HC Deb 21 July 1845 vol 82 cc793-6
Sir J. Graham

, on moving the Second Reading of the Games and Wagers Bill, said, that he was quite confident that the changes proposed in the existing law by the present Bill would be found most salutary in their operation. The objects of the Bill were twofold. Firstly, it gave additional facilities for the suppression of gaming houses kept open for the purpose of gaming; and, secondly, it amended the law with regard to wagers generally. With regard to the operation of the first portion of the measure, it gave to the justices of the peace, not included in the metropolitan districts, a power of granting warrants, on information given, to make a search, a power analogous to that now exercised within the metropolitan dissricts. Within the metropolitan districts the Bill enlarged the existing power. To issue a warrant heretofore it was necessary to get the information signed by two householders; but, as might be supposed, there was an unwillingness on the part of householders to grant this information. The Bill, therefore, proposed that the warrant to search might be granted on the information of the superintendent of police, and the finding of gaming implements was held to be conclusive evidence that gambling was carried on in the House. With regard to the second portion of the measure, relating to wagers, the Bill entirely followed the recommendation of the Committee. It took away all cognizance of wagers from the courts of law. But at the same time it made parties who made wagers and gained undue advantage fraudulently, subject to the penalties to which persons who obtained money under false pretences were subject. It put an end to all qui tam actions altogether. He, therefore, considered the Bill would prove very beneficial to the public, and he recommended it to the adoption of the House.

Mr. Hawes

said, that the Bill did not confine itself to the recommendation of the Committee; for it interfered with licensed victuallers in a manner that was not contemplated. There was an attempt in the Bill to define an unlawful game; but that definition was so extensive as to include any innocent game: added to this, they were going to do that by the Bill that would operate as a further heavy tax upon the licensed victuallers, if they had a billiard table—the licensed victuallers were a body, he thought, who were sufficiently taxed already. The Bill, in fact, went beyond the description of it given by the right hon. Baronet, and beyond what was contemplated by the Gaming Committee. Unless the right hon. Baronet would insert a clause exempting the licensed victuallers from the operation of the Bill, he should vote against its second reading.

Mr. Henley

said, he had no objection to support a Bill to put down gaming, but he had a most decided objection to the 8th Clause, which put upon the owner of any house in which a person might be found with a pack of cards in his pocket the necessity of proving that it was not a gaming house.

Mr. Spooner

hoped the hon. Member for Lambeth would not persevere in his opposition to the second reading of a Bill, the object of which they must all concur in approving. There were some of the clauses to which he had a strong objection; but he thought the Bill might be so amended in Committee as to get rid of the objections to which it was at present liable.

Sir J. Graham

denied that the present Bill was brought in to meet the special case of certain individuals. He brought the measure forward on public grounds, and for the purpose of putting down gambling, which had lately very much increased in the country, and produced such pernicious and fatal effects. He denied that the Bill left gambling by the upper classes untouched. The 2nd Clause was especially levelled against the gambling of the higher classes—namely, against hazard, roulette, and other games, where the bank was kept by the person to whom the house belonged, and where there was a dead pull against the player. The object of the Bill was to protect the public, high and low, against improper gambling. He followed the Report generally, but he did not feel bound servilely to follow all the recommendations of the Committee. It was found, since the Report of the Committee, that French hazard was played in billiard houses after twelve o'clock. It was, therefore, necessary to include such houses in the Bill. He thought that the 8th Clause, which made the finding of certain implements a primâ facie evidence of gambling, would be indispensable to the efficiency of the measure. He admitted the terms of that clause were large, and were studiously made so; but he would be willing to consider in Committee whether those terms might not be restricted. With regard to the licensed victuallers, the hon. Member for Lambeth seemed to labour under an error. Under the present law, the police had the power of entering public houses at all times, so that there was nothing new in the provisions of the proposed Bill. The Bill might not be good for the publican, but it would be good for the public. He did not anticipate any objection to the Bill, and he should be surprised if the House of Commons rejected the second reading of such a measure.

Mr. Warburton

thought that the Bill dealt most unfairly with respect to informers. They were first made necessary to carry into effect the Acts of the Legislature, and then, when they gave information, they were prevented from proceeding with the action.

Mr. Bickham Escott

said, that he was a Member of the Committee which sat upon the subject of qui tam actions, and the Committee were clearly of opinion that the Statute of Anne was never intended to apply to betting on horse racing. It should be recollected that the informers with respect to the qui tam actions had proceeded on an old and obsolete Statute. He considered that the principle of the present Bill was a good one; and he hoped the House would assent to the second reading.

Mr. Craven Berkeley

concurred in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Lambeth, who, he hoped, would persevere in his opposition to the Bill. He considered that the licensed victuallers were hardly dealt with by the Bill. He would give his support to the right hon. Gentleman, if he would strike out all the clauses in the Bill except those that related to qui tam actions.

Sir G. Strickland

considered the Bill contained the foundation of a good principle, and one from which the public would derive great benefit. He should, therefore, support the second reading of the Bill; but he certainly thought Clause 8 was too stringent.

Captain Rous

said, that it was evident that the licensed victuallers would not be placed in a worse position by the present Bill than they were under the existing law, which gave the police the power of entering their houses at all times. He thought the principle of the Bill was a good one, and he hoped the first conviction under it would be the Crockford Club house.

Mr. Wakley

hoped, as a friend to the licensed victuallers, that the hon. Member for Lambeth would not divide the House, as such a course would be likely to prejudice their case. He never knew any matter of police regulation to come before the House, that the licensed victuallers were not selected for persecution. With respect to informers, he thought they were the pests of society, and were entitled to no sympathy, whether they proceeded against the rich or poor.

Sir J. Graham

said, that if the House went into Committee on the Bill, he would endeavour to meet the objections which had been urged against the Bill in a fair aud conciliatory spirit. With regard to the 8th Clause, he admitted that the terms of it were stringent; but he believed they would be necessary to put an end to the practice which prevailed in Doncaster and other places of persons taking lodgings during the races in private houses where gambling was carried on. Unless they armed the authorities in those localities with strong powers, the evil they sought to suppress would thrive and increase. He did not wish to press harshly on the licensed victuallers, further than to prevent the growing evil of gambling.

Bill read a second time.

At the sittings after five o'clock,