HL Deb 12 June 1913 vol 14 cc603-10

My Lords, I now rise to draw attention to the laxity of the Excise officers in Ireland in prosecuting offenders against the Excise Game taws, and to move for the following Returns, viz., of—

  1. 1. The number of prosecutions in the years 1912–1913 brought by the Excise on the initiative of their own officers or the Royal Irish Constabulary apart from cases reported to them by the Irish Game Protection Association.
  2. 2. All Excise game offences in the same period which were compromised by the Department out of Court.
We have in Ireland a Game Protection Association, which employs inspectors who are paid for by the local game certificate-holders. Prosecutions are instituted by this association and in very many cases they are successful. The association has the effect generally of making people take out the £3 gun and game licence, and the £22,000 annually drawn by the Excise from gun and game licences in Ireland would be considerably less but for the efforts of this association. Yet when cases of men shooting game without a licence are reported to the Excise they either take no action whatever or settle the matter out of Court by a small compromise fine. I do not know whether the Government would admit that that is compounding a felony; at all events it is winking at a misdemeanour. The association does it duty by the public and is well supported, and there is no ill-feeling in the country against it. In fact, respectable farmers are only too glad that people who poach on their land without a game licence should be prosecuted, and I submit that it is only fair, where the association makes use of its subscriptions in helping to carry out the law, that the Excise officers should perform the duty which they are well paid to carry out.

If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to quote some of the cases, very frequent ones, that have occurred in Ireland. I have in my hand a list of offences against the Excise Game Laws reported by this association to the Excise but in which either no proceedings were instituted or where proceedings were instituted they were settled by payment out of Court. It is a list of ten cases; in seven no proceedings were taken and three were compromised. I shall be happy to hand the list to the noble Lord. One case which occurred in November, 1912, was that of Henry Wilson Foxe, of 4, Halkin-street, Grosvenor-place, London. He was found by the association's inspector on the townland of Letterfrack, Co. Galway, where he shot one hare and one grouse without a game certificate. No proceedings have been taken in that case by the Excise. The second case I shall quote is that of Patrick White, of Clashganny, Newcastle, Co. Tipperary, who was found by the keeper of the Suir Valley Coursing Club in January, 1913, at eleven o'clock in the morning, with a gun and dog when he fired at a snipe. He held no licence. The Coursing Club prosecuted this man for trespass in pursuit of game, when he was convicted and fined £1, but no proceedings have been taken by the Excise. Arthur Finnegan, of Derryrellan, Co. Tyrone, was found by the association's inspector on September 8, 1912, with a gun and collie dog. He held no licence, but no proceedings have been taken by the Excise.

Now let me take a case of compromising. In August, 1912, James Donnelly, of Drumragh, Omagh, was found by the association's inspector with a double-barrelled gun beating for game. He held no licence. This case was settled out of Court by the Excise on payment of a compromise fine. I could quote a number of similar cases, than which I do not think anything could show greater neglect of their duty on the part of the Excise officers. I have also particulars of four cases from the Limerick branch of the Irish Game Protection Association, and I will quote the most outrageous one. On February 6 of this year Jos. O'Callaghan, of Thomas- street, Limerick, was found by the association's inspector, at half-past four in the afternoon, with a gun and setter dog beating for game on march near Tervoe, Limerick. On being challenged he said that he had a game licence but did not bring it with him, and that his name was Michael Cusack, of 55, George-street, Limerick. This man Cusack holds a game licence. The inspector, suspecting that a false name had been given, made inquiries and ascertained that the man was not Michael Cusack, and that Michael Cusack could not have been out shooting on the evening in question. The inspector subsequently identified the man as Jos. O'Callaghan, of Thomas-street, Limerick. The man was then charged with being in pursuit of game without having a proper licence, giving a false name and address, and personating another man who held a game licence. The Game Protection Association communicated with the Excise authorities, and this is the answer which they received from the Custom House, Limerick, under date April 19, 1913— In reply I beg to state that the Commissioners do not think it necessary to take action in any of the cases referred to except in the case of R. B. Quin, which was dealt with by themselves. I do not know how that case was dealt with; it is not stated.

The real truth of the matter is that these officers do not do their duty. I do not say they are incompetent because they are perfectly well able to do their duty, but they are idle. They are paid to see that the proper revenue is collected but they do not collect it although cases are reported to them time after time. It may be said that perhaps they are afraid of becoming unpopular, but I live in Ireland a great deal and I have not heard in modern times of a single case of the boycotting or attacking in any way of an Excise officer who had taken action in these cases. The result of this neglect to take action is that the proper revenue is not collected where it should be. The Excise officers take no notice of flagrant offences although fully reported to them. It must be remembered that there is a good deal of wild shooting in Ireland, which is valuable and attracts tourists and sportsmen to the country, and many times complaints have come from gentlemen who do not live in Ireland but go there for sport to the effect that if these cases were attended to poaching would be stopped and the country would benefit thereby. There is no great feeling amongst respectable farmers for the poacher. He is a great nuisance, and he very often prevents the herd on the land from getting a present when gentlemen go there to shoot.

I could give many more cases in which the law has not been properly carried out. I believe I am right in saying that strong representations have been made to the Excise officers from the Executive Government in Ireland, but the matter goes on being neglected. The Irish Game Protection Association is becoming more and more important and is doing good work, and surely we have a right to ask that when flagrant cases are reported, especially such cases as the Limerick one which I have brought before the House to-day, the Excise officers should do their duty. I beg to move for the two Returns set out in my Notice on the Paper.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Returns of:

  1. 1. The number of prosecutions under the Excise Came Laws in the years 1912–1913 brought by the Excise on the initiative of their own officers or the Royal Irish Constabulary apart from cases reported to them by the Irish Game Protection Association;
  2. 2. All Excise game offences in the same period which were compromised by the Department out of Court.—(The Earl of Mayo.)


My Lords, the noble Earl will certainly not expect me to go into the cases which he has mentioned and of which until this moment I had no knowledge. Had the noble Earl given me an intimation that he intended to refer to these cases I would have looked into them and given him an answer to-day. As it is, if he desires it, I shall be glad to ask for an inquiry into the different cases. But on this occasion I can only deal broadly with the question raised in his Notice on the Paper. I should like to assure the noble Earl that as far as the Board of Customs and Excise are concerned he may be perfectly certain that there has been no laxity at all in this matter, and that they have done all they could to secure that there should be no laxity in their officers as regards the renewal of licences or the discovery of persons who have not taken out licences and who ought to do so. It is perfectly obvious, it being the duty of the Customs and Excise authorities to collect as much revenue as they can, that they would give instructions to their officers that the revenue should not be in any way defrauded through neglect. Not merely are these stringent instructions given by the Board to their officers, but they very carefully consider every report which is made to them either by their own officers, by the Irish Game Protection Association, or by the public at large.

It must be borne in mind that the Board are not only responsible for collecting revenue in Ireland, but also in Scotland; and up till quite lately they were responsible for its collection in England as well. I can assure the noble Earl that there has been uniformity of practice in the matter. No system has been applied to Ireland that has not been applied to Scotland and was not applied to England in the old days, and I have never heard that there has been any complaint of laxity as far as Scotland is concerned, and certainly as regards England I can speak from personal experience that before this matter was handed over to the county councils there was never any dissatisfaction with the way in which the Excise officers discharged their duties. It is rather curious that there should be this complaint in Ireland, but I think it must be due to some misunderstanding as regards the action of the Board in this matter.

Full statutory discretion is given to the Board of Customs and Excise as to whether or not they should prosecute in particular cases, and they also have full power to settle by compromise. I am sure your Lordships will agree that there may be cases where a compromise is desirable, especially where the case is not so clear that a conviction is certain. On the other hand, by compromise the authorities often get quite as large a sum out of the defaulter as they would get if they went before the Court; and as they have a statutory right to use their discretion there is no reason why they should not compromise if they think it desirable to do so. Many cases that have been investigated by the Board when they came to be looked into did not come under the Game Licensing Act at all. The noble Earl referred once or twice to the question of poaching and to the desirability of action being taken in the interest of game preserving. I am a game preserver myself, and, am only too anxious to see game preserved; but we must not mix up the question of Excise with the question of game preserving. In some cases when an informer has come before the Excise and offered to bring forward evidence which would lead to conviction, it has been found that he has declined, when he had to go into a Court of Law, to adhere to the statement he had made; and it is certainly undesirable that the Government should prosecute in cases of that sort, when their own witness turns round and repudiates the statement he originally made. It is of the greatest importance that the Government should only go into Court when they feel practically certain of getting a conviction.

While the Board of Customs and Excise are only too ready to receive information from the Irish Game Protection Association, and quite appreciate the efforts which that body has made, I would point out that there are many cases in which the association's inspectors have not been very reliable. I will quote two or three cases to show what I mean, and if the noble Earl desires to have the names and the full particulars I will give them to him privately. In the first case which I shall quote the offence was committed on November 21, 1910. An inspector of the Irish Game Protection Association was prosecuted and fined for assaulting two boys who were on their father's land and refused to give their names. He was apparently trespassing and produced a revolver, and when asked whether he had a licence expressed himself-utterly ignorant of the requirements of the law in this respect. Another inspector of this association, amongst other performances, was found by the police drunk in the public streets in possession of a loaded revolver. He did not possess a licence, and was convicted for this offence.


What was the date of this second case?


August 14, 1908. Then there was a case on February 13, 1912. The association's inspector at first said the defendant was not the offender; then he said he thought he was, and finally he declared that he was the offender. The case was dismissed as it was quite clear that the man was not the offender. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the Board of Customs and Excise in Ireland have had difficulties to encounter, and when inspectors of the Irish Game Protection Association report these cases it is very necessary for them to be looked into carefully, having regard to the fact that some of the cases taken up have been dismissed simply because the inspectors were not reliable persons.

The noble Earl has moved for two Returns, but I would venture to point out that, if made, the Returns would be to a large extent misleading, because it would be difficult to give in every case the whole of the particulars. Moreover, the labour and expense would be very large indeed. I therefore hope the noble Earl will not press his Motion. If we were to deal with the whole of the eases we should have to give the reasons for the failure, and we should have to give cases, some of which I have quoted, which might bring a certain amount of odium upon the association. This we should not at all desire, because we fully appreciate that in many cases the association is doing a great deal of good work. But I have given cases which show that mistakes have been made by these inspectors, and the mere fact of an inspector of this association coming forward with the allegation that a man has committed an offence cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that we should take up the case and prosecute. I can assure the noble Earl that we are most anxious to take up every case where there is a chance of securing a conviction, but what we object to do is to take a case into Court where it is impossible, owing to the very unsatisfactory state of the evidence, to get a conviction.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that after the appeal which has just been made by the noble Lord my noble friend behind me might be well advised not to press his Motion. I doubt very much, if these Returns were to be granted, whether they would really give the noble Earl the kind of information he desires. The point of his observations was that a number of these cases were improperly compromised out of Court, and that sufficient notice was not taken of the reports, on the one hand, of the Constabulary, and on the other of the inspectors of the Irish Game Protection Association. All that my noble friend would learn from these Returns would be that a certain number of prosecutions had taken place and that in a certain number of cases there had been a compromise, but unless the reasons were given in each case he would have no opportunity of forming an opinion whether or not the case was a proper one for compromise. I rather agree with the noble Lord who spoke for the Government that in some cases a compromise is not a bad settlement of the difficulty. In these circumstances I cannot help hoping that my noble friend will be satisfied with the general assurance which he has received that the matter will be brought to the attention of the Department concerned, and that in the incur while they will not be given the trouble of preparing these very elaborate Returns.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Marquess I shall not press my Motion. I can, however, assure the noble Lord opposite that the Irish Game Protection Association are not afraid of the possibility of any odium being thrown upon them by the granting of these Returns. There are black sheep in every community, and I am sure the inspectors referred to by the noble Lord—one of the cases he quoted was in 1908 and another in 1910—have been got rid of long ago. I hope that the authorities will take a little more trouble with regard to gun licences and see that these people do take them out, and that they are properly dealt with if they do not. There are, I agree, cases where there should be compromise, but I hope the practice will not be carried in future to the extent to which we know it has been carried in the past. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at five minutes past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.