§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.1205
§ LORD BERNERS
, in moving tie second reading of the Game Amendment Bill, said, he would not trouble their Lordships at any length by repeating the description he had given on a former occasion of the prevalence of crime under the present system; but he would call their attention to the memorial signed by the chief constables of twenty-eight counties, which showed the impunity with which poaching was carried on in districts where the game was not fully preserved. He contended that, apart from the question whether the Game Laws were good or bad, as long as they remained in the statute-book they should be enforced. Having received an intimation from Her Majesty's Government, that it did not intend this Session to bring forward a measure on the subject, he had ventured to lay one before the House. One of its provisions was a registry for dealers in game. He had been assured by one of the largest game-dealers in England that such a registry would be a great boon to the licensed dealers, and a discouragement to the unlicensed and dishonest trader. He had also adopted one of the provisions of the Metropolitan Police Act, that gave the police in the London district the power of stopping suspected persons, and taking from them things stolen or unlawfully obtained. It had been said that it would be very improper to give to country magistrates the same power of dealing with poachers that the Police Act gave to the London magistrates in cases of persons arrested on suspicion. But he believed that the country magistrates had just as much interest in the execution of the laws as any magistrate in the metropolitan district. He was convinced that the power would not be used improperly. It had been his wish to bring in an efficient Bill; but he was willing to adopt Amendments if suggested.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
felt that it would be very unwise to agree to the second reading of the Bill, especially as there was not the slightest chance of its passing the Commons. It was very undesirable that their Lordships should pass any measure of this kind without serious consideration. The first clause of the Bill appeared to him arbitrary in the highest degree. It empowered the police to arrest persons merely on the suspicion of possessing game, and to stop and detain any boat, carriage, or cart, suspected of carrying 1206 game. It would be impossible to assent to such a clause—and, as he was reminded, a carriage belonging to any of their Lordships might be taken before the magistrates on suspicion of containing game unlawfully come by. The second clause provided, that "if any game, or the head, skin, feathers, or other part thereof, or the eggs thereof, or any hare, rabbit, or any snare or engine for the taking of game, hares, or rabbits," should be found in the possession of any person or upon his premises with his knowledge, and such person should be unable to satisfy a justice of the peace that he came lawfully by such game, or had a lawful occasion for such snare or engine, he should pay any sum not exceeding £5. Then the clause went on to enact, that if any such person should not under the said provision be liable to conviction, the justice at his discretion might summon before him every person through whose hands these articles appeared to have passed, who, if he did not satisfy the justice that he came lawfully by them, was to be liable to the same penalty. That was a strong clause; but the next was still more arbitrary, because, upon the oath of a credible witness that there was "a good ground to suspect that any lurchers, snap dogs, springing dogs, nets, or engines are in possession of any person not legally authorized," a police-constable would be able to enter and search the house, and take the occupier before the magistrate, who was empowered to inflict a fine, and order the dogs, nets, or engines "to be given over to and for the use of the lord of the manor where they may be found, or otherwise destroyed." The person suspected was to be called on to prove a negative—namely, that the articles in his possession were not intended for any unlawful purpose. Upon this point it would surely be very difficult for the magistrate to come to any conclusion. Taking the Bill as a whole, he thought that to pass it would only be to make their Lordships ridiculous, and to defeat the very object which they had in view. It was absolutely necessary that to such a subject careful consideration should be given; and probably the better plan would be to refer to the question to a Select Committee.
§ LORD BERNERS
said, that some portions of the Bill which had been objected to were identical with those of a measure passed last year.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
should have 1207 entirely concurred with, many observations which had been made, if this had been the third reading of the Bill, because he was quite ready to admit that not only were many verbal alterations required, but that there were provisions which he for one would not ask their Lordships to adopt. He must, however, say that his noble Friend had been hardly fairly dealt with by the noble Earl (Earl Granville), because the noble Earl was aware that his noble Friend had expressed his readiness to abandon almost all those parts of the Bill which were objected to. As to the first clause, it no doubt should require that the constable not only had reason to suspect that the person had game in his possession, but that he had it unlawfully. Nor would it be right to make it an offence for a man to own dogs of certain descriptions, for that was no primâ facie indication that he intended to use them in poaching. The main question was, whether police constables in the country districts should have the power of searching persons whom they met between certain hours and suspected of having game unlawfully in their possession—persons who obtained their game in gangs by breaches of the peace, and often by murderous assault, and who openly boasted of the possession of it. The simple object of the Bill was to give police-constables this power, and he thought that all who were not led away by claptrap arguments would agree in the desirability of this object. The Bill was not brought forward with a view to encourage game preserving, but to preserve life, and to insure the peace of the rural districts; and he should much regret if such a measure were rejected upon the second reading. He would strike out from the second clause all mention of "heads, skins, feathers," and other articles; but he was not sure that it would be advisable to strike out the word "eggs," the collection of which led to frequent poaching, and he regretted that no inconsiderable number of game preservers encouraged this offence by buying eggs. He had strictly enjoined all his keepers never, under any circumstances, to buy an egg for the purpose of breeding; but knowing how extensively this trade was carried on, he thought the word "eggs" should be retained in the clause. His noble Friend was willing to omit the third clause, and confine the Bill practically to the first clause, the first portion of the second, and to the provision by which persons buying game were to keep 1208 a register of purchases. Looking at the object of the Bill, and the extent of the mischief, he hoped their Lordships would unite to consider its provisions, and would send down a measure which would be likely to receive the concurrence of the other House, and put a stop to a serious and a growing evil. It was a very short Bill, and he thought that it could be very well considered in a Committee of the Whole House in the ordinary way.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
admitted that night-poaching was a great and, perhaps, an increasing evil; but if it were really wished to preserve the lives of the keepers and prevent the conflicts which now took place, they ought to give to the police powers to prevent their going out, and not merely at their return to stop the poachers, who went armed with crowbars, hooks, and weapons, meant not for killing game but for assaulting men. It was said that this was not a game-preserving Bill, but it certainly seemed one of the most stringent he had ever sot eyes upon; moreover, it did not touch the evil to which he had referred. In his opinion, their Lordships should be extremely cautious how they put the police on the footing of assistant keepers, which would make them a very unpopular class in the rural districts. Among the poorer classes there was no particular abhorrence of the offence of poaching; and as the Legislature had made a concession to the feelings of the farmers in not employing the police as collectors of agricultural statistics, he advised their Lordships not to put them out of favour with the lower classes in the country by employing them as assistant keepers. At the same time, the present state of the game laws was certainly most anomalous, and poaching seemed to be regarded as a private affair between the game preserver and the poacher; for in game cases you were not allowed the expenses of prosecution, which in other cases came out of the county rates. He was inclined to regard the fourth clause—that relating to the register to be kept by all the dealers in game—as the best in the Bill, for he believed the great cause of all poaching was the encouragement afforded by unscrupulous salesmen. When the last revision of the Game Laws took place, Lord Althorp intended to introduce some provision like that in the existing Act, but from some cause it was omitted. Considering the difficulties attaching to this subject, he thought the best course 1209 would be to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ EARL GREY
said, he was informed by the chief constable of a county with which he was connected that there would be no difficulty in enabling the police, if legal power were given them, to stop persons returning home at undue hours laden with game; but he thought it would be difficult to legislate simply against armed gangs going out at night, because they might easily go singly or by twos and threes; and they might have their weapons concealed about them. There would be no possibility of preventing the practice without resorting to measures of the most arbitrary description. But, on the other hand, there was but one purpose for which these armed gangs went out; and if the police had power to stop them as they came back, and compel them to give an account of themselves, there would be no difficulty in putting down the evil. It appeared to him that some of the penalties for poaching were excessively severe, and, on the other hand, the proofs required for the establishment of the offence were so stringent as to throw great difficulties in the way of prosecutors, and conferred upon the poacher a prospect of impunity. He thought that they should make up their minds as to the law; and having decided that, they should take care to make the means of enforcing it as complete as possible. The penalties for night poaching were now exceedingly severe, especially when no violence was used; and he thought the fact that the mere act of night poaching was liable to such severe punishment often induced poachers when detected to have recourse to violence to prevent their capture; therefore he would like to see the severity of some penalties reduced, and the difficulties in the way of proving the offence removed. The suggestion to refer the subject to a Select Committee was a good one; but he could not see why the Bill should not be read a second time, thus proclaiming the opinion of the House that the law required amendment, and afterwards the Bill could be sent to a Select Committee.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
thought the noble Lord (Lord Lyveden) was mistaken in supposing that this Bill proposed any great alteration of the existing law. The alterations proposed were, in fact, small. Neither could he agree with the noble Lord that night poachers were popular with the humbler classes of this 1210 country. In many instances, he knew that poachers were regarded with hatred and alarm by their neighbours, and were only popular with the beer-shop keepers, at whose houses they dissipated their ill-gotten gains. In considering this subject, it should be remembered that the gamekeepers were themselves a police; and if the game laws were abolished to-morrow, and game preserving leased, he believed that it would speedily become necessary to double the police force; and therefore he regarded gamekeepers as instruments for keeping down the county rates and giving security to property about farms and villages. In order to show the unpopularity of poachers in a country where no game laws existed, he might mention that in 1843 he was present at many sittings of the Chambers in France, where a flood of petitions came in from farmers and proprietors in rural districts complaining of the prevalence of poaching, and praying that a game law might be established. That was in a country where there was only what he might call indigenous game— hares, rabbits, and partridges. There was now little outcry against the game laws, and he did not desire to see an agitation revived by the enactment of more severe measures. He was sure his noble Friend would consent to introduce any Amendments into his Bill which would enable the object to be attained without increasing the stringency of the present laws. There was an enormous property involved in the preservation of game, and that property he considered worthy of defence and protection. It might be assumed that the value of a pheasant was 3s. 6d., of a partridge 1s. 6d., and of a hare 2s.; and from carefully collected statistics it appeared that there were annually sold 250,000 pheasants, which, at 3s. 6d. a head, made £43,750, and of partridges there were also sold 250,000, which, at 1s. 6d. ahead, made £18,750; or putting it in another way, this return was equal to the interest, at 4 per cent, of £1,500,000. That was its direct value, but its indirect value was still greater. They all knew that without shooting country residences were of very little value; but with shooting, they would let for large sums. He did not know what might be the value of the privilege of shooting in England, but in Scotland, five years ago, there were one hundred moors let at £250 each, yielding u the aggregate £25,000; and 200 let it £100 each, yielding in the aggregate 1211 £20,000; making altogether £45,000 a year from the letting of the moors alone. Then there was another point. The present number of persons employed directly in the preservation of game in the United Kingdom could not be less than 20,000, and indirectly there were probably not less than twice as many, making 60,000 altogether. The expense of prosecuting poachers had been referred to; but from a Return which was issued some time ago, it appeared that the taxes alone for game certificates and licences for the sale of game, and other things connected with game, amounted to something like £370,000 a year, which he thought was more than a fair compensation for any addition to the county rates from prosecutions for poaching. He hoped the noble Lord would proceed with the Bill, and that their Lordships would assent to the second reading; but he thought that time would be lost in sending it to a Committee upstairs.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
explained, that he had not said that this was a measure for the revision of the Game Laws, but that it was a very stringent game-preserving Bill. Nor had he said that poaching was popular, but that in prosecuting poachers they had not the same moral support from the lower classes that they had in prosecuting other offenders.
said, that in his part of Scotland the police were employed in bringing poachers to justice. The people rendered every assistance to the police, and the poachers, finding their occupation insecure, were induced in many cases to abandon it.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
suggested, that the object of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill would be better promoted by withdrawing the Bill altogether and introducing another, omitting the clauses which were calculated to give rise to obloquy and misrepresentation, and limited entirely to those which were likely to receive the assent of noble Lords on both sides of the House. Such a measure might be introduced to-morrow, and so far from such a step impeding the passing of such a measure, it would in all probability facilitate its passing.
§ After a few words from the Earl of STRADBROKE,
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that if it were understood that such a measure as had been suggested by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would receive the support of Her Majesty's Government, and 1212 that no impediment would be placed in the way of its passage through the House, he would recommend his noble Friend to withdraw his Bill and introduce a more limited one. If no assurance of that kind were given, he would recommend him to persevere with this measure, introducing in Committee such alterations as might make the Bill accord with the general feeling of the House.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, that if the noble Baron would introduce a measure in the simpler form which had been suggested, he would offer no opposition to its being read a second time; but he must reserve to himself the right of proposing that it should be referred to a Select Committee. When they saw in what shape it was returned from the Select Committee, they would be better able to determine whether the Government would give it their support.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that there might be no objection to referring the Bill to a Select Committee; but if the whole question of the Game Laws were referred to such a Committee, no Bill could be passed this year.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
should have preferred a more general inquiry; but, in deference to the feeling of their Lordships, he would only propose that the Bill should be referred to the Committee. At the same time, he hoped that the adoption of that course would not be understood to preclude the proposition of Amendments such as those which had been suggested by the noble Lord on the cross benches and other noble Lords.
§ LORD BERNERS
said, that upon this understanding he was quite willing to withdraw his Motion for the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn; and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.