HC Deb 11 May 1869 vol 196 cc628-36

MR. LOCH moved that the Select Committee on the Game Laws (Scotland) do consist of eighteen Members—The Lord Advocate, Lord Elcho, Mr. Hardcastle, Sir John Hay, Sir Robert Anstruther, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Whitbread, Sir Philip Egerton, Mr. M'Combie, Sir Graham Montgomery, Mr. M'Lagan, Major Walker, Sir Edward Colebrooke, Mr. Dalrymple, Mr. Parker, Mr. Orr Ewing, Sir David Wedderburn, and Mr. Loch.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee on Game Laws (Scotland) do consist of Eighteen Members."—(Mr. Loch.)


rose to move, as au Amendment, that the Order be discharged, and that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to enquire into the subject and report. The Game Laws, as everybody know, had been a fruitful source of discontent for many years past, and many expedients had been tried for the purpose of removing the difficulties to which they had given rise; but the expedient of a Royal Commission had never yet been tried. It had been reported that a Commission sat on this subject in 1844; but that was not the case. A Committee was appointed on the 27th February 1845, which, asked 17,718 questions and then adjourned. They continued their labours next Session, and they asked 7,885 more questions, so that the actual state of the ease was this—that 25,000 questions had been asked and answered on the subject of the Game Laws. Upon the Report of that Committee certain modifications were made, and things went on very comfortable for something like twenty years, but at the end of that period the agitation was renewed. Last year there were two Bills, and they were referred to a Select Committee; but nothing came of it. Now there were three Bills before the House, and it was proposed to refer them to a Select Committee. [Mr. Loch said the proposition was not to refer the Bills, but the whole subject to a Committee.] Now, what he proposed was that Her Majesty should be addressed to refer the whole question to a Royal Commis- sion. His reasons for doing so were briefly these. The examination of the question before a Committee of the House of Commons involved the bringing of witnesses up from the country. The evidence was not allowed to be printed from day to day; and at the end of the inquiry the whole facts were digested into a large volume, which cost some 7s. 6d. at least, and which, in the case of these 25,603 questions cost something like 10s. or 12s. Nobody had ever read it, and for himself if he were offered the alternative of reading it through or taking a black-dose, he would prefer the black-dose. On the other hand a Royal Commission would go down into the country, take evidence on the spot, confront the witnesses with their neighbours, and if it was alleged that a district was eaten up by hares and rabbits, they could get into their gigs and go and judge for themselves; then there; would be reports in the local papers, the statements would be thoroughly sifted; and you would get a mass of evidence more trustworthy than could ever be gathered by a Committee sitting in an up-stairs-room in Westminster. The question was a most serious one. It was a question that had created bad blood between landlords and tenants, where men had lived in comfort and affection, and their fathers before them, for 200 years. His own family for 300 years had been on the most friendly terms with their tenantry until this question arose. The Commission ought not to be a family coach. It ought to be a Commission in which everybody had confidence, and its head ought to be some such man as Lord Dalhousie. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, he believed that nine-tenths of the people of Scotland were in favour of a Royal Commission. He had been blamed for having, on a former occasion; moved the adjournment of the debate; but the Motion for a Select Committee was brought on very unexpectedly, and all he desired was to have a fair discussion. On this subject he came into court with clean hands, for he had never sold a head of game in his life, nor had he ever had a great battue on his estate, and for the very best reason—that two of his friends had their eves shot out. Moreover, whenever he did go shooting he always gave half the game to the tenant on whose lands he shot it, and there was not a single man amongst them who did not make him welcome. In the county which he had the honour of representing, there was no such thing as ill feeling between the landlord and tenant, and no difficulty whatever arose with respect to this question. They might depend upon it that it was a question which never could be settled by legislation. It was a question entirely of good feeling between the landlord and tenant. They were told that in England the landlord had not the game by law, as in Scotland. But was not the game always reserved to the English landlord in every lease? Practically, the law was the same in England and Scotland, or might be made so. With regard to rabbits, the difficulty was this—that if you gave them over to the tenants they would probably employ rabbit-catchers, and then there would not be a fox left in the country. He did not mean to say that the people meant to kill the foxes, but it required a very talented man to use a trap which should catch only what it was set to catch. Rabbit-catchers were a source of great misery to masters of hounds, and if the tenants got this power of killing rabbits unscientifically, hares and foxes would go as well. A Committee was appointed last year to consider this question, but what was the result? Why, when the hon. Member brought forward his Bill, it was scouted by the whole country. What would be the result of the appointment of a Committee now? A Committee could not sit during a prorogation. What he suggested was, that if they appointed three gentlemen to investigate the subject, their labours would be far more likely to produce a useful result than if they appointed a Committee of the House, who could only make a Report with which nobody would be satisfied.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words" the Order for the appointment of the said Select Committee be discharged,"—(Sir James Elphinstone,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed. "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he quite agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Berwick shire (Mr. Robertson), that the fox might be considered as a social good as the hare was a social evil. It seemed to him, indeed, that Scotch legislation on this subject was as prolific as the rabbits it dealt with. First, he (Lard Elcho) brought in a Bill, then the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire brought in one, and two months afterwards the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs brought in another. But it was a question of too extensive action to be taken up by private Members at all—it was one that could only be fitly dealt with by the Government. But it might be said the Government were in favour of referring the subject to a Committee. Now he (Lord Elcho) had a strong feeling in favour of Commissions and against Committees, Give Professor Owen a bone or two. and he would construct the entire animal. Give him (Lord Elcho) the names of a Committee, and he would write their Report beforehand. It would happen in this case, as happened in the Law of Hypothec Committee. Nine Members agreed to their Report, and four dissented—a Bill was brought in. founded on the Report of the nine; it utterly failed—and why? Because the four represented the real feeling of the country. Now, this was a question on which the Scotch people felt as strongly as on the Law of Hypothec: and a Committee on the Game Laws would fail as that Committee failed. What was wanted was not a representative Committee but a Commission that should inquire into and report facts. The same course should be followed in this instance as was followed with respect to the Scotch Education Bill, which was founded upon the Report of a Commission. The evidence upon which that Bill rested was mainly obtained by Commissioners, who ascertained matters of fact. They appointed certain gentlemen to inquire into the subject, and the instructions given to them were to bear in mind that their duty was to investigate questions of fact, and to report them. He thought they would do well to follow this precedent in the case of the Game Laws. If they appointed a Committee they could not commence their inquiries before Whitsuntide; they would not have more than eight or ten weeks before the end of the Session, and no Member could give up more than one day a week to attend, so that the Committee could not possibly report this Session, even if the House sat over the 12th of August. On the other hand, a Commission could sit during the whole vacation, and their Report would be ready for legislation next Session. The course, therefore, which he would recommend was, that they should follow, to a certain extent, the precedent of the Educational Commission, and appoint one or two gentlemen to whom they should intrust the conduct of the inquiry; and they should be empowered at once to go into the matter and report upon it. He therefore trusted that the Order for the appointment of the Committee would be discharged.


said, that the appointment of a Committee had been sanctioned by the leading Members on both sides of the House, and he had attentively listened to the arguments why a Commission would be preferable. The only reason he could find was, that those who preferred the Commission did not like the complexion of the Committee when they saw that it was to be chiefly composed of men who were bonâ fide desirous of a reform in the Game Laws of Scotland. ["No, no!"] When it was found impossible to proceed with the three Bills it was agreed that they should be referred to the same Committee. He (Sir Robert Anstruther) had fully agreed to this, thinking that a Committee investigating the whole subject could deal with it far better than a Commission going roving about over all Scotland. He trusted the Government would support the appointment of the Committee, which had been agreed to by the front. Benches on both sides.


said, the question was far too important to be settled at that time of the morning. It was not a Scotch question merely—there was no reason why the inquiry should not extend to England. He moved the adjournment of the debate.

The Motion not being seconded, it was not put.


said, that the Scotch Members had been accused of a desire to shelve this question either by the appointment of a Select Committee or of a Commission. But this was unjust. No one not acquainted with the forms of business in that House could have any idea of the difficulty a private Member had in obtaining an opportunity for the full discussion of any subject. It seemed to him that it was hopeless to attempt to have a full discussion on this subject, and they were, therefore, reduced to the alternative of a Select Committee or a Commission. He was himself indifferent as to which but his objection to a Commission was this—a Commission must either be fixed sitting in Edinburgh, or it must be a Commission roving about the country. Now, he did not think a Commission sitting in Edinburgh could investigate the matter better than a Committee of that House; while, on the other hand, if there was to be a roving Commission, he thought it would be perfectly impossible to secure the object they had in view. There was also another reason why a Committee should be appointed, and that was that they might conclude their labours this year, which he did not think a Commission could possibly do.


said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Carnegie) that it was a matter of little importance whether it was a Commission or a Committee that inquired into the subject—both would be equally useless for practical purposes. The only question of importance was, what was to be the conduct of the Government? If the Government had wished to have settled that question, they might have done so during the present Session; but the Lord Advocate said that it was not expedient that the question should be taken up. he (Mr. Carnegie) now wished to know if any Member of the Government, speaking on behalf of the Government, would give them the assurance that the question would be taken up at the beginning of next Session—that was the important point.


said, that what they had to decide was as to the manner in which it would be best to conduct an inquiry into the Scotch Game Laws—whether it would be best by a Committee or by a Commission. It appeared to him that much more was to be said in favour of a Committee than of a Commission. A Commission would necessarily have to move from one part of Scotland to another. They would have to go into many districts where feelings of a very keen character existed upon the subject of the Game Laws. Their inquiries would be held in the Sheriffs' Courts, and there would be in attendance the landowners and their factors. He put it, therefore, to the House whether the tenants would speak in the open manner in the presence of their landlords which they would do if they were in the Committee Room of the" House of Commons. He thought that the evidence taken by a Committee of the House of Commons would be much the more trustworthy.


said, he did not consider that this was a question which affected the tenantry of Scotland alone, but in his opinion it affected the tenant-farmers of England as well, and any inquiry into the subject would be incomplete that was not of an Imperial character. He perfectly agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Aytoun) that a Commission or a Committee was of very little consequence. He hoped that they would get an assurance from the Government that on an early day next Session they would be prepared to deal with this question. But he did not think that the debate should be continued at that late hour, and he would move that the debate be adjourned in order to afford the Government an opportunity of considering what they ought to do.


seconded the Motion, saying that the proceedings at a recent meeting at Edinburgh proved that the tenant-farmers of Scotland were not that brow-beaten body of men they had been represented; and they had shown their independence by condemning the Bill of the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs. He would certainly support the appointment of a | Commission rather than of a Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Ellice).


said, when the three Bills, to which reference had been made, were introduced, he was not prepared to give his support to any of them, because, as he thought then and thought now, none of the propositions then made would satisfactorily settle the question; although he must say he was not all disposed to sympathize with the strong expressions which had been used with regard to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Loch). He thought that Bill, as well as the other Bills, contained germs for future legislation; but that legisla- tion, he thought, could not be carried out this Session. Now, he had been appealed to by the hon. Member (Mr. Aytoun) to state whether the Government would take this question up. He admitted at once that the Government were bound to consider this question with the greatest possible seriousness and earnestness, because it had been one of the greatest questions during the late elections, and those who had been sent there had, to a certain extent, been returned to maintain the interests of those who were most concerned in the Scotch Game Laws. He thought, whether exaggerated or not, there was a real, substantial, and practical evil to be relieved; and the real question, and in fact the only question, to be decided was how that evil might to be met, so as to relieve it without entrenching upon interests, he was not prepared, however, to commit, the Government to any promise of legislation on the subject; all he could promise was, that the subject should be considered during the Recess, with, a view to legislation next Session, if there should appear any chance of success; but he did not think that opinion was yet sufficiently ripe. At first, he was inclined to agree with the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into this subject. The House was in favour of that Committee, as he thought, and he saw no reason to disturb the proposal for a Committee. It appeared to him that the Committee was fairly constituted, and if it was appointed he defied the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) to write the report of it. But after the discussion—somewhat excited—which they had had to-night, be must confess it did not appear to him that this Committee could be appointed with advantage; and, although he was quite prepared to have supported it, yet he did not think it would lead to the object the hon. Gentleman had in view. He should, therefore, recommend, as the best suggestion, that they should neither proceed to the appointment of a Committee or a Commission; but that the House should consent to the adjournment of the debate, and the Government would, during the holidays, consider the matter, and after that time state what they considered was the best course to be pursued.


said, he was glad to hear from the Lord Advocate that the Government would take into their con- sideration the operation of the Game Laws in Scotland, with the view of legislating on the subject next Session; and, seeing the support the Government received from the Scotch constituencies, he hoped that they would bring forward such a measure as would restore harmony between landlord and tenant, which was so much desired.


expressed himself quite satisfied with the statement of the Lord Advocate.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday, 8th June.