HC Deb 11 July 1844 vol 76 cc684-91

On the question, that the Actions for Gaming Discontinuance Bill (No. 2) he received,

Mr. Chrislie

said, I am desirous to take this opportunity of giving an answer to an attack which was made in the course of the debate on the previous night on the character of an individual who cannot defend himself in this House. It will be remembered that the noble Lord (Lord George Bentinck) made an attack in the strongest terms—terms which I will not repeat—on two brothers of the name of Russell, one of whom is a solicitor, and the other the plaintiff in the actions which the pending Bill is intended to suspend. I have received to-day a letter from Mr. Russell, the solicitor, on the subject of this attack, and I will read extracts from it. There are parts not necessary to the vindication of his own character, and by no means complimentary to that of the noble Lord. (Lord George Bentinck). The noble Lord has the privilege of saying within these walls, with perfect immunity, whatever he may have heard against the character of any individual out of the House: and last night he had the generosity to use his privilege to a very great extent. I cannot say what I may have heard against the character of the noble Lord in the letter which I hold in my hand from the person he has libelled [cries of "Oh, yes," and Lord George Bentinck told the hon. Member he might read it all.] Mr. Christie proceeded:—Even with the noble Lord's permission, I should be offending against the rules of the House. Mr. Russell, the solicitor, writes to me, I could never have had the assurance to meet either Mr. Gibson or yourself, had there been a syllable of truth in Lord Bentinck's statement, so far as I am personally concerned. I do not for a moment attempt any defence of my brother's conduct in an affair which occurred some years since, and through which I might have been ruined, had I not fortunately had the means of entirely exculpating myself to the perfect satisfaction of every person. I should grieve much if you or Mr. Gibson consider that, in having honoured me by several times seeing me, you consider any degradation attaches to you in consequence. You will soon have my evidence printed, and you can then judge how far I am deserving the character this Lord last night gave me. I hope this evidence will all be printed; it has been made great use of in this House, and I trust there will be no "doctoring" of it before it is printed. As to degradation, I certainly feel none. I have seen this Mr. Russell when he brought me his Petition, and to receive information relative to it; and I can tell the noble Lord that even if he had been what he has represented him, or, to put another case, had been the keeper of a hell, if he had a grievance to be redressed in this House, I would have presented his Petition; but I would have gone no further—I would not have associated with him—I would not have betted with him — I would not have commissioned him to bet for me—I would not have belonged to any club of which he was a Member. I stated in one part of last night that I would offer every factious opposition to this Bill; I afterwards withdrew that threat, with an explanation which has not been given to the public. I will therefore repeat it, that to have carried that threat into execution would cause me much more inconvenience than it could possibly give me satisfaction. But I protested, and again protest altogether against this Bill, and against the mode in which it has been carried through this House, and against the refusal of the House to hear the plaintiff in the actions by counsel at the Bar. If ever man had a right to be heard by counsel against a Bill that man had a right. I can state that in another House a similar Petition will be presented, and supported by a noble Lord of great legal acquirements and reputation; and I do not believe that that House will commit the injustice of refusing to hear him. I will call particular attention to one circumstance in yesterday's debate: evidence taken in another place, and existing only in manuscript, was made use of to prejudice the petitioner's character, and his right to be heard. When that evidence is formally communicated to us, it may prove that an interference has taken place with the privileges of this House which may render a Motion on the subject proper. At present, the circumstances are these: on Thursday last I presented a petition from the plaintiff in these actions, praying to be heard by counsel; a Committee on Gaming in another place, which had for some time suspended its sittings—[No, no.]—well that is of no consequence—that Committee immediately after calls the petitioner's solicitor before it as a witness; the witness is rigorously examined as to the petitioner's right to be heard here, and when I came to move yesterday, as I had given notice, that counsel be heard, the evidence taken in that other place is in the hands of Members of this House in a manuscript state, and is used in the debate by noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen Members of the Government. I say that there is presumptive proof of a conspiracy between the promoters of the Bill in this House, and the Chairman of the Committee in the other place, and whoever that Chairman may be, mid he may be the Duke of Richmond, I say that he has abused his position as Chairman of the Committee, and in communicating the evidence in a written state has been guilty of an irregular proceeding. The circumstances speak for themselves. I leave it to the public to judge of the circumstances under which the evidence has been used, and how far those circumstances tend to the credit of the promoters of the Bill, and of a majority which by the aid of that evidence refused the petitioner justice, or to be heard by counsel at the Bar of the House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood what had fallen from him on the former evening. The hon. Gentleman stated that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had objected to hear this individual's petition on the ground of the objection which was raised. The hon. Gentleman was quite wrong. It was known to persons of the highest authority in that House that he had come down early to the House and had searched for precedents, and that, upon an examination into precedents to which he had referred yesterday evening, he had determined to resist the hearing of the petitioner by counsel at the Bar, on the ground that he was not entitled to be heard with reference to any such petition. But before entering into the question, and after he came into the House to take the course he had determined on, it was stated to him that there were other objections on the ground of the petitioner having no personal interest whatever in the matter. He, therefore, thought it right to the hon. Gentleman, before he pledged himself to the accuracy of the statements set forth in the petition, to state that he had heard the parties had no direct interest; and, before he entered into the discussion, he wished to know whether that was true. Now, as far as regarded the character of the petitioner, his resistance to the Motion for hearing him by counsel at the Bar had nothing to do with it; but it was on the ground that Parliament never heard persons by counsel on a Bill which were merely to suspend actions; and he recommended the House to adhere to the precedents, lest they should open the door to hearing counsel indiscriminately, and to the arrest of public business. He had done what he thought to be his public duty on a question affecting the rights and privileges of the House.

Mr. M. Gibson

repelled a charge that he had associated with improper persons, or persons who had been guilty of crimes. He asserted that that charge was false and scandalous; he defied the proof; the insinuation was unworthy of those who might make it; it had no foundation whatever in truth. The solicitor, to whose petition his hon. Friend had referred, called at his (Mr. Gibson's) house several times; he came to him on public business, and he felt it his duty to receive the party on public business. He felt that he was entitled to hear the communications which were made to him, and to use his discretion as to the use he would make of those communications. That he had done, and that he would do again—more than that he had not done. He protested in the face of the House against the charge that he had ever associated, in the popular sense of the word, with persons who had been guilty of crimes, or who were persons of improper character.

Viscount Palmerston

said, with regard to the propriety of the conduct of the hon. Gentleman, he was bound to say, as Chairman of the Committee, that, in his opinion, his hon. Friend was justified in the course he had pursued with regard to holding communication with Mr. Russell. It appeared to him that a Member of Parliament who was appointed by the House to pursue an inquiry, and to investigate into any particular matter, performed his duty correctly when he received information tendered to him which, in his opinion, was likely to assist, him in pursuing the investigation, and in coming to a correct conclusion. The hon. Gentleman did not take any fact, or assume any statement of the parties in question, but, in receiving from them suggestions on points into which the Committee ought to inquire, the hon. Gentleman did his duty, and he would not have performed his duty properly if he had refused to receive such suggestions. With regard, however, to the point raised by his hon. and learned Friend who spoke first (Mr. Christie), he must entirely bear out, as Chairman of the Committee, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He certainly understood that the decision of the House yesterday did not turn on any judgment hon. Members might have formed of the character of the petitioner, but on this ground mainly, that his case had nothing in it parallel to the case of Mr. Wright, aad also that the petitioner, whose character, whether good or bad, had nothing whatever to do with the question—was not the bonâ fide promoter of the actions. He apprehended if he, as a Member of that House, or if other hon. Members, obtained a knowledge, which there was reason to believe was well founded, of certain facts, important to the matter under inquiry, that such hon. Member was not at liberty to put this knowledge out of the question, but was bound to allow it to form an ingredient in the evidence on which he arrived at the judgment he might form.

Report received, and Amendment agreed to.

Viscount Howick

rose to propose certain Amendments. The House would remember that to the original Bill he had taken this objection—that in the shape in which it stood it gave protection not only to those who had incurred penalties by making large bets in ignorance of the law, but it continued the practice of excessive bets on horse-racing. He then expressed an opinion that the House ought not to pass such a Bill before they had instituted a full inquiry into the subject, and were prepared to deal with the whole question of Gaming. He had stated that the House ought not to throw its shield over the practice of betting at horse-races; and he proposed that the Bill should be confined to the transactions which were the subject of the recent actions. A compromise was agreed to, and the Bill was confined to a protection against actions for bets alleged to have taken place before the 1st of June last. All bets subsequent to the 1st of June were to be left liable to any penalty under the law as it then stood. If his noble Friend had proposed a simple continuance of the Act he should have had no objection to the proposal, but a Committee was appointed, and an extensive inquiry undertaken. The Committee recommended certain alterations, but the House was not called upon to make complete alterations just at present. The Bill which was introduced had this objection—that so long as it continued in force it threw its shield over that which formed the subject of complaint. Its effect was particularly to except parties from all the penal consequences of heavy betting at races. It was on this ground that he objected to the Bill. As the system went at present—and a recent trial had thrown some light on the system—it appeared to be decidedly injurious to the morals of the country; and this being so, he certainly was not prepared to give additional protection to persons engaged in such transactions. In the first place he proposed to strike out certain words in the preamble. He should also propose that only one of the Clauses be retained, so that the Bill would run thus—"Be it enacted that the said recited Act of Parliament should only remain in force until the next Session." He would thus reduce the operation of the Bill to one Session only. What would be the situation of the House if the Bill were passed? He called on the House not to carry their protection further, or to take away any legal penalty for enormous betting at horse races. It had been said there was no fraud in these cases; but was there no fraud in betting on the turf—did not the system lead to fraud? Was not the enormous stakes the cause of transactions which had created so much scandal recently in a court of justice? He was no enemy to horse-racing in the way of fair sport and amusement, but he did not approve of it as a medium of gambling and winning money. If his Amendments were adopted no difficulties would be thrown in the way of horse-racing, so far at least as horse-racing was conducive to fair amusement. He was not prepared to discontinue the public informer for public utility sake, and for the prevention of immorality. In matters of excise they were usefully and very properly employed by the Government. The noble Lord concluded by moving the former part of his Amendment, for omitting the words in the preamble, "to prevent for the future the bringing of such actions."

Viscount Palmerston

objected to the Amendment and to reduce the measure to the very small dimensions which such an omission would create. They were not in the same position then as they were at the time the earlier measure had been brought forward, and to the terms of which his noble Friend was anxious to limit this Bill; inasmuch as a Committee had since been appointed, which had unanimously reported that these penalties were inexpedient. That former Bill was limited to transactions prior to the 1st of June, and he (Lord Palmerston) had thought that they would, perhaps, before the end of this Session of Parliament, have been in a position to have introduced other measures upon this subject. The inquiry, however, had continued longer than was anticipated, and he was not at all surprised that the Government should not have undertaken to frame any Bill on the Report of the Committee during the present Session. He doubted not that they would legislate on the subject in the course of the next. He did not see how the House could establish a sort of sumptuary regulations to prevent what his noble Friend termed heavy betting, or one gentleman from betting with another; neither did he see the perfection of the moral arguments of his noble Friend, when he said that those who were disposed to bet might bet with honourable men, and not with dishonourable characters. If gambling and betting were to be prevented, he thought, in a moral point of view, it ought to be to the extent of preventing it in secret as well as in public, and among honourable men as well as dishonourable. It had been said that this Bill was founded on a principle of class legislation. He admitted that it was so; but it was for a class of honest men—and to protect them from dishonest men—and from exposure to qui lam actions, founded on the basest motives. He could not, therefore, consent to the proposition of his noble Friend.

Sir J. Graham

said, the reasoning contained in the Report of the Committee appeared to him conclusive. He had not, as yet, consulted with his Colleagues, but speaking his individual opinion, as at present advised, he certainly concurred entirely in the Report, and would, therefore, support the Motion of the noble Lord. It was evident that legislation must take place next Session on the subject, and he trusted it would be in conformity with the Reports of the Committee.

Viscount Howick

would not divide on the Motion (which was accordingly negatived).

Bill to be read a third time.

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