the rating game in a way which the House ought to consider. In the country there was a great deal of feeling about this rating question. They asked why land which went to the support of game should escape its due share of rating. Why, it was asked, should not woods be rated? Then, also, came the inquiry whether, when a right of shooting was let for a considerable sum, that also should not be assessed to the poor rate—whether it should not be rated in the same way as a farm? Again, according to the Parochial Assessment Act, the new valuations were often made on actual rent rather than on the intrinsic value of the land, and so it sometimes happened that A with 1,000 acres of land on which game was preserved paid on a rating of 15s. an acre only, while B with 1,000 acres on which game was not preserved paid on 20s. an acre. Yet A's land might be more productive than B's. Thus B paid a disproportionate amount of rating. The game, in fact, consumed the fruits of the land, and increased the demands on the rate, and yet was the only produce of the land which escaped being rated. Then he came to the way in which the game laws were administered. He did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the county magistrates —a body of men whose services to the country were inestimable, by whom justice was administered more equally than it would be by perhaps any other class, and of whom he had himself the honour to he one; but still even magistrates were men, they were not angels—and no doubt it was rather a difficult thing for a man who was himself a lover of sport, and who went to expense in the preservation of game, not to feel some degree of animus against a poacher. He was aware that a magistrate did not decide in his own case, but it was impossible that he should not be actuated by the feeling of his class. At any rate the idea that such an animus existed, was prevalent amongst the class from which the criminals came. Why should not a poacher be tried before a jury at quarter sessions? The reply would pro- 1563 bably be that it would be an unkindness to the defendant to force him to find bail; but the choice might be given to him as by recent statute, in cases of petty larceny, to be tried by the magistrates if he preferred it, without a jury. Thus, at least, the impression of an unjust feeling would be removed. The last point to which he should advert was this:—They ought to look into the question whether the penalties against the Game Laws at the present moment were not higher than for other offences against property of equal value, and especially whether the revenue regulations were not used so as to increase these penalties. He was obliged to the House for the attention they had given him, although his opinions might he somewhat at variance with those of the majority. He hoped he had given reasons to induce them to grant this inquiry. He asked for that inquiry in order that such legislation might be attempted as would increase the comfort and improve the morals of the labouring population, get rid of the last remaining vestige of the old forest law, and promote concord between landlords, farmers, and labourers. Believing that it was the earnest desire of the House at all times to perpetuate this feeling, he begged to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws, and to report whether in their opinion any, and, if any, what alterations are required therein.
§ VISCOUNT ENFIELD
, in seconding the Motion, said, that as he had supported the second reading of the Bill of last Session, but had not voted for the third reading, he might, perhaps, he allowed to recall the circumstances under which that measure was introduced. The Bill was read a second time on the 14th of July, and so strong was the opposition to it that thirty: divisions took place before the measure became law. The promoters alleged that the crime of poaching had increased, that every winter murderous assaults occurred between gamekeepers and poachers; and they produced considerable effect upon the House by citing the opinion of the chief constables of different counties in the midland and northern districts, who stated that the crime of poaching had now assumed a somewhat new shape, and that whereas formerly it was the isolated act of individuals who were either actuated by: n love of sport or were driven into it by distress, it was now the result of organized bands, who went out at night, and after sweeping the preserves, returned home 1564 with their spoil along the highway and despatched it from the next railway station; openly defying the constables who thus saw them go to the covers and saw them return with the result of their nocturnal depredations. Admitting these facts, it was argued on the other side that in a matter so important, involving so many difficult and delicate relations —those of landlord and tenant among the rest—it was impossible at so late a period of the year that justice could be done. They therefore asked for a postponement of legislation. Those who, like himself, had supported the second reading felt the difficulty; and when he saw the shape which the Bill assumed in Committee—its very title being changed—he felt that he could not vote for the third reading, and was anxious that a Committee should inquire into the subject. The parties affected by this question were the lovers of sport, the ratepayers, the farmers, the police, and, lastly, the general public; and it was in the interest of all those classes that he now supported the Motion. Neither this House nor the country wished, he believed, that this legitimate English pastime should he destroyed, but rather that such safeguards should be placed round it as would allay jealousy and ill-feeling. With regard to the ratepayers, they were of opinion that the police rates should not he devoted to keep up a body of men who might possibly be employed as amateur watchmen and gamekeepers. The farmers had a fair right to be considered in the question, and he was sure that the public, who complained of the inquisitorial provisions of the Bill, had a right to inquiry. If the inquiry were conceded, it would no doubt be conducted in the fair and impartial spirit which had characterized the speech of the hon. Member, and he earnestly hoped that the Committee asked for would be appointed.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the operation of the Laws relating to Game, and to report whether in their opinion any, and if any what, alterations are required therein.
§ MR. THOMPSON
said, that if his hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) had brought forward this Motion last Session, before the passing of the Act for the Prevention of Poaching, he should have heartily supported it; but to legislate first, and appoint a Committee of inquiry afterwards, was a proceeding so extraordinary 1565 that it was only to be justified by showing that the Act had produced mischievous results of such a character ns called for immediate remedy. He had been neither surprised nor disappointed to find that his hon. Friend had brought forward no proofs of such mischief; and as his hon. Friend was far too acute a man not to see how much his case would have been strengthened if he could have adduced any proofs of the failure of the Act, it was safe to assume that none could be procured. On the other hand, very striking benefits had resulted from the passing of the Act, and of these he would give the House some idea by reading extracts from letters and returns furnished to him from his immediate neighbourhood by those who were best qualified to judge—the head constables and chiefs of the rural police. From York the chief constable wrote —Four regular poachers have abandoned poaching altogether, and the remaining known poachers pursue that calling less Frequently. A B has given up poaching since the new Act came into operation, and is now earning his living by working as a labourer; C D is now working as a labourer; E F is earning his living as a smith; and G H as a joiner.From Knaresborough, which, though a very small town, had always been famous for its breed of poachers, the superintendent of police wrote—The Prevention of Poaching Act has materially lessened the depredations of poachers in this division. We have had five convictions under it, all police cases. Several notorious and professional poachers have abandoned their evil courses and taken to earning an honest living; others, seeing my determination to enforce the provisions of the Act, have left the neighbourhood.The inspector of police at Hull said—The Game Act of last Session has had considerable influence over the poachers in Hull. The greater part of the poachers who resorted to Hull came out of the country, particularly out of Lincolnshire, and only remained here a short time; these men are seldom seen now. Three men who reside in Hull, and were regular poachers, are now following other occupations—namely, A B, now working as an excavator at the enlarging of the Victoria Dock; C D, now employed at Messrs.; and E F, working as a labourer on the dock-side.The head of the rural police in the North Riding said—My impression is that the Act, if properly and judiciously carried out by the police in accordance with the recent decision of the Court of Common Pleas, will answer its purpose, and materially prevent, if not entirely suppress, night poaching. I have received no complaint of any single constable having improperly exercised his powers under the Act. I think this important. It is most undesirable to make the police in any 1566 way game watchers, but they can carry out this Act in furtherance of their other duties, while watching roads and other places where thieves are expected to return home with their spoil.The next report was from the Skyrack division of the West Riding, furnished by the superintendent stationed at Leeds, who said—In this division there has been a decrease of persons apprehended and summoned since the passing of the Act. There are several men known to me who, previous to the passing of the Poaching Prevention Act, lived by poaching only, but are now partly working for a living. I do not think there has been sufficient time to test the operation of the Act, as the police had not sufficient power to interfere before the decision of Chief Justice Erle.The last was from the head of the rural police in the West Riding, who wrote—In those districts where poaching was most extensively practised the Act has worked well. Before Chief Justice Erle's decision there was so much uncertainty in the law that convictions were given with hesitation. Since that decision that hesitation has been removed, and the course is clear. The decision, however, was only given a short time since, but we all feel that the Act is likely to work well if it has time given it to be tested. In the Doncaster and Knaresborough country, where poaching was much carried on, many men have given it up altogether, stating that the risk is now too great. The chief constables of Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, from whom I have heard on the subject, concur with me in the opinion that the Act will work as well as any Act can that is not very stringent and unpopular.That testimony was remarkably consistent and went far to show that the Act was working well—quite as well as its friends could have anticipated. But the Poaching Prevention Act bore date August 1862, only seven months ago, and a well-known decision in the Court of Common Pleas, which had added much to its efficiency, had been given on the 24th of January— not quite two months since; so that the law might be said to have been in full force only two months. If the Committee, which his hon. Friend moved for, were granted, its Members would be in this difficulty— that they must either take the results of this short trial as recognised facts to influence their Report, and perhaps to form the basis of future legislation; or, if they considered the time too short, and the results too recent to be trustworthy, they must throw over the latest legislation on the subject into which they were appointed to inquire, although aware that its working was most satisfactory. His hon. Friend had laid great stress upon the importance of the question whether game was 1567 to be made property or not. It was doubtless one of those important and difficult questions which must prominently occupy the attention of any Committee on the Game Laws, and the Act passed last Session had a very material bearing upon it, because for the first time it had placed game, at least partially, under the protection of the recognised guardians of the property of the public. The late Act, therefore, was, as it were, a great experiment to show whether the step which had been taken towards making game property went far enough, or ought to be carried further. The law respecting game was certainly, as his hon. Friend had remarked, in a very anomalous and doubtful state, as was well known to all county justices. The law recognised the possession of game, licensed the killing of game, and sanctioned its sale and purchase, but stopped short of making it property, and thus created a privileged class of plunderers, who, until the passing of the Act of last Session, could flaunt their ill-gotten booty in the very faces of the police with perfect impunity. It was not necessary for him to detain the House by pointing out the numerous evil consequences resulting from training up the police to ignore a particular class of transgressors, who, if that branch of their profession was overstocked, could turn their attention elsewhere. He trusted he had shown that the Act of last Session was working well, that a great experiment was being tried on a confessedly difficult subject for legislation, and that it would be premature to appoint a Committee of Inquiry. He wished to state distinctly that the Amendment, which he was about to propose, was not brought forward in order to defeat or elude inquiry, but to postpone it until a sufficient trial of the late Act had been made. He begged leave to move as an Amendment,That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws, should be postponed until further experience shall have been obtained of the working of 'The Prevention of Poaching Act, 1862.'
§ MR. PAULL
rose to second the amendment. He had given notice on the first day of this Session of his intention to move for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Game Laws, and his reason was because he believed at the time that the result of the thirty divisions upon the Bill at the close of last Session was to render it nugatory. Had the Motion for 1568 inquiry been made last year, he should have had no hesitation in supporting it; but when, from the information which they had all recently received, it was found that the Act was working well, he thought it undesirable that the question should he re-opened before ample opportunity had been given of seeing whether the Bill was successful in its operation.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws, should be postponed until further experience shall have been obtained of the working of 'The Prevention of Poaching Act, 1362,'
— instead thereof.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), in making his Motion, stated truly that during the discussions on the Game Bill, which came down from the House of Lords for our consideration at the end of last Session, I was asked whether I would assent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws. I thought that at that period of the Session an inquiry could not be satisfactorily conducted; but I said that I should be willing to assent to the appointment of such a Committee in the ensuing Session in the event of any hon. Member bringing forward a Motion to that effect. In redemption of that pledge, I feel bound to support the Motion of my hon. Friend who has now moved the appointment of a Committee. When I look into the state of this question, and to what has taken place in both Houses of Parliament, I think that such an inquiry is not only not unreasonable, but that it is called for. In 1828, a Committee of the House of Lords was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws. That Committee went fully into the subject and made several important recommendations which, after an interval of two or three years, were made the subject of a Bill which was proposed by the late Lord Althorpe and which became law. That Act —the 1 & 2 Witt. IV. c. 32, contains the substance of the law with regard to game, and with the addition of the Night Poaching Act, 9 Geo. IV., and the Act of last Session, constitutes the law on the subject, with the exception of those fiscal laws to which it is not necessary to advert, and which require the payment of a cer- 1569 tain sum for certificates to kill, and for a licence to sell game. The results of the labours of the Committee of 1828 were, I think, most beneficial. They recommended several important modifications of the Game Laws as they had previously existed. First, they recommended that a property in game should be recognised by allowing it to be sold through licensed game-dealers. They also did away with the qualification previously required to kill game, and authorized any person, who had taken out a certificate, to kill game, subject only to the ordinary laws of trespass. The Night Poaching Act contained severe provisions —and very properly severe provisions— against persons going armed at night in pursuit of game. That Act has long been in operation, and many convictions, I am sorry to say, take place under it every year. Let us look at the facts of the case in connection with a most important point —its connection with crime. There is a fact which we cannot overlook, and which we ought to inquire into. The fact is, that a large proportion of the crime of the country is connected with the infringement of the Game Laws. Not only is a large proportion of the crime of the country connected with offences against the Game Law, but there has been a great and continuous increase in the amount of crime of this description. It is only since 1857 that we have had accurate statistics of crime laid before Parliament. I find that in that year there were of summary charges brought before magistrates for the infringement of the Game Laws 3,567, and of cases of night poaching and destroying game summarily dealt with, 1,883—making altogether, 5,534 summary charges for offences against the Game Laws. I find that in the year 1861—the last year for which we have complete Returns—that 8,563 cases were brought before magistrates for summary adjudication—that out of these there were no less than 7,007 convictions. Coming to 1862, the Returns for which are not before us, but which arc in course of being prepared, the number of cases brought before magistrates for summary adjudication was 10,135. I am not able to state what number resulted in convictions; but here was an increase of from 5,534 in 1857 to 10,135 in 1862, cases brought summarily before magistrates for infringement of the Game Laws. This excludes altogether the most serious class of cases under the Night Poaching Act; under which persons are committed for 1570 trial at the assizes for various offences, for going about at night armed in pursuit of game, and for acts of violence connected with poaching. I think that is a state of matters which demands the serious consideration of the House. In 1841 a Committee of this House was moved for to inquire into the Game Laws. That Committee was granted, and one of the main reasons why the Government assented to that Committee was the connection which appeared to exist between crime and the Game Laws. I must say that that reason is stronger now than it was then. I am bound to say also that I think that this increase of crime is in some degree owing to the great increase of game and to the excessive preservation of it, though I entirely agree with those who are in favour of a reasonable preservation of game with a view to that legitimate sport which it is desirable to encourage, and which no man, I think, wishes to destroy. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment (Mr. Paull) took the earliest opportunity this Session of giving notice that he would introduce a Bill to make game property. That is an idea which has been gaining ground of late. There is a good deal to be said in favour of it; but considering the state of the law, the decisions of courts of law, and the many questions which must be weighed before any Act can be passed making game property, I think that a careful inquiry ought to be made into the subject. I understood that the hon. Gentleman, as soon as notice of this Motion for the appointment of a Committee was given, withdrew his notice of the Bill. The law, as it at present stands, is certainly in a most anomalous state. It is understood to rest on a dictum of Lord Coke, that where game started on one property is killed upon it, it belongs to the owner of that property; but that if it passes over the boundary of that property and goes into another property, and is there killed, it belongs to the person by whom it is killed. I think there are ample grounds for inquiring into the state of the law before we assent to the proposal made by the hon. Gentleman that game should he made property. The only reason urged against the proposed inquiry is that the Act passed last Session, which it is said will be a cure for all the evils complained of, has been only a short time in operation. I cannot think that is a sufficient reason for negativing the Motion of my hon. Friend. If it was 1571 desirable last Session that an inquiry should take place into the existing Game Laws, I think it is more desirable now. It is important that we should have one general view of what the operation of the Act of last Session has been throughout the country. The facts stated by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment will be laid before the Committee, and they will form a part of this general view of the operation of that Act. I have the satisfaction of knowing that the opposition I gave to that Bill, in conjunction with many others, led to essential modifications of it; that that opposition removed most objectionable provisions in it, and especially that arbitrary and unconstitutional power by which an individual policeman could confine a person for an indefinite time and upon mere suspicion. I believe that the Act as it passed this House was calculated in many cases to be a useful Act; but I believe, at the same time, that it has not succeeded in accomplishing the great object of its promoters—namely, the breaking-up of the gangs of poachers which, especially in Cheshire and in other parts of the north, go out armed at night and carry on poaching upon a scale which makes it impossible for the police to interfere with them except at great risk of life. The amount of crime arising from the Game Laws is most unequally distributed. We find there are counties, such as Cheshire, in which the crime abounds; while there are counties, such as Warwickshire, not differing essentially in the character of its population, in which during the time over which the Return moved for last Session extends there has been only one case of serious assault arising from poaching. I think the House ought to consider what are the causes of this crime being so frequent in some counties while in other counties the crime scarcely exists. I willingly assent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the Game Laws in redemption of the pledge that I gave last Session. Before I sit down, I wish to say that I think the decision of one of the courts of law upon the construction of the Act of last Session has been misapprehended by some hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this discussion. The case referred to came, I believe, before the Court of Common Pleas, and it was this:—Some poachers had been apprehended on a high road, fresh blood and feathers were on their nets, and it was evident that they had just come off some 1572 land in pursuit of game. The decision of the court was not, as I understood it, that the onus probandi in every case was to be thrown upon a person in the possession of game on a highway, but that it was for the magistrates to determine whether the circumstances given in evidence were such as to lead them to believe that the terms of the Act applied to the persona brought before them. It is a misapprehension, therefore, to suppose that the police are about to assume some new power in consequence of the decision of the Court. Last Session I promised that I would support a Motion for a Committee of Inquiry, and in fulfilment of that pledge I shall vote for the Motion of the hon. Member.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, as the House had been informed by the right hon. Baronet that Warwickshire was free from the crime of poaching, they might be surprised at his having taken an active part in procuring an alteration of the Game Law last Session. He did so because information came to him from Warwickshire that gangs were being formed in Birmingham and other large towns, and he was anxious to check their formation. He thought it would not become the dignity of the House to enter upon an inquiry before the Act of last Session had had a fair trial. He would warn hon. Gentlemen that there had been an under-current agitation, and that many were the delusions which had been propagated among the farming classes on the subject. The supporters of the Act of last Session had been untruly represented to be exclusively in favour of large preservers. That no doubt was the character of the Bill when it came down from the House of Lords, but it underwent an alteration. He hoped that in vindication of the law of last Session the House would refuse an inquiry.
§ LORD ALFRED CHURCHILL
suggested, that as there was a licence to kill game, and a licence to sell game, there should also be a licence to preserve game. [The noble Lord spoke amid loud and continuous cries for a Division.]
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 157; Noes 176: Majority 19.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.1573
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Game Laws, should be postponed until further experience shall have been obtained of the working of "The Prevention of Poaching Act, 1862.