§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. LOCH
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the object of the measure was to remove the grievances that now existed in connection with the game laws in Scotland. Though this was the third Session in which he had introduced a Bill of this nature, it was the first opportunity he had had of making a complete statement concerning the object of the measure, of justifying the principles on which it was founded, and of stating his grounds for believing that, if passed into law, it would effect the objects in view. The two years which had elapsed since he first brought the question forward, had made him aware of many difficulties surrounding it. One of those difficulties arose from the extreme sensitiveness exhibited whenever the subject was discussed, not only in the House of Commons, but out-of-doors. This sensitiveness, however, was not, as might have been expected, found to exist chiefly in the owners of land, but was exhibited in an even greater degree by the lessees of shootings. Nor was the reason for this difficult to find. Between the owners of land and their tenants there existed the bonds of mutual kindness and goodwill, and mutual interests; whereas the lessees of shootings, whose sole object was to obtain the utmost value for their payments, had no obligations of mutual consideration towards the tenants of the ground. Nevertheless, it was the owners of land who had to bear the opprobrium of a state of things injurious to the public, and he might, indeed, say that it was in their interest, equally with that of the tenantry, that he asked the House to pass this measure. The House must not suppose that because quietude existed in Scotland in regard to this subject, therefore it was regarded with indifference—the real fact was that that quietude arose from the settled conviction that the question was in course of being settled. The strongest opinions were, in fact, entertained on this subject in Scotland; not by an ignorant, uneducated set of people moved by agitators, 1562 but among the élite representatives of perhaps the most intelligent class in Scotland—the great tenant-farmers—the men who, by their enterprize and capital, had converted the stubborn soil of the country into what it now was, and had raised the poor lairds of that country into the condition of wealthy country gentlemen. It was on their behalf that he now took up the question, in the hope that the Bill might lead to the removal of the grievances they were now liable to experience under the present state of the law. The necessity for a change in the law was admitted by almost everybody who spoke on the subject; he would at present only refer to the evidence given by Lord Hatherton before the Committee of 1846. Lord Hatherton, an English nobleman, who had formerly been a great game preserver, stated that the tenantry knew well that game did them very extensive damage, and that it made a great difference in coming to terms with their landlords whether the game on their lands was destroyed, or they had the power of destroying it; and he added that since he had destroyed the ground game on his property his tenants had shown an increased willingness to make improvements, and he said that he was quite confident that improvements of various sorts, in the destroying of old fences and the making of new fences, extensive drainage, and in the introduction of root crops not hitherto cultivated, would not have been undertaken if the tenants had believed that their improvements would have been subjected to the former depredations by game. Now, that evidence of Lord Hatherton appeared to him (Mr. Loch) to involve a point of the greatest importance as regarded the progress of agriculture. Ingenious calculations had been made as to the quantity of food actually consumed or destroyed by game; but, in fact, the real injury done to agriculture was caused not so much by the actual devouring of food by game, as by the state of the law deterring farmers from making improvements; for it was an admitted axiom that no branch of commerce could be advantageously carried on which was not founded upon an entire confidence in the probability of reaping due reward from it. Lord Hatherton's opinion, therefore, fully justified the proposition of the present Bill—that hares and rabbits should no longer be allowed 1563 to increase for the benefit of the landlord at the expense of the tenant. Another piece of evidence in favour of his views was the amusing speech delivered by the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Sturt) last year on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). That Bill, it should be remembered, proposed the total abolition of the game laws. The hon. Member said—Having said this much against the Bill, he desired to give some friendly advice to his brother preservers of game, for he believed they would take advice from him in a better spirit than they would from the Member for Leicester. Now, he confessed he did not think that everything in regard to the game laws was in a satisfactory state. The long list of convictions for poaching made him very uneasy, and was a sort of disgrace to the civilized age in which we live."—[3 Hansard, cci. 1400.]And the hon. Member for Dorset proceeded to describe the measures taken by him for the comfort and wellbeing of his labourers, by which he secured their goodwill and their co-operation in preserving his game. Now, if such results could be brought about by treating people well, what need was there for the game laws in their present shape? The hon. Gentleman, after other lively and sensible observations, proceeded to give his brother landlords another piece of advice, in which he (Mr. Loch) must say he fully agreed—He was not anxious to bring his own individual case before the public; but he might mention that he reared 4,000 pheasants the year before last, and that during the last 23 years there had not been on the average more than one case of poaching per annum on his estate. This was because every labourer on the estate voluntarily constituted himself a keeper of the game, as he was treated like a Christian, and, in fact, considered himself as one of the family. He wished every landlord would have all the rabbits on his estate killed, and see that his tenant-farmers were not eaten up with hares. If they took his advice they would do what was still more important, and refuse to let their places for shooting, in order to put a few dirty sovereigns into their pockets. If the landlords built cottages for and made friends of their tenants, and if they declined to make the game the subject of a money transaction, they would be able to withstand for many years the onslaughts of such men as the hon. Member for Leicester, and to keep up a noble sport and amusement which brought about and cemented those feelings of friendship and cordiality which ought to exist between all classes, and more especially between the owner and the cultivators of the soil. Nothing can be more grating to the feelings of men who occupy land, and who expend their time and their money in the cultivation of it, than to have strangers breaking through their fences, 1564 and thus putting money into the pockets of the landlords."—[Ibid.]Those were the only two pieces of evidence with which he would trouble the House as regarded the necessity for some change in the existing state of the law. A condition of things which so moderate a man as the hon. Member for Dorsetshire deemed unjust ought not to be allowed to continue. He (Mr. Loch) would now proceed to show why he thought his Bill would afford a better solution of the question than any of the other propositions which had been brought forward. The first of those propositions was that game should be made property. Now, he could not understand what benefits could follow from a mere change of names. He was unable to perceive how making game property could put an end to the evils which at present existed, nor how a poacher would be deterred in any way because hares and rabbits had acquired a higher legal status than they now had. Another much more sweeping plan proposed to abolish the game laws altogether. There was a plausibility in proposing to abolish the game laws altogether, and this seemed one of those slap-dash attempts at legislation which took with people who thought that strong measures must be the best. But he (Mr. Loch) did not believe that public opinion generally, even among farmers, was ripe for any such change. At any rate, that was not the opinion of the farmers of Scotland. Nor must it be forgotten that if they abolished the game laws they must institute new and more stringent trespass laws. No man could sit down and draw a trespass law which should be so effectual as the game laws. In point of fact, the game laws constituted the very best trespass laws that could be devised. The consequence of simply repealing those laws would be to afford extra facilities for poaching, and not to advantage of tenants. The next proposal was of a somewhat similar character. It did not go to the length of proposing the entire repeal of the law. It simply proposed to take hares and rabbits from under the operation of the game law. For some reason, however, it did not appear to receive a great deal of attention, either in Parliament or in the country. He thought, indeed, the attention it received was less than it deserved from the honesty of purpose of its promoters. 1565 The only effect of the change would be to relax the law against poachers so far as hares and rabbits were concerned, and the right of the tenant to kill these animals would be no further advanced than at present. By the law of Scotland the right of the landlord to kill hares and rabbits was not created by what were commonly known as the game laws—those laws were a mere code for the regulation of the rights given by the law of the land. The exclusive right of the landlord to kill hares and rabbits upon his estate was vested in him by the common law, and the right which he possessed gave him also the authority to prohibit any other person from killing hares and rabbits on his property. Therefore, if hares and rabbits were excluded from the game laws, it would not interfere in the least degree, so far as Scotland was concerned, with the inherent right which was now possessed by owners of property. Accordingly, if this proposal had been carried through Parliament, it would have left the tenants in the same position they now held, with this additional disadvantage—that their farms would be liable to be infested by poachers and other unauthorized persons in search of hares and rabbits, the search for which, under the existing law, rendered the person so searching liable to be prosecuted for trespass. Another proposition to which he (Mr. Loch) attached great importance had been suggested by some of the most influential bodies among the agriculturalists of Scotland. They proposed to give a joint right to kill hares and rabbits to the landlord and the tenant. Those gentlemen, however, thought that all arrangements of that kind would be liable to be defeated by means of contracts into which the tenants might be compelled to enter. They therefore proposed to provide that contracts under which tenants handed over their rights should be prohibited. When he (Mr. Loch) first came to consider this question, he confessed that he was somewhat startled by the proposal to limit the power of entering into private contracts, and he hesitated to give his approval to a scheme which would interfere with rights inherent in property; but being satisfied at length that there was no better proposal before the public, he had to consider whether there were no real grounds for divesting landlords and tenants, to a certain extent, of 1566 their power of freely contracting together in that respect. The first point to which his attention was directed was with regard to the quality of the right to game. There was no property in game conferred by the statute law of Scotland, the only right which existed being that to which he had referred as having been conferred by the common law—the right of proprietors to kill game upon their own property. As an illustration of the fact that there was no property in game, if a tenant found a man poaching upon his farm, he would be able to procure the poacher's punishment as a poacher, but he would have no right to deprive him of the game which he might have killed; and that that was the law was stated in the most explicit terms by the late Lord Advocate in the debate on his Motion for a Select Committee, in 1869. The Lord Advocate said that nothing could be done in the way of legislating on the game laws, without keeping clearly in mind that they were the creation of statutes and of statutes alone. There was then no property in game in Scotland, and therefore there could be no interference with the rights of property if Parliament stepped in and legislated on the subject. In fact, Parliament for centuries past had gone on dealing with game, and the regulations affecting it, in such a manner as to meet and suit the changing circumstances, interests, views, and feelings of succeeding generations, beginning with the Act of 1551, which imposed confiscation of property and death as a punishment for the killing of game, on the principle, as candidly stated, that the law was enacted for the protection of the sport and pastime of great lords and landowners, whose diversions must not be interfered with. But still there remained the difficulty with regard to contract. He need not remind the House that property was not enjoyed absolutely by anyone; but was held subject to various obligations and restrictions. No person, for instance, was entitled so to use his property as directly to damnify his neighbour. But with regard to contract, when he went into the question he was surprised to find the numerous cases in which the law had sanctioned interference with the right of contract out of regard to public interests. For instance, the Truck Act not only prohibited certain forms of payment of wages, but declared any contract for such 1567 payment "illegal, null, and void." The Factory and Workshops Act and the Nuisances Act both contained clauses interfering with the same right. The Attorneys and Solicitors Remuneration Act, passed last Session, made inoperative any contract entered into between attorney and client as to the amount and manner of payment for his services—at least so far that it required that the amount should not be paid until it had been allowed by the taxing officer. The Usury Laws—though no doubt they were now repealed through the progress of enlightenment—formerly made contracts for an usurious rate of interest void. Another Act, passed by the present Secretary of State for War, and known as Cardwell's Act, interfered with the right of carriers to make contracts of a certain description. The State also interfered to restrain a contract of the most delicate kind—he alluded to the marriage contract. Those contracts, it was true, had no direct reference to contracts in respect to the holding of land; but he could not hold that, looking at the abstract principle, any greater sanctity existed with regard to contracts relating to land than existed with regard to any other contracts of a commercial character. If Parliament was justified in interfering with regard to those relations of life to which he had referred, it would surely be equally justified in dealing with contracts relating to land. Now, in fact, Parliament passed last year a measure, some of the provisions of which were remarkably pertinent to the point—the Irish Land Act. He was aware that in referring to that Act he was taking a precedent to which many hon. Members on both sides of the House would object; but, nevertheless, it was passed by Parliament, and he had a right to refer to it. One of the principles of that Act was that there ought to be certain limitations put upon the power of contracting between landlords and tenants. Among the provisions of the measure were the following:—Any contract made by a tenant, by virtue of which he is deprived of his right to make any claim which he would otherwise be entitled to make under this section, shall, so far as relates to such claim, be void, both at law and in equity.Any contract between a landlord and a tenant, whereby the tenant is prohibited from making such improvements as may be required for the suitable occupation of his holding and its due cultivation, shall be void, both at law and in equity.1568Any contract made by a tenant, by virtue of which he is deprived of his right to make any claim which he would otherwise be entitled to make under this section shall, so far as relates to such claim, be void, both at law and in equity.Thus they had in a Bill passed only last year on a most momentous subject, a direct sanction for the principle he was now contending for. But more important than the Bill itself he held to be the expressions of opinion by great Ministers and eminent lawyers. [The hon. Member proceeded to read passages from the speeches of Mr. Gladstone and Sir Roundell Palmer in the House of Commons, and of Earl Granville and the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords.] Therefore, in all relations, and under all circumstances, Parliament had thought it right to interfere in certain cases, with the view of preventing contracts being entered into, if the entering into such contracts would, in their opinion, be an interference with public policy. Having got so far, he thought that if he could bring home this principle, so as to show that it was expedient to apply it to the case of the over-preservation of game, he should be justified in proposing to Parliament a measure which was founded upon giving a joint right to tenants with their landlords, and binding both parties against contracting away that right. He would ask—Were the bargains between landlords and tenants equal even in Scotland, where the status of the tenant was high, and the intelligence of the tenants was as great as in any other part of the country? He said distinctly that the contracts were not made upon equal terms; that the tenant was never asked whether the game clauses should be admitted into his lease; that it was assumed he would agree with them, for the reason that if he were to hesitate for a moment, the negotiations would come to an end. A contract presupposed some equality and reciprocity of conditions between the contracting parties; all sorts of unforeseen circumstances might arise to prevent the carrying out of a contract originally based on a perfcetly good understanding between parties, but in which certain points were rather understood than expressed. An estate might change hands; a new agent might be appointed; or one of a number of things might happen—so that a tenant might find himself, in the 1569 course of a very few years, in a position altogether different from that in which he stood at the commencement of his contract. It might be said that the tenant had his remedy; but that remedy consisted in the issue of a trial at law, and nothing could be more hateful or detrimental to a tenant than to be placed in legal antagonism to his landlord. It might be said, indeed, had been said, that a tenant possessed the right to refuse to enter into those contracts.; but that was a choice involving consequences, in case of refusal, which the tenant would not, and in many cases dared not, accept. There was therefore no equality of contract between landlord and tenant, especially in reference to the game clauses in the leases, those being the clauses upon which the landlord was usually and naturally most determined, and on which the tenants had less to say than on some of the other conditions. What was, after all, the value and the nature of the contract into which many of these men entered? He thought that not half-a-dozen Members in that House, except representatives of Scotch constituencies, were aware of the onerous terms proposed in the farm leases of Scotland upon tenants. Such a lease from Ayrshire, for instance, reservedthe whole of the game, hares, and fishings of every description, with the exclusive privilege of fowling, hunting, sporting, and fishing on the lands hereby let by himself, or others having authority in writing from him or his aforesaids, the tenant having no claim for any damage that may be occasioned by or through the exercise of the privilege above mentioned, and being bound to preserve the game, hares, and fishings on the lands to this extent that he shall not himself disturb, or destroy, or allow his servants or others to disturb or destroy the same; but shall inform the proprietor of all persons who shall fowl, hunt, sport or fish on the said lands without liberty, so that such persons may be prosecuted according to law; and, if necessary, allow prosecution to be instituted in his name, either separately or jointly with that of the proprietor, for all trespass on the said lands, the proprietor guaranteeing him against any expense that may be incurred thereby.[The hon. Member also read articles from leases from Fifeshire, Invernesshire, Berwick, and Aberdeen, containing reservations of game, accompanied by restrictions on the tenants of equal severity.] It was hardly possible to conceive anything more shameful than that contracts of such a kind should be permitted by law to exist between landlords and 1570 tenants. They were examples of a state of things which would not only permit, but which called for interference with reference to the making of contracts. It was a state of things which militated against the public advantage in a great variety of ways, and its operation was so unfair with regard to the tenant class, as to justify him in saying that not only ought the tenant to have the right to protect himself hereafter by killing the game upon his farm, but that it should not be competent for him to enter into any contracts or arrangements with his landlord by which he should be deprived, or deprive himself, of that right. He would not add much to what he had already said, except that the Bill which he had submitted to the House provided merely and solely for the objects he had stated. If it should ever reach Committee, it would then become desirable to consider clauses seriatim, and possibly to make such improvements as might suggest themselves. As it stood, the Bill proposed to confer upon the tenants, jointly with their landlords, the power to kill ground game, with a clause to prevent the tenants depriving themselves of the rights so conferred. There would be no necessity for either parties exercising the powers proposed to be given by the Bill in an objectionable manner. All he wished was that in every change of circumstances relating to the ownership or letting of farms, the tenants—in case they were injured by such change of circumstances—should have the power of remedying their grievance, and protecting themselves from wrong. He assured the House he had only brought the Bill forward from a deep conviction of the serious necessity of the question with which it proposed to deal—a question which affected social arrangements no less than economical considerations. He would now conclude by moving the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Loch.)
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
I shall trouble the House but for a few moments while I give my reasons, or I would rather say my excuses for supporting the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend. As the House is aware, I have strong 1571 opinions in regard to the game laws; they are, to my mind, an absolute anachronism; most injurious to the country at large; damaging and insulting to the agricultural community; and tending directly to the wholesale demoralization of the people. That being so, it can hardly be satisfactory to me, or to those who vote with me, to support a Bill that does nothing, as one may say, but touch the fringe of the question, and which for any real amendment of the system I believe to be altogether feeble and inefficient. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Loch) said he should discuss the Bill as one of mere dry business, which he described as the only light in which it should be considered; but when we know from our judicial statistics that upwards of 10,000 of our fellow-countrymen are now annually tempted into poaching, I cannot feel that the subject is adequately described as one of dry business; and I noticed that my hon. Friend himself recognized this when in noticing the speech of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Sturt) he endorsed his opinion that the convictions for poaching in this country inspired him with alarm, and were a disgrace to the community. I observe, too, that my hon. Friend, in criticizing what I may well call the anti-game law speech of the hon. Member, went far outside the narrow limits of his own Bill, and uttered sentiments in perfect harmony with the views I have expressed in favour of abolition of these laws. The hon. Member for Dorset had said that practically the game laws were not in existence on his estate, so good was the understanding between himself and the farmers and labourers about him; he did not allow the crops to be eaten up by ground game, and they, for their part, had no desire to interfere with his reasonable sport. Upon this my hon. Friend exclaimed—"Where, then, is the need of game laws at all?" I must say I thought I never heard better thunder in my life, but I must take leave to tell my hon. Friend that I claim that as my thunder. Perhaps the best reason I can give for supporting the second reading of the Bill is that its provisions are so entirely small, and it would not stop any more thorough measure—of course I mean my own—from passing even this very Session. My hon. Friend expressed his opinion that his measure had received the unanimous approval of the farmers of Scotland. I confess I 1572 heard that statement with astonishment. From communications which I have had from farmers, and from reading some of their organs of the Press, I have no hesitation in saying that my hon. Friend, in describing their adherence to his measure as unanimous, was led into a great exaggeration. Why, it was only the other day that I received a copy of a Caithness paper giving an account of a meeting of the Caithness Agricultural Association, in which Mr. Purves, a tenant-farmer, came down, as it seemed, like a clap of thunder, upon the meeting—which was not intended for a discussion of the game laws—and taking advantage of some casual pro-game law remarks on the part of the chairman, declared that, for his part, he considered that there was no use saying one thing and doing another, or endeavouring at agricultural meetings to blind people by clap-trap as to the real position of matters, and that of the various Bills under consideration, he had no hesitation in saying that nothing would do but total abolition. Still I am aware that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Loch) has persuaded—or shall I say misled—a certain proportion of tenant-farmers to imagine that his Bill would give considerable relief, and it would have an appearance at least of being ungracious and unkind if one opposed a Bill, honestly intended to go in the right direction, because one was in favour of a more complete scheme. There is, however, one portion of the Bill to which I can give my unqualified adhesion, and that is the transference of jurisdiction from the justices of the peace to the sheriff. I need hardly say that in my opinion, anything which takes the administration of the law out of the hands of the unpaid magistracy, is a great advantage to the community. It is on these grounds that I shall give my uncordial support to the Bill.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he objected to this Bill, because it was perfectly impracticable, and because there were in it clauses which were entirely opposed to fair transactions and fair equality between man and man. He looked upon an agreement between a landlord and tenant as a binding covenant, entered into between two persons, each upon considerations of his own interest. It was now sought to set aside this covenant for the benefit of one of the parties. Such an interference with 1573 the rights of private contract, by an act of the Legislature, should have his most strenuous opposition. He had described a clause in the Bill of last year as a profligate clause—he thought this clause just as profligate. It was quite a mistake to suppose the tenant had no remedy for any oppressive act of the landlord in respect of the game. Only last year the Court of Session had determined a case in which the tenant obtained damages against his landlord for having inconsiderately increased the game on his farm. Did they suppose the tenants in Scotland were such slaves that they dared not appear against their landlord? They were among the most intelligent and best educated men in Europe, and he could not believe such an assertion. This Bill was a sham and a delusion, due to an agitation which had been got up in that House. He should oppose this Bill in every way he possibly could, and he should do this the more readily because the Lord Advocate intended to introduce his Bill next Thursday. He believed that Bill proposed to deal in a fair way between man and man on this question; and now that the people of Scotland had got it before them, they were beginning to think better of the agitation. There was already a split in the camp. That being so, he thought the Lord Advocate would have a fair chance to pass his Bill. He would, therefore, recommend his hon. Friend (Mr. Loch) to withdraw his Bill, and to allow the right hon. Gentleman, who had the authority of Government, to bring in his measure—because they might depend upon it that no private Member would ever be able to compete with a Government Bill on the game laws in that House. When he was a young man he remembered the late Duke of Gordon told him he never remembered a young Scotch Member who did not bring in a Salmon Bill. It was the mode he had of introducing himself to that House. The Scotch Members, it seemed, now adopted Game Bills for the same purpose.
§ MR. M'COMBIE
said, he should vote for the Bill of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Loch), but only as an instalment in the right direction. It must be distinctly understood he would only accept total abolition as a final settlement of the question. That was the determination of himself and of all the tenant-farmers of Aberdeenshire. The tenant-farmers 1574 of that county—the largest cattle-breeding and cattle-feeding county in Britain—had sent him there to speak for them. They did not ask to have a duty on foreign corn; they did not ask for restriction on the importation of foreign cattle free of disease — his constituents, the tenant-farmers of Scotland, feared no competition provided they would only preserve their crops from being destroyed by game, and relieve them of the law of hypothec and the malt tax. They asked for relief from these grievances that they might be able to compete successfully with the foreigner with their cattle and corn. They trusted the Government would give them their support; but he feared they need not expect much assistance from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, either against the game laws or any other grievance. The tenant-farmers of Scotland would never forgive him for three or four things—the imposition of the tax on shepherds' dogs; the tax on farm horses let out for hire for the improvement of our roads; the gun tax; and charging duty on a farm servant if he should take the saddle from his horse only once in a year; and he took that opportunity of informing the right hon. Gentleman that he was the most unpopular man in England with the tenant-farmers of Scotland, and that he had done the Government a great deal of harm. But the question now before the House was the protection of the crops from game; and in this, as he said before, he trusted the Liberal Government would give them their support.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
said, the House had heard with evident interest the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, who was entitled, if anybody was, to speak for the tenant-farmers of Scotland. Like his hon. Friend the mover of this Bill (Mr. Loch), he must ask the indulgence of the House, because though this was the third time his name had been on the back of the Bill, it was the first time that he had had the opportunity of speaking on it. The Bill was for Scotland alone, and was directed solely to putting down over-preservation of ground game; and that he thought it was universally admitted was a grievance that required a remedy. The only difference in opinion was that some thought the grievance very serious, while others thought it comparatively 1575 small. For himself, he was one of those who thought it a serious grievance. First, as regarded the destruction of food. He did not know that he quite believed in the large calculations of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) last year; but there could be no doubt that there was a great consumption of food by hares and rabbits. But he (Mr. Parker) wished to draw the attention of the House to another thing—namely, that the principal objection was not to what hares and rabbits eat, but to what they destroy and spoil. Before the Committee of 1846, Mr. Pusey said—It has been often asked how many hares were equivalent to one sheep upon a farm, but that appears to me to be a perfectly unjust view of the question. If you had a score of hares folded like a score of sheep on any part of the farm they would eat all they could find, and it would be but a small loss; but the question is what the loss would be if the sheep were allowed to wander over the whole farm to help themselves where they pleased.The loss, therefore, from the preservation of ground game was very considerable, and was aggravated by the modern system of farming, which rendered the crops more liable to injury. Over-preservation of hares and rabbits was incompatible with high farming. No wonder then that in Scotland it created irritation between the landlords and tenants. The Lord Advocate said it was a question of rent and bargain only. But it was difficult to estimate beforehand the amount of damage done by game on a farm—it differed from year to year, and from season to season. In England, where the tenure was usually from year to year, this was less difficult of adjustment; but in Scotland, where the tenure was generally a 19 years' lease, it was different. His next objection was that this large breeding of game encouraged poaching, which, in a county magistrate's point of view, was almost worse than theft, but it might rather be regarded as the half-way house to thieving; indeed, it was more than half-way, because the honest man, with an inherent love of sport, would go out on what he considered an innocent poaching expedition, and would get more and more into the habit until he was really little better than a thief. At the same time, public opinion would not support the law in dealing with him as a thief. That was the difficulty in the way 1576 of making game property. Public opinion would abide by the present doctrine of the law, that there can be no property in animals wild by nature; and instead of regarding poaching in the light of thieving, the farmer is likely to look upon the poacher who did not break down his fences with leniency, if not with considerable favour. ["No, no!"] Many hon. Members thought a legislative remedy was not required. No doubt many landlords—of whom the hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Robertson) was a good type—so dealt with their tenants that this question of ground game was kept quiet; and of late there had been more of this considerate conduct in consequence of the agitation which had arisen. No doubt, if such conduct should become universal, there would be no need for legislative remedy. But it was not so. A minority continued to push their rights as landlords to extremes, and thereby do practical injustice to tenant-farmers. This injustice must be stopped; and indeed the number of Bills on the game laws which had been presented to the House showed that the public opinion was that a legislative remedy was required. He would divide those Bills into two classes. There were those which permit the number of hares and rabbits to remain as at present, but provide compensation for the damage sustained; and there were those which put an end to the damage, instead of giving compensation. To the former class belonged the measure of the Government, the Lord Advocate being still of the same opinion as he was in a former year. But supposing that measure passed, and granting even that it would be efficient, still it would not diminish the wanton destruction of food, nor even the temptations to crime; all it would do would be to afford the tenant compensation for damage done. Moreover, what prospect was there of the measure being efficient, if it placed no limit on oppressive contracts? Let the remedy in the Act be ever so good, if the lease might forbid recourse to that remedy, would not the intention of the Act be defeated by the contract? To pass to the other class of legislative remedies, there was first the extreme measure of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), who proposed to take away absolutely all artificial protection of wild animals by law. Next came the hon. Member 1577 for Linlithgow (Mr. M'Lagan), who proposed not to sweep away the whole of the present legal provisions, but only so far as they protect rabbits and hares. According to that scheme, the public came on the land, subject to the ordinary laws of trespass, and might beat down the number of hares and rabbits to such an extent as to get rid of the grievance. Now, he did not think that tenant-farmers preferred to have that done by trespassers—they would much rather see the game which destroyed their crops diminished by the landlords, or still better by themselves. But supposing this Bill, or supposing even the Bill of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) became law, repealing artificial protection, the contracts would remain the same, and the anomalous position of the tenants would be very unsatisfactory; the farmer being bound by his contract not to touch hares on his own farm, while the public would be free to take them, subject only to the ordinary law of trespass. It was the consideration of these alternatives which had induced the hon. and learned Member for Wick (Mr. Loch) to introduce a measure which contained the somewhat startling provision for the prohibition of all contracts of the character indicated. Three objections had been urged against this innovation in Scottish law and practice. The first was that brought against it on the ground that it was immoral and profligate. This, however, he thought was owing to a misconception, and arose from an error in the original draft of the Bill. This had been remedied, and the Bill, as it now stood, did not propose in any way to touch existing contracts, except by equitable arbitration, and only prohibited contracts of the description referred to in the future. Next, it had been said that the course proposed was unprecedented, and thirdly, that the Bill would be evaded. Evaded he did not think it could be, unless the tenant chose to evade it. And his hon. Friend the Member for Wick had shown that it was not unprecedented. He had quoted from the statute book clauses precisely similar in character from the Irish Land Act, and the Truck Act. From the latter Act his hon. Friend read the clause making contracts for the payment of wages other than in the current coin illegal, null and void; and he (Mr. Parker) 1578 would remind the House that the recent inquiries into the truck system pointed towards renewed approval of that interference with contract; and he would ask why, on a like principle, should not the Legislature extend to oppressive contracts between landlord and tenant, in respect of game, the same illegality which they attributed to such contracts of employer and workmen in respect of wages? That point, however, could be further dealt with in Committee. The principle of the Bill was that they should endeavour to deal with this question by legislation; and it applied to ground game, and did not touch winged game. There was another principle in which it agreed with the Bill of the Government, which would propose, he believed, to transfer the right over ground game from the landlord to the tenant, who however was intended to transfer it back again in the lease. The point where difference began between the Bills was the interference with contract; and that was a question which would have to be considered when they had the alternative presented by the Government. For the present, inasmuch as this Bill recognized the substantial grievances of tenant-farmers and dealt with them by transferring power over the ground game to the tenant, he trusted that the Government would show themselves in earnest by assenting to the second reading. If they would do this, he was prepared to say that the future stages would not be pressed forward in an inconvenient manner.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that there was so much in the Bill of what he approved that it was with some reluctance he rose to state why he opposed this legislation. He took exception especially to the statement of his hon. Friend (Mr. Loch) regarding the great unanimity, the universal approval with which his Bill had been received in Scotland. [Mr. LOCH said he had not gone as far as that; what he said was that it had received almost universal assent.] On the contrary, from indications he (Sir Edward Colebrooke) had witnessed among his own constituents, and from communications he had received, and from what he had himself read in the newspapers, the general opinion seemed to be that this was a Bill which, interfering with contract, was one which should not be sanctioned by the Legislature, 1579 unless there was no other mode of remedying the grievances complained of. Now, speaking for his own district, the grievances were exceptional, and did not call for the extreme remedies which the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Loch) proposed. Now, with regard to the stringency of the clauses respecting game in leases, such as those the hon. Gentleman had read, the reason why they were so readily signed by the intended tenant was very well known—it was because the tenant knew that however stringent they might be in words, so as to preserve to the landlord all his rights—that the game would not, in fact, be preserved so rigidly as would interfere with the crops, be injurious to cultivation or in any degree vexatious to himself. Admitting all this, he was nevertheless bound to admit that there was a substantial grievance, that the tenant-farmer had a right to complain, and that they ought to apply a remedy. One of these was one which his hon. Friend had pointed out. Circumstances might change; his landlord might change; and the tenant might find himself in a position in which he might be cruelly used. It was a matter for the fair consideration of the Legislature, and it was one with which the Legislature should deal. But then came a very formidable difficulty—that of defining what was excessive preservation, and what was the remedy, and how to apply it. But such a difficulty ought not to discourage his hon. and learned Friend (the Lord Advocate). If he dealt with the subject boldly, as he had done last Session, it was probable he would carry both sides of the House with him, because he would give effect to the opinions entertained by many hon. Members, and secure the goodwill of both sides of the House. He believed there was a great evil in the preservation of hares and rabbits; but it could be modified by wise legislation, though not of the character proposed by the hon. Member for Wick. His hon. Friend said that the great evil of the game laws was that they tended to encourage bad relations between landlords and tenants. But the leading provision of his own measure was so startling, inasmuch as it interfered with freedom of contract, that it could not be justified except on stronger grounds than any he had advanced. His hon. Friend had cited the case of Ireland 1580 in connection with the Land Bill, as an analogous case. He (Sir Edward Colebrooke) understood, however, that that Act was passed with reference to the peculiar condition of Ireland; and he was quite confident that had it been understood at the time that it was to form a precedent which might be applied to all cases throughout the length and breadth of the land, that Bill would never have been passed. Ireland had peculiarities which made the legislation recently provided for her necessary; but it did not follow that such legislation was applicable to other parts of the United Kingdom. The farmers in Scotland were an independent body, and were quite capable of making a bargain for themselves; and they might depend upon it that this question of the preservation of game was not likely to be overlooked. The presumption was that it was not passed over when they were signing their leases. Beyond this, he said, and he felt strongly upon the point, that that Bill, instead of improving, would embitter the relations between landlord and tenant, and that, so far from promoting it, would discourage that cultivation which was the honour and glory of Scotland. If it were only on the ground of its interference with the freedom of contract, it was equally desired on both sides of the House to get rid of it. The very Bill of the hon. Member for Linlithgow was preferable.
§ MR. C. DALRYMPLE
desired to say a few words as one who never suffered politically from the game question, and never profited by agitation on the subject. He did not wonder that his hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire (Mr. Parker) had spoken warmly on this subject, for it was to this question more than to anything else, that he owed his seat in the House. He therefore did not blame his hon. Friend for his warmth, and it was worthy of notice that his hon. Friend had never promoted agitation about the game question; while he had never failed, when occasion arose, to press it on the attention of the Government, which was more than could be said for others who had equally profited by the agitation. For himself he was heartily desirous of having any grievances—and there was a grievance—from which tenant-farmers might suffer, removed; but unfortunately there were not a few persons in Scotland who would not be satisfied with moderate 1581 legislation, because it would take out of the way a fruitful source of agitation, especially at the elections. The grievance was, in his opinion, confined to a few districts of the country; and a few of the large proprietors were responsible for the state of things. He would like to ask the hon. Member for Perthshire what he meant by saying that farmers looked with favour upon poachers who relieve them from superabundant game? For every such farmer as his hon. Friend could, produce, he (Mr. Dalrymple) was confident he could produce a dozen or 20 who would look with far more favour on the sport of their landlord and his friends, even although they might have suffered, some damage from game. Really his hon. Friend must not so misquote the farmers of Scotland in that way. He entirely agreed with the hon. Baronet who had just sat down that there was nothing like a universal approval by the farmers of the Bill of the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs. He should be sorry to tell the hon. and learned Member for Wick the expressions he had heard used towards him and his Bill; and it was not to be supposed that many of the tenant-farmers of Scotland wished to repudiate contracts into which they had entered with their eyes open. He wished, in passing, to point out the very remarkable circumstance that deer were omitted from all mention in the Bill. He commended that to the notice of the hon. Member for Wick, and hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would explain the omission. He did not think the reason was far to seek; but so vigorous a game law reformer ought surely to have made some mention of deer, for it could not be denied that deer committed a great amount of damage on cultivated land. He merely threw out the suggestion that the hon. and learned Gentleman might have the opportunity of considering it in Committee—if, indeed, the Bill should ever reach that stage. The word "profligate," which was used by the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone), was not contained in his (Mr. Dalrymple's) vocabulary; but he did say that the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend was of a very serious character. He appeared to glory in the interference with the rights of contract which he contemplated in his Bill. They had had the Truck Act quoted, and the Irish Land Act was now to be cast up to 1582 them, and that was exactly what he (Mr. Dalrymple) expected. They were told last Session that the Land Bill, which was admitted to initiate some extraordinary principles, was applicable to Ireland only; but he (Mr. Dalrymple) never doubted that it would soon be thought applicable to other parts of the kingdom. He was, however, most of all surprised at one instance of interference with the rights of contract which the hon. Member quoted, in regard to marriage with a sister-in-law. The hon. Member would, he supposed, vote that day against this interference (for the Bill was one of the Orders for the Day), and it was strange that he should quote the law as a justification of another interference which his Game Bill contemplated. He protested against the view of the hon. Member for Wick that Scotch farmers entered into contracts either in ignorance or carelessness as to the terms of their leases. That certainly was not the case in the Lothians, where he had the good fortune to hold some property. He knew very well that there the tenants went very carefully through the clauses of their leases. The reservations as to game were accepted as a matter of course, and nobody would be more surprised than the tenants themselves, if they were told that they were to be set free from this part of their leases. The game question was not a subject on which he felt strongly; but his indignation was sometimes roused at the tone adopted by some law reformers, for they often misrepresented the feeling of the farmers of Scotland, who, though they might have a sense of irritation, would be sorry to see such a Bill as that of the hon. Member for Leicester pass into law. He should be quite satisfied if the question, as a whole, were left in the hands of the Lord Advocate. In the course of the winter the right hon. Gentleman made a most remarkable speech in Edinburgh; in fact, he thought the speech was somewhat too Conservative. It would be a matter of astonishment if, as rumour had it, the right hon. Gentleman consented to the second reading of this Bill. Possibly he might do so, with the intention of referring it to a Select Committee; but, by assenting to the second reading, he would give his assent to a new interference with the law of contract, and directly in the teeth of his own speech during the winter.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, he must express his regret that when any discussion took place on the subject of the amendment of the Scotch game laws, the discussion always seemed to have a tendency to degenerate into personalities. He was afraid he must himself come under the class of Members to whom the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) had referred, for he had himself set the ball rolling by the Bill which he introduced into the House some years ago; but he could assure his hon. and gallant Friend that no man could be more sincere than he in trying to get the game laws of Scotland amended. This Bill was called "the Game Laws (Scotland) Amendment Bill;" but three-fourths of the lengthened and laboured speech of the hon. Member for Wick was taken up in proving that they had as much right to interfere with contracts in regard to game as they had to interfere with the truck system, and other matters of that kind. The truth was, that instead of being "the Game Laws (Scotland) Amendment Bill," this Bill should be called the Land Contracts Amendment Bill. There was very little change in the game laws involved in this Bill. The principle of the Bill was that of interference with contracts about land. The hon. and learned Member might just as well have introduced a Bill prohibiting contracts for the growing of potatoes, turnips, or anything else raised on the land, as a Bill prohibiting in the manner that he proposed to do, the raising of hares and rabbits. He should like to draw attention to the Preamble of the Bill, for he questioned very much whether many hon. Members had read the Preamble. It said—Whereas, in various parts of Scotland, serious evils have arisen from an excessive increase in the numbers of hares and rabbits, which has been encouraged or permitted to take place in the midst of cultivated districts; and it is expedient that the game laws be amended with a view to the removal of these evils.What evils? The evils caused by an excessive increase in the number of hares and rabbits in the midst of cultivated districts. Were they, then, to understand that this Bill was to apply only to the cultivated districts? Were those extensive moors of Scotland, where hares and rabbits "accumulate and men decay," to be left entirely out of sight. In the Preamble they were left out. The hon. 1584 and learned Member for Wick stated that there was a general and almost universal approval of his Bill in Scotland. Now, six months ago he (Mr. M'Lagan) had taken the trouble of issuing circulars to the agricultural societies of Scotland, with the view of obtaining information on that point. He issued about 50 circulars, and received about 20 replies, and one only of those replies approved entirely of the principle of this Bill. The greater number of the persons who replied were in favour of striking hares and rabbits out of the game list, and then making contracts illegal. The hon. and learned Member for Wick quoted to-day largely from a nobleman who at one time farmed about 2,000 acres of land in England, who began cultivating as a great game preserver, and who found by experience that extensive game preserving was quite incompatible with good cultivation. Now, Lord Hatherton's evidence was altogether in favour of striking out hares and rabbits from the class of game, and that was the principle of the Bill he had introduced two years ago. He was glad that the hon. and learned Member was such an admirer of Lord Hatherton, and he was glad to be able to quote his Lordship in favour of the change which he advocated. If this Bill were passed, it would, in his opinion, prove perfectly useless. It would not be worth the paper on which it was printed. What did they in Scotland want? They wanted a diminution of the number of hares and rabbits. This Bill proposed to interfere with game contracts—that was, to prohibit a landlord from entering into any agreement with his tenant in reference to game. But how was this object to be accomplished? They would find that this Bill left open a back-door, by means of which the tenant would be enabled to enter into an agreement with any other person than his landlord. The Bill divested the landlord of the privilege of entering into a contract with the tenant, but it left the tenant at liberty to contract with any other party. Now, what would be the result of this? Suppose a farm to be offered on lease, and a person to be willing to take it—what would the landlord do? Before entering into any contract with a tenant, he would insist upon the tenant divesting himself of his right of killing hares and rabbits in favour of his butler or factor; and afterwards the 1585 butler or factor could assign the right back to him. So that matters would be in exactly the same state as before. Now, he had heard an agument in favour of this Bill which struck him as being very remarkable. There was a tenant-farmer who was strongly in favour of this Bill. He got up at a meeting of tenant-farmers, and said that he objected to the Bill introduced by Mr. M'Lagan, because it would reduce the number of hares and rabbits too much; but he would support the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Wick, because he was very fond of sporting, and he wanted to have plenty to shoot. What was the use of our passing the Bill which would have no effect? The Bill would fail in its object and introduce a worse state of things than now existed.
§ MR. FORDYCE
said, that as Aberdeenshire had been referred to more than once during that discussion, he desired to say a few words. His constituents took a keen and lively interest in everything relating to the game grievance and game law reform, not because he was one of those noisy agitators alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone), but because, unfortunately, there existed, a curse of hares and rabbits under which the tenant-farmers of Scotland groaned. He should support the present Bill; but, at the same time, he doubted whether his hon. Friends were advancing the cause of game law reform by again introducing their rival schemes during the present Session. He thought such a measure, introduced by private Members, had small chance of success; in his humble opinion, the time had come to throw the whole responsibility on Government. Circumstances had changed since these two Bills were last introduced. During last year the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which represented the views of Scotch, farmers generally, had held a meeting to discuss the game grievance, and its proper remedies. The hon. Member for Wick thought it so important that he took the trouble to come all the way from London and make a long speech in defence of this Bill; and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. M'Lagan) delivered another long speech in favour of his scheme. The result of the discussion was that the Chamber of Agriculture recommended the amalgamation of those Bills—a resolution 1586 which had been quite disregarded by the two hon. Members who were present. There were three reasons why Government should take the subject in hand — first, because only a strong Government could carry a satisfactory measure; secondly, because they had now got an authoritative declaration of what was wanted by the Scotch farmers. There was another consideration to the force of which, as a county Member, he could not be insensible, and that was that the Scotch farmers had discovered that the Government was so strong that they did not care to pay attention to their claims, and they were likely to try the other side at the next election. If this Government would do nothing, he hoped the right hon. and learned Member for the Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Mr. Gordon), who, when he was Lord Advocate, did so much for Scotland, would introduce the Bill of the Chamber of Agriculture; and if he did he was sure he would be well supported on both sides of the House.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
was understood to oppose the Bill, on the ground that the principle of interference with the right of contract was most objectionable. He hoped it was not true, as was reported, that the Government were about to support that Bill—especially as they were about to bring in a measure on the subject themselves.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
rose to protest against the application of the word "profligate" by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) to a clause of this Bill. [Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE: It is quite Parliamentary.] He did not dispute that; but was sure a majority of the House would agree with him in objecting to the use of the word in reference to the clause limiting contracts. He could not understand the fear which was manifested in all parts of the House of dealing with contracts between landlord and tenant. There was nothing peculiar in such contracts to distinguish them from contracts between master and servant. It was amusing to hear hon. Members on that side of the House, who voted for the Irish Land Bill last year, now turn round and attempt to show that they intended the operation of that Bill to be confined to Ireland. He repudiated such a doctrine. The principle of the Irish Land Bill was 1587 either sound or unsound. If it was unsound, then the hon. Members near him ought to have voted against it. If, however, the principle of limitation of contract was right, why should it not be extended to Scotland? The law of hypothec gave such great powers to landlords in Scotland that they could put whatever clauses they liked with regard to game into the leases which they granted to tenant-farmers, and the latter had no chance of making a fair bargain.
§ MR. DYCE NICOL
said, that he thought nothing could show the increasing gravity of this question more strikingly than the great change of opinion which had recently taken place among a large portion of the landed proprietors of Scotland, and among those particularly who were formerly opposed to any concessions; and this was evinced at several of the county meetings of last year, when it was stated that the measure introduced by the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan), of omitting hares and rabbits from the game laws, was inadequate to meet the grievance arising from ground game, and that almost any sacrifice would be made to attain the settlement of a question which was every year assuming a more serious aspect, as destroying all that sympathy and good feeling between landlord and tenant which was essential to the interests of both. He said that this was not exclusively a tenant-farmer's grievance, as he held that any landowner who desired to turn his estate to the best account suffered, as the law now stood as to hares and rabbits, when any of his neighbours were disposed to over-preserve them. No doubt the strongest repugnance was felt as to any interference with the freedom of contract; but he could not shut his eyes to the difficulty experienced by their enterprizing and industrious tenantry in Scotland in getting farms, except subject to a contract which was injurious to them, which necessitated a wilful and wanton waste of the soil; and any law which enabled a landlord to exercise his privileges oppressively was inconsistent with public policy, and could not, in the face of household suffrage, be long maintained. He hoped the House would allow him to read a few words from a speech of a landed proprietor who held an office under the late Government, and whose 1588 political opinions would on any subject be considered sound by Gentlemen opposite except on this question, on which he had recently been obliged to change his opinion on retiring to his estate. So intolerable had the agitation become, that at a late county meeting he said—It is not possible to settle the game question and remove from between landlord and tenant those unkindly and dangerous feelings which may bring forth most dangerous fruits, without a declaration on the part of Parliament that, in regard to ground game, the right must be given to the landlord and tenant—I mean that either of them shall be entitled to kill the ground game on his farm; in fact, that the ground game shall be, in the language of the old Roman law phrase, extra commercia—that is to say, that it shall no longer be a lawful matter for bargain, and that a tenant shall be entitled to kill such ground game.That was the opinion of a gentleman brought up to the legal profession; and he trusted that the Lord Advocate would be able to get over the difficulty which he desired to make out as to drawing a distinction in law between winged and ground game, for it was only in regard to the latter that remedial measures were at present urged. He was satisfied that nothing short of protection under statute for such loss and nuisance would be accepted by the tenant-farmers, and a large portion of the landowners of Scotland.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, he concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. Fordyce) in the observations he had just addressed to the House, in thinking that the responsibility of effecting a radical reform in the game laws ought to be thrown upon the Government, who alone had the power of adequately and satisfactorily dealing with the question. He considered that Scotland had been rather harshly dealt with by the Government, for they had imposed a tax upon all guns even when used for the protection of growing crops, and also upon horses used simply for agricultural purposes; and last, though not least, upon the shepherds' collie dogs, which were of prime necessity. The least, therefore, that they had a right to expect from the Government was a thorough and effective protection for agriculturists against over-preservation of game in general. The hon. Member for Portsmouth had said that the agitation against the game laws was a dishonest agitation kept up by worthless agitators. He appealed to 1589 the result of the last Perthshire election in disproof of such an unwarrantable assertion, and were this not sufficient, he would recommend him to confer with his Friend (Sir William Stirling-Maxwell) on the matter, and to inquire of him whether the electors of Perthshire deserved to be thus designated by him.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
, said, that speaking on behalf of the Government, he acknowledged the importance of the subject with which this Bill professed to deal. It had been a subject of much interest out-of-doors, causing a good deal of agitation, and he might almost say of excitement: and the interest which had been felt in it for years had been shown by the introduction of a variety of measures proposed by several hon. Gentlemen. The variety of opinions as to the remedies to be applied to the alleged grievances was strikingly manifested among the tenant-farmers themselves. Her Majesty's Government showed last Session their opinion that the subject was one which might be, and ought to be, dealt with by the Legislature, by proposing a measure dealing with it; and on behalf of the Government, he had given Notice of the introduction of a measure this Session which he hoped to have the opportunity of submitting to the House to-morrow. Had that measure been before the House now, he should, in all probability, have taken the course of actively opposing the second reading of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Wick; but under the existing circumstances, considering the importance of the question, the interest that had been manifested on the subject in Scotland, and the variety of opinions that had been expressed, he should refrain from offering any opposition at the present stage. But he assured his hon. Friend the Member for Bute (Mr. C. Dalrymple) that his opinions on what had been called—not altogether accurately according to his view of it, the game question, were altogether unchanged; and that being the case, he was necessarily opposed, and opposed, in principle, to what appeared to him to be the most prominent and characteristic feature of the present Bill. He would characterize the leading clause in it as a clause disabling men of great intelligence, men perfectly able to conduct their own affairs, and to manage business 1590 of great importance, from entering into such contracts with their landlords as they pleased. As he was not now offering opposition to the second reading of this Bill, he would not enter into any criticism of its provisions; but he would say — while admitting the competency of Parliament to place restraints upon the freedom of contract—he was not satisfied that the case in question—that of landlords letting their farms, and of tenants taking them — was a case in which the Legislature was called upon to interfere. The case was not analogous to the case of the Truck Act. The object of the Truck Act was the public object of preventing workmen being defrauded by the power of the employers; and the other cases referred to were all cases in which the Legislature interfered for the public interest. But altogether he thought that this was not a case of a similar character. If he were a game-preserving landlord—and he should say that those who had been preserving game indiscreetly, and without that regard to the interests of the tenants which they ought to feel, had little to answer for, because he believed them to be exceptional cases — but if he were a game-preserving landlord not only willing, but anxious to oppress a tenant-farmer by multiplying game on the farm for his own sport, he should not desire a better clause than that which was contained in this Bill, for that was a clause which would be a most powerful engine in the hands of every landlord in Scotland who wished to preserve game. For the provision of that clause was that if in any case a clause should be inserted prohibiting the tenant from killing hares and rabbits, the lease should be immediately void; so that the effect would be that the tenant would be immediately turned out of his farm. Certainly that would be a most powerful engine of oppression to put into the hands of landlords. But without entering further into the provisions of the Bill, which he believed was not calculated to attain the end which his hon. Friend had in view, he would not now, for the reasons he had stated, offer any active opposition to the second reading. But he reserved to himself, at a future stage, when the Government measure was brought before the House, to take such a course as he should consider expedient.
§ LORD GARLIES
said, he had certainly hoped that it would not have been necessary for him to say a word on this subject; but there had been a debate going on for the last three hours and a half, which had been almost entirely confined to Members sitting on the Government side of the House. But after what had occurred; after the strong objections offered to the Bill—and the objections of the Lord Advocate were as strong as any—he felt he should not be discharging his duty unless he were to move an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. He had hoped that when the Lord Advocate said he was entirely opposed to the principle of the Bill, he would have ended by saying that the Government intended to give the second reading an active opposition. But to his surprise the hon. and learned Gentleman took exactly the opposite course—he was opposed to the principle of the Bill, and would support the second reading. Now, it appeared to him (Lord Garbles) not becoming for Her Majesty's Government to take a course such as that which they had announced. They should either say they would support the principle of the Bill, and go into the Lobby if necessary in support of that principle; or, on the contrary, if the provisions of the Bill were such as the Lord Advocate had described them to be, they should be prepared to divide the House against the measure. He believed it was as distasteful to the Lord Advocate to take that course, as it was for him to complain of it; but he supposed his hon. and learned Friend had a "tip" from some higher authority to act in the way he had done. He felt that the only course which the House could take, after the remarks which had fallen from the Lord Advocate, was to reject this Bill; and he therefore called upon hon. Members to support the Amendment.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
seconded the Amendment of the noble Lord. He did so because he thought it was desirable to make it evident that it was not a party question. He was fully prepared to remedy such grievances as were capable of remedy, but the Bill, instead of remedying them, would only create ten-fold greater grievances. It was unnecessary for him to detain the House with further arguments against the Bill. His right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate 1592 had already demolished it in language which expressed, far more ably and more cogently than he could have done his objections to the measure. He gathered from his speech that it was simply a matter of delicacy that he had not opposed the second reading, because his own measure on the subject had not yet been introduced. It could only be a motive of that kind that had caused him to say that he would not at once extinguish the Bill, and he therefore thought the kindest thing they could do was that which he was sure he wished in his heart—namely, reject the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Lord Garlies.)
§ MR. GORDON
said, he was anxious that there should be a remedy applied to any alleged grievance arising out of the game laws, in order that an end might be put to an agitation which had been got up in Scotland on the subject. He was therefore glad when he saw on the Notice Paper that the Lord Advocate was going to introduce a Bill for the purpose of settling the question. The question was one which preeminently called for the interference of Government, and no party could effectually settle it except the Government. That, indeed, was the view taken by the predecessor of the present Lord Advocate in 1869. When last year a Bill similar to the present was brought before the House by the hon. and learned Member for Wick, the course adopted by the Government was to ask for a postponement of the second reading till the Lord Advocate had introduced his own Bill on the subject; and he (Mr. Gordon) ventured to think it would, have been much better if, on the present occasion, the Lord Advocate had made a similar request, instead of not opposing the further progress of the Bill. If he had done so, it would have rendered a Division unnecessary. It was perfectly obvious that if they proceeded to a vote on the second reading of this Bill, there would be opposition not only from many hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House, but also from many on the other side, who objected to what some of the clauses enacted — such clauses being, in reality, an interference with the right of contract. Now, he 1593 himself was extremely anxious that there should be a settlement, and was unwilling to vote against a measure which professed to do something towards that end; but in the event of there being a Division, he should feel it his duty to vote against this Bill. He would venture, as a compromise, to propose that the second reading should be deferred until the Lord Advocate's Bill was before the House, when they could consider both measures at the same time. That was the course which was followed last Session. He was satisfied there had been great exaggeration in reference to the operation of those laws, and that a general case had been endeavoured to be made out, because of exceptional grievances. He believed there was a good feeling between landlord and tenant generally in Scotland, and he regretted that the Government did not grant the inquiry which some time ago was asked for upon this subject, because he was satisfied that if it had been brought home to the landlords that alterations in the law were required, they would have been ready to agree to them. If the Lord Advocate's Bill was to settle this question, he thought they should have that Bill before the House before they assented to the second reading of a Bill which contained a principle such as that embodied in the measure now under consideration.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 154: Majority 69.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.