§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said: Mr. Speaker,—An apology is scarcely necessary from me for having introduced so early in 1358 this Parliament the question of the game laws, for it is ripe for legislation. Four Sessions during the last 25 years have been occupied by the labours of two Select Committees appointed to investigate this subject. Part of another Session was spent in trying to make amendments on Bills and propositions before the House. In almost every Session of the last Parliament the subject of the game laws was discussed, and in one year no fewer than seven or eight different measures were brought forward. Not only has the subject been agitated throughout the country, but nearly every Chamber of Agriculture has expressed an opinion as to what amendments on the existing laws relating to game are necessary in order to effect a settlement of this vexed question. Therefore, I am fully warranted in saying that it is ripe for legislation. It would have been desirable to make the Bill applicable to England, Scotland, and Ireland. I framed it with that view, and I was promised the assistance of the Members for Norfolk and Leicestershire, who so well understood the practical parts of the question. An hon. Member from Ireland also offered his aid to enable me to carry out my original aim; but the suddenness of the Dissolution of Parliament, and other causes, have forced upon me the necessity of confining the Bill to the game laws of Scotland alone. There are three interests which must be taken into account in dealing with the game laws—namely, those of the landlord, of the tenant, and of the community at large. The landlord is affected in so far as the game laws protect his property against trespassers, and also protect certain wild animals which add to the value of his estate. The farmer is affected in so far as he is interested in the protection of his crops, alike from trespassers and from the depredations of game. The general public; are affected by the increase of crime which is annually committed under the Game Acts. The present game statutes affect all these interests in one way or another, and I have endeavoured, in framing this Bill, to give equal weight and consideration to each. The first and fourth parts of the measure are devoted to these three interests, the second part deals with the relations of landlord and tenant, and the third part fixes the machinery by which the provisions of the Bill are to be carried out. Some of 1359 the witnesses who were examined before the Committee which sat in 1872 and 1873 recommended that the game laws should he abolished entirely; but, on being cross-examined, most of these gentlemen were obliged to admit that if the game laws were abolished it would be necessary to have a more stringent law of trespass than now exists. Official documents show that there is scarcely a country in Europe or America, from despotic Russia to the Republican United States, which has not a law of trespass. In the United States, 27 out of 34 of the States have a game law, or what is very like it a stringent law of trespass. In 1848 the game laws were abolished in Prussia and other German States, but so great was the amount of damage clone to landed property that it was found necessary to re-impose the game laws, or a very stringent law of trespass. A few of the witnesses examined before the Committee to which I have referred, also recommended that an inalienable concurrent right should be given to the landlord and tenant to shoot game. What would be the result of such a measure? If the landlord and tenant chose to exercise the rights the Legislature gave them, the result would be the extermination of winged and ground game. If, on the other hand, the landlord wished to reserve the game to him-self, he would easily manage to do so by some stipulations in the lease. Or they might both enter into a contract whereby the game might be increased to such an extent as to inflict a great deal of loss and damage upon the country. Such a measure would be quite ineffectual to secure the end in view. As an illustration, I may mention that one witness informed the Committee that he had full power under his lease to kill rabbits on Iris farm, but he did not exorcise it for fear of giving offence to the gamekeeper and the landlord, and the consequence was that his crops were so eaten up by game that he was compelled to remove to another part of the country. Another recommendation was that hares and rabbits should be taken out of the game list. That was no novel suggestion, for as far back as in the Committee of 1845, high authorities, such as the late Mr. Pusey and Sir Harry Verney, bore testimony that ground game was incompatible with good farming and the preservation 1360 of crops. And almost every Chamber of Agriculture has approved of this suggestion. I propose that hares and rabbits should be taken out of the game list, and I justify that by the benefit which would be conferred on the farmers and on the community at large. First, as regards the farmers; the great cause of their dissatisfaction with the game laws is the damage done to their crops by the ground game; reduce the numbers of these, and the complaints from the tenants will be less frequent. Then as regards the community; the 10,000 convictions which take place annually under the Game Acts form an amount of crime which may well arrest the attention of every legislator and social reformer. If you trace the career of a poacher to its origin, you will find that the first criminal act he committed was the taking of a hare or rabbit, and that he did so without thinking for a moment he was doing anything wrong. A man may be walking across a field when a hare or a rabbit starts up. He catches and kills it—is seized by the gamekeeper, who was watching him all the time, and is convicted and fined. If unable to pay the fine, he is thrown into prison, where he becomes contaminated by the bad characters with whom he comes in contact. He leaves prison with a complete loss of self respect, and the degradation he has suffered leads him to commit other offences, so that a downward career which began with the simple taking of a hare or rabbit may terminate on the gallows. Let us ask ourselves whether, in passing Acts which are at variance with the moral sense of the community, and tend to increase crime, legislators are not more culpable than the men who break the law? One objection which has been made against the Bill is that it would lead to an increase of trespass, and also to the extermination of hares and rabbits. Now, what is the Scotch law of trespass? Two lawyers—Mr. Murray, of Edinburgh, and Sheriff Barclay, have explained the law to mean this—If you find a man trespassing on your property, and you warn him off, if he does not leave you can use violence to compel him, and can also make hint pay damages. If, therefore, the law has any effect in preventing poaching, my Bill will provide all that is necessary. For I retain all the pro- 1361 visions against trespassing in pursuit of winged game, and if by the present law you can apprehend a man trespassing under suspicious circumstances you can equally do so under these provisions of my Bill. As regards extermination, the object of the Bill is to reduce the number of hares and rabbits, but not to exterminate them; and if we do not reduce the number of these animals in the country, we will never settle this question. Clause 10 of the Bill provides that anyone wishing to preserve hares and rabbits can do so by enclosing the land in such a way as to prevent egress, after giving due notice and taking out a licence. I insert that provision because I do not see why a proprietor should be debarred from preserving ground game so long as he does not thereby interfere with the rights and property of his neighbours, any more than a man who cultivates turnips and carrots should be prohibited from also cultivating roses and other flowers. I should like here to say a word on another branch of the subject. I believe there has been a great deal of exaggeration in the statements made respecting the evils of deer forests. Some statistics were given in evidence before the Committee last year as to the number of sheep displaced by deer, and it was found that the annual produce of this number only amounted to something like one day's consumption of butchers' moat in the country, while a mere fractional difference was caused in price, even though the venison, and the live animals, and meat imported were not taken into account in estimating the difference. The next point has reference to the jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace. The Bill provides that all offences under the game laws should be transferred from the jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace to that of the Sheriff. In making this proposition, I do not wish to cast the slightest reflection upon the Justices. I believe that no body of gentlemen discharge their duties more conscientiously than the Justices do; but still it is necessary that those who administer our laws should be above suspicion. Now in this matter, that cannot be said to be the case. Many people believe that they have a right to kill hares or rabbits and they do not think that a proprietor has any more right to the wild animals on 1362 his property than they have. And it does not tend to increase the confidence which a man should have in our laws when he finds that poachers are tried by a bench of Justices, most of whom are notorious game preservers. We are all apt to have our judgments warped by prejudice. And as Sheriff Barclay very clearly put it—"there is in connection with sport an exceedingly keen and strong feeling to increase game, and to punish the destroyer of it." which is very apt to bias a sportsman; and most country gentlemen are sports-men, from among whom the country Justices are selected. I have the less hesitation in suggesting the transference of the jurisdiction from the Justices to the Sheriff as the Legislature has already in about a dozen Acts of Parliament guarded the administration of them even from suspicion. For instance, under the Bread Act, no miller or baker can act as a Justice; under the Mutiny Act, no military officer, in billeting soldiers; under the Factory Act, no occupier, or father, son, or brother of an occupier of a factory; under the Salmon Fishing Act, no fishing proprietors; under the Licensing Act, no brewer, maltster, distiller, or retailer of excisable liquors; under the Mine Acts, no coal master or tenant of coal works; no road trustee, in an appeal to quarter sessions from a meeting of road trustees of which he is a member; no solicitor, or procurator, or partner of any such, in any matter whatever falling under the jurisdiction of Justices. Another provision in the first part of the Bill gives protection by a close time, and makes it an offence to kill game within dates specified in the fourth clause; and here I may remark that a mistake has crept in, and that the dates of close time ought to be from the 1st February to the 12th August following. Then comes the clause for the protection of eggs of game, and protection against trespassers in pursuit of game, and protection against the poisoning of game. The next portion of the Bill which commends itself to our attention is that affecting the relation between landlord and tenant as regards game. By the present law of Scotland a tenant has a right to kill game unless there is an agreement to the contrary; but notwithstanding this provision, most landlords reserve the game to themselves. By the law of England the tenant has 1363 the right to the game unless reserved by the landlord, which is more in accordance with the principle of justice, for it is just that he should have a right to the game on whose crops it feeds. But it is a matter of little importance in practice who has the right to the game, as most landlords in England and Scotland reserve it. There are certain conditions attached to this alteration of the law. First, existing leases are not affected by it. Second, if the landlord docs not reserve the light of killing the game, the tenant cannot, assign it to any other party without the landlord's consent. Third, if the landlord reserves the game he must state in the lease the value he attaches to it. This proposition was specially suggested to me by the discussion on the rating of game when the rating liability was under discussion. In England it matters not what the rent may be; the tenant is not assessed upon that, but upon the general annual value of the land, and if that has been deteriorated by over-preservation of game, the tenant would have recourse under that Bill to a means of recovery of the difference between the value of the land and that to which it had been deteriorated by over-preservation of game. In Scotland we are assessed upon the actual rent paid which is mentioned in the lease. Certain landlords have been accustomed to make special agreements with the tenant—that is, they will reserve the game, and will allow a certain sum to the tenant on condition that he shall preserve the game; and I know some instances where a tenant has got a reduction of his rent to the extent of 2s. per acre, and sometimes more, these 2s. per acre being deducted from the agricultural value. This reduced rent is mentioned in the lease, and is the sum on which the assessment is laid; and then the landlord and tenant do not pay then-fair share of the rate, and the other ratepayers are compelled to pay more than their share. This provision will do away with the injustice to the public. This provision has another advantage. In the 14th clause there is a provision that if the landlord who reserves the game does not keep it down to what may be considered a fair and reasonable extent, he shall be liable to the tenant for any excess of damage done. Now, the great difficulty in such a case would be to say what was a fair and reasonable 1364 amount of game. In this case a fair and reasonable amount of game would be estimated by the value of it stated in the lease, and which was mutually agreed on by landlord and tenant. The fourth condition which I attach to the alteration or assimilation of the law is that if any landlord wishes to let tin-game, he shall give the first offer of it to the tenant at the value he puts on the game in his lease. I never heard of any tenant complaining of a landlord shooting over his farm, and I never met a farmer who did not complain of the sporting tenant. The landlord has sympathy with the tenant. He takes care that the fences are not destroyed by over-preservation. The sporting tenant, on the other hand, pays a good rent for the game, and tries to recoup himself by over-preservation; and the result is the destruction of fences and crops. I think, therefore, we should do away with the dissatisfaction of the tenant on this point, if we were to provide that the landlord, if he let the game at all, should give the tenant the first offer of it. I know there is some objection to this, and that while game might be kept down on some farms, it might be preserved to a great extent on a farm in the middle of an estate. I shall be glad if any remedy can be suggested for injury that might occur in such a case. Another part of the Bill is that which deals with compensation for damages. The principal point of it is that no landlord shall be entitled to bring an action against his tenant after three months from the time when the breach of contract has taken place; and that no tenant should be at liberty to bring an action against the landlord unless he gives three weeks, notice of his intention to do so before the crop is taken off the ground. In Clause 14 I have stated, that if there has been any agreement between the landlord and tenant after hares and rabbits have been taken out of the game-list, the tenant should be entitled to be recouped for an excess of damages. I know that objection has been taken to this, and that it has been said, "If you take hares and rabbits out of the game-lists, why make the landlord pay afterwards?" My reason is this. I find that after the agitation of the subject, various landlords have been stipulating for the reservation of game "and hares and rab- 1365 bits" to themselves, and if that be so. I think it is absolutely necessary that the landlord shall still be liable for damages. In Clauses 15 and 161 allow the landlord to have an action against the tenant for breach of contract, but in the consideration of that I prohibit him from exercising the right of interdict. That is to say, if the tenant goes shooting over his land when there is an excess of game, the landlord should not have the right of interdicting him. That clause is not my own. I took it from a Bill which met with great favour in the late House of Commons. That Bill was introduced by the late Lord Advocate, and met with considerable acceptance by the House. Some object to the clause, some think it a good part of the Bill, and some think it arbitrary. For my own part, I think it very hard that landlords, in spite of contracts, will persist in preserving game to a greater extent than was intended. It is only in such cases that the power given by this Bill will be exercised, and it is only in such cases that we would prevent the landlord from exercising his right at law. The other provisions are very simple. They refer to the settlements of disputes by arbitration. If the parties cannot agree, the case shall be referred to the Sheriff, who shall have it in his power to appoint a man to inquire into the matter and report to him, and the decision of the Sheriff shall be final. There shall be no appeal from him to the Court of Session. The last clause of the Bill refers to deer forests. Though I have introduced into the Bill a provision for putting up deer fences by the owner or tenant of a deer forest, if required by the lessee of the adjoining agricultural or sheep farm, I have at the same time, allowed the alternative of a sheep fence, which would prevent sheep from trespassing in the deer forests. In Committee last year, the farmers complained very much, not so mush that the deer came out, as that the sheep trespassing in the forest were hounded out by the keepers' dogs. They would be satisfied if the owners of deer forests would put up sheep fences, and I am glad to say that the owners of forests who are in this House, all have said that it is quite reasonable, and they are prepared to do it themselves. There are other provisions which I should think it necessary to introduce into this Bill, and I will assure hon. Gentlemen on both 1366 sides of the House that if the Bill is allowed to go into Committee, I shall be willing to listen to any suggestions for improvement from either side of the House. It is impossible that you can get every man to agree to all its provisions. I was quite prepared to find that a number of hon. Members are opposed to the Bill generally, but I am quite prepared to listen to any Amendment from them when we get into Committee. Several other provisions might be introduced in Committee. For instance, the noble Lord the Member for East Suffolk moved a Resolution, which was only lost by the casting vote of the Chairman—namely, that any one selling game should take out a licence for doing so. And another useful suggestion has been made to me—namely, that game-dealers should keep a book, in which they should enter the names and addresses of all those from whom they purchase game, and which book should be open to inspection. We have a precedent for this in the Pawnbrokers' Act a similar provision in which has had the effect of increasing the facilities for detecting crime. In the Committee last year we had two divisions on what I may call the main points of this Bill. One division took place on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicestershire; and it was this—that rabbits should be struck out of the game list. That Amendment was carried by 11 to 7. The hon. Member for Norfolk moved that hares should be included in that Amendment; but on a division the proposal was defeated by 10 to 8, still showing that the opinion of the Committee was strongly in favour of taking hares and rabbits out of the game list. It must not be supposed that I am propounding any new principle. The main proposal is that hares and rabbits should be taken out of the game lists. The first time that was proposed was in 1867, when the hon. Member for Perthshire did me the honour of putting his name on the back of the Bill I then introduced. Hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have therefore heard of this proposal before. I trust that in the remarks I have made I have said nothing that would tend to provoke any bad feeling or increase the bitterness which unfortunately prevails in many parts of the country on this much vexed question. I have endeavoured to steer clear, 1367 and I am convinced: from what I have heard, that those who oppose this Bill will not pursue a different course. Great courtesy was shown by the Mover of the Amendment in giving me notice of his intention, even before the Bill was tabled. If in my remarks I have said anything to remove his objections—if he considers that there are any good points in the Bill, I would put it to him whether he would not obtain his object as well by allowing the Bill to be read a second time, and move in Committee any Amendments he wishes, and which I should be glad to consider. I can assure the House that I feel the sooner this question is settled the better, because I am convinced that if a moderate measure is not accepted, the House will soon have to consider a much larger scheme. I thank the House for allowing me to detain them, so long, and I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Lagan.)
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
I must apologize to the House for rising so early in the debate and interposing between the hon. and gallant Gentleman 'Colonel Alexander), who has given Notice of an Amendment; but as I am obliged to leave the House on other business, I think it only right that the House should know what the views of the Government are before I am called away. I may state at the outset that no one feels more than I do the great attention which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. M'Lagan) has given to this important subject. He was a Member of the Select Committee which inquired into this subject last year, and no one on that Committee took a more active and useful part. It was essential that the Committee should obtain full information as to the law of Scotland on this subject, in order that it might be considered in relation, not to the case of England alone, but in relation to the whole United Kingdom. I must, however, state that the Government feel compelled to oppose the measure he has brought in, and for the reasons which I will now give. In the first place this question of the game laws affects the whole of the United Kingdom, and not Scotland alone; whereas the provisions of this Bill are restricted to Scotland 1368 alone, and that involves the objection that it makes the law of Scotland differ still more widely from that of England, instead of following the recommendation of the Committee to make the law of Scotland assimilate to that of England. A still greater objection to the Bill consists in the sweeping character of the measure as declared in Clause 4, for that clause repeals all statutes, laws, and usages relating to the protection of game, or of any wild animal classed or named in any Act of Parliament along with any game, as defined in the Bill, with a view to its protection, which may now be in force in Scotland. That is undoubtedly a sweeping proposition, and is one of the largest measures to be in the hands of a private Member which I ever knew laid on the Table of this House. I may say, further, that in order to carry such a measure at the hands of a private Member a considerable amount of justification would be required. I must say, further, that even should the Bill be accepted by the House it would not be a settlement of the case. It is clear that this Bill is not, and cannot be, a settlement. We have a Bill by another private Member dealing with the same subject in an entirely opposite spirit. If this Bill should pass—as I hope it will not—we shall have another Bill brought in and then the House would discover that it had satisfied nobody—that it had unsettled everything and settled nothing. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the scope of this Bill. I think he will see why it is that it settles nothing. In the first place, those who advocate the total abolition of the game laws cannot be expected to be satisfied by this Bill, for it contains stringent regulations for the protection of game; therefore they would remain unsatisfied. Those who take the opposite view of the case, and wish game to be preserved, would be equally unsatisfied, because, although it is true that there are provisions for protecting certain game, yet while hares and rabbits are taken out of the game list, the question of trespass is left undealt with. The hon. Member proposes, no doubt, to make the law of trespass more stringent with regard to winged game; but hares and rabbits having been taken out of the list, the Bill goes directly in the teeth of the recommendation of the Committee, that if hares and rabbits were taken out 1369 there must be a more stringent law. This is the fatal objection which the Government take—that hares and rabbits are taken out of the game list; yet the land is left totally unprotected in regard to trespass committed in pursuit of hares and rabbits. I believe that if the Bill were passed into law the persons first to cry out against its operation would be, not the landlords, but the tenants. If Parliament throws open the land to all persons who may come upon it to shoot hares and rabbits—which will then be regarded as vermin—you cannot but expect there will be plenty to overrun the land when they know they cannot be punished for doing so. The damage to the crops that will then take place will really be due to our action in passing this Bill. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. M'Lagan) says there are provisions which would do away with that, by making the sellers of game subject to licence and registration. But if hares and rabbits are no longer game, no trespass could take place in respect to them, and therefore no protection would be afforded in this way. These are the objections we have; and we say that if any private Member of this House brings forward a Bill on the game laws, he must deal not only with part of the subject, but with the whole of it—he must not only protect the tenant from the ravages of an excessive quantity of game, but he must protect both the landlord and tenant from damages done by trespassers. When we come to the question of night trespass—which is dealt with by the 9th section—I have always understood the law, not of England only, but of Scotland also, to be that persons who go out armed late tit night really do not come under the game laws at all, but that the penalties of the law are directed against persons who go out armed in such a way as is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and are not game laws but peace preservation laws. I believe that is the view that all learned Judges have taken of this law. Why treat as belonging to game what should be treated as a matter for the preservation of the public peace? But if hares and rabbits are taken out of the game laws, and are left at the mercy of whoever chooses to pursue them, night poachers will still go out in large numbers—and the same breaches of the peace will take place as at the present 1370 moment—without being liable to the penalties provided for the infraction of the game laws. I will not go further into the details of the Bill. Some of its provisions may be good; but the Government object to the vital principles of the measure, and I trust the House will not agree to the second reading.
§ COLONEL ALEXANDER
We have been told, Sir, on high authority, no less than that of the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan), that speeches in this House are frequently intended for others than those who actually listen to them, and without entirely subscribing to that doctrine, I may say there are circumstances which will not allow me to give a silent vote on this occasion, and which compel me to state the course which I feel it my duty to pursue in connection with the second reading of this Bill. For, Sir, inexperienced as I am in the forms and procedure of this House, I cannot conceal from myself, and I think many hon. Members will acknowledge the substantial accuracy of my assertion, that a practice is beginning to obtain—a practice, I venture to think, by no means to be commended—of voting for the second reading of a Bill, not because its principle is approved, but—and I do not say this in any offensive sense—in order to save appearances and to avoid the imputation of hostility to reforms which the Bill may attempt, though indeed vainly, to promote. In short, Sir, to adopt the expressive language of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government on another occasion, hon. Members, and especially Scotch hon. Members, are "very nervous" on the game question. I myself own to some degree of trepidation, for when I was canvassing the constituency which I have the honour to represent—not at the last, but at the penultimate General Election—a rabbit, I think, was brought in on a pole, and some attempt was made to establish a mysterious connection between that interesting animal and the right hon. Gentleman the present First Minister of the Crown. But, Sir, I cannot admit the claim of hon. Gentlemen opposite to a monopoly in this question: it is not a party question, and, moreover, ought never to be made a party question. Hon. Gentlemen sitting on these benches are quite as much interested as hon. Gentlemen opposite 1371 in the welfare of the agricultural classes, and in promoting that good fooling between landlord and tenant at which all legislation ought to aim, but which the Bill now before the House will, as I venture to think, and as I shall presently attempt to show, entirely fail to secure. The first question we have to ask ourselves is—Does any grievance exist? Sir, I have no hesitation in answering that question in the affirmative—not relying on my own unassisted observation, which in such a matter I should be inclined to distrust, but on the Report of the Select Committee of this House, over which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty last year presided, and of which the hon. Member For Linlithgowshire, the father of this Bill, was a member. That Committee, after examining 1 Scotch gentleman learned in the law, 18 Scotch tenant-farmers, 10 Scotch proprietors, 2 Scotch chief constables, 2 lessees of shootings in Scotland, 1 Scotch game dealer, 2 Scotch factors, 2 Scotch legal officials, and 1 Scotch forester, drew up a most exhaustive Report, in which they say, "they have found that in Scotland a much stronger feeling has been evoked by the preservation of game than in England." And why? Because, they add, "this is partly due to the excessive preservation of ground game on certain largo estates, and to the sale of the game from those estates." Sir, we may judge how excessive the preservation of ground game must be when we read that the number of hares and rabbits produced in the United Kingdom is about 30,000,000 annually; and although, doubtless, they supply about 40,000 tons of food, still, as the Committee observe—These can be no question that the existence of a large number of haves and rabbits upon an arable form is most prejudicial to its profitable occupation, and your Committee cannot too Strongly reprobate the practice of some landlords and their shooting tenants of keeping up a large stock of those animals on cultivated lands, to the injury of the crops of the farming tenants.But, if I wanted further proof of the existence of a grievance, I should find it in the crop of Game Bills which annually flourish so luxuriantly in this House. Admitted, then, the grievance, where are we to look for a remedy? Sir, if I could find it within the four corners of this Bill I would not say one word in 1372 deprecation of its provisions. But does the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire believe—does my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire believe—does any hon. Member whose name is on the back of the Bill believe—that if it becomes law the irritation on the question will subside, and that its annual ventilation in this House will be permitted to drop? Without pretending to the gift of second sight, I venture confidently to predict that when, Sir, at the beginning of next Session you take the Chair of this House, the hon. Member for Forfarshire will give Notice of his intention, on an early day, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to wild animals in Scotland. Sir, I turn to Clause 4 of this Bill, and perhaps it will be ungracious in me to make any comment upon it after what has been said by the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire. He says the dates contained therein are a mistake, and may be amended in Committee. The clause makes it an offence to destroy game, other than partridges, pheasants, and grouse, between the 10th day of December and the 12th day of August following. I must say that when I looked at the birds comprised in the term game—including woodcocks, snipes, and the varieties of wild ducks—I certainly was astonished. I was under the impression—though if this clause is right my impression was wrong—that those birds were at their very best during the months of December and January. But, as the hon. Member says he will amend this clause in Committee, I will not say anything further on the point except that as the Bill has been reprinted since the beginning of the Session, I think it would have been as well had such a glaring error not appeared in it. But while talking of Committee, I may say I have heard that it is the intention of many hon. Members, I will not say on which side of the House they sit, to allow this Bill to go into Committee and there endeavour to emasculate it. I do venture to hope the House will not allow these hon. Members to indulge in such a caprice, and will not suffer its valuable time to be wasted by endeavours in Committee to mould an unworkable Bill into shape. Let those hon. Gentlemen rise in their places to-day—there is plenty of time between this and a quarter to six—and stating openly their opinions on the subject, let 1373 them vote "Aye" or "No" on this Motion. Sir, Clause 10 of the Bill appears to be principally devised in the interests of proprietors of newspapers and sheriffs' clerks, for under it anyone wishing to have; a deer park or warren must register it annually, paying to the sheriff's clerk a fee of 10s. for such registration, and must thereafter advertise once a week for four successive weeks, the fact of such registration each year in each of such newspapers as are published in the county, and as if that was not enough, he must further put up, and maintain, in not less than two conspicuous places on the land enclosed, notice that the land is thus registered. But if this clause confers a benefit on newspapers and sheriffs' clerks, the next, Clause 11, appears to be conceived, not directly perhaps, but indirectly, in the interest of the poacher; for although by it any person having the right to kill game may require a person trespassing in pursuit of game to quit the land, and if he refuse to give his name to apprehend him—that is to say if he can—a matter not always so easy perhaps as the authors of this Bill imagine—such person may always plead that he is not in pursuit of game but of wild animals not protected by the Bill; and I must say that I think this very extratraordinary, for on turning to the draft report proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite last year in the Committee of which he was a Member, a cheap and summary process of injunction or interdict against the trespasser in the Sheriff's Small Debt Court similar to that suggested by Mr. Hector, sheriff's clerk of Renfrewshire, was specially recommended. You thus abolish, not in favour of the tenant farmer, but of the poacher, what has been well termed "a discriminating law of trespass." Clause 13 provides that the right of killing and taking game shall not be effectually reserved by a lessor unless the lease set forth the annual value of the right so reserved. Now, I venture to think the House will be of opinion that this clause is both objectionable and unworkable. For supposing the game on an estate to be worth £200 a-year, how is the value to be apportioned to each of the farms of which it is composed? Besides the value of game would not remain the same during the whole currency of a lease. Then, again, the same clause 1374 precludes a lessor, who has reserved the right to the game, from letting it to any other person unless he shall first offer it to the lessee at a rent equal to the annual value as specified in the lease, and thus one tenant would have it in his power to destroy the letting value of an estate. Although the hon. Gentleman opposite has, it is true, offered to amend this clause, it would be much better not to allow a Bill requiring so many Amendments to go into Committee at all. Clause 14 provides that a lessor, who has reserved to himself—subject, of course, as I have already shown, to the superior right of the poacher—the exclusive right of killing game and wild animals, must be presumed to keep down the stock of game and wild animals on the farm to such an extent as shall be "fair and reasonable." But who is to define what is fair and reasonable? for what may appear so to one party may appear very unfair and very unreasonable to the other. Then, Sir, although Clause 15 makes a lessee who kills game or wild animals contrary to the terms of his contract with the lessor liable to damage. Clause 16 does not allow him to enforce the contract by injunction or interdict. Sir, a contract is either legal or illegal; if legal every facility should be given for enforcing it; if illegal it should not be enforced at all. This is an attempt to destroy freedom of contract by a side wind—Letting I dare not, wait upon I would,Sir, I will not pursue further the various clauses of this Bill. A few of them are doubtless good, but they are more than counterbalanced by those to which I have alluded. The capital error of the Bill is, as I have shown, that it is conceived more in the interest of the poacher than of the tenant farmer. It is another of those Bills which only touch the fringe of a great question; and I venture to think the House does not want Bills which only touch the fringe of great questions. Sir, I ask myself, will the hon. Member for Leicester vote for this Bill? He would apply, I think, a more drastic remedy. He has placed it on record that he considers a hare quite as bad as a Bengal tiger, and he is therefore perfectly consistent in demanding the extermination of the noxious animal. Will the hon. Member for Forfarshire support this Bill? If he votes for it he 1375 must certainly abandon his own. At any rate I claim the vote of the hon. and gallant General opposite, for I have heard that many of the farmers in Kincardineshire hold a meeting and rejected the Bill without even looking at its provisions. A few were in favour of the Bill of the hon. Member for Forfarshire, but the greater number preferred that of the hon. Member for Leicester. The fact is, Sir, Her Majesty's Government ran alone grapple successfully with this subject, and I must confess to some little feeling of disappointment that the right hon. Gentleman sitting below me did not express his intention of initiating next year legislation on the question. I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman the first Lord of the Admiralty, who presided over the Committee last year would have introduced a Bill, but he has now other fish to fry. Sir, we want a responsible Minister for Scotland, and till we have one, I am convinced that Scotch business will never be satisfactorily transacted in this House. The hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Glasgow stated, I think, the other day, that the late Government had to a certain extent at least neglected the interests of Scotland. Now, I must say the hon. Member was scarcely justified in his strictures, for no Government could I am sure be guilty of such huge ingratitude. Of the Scottish Liberal representation in the late Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich might surely say—MearumGrande decus columenque rerum.Among the faithless, faithful only they.Sir, I do not impute systematic neglect of Scotch interests to the late or another Administration, but I do say that those interests are so complex and so multifarious that it would tax to the utmost even the great powers of the learned Lord Advocate and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to grapple with them successfully. Sir, I respectfully commend this question to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure he would earn the lasting gratitude of the people of Scotland by recommending to Her Majesty the appointment of a Minister for the management of business, exclusively Scotch; but pending the consummation of that happy event, I have a sugges- 1376 tion to make, and it is, that my hon. Friend the Member for Invernesshire should undertake the duty, for which, indeed, he is so well qualified, of introducing a Bill next Session on this subject. Sir, it is not because I am opposed to legislation, but because I deprecate crude and ill-considered legislation—unsettling everything, and settling nothing—because I seek a solution of a thorny and complex question, and because I do not find that solution within the limits of this Bill, I feel constrained, though assuredly not without regret, to move that it be read a second time on this day six months.
§ SIR WILLIAM EDMONSTONE
said, that as another Scotch County Member, he begged to second the Amendment which had just been proposed by his hon. and gallant Friend. At the same time, he desired to express his thanks to the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) for attempting to settle a question which at the last election in Scotland stood very often—he was speaking for himself—like a hon in the path, and it was high time it should be settled. The great recommendation of the hon. Gentleman's Bill was that it was the most moderate Game Bill that had been submitted to the House, but the question was one which it would not do to tinker; and, therefore, as the Bill would not permanently settle the question, he thought it would be better to reject it altogether. The desire of himself and his friends was to protect their tenants from damage being done to their crops by hares and rabbits. But, at the same time, they desired that the rights of property should not be infringed in any single way. In his election address he said he was willing to give the tenants of farms the right to kill hares and rabbits, but not more than that—he would not take them off the game list, because by doing so they would give great encouragement to trespassers and poachers. There was one grievance which he admitted—that was, that the renters of shootings naturally allowed hares and rabbits to increase. This, to a certain extent, was undoubtedly a grievance. On the whole, however, he thought the question was misunderstood, and was made a bugbear of. He quite agreed with the Home Secretary that if they intended to get a settlement of the question, it 1377 must be done by the Government, and not by a private Member. He should, therefore, be in favour of some pressure being brought to bear upon the Government to deal with the matter during another year.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Colonel Alexander.)
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he had considered very carefully and very anxiously, and he hoped impartially, the Bill which had been introduced by the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan), and after giving it his fullest consideration, and speaking, as he did and was naturally expected to do, to a considerable extent for the farmers of Scotland, he said on their behalf that he did not think the Bill very much improved the existing state of matters. Yet he should give it his support, chiefly as a protest against the existing system of game laws, and in order that there should be no appearance of conflict between private Members who were trying to force the Government to deal with that question. What, then, were the grievances alleged against the game laws, and how was it proposed to remedy them? The first class of objections regarded the penalties and the mode in which the laws were administered. It was urged against the existing system that it was defective, and that the penalties were altogether out of proportion to the offences committed; that they were oppressive, inasmuch as a man for the same offence might be convicted several times; and that they were unconstitutional, because in a recent Act of Parliament authority was given to a policeman to stop and search people on the public highway simply on suspicion. And further there was this anomaly—that under these laws, and also under the fishery laws, offenders might be convicted upon the testimony of a single witness. As to the objection that the administration of the law was unsatisfactory, he was very glad to point out an improvement in that respect in this Bill—the Bill proposed to transfer the administration from the Justices of the Peace to the Sheriffs. This was a very decided improvement; and as he understood that the practice of convicting offenders on the testimony of one 1378 witness would be abolished, game would no longer be placed upon an exceptional footing from property. It would, in fact, require as much evidence to convict for poaching in future as it would for felony. As regarded the objection that the penalties were excessive, he must say that in his opinion the penalties provided in the Bill seemed quite as excessive as under the existing system. One of the penalties proposed was penal servitude for one year. But he believed this was contrary to the statute respecting penal servitude, which said that no term of penal servitude should be less than five years. In another part of the Bill the accumulation of penalties was retained. An individual for trespassing in search of game might be convicted no less than four times—in the first place for concealing his name if he declined to give it; in the second place, he might be convicted for trespass; in the third place, he might be sued for ordinary trespass; and in the fourth place, fined for shooting without a game licence. Now, he did not think this Bill, as regarded these penalties, was any material improvement upon the existing system. The second class of objections arose out of the relations between landlord and tenant, and the relations of these two to the public. The tenant complained that he was bound by conditions which he was powerless to resist, and compelled to keep any number of wild animals for the sole benefit of his landlord. Now, if there was one point about the evidence of last year which was prominently brought out, it was that the tenant was powerless to resist the conditions which the landlord chose to insist upon. On all the large estates in Scotland there were certain regulations or conditions concerning the leasing of farms, and under these conditions, which were printed, hares were almost invariably, and rabbits frequently, exclusively reserved for the landlord and his friends. In some eases it was specialty provided that the tenants should have no claim for compensation, notwithstanding any amount of damage which might be done by the hares and rabbits. He thought that if the Courts of Law looked at these contracts in the same light they did at other contracts, they would say they were illegal and unjust. Now, it had been brought out strongly in the 1379 evidence before the Committee, that the great damage to crops was that committed by hares and rabbits, and that nine-tenths of the complaints of tenants related to this. From inquiries he had made, he believed that if the tenants were allowed the control of hares and rabbits on their own farms, they would be satisfied:—even those tenants who complained of damage done by winged game said, that if they could get the Control over hares and rabbits they would be content. This Bill proposed to deal with this grievance, which was the great grievance of the tenant farmers of Scotland; but in taking hares and rabbits out of the game list, as far as he could see, it handed them over to poachers. He did not see how it could be otherwise. If hares were diminished, the price of them would rise in the market, and a good many people in the towns would prefer a night's poaching to an honest day's work. If, however, there was no other remedy for the grievance than the extermination of hares and rabbits, he would accept that remedy—though he confessed, as regarded hares, he should do so with regret. As to rabbits there was little difference of opinion. They were unmitigated nuisances on arable land under all circumstances; and if they were to be allowed to remain in sandy districts, they ought to be enclosed in warrens. As he had just said, if the grievance complained of by the farmers was only to be remedied by the extermination of the hares, he was quite ready to accept the remedy; but to his mind the simplest, the common-sense, and the intelligible remedy of the grievance was to hand over the control of these hares and rabbits to the tenant farmers themselves. This would be acceptable to, and was desired by, the farmers. At the conference at Aberdeen, at which tenant farmers from all parts, and of all shades of opinion were present, they came to the conclusion that if the control of hares and rabbits was given up to them, that would be a practical settlement of the game question, so far as they were concerned, for an indefinite period. He was at a loss to understand why the hon. Member for Linlithgow had not adopted this course in framing his Bill. The hon. Gentleman was probably desirous of preserving the sanctity of contract. But he (Mr. Barclay) was convinced that there were 1380 forces now in operation which would very soon cause the relations between landlords and tenants to be brought under the consideration of Parliament. Parliament having dealt with the relations of contract between every trade and profession in the community, would not hesitate, in the general interests of the public, to interfere with the relations and bargains existing between landlords and tenants—conditions which were of far greater importance to the country at large than some of the cases in which Parliament had already interfered. The hon. Member, however, did interfere with the sanctity of contract in his Bill—for the 13th clause declared certain contracts, which did not comply with certain conditions, null and void. The provision giving the tenant the option of taking the game, before the landlord could let it to a shooting tenant, was an interference with the freedom of contract. The provision for proceeding by way of interdict was an interference with contract, for if one of the parties to a contract broke it, the other party ought to be able to enforce it in the most effective manner. Moreover, he feared that the restrictions the Bill proposed to place on landlords would be illusory—for the landlord would still have full means of control over the tenant, so as to restrain him from killing the game on his farm. Then, as to deer forests. He was aware that many of the sheep farmers desired to have them fenced; but he entirely objected to recognize deer forests as a national institution. They were an entire mistake. They heard occasionally of the amount of money spent in deer forests; but he considered they were altogether a national loss, and in no shape were they national wealth. They were a convenience for wealthy people to spend their money. The population of the country near deer forests was banished, as was shown in the case of the north-west of Scotland. During the last 50 years, the population of the Highland districts had very much decreased in consequence of these deer forests. In former days many of the soldiers who fought so bravely in the Peninsula were taken from the glens of the Highlands of Scotland; but it would be difficult to find men there now for soldiers—they had been driven away. He would say that he had come un-willingly 1381 to the conclusion that although the hon. Gentleman (Mr. M'Lagan) had been most anxious to bring forward a measure to settle the question, yet in reality this Bill would not settle the question at all. It would not be acceptable to the proprietors, and although in some respects it would be acceptable to the tenants, yet a better method might have been found to meet their grievance. At all events there was no suggestion or improvement in the Bill which would justify the House or the country in regarding it as a settlement of the question.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
Sir, I have to ask the indulgence of the House while I address them for the first time. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) for the very calm and careful statement he made respecting this Bill. He did not say anything which ought to be concealed, and he gave the House the full meaning of all the clauses which he touched upon. But I must say there is an opinion prevalent in this House—at least, on this side—unfavourable to touching these game laws. I am not only interested in land as a proprietor, but I am one of the largest tenant farmers in the House. I can therefore sympathize with the grievances of the tenants as well as any one sitting on the other side of the House. This Bill, no doubt, cannot be considered as a perfect one. It is a somewhat lame attempt to heal what is termed a great grievance, but it does not do it thoroughly. Nevertheless, had I received any communications in favour of the Bill, I should have voted in favour of it; but all the letters which I have received—and I have received letters from many different persons in the country possessing great influence, and who have acquired great experience in this and kindred questions—and one and all of these persons tell me that although opposed to me in polities, they consider this Bill would not give the satisfaction which the hon. Member expects it would. Therefore it is a bad Bill. It is most desirable that this House should view this question from a Scotch point of view, and I should like to state to the House the reasons which influence Scotland generally in taking so very strong a view as regards the game question. It must not be forgotten—what has been alluded to to-day—that one of the great 1382 causes of the evils complained of, is the fact that gentlemen—many, I am afraid, Members of this House—go down to Scotland in the autumn and expect to find as well preserved covers there as they have in England. Under ordinary circumstances such a system might work; but it does not suit the peculiar circumstances of Scotland. In that country, as hon. Members are aware, farming is carried on in a far higher manner than it is generally in England. Especially of late years, land has there been so highly cultivated, that the necessary expenditure incurred in cultivating a farm, instead of amounting, as formerly, to £10 per acre, would, in these days, come to about £15 per acre, and the consequence is, that men of great enterprise and spirit enter into farming, determined to secure every benefit they know the soil will give them, if they properly attend to it. That being the case, it is natural for them to be annoyed when they find their crops devoured and destroyed by hares and rabbits. There are two views in this House and in the country as regards this measure. There is the landlord's view—which at least is not unreasonable. He has probably given a high price for the purchase of his land, and perhaps finds that whereas he can get only 1¼ or 1½ per cent for his property for agricultural purposes, he can get 3 per cent more for the shootings upon it. Under these circumstances, he says to himself, "I have a perfect right to do what I please with my own." Unhappily, however, the landlord does not live all the year round in Scotland—or, at all events, not in the same place—and then he lets his shooting to other persons, who do not know the tenantry, and refuse to listen to their just complaints. Then as to the tenant farmers, they take two views of the question. There are those who think they have a right to the ground game. We know that the opinion of one Select Committee was totally adverse to their doctrine. They reported that the opinion had been strongly impressed on the Committee that some sort, of concurrent and inalienable right to the game should be given to the tenant by law, but they were convinced that means would be found of avoiding such a law; and in corroboration of this view they called attention to the evidence of Mr. Matthew. He was a gentleman 1383 who had permission to kill rabbits, but nevertheless in a few years gave up his farm, finding it impossible to profitably farm his lands without doing what he had reason to believe his landlord disapproved of. The persons who lay claim to this right support their claims by the example of other questions, such as the Factory Acts, under which women and children are taken under the especial care of the Legislature. But we in Scotland consider generally that the Scotch farmer is perfectly able, as a rule, to take care of himself. It is only when we get landlords who do not take this reasonable view, and who are not content with one rent for the agricultural value of their land, but demand another rent for the shooting of game on that land, the difficulty arises. Amore moderate view is entertained by another part of the tenantry. This view is, that the hares and rabbits should be given to the occupiers of the soil. That view I should not oppose, provided it were fenced in with certain requirements which I consider necessary to protect the occupier on his farm. My right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench (Mr. Cross) has stated his view that the clause of this Bill which would enable the occupier to prosecute trespassers is not sufficiently strong; the whole thing therefore would fall to the ground, for whenever it was attempted to arrest the poacher, he would tell the person who came up to him that he was not in pursuit of game, but only of hares and rabbits. My hon. Friend, the Member for Linlithgow, referred to one instance as regards the necessity of maintaining the law of trespass; but it must not be thought there are no others, for in 1830, when the French Revolution flooded the whole land of France with its revolutionary ideas, the whole of the game laws were swept away; but no sooner did the Parliament sit again than Petitions were presented for the re-enactment of the game laws, and the law of trespass was restored. One of the best uses of these discussions in this House—although nothing very particular may come of them this Session in the way of legislation—will be to ventilate these views throughout the whole length and breadth of the country. It is not the generality of landlords who love to torture their tenants and take double rents out of them; and every year, as the world gets older, landlords become wiser, 1384 more care is taken to promote that good feeling and cordiality which ought to exist between landlords and tenants; and their object becomes not merely to get as much as possible for their property, but to extend and cultivate good relations between themselves and those who are placed by Providence under their care. I would like to say one word more about this subject, and that is to express my surprise at not having heard a word on the part of the Government to indicate that they would bring in a measure next Session. We hardly expected them to legislate this Session. In consequence of the peculiar circumstances in which this Parliament was assembled, the question was not properly brought before the constituencies. In Scotland, owing to the short time we had to prepare for the elections, and the hasty manner in which we had to make our speeches, the main topic of conversation, and of debate, was the Budget of the supposed incoming Government, and consequently these social questions, of which I maintain the game laws is one, and, with which the Conservative Government are bound to deal, were almost entirely overlooked. Some hon. Members seem pledged to go a great length to support claims never seriously discussed before; but the generality of candidates had none of those questions put to them which might have been expected at an ordinary General Election. The constituencies have hardly had time to consider the question, and consequently opinion in many parts of the country is not so matured as to have enabled the Government to take a statesmanlike view of the whole subject, and at once to bring in a measure dealing with it. While admitting this, however, I do humbly but earnestly urge on Her Majesty's Government the desirableness of doing something next Session. Matters have reached such a crisis that the subject may be said to be ripe for legislation. I therefore hope the Conservative Government will do something to assist Scotland in her present difficulty. What did the late Government do? It came in with a majority of 120, and talked about the game laws—and all it gave Scotland was a gun tax. Next Session I shall humbly endeavour, together with this question of the game laws, to urge the Government to give some redress to the payers of that 1385 tax. I must thank the House for giving me such a kind and patient hearing, for although I have not submitted any new plan for the settlement of this difficulty, what I have submitted. I have put before them in as concise and as clear a form as I could, and I have only further to say that I am heartily anxious to have this question amicably settled, alike, in the interest of the farmers and of the landlords.
§ MR. MAITLAND
said, that being in some measure responsible for this Bill, and also as representing an important county (Kirkcudbrightshire) in Scotland, in which there existed considerable feeling on this subject, he desired to be permitted to say a few words. The reason he supported this Bill lay in its extreme moderation. He fully admitted there were considerable imperfections in it; but he thought that from its very moderation, the measure was calculated to produce a great amount of satisfaction in Scotland. He was aware that neither of the extreme parties would be perfectly satisfied with it. The thoroughgoing game preservers would dislike any alteration of the law in this direction; and on the other hand, the uncompromising enemies of the game laws would of course consider this a very inadequate measure of reform. But he believed that the farmers and general public of Scotland would derive advantage from the Bill. He wished to call attention to the great difference of opinion that existed among hon. Gentlemen opposite who opposed the Bill. On the one hand the Home Secretary opposed the Bill; but did he propose to do anything himself? Why, he proposed to do absolutely nothing—he did not even say he was thinking of preparing a measure. But what did the Conservative Members from Scotland—his followers—say? Why, the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment objected to the Bill because it merely touched the fringe of a great subject. Now, he confessed that he did not wish any such tremendous measure as that suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman; nor did he believe the farmers and people of Scotland considered any very revolutionary measure necessary. There were, however, two other Bills dealing with the game question before the House. There was the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. 1386 Taylor), which proposed the total abolition of the game laws—with the object, as every one knew, of effecting the total extinction of game. Now, this would, no doubt, be what the Home Secretary called a "final" measure; but would hon. Members opposite really prefer such a measure to the present Bill? He was very well aware that they did not. Then there was the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) the principle of which was to prohibit all contracts between landlord and tenant, as to hares and rabbits. Did hon. Gentlemen opposite like that better? He confessed that, for his own part, he disliked the proposal in principle, and he believed it would be found unworkable in practice. How would such a measure as that of the hon. Member for Forfarshire serve the purpose intended—namely, the protection of the farmers' crops? His proposal was that tenants should have an inalienable right to kill rabbits and hares "on the land occupied by them." But, as everyone knew, hares and rabbits frequented the covers and plantations, and could not be effectually kept down except by persons having access to these covers, and that was a suggestion the House would never entertain. But as the covers and plantations were never included in the lands let to the tenant, he feared that the Bill of the hon. Member for Forfarshire would prove of very little value, and it would do a thing they would all dislike, and only be induced to do under the strongest necessity—namely, to interfere with the sanctity of contract. On the whole he believed that the present Bill would prove a wise measure of reform, and he hoped the House would view it favourably. At the same time, his hon. Friend (Mr. M'Lagan) was willing to allow many amendments in Committee; and, for his own part, he felt bound to say he thought the Bill required very many.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, he intended to vote for the Bill, not because he approved of all its details, but to show that the people of Scotland desired an alteration of the game laws. The hon. and, gallant Member (Colonel Alexander) had referred to the neglect of Scotland by the last Government. He joined with him in saying that the late Government was exceedingly neglectful of Scotland, and 1387 he hoped the present Government would give more attention than they did to Scotch questions. The question of the game had excited such an outburst of feeling as it would not be safe to neglect, and he trusted that the appeal to the Government would be acceded to, and that before this year closed a proper Bill would be brought in for removing the evils of the present system.
§ MR. PELL
said, he should vote in favour of the Bill, because he considered it to be a moderate measure. There were one or two other reasons which induced him to give it his support; first, it did not interfere with the law of contract in the way other Bills that had been introduced proposed to do; next, it was directly against preservation of rabbits under the game laws, and he was in favour of that. It did not meet the entire case, and no doubt it was a very difficult thing to deal properly with that inconvenient little animal. He was glad, however, that his hon. Friend had made the attempt; and if there were defects in the Bill, they could be remedied in Committee. He believed, many of the complaints they heard arose from want of knowledge as to the law of trespass. It had been suggested, that if hares and rabbits were taken out of the game-list, the farmer could be protected by the passing of a more severe trespass Act. He was inclined to believe neither the English, Scotch, nor Irish people would be satisfied with such a change. The only proper remedy they could have against trespass, was to kill the animal down to such an extent as to do away with the inducement to professional poachers to go in pursuit of him. There were other Bills to which he might be permitted to refer. There was the Bill of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). That hon. Gentleman sat on the other side of the House, and he might say the Radical had no better friend in the world than the rabbit. So long as that little animal could be sprung like a mine upon them when they went to visit their constituents, so long would he be the friend of those who, without seeing their way clearly to deal with the question, might find him very useful in defeating a Tory candidate. In his county there was a division of opinion as to what should be done with the obnoxious little animal. For his own part, he disliked him on the 1388 table, he disliked him in the field, and he disliked him most of all as a political agent. As to the Bill of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), they were told it was received with great favour in the country; but it contained provisions to which he could never assent for giving inalienable rights to tenants. He did not believe it was possible to carry out such a scheme. For these reasons he would vote for the second reading of the measure now before the House.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that the rabbit was the best friend the Radical ever had. If it had not been for the excessive preservation of ground game they would never have had the question brought before the House. Only those who had fully investigated the question, like those who had been Members of the Special Committee, could know the prejudicial effects of this over-preserving of ground game; and this, not on the food of the people only, but on their social condition. Though he did not agree with all the provisions of the Bill before the House he would vote for it as a protest against nothing being done. He did not agree, however, with the hon. Members who thought the Bill should apply only to Scotland—ho thought it should be for the whole British Kingdom. He hoped a satisfactory measure would be brought forward by the Government so as to settle this troublesome question.
§ SIR WILLIAM CUNINGHAME
said, he would vote for the Amendment, but he did so with regret, because he knew the tenant-farmers of Scotland would be disappointed to learn that no measure having for its object the improvement of the game laws was to be proceeded with this Session. He, however, considered it a lesser evil to postpone the settlement of the question for a short time, than to accept a measure so objectionable as the Bill before the House. No doubt there were some good proposals in the Bill—such as the assimilation of the law of Scotland to that of England as to the ownership of game, and the provision for altering the Court before which game cases were to be brought; and those suggestions would be very useful on any future occasion when the preparation of a measure on this subject was under the consideration as he trusted it would be shortly, of the 1389 Government. His objection to the Bill differed entirely from that taken by the hon. Member who spoke last but one who objected to it as not being wide enough. He (Sir William Cuninghame) objected to it because it was too wide; because it attempted too much and went too far—indeed, the very first clause swept away the whole of our existing game law. He did not think the tenant-farmers wished to see the game law abolished and a new one substituted; they wished to have the over-preservation of game discouraged, and a simple and easy method of settling the compensation to be paid for damage done by game, but he believed they were in other respects satisfied with the law as it was. It was a serious matter to begin by abolishing our whole existing law, which had grown up with the growth of the nation, and had adapted itself to our customs and habits, in order to substitute a new plan, which, at the best, was not likely to be an improvement. It might not be easy to pick holes in the Bill before the House, but for all that it might not be found to work well in practice—even if it did it would be a new law. He could conceive that the poacher himself would have a greater objection to be punished under a new law than under one to which he was accustomed.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, because it contained two principles of which he approved. In the first place, there was the principle that hares and rabbits were to be exempted from the general category of game, subject to certain conditions as to trespass, which would, no doubt, have to be altered. The other principle was that the jurisdiction should be altered, and taken from the justices of the peace. If these principles were adopted for Scotland, and were found to work, they would soon be adopted in England; and if they did work well, he believed they would go far to settle the game question in this country.
MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) was in favour of taking the jurisdiction away from the justices of the peace; but he had omitted to say to whom he proposed to give it. Or, did he intend to make poaching no crime at all? It had been remarked that the entire difficulty rested with the ground game. Now, he lived 1390 in a district which bred hereditary poachers. Formerly these people sallied forth with guns after pheasants, and they had dangerous affrays with the keepers. During the last few years, however, they had given up guns, and had contented themselves with netting rabbits, of which there were great numbers. He did not say this was a proper thing for them to do, but it was better than going after pheasants, and if they did away with ground game, these poachers would take to the gun again, and shoot pheasants; if they could not get pheasants or rabbits, they would take chickens, and if they could not get chickens, they would go to something else.
§ VISCOUNT MACDUFF
said, that at the late elections in Scotland an eminent Member sitting on the other side of the House said he thought the tenant should have a joint right with the landlord in ground game. He sincerely hoped that that hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members would use their influence with the Government to induce them to bring in a Bill dealing with this subject. He approved the fencing of deer forests whenever practicable, but that was not always the case.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
, in reply, said, the Home Secretary had stated this Bill would give satisfaction to no one, but he begged to remind him that it was a Bill of compromises, and he asked the House to support it as such, because that was its merit. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had further stated that it would not settle the question. Well, if the Government were prepared to bring in a Bill which would settle the question, he should be very much surprised, because he believed no Bill proposing anything short of the actual abolition of the game laws would be satisfactory to the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor).
§ MR. GREENE
said, he thought the Scotch Members were perfectly capable of taking care of Scotland, but there were such things as epidemics, and if the principles of this Bill were adopted in Scotland, they might hereafter be proposed for England; and to that he objected. This Bill would allow men to go on other people's land and take hares and rabbits, and there was to be no punishment whatever. He did no; object to their excluding hares and rab- 1391 from the category of game, provided they gave a satisfactory law of trespass; for he believed the tenants would always be willing to provide their landlords with a sufficient quantity of game for sport. As to the feeling in Scotland, he had never made an arrangement with Scotchmen without feeling that they had the best of the bargain.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 127; Noes 192: Majority 65.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.