HL Deb 20 July 1875 vol 225 cc1726-30

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that a practice had grown up in the counties of Perth and Renfrew, where the properties were very large, for the landlords to appoint persons to protect the game, who were sworn in as special constables, and as such had all the rights and duties which police constables had. This was done Tinder an Act of 1617. The custom had, however, fallen into desuetude until the passing of the Act for the better protection of game in 1862. These gamekeeper constables were not under the control of the chief constables, and the Committee of the House of Commons, which sat upon the Game Laws, reported, amongst other things, that it was expedient that the power of appointing such constables should cease to exist. In that view the Government concurred, and this Bill—which had come up from the Commons—had been introduced for the purpose of putting an end to the anomaly.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Steward.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time this day three months, contended that it was altogether unnecessary, and that it was expedient for the protection of property and prevention of outrages that there should exist such a power of appointment of special constables as existed under the Act of 1617. The present Bill really did not deserve a place on the Statute Book; it was exceptional as to the persons to whom it referred, and applied only to Scotland. The Act for the prevention of Poaching, passed in 1862, made it lawful for any constable or peace officer in any county in Great Britain and Ireland in any highway or public place to search any person whom he might have good cause to suspect of coming from any land where he had been poaching, and to seize and detain game, guns, nets, &c., found upon him, and to cite him before two justices of the peace in England and Ireland and the Sheriff in Scotland. The effect of the present Bill would be to leave the Act of 1862 intact with respect to England and Ireland, but would militate against it in Scotland. "Any constable or peace officer" would not be able to enforce the Act, because the men made constables under the Act of 1617 were to be precluded from so doing, although they would continue to deal with vagrants, thieves, murderers, and criminals generally; and the one thing they would not be able to do under this Act, if it passed, was to search poachers on the highway. In some parts of Scotland—Renfrewshire and Perthshire more particularly, where the highways were very numerous, and there were very few regular police—it had been found very useful to make a few local constables. In Renfrewshire 25 had been made since 1863, of which number eight remained at present. One chief constable had for the last 12 years been in favour of this practice, which had been productive of a great deal of good. Her Majesty's Government apparently wished to gain popularity with those who were opposed to the Game Laws, but did so without offering them any substantial benefit. Whatever tenant farmers might think about the game, they objected strongly to poachers. Poachers were trespassers, and the farmers liked their stock and crops to be undisturbed. On his own outlying property, where the game was not preserved, he had been asked by the tenants to let the game to some one person, who would have the whole interest of keeping off poachers, who made no end of mischief on their farms.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion to add ("this day three months.")—(The Lord Blantyre.)


supported the Amendment. He considered the existing Act, which it was proposed to repeal, a most useful one, and he could not understand the object of the Bill, unless it had been drawn up by the agent of some professional poacher. It was well known that the men who had been appointed hitherto had been useful in apprehending criminals, and in the preservation of the peace generally, and he saw no reason whatever for depriving them of the power which they now possessed by virtue of their being appointed constables. In his view of the matter, it would have been much better if this Bill had not been brought in at all. It had been brought in at the fag end of the Session, when there was no time for its consideration, and when they were burdened with other business, the progress of which was naturally interfered with.


hoped the House would not be asked to divide on the Bill, which had passed the other House. Some persons might ask why the Act of 1617 should not be repealed; but that was a much wider question.


observed that the noble Duke (the Duke of Buccleuch) had said that this Bill was brought in at the fag end of the Session, and therefore ought not to pass; but it would be absurd to suppose that their Lordships had not sufficient strength left to pass, through all its stages, a Bill consisting of one clause. The real question was, whether there should be any class of constables not under the control of the chief constable. His noble Friend (the Duke of Buccleuch) said that the Bill appeared to have been drawn up by a professional poacher. Had his noble Friend ever seen the Lord Advocate, and did the learned Gentleman look like a professional poacher? His noble Friend appeared to ignore the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Game Laws. His noble Friend had said that the Act of 1617 was a most useful one with reference to the preservation of game. If it was most useful in that respect, why was it that only two counties in Scotland availed themselves of its provisions? He (the Duke of Richmond) was of opinion that, with reference to the preservation of game, these constables should be under the superintendence of the chief constable of the county, and therefore he hoped their Lordships would give a second reading to the Bill.


was of opinion that the Bill did not go far enough, and would not effect the object in view. The real question was, whether ordinary policemen should be employed to protect game in Scotland. The Act of 1617 enabled constables to be appointed for a variety of purposes; whilst the present Bill said that no constable should in future be appointed to assist the ordinary constables in the protection of game or for other purposes. He thought that this was a most imperfect way of enacting that constables should not be gamekeepers.


said, that was not the time to discuss the question whether the Game Laws were good or bad, but as long as those laws were in existence power ought to be freely given to enforce them. Nothing could be more mischievous than to keep a law in force, and yet allow it to be broken with impunity. He could easily understand that it might not be desirable to appoint constables with the special view of protecting game; but if persons employed to protect game were also sworn in as constables, the powers so conferred upon them would assist in the preservation of the peace. It was not to be tolerated that the contests between gamekeepers and poachers should be decided by the mere exercise of physical force. He did not understand on what principle constables should be appointed as heretofore, but should be deprived of one particular power.


observed that it would be quite competent for those noble Lords who objected that the Bill did not go far enough, to propose Amendments in Committee for the purpose of making it go further. The Bill, in its present form, pursued the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee of the other House, which disapproved of giving the powers of constables to persons who were really employed to protect game.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.