HC Deb 11 July 1864 vol 176 cc1324-8

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Why the Return of Prosecutions under the Game Laws, from 1857 to 1862 inclusive, ordered by the House, was printed before the wanting Returns, 105 in number, were obtained. He could not but complain of the negligence of the clerks of the peace with respect to the Returns, but defective as they were the result of the Return as presented was, that there had been 30,673 convictions in England and Wales under the Game Laws from 1857 to 1862, and 3,326 prosecutions in Scotland. It was to the credit of the judicial authorities in Scotland that none of the Returns in reference to that country were wanting. In England, however, Returns were wanting from as many as 105 places, among which were Southampton, Horsham, Lewes, Uckfield, Marlborough, Exeter, Buckingham, Swansea, and Leamington. He might, perhaps, be told by the Home Secretary that he had no power to obtain the wanting Returns, but notwithstanding it was a just cause of complaint that £700 of the public money had been expended in printing defective Returns. No doubt that House had the power to insist that the order for the Returns should be obeyed; and if that order was not complied with, then the parties refusing to comply with it might be summoned to the Bar of the House. He thought that there ought to be some other method of getting the Returns so ordered; but, if not, he would not shrink from his duty, and would have the parties summoned to the Bar of the House, if necessary, when the parties would find themselves subjected to much heavier expense than the several Returns would have entailed upon them. Under the circumstances, he had had recourse to the annual judicial Returns of the Home Office, which were lucid in their details, and exhibited the moral condition of England and Wales in connection with offences. According to the Returns of the Home Office, the total number of offences against the Game Laws in 1857 numbered 5,480. In 1862, however, under the present most stringent law, they rose to 10,101 prosecutions, being an increase of nearly 100 per cent. In the six years ending in 1857 the prosecutions amounted to 30,673; but in the six years ending in 1863 they amounted to 49,845, of which 8,556 persons accused were dis- charged, and 41,209 were convicted; whereas the defective Return of which he complained comprised a total of only 30,673 for England and Wales, and 3,326 for Scotland. In the Scotch Return a touching observation was made, In reference to the 3,326 cases, some of the offenders were described as having "deserted," which meant that in consequence of some trifling trespass, perhaps, they had been obliged to abandon their home and family and desert their country, It is lamentable that so many poor persons are annually consigned to a prison or fined under the Game Laws; but there is no prospect of the number being diminished, while the poor continue to think that there can he no individual or personal property in migratory birds or animals. The people are irritated by the apparently arbitrary manner in which fines and costs were adjudged. He would just give the House a specimen of the relation between the penalty and the costs in some cases. In one case in England the penalty was 3d. find the costs 7s. 6d.; in another case, at Eastwood, Notts, the penalty was 6d. and the costs 19s. 6d., or about thirty-eight times the amount of the penalty, and, generally speaking, the costs were four times the amount of the penalty. Surely there ought to be some more just ratio between the costs and the penalty. It had been calculated by a writer in one of the newspapers that, taking the prosecutions from 1857 to 1862, as 30,673, and assuming that the cost of the prosecutions bore a certain relation to the total cost of the judicial establishments, the result was, that every landowner out of the towns and cities of England and Wales (the number of such landowners being reckoned at 30,000) had £60 a year paid to him for the preservation of his game. He did not pretend to say that the calculation was correct, indeed it could not be correct, but such was that writer's statement. In the six years in question the number of convictions for offences and crimes, great and small, was 2,354,720, and the total cost of the medical establishments, prosecutions, &c., £5,725,197. The average cost of each offence was, therefore, £2 9s. per head. He hoped the Home Secretary would inform them why the Return had been presented in so imperfect a form.


Sir, I am not going to follow the hon. Gentleman opposite, who drew attention to the state of the reservoirs in the country, through all the details of the particular works to which he referred. His suggestion is, I understand, that in accordance with the opinion expressed by the jury at Sheffield, there should be regular and official inspection by Government of all the reservoirs throughout the country. Now, on the part of the Government, I must altogether decline to assume the responsibility which that system would involve. It is a duty which it would be absolutely impossible for the Government to discharge. Mr. Rawlinson said it was out of the question for Inspectors to take the responsibility of saying that reservoirs were safe. I have also had a conversation on the subject with the eminent engineer Mr. Hawkshaw, who said that no engineer, however competent, could, by merely looking at an embankment, pronounce whether it was safe. No doubt an Inspector might find occasionally a reservoir which was obviously not safe, and that is what Mr. Rawlinson did in certain cases, where an engagement was obtained that the water should not be let in till the works were made secure. The owners of these reservoirs are naturally rather in favour of the course now suggested, for it would relieve them from the legal responsibility which rests upon them. If it he true, as has been alleged to-night, that there are reservoirs in a condition so dangerous that they excite the greatest alarm among the population in the neighbourhood, then I recommend the hon. Gentleman, or any others who may be concerned, to take legal proceedings by indictment. If the works are in the state which the hon. Member has described, the law provides a remedy. Moreover, there is the criminal responsibility which rests on those against whom culpable negligence can be proved, leading to loss of life, and the pecuniary responsibility which is involved in the possible destruction of large and costly works. It would be well, however, when any Water Bill comes before Parliament, that the Committee should insist on proper clauses being inserted to secure, as far as possible, the safety of the public. There was one remark which fell from the hon. Gentleman which I heard with deep regret. I believe he sometimes speaks under great excitement, and is not really aware of what he: says. He has accused Mr. Rawlinson of certifying the soundness of a work, knowing it to be unsound. Mr. Rawlinson is well known to many Members of this House, and it is hardly necessary for me to say that he is a civil engineer of great eminence, experience, and of very high character; and that he can have no possible motive whatever for in any way concealing the truth in such cases. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman himself would not repeat the charge in his cooler moments.

As to the question which has been asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes), the reason why the Game Conviction Return has been presented in an imperfect form is simply because it comprises all the information which it is possible to obtain. It is a Return of extraordinary length. It occupies in type 481 closely printed pages, with seven columns of figures on each page; and it was several months in passing through the press. Application was made for the required Returns by a circular letter to the clerks of the peace, of petty sessions, and so on. Many of these officers, however, declined to furnish returns which entailed so much labour without remuneration. The Government have no power of remunerating them, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be aware of the only means of compulsion, which he can put in force if he thinks it worth while.


disclaimed any intention of saying a word against the character of Mr. Rawlinson. All he meant was that twenty years ago Mr. Rawlinson himself pointed out a substance which he said rendered a certain work dangerous, and yet he did not allude to it in his recent Report.


said, he believed that Mr. Rawlinson's inspection had given satisfaction at Bradford, and his Report had tended to remove the alarm which previously existed on the subject. Two reservoirs were found to be unsound, and an undertaking had been required that they should not be filled till they were rendered quite safe. There could be no doubt that there was a strong feeling in the country in regard to the matter; and it was not surprising when they recollected the catastrophes at Holmfirth and Sheffield. He quite agreed, however, with his right hon. Friend, that Government could not assume the responsibility of inspecting all the reservoirs with a view to determine their soundness. The result of such a system would be to shift the responsibility to a great extent from the shoulders of those who constructed or owned the works to the Government. It appeared to be unquestionable that the engineering science of the day was not up to the construction of these embankments; and if so, that was a rather disgraceful fact. He thought the Government ought to issue a commission to the most scientific men they could obtain, to inquire whether any general provisions could be devised applicable to all reservoirs and waterworks. For instance, both at Holmfirth and Sheffield it was known be forehand that the works were going to break; but the water could not be run off in time to prevent an inundation. It was only fair, in his opinion, that some provision should be made for such a contingency. Again, he thought that the water should not be allowed to be above a certain height in the reservoir. He thought the Government ought to appoint a commission to inquire into the whole subject, so as to ascertain whether engineering skill might not devise some means for preventing the calamity which had occurred in the case of the Sheffield reservoir.


said, that no expense had been spared in securing the best engineering skill for the construction of the Sheffield reservoir; and he believed the bursting of the Holmfirth Reservoir had been occasioned by an accident which it was impossible to foresee. If there had been the slightest intimation given to the directors that there was any danger, this loss of life would never have happened.


explained that he did not mean to say that there was time for the directors to be aware of it. What he wished to intimate was, that when the accident appeared imminent from the state of the water it was possible there might be such an opportunity of letting the water out as would very much have lessened the evil that had occurred.