HC Deb 02 March 1880 vol 251 cc194-222

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, it was amusing to hear that the Seconder of the Resolution did not agree with it, because he said that, in his opinion, the Game Laws should not be abolished, but altered. In that he agreed entirely. Nothing had created more irritation in connection with this subject than the practice of selling game; and those who wished to preserve the Game Laws should do their best to put a stop to that practice. So far from the Game Laws being objected to as a whole, he had known farmers object to the small quantity of game. Farmers liked to have a few hares to shoot in order to entertain a friend. If he voted for the Resolution, it would be in the sense of the Seconder and not of the Mover, for he thought that it was desirable not to abolish but to modify the Game Laws. He had himself introduced a Bill on the subject which had satisfied that not very easily satisfied body, the Scotch Chamber of Agriculture. It proceeded upon the principle of abolishing the protection of ground game; and he believed that if that were done there would be little more agitation against the Game Laws. The Court of Session in Scotland had last year decided that rabbits were vermin, and as such ought to be destroyed by farmers without taking out a gun licence; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had refused to instruct his officers to recognize that decision in so far as to exempt farmers from the necessity of taking out a gun licence in order to shoot rabbits; and a similar difficulty, raised as to the shooting of wood pigeons without taking out a gun licence, had created great irritation, and had led to a good deal of agitation against the Game Laws; because people had got the idea that, unless the Game Laws were abolished, they could not shoot rabbits and pigeons without a licence. In conclusion, the hon. and gallant Baronet repeated that he should vote for the Resolution in the sense put upon it by the Seconder, and not in that of the Mover, because he was not for the abolition, but the reform of the Game Laws.


said, he stood in a peculiar position with regard to this question. He did not agree with his hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), which he (Mr. Clare Read) thought was somewhat shirking the question. He did not agree with his hon. Friend who moved the Resolution (Mr. P. A. Taylor); and he was equally unable to agree with his Seconder, or the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had spoken last (Sir Alexander Gordon), as they both objected to the repeal of the Game Laws, and yet were going to vote for such repeal. He looked at the question almost entirely from an agricultural point of view, and would endorse a saying which was attributable to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright)—namely, that a farmer had a right to protect his crops from all wild animals that preyed upon them. That was his (Mr. Clare Read's) notion—that a farmer should have the inalienable privilege of killing hares and rabbits which devastated his farm. He went even further than that; he would not deprive a landlord of that power, for he had seen instances in which game was kept in such a quantity by a tenant as to seriously injure the property of the landlord. The rabbits and hares pulled down fences, destroyed quickset, and ate away the underwood; and actually, in some cases, they destroyed the young timber. If the law granted this joint right, he believed that in the majority of cases there would be no collision between the landlord and tenant. Almost the whole of the agricultural grievance centred in ground game. With the exception of wood pigeons, all kinds of birds did a certain amount of good—more good than harm—and he would be very sorry indeed that game birds should be extirpated. His hon. Friend the Member for Leicester had ridiculed his statement that there were Game Laws in America; but, although he might be an "innocent ignorant," he certainly did see and hear of Game Laws there. You constantly saw notices put up that trespassers who hunted or fished would be prosecuted. Even in the wild State of Minnesota, where there were thousands of acres of unoccupied land, there was a very stringent law regarding the preservation of wild fowl and birds. In almost every State there was a close time; and even in New York, he believed, the people were not allowed to kill a sparrow. The consequence was that there was such an enormous number of sparrows in New York that he was quite sure they must be a dreadful nuisance. It was rather curious that, while the English farmer complained of hares and rabbits, the Irish farmer rather rejoiced in the hare, so that last Session a Bill had been introduced and passed to enact a close season for hares. He hoped that such a proposal would not be made for England. It was quite true that he (Mr. Clare Read) had stated some years ago that thousands more sheep could have been reared in Norfolk but for the large quantity of ground game that was to be found in that county. He had very great pleasure in testifying to the decreased quantity of ground game in the Eastern Counties at the present time. In fact, hares and rabbits were done away with on many estates. When the hon. Member for Leicester said this was a year of exceptional severity in the agricultural districts, he (Mr. Clare Head) would also observe that the year was also an exceptional one as regarded the small quantity of game in those counties; and, therefore, he did not think game could be said to have anything to do with deficiency in the crops. He agreed with the hon. Member for Leicester in thinking the Police Poaching Act objectionable. It was anomalous that a police-constable should have the right to search a man in the highway if suspected of poaching, but not if suspected of robbing a hen-roost. When, however, it was asserted that a starving labourer was under peculiar temptation to poach rather than steal, he begged to express his dissent. He could not see why a game preserve should be more tempting than a hen-roost or a sheep-fold. Under the existing law, a landlord could eat a tenant up by means of game, and yet the Law of Distress would give him the power to recover his rent. That seemed to him an injustice. The landlord might—he did not say it was often done—let his farm, and afterwards let his game. The consequence would be that the game tenant would have no sympathy with the agricultural tenant, and the latter might be ruined; and though he did not say such cases happened frequently, still he thought the law which allowed them ought to be amended. He was not a total repealer, but a reformer of the Game Laws. He thought a remedy might be found for the farmer as well as for the landlord, by modifying the existing laws. Although there were one or two Committees which had made suggestions and certain modifications which had not yet been carried into effect, he was not without hope that whenever leisure time came, Parliament would take into con- sideration the present Game Laws with the view of providing an adequate remedy.


Mr. Speaker, I do not intend, in the few remarks which I shall make, to enter into the general question of the Game Laws. The millions in this country, the bulk of the population, have made up their minds as to their arbitrary and oppressive nature, and as to the mode in which they are administered; and they are nearly all against them. But of what force or use is their opinion? This House, consisting mainly of Whig and Tory landlords, is not at all likely to repeal the Game Laws. The Whigs are as resolved as the Tories, and the Tories are as resolute as the Whigs upon this; and I shall, therefore, waste no time in argument, because I believe that argument is useless here at the present time. But I desire to mention one or two facts which have been lately brought before me; and they are of such a nature that they will weigh with those who read our debates, if they do not tell in the House itself. These facts are connected with Richmond Park, and with its Ranger, the Duke of Cambridge. This noble Duke reserves a great portion of that park for his game preserves, and he charges the public for his gamekeepers. I do not know by what right he does either. I have always thought and believed that Richmond Park was a public park, and was public property, and was open to all the public; but the Duke of Cambridge thinks differently, and acts accordingly. In the old Tory days of one of your Predecessors, Mr. Speaker, in that Chair—I mean Mr. Addington, who afterwards became Prime Minister—King George the Third was so pleased with him, that, when he presented him with Richmond Lodge, he made an offer to inclose 60 acres of land with it; but Mr. Addington refused on public grounds, and because it was a public park; and it was only after some importunity that he finally consented to have 10 acres inclosed; and with these he remained satisfied as long as he occupied the Lodge. But we live in different times now; and I hear that the Duke of Cambridge has inclosed a large part of the park, and made it into preserves, and excludes the public, and does a great many things which he could not do if he were not supported by the Game Laws. I shall mention the case of Mr. Waite, which has been brought before me. I hear that Mr. Waite is a respectable man; but, under the Duke and the Game Laws, he has been treated with hardship, and I even think with injustice. He was walking some time since in Richmond Park with a dog. He saw a rabbit, for the place is thick with them, and he took it. Very few persons would resist the temptation in a park that belongs to the public, and Mr. Waite did not resist. He was pounced upon by the Duke's gamekeepers, and he received no less than four summonses. First, he was summoned for trespass; second, for trespass on a Royal preserve; third, for going there with a dog; fourth, for taking a hare. He was tried before magistrates, and for these four offences—which were really only one—he was fined £7, or four months' imprisonment with hard labour. Can we wonder that such laws, thus administered, are odious in the eyes of all persons? I shall therefore vote with the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor).


as a Game Law reformer, regretted that the hon. Member for Leicester, (Mr. P. A. Taylor) should have presented his case in a grotesque and exaggerated form, such as one might have expected to find in a chapter of that celebrated satire of Swift's, Gulliver's Travels. It was an extravagant picture of the state of things which existed in this country some years back. The hon. Gentleman's remarks would have been more to the point if they had set forth the objections to the Game Laws, the abstract principle of which lay in a nutshell. It was this—that hares and rabbits ought not to be exterminated, inasmuch as they were articles of food, but ought to be kept in their places. He would admit that the Game Laws required modification in some respects. There could be no doubt that rabbits were unduly preserved in some parts of the country, and such an amendment of the law as would keep them within proper bounds was desirable. Considering that a Select Committee had sat for two years to investigate the question, he thought the hon. Member for Leicester might have submitted a more precise and more tangible proposal to the consideration of the House. For his part, he could not support the Motion of the hon. Gentleman; and he was equally disinclined to vote for the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member (Sir Walter B. Barttelot). There were many objectionable features in the Game Laws. Many of them had been pointed out by witnesses examined before the Committee to which he had referred, and of which he was a Member. He himself suggested Amendments in that Committee, and he still maintained that legislation was called for. Indeed, he had attempted it once himself, shortly after the Committee had reported. The Bill he then introduced would, he thought, give the tenant farmer an opportunity of protecting himself against the undue preservation of game by third parties. He gave great attention to the framing of the measure, and employed an able draftsman; but it was snuffed out in a moment by the late Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. M'Combie), who characterized it as a monstrous Bill. After all, it should be borne in mind that the Game Laws were really Laws of Trespass, and it was a question for consideration as to how far those Laws of Trespass might be relaxed without jeopardizing the give-and-take principle which at present obtained in the country of allowing persons to pass over land, though they had no right of ownership or occupation. Sometimes he had seen 400 or 500 horsemen come across his land, and of these not half were landowners, the majority of them being overworked merchants and men of that class whose occupations were in the City. No doubt, damage was done to the land by hunting; but in these matters the give-and-take principle must be observed. He thought the proper amendment would be—not that the Game Laws should be entirely swept away, but that as soon as possible they should be considered by the House with a view to their amendment.


said, the complexities of the Game Laws were so peculiar that it was very difficult to frame a measure for their removal. While it was difficult to deal with this question by Resolution it would be still more so to bring in a Bill, and if any measure were introduced it ought to be on the responsibility of the Government. If it were done at all, it must be done by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the sooner it was done the better. At present the law left the game entirely in the hands of the tenant, who, if he agreed to give it up for the use of the landlord, got the land at a lower rent. He believed that, in most instances where game was not over-preserved, and where a proper feeling prevailed between the landlord and tenant, which was generally the case in England, not so much harm was done as the world was trying to represent. Still, he admitted that there was some harm done. The mischief to the crops was caused almost exclusively by the ground game. In one case as much as £60 or £70 was paid for damage to a single field committed by such game. Partridges, on the other hand, did no harm, but good, and the number of pheasants was so comparatively small as not to interfere seriously with crops. He saw no alternative whatever but to abolish ground game, and he believed that if they were abolished there would be little or no grumbling. The law might be altered with that object; but to enact a Law of Trespass was a very different affair. The present Secretary to the Treasury had endeavoured to deal with that; but the Committee that had inquired into the subject had not recommended a change. The night poacher was generally the refuse of society, and it was difficult to deal with him; but the case of a day poacher was very different. Another point was rather important. It appeared from trustworthy evidence that no fewer than 30,000,000 of rabbits were annually grown in this country for the market. That was a serious question, and it came this—Did they lose or gain by them? He believed decidedly that they lost by them, if, at least, it was true that eight rabbits consumed the keep of one sheep. With respect to sheep, he might remark that the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had not accurately described Scotch deer forests, which, in fact, were not forests, but large tracts of wild land where deer actually lived. The evidence and the probability was that as much meat was grown in them under the present state of things as could be obtained by feeding sheep. However, the whole question was very serious, and of the greatest importance; it was impossible that it could be allow to rest; and it would sooner or later—the sooner the better—command the attention of the Government of the country, though he envied no Government that was so hardy as to attempt to deal with it. Still, the Committee of 1873 had presented a very able Report, which would some day be the basis of legislation; and in the meantime, by way of protesting against the policy of inaction, he felt himself compelled to vote for the Resolution.


thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) had given a rather strange reason for his intention to vote for the Resolution. He thoroughly agreed with all that the hon. Member had said about ground game, and felt sure that there would be advantage in the laws being altered in reference to those creatures. His principal property, standing as it did in a Metropolitan county, was, to a wide extent, a wild, poor moorland, in which, if not continually checked, hares and rabbits would teem to the equal detriment of the landlord's underwood and the tenant's hop-vines. But ground game was one thing, the harmless wild bird, the partridge, another, and the less than half-wild pheasant a third. He could not see why, if sheep farming was worthy of protection, pheasant farming should be less worthy of that assistance which the laws were supposed to give to the acquisition and preservation of useful and food-yielding property. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) would be glad to learn that, comparing all round—sheep, pigs, shorthorns, and other farm animals—there was no more artificial creature than the pheasant. It was the stock of the woods as beeves and sheep were of the meadows. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) owned property and preserved game, although he was not a sportsman himself; and he wished to know why, on account of a mere anatomical distinction, they should shut their eyes to common sense and refuse to admit that the pheasant was to all intents and purposes a product of civilization, and as such entitled to protection equally with the other stocks and crops of the farmer. Pheasant farming was as genuine an industrial process as sheep farming. But it was argued that pheasants did damage. That certainly was, however, merely a question of degree, and the damage done by them was a simple question of money between the landlord and the tenant, while a man who was not a fool, before taking a farm, would ascertain the conditions under which his landlord was a game preserver. To at- tempt to elevate into a political grievance the bargaining which had inevitably superseded the old-fashioned relations between the typical Sir Roger de Coverley and his tenantry was to play fast and loose with common sense. The whole arrangement was a bargain; game might do damage in the fields, as sheep or pigs straying into the woods would do damage to the young shoots; and the question literally was, whether the game was worth the candle. In the case of rabbits, the damage done was so considerable that he was personally for some preventive legislation. As for his own practice, as soon as the 2nd of February came, his keeper and the tenants used continually to be out rabbiting, while the bag belonged to the tenant, and the complaint to which of late years he had became familiar was that the sport was bad. He feared that if he should happily exterminate his rabbits he might be left face to face with a tenantry discontented at the loss of their February fun.


in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), said, the Game Laws were demoralizing and unjust. Nobody had anything to say in favour of them save on the ground of "sport;" and, therefore, they were asked to maintain laws that were unjust. In carrying them out, hon. Gentlemen were allowed to act as magistrates in their own cases, and very frequently to perpetrate very gross injustice. If that was a fact, of which, in his opinion, there was little doubt, it seemed to him to be a shocking and frightful evil that the administration of the law should be marked with such injustice or held up to contempt in the eyes of the lower classes. It entered their minds that those above them were unjust; that the word of a gamekeeper was worth more than their own; that a gamekeeper might shoot a poacher, and might hunt men with dogs. If a poacher was shot at, it was just a chance if the gamekeeper was brought up; but if it was the gamekeeper who was shot at, the poacher was sure to be prosecuted. The existing system led to excessive game preserving, and caused an incalculable amount of crime and suffering. In confirmation of that, he would ask the attention of the House to the result of one battue, as published by the Rev. F. O. Morris, in which the total number slaughtered was given at many thousand head of game. He gave particulars of three battues, the number of head of game, and the number of tons weight of slain. Did any sensible Member in the House approve of that mode of shooting? It was the love of killing, and nothing else. "What had the 52,000 or so of persons who took out game certificates done for the country that it should give them these hurtful laws to support them in the enjoyment of their "sport," which, too often, was mere butchery? The bloodstained code of our Game Laws was monstrous and indefensible in its severity. For the first offence there was imprisonment for three months, and sureties had to be found for six months more. For the second offence the imprisonment was for six months, and sureties for 12 months had to be found; so that, for taking a rabbit or attempting to take one as a second offence, a man might be kept 18 months in prison. If three men with a stick were found on land at night in search of game they were liable to 14 years' penal servitude, a punishment double that inflicted upon persons guilty of the gross crime of perjury. The number of convictions under the summary jurisdiction of justices in 1877–8 was 12,583; in 1876–7 it was 13,521. A large number of these—he gave the numbers—were sentenced to imprisonment, amounting in the total to 55,000 days' imprisonment, one, at least, to be laid to the door of every holder of a licence. A large number were sentenced to fines. Many besides had to go to gaol for want of sureties. He hoped the Secretary of State for the Home Department would inquire how many were in gaol now for want of sureties. In addition to these were the Assize cases for night poaching, nearly 100 in number, besides those cases which were ranked as murder, but had arisen out of the painful conflicts which the conduct of keepers and the action of these laws produced. Add together the imprisonment, the loss of life, the demoralization of peasants, the destruction of food, the cost of prisons, of prosecutions, of police, and he would ask were such laws worth the sacrifice involved? Did they deserve to be maintained?


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Hopwood) seemed to take his notions on this subject rather from newspaper reports than from practical experience. He (Mr. Stanhope) did not desire to defend those landowners who carried the preservation of game to such an extent, as some of those whose cases had been quoted; but he thought that was a matter which was gradually righting itself, and that there was now very little complaint on the part of tenants against landlords in the greater part of the country, on the score of over-preservation of game. Having been long connected with the gaol of Wakefield, and being chairman of its committee, he could say that for several years the number of those committed in that part of the country for breach of the Game Laws only varied from 1½ to 3 per cent of the total number of prisoners. That was certainly not so tremendous a result as the statistics of the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down would lead them to suppose. There was one point in connection with this subject which he wished to impress upon the House—namely, that in this country we had the most lenient form of Trespass Law, and that was owing to the operation of the Game Laws. There was in towns a number of persons of bad character ready to issue out and commit depredations on the neighbouring property. He happened to be the owner of a property of 1,200 or 1,400 acres between Bradford and Leeds. A good many years ago, when he was a young man, that property was in the hands of a tenant, a well-known preserver of game, who looked after the property as if it had been his own. Considering the nearness of the towns, he had a very large amount of game; but as Leeds grew nearer the gentleman moved to a more suitable place, and was succeeded by a large manufacturer who would not allow game to be preserved on the estate. Everything ought to have gone on well, according to the hon. and learned Gentleman; but the reverse was the case. In the first place the game disappeared, then the tenants found all their poultry was gone, Leicestershire sheep also were destroyed, and so on. Gates and gate-posts disappeared, and even trees of large size. At last the tenants said something must be done, and they formed an association among themselves for the preservation of game on the estate. That association, established 15 or 16 years ago, still existed; and the result was that it was now possible to keep sheep on the property, and other animals which farmers wanted. In the West of Yorkshire a very large area was moorland, and much of it had been seized by the large towns to supply themselves with water. For that crop they paid no rent. Having erected a reservoir they assumed a right over the whole watershed, perhaps some 2,000 or 3,000 acres belonging to other people, and insisted that the water should be turned off in a state of purity fit to drink, and no manure could be put upon the moor. In his own case, being about a mile from the reservoir, he had been dragged into a Chancery suit, and, finding that the whole of the rates of a town 18 miles distant would be employed against him, he had to capitulate and pay heavy costs. Therefore, the theory about the cultivation of waste lands disappeared so far as the moors of Yorkshire were concerned. The question was, what was the best use to put these moors to? They might be used for sheep or for grouse. For grouse the rent would be five or seven times more than for farming, and the arguments against the Game Laws hardly applied there. In these days of agricultural distress, the only agricultural property rising in value was game, and the value of that had almost doubled. Was property of that kind to be sacrificed to a mere theory? Putting all these things together, he thought this was not a question for declamation, but rather for calm consideration, to see how far these laws could be put on a more practical and satisfactory footing.


said, at last they had reached the true solution of the problem of agricultural distress. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Stanhope) had found out that other crops did not pay, and that game did. The Game Laws, therefore, according to the hon. Gentleman, ought to be kept up to enable country gentlemen to obtain the most profitable kind of crops. The hon. Gentleman said that the moors could not grow sheep, but they could grow grouse. The Game Laws were necessary for the maintenance of grouse, and, therefore, ought to be kept up. That appeared to him (Sir William Harcourt) to be a reductio ad absurdum for the maintenance of the Game Laws. Now they had the practical issue before the House. Whatever difficulty they might have felt as to the extent to which the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) went, there could be no mistake about the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), which was seconded by the noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy). The principle of the Amendment was "No Surrender." The Amendment raised the issue in the plainest form. They would have no alteration in the Game Laws. That was the direct issue. He had been a little curious—and he had been sitting there the whole evening—to see what line "the farmers' friends" would take upon that issue, both in England and in Scotland. There were a good many of the Scotch farmers' friends there, and they knew very well that they were all against over-preserving. But they all knew what the farmers wanted; what was said out-of-doors as to the present state of things about over-preserving, and that the Game Laws were the cause of it. What alteration were they going to make? They had been told by the last speaker that the system of large preserving was coming to an end. That might be quite true as regarded the last 12 months, because the season was adverse. But in the five years past could it be said that it had diminished? There were other things also said. Then the farmers' friends were all against ground game. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) was always making speeches against rabbits, but never gave a vote against rabbits. When the Agricultural Holdings Bill was before the House there was a proposal to give the farmer protection against rabbits, and compensation for the damage they occasioned; but on that occasion the hon. Member for South Leicestershire, amidst cheers, walked out of the House. That was the way in which the "farmers' friends" dealt with their grievances. They were always ready to enlarge upon the farmers' grievances; but when a practical proposal came before the House they were not so active. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Bead) extenuating, said—"Black is not so black, nor white so very white." So they always found a reason for not voting for remedies proposed. But when they went into the counties they were all against the damage done by hares and rabbits. But what was the remedy the farmers' friends were going to propose to-night for the evils produced by ground game? Nothing whatever! for when the hon. and gallant Baronet proposed an Amendment that there should be no change in the Game Laws all the farmers' friends were with him at once. The pattern farmers' friend (Mr. Clare Read) said they would deal with those laws at their leisure. The farmers' friends would help the farmers "at their leisure." Why, he (Sir William Harcourt) did not know when they would have leisure if they had no leisure now. If the farmers waited for the leisure of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, led by the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), seconded by the noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy), and supported by the farmers' friend (Mr. Clare Bead), they would wait long, and be disappointed at last. [Mr. CLARE READ: I objected to the Amendment, and shall not vote for it.] Yes; but the hon. Member would vote against the Amendment, and wait for the leisure. But he (Sir William Harcourt) thought there never was a Session when there was more time, for there was no engrossing subject before the House. What, however, would be thought of all this at the farmers' clubs and ordinaries? They would see what it all meant, and understand it thoroughly. They would see that these speeches made at farmers' meetings meant nothing, and that when the question of the Game Laws came before the House of Commons it was met by an Amendment of that description, that there ought to be no change in the Game Laws. He should vote against the Amendment, as, in his opinion, the Game Laws were productive of much mischief. As to what had been said about the rights of property, why should the laws be much harsher and severer in the case of offences against one kind of property than against another? It was because they were laws passed by the dominant class affecting their own interests. If it were a mere question of property, why should there be different laws? He believed there was hardly a man in that House who could say he was satisfied with the practical working of the Game Laws. Why had not the hon. Member for South Leicestershire proposed something? [Mr. PELL: I did.] The hon. Gentleman, some years ago, certainly brought in a "Rabbits' Bill;" but on the accession to Office of the Conservative Government it became inconvenient. If they were out of Office they would, he had no doubt, have another "Rabbits Bill." They would probably that Session hear something about the Malt Tax—a mere flash in the pan; but when a proposal was made for a practical remedy for what was known to be a farmers' grievance, it was astonishing how quiet and how anxious to wait for leisure became the farmers' friends in that House. Perhaps his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) would get up and express his views on the Game Question. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex said he would vote against the Resolution. He (Sir William Harcourt) would like to know how many country gentlemen were going to support that Amendment, and say "No change in the Game Laws." Were they going to say that the farmers desired no change? He hoped there would be a definite vote upon the question, whether the Game Laws, as they stood at present, were to be defended; and upon that vote he should say "Aye" to the Motion.


said, he should not be prevented by his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Sir William Harcourt) from making some observations because he had said that he (Mr. Rodwell), and those who acted with him, were only ostensibly the "farmers' friends." His hon. and learned Friend had used that language both in and out of the House. But before he made such statements he should have acquainted himself with the facts, and not have made use of what had been said for the purpose of a joke. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford should have listened to what had been said, and if he had not done so should have been careful to ascertain whether he was correct. He himself had been present, and heard what his hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) and South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had said; and he would venture to say that they had never committed themselves to the doctrine that no change in the Game Laws was necessary. They were, on the contrary, the advocates of some altera- tion; but they did not go the length of the total abolition of those laws. That had been the sum and substance of their remarks. The conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not complimentary, to say the least of it, and he might use a stronger expression. What he and his hon. Friends said out of the House they acted up to in that House—he believed most conscientiously. He lived in a county in which game abounded, probably more than in any other part of England—and if the farmers of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire were polled they would be found to be against the abolition of the Game Laws. While he declared that to be his conviction, he was bound to say, as he had more than once said, that if the Amendment meant that there was no alteration of the Game Laws required he would not vote for it. Where the landlords were resident on their estates, and in constant intercourse with their tenants, there was very little difficulty or unpleasantness; but he could not help saying that where the land was let to agricultural tenants, and where the landlord let his mansion for the purposes of shooting, difficulties and unpleasantnesses did arise, and that he had known to be the case over and over again. It would be but fair, therefore, whenever those laws were dealt with, that some right should be reserved to the tenant—that the game should not be let without the consent of the tenant, or that he should have the option of taking it himself. He quite concurred with his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) that ground game, especially within the last 10 years, was gradually diminishing in many parts of England, and that where formerly there used to be abundance there was now scarcely any. In saying all this he spoke from experience, which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford did not. He could give many instances, but he would mention one of an estate of 14,000 acres, where now there was not to be seen a rabbit from one day's end to another, except round the proprietor's house and in the park, and where there used to be hundreds of hares killed in a week, now a score could not be found. He could also speak of an estate in Suffolk where on 7,000 acres over 6,000 hares were killed in one season, now the number was not 600. These facts he wished to communicate to his hon. and learned Friend, in order that when he spoke with reference to the Game Laws he should not be led to make ridiculous assertions or display an ignorance of the subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) had made remarks in reference to the conduct of magistrates which he regretted to hear. He quite agreed that the Game Laws ought to be modified; but it was not well that such extreme views should be entertained on the subject, because it made it so difficult for those who desired certain changes to be effected to approach those who expressed them. With reference to the remark about night poaching, and such a sentence as 14 years being attached to it, it was well known that it was only a Judge of the land who could give such a sentence, and everybody knew that it was only in extreme cases of violence that the maximum punishment was ever inflicted. For his own part, he was ready and willing to assist in amending the Game Laws; at the same time, he would not be voting according to his conscientious convictions, or in what he believed to be the wishes of tenant farmers, if he supported the Resolution. He trusted he had satisfied his hon. and learned Friend opposite, and given him some information which he might make use of on some future occasion.


said, he should vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. P. A. Taylor), because he knew very well it would not become law. He would vote for it as a protest, because he believed an amendment of the law was required. He knew better than hon. Members at the other side that rabbits were a great trouble to the farmer. When he was a very young man he took a farm from a gentleman who was very fond of sporting. That was just before the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were hundreds of rabbits on the land which the landlord said should be preserved. He declined the condition, and a compromise was arrived at. He had a clause inserted in the lease, under which he drew a line across the farm, and all the rabbits that came on one particular side of the line were his—the tenant's—if he could catch them. On his side of the line there was some fine land with nice sweet grass, near the river and he knew they would come to him from the rough land on the other side. In fact, he made a point of looking after them. He killed so many rabbits that the landlord soon found it was not worth his while to go shooting anywhere, and they had never since done any harm in that part. The hares in his part of the country—Montgomeryshire—were so few that the farmers desired to see a few more than they did, and there was not a single farmer there who would vote for the abolition of hares. He had no doubt in his mind that there would be no trouble at all about this question were it not for a few landowners who over-preserved. The temptation to take hares was very great. Thirty-five years ago a hare would sell for only 15d., but now they readily fetched 3s. 6d.; and where hares were kept in considerable numbers, there men would go to get them, for if they took three or four they found that doing so was much more profitable than working. The temptation was placed in their way by the landowners who over-preserved. The Resolution of the hon. Member for Leicester extended to all kinds of game—winged as well as ground game. For his own part, he did not care about hares, so far as eating them was concerned; but he was fond of a partridge, and the Resolution would take both out of the list. If the Motion were carried, and the ground game and winged game as well as the Game Laws were abolished, the result would be not only ridiculous, but would be ruinous. As he had said, he would vote for the Motion as a protest, because he believed that something in the way of an amendment of the Game Laws was required, such as taking the rabbit out of the game list, which would be a step in the right direction.


said, he should not have risen to take part in the debate, but that he could not help being amused at the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), who always was posing as somebody's friend. He was posing as the Home Rulers' friend two or three days ago, and now he came forward in the character of the "farmers' friend." But, unless he (Mr. Chaplin) were much mistaken, the hon. and learned Gentleman was likely to be as little successful in the one as he was wholly and totally unsuccessful in the other. He could understand how the hon. and learned Gentleman did not view the Resolution with favour. It was because the Game Laws were not a practical grievance of the farmer. He did not wish to intrude personal details; but he might, perhaps, mention that he owned two estates in Lincolnshire. On one of these the farmers had the whole shooting for years; he believed they also had it in the other, and what was the result? The only complaint he had was that there was a preservation of a greater head of game than was beneficial to the neighbours of the tenants. Abolition of the Game Laws was one thing, and an alteration of them was another. What people had a right to object to was the abuse, and not the use, of those laws. For his own part, he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) that excessive preservation was going out of fashion, and his (Mr. Chaplin's) own experience was that rabbits were becoming as scarce as woodcock. The statement that ground game was on the increase in this country he utterly and totally denied. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) alluded to other grievances of the farmers, and also to a subject in regard to which he (Mr. Chaplin) had given Notice to the House; and when the hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Motion which he (Mr. Chaplin) intended to make with regard to the Malt Tax was a flash in the pan, he would only say that the hon. and learned Gentleman would soon find out that he had made a mistake. No Motion was ever brought forward with a more serious intention to carry it to an issue. His hon. and learned Friend, as he had said, wished to appear in the House in the character of the farmers' friend; but he would tell him that not only that question, but a good many other questions, would before long be brought forward bearing upon the serious grievances of the farmers of the country, and those were of a nature which would test the sincerity of the character in which the hon. and learned Gentleman had thought fit to come forward; and when the day arrived he should rejoice if he were found in the same Lobby as the Gentleman of whom he disapproved so much that night.


said, he thought that it required some courage to bring forward that Motion in the way the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) annually did. He (Mr. Davenport) believed the general feeling throughout the country was one of satisfaction with the present Game Laws. The romantic poacher to whom reference had been made was extinct. The real, practical poacher was the man who went out with many others following the occupation of poachers and refusing to adopt any other. In his own case, he allowed his tenants to destroy or preserve rabbits as they pleased, and the result was that he had always plenty of sport.


said, he regretted that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) should have thought it necessary to meet the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) by an Amendment, because he (Mr. Walter) thought it would have been far better to meet it with a direct negative. Probably few landowners in the House cared so little about the sport of shooting as he did; and the feeling he had, induced by 30 years' experience, was, considering the expense and bother of the whole thing, he heartily wished there were no pheasants. Nevertheless, he could not support the Resolution of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), because he thought it directly contrary to the first principles of justice and common sense. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), in his amusing speech, did not throw much light on the question. He did not tell them, what as landlords and farmers many of them would like to know, in what respect he wished the Game Laws should be altered. The hon. Member for Leicester left no doubt on that point; he said they ought to be swept away. The hon. Member had constituted himself for many years the patron of the poachers, and one might well wonder why—whether it was from idiosyncracy on his part, or on the part of his constituents. The part of England in which that constituency was situated was historically interesting on account of the remains of Danish settlers that were found there, and that might excuse the suggestion that the people inherited free lance principles, and thought poaching as legitimate an occupation as their ancestors thought piracy to be. The hon. Member himself thought there was not much more to be said against smuggling than against poaching. He desired to ask one question of the hon. Member for Leicester. He wished to know, not only as an owner, but also as a farmer—for he farmed a great deal of his own land—was there any person who had a better right than he had to go upon his land and kill the pheasants he paid to feed, the hares which ate his turnips, and the rabbits which barked his trees and did so much mischief? He wanted to know what constituted property in any animal, if feeding did not. What the hon. Member meant by "the public" and "the people" he did not know—whether those of a parish or of the world at large—but on what ground had the people a right to come on his land and take those animals, the food of which cost him so much a year? No answer the hon. Member could give would satisfy the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. D. Davies), who knew very well what he was talking about, and spoke exceedingly good sense on the subject. For years past he (Mr. Walter) had kept a moderate amount of game, and he had had all kinds of arrangements with his tenants on the subject. With some he exercised a joint right; to some he lot the shooting altogether; in the case of others he kept it in his own hands; but he had never had the slightest trouble on the subject, and he did not expect he ever should have. Had it not been for over-preservation, and, what was worse, the letting of the shooting over the heads of the tenants, they would have had no trouble about the matter. As between landlord and tenant, the landlord ought not to let the shooting over the head of the tenant. Let the tenant have the shooting which the landlord did not want himself. If those rules were acted upon there would be no trouble about game. It was complained that rabbits and hares consumed a large quantity of food which had better be consumed by sheep and cattle; but had hon. Members any idea of the annual value of game considered merely as an article of food? Those who were well acquainted with the wants and tastes of the labouring classes knew perfectly well that there was nothing the poor man, and still more, the poor woman, enjoyed and relished so much as a rabbit. The other day he was informed that rabbits were selling at 18s. a-dozen, and he was strongly urged to try the experiment of a rabbit warren, with the view of increasing their number. Were the plans of the hon. Member for Leicester carried out, they would have the effect of exterminating all the game in the country, for no landlord or tenant would allow the people at large to come upon his land to take his game. He would prefer to make a clean sweep of it, and that being done generally, a serious injury would be inflicted on the country. He preferred to give a direct negative to the Motion, and he would much rather that the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex would withdraw the Amendment, the voting upon which would put many hon. Members in rather a false position, subject them to have their conduct misconstrued, and give a handle to hon. Members like that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had availed himself of. He (Mr. Walter) could not support the Amendment, because he could not say that no improvement was possible in the Game Laws. [Sir WALTER B. BARTTELOT: Now, now!] Why should he (Mr. Walter) say now, because if improvements were requisite there was no now in the question. The issue was very plain—whether they were to be allowed to preserve game or not, and whether the public at large were to have the right to walk over their property in the pursuit of game. The hon. Member for Cardigan rightly described the Motion as a wild Motion, though he was going to vote for it—a vote he would find it difficult to justify. But it raised an intelligible issue, and the best thing to do was to give it a direct negative.


desired to state, on the part of the Government, how they regarded the Motion and the Amendment. The Motion was of a sweeping character, and the Government preferred to negative it. As he understood the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), the Motion was directed against that part of the Game Law Code which preserved the rights of certain persons to kill or take game; he did not understand him to object to those portions of the Code which dealt with the revenue and with close times for certain animals. In a good-humoured harangue, but in language which might be complained of in anyone else, who was not the slave of one idea, the hon. Member spoke of the injury to the agricultural interest from excessive preservation; but that was really beside the question before the House. If they abolished the Game Laws Code to-morrow, it would only to an infinitesimal extent abate the complaints now existing as to the alleged grievances between landlord and tenant. If, again, they were to talk about the temptation which the existence of game offered as being demoralizing to the poor man, there were many other circumstances surrounding him which were also sources of temptation; and to speak, for example, of the Salmon Laws, which nobody desired to abolish, it was in resistance to them that the law was, perhaps, most recklessly broken by poachers who resorted to violence. He would be the first to admit that if these laws were unjust to the farmer and demoralizing to the labourer they were injurious to the community, because it was impossible to separate the interests of the farmer and the labourer from those of the community; but the hon. Member had entirely failed to prove his proposition. The abolition of the Code would not remove in the least degree the alleged grievances of certain tenants. The whole question of the Game Laws, as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had said, was, in fact, a question of the Law of Trespass. If the hon. Member for Leicester would read a pamphlet written by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), and would compare it with the Report of the Committee from whose evidence he quoted, he would be satisfied that, if they abolished the Game Law Code, they must have a very stringent Law of Trespass. The especial witness of the hon. Member for Leicester admitted on cross-examination that it was impossible to do without the most stringent Law of Trespass, for he altogether repudiated the idea of the public at large being able to go where they pleased in his garden and his shrubbery. If the only remedy were to be a civil action for trespass as it existed independently of the Game Laws the licence would be intolerable, and, in fact, it would not be tolerated by any portion of the community. Would the hon. Member be bold enough to propose to the House a Law of Trespass which would be as effective as the existing Game Law Code? According to the hon. Member for Beading, that Code was a moderate Law of Trespass. In the language of the Committee of 1873, it was a discriminating Law of Trespass; and for that reason alone, therefore, he might say that for an hon. Member to come forward and ask at one blow to abolish all these laws without putting anything else in their place was asking that to which the House of Commons would not agree. He should be very unwilling to say that the Game Laws were incapable of revision. That was not the proposition which the Government sought to maintain. And he might remind the hon. Gentleman of what he must have known with regard to the Night Poaching Bill, which came on at the end of last Session, when he spoke about his right hon. Friend (Mr. Assheton Cross) breaking the promise he made, and neglecting to do for England what he undertook, through the Lord Advocate, to do for Scotland. He would find that, under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, more than what his right hon. Friend had promised was done; and if passed for Scotland, it would have been open to the Sheriff, in the case to which he referred, to meet the justice of the case by a small fine. It was rather strange that the hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. D. Davies) had expressed his intention to vote for the Resolution; and had then explained that he did so because he knew it would not be carried. Englishmen were not likely to stand the abolition of the Game Laws, because they were all, without distinction of class, devoted to sport. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country there had been over-preservation of ground game, and there had also been many cases of letting shootings over the tenant and to his damage; but to say that, because the Game Laws had been abused, therefore they should be suddenly and entirely abolished, without providing any substitute, was a proposition to which he was certain neither the House nor the Government of which he was a Member could agree. He should, therefore, give a direct negative to the Motion.


said, he was not surprised that the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had brought forward his annual Motion; but he was surprised to find the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) assuming the character of the "farmer's friend." and endeavouring to depreciate the position of his hon. Friends the Members for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) and South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read). He (Mr. Storer) must say the character of farmer's friend sat very awkwardly on the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was a character which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench had been so little accustomed to of late that they would require a great deal of practice before it sat well on them. The farmers of this country, taken as a body, did not object to the Game Laws. What they did object to was the abuse of them. The game actually belonged to the tenant, unless he chose to relinquish his right—and what law could prevent his doing that? There was this to be said about the position of farmers—that they knew when they took their farms whether they were over-stocked with game or not, and when farms were as plentiful in the market as now no man in his senses would have one of that description. He would certainly vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester. If the Game Laws were abolished a very wholesome and agreeable food would be excluded from the market, and one which, in cases of illness, was constantly asked for as a pleasing change; but which, if this Bill passed, could not be obtained. Viewed in that light, he contended that they were, so far from being injurious to the community, the very reverse.


said, that he had not seen the terms of the Amendment, but he had become acquainted with it from what had been told him; and he should desire, as he generally did, to vote with his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Walter B. Barttelot). But he thought the Amendment was somewhat misleading; and he would, therefore, appeal to his hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw it. One objection that he had was that the Amendment had not been put down on the Paper; and there had, consequently, not been time to consider it. He thought there was no reason for declining to deal with the subject "now," because if the Game Laws were as injurious as the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) asserted, they ought not to hesitate, even in the last Session of an expiring Parliament, to sweep them away; but if, on the other hand, they thought those laws should be retained, but were susceptible of amendment, they ought not to say that now was not the time to amend them. It would be much more expedient to take a division on the Main Question.


observed, that, after the great length at which he had troubled the House, he would not have said a word in reply, had it not been for the special challenge of the hon. Member for Berks (Mr. Walter). That hon. Gentleman had entered into historical and antiquarian research, and had endeavoured to trace to the Danish ancestry of the inhabitants of Leicester the reasons which had made their Representative the special friend of the poacher. He (Mr. P. A. Taylor) must say that if the poachers regarded him as their friend it must be upon the curious ground that he proposed to destroy their industry, and to render their profession impossible for the future. He remembered that, some years ago, a Petition was forwarded to him from Leicester for presentation, against the Game Laws; and he was informed at the time that several well-known professional poachers had declined to sign the Petition on the ground that the abolition of the Game Laws would be the destruction of their industry. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Berks had pointedly asked him, Who could have a better right to kill the game than those who paid for its support? To that he would say, in the first place, that part of his charge was that those who claimed property in the game were often not those who really paid for its maintenance; but beyond that, he would remind the hon. Gentleman that there were many in, and more out of, that House who did not hold with the claim of landowners to do in all respects what they liked with their land; who held that land was not the proper subject for absolute proprietorship; that, in fact, it was held in trust for the advantage of the whole community; and that if it could be shown that in any respect its management was inconsistent with the public advantage, ground sufficient had been shown for change. He congratulated the House and the country upon the evidence that this debate had shown of the great progress that had been made, both in the House and out of it, in regard to this question—hares and rabbits had been given up on all sides. He said "out of it" in consideration of the number of hon. Members who had declared that they would vote for his Resolution, although not agreeing in its terms, thus showing most satisfactorily the importance that their constituencies attached to the abolition of the Game Laws.


said, that after the numerous expressions of opinion in favour of the withdrawal of his Amendment he should be glad to take that course with the leave of the House. [Cries of "No, no!"]

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 160: Majority 73.—(Div. List, No. 32.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'it is not now expedient to deal with the question of the Game Laws' be there added."

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT moved to amend the proposed Amendment by the omission of the word "not." He did so, he said, in order to afford hon. Gentlemen opposite an opportunity of expressing their opinion as to whether it was or was not expedient to amend the Game Laws.


rose to second the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not present when he addressed the House. If he had been, he was sure he would not have conveyed to hon. Members so inaccurate an idea of that which he had really said upon the subject. His opinion was that the Game Laws did require amendment, and it was for that reason that he was prepared to support the Motion which the hon. and learned Gentleman had just made.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "not."—(Sir William Harcourt.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'not' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."


expressed a doubt as to whether there had been anything serious in the debate from beginning to end. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had made an extremely clever and humorous speech, and, knowing his opinion, nobody could doubt the perfect sincerity with which he advocated the somewhat startling conclusions which were embodied in his Motion. Those, however, who supported that Motion, had taken up a somewhat curious position. The hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. D. Davies), for instance, had stated that he would vote for it because there was no harm in it; but his speech was characterized by great good sense. But it remained for the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) to try to turn the whole thing into ridicule. The object of his Amendment was, however, perfectly transparent; and it was unnecessary, he thought, to waste much time in discussing it. He should certainly vote against it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 119: Majority 16.—(Div. List, No. 33.)

Question, That the words 'it in not now expedient to deal with the question of the Game Laws' he added to the word 'That' in the original Question, put, and negatived.