HL Deb 17 August 1883 vol 283 cc931-40

Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he fully concurred with what had fallen from the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) as to the short time at their disposal for considering any new Bills; but this was a very short one, the object of which was well understood. It only consisted of three clauses, and its object was to put down the so-called sport of pigeon-shooting. For that purpose, it came before the House as an amendment to the Cruelty to Animals Prevention Act of 1849–50. It provided that certain penalties should be imposed on persons who engaged in pigeon-shooting, and the method of inflicting them would be the same as that under the Cruelty to Animals Prevention Act. He called the practice of pigeon shooting so-called sport, and he did so advisedly, because he was extremely anxious to dissociate it from what might be called legitimate field sport. Their Lordships would, he thought, agree with him that in matters of that kind it was not desirable to legislate in advance of public opinion; but he believed it was quite clear that public opinion had been decidedly pronounced in favour of that measure. Pigeon-shooting was a cruel sport, and perfectly useless. If evidence were required in favour of the Bill, he might point to the majority by which the Motion for the second reading was carried in the other House—a majority of 155, the numbers being 195 for the second reading, as against 45 on the other side; and that, although blocked as many Bills of private Members were, no serious attempt had been made to oppose it at any of its subsequent stages. He, therefore, thought that in assenting to the second reading their Lordships would be acting in accordance with public opinion. Cruelties had been proved on many occasions to be the accompaniment of the practice; he did not say on all occasions and in all places, because he knew there were places at which the practice was engaged in, in the presence of many who would by no means be parties to such cruelties as had been indicated; but it was impossible to deny that many and serious cruelties were practised, and he did not see how it was possible to dissociate the places where they were, and were not, practised from one another. Anyone who read the newspapers must be convinced that on many occasions, and in many places, these cruelties were practised. Some would say that was an argument that the existing law was sufficient to deal with cases of cruelty; but that was not so, for, as a matter of fact, in order to get a conviction, it was necessary to show that the person charged had maltreated the particular pigeon shot at, and it was found very difficult to convict the perpetrator. No one would deny that, had it not been accompanied by betting, the practice would long ago have ceased to exist; and it was undoubtedly betting in connection with pigeon-shooting that gave rise to many of the cruelties that were perpetrated. Since it became known that he was in charge of the Bill, he had been told that it was the first nail in the coffin of legitimate field sports; but it was because he wished to dissociate this so-called sport from other and legitimate sports that he had taken charge of the Bill. A continuance of the practice of pigeon-shooting would be likely to direct public attention against field sports in general; and it was because he desired to get rid of this weak point in sporting amusements that he had undertaken the duty he was now performing. On that ground, as much as any other, he asked their Lordships to give a second reading to the Bill.

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


said, he felt it his duty to oppose the Bill, because it was a Bill coming under a false name and false pretences. The Bill, in effect, declared that shooting at a bird with an intent to kill it was a cruelty. The noble Lord had said that pigeon-shooting was carried on with great cruelty; but he believed that in most instances it was carried on without any cruelty whatever. What the noble Lord desired was to make shooting at birds cruelty by Act of Parliament. But it would be said it was just as cruel to rear pheasants for the purpose of being shot at. If this sort of principle was to be acted upon it would lead to difficulties beyond measure. It was a fact that many who supported this measure were practically opposed to all kinds of sport whatever. It was impossible to draw any distinction between pigeon-shooting and any other kind of sport, for there was no cruelty in it beyond what there was in other cases. It ought not to be laid down as a principle that because there had been a few instances of cruelty in a particular sport, therefore that sport ought to be put a stop to; and it would be most objectionable if, by passing this Bill, their Lordships came to any such conclusion. The law, as it stood, was sufficient to deal with cases of wilful cruelty; and, therefore, he bogged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

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


said, he thought they were asked to give their sanction to a really sweeping piece of legislation. He was not a pigeon-shooter himself; but he quite agreed in what had fallen from the noble Earl who had just sat down. From what he understood of the debate which occurred in "another place," a charge was made out that there was an ever-present cruelty inseparable from pigeon-shooting. That he could not admit was the case. He would not enter into the demerits of pigeon-shooting; but he certainly thought this was a hasty measure. If it was cruelty to shoot pigeons, the same might be said of hares and rabbits, or even buffalo-hunting. If persons thought that taking the life of animals for sport was cruelty, then he was perfectly willing to admit that pigeon-shooting was cruel; but he did not think their Lordships' House, which had never been considered a purely sentimental organ, would ever take such a sentimental view of the matter as that. He felt perfectly certain, from the names of the gentlemen connected with the great gun clubs, that they would not sanction any acts of cruelty being perpetrated at their matches. A far better plan than the passing of the Bill would be, in his opinion, to strengthen the hands of the gun clubs by giving them a licence, or else appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject. That would be far better than sweeping away a sport which had been going on for some time.


said, he believed that pigeon-shooting was less cruel than driving grouse; for Mr. Gordon, the late respected gamekeeper to the Duke of Rutland, had told him that afterwards many wounded birds were picked up. This lingering death might be prevented by public opinion, but could not be prevented by legislation; indeed, he was ashamed of taking up time on such a subject. There was a certain amount of pain in every field sport. He had himself killed 12 sparrows out of 19, out of a trap, when a boy; but, as he never could afford to have a very good gun, he had given up shooting. He had once told an hon. Member of Parliament that he had been hunting with Baron Rothschild; and he was told by the hon. Member that stag-hunting was cruel. Not long after, a noble Lord, brother of the hon. Member, had the control of horses and hounds; and he (Lord Denman) mentioned this conversation to his Lordship, who said—"Oh; but it gives pleasure to so many." At the end of the season a stag, in deep water, was nearly drowned by the hounds. The noble Lord, on a tall horse, did not go into deep water to rescue him; but it was loft to him (Lord Denman) to go in, upon a cob, and whip the hounds off. He (Lord Denman) had began hare-hunting—70 years ago—at 8 years of ago, and always tried to be "in at the end," to save the hare unnecessary pain, by a blow at the back of the neck. The only sport which his lamented Predecessor enjoyed was coursing; and if their Lordships had seen him, in 1823, at Holkham, enjoying a good course, they would have said it was a very innocent enjoyment. It must not be imagined that he was doing anything in humanitarian in voting against this Bill. He had killed 25 horses, which could not work, without pain; and he was sure, if all the accounts alluded to by the noble Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill were true, pigeon-shooting could not be called sport, but a very cruel practice.


said, a distinction was to be drawn between field sports and pigeon-shooting. So far he agreed with the noble Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill. He was one of those who believed that the love of the chase was one of the original instincts of the human race, and he did not believe that the progress of civilization would ever extinguish it. It was, however, one of the essential incidents of this love of the chase that it should be in respect of an animal which was valuable for the purposes of human consumption, and could not otherwise be conveniently obtained.

A noble LORD

What about foxhunting?


Well, he did not regard fox-hunting as coming within this category, because that was merely riding across country, which was a most pleasant and enjoyable exercise. He remembered once, and for the first time and the last, seeing one of the most exciting sports that he knew of, and that was an otter hunt. Anything more exciting he never saw; but when he came to the death—with 25 dogs tearing at the animal's throat and body, and dragging it in every direction—anything more disgusting he never saw. The mere death of the animal was hideous, and no sport at all. But the chasing of the creature through pools of water, mountain scenes, and the beautiful action of the dogs as they followed the scent—those were full of interest and excitement, and it was impossible that they could fail to interest. So it was with many other sports. But in regard to pigeon-shooting these considerations were absent. So in regard to fishing. They all felt in regard to fishing that it was no amusement or sport to catch a fish that was useless for their table, and if they caught a foul salmon they threw it back into the stream again in disgust. The peculiarity of pigeon-shooting was that the birds were set at liberty merely for the purpose of being shot. He, therefore, did think that those particular forms of sport at which the Bill was directed were deficient in all the higher elements which made them natural to mankind; and he should, therefore, support the second reading of the Bill.


said, although he was very fond of the gun, he never shot a pigeon, with the exception of a wood pigeon, in his life. He should vote against the second reading of the Bill, because he believed the Bill was intended by those who supported it to be the germ that, they might depend upon it, would develop into the stopping of sport of all kinds. All he could say in regard to the cruelty was this—no doubt there might be cruelties practised; but he believed them to be very exceptional, and not at all the accompaniment of pigeon-shooting in general. As regarded the mere cruelty of the death of the animal, he was quite certain that if they gave a pigeon the option of being shot by Earl de Grey or having his neck twisted by the noble Lord who had brought in this Bill, it would prefer being shot by Earl de Grey.


said, he thought that the accusations brought against even well-conducted clubs of cruelty ought to be substantiated, or else the clubs should have an opportunity of defending themselves. Had it not been for the late period of the Session at which this Bill was brought under discussion in their Lordships' House, he should have felt inclined to move for a Select Committee, in order to give an opportunity to those who made these charges of proving their assertions. He had been in the habit of shooting pigeons in all parts of the world for the last 15 years, and he had never seen any cruelty beyond the actual taking away of the life of the bird. Her Majesty's Government had been unable to state the other evening how many prosecutions for cruelty at pigeon matches had been instituted; and he had found, on inquiry from the Secretary to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that during the last 10 years only 25 persons had been prosecuted for cruelty on such occasions. The persons really guilty of cruelty were the persons who held cockfights, and it was no use trying to legislate for them. The noble Lord who had introduced the Bill had said that he objected to the practice of pigeon-shooting on the ground that so much betting was connected with it. Was there no other sport with which betting was connected except pigeon-shooting? He maintained that coursing was more cruel than pigeon-shooting, and that there was more betting in connection with the "Waterloo Cup than took place at pigeon-shooting for the whole year. No one, however, even thought of prohibiting race and coursing meetings on that ground. In connection with pigeon-shooting which had existed during the last 25 years, industries had sprung up which depended for their very existence upon the sport. Clubs had been instituted in various parts of the country, which had leases still to run, and which had expended large sums of money on the improvement of their grounds. Was it fair to deprive those gentlemen, first of their sport, and then of the value of their grounds? Moreover, there was the class of the purveyors of these pigeons, the magnitude of whose industry might be illustrated by the fact that in Lincolnshire alone £30,000 worth of pigeons were sold. These birds, too, were an article of food for the poor, and in hot weather were hawked about the streets at about 2d. or 3d. a-piece; and he dared say that a poor man was as fond of a pigeon as a change as any one of their Lordships was of a grouse. The loss would come not only on the farmers, but on the landlords, because the farmer, deprived of his pigeons, could not afford to pay his full rent. This ought not to be done without fuller inquiry. There was also another class of people with whom the Bill would interfere—namely, those engaged in the gun trade; and when the Bill was under consideration in "another place," a very influential Petition was presented by Mr. Muntz, on behalf of that trade, with over 3,000 signatures. It was stated in that Petition that nearly all the improvements that had taken place in guns during the last 20 years had been made to suit pigeon-shooting. Pigeon-shooting required the very best article in the way of killing guns; and gunmakers had, consequently, been pitted against each other to produce the best article. Then there was the explosives trade. It was solely on account of pigeon-shooting that the Schultz smokeless powder was invented. Ten years ago he was the only person who used that powder. Now everybody who shot pigeons used it. Had not that been a great development of trade? He had the other day received a letter from the eminent gunmaker, Mr. Purdey, in which he pointed out how great would be the injury to the gun trade if this Bill became law. The gun trade of London 25 years ago was not a quarter of what it was now, and the gun trade had to thank pigeon-shooting for these results. He could say a great deal more on the subject; but he thought he was not, perhaps, justified in detaining their Lordships at any great length, and he would therefore conclude by hoping that the Bill would not be read a second time.


My Lords, I have a very few words to say on the subject of this Bill; but it appears to me, like most other subjects, to be one in which there are arguments on both sides, though some of the arguments used against the Bill do not appear to me altogether conclusive. I cannot quite follow the argument that pigeon-shooting is the best mode of giving cheap and good food to the poor.


I did not say it was the best mode. I said it was a mode.


Nor can I agree that it will affect very much the agricultural depression which exists, more or less, at the present moment, if pigeon-shooting is either allowed to continue or is put an end to. I am afraid, too, that if your Lordships reject the Bill it would not appear a very strong argument that several of your Lordships are members of clubs which encourage this sport. I am sorry to say that I have given up shooting for some time, and my hunting has been reduced to a very mild form; but I entirely sympathize with what has fallen from the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Argyll)—namely, as to the belief of a natural instinct in man for the pleasures of the chase, and as to the belief and, I may add, the hope that legitimate shooting, hunting, and fishing will never perish altogether in this country. But I must say I think that some of the arguments that have been used rather endangers than secures this in the future. There is no doubt that there is a very strong feeling against this particular class of sport, and that was shown by the very large majorities in favour of the Bill in the House of Commons. I think it is extremely unwise, and I believe perfectly untrue, to do what most of the speakers against this Bill have done—to declare positively that there is no difference between pigeon-shooting—sending birds out mutilated in some cases, and unmutilated in others, to be shot at without any test of endurance or excitement—in the enjoyment of which no physical endurance is required, and in which there is none of the excitement which attends other sports, and that wild and legitimate sport, of which so many of us are so fond. I think you bring very false arguments to bear if you insist on saying that the two things are exactly on the same footing. When the noble Earl told us that there is no difference between the cruelty of shooting pigeons and the shooting of a tame pheasant, I venture to say that is a sort of argument which can be met in another way; for who can say that it is less cruel than allowing two game cocks to follow the strong instinct they have, and to peck out each other's eyes. Parliament has prohibited that, and has also prohibited dogs from dragging carriages after them. I remember a long discussion I had with the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Argyll) some time ago, in which I took the practical and he the sentimental view of this question; and I remember two pictures which Sir Edwin Landseer offered to paint on the subject, one of which exhibited the intense delight of a dog merrily dragging a cart after him, and the other his intense disgust of being carried in a railway train. All these are cases of degree, and there is nothing so difficult as to draw an exact line in these matters; but I think your Lordships would be ill-advised if you make no difference between the artificial and those wider and more legitimate sports on which I should be most sorry to see any obstruction put.


said, that he had no sympathy with shooting pigeons from traps; but this was a frivolous Bill, and it was trifling with the time of Parliament to bring it forward. It put him in mind of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. When Parliament could not find time for proceeding with a Bill for the protection of girls too young to resist the temptations put in their way, it moved his indignation to see Bills of this sort pressed on at this period of the Session. If this Bill was not thrown out, it would act as an encouragement to other crotchet-mongers and hobby-riders to occupy the time of Parliament when it ought to be spent much more profitably.

On Question, "That ('now') stand part of the Motion?" Their Lordships divided:—Contents 17; Not-Contents 30: Majority 13.

Camperdown, E. Fitzgerald, L.
Derby, E. Forbes, L.
Granville, E. Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
Morley, E.
Sydney, E. Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.) [Teller.]
Sherbrooke, V. Reay, L.
Alcester, L. Sandhurst, L.
Balfour of Burley, L. [Teller.] Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Breadalbane, L. (E. Breadalane.) Thurlow, L.
Winchester, M. De L'Isle and Dudley, L.
Ashburnham, E. Denman, L.
Clonmell, E. Haldon, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun)
Lovat, L.
Feversham, E. Lyveden, L.
Fortescue, E. Norton, L.
Milltown, E. Ribblesdale, L.
Poulett, E. Sherborne, L.
Redesdale, E. [Teller.] Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Melville, V. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Ventry, L.
Abercromby, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Bagot, L.
Bateman, L. Westbury, L. [Teller.]
Botreaux, L. (E. Loudoun.) Wrottesley, L.
Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative; Bill to be read 2a on this day three months.