§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir William Harcourt.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I beg to move that this Bill be re-committed, for the purpose of inserting the following clause in lieu of Clause 3—It shall be lawful at any time, or from time to time, for the occupier to let or to lease the right of killing and taking ground game by this Act vested in him, or otherwise appertaining to him, for a valuable consideration to the owner of the land he occupies, or to any other person having a concurrent right to kill and take ground game thereon: Provided always, That such letting or lease of his right to kill and take ground game to be granted by such occupier shall be in writing, and shall be stamped, and shall in all respects be held to be distinct and separate from the terms or conditions, whether in writing, by custom, by common law, or otherwise, under which such occupier holds his occupation, and that such letting or lease of the right of the occupier to kill and take ground game shall in all cases absolutely cease and determine at the expiration of a year from the date thereof.It appears to have been thought by some hon. Gentlemen that, on a previous occasion, when I moved the rejection of the 3rd clause of the Bill, I did so without proposing an alternative; and that, taking this view of my action, they considered it was merely a phase of Obstruction. I then spoke when the House was very thinly attended. I have reason also to believe that what then occurred has led to considerable misunderstanding out of the House. My constituents were perfectly aware of the course which I intended to pursue in the matter; but I have received communications from some of them regretting my 364 failure, as they suppose, to propose the clause which stands in my name, in following the course which they had approved. I should not, Sir, but for the confusion and misunderstanding to which I have referred, have ventured to obtrude myself again upon the attention of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, in the few words which he uttered, seemed to consider that the 3rd clause of the Bill contained the principle of the measure, and that I ought to have brought forward my Amendment when you, Sir, still occupied the Chair. I look upon that clause as altogether a disabling clause; and I do not think anything has occurred which would justify the right hon. and learned Gentleman in depriving the farmers of this country of the right in the game, which is one of the primary conditions of their tenure, without a substitute, unless they are enabled to part with that right by contract. The Bill, in an arbitrary manner, directly invades that right; and I certainly think that a much stronger justification than any which has yet been given is needed to warrant such an arbitrary and uncompensated interference between the parties. I did not believe that this arbitrary clause contained the whole principle of the Bill. I thought that it—the principle of the Bill—consisted in a division of the ground game between the landlord and the tenant. It would be highly inconsistent on my part if I were to oppose the object of the measure, which, as stated in the Preamble, is to promote good husbandry, and thereby to increase the production of home-grown food. There are few Members now remaining in this House who have made such sacrifices as I have made in the cause of home production. I am not one whit less anxious now than I was when I first entered the House to insure the increase of home-production of food for the nation. I accept the proposal of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to create a joint possession in ground game as between landlord and tenant; but I object to this 3rd clause, because it disables the tenant from dealing with the share of the property—I mean of the ground game—which the Bill assigns to him. The clause, in fact, is one of the most arbitrary and stringent provisions I have ever known introduced into any Bill since I have been a Mem- 365 ber of the House. I admit that the operation of the present law is imperfect, and that there is reason for creating a concurrent right in ground game, instead of a sole right, on the part of either the landlord or of the tenant; but I object to this 3rd clause, because it precludes the tenant from disposing of his share in this property, as created by the Bill, to his bestcustomer—namely, the landlord. It, therefore, in great measure, renders valueless the gift which the measure seems to give him. But I have this further objection to the clause —that while it declares a joint right in ground game, it does nothing to assign the proportion of that property to be retained by either party. It gives a concurrent right in the game to the landlord and the tenant; but it leaves the parties to scramble between themselves as to whom of the two should have the whole or a part of that to which both are entitled. I can conceive of nothing more calculated to create differences and heart-burnings between landlords and tenants than a provision which precludes them from coming to a legally recognized and intelligible agreement with each other, either in writing or otherwise. As, Sir, having had a wide experience— an experience of 40years in these matters —I hope the House will not consider it presumptuous on my part to suggest the alternative which I now do by my Motion. There is no disability which my clause would inflict. On the contrary, it is altogether an enabling clause. I accept the principle of the Bill, as I have explained; and I propose to enable the tenant, if he should feel so disposed, by an instrument, distinct from his lease —an instrument which shall be stamped and producible, if called for, in a Court of Law—to let his share in the ground game to the landlord; but to let it only for a year from the date of the agreement. The last is, perhaps, the most important provision contained in the clause which I suggest. My experience of 40 years tells me this—that within a year it is not probable that ground game should be increased to the serious detriment of the tenant. Still, injury may occur; and if the House should be pleased to adopt my clause, it will have provided that, at the expiration of the year, all the tenant will have to do, instead of adopting the invidious remedy of prosecuting his landlord for damages, 366 or acting upon the dangerous alternative of giving notice to quit his farm—all, I repeat, that the tenant will have to do will be to remain perfectly quiet, his right under the Bill will revive; and the landlord should desire to make a fresh agreement at the end of the year, he will have to go to the tenant, who will thus have the opportunity of making new terms with his landlord, and of demanding such compensation for the past excess of game — and I think it improbable that it would be large — as might seem just in the circumstance. I would thus enable the tenant to deal with his natural customer in this matter —the landlord; and provide that, at the close of each year, merely by inaction on his own part, the tenant should be in the position of making fresh terms with his landlord, or of himself restricting the ground game, if he should think that necessary. Sir, my desire is that landlords and tenants should agree with each other, and act towards each other in a friendly spirit and manner. My great object is to avoid differences between landlords and tenants; and I am quite sure that this 3rd clause, as it stands, is calculated to excite differences. I am anxious to attain the purpose of the Bill as set forth in the Preamble. I do not believe that it is for the promotion of good husbandry that landlords should become non-resident; but if you sow the seeds of difference between them and their tenants, I am convinced that these differences will result in the non-residence of many landlords. We have an example in Ireland. Dissension has been sown between the landlords and the tenants of that country, and we have seen the ill-effects there of non-residence. I have had conversations on this subject with every Prime Minister, from Sir Robert Peel to Lord Palmerston; and they have all agreed in regarding the non-residence of the landlords as one of Ireland's greatest misfortunes. And what is the state of Irish agriculture? Since the year 1847 the average of cereal crops in that country has decreased by 1,500,000 acres. It is true that the cultivation of green crops, including potatoes, has increased by 500,000 acres; but that is not a very happy increase, when 1,500,000 acres have been totally thrown out of cereal cultivation. I speak after careful examination of the Reports before the House; and I say that the non-residence 367 of landlords in Ireland has materially contributed to the decrease of corn cultivation in that country. It has not been the sole cause of the diminution; but the eminent men to whom I have alluded must all have been totally mistaken if the non-residence of the landlords has not contributed to the result I have described. In my opinion, the 3rd clause of the Bill is adverse to good husbandry, inasmuch as it will lead, if adopted, to the non-residence of landlords, who will by it be tempted to withdraw their capital from the improvement of their estates. This is the effect of sowing dissensions between landlords and their tenants. I repeat, that it is because I am sincerely anxious to maintain and attain the object of the Bill, as stated in the Preamble, that I have placed my Amendment on the Notice Paper; and because I am desirous of hearing what reply the Home Secretary may make, I move that Amendment; but, after the House has been sitting all night, at this period of the Session, and after the misunderstanding which was evident in the division that has been taken, I shall not again press my Motion to a division, unless I am compelled to do so.
To leave out from the word "be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "recommitted, with respect to Clause 3,"—(Mr. Newdegate,)
§ Question proposed," That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he was glad that the hon. Member did hot intend to go to a division, because his object could be just as well secured by voting against the third reading. He did not wish, any more than the hon. Member, to see the landlords driven from the country. The fact was, the hon. Member was a sort of Jeremiah of the landed interest. According to the hon. Member, ever since the repeal of the Corn Laws every measure affecting Land Laws had been calculated to lead to the emigration of the landlords. Thirty or forty years ago the hon. Member told them what would happen upon the question of Protection; and, therefore, he did not feel alarmed at his predictions on this occasion. The truth was, that 368 the landlords of England took a very different view of their estates from that which was taken by the hon. Member. They enjoyed sport; but they did not consider that their whole existence was dependent on shooting hares and rabbits. They recognized the existence of bipeds as well as quadrupeds; and they thought that living in England was still worth something, even though there might be a diminution in the hares and rabbits for them to shoot. The Amendment of the hon. Member would destroy the Bill altogether; because, instead of a clause being introduced into the lease in the old way, it would be drawn upon a separate piece of paper with exactly the same result—namely, that the landlord would be able to reserve the shooting and to preserve the game. The proposal of the hon. Member to limit the letting of the right of shooting to a year was, in itself, an interference with the freedom of contract. He must oppose the Amendment.
§ MR. MELLOR
remarked, that no Bill had excited more interest in the country than this, it being discussed in every parish in England and Scotland. He thought that the operation of the Bill had been misunderstood. If he thought that it would put an end to sport, or would conduce to the entire destruction of hares and rabbits, he should vote against the third reading; because the first he considered a necessary means of enabling a busy man to obtain his necessary recreation, and hares and rabbits he regarded as a very valuable article of food. Babbits were one of the few luxuries which the working classes were able to purchase. As to the money compensation system he looked upon it as an utter failure, because in nine cases out of ten, in the result, it gave dissatisfaction both to the landlord and tenant. As a rule, the landlord knew nothing of the history of a crop, and could not check the claim, which the tenant was apt to put down to destruction by ground game, the damage caused by wire worm, weather, and other causes. The objection that applied to a fixed rent for ground game was that neither party could foresee at the time when the rent was fixed whether the season would cause ground game to increase or not. He could not, he might add, concur in the objections which had been raised to the Bill on the ground of its interference 369 with freedom of contract, and he might instance the Truck Act to show how beneficially such interference sometimes operated. The fact that a concurrent right was given by the Bill would enable the tenant, if he pleased, to keep down ground game to any point which he might deem necessary; while upon poor land he could let the rabbits increase and sell them in the market. He did not believe that the Bill would interfere with the moderate preservation of foxes; while there was nothing in it to prevent the landlord and tenant from agreeing as to the mode in which ground game should be destroyed.
§ MR. BIDDELL
admitted that the Amendments introduced by the Home Secretary had considerably modified the Bill and removed some of the most serious objections to it.
§ SIR DAVID WEDDERBURN
supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. Alluding to the Amendment introduced on Wednesday last on the Motion of the Home Secretary, the hon. Baronet said he did not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman quite grasped its extent. His attention had been called to it through The Standard newspaper. This Amendment was to the effect' that the Bill in Scotland should not take effect during the currency of any contract made before the passing of the Act, whereby any other person than the occupier would be entitled to kill ground game. That, of course, was a much more serious change than anything that really affected the occupier. He was quite prepared to admit that there was no serious danger of leases or agreements being made between landlord and tenant for other than a "valuable consideration;" and, therefore, he did not intend to offer any more opposition to the clause as it stood. He must point out, however, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if the addition to which he had referred were allowed to stand, there was nothing to prevent any person who had the right of letting game from entering into a contract which might not be for a "valuable consideration," but which might be a losing contract, whereby he would part with his right to kill ground game for an indefinite number of years. Such a person might enter into this sort of contract at any period between this and the 370 time that the Bill received the Royal Assent. He knew such a thing would not be generally done; but he was certain that it would take place in some cases. He was assured, indeed, by an agent in Scotland that this certainly would be done. That gentleman had told him that there were individuals who would avail themselves of the clause as it now stood, and that such agreements would be entered upon. He could not regard this error of the right hon. and learned Gentleman as other than a mere oversight. He proposed, in the event of the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire being withdrawn, or negatived, to move—That the Bill be re-committed, in order to amend Clause 5, by leaving out the words 'passing of this Act,' page 3, line 8, in order to insert the words 'twenty-fifth of August, 1880.'He might have proposed the date at which the Bill was introduced, and which was suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself; but he wished to be moderate in his demands, therefore he limited it to the 25th of August. He hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman would consider that to be a moderate and reasonable change, and would consent to it being made upon the third reading.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, the present was a most unfortunate time to bring in a Bill of this nature, when landlords as well as tenants were suffering from a depression which was all but unprecedented, and tenants had been able to get farms also on any terms and conditions they asked. He objected to the Bill on two main grounds. He objected to it, in the first place, on the ground that it interfered with freedom of contract. The tenant farmer would be the first to have reason to complain, when he came to understand what the principle of the Bill in that respect really was, that this was but the thin end of the wedge, and that by-and-bye it would be pushed further, being applied to freedom of contract between the tenant himself and his labourer. The other reason why he objected to the Bill was because it directly interfered with the rights of property. It did so only in a small degree, no doubt; but it made a beginning in that direction, and raised a question which required the serious consideration of the House. The proposals of the Bill in 371 regard to those points were mischievous, and the object the Government had in view might have been met in a very different way.
§ MR. WILLIAMSON
said, that several hon. Members, especially the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), had addressed the House usque ad nauseam on the virtues of freedom of contract. The noble Lord had presented a Petition to the House bearing a name honourably known, and they all of them knew that that name bore the reflex of a Gentleman on the Liberal side of the House; but that Petition had only the 127th part of the signatures appended to the Petition presented by the Premier on the same day in favour of the Bill. The noble Lord had made this formula of freedom of contract a divinity before which he was prepared to bow down and worship. He had not seen the noble Lord in the House so frequently of late, and it would almost seem that he came down only to worship at the peculiar shrine he had indicated. The noble Lord must know that under his unlimited recognition of freedom of contract the most infamous traffics might be carried on with impunity by wicked men. The truth was, that the recognition of the welfare of the community must have precedence to unlimited right of contract. Had the noble Lord been a burgess of Liverpool during the last century, as, unfortunately, he was at present the Tory Representative of a Scottish constituency, he would, uudoubtedly, have been a pertinacious advocate of freedom of contract for the supply of labour to the landed proprietors of the West Indian Islands. That labour would have been slave labour, and yet the noble Lord would be the first to recognize that his principle had limits, and that the public welfare must be respected. He trusted, therefore, that that Toryism which had so long infected Liverpool, and which largely had its origin in the cry for freedom of contract, would not cling to Haddingtonshire so long as it had done to the great seaport on the Mersey. It was well known that the political sustenance of that town had been largely made up of the dregs of slavery dissolved in rum, and flavoured with orange tincture, or the essential oil of Newdegate. The noble Lord had read to them a model lease touching game on a property with which he was, 372 no doubt, connected. Undoubtedly, that deed had a semblance of fairness about it; but it would not be difficult to show that even that liberal lease might be made in the hands of unscrupulous landlords, whose lands were intersected by belts of wood, and overstocked with pheasants, an instrument of oppression. He regretted that there was no intention of dealing with leases in Scotland, because, as matters now stood, the Scotch farmers, instead of reaping any benefit, would do the reverse.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
did not see how it could be contended that this Bill did not interfere with freedom of contract. The great objection he had to the measure was that no necessity existed for framing it on the lines upon which it had been drawn. The tenant was already upon an equality with his landlord in regard to contract; he could enter into any agreement to protect himself from the ravages of game, and therefore the Bill was not required to give him protection.
§ MR. DUCKHAM
denied that the Bill was unnecessary. The Bill might not go as far as he could have wished; but it was a measure which was much needed by the farmers of England, and to which he consequently gave his cordial support.
§ SIR DAVID WEDDERBURN
thought some reply should be given with respect to the question he had raised.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
replied, that when they got to the Motion for the third reading he should say something upon the subject.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
called attention to the omission of the Home Secretary to bring forward on Report the Amendment which proposed to make the Bill apply as from its introduction instead of from the passing of the Act. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had stigmatized anyone who might enter into a contract with the purpose of defeating the operations of the Act as dishonest—at least, inferring from their indignant repudiation of the possibility of such conduct on the part of country gentlemen as had been suggested by the Home Secretary. Well, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had seemingly withdrawn his proposition, and it now behoved hon. Gentlemen 373 opposite to consider the responsibility which their protests attached to them.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the hon. Member for Northampton had somewhat anticipated the remarks he should have made on the subject. It had been suggested to him (Sir William Harcourt) that during the progress of the Bill some individuals might have been induced to make contracts for the purpose of defeating its operation, and it was with the view of preventing such proceedings that he had suggested the alteration referred to. That suggestion had been met by a chorus of indignant remonstrance, as being a proposal calculated to cast a reflection upon the honour and honesty of country gentlemen. In the presence of that declaration and of that repudiation, he had felt that it would not be advisable to proceed with the proposed limitation. He had felt, indeed, that a declaration of that kind on the part of hon. Gentlemen was as great a guarantee as could be had, and it was for that reason that he had not reproduced it. If he had thought that any person pretending to the name of a gentleman would have adopted the procedure that had been suggested, he certainly would have proceeded with his limitation, and, indeed, have pressed it to a division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. CHAPLIN,
in rising to move—That this House, while admitting the serious damage sometimes occasioned to crops by ground game, and the just right of the tenant to the fullest protection therefrom, disapproves of a Bill which seeks to accomplish that object by imposing harsh and needless restrictions upon the rights and liberties of individuals, and which deprives the owner of land, who is farming his own occupation, as well as the tenant of land already enjoying the sole right of sporting thereon, of the power of letting the sole right of sporting, without compensation,said, he desired, in the first place, in reply to the challenge of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, to state that he held himself entirely and absolutely free from anything that might have been said with regard to the dishonesty of making a contract to evade the operation of the Bill. It was a case of "much cry and little wool," however; because the Bill, if ever it 374 became law, would become law within a week, and it would be impossible for any landlord to enter into such a contract, even if he wished to do so. But he objected altogether to the proposition laid down that if a Bill were introduced which some hon. Members thought to be of an objectionable and oppressive character, it was a dishonourable and dishonest act for anyone to endeavour to guard against the operation of what might be a silly and badly-drawn Bill by entering into a contract which would protect himself from injury by that measure. It had been said that he was one of those who came under the ban of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), because they had agreed to abandon the principle of freedom of contract. He admitted that he was not one of those who were always crying out against interference with freedom of contract. He should not object, provided that interference was for an adequate object which could not be otherwise attained; but he was not prepared to admit that the present Bill fulfilled either of those two conditions. He had little to add to what had been already stated in the course of the discussion; but he wished to avail himself of this opportunity to correct some very considerable misrepresentations of which he had been the subject in connection with this Bill. The misrepresentations to which he referred had appeared in portions of the Liberal Press. It had been charged against him that he considered this Bill a measure of confiscation, because in future it would prevent landlords eating up their tenants with ground game, and prevent them letting the shooting to third parties over their tenants' heads. He indignantly denied that accusation. No man disapproved of these things more than he did. He regarded the practice of letting game over the heads of the tenant as one of the most reprehensible practices a landlord could indulge in. One of his strongest complaints against the Bill was that, so far from removing that evil, it would allow one of the worst features of game preservation to continue unchecked. His complaint of confiscation was directed to two cases, and to two cases alone, which were different from those where the landlord reserved the right of shooting on the farm of his tenant. He never said it would be confiscation to take 375 that right away from the landlord, because the latter would be able to compensate himself by raising the rent. The cases in which he thought the measure would amount to confiscation were where the owner occupied his own land, or where the tenant enjoyed the sole right of shooting on his farm. In the case of the owner it was an infringement of individual liberty, against which the House of Commons ought to protest; and he did say that it was a monstrous interference with the principle of individual liberty to prevent a landlord who was his own tenant, farming on his own land, from dealing with his own property in the way which seemed to him best, and to declare that by no means should he be able to divest himself of the power of killing hares and rabbits on his holding. Let him take, again, the case of a tenant who had the sole right of sporting on the land in his occupation. That right, where he was allowed to let it, was valuable to him, and he was to be deprived of that property without any compensation. Why was this done? Because, as they were told by the Home Secretary, if they allowed the tenant to dispose of his right he would only let it to the landlord. The landlord, he said, would be the inevitable customer for the shooting— that was his expression. Now, the opponents of the Bill had offered to accept a Proviso that would prevent the tenant letting the shooting to a landlord; but the Home Secretary said that would be such an absurdity that he could not entertain it. That, however, was not the fault of the opponents of the Bill. It was the fault of the Government in introducing a measure of such a character that they could not carry it out without doing injustice to the tenant unless they attached to it a condition which in itself rendered the Bill ridiculous and absurd. He denied that there was any adequate reason for this Bill. Hon. Members spoke generally about the damage done by ground game, but they had produced no evidence on the subject; and he denied that at the present day any appreciable injury was caused by ground game. Mr. Clare S. Read, one of the greatest agricultural authorities, distinctly stated in his speech last Session that ground game in the Eastern Counties had, to a great extent, disappeared, and had little or 376 nothing whatever to do with deficiency of crops. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) had, on a former occasion, informed the House that the tenant farmers in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridge were weak and helpless, and totally unable to protect themselves; but that was a statement to which he rather demurred at the time. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, further, that a tenant might as well ask a landlord for the use of his drawing-room or cellar as for the right of shooting. Now, he happened last evening to see in an Ipswich newspaper advertisements relating to 23 different farms which were to be let, containing 6,140 acres. As hon. Gentlemen knew, the selling of a farm was one of the last things to which a landlord had recourse; and when he found himself in that position he was ready to accept almost any terms. But not only were the farms to which he referred advertised for sale, but in one case there was a proviso to the effect that the farm was protected from ground game, while in five cases the right of shooting was to be given, and in four the exclusive right of sporting. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman might be able to contradict what appeared in those advertisements; but, if true, they were totally destructive of the pitiable case which he had presented to the House with regard to the helpless position of the tenant farmers. For himself, he hoped the effect of the Bill in the greater part of the country would be that the landlord and the tenant would forthwith enter into amicable arrangements with each other, and that matters would continue to be much as they were before. He could not, however, shut his eyes to the fact that it was the opinion of a vast number of tenant farmers that the Bill was calculated to engender something like ill-feeling between landlords and tenants. At the present moment the tenant had matters almost entirely in his own hands, but days of prosperity might soon return; and when that was the case, if an amicable arrangement were not arrived at, there might be that which the tenant farmer hated above all things in the world—a general re-valuation of farms; and, if so, he would not have much for which to thank the Government. Before he sat down he begged to offer to the right hon. and learned Gentle- 377 man the Home Secretary the tribute of his respect for the tact, ability, and good temper with which he had conducted through the House a measure of a most intricate character, which, without the exhibition of those qualities, might have given rise to much more prolonged and irritating discussions. But they would be doing the right hon. and learned Gentleman an injustice if they did not acknowledge something else besides, not, perhaps, so acceptable to him —and that was the knowledge which he possessed of poor, weak, erring human nature, as well as those qualities of statecraft which had led him to propose the introduction of this measure. A Colleague of the right hon. and learned Gentleman sitting on the Treasury Bench was exulting lately upon the great number of counties which were slipping away from the Tory Party; and now the right hon. and learned Gentleman, not content apparently with this, did not scruple to come forward with this daring and audacious bribe, in order to capture the remainder. He said nothing as to the morality of this political manoeuvre. As a Party coup he was not ashamed—and no hon. Member on that side of the House need be ashamed—to acknowledge that for the present this move had apparently been entirely successful. Notwithstanding that, however, he would offer one word of warning to those whom he still regarded as his brother agriculturists—the tenant farmers of England. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh; but if they had had as much experience of the relations between tenant farmers and their landlords as he had had they would recognize the fact that, notwithstanding temporary differences, the interests of the two classes were identical. He would address one word of warning to the farmers throughout England, and what he would say to them was this. "It is true you are to-day the proteges, the petted darlings if you will, of the extreme Radical element of the community. Take care you are not made their tools, and nothing but their tools, to-morrow." For his part, he mistrusted the sincerity of men who were so false in power to the principles which they professed in Opposition. Men like those, who, when in Opposition, never ceased to ridicule and to denounce—aye! and even within a month of the General Election—any Tory Motion and any 378 Tory proposal to repeal the Malt Tax, and then within a week of their return to power flashed it on a startled and astonished House of Commons. He had no faith in those new allies of the farmer, who, when in Opposition, offered an obstruction, never equalled, to the best and most beneficial measure, which in his (Mr. Chaplin's) time—and he believed for 50 years before—was ever carried in the agricultural interests. Men, he meant, like the author of this Bill, who, clever politician and statesman though he be, did not scruple three short months ago to drive Danish cattle through the streets of Oxford, placarded with denunciations of the Tories, for introducing, as they said, "a vile measure of Protection," although it suited them now to call it from the safe haven of the Treasury Bench, and in the new character so conveniently assumed, an immense and magnificent success. "Timeo danaos et dona ferentes," he was convinced should be the motto of the farmers towards their new-found Liberal friends. Those novel principles of legislation, and especially when gilded and when baited as they were for them on this occasion, were sweet and pleasant doubtless in their mouth to-day; but rest assured that they would leave a bitter after-taste behind them, and do not suppose—do not for a moment be so infatuated as to suppose—that the legislation and the principles advanced to-day would rest where they were now. It was the Hares and Rabbits Bill today. Yes ! to smooth for the Government, no doubt, the passage of some other measures less agreeable to them. It might be county suffrage, and all that county suffrage meant, for them, tomorrow. That which was taken from the landlord and given to the tenant today might be taken from the tenant and given to the labourer to-morrow. "Ground game," said the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "is inseparable, and must be made inseparable, from the cultivation of the soil. That is the principle of my Bill. That is the very foundation on which it rests." Yes, undoubtedly it was so; and it would be a nice distinction for the farmer to explain, when the question would be asked in future, as rest assured it would ere long be asked, if those principles were to continue to prevail-—Whether the tenant farmer or his labourer was 379 the actual cultivator of the soil. He (Mr. Chaplin) knew well that every county Member who adopted the course which he had taken in relation to the Bill might be said to stand on ticklish ground, and he was not ashamed to acknowledge that he had been warned himself—that'slrish, and possibly might lose the seat in consequence which it was his pride and honour to possess. But neither that nor any other consideration in the world would deter him from stating, fearlessly and frankly, to the House of Commons what he honestly believed to be the truth in relation to this question; and, come what might, he was determined he would give his vote against the measure. Not for one moment, for the sake of the worthless, wretched creatures with regard to which it legislated, or the sport, and poor sport too, in his opinion, which something they provided. But he did resist the measure to the utmost, because of the fatal precedent it would establish, and the evil principle which it contained.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while admitting the serious damage sometimes occasioned to crops by ground game, and the just right of the tenant to the fullest protection there from, disapproves of a Bill which seeks to accomplish that object by imposing harsh and needless restrictions upon the rights and liberties of individuals, and which deprives the owner of land, who is farming his own occupation, as well as the tenant of land already enjoying the sole right of sporting thereon, of the power of letting the sole right of sporting, without compensation."—(Mr. Chaplin,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
said, he did not share in the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) as to the alarming changes which would result to our agriculture by the passing of this Bill. Every man who had studied the subject knew that the changes in the agricultural system of any country could only be brought about by slow, very slow, degrees. For instance, neither the small farm system of France, nor the gigantic farm system of Hungary, could be hastily changed by either legislative enactments or at the 380 caprice of owners. It was idle to maintain that sweeping changes in our land system would result from the passing of this Ground Game Bill. The hon. Member had stated that he did not object to interference with freedom of contract when sufficient reasons existed. He (Mr. Howard) thought that no Member on either side of the House would object to this view; but then it happened that what the hon. Member thought was not a sufficient reason at one time was quite sufficient at another. For instance, some six or eight months ago he had had a long correspondence with the hon. Member upon the question of tenant right. At that time the hon. Member contended that no sufficient reason existed for State interference between landlord and tenant; yet, early in the present Session, the hon. Member brought in a Bill to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act, which Bill directly interfered with freedom of contract between landlord and tenant.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
explained, that he had seen reason to change his views; that important information had since been communicated to the Royal Commission on Agriculture.
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
The hon. Member had admitted that, upon being better informed, he had changed his views upon the subject in question. He (Mr. Howard) did not find fault with the hon. Member for having thus changed his opinion; on the other hand, he applauded him for his boldness in coming forward with a Bill in opposition to views he had so recently expressed, and he had no doubt that when the hon. Member was better informed upon the question before the House a similar change of opinion might be looked for. With respect to the opinions of Mr. Clare Read, quoted by the hon. Member, he had been in frequent communication with the late Member for Norfolk, and he had expressed no such opinions to him. But what were the real opinions of Mr. Clare Read could best be gathered from the evidence he gave before the last Select Committee of this House which sat on the Game Question. What said Mr. Clare Read on that occasion?—In a great number of cases of insolvent farmers in Norfolk their ultimate ruin is attributable to the over-preservation of game.He (Mr. Howard) did not believe that any great diminution in ground game 381 had taken place of late years, except in particular districts. As to the grievance which the hon. Member contended the Bill would entail upon both owners and occupiers by depriving them of the value of their sporting rights, he maintained that any such fears were altogether ideal. The occupier, who would have conferred upon him by the Bill the right to the ground game, and upon whose farm the game was not reserved, would have no more difficulty in letting his shooting than at present; indeed, the value of the sporting rights would be entirely in his own hands, as it was at present. For instance, if a farmer allowed his shepherd to keep three or four sheep dogs the sport on the farm would not be worth much. Although the Bill vested the right to the ground game in the tenant, it did not compel him to exercise that right; he was at liberty to use it or to waive it at his own pleasure. The value, too, of the shooting would depend upon how he behaved to the man to whom he let it; and what was true in this respect of the occupier was especially true of an owner who was also an occupier—he had the power entirely in his own hands of making the shooting valuable or otherwise. Turning to the question of freedom of contract, the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir E. Assheton Cross) said, the other day, that the farmers of the Kingdom were treated under this Bill as women and children. It occurred to him that it was the late, and not the present, Government which had treated the farmers as women and children. The late Government, when the Agricultural Holdings Bill was brought in, evidently thought that the farmers of England were so much like women and children that they had not penetration enough to see through its hollowness. In that, however, they were greatly mistaken. Warned by the operation of that Act, the present Government had taken steps to prevent the Ground Game Bill from becoming a sham and a delusion. He would ask, from whom did this cry freedom of contract emanate? Was it from the farmers? He had been a diligent reader of the agricultural newspapers, especially since this Bill had been before the country, and not a single letter or speech from a farmer had appeared advocating the retention of this so-called right, and surely the farmers understood a question which so deeply 382 concerned them; they did not object to the proposed interference. On the other hand, he never remembered a subject brought before the Legislature upon which the farmers of the Kingdom were so united and unanimous. Last week there was an agricultural meeting at Kingscote, Gloucestershire, at which the hon. and gallant Member for that county (Colonel Kingscote) was present, and who, it would be remembered, had not looked very kindly upon the Bill. One of the judges at that meeting—a land agent and farmer—stood up before the hon. and gallant Member, and expressed strong approval of the measure. The speaker, who avowed himself a Conservative, said—He had long been an agricultural valuer, and had been continually called upon to assess damages done by hares and rabbits. He bore witness, from his personal observation, to the lamentable, and in many cases ruinous, loss which had been brought upon farmers by these animals. In answer to the question which had been put to them—What do the tenant farmers think of the Bill?—he would say that never in his life could he recollect any measure brought into Parliament which had given such general joy and satisfaction among farmers.The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had spoken of the principle of the Bill. What, he would ask, was its principle? If he understood the object of the Bill, it was to strengthen the legal position of the farmer in respect of the ground game upon his holding. That he took to be the fundamental principle of the Bill; and what, he would ask, had been the object of nearly all the Amendments which had been proposed from the opposite side, as well as some from his own side? Why, the design of all was to weaken the legal position the farmer would otherwise occupy under the provisions of the Bill. That, unquestionably, was the object of nearly the whole of the Amendments which had been proposed—nothing more, nothing less—and that, he hoped, the country would understand. In conclusion, he congratulated the Home Secretary upon the firmness he had throughout displayed in dealing with these Amendments; and he had no doubt that when the Bill came into operation it would give unqualified satisfaction to the farmers of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. RODWELL
concurred in the compliment which his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. 383 Chaplin) had paid the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary on the tact and good temper with which he had conducted the Bill through a crossfire of opposition. He rejoiced that the former, who had come in like the lion, was going out like the lamb. His hon. Friend had stated some facts with regard to the letting of farms in Suffolk, throwing doubt on a statement he (Mr. Rodwell) had made as to the difficulty of farmers obtaining the right of shooting over their farms. But the facts quoted by his hon. Friend only confirmed his statement. It was said that there were 23 farms advertised with the right of shooting; but the acreage was only 3,000, which did not look like much shooting. No doubt, it was seen that this Bill was looming in the distance, and the landlords were making a virtue of a necessity. He was certain that one of the greatest difficulties in the letting of farms was this question of game. The Bill was not brought forward for the purpose of reserving the sport to the tenants, but to remove the grievance that existed. It was somewhat late in the day for his hon. Friend to say that he never heard of any grievance, for the grievance was admitted on all sides—that was the Report of the Committee of 1872—and the only question was what should be the remedy. The principle of the Bill seemed to be a sound one, seeing that it was preventive rather than remedial. It gave a weapon of defence, not of offence, to the tenant, which he might or might not use, and would only be used to protect his crops. Hon. Members who talked in such lugubrious tones about the Bill showed that they did not understand it. There was nothing to prevent the tenant saying to his landlord—"I forbear to exercise this right, and there will be no interference with your sport so long as the hares and rabbits do not interfere with my property." He had supported the Bill throughout, and should give his vote for the third reading, because he thought the Bill was necessary and just, because it would strengthen the cordiality between landlords and tenants, and because he believed it would have effect only where the tenant was likely to be wronged by the acts of a selfish landlord.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
wished to make a very few observations 384 to the House. He confessed that he had some difficulty in understanding the precise position taken up by the advocates of the Bill. The point upon which he felt most reluctance to accept the Bill was the one upon which he was almost ashamed to speak, so often had it been referred to; he meant its interference with freedom of contract. But he had in the course of the debate heard expressions used which made him doubt what the effect of the Bill was intended to be, and how far it was really intended to be that which it professed to be. It professed to confer an inalienable concurrent right to kill ground game upon landlord and tenant. But the House had been told in the arguments addressed to it that although the right conferred was to be inalienable, it did not prevent arrangements being made on the subject between landlord and tenant. Did the expression as to giving an "inalienable right" mean anything, or did it mean nothing? It had been so watered down, especially by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell), that it seemed to mean no more than that there was to be a certain presumption in favour of the occupier. His hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had, in reference to the Bill, made use of a familiar classical quotation. He thought he might suitably substitute the word "Donalds" for "Danaos"in that quotation, in order to indicate the hollow character of the Bill. As to the question of freedom of contract, he allowed that in many cases freedom of contract might with perfect justice be interfered with. But it was only when the contract was injurious to the public interests in the same manner as if a man contracted to keep a pack of wolves. But no such reasoning was used in this case. It was not because hares and rabbits were mischievous animals that the Bill was supported, for they were told that there would not be much less game than there was before. He denied also that the late Government had ever interfered with freedom of contract. They had, on the contrary, protected that principle where, of two contracting parties, one possessed a controlling power over the other. That, however, could not be said to be the case with the farmers of England. What he objected to was that the measure intro- 385 duced a principle which would very probably be carried further. The Government said, in effect, that the landlord was the controlling power in a contract, though the tenant had to bring his capital and skill to the management and development of the land. Would not the same underlying argument be applied to the relations of labourers and employers of labour? Would they not be told that the labourer must not be left free to make his own bargain, and that Parliament must step in and create an inalienable concurrent right which should override any bargain he might make? He hoped that the dangerous consequences of such a principle would be clearly realized. If the tenant farmers looked into this measure carefully they would see that, though apparently in their interest, it had two sides. He desired to repudiate, in the name of the country gentlemen of England, the idea that if they were to lose their rights of sporting they would be induced to shrink from their proper position and from their proper duties in the country. He was perfectly certain that nothing of the kind would be the case. The Bill was, in his judgment, absolutely unnecessary, and its object might have been attained by arrangements of a much simpler character than those which it proposed. He had done what he could to dissuade his hon. Friends from dividing against this Bill; because he clung to the hope that they would be allowed in Committee to discuss Amendments which would obviate unnecessary interference with freedom of contract while providing a remedy against the excessive encouragement of ground game. Up to the last moment he had followed the same course; but he now saw that the arguments adduced from the opposite Benches were arguments which showed that a diminution in the quantity of ground game and the promotion of good husbandry were not the main objects—at all events, not the sole object of the friends of this measure. On this occasion, therefore, he hoped that a very decided protest would be entered against the Bill. He accepted the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire as affirming the main propositions which they ought to hold on this subject.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
I do not rise, Mr. Speaker, to follow the example of 386 hon. Members opposite, by speaking on the principle of this Bill on the third reading, nor will I stop to answer any of the arguments that have been adduced against the Bill. Had I any such intention, I should have been greatly tempted to remark upon the extraordinary statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chaplin), who asserted that Mr. Clare Read had declared that the quantity of hares and rabbits had been so greatly diminished that little or no damage was now done by them. But my object in rising has been to protest, in the strongest terms that I can use, against the assertion—repeated on various occasions, and reproduced today—that the principle of this Bill is one of confiscation. I regard that assertion as at once feeble and futile. Feeble, because it is not based on fact; and futile, because this cry of confiscation meets with but little respect or sympathy within this House, and with none whatever in the country. The people now well understand that confiscation is the cry raised by privilege whenever its unjust monopolies are threatened. How true this is has been illustrated by the opposition raised to every great measure of reform which has been carried, or which yet remains to be made law. When national funds—long misappropriated to sectarian purposes—are proposed to be devoted to national interests, at once you raise the cry of confiscation; nay, even if it is proposed, by an extension of the suffrage, to bring all citizens within the pale of the Constitution, hon. Gentlemen opposite actually seem to think that this, too, is a confiscation of their political privileges. Now, what does the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) exactly mean by the term confiscation, to which he is so greatly attached? The hon. Gentleman has told us, with great distinctness, that he considers it is confiscation to take from anyone that which he possesses.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
explained, that this definition of confiscation was quoted by him, but was not his. His idea of confiscation was the taking away from one person what he possessed in order to give it to another without compensation.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
But does not the hon. Gentleman perceive that that which is possessed by somebody may be stolen property; and, in that ease, confiscation is only the cry of the brigand 387 when the soldiery are entering his cave, the shout of the pickpocket when the policeman's hand is on his collar. Now, this description, I maintain, is precisely applicable to the property in wild animals possessed by the landowners, and of which property this Bill makes a very feeble effort towards restitution. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) has already declared that if the word confiscation is, in any degree, applicable to the objects of this Bill, it is now that the fitness has arisen; for, as he said, we must go back to the time when the property in game, apart from special agreement, was given to the occupier. But I, Sir, would go much further back than that, and charge with confiscation the owners of the soil—predominant in Parliament —who robbed the population of this country of their property in the wild animals that lived in it, and which, by the natural customs of the world, and by the Common Law of England, were their rightful inheritance. With unparalleled audacity they first confiscated for their own pleasures the property of the people in the wild animals of the country; they then taxed the community to maintain the game for their sport; and then they consigned thousands upon thousands to prison or exile if they ventured to assert their natural proprietorship by snaring a rabbit or shooting a pheasant. But perhaps it may be said that hon. Gentlemen attach a very peculiar value and sanctity to any property connected with the land. But that cannot be maintained after the experience of the last few weeks. I assume, of course, that if such special reverence exists for property connected with the land, hon. Gentlemen would, of course, feel as deeply interested for the tenant as for his landlord, for the money which the tenant has invested in the land as for the money with which the landlord purchased it. But what have we seen? A Bill introduced into this House—the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill—whose sole object was to prevent confiscation—the confiscation of the property of tenants by landlords who should take advantage of their present deplorable condition— that Bill has been ignominiously rejected by the very men who now oppose this Hares and Rabbits Bill, and who have declared that to prevent the con- 388 fiscation by them of the tenants' money invested in the soil is in itself an act of confiscation of their land by privileges. In sitting down, I would venture to renew the suggestion with which I started, that this parrot cry of confiscation should no longer be made use of in regard to such measures as that which is now under consideration; its meaning is now too clearly understood by the people of this country. In "confiscation," they hear the cry of a privileged class who have proved throughout the centuries of their country's history that they value more highly the pleasures of sport than the interests of their country, or the rights of their countrymen.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he had spoken several times already on this Bill. But he did not think the Government could apply the term "Obstruction" to the legitimate criticism which the Bill had met with. This Government had never until last night had a taste of real Obstruction. Now, he considered this Bill to be a direct sham in the way of legislation. The Preamble said that the Bill was required to keep down ground game in the interests of good husbandry. But he wished it to go forth to the public, by whom it would shortly be discussed, that there was not a line or clause in the Bill which would prevent any landlord and tenant agreeing to grow nothing else than hares and rabbits. During the sifting and shaking of the Bill in Committee, they found that the Preamble was a pretence, and that the real object of the Bill was to transfer to the farmers sporting rights which they had yielded up to landlords for a valuable consideration. If the measure had been an honest one, for no other purpose than to keep down ground game, the Home Secretary would have accepted the Amendment in favour of limiting the farmers to trapping and snaring, and the other Amendment, that where there was an agreement made between landlord and tenant to keep down ground game this Bill should not apply. Instead of this being a Bill to promote good husbandry, it was simply a measure to transfer sporting rights. In its operation it would strike at the very foundations on which the social and commercial system of the country rested. Freedom of contract was the basis on which free men conducted their transactions; and his objection to the Bill 389 was the position in which the farmer and the owner of land—men of full age and competent understanding—would be placed under its provisions. If there were a sound-headed, sane set of men in the United Kingdom, they were, he maintained, the farmers of England and Scotland, and the same remark applied to the owners; yet such men were declared by the Government to be unfit to make a bargain, and freedom of contract in their case was done away with. In short, the doctrines of political economists like Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Mill were set at naught by the Liberal Party. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had twitted him with some remarks which he had made with reference to freedom of contract, and had asked him what answer he would give to a cabman who demanded on a wet night£5 to drive him from Westminster Hall to his home? But the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he talked in that way, did not seem to understand what freedom of contract was, or sought to throw dust in the eyes of his audience; for the Railway and the Cab Acts, as he ought to be aware, dealt with privileges and monopolies which they created, and, in consideration of those privileges and monopolies, made certain provisions for the benefit of the public. It was not worthy, therefore, of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to use such an argument as that to which he had referred, while he was the last man in the House who ought to sneer at anybody for standing up in defence of freedom of contract, of which he was at one time one of the most able and eloquent advocates; for in a speech delivered some eight years ago he had complained of the disposition which appeared to be growing up day by day to invoke the interference of the Government in the relations of life, in opposition to that which had always been the tradition of the Liberal Party, who had consistently, he said, maintained the doctrine of individual liberty. The right hon. and learned Gentleman added that he did not admire that grand-maternal sort of government which insisted on putting a nightcap on the grown-up people of a nation by Act of Parliament. He had followed the teaching of the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but every man was the best judge of his own political consistency. For his own part, if he had made such a 390 speech, he would rather have had his tongue cut out than turn round, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman had done, and introduce a Bill supported by such arguments as those which had been advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in favour of the present measure. But if the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Liberal Party were thus prepared to depart from their principles, let them not imagine that the policy of interfering with freedom of contract would stop until an attempt was made to introduce it into the other relations of life. At all events, he and his Friends had the consolation of knowing that they had endeavoured to do all in their power to resist a measure which he would forbear from characterizing as it deserved; because, in doing so, he might say something which might be offensive to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, perhaps, not quite Parliamentary.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he adhered entirely to the sentiments to which he had given expression in the speech to which the noble Lord had referred. The real difference between the noble Lord and himself was involved in the elementary question when the principles for which he contended were to be applied. The noble Lord had eulogized what was known in Scotland as "M'Lagan's Bill;" but when that Bill was first presented to Parliament it alarmed the easily-frightened imagination of the noble Lord quite as much as did the present measure, and in 1876 he spoke of it in language stronger than that which he had employed in regard to the measure before the House. He said that Bill was an interference with freedom of contract. [Lord ELCHO: Hear, hear !] So it was. It was a Bill to compel landlords to make agreements for compensation, which they were not obliged to do before. But not only that measure, but half-a-dozen others which had been introduced into that House had equally interfered with freedom of contract. The noble Lord said he confessed that, like St. Paul, he was born free, and wished to die a free man. The noble Lord did in one respect resemble St. Paul—he was a great apostle; but in another respect he did not resemble St. Paul, who had said of himself that in bodily presence he was weak, and in speech he was contemptible. The noble Lord made the same kind of speech on 391 every occasion when it was proposed to give the smallest compensation or protection to the tenant farmers. In 1876, the noble Lord had done him the honour of calling him the real farmer's friend, and he was glad that his orthodoxy on this question had been recognized so long ago. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had referred to Mr. Clare Sewell Read as having said last year that there was no real grievance with respect to ground game; but Mr. Read moved a Resolution, which was unanimously accepted by the Chamber of Agriculture, declaring that the Council approved of this Bill, as it secured to the farmers power to protect their crops from ground game. That did not look as if he did not think there was a grievance; and, in fact, he had expressly said that there was a grievance, which ought to be redressed. The hon. Member had again used the word "confiscation." The noble Lord himself once proposed to transfer the presumption of law from the landlord to the tenant in Scotland, and he did not propose any compensation. It was said that this measure would interfere with the right of the tenant to freedom of contract; but the tenants were the best judges as to whether their interests would be injuriously affected by the Bill. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire said he did not trust those dreadful Liberals, and that the Bill was a Party coup. "Well, it was rather assuring to think that it had been so successful. The hon. Member had stated that he had been warned that his opposition to this measure would possibly lead to the loss of his seat; but whose fault was that? Did he remember the Motion brought forward by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) for the abolition of the Game Laws before the General Election, when one of the most respected Members of the Conservative Party, the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), proposed an Amendment to the effect that it was "not desirable" that there should be an amendment of the Game Laws; and that when he (Sir William Harcourt) proposed to leave out the word "not" from the Amendment, the whole Conservative Party voted that there should be no Amendment of the Game Laws. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Not then.] No; that was just before the General Election. But did not the hon. Member 392 suppose that the farmers knew very well what that meant? The Conservative Party put it off to some more convenient season. That was a phrase taken from —at all events from the history of—St. Paul. The hon. Member said—"We will oppose every practical measure of the kind, and will always say 'not now;' and when we come in with a great majority, and can do something for the tenant farmers, and get a Report from the Committee of the House of Commons, then we will go on from 1873 to 1874, 1875, and so on to the General Election, and will still even then vote 'not now.'"
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. and learned Gentleman forgets that the hon. Member for Leicester did introduce his Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, no doubt, that was so; but where was the Bill of the hon. Member or of his Party? And why did he and his Party, as a body, just before the General Election, vote that there should "not now" be a Bill? The hon. Member said that it was very bad of the Liberals to take the farmers away from the Conservatives. Why, the proud history of the Liberals showed that they had always done their best to redress just grievances all over the country, and he saw no reason why they should not attempt to redress the grievances of the farmers. The hon. Member said that he knew the farmers better than the Liberal Party did, and that those of them who talked Latin would say—"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." There was another Latin phrase, however, which the Romans were fond of using, and which might be quoted on the other side—namely,"Bos locutos." When the Legislature had passed a law to grant relief to one class of the community, and another class tried, not by bonâ fide but colourable contract, to defeat that law, he did not consider that a creditable transaction, If this Bill were defeated by colourable contracts, hon. Members might rely on it that this Bill would not be accepted as a settlement, and application would at once be made to the Legislature, which would at once supply drastic measures. He desired to thank the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire for the generous way in which he had referred to him— words, the spirit of which he desired to reciprocate. In the course of the contest they had had over the Bill, he (Sir 393 William Harcourt) had had many javelins upon his shield, and he confessed that he had winced under some of them, and he hoped he would now be excused if he had used any hasty words during the contest. He could say that the object he had in introducing the Bill, whatever the noble Lord might say to the contrary, was the genuine purpose of protecting the crops of the farmers, and not to pare the thing too closely by depriving the tenants of any share in the sport of killing the ground game they found eating up their crops. He maintained that there was nothing in the Bill inconsistent with the Premable; and, as it commended itself to the great majority of the House, he hoped that when the Question was put from the Chair the Bill would be carried by a large majority.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, as classical quotations appeared to be the order of the day, let him remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of another quotation —"Veniam petimus-que damusque vicissim." If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been wounded, he should not forget that he had discharged whole flights of envenomed darts at the Opposition. But that was a long time ago, and he only referred to it now to remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the temper in which he had commenced that discussion. At the period to which he referred, he thought the Bill a very bad one, and he was prepared to give it a most determined opposition. Afterwards, however, the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave a different appearance to the Bill on the second reading, and later still he produced Amendments. While he still objected to the principle of the Bill in interfering with freedom of contract, he would not, at the present time, anticipate the serious practical inconveniences that would result from it. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Mellor) in his statement that if the Bill resulted in the extermination of rabbits no one would suffer so much from it as the working classes, for in Leicester alone no less than 50,000 dozen home-grown rabbits were consumed by the working people last year. If he thought that the Bill would have that result he should oppose it; but he still objected to its principle. If, however, the right hon. and learned 394 Gentleman thought that the British farmer was going to support him in consequence of the introduction of this Bill, far be it from him (Lord John Manners) to dissipate so agreeable a delusion; but he was quite content to take his chance, as a Representative of an agricultural community, while he protested against the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. STORER
said, the more intelligent agriculturists were not so much in favour of the Bill as was supposed by the other side. He should vote against the measure, although a good many of his agriculturist constituents had been led away by the popular view; but he believed they would be undeceived by its practical working.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: —Ayes 148; Noes 70: Majority 78.—(Div. List, No. 145.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time; Verbal Amendment made.
§ Bill passed.