§ MR. LOCH
said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation and effect of the Game Laws in Scotland. He did so, because this was a subject upon which there existed a very strong feeling in Scotland, as was evinced by the fact that there were three Game Bills now before the House. They were to have been read a second time on Wednesday last; but, owing to the long discussion which took place on the second reading of the Bill to legalize Marriages with a Deceased Wife's Sister, they were postponed to the 23rd June, the earliest clay available. The result of that delay was to make it hopeless to attempt to pass any one of them this Session. Now, this was a subject of very great importance to him. He had hoped that something might have been done during the present Session to allay the feeling to which he had alluded, and which could not be much longer disregarded. He now, therefore, rose to propose that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the subject, with a view to obtain the best information accessible upon the question, to guide the House in legislation upon it next year. He desired by his Motion to convince the people of Scotland that he was actuated by a most sincere and earnest desire to obtain for them a remedy for a real and serious grievance which existed to his knowledge, under the present state of things. He was anxious that a Select Committee should be appointed at the present time, because he thought that the period between this and the close of the Session might be so occupied in Committee as to lay the foundation for legislation next year, in a manner far more satisfactory than if they were to pass this year any of the Bills now before the House. Now, although there were many Gentlemen in this House who were thoroughly acquainted with the state of feeling prevalent in Scotland, and were, therefore, perfectly competent to consider the question in all its aspects thoroughly and well, yet, as far as the general body of the House was concerned, there were many points in connection with the ope- 1714 ration of the Scotch Game Laws which were not sufficiently known, and on which it was very desirable that the House should be better informed, in order that a satisfactory conclusion might be arrived at. That information could be obtained through the investigation of a Select Committee; and, in order to render whatever conclusion the House came to as satisfactory as possible, it ought to have the fullest information which a Select Committee could give. He therefore hoped the House would be prepared to accede to the Motion for the appointment of the Committee. There had been no inquiry into the Scotch Game Laws at any period. In 1845 a Committee was appointed, to which the Instruction was, to inquire generally into the Game Laws. The Committee sat for two years—the end being that they presented a long and elaborate Report; but they did not inquire into the Scotch Game Laws for the reason, as they stated, that the condition of the law in Scotland was so entirely different from the English law on the subject. The law of trespass in Scotland was different; the state of society in Scotland in relation to tenants and landlords was upon a different footing altogether, in consequence of the existence in Scotland of leases. Over a large portion of England the farms were held upon parole agreement, from year to year; but in Scotland the existence of leases was universal, forming, he might add, the basis upon which the better intelligence, prosperity, and liberal outlay of the tenants in that country had so long been established as compared with the general body of English farmers. Now, this circumstance, so advantageous in other respects, exposed the Scotch tenantry to difficulties peculiar to themselves, because, when a tenant entered upon a lease for nineteen years, which generally contained strict game clauses, he was bound down to a state of things over which he had no control whatever, and he had no means of protection from the game, nor any means of escaping the penalties and consequences of his lease; therefore, the condition of things in Scotland was essentially different from anything which existed in this country. For this reason he proposed that the inquiry should be limited to Scotland, and not be extended to England. An Amendment had been given notice of by an 1715 hon. Friend (Mr. Hardcastle) that the inquiry should be extended to England; but to that proposal he thought there was considerable objection. It would, in the first place, give a magnitude to the inquiry which would render it utterly impossible to bring it to a practical conclusion during the present Session of Parliament, while, by confining the investigation to Scotland, the Committee would be able to accomplish a great deal towards legislation next year. In addition to this he thought it would be very undesirable to raise questions in connection with the English Game Laws, which were not necessary to decide those matters which were at present producing such an unhappy state of feeling in Scotland. For his own part he could not but wonder the landlords of Scotland did not see the true character of the position which they occupied. There was a social revolution going on in many of the counties which was being caused mainly by this matter; and the legitimate influence which the landlords had so long exercised was departing from them, because they had not yet shown a desire to meet their tenants half-way on this subject. Knowing the tenants in Scotland so well as he did, he said that if there was the least disposition to meet them, they would meet their landlords fully half-way, and there would be an end to these difficulties. He did not intend to go at all into the merits of the question, and he contented himself by moving the appointment of a Select Committee.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he agreed with his hon. Friend most heartily in all he had said in reference to the enterprize and general character of the Scottish tenantry, and also as to the desirableness of bringing about, if possible, by legislation, a better feeling between landlords and tenants on the subject of game than unhappily existed at the present moment in Scotland. Now, he had himself brought in one of the three Bills on this subject now before the House, and he had honestly promoted the Bill in the form in which he believed in his conscience it was possible to legislate. The history of that Bill was somewhat curious. Practically, it was not the Bill he brought in two years ago—it was the Bill of a Select Committee. It would be in the recollection of the House that his Bill, along with that introduced by 1716 the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) was referred to a Select Committee. His (Lord Elcho's) Bill was taken as the basis on which the Committee went to work, and the result of their operations was the Bill now on the table. The principle of the Bill as originally brought in was to put the tenant in the best possible position for making a bargain with his landlord in the matter of game—that is, that when he took his farm he should be considered as having a primary right to the game, which he either retained or gave up when he made his covenant with his landlord. Now, the way that principle was struck out of the Bill was curious. The hon. Member for Fife entered into consultation with him (Lord Elcho) on the subject, and agreeing with the principle, he allowed his name to be put on the back of the Bill. When the Committee came to this clause, he said, of course, there could be no question about it; but, unhappily, the Lord Advocate said he had an objection to the principle; and upon a division it was struck out by a majority of 1, and amongst the majority against the principle was the hon. Member for Fife, who actually voted against what he had previously approved of. Wishing that this present Parliament should know exactly what the last Parliament had done on this subject, he (Lord Elcho) brought in the Bill exactly in the form in which it left the Committee; and moreover than that he printed the clause which was knocked out in Committee, and which, as he had said, gave the tenant the primary right to the game when he entered upon his lease. This he had done to facilitate legislation, and in doing so acted perfectly bonâ fide. He entirely agreed that it was desirable that this question should be dealt with somehow or other by Parliament; but when those Bills stood for second reading the other day, he felt that there was no hope of carrying them through. In his opinion the principle of the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Loch) was so wrong that he hoped Parliament would not sanction it. His own impression was that the Government should be invited—nay urged—to take up the subject, and deal with it, because it was only a strong Government which could deal with a question so difficult as this undoubtedly was. If the House would bear with 1717 him he would read an extract from the proceedings of a meeting of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture in Edinburgh, at which the tenantry of Scotland spoke of these three measures; and in order to show that he was dealing fairly, he would give first the extracts referring to his own Bill. A letter was read from Mr. M'Keig, who said—"I consider Lord Elcho's Bill a mere mockery." The President said—Lord Elcho's Bill is one which common sense will at once dismiss as a sham; an insult to a class who deserve better things of a nobleman of his Lordship's standing. The Bill is as valueless as a remedy as it is deceptive. His Lordship must have a poor idea of our intellects if he thinks we can be caught by such chaff.Mr. Hope, of Fenton Barns, said—"After the remarks of the Chairman he would not throw water on a drowned mouse;" and Mr. Goodlet, of Bolsham, said—"As to Lord Elcho's Bill, it was humbug and a sham, not worth talking about." He now came to the measure proposed by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. M'Lagan). Now, what was said about that Bill? Mr. Gentle, of Bell, Inverness, said—Henceforth and after dropping hares and rabbits out of the Game List, the agreement between proprietors and tenants will be quite superfluous. Many tenants are as determined game protectors as their proprietors. For my part, I will give the public welcome; only if damage is done it must be paid for.Mr. M'Keig said—Mr. M' Lagan's Bill is a step in the right direction, but it will not remove the tenant-farmer's grievance to any considerable extent. It certainly would not protect us from determined game preservers, and it is there we require protection. It will not do for a landlord and his tenant to agree to destroy crops.Mr. Scot-Skirving said—He wished those who were in favour of the Bill would show him how it would allow hares and rabbits to be killed otherwise than by letting poachers do it. There was a fallacy about the law of trespass. An action for trespass must be at the instance of the landlord. No occupant of land could prosecute for trespass. All that he could do would be to prosecute for damages. If the Bill passed, then there must be so stringent a trespass law that it would interfere with the pleasurable rights of the population.Mr. Davie said—Knocking hares and rabbits out of the Game Law was all right as far as tenants were concerned; but how tenants could agree to this bill, which knocked hares and rabbits into the hands of the poachers, he could not understand. If Mr. Hope knew what the difficulties of keeping poachers off farms were, with the terrors of the present Game Laws, he thought he would not have supported Mr. M'Lagan's Bill.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
rose to Order. He wished to know whether it was competent for the noble Lord to quote these opinions about the details of Bills which were at present upon the table of the House, and which stood for discussion on a future day?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Motion before the House is for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject proposed to be dealt with by these Bills, and therefore a general reference to those Bills is permissible. But it will not be right for the noble Lord to go into details.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he would not go too much into details, but he thought it was only right the House should hear the opinions which were expressed at the meeting in respect to the Bill of the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs. The main principle of that Bill was to take hares and rabbits out of the Game List. Alluding to the subject, the President said—As far as the tenant-farmers were concerned it would give everything many would desire; but the question was, would the House of Commons pass it? I am afraid not. Besides, we know it is a delicate thing to interfere with an agreement or a covenant.Mr. Hope, of Fenton Barns, said—With respect to Mr. Loch's Bill, he held that the clauses giving power to the tenant to kill game on his farm, notwithstanding any agreement in the lease to the contrary, to be an immoral clause. He did not think it was the duty of the Legislature to over-ride private bargains in any way, unless those bargains were for an immoral purpose. If he promised to preserve hares and rabbits, he would consider himself bound to act up to that obligation. He did not think the farmers of Scotland were so weak and imbecile that they required to go hat in hand to the Legislature and ask them to protect them from their own acts.Mr. Goodlet said—Supposing the Bill passed, and he made a bargain with his landlord to preserve hares and rabbits, if he were an honest man, he would keep his bargain notwithstanding such an Act.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the noble Lord that he made an engagement to the House that he would not enter into the detail of these Bills.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he would pass to another point. He thought he had shown that a very considerable amount of disagreement existed on the part of tenantry of Scotland on the subject of these three Bills. They objected to the principle of his (Lord Elcho's) Bill, although it was to give to the tenant the 1719 primary right to the game. They objected to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan), because it would have the effect of bringing poachers on the land; and they took exception in the strongest terms to the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Loch), because they said it was an unprecedented interference with the right of private persons with respect to agreements. As one gentleman put it, "he (Lord Elcho) hoped the Legislature would, not in any way sanction such an insult to the tenantry of Scotland as to suppose that they would enter into an agreement of this character." This showed the extreme difficulty of the subject-matter of these Bills; and what he should deem more satisfactory would be to urge upon the Government the propriety of their dealing with this question. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Loch) proposed a Committee. No doubt the Committee would take evidence; but it was a question if their inquiry could be terminated, or that they would be enabled to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion this Session. No doubt it would be extremely convenient to the Government to shelve the subject, as it were, by handing it over to a Select Committee. But we had a "strong Government," and if they were to take it in hand they might settle it without any reference at all to a Select Committee. With regard to the Game Laws in general, it was an open question with some whether we should have any Game Laws or not; but let the House mark this, that every country in the world had Game Laws. The Game Laws of America extend to the preservation of small birds, and in France the Game Laws were more stringent than ours. There was one law in particular, not passed under any Imperial regime, but in the time of the Citizen King in 1844. By it every man must take out what was called a permit de chasse. Without this, he might not shoot at all; with it, he might shoot anywhere if he had the permission of the person who owns the land. If he was the owner of land surrounded by a four feet fence, he could make his own Game Laws, and fix when the season was to open or close; in other cases the Prefêt decided what should be the close or open season. With regard to the general question—they had in every 1720 country either a very stringent Trespass Law or a Game Law; and he did not think the House would be prepared to do away with all protection to property of this kind. As regards the landlords themselves, he wished that they could bring themselves to look at this question as one of even-handed justice between man and man, as if there were no hustings either behind or before them, and as if the tenant-farmers had no votes at all. He maintained that all that legislation could do was two things—they could do what the 1 & 2 Will. IV., c. 38, did for England, they could transfer the primary right to the game, and to those creatures that run upon the soil, from the proprietor to the occupier. That was the state of the law in England. In Scotland it was different. Rabbits, by the common law of Scotland, were the property of the occupier, but all other description of game were the property of the landlord. Scotland and England were a united kingdom, and he thought they ought to pull together, and that one law should rule these matters throughout the country. He believed that in this matter the principle of the English Law was sound, and that the principle of the Scotch Law was unsound—that it was sound that the man who was the occupier of the land, who farmed it, who grew his crops on it, should have the right of control over those creatures by whom those crops might be injured. If he covenanted, if he received a consideration to give it up, that was a matter between him and his landlord, and the Legislature had done all that the Legislature could do when it put him in the best possible position to make his bargain with the landlord. It was on this broad principle that he had endeavoured to deal with the matter by his Bill. The other point on which he thought Parliament could come to the aid of the farmer was this—Supposing a bargain to be made, they ought to see that it was kept on the part of the landlord, and provide most summary and stringent remedies for redress and compensation. Depend upon it that—look upon this question how they would, say what they liked on the hustings, promise one thing or another—when they came soberly to discuss the question as between landlord and tenant, the whole thing resolved itself into a question of bargain and compensation. All that 1721 Parliament had to do was to put the tenant in the best possible position to make his bargain, and having made it, to place him in the best possible position to force, if needs be, his landlord to keep it, and to give him remedy and redress in case of departure from it. That he maintained was a sound principle. The hon. Member for the Wick Burghs proposed in his Bill that agreements between landlord and tenant should not have effect, and also an alteration with regard to the Law of Trespass. What would the effect of that be in a country like Scotland? A letter appeared about a fortnight ago in The Times newspaper from a well-known sportsman and crack shot, Captain Boss. He said—They (the farmers in the Highlands) know very well that, owing to the charms of Highland sports, estates in Highland counties hare sold at a rate of purchase which is quite unknown in any other parts of Great Britain—I believe I may say of the world. From forty to sixty years' purchase of the free rents, including shooting rent, have in many instances been the price paid for Highland estates. The shooting rents amount from one-third to a-half of the gross rent, and on them the marriage settlement of younger children's provisions, public and local burdens, have been charged. Pass such an Act as that which has been introduced by the hon. Member for the Northern Burghs, and the shooting rents will go down at once, and the value of the estates will fall about 10 per cent.Who were the people who gave these prices for Highland estates? They were the merchant princes of England—the men who made their money in trade and commerce and manufactures, and who came and spent part of their time in Scotland. Since he (Lord Elcho) saw that letter he had endeavoured to get some figures, which would show the real, actual, and intrinsic value of this property, which the hon. Member for the Wicks Burghs thus rudely dealt with. He was once the tenant of the hon. Member for a deer forest, in so far as he is manager of an enormous principality, in the Highlands. He rented a forest on that, and the rent he paid was £750. They managed the property exceedingly well—so much so that his hon. Friend raised the rent, and they had to leave it. What was the sheep rent of that ground. The utmost of the sheep rent of the land which they occupied for sporting purposes at £750, would have been £400 a year. But he had got figures from an authority which his hon. Friend would not dispute—he 1722 meant Mr. Snowie, the well-known gunmaker, who had the letting of a great part of the shootings in the Highlands. Mr. Snowie happened to be in town, and a friend of his (Lord Elcho's) went to him and got the following figures:—In 1865 the shooting rents in Inverness-shire, exclusive of land in the occupation of owners, and exclusive of deer forests, was £33,810, and of this only £11,000 was for land not moorland. Shootings near Inverness were let, in 1824, at £160, and the same shootings let, in 1868, at £3,000. For shootings and sheep the relative value of the land was from 6d. to 1s. per acre—so that the value of the sheep and the shooting was about equivalent. They heard a great deal about clearing for deer forests. The clearing was as much done for sheep, and the land which produced so much under deer to the proprietor, employed far more people and brought infinitely more money into the country than sheep-farming. These were facts which were indisputable. In Perthshire, he learnt from another authority that in many districts the shooting exceeds the grazing rental. For instance, A was a grazing proprietor, and had £1,000 for grazing and £1,300 for shooting; B has £1.200 for grazing and £1,150 for shooting; B again has £800 for grazing and £500 for shooting; with C and D the shooting and grazing rentals are nearly equal. In districts, shooting's with ordinary accommodation let at 1s. per acre, which was about equal to the value of the pasturage. The rental for deer forests, in 1866, was £25,570, and the reserved deer forests were valued at £13,000—making £38,570. Add to that the money spent in Scotland, which generally equalled the sum paid in rent by those who came from the South to enjoy the pleasant sport of the Highlands. He said it was a strange thing for a Gentleman to come into Parliament and to bring in a Bill which practically reduced the value of that property, as stated by Mr. Ross, by 40 per cent. Did anyone think that any of these merchant princes would come and take these shootings if they knew that anybody who chose might go and trespass and shoot rabbits over the whole of it? The Bill of the hon. Member, at one fell swoop, introduced a principle of legislation which would reduce the value of property to a serious extent. There was another 1723 point with reference to the value of property to which he would like specially to call attention. The principle of the hon. Member in dealing with this question affected not simply one description of property. There was another description of sporting property—salmon. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright), who took a deep interest in the salmon, and was much addicted to salmon fishing, was present, but he had no doubt that he would agree with him that salmon was an article of property, as well as an article which formed a great amusement, and which it would be desirable to deal with in a careful way and not to confiscate. There had been sent to him a paper which purported to be a statement of the Committee of the Galashiels Fisheries Laws Reform League, which showed really how lax were beginning to be views of persons in Scotland with reference to this question of property. The object of the Galashiels Reform League was to make all salmon public property. The Duke of Richmond gets £12,000 a-year for his salmon fisheries, and. he has a right to this as a private property in salmon. But to show the extent to which men went, when once they take up a crotchet, he would read what this paper said—By the Common Law of Scotland, as interpreted by the courts in recent occasions, all persons, except proprietors of land, or those having their permission, are excluded from angling for trout in any river, loch, stream, or water in Scotland. The exclusion is practically as complete as regards angling for salmon. The main fact to be considered in connection with these fisheries, and the unparalleled code of laws—commencing with the Tweed Act of 1857, instituted for their protection—is that they at once divide the communities living on the Tweed into two distinct classes, the eighty or ninety owners on the one hand, and many thousands of people on the other, who are totally excluded from the rivers. The present is the first generation of Borderers which has been rigourously subjected to the severe statutes the fisheries proprietors secured in 1857 and since; and while they feel that exclusion from the rivers very keenly, and suffer from the severity of the law, they cannot be made to see that there is anything felonious in taking a fish from a river. An attitude of antagonism is thus created—an antagonism destructive to that good social feeling which should exist in mixed communities.They talked about the Borderers, but there was a good deal of the Johnny Armstrong feeling in this Galashiels Reform League; for if this document were parodied, was there one word of it which any burglar or man who coveted a pearl, 1724 or any object in a shop in London, might not exactly repeat? Might he not say that "antagonism is created by the destruction of that good social feeling which ought to exist between mixed classes"—between the police and the burglar? This, he thought, ought to open people's eyes as to the language and tone which were held by some upon this question. He hoped that this Committee, if it was appointed, would not go into this question with any wild ideas upon the subject, and would look upon it calmly and deliberately. He hoped that as regards the question between landlord and tenant they would be guided by the words of one whose name ought undoubtedly to work great weight on that side of the House, and whose pupil he had been in this matter ever since 1847. A gentleman had written upon the question of the Game Laws, and there was a preface to that work which contained a letter, which he was about to read, addressed to the tenant-farmers of Great Britain—No change in the law can do so much for you as you may do for yourselves. At present the right to the game is in your own hands unless you consent to transferor reserve it to your landlords. When you take a farm and give up full control over all that lives upon it, you sign over your own subjugation to the system against which you so loudly and justly complain.These words were taken from a letter written by the President of the Board of Trade, and published in the preface to Mr. Wellford's book on the Game Laws. This letter was written immediately after the close of that inquiry, and related to the Committee on the English Game Laws—an inquiry which lasted for two Sessions; and the conclusion to which it came as regards the farmers was that by the existing law they had the remedy in their own hands, and that they had themselves to blame if there was any subjugation to the system against which they so loudly complained. He thought that this was a question which ought to be discussed, and that they ought to speak out clearly, plainly, and boldly upon it. He maintained that, as between landlord and tenant, legislation was almost powerless. What was all powerful was public opinion. No man deplored more strongly than he did, the extraordinary extent to which this system of slaughtering had been carried. But that was an abuse of legitimate sport. He thought it right and reason- 1725 able that a man should be fond of sport. He did not think a man was worth much if he had not a little of the Red Indian in him, and he thought that those who lived in towns were quite prepared to agree with the receipt of the famous Mrs. Glass, that "before you cook your hare you must catch it." With reference to the question of the sale of game, a great change in the law of England was the licence to sell game by the Act of William IV. The intention of the Act of William IV., was to prevent poaching, but it had led to the abuse of game preserving. He held that the proprietors, as an act of duty, ought not to make money out of game, or to prevent poaching, or to sell it. There ought to be some legitimate means of supplying game to those who like it at their dinners, in order to prevent the operations of poaching; but, as I said on that question what I said on the last question, what we must look to was public opinion. He believed that public opinion, rightly and frankly declared, would check the abuse of game preserving, and for himself he would say that he should endeavour, by all means in his power, to bring about such a change of feeling as would create confidence on the subject, and lead to the establishment of a kindly feeling between the landlords and tenants of Scotland.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, he was sorry that this discussion had not been taken on the second reading of the Bill he had introduced. He must express his surprise at the course which his hon. Friend proposed. The question of the Game Laws had been before the House for the last three Sessions. When the hon. Member first entered this House he was so anxious for legislation upon the subject that he introduced a Bill—from which he (Mr. M'Lagan) supposed that his knowledge must have been great upon the subject, and that his experience must have been extensive; but instead of that, and although his Bill had been before the House for six weeks, he now came forward and asked for a general inquiry into the whole subject. The uses of a Select Committee were two—one was to have a bonâ fide inquiry into the subject; the other was to shirk inquiry, and to shelve the question. He did not by any means wish to say that that was his hon. Friend's object, but certainly his Motion would have that 1726 effect. He objected to the Select Committee because there was no necessity for it. It would be useless to go into an inquiry after the Whitsuntide holidays, when only five or six weeks of the Session would be left, in which time it would not be possible for those Gentlemen, who did not agree with those who proposed alteration, to collect their evidence and to hold their witnesses in readiness, so as to enable them to report to the House this Session. He was told that the Government intended to support this Motion, and therefore there would be no use in his opposing it by moving the Previous Question; but he put to the Government whether it would not be better, instead of appointing a Select Committee, to have a Royal Commission, who would have much more time to go into the subject during the Recess than a Committee of that House in June or July, and the farmers of Scotland would be much more satisfied by such an appointment than by the appointment of a Select Committee. The Bill which he had had the honour to introduce to the House on this subject did not originate with himself—it was founded on the Resolutions of the Chamber of Agriculture of Scotland unanimously agreed to at a meeting three years ago. The farmers did not ask for protection against their landlords, or make any puerile complaints of injustice done; what they wanted was to be allowed to use their capital and their skill and their industry to the best advantage for themselves and for their landlords. He would ask the learned Lord Advocate to consider whether it would not be more advisable to have a Commission than a Select Committee. His own feeling was decidedly against both, but he certainly preferred the Commission to the Committee.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, he thought that, under the circumstances, the House ought to consent to the appointment of this Committee. If there was no other reason for it, the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) was sufficient to show that there was so much difficulty in the subject that it ought to be inquired into. It must be perfectly plain to the House that legislation this year on the subject was entirely impossible—indeed, even if the three Bills had been considered earlier in the Session, I should have said that 1727 it was not desirable to have legislation this year. The subject had excited a great deal of attention, a great deal of excitement, and a great deal of irritation in Scotland—it was the subject of discussion during the recent elections; it was a matter that had aroused agitation in all parts of the country; and, in his opinion it would better, if there was to be legislation at all, to allow this Session, at least, to pass over before attempting to settle a question which was full of difficulty, and in some respects full of delicacy also. But he thought they would spend their time to advantage in inquiring into this subject, for he believed that, under the inquiries of the Committee, it would assume its real dimensions. There was, he thought, a good deal of exaggeration both on the one side and upon the other; but he also believed there was a real grievance to be remedied; at all events he was certain that there was a very strong public opinion on the matter, and therefore under the circumstances it was the duty of the House, whatever may be the ultimate result, to take care that those opinions are accurately and sedulously sifted. Upon these grounds he thought they should accede to the Motion of his hon. Friend. Whatever may be the merits of these Bills, it appeared to him that by far the best remedy for the existing evils would be found in a proper relation and good feeling between landlords and tenants. That, and that alone, could produce the true remedy. On the other hand he must say he thought his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had argued his view of the case upon an entirely false foundation. Nothing could be done in the way of legislating on the Game Laws without keeping clearly in mind that they were the creations of statute and of statute alone. Game was not property in any sense. When a man killed a hare or a partridge on the ground of another, he did not commit theft if he carried it away; and the Legislature therefore protected the right of the proprietor of the soil by enactments directed to an entirely different result—such as the day and night poaching Acts, which attach criminality, not to the taking of the wild animals, but to the circumstances under which it was taken. Therefore, being entirely the creation of statute, the Legislature would not interfere with property even 1728 if it abolished the Game Laws altogether to-morrow; nor would it interfere with property if it attached any conditions it might think right to the Game Laws as they stand. That consideration must be the foundation of all inquiries into these matters. Salmon fisheries, which had been alluded to by the noble Lord, was property in a certain sense. It did not follow from what he had said that they were to abolish the Game Laws, or do anything to deprive the country generally of that love of sport which was part of the national character, and which existed in the minds of the tenants as well as in those of the landlords. Believing that inquiry would be useful, as bringing together the conflicting opinions on the subject, the Government would support the Motion for a Select Committee.
§ MR. MACFIE
, on behalf of the masses of this country, thanked the Government for yielding to the request for a Select Committee. He should himself have preferred the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian to have a Royal Commission. He trusted that this inquiry, when it is entered into, will not be entered into in the spirit of the Game Laws being a landlords' question or a tenants' question, but a question of public policy especially; in order that in Scotland, where there were such large tracts of uncultivated land, something might be done for the employment of the people, and for the prevention, to a large extent, of that great evil—emigration. He trusted that deer forests would be considered to come within the scope of the inquiry.
§ MR. LOCH
said, he desired to say a few words with reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho). In the first place, he thought the noble Lord was hardly justified in going into the details of the Bill which he (Mr. Loch) had presented to the House. In the few observations with which he proposed this Motion, he had abstained altogether from discussing the various questions involved in it; but after what had fallen from the noble Lord, he had no choice but to say one or two words with reference to the observations he had made. The noble Lord had entirely misapprehended the meaning and scope of his Bill. There was nothing whatever in it that proposed a power to break exist- 1729 ing covenants or agreements. The clause to which the noble Lord had adverted was purely declaratory of the law in the future, and with reference to future agreements, and was founded upon a principle as well established as any other principle could be in connection with the law—that no man had a right to use his property so as to make it injurious to third parties. That was the real meaning of the clause to which the noble Lord had adverted. But if his noble Friend had looked at the Votes, he would have found that, some fortnight or three weeks ago, he(Mr. Loch) proposed to insert a clause in the Bill in Committee, in which express provision would be made with reference to existing leases, that, in the event of a tenant desiring to take advantage of the powers conferred by the Bill, to kill hares and rabbits, he must first pay to his landlord any difference or abatement of rent, expressed in his lease as the consideration for the original reservation of that power by the latter. It was his intention, therefore, if the Bill had proceeded, to have proposed that the mutual rights of landlord and tenant—so far as affecting themselves—should be scrupulously respected. As regarded the question in its effects on the public interest, it became a different matter altogether. The clause in the Bill to which he now adverted was a declaratory clause with reference to future agreements between landlords and tenants. There were various other points to which his noble Friend alluded in the tone and spirit of a sportsman only. He spoke of the pecuniary advantage to be derived from clearing large tracts of land from sheep, and putting them under deer, and that this gave employment to an increased number of people. To a certain extent there was some truth in the observation. There could be no doubt, too, that in these days persons were willing to pay very high rents—indeed, exaggerated rents I believe them to be—for land devoted to deer; and that they did employ a number of people was also most true; but he was quite sure that the habits taught to these people, employed as gillies and gamekeepers, were not to be compared in usefulness to the habits which they would acquire as shepherds and labourers, if employed on ordinary farms. Nor are these things to be estimated merely by the amount of rent that was received. He could not think that there was in this sufficient to 1730 justify the diversion of great tracts of country from the useful purpose of producing mutton and wool, to more purposes of sport; at the same time he was far from desiring that existing deer forests should be put an end to. The noble Lord was under a misapprehension in speaking of his (Mr. Loch's) Bill as one that would interfere with the value of deer forests. He must have been confusing it with the Bill of the hon. Member for the county of Linlithgow. The remedy proposed by his (Mr. Loch's) Bill was that the tenants should have absolute power to kill the hares and rabbits on their farms. There are no tenants on deer forests, and, therefore, the danger his noble Friend thinks likely to accrue to the deer forests from his Bill is an illusory one.
§ SIR DAVID WEDDERBURN
rose only to express the hope that the evidence laid before the Committee would be ready in time to admit of satisfactory legislation early next Session. This was a subject upon which the people of Scotland felt very deeply. They had sent up fifty-two Members to support the Government, and he believed there was scarcely one Member who had not promised his constituents to support some well-considered measure on the subject. The fate of the three Bills before the House showed that this was a matter that could only be dealt with successfully by a strong Government. They now had a strong Government, many of whose most zealous supporters had been sent here to effect a reform of the Scotch Game Laws. He thought, therefore, the Scotch Liberals had a claim upon Her Majesty's Government in this matter.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
denied that there was any need of further inquiry so far as England was concerned, and thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Hardcastle); who had proposed to extend the inquiry to all parts of the United Kingdom, must either have forgotten or not paid much attention to the proceedings and Report of the Select Committee which sat upon this question in 1845–6, because there was not a single question that could be raised upon any branch or bearing of the Game Laws which had not then been raised. The proceedings of that Select Committee were of the most exhaustive character, and the Report furnished the most satisfactory reasons for effecting a change in the Game Laws. 1731 The question was thoroughly sifted, as might be concluded from the fact that the Report extended to 1,578 pages, and contained 25,603 questions. On the preservers' side there were thirty-seven witnesses examined, not one of whom was an independent tenant-farmer. These thirty-seven witnesses were made up of eleven game-preservers, eight chief-constables and inspectors of police, one master of a jail, one retired game-dealer, one beerhouse-keeper, five solicitors, four agricultural labourers, who held allotments under preservers, one farm bailiff, three gamekeepers, one land agent to a preserver, and one tenant-farmer, who was, however, also tenant to a preserver. Among the thirty-five witnesses examined on the case against preserving, there were twenty-one independent tenant-farmers. Various recommendations had been made by the majority of the Committee, but the recommendations had remained untouched. It was recommended that cumulative penalties for poaching should be abolished, but nothing had been done; that the penalty for sporting without a certificate was excessive, but nothing had been done; that informers should not receive a moiety of the penalty, but nothing had been done; that night poaching, when unattended by circumstances of aggravation, should not be punished by transportation, but nothing had been done. Neither had anything been done to carry out other recommendations of the same majority of the same Committee, as follows:—That persons convicted of night poaching, not in gangs, and without violence, should not be required to find sureties for not repeating the offence; and that pecuniary compensation should be given to the owner of crops damaged by game. One recommendation had indeed been carried into effect, which, perhaps, was not surprising considering the constitution of that House—namely, that hunting and coursing should be allowed without a certificate. Another suggestion of the same Report, that owners and occupiers of land should be allowed to kill game upon such land without a certificate, had been partly carried out by allowing hares to be so killed. A minority Report was also drawn up, and the views of the minority, among whom was his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bright), who had moved for the Committee, were 1732 the following:—That the police should not be employed in enforcing Game Laws; that the Night Poaching Act should be repealed; that there should be no limitation of time for killing, and owners and occupiers should have unrestricted right to kill game, as they now had to any product of the soil; that persons who preserved game upon their own lands should be liable for the damage done on the lands of other persons; and that no time should be lost in repealing the laws so injurious to agriculture and demoralizing to labour. He need hardly say that these recommendations remain untouched. Indeed, since that time, instead of the law having improved, it had rather retrograded, considering the Act which was passed, in 1862, for the purpose of enabling the police to assist in the preservation of game, and in which the old constitutional principle of supposing a man innocent till he was proved guilty was distinctly violated. That Act he (Mr. Taylor) and many of his friends whom he saw around him had done their utmost—exhausting the forms of the House in their opposition—to prevent passing into law. Should he be going too far in a Reformed House to designate that Act as an atrocious measure? He repeated, that what had taken place since the Committee of 1845–6 was that the evils then proved had greatly increased, in consequence of the increasing head of game preserved to meet the change in the character of what was called sport. In those days it was more the custom for a gentleman to walk over his land with his gun as a healthful recreation, instead of the prevailing system of butcherly battues. It had been said by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) that the question of the Game Laws was simply one between landlord and tenant, and that its solution was to be found in arrangements satisfactory to those parties. He (Mr. Taylor) maintained that important as was the question, with respect to the interests of tenant-farmers, other and more important interests were actually involved—the interests—namely, of the whole community, in respect of the waste of its productive power, and, more important still, the demoralizing effect produced upon the labouring population. Sensible as the noble Lord had shown himself to some of the injurious effects of the Game Laws, it was strange that 1733 his Lordship had omitted to mention the 12,000 or 14,000 convictions which take place under these laws every year. Take the case of a contract between a landowner and his tenant, where the latter agrees to pay £200 a year rent, reserving the game to the landlord, for a farm for which he would otherwise give £400; that might be an arrangement satisfactory to a farmer, especially if he were fond of sport and a slovenly farmer, but it would by no means satisfy the interests of the country, or save the demoralization of the people. Were we to be told that, in discussing these matters, we were interfering with the rights of the landlord, he (Mr. Taylor) maintained that a landlord had no more right to overstock his land with hares, than to breed Bengal tigers. In either case it was a question of public policy. He was not sure that tigers would really do the greater mischief—they would devour a few Christians, while the hares devoured and destroyed food that would feed thousands. It was in this view of the question that he thought the noble Lord had made a mistake, when he declared that a provision making invalid an agreement between landlord and tenant, reserving the property in game to the former, would be an unprecedented violation of the principles of Common Law. In his (Mr. Taylor's opinion, such a provision partook of the nature of an immoral, and therefore not binding, agreement, amounting in fact to a conspiracy to produce wild animals to an extent injurious to the public weal. It was maintained by some hon. Gentlemen, that the evil of the Game Laws consisted in their name, and that if the so-called Game Laws could be abolished, and the same results produced either by making game private property, or by increasing the stringency of the Trespass Law, all that was essential would be effected. He (Mr. Taylor), on the contrary, maintained that the evil lay in a fact, and not in a name, that fact being the forced maintenance of a too large quantity of wild animals in the midst of a civilized community; and, in his opinion, that was the real evil against which legislation must be directed. He believed that carrying into effect the recommendations of the minority Report of the Select Committee of 1845–6 would attain the result desired. He did not know whether his hon. Friend (Mr. 1734 Hardcastle) still proposed to deal with the question in accordance with a Motion he had given at the beginning of the Session, or whether the Government would take the matter up; but if not, he (Mr. Taylor) begged to give notice that he would, at latest, in the commencement of next Session, ask the permission of the House to bring in a Bill based upon the principle that there should be no legal distinction made between various classes of wild animals in respect of their preservation and slaughter.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
thought that, in a House elected on the basis of an enlarged constituency, some attempt should be made to bring legislation upon matters of that kind more into harmony with the feelings of the people than at present was the case. The House ought to consider how these laws affected the distribution of food and the way in which the law was administered, as well as those by whom it was administered. He advocated the appointment of a Royal Commission or a Committee for the consideration of a subject in which the great mass of the people felt deeply interested. No doubt, hares and rabbits consumed a large quantity of what would otherwise be good and wholesome human food. It was a constitutional maxim in this country that no one should administer the law on an occasion when he had a positive interest in its administration, and rather than violate this maxim magistrates left the bench; but county magistrates heard charges made against poachers, although, according to this maxim, they were not the people who ought to decide on offences committed by poachers. Under Sir Baldwin Leighton's Act the police were constituted gamekeepers, whose wages were paid by the ratepayers. He believed that, if these questions were taken up in a spirit of justice, a conclusion might be arrived at which should reconcile the interests of both owners and occupiers.
§ MR. GREENE
thought the hon. Member for Leicester's (Mr. P. A. Taylor's) remark, that landlords had no more right to keep hares than they had to keep Bengal tigers on their land, might be left to answer itself. Perhaps no man in that House knew more about poaching than he did. When he came to the parish where he now resided there were twenty-four men who regularly carried guns for the purpose of poaching, for 1735 his predecessor was a kind-hearted lady, who would not prosecute. But when he (Mr. Greene) came he offered them employment, at the same telling them that if he caught them poaching he would prosecute them. He did catch some of them; but he was happy to say that now, with the exception of two or three, they had forsaken poaching and taken to regular employment. He would like to know how they were to alter the Game Laws without giving some other protection to property. The penalty for trespass was only 40s., and if a man were apprehended for shooting without a license, that was an offence against the Excise Laws, and not against the Game Laws. Much had been said against the Act which was passed a few years ago, giving the police power over poachers; but he was bound to say that the measure had acted most beneficially; for the poacher could now be met and stopped on the road, as well as being watched on the land. But while he insisted that property should be protected he was no friend to excessive protection; he emphatically condemned it; and he knew that in his own county of Suffolk the practice was extending year by year of the landlord giving the tenant the right to kill rabbits, while the tenant, on the other hand, was desirous to show his landlord that he had game on his land, for he knew that if the landlord found no amusement when he came into the county he would not long reside there. What was a gentleman to do when his friends come down to visit him in the winter, if after breakfast he had no sport to take them out to? He believed England would then be reduced to the state of the Continent—the landowners would flock to the capital, and leave the provinces to take care of themselves.
I am sorry I was not in the House to hear the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire. As I have taken for many years a great interest in this question, I shall ask to join in this debate, but only for a few minutes. The Committee which sat in 1845 and 1846, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) referred, went thoroughly into this question—as thoroughly, indeed, as it was possible in that day. There were not only on that Committee strong opponents of the Game 1736 Laws; there were on it also men whose conduct I thought was not altogether to be commended in the violence with which they upheld the law as it then was. The late Lord George Bentinck was the leader of the opposition to my plans and principles, and every Member of the House who was in it when he was here will feel sure that everything that could be said and done in favour of the Game Laws was said and done by him. The result was a Report which recommended very small alterations, which alterations for the most part have not been made. The country gentlemen until very lately—and for aught I know it may be so now—have had a very large share of power in this House, and their union is marvellous when there is anything of this kind to defend. I suppose they are influenced by the feelings of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken; they would hardly know what to do with themselves and their visitors at their country houses in winter if there were no game. In the preface which I wrote to Mr. Welford's book, and in the evidence which I gave before the Committee, I said that the case really was in the hands of the farmers themselves, but I did not mean by that that there was no necessity for alteration in the law. What I meant was that the farmers themselves have in their own hands the power, whenever they choose to use it, to compel in this House an alteration of the law. I hoped and believed that after the abolition of the Corn Laws, in 1846, there would grow up rapidly in the counties and among the tenant-farmers a commercial spirit which would insist upon this—that every farmer when he undertook a lease for the holding of land should have the entire control over all the animals upon the land that lived upon its produce. I have been very much disappointed in that. I expected that the farmers would have made greater progress in commercial principles than they have made. But I think the last election has shown that in one part of the island the farmers are beginning to comprehend not only their own interest, but what is almost of equal importance, the mode of promoting it—and that is to return Members for the counties who shall, at least, take as impartial a view of this question as is generally taken by the representatives of the towns. Some few years ago there 1737 was a great agricultural meeting in London. Half-a-dozen or more leading tenant-farmers from different parts of England called upon me to discuss the question of the Game Laws. I was not then taking any special interest in the question, but from what I had done before they called on me as a deputation, and discussed the question with me. I told them, as I told the farmers in 1845, that the question was in their own hands—that if they would make it a great question at all their county elections, they were sufficiently numerous to insist on a change in the law, and greater attention to their interests on the part of the representatives of this country. I recommended them to start a farmers' candidate in every county. County gentlemen are anxious to get into Parliament; they do not like opposition, and do not much like the expense of contests. And I argued with the farmers, and I think I showed them conclusively, that if they would in every county bring forward a tenant-farmer—a man who was in favour of their rights and interests, who objected to the Game Laws, who insisted on it that when a farmer took a farm he should have undisputed control over all the animals living on it; if they did that, whatever his politics on other questions, I thought they would find he would receive very large support, and I believed a greater number of the electors for the counties connected with the towns would be willing to give their support to such a candidate, and to help the farmers against what I conceived to be a very grievous injustice, which the law and the practice of country gentlemen now inflicted upon them. At this moment, I see in Scotland that which I hoped twenty years ago, is only now coming about. In Scotland at the last election—I may appeal to every one who knows anything of the representation of that part of Great Britain, whether it is not the fact that the Liberal candidates who offered themselves, not only on Liberal principles in politics, but on Liberal principles in regard to this particular question, had a very great advantage over their opponents; and I venture to say that probably there is no Scotch Member for any county who would feel himself safe to go back to his constituency if he gave a vote in opposition to the proposition now before the House. Well, 1738 Scotland leads in agriculture, and in all probability it will lead in the reformation of the laws which so much affect the interests of farmers. I have been very glad to see the course that the Scotch farmers have taken, apart from their sending Members to sit on this side of the House; and that those whom they have sent here come with some sense of their own interest, and not acting solely as if they were here to support in all respects the class interests of the country gentlemen, for it is monstrous to suppose that the interests of land and agriculture can be safely confided to the care only of the owners of land. The great body of persons connected with land, the tenant-farmers, are as ten or twenty to every landowner; and the tenant-farmers have not only a right to be heard here, but they must be heard here, if there be any fair representation of the interests of the land throughout the country. I hold now the opinion I held twenty years ago, and it is now stronger than ever, that the practice of preserving game, as it exists in this country, is one wholly opposed to the true interests of the people—that it does demoralize the labouring classes to a great extent—that it does cause a vast destruction of what otherwise would be human food, and makes the occupation of a tenant-farmer much more precarious and much less profitable than it would otherwise be. And what is more than all this, it degrades the tenant-farmer by the position he occupies under these laws, watched, annoyed, and irritated by the law and by the gamekeepers whom the owner employs. He is degraded under this system and cannot have that self-respect which a person in his position ought to have. I maintain that the Game Laws are bad in every way; and in a populous country like this, where you have a vast population with almost no property, it is a monstrous and incredible evil that there should be thus placed in their way temptations like these to lead them into breaking the law and into all the consequences that must necessarily follow from breaking the law. I am exceedingly glad this Motion has been made, and that this Committee is about to be appointed. I believe the result of it may be—probably will be—that whatever there is of opinion in Scotland not gathered up on this question will be gathered up into a 1739 more firm phalanx, and that we shall find the Members for Scotland insisting that, as regards their country, these evils shall be to some considerable extent remedied; and perhaps, if once remedied in Scotland, we may find the example may extend to England, and that ultimately, from the Motion to-night and the inquiry about to be made, we shall have at least some chance of lessening, if not wholly remedying, laws which I believe to be a great discredit to our civilization and a great evil to almost every class of our people.
§ MR. LIDDELL
regretted the course which this discussion had taken. The real question was the appointment of a Select Committee of Inquiry into the operation of the Scotch Game Laws, and it was most desirable that they should follow the admirable advice of the Lord Advocate, who told the House, wisely and prudently, that the question involved many matters of the most difficult and delicate kind. He therefore hoped, notwithstanding the inflammatory language he had heard to-night, that the inquiry would be conducted in a calm, impartial, and. judicial spirit. If there were objections to the Game Laws, let them be stated. He believed those evils were very much exaggerated. It was not the Game Laws themselves but the abuses of the Game Laws that were the cause of complaint. There was such a love of sport innate in Englishmen that public feeling required laws to protect the wild animals that furnished such sport; and if they encouraged wholesale depredation and trespass by abolishing those laws, the rural population must be demoralized to a very great extent. He reminded the House that if they abolished the Game Laws they must have a new and much more stringent Law of Trespass.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
wished to remind the right hon. Member for Birmingham that the recommendations which he made in the Committee of 1845 were widely circulated through the Midland counties during the last election, and he was therefore repeatedly called upon to discuss them with the farmers in his county. The ground he took was this—The right hon. Gentleman said they were degraded by the present state of the law. He was now a Member of the Government, and if the Government would bring in an improvement on the last Game Act for England, in passing which he had him- 1740 self taken an active part, he should be most happy. But he recommended them to go to the President of the Board of Trade, and ask him to embody his views in a Bill, and not to continue circulating calumnies against game preserving, and deprecating the state of law which existed without committing himself to some principle for its amendment. They asked him could he suggest any improvement in the present law? He said it had rendered game as nearly property as it could be. He did not see his way to any further progress in that direction at present, and unless they and the President of the Board of Trade assisted, they must be content to wait till the right hon. Gentleman embodied his views in something like a tangible shape.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he had calculated the damage done to the crops by hares and rabbits as not less than 1,000,000 bags of wheat a year. They not only did mischief to game preservers, but to their neighbours, because they could not be exterminated by the parties who were often the principal sufferers. Why should they not make a law that hares and rabbits should not be considered as game? They were unwholesome and unfit for human food, as they might find in "Leviticus," and he had known a whole family poisoned by eating rabbits. [A laugh.] It was well known that rabbits had a power of communicating poison. The bird, on the other hand, did no harm whatever to the farmer; and though hare shooting was a disgrace to any one, as a matter of skill, there was skill and sport in bird shooting in every other way than that of driving them up into a corner and shooting them like barn-door fowls. One great defect of the present law was that, the magistrates had no power of commuting any fine that might be inflicted, and it happened that if a child were fined 1s. the costs were sometimes 12s. 6d., which was far more than his father, if an agricultural labourer, could pay.
§ COLONEL BRISE
said, that the President of the Board of Trade, in the preface to his speeches, stated that the remedy for the abuses of the Game Laws was in the hands of the farmers, and that they had nothing to do but to send representatives to that House to express their opinions. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the farmers were not indisposed to see a moderate 1741 quantity of game. Many of them were as fond of sporting as any Member of that House. What they disliked was the abuse of the Game Laws, and they had at the last election sent Members to represent them who would carry out their views as far as possible; but not to sanction any interference with the rights of property, or the extravagant measures recommended by some hon. Members on the opposite side of the House.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the operation and effect of the Laws in Scotland relating to Game."—(Mr. Loch.)