HL Deb 07 March 1825 vol 12 cc937-42

Lord Suffield moved the order of the day for the Committee on the bill to make the setting of Spring-Guns for the protection of Game illegal.

The Duke of Wellington

thought the principle on which the bill was brought in if rightly followed up, would apply to enclosures of all descriptions. If spring-guns were not to be employed for the preservation of game, he could not see why they should be allowed to be set for the protection of roses and apples. He would object to the hill, unless it was extended to all other property as well as to game. With regard to accidents by spring-guns, he believed very few oc- *"I wish all sincere Protestants may love one another, and not make way for Popery by their animosities. I pray God continue the Protestant religion amongst them, that it may flourish so long as the Sun and Moon endure." Howell's State. Trials, Vol. ix. p. 683. curred; and, from all he had heard and observed on the subject, he was inclined to think, that the two cases alluded to the other day by the noble lord who introduced this bill, were the only cases of the kind which could be adduced. The effect of setting spring-guns had been the prevention of poaching, and not the endangering of human life.

Lord Suffield

reminded their lordships, that he had already signified that he had no objection to the introduction of a clause to allow the setting of spring-guns for the protection of property, which it would be felony to invade; but as no such an amendment could be made, except in the committee, he thought it hard that the motion for going into the committee should be opposed. With regard to the number of accidents occasioned by spring-guns, he could assure the noble duke that he was labouring under a great mistake, when he supposed them to be few. He had alluded only to two cases, because they were more immediately within his recollection. One of them in particular was strongly impressed upon his mind by the horror of the circumstances. If this objection continued to be pressed against the bill, he should feel himself called upon to go into details, the recital of which, however, he wished to be spared. As to the principle laid down by the noble duke, he entirely concurred with it. He saw no more reason for protecting cabbages by spring-guns than pheasants. He respected pheasants as well as cabbages, and wished to see them placed on an equal footing.

The Earl of Liverpool

concurred in the principle laid down by his noble friend, that in consistency the bill should apply to other property as well as game. He was himself for carrying that principle to its fullest extent. That a man should be allowed to buy a trap to shoot another, in a case in which he could not directly shoot him, was something extremely preposterous. There was another circumstance in which the state of the law was extremely absurd. If a man went into a garden, and took away a basket full of fruit, he was guilty of felony; but if he went over a wall, and took the fruit from the trees, he was then only guilty of a trespass. Now, there was a great number of fruit-gardens in the neighbourhood of London which would be exposed to depredation, if it were not for the terror of spring-guns. The state of the law re- specting trespassing on enclosed grounds ought to be amended.

The Earl of Westmorland

was for the bill, and would carry the principle to the fullest extent. He would not only exclude spring-guns from enclosed grounds, but even from locked-up places; because innocent persons, attempting to enter in consequence of the key being lost, or from any other cause, might meet with serious accidents. It was not fit that any person living under a well-regulated government, should have the power of setting an engine for the destruction of human life. If the principle of the bill were made to apply generally, it should have his fullest support.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that if the alteration proposed by the noble duke was carried in to effect, nobody in the neighbourhood of London would be able to preserve any fruit. The fear of spring-guns, where they were not actually set, but where a board stated them to be, prevented depredations. But this bill, if carried to the length proposed, would take away the fear. There was a great difference between going into open grounds, and climbing over a wall or entering a hot-house.

The Lord Chancellor

acknowledged the inconsistency and uncertainty of the law with respect to spring-guns. On every occasion on which any question on this subject had come before the courts, the judges, he believed, had been about equally divided. To those who considered the state of the law on this and some other subjects, that maxim which declared it to be "the perfection of human reason" appeared absurd. It certainly was not the perfection of human reason which made it only trespass to take from a tree a pear, and which made the taking the same pear, when separated from the tree, felony. It was his wish, that property should be protected; but he should be sorry to be thought the advocate for spring-guns. There had been no occasion for those engines in former times; but now, when every plantation was turned into a poultry-yard, protection of this kind was thought necessary. A sportsman was now thought nothing of, unless he could kill his thousand birds a-day. But, such a thing had never been heard of in the days of his youth. There were no pheasants in those days, or at least very few, in that part of the country from which he came: some were kept for show, and some were to be found at the seat of the ancestor of the present lord Ravensworth. Now that so many plantations had been made, and so well stocked with pheasants, how could their lordships expect that people who had a taste for game—and he never knew an Englishman who had not—would not go and look for it where it was to be found?—Poaching was the consequence of game being preserved and protected. He, for one, never could defend the practice of setting engines to endanger the life of a fellow-creature for the sake of a partridge or a pheasant.

The Earl of Lauderdale

said, that his noble and learned friend had touched the true source of all the evils. There was no greater grievance under which the people of this country laboured than the game laws. There was no example of such another system of laws in any other country. The noble and learned lord had said that, in former times, he had never heard of the preservation of game. Whether of modern or ancient date, it was one of the greatest grievances under which the people of this country suffered. The game laws had filled our gaols with criminals; increased the number of crimes; and added to their atrocity. The state had created a new species of property to the amount of 800,000,000l, and all those who enjoyed this species of property, were deprived of the right of doing as every Englishman was fond of doing. No owner of this species of property had a right to kill a head of game. In proportion as our debt had increased, so had the temptation to procure game unlawfully increased; and, in the same proportion, had the law been strained to prevent it. The game laws was an evil preying on the vitals of the poorer classes of the people; and if his noble and learned friend could contrive some means of remedying it, he would confer an essential service on the country.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said, he was for legalizing the sale of game, and thought, if the country gentlemen gave up their strong hold on that point, they would relieve themselves from a great deal of obloquy to which they were at present exposed. It would be beneficial to the country to have a law enacted on the subject, which was really meant to be executed. Such he hoped the law would be which was coming from the other House. It ought to be made a law really capable of defending game.

The Earl of Limerick

was in favour of an alteration of the game laws, but was surprised to hear what had fallen from the noble earl, when he recollected what had formerly passed in that House, relative to the sale of game.

The Earl of Carnarvon

explained, that on that occasion he had had on his side the vote of the learned lord on the woolsack, who was, like himself, of opinion, that if the seller was to be held criminal, the purchaser ought to be made equally criminal.

The Earl of Darnley,

alluding to the subject of spring-guns, threw out as a suggestion, that the legality of setting them should be confined to walled grounds.

The Earl of Falmouth

said, that the ground of the opposition to the bill which had been alluded to was, that noble lords who lived at a distance from their estates, wished to have the opportunity of purchasing game.

The Earl of Limerick

said, that the real ground was, a dislike that the same punishment should apply to the rich as well as to the poor. The punishment of the pillory was then in existence, and to that punishment the purchaser might have been liable as well as the seller.

Earl Grosvenor

, from what had passed, and especially what had been said by the noble lord on the wool-sack, was inclined to hope that the bill coming from the other House, on the sale of game, would experience a better reception than the bill of last year. The property of the gardeners in the neighbourhood of the metropolis ought to be protected, because the fruit which they reared was all the property of those poor people. The case was very different with respect to hares and partridges. He would support the bill.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that with regard to extending the principle of the bill to enclosed grounds, a great deal of difficulty arose from the distinction which the law made between trespass and theft; between the act of pulling a tree out of the ground, and taking away a tree which had been previously pulled. A similar distinction was made with respect to the rivers in which salmon were caught. The law had decided, that as salmon were feræ naturæ, the taking them out of the river was only a trespass. He remembered a case of a man who had been prosecuted for stealing salmon out of a river, and acquitted by the jury, on the ground that his offence only amounted to a trespass. A person, however, caught a salmon, and marked it by inserting a twig through its snout. This salmon was put into the river, and being stolen by the same man, he was tried and found guilty, because the salmon was no longer feræ naturæ, but property. The man, if then living, was in Botany Bay, expiating his offence.

Lord Suffield

said, that as it seemed to be the general sense of the House, that the clauses of the bill should be considered in a committee, he moved that it be committed pro formâ.

The House accordingly resolved itself into a committee. The chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again on Monday.