§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. HARDCASTLE
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he trusted that the House would accede to the Motion on the understanding that the Bill would be referred with kindred measures to the consideration of a Select Committee. The principle upon which the Bill was framed was that it was not for the public interest or for the furtherance of the morality of the country that the crime of poaching should any longer be looked upon as differing from other offences of a similar character which were classed under the name of larceny. His desire was—and he had so provided in the 4th clause—that an Act of Parliament should be passed constituting all game in England the property of the occupier of the soil, and that offences against such property should not be exceptionally dealt with, but be treated in accordance with the rules and laws provided for the punishment of larceny. The Interpretation Clause included in the list of "game" one or two winged animals which were not included in previous lists. If, however, the House should think that it would be preferable to adhere to the old lists, he was willing to submit to that opinion. His Bill also proposed to introduce a clause taken from the Act 24 & 25 Vict., c. 96, giving to the police powers similar to those they now had under Sir Baldwin Leighton's Act, which he proposed to repeal. He also desired to introduce clauses for the purpose of improving the state of the law with regard to game agreements and licences to deal in game. He proposed that agreements respecting the right entering upon land for the purpose of killing game, being in writing, and for a less term than three years, should have the same force as if by deed; and as to licences to deal in game, he proposed to sweep away all present licences, and to substitute a £2 licence to buy or sell game, or eggs of game; and a £1 licence for the sale of game only. This was intended to reach a class of persons who were unaffected by the present licence—namely, game preservers who bought eggs, and thereby encouraged one of the worst kinds of poaching. 819 This Bill proposed to repeal several existing Acts, among them the whole of the Night Poaching Act and the greater portion of what he might term the General Game Act, the 1 & 2 Will. IV., c. 32, and certain Acts of less importance. He could understand that many objections might be urged against the Bill. It might, for instance, be said that matters were now in such a state that it was unadvisable to alter the law, and that under such circumstances the doctrine of quieta non movere was a very good rule in relation to legislation. But that things were in a satisfactory state, he was unwilling to admit; for while in 1859 there were 2,500 convictions for poaching, the number in 1869 was between 10,000 and 11,000; in other words, four times as many people were in the latter year launched upon a career of crime than during the earlier period. Again, it was said that an alteration of the law would not affect the public opinion as a question of morality, and that to alter the game law would never make the poaching class regard poaching as an immoral act. But, in his opinion, the moral sense of the people was very much affected by the sense of the justice or injustice of a law, and that they were much more likely to consider an act immoral if it were made a crime punishable by the ordinary law. There was an instance of this in the laws against simony. There could, for instance, be but little moral difference between the purchasing the right to the presentation to a living on a Monday or a Wednesday in any given week, and yet if the incumbent happened to have died on the Tuesday the purchase on the Wednesday would constitute the offence of simony. But livings were bought and sold every day in the week without any public sense of immorality. Again, although the offence of smuggling was one on which he feared there was no very keen sense of morality, offences against the Revenue laws would be regarded as praiseworthy rather than otherwise by a large portion of the community if holders of £100 worth of land or any privileged class were permitted, to the exclusion of their neighbours, to pass goods free of duty through the Custom House. As it now stood, the law permitted to certain persons that which in others was held to be a crime, and the crime consisted not in dishonesty but in interfering with the 820 amusements of a class not punished. This distinction he desired to abolish, and by rendering game property, to punish those who deprived the rightful owners of the possession, as for any other act of dishonesty. By so doing, he believed Parliament would be doing a great deal to establish a healthy tone of morality among those whom he might term the poaching class of the community, and on the understanding that it was to be referred to a Select Committee, he trusted that the House would assent to the second reading. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading.
§ MR. STRAIGHT
said, he had placed his name on the back of the Bill, and now rose to second it on the understanding that it was to be referred, with other measures dealing with the same subject, to a Select Committee. If things continued as they now were, it was not unlikely that each succeeding Session would witness the introduction of some 15 or 20 Game Bills, and the time had now, he believed, arrived for the reference of the whole question to a Select Committee, with a view to the framing of a measure which would deal intelligibly and satisfactorily with the entire subject. The interests of the landlords had to be guarded on the one hand, and the interests of tenants on the other. Probably, in the course of this debate the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) would give the House the tenant's view of the question, and other hon. Members might state how it was regarded from a landlord's aspect. But there were others who still felt an interest in this subject, who neither owned land nor held it. Fortunately for himself, he was one of these. He said fortunately, because in prospect of that distribution of property which was contemplated by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), he did not run any danger of what belonged to him being divided among the general body of the community. With regard to the Bill now under consideration, the only principle to which he gave his allegiance was the principle that the game upon the land should be the property of the occupier, and that principle he believed was generally accepted as the only reasonable solution of the difficulties that beset this question. Its adoption 821 would, he thought, do much to simplify the relations existing between landlord and tenant, and tend to settle the law which the conflicting decisions of our different Courts on the Act of William IV. had rendered eminently unsatisfactory. Objections might be taken to the Interpretation Clause of the Bill; and to put roots in the category of game seemed rather extraordinary. They might almost as well include sparrows and cockrobins. It had been held, and was established by legal decisions, that the right of sporting did not cover the right to kill rabbits; and he thought there ought to be some statutable enactment clearing up that point. With reference to the 4th clause, that of course could not stand in its present shape for a moment. It could not for an instant be tolerated that two justices in petty sessions should have the power summarily to send a man to the House of Correction, with hard labour, for two years. This was Draconian legislation with a vengeance, and he was at a loss to understand what the person who drafted the Bill could have been thinking about in putting forward such a proposition. What he wished to see was that the romantic atmosphere which was permitted to hang around the offence of poaching should be put an end to, and that when a poacher killed game, and appropriated it to his own use, he should be liable to the same punishment as the man who stole a handkerchief from a man's pocket.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Hardcastle.)
§ MR. WEST
said, he so strongly objected to the 4th clause, empowering justices of the peace, without the intervention of a jury, to send men to prison for two years for the breach of a new law, that if any hon. Member moved the rejection of the second reading, he would vote with him. He was one of those old-fashioned politicians who thought the liberty of the subject was worth something; and he was not willing, for the sake of preserving game, to increase the power of magistrates to send persons to prison for long periods. After large experience, he believed the administration of justice by unpaid magistrates was admirably performed, and he wished to see country gentlemen continue to 822 administer justice in their particular localities; but the least satisfactory part of their functions was that which related to the hearing of cases under the Game Laws; and he was inclined to curtail, rather than to extend their jurisdiction over such cases. He did not think they generally acted with any unfairness; but there was an impression abroad that they were prejudiced in favour of game preservers and against poachers, and it was a great evil that they should be thus suspected. The 5th clause of that Bill also appeared to be a monstrous one, authorizing as it did any constable to take into custody, without warrant, any person found loitering in any highway or other place in the night-time, whom he may suspect to have committed, or of being about to commit, any offence against that Act.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he thought that during last Session it was generally understood that the Home Secretary was prepared to refer these Game Bills to a Select Committee, and what the right hon. Gentleman stated the other day strengthened the belief that he was prepared to support any Member who proposed to deal with the subject in that manner. It was most desirable that the question should be carefully examined, and that some measure to remedy any real grievance should be passed into a law. He did not believe that the evil was of the magnitude which had been represented, nor did he believe that farmers, as a whole, were anxious to get rid of game; but he did think there were many points in which the farmers had a real grievance, which might be removed by an amendment of the Game Laws. Various modes of treating the subject had been suggested, and he thought where so many different opinions existed the best way of arriving at a solution of the question would be to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee. He did not suppose that such a step would meet the views of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). The hon. Member wished to sweep away the Game Laws altogether; but in other countries where that course had been followed experience had not justified its adoption. In Prussia, in 1848, the Game Laws were abolished; but that change greatly encouraged poaching, gave rise to many abuses, and threatened in a short period to extermi- 823 nate game altogether; and therefore, in the interests of public order, as well as to preserve a valuable article of food, a Game Law had to be re-enacted in that country in 1850. He was himself opposed to the total abolition of our Game Laws, and, on the other hand, he thought the present proposal to turn game into property was contrary to the feelings of the day. Some of the provisions of the Bill were very stringent, and might subject any person who picked up a dead wood-pigeon on the highway, or any boy who had been bird-nesting and had eggs in his possession, to a long period of imprisonment. He thought the Bill might with advantage be referred, in conjunction with others of a cognate character, to a Select Committee, and therefore he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, that the object of all the Game Acts was to preserve some wild animals or birds, or at all events to encourage their preservation and increase. Within the last four or five years Acts had been passed with that object; but their provisions had been so severe, attaining the climax in the Poaching Act of 1862, that public opinion demanded their relaxation, and all Bills since 1865, with the single exception of this Bill, had been introduced for that purpose. He regretted very much that this Bill should have been introduced, and he quite agreed with the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that those who were responsible for its introduction could not have been aware of the effect it would have if it became law, and that some of the clauses must have been introduced without the framers of the Bill knowing anything of the matter with which they were dealing. For example, taking the 4th clause in connection with the Interpretation Clause, they found that the farmers of England would be put into a far worse position than they were in at present. For by the Interpretation Clause wood-pigeons and rooks were to be henceforward considered game; and that rabbits, which were now practically excluded from the Game Acts, so far as the farmers were concerned, were also henceforward to be considered game. Now, that was in direct variance with the wishes of the farmers of the country generally; in direct variance with the wishes of those associations which had been got up for destroying 824 those very animals which Parliament was called upon by this Bill to protect, and which did nothing but destroy the crops of the farmer; and in direct variance with the best interests of agriculture. Let them consider for an instant what the law now was as regarded rabbits in connection with farmers, and they would see what this Bill would effect. It was well known that rabbits were practically excluded from the Game Act as regarded the agricultural tenant; but taking the provision excluding rabbits in connection with what the law said about hares, they found that the advantage to the farmer was more nominal than real. An example of this had occurred lately in Scotland. In Scotland it should be remembered the tenant had by law the right to destroy the rabbits on his ground, unless forbidden by his lease. In the case he referred to a farmer in Stirlingshire directed his son to set snares for the purpose of destroying the rabbits which came upon his turnips from a neighbouring plantation. The boy was seen by a gamekeeper and watched. Next morning by some accident a young hare was found snared—he said "by accident" because he would not say that the keeper put it there, but there was a suspicion. The boy was pounced upon and prosecuted by the Excise for having game in his possession. The Justices held themselves bound to convict, and inflicted a mitigated penalty of £5; but believing the lad to be innocent, they recommended the Commissioners to reduce the penalty to 5s. The Commissioners, however, would reduce it to £2 only, and the father paid that sum rather than his son should be exposed to the contamination of a prison. Here, he thought, was an opportunity for the well-known generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out the recommendation of the Justices by returning the difference. Now, the opponents of the Game Laws might say that the landlords would have the blame of a state of things under which a farmer's son, acting under the directions of his father, would have been thrown into a felon's gaol for setting a snare to catch a rabbit. But he (Mr. M'Lagan) said the blame did not rest upon the landlords but upon the House of Commons who retained such a law upon the statute book. But then he wanted to ask, would this Bill remedy the evil? On the con- 825 trary, it would aggravate the evil. Anyone walking the highway, and picking up a dead or a lame wood-pigeon might, if he only had it in his hand, subject himself to pay a penalty of £20, or to be incarcerated for two years, at the hands of two Justices of the Peace. Surely his hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Hardcastle) was not in earnest in pressing this Bill upon their attention. He further objected to the Bill that it gave most extraordinary powers to the Justices. His own opinion was that the Justices should have nothing whatever to do with the administration of the Game Laws; and he trusted that if the question generally should be referred to a Committee, the deliberations of that body might tend to this result. In his opinion, all jurisdiction with respect to the Game Laws should be removed from the Justices, and placed in the hands of some officers of the Government. He said this not from any want of confidence in the Justices of the Peace throughout the country, but for their own sakes—because he knew there were very many Justices who would rather have nothing to do with the matter. In supporting the suggestion of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) to refer this Bill, with the other Bills on the same subject, to a Select Committee, he should like to make a few remarks, because he felt that some hon. Members must have somewhat misled their constituencies during the Recess about this Committee. He was disappointed to find the Home Secretary saying that the Government did not intend to propose a Select Committee this year. He was rather surprised at this statement, for last year, in answer to a Question, the right hon. Gentleman said thatAt that period of the Session" (that was, the month of June) "and especially if the Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee was to be much further postponed, it would be impossible to have an adequate inquiry on the subject, and therefore he proposed to withdraw the Government measure, at the same time undertaking to move for the appointment of a Select Committee on the subject next Session."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 1930.]On that understanding, he had himself somewhat misled his constituents on the subject. He had not intended to introduce his own Game Bill until the last moment. It was the same Bill that he brought in last year, and he had intro- 826 duced it now simply with a view of its being referred to a Select Committee. He should have made some alterations in the Bill had it not been for that circumstance. He should have much pleasure in seconding the Motion of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson). If the hon. Baronet had not made that Motion, he could not have supported the second reading of this Bill, as it was contrary to the principles contained in all the Bills he had himself introduced. In his opinion, the solution of the question would be arrived at in referring all the Bills on the subject of the Game Laws to a Select Committee.
§ MR. C. S. READ
said, he felt himself in a great strait and sore perplexity. He understood that, according to the Rules of the House, when a Bill was read a second time its principle was acknowledged. Now, he could not support the principle of this Bill. On the other hand, he understood that the mode now proposed was the only opportunity of considering the Game Laws, and therefore he was compelled to support the Motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. He should have preferred the sending of the Bill to the Committee after the first reading, but understood that such a course could not be adopted. He could not conceive what grievance the Bill was intended to remedy, or on what principle it was framed, except this—that the hon. Member who had introduced it (Mr. Hardcastle) imagined that poachers had that fine sense of what was moral and right that they could draw a distinction between a misdemeanour and a felony. Now, he did not believe that such abstruse calculations ever entered their minds. He considered this a retrograde measure, and that it would render the Game Laws a great deal more harsh and tyrannical than they were at present. Instead of being a remedy for the grievances of the farmers it would add to them. He complained that, while it protected such wretched pests of the farmer as wood-pigeons, and so crafty and subtle a bird as the rook, it threw no shield over that excellent animal, which afforded more sport than any other—the fox; for a man might now go into another person's land and dig out a litter of cubs, and unless he did some substantial damage the owner of the land could have no remedy against him. This Bill professed 827 to make game the property of the tenant. But in England it was so by the common law of the land. What the farmers complained of as tillers of the soil was the over-preservation of hares and rabbits. As representing the tenant-farmers of Norfolk he knew that to be a great grievance. They did not ask for the total abolition of the Game Laws, and said nothing against winged game. The Aberdeenshire Game Conference reported that out of 3,817 returns which had been made on the subject 3,202 farmers complained of the damage done by hares or rabbits, and estimated their loss at £20,000, and there were only two persons in the whole of that number who specially complained of the damage done by grouse, which only amounted to a few pounds. One of the greatest evils of the present Game Laws was the damage done to the crops of the farmers by the neighbouring preserves, and in his own case, although he had no rabbits, he had put a quantity of wire netting on the outside of his farm to preserve his crops from damage. If they were going to make game property, they must attach to it the same amount of responsibility that attached to fowls and tame pigeons. Although a person could not shoot his neighbour's fowls or pigeons, he could bring an action for damages caused by them. In any Game Bill persons ought to be at liberty to bring an action against neighbouring owners whose game was injurious to their crops. This measure said—"If you could catch these animals at night you may make them your property;" but they might just as well say—"If you can catch a thief you may," for it was much easier to catch a thief at night than a rabbit. According to this Bill, if a man happened to shoot a bird on his own land, and it should fall outside his boundary, and he should pick it up, he would be liable to two years' imprisonment. There was nothing, however, to prevent a man from trespassing on his neighbour's land, and shooting as much game as he liked, if he did not handle it; or prevent him going into a turnip field, and causing all the partridges there to fly to his own ground. He regarded the measure as a perfect monstrosity; and, although he was desirous that the question of making game property should be referred with the other proposals on that subject to a Select Committee, yet he protested 828 against the second reading of this Bill. He would not move the rejection of the Bill; but if any hon. Member thought proper to do so, he should be compelled to vote for that Amendment.
§ MR. CARNEGIE
said, there were two things upon which the House seemed pretty well agreed. One was, that it was desirable that the question of the preservation of game should be considered by a Select Committee, and the other was that this was a very bad Bill. He thought, therefore, that instead of reading this Bill a second time for the purpose of sending it to a Committee, it would be a far better thing to appoint a Committee without reading any of the Bills. He would move his Amendment to that effect.
§ COLONEL BRISE
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he firmly believed that the more this question was discussed the stronger the feeling of the country would be that there was little, if any, necessity for legislation upon it at all. The evils which it was sought to remedy were such as would be best remedied by other means than by legislation. There had been, it was true, some agitation; but through the establishment of chambers of agriculture, and the free discussion of the question, men's minds had become better informed, and that agitation had dropped. This Bill was objectionable, among other reasons, because it was very liable to be misunderstood. Doubtless an evil existed that should be remedied; but he also believed that evil to be exceptional. In many cases, perhaps, the landlords were not sufficiently thoughtful of the interests of their own tenants; but their remissness brought with it its own punishment. The proper remedy for the present state of things, and that which was alone suggested by the tenants in a case in which he was himself concerned, was to permit the tenants to shoot rabbits and hares on the land they occupied under certain restrictions. A Return had been placed in the hands of hon. Members showing the number of convictions in 1870 under the Game Laws, and an examination of that document showed that convictions under those laws were more frequent in half-preserved than in highly-preserved counties. Thus, in Norfolk, which was a strictly preserved county, the convictions under the Game Laws for that year were only 200, whereas in Essex, which 829 was a half-preserved county, the number was 300. He should support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite, because he believed that if the whole subject of the Game Laws could be referred to a Select Committee, they would ascertain whether a remedy for the existing evils resulting from the present state of the law could be found without having recourse to legislation. He thought the more that public opinion was educated upon this point, the better.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Game Laws of the United Kingdom, with a view to their amendment,"—(Mr. Carnegie,)
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he regretted that the forms of the House prevented him from moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice, but was, at the same time, glad that the House was not going to be asked to approve the principle of the Bill now under discussion, which was opposed to the British Constitution. The attempt to make game property could not result in a practicable measure. Under the common law the right to the game on the land vested in the tenant; but usually an agreement was entered into between the landlord and tenant, when the lease, or agreement for tenancy, was made, that the right of shooting should be reserved to the landlord. But how could it be possible to give a right of property in the game itself? Supposing a pheasant was perched on a boundary fence, to whom could it be said to belong, and would it not be rather hard to give a man two years' imprisonment for appropriating it under such circumstances? He was delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read), who, when he did speak, generally said something worth listening to—and the hon. Gentleman had now exposed the absurdity of the Bill. But the question of the Game Laws was one which ought to be settled once for all, although he admitted that it was a difficult one to determine. In looking at the loss sustained by the tenant, it must be recollected that the damage was not always occasioned by game belonging to the landlord, but was very frequently caused by that which came from the land 830 of a neighbouring proprietor. It was almost impossible to keep game out by wire netting, and a landowner putting up such a dangerous obstruction to hunting was likely to be detested by his neighbours. Under these circumstances, he was prepared to support the Amendment.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that as a game preserver on a reasonable scale who was personally no sportsman, he looked upon this question from a common-sense point of view. He was an enemy to over-preserving, and especially to the pestilent vermin known as ground game. One great weakness in the Bill was its confounding animals which were comparatively ferœ naturœ, such as grouse and partridges, with pheasants, which were raised as artificially as were turkeys, ducks, and geese. Now, his own game was chiefly pheasants, and as a pheasant preserver he wished to regard this Bill. That particular kind of game was one of artificial creation; they were reared with great care and expense; while a man had as much right to rear pheasants and kill them for his table as he had to rear and kill turkeys and geese. Holding this view, he regarded the propositions put forward in the 4th clause as an attempt to confiscate the property of the pheasant breeder. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds seemed to labour under the delusion that the neighbour of every man who preserved must be his own tenant. It never occurred to him that the next bit of land might be in the hands of somebody with whom he had absolutely no relations. Pheasants were worth so much money, and there was no more mean and dastardly system of poaching than that by which a man enticed his neighbour's pheasants on to his land by feeding them. He was himself aware of an instance in which a person possessing a small piece of land adjoining the property of an extensive pheasant breeder had offered to let the shooting upon it to the latter at a price the largeness of which he justified by charging to his own preserving those pheasants bred by his neighbour, which had somehow strayed into his fields. If the Select Committee to whom it was proposed to refer this subject were merely to draw a distinction between game ferœ naturœ and artificial game, they would do much to throw light upon the question and in paving the ground for a settlement of the 831 matter. The Bill contained one excellent provision restraining the traffic in pheasants' eggs, which was a mere branch of poaching, at which unscrupulous preservers were given to connive, although it was an easy matter for each breeder to raise his own pheasants' eggs. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read) threw in a word for the foxes; but in so doing he was inconsistent, for foxes, like all other living creatures, must be fed in some way or other; and where ground game was scarce, as the hon. Member desired it might become, the foxes would have nothing to feed upon but fowls and geese—the result of which would be that public opinion would weigh with the landowner, in the interest of his tenants, to destroy these animals. In the part of England where he usually resided this was already the case. The large woods of the weald forbad hunting, while landlord and tenant joined in exterminating hares and rabbits as the enemies alike of the underwood and the hopbine. Accordingly foxes were looked upon as merely mischievous vermin, and slain without mercy. The question of the Game Laws had hitherto floated in the nebulous regions of declamation and clap-trap; but, in his opinion, if the whole matter were referred to a Select Committee, as had been proposed by the hon. Member opposite, the death warrant of ground game would be signed, while the other hacknied grievances of the Game Laws would shrivel into the real insignificance, out of which they had been lifted by the clap-trap of ignorant agitators.
The practical question now before the House is whether the whole subject of the Game Laws shall be considered by a Select Committee, or whether this and other Bills on the same subject, either already introduced or about to be introduced, shall be referred to a Select Committee. The advantage which would be secured by adopting the first of these alternatives would be that the whole subject of the Game Laws would undergo a comprehensive examination, unlimited in its scope; but the disadvantage it would entail would be that legislation with reference to the question would be delayed, probably for two or three Sessions to come. There will be these advantages obtained by referring the Bill and 832 the other Bills either now before the House or about to be introduced to a Select Committee, that by so doing the propositions of practical men would be fairly considered, while legislation founded on the Report of such a Committee might be possible either during the present, or at any rate the ensuing Session. I was inclined at first, influenced by the belief that there was a strong desire on the part of hon. Members on both sides of the House that the question should be settled as speedily as possible, to waive my objections to the principles of this Bill in order that it might be referred to a Select Committee; but I now understand that there is so irreconcilable an objection on the part of the agricultural and other hon. Members of this House to assent to the principle of the Bill under any plea whatever, that I now feel myself obliged to take refuge in the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Carnegie) to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee. The offence of poaching consists of two elements—trespassing and the pursuit of game; neither of which constitutes an offence in itself, and it is difficult to impress upon the mind of the general public that a combination of two elements, neither of which in itself is an offence, could constitute a crime which ought to be punished by severe penalties. The hon. Member (Mr. Hardcastle) proposes by this Bill to make game property, and to protect such property by subjecting those stealing it to severe punishment; but the objections which may be raised against that proposition are many. All ground game, and even that class of winged game referred to by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope), are very erratic in their movements, and a change of wind or a fall of snow may send them from one side of a valley to the other. Another proposition which has been strongly objected to by some hon. Members, but which, I think, may very properly be referred to the Select Committee, is, that the owners of property should be held responsible for the damage occasioned by game proceeding from their land. This point, no doubt, is one of considerable difficulty; but it is a hopeful fact in considering this matter that we have on both sides of the House numbers of hon. Members who are resolute to find 833 a solution to the problem. Under these circumstances, therefore, however reluctant I may be to support any proposition which may appear calculated to delay a settlement of this question, still, looking at the general feeling of the House with reference to the principle of this Bill, I cannot but acknowledge that the proposition of the hon. Member for Forfarshire to refer the whole subject of the Game Laws to a Select Committee is the best and the wisest that can be adopted by the House.
§ LORD HENRY SCOTT
said, he had hoped they should have had a solution of this question during the present Session; but seeing from the tone of the House with respect to the Bill that that was scarcely possible, he thought the only alternative was to take refuge in the proposition of the hon. Member for Forfarshire.
§ MR. HARDCASTLE
was disposed, after the discussion which had arisen, to withdraw the Bill, for the terms of which he, not being a lawyer, was not responsible, on the understanding that the whole subject would be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he thought the hon. Member had come to a wise conclusion in agreeing to withdraw his Bill in order that an inquiry into the whole subject might be entered into, which would doubtless result in an effectual Game Bill being passed in some future Session. He objected to the doctrine that the House ought to give a sort of provisional assent to the second reading of Bills, to the principle of which there was an objection, in order that they might be sent before a Select Committee; neither did he think it wise that not only Bills actually before the House, but those about to be introduced, of the nature and principles of which the House was in perfect ignorance, should be referred to Select Committees. Something was due to the House from even private Members, and he thought they ought to be held responsible for the principle of measures to which their names were attached. It was true the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's (Mr. Hardcastle) had excused himself from responsibility in reference to the present Bill, on the ground that he was no lawyer; but the hon. and learned Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Straight) whose name also appeared on the back 834 of the Bill, had no such excuse to offer for introducing a measure which was intended to place poaching on a worse footing than theft. It was important that the unpaid magistrates should retain the respect of their neighbours. He objected, therefore, to give them such "Algerine" powers—which he believed was the phrase in vogue this Session—as that of inflicting two years' imprisonment. The promoters of Bills on this subject appeared to act in concert with the view of getting them all through a second reading, and then referred to a Select Committee, wishing, doubtless, that that measure of success should become known to their respective constituencies. This ambition he should not object to gratify were it not counter to the public interest. He was anxious for a solution of the question, and was almost ready to insist that persons preserving rabbits should be obliged to fence them in, it being evidently unfair to cast on neighbouring small proprietors the expense of protecting themselves against the nuisance. Everybody would agree to this if a person chose to keep lions or wolves, and why not in the case of rabbits, which in some parts of his county were as much a post as the locusts of Egypt? He trusted that the Select Committee would devise a means of removing the graver evils connected with the Game Laws.
§ MR. DICKINSON
said, that he did not think a General Committee on the whole subject would lead to delay, for the facts were all well ascertained. He hoped that the Committee would represent all the different views entertained on the subject. He objected to Parliament interfering to alter the present contracts between landlords and tenants. All that was wanted was that contracts should be carried out in spirit and not only in letter. A lease ought not to be liable to forfeiture because a tenant had not carried out its terms strictly and to the letter in the matter of game. Now, in Scotch leases there was often a covenant that if the tenant interfered with the game he should forfeit his lease.
§ MR. PELL
said, he anticipated considerable delay and very little information from a reference of the subject to a Select Committee. But the withdrawal of the Bill had removed a great difficulty from his mind, because it was framed in 835 favour of game preserving, and not in favour of those who wished to see the laws amended for the general benefit of the public. He wished to see hares and rabbits struck out of the game list altogether, but not at the expense of a severer law of trespass being enacted, which would probably excite a more bitter and perhaps more reasonable feeling than the existing laws. Keeping hares and rabbits in the list of game was incompatible with the present state of society; but when hares and rabbits were effectually enclosed by a wall, like deer, they should be protected the same as general farm stock. After the hare and the rabbit had been struck out of the game list, they must still look to the landlord and tenant as one person, and Parliament must leave them to make such terms between themselves as they thought best for the protection or otherwise of these animals and winged game. As to compensation, the direct damage caused by game might, perhaps, be ascertained; but it would be impossible to estimate the indirect and more serious damage inflicted, not merely on the tenant, but on the community, for the prevalence of game prevented him from raising certain crops which were essential to the improvement of agriculture. Public opinion was operating against over-preservation, but murders and other crimes connected with the Game Laws were looked upon by numbers of people as less serious than crimes committed under other circumstances, and the capital punishment was seldom enforced in these cases. He thought a measure such as could be entertained by the House should be introduced, and that it should then be referred to a Committee.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he concurred in the opinion that the House would act wisely in agreeing to refer the whole question of the Game Laws to a Select Committee, instead of merely dealing with the subject by the Bills before it. There were many points connected with the Game Laws that were not included in the Bills, which would be included in a reference to a Committee, and he presumed that would necessarily be excluded from its deliberation. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read) had pointed out the inconsistency of including that crafty animal the rook, and at the same time excluding the still more crafty animal the fox. If he re- 836 membered rightly, in his last Bill his hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) included the fox, and left out the rook, and it would seem as if the more crafty animal of the two had succeeded in inducing him to make the alteration. The hon. and learned Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Straight), in speaking of the anomalies of game legislation which deserved the attention of the Committee upstairs, pointed out the anomaly that the enormity of an offence under the Game Laws should be measured by the time of day at which the offence happened to be committed. He (Mr. Anderson) could not conceive anything more preposterous. As well might the punishment for the crime of murder depend on whether it was committed in the day-time or at night. It was absurd for the pursuit of game in the night to be put in a different class of offences from the pursuit of game by day-light, and he hoped the question would receive proper attention from the Select Committee. Another point required attention. It frequently happened that the tenants of an estate were invited by their landlord to "tenant's battues." Now, as the landlords very well knew the great majority of tenants did not hold game licences—and would be thought guilty of high treason if they did—on these occasions the landlords invited them to a violation of the Game Laws, and looked on complacently while it was done. This was an anomaly which, in deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ought to be removed.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he had never known game killed in battues by tenant farmers without licences. His reason for wishing that all the Bills should be referred to a Select Committee was because he thought this would expedite a solution of the question.
deprecated a severe law of trespass. He allowed his tenants to kill rabbits all the year round, and believed that were this the general practice there would be no complaint.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
concurred with the hon. Gentleman opposite as to permission to kill rabbits, and could confirm the testimony of the hon. Baronet as to battues. In Scotland there was less complaint than formerly as to game, public opinion having induced landlords to 837 make concessions; but he understood that in England the right of preserving game was still abused in some cases.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed, "to consider the Game Laws of the United Kingdom, with a view to their amendment."