Order for Second Reading read.
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that his object was to repeal the Act passed in 1862, introduced into that House by Sir Baldwin Leighton, at that time Member for South Shropshire. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey), who was then Home Secretary, in opposing that measure, said—
The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council of Education (Mr. W. E. Forster) equally opposed the conversion of the county police into gamekeepers, and said—"It would greatly increase the stringency of the Game Laws. It had been framed with the greatest haste. He had received the memorial from 28 chief constables, who stated, however, that they were most anxious the constabulary should not be employed to protect game. These constables signing the memorial had also furnished returns as to murders or attacks by poachers on gamekeepers, and in 10 of these the return was 'nil,' so that in 10 counties not a single case of the kind had occurred. In the rest cases had occurred. … Under the provisions of the Bill a constable would be authorized to stop, search, and detain 'any cart or other conveyance in or upon which there should be reasonable cause to suspect that any such game was being carried.' That was a power that did not exist with regard to stolen property, for a constable could not stop a carriage except under the Metropolitan Police Act, which compelled a warrant to be first obtained for power to search. He recommended the withdrawal of the Bill."—[See 3 Hansard, clxviii. 377.]
The Bill, too, was opposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) who denied that poaching was sufficiently on the increase to warrant the passing so stringent a measure, and who contended that the result of giving these powers to the police would be to make them less attentive to their natural game, the thieves, in proportion to the energy with which they devoted themselves to their new duties. The severity of the provisions of the Bill was somewhat lessened in Committee; but after scenes which would be in the recollection of many hon. Members the Bill was ultimately read a third time and passed. The difficulty of carrying out the provisions of the Act had been fully exemplified by the numerous cases which had come before the magistrates, in which the words, "giving cause for suspicion" were subjected to various readings, while the general effect of the working of this extraordinary measure had evidently been to intensify rather than to diminish the evils arising from poaching. Many cases of hardship had arisen under the Act, persons having been committed for private poaching, though they were entirely innocent of the crime; but it was only fair to the police to say that, considering the enormous powers with which they had been intrusted, it was a matter of some surprise that more had not arisen. If hon. Members opposing this Bill objected that all Acts of Parliament were liable to abuse, he could urge other and higher grounds than that of the conviction of innocent persons under the Act. But the Act had done nothing to stop poaching, for the convictions for this offence were still actually on the increase, and had been increasing year after year. [Colonel BARTTELOT: Because they've caught them.] In 1858 the total offences under the Game Laws numbered 7,473, in 1869 they had increased to 10,345. The increase in the five years from 1858 to 1862 was 15¾ per cent, and in the five years after the passing of this Act it was 19¼ per cent. No doubt in the year 1862 there was a great increase in poaching; but that increase he believed was due solely to temporary causes—to the Cotton famine caused by the American War. He would remind the House that from Scotland during the last election there had been no uncertain sound with regard to the damage caused by game, and it was well known that many hon. Members were returned to that House with the express object of endeavouring to secure the repeal of the Game Laws. He would ask the House to repeal this Act, because, while effecting little or no good, it had created a great deal of annoyance throughout the country districts. It was evident that the police in some parts of the country were largely employed in the preservation of game, in proof of which statement he would quote the Return obtained by the hon. Member for Hertford, which showed that there had been 806 convictions last year under this Act, and that while so acting as assistant gamekeepers their support devolved upon the general body of the ratepayers, and he certainly could not see why the heavily-taxed ratepayers should be called I upon to contribute to the preservation of animals that certainly destroyed a great amount of the food in this country. If game was to be preserved it should be at the expense of the owners and not of those who derived no benefit from the Act. He begged, therefore, to move that the Bill be read a second time."If the Bill passed many gentlemen would have defrayed out of the county rates part of the cost which they now paid for an amusement."
, in seconding the Motion, said, that the present Bill was limited in its scope, and was simply intended to deal with the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862, commonly known as Sir Baldwin Leighton's Act. It was only eight years since that Act was passed; but during that interval there had taken place a great Parliamentary Reform, and it was not likely that anyone on either side of the House would ever venture to propose a similar measure to the present House of Commons. It therefore seemed only proper that "the householders' Parliament" should have an early opportunity of rescinding the unpopular Act of its predecessor. Before the Committee of 1845 the strongest evidence was given of the severity of the Game Laws; and the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department said that these laws were the severest in the statute book, and that he knew of no law, except the Night Poaching Act, by which a magistrate had power to imprison, with hard labour, in default of finding of securities not to repeat an offence for which imprisonment, with hard labour, had been already inflicted. It might have been hoped that in the course of 25 years something would have been done to relax their severity; but the only important Game Act since passed was that of 1862, which was forced through the House of Commons in the teeth of strenuous opposition from leading men on both sides. It was not too much to say that since the Reform Act of 1832 no such piece of unequal class legislation had passed this House. No enactment had gone so far to render the Game Laws hateful to the general community, who were not sportsmen, farmers, or poachers, but simply ratepayers, and who saw their paid servants, the police, invested with new and arbitrary powers in order to protect not the property, but the pastime of their wealthier neighbours. An eloquent opponent of the Game Laws stated recently in public that he dated their certain repeal from this triumph of the game preservers. Speaking, however—possibly from selfish motives—he was not yet quite prepared to accept the Bill of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) for sweeping from the statute book all penal laws whatever relating to game. He knew, however, that public opinion was now setting strongly in that direction, and that those who a few years ago would have been satisfied with reform were already agitating for total repeal. Feeling satisfied that this Act, the last and worst, should be the first to go, he had ventured to put his name upon his hon. Friend's Bill, to which he now asked the House to accord a second reading.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Mr. Brown.)
said, he would not go into the general question of the Game Laws, which would come before the House on another occasion; but he protested against the repeal by a sidewind of a statute which had worked satisfactorily. The Mover of the Motion now before the House asked how it was to be found out that game carried on the high road was carried illegally. The answer was, that the police found no difficulty in the matter. The hon. Member said that poaching had increased since the passing of the Bill. But so had the population; and the police having become more vigilant, and having increased powers to stop persons on the high roads, the number of apprehended poachers was of course increased. The hon. Member had also said that the number of the police force had been increased. But this was not in consequence of the Game Laws. The Seconder of the Motion had stated that the Reform Bill haying passed, this Bill ought to be repealed. The only conclusion which he (Viscount Galway) could arrive at on the point was that the hon. Member wished the householders to have a better chance of poaching. The Act was carried by a very considerable majority, notwithstanding the opposition of some most influential Members of the House. It was opposed by Lord Stanley, by the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey), by the old and respected Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the Vice President of the Council, as well as some other influential Members, and the Prime Minister. There must, then, have been some merit in this Bill, for it was carried through the House. The right hon. Member for Morpeth spoke against the Bill on the second reading; but he was not quite sure that the right hon. Baronet voted against it. [Sir GEORGE GREY: I did.] The right hon. Baronet tried to improve the Bill in Committee. As it came down from the Lords it was certainly too stringent. It was very much improved in the House of Commons by the aid of the right hon. Baronet, and also by the assistance of the present First Commissioner of Works. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire said, the Bill would authorize the police to interfere in the question of game. This was the grave objection; but if their objections on that point had been borne out by experience, would they not have been in their places that day to support the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brown)? The real question was, had the Act worked well? He had not heard a single argument adduced by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion showing that it had not acted well—that the magistrates had complained of it; that the police had complained of it; or, in fact, that any complaint had been made against it throughout the country. In his own county the Act had worked satisfactorily—in truth, the Act had broken up the gang of poachers. There was no more effectual way of stopping poaching than stopping the poachers on the high road and taking away their nets and engines of destruction. The most implacable opponent of the Act formerly was the Vice President of the Privy Council. The opponents of the measure divided the House repeatedly, reported Progress, did everything they could to defeat the measure. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman had learned wisdom by experience—that he had been convinced that the measure had worked satisfactorily, and that the result would be to prevent poaching, to make parents respectable people, and send their children to the schools which he was so anxious to establish about the country. Another opponent of the measure was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who thought that the power to the police of stopping persons on the highway would be unpopular. But the right hon. Gentleman now proposed to authorize the police to make a still greater interference, and go on land and demand the gun tax. He (Viscount Galway) did not wish to increase the power of the police, but he thought the Act had worked well. He was by no means an advocate for an over-protection to game—he thought that those who tried to increase the growth of rabbits did not know their own interests. But he was equally opposed to thieving, to which the present Act operated as a considerable check. Not only had the police found game on the highway; but, under the game, poultry; and under the poultry, plate. He therefore begged to move, that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months.
, in seconding the Amendment, said, his opinion was that there was no step between the maintenance of the Game Laws and the proposals on the subject which had been made by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). Either it was right that game should be preserved, or it was wrong. If it was wrong, the system should be directly attacked. He altogether objected to piecemeal legislation. He had endeavoured to give the existing Game Laws his best consideration; but it was simply a waste of time to seek to deal with them by four or five measures such as were this Session before the House, as there was not the slightest chance of their passing into law. It was, indeed, only because some hon. Members represented cantankerous constituencies that the question was so often brought forward; but he had no such incentive to meddle with matters of the kind, for he was glad to say that he represented one of the pleasantest and Best of constituencies. Who was it, he asked, that complained of the Night Poaching Act? Did the occupiers complain of it? There might be a man here and there who did; but, so far as he could judge, the intelligent farmers did not call for its repeal. The farmers were his best friends, as they permitted him to ride over their lands whenever he pleased. He ought to know something about poaching. When he first went to live in the parish in which he now resided, it was one of those which, previously to the Union Eating Bill, were called "open parishes." Every one who did wrong in the surrounding parishes was sent into it to live, and there were in it at the period to which he was referring 24 men who regularly carried guns and shot game, which they afterwards sold at the public-houses. Well, as a remedy for that state of things, he said to these men—"I am coming to live among you; I am fond of sport; I shall keep a sharp look out, and if I catch you poaching I will prosecute you. And mind, I shall put on very active men to look after you." The result was that these men had ceased after a time to commit the offence. Some of them he had recommended to go to Canada. He would state what had happened to him since the Night Poaching Act had come into operation. One morning he had had one of those early sleeps in which he advised hon. Gentlemen to indulge as often as possible, and he rode out early. On his way home he overtook two of his friends, whom he knew to be notorious poachers, and he saw that they had been engaged at their trade. Having met a policeman he pointed them out to him. One of them ran away, but the other I was taken into custody, and at once said that it was now impossible to poach, for if poachers were not caught on the land they were liable to be caught off it. Well, that very man worked for him at the present moment, and was, he believed, as steady as any man in the parish. It was said that game offered a temptation, but so did the butcher's shop. If game was not to be protected what was to be said of the fowl-yard and the pig-yard? There were, of course, some hon. Gentlemen opposed to the preservation of game, because their political existence depended on agitation. But although they might not be fond of shooting or hunting, they might, he thought, use their spare energies in a better way. There were, no doubt, some persons who were given to over-preservation, and their conduct, like that of a few evicting landlords in Ireland, occa- sioned a great outcry. To such persons he would say—"Keep down your rabbits and hares, and you will hear very little about game." The result of the complete destruction of game would, he believed, lead to a great extent to that absenteeism which was said to be one of the great evils of the sister country. The poor would, in the long run, be the sufferers. If the game were destroyed, what, he should like to know, was a man to do with his guests after breakfast in the country? One of the penalties he should like to impose upon those hon. Gentlemen opposite who proposed the repeal of the existing Act, was that they should come and stay with him in the winter under the altered state of things, when, instead of offering them any sport, he would have to tell them that they must walk about between breakfast and dinner time in a solitary place and amuse themselves as well as they could in smoking. If they had to suffer in that way for three days they would come back to the House and implore hon. Members to re-enact the Bill. It was either right or wrong that there should be a law providing that in the event of a man trespassing on another's property, and taking away that which did not belong to him, the owner should be protected. Justice was done to the poacher—even more than justice. No man regretted more than he did that there should be so many prosecutions for poaching; but much as he differed from the hon. Member for Leicester—and he scarcely ever agreed with him on any subject—he must admit that he was far more consistent in his attempts at legislation with reference to the Game Laws than the Mover of the present Bill, the result of passing which would be to encourage the poacher. Repeal this law, and why not repeal every penal law and let people rob each other as they pleased. He would implore hon. Members to discuss the question in that House as they would round their own dining-tables—in a calm, serious, and proper manner, and not, by such speeches as he had listened to, seek to inflame the passions of a well-contented people.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—( Viscount Galway.)
said, that as allusion had been made on both sides of the House to the part which he took in 1862, when he held the office of Secretary of State, in opposition to the passing of the Act which it was now proposed to repeal, he desired to state the course which, he should feel it his duty to take that day. It was quite true that he strongly opposed the Bill when it came down from the House of Lords. The Bill underwent considerable modification in its passage through this House; but he thought that the powers it conferred on the police were larger than necessity required, and therefore he opposed it, although many of the objections to the original Bill were removed by Amendments made in that House. He opposed the Bill partly on the representations of 28 chief constables, who objected to the duties which it conferred on the police, and partly from an apprehension that serious abuse might arise from placing these powers in the hands of the police. He had, he believed, voted not only against the second, but against the third reading. But it was a very different thing to oppose a Bill in its passage through Parliament, and to vote for the repeal, without any inquiry, of an Act which had received the sanction of a large majority of the Members of both Houses. And he was bound to add that, owing to the great discretion with which the chief constables of counties generally had exercised the power vested in them, and the manner in which they used the authority over the men under their charge, the apprehensions which had been entertained by those who opposed the Bill of an abuse of the power vested in the constables had not been verified. Very few complaints had been made of the operation of the Act, although he still thought the powers it gave were larger than ought to be intrusted to the police. In one respect—he referred to the case of those gangs of professional poachers who were in the habit of making some populous town the centre of their operations, and who went out armed at night and carried their game back to their head-quarters in town, the Act had, he believed, worked beneficially. The police knew them to be poachers, and yet, in the face of the police, the poachers formerly carried their game to their quarters in the town, sold it, and pocketed the profits of their nefarious enterprize with impunity. In this respect the Act had been useful as a check, and the repeal of it now would, he thought, be rather an intimation to those poachers that they might resume their old practices, and would lead to a great increase of crime. But, in addition to that objection to the Bill, he concurred with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, that it was not desirable to proceed by piecemeal legislation. It was merely nibbling at a great subject which ought to be dealt with in a much more comprehensive manner. This was not the only Bill which proposed a repeal of the Act of 1862. There was a Bill before the House, in which the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) proposed that game should be made the property of the occupier. If that principle were adopted—of which he was disposed to think favourably, though he would give no decided opinion upon it now—it would involve the repeal not of this Act only, but of several other Acts relating to game as was proposed in the Schedule to the Bill, and it would place the whole question upon a different and a more satisfactory footing. As the law stood at present it was very difficult to make the people believe that it was an equal crime to take game as to take fowls or other poultry. But that was a question which the Government ought to deal with. They had four Bills before them on the subject of the Game Laws, exclusive of that under discussion. They had now entered upon the month of July, and there were several important questions which it was essential they should dispose of. He thought, therefore, it was impossible to deal with the question this Session, and he would advise that all these Bills should be withdrawn, which, if they were pressed, would only waste time that might be much more usefully employed, and he hoped that during the Recess his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department might be able to take the whole subject into his consideration, with a view to its being dealt with early in the next Session. There was no doubt a strong feeling in the country on this subject; but there was no use in attempting to deal with it this Session. In the part of the country where he lived he did not believe there was any strong feeling on the subject; the tenants had liberty to kill hares, and there was no excessive preserving of game. For himself, he could not sufficiently deprecate that over-preservation of game which existed in some parts of the country for the sake of enabling a great head of game to be killed in the course of two or three days. That was anything but sport. He was glad to say he had never heard it defended in that House. If that excessive preservation were done away with a great deal of the unpopularity which now attached to the Game Laws would, he believed, cease to exist. He had simply to add the expression of a hope that the hon. Member (Mr. Brown) would not press his Motion to a Division, but would be satisfied with the expression of opinion he had elicited from all parts of the House.
said, he was glad to find that the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down had seen reason to modify his original opinion as to the arbitrary nature of the measure, and that he was now induced to think that the discretion of the police justified the large powers intrusted to them by the Act. He rose for the purpose of stating how the Act had worked in the county which he represented (Cheshire). Before the passing of the Act one of the worst evils of the system was that large gangs of poachers came out from the manufacturing towns to the agricultural districts, and though the police met the produce of their poaching going into the towns in carts they could not interfere. He was happy to say that the Act had had considerable effect in reducing the numbers of these large gangs. The hon. Member for Wenlock (Mr. Brown) had stated that there was a considerable increase in poaching cases since the Act was passed. That might be true, but the hon. Member had not discriminated between the different classes of cases. His argument, if it was good for anything, was in favour of the abolition of all game laws. He (Mr. Wilbraham Egerton) had received returns from the chief constable of Cheshire of the cases of poaching since the passing of the Act, distinguished under the heads of trespass by day in pursuit of game, night poaching, and offences under the present Act. It appeared that under the first head there was an increase of cases, between 1860 and 1869, from 133 to 275. In night poaching there was also an increase from 23 in 1860, to 34 in 1869. But with regard to the cases under this Act there had been a decrease, from 58 in 1863, which was the first year it came in operation, to 43 in 1869. The question had also been discussed before the Cheshire Chamber of Agriculture, and though there was a large attendance of the farmers, no resolution was carried in favour of the repeal of the Act. He thought it was quite unnecessary to repeal this Act, and he hoped the Bill would be withdrawn, and that the Government would be able to deal with the whole question next Session, instead of leaving it in the hands of private Members.
said, he would not follow the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) or the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Greene) in travelling over the whole question of the Game Laws, but would confine himself to the Bill before them, and would devote the few minutes during which he should trouble the House, chiefly to reviewing the arguments of the noble Lord (Lord Galway) who moved the rejection of the Bill. The noble Lord told them that there must have been "something in" the Bill of 1862 to force it through the House against the opposition of Lord Stanley, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, and of almost every Member on the Ministerial Bench. He hoped to show what that "something" was. Again, the noble Lord described the Act as "a success." He hoped to show that it had been a failure. Were he to characterize the Act as he should like, he feared the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair would call him to Order; but he would say this—that in his humble opinion it was the worst piece of legislation that had passed this House during his life, because the only distinctly retrogressive Act in an advancing and enlightened time. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to glory in it, but it was strange that they did not see that it was the cause of the outcry that existed all over the country about the Game Laws, and that from it had arisen the five or six Game Bills—more or less wild in his opinion—now before the House. Ono of these Bills would make game "property." He regretted to hear the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) countenance this most foolish idea. How could that be property the proprietorship of which was to depend on its own volition? How could that be property, again, which no man could distinguish or identify? Of course Parliament might pass an Act making game property; but so Parliament more than once passed an Act declaring that a certain piece of paper should be worth a certain number of sovereigns. But did the Act make the paper worth the money? Not a bit of it. The people persisted in taking the paper for exactly what it was worth—not a 1d. more or less. Just in the same way they might pass a law making game property—but they would never get the English people to believe that wild animals were property. He had said he regarded the Act as a failure, and the only argument to the contrary that he had heard was, that it had decreased night-poaching in the vicinity of large manufacturing towns. Well, as to those who kept large heads of game close to manufacturing towns, perhaps it would be safer for him to keep to himself the expressions which rose to his lips; but he would say that he should like to place such men in the dock beside the high-spirited or ignorant lad whom they were the means of leading into trouble. Everywhere else the Act had worked badly. It had increased the rates for the purpose of promoting what the ratepayers most suffered by. He could not, of course, prove that the increased cost of the police from £600,000 in 1862, to £700,000 in 1870, was due to the operation of the Act; but it required no proof that they could not put additional duties on any body of men without either increasing their numbers and pay, or else decreasing their efficiency in the discharge of their former duties. The police were appointed and paid by the county magistrates; they were constantly under their eye and control—they were, it might be said, their servants. These same magistrates were, in the main, the preservers of game, so that when the House passed this Act, it became the interest of every constable to pay more attention to assisting gamekeepers than to protecting the property of the ratepayers. They would not have been human if they had not! This had been brought vividly before him by what he heard from a neighbour of his. He was up at two in the morning attending to a sick cow, and having done what was necessary, he went and looked over his fence into a small bit of very fine mangel, which was close to his house, and there saw, as he expected, a large number of his landlord's hares. He threw a stick at them, and they scampered away in a flock. A day or two after he met the parish policeman, who, to his surprise, asked him "Whether he was often up at two in the morning?" "Why, no!" "Weren't you up on such a morning?" "Oh, yes! after my cow." "Ah, I see yer, and see yer shy yer stick at the hares!" Why that man was tending those hares as a boy might tend sheep. He thought, then, that he had proved his first point, that the ratepayers paid, in one form or another, for the working of this Act. He next asserted that they suffered in anotherway—namely, that the amount of ground game—which destroyed their crops—had been greatly increased by it. ["No, no!"] Well, he said it had. Of course he could not give figures. Even if the right hon. Baronet succeeded in making game "property," he would not, he supposed, have a census of hares. But it was notorious in the parts of Suffolk that he knew best, that ground game had increased. In Norfolk he was aware it had gone down very much in the last two years, owing, it was said, to the healthy influence of the General Election. Hon. Gentlemen found that hares were very bad canvassers. He had promised to enlighten the noble Lord as to what the "something" was that forced the Act of 1862 through the House. He feared it was the desire of a large section of the then House of Commons to preserve a bigger head of game, and not at their own expense. Last winter, after a day's shooting, his keeper asked him to give two constables—who duly presented themselves—a hare a piece. He asked why. "Oh, sir, they are very useful to me." He thought at the time, and he thought now, that that simple expression spoke volumes, and he left the moral in the hands of the House. There was one other point he wished to avert to before he sat down; and he would ask, was not game preserving sufficiently fostered already by pecuniary exemptions, without laying additional burdens on the ratepayers? How about the coverts which harboured the game, and were hardly rated at all? How about the reduced assessment of "game farms," which increased the rates on all other land? He would ask the House to consider these points, and not to refuse a second reading to his hon. Friend's Bill.
said, he hoped that an opportunity would be afforded, either this Session or early in the next, to discuss the whole question of the Game Laws. His own opinion was that truth lay, as was usual in such cases, between the two extremes—between those who were for the total repeal of the Game Laws and those who committed what he held to be the folly and injustice of a large and over-preservation of ground game. He had not the honour of a seat in that House when the Act now under consideration was passed; but he spoke against its passing whenever he had an opportunity, and he was of the same opinion still. He did not, indeed, think there was any great danger in intrusting the exceptional powers of this Act to the police, for though they were as a class ignorant men, yet they were under the direction of highly intelligent chief constables, who would take care that they discharged their duties with discretion, and, in fact, with a few exceptions at the beginning, those powers had been exercised with great moderation. He took objection to the police being employed in the preservation of game, because game paid nothing, or next to nothing, in rates and taxes. He did not think it desirable that the police should be assistant gamekeepers, though a poacher was an unmitigated rascal, who, if he could not fill his bag with the landlord's hares, would bag the tenant's cocks and hens or steal his sheep. Woodlands, where game was preserved, were not rated, except where there was saleable underwood; and, as a rule, it would be found that where the right of shooting was let to the tenant then game paid both rates and taxes; where it was let to a third party it was not assessed to the rates, but it was to the property tax; but where it was in the landlord's own hands it escaped both rates and taxes, and he believed it would also be found that where gentlemen sold their game they escaped the licence duty as well. If these lands were rated, as they ought to be—and he believed no Gentleman in that House who preserved game would object to that—a great deal of the pre- sent objection to the system would be removed. As to the hardship of the police searching a man for game, he believed that if that were conducted with discretion a great portion of the present objection would die away, because in seaching for game it often happened that several other crimes were discovered. But that was a question for the Government to deal with. The Government had brought in a Bill for Scotland which was not worth the paper on which it was written. That Bill ought to be withdrawn, and the Government ought to take a large and enlightened view of the whole question, if they would satisfy the country. Though he held that the present Motion was ill-timed, and that it was useless to press the question now, still, for consistency's sake, he would do in the House what he said he would do out of it, and vote for the repeal of the Act.
said, he was absent through illness when the Bill of 1862 was before the House. Had he been present he should have given his most determined opposition to the Bill, because it tended to increase the preservation of game, employed the police to assist in promoting that object, and exposed magistrates, however pure, to the imputation that they increased the county police in order to decrease poaching. But the question which the House now had to decide was, whether they would repeal the Act without considering the general subject of the Game Laws. He was bound to admit that he had received no complaints of the working of the Act. It might be true that the farmers objected to ground game, and to anything that might have a tendency to increase it; but they were well aware that they had derived a benefit from the action of the police under that Act, for in the suppression of poaching the pillage of farm-yards had in a great degree been prevented. There was also no question that the Act had had a useful effect in suppressing the worst and most violent form of poaching—that of night gangs. He should hesitate, therefore, to deal with one part of the subject without proposing remedial measures in another direction. He might be asked whether the Government were prepared with such remedial measures. Now, he must say that, however worthy this subject might might be to occupy the attention of the Government, he was not in anyway pledged, nor was he aware that any other Member of the Government was pledged to deal with it. The Government had introduced a Bill with the view to settle the question as between landlord and tenant in Scotland, and at the solicitation of many hon. Members that Bill was afterwards made applicable to England; but it only had a limited operation. He felt great reluctance to deal with a question when he did not see clearly the principle on which legislation could proceed, and that was his difficulty here. He did not see that it was the duty of the Government absolutely to abrogate the Game Laws, and deprive game of protection. On the other hand he must admit that there were many evils resulting from the present system. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) that game was a proper subject for rating, and that woodlands now exempt should also be rated. But he feared that that, of itself, would be no solution of the question. Then came the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey). You might solve the question by making game property, and, undoubtedly, pheasants reared at great expense, and never leaving the land where they were reared, could hardly be called wild game, and might be considered almost as much the creatures of the law as domestic fowls. But other game was continually shifting from place to place; and it would be most repugnant to public feeling to deal with it as with ordinary property. By universal consent the taking of ordinary property was regarded as an act of felony; but who would be bold enough in this House to propose that the killing of a hare or rabbit should be treated as a felony? He shrank, therefore, from adopting that principle as a solution of the difficulty. All he could undertake to say on the part of the Government was that the matter should be taken into their serious consideration, with a view, if possible, to find some reasonable solution of these difficulties. He could not, however, promise to deal with the subject next Session, which was too heavily mortgaged already. He should have next Session to introduce a Licensing Bill, hardly less formidable than an Education Bill; to deal with the Metropolis; with the Pollution of Rivers—a question of vast importance; with the Inclosure of Lands, and, perhaps, with Turnpike Trusts. All these questions pressed for settlement. If, indeed, they were to take the remanets of the subjects mentioned in the Queen's Speech, there would be ample material to occupy next Session, and possibly the Session after. All that the Government could do under such circumstances was to make its selection of subjects. On this subject he could give no pledge, but he hoped meanwhile that his hon. Friend (Mr. Brown) would listen to the strong appeal made to him and not press the Bill to a Division. If the Act were so unpopular as the hon. Member described it, its continuance for a year or two longer would only add to its unpopularity, and its retention among the Game Laws would, he would suggest to the advocates of their total repeal, add strength to their case, and improve their chances of ultimate success.
said, he believed that the matter might long ago have been put on a footing which would have reconciled all conflicting interests—which would have satisfied the tenant-farmer and the demands of the public without inflicting any injury on the rights of property. Those rights must undoubtedly be protected, but how far was the principle to be carried? Mr. Charles Buller, when talking to him on the subject, said—"Do you think you have a right to hang your silver spoons on your trees?" This went to the root of the question. To what extent did the rights of property justify the preservation of game, and thereby the temptation of the poor? The speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) was a true specimen of the old Whig style. The right hon. Baronet had been long acquainted with the subject, for it had come before him as Home Secretary. Twenty-five years ago there was a Committee on this subject, and all the essential facts were elicited, yet the right hon. Gentleman deprecated an early treatment of the question without inquiry. The farmers of England were pressing for a settlement of the question. As to the Secretary of State for the Home Department he should remember that the House was not asked to pass a great measure, but to undo a bad measure—not to construct, but to destroy, which was a much simpler thing. The true Conservative was the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. H. G. Start), who deprecated the over-preservation of game, and recommended that tenants should be allowed to shoot it down. Battues were not true sport. The pleasure was in marking down your bird, or in following and bagging even a single jack-snipe, and the first thing a landowner should do after a day's sport was to send a brace or two of birds to the farmer. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to remember that game preservation had a considerable influence on rents, and that was one very important matter in the consideration of the subject. There was only one alternative for the landlords. If they insisted on having game they must lower the rents on the farmers.
Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
The House divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 140: Majority 78.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Bill put off for three months.