HL Deb 20 May 1845 vol 80 cc589-93
Lord Campbell

said, he had the honour to be entrusted with petitions from the Dunfermline district and the Kirkaldy district of Cupar, in refer- ence to the Game Laws; and he felt it his duty very shortly to state to their Lordships the grievances of which the petitioners complained. He was not going to enter into any general history of the Game Laws; but on a subject of such importance, he thought it desirable that their Lordships should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion. The first grievance which the petitioners complained of with respect to the Game Laws was, that they were most oppressive to the tenant farmers. In that respect he could not agree with the petitioners. He thought that this was not in the slightest degree a question between landlord and tenant. So far the question was settled by contract; the lease provided for the rights over the game which the landlord was to enjoy, and it was the fault of the tenant himself if he did not stipulate for the protection which he thought necessary for the proper cultivation of his farm. It appeared to him that there had been a great deal of delusion and unfounded clamour on that subject. It had been said, that the system which now prevailed in Great Britain was very much the same as that which prevailed in France before the Revolution; but he could not at all admit that such was the case. If they were to sweep away all Game Laws, the same system as regarded landlord and tenant might still continue. The landlord might still say that he would not let his farm unless his game were allowed to feed unmolested; and the tenant might say that he would not take it unless compensation were given to him for the injury committed. With respect to the second grievance complained of, namely, the injury done to the community by the Game Laws, he thought the petitioners had reason on their side. When so many convictions for poaching, so many encounters between poachers and gamekeepers, and so many murders had taken place, it must be allowed that the serious attention of the Government should be directed to the determining whether some amendment in the law could not be devised. This was a growing evil. In the year 1811, there were 3,000 game convictions; the annual number now very nearly reached 5,000. From 1833 to 1843, there were 42 instances of homicide in encounters between poachers and gamekeepers; of these there were 25 convictions for murder. All must admit, therefore, that the evil was of the most alarming nature. He did not wish to see any system introduced which would interfere with the fair enjoyment of field sports. He would be one of the last persons so far to libel the gentry as to affirm that they ware attached to their country seats for mere hunting and shooting. He did not think so. He believed that they employed themselves in educating the people, and in exercising acts of hospitality; and, at the same time, he must say that it was but fair, when they were doing so much good, that they should enjoy field sports as their ancestors had done before them. What remedy should be provided, it was not for him to suggest; but certainly something should be done either to prevent poaching or to remove the temptation to it; and if law could not do a great deal, much, he believed, might be done by kindness and good feeling. He did hope that some noble Lord who was more conversant with the subject than himself would take up the subject. He would press it on the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. But he had also a noble Lord in his eye (Lord Dacre) who, in another House, had distinguished himself by the manner in which he had dealt with this matter, and to whose exertions they were indebted for the Bill of 1831; and he would be very glad to leave the matter in the hands of that noble Lord. It had been hoped that poaching would be prevented by allowing the sale of game; but that hope had been disappointed: it was now absolutely necessary that some remedy should be devised.

Lord Dacre

observed, that in 1816 he had moved for a Committee, in the other House of Parliament, to inquire into the condition and general character of the Game Laws. The result of the inquiry was, amongst other things, the establishment of the doctrine that the property in the game was in the owner of the soil—ratione soli; for so soon as the animal was off the soil the property was no longer in the original owner, unless followed by what was called a recent pursuit. He had brought in a Bill on this subject, which was carried through Committee, but which was defeated on the Report, owing to the strong feeling which then existed against any legislation upon the subject; and he was proud to say that it was the groundwork and basis of the Bill which they were at present anxious to amend, the Bill of the 1st and 2nd William IV. He concurred in most, if not in all, that was stated by his noble Friend (Lord Campbell) as to the evils which might justly be attributed to the Game Laws as they at present existed. He hoped something would be done to mitigate the mischiefs which the country, and more especially the agricultural population, were now experiencing. But it was impossible to check poaching so long as the sympathies of the people were not marching along with them. So soon as they impressed upon the public at large the real motive and character of property in game, he was sure their recognition of it would be readily obtained. He had at the present moment a Bill in reference to the matter actually prepared, and which had for some time been prepared, and which it was his intention to place before their Lordships. There was, however, a Committee at present sitting in the other House of Parliament; and, as a matter of courtesy, and, he might say, of decency, on his part, he had hesitated to force forward his own Bill until he knew the line and the decision of that Committee—until he knew whether they meant to report at all upon the subject before them, and what would be their Report, and whether their Report would be followed by legislative proceedings. Whenever he obtained any knowledge of the proceedings of that Committee, he would, if he then thought it proper so to do, be ready to lay the Bill which he had prepared upon their Lordships' Table. He hoped to be able to come to an early decision on the subject.

Lord Hatherton

regarded the alterations of 1831 as very valuable in their character and tendency. They removed much that was exclusive and odious in the system of the Game Laws; but much remained still to be done. He was sorry that his noble Friend who last addressed the House had not thrown out some suggestions as to the best mode of dealing with the subject; for from his noble Friend's long attention to this subject, any suggestions thrown out by him would have been listened to with a degree of attention to which their value would have entitled them. Great mischiefs would be prevented, if those who possessed game would forego some of their privileges by repealing the enactments which made hares game. Nineteen out of every twenty convictions arising from the Game Laws were had for snaring hares. The injustice of the monstrous extent to which the preservation of hares was carried, in many cases was so great, that he was sure their Lordships would not hesitate to admit that it was extremely desirable that, by some legislative measure, an end should be put to it. If hares were put upon the same footing as rabbits were on, retaining the Game Laws with respect to pheasants and partridges, there was no doubt but that a considerable destruction of them would take place in many districts, in which they could not be preserved to the extent to which they now were. If a man possessed a few acres of wood, and chose to preserve hares upon them, he might do so for his amusement under the present system, not at his own expense, but at the expense of his poorer neighbours, and might commit them to jail if they destroyed any of them. By putting hares upon a different footing, this state of things would be altered for the better.

The Earl of Stradbroke

entirely agreed with what had fallen from the noble Lord who introduced this subject, when he said that the complaint did not lie between landlord and tenant. Nothing could be more correct than to say, that the tenant, on hiring a farm, had the power of making certain arrangements with his landlord in reference to the game upon his farm. He differed from his noble Friend who spoke last upon the subject of hares. It was perfectly true that there were more convictions arising from the snaring of hares than from any other cause connected with the Game Laws; but this circumstance arose simply from the fact that hares were much more easily taken than any other species of game. With regard to the murders which had taken place, they might have been avoided if proper directions had been given to gamekeepers.

Petition read and ordered to lie on the Table.

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