HC Deb 15 April 1874 vol 218 cc615-22

Order for Second Heading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said that its object was to alter the grouse and partridge shooting seasons in accordance with the recommendations of a Select Committee by whom this question had been considered. It proposed that grouse shooting should commence on the 12th instead of the 20th August, and that partridge shooting should commence on the 10th instead of the 20th September. The grouse were, in fact, quite as fit to be shot by the 12th of August in Ireland as they were in England and Scotland. Under the present system any gentleman who had the shooting over a moor might, if the commencement of the season were wet and stormy, find when he was able to set to work that the birds were so wild that it was impossible to get near them. Besides, the present system afforded great facilities for the illegal sale of grouse and partridges killed, at present, on the 12th, and sold as English and Scotch birds, the law against which might to a great extent be said to be a dead letter in Ireland. It was at first proposed that the partridge shooting should commence on the 1st of September, as in England; but against this it was urged that there were different conditions in the state of the agriculture of the two countries. As there was probably good reason in this objection, he proposed that the partridge shooting should commence on the 10th of September, instead of on the 1st of the month. The only other objection was that grouse and partridges were not fit to be shot on August 12 and September 10 respectively. He could only say, in answer to that objection, that the evidence tended to show the contrary. The memorial to which he had alluded, and which was laid before the Committee, was signed by the great majority of those interested in grouse shooting. Of course it would have been competent to the other party to have got up a counter memorial, but such was not oven attempted; they let the matter go by default, calling only two witnesses before the Committee. As he saw the Bill was opposed, he would only say to its opponents that it was in its nature merely a permissive measure. All that its advocates asked was that they should not be prevented from shooting grouse when they thought fit; and, above all, that they should be placed on on equality with the poachers and the illegal sellers of game, and that thereby the inducement to break the law, which so extensively prevailed at the present time in Ireland, should be removed. On these grounds he begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Viscount Crichton.)


, in moving as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he opposed the Bill on the ground that the proposed change in respect of the time for shooting game in Ireland was made at a most inopportune moment. But he was also of opinion that the change was not desirable either in the interest of the preservers and shooters of game, or of the tenants upon whoso land the game was to be found. The Bill consisted of two clauses, which dealt with two different classes of game—grouse and partridges. As regarded grouse, the rule in England was to commence grouse shooting on August 12, while in Ireland it did not commence until the 20th. He agreed that it would be desirable, if possible, that the shooting in both countries should commence upon the same day, because of the facility which the difference in time now gave to poachers for poaching game in Ireland, and exposing it for sale before the day on which the shooting commenced in that country. But the real question was whether the grouse were fit to be shot on August 12 or not? It was most desirable that that question should be considered by a Committee appointed solely for that purpose, so that the House should have before it the opinions of persons well conversant with the subject upon which they might then proceed to legislate. The noble Lord (Viscount Crichton) had stated that the matter was considered by the Committee which sat last year; and he had made it a strong point that this Bill was founded upon the Report made by that Committee. He (Mr. O'Conor) admitted that that was so, but he denied that the Committee had before it sufficient evidence to warrant them in coming to a conclusion upon the question at all, and for the simple reason that that Committee was appointed two Sessions previously for an entirely different purpose—namely, to consider the question of the Game Laws in general. He believed that at the present moment very few of those who had the largest shooting districts in Ireland had any notion that the Committee had investigated the matter at all. Had it been known that the Committee were about to investigate this matter, he believed that such a mass of evidence would have been brought before them as would have led them to come to a very different conclusion from that at which they had arrived. The great majority of those who owned mountain shooting in the West of Ireland were opposed to any acceleration of their shooting, because they had found that on the 12th of August the birds were scarcely fit to fly. The only persons whom he could find in favour of the proposed change were those who owned what was called the flat moor shooting; but he could say from his experience of flat moor shooting in the "West of Ireland that he had frequently gone out on the 20th August and found grouse that were perfectly unfit to be shot. Therefore, in the interest of the flat moor shooters in the West of Ireland, he was strongly opposed to this change. If the change proposed by the Bill in regard to grouse were undesirable, that proposed with respect to partridges was still more so. In the first place, the argument for altering the day for grouse shooting in Ireland did not apply to the case of partridges. In the case of the grouse, they assimilated the law in the two countries; but in that of partridges they did not assimilate the law, and if it would be absurd to commence partridge shooting on the 1st of September in Ireland, it would be just as ridiculous, in his opinion, to commence it on the 10th. His experience was that on the 10th September the corn was still standing in the fields, and everybody knew perfectly well that to go out partridge shooting while the corn was still standing would be most unsatisfactory sport. It had been alleged that the grouse became so wild that it was almost impossible to shoot them after the 20th. Such, certainly, was not his experience in that part of Ireland with which he was connected; and as to partridges, the difficulty was to get them to rise at all, they lay so close. He believed that the change would do very little good, even to those who desired it; while the effects on the whole would be productive of considerable mischief. He begged, therefore, to move that the Bill should be read a second time on that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. 0' Conor.)


said, that he had some experience of game shooting in the West of Ireland, and could testify that the conditions were, in many cases, different from those in England and Scotland. He thought that it would be better to assimilate the time for shooting grouse and partridges in England to that of Ireland, for if the Bill was carried they would soon have very few grouse in some parts of the latter country. In the West of Ireland, where he shot every year, on the 12th of August the grouse were not generally old enough to shoot; they were, in fact, only squeakers, such as no sportsman would care to fill his bag with. He did not attach much importance to the recommendations of the Committee as to the principle of this Bill, for he thought them beyond the order of its reference and based upon a partial inquiry. He objected altogether to the Bill, and should support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. O'Conor).


remarked that, as regarded a part of Ireland, there was, no doubt, a great deal to be said in favour of this Bill. The question resolved itself pretty much into one of locality. In the North of Ireland the shooting might be advantageously accelerated, and with respect to some counties in the South and East of Ireland, probably the acceleration of the day which was proposed by the Bill would be of use as far as partridges were concerned. With respect to the West of Ireland, however, the noble Lord (Viscount Crichton), if he looked into the evidence taken before the Committee last year, would find that the proposed change was not applicable to that part of the country. The noble Lord had said that if the grouse were not strong enough to be shot on the 12th, they need not be shot. But they would be poached upon, and shot down before they were strong enough to be shot, and thus the proprietors of grouse shooting in the West of Ireland would be injured. The best course would be to refer it to a Select Committee. If the noble Lord consented to do that he would vote for the second reading, but otherwise he would not.


said, that for years he had enjoyed the right of shooting over 40,000 acres in Mayo, and had also much experience in Scotland, and he could bear testimony to the fact that the grouse shooting might as safely be commenced in Ireland on the same day as in England and Scotland.


said, that he had rented a moor in the county of Mayo for many years, and he had therefore some claim to speak on behalf of that part of Ireland. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Synan) that certain parts of Ireland were differently circumstanced in regard to this question. In the East, he (Mr. Bruen) did know that the 20th of August was too late a day for those who preserved game to commence shooting. The owner of one of the largest moors in the county of Wicklow had often told him that after the first three days of shooting the grouse became so extremely wild that it was next to impossible to get his game with his dog. In the West he had himself shot grouse up to the end of September, and they lay just as well then as at any previous period. Sir Roger Palmer, who was a large owner of shooting in Mayo, and the hon. Member who spoke last, both said that the grouse would be fit for shooting before the 20th August, and the change proposed by the noble Lord might with advantage be adopted. As regarded partridge, he thought it would be useless to make any change in the days, owing to the large quantity of corn which would be standing at any earlier period than that on which shooting now commenced. The birds would get into the standing corn, where they could not be shot, and ought not to be followed.


said, the alteration which was proposed in the law relative to the commencement of the season for grouse in Ireland would be very prejudicial to the interests of sportsmen themselves. It must be admitted that Leland at one period afforded very little sport in the way of grouse shooting. No doubt within the last few years the grouse had been increasing very rapidly in that country; but that increase was, he thought, entirely owing to the lateness of the season for the shooting of grouse. In Ireland it was to the mountains that they must look for the increase of grouse. In some districts, in consequence of the traffic over the bogs, the grouse undoubtedly became wild after the first one or two days' shooting; but that was not the case on the mountains in the West and South of Ireland, and in many parts of the North, where the grouse were as easily shot in September as in the month of August. He himself was about to take a moor in the county of Mayo, and he went down to have a look over the country. The owner of the moor gave them permission to have a day's shooting, and in the month of September they killed 20 brace of grouse there as easily as they could have done in August. As to partridges, he thought it would be most undesirable to alter the day for the commencement of the shooting, because undoubtedly the harvest in Ireland was so late that it would be impossible to shoot birds without doing a great deal of injury to the crops; while as to the question of poachers, it would not arise, for birds shot without having food which they had later in September would be utterly worthless for eating purposes, and no sportsman would care about shooting birds while they were in that miserable condition. He regarded the measure as a Bill for the destruction, rather than the preservation, of game; and, under the circumstances, he asked the House not to read it a second time.


said, he had not the personal experience of the last speaker, but he had studied the evidence taken by the Committee, and he could not admit that the hon. Member's description of the Bill was a just one. The main object of the Bill, and he thought also the main object of the Committee who reported upon the point, was to insure that game should be killed by those to whom it belonged; that the birds should not be shot prematurely by poachers and sold as English and Scotch birds. With regard to one objection, the Committee of last year, with every desire to ascertain the state of Irish feeling on the subject, could not have obtained better evidence than they did, so that there seemed no prospect of improving upon it by referring the Bill to a Select Committee. Acting upon the Report of that Committee, his noble Friend (Viscount Crichton) had brought forward the measure, and he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) thought there was considerable force in the statement of his noble Friend that, after all, it was merely a permissive measure, for it enabled those who found a difficulty, if shooting was put off until late, to get an opportunity which they did not now possess; while with regard to the difference of time at which the birds matured in different districts, the dates of the 12th of August and the 1st of September applied to all England and Scotland, which embraced as great differences in the times at which the birds arrived at maturity as did all Ireland; and he did not suppose that in any part of Ireland the birds were later than in some parts of Scotland. The alteration of the date for grouse, no doubt, would prevent that illicit traffic which now existed so largely; but as to partridges, he was not quite sure that the right view was taken, for the date fixed was the 10th of September, and there was, therefore, a certain time left during which the illicit traffic in partridges might be carried on. That might be a subject for consideration in Committee; but from a study of all the evidence he believed it would be well to read the Bill a second time.


said, that in Ireland the greatest difference of opinion existed about the Bill, for Lord John Browne, who was a largo proprietor in Mayo, was in favour of assimilating the dates, while others were strongly opposed to it. As there was this difference of opinion he thought it desirable before legislation that there should be further investigation; and that the Government would do right in assenting to the subject being referred to a Select Committee.


, as an English sportsman, thought that game was much tamer in Ireland than in England. He wished to point out to hon. Gentlemen who were in favour of Home Rule, that that was a question which might very well have been decided in an Irish Parliament—supposing such an Assembly to have come into existence.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 141; Noes 60: Majority 81.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 28th April.