Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [25th May], That the Question then proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time," be now put.
Previous Question again proposed, "That that Question be now put."—( Mr. Hardcastle.)
said, that it was his intention to support the measure, though it went somewhat further than he wished; and if it failed to become law this year he should early next Session move for leave to reintroduce his Bill for taking hares and rabbits out of the game List, and for providing also for the security of the tenants' interests. He was not of the opinion that the abolition of the Game Laws would produce either all the good or all the evil that was anticipated respectively by the friends and opponents of the measure. He believed it would not do away with that legitimate sport which was so beneficial to the health of persons engaged in sedentary occupations, nor did he think that it would have the effect of reducing the value of the Scotch moors that some persons expected. If it did he should be prepared to legislate in such a manner as to remedy the evil. But he believed that the abolition of these laws would effectually remove that over-preservation of game of which there was now so much complaint. He should therefore vote for the second reading, though he should have been content with a Bill which simply withdrew the present legal protection enjoyed by ground game. He also supported this Bill as a protest against the Bills now before the House, and, especially, the Bill of the Government; and he trusted that if next year the Government introduced another Bill on the subject it would go further, and deal with the question in a more statesmanlike manner than that brought forward by them during the present Session. He would warn the House that many of the evils which were commonly attributed to the Game Laws, were really due to the Land Laws, and could never be abolished unless the House was prepared to deal in a comprehensive manner with the laws relating to the occupation of land.
said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) in supporting the Bill, which aimed not at the amendment of the Game Laws, but at their total abolition, and did not think that his hon. Friend had any desire to interfere with winged game. He said this the more confidently, as his hon. Friend had himself introduced a Bill to euro the game evil, and that Bill referred exclusively to hares and rabbits; and he could not believe that a Parliament which last year passed an Act for the preservation of sea birds could remove all protection from winged game. He could not consent to taking away the legal protection and a closed season which were now accorded to the partridge, that prince of buds, which, in its lifetime, did more good than harm, which furnished better sport than any other bird, and which, after its death, was a dinner fit for a king. There was no country, however republican, which did not, sooner or later, adopt some sort of Game Laws; and those of England were hardly more oppressive than the Game Laws which existed on the other side of the Atlantic. What the farmers of England, and, as he believed, the farmers of Scotland, wanted was not the destruction of partridges or of grouse, but rather that the over-preservation of hares and rabbits should cease — but then, by the present laws, hares and rabbits might be killed at all hours of the day and night, and at all seasons of the year, by any person who had a right to destroy them. And he would remind his hon. Friend that the Salmon Laws not only prevented all fishing during certain seasons, but also proscribed certain tackle for being used in their capture; and, further, their jolly friend the fox, although not in the game list, enjoyed a protection that was not accorded to any other boast of the field. With regard to the system of licences, he did not think there was much to complain of; for the farmers who had a right to kill hares could do so upon payment of 1s. for a certificate, and there was no licence required for the destruction of rabbits. But he quite agreed with the Report of the Committee of 1846, which said that the punishment for the unauthorized killing of game was excessive, and he would like to see it mitigated. He would draw the attention of the Lord Advocate to this point — if he wished to bring in a better Game Bill next year than he had done this, which he hoped he would—that he ought to do away with cumulative punishments, against which there was a very strong feeling in many parts of the country. He would illustrate his meaning by what had occurred the other day before a Bench of Magistrates at Swaffham, who, after convicting a poacher in penalties, were urged to inflict a further penalty upon him by the Board of Excise for sporting without a licence. The magistrates, in an able protest, stated that—
This decision of the justices was appealed against at the last Norfolk Quarter Sessions, the counsel for the prosecution arguing thus—"Inasmuch as it is contrary to the law of England for a person to be punished twice for the same offence, and believing that it would be harsh treatment to convict him of the offence charged upon him in the said information, we do hereby acquit him of the same."
The quarter sessions had therefore no choice left; but to mark their opinion of the case they mitigated the fine from £20 to £5, which was the lowest penalty they could inflict, and which he need hardly add, the prisoner was utterly unable to Pay. He had been told that one hare killed cost the Union, for the maintenance of the family of the defendant while he was in gaol the sum of £17, independent of what the county had to pay for the costs of the prosecution and his imprisonment. He had had long and varied experience of the evils of over-preserving game. He had spent his boyhood on a game farm; he had been agent upon a game-preserved estate, and he had also farmed on land where he had the happiness of having the game in his own hands; and he did not hesitate to say that game caused more jealousies and more misunderstandings between landlord and tenant than any other cause whatever. It was impossible that confidence and good feeling could exist between landlord and tenant when there was an over-preservation of ground game. It was often said that the game on a farm was a matter for arrangement between the landlord and tenant, but in seasons of drought like this that really was not the case. He knew a farm in Norfolk which was well worth £1,000 a year, without game; but, in consideration of the game, it was let at £400, so that £600 a year was lost in the assessment for poor rates and other local burdens; and the tenant, being utterly ruined, had become desperate, and having nothing left on his farm but hares and rabbits, had taken it into his head to destroy them himself, contrary to his agreement. No wonder that there was in that part of his county 15,000 acres of land to let, especially when he said that a tenant, in filling up his agricultural statistics, stated, "Extra stock, 1,500 hares, the property of my landlord!" They had had a good many theories and opinions as to the number of hares and rabbits that were equal to a sheep. That was all mere guess work. The question was not to be determined in that way. Even a tame rabbit, fed on the cheapest-bought food, would cost a farthing a day, which was 7s. 6d. a year; but if they turned a flock of sheep loose upon a farm, they would soon see the difference between the actual cost of their maintenance and the damage they inflicted. So it was with the hares and rabbits. At the present season a hare destroyed ten times more corn than she ate; and in winter, when she went nibbling about, from swede to swede, she did equal damage to the root crop. It was ridiculous to talk of the tenant being allowed only one valuation a year. In fairness, he ought to be allowed to spread his loss over the whole year; and that could only be done by having the damage valued whenever it occurred. No doubt, the Game Laws were a source of demoralization among the poor; but he had little belief in that beau, ideal of a poacher who shot a hare to take home to a starving wife. Therefore, he must remind the House that the model poacher of the old school hardly existed. The poacher now was seldom to be found on the game farms, but in the adjoining open village or small town, where a band existed of idle, dissolute, drunken young fellows, who, if they did not poach, would do worse. Let not the House, therefore, run away with the sentimental nonsense that the agricultural labourer was often starved into poaching. It was no such thing. But then there were other things that demoralized a neighbourhood. The tenant of a game farm was frequently a poor, heartbroken farmer, who was not able to employ the labourers round about him; and they were in a measure forced into idleness. Then the gamekeepers were sometimes taken from the lowest and worst class of the population—a reformed poacher being considered to make the best gamekeeper. Again, on these farms, it was expected that the agricultural labourers should become night watchers. Now, it was impossible that they could watch by night and work by day; and, hence, they fell into listless and drunken habits. Then, above all things, there was the hateful and demoralizing practice of buying pheasant's eggs. It encouraged boys to thieve from their infancy; and it was as foolish as it was wicked, because the game preserver as often bought his own birds' eggs as his neighbour's. And if these evils existed where the landlord preserved his game, they were aggravated ten-fold when he let the right of sporting to a stranger. The landlord had always some sympathy with his tenants: the stranger did not care a straw for them; his only object was to get as much sport as he could. He might be told that the landlord thus got two rents; but he had no right to allow the smaller rent to eat out the greater. For these reasons, he would be glad to see it provided by law that if the landlord did not choose to keep the game in his own hands, he should be bound to offer it in the first instance to the tenant. The noble Lord the Member for Cambridgeshire (Viscount Royston) had previously said in this debate that game was property, and that a man had a right to do what he would with his own. He (Mr. C. S. Read) denied both propositions. Live game was not property, and had never been held to be so—and he could not see how it ever should — because, when it was upon one side of the hedge it belonged to one owner, and when on the opposite side it belonged to another man; and when a person so exercised his rights as to make them a nuisance to his neighbours and the public, the law stepped in and prohibited him from such a use, or rather an abuse of his rights. He did not understand how, in this free country, the landlord's rights were to be respected and the tenant's ignored—that there should be protection to hares and rabbits, and no protection to corn and turnips. He then came to the important point of a remedy. The first remedy he would trust to was the influence of public opinion; and he believed that had done much, and would do still more. He appealed also with much stronger confidence and hope to the good sense and the kindly feeling of the landlords of this great country. He hoped there would be a better understanding on this question between them—that the landlord would trust his tenant more and his gamekeeper less. If all landlords were to follow the example set by the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. H. G. Sturt), he believed they would have no complaints from tenant-farmers as to the injurious operation of the Game Laws. But he confessed that recent events had shaken his faith in this ameliorating influence. The battue sport had become such a fashionable mania, and as there was such an unfortunate rage for it, it had spread far and wide over the country. The great man in the district had always some Royal Prince, or some noble Duke, or some Nabob from India on a visit; and he must give his distinguished friend a wonderful I day's shooting by butchering all his game that was formerly killed in five months, in about as many hours. And, unfortunately, the evil was that this practice was not confined to the great man, but every little squire in the neighbourhood imitated his example. The law gave the tenants the right to the game, and they invariably turned that right over to their landlords; but he believed that it would be for the interests of the tenants, for the benefit of agriculture, and for the good of the public, if Parliament stepped in and said to the tenant—"You shall not entirely abrogate the rights we have given you; it shall at least be the joint right of the landlord and the occupier of the soil to kill hares and rabbits." He admitted that this would be called an interference with freedom of contract; but just as a few bad landlords in Ireland had brought about the Irish Land Bill, so he feared that a few unscrupulous preservers of hares and rabbits would not only annihilate the Game Laws, but would ere long also do away with all legitimate sport in this country."He would not say that it was not a very kind view to take, but at any rate it was a very exceptional course for a bench of magistrates to adopt in this game-preserving county. That judgment, however, was altogether erroneous in point of law, for the magistrates were bound to convict."
said, he would not so soon have obtruded himself on the attention of the House, but that, as a Norfolk man, he could not sit still while this subject was under discussion. He agreed with all the facts and arguments addressed to them by his hon. Friend and neighbour who had just sat down, but he did not agree in his conclusions, as he could not understand how, after the strong facts and the able arguments the hon. Gentleman had used in the appeal he had made to the landlords generally, he should, after all, vote against the Motion before the House. But he agreed with the hon. Gentleman that there was a middle course to be pursued, and he trusted that it would be adopted by the landlords while yet it could be done. He hoped the tenant - farmers would be met on that ground. He believed that when the tenant-farmers got the protection of the Ballot very decided pledges would be exacted from candidates on this question; and it would now be a gracious act on the part of the landlords if, in order to meet reasonable views, they conceded something which might set the question at rest for years to come. The middle course he had just referred to was to leave hares and rabbits out of the Game Laws. His knowledge of the farmers of Norfolk was only inferior to that of his hon. Friend, and he would say that there was no desire on their part to deprive the gentry of the country of a proper amount of sport. They respected their landlords, and desired that they should pass as much time as possible in the country. But then that sport ought not to go so far as to ruin, or even to cause distress and anxiety to the tenant-farmers. He knew the farmers entertained a strong feeling that they were unjustly treated by the over-preservation of game. He was in favour of the principle of the Bill, and he believed that the Game Laws were not founded on principle. They attempted to make property what was not property, and great mischief had arisen from Parliament making criminal what the people could not be brought to regard as so highly criminal. That had a demoralizing effect. Many a youth who would shrink from committing a felony was led into poaching, and from thence he went on to graver crimes. Then he must remind the House that this question affected the consumers of food, who had a right to declare that no agreement should be come to between the owner of the soil and the cultivator which would prevent the latter obtaining from the soil the greatest possible amount of produce. Therefore, on grounds of public policy he supported the Bill; and another reason was this—every effort ought to be made to promote a good feeling among all classes, but he believed the Game Laws really engendered feelings in the minds of tenant-farmers which were not reconcilable with the proper affection and respect which the tenant ought to entertain towards his landlord and neighbour. There would be every disposition to meet the supporters of the Game Laws if they should be prepared to draw a line between four-footed game and winged game; that the four-footed ought to be left to be killed by anyone who could do so without committing a trespass, and that any restrictions on the tenant in that respect ought to be prohibited. Entertaining these views, he should support the second reading of the Bill, but should be glad to see some provision introduced which would secure to the landlord a proper and reasonable amount of sport.
said, he believed that rabbits were generally considered a common enemy. In the district with which he was connected a great deal of profit was derived from underwoods, of which rabbits were great destroyers, and it was most desirable for the interests of both landlords and tenants to keep the rabbits down as much as possible. But the difficulty of getting at them in wooded districts was so great that it was almost impossible to keep them down. He knew that there were a great many abuses connected with the preservation of ground game, and so long as those abuses existed it would be impossible to expect a good fooling to exist between the landlord and the tenant, but he did not see how the difficulty which existed could be met by legislation. He was afraid that upon the question of game preserving, a great deal of obloquy had been cast upon a class in consequence of the faults of a few. In the part of the country with which he was connected the best feeling prevailed on the subject between landlord and tenant, and he believed that the spread of that friendly understanding was the best remedy for the evils with which the Bill proposed to deal.
said, he would support the second reading of the Bill, but if it should be carried he intended to propose clauses in Committee to neutralize its worst effects. He was quite sure that the supporters of the Bill did not wish to see every pheasant and partridge blown out of the country, which would be the effect of the passing of this Bill; but they wanted some measure to meet the growing evil of over-preservation. The destruction to plantations by rabbits was incalculable, and it was almost impossible to prevent it, for he had seen rabbits scale wire nettings to get at the plants. They also did injury to the land itself, which they poisoned and rendered unfit for agricultural purposes. He did not believe; winged game to be destructive of agricultural produce, and many of his te- nants had told him that the good produced by pheasants and partridges far outweighed any harm caused by them. He thought that to drop hares and rabbits out of the list of game would be the best remedy that could be devised for the evils that existed. He was ready to see the Game Laws abolished, but there must then be an amendment of the Trespass Act, for it was impossible that notice could be given to every poacher that he was committing a trespass.
said, that as the Bill wont for the total abolition of the Game Laws, he must vote against it. Had its object been the modification of the laws, then it would have been open to his consideration. He lived in a part of the country where there were perhaps more hares than in any other part of the kingdom. He preserved game on a considerable extent of land, on which there was scarcely a rabbit to be found. He wished to boar his testimony to the good feeling which existed in the minds of the fanners, who were always glad to see any of his friends. The great grievance which the farmer felt was this—that in some instances as many as 400 or 500 hares were sometimes sent to market in the course of a week. When the farmers saw the preservers of game becoming wholesale dealers in it he thought they had some right to complain, and should be glad to see some provision that wherever a proprietor continued to preserve hares they should either let them be the gift of the farmer, or, if they were sent to market, they should pay 2s. per head for every hare and 6d. per head for every rabbit.
said, he wished to explain to the House the reason why he supported the second reading of the Bill now before it, as he had hitherto supported the Game Laws, in spite of strong representations made to him to act in a contrary manner. He did not now think that a total abolition of the Game Laws would be a great benefit; but he had recently had occasion to look into the Bill of the learned Lord Advocate, and he had come to the conclusion that the Game Laws were in such a muddle at present that it would be very difficult for anyone to say what was law on every point connected with game, and what was not. What was game was as great a delusion as any he knew of. He himself used to think that there was a game list, and that anyone could easily refer to it and see what was game and what was not, but he found there was no such list in existence. There were a great number of Acts in existence relating to game, but there was not one which properly defined what game really was. Then there was a different system in Scotland from what there was in England and Ireland. In England various birds came under the head of game which did not in Scotland; while in Ireland such birds as wild ducks and a number of animals were put in the game list which were not put in in the other parts of the kingdom. In point of fact, the Irish game list was a much more copious one than was the game list in the other portions of the United Kingdom. Another reason why he wished to support this Bill was that no satisfactory Bill had hitherto been brought before the House upon this question, at least, since he had been in it. The one that was brought in by the learned Lord Advocate was, he thought, most unsatisfactory not in what it did do, but in respect to what it did not do; his Bill, indeed, so far as it went, was a very good Bill, but it went so small a distance that practically it was useless. As regards the game which were to be dealt with in that Bill, he was struck with the number of birds it left out, and equally so with one of the birds at least that it put in. For instance, he observed with some surprise the ptarmigan family were left out, but he was struck with still greater astonishment to find that such a bird as the bustard was put in. Why, the bustard had not been seen in Scotland for hundreds of years, and he did not believe that it had been tried in England for hundreds of years, notwithstanding which, this unfortunate bustard was put into the Bill as a game bird. He really thought that the best thing which could be done would be to appoint a special Committee of the House to sit for a week or two in the ensuing Session, in order to define what was game and what was not, and what ought to be so considered. It was certainly not a licence to kill, it was certainly not a penalty for pursuit, it was certainly not a close time—none of those three things constituted game. He should like very much to find out what it was that really did constitute it. There was one other point in the Bill of the learned Lord to which an allusion had just been made by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) and that was, that any claim which the tenant had for damages could only be made at one period of the year, which would have the effect of limiting the time in which he could bring an action for damages, and it entirely precluded any action for damages which might be done to green crops. All that took place in the winter. He (Mr. Anderson) thought that was a point which deserved very great consideration. There had been various other Bills brought in—one by the hon. Member below him (Mr. Brown) which was certainly not a satisfactory measure; neither was that which had been brought in by the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Loch) altogether satisfactory. Altogether there was such a confusion in the Bills which had been proposed to amend the Acts relating to the pursuit of game, that he had come to the conclusion that the simplest and the best way to proceed was to repeal the whole of them. But he must say that for all that he should like to have some fair and reasonable protection for game.
said, he was unable to vote for the second reading of the Bill in its present form. If the present law should be abolished, it would be absolutely necessary to effect an improvement in the Trespass Act, and that game should be made property. He thought it desirable that the consideration of the subject should be postponed until next Session, in order to see what measure the Government would propose. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) in the distinction which he had drawn between four-footed and winged game, and thought the former should be allowed to be killed by anyone, provided he did not commit a trespass.
said, he thought it like fighting with a shadow to contend against the present Bill, for anything more worthless he had never seen. He considered it one of the most daring attempts at legislation ever known, and one of the rudest attacks on property. It would be just as reasonable to propose to distribute all lands and houses and personal property amongst the whole population. It could not be denied that the Bill dealt with property. He would remind the House that a large proportion of the rental of Scotland was dependent on game, and no complaint was made by the tenants. The rights of shooting were let at £500, £1,000, and, in some instances, at £2,000 a year, and he had no doubt that the sum produced in that way amounted to £100,000; but no compensation was proposed in the Bill. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Taylor) wished that all game and all property in game should be destroyed. The principle urged by the hon. Member that the preservation of game was not the best use to make of land, was one which would apply equally to parks, gardens, shrubberies, and pleasure grounds, to large houses, and to many other luxuries. He (Mr. Bass) admitted that there was over-preservation, but public opinion was not against a proper Game Law; and he believed that the majority of the tenants, if protected against over-preservation, would support the continuance of the law. He himself held 1,000 acres under the Crown and was bound by contract to supply Her Majesty with a certain number of hares, pheasants, and partridges annually. But the poachers took the largest share of the game on the property, and he could not obtain the required number. He was obliged to make up the deficiency by purchasing from a dealer in London. It was a waste of time to proceed with the discussion of this Bill. He trusted that the Bill would be withdrawn and that a more reasonable measure would be brought in next Session. He had taken some pains while in Scotland this year to inquire what was the opinion of competent people on the subject, and I though there was a difference of opinion upon the present Bill, many of the farmers being dissatisfied with it, still there were many others who regarded it as a good Bill, as the power given to the tenants to destroy ground game could not fail to operate beneficially.
said, he rose to a point of Order. One of the objects of this Bill was to repeal the Act 25 & 26 Vict. c. 14. But another Bill for the repeal of the same Act was rejected by the House the other day on the Motion for its second reading. Of course the House could not consider the same question twice in one Session, and he believed that that objection would be fatal to the passing of this Bill.
said, the Bill of the hon. Member was printed before the decision referred to was arrived at. The Bill could proceed until they came to the Schedule in Committee, when it would be competent to strike out so much of the Bill as proposed the repeal of the Act in question.
said, he thought every one would admit that the Game Laws were fast approaching a period in their history in which they would have to undergo considerable change, if not entire abolition. There was a general opinion that the evils existing under those laws ought not to be permitted to to exist. He strongly objected to the unexpected withdrawal of the Government Bill on the subject of the Game Laws, and he had heard with astonishment the recent declaration of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that the Government were not pledged to deal with the question, for on the 2nd of March last the right hon. Gentleman himself promised that the Government would deal with the Game Laws so far as they related to Scotland. Perhaps he might be permitted for a moment to refer to the report of Hansard. The words which the right hon. Gentleman used were these—
Now, he thought that no words could convey more distinctly than those a pledge on the part of Her Majesty's Government to discuss the question fully. Such a question could only be efficiently dealt with by the Government, and it was with that feeling that he had postponed his own Bill on the subject until the House could have an opportunity of discussing the Government measure. He would not go into the merits of the Game Laws, but he should vote for the second reading of this Bill as a protest against the existing state of things. He was not in favour of the total abolition of the Game Laws, for he thought that the adoption of such a course would be a great mistake, as it would place the relations between landlord and tenant in a position of considerable difficulty, and open the door to trespassing and poaching of all kinds."Mr. BRUCE said, that he had an appeal to make to the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Loch) upon the subject of this measure. At the close of last Session, the Government had undertaken to deal with the difficult question of the Game Laws of Scotland; but although the Bill was in a forward state, it was not yet in a condition to be laid before the House. He had therefore to request the hon. Member to be kind enough to postpone the second reading of his Bill until that of the Government had been laid before the House. He would undertake, on the part of the Government, that the hon. Member would lose nothing by consenting to this proposition."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 1111.]
said, he shared in the regret which had been expressed that an opportunity had not been afforded to the House of discussing the whole question upon the Government Bill; but he felt sure that no Member of the House would be disposed upon consideration to attribute blame to the Government in connection with the matter. The time and energy of the Government and of the House had been taxed to the utmost by the great and important measures which had occupied their attention this Session up to the present period, and it was utterly impossible that the Game Bill promised by the Government should have been proceeded with. The Government Bill only proposed to deal with the Game Laws as a question between landlord and tenant. The measure assumed, like the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Loch), that the outside world—those who were neither proprietors nor tenants of land—were in future, as they had been in the past, to be excluded from trespassing upon private property. It might be that the Trespass or Poaching Acts directed against those who were described by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. C. S. Read) as idle, dissolute, lawless vagabonds, were too severe in their provisions; but, if so, the Government Bill did not deal with the matter at all, but left it altogether untouched for anyone to take up who chose to do so. With regard to the present measure, he wished to know whether it was presented to the House as a Bill founded upon a principle sound in itself, which ought to be carried out to its legitimate conclusions, or whether it was put forward as a piece of exceptional legislation, to meet an exceptional case or emergency? If it were put forward as a measure founded upon a sound general principle, intended to be carried out to its legitimate results, he would like to know what that principle was. He could find no information on that point within the four corners of the Bill itself or in the speeches which had been made in support of it; other than this—that it was not legitimate to allow property to be used in any manner which would di- minish the amount of its available produce, and that any use of it which would be injurious to the community by diminishing the produce—I suppose of food or clothing—ought to be prevented by legislative enactment. If that principle were maintained as sound, and as the foundation of legislation, then, as the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) had unanswerably suggested, it would be sufficient to put down parks, shrubberies, gardens, and ornamental pleasure grounds that were too large for the reasonable accommodation of the occupants. Indeed there was nothing in the principle which would limit its application to land, for it would apply to anything, the use of which was not such as would produce the greatest amount of material return to the community. It would apply to money and certainly to houses, for there ought to be no houses too large for the occupiers while there were multitudes unhoused. Then people ought not to employ their money in show, ostentation, extravagance, or luxury of any kind, while others were going about destitute of the means of comfortable livelihood. In short, the principle would introduce sumptuary laws, and establish the doctrine that it was not legitimate to squander money in any way while there was so many poor who were without bread, without clothing, and without comfortable roofs to shelter them. But would that principle commend itself to the opinion of the House? Would they sanction such a legislative interference with the rights of property, compelling people by statute to use their property in a certain way which would be better for the general public than for their own purposes? It was a right principle of political economy to allow the proprietors, within certain limits indeed, to deal with their property in the manner which to them should seem best, and not to interfere with the use which they might make of it because it might be demonstrated that a more profitable use was possible. The question of principle therefore could not be defended, and this Bill must be supported on the ground that it was an exceptional piece of legislation, dealing with an exceptional case or an emergency of some kind or other. It had been said by one hon. Member (Viscount Royston) that such an interference as this Bill proposed would be resisted on the ground that proprietors were entitled to do what they liked with: their own property. The answer had been made that game was not property. He was rather disposed to agree with that view, for it was impossible to make property of wild animals which would change their owners whenever they crossed the boundary line between two estates. But that was no answer to the objection which was founded on a just principle of political economy. It was not the property in game, but the property in land which was in question. The right of property in land led to this—that the proprietor was entitled to exclude from his land for any purposes of profit, pleasure, or amusement, all those who had not his permission to go upon it, whether that permission was given gratuitously, or under a contract. This was the common law of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and it was this right of property which would be interfered with by this Bill. But how would this Bill interfere with that right? Suppose a man had bought an estate for the legitimate purpose of having healthful recreation in the pursuit of game, and had no tenant at all—he took that case in order to disembarrass the question of any considerations with respect to tenancy. What the Bill proposed was that the land owned by the man and occupied by himself should be thrown open to any of that class described, I suppose accurately, as idle, dissolute, lawless vagabonds—who chose to go upon it for the purpose of destroying any game they might find there. It was said that that was not interfering with the rights of property, because there was no property in wild animals; but the estate would be thrown open to those people, who might damage it as much as they pleased provided they could show that they were in pursuit of game. The only way of restraining such people would be by an ordinary action at law, but he was sure that the House would agree with him in considering that a very idle process against these idle, dissolute, lawless vagabonds. The Trespass and Poaching Acts might be too severe in their present form; but at all events they ought to be left in such a state as to protect the established and recognized rights of property against such depredations The Bill declared that the present laws which it proposed to repeal were injurious to the cultivators of the soil; but if the Bill passed, there could be very little doubt that the freedom which it would give to these idle, dissolute, lawless vagabonds would also be very injurious to the cultivators of the soil. It was said that if it passed, poaching would cease, and there would be a marked diminution of crime. Certainly, one way of putting an end to poaching was by repealing the laws which existed upon the subject, for where there was no law there could be no transgression; but the same argument might be used in favour of putting an end to property by abolishing the laws which protected it. Where there was no game there could be no poachers; where there was no property there could be no thieves. But that was not a very satisfactory way of getting rid of crime, and of such nuisances as were referred to in this Bill. With regard to the case of the tenants, his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) had said that the Game Laws were in such a muddle that it was most desirable to get rid of them, and that if there was any Game Law at all, it should be so clear that anyone could understand it. Now, he rather thought the "muddle" was not so much in the law as in his hon. Friend's view of it. The Game Law was simply the law of property. He regarded it from this point of view—The tenant-farmer was a party on the land by contract with the proprietor; and he had no right to be there at all except under the contract which made him the tenant. Now, the contract was generally made with him for agricultural purposes, and if the game on the farm were reserved by the landlord, what question could there be between the landlord and tenant? There would be the question of rent, and nothing more. Of course, if the game were reserved by the landlord, the rent was less than it would be if the game were not reserved, and was Parliament to interfere in order to prescribe the rent at which lands should be let? If the tenant paid more for his farm than under the circumstances it was really worth it was his own fault. The Legislature could not protect him in that matter. He must trust to his own sagacity and to his own power of making a contract which would be satisfactory to him. But this Bill went the length of proposing to interfere with the contract—and to say that a contract, when made between landlord and tenant with respect to game, should not be legally binding. Parliament might as well at once lower the tenant's rent. Suppose a proprietor, instead of letting his land for agricultural uses, retained it for that purpose, but let the game, how would they deal with him? Could it be said that he should be at liberty to shoot the game because they were eating his crops—on the ground that his killing them would benefit the State by increasing the quantity of food. The contract was precisely the same in the two cases. He ventured to think that the tenant-farmers could every where be left to take care of themselves in this matter; for, so far from their being oppressed, heart-broken, and half-starved men, they were a well-to-do class, keenly alive to business, and were well able to make their calculations. The demand for farms was far greater than the simply. That would not be the case if the business were not profitable Farmers were anxious to secure the land whenever it was in the market. No doubt, the tenant-farmer made his bargain upon the implied understanding that there would be a reasonable exercise of the right reserved. There might be individual cases of disappointment; and, in reference to those matters, the Government Bill would provide a remedy. In short, the Government Bill proposed to give a remedy in cases of real hardship from the unreasonable and immoderate preservation of game to the positive detriment of the tenant. On both sides of the House there had been some criticism of that provision which enabled a tenant to make only one claim for damages from game in the year, and that must be made before the term of Martinmas which occurred in November. It was said, by his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) that there was great injustice in this, for the tenant would not then be able to claim for damage which had not then been sustained. His hon. Friend seemed to forget that from Martinmas to Martinmas included the whole year, and, therefore, damage to green crops might be claimed as well as to grain crops. This was a mere matter of detail; but he must say that he had been considerably impressed with the observations which had been made to the effect that it would be more convenient to allow the tenant-farmer to make a claim for the damage done to the farm twice during the year, for the simple reason that it would enable him to make it immediately after the damage was sustained, while the crops were still in the ground, and in such a condition that the exact measure of the damage might be ascertained, instead of having to wait until long afterwards, when it might be more difficult to ascertain its exact amount.
, in reply, said, that the arguments which had been advanced in the course of the discussion had been both various and numerous. He might say that some hon. Members who had supported the Bill in argument were not going to support it by their votes, while others who were going to support it by their votes had not supported it in argument. He must say that the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate appeared to have been prepared and intended to have been delivered when the Irish Land Bill was before the House. He had no doubt that if it had been delivered then it would have been hailed with still more rapturous cheers from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Lord Advocate had attempted to overwhelm the question with a number of legal subtleties which he almost wondered he should have addressed to that House. The learned Gentleman misrepresented the principle of the Bill now before them. He said the principle of this Bill was that nothing should be done with the land that was not intended to bring about the most economical results—the production of the greatest amount of food or of clothing. He (Mr. Taylor) had laid down no such principle. The principle that he laid down was that property was the creature of law, and that it must be regulated so as to produce the greatest amount of public good. He was a humble disciple of the school of Mill, than whom no man went further in his recognition of the necessity of modifying the rights of landowners, and yet he would compel a considerable amount of land to be left wild, or in common, for the artistic or intellectual improvement of the people. He (Mr. Taylor) thought that the advocates of the abolition of the Game Laws had every reason to be satisfied with the general course and tenour of the discussion which had taken place. He felt himself a strong conviction that if he did not carry the second reading of this Bill, at any rate the solution of this question was nearer by some years than it appeared to be a year ago. He felt a strong conviction also that he had hit upon the real solution of the difficulty of the question, and if he might venture to say so, that he had chosen the right time for bringing it forward. There were three or four conclusions to which the House might be said to have practically arrived. In the first place, it was practically acknowledged that the sole object of the Game Laws was to provide the amusement of sport for the wealthy classes. He must say he wished our country gentlemen could on the question of their diversions be brought more into harmony with our favourite poet Cowper, when he exclaimed—
Another conclusion which seemed to be arrived at was, that an enormous amount of damage was done to the country by the over preservation of game; that was a conclusion which was accepted on all sides. At a recent meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, it was stated that if there were no game the landed gentry would have no inducement to spend their time among their tenantry. But though he believed that farmers and country people desired the permanent residence of their landlords among them, yet he believed they would rather forego that blessing than give up the privileges and rights which were due from the land to every human being in these islands. Another conclusion was, the enormous amount of crime which was caused by this law, and the prodigious number of convictions which took place under it every year. Of that fact the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Sturt) said that it "made him uneasy, and was a disgrace to a civilized country." In the same amusing speech the hon. Member somewhat inconsistently remarked that in convicting poachers they were but convicting thieves. Now, it was all very well to speak of poachers as thieves and vagabonds; but he appealed to the common sense of every man in the House whether there was not a distinct difference between a man who took a hare, and a man who took money out of your pocket. The hon. Member for South Norfolk said he agreed with him (Mr. Taylor) as to some of the evils caused by the Game Laws; but the next moment he went off on another tack, and argued against the Bill, because he said it was not John Hodge any longer who caught a hare to support his starving family, but a vagabond from some neighbouring town. Well, that was his (Mr. Taylor's) case—that if you hang up either silver spoons or pheasants on a hedge you would attract the idle vagabonds of the neighbourhood to the spot to get them. Another conclusion was, that these laws could not remain as they are, but that they must be dealt with in some way or other. Everybody acknowledged the evil of the Game Laws, and every Session half-a-dozen Bills were brought forward to remedy them. The immediate introducers of those Bills were anxious about them; but no one else believed in them. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) said lately, at the Central Chamber of Agriculture—"The law as it stood was totally ineffectual to prevent a flagrant amount of injustice." And again, though he extremely regretted the necessity for legislative interference with regard to the Game Laws, he felt that tenants were driven to ask for something of that kind, because—he did not wish to use strong language, but he could not help doing so—because of the rascality of a few owners of land, who would persist in the over-preservation of ground game. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary observed—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) accepted the statement—that the only real solution of this question was to make game property. He (Mr. Taylor) trusted that no Government would ever attempt to get that done. The idea of making game property, employing a whole army of police, and a standing army to protect it, and filling their gaols no longer with poachers but with felons, was really too ludicrous to be entertained. The hon. Member, whose observations were continually interrupted by cries for a Division, proceeded to comment upon the proceedings of the Government in respect of this question, and especially in regard to the Act of 1862, which had been referred to in the course of the debates as a success. Well, he did not deny that it was a success—but in whose interests, and from whose point of view? In the interests of game preserving, and from the point of view of the game preserver. It had not diminished the head of game. It had not, therefore, of course, diminished the damage to the farmers' crops. Wherein, then, had consisted its success? It had added nearly 1,000 convictions a year to the already bloated record of the previous Game Laws. It was right that the country should understand that the success attained had consisted in the ruin of certain other thousands of English homes, and in saddling the rates with the cost of police gamekeepers, the maintenance of poachers in prison, and of their families in the Union-house. He did not see the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Sturt) in his place, and he was sorry for it, because he should have been glad to express to him, his gratitude for what he said when the Bill was last under discussion. There could be nothing more calculated to show the country what the Game Laws really were, and what were the evils attending game preserving, than the speech of that hon. Gentleman. He knew it was supposed that the hon. Member defended the Game Laws, and made a somewhat violent attack upon him (Mr. Taylor). Now, he must say he did not at all take that view of the matter. It was an entire mistake. The whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech was nothing but a subtle, humorous, and powerful attack on the game-preserving interest, and on the Game Laws. He said that he would give game preservers some advice, which they would be more likely to take from him than from him (Mr. Taylor). He was sorry to say that was too true, and he thanked him sincerely for coming to his rescue; but the principal part of his speech was composed of elaborate pictures of two kinds of game preservers; the one belonging to the best, the other to the worst kind of preservers. He himself sat for his picture of the best ideal game preserver, and he (Mr. Taylor) could sincerely say that he believed he well deserved that title. Now, what was that picture? Why, he told them that he would have nothing to do with ground game, but reared many thousand pheasants per annum, and turned the whole of the neighbouring population into gamekeepers. The hon. Gentleman was far too sensible a man to think for a moment that this country, or even this House, would recognize such an ideal condition of society as that which trans- formed the whole rural population into gamekeepers to maintain the amusements of the wealthy. He might ask what the farmers of the neighbourhood thought of this cloud of 4,000 pheasants? The hon. Gentleman remarked that he treated his people like Christians, and they naturally became his gamekeepers. But the connection between Christianity and game preserving was sufficiently remote to prove that the hon. Gentleman meant that for a joke. But what he thought of the other kind of game preserver was manifest enough by the advice which he gave them. He said—"I advise you to treat your people with common decency, house them like Christians, behave to them as if they were human beings, kill off your rabbits, cut down your hares to the smallest amount; do all this, and, above all, do not let your shooting for a few paltry, dirty sovereigns, to strangers." Why did the hon. Member give that advice?—was it because it was needed or not needed? It was because that it was needed, and he (Mr. Taylor) said that it was a perfect justification for his Bill; for supposing that the good advice was taken by one-half, or three-fourths, or nine-tenths of this class of preservers—as the hon. Member well knew that it would not be — the protection of law would still be required against—to use the language of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read)—"the rascality of a few owners of land who would persist in the over-preservation of ground game." Laws were made not for those whom conscience made to act justly without coercion, but precisely for the minority, whom nothing but law could restrain. That was how he understood the speech of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, and he again thanked him for it. But if the hon. Member persisted in declaring that it was intended to uphold the Game Laws, and to oppose his Bill, then he ventured to tell the hon. Member that every word which had been uttered in these debates had tended—the hon. Member would not object to the words—"to deny his statements, to refute his arguments, to annihilate his doctrines, and, in fine, to shut him up altogether."That owes its pleasure to another's pain."
Previous Question put.
The House divided: — Ayes 59; Noes 147: Majority 88.