HC Deb 15 May 1868 vol 192 cc387-91

said, he wished to ask Mr. Attorney General, Whether he thinks it proper that the Penal Clauses of the Lottery Act should be enforced in respect to drawings of prizes for purely charitable objects? His reason for calling attention to this subject was his having received a letter from the Treasury warning him that he was liable to a penalty of £500 for being connected with a lottery. That was a thing which might abash most people. He was patron of a bazaar for charitable purposes, one of the attractions of which was a lottery or drawing for prizes, and that being so he considered it ought not to have been taken notice of in that strong official manner. The 12 Geo.II., c. 28—after referring to the Act of William III.—was passed, according to the Preamble, for the more effectually preventing excessive and deceitful gaming; but how a raffle for a charitable purpose could come under that denomination he was at a loss to conceive. The fine of £500 was imposed under the 42 Geo. III., c. 119, and besides that the Act characterized every person who took part in these raffles as "a rogue and vagabond." Another Act aimed at preventing the practice of setting up in places of public resort what were known as "little goes." It also provided for the extinction of "little goes." Now, when he was at Cambridge, he believed it was not considered dishonourable for those to take a "little go" who could not take a great go, and that it in no way interfered with taking high positions in after life. By the 6 & 7 Will. IV., which related chiefly to foreign and other lotteries, a penalty of £50 attached to the printer for printing and publishing the notices, and by the 8 & 9 Vict., which recites the 7 Will. IV., which was passed to put an end to actions brought by informers, the putting the terrors of the law into force was removed from them and placed at the discretion of the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and the Law Officers of the Crown. He believed that that discretion had been, on the whole, wisely exercised, but he was unfortunately the victim in a case which he believed was an improper exception to the rule. Those Acts were, in his opinion, framed for the purpose of stopping actual gambling—lotteries likely to ruin the people; but it was never intended that the law should apply to lotteries at bazaars for charitable purposes. It was well known that the movers in most commendable plans for encouraging art were amenable to the law as it originally stood, and a special Act had to be passed exempting Art Unions from the penalties of the Lottery Act. On the same grounds, or rather on much stronger grounds, he contended that those who took part in schemes for aiding philanthropic institutions should also be exempted. The case in which he had been summoned was no uncommon one. The managers of the Shiffnall Roman Catholic Reformatory School—a school recognized by the Government and approved of by the Government Inspector—had incurred a debt of £2,000 for the purpose of better carrying out the regulations of the establishment; and in order to raise that sum it was proposed to hold a bazaar, and one of the attractions was a lottery, and it was because he was connected with this scheme that he had been stigmatized as a rogue and a vagabond. The school had hitherto worked well, and been of great public advantage; and it was too bad that those who took an interest in reforming juvenile criminals and thereby conferred a benefit on the public, should have this slap in the face in the shape of a threat of £500 penalty in carrying out so desirable an object. It was very singular that the patrons of this bazaar should have been singled out for the wrath of the Treasury. Some said that only Roman Catholic institutions were proceeded against on this account, he disclaiming any such opinion; but he held in his hand a ticket for a "Grand Volunteer Prize-drawing," not 100 miles away, and he was not sure he had not incurred another penalty of £500 in having it in his possession. He found that the drawing was patronized by several mayors, three Members of Parliament, and one or two baronets; and he had been informed by one of the Members of Parliament that he had not received any warning from the Treasury. Lecturers had been going about the country propounding the most indecent doctrines to young men and women, under the auspices of a society which called itself an electoral union; and, although their path was bestrewed with indecency, although they produced bad feeling between different classes of people, and although their progress latterly had not been untainted by bloodshed, they inarched on unrebuked and unmolested; but when it was a question of turning bad persons into good ones, then resort was had to legal powers which he contended were meant for other uses. He had brought the subject forward believing that the Government would never sanction the continuance of such proceedings against the patrons of bazaars for charitable purposes at which there happened to be a lottery or drawing of prizes.


said, he believed that the origin of the laws against lotteries was to be found in the fact that in the days of George III. there were Government lotteries, which were used as a means of revenue. They were, therefore, made a monopoly by the suppression of all others, and it was quite an afterthought to associate immorality with all lotteries. There; was an obvious distinction between public-house and fraudulent lotteries, and purely charitable lotteries that were conducted honestly and innocently. The latter were not confined to Roman Catholics, but were resorted to by Protestants of all denominations and for all kinds of purposes. Scarcely a bazaar was held without n raffle, the tickets for which were sold by young ladies to the visitors; and all these young ladies were liable to be declared rogues and vagabonds. The law ought to be either altered or repealed; but, if it were not, its enforcement was a matter in the discretion of the Attorney General. He had a clear rule to determine his course; If lotteries were held in public-houses, or for fraudulent purposes, or were frequented by disorderly persons then he might enforce the law; but when it was obvious that lotteries or raffles were for charitable purposes, and when there was not the slightest possibility of any fraud or disorder, then it was not the duty of the Attorney General to enforce the law. Only Roman Catholic lotteries had been prosecuted, and the reason was, not any partisanship on the part of the Government, but the activity of certain Protestant societies that persecuted the Roman Catholic Church. It was these put in motion the Attorney General, who sometimes felt it his duty to act at the instigation of these societies. He knew several cases in which, at the instance of these fanatical societies, notices had been sent issued by the Solicitor to the Treasury. The Attorney General ought to set his face against persons actuated by sectarian motives, and to exercise dis- crimination in enforcing the penalties of the law.


, who disapproved setting aside a moral law mid evading statutory penalties, by an understanding arrived at in a conversation in that House, was called to Order, having already spoken.


said, it was unfortunate there should be any infringement of rules of law or Acts of Parliament for any object, however good and he should have thought it far better that laws should be repealed, than that they should be only partially enforced, it was undesirable that there should be laws which were not to be observed by charitable people—that societies should get up lotteries and say they ought not to be prosecuted, because, although they had infringed the law, they had done so with a charitable object. He would not now discuss the question, whether it was right or wrong that the laws against lotteries and little goes should be enforced; but it was not many years ago that Art Unions were prohibited by the laws against lotteries; and the legislation which took place showed clearly that while very laudable objects might be secured by drawing prizes, it was nevertheless necessary to legalize the Art Union lotteries, by special legislation, to the exclusion of all others, which were still held to be illegal. He had no knowledge of the proceedings against the lottery to which the noble Lord had referred, and probably there had been nothing more than a warning. There had, however, been brought under his notice several lotteries of a bad character; and in each case the professed object was to raise money for a charity. In one case, £30,000 worth of prizes was to be drawn for, the tickets were 5s. each, every subscriber was to receive more than his money's worth, and a profit of £10,000 was to be realized and distributed among the poor of six villages. If the drawing had taken place, in all probability the persons engaged in it would be prosecuted; for it was very likely that a number of poor people had lost money, and that the poor rates of the village had not been relieved by the prizes distributed. He did not quite concur with the remark that prosecution was a matter in the discretion of the Law Officers of the Crown. No doubt there were cases in which they would be extremely reluctant to prosecute, lotteries having been inadvertently started for good objects. But it must be remembered that if it was worth while retaining the statutes against lotteries it was almost impossible to prosecute, in a case that was thought to be a bad one, when people could turn round and say that a number of so-called charitable lotteries were overlooked. He could not express any opinion as to whether it would or would not be expedient to alter the law so as to legalize lotteries for charitable objects; but he was quite sure there was no partisanship on the part of the Government against Roman Catholic lotteries. Notice was given on all occasions that it was found the laws against lotteries were going to be infringed, whether the lottery was for a good purpose, or whether, as was too often the case, it was established to carry out a considerable scheme of fraud.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.