§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 2.
§ (3.12.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I desire to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and, in doing so, desire to say that I have no objection to the preservation of hares in the close season, but I think it is rather strong action for the House of Commons to enact that any farmer who kills a hare during a close season for the protection of his crops should be guilty of a criminal offence. My Amendment would protect the farmers from this hardship, while destroying the interest of the poacher and trader in the killing of hares during close season. The farmer has no means of defending his crops against the ravages of these creatures except by killing them; and surely it is unreasonable that his doing so in close time should be a penal act. I have no sympathy with poachers and dealers who kill at this season for purposes of profit, nor do I think that sporting interests should weigh against the practical interest of the farmer. Kindliness to dumb creatures I recog- 1909 nise; but it is a sentiment that does not apply to circumstances where these creatures are preserved to the loss of the farmer in order that, in the coursing season, they may be run down and killed under circumstances of the greatest cruelty. I think the desired object will have secured by taking away the incentive to kill during the close season for purposes of profit; but I hope the common-sense of the Committee will recognise the justice of allowing the farmer to take the necessary steps to protect his crops from the ravages of these animals.
In page 1, line 12, to leave out all the words after the word "shall," to the word "or," in line lo, and insert the words "sell, offer for sale for money, or any other consideration whatever, any hare or leveret."—(Mr. Esslemont.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'wilfully kill' stand part of the Clause."
§ (3.16.) COLONEL DAWNAY (York, N.R., Thirsk)
I can assure the Committee that, so far from wishing to overthrow the principle of the Ground Game Act of 1880, the promoters of the Bill wish to affirm that principle and to secure to the farmers the privilege granted by that Act, which is now in danger of vanishing altogether. Since the Ground Game Act of 1880 hares have been slaughtered in season and out of season, so much so that in many parts of the country they have almost become extinct. Parliament has passed laws to protect sea birds, singing birds, and even coarse fish; and yet the hare, which is a valuable article of food, and the most defenceless of all British wild animals, is slaughtered all the year round, and at a time when it is totally unfit for food, and when the death of a doe hare involves the lingering death by starvation of one or two leverets. In the market towns of England, Scotland, and Ireland one may often see in the spring time exposed for sale a doe hare dripping with milk or big with young, and by her side wretched leverets no bigger than rats. It is to stop this barbarous cruelty and this wanton waste of food that this Bill is brought in. I hope the Amendment will not be accepted, because, if it is, the Bill will not be worth the paper it is printed on.
§ (3.18.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I waited with interest to know the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on a question affecting the sport and agriculture of the country, and I find the Government represented on this occasion by the Attorney General, and I suppose he is prepared to answer for both. It would have been interesting to see the Minister for Agriculture here, but I suppose his presence is inconvenient, because in 1880, on the Hares Bill, he spoke very strongly, and voted against this very proposition. With every respect for what my hon. Friend says, the Bill does contravene directly the principle of the Act of 1880, which is that the occupier of the land shall deal as he chooses with the ground game for the protection of his crops. Hares are very destructive animals, and the Bill would protect them just when their ravages are at the worst.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Can the right hon. Gentleman maintain that hares do no injury to growing crops from March to July? I have the greatest respect for the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman on agricultural matters, but I can only suppose he can maintain such a proposition on the assumption that all the land in Essex has gone out of cultivation. To say that hares do not commit ravages upon crops in these months is to make an assertion every farmer would laugh at. What, too, becomes of all the recommendations that farmers should turn their attention to raising vegetables? It is the very period when hares ought not to be preserved. I can give an authority for that in the person of a former colleague of the right hon. Gentleman. In 1880, Colonel Ruggles-Brise, a gentleman of great experience in agriculture, proposed that the occupier should be allowed to kill rabbits at all seasons, and to kill and take hares during the months of February, March, and April. The proposal of Colonel Ruggles-Brise was not to allow hares to be killed at other times, but in the months of February, March, and April, because this was the period in which hares are most destructive to the crops of the farmer; and in his speech on that occasion 1911 he declared his opinion that a close time for hares was not necessary. On the same occasion the Minister for Agriculture spoke, and he said if ever the operation of farmers were to undergo a change and market gardening should prevail all over the country, which he did not believe would ever be the case, the objections to the Amendment would be reasonable; but he thought it was undesirable to apply to the whole Bill that which should only apply to exceptional cases. Mr. Rod well, another Representative of the Eastern Counties, and, as many hon. Members know, a great sportsman, expressed an opinion that it was impossible to fix any close time for hares. After that proposal, another was made almost similar to the proposal before the House now, and the present Minister for Agriculture spoke strongly against this proposal and also voted against it. Lord Elcho, the present Lord Wemyss, put the case in a nutshell when he said—If this is a Bill for the preservation of sport, nothing is more reasonable than a close time; hut if it is a Bill to promote good husbandry, there should he no close time.That Amendment was defeated in 1880 by 148 to 58, the right hon. Gentleman and his County Member friends voting in the majority. It is idle for my hon. Friend to say the Bill is not intended to contravene the Act of 1880; it is intended to overthrow it root and branch. The Preamble of that Act gives occupiers the right to protect their crops against the ravages of ground game, and it is in the spring time when crops are coming up that the gnawing down by these animals is most injurious. The desire of country gentlemen to promote the multiplication of hares is interesting, for it shows that agriculture is very flourishing; that crops are so good and prices so high that more hares to eat the crops are desirable lest the farmer should become too prosperous. We have a Conservative Party in Office which has the agricultural interest of the country at heart, and a Minister specially charged with the care of that interest. Why, Sir, they brought under our notice the question of bimetallism; they then introduced a Tithe Bill for the farmers and country gentlemen; and, in the third place——
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I rise to a point of order. I have to ask you, Sir, whether the introduction of the subject of Bi-metallism and the Tithes Bill has anything to do with a measure to provide a close time for hares?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am only using these matters by way of illustrating my contention than the only practical measure of relief for the agricultural interest introduced by Her Majesty's Government this Session is a Bill giving a close time for hares. This, no doubt, is a measure that will be satisfactory to the large farmers and wealthy land owners who are desirous of preserving hares for sport. They say there are too few at present, and it is desirable that they should have more. But I may be allowed to say a word or two for another class who are not rolling in wealth. I allude to the small holders—the men you profess to have so much interest in and to desire to protect. Although the great owners and large farmers may be over whelmed with prosperity—although the farmers of Lincolnshire may be longing for more hares, I must remind the House that, although the Minister for Agriculture has said that market gardening is a thing to be looked down upon, and that it would never extend largely in England, we on this side differ from that opinion, and both hope and believe there will be a great extension of this industry, to which the ravages caused by ground game are a source of very serious injury. The whole of a market gardener's crops may be destroyed by hares, and consequently the question is a serious one. It is, therefore, from this point of view that the Bill ought to be regarded. The question of a few hundred pounds more or less may not be a matter of great importance to the great Lincolnshire farmers, but the question of a few shillings may be the means of determining whether a small holder can maintain his allotment or not. It is upon this issue that the Bill must be judged. In point of fact, everybody knows that this Bill is not one which is really intended to affect the interest of agriculture. It is a sportsman's Bill——
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we are not discussing the Second Reading of 1913 the Bill, but an Amendment dealing with the question of selling hares.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Very well, Sir; I will reserve what I have to say on that point until the proper time has arrived. But I may remind the Committee that there really has been no Second Reading Debate on this Bill at all. The Bill has been pushed—I might almost say smuggled—through the House in the small hours of the morning, and if Bills of this kind are to be passed without any discussion on their merits it will not increase the confidence with which they are regarded. With regard to the question of selling hares, that is directly connected with the subject of the food of the people. The selling of hares depends upon the supply, and I, for one, absolutely deny the statement that there is anything like a scarcity of hares in this country. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members who deny this should state their reasons. I may inform the Committee that when in the North, not many months ago, I was at a place where there had been a big day's sport, and there was a good deal of talk about the number of pheasants they had killed. I said, "I do not want to know anything about the pheasants; tell me about the hares. How many did you kill?" They told me 338.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Lambeth, Brixton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state where this occurred?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, at Lord Durham's. But I should not have mentioned the name had it not been asked for. The question is, are there sufficient hares in the country or are there not? I remember saying to a friend of mine "What do you think of killing upwards of 300 hares in a day?" and he replied, "Well, we can all do that." I say, therefore, if you can all do that, what nonsense it is to say the hare is an extinct animal. You cannot go and kill 300 dodos in a day, and your position as to hares is ridiculous. I have inquired also of a great many friends of mine who indulge in sport in a moderate way, who tell me there is no difficulty round Windsor and in the neighbourhood of London in getting as many hares as they want. I will tell you what this Bill is for, and every-body here knows it. It is because at present the tenant farmers of England do not produce sufficient hares to supply the 1914 coursing meetings. As regards the insufficient supply for other purposes, I absolutely deny the statement. In the neighbourhood where I live I asked a gentleman whether be found a scarcity of hares, and his reply was, "Not at all." It is only where the preservation of ground game is seriously abused that the tenant farmers take advantage of the Ground Game Act, and destroy the hares. You may buy as many hares at the poulterers as ever. I know quite as much about the poulterers' shops as hon. Members opposite, as I have made it my business to study this subject scientifically. There is a large poulterer in London with whom I deal, and through whose means I have eaten through all the hares of Europe. I can tell my hon. Friend opposite that he may buy as many hares as he liked. I have bought a large hare, weighing 121bs., for 2s. Surely that is cheap food. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members say "Oh." It was a Russian hare. I will not affirm that it was very good, but it was nourishing. It is nonsense to say you must be able to eat up the crops of the small gardeners and allotment holders in order to provide food for the people, when it is a well-known fact that foreign hares come into our markets from America, Belgium, Russia, Austria, and Hungary by hundreds of thousands, and they are just as good hares as our English hares. ["No!"] Well, that is a matter of taste. I have eaten Russian hares, Austrian hares, and Hungarian hares, and they are exactly the same as the English hares. Therefore, all this outcry about the food of the people is sheer nonsence, and everybody knows it.
§ COLONEL DAWNAY
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, but he has mistaken our point. We say that the killing of doe hares in milk, and when unfit for food, is brutality, and our aim is to stop that brutality by means of this measure.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Brutality! That, it seems, is the only point the sporting gentlemen care about. We can all understand the kindly heartedness which sees a hare torn to pieces by greyhounds for sport—the humanity of those who hear the screams of the wounded hare at the cover side, and yet are shocked at the brutality of shooting the 1915 animal. To my mind, one of the most shocking things I know of is to hear the screaming of a wounded hare, but hon. Members opposite want more hares to scream, and nothing shows this more than the interruption of the hon. Gentleman. I would ask him how many do hares are there with young in the month of July 1 I wonder that hon. Gentlemen can endeavour to persuade the House to extend protection to hares on so preposterous a proposition. Do hon. Gentlemen on the other side assert that July is a month in which hares are generally with young? Everybody knows that July is the month in which we eat leverets.
§ COLONEL DAWNAY
I said from February to the beginning of August, but, of course, they mostly breed in March and April.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I only wanted to see how far these sporting gentlemen would go. Everybody knows the phrase "Mad as a March hare," and really some hon. Members in their zeal in this Bill seem to resemble March hares.
§ MR. WHARTON (Ripon)
The Bill only proposes protection up to the 1st of July. We are not now dealing with July.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture will stand at the Table, and say June is a breeding month for hares, I shall be bound to believe him, and also to believe the Pope on a question of dogma. I say that this is not a Bill for promoting the sale of hares as food. It is a Bill for the promotion of coursing meetings, where bags of hares are turned out to be run down by dogs. I should like to hear whether the Minister of Agriculture is prepared vehemently to support this Bill. I want to hear his statement of the views entertained by the Government on the subject. For my part, I am speaking in the interests of the holders of allotments and small farms. Everybody knows that the question affecting hares differs totally from the question of rabbits——
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I rise to order. I must ask you, Mr. Courtney, whether the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is directed to the Amendment, which is simply to insert hares that are sold instead of hares being killed. Is not this in reality a Second Reading speech?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I submit, Sir, that the question of selling hares relates to the production of hares, and, therefore, I am entitled to argue whether or not there is an increase of the hares that are to be sold.
The whole argument so far has been directed to the offence of selling and not the offence of killing, and should be confined to that question.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not exactly understand the distinction. I should imagine, according to the old precept, "You must first catch your hare," the selling of hares has relation to the catching of hares, and the principal question is: Are there enough hares to catch in order that they may be sold. I hold that there are abundance of hares in this country for all legitimate purposes; that this Bill is a sportsman's Bill, which will inflict injustice on the small occupiers throughout the Kingdom, by depriving them of the right to kill hares on their own property, and to sell them, and, under these circumstances, I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ (3.50.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
After a speech of nearly half an hour just delivered by the right hon. Gentleman, I will only detain the House a few moments, confining myself to such of his remarks as were relevant to the Amendment. I should not have troubled the House but for the somewhat sneering observations at the commencement of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I do not see why the Attorney General should not express his opinion on this matter as well as an ex-Solicitor General or ex-Home Secretary, and certainly after the speech we have just heard I should not have the slightest objection to enter into a competitive examination with the right hon. Gentleman either in natural history or agriculture. One of the main arguments of the right hon. Gentleman has been that market gardens will spread, and that 1917 hares will eat up the produce. I think that the right hon. Gentleman might have read the Bill.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words myself, and I am in the recollection of those who heard the earlier part of the right hon Gentleman's speech, in which he referred to market gardens. He quoted a speech from Hansard in which my right hon. Friend referred to market gardens. Such is the memory of the right hon. Gentleman ! He does not remember what he said a few minutes ago. There is a distinct provision in the Bill that it should not apply to hares and leverets inside nursery or other gardens, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's observation——
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
It is a matter of recollection to those who have been in the House during the last half-hour.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I never referred to market gardens, except so far as the words were included in the quotation. No statement of my own I gave referred to anything except small holdings.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I am unable to accept the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman, but I will not continue to debate the matter. The point which we are now discussing is whether or not hares are to be sold, and we have heard a great deal of useful information about the breeding time of hares. The Bill only proposes a close time up to the 1st of July, so that the right hon. Gentleman has not even read the Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that during those months doe hares are with young, and that young hares, when the mother is killed, often die a cruel and lingering death without doing good to anyone? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he has eaten Russian hares, and that they are quite as good as English hares—and apparently they must be most nourishing food, but I do not think that in his own house, at all events, the right hon. Gentleman would eat a doe 1918 hare killed in March or April, or if he did he would not do it a second time. Then we have heard about the seeds coming up. As a matter of fact, nine tenths of the wheat comes up in the autumn. Perhaps in his part of the country crops come up at a different time. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill is a direct infraction of the Ground Game Act during particular months. There might be something in his argument, but for 8½ months in the year the farmer is free to shoot and catch hares, and I ask, is there anyone who will deny that if the farmer wishes to keep the hares down he cannot do it in those 8½ months? As I understand it, there is no complaint on the part of tenant farmers at not being allowed to kill hares during the proposed close time. The right hon. Gentleman has told us of his distinguished friends who have killed large bags of hares, but the right hon. Gentleman has not given his personal experience of the agricultural counties, where there are large numbers of tenants occupying the land without large preserves. I apologise for intruding on the House, feeling, as I do, that I ought not to have addressed it, having regard to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I hope and trust that the Amendment will be discussed on its merits, and that those topics which have no bearing upon the matter will not be gone into.
§ (4.2.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I hope it is not difficult to discuss a question of this kind without warmth even on such a warm day. I desire to say that in supporting this Bill I am only carrying out the views of agriculturists in my own neighbourhood. It does not repeal a single word of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby's Bill. I have taken no part out of the House in the agitation on this question, but I am familiar with agriculture in my own part of the country, and I know that in the wide district of the North-Riding of Yorkshire, known as the Cleveland district, every farmer but one supports the Bill—and the exception is a coursing man who wants the power of killing hares all the year round. There are good reasons for supporting the provisions of the Bill. They will not 1919 cause the farmer any inconvenience, for with a close time, commencing 15th of March or 1st of April, he will have ample time during the period when hares ought to be killed, in which to destroy every hare that is likely to prey on his crops. I venture to say that on any farm within seven days of the 15th of March you could put down every surplus hare you are not desirous of having there. This seems to me a very simple and natural Bill, commending itself to every naturalist and every humanitarian. It is really the best compliment that could be paid to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darby, because it shows that the right hon. Gentleman's Bill has worked so hardly on hares as almost to cause them in many places to become extinct.
§ (4.4.) SIR H. SELWIN-IBBETSON
After the speech we have just listened to I do not suppose I should have troubled the House with any remarks on the question, if it had not been for the very pointed reference made to me by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite. I will not, after your ruling, Sir, follow the right hon. Gentleman's discursive speech, but I may say that what struck me more than anything else in that speech was that the New Forest must be a very happy hunting ground, because the right hon. Gentleman's experience of it enables him to set his knowledge of agriculture and field sports, and his views not only of agriculturalists but of small holders generally throughout the country, against the opinion of everybody else. Speaking now for a very large body of agriculturists in the county of Essex, I can say that the Bill is a very necessary one, if any hares are to be preserved. I do not wish to enter into competition with the right hon. Gentleman opposite in legal knowledge, but, seeing that I have the misfortune to hold in my own hands 1,600 to 2,000 acres of land, I think I may place my experience in agricultural matters against that of the right hon. Gentleman. The mouths mentioned in the Bill, which have been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman as the months in which the greatest damage to crops will ensue, are not looked upon in that light by agriculturists generally. We have, at least, an 1920 equal knowledge with the right hon. Gentleman of the rotation of crops, and also of their growth, and we have had experience of the time when they are most destroyed, and I venture to say that the months selected by the right hon. Gentleman are not those in which most damage is done.
§ SIR H. SELWIN-IBBETSON
When Colonel Ruggles-Brise expressed his opinion he was speaking from the point of view of the opposition that was raised to an Amendment. Remember that the proposal of the Bill had not been tried by the country, and I venture to say that if Colonel Ruggles-Brise were now in the House, he would agree with me in the view I am expressing as to the opinion of the farmers of Essex. Agriculturists have had experience of the Act of the light hon. Gentleman, and they have come to the conclusion that that Act has practically destroyed a species of game to which farmers attach considerable importance. No doubt, in the days before the passing of that Act, farmers who looked upon hares as the property of the landlords regarded them with considerable jealousy, but now that they have the power of dealing with that property themselves they are quite as much in favour of the alteration in the law now proposed as the landlords. I confess I admired the knowledge the right hon. Gentleman had acquired from the poulterers' shops, but allow me to say that although we may have most delicious hares imported from foreign countries, there is no denying the fact that in this country the hare is practically becoming extinct, certainly all over the counties of which I have any knowledge, and I venture to say that the price of hares in the market will fully confirm that view. If the Amendment is passed the Bill will have no effect in checking the destruction of hares at the time when they ought to be protected. By this Bill you will not deprive the farmer of any opportunity he may wish to have of destroying these animals, and I am certain that the farmers of the country will infinitely prefer that the Bill should pass in its entirety than that it should be mutilated by this Amendment.
§ (4.13.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
No doubt the Bill is a violation of the compromise arrived at on the passing of the Ground Game Act, when, on the one hand, the farmer obtained the right to kill hares and rabbits all the year round, and, on the other hand, certain restrictions were imposed upon his mode of killing him—which restrictions have proved very inconvenient, especially in the case of rabbits. To a certain extent I sympathise with the Bill, but I do not think there is really any scarcity of hares, though that is one of the chief arguments adduced for opposing the Amendment. I do not think that the price of hares is sensibly higher than before the Ground Game Act was passed. There is no doubt that in some parts of the country hares are now as plentiful as ever they were, or, at least, as plentiful as they should be, whilst in other parts they, no doubt, are scarce. They always were scarce in some places. It does not always depend upon the killing as to the number of hares there are in a district, but the food there is for them. The Amendment meets the case of hares being with young being exposed in poulterers' shops. Such an abuse will be prohibited if the Amendment is adopted, and I think the hon. Member in charge of the Bill would do well to accept the proposal. The Game Acts will deal with the case of poachers and unauthorised persons. If the large farmers want to preserve hares they can do so. Let them prevent poachers from trespassing on their lands; and as to the smaller farmers, I am convinced they do not want this Bill. They do not like to be interfered with by a new Game Act. I hope the lion. Member in charge of the Bill will be disposed to accept the Amendment. I think it meets the case, and will prevent hares from being exposed in shops during the breeding season. As far as the cultivators of farms are concerned, I think they have power enough to preserve hares to the extent they desire.
§ (4.19.) MR. CHAPLIN
I wish to say a few words in support of the very moderate and reasonable speech addressed to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Sir H. Selwin-Ibbetson), because I think the great majority of the House is in favour of 1922 making progress with the Bill, and of passing it into law as soon as possible. I do not intend to quarrel with the character or motives of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) or to deal with the various topics he raised, although I am bound to say it offers a most tempting theme for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman questioned altogether the accuracy of my hon. and learned Friend's (the Attorney General's) recollection as to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman introduced into his speech arguments in support of market gardens. I may say I took down his words at the time, and I turned to my hon. and learned Friend, and said, "Half his argument is entirely answered by the Bill itself, because Clause I provides that the measure shall not apply to nurseries or other gardens."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, he will see I have put down on the Paper an Amendment to add to the word "gardens" the words "small holdings."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman meant, but, in justice to my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, I felt bound to tell the Committee what took place. This is a Bill to provide a close time for hares. The Amendment which has been moved would, in my opinion, only have the effect of making the Bill considerably weaker than it is at present. The right hon. Gentleman supported the Amendment, he said, in the interest of the farmers, and the hon. Member who has just sat down expressed the opinion that, in the view, at all events, of the small farmers the Bill is objectionable. I do not know the grounds on which the hon. Member has formed that opinion, hut I have endeavoured to ascertain the opinions of farmers of all descriptions, and I find precisely the opposite view prevailing. I believe there is a very general desire that the Bill should pass without material alteration. Farmers now enjoy the right of killing hares, and, very naturally, do not wish that they should become extinct—a consummation which does not appear to be very far distant at the present time in many parts of the country. Surely, this is a very reasonable and moderate Bill, and, whether we agree or disagree with it, I think we 1923 have a right to ask that the Amendments may be discussed in a reasonable, concise, and business-like manner, and that Members who oppose the Bill will not resort to those reprehensible tactics to which recourse is sometimes had for the purpose of defeating Bills. With reference to the argument that crops will be damaged during the proposed close time, it is enough to point out that the present Amendment would not obviate the possibility of such damage. There are other Amendments on the Paper which, I think, are very fully deserving of consideration, and to which I am sure Gentlemen sitting behind me will give full consideration. Under these circumstances I hope the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) will re-consider his position and use his great influence for the purpose of inducing his friends to consider the Bill in a fair and reasonable manner.
§ (4.25.) MR. GURDON (Norfolk, Mid)
In my part of the country I believe the Bill is supported by owners of land, occupiers of land, agricultural labourers, and even those other gentlemen who live by taking hares in an indirect way. In fact, the feeling in favour of the Bill is practically unanimous. We do not entirely agree with the limits of the close time fixed in the Bill, and I certainly should have liked to see adopted an Amendment which was placed on the Paper, but has been withdrawn, for leaving the counties to fix the close time for themselves. I hope, however, the House will accept the Bill.
§ (4.26.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
During the last few months I have tried by visiting various poulterers' shops in London to find out whether it is true that hares are exposed for sale when in milk. I have been told at shop after shop that such a thing is never seen, and that the credit of any poulterer who did it would be absolutely destroyed. Accordingly, if any poulterers are engaged in this practice, I think they will certainly not be a good class of tradesmen, and I think that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Aberdeeen (Mr. Esslemont) ought to meet with the complete assent of Members on both sides of the House. What is the use of inserting the words, "shall wilfully kill"? If you meet poachers in the country with hares in 1924 their possession, can you say they have wilfully killed them? Some one else may have done it. What you should do is to saddle the right horse by making it illegal for a tradesman to sell a hare that is in young or has recently been in young. For my own part, I think there is a great deal too much fuss made about this matter. I can easily understand sporting gentlemen who take a pleasure in coursing—which I consider to be a very cruel sport—doing their best to promote the multiplication of hares. Practically speaking, hares are cheaper in this country than they are in Ireland. Although this very law exists in Ireland in a greater degree than you are now trying to impose it on England, hares are to-day cheaper in London than in Dublin or Cork. I agree with the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) about hares eating the green crops in Spring, and I certainly do not see why cultivators of the soil should not kill hares at that time. Hon. Members opposite will, in my oppinion, do wisely if they accept this Amendment, with the exception of one word in it—I mean the word "leveret." I do not think people will expose leverets for sale when very young. If a leveret be two months old I do not see why it should not be sold or why it should not be legally killed.
The question whether leverets should be included will come up for discussion subsequently.
§ DR. TANNER
I shall certainly oppose the Bill unless the principle embodied in the Amendment of my hon. Friend is adopted.
(4.35.) SIR J. KENNAWAT (Devon, Honiton)
It is said this measure is not desired by small farmers. I come from a county of small farmers, and a few months ago I had the honour of presenting a Petition to the House signed by between 7,000 and 8,000 persons connected with the land, in favour of this Bill. Amongst the petitioners were landowners, large farmers, small farmers, and labourers. It has been asked, Why cannot those who wish to see a stop put to the shooting or killing of hares agree not to destroy hares? The fact is, that when a man sees his neighbour killing hares, he does not like to be placed under a disability not to kill them; it is hard for him to restrain himself. With refer- 1925 ence to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) I may point out there is an Act for the Preservation of Hares in Ireland. That Act was passed in 1879, and it enacts that any person who wilfully kills or wounds a hare between a given period shall forfeit for every such hare a sum of money not exceeding £1.
§ (4.37.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I will not detain the Committee at any length, but I must remind the hon. Baronet that the Irish Act which had just been passed was fully in mind at the time the Ground Game Act was passed in 1880. This is a question for small owners; the large men can take care of themselves. The hon. Baronet says ho represents small holders, but he seems to have a strange opinion of the moral strength of small holders. He says small holders are anxious to preserve the hares, but they will not combine not to kill them for fear their neighbours might kill them.
§ SIR J. KENNAWAY
I did not say that. I said that if one man sees another killing hares it is difficult for him to restrain himself.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If one man does what he ought not to do all the rest of the Devonshire people will do so! I should be sorry to say that of my constituents. I should have thought that if one man kills hares when the rest of the farmers wish to preserve them it would be a very good thing to introduce the Irish system of boycotting, and then he would not kill hares any more. Now, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Essex (Sir H. Selwin-Ibbetson) says he has a farm of 1,600 acres in his own hands, and he makes a good profit.
§ SIR H. SELWIN-IBBETSON
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman when he puts words into my mouth which I never uttered. I imagine that I have more experience of agriculture than the right hon. Gentleman, and I have not experienced the success he seems to anticipate.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then the right hon. Baronet does not make a profit, and he wants hares in order to make farming profitable. But that was not the point to which my remark was about to be addressed. I was about to say that I cannot understand how a man who farms 1,600 acres cannot have hares if he wants them.
§ SIR H. SELWIN-IBBETSON
I am sorry to again interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I have a few hares on my own property, but I spoke in the interest and as the mouthpiece of the farmers of Essex, who at present complain that they have none.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then the right hon. Baronet has a few hares on his own property, which, no doubt, go for the food of the people. All I can say is that if the farmers of Essex are as anxious to preserve hares as the right hon. Baronet they would have no difficulty any more than he has in preserving them if they chose. I refer to small farmers, and there is one thing which makes small farmers object to this Bill. This Bill introduces a new Game Law on small men's lands, under the pretence or justification of looking after hares in the close time. The gamekeeper will always be upon the ground of the small man. [Ironical laughter.] You may laugh, but that is the pith of the whole question, and I venture to say that I know as much about the feeling of these small owners as you do. I know that what they more dislike than anything else is the sort of warrant this Bill will give to the gamekeeper to be always upon their promises to see what they are doing, although the purpose alleged is to see whether or not they are killing hares in close time. The great advantage the small holders received under the Bill of 1880 was that they got rid of the gamekeeper [Cries of "No, no," and "Pheasants," "Partridges."] Yes, but in many places there was no question of pheasants and partridges. The gamekeeper was always on their land looking after the ground game. This Bill is a warrant to the gamekeeper to be always on their ground, and that is what the small farmers object to. I think you are making a great mistake in this matter. Under this Bill you will have to enforce penalties, and if you enforce penalties against a man for killing a hare on his own land, whether for sale or otherwise, you create an amount of discontent and disturbance in the country, of the consequence of which you can have no conception. I can understand a private Member introducing a Bill of this kind, but I cannot understand the Government 1927 taking upon themselves the responsibility of creating a new Game Law. I for one shall do whatever I can to prevent this Bill passing into law.
§ COLONEL DAWNAY
May I appeal to the Committee to go to a Division at once. It is quite impossible for the promoters of the Bill to accept this Amendment. I feel it would cut the heart out of the Bill. What is the use of a close time if you allow people to kill hares all through the close time?
§ (4.48.) MR. ESSLEMONT
I think I have received exceedingly little encouragement and very scant justice from the promoters of this Bill. I am desirous that this Bill should pass, in order that poachers and others may not make it a matter of gain to kill hares at a season when hon. Gentlemen wish to preserve hares. But I am desirous, on the other hand, that that should be made possible without outraging the feelings of those people who we ought to respect more than any others. The tenant farmer at present has a proprietary right in these creatures, and you have said that he desires to preserve them. If he desires to preserve them he will preserve them. I deny that farmers will kill hares inhumanly, and I protest most strongly against adopting this reactionary measure, and inventing the new crime suggested. Tenant farmers have enough to do to contend with the agricultural difficulty without being brought within the meshes of the law in regard to the killing of game during a certain season. My hon. Friend (Dr. Farquharson) who represents the Western Division of Aberdeenshire and myself represent 11,000 agricultural holders. There is no scarcity of hares, and these people do not want this Bill. They want to be put on their honour, as the landlord is to take fair care of these creatures in a regular and proper way. We are told there will be no destruction of crops. I am a small farmer, and I could take the President of the Board of Agriculture to a spot where, during the very months you propose to preserve hares, I had an acre and a half of barley eaten up by hares. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Rabbits.] No, not rabbits. I have lived as many years amongst farmers as the right hon. Gentleman, and I know the difference between hares and rabbits. Now, it has been proved beyond contradiction that 1928 since the passing of the Ground Game Act hares have been cheaper in the market than before, and, therefore, the food of the people is not the question at all. It is said that if we do not pass this Bill farmers will kill hares wantonly and inhumanly. I do not believe it. No such calumny can be hurled against the farming classes. What we want to get at is the poacher, who cares nothing about cruelty or anything else if he can make money out of killing these creatures. If you will not accept this reasonable Amendment, and not allow the farmers to have the proprietary interest in hares that they have now, you will only defeat your Bill. In its present shape the Bill is purely reactionary. It amounts to a breach of the agreement which is working so well between farmers and the proprietors with regard to ground game, and I protest against any one attributing to me any motive other than the most humane in the Amendment I have proposed.
I think this particular question has been fully discussed, and, therefore, I should have no hesitation in putting the Motion if necessary, but it seems to me undesirable to resort to that procedure when it can be avoided, and I therefore hope the Committee will now agree to divide on the Amendment.
I have pointed out that, if necessary, I would not decline to put the Motion. I think the subject has been adequately discussed, and if hon. Gentlemen continue the discussion, I shall have no option but to put the Motion.
§ DR. TANNER
I merely rose for the purpose of moving that you report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ (4.56.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I think we may now fairly go to a Division upon the Amendment. We ought to avoid the use of the Closure as much as we can. Gentlemen opposite would gain nothing by it, because we should have two divisions instead of one.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ (5.0.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 231; Noes 101.—(Div. List, No. 157.)
§ Question put accordingly.
§ (5.10.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 239; Noes 130.—(Div. List, No. 158.)
§ (5.25.) MR. BARCLAY
The object of the Amendment I have on the Paper is to except from punishment under the Act cases in which hares and leverets are killed by accident. We know how the existing Game Laws have boen interpreted by a good many Justices, and Iam afraid that as the Act now stands, a farmer might he held responsible if a hare were killed by an agricultural implement such as a mowing machine when at work. I have no fault to find with the administration of the Game Act in Scotland by the Sheriffs' substitutes, but I should like to provide against possibilities such as I have indicated. I hope my hon. Friend will accept the Amendment, and thus save the time of the House.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 2, page 1, line 12, after the word "kill" to insert the word "or."
§ Question proposed, "That the word "or" be there inserted."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ It being half an hour after Five of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday next.