§ The order of the day was moved for committing the-Spring-Guns bill.
said, that, previously to going into the order of the day, he wished to, present for a first reading a bill intituled "An act for making feloniously stealing vegetable productions larceny." This bill was occasioned by the conduct which had been pursued the other night by the noble duke, who, acting with more zeal than discretion, proposed a clause for prohibiting the setting of spring-guns in gardens. Their lordships would recollect, that this was going beyond the object of the bill he had introduced; the provisions of which extended only to plantations, and places for the preservation of game. The clause of the noble duke would, however, put the question on a very different ground from that in which he wished to place it; as it went to the total abolition of spring-guns in every case. He must again say, that he was sorry the noble duke's zeal had carried him thus far, because, if he should succeed in introducing his clause, it would induce many noble lords to oppose the passing of the bill. Though the noble duke was accustomed to scenes of horror, no one would presume that he had therefore become hardened to human suffering. Neither did he mean to accuse him of acting with insincerity in this business; but the argument which had been used in support of the clause certainly was a most strange and inconsistent one, as it had for its foundation the fewness of the accidents which the noble duke alleged arose from the use of spring-guns. Now, that there was little risk of an innocent person being injured by spring-guns could scarcely be an argument for prohibiting their use in enclosed gardens. Supposing, however, that the noble duke were insincere, then he must acknowledge that human ingenuity could not have fallen on a better mode of defeating the bill. He was unwilling to attribute any thing unhandsome to the noble duke. It did, however, seem, that that noble person was practising a ruse de guerre; which was certainly quite in his own way, but which hardly ought to be carried on in parliament in such a case as the present. The number of accidents occasioned by spring-guns set in plantations was notoriously great; and though the noble duke was 1015 just the man to stand in the breach where danger was, he hoped he would not throw himself into the breach to defend spring-guns. To employ artifice to defeat the bill, was not what he should expect from the noble duke. If that noble person now resorted to artifice, when did he learn to employ it? He could see no traces of it in his conduct on other occasions. At all events he must have acquired it since the date of the Convention of Cintra which he had signed at the head of a victorious army. He hoped, however, that the noble duke would not insist on carrying a clause which would defeat the object of the bill. With regard to the bill he now proposed for a first reading, if it should be agreed to by their lordships, it would then become his duty to introduce another, for prohibiting the use of spring-guns in gardens. As to the frequent occurrence of accidents by spring-guns, that was a fact which could not be doubted. During the last week he had received an immense number of letters, the writers of which expressed their astonishment that the noble duke should be ignorant of the mischief done by spring-guns. Three cases had recently come to his knowledge; but he would not at present trouble their lordships with the details.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, he did not rise to defend himself against any insinuations which the noble lord had thrown out respecting transactions in which he had been engaged — insinuations which were perfectly unparliamentary [hear, hear]. He said perfectly unparliamentary, as they had no relation to the subject under the consideration of their lordships, but to his conduct before he was a member of that House. To such insinuations, he would make no reply. But; with regard to the bill in question, he must say, that he did think it contained a very unfair insinuation against country gentlemen, who might wish to preserve their game by spring-guns, rather than by gamekeepers, because the latter mode was not so consistent with their fortune as it might be with that of the noble lord opposite. He thought it was not right for the House to suffer such an insinuation of cruelty against the country gentlemen to pass. That he did intend to oppose the bill when he came down the other day, he would not deny; but, when he heard the statement of legal authorities made by the noble lord on moving the second reading, he reconsidered his opinion, and 1016 came to the conclusion, that if the principle was right, it ought to be extended further. On the meeting of the House he had stated, that he would propose the very measere which he had moved in the committee; and, if he was not greatly mistaken, the noble lord then said he had no objection to it in principle. He wished to deal fairly with the noble lord, and would tell him, that if the bill were made applicable to garden grounds, it would be lost; but that was no affair of his. The fault was theirs who introduced a measure of such a nature, that when it was proposed to extend the principle, it was found to be so unfair that it could not be applied beyond an individual case. Whenever the measure came to be considered in the committee, he should insist upon its being made applicable to all enclosures on this principle, that small country gentlemen should not be deprived of the only means they had of protecting their game.
hoped their lordships would allow him to vindicate himself against the charge of having done any thing unparliamentary. In the discussion of a public measure, he thought it perfectly fair to urge the argument which he had employed; the tendency of which was to show, that if the noble duke was taking a by-way in order to defeat the present measure, such a course was not to be expected from him, and that an open opposition would be more consistent with his character. As to what the noble duke had said of the necessity of spring-guns for preserving the game of country gentlemen, that reminded him of his having often heard the same arguments in private; but he must say, that he allowed it little weight. He should be sorry if what he said gave any offence in the quarter he alluded to; but it did appear to him, that country gentlemen not being able to preserve game legally, was no reason for permitting them to preserve it. illegally.
suggested, that the measure should be confined to prohibiting setting spring-guns, except during the' night, and at certain distances from the public road. With these limitations, the bill might be made general. There was some difficulty in knowing where to stop, and how to distinguish between covers, orchards, and gardens. He bad never set spring-guns himself, and never would.
The Earl of Liverpool
observed, that 1017 the first bill to which the noble lord had called the attention of the House was that which proposed to make stealing in gardens larceny, and to the motion for reading that bill a first time he had no objection. The noble lord had also given notice of his intention to bring in another bill, to prohibit the setting of spring-guns in gardens. He certainly could not see much reason for shooting a man for stealing fruit, any more than for stealing pheasants, and he was therefore in favour of the prohibition; but he thought that the better way of accomplishing this object would be that suggested by his noble friend; namely, the ingrafting a clause on the other bill, which was to be committed.
wished their lordships to consider, as they had all agreed to the principle of the measure, whether it would not be better to pass the bill in the form in which it had been originally introduced, than with the amendment of the noble duke. Those who thought with the noble earl, that the principle of the bill should be extended, might then give their support to the bill for prohibiting spring-guns in gardens, which his noble friend had promised to introduce. He hoped their lordships would not, by adopting the amendment, defeat a measure, the principle of which they universally approved.
The Marquis of Salisbury
did not see the expediency of having separate bills, when all the points might be incorporated into one enactment. He thought that amendments might be introduced for enabling gardeners to protect their property without endangering the lives of his majesty's subjects. As to the measure proposed by a noble earl for setting spring-guns only in the night time, he did not consider that it could be attended with the desired effect, for great depredations might be committed in the open day
, in reference to the debate of a former night, observed, that his course of proceeding had been misunderstood by some noble lords. It was then proposed to extend the principle of the Spring-gun bill to gardens; but to obviate this difficulty in the progress of that bill, he promised to bring in a specific bill for the protection of gardens. This promise, as their lordships now saw by the bill just read a first time, he had endeavoured to perform. He could also lay before their lordships, if necessary, a statement of the law relative to gardens; some of the absurdities of which had been described on 1018 a former evening by the learned lord on the woolsack, and also by the noble earl at the head of his majesty's government, He put it to their lordships, whether the bill ought not to be read a first time and then left on the table, as an earnest of that more general system of legislation which was in contemplation.
§ The Duke of Wellington
begged to remind the noble lord, that he had opposed neither the second reading of the bill, nor its going into a committee, and as yet he had not heard any opposition to the clauses which he moved to be included in it. The noble lord would find, on investigating the matter, that many accidents had been prevented by these instruments, and much property saved from depredation. If country gentlemen were deprived of the use of them, they must employ more gamekeepers and watchmen to protect their property, which would be attended with greater expense and with a greater loss of life.
thought, that if upon any occasion it had been expedient for the House to negative the first reading of a bill, the present was one which seemed more particularly to invite that course. He had no doubt that the loss of human life would be much greater after the bill should have passed, than it could be under the state of things which existed at present. If their lordships had resolved to legislate against all the accidents by which the lives of men were endangered, there could be no limit to the task they had undertaken. He believed that the number of fatal accidents which happened every year from the careless laying about of loaded guns, without the most remote intention of doing mischief, was far greater than those which happened from spring-guns. He wished, at least, that some exception should be made in favour of such places as were surrounded by continued fences, and which, therefore, could not be entered under any misapprehension, nor indeed with any but a felonious intent. The gardens in the neighbourhood of London principally owed their security to the engines which were set in them; and, whatever might be said in favour of the principle of the bill, he had no doubt that its practical consequence would be, to lay the whole of those gardens in particular open to the depredations of the thieves with which London abounded.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, that the 1019 subject was one which required the attentive consideration of their lordships, and wished that a general bill should he brought in to embrace the whole of the objects which it was intended to effect by the several measures at present before the House. In order to accomplish this, he would suggest to the noble mover, the propriety of contenting himself with having the bill now read for the first time, and postponing the committee, by which an opportunity would be afforded for the consolidation he recommended.
The Lord Chancellor
thought that, whatever might be the advantages of the consolidation suggested by the noble lord, they could all be obtained by means of such alterations as might seem necessary in the committee. The law as it stood afforded some protection to the owners of gardens and orchards. By an act, as old as the reign of queen Elizabeth, robbing orchards was made an offence; but, owing to the youth of the persons by whom it was most commonly committed, the provisions of that act were rarely carried into effect. An act of the late king had provided against trespasses committed in gardens, by subjecting the offenders, in the first instance, to a penalty of 40s.; in the second, of 5l.; and in the third, to transportation. Still, however, it seemed desirable that the law upon these points should be made more clear and simple; and to effect this an opportunity would now be afforded, if it should be their lordships' pleasure to go into the committee.
thought, that none of the objections which had been urged should induce the House to refuse the committee. It was acknowledged on all sides, that there were many difficulties in the way, which his noble friend had endeavoured to remove by the several bills he had now brought and intended to bring in. If it should appear in the committee, that the same object could be gained by a less cumbrous mode of legislation, and that the difficulties could be removed with equal certainty, his noble friend would, he was sure, readily acquiesce in any measure which the committee might be enabled to discover. At all events, their lordships would, by this means, be put in possession of all the points of the subject; and the result would probably be, that some plain and simple enactment would be agreed upon.
The bill was then read a first time. After which, the House resolved itself into 1020 a committee on the bill brought in on a former occasion.
The Earl of Liverpool
, in accordance with what had fallen from him on this and a former evening, moved an amendment,. in order to render needless one of the bills brought by lord Suffield, by rendering the measure against the setting of spring-guns and steel traps in game preserves, general, and making it illegal to place them in gardens, orchards, and nursery-grounds, for the protection of property.
contended, that gardens, orchards, and nursery-grounds, ought to be excepted from the operation of the bill, inasmuch as the owners of property in them had no other means of protecting it, but by destructive engines of this sort, set rather in terrorem, than with the intention to inflict bodily injury.
wished the bill to continue in its original shape. If it were altered as proposed, he feared it would not pass the other House of parliament.
was of opinion, that the owners of gardens, orchards, and nursery-grounds, were entitled to some protection.' If it were not given them by making stealing in them larceny, he thought that within walls, or where the fences were sufficient, they ought to be allowed to set spring-guns and steel-traps.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
supported the amendment for making the law general, and not applicable merely to game preserves.
The Earl of Liverpool
added, that his reason for making the law general was clear. Steel-traps and spring-guns endangering life, were not a proper protection for property, and therefore he wished that their use in all situations should be discontinued.
§ The committee then divided on the earl of Liverpool's amendment. For the amendment 28; Against it 5; Majority 23. It was accordingly carried.