HC Deb 20 July 1866 vol 184 cc1259-66

(Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, Lord Henry Scott.)


Order for Second Reading read.


said, in rising to move the second reading of the Hares and Rabbits (Scotland) Bill, I will only trouble the House with a few words of explanation. For some years past there have been considerable complaints of the depredations committed in Scotland by game, and of the damage done to the property of the tenantry. I have carefully inquired into these complaints, and have endeavoured in the present Bill to apply a remedy. The object of the Bill is to give to the tenants, with the permission and by co-operation with the landlords, the same facilities with regard to killing hares which they have now with regard to killing rabbits. The present law affords a remedy in the case of those tenants who are themselves fond of shooting; but in other cases, where the pursuits of the tenant do not allow him to use a gun, the remedy is entirely nugatory, because he is not permitted to employ another person to kill the hares on his farm, without having a gamekeeper's license, or incurring an expense which he does not choose to incur. The object of this Bill is to enable tenants to kill hares on their farms by registering the names of the persons whom they depute for that purpose. I am perfectly aware that in touching the question of game at all, considerable differences of opinion may arise. Many may say that it is not desirable to meddle with the question at all; while others, for whom I have a great respect, will say that considerably more than the provisions contained in this Bill ought to be done. Considering the grievance to be a real one, I took counsel with many proprietors and tenants in Scotland, and having enjoyed the benefit of their advice, I beg to submit the Bill which I hold in my hand as a contribution to the settlement of the question. I believe the limited object this Bill proposes to gain will be obtained by the clauses which I venture to propose; but I am not entirely wedded to the particular provisions of the Bill, and I shall hear the observations of hon. Friends upon the subject with great interest and deference. I am quite sure they will agree with me that it is most desirable to endeavour, if possible, to take some course which may remove any unpleasantness of feeling which may possibly arise upon the subject between the landlords and tenants in Scotland.

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Bill be now read the second time."—(Sir William Stirling-Maxwell.)


I am very glad to have heard the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire, admitting as it does the existence of this grievance. My only regret is, that the Bill will be inoperative in carrying out the wishes of my hon. Friend, because it is practically really of no advantage to the tenant, it being a Bill to enable him to kill game with the consent of the landlord. It is all very well for us who have the enjoyment of the game to desire its preservation; but I would ask anybody whose living depends on the culture of the land, whether there is not the most inordinate preservation of game carried on, by means of which, in the damage done to crops and otherwise, very great injury is done to the tenant. The preservation of game in Scotland, where the agriculture is improving generally, has long been a great annoyance to the tenant, as well as a loss to him in the damage done to his crops, incurring as he does great expense in adopting the most improved methods of agriculture. It is a great hardship that he should have a considerable portion of his energies destroyed, and I am very glad indeed that this Bill has been brought forward. This Bill will, in my opinion, do great service in Scotland. At the same time, I do consider that it will require very considerable amendment, and I hope that my hon. Friend will help us in rendering this Bill perfect.


It is not my intentention to oppose the second reading of this Bill. If I did so, it would give rise to considerable misapprehension. So far as I understand it, the principle of the Bill is this—that it is highly desirable that some change should be made in the present law of Scotland with regard to the preservation of hares and rabbits. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) has not exaggerated the evil which is suffered by the tenants from the present system; and I think the thanks of the House are due to the hon. Baronet opposite for having attempted to grapple with the subject. I believe the Bill originated in the fertile brain of an hon. Baronet who was defeated at the last election for Aberdeenshire. The hon. Baronet had declared that any attempt to alter the game laws was humbug; but after his defeat he altered his mind and suggested this Bill. I do not wonder, therefore, that there are many hon. Gentlemen who look upon the Bill with suspicion. But to have opposed the second reading of this Bill would have been likely to create some misapprehension with regard to many Gentlemen on this side of the House. I therefore consider it to be only right that the Bill should be read a second time. At the same time, I must be allowed to say that it is capable of very great amendment, and I hope that Amendments will be placed upon the paper, so that we shall be able to go to our constituencies and explain the nature of those Amendments, asking their opinions as to what they think ought to be done in the matter, then in a future Session it will be in our power to introduce a good Bill. In the present Session I do not think we are able to do much upon the subject.


I quite agree with the last words of my hon. Friend who has just spoken, that the difficulties of dealing with the question are so great that it will be impossible to dispose of it in the present Session. I agree also with the opinion which has been expressed that some considerable change in the present condition of things is required, and I do not think we ought to stand in the way of the very moderate measure introduced by my hon. Friend opposite. With this view, I do not think we should overload the Bill with Amendments, such as to render it impossible to pass this small measure this Session, leaving the larger question to be dealt with subsequently. In the high state of our present cultivation in Scotland, some legislation is required in the interest of those who are engaged in the actual cultivation of the land, and I think there is no means we can adopt short of taking this class of game out of the special protection enjoyed by the others. I trust that we may be able to deal with the whole question in a future Session, and therefore I will not enter now into the reasons why a broad distinction may be drawn between this and other kinds of game. I shall be glad to join with other hon. Members in doing all in my power to put a stop to this great nuisance, and to place hares and rabbits beyond the pale of the protection of the law.


Representing as I do one of the largest agricultural districts in Scotland, I feel bound to say that this Bill gives great satisfaction to the tenant farmers. For some years the onus of keeping the hares and rabbits from the tenantry has been thrown upon the proprietors, because, although the law has given them to the tenants, the leases have taken them away again. At the same time, I must say that this Bill does not provide a remedy for all the grievances complained of. It does not, for instance, deal with deer, which occasion, I believe, quite as great an amount of destruction as hares and rabbits. In point of fact, it only nibbles at a very small portion of the great question of game preserving. Upon these grounds I for one object that the measure does not go far enough, but I think that its deficiencies may be made up in Committee. The state of the law of Scotland at present is quite sufficient to enable any complaints of the tenant farmers to be met; and if the landlords would only avail themselves of it, and grant their tenants permission to kill game, we should hear no more of grievances, and the proprietors would receive ample remuneration for any sacrifice they might make in the increased good feeling which would spring up between landlord and tenant.


As there is a real and substantial grievance concerned in this question, I think the House will not be indisposed to afford an opportunity of redress. This Bill has an honest origin, whatever may be thought of it by any hon. Members. It is an attempt to settle a question which has given rise to a great deal of bad feeling between classes which ought always to be cordially allied. It crops up every day, and I really do not wonder at it. A man takes a long lease of a farm, and he finds large quantities of game feeding on the crops which he regards a s his own. In England the matter is made a matter of covenant between the landlord and tenant; and, in the absence of a covenant, provided that the tenant takes out a licence to shoot game, all the game is as much his property as his beasts and ordinary stock. In Scotland that is not so; the game is the property of the landlord unless he gives liberty to his tenant to shoot it. It is in the presence of an anomaly like this that my hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire (Sir William Stirling-Maxwell) has introduced this simple measure, the object 'of which is merely to remedy a substantial grievance. If this Bill passes in the absence of any provision to the contrary, the tenant will be able to destroy the game to which he objects. There are some hon. Gentlemen who say that this Bill does not go far enough; but are they prepared to say that no agreement should be made between the landlord and tenant? Are they prepared to keep up a bad feeling between landlord and tenant; and, for the sake of others who have objects which are merely chimerical, to refuse to accept a measure which in itself has all the elements of a fair settlement?


I could have wished that if ever legislation had been attempted on the game laws, a much larger measure would have been introduced than the Bill now before the House. It falls far short of the exigencies of the case, far short of what will be necessary to satisfy those who complain, and complain justly, of the evils arising from the game laws. It deals only with one part of those laws, and leaves untouched other parts as important, and as much the cause of offence as the part treated on. I feel convinced that, if the legislation of the hon. Member for Perthshire had been as liberal as I know his practice is on his estates as regards game, his Bill would have given much more satisfaction than this is likely to do. But, notwithstanding the shortcomings of this Bill, I do not agree with those who think that no benefit would be derived from it if passed into law. It is a step in the right direction; and the very introduction of it is evidence that the proprietors of Scotland are now alive to the necessity of amending the game laws. Now, before we can suggest any remedy, we must know the evils complained of. It is well known that where game is kept in moderation, and where a good understanding exists between landlord and tenant—and I am happy to say that such is the case in many parts of Scotland—there is no complaint or dissatisfaction; but where there is an excessive preservation of game, or where large quantities of game are sold off an estate, there invariably are great dissatisfaction and agitation. Hence I am led to believe that the dissatisfaction is not so much with the game laws as with the excessive preservation of game, though no doubt this is encouraged by the game laws. And I am not surprised at the dissatisfaction of the farmers where there is this excessive preservation of game. I am not surprised that a farmer who has devoted his whole time, energy, skill, and capital to the proper cultivation of the farm, and who pays a high rent for it, should be irritated that his crops, the fruits of his careful labour, are destroyed by the hares and rabbits at every stage of their growth, from the expansion of the first leaf to the maturing of the seed. I am not surprised that he should still more be irritated when he learns that his landlord, in addition to the rent received by him, is paid another rent for the same land by a game tenant, or, what is the same thing, receives a handsome income by the sale of game which had been reared and fed on the crops of the agricultural tenant. It is still more aggravating for a tenant to know that while his landlord and he are on the best of terms, his crops situated contiguous to the preserves of another proprietor are destroyed by the game of that proprietor, who receives an income for animals fed on another man's property, and on another man's crops. The best remedy for this evil is to allow hares and rabbits to be dropped from the game list. I am aware that it will be said that it is a mere matter of agreement between the landlord and tenant; and that the tenant has no right to complain, as he took his farm on the distinct understanding that the landlord reserved to himself the game and the right to preserve it. No doubt this is in most cases true; but such an agrement entered into in the beginning of a lease is generally found to be most unsatisfactory afterwards, as one of the contracting parties enters into a contract for subjects the value of which he knows nothing about; for no tenant, a stranger in the district, when he takes a farm, can estimate aright the number of game kept on the farm, and the damage likely to be done by it throughout the lease. I am therefore not surprised that generally dissatisfaction is felt by the tenants of those farms in the vicinity of preserves, and often disputes arise, even though arrangements had been entered into by the parties in the beginning of the lease in perfect good faith. There are other parts of the law which I should like to see introduced into any Bill professing to amend the present Game Laws, such as cumulative punishments, the jurisdiction before which game cases should be tried, and the mode of procedure for assessing damages for the injury done to tenants' crops. However incredible it may appear, it is no less true that a man may be punished five times in Scotland for the same offence. I shall not, however, enter upon these parts of the law at present, as I expect to have an opportunity of doing so early next Session, when I shall move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws relating to game in Scotland. On consulting with some Members we have thought it advisable not to oppose the second reading of this Bill, but rather to move Amendments to the Bill in Committee, of which Amendment I shall avail myself in my Bill next Session. As this Bill is an assimilation to the English laws as regards hares and rabbits, it would have been much better if, in any attempt at legislation at all, the tenants of the two countries had been put in the same position—namely, that the same privileges as regards game generally had been extended to the Scottish tenants as are enjoyed by their English brethren. I do believe that the best way to preserve game, and that which will be most satisfactory to the landlord in the long run, is to give the same privilege to the tenants as is enjoyed by the landlord; and if a preferable right were to be given to one party more than to another, he surely on whose crops the game feeds is clearly entitled to the right. There can be no doubt that the English law as regards game is founded more on justice than the Scotch. I hope that all the Scotch Members, regarding this law more in 'the light of justice than of territorial right, and throwing aside all party and political differences, will next Session endeavour to make such amendments in the law as to remove what at present is the plague spot of our agricultural social system.


said, while giving every credit to the promoters of this Bill for an anxious desire to allay the agitation which had recently arisen among the tenant farmers in Scotland from the excessive preservation of game, and although unwilling to oppose the second reading of the Bill, lie begged to say that its provisions did nothing to meet the substantial grievance now felt in Scotland. The opinions of, he believed, a large majority of the tenant farmers in Scotland was embodied in a petition from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture presented to the House; nothing less would be satisfactory, and he thought that the concessions there asked should be made in a liberal spirit. He was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) that he intended bringing in next Session a comprehensive measure; and at this hour of the morning he would only add that it would be of such a character as would put a stop to the ill-feeling on the subject of game, which at present unfortunately existed in so many parts of Scotland between landlord and tenant.

Bill read a second time and committed for Thursday next.